• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Getting Morality Wrong

immoral

Back in April, Gail Dines, a sociologist at Wheelock College in Boston, wrote a Washington Post piece arguing that pornography is a public health threat, regardless of its (im)morality:

The thing is, no matter what you think of pornography (whether it’s harmful or harmless fantasy), the science is there. After 40 years of peer-reviewed research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality — for the worse.

Dines argued that instead of focusing on the moral question, we should take “a health-focused view of porn and recognizing its radiating impact not only on consumers but also on society at large.” Fittingly, the piece is entitled “Is porn immoral? That doesn’t matter: It’s a public health crisis.” On the one hand, I’m certainly glad that sociologists, legislators, and others are recognizing the serious social harm caused by pornography. On the other hand, it’s clear that Dines and her ilk have a serious misunderstanding of morality.

I. What Morality Isn’t

Frequently, morality is spoken of as something akin to the offside rule in soccer: an arbitrary rule imposed by a higher authority that keeps up from getting to do what would make us happy. Let me unpack what I mean by each part of that description:

  • According to this (faulty) view, moral laws are just arbitrary rules. It’s immoral to have sex before marriage; it could just as well have been immoral to have sex after marriage, or on Wednesdays, or during reruns of The Price is Right. But if morality is arbitrary, where do these rules come from?
  • Moral laws are primarily external and imposed by an authority. Usually these people speak of morality as a rule issued by a higher authority: society or (especially) God. So we follow the rules either out of fear, respect, or love, or else to win a prize (like Heaven) or avoid a punishment (like hell). But even though we may follow the rules, that doesn’t make the rules any less arbitrary and irrational.
  • The third element is that they keep us from doing what would make us happy. It’s this conception of morality that Billy Joel lambasts in “Only the Good Die Young” when he sings, ‘I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.’ In the case of sexual mores, the idea is that “moralistic” people “hate pleasure.” In other areas, this idea is more subtle, but the general idea is that rule-following is on one side, and having a good time is on the other. So we exchange happy, pleasure-filled lives for drab and dreary, orderly lives, in the hopes that our unhappiness now will result in our happiness hereafter.

In fairness to non-Christians, this conception of morality is disturbingly common, even amongst Christians. Victorian morality is replete with this idea that such-and-such an activity would make me happy, but I’ll forgo it so that God will reward me with Heaven later. And this spills over into the public square: if can’t enjoy such-and-such, then my neighbor darn well better not be able to enjoy it, either.

It’s important to recognize two things. First, that this is how “moral talk” often looks and sounds from the outside (and depending upon who you’re talking to, from the inside, as well). Second, that this conception of morality is fundamentally wrong and can be pretty awful. At most, it can serve as a workable starting place for the moral life. It’s something that we need to grow out of.

II. What Morality Is

If you have small children, you’re surely familiar with the insane rules that you have to create for their own benefit: things like “don’t put a fork in the electrical socket.” To the toddler, that looks exactly like the ban on pornography looks to many adults: someone bigger than me, with the authority and ability to punish me, won’t let me do the thing that I really want to do. And maybe that’s enough to cultivate obedience (although in moments of weakness, maybe not).

But a mature perspective sees what the toddler’s view is missing. You’re not imposing this rule because you’re power-hungry, but because you know better than your stupid kid what will make him happy and what will electrocute him. That is, this rule (undoubtedly frustrating and tempting for the toddler in the moment!) is really born out of love.

So it is with the moral law. To see this, consider a few things. First, everything that you intentionally do is done (a) according to your human nature, and (b) in pursuit of our good. If you don’t believe me, just carefully consider why you do anything that you do: why did you set an alarm last night, why did you eat breakfast this morning, why did you yell when you were frustrated? In each case – whether you made a good decision or a bad one – you acted because you wanted to achieve something positive (health, pleasure, etc.) or avoid some negative (pain, etc.). And if you were to consider further, “well, why do I want to be healthy?” or “why don’t I want to lose a finger in the bread slicer?” you would eventually come to a dead end of sorts,.

That dead end – the ultimate motivation for all intentional human activity – could be summarized as something like “I want to be permanently happy.” But notice that you desire this as a human. You want good, but your good. An anteater might be ecstatic to spend all day with a colony of fire ants. You would likely be less happy in such a situation. So you’re acting according to what appears good to you as a human person.

But of course, there’s another aspect to consider as well. As I mentioned, every intentional human action (so leaving aside things like falling down the stairs) can be described this way. Every single time we intentionally act, we’re trying to achieve our good. But obviously, not all of our actions are successful in this regard. Sometimes, what we think will make us happy (especially the things we chose in the moment, like yelling at the person who frustrated us) don’t make us happy.

Look within yourself: if you ate everything you had the impulse to eat, would you truly be happy? If you slept with everyone you had the impulse to sleep with, would that make you happy? Or would you not instead be lonely and gluttonous and broken? If you can’t figure that out from looking within, try looking around you. So some of our desires should be listened to, and help to make us happy. Others of our desires are dangerous, and need to be moderated or entirely ignored. If only there were some way to know which was which; if only someone who could show us how to “human” better…

Of course, this is exactly why we have to consider God’s role in morality. Before you start to think of God as Divine Lawgiver, remember that He is Creator. That’s literally the first thing we know about Him from the order of the world, and it’s the first thing He reveals about Himself in Scripture (Genesis 1). That means that He created you: He knows you infinitely better than you know yourself. He understands how you tick, because He’s the reason that you tick. And He knows exactly what will make you truly happy… and which things won’t.

So with that in mind, let me suggest three elements of a better view of the moral law:

  • Moral laws aren’t arbitrary. They’re rooted in our human nature. Pornography, murder, gluttony, greed, and the rest are forbidden for the same reason as putting a fork in the electrical socket. Those kinds of behaviors hurt other people, but they also hurt you, the moral actor, as a human person.
  • As a result, moral laws are primarily internal. God doesn’t stand outside of Creation like a referee; He’s the ground of all being. The primary role of God’s law-giving isn’t imposing some new obligation upon us, but revealing us to ourselves. When He says “X is good” and “Y is bad” it’s not like a divine game of Simon Says. It’s more like when a doctor says “eggs are good for you” or “eggs are bad for you” (whichever it is). The Author of the universe is showing you a road-map to happiness and Heaven, and a map of your own soul.
  • Finally, following the moral law is key to happiness. I don’t mean here that happy people never sin or that sinners are never happy. But I do mean that the Saint is a great deal happier and more joyful, a great deal more fulfilled as a human being, than the person spending hours a day watching pornography. This is clear when you consider the person who has completely given themselves to virtue and the person who has completely given themselves to vice. The former is aflame with love; the latter is mired in addiction and darkness. It’s not just that the afterlife is better for the Saint; it is frequently the case that this life is better for the Saint as well.

I should add an important caveat to this: in the moment, the wrong thing often feels right and pleasurable. If it didn’t, we probably wouldn’t do it. But that’s exactly why we need moral instruction. Ultimately, we don’t just want a moment of happiness but a lifetime, even an eternity, of it.

This, by the way, is why atheists can frequently be more moral than Christians. Even if they don’t have the assistance of a Divine road-map of the soul, they can often figure out big chunks of the moral law simply from life experience and wisdom (and conscience and the hidden workings of the Holy Spirit within, shhh). If the moral law really were the way Gail Dines and Billy Joel described it (as something arbitrary; external / imposed; and either unrelated to, or antithetical to, our happiness) it would be impossible for someone to arrive at it without revelation. Moral atheists are one of the clearest proofs, then, that the moral law is intimately linked to our human natures and happiness.

With that in mind, let’s circle back to the Dines piece on pornography. She says it “doesn’t matter” if pornography is immoral, because it can be scientifically shown to be destructive to ourselves and to society. That’s a bit like saying that it doesn’t matter if it is raining, because there’s water falling from the sky: if she understood what sin was, she would realize she’s describing it. Another seminarian lamented that it would be nice “if the author recognized that it hurts us BECAUSE it’s immoral.” But the truth is maybe more accurately the reverse: pornography is immoral BECAUSE it hurts us.  And the same can be said for all forms of sin.
 
 
(Image credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Joe Heschmeyer

Written by

Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    This article seems to be saying that morality is not actually grounded in God (as has been stated here on Strange Notions many times before), but in human nature.

    Moral laws aren’t arbitrary. They’re rooted in our human nature. Pornography, murder, gluttony, greed, and the rest are forbidden for the same reason as putting a fork in the electrical socket. Those kinds of behaviors hurt other people, but they also hurt you, the moral actor, as a human person.

    Things are immoral because they harm people. This is a very humanistic view of morality. Heschmeyer does try to bring God into the picture, but here, God is just a moral expert who helps humans understand morally better. God does not ground morality, He just does an expert job of explaining it. Sure, having an expert teacher on the subject of morality is extremely useful, but presumably it would not be impossible for humans to figure it out by themselves. Heschmeyer seems to realize this when he says that "atheists can frequently be more moral than Christians."

    Just like physics does not depend on the existence of a physics professor - though the professor is really helpful in getting us students to understand physics.

    I largely agree with this view of morality. But I am surprised to see it here on Strange Notions, which has previously used the Moral Argument for God to argue that morality depends on the existence of God. From this article, it seems that morality only depends on the existence of humans.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      But for the Christian, human nature, rightly understood, just is fundamentally oriented toward "communion with God", so what is truly grounded in human nature is, definitionally, oriented toward God. Joe alludes to this when he says:

      That dead end – the ultimate motivation for all intentional human activity – could be summarized as something like “I want to be permanently happy.”

      The permanence is key. The claim is that we are seeking a happiness that transcends vicissitude, a happiness that consists of transcendent participation in a communion with "other", or with "Other", or with "God", depending on how one is inclined to think about it.

      That said, I think your critique is actually somewhat supported by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's critique of Karl Rahner's "anonymous Christianity" in his recent interview:

      [Rahner] sustains that the basic, essential act at the basis of Christian existence, decisive for salvation, in the transcendental structure of our consciousness, consists in the opening to the entirely Other, toward unity with God. The Christian faith would in this view cause to rise to consciousness what is structural in man as such. So when a man accepts himself in his essential being, he fulfills the essence of being a Christian without knowing what it is in a conceptual way. The Christian, therefore, coincides with the human and, in this sense, every man who accepts himself is a Christian even if he does not know it. It is true that this theory is fascinating, but it reduces Christianity itself to a pure conscious presentation of what a human being is in himself and therefore overlooks the drama of change and renewal that is central to Christianity.

      (Read in context, I think BXVI's remark is actually pretty sympathetic to Rahner's view, finding it not so much wrong as incomplete.)

      http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/4650/full_text_of_benedict_xvis_recent_rare_and_lengthy_interview.aspx

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      This article seems to be saying that morality is not actually grounded
      in God....,
      but in human nature.

      And human nature is grounded in....?

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Yes.. I understand that under the Christian view, human nature would be grounded in God. But the point is that this view of morality kinda pulls the rug out from the Argument from Morality. You can't start off assuming that the Christian worldview is true when using the Argument from Morality. That's begging the question..

        More specifically, Heschmeyer's morality is based on human happiness. It is not so clear that human happiness is impossible without God.

        • Mike

          i think the point is only that Natures as such rely depend come from "God"; all Natures if they exist are created by God to 'achieve' their proper ends.

          the argument is that morality requires God only in so far as Natures require God for telos and the like.

    • Dagnabbit_42

      OM,

      You won't understand the either argument (either the Moral Argument for God or the groundedness of Moral Law in the realities of What Humans Are Really Like) until you can see them as both sides of the same coin.

      The reality of Humanness springs from the source of all realities. That source by which things are real is the ultimate Efficient Cause but works through secondary causes to achieve nearly all instances of causation; that source is the ultimate Final Cause and this is seen in most fully in the pinnacle of Final Causation, the intellective will; the source is also the intellect from which both Forms and the Matter (or Acts of Existence) instantiating those Forms are derived by acts of creativity.

      Humanism can itself only be intelligible if there's such a thing as The Form Of Human; absent that you get Jabberwocky-ism, where the Jabberwocky is some stand-in for nothing at all. But its particular intelligibility is grounded in a primary consistency or intelligibility or logic which each instance of intelligibility instantiates. And that primary logic -- that Logos -- simply just is what Christians are talking about when they use the word "God."

      If you answer that "Some ground/source0principle of intelligibility in existence" is not what I thought Christians meant by the word God," then you're in fairly good company: A lot of insufficiently-informed Christians are likewise ignorant of this, and somehow manage to remain so, both before and after they recite Chapter 1 of John's Gospel -- which pretty much states it bluntly -- from memory.

      And if you complain that "Well, I can see how some ground/source-principle of intelligibility in existence -- supposing we can figure out anything about it -- would be impressive or important or might somehow get to the heart of all things, but I don't see why Christians should always be attributing all these anthropomorphic notions like personhood or will or opinions -- let alone goodness or love -- to such an entity," then you just need to go do the reading. For Aquinas alone -- skipping over Anselm and all the rest -- devotes hundreds of pages to showing how all these attributes are logical necessities of any such source: It would have to have all such attributes, or it could not be the final ground of intelligibility.

      But this means that the "Form of Humanness" -- all the logical consistencies that make a Human be a thing of the type "human" -- is merely one particular instance of the divine nature being reflected in a created being. Human beings are as they are because God is as He is. (And snails are as they are because God is as He is.)

      Now we do not speak of snails being moral or immoral; if a snail is born with a birth defect, that's about as close as he can come to being a defective snail.

      But in a free-willed and rational organism like a human, his defective-ness or non-defectiveness is, of necessity, a task which he can either achieve by being perfectly rational and perfectly excellent; or, which he can fail to achieve by shirking or error.

      And that is what is called immoral behavior: The voluntary failure to perfectly achieve that which is intelligibly the right flourishing of one's Humanness. The misbegotten snail who slithers into a salt-pile and dies had no rationality or will by which he might have done otherwise. But the human who knows perfectly well the dangers of heroin but injects himself for no reason other than thrill-seeking and achieves for himself a lifetime of earthly damnation could have done otherwise, and voluntarily fails at Human Excellence. But Human Excellence just is what some evangelicals call "God's Plan For Your Life."

      And that's why a Christian holds that Perfect Humanism and God's Moral Law are two sides of the same coin. Of course God would desire excellence in humans: He invented the whole idea of "Human," and is quite fond of the idea, and likes to see it done right.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    In fairness to non-Christians, this conception of morality is
    disturbingly common, even amongst Christians. Victorian morality is
    replete with this idea that such-and-such an activity would make me
    happy, but I’ll forgo it so that God will reward me with Heaven later.

    It seems to me that this idea is found within Catholicism as well. Isn't lent all about forgoing activities that would make you happy? Don't many Catholics encourage others to join in the suffering of Jesus? The idea that suffering is good is not foreign to Catholicism.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      But those are not moral acts. The idea of self-sacrifice was well-known to the Stoics and other pagans. (Even to the Epicureans, though not to the despised hedonists.) A Hindu associate of mine in India who wanted a favor from the gods made a vow to abstain from single-malt whiskey and from meat until he got it. But again, he was not talking about what was moral, but simply making a bargain with the gods. He was quite pleased when the gods came through for him and resumed his whiskey-bibbing, carnivorous ways. (He also ate beef, which was odd for a Hindu, but explained it by saying he was a southern Hindu, not a northern one.)

      However, Lent (or Ramadan, for that matter) is not about forgoing happiness, but about forgoing pleasures. These are not the same thing.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Interesting story about your Hindu associate, though I'm not sure what the relevance is, unless you are saying that lent is about making a bargain with God...

        So what's the difference between the Victorian who says "I will forgo activity X, cause it will make me happy" and the Lenten Catholic who says "I will forgo activity X which brings me pleasure (and thus happiness)"?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Interesting story about your Hindu associate, though I'm not sure what the relevance is

          Folks here seem to think that the only possible options are Catholicism and atheism. ("It seems to me that this idea is found within Catholicism as well.") I thought I'd let you know that the idea of self-sacrifice is universal.

          what's the difference between the Victorian who says "I will forgo activity X, cause it will make me happy"....

          Do you mean because the giving-up itself will make you happy? Or do you mean you are giving up something that makes you happy?

          ...and the Lenten Catholic who says "I will forgo activity X which brings me pleasure (and thus happiness)"?

          Not sure how to parse this. "Pleasure" thus "happiness" doesn't compute. Sometimes pleasures do not entail happiness; and happiness may stem from forgoing certain pleasures. But the Late Modern equation of "happiness" with "pleasure" is a thought-cliche hard to overcome.

          The Victorian is believed to have eschewed pleasures qua pleasurable; that is, because they were pleasurable. (It's not entirely true, but the anti-Victorians won the propaganda war.) The Christian who fasts or remains celibate for Lent does so to remove for a time a distraction from other concerns -- not because he finds eating or reproduction essentially distasteful.

      • The Epicureans were themselves "despised hedonists".

        Happiness isn't a form of pleasure? It sure seems to be pleasurable.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          A Stoic might think so, but "Hedonists seek base and bodily pleasures only, while Epicureans seek the longer-lasting and truer pleasures involved in a clean conscience, good fellowship, the educated life and the uplifted sentiment."

          Happiness meant originally good fortune, as is clear from its related forms: hapless, happenstance, happening, etc. It is entirely possible to experience happiness without experiencing pleasure, which is a sensual thing. Hence, when I received preprints for my first mathematical paper I was very happy to have them. But they did not satiate any particular passion or hunger. Similarly, as the hedonist quickly discovers, pleasures quickly pale and leave him less happy than before.

          A man in love will experience happiness at the sight of his beloved; but a man interested only in sexual coupling will over time become a jade. Now, the lover will in many cases engage in pleasure as a way of expressing that love, but the two are distinct, and achieving the second is not the purpose of the first.

          • Epicureanism was/is a form of hedonism though. You seem to be referencing a specific group of hedonists different from them.

            I guess we define pleasure differently. To me, what you describe would be very pleasurable. In any case, wasn't there some desire or need that was satisfied by this? Presumably you were happy to see your name getting into print, or something like that. I think that is not really different from a passion or hunger then. Pleasures are of many kinds. Some are fleeting and fade, true. Others endure.

            The sight of another person is sensual by definition, which you previously defined as a sensual matter. So how is there a strict separation here? I also do not think pleasure is solely sensual or bodily. There are also intellectual pleasures, such as the joy that can come from learning new things (among many).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Presumably you were happy to see your name getting into print

            Alas, I did not have an orgasm over it. Nor did I feel sated.

            That "pleasure" has been used analogically or metaphorically for the affects of the intellect is unavoidable. We are constantly using physical and bodily terms for matters of the intellect and will. As for example when we "grasp" the point of an argument. We mustn't imagine that the mind is like a hand and it actually wraps itself around the argument like a fist. The same would apply to intellective "satisfaction." It's not actually the same thing

          • I wouldn't expect you to be, since it isn't that sort of pleasure.

            Why is it necessarily bodily? When we feel joy over reading something, is that not pleasure?

  • Valence

    They’re rooted in our human nature. Pornography, murder, gluttony, greed, and the rest are forbidden for the same reason as putting a fork in the electrical socket. Those kinds of behaviors hurt other people, but they also hurt you, the moral actor, as a human person.

    Human nature seems to be very, very flexible. I have no doubt that porn can be harmful in some cases, but not others..it's always context and culturally sensitive. Here is a good article taking the other side.

    With access to pornography easier than ever before, politicians and scientists alike have renewed their interest in deciphering its psychological effects. Certainly pornography addiction or overconsumption seems to cause relationship problems [see “Sex in Bits and Bytes,” by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld; Scientific American Mind, July/August 2010]. But what about the more casual exposure typical of most porn users? Contrary to what many people believe, recent research shows that moderate pornography consumption does not make users more aggressive, promote sexism or harm relationships. If anything, some researchers suggest, exposure to pornography might make some people less likely to commit sexual crimes.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-sunny-side-of-smut/

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Human nature seems to be very, very flexible.

      Human nature is to be a rational animal. Among other things, it means that we can know something is wrong even if it pleasures our senses.

      • Valence

        One flaw of traditional economics was that it assumed people usually make rational decisions...they don't. Certainly humans are capable of reason, but the evidence seems to be against humans being inherently, and usually, rational.
        Is it wrong to let other people see you naked? If so, why did the Egyptians, Greeks, Japanese, and so many other cultures not think so. They certainly didn't "know" it was wrong.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          You may be confusing "rational decisions" with "the use of reason." Man possesses the power of intellect. No one says he always uses it perfectly, or that the ability to provide reasons is the same thing as calculating costs and benefits.

          For example, the universal judgment of reason is that eating too much chocolate will make you fat. This is what we mean when we say that eating too much chocolate is "bad" for you. Yet, chocolate is a pleasure to the senses and 'feels good' to eat for most people. This struggle between what we feel is good and what we know is good is why the strengths of courage and temperance are called upon. When we want to do what reason tells us we should not, we need temperance. When we don't want to do what reason tells us we should, we need courage. These were well-known to the pagans.

          Modern neurobiology tells us that when we repeatedly act on neural impulses originating in the hindbrain, those neural patterns become "vulcanized" and interfere with neural patterns originating in the neocortex. That is, too much indulgence in digestive and reproductive activities (which are the most basic processes) can impede rational thought. Since "to be a rational animal" is precisely human nature, such indulgences hamper or damage our own nature, making us stupid.

          • Valence

            Since "to be a rational animal" is precisely human nature, such indulgences hamper or damage our own nature, making us stupid.

            I'm with you for the most part, but isn't the urge to overindulgence also human nature? Overindulgence wasn't a problem in our hunter gather days because a day of plenty might be followed by 5 days of famine making overindulgence an effective strategy in those circumstances. Some problems like gluttony only occur when this part of human nature meets a constant supply of food. I agree that this part of human nature might be considered bad in modern times, but it would be good (and rational) in ancient times. Marathon runners often eat very heavily before a race, for good reason, and it fits with gluttonous urges.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            One size does not fit all. And as Augustine wrote in On Christian doctrine, there were things that were good in other times and places that were no longer good in his own. A marathoner is not engaged in gluttony, which is an obsession with eating qua eating. As the muslim Al-Ghazali put it: "The
            one whose concern is with that which enters the belly will discover
            that his value is found in that which goes out of it." It's not the eating that matters, it's the obsession.

          • Valence

            It's not the eating that matters, it's the obsession.

            "I am burger obsessed and I love playing with the idea of what a burger can be for people. I make burgers out of everything from grains to seafood to, of course, browned meats of every kind. What I love about the burger is it makes food accessible and fun for everyone." - Rachel Ray

            Rachel Ray seems obsessed with food in general, and has made a good living out of it. She isn't overweight and doesn't seem to overindulge. Perhaps we need obsession along with overindulgence to get to gluttony? Obsession alone doesn't seem to cut it. Would you agree that the urge to overindulge is a part of human nature? Just curious there.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Obsession with eating is gluttony. You present no evidence that Rachel Ray (whoever that is) is a glutton.

            One needn't over-indulge in order to be a glutton. One can be obsessed with eating in a variety of ways.

            We must, therefore, consider carefully what is suitable to times and places and persons, and not rashly charge men with sins. For it is possible that a wise man may use the daintiest food without any sin of epicurism or gluttony, while a fool will crave for the vilest food with a most disgusting eagerness of appetite. And any sane man would prefer eating fish after the manner of our Lord, to eating lentiles after the manner of Esau, or barley after the manner of oxen. For there are several beasts that feed on commoner kinds of food, but it does not follow that they are more temperate than we are. For in all matters of this kind it is not the nature of the things we use, but our reason for using them, and our manner of seeking them, that make what we do either praiseworthy or blameable."
            -- Augustine of Hippo, On Christian doctrine III.12.19

          • David Nickol

            Rachel Ray (whoever that is)

            Gasp!

          • Valence

            Gluttony (Latin: gula), derived from the Latin gluttire meaning to gulp down or swallow, means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluttony

            I'll stick with the standard definition of gluttony, thanks :)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'll stick with the standard definition of gluttony,

            And I'll stick with St. Augustine of Hippo, On Christian doctrine. I wonder which might be the better guide to moral behavior.

          • Valence

            I wonder which might be the better guide to moral behavior.

            Is a definition ever much of a guide to moral behavior? That aside, Augustine offers some terrible health advice here:

            For it is possible that a wise man may use the daintiest food without any sin of epicurism or gluttony, while a fool will crave for the vilest food with a most disgusting eagerness of appetite. And any sane man would prefer eating fish after the manner of our Lord, to eating lentiles after the manner of Esau, or barley after the manner of oxen. For there are several beasts that feed on commoner kinds of food, but it does not follow that they are more temperate than we are. </blockquote?

            Lentiles and barley are incredibly healthful foods. Both have a significant benefit for those who tend to overeat, as well thanks to the types of fiber and proteins both contain. Fiber, in general, helps people feel satiated and curbs appetite.

            Eating one serving a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils could contribute to modest weight loss, a new study suggests.

            https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160330135255.htm

            Yesterday I had salmon and asparagus for dinner, and used Ezekiel bread for a sandwich at midday. Ezekiel bread is made with barley and lentils, according this verse in book of Ezekiel...I guess Augustine never read that one ;)

            "Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils and millet, and spelt and put them in one vessel…" Ezekiel 4:9

            http://www.foodforlife.com/about_us/ezekiel-49

            Odd and a bit silly that Augustine thinks I'm not sane and eating like an ox, lol...and who cares what Esau ate? It's almost like Augustine thinks we should eat food based on what other people eat. Eating that which is beneficial to health is a far superior paradigm. I'd suggest choosing food based on what Jesus, Esau, and oxen eat is fundamentally misguided, but perhaps you have good arguments to the contrary?

            P.S. Full disclosure I'm often regarded as a health nut, which does include an obsession with maximizing health, and eating the healthiest foods is part of that obsession...maybe that means I'm obsessed with food and eating but also exercise and good sleep. I'll have to ponder that, but I assure you I'm in excellent health even though my BMI says I'm overweight due to muscle mass.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You seem to consistently miss the point that Augustine was making. It's not WHAT you eat, but the attitude with which you eat it. He does not criticize the eating of barley, but the eating of barley after the manner of oxen. That is, in German, die Gerste zu fressen rather than die Gerste zu essen.E.g., watch oxen eat.

          • Valence

            I think you miss the point actually, let me you forgot Esau

            29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.[e]) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”[f] So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

            There is nothing here to suggest that Esau's manner was odd when he ate the lentil stew, though perhaps a very hungry person might eat rather quickly. Let's look at the sentence again:

            And any sane man would prefer eating fish after the manner of our Lord, to eating lentiles after the manner of Esau, or barley after the manner of oxen.

            Now if he is talking about table manners, then it would make sense to just say "eat like an oxen" what would the barley have to do with it? What would Esau have to do with it unless you know something about Esau that I don't? Why would he mention fish? What does German have to do with it when Augustine wrote in latin?
            I'd agree with the last part of the quote, on a positive note:

            And any sane man would prefer eating fish after the manner of our Lord, to eating lentiles after the manner of Esau, or barley after the manner of oxen.

            For in all matters of this kind it is not the nature of the things we use, but our reason for using them, and our manner of seeking them, that make what we do either praiseworthy or blameable."

            I eat for health reasons, and have normal appetite control. What about someone who continues to eat because they can never get full and they are constantly hungry? That seems a good reason to eat, but it can lead to the appearance of gluttony. We can't really no what motivates a person to overeat, though I'd agree there is a moral problem if it is done just for pleasure and no regard for the health effects.

          • Valence

            Sorry if I'm providing to much information here, but obesity is a real public health problem in the U.S. that costs the country dearly. Recently serious work has been done to locate the triggers of overeating, and potential solutions may be on the horizon, hopefully going short of gene therapy.

            When researchers knocked down a single enzyme in the brains of mice, the rodents seemed to lose the ability to tell when they were full. They ate more than twice their usual amount of food at meal times and tripled their body fat within three weeks. And—most strikingly—when the researchers reversed the experiment, the mice just as quickly stopped eating so much. Data on the enzymatic switch, published Thursday in Science, suggests a possible target for future drugs to treat obesity in humans.

            http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/03/off-switch-for-overeating-and-obesity-found-in-the-brain/

            Is having a problem with an enzyme a moral problem, or just a regular health problem? Certainly we should encourage people to exercise restraint and eat for the goal of bettering their health, but it seems there are some people that are unable to control themselves...different solutions are required for those people.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Is having a problem with an enzyme a moral problem

            No. Why would you suppose it is? Again: morality does not lie in the concrete particulars of the act, but in the movement of the will.

          • Valence

            No. Why would you suppose it is? Again: morality does not lie in the concrete particulars of the act, but in the movement of the will.

            What happens when we show the enzyme clearly affects the will, and the urge to eat.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            All sorts of things affect the will. Strong drink, for example. However, the will, properly speaking, is the intellective appetite -- that is, a desire for or revulsion toward the products of the intellect -- whereas hunger is one of the sensory appetites -- a hunger/revulsion for the products of perception. A man with the disability you suggest is no more at fault than a blind man who walks into a door, for it is one of his senses that is disabled; i.e., his sense of satiety. He does not will himself to overeat any more than the blind man wills himself to walk into the door.

            Why does this elementary point seem to elude so many Late Moderns?

          • Valence

            Why does this elementary point seem to elude so many Late Moderns?

            I think the "late modern" Harry Frankfurt captures this idea quite well with second order desires...here is a paper on the subject

            https://www3.nd.edu/~jspeaks/courses/2008-9/43503/_LECTURES/frankfurt-free-will.pdf

            Certainly the man with the disability wills himself to eat, and could also will himself not to eat, but he can't stop the desire to eat even though he doesn't want to have the desire to eat (second order desire). Willpower itself is an interesting topic and it seems to be exhaustible, thus the man with the disability may be able to will himself not to eat until his willpower runs dry.

            https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower-limited-resource.pdf

            FWIW Mindfulness meditation seems to increase the supply of available willpower.

            http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2011/12/29/a-conversation-about-the-science-of-willpower/

            Insufficient sleep can also drastically reduce willpower, and there is a strong association between sleep problems and obesity. It's an incredibly complicated topic, and I'm not sure any one approach completely captures what we talk about when we discuss "will".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm not sure why you think these are objections. Impediments to the will were well-known to Aristotle, Aquinas, and the rest. Strong drink, habit (which in their languages would have included what we call "genetic" as well as personal habits and social customs. It' s well known that desires, esp. of a sensory kind like hunger, are due to physical causes and not the will as such. (See diagram) There are cases of people on hunger strikes who have starved themselves to death, but more often one will go off the diet at some point. But the fact that in extreme cases the will may break no more invalidates the role of the will than the fact that under extreme loads the arm will break proves that the manner in which we normally grip and lift things is not anatomically correct.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/560902b4778f2a94b17bfb3315ad6a3a855bcd85a79a5e0de2281d877ccc2202.jpg

          • Valence

            Impediments to the will were well-known to Aristotle, Aquinas, and the rest. Strong drink, habit (which in their languages would have included what we call "genetic" as well as personal habits and social customs. It' s well known that desires, esp. of a sensory kind like hunger, are due to physical causes and not the will as such.

            There are tons of ways to try to separate parts of mind and discuss there interaction (but it's becoming clear that all interactions must allow for feedback as the human mind isn't a linear system as your diagram tends to indicate). Before I say anything else, is Will=Volition? And how does desire fit into the diagram, is it a subset of volition or perception or something else? Does arrow from volition to emotion mean that emotion can't affection volition? That would seem very problematic.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            All models are simplifications. Newton's model for gravity had no term in it for "time," and its simplicity is deceptive. Once you have three bodies, the model is analytically unsolvable and can only be approximated by iterative methods.

            Will is Volition. I was trying to use as many -tion words as possible for parallelism. Intellection was so much more less familiar (and it did not fit in the box) that I abbreviated it.

            The Will is a desire; viz., a desire for products of the Intellect. It is parallel to the Emotions, which are desires for the products of Perception. (Desires can also be repugnances, a "negative desire.") A higher power can overrule a lower one. The emotion of hunger moves us to eat; but the desire to fast or diet may overrule that emotion. Otherwise, we merely have the Will assenting to the Emotion.

            There is an extended discussion on the matter in a series of lectures recovered from the Wayback Machine, here:

            https://web.archive.org/web/20041021064636/http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02000.htm

          • Valence

            This article is decent, backing up that idea that emotions play a huge role in decision making. I would argue that man is more of an emotional animal than a rational one, but the only animal capable of high level reasoning. Perhaps we would be in agreement there

            http://bigthink.com/experts-corner/decisions-are-emotional-not-logical-the-neuroscience-behind-decision-making

          • Mike

            what do you mean by lower level reasoning? i suspect YOS would say that animals imagine things and remember but don't actually do any reasoning of the sort that we do.

          • Valence
          • Mike

            sounds like it takes a lot of memorizing for these animals to get good enough to perform the task in the correct way. i wonder if they are reasoning or just recalling from memory.

          • Valence

            There is way more where that came from, but if one has decided, a priori, that apes are incapable of reason, no amount of evidence will change their mind. It's probably easier if we just agree that only humans are capable of advanced, high level reasoning instead of debating lower level reasoning and what counts as reason. In order to make much progress at the lower level, we would have to agree on exactly what it means to reason, which would take quite a bit of background work.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Scientists can only observe external, objective facts. They must reason from those to a theory that explains those facts. They cannot actually observe monkeys abstracting analogies, since those are irreducibly subjective acts. They can only project their own inner processes onto the monkey (unless they are busily reducing the human to the monkey.) But as we know from science, the same set of facts can always be interpreted in the light of multiple theories.

            But, as you say, if you have decided a priori that apes are capable of reasoning, then you will interpret the evidence in that way and nothing will change your mind. (It is much easier to make up your mind than to change it afterward, a sort of mental inertia.) It is especially useful if you have an elastic notion of "reasoning."

            Of course, instinct in classical philosophy was far more supple than the meat-puppet version concocted by the Enlightenment. "Practical reason" and "animal prudence" enter into things, too. Still, reason is the capacity to abstract universal concepts from particular percepts and the clearest evidence for this is the use of language; i.e., of grammar.

          • Mike

            yeah it depends so much on what we mean by 'reason' at all to argue about whether some animals engage in it.

            either way the gulf btw us and any other animals is almost impossible to understate.

  • David Nickol

    So to act morally is to act according to our (enlightened) self-interest. If there is a Creator, then of course morality would be ultimately from Him. If not, not. This seems to me to support the atheist view that we can be good without God.

    • Raymond

      And two corollaries:
      1. We can profess a belief in God and still do immoral things.
      2. It is possible to do immoral things BECAUSE of a belief in God.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Actually, that was also more or less St. Paul's view in Romans 2, so these cafeteria atheists are simply following Christian doctrine of the homo naturaliter Christianus. It stems from Plato's concept of synderesis. Atheists like Nietzsche, Sartre, Rorty, et al. have sometimes had trouble reconciling with this, either giving in to existential angst or rejecting morality entirely and declaring themselves "beyond good and evil."

      • David Nickol

        As I have said in another comment, it seems to me this leaves out the concept of intrinsic evil and of offenses against God. Most of the Catholic arguments I have heard against contraception, for example, do not dwell on harm done to the relationship of the couples who use contraception. They are about "technical violations." There is only one right way to have sexual intercourse, and any departure from this way is evil not because of any harm that will come from it, but because the act is "disordered." As I also have mentioned elsewhere, lying is intrinsically evil because it is "perverted speech," the use of the faculty of speech to function as something other than the way to convey truth. Lying is wrong not because it does harm (though of course in many cases it may do harm). Lying is just wrong . . . period. Lying is wrong no matter how much good it does. A little white lie is impermissible even to save millions from agony and death.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          There is only one right way to have sexual intercourse, and any departure from this way is evil not because of any harm that will come from it, but because the act is "disordered."

          Well, more than one -- depending on what is meant by "way." An act is "disordered" if it is not ordered toward its proper object. In modern lingo, a better word might be "mis-aimed" or "off-target" or something of that sort. For example the purpose of speech is to convey the truth. To lie is to speak contrary to what is in your mind. (It is not to be mistaken or even going off half-cocked.) Now, acts have consequences and these consequences may be inextricably linked with the act. For example, your thoughts will set up a neural pattern in your brain. If you lie, you set up a conflicting neural pattern. This is a form of cognitive dissonance and has a harmful consequence on one's thinking. However, you are entirely correct that one does not refrain from lying explicitly because of this harmful consequence, but rather because your speech is not properly targeted.

          (BTW: evasion and deception are not the same as lying. If your auditor is not entitled to the truth, you are allowed to mislead him with ambiguity, non-responsive replies, etc.)

          Now the same is true of such things as eating. The proper object of eating is nutrition. But annexed to this is the pleasurable sensations of smell and taste (and perhaps of presentation). There is nothing blameworthy in taking pleasure in the fine taste of, say, baked chicken breasts a la Russe or of broiled escargot, or of seeking out a restaurant serving such for that special occasion. But when one eats purely for the pleasure and not for the nutrition, then one is blameworthy. In extreme cases of habituation we regard it as a medical ill, such as bulimia.

          Likewise, the reproductive act will generally entail pleasure, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures; but it is wrong to engage in the act primarily for the pleasure. In his Commentary on I Corinthians #329, Aquinas noted that a man is guilty of serious sin if he were to approach his own wife as he would any woman. That is, if (in modern terms) he uses her as a sex object for his own pleasure.

          A little white lie is impermissible even to save
          millions from agony and death.

          An actual example being...?

          • David Nickol

            (BTW: evasion and deception are not the same as lying. If your auditor is not entitled to the truth, you are allowed to mislead him with ambiguity, non-responsive replies, etc.)

            For some reason, this was pounded into our heads in the Catholic schools I went to. I remember one of my teachers at my Christian Brothers school telling, with a certain degree of admiration, the story of one of my fellow students surreptitiously eating in class. The Brother had said to him, "Are you eating candy?" My fellow student had truthfully replied, "No, Brother!" He was eating peanuts.

            DN: A little white lie is impermissible even to save millions from agony and death.

            YOS: An actual example being...?

            You'll have to ask G. K. Chesterton. He's the one who said it. I remember being taught in something like second-grade that we should never tell a lie even to save the whole world.

          • David Nickol

            For example the purpose of speech is to convey the truth. To lie is to speak contrary to what is in your mind.

            Suppose you are an undercover narcotics agent, or you were in the Resistance in France during the WWII. Suppose you are designated to trick the Birthday Boy (or Birthday Girl) into coming to the place where the surprise party is to be held. I can think of numerous scenarios in which we expect people to lie without even the idea of sinfulness coming up.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I was lured to my 40th birthday party with the assurance that it was a family reunion. Lo and behold, everyone in the barroom yelled surprise! when we walked in.

            But I was told no lies. There was a plethora of cousins, uncles and aunts. It was a family reunion; it was just not only a family reunion.

            "Do you know where the Resistance arms are stockpiled?"
            "No, sir." (They may have been moved by now...)

            +++

            We also expect people to lie when they are acting in a play or movie or doing stand-up comedy. But these are not lies because of the social convention by which we have all agreed to pretend.

            +++

            It is likewise always an evil to kill another person, even in self defense or as a sentence handed down by a lawful court. But it may be necessary given the circumstances. That does not make killing not an evil, but it may make it the lesser of the evils available. That is why knights returning from the wars in medieval times had to go through a ritual of penance and pray for forgiveness for what they had been required to do. But likewise, we must be careful about deciding when the circumstances do warrant. The same applies to lying.

            BTW, in addition to standard lies, there is also slander, calumny, rash judgment, and other sinful behavior related to them.

          • David Nickol

            It is likewise always an evil to kill another person, even in self
            defense or as a sentence handed down by a lawful court. But it may be
            necessary given the circumstances. That does not make killing not an
            evil, but it may make it the lesser of the evils available.

            It is certainly not Catholic teaching that it is always a moral evil to kill another person. The jury that finds someone guilty of a capital crime, the judge who sentences the convict to death, and the executioner who carries out the sentence are not committing immoral acts. Likewise, the soldier who kills in battle, even if not directly in self-defense, is not committing an immoral act.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Perhaps not immoral, but always an evil.

          • Something can be evil but not immoral? How so?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            An evil is defectus boni, a deficiency in a good. Death is an evil because it is a deficiency of life, a good. But it is not immoral to die. If you think about what it means to be a good doctor, you will realize that deficiencies in this would make one a bad doctor. But these evils are not necessarily culpable or immoral.

            Do not confuse "evil" with Hollywood monsters.

          • Okay, that I can understand. It's natural evil, not moral evil, then?

            I'm not confusing it with Hollywood monsters, but immorality apparently.

          • Valence

            An evil is defectus boni, a deficiency in a good. Death is an evil because it is a deficiency of life, a good.

            I'd suggest simply using "bad" to indicate a deficiency in good. Evil carries with it something stronger, something intentional. By your definition, birth defects or improperly made goods are evil and that doesn't fit with what people mean by evil.
            I'm aware of Augustine's theory of evil (deprivation) but I think it ends with some absurdities when we must admit that a deformed tree and the Nazi's are the same kind of think under this theory. It doesn't account for intention and many theorists on evil think that is a huge problem...I'm one of them. His theory does account for somethings we call evil, and I will be the first to admit that no existing theory accounts neatly for everything we tend to call evil. Of course, in English, evil has multiple definitions that have a pretty significant deviation...making using the word problematic unless one defines it each time

            Evil:
            1.morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked:
            evil deeds; an evil life.
            2. harmful; injurious: evil laws.
            3. characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days.
            4. due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character:
            an evil reputation.
            5. marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc.:

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'd suggest simply using "bad" to indicate a deficiency in good.

            If "bad" were a noun, that would be good. I understand that usage has been becoming lately popular, as in the semi-;iterate expression "my bad."

            Terms accumulate connotations in vernacular usage that can be difficult to overcome. Try explaining to someone with only a colloquial concept of "simple" that a maze is a "simple" curve.

            The problem comes when a discussion has been going on for many centuries. If we insist on original meanings, the moderns get confused. If we allow modern meanings, the older writings get misinterpreted.

            http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=evil&allowed_in_frame=0

            It might be easier to discuss this in Latin. The noun malum, -i meant 'a bad' and 'an evil' indifferently.

            It's not Augustine's theory. You can actually find it among the pagans, as in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics.

          • David Nickol

            Death is an evil because it is a deficiency of life, a good.

            Why did God create a world in which every living thing, without exception, eventually dies? You can't blame it on Adam and Eve, since wherever in history you place them, death goes back billions of years farther.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You'll have to ask him when you see him.

          • Lazarus

            How do you feel about earthly life being some sort of first stage life, a necessary phase where all life must pass through to get to something better or different? A type of evolutionary necessity, where like the cliche tells us that death is a door.

            Edited to add : with that approach, death is of course not an evil, especially post-Resurrection.

          • David Nickol

            It is an interesting idea, but I don't think it is a Christian one. I think my question to YOS was a good one. If death is an evil, then why did God create a world in which every living thing, without exception, dies. There is no way our world could function without death. Evolution wouldn't happen without death. And you can't blame death on the sin of Adam and Eve. (Well, I have seen people try to argue that the world was made as it was in anticipation of Original Sin. But if you can believe that, you can believe anything.)

            It seems to me that if you want to believe in the absolute goodness of God, you can't believe that death is an evil.

          • Lazarus

            I'm not so sure that it's not a Christian idea. Jesus changed death into something that we need not fear. In that I completely agree with you that death is not an "evil". I am simply saying that it is very much a Christian concept.

          • David Nickol

            Apologies. I responded to something that was in my head but not—so far as I can tell from rereading—in your message. I thought you were saying that this life is an "evolutionary stage" with many more to come. I said it was not Christian because it seems the Christian stages are this life, purgatory, heaven, and resurrection of the body. If you were thinking in those terms, then I agree that in Christian thought, this life is a "stage" one must go through.

          • Will

            Doesn't this make euthanasia a good idea?

          • Mike

            i think it makes natural death still an evil but a passing to something better; however directly intending to kill is a moral evil.

          • Mike

            apparently he didn't create it that way in the beg. as i understand before the fall there was to be no death at all.

          • David Nickol

            apparently he didn't create it that way in the beg. as i understand before the fall there was to be no death at all.

            How do you explain dinosaur fossils? Surely the dinosaurs lived before the (alleged) fall!

          • Mike

            maybe it was just humans who didn't 'know' death then? i was listening to eleanor stump lecture in which she seemed to say that there was no suffering not even animal suffering before the fall.

          • David Nickol

            How does she know?

            There is absolutely no reason to believe that there was no animal death or animal suffering before "the fall," since "nature, red in tooth and claw" preceded humans by millions (probably billions) of years. Can there be predators and prey without suffering? Are you claiming that all animals before the fall lived happy lives and died peacefully in their sleep (if they died at all)?

          • Mike

            no i am not claiming any of that. eleanor stump said there was no suffering before the fall for animals but i don't know why should would think that as it was just in a Q&A and she didn't explain. my understanding is that for human beings there wasn't any death etc/wouldn't have been had we not sinned.

          • Valence

            Did this Eleanor give any reason she thinks that? Is this related to the absurd (in my opinion) idea that animals don't suffer?

          • David Nickol

            The name is actually Eleonore (not Eleanore) Stump (I looked it up). If Mike is going to cite a lecture by her, it would be nice if he would identify the lecture and spell her name right.

          • Mike

            it was just in the Q&A section so she didn't. animals certainly suffer but not like human being imho. they suffer but don't "know" they are suffering like we do. but certainly animals have emotions, all sorts.

          • Are you saying killing in self-defense is a sin that requires a confession, absolution, and penance? Is that actual Catholic doctrine? What about "we must never do evil that good will result?" I have never heard of this being sinful before.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What about "we must never do evil that good will result?"

            That's precisely why. Even in civil law, self defense is a defense against a charge of murder, not an a priori permission to kill.

          • Well, not precisely. If the police determine it was self defense, you will not be charged at all. Precisely as it was not murder, it's acceptable. So why is killing in self-defense considered a sin?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Because life is a good and death is an evil. So you darned well better have a good reason (ratio --> rational). It may have been under the circumstances the lesser of two evils. But the lesser of two evils is still an evil. Even if it is not a crime.

          • Even if causing death is to protect your life (or another's)? They do have a good reason in this case. I don't think self-defense is evil at all. That seems to be the difference.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A good is what fulfills and perfects our nature. (def)
            An evil is a deficiency in a good. (def)
            1. Life is a good.
            2. Killing deprives a man of his life.
            3. Therefore, killing is an evil. (mod. pon.) (QED)

            (If you prefer to say it is a "bad," feel free. We have lately begun to use "bad" as a noun in our society.)

            In some cases, it may be a necessary evil. Aquinas used the example of liberty, which along with life and property were regarded as one of the three primary rights. A judge may sentence a thief to prison. This is an evil, since the thief is thereby deprived of his liberty, and his wife and children may now go hungry. But if he frees the thief, then the property of others is now at hazard, which is also an evil. No matter what the judge does, he necessarily does an evil, so he must choose "the lesser of the two evil." But that still means he is depriving another of a good (in this case, liberty).

          • Yes, if I accept the premises the conclusion follows.

            I'm pretty sure "bad" has been a noun for much longer than in current times, though that is a side issue. Regardless "evil" is fine by me.

            Again my question is here: does the judge have to confess, receive absolution and do penance for this? Does the person who kills in self-defense? Honestly this was news to me.

          • Mike

            you don't need to confess what isn't a moral evil.

          • I assumed so.

          • Mike

            self defense isn't evil; killing another person is. not a moral evil in this case i take it but evil nevertheless.

          • What kind of evil then, if not moral?

          • Mike

            i am not sure what the technical label would be but one person killing another for whatever reason even if morally acceptable/good reason is still an evil in so far as it 'takes away' what ought to be ie a person ought to go on living until nature takes its course and 'kills him'.

            it's just proper/natural in the specific aristo-thomist sense for a human being not to be killed.

            a general ordering defense of position is not morally killing his soldiers but that they are dying is still an evil.

          • I think this makes sense. On the other hand, it seems odd that from a theistic perspective we would be made to die, or that so many things kill us. I suppose that just brings up the Problem of Evil again.

          • Mike

            we would answer that by pointing out that as all things tend toward their final cause and as all things have their final cause in the creator who conceived of them we too will return to him. it completes the circle so to speak.

            but originally don't forget it wasn't meant to be this way not intended by God anyway.

          • What is the final cause for us? If death is an evil, then why can't it then be done without that? If God doesn't want this, he could change it. Or rather, not have done it to begin with.

          • Mike

            our final cause is God, eternity. before the fall apparently human beings didn't die at all or suffer - that was God's original intention. he didn't do it we did.

          • David Nickol

            First, the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible is a myth. It is not history. Even the Catechism acknowledges it is in figurative language.

            Second, I don't mean to be offensive, but to talk about the way things were before and after the fall strikes me as reverting to childish beliefs and not merely (or perhaps not even) biblical fundamentalism, but groundless speculation based on the false assumption that the story of Adam and Eve was historically accurate. A great deal of nonsense was made up over the centuries by people who took Genesis to be history, and they spun all kinds of fantasies about Adam and Eve, including their "preternatural gifts." Serious adults (or adults who want to be taken seriously) have to abandon those fantasies and give up childish adherence to "Bible stories" that they believed in growing up.

            The creation myths in Genesis are brilliant and endlessly fascinating, but they aren't history. If anything remotely resembling "the fall" happened, it may have marked a change in human history, but it is just silly to claim that death or animal suffering did not exist before "the fall."

          • Mike

            are you calling aquinas childish:

            " In this way the sin of our first parent is the cause of death and all such like defects in human nature, in so far as by the sin of our first parent original justice was taken away, whereby not only were the lower powers of the soul held together under the control of reason, without any disorder whatever, but also the whole body was held together in subjection to the soul, without any defect, as stated in the I:97:1. "

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2085.htm

          • David Nickol

            No, it was not childish to mistake the myths of the Bible for history in the 13th century. But it is today.

            Also, what conditions were like for animals before the fall is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Nor is it in the Bible that Adam and Eve had "preternatural gifts" or that they were created immortal, or given "infused knowledge." All of these things are the fantasies of "theologians" who believed in the historicity of the story of Adam and Eve.

          • Mike

            what was so special about the 13th century? anyway no one is mistaking it for history.

            is this the same dave nickol we're all used to or has some protestant fundie hijacked your disqus profile? serious q.

          • David Nickol

            is this the same dave nickol we're all used to or has some protestant fundie hijacked your disqus profile? serious q.

            Just hours ago I wrote to you (in part)

            First, the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible is a myth. It is not history. Even the Catechism acknowledges it is in figurative language. . . .

            The creation myths in Genesis are brilliant and endlessly fascinating, but they aren't history. If anything remotely resembling "the fall" happened, it may have marked a change in human history, but it is just silly to claim that death or animal suffering did not exist before "the fall."

            How could you credit that to a "protestant fundie"?

            Perhaps you are thinking that because I say there is nothing in the Bible about animals not suffering prior to the fall, I am implying that if it's not in the Bible, it can't be true. But what I am actually saying is that the creation story in Genesis is a myth, and there is not even anything in the myth about the conditions of animals before the fall. So speculations based on taking the myth to be historical truth have no basis in the Bible or anywhere else.

          • Scripture says otherwise: "And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Genesis 3:22) Obviously, if all people were immortal to begin with, that would be unnecessary. In any case, "we" didn't do anything. We were not even born.

          • Mike

            we're not protestants; sola scriptura is an error. the RCC compiled the bible it chose which books go in and which don't.

            we did it as the human race. not you me but the royal we.

          • Valence

            The Jews compiled the Hebrew Bible. The RCC borrowed it. Original sin isn't found in the Hebrew and is unknown to Judaism. Personally I think it is one of the worst theodicies out there.

          • Mike

            i don't think that's right. jewish ppl WROTE the books of the old testament but it wasn't COMPILED into BIBLE until the church set to doing it.

            original sin is in genesis i think. i'd recommend some eleanor stump youtube lectures if you're more interested.

          • Valence

            Wow your ignorance of history is profound.
            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah
            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_Bible

            Original sin was first formulated after the death of Jesus mostly by Augustine.
            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin

          • Mike

            i am not sure what those links are supposed to show.

            my only point is that the RCC COMPILED the bible as we know it today not that it was written by the RCC.

            the RCC would say the concept of original sin is contained in genesis but you may be right that judaism has never interpreted genesis that way - i don't know much in particular about judaism so i'll take your word for it that they don't believe in a similar concept.

          • David Nickol

            I have no problem with the argument that Bible was produced by the Church and not the other way around, but it is anachronistic to credit the "Roman Catholic" Church with the formation of the canon. According to this article in Catholic Answers, the earliest instances of calling the Church "Roman Catholic" date back only to the sixteenth century. Neither Jesus (nor his followers for well over a millennium) spoke of the "Roman Catholic" Church.

          • Mike

            ok that's just semantics i think; anyway we agree it was christians and the christian church which finally compiled the bible as we know it.

          • Valence

            i am not sure what those links are supposed to show.
            my only point is that the RCC COMPILED the bible as we know it today not that it was written by the RCC.

            The links show that this is mistaken. The Jews compiled what you consider the Old testament (with some slight differences in which books are in the canon, depending on the Jewish sect) before Christianity existed. Where do you think all of the prophesies for Jesus were supposed to come from? Today the Jews call this the Tanakh. The first 5 book of the Bible, the Torah, were a complete work at least by 5th century B.C....that's 500 years before Jesus was born.

          • Mike

            ok i get all that. again the church COMPILED NOT WROTE the bible. there's a difference. however the OT was translated into the greek very early on and many ppl used the greek version for centuries apparently. anyway i am only pointing out that it was the Church that chose which books go in and which don't. the church came first in priority not the bible; sola scriptura is an error according to RCC.

          • Valence

            Christians compiled the new Testament Jews the Hebrew Bible. I usually up end agreeing with Jewish interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, though usually there are many. Variety in interpretation seems to be encouraged in Judaism.

          • Mike

            yes judaism doesn't have a central authority like catholic church; also islam doesn't have that central authority. islam would do well to get that central authority to 'excommunicate' the demons who are behind isis etc. but that's another discussion.

          • David Nickol

            Well, in all fairness, we have Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and so on, and none has a central authority. Catholicism is not the central authority for Christianity. Catholicism is certainly the largest Christian sect or denomination, and it does have a central authority, but approximately half of Christians are not Catholics.

          • Mike

            the RCC comes as close to a central authority as one can get; on your defn there is no central authority of any sort.

          • David Nickol

            The RCC (as you call it) is not the "central authority" for Christianity. It is a simple and obvious point.

          • Mike

            fine but you know what i mean; it's as close as one can get to it.

          • Rob Abney

            From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
            It is not true that the doctrine of original sin does not appear in the works of the pre-Augustinian Fathers. On the contrary, their testimony is found in special works on the subject. Nor can it be said, as Harnack maintains, that St. Augustine himself acknowledges the absence of this doctrine in the writings of the Fathers. St. Augustine invokes the testimony of eleven Fathers, Greek as well as Latin (Contra Jul., II, x, 33). Baseless also is the assertion that before St. Augustine this doctrine was unknown to the Jews and to the Christians; as we have already shown, it was taught by St. Paul. It is found in the fourth Book of Esdras, a work written by a Jew in the first century after Christ and widely read by the Christians. This book represents Adam as the author of the fall of the human race (vii, 48), as having transmitted to all his posterity the permanent infirmity, the malignity, the bad seed of sin (iii, 21, 22; iv, 30). Protestants themselves admit the doctrine of original sin in this book and others of the same period (see Sanday, "The International Critical Commentary: Romans", 134, 137; Hastings, "A Dictionary of the Bible", I, 841). It is therefore impossible to make St. Augustine, who is of a much later date, the inventor of original sin.

          • Valence

            I said:

            Original sin was first formulated after the death of Jesus mostly by Augustine.

            So I guess you are agreeing with me? Augustine formulated the doctrine, but the seeds of the idea come from a few things Paul wrote in his letters. Paul never says were he got the idea from, it was probably just a theory as to why Jesus needed to die.

            Tell me, do you think imprisoning children for the crimes of their parents is immoral? I certainly do. I'm not sure why Catholicism would have me believe God is immoral.

          • David Nickol

            we're not protestants; sola scriptura is an error. the RCC compiled the bible it chose which books go in and which don't.

            That is no defense when someone quotes a canonical book of the Bible. Scripture is still extremely important to Catholicism, and you can't reasonably respond to someone who quotes the Bible that Catholics don't believe in sola scriptura. Catholics still believe in "scriptura," just not "sola scriptura."

            I agree with Michael that the story of Adam and Eve gives no evidence that humans were created immortal. Just the opposite. They were ejected from the garden lest they eat from the tree of life and live forever.

          • Mike

            maybe there was no death as in we wouldn't know we were going to die like other animals today who don't know they are going to die; they just live etc as if in paradise.

          • I know that, but I'd assumed you take that into account still.

            Well this doesn't change that to me. How is the human race collectively responsible for what their distant ancestors did?

          • Mike

            we aren't 'responsible' we are just 'in it together'. original sin only took away what was not naturally ours to begin with nothing more. so we were left with what was due to us 'naturally' and here we are struggling to get through things.

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2082.htm

          • Yet we are held responsible, on such a view, for what the first people did, i.e. their actions affect us.

            What was not naturally ours? Immortality?

          • Mike

            think of it as 'the human race' not you personally but i understand why that might seem extremely weird to do. however it's comforting in weird way for me to know that we are all related all a big big family.

          • I get your idea, it just doesn't seem to follow. How are we connected in such a way? The whole idea seems to be individual responsibility on the one hand, yet also this. It's not just bizarre, but seems contradictory.

          • Mike

            yeah i can see how it seems contradictory but from the perspective of a creator i don't think it does. from that perspective you and i are members of this group which lost something preternatural or whatever; so it was the group that lost it not you and me; we aren't guilty of anything but we are also not that separate to not be affected.

            again it's the species that lost something not michael and mike personally etc. by our nature we are affected.

          • Why is it different from the perspective of a creator?

            My issue is how this seems to rig things, in a sense, as we are born with an innate propensity toward sin which needn't be.

          • Mike

            to me bc from a creators perspective we all belong to 1 group; we are individual members of 1 thing. so if the group lost it the individuals aren't punished individually they just by virtue of belonging to this group have to bear this burden.

            the needn't be part gets tricky but I hear you. we aren't totally lost though as we still have everything that naturally we were 'owed' so it's not as if we can't know right from wrong entirely and are totally beset by disordered passions etc. this also obv gets into the whole mission of the church, baptism, etc, to in a sense put things more rightly.

            but I certainly understand the issue: if God can make Mary w/o original sin why not you and me too? heck why not all of us. but that kind of question I think just personally is like asking well why not just skip it all and create us in heaven from the start or even heck why create at all and risk anything.

            as some great author I think once asked: is one tear of one innocent baby enough to morally invalidate all of creation? (I am paraphrasing badly but I can't seem to think of how it was put just now) it's a serious and good question and one that gets to the deepest parts of us - it can lead to terribly frightening answers or possibilities. i think that q gets directly to your issue.

          • I get that we're all part of the human race, but the rest doesn't follow.

            Yes, the question "why not just create heaven" has been one that I've asked myself.

            Indeed, the problem of evil is certainly linked.

          • Lazarus

            I know that this may tinker with our conceptions of omnipotence, but to me it it makes sense to consider the possibility that this, our reality, our lives, is the way it has to be to get to heaven. That there is no shortcut.

          • David Nickol

            Do you disagree with N. T. Wright that "Heaven Is Not Our Home"? (That is, the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body makes our ultimate home this world, although presumably a transformed version of it.)

            Also, if life begins at conception, what about all of the "babies" who die before birth? What is the point of their lives? As has been discussed many times before, the Church acknowledges it does not know the answer, but only says we may "hope" they are saved. Why are some people "tested" by being born into the most unfortunate of circumstances and growing to adulthood in environments where the odds are agains them being good Christians, whereas others grow up under excellent circumstances, and yet others die before they are born? If this life is some kind of test, it would seem to be a very unfair one.

          • Lazarus

            These are the questions that, at my worst crises of faith, I cannot answer with any credibility, questions that make me wonder about the whole faith business.

            In better times, I'm happy to go along with Bishop Barron, Tom Wright and so on, which for me end up in simply trusting that it will be explained one day, that I do not need this knowledge right now.

            They are big questions, and overall I am quite skeptical about people who claim precise knowledge about those events.

            But I do need to make one more point on my proposal that this world, and death, is really just a (necessary) door to the afterlife, and that holds that this world is not necessarily a test. This would require a non-judgmental approach by God, universal salvation, purgatory or some such mechanism. I could live with that possibility, though.

          • I don't see why that would be the case. Would you like to explain?

          • Lazarus

            If we tone down our classical view of omnipotence we may arrive at an explanation where life here is a necessary phase, a sine qua non for entry into the afterlife. That it cannot be otherwise.

            Obviously, speculation on my side.

          • I have heard this view, but I'm not sure of the specific reasoning. Also it seems to possibly contradict some other views, such as that unborn and infant souls go to heaven at once.

          • Lazarus

            On that approach I would think that unborn / infant souls also simply get treated like adults. It's a way through, life on earth, however brief, is necessary for the next step.

          • Well what I mean is, if the experience of ever living on earth is somehow necessary, then those who do that only to that small degree seem an odd feature. Of course I don't know why life on earth is necessary at all.

          • Lazarus

            I have my moments where I wonder about life on earth also ;)

          • Mike

            but aren't we descended from out first parents? we really do inherit some things from our fathers and mothers; there doesn't seem to be any way to avoid that. there is some part of my father and mother in me and on and on backwards into the past. so there is a sense a tangible sense at least in which we are all 'connected' in just such a way i think.

          • Sure, but it's very different if you posit this as the result of mindless natural forces versus God as generally defined. Additionally, how do we blame any person for what they inherited from their parents?

          • Mike

            i don't see why it's 'very different' but that's another topic i suppose. God does not destroy nature but perfects it. why couldn't God 'employ' genetics etc in this way?

            traditionally speaking we aren't to blame for our first parents sin. i don't know the particular theological reasoning but suffice to say that the RCC agrees that we as individuals are not blameworthy. the sin is of 'omission not commission' i've read.

          • It's different since natural forces do not have intentionality behind them without God. So there is not the same moral dimension.

            How is it a sin of omission? If we're not blamed, what is the basis of reward or punishment for sins which stem from this?

          • Mike

            i don't think i understand the first part but about the second what's important to keep in mind is that God's original state for us was not a reward but something added on gratuitously something that we weren't owed in any sense. so now that we're in this state it's also NOT a 'punishment' as such but just going back to what we were always by nature supposed to have. i am not an expert in original sin but i think that's the gist of it.

          • I explained what that meant in another post.

            I thought that you said elsewhere this is *not* what was intended. Regardless, it is an issue of punishment given Catholic doctrine regarding hell.

          • Valence

            The RCC teaches we are all implicated in Adams sin... 402

            All men are implicated in Adam's sin, as St. Paul affirms: "By one man's disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners": "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned."289 The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. "Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men."290

            Theological reasons: a post hoc rationalization as to why Jesus had to die... At least that's how I understand it.

          • Mike

            maybe i am not sure exactly on all the theological fine points; i'd recommend this little read as it's quite enjoyable.
            http://tofspot.blogspot.ca/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html

          • The difference is obvious, I'd think. God is a being who chooses to create certain things. Natural forces are not. I'm not sure what you think is being perfected in this way.

            Blame is the wrong word perhaps. We are affected however. Made to suffer for it. I don't know how that would be a sin of omission though.

          • David Nickol

            the sin is of 'omission not commission' i've read.

            The concept of "sin of omission" has nothing to do with Original Sin.

            The Catholic Church does not teach that any of Adam's descendants are "guilty" of Original Sin: "original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants" [Catechism 405].

            A person is guilty of sin when he or she actively does something wrong. A person commits a sin of omission when he or she fails to do, or refrains from doing, what can and ought to be done.

          • Lazarus

            May I just say as an aside, David, that you more than anyone here regularly refer to and use the Catechism in your arguments. A lot of us Catholics, myself included, tend to either be pretty ignorant of it, or skim through it when young and then forget about it to a large degree.

            So, thank you for keeping us focused on it, please continue to do so.

          • On lying, how about the famous example Kant gave, where he said one should not lie even to a murderer looking for someone? Yes, they could evade or deceive him in other ways (though I'm not sure where you draw the line between that and lies) but why is lying actually wrong then? How do we say that the purpose of speech is always truth-telling anyway?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Allowing someone to deceive himself is not the same thing as speaking what is contrary to your mind. That is why the court oath does not stop with vowing to tell the truth. One must swear to tell the whole truth and also to tell nothing else but the truth.

            Truth is related to the word "trust", as when a couple promises to be true to each other. As such, it is the Saxon equivalent to the Latinate word "faith."

            From a purely material point of view, the neural conflict lying sets up damages one's ability to think rationally, which is contrary to human nature. This makes it wrong per se. But notice also that it is not necessarily ordered toward fact-telling. Truths are different from facts. A work of fiction may be true to life without being strictly factual.

          • What is the difference, exactly? I'm not clear on what "contrary to your mind" means.

            How is there a conflict when the person who lies knows they lied and are fine with that? Liars do not seem incapable of thinking rationally. I don't know that it's contrary for us to think irrationally anyway. We seem to do it a lot. I'm also not clear on why that's wrong. Unfortunate, sure, but wrong? I certainly would agree that the truth is not restricted to facts.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            How is there a conflict when the person who lies knows they lied and are
            fine with that?

            The Late Modern is very big on Feelings, but the conflict between what one knows to be true and what one says exists regardless of how one "feels" about it.

            Liars do not seem incapable of thinking rationally.

            That's a long-term consequence of the neural patterns from the more primitive parts of the brain interfering with the neural patterns originating in the neocortex. These disrupt rational thought. "Oh, what a tangled web we weave," and all that.

            I
            don't know that it's contrary for us to think irrationally anyway.

            If man is a rational animal, then it is against nature to adversely affect our reason (or our animal being, for that matter).

            We
            seem to do it a lot.

            Man is also by nature two-legged. But sometimes we hop on one leg. And in other cases we might lose a leg to injury. Besides, you may be applying to strict a definition to "rational." It does not mean "reaches the same conclusions as me."

          • The Late Modern is what, people living now, or those who follow some modern philosophy of which you disapprove? Yes, there is a difference, but my question is why you seem to think this necessarily causes cognitive dissonance. If the person knows they're lying, why does it? Forgive me if I've misread what you meant.

            Okay... I'm not very knowledgeable of neurology.

            From what I understand, calling us a rational animal is the distinction made in contrast to other beings. Does it follow that as we have reason unlike others, we must always use it, or will? I don't think so.

            That wasn't what I was thinking of to define rational at all. I'm not sure why you came up with it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Late Modern is what...</i?

            People born and bred in the twilight of Modern civilization. Contrasted with High Modern, Early Modern, Late Medieval, etc. Perhaps also Post Modern, but that is a lit crit term.

            If the person knows they're lying, why does it?

            Because they know one thing but are professing another.

            Does it follow that as we have reason..., we must always use it...? I don't think so.

            Well, not when you are asleep or unconscious; but a faculty is something that you have, whether asleep or not. For example, if you are using language, you are exhibiting rational behavior. It means you reflect on some particular concrete perception and abstract a universal from it.

            Naturally, you also perform acts that stem from lower powers: you eat and reproduce, your cells divide, you smell things, hear things, and so on. These stem from powers also possessed by plants or in some cases by non-rational animals.

            I'm not sure why you came up with it.

            It was used for a couple millennia.

          • Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress caused by holding contradictory beliefs, ideas or values. I don't think that there is necessarily such a contradiction in lying. A person who lies to others, but not themselves, doesn't fall into it.

            So you're saying that if a conscious person is necessarily using person (perhaps with an exception if they're mentally ill) then?

            I see what you mean with rational being defined that way. Most unfortunate really.

  • David Nickol

    "Getting Morality Wrong" is a very aptly named post.

  • David Nickol

    This seems to me to be a remarkably "self-centric" view of morality, as if we are all basically isolated individuals whose well-being depends only on our individual actions. Where is there room for altruism and self-sacrifice in this view? Everything a person does is ultimately for his or her own benefit.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      That same complaint is made with regard to certain Stoic philosophies, but there is also the view (within Stoicism) that "your eudaimonia is inseparable from my eudaimonia".

      I think the Christian view is rightly understood to be similar in that regard: I am inescapably connected to you, and so I cannot rightly conceive of "my salvation" as something separate from "your salvation". Something similar to that is expounded in Spe Salvi, I believe.

    • What I'd want to see is a balancing of collective good and individual good (and good at all levels in-between), as humans have time-attested habit of preferring one of the above over all the rest, causing great harm.

      But even more than that, I think you're on to something with your problem definition. What's so frequently missed from talk of human flourishing is the giving to others which doesn't just make me subjectively feel better, but objectively improves the situation of the other. Peter Buffet argues that this principle is deeply violated, in his 2013 NYT piece The Charitable–Industrial Complex. Putting focus on giving gives relationship a first-class status, instead of making it instrumental to the 'happiness' of the arbitrarily-atomic individual.

      BTW, I think I like your "realizing that the self is in some way an illusion". Alistair McFadyen makes a very simple point: 'person' cannot be defined apart from 'relationship', and vice versa. (The Call to Personhood) I'm suspicious of the "non-self" stuff I've read about in Buddhism, although I should read more about that. But I'd definitely argue that the modern West has derogated relationship in favor of atomic individuals, and that Christians of all stripes seem to be rather anemic in fighting against this trend (if they don't go along with it whole-hog).

    • Doug Shaver

      Where is there room for altruism and self-sacrifice in this view? Everything a person does is ultimately for his or her own benefit.

      I am convinced that if I were to act with disregard for the well-being of other people, the consequences would be quite contrary to my self-interests.

      • ClayJames

        Many atheists act like this is necessarily the case, when in reality even though there is a high correlation (depending on society, status, etc.) there are clearly situations where disregarding the well being of others is not contrary to your self interests. What should an atheist, who acts according to their own self interests, do in this situation?

        • Doug Shaver

          there are clearly situations where disregarding the well being of others is not contrary to your self interests.

          It is not clear to me. Could you give an example?

          • ClayJames

            The examples are all around us and they include situations where such actions are illegal but the person has enough certainty that they won´t suffer consequences or where the unaltruistic action is not illegal at all.

            Examples of the former that come to mind are bankers who decided not to try to prevent the housing market crash, benefit off of it, knowing full well they would not be held accountable. World leaders starting wars and putting human lives in danger for their own (economic or political) gains. A billionaire knowing that he can grope women and not face any form of punishment because of his power, resources and influence. Most people behave unaltruistically from time to time and they do so knowing they will get away with it and they are absolutely right about that.

            There are also many examples of the latter where these unaltruistic actions are not illegal. People buying products made in deplorable conditions for the workers. Benefitting off industires that pollute our planet or increase global warming. A billionaire finding a legal way to not pay taxes for 20 years.

            So once again, while your comment that ¨if I were to act with disregard for the well-being of other people, the consequences would be quite contrary to my self-interests¨ is true more often than not, it is certainly not true in all situations and if an atheist were to act exclusively based on their own self-interests, they should sometimes act against the well-being of other people.

            EDIT: Finished my comment (accidentally pressed sent when it wasnt finished)

          • Doug Shaver

            The examples are all around us

            The ones you mention seem, to me, to assume that "self-interest" basically means "getting whatever we want whenever we want it." I had something a little more enlightened in mind. Wise people figured out a long time ago that our self-interests are often better served by delayed gratification than by immediate gratification.

          • ClayJames

            That is not necessarily true. Besides the ¨famous groper¨ example, all of the other actions can be brought about because of long term self interests in mind and not because of immediate gratification.

            If a person is able to a) conclude that a certain action will benefit them in some way b) without affecting their overall self interests in some other way and be right about both a) and b), then it follows that someone should sometimes disregard the well-being of others if their main goal is to improve their self interests.

            I am curious about your ¨enlightened¨definition of ¨self-interest¨. It seems to me that because you don´t like the conclusion, you are slowly tip toeing towards begging the question.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am curious about your ¨enlightened¨definition of ¨self-interest¨. It seems to me that because you don´t like the conclusion, you are slowly tip toeing towards begging the question.

            I'm thinking along the lines attributed to Socrates when Plato presented him as saying, "No man knowingly does evil." I would reformulate his statement as: "There can be no conflict between the truly smart thing to do and the truly right thing to do." Given that assumption, if I perceive a conflict, a situation in which X seems like the smart action and not-X seems like the moral action, then I need to re-examine either the reasoning that led me to think X was the smart move or the ethical principles that led me to think not-X was the right move.

            Yes, I called it an assumption. I don't know any way to prove it from any more primitive notions. But the notion that I might in some situation have to sacrifice sound reasoning for the sake of some moral principle, or vice versa, seems prima-facie unacceptable to me. Reason must be properly used, and it is not properly used if it disregards morality. But at the same time, I cannot regard a morality that disregards reason as an acceptable morality.

          • ClayJames

            There is no necessary contradiction between the examples I gave and the right or moral thing to do. Given naturalism, the idea the moral thing to do is that which helps society and that the moral thing to do is that which helps the self are equally grounded in reality, so to accept the latter is as justified as the former. Therefore, based on the latter, there would be no contradiction between the right action and the moral action in any of the examples that I gave you.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is no necessary contradiction between the examples I gave and the right or moral thing to do.

            Perhaps I misunderstood. I thought you offered them as counterexamples to my claim that "if I were to act with disregard for the well-being of other people, the consequences would be quite contrary to my self-interests."

          • ClayJames

            We may have been speaking past each other. My points are the following:

            1) Given naturalism, my egocentric moral framework is as grounded in reality as your altruistic moral framework.

            2) Given naturalism, if someone´s main goal is to improve their well being, then they should do what improves their well being whether it is altruistic or not. Behaving according to what benefits society does not maximize your well being.

            Given theism, these two things can be false.

          • Doug Shaver

            Given theism, these two things can be false.

            Given theism without further specification, anything can be false except the assertion that at least one god exists. Since this is a Catholic forum, I'm willing to stipulate that the only God we could be talking about is the one whose existence is affirmed by Catholic doctrine. And, I get it that there is a relationship between that God's existence and whatever difference there is between what is morally right and what is morally wrong.

            But, considering that I don't agree that that God exists, what does any of that have to do with my claim that "if I were to act with disregard for the well-being of other people, the consequences would be quite contrary to my self-interests"?

  • David Nickol

    It appears to me that Joe Heschmeyer is advocating a consequentialist view of morality. I don't see any room in his view for "intrinsic evils."

    • Steven Dillon

      On this Aristotelian view of morality, evils are what deprive us of attaining what is good for us as human persons, and are intrinsic when they deprive us of these goods in and of themselves, and not by virtue of anything else.

      • David Nickol

        Are you sure the Aristotelian view which you describe here is equivalent to the Catholic concept of intrinsic evil?

        • Steven Dillon

          It's within the parameters of moral theories that are acceptable to the Catholic Church.

          • David Nickol

            I have done a fair amount of searching, and I can find no concept of an intrinsically evil act in the thought of Aristotle that is the equivalent of the Catholic concept of intrinsic evil. Now, if you are talking about Aristotelian-Thomism, that is another matter altogether.

  • David Nickol

    I have often seen this the following quote from G. K. Chesterton, and I have occasionally reproduced it myself:

    The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.

    I think Joe Heschmeyer is misrepresenting Catholic morality by not acknowledging that many offenses (sins) are not evil because they are against enlightened self-interest, but because they are taken to be offenses against God. Chesterton seems to be taking the position that lying is always wrong. We have discussed in the past the Ann Frank scenario, in which the Nazis ask if Ann Frank is hiding in your attic, and there are many Catholic moral theologians who who say it would be sinful to say "no" even to protect Ann Frank's life. The rationale here is that speech was given to communicate truth, and it is intrinsically evil to use for anything else.

    Likewise, masturbation is an intrinsic evil because sex is only for reproduction. Consequently, it is against Catholic medical ethics for the husband of a couple undergoing medical treatment for infertility to masturbate one time in his life to provide a sperm sample. It is extremely difficult, in my opinion, to make a case that it is against one's enlightened self-interest to masturbate for medical purposes.

    The whole concept of intrinsic evil does not seem to fit into Heschmeyer's conception of morality. Intrinsically evil acts may never be done no matter how beneficial the outcome. I personally would tell one willful untruth to keep millions from dying in the extremist agony.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I personally would tell one willful untruth to keep millions from dying in the extremist agony.

      As you should, but that isn't apposite to Blessed John Henry Newman's point (your excerpt is from Newman's Apologia, published about 10 years before G.K. Chesterton's birth).

      He doesn't set up a scenario where you are presented with a choice between the destruction of the world (or of millions suffering or dying) and telling a willful untruth. The contrast that he sets up is between a situation with immense collateral damage that you have not willed, and very minor damage that you have willed. It is not a choice for you to make, since you have no ability to make "the sun and the moon to drop from heaven", nor is it a choice for God to make, since He willingly constrains himself from interfering with your free will.

      Newman's meaning was made clear when he wrote: "The Church must denounce rebellion as of all possible evils the greatest ... This is the meaning of [the statement under consideration]." If you chose a course of action that led to immense suffering of others, that would clearly be a willful rejection of God's will, a willful self-estrangement from God, and it would clearly be a rebellion of substantially greater gravity than "[stealing] one poor farthing without excuse". But again, that just isn't the contrast that he sets up. It is a statement about the extreme value that God places on the intentionality of our actions, on our willing participation in love, our willing rejection of self-absorption.

      • David Nickol

        As you should, but that isn't apposite to Blessed John Henry Newman's point (your excerpt is from Newman's Apologia, published about 10 years before G.K. Chesterton's birth).

        Oh how humiliating! Of course you are right that the quote is from Newman. The Chesterton quote I always trot out goes as follows:

        The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

        How odd that such a towering figure as Newman has not been canonized.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        So, it is better that 10 million starve than one person tell a small lie to stay out of trouble. Whatever Newman may or may not have been, he was most definitely not a great moral thinker.

      • David Nickol

        DN: I personally would tell one willful untruth to keep millions from dying in the extremist agony.

        J(h): As you should, but that isn't apposite to Blessed John Henry Newman's point . . . .

        It seems to me quite clear, despite what you say, that Newman here is saying that even the smallest sin is so evil that it must not be committed even to prevent the most horrendous of consequences. I think this puts him in the camp that maintains that if the Nazis ask you if Ann Frank is hiding in your attic, you must answer truthfully. (Yes, I understand the Catholic teaching that you may try to avoid answering directly in some way or another, but if the Nazis know this, they can ask exactly the right questions.) By the way, in researching this, I discovered that Newman is quoting himself from an earlier work—From Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching (1850) (Lecture 8)—which read as follows. (I have bolded a small but interesting variant.)

        The Church aims, not at making a show, but at doing a work. She regards this world, and all that is in it, as a mere shadow, as dust and ashes, compared with the value of one single soul. She holds that, unless she can, in her own way, do good to souls, it is no use her doing anything; she holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse.

        While I acknowledge he doesn't set up a realistic scenario and say, "If you are ever in this situation, don't commit even a venial sin, tell a small willful untruth, or steal a farthing without an excuse," it seems clear to me that he is saying you are strictly forbidden to commit even the most minor of sins to prevent utter catastrophe." So I don't see why you say, "As you should." Clearly you shouldn't.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          To the best of my understanding, Catholic moral teaching rejects consequentialism (the idea that the morality of an act should be judged solely on the consequences of that act), but it does not in any sense prohibit (and indeed, it requires) that one consider the consequential context of one's actions. The way I learned it (unfortunately I cannot seem to source these ideas at this point - if anyone can help me out, it would be appreciated), Catholic moral theory is more or less aligned with the classical moral theory that would judge the morality of an act according to three considerations, one of which is the likely consequences. Those considerations are:

          1. The inherent directed-ness of the act. This is where the idea of "inherently disordered" acts comes in.
          2. One's intent. If you do the wrong thing for the right intent, or you do the right thing for the wrong intent, that matters.
          3. The context. To my knowledge, there is no Catholic "free pass" to simply imagine that one is making moral choices in a vacuum, as if the world is perfect except for that one thing you need to morally act on. In a fallen world, the likely consequences could be such that an "inherently disordered" act is the least bad thing you can do.

          I still maintain that Newman's quote is addressing the importance of criteria (2), i.e. the importance of orthopathy. You are reading him, I think, as if he is playing off criteria (1) against criteria (3). I'm not sure there is any clear way to adjudicate between these differing interpretations. Perhaps a Newman scholar can chime in.

          • Alexandra

            ...unfortunately I cannot seem to source these ideas at this point...-

            Hope this helps:

            THE SOURCES OF MORALITY

            CCC1750 The morality of human acts depends on:

            - the object chosen;

            - the end in view or the intention;

            - the circumstances of the action.

            The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the "sources," or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a4.htm

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks!

          • David Nickol

            In a fallen world, the likely consequences could be such that an "inherently disordered" act is the least bad thing you can do.

            I think you are quite wrong and are misunderstanding the concept of intrinsic evil. Intrinsically evil acts are inherently wrong and are never permitted. No matter what. It seems clear to me that this is an essential element of what Newman is saying. It is a fundamental Catholic principle that one may never do evil so that good may come of it. So it is better for millions to die in agony than for someone to tell a harmless lie or steal a farthing (which was one fourth of a British penny). According to the Catholic Church, it is never permissible to commit an intrinsically evil act. It is always a sin. There is no situation in which committing a sin can be the correct choice on the grounds that it is the lesser of two evils.

  • David Nickol

    In this view, it seems to me, it is not a "sin" to do something immoral; it's a mistake. If we knew better, we would act in our own (enlightened) self-interest.

    • Mike

      that's it sin is just a moral mistake.

      • David Nickol

        Well, that doesn't tell us much. There is more than one kind of mistake. For example, there is an honest mistake. Suppose I hear my neighbors screaming at each other and I hear one say, "I've got a gun and I'm going to kill you." So I call the police, and it turns out they were two actors rehearsing a play. I've made an honest mistake, and not only that, I have done the right thing. In many ways, it seems to me that what Joe Heschmeyer is saying about immorality is that it is an honest mistake. If you knew better, you wouldn't do anything wrong.

        • Mike

          yeah it can be an honest mistake which goes to culpability and that in/vincible ignorance principal.

          why do you suppose the RCC says pray FOR those who hate you? bc they don't fully know the wrong they are participating in. just like all of us. we very often do one really bad thing to justify one bigger good thing.

    • What do you think "sin" is?

      • David Nickol

        Sin, according to my Catholic upbringing, is an offense against God. It is a transgression against divine law. I don't think the OP adequately reflects the Catholic notion of sin. The Catechism says

        1850 Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.

        I think one can only make the case that to live morally (in the sense of never committing sin) is to live according to one's enlightened self-interest only if there is eternal reward and punishment. I think "secular" morality can be reasonably close to religious morality, but I think it involves thinking a bit less about the self and thinking more about the self plus others. It may even involve realizing that the self is in some way an illusion, since a person in total isolation from others can't even be a person. To become and be a person is a matter of relationships.

        The above is very inadequate, but it's the best I can do on such a large subject in a reasonable amount of time.

        Next topic: What is truth?

        • neil_pogi

          sin is the transgression of the law. - 1 John 3:4

          if you drive a car and disobey the red signal and still running, you are committing a sin. you might hit people crossing or endanger their lives.

        • Sin being "an offense against God" or "transgression of divine law" seems quite underdetermined, though. Allow me to push for some clarity by presenting my own view—with critiques of course welcome. Both these sin-phrases allow for divine law to be implanted in the world, even designed into its very fabric. There's no need to go "occasionalist", and say that what is moral is merely what God wills, analogously to the idea that there is no causation in matter, but God directly causes every thing to do what it does.

          An important catch is the difference between mortal and venial sins, as Josef Pieper articulates it. Pieper claims that the distinction has nothing to do with severity (and that this is also Thomas Aquinas' understanding), and everything to do with the reparabile-irreparabile contrast Thomas Aquinas drew on, probably adapting from Socrates' distinction between "curable" and "incurable" crimes. According to Pieper, "Nothing more obscures the traditional doctrine of sin than the failure to see this point." (The Concept of Sin, 68)

          The difference is simple: irreparable sins so damage the sinner that [s]he does not have the internal resources to repair the damage. A murder can be a venial sin while a simple bit of gossip can be a mortal sin. However you construe the faculty of human judgment, the claim is that it can become so damaged that it loses the ability to repair the damage. Outside authority is required—not just information or advice.

          What you've written here doesn't provide any evidence that you allow for the deepest, core faculty of human judgment to become corrupted such that self-repair is not possible. Do you think this is either an incoherent concept, or something which does not describe the human condition? I can give empirical examples, by the way, from Alistair McFadyen's Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin. His purpose in that book is to make an empirical case for Augustine's notion of sin, over and against Pelagius'. As I understand it, Pelagius denied that any sin could be 'mortal', in the sense I've described it.
           

          In some other thread, I would actually be interested in getting into the "What is truth?" question, heh. I've run across some interesting stuff on the ancient Hebrews likely having a very different conception than the correspondence theory of truth, there is the Hellenistic notion that knowledge of the truth necessarily leads to goodness (done away with in the Enlightenment), and there is this fascinating thing sometimes called the unarticulated background, which seems to present serious problems for the correspondence theory of truth. I'm growing to suspect that modernity's conception of 'truth' may be part of the current problems going on. Connecting the tower of abstractions to life-as-experienced is tricksy, though! Collaboration definitely needed.

          • David Nickol

            Sin being "an offense against God" or "transgression of divine law" seems quite underdetermined, though.

            You say some interesting things here. But I am trying to elucidate the Catholic view as I understand it, and it seems to me Catholicism puts great weight both on the idea that sin is an offense against God, (see Paragraph 1850, quoted above) and the idea that what makes a mortal sin mortal is largely the gravity of the offense. There are hints of what you say to be found in the Catechism. For example the following:

            1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

            Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

            Still, mortal sin must be a grave offense. The Catholic attitude shows most strongly in sexual morality, it seems to me. As I have argued before, artificial contraception is considered gravely wrong (as is masturbation). Do married couples who use contraceptives merely to space their children (not to avoid having children altogether) violate anything in the "spirit" of the law? Or would a man who masturbated to produce a sperm sample for a fertility doctor be making some kind of dramatic break with God? What seems important in these kinds of "sins" is that God (allegedly) intended sex for procreation and only for procreation, and it is an offense against God to misuse one's sexuality.

            Note that in the Newman quote (the original version) he said it would be better for millions to die in agony rather than that someone "should tell one wilful untruth, though it harmed no one." The lie, in this case, would be a venial sin, though it harmed no one. That is, it would be purely a "technical" violation of the rule that speech is to communicate the truth. So it would be purely an offense against God (as would be the stealing of a farthing).

            I think it makes much more sense to think of sin in terms of a relationship with another (human) person. In person-to-person relationships, what would seem to be a minor offense objectively, or under certain circumstances, could destroy a relationship under other circumstances. So I like the idea of a mortal sin being relationship-destroying rather than (necessarily) objectively grave.

          • This makes me want to find a Jesuit familiar with Aquinas and Pieper so I can explore it. :-) I personally have always seen King David's "Against you, and you alone, have I sinned" as part hyperbole, and part establishing the absolutely objective nature of his sin—society has in no way decided that it was sin. (Indeed, society perhaps didn't see it as sin at all; Nathan's challenge has been argued to be absolutely remarkable as a push toward egalitarianism. (A Far Glory, 99–100))

            As to gravity, I find Pieper's gloss on Aquinas to be so compelling. The difference between someone who's wrong and knows it, vs. someone who's wrong but strongly beliefs [s]he's right, is monumental. Something deeply mysterious must happen to someone who's conception of 'the good' has serious defects which that person sees as excellence. I think this is why pride and self-righteousness are seen as so absolutely terrible in the Bible. On this reading, mortal sins harm teachability, while venial sins do not.

            Let's talk a bit more about "offense against God". In our age, you're probably aware that often there can be a difference between the official story and the actual story. A great little sociology article on this is Howard S. Becker's 1967 Social Problems article Whose Side are We On?. He asks why so many sociologists "go native", and explains that oftentimes, the marginalized and oppressed have legit complaints, complaints which the sociologist is particularly well-suited to examine. To me, appealing to God's point of view is a way of transcending this asymmetry. God is impartial; humankind is not. Yes, there is still the problem of a priestly caste claiming to have God's point of view when they don't, and we can discuss that failure mode if you like.

            I'm uncomfortable saying to much on the Newman quote, since whenever I see something apparently outrageous like that from someone highly respected, I suspect it makes more sense when you explore his/her thought further. If I were to guess, I would suggest that plenty of harm starts quite a distance from measurable harm, especially measurable by someone who doesn't know how to measure sensitively, to forecast into the future, etc. To add one more thing, I am suspicious of the idea that humans are in any way good at staying on the "safe" side of the line, of allegedly bad behavior which has yet to cause any discernible harm. I find such lines to be remarkably blurry, as if they only exist as self-justifying fantasies.

            I'll leave you with this, which I think gets at your last paragraph:

                The doctrine of the fall means that the question of the right practice of relations (ethics) has to be relocated. The ethical question cannot be equated with possession of the knowledge of the difference between good and evil, for that is precisely the form of self-possession which led to the fall. Adam and Eve thought they could dispute what God's Word really meant, get behind it to judge both it and God.[35] The assumption that we have the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong and to act upon it is in itself and on its own already a corruption of the image. It isolates one from God and others because what is right for one and others is assumed to be already known. The assumption that one already knows what is right stops communication because no new information or external agency is necessary. In what follows I will describe the image and its redemption as a relational process of seeking what is right in openness to others and God and thereby to the fact that one's understanding and capacity are fundamentally in question.

            The choice between good and evil implies that people are already in touch with reality and their only task is its administration . . . The choice between good and evil calls elements within our environment into question: the real ethical question calls us into question.[36]

            Consequently the focus on our own possibilities is replaced by an emphasis on our need of, and thereby our relations with, God and others. (The Call to Personhood, 43–44)

            I know it's a bit dense (partly the language is chosen to distance from everyday language which the author thinks contain distortions he doesn't want imported), but it does get at the question of whether morality is a personal matter or relational matter. We still, however, need to keep open the possibility of human error in judging what is beneficial/​harmful, which "offense against God" can retain. Without a God to challenge us, certain kinds of arrogance and self-righteousness can never be known as such, because there is nothing better [which is real enough] which can challenge them.

          • Rob Abney

            "would a man who masturbated to produce a sperm sample for a fertility doctor be making some kind of dramatic break with God? What seems important in these kinds of "sins" is that God (allegedly) intended sex for procreation and only for procreation, and it is an offense against God to misuse one's sexuality."

            David, where have you seen this particular situation condemned?

          • David Nickol

            Check out this set of guidelines on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Under the heading "Reproductive Technologies in Disagreement with Catholic Teachings," the first two items are as follows:

            1. Obtaining a sample of seminal fluid by masturbation.

            2. Artificial insemination by a non-spouse (AID), or even by the husband (AIH) if the sample is obtained and handled by non-licit means (masturbated specimen).

            According to Catholic moral theology, masturbation is an intrinsically evil act and is impermissible under all circumstances without exception. The only licit way to obtain a sperm sample is for the husband and wife to have intercourse using a condom that has holes poked in it. (I am not making that up.) Some sperm will escape, leaving that act of intercourse "open to life," but some will be left behind in the condom, and that may be used for testing.

          • David Nickol

            My point, by the way, is that I don't believe the Catholic concept of intrinsic evil fits neatly into the OP's argument that to act morally as a Catholic is merely to act in one's own enlightened self-interest. Intrinsically evil acts such as telling a small lie by which no one is harmed, or masturbating to produce a sperm sample for medical purposes are not wrong because they are self-destructive in even the smallest way, but because they are "technical violations" of God's laws.

            It is difficult to believe a loving God would send anyone to eternal torment for any reason at all, let alone for masturbating to provide a sperm sample for a fertility clinic.

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks for pointing out your sources. I can understand how someone would find those guidelines too technical, but if that person has a belief in God, embraces the tenet that God is goodness, and accepts the authority of the successors of the apostles and their extraordinary charism to be guided by the Holy Spirit then it can be a logical next step in the acceptance.
            I don't understand your description of the OP as promoting self-enlightenment since he said (referring to God): "He knows you infinitely better than you know yourself. He understands how you tick, because He’s the reason that you tick. And He knows exactly what will make you truly happy… and which things won’t."

          • David Nickol

            The problem with your response is that the OP was trying to make the case that we can see that to live morally is to live for our own good. It should then be the case that it is possible to demonstrate why something is immoral by explaining why it would be in some way—however roundabout—self-destructive to do something the Church classifies as a sin or a violation of God's law. Your response is basically that if the Church says something is a sin, then the Church ought to be trusted because they were given the knowledge and the power to make such pronouncements. That's fine if you are a Catholic, but what is supposed to be going on here is dialogue between Catholics, on the one hand, and atheists, agnostics, and skeptics on the other. So you can say to a fellow Catholic, "Just trust the Church." But you can't say that to anyone else.

            I can understand the Catholic argument that it is a "sin" to masturbate, even once in one's life for a perfectly legitimate medical test. Sex is only for procreation, and to use it for anything else is a "technical violation" of the laws of God's creation. But why such an act would be harmful or self-destructive is something I cannot understand. (The same goes for a married couple using contraception to space the children in their family.) If the OP is right, it should be possible to show why "intrinsic evils" like masturbation, contraception, and little white lies to save the world are self-destructive and ought to be avoided by those acting in their own self-interest.

          • Rob Abney

            My point was not to say that you as an agnostic should just trust the church, my point was that without a belief in God then that guideline will never make sense to you.
            My trust in the Church is based upon my belief in God and the reasoning that informs me that He is Goodness and that certain acts are contrary to the nature he gave us. The successors of the apostles must help us understand what that nature is, because it can be debated to conclude many different answers otherwise.
            I am not sure how you could ever conclude an answer regarding the morality of an act that would apply to anyone but yourself if you don't have an interpreter with teaching authority.
            As far as showing that an act is self-destructive, first you would have to agree that the act can do harm if done habitually, then you would have to be able to say why one instance of that act is acceptable if multiple instances of the act are not. I don't get the impression that the habitual acts of masturbation and pornography are considered detrimental by non-theists much less a single occurrence of such acts.

          • Valence

            The evidence, scientifically, is completely against you with masturbation.

            The organization's website also lists the varied health benefits of masturbation, including: creating a sense of well-being; enhancing sex with partners both physically and emotionally; increasing the ability to have orgasms; improving relationship and sexual satisfaction; improving sleep; increasing self-esteem; improving body image; reducing stress; releasing sexual tension; relieving menstrual cramps; strengthening muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas; and reducing women’s chances of involuntary urine leakage and uterine prolapse. Another recent study suggests that men could reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer through regular masturbation, and another notes that for women, masturbating can flush old bacteria from the cervix, decreasing the chances of developing a urinary tract infection.

            Masturbation is also a cornerstone of modern sex therapy. Those who seek professional counseling for sexual difficulties, including inability to orgasm, are typically instructed to masturbate to learn about their bodies and then encouraged to communicate what they discover to their partners. Many outstanding self-help books, such as Becoming Orgasmic and The Elusive Orgasm, suggest masturbation as a core strategy, and sex educators including Betty Dodson and Corey Silverberg, tout the benefits of the practice and provide how-to guides.

            There is a biochemical basis for the positive effects of masturbation. It "releases feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that lift your spirits, boost your satisfaction, and activate the reward circuits in your brain," reports Gloria Brame, Ph.D. "An orgasm is the biggest non-drug blast of dopamine available.” In short, a masturbation-induced orgasm creates feelings of euphoria; it’s a safe, free, and natural high.

            Considering all the benefits, why aren’t more people—especially women—masturbating regularly? Societal taboos and the resultant shame they cause are partly to blame. For women, there may also be another reason: Stated simply, female masturbation presents more of a logistical challenge than does male masturbation, and reaching arousal takes longer for women than for men. Finding sufficient private time to reach arousal and/or orgasm may be difficult for women who share a bed with a partner or who have children.

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stress-and-sex/201401/touchy-subject-the-health-benefits-masturbation

            When I was younger I masturbated daily to curb my overactive sex drive. Without doing that I would have a hard time concentrating around attractive women. I know from person experience that masturbation was nothing but helpful for a person overloaded with hormones. I'm convinced that Catholicism is just flat out wrong here, as with many other things. Yet it claims divine knowledge....certainly we should expect an agency with an inside track into the divine to get basic things right...yes?

          • Rob Abney

            You said previously that looking at porn doesn't weaken the will, but you're now saying that hormones do?!

          • Valence

            Yes, what's your point. Are you implying hormones = porn? How odd...
            I'm not saying that sex hormones directly decrease will, but they create urges that in certain contexts can drain willpower and affect concentration over time. If not in those contexts then it wouldn't matter much.
            Context is absurdly difficult to capture with moral theories which is why outcome is the most useful objective measure.
            Lying to the Nazis is achieves the best outcome because the Nazis aren't harmed by the lie, and the Jew you hid gets to live... win win :)

          • Valence

            He understands how you tick, because He’s the reason that you tick. And He knows exactly what will make you truly happy… and which things won’t."

            Certainly God would know these things, but I don't see any reason to think the Catholic Church or any human has the inside track on what God thinks.

        • neil_pogi

          Quote: what is truth-
          so in thefuture,atheists will declare that:
          1. Life is just an illusion
          2. Love,conpassion,hatred,hardships,sufferings are illusion
          3. Consciousness is illusion
          4. Numbers and physics are just illusion
          Therefore no more arguments to begin with.

  • Sample1

    Unsubscribed.

    Mike, free thinker

    • neil_pogi

      unsubscribed?

      • How did he manage to subscribe in the first place? :D

        • neil_pogi

          because he is a 'free-thinker

  • GCBill

    "But the truth is maybe more accurately the reverse: pornography is immoral BECAUSE it hurts us."

    If it turns out that Dines is wrong, and pornography isn't harmful, would the Catholic Church's opinion on the matter change? Or would it continue to oppose it regardless because of its teleological stance on ethics?

    Related: if acting against a thing's telos leads to harm, and we have independent evidence that a particular activity involving that thing isn't harmful, are we entitled (via modus tollens) to conclude that said activity isn't disordered?

    • David Nickol

      I don't know that there is any evidence that pornography, per se, is harmful. There may or may not be evidence that pornography that depicts mistreatment of women, when "consumed" in significant quantities, is harmful, but that is only one kind of pornography. It's like sugary beverages.They can make you obese and ruin your teeth, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't drink a Coke once or twice a week when I eat at a restaurant.

      Now, alcohol is very damaging. A third of deaths by highway accidents is attributable to alcohol. "Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems." Alcohol is a factor in a huge percentage of "date rape" cases and other sexual assaults. And yet the beer flowed freely at parish events at the church where I grew up, and of course wine is used in most Christian church services. Maybe the Muslims and Mormons have it right.

      • To what extent is alcohol a disease vs. a self-medication? I get that it can bring about disease, but that seems true of many self-medications. What concerns me is the idea that we could ban the medication and suppose that the results would be better than actually dealing with what needs to be medicated. Would the lack of an alcohol salve result in increased pain which leads to enough willingness to deal with the cause, or would it just redirect the person to another kind of self-medication, which could be more damaging?

        Let's take an exmaple: sexual assault. Does alcohol do anything other than blur the lines, lowering the inhibitions to do what the person really wanted to do all along? We also need to ask about how many sexual assaults are about power and not sex. People can find all sorts of outlets for dominating other people; a ban on alcohol might actually accentuate that ability. (People've gotta get their kicks somehow.) It seems to me that the problem with sexual assault is 100% a 'spiritual' problem, and 0% an alcohol problem. I think a good "bridge" meaning for 'spiritual' here might be the idea of a social imaginary, which I encountered via Charles Taylor's Modern Social Imaginaries. The idea is that we envision a moral order, a way things ought to be. Those who engage in sexual assault have a poisonous imaginary. (An imaginary is more than just cognitive beliefs, so I couldn't say 'poisonous beliefs'.)

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      That's a great question. I obviously can't speak definitively for the Church, but I won't let that stop me from hazarding an answer. I think if we slice things fine enough, there really is no such thing as a merely "not harmful" (i.e. neutral) moral act. Something that distracts us from our ultimate telos, even if not actively harmful, is still sinful, at the very least insofar as it wastes our precious time.

      I think a question that is related to your "related" question is: how do we know when a particular kind of action properly orients us toward our telos? If the action seems to have good proximate consequences, can we interpret that as evidence that it has brought us close to our ultimate telos? As far as I can tell, the Catholic answer would be "yes", at least to the extent that "good proximate consequences" is understood to mean something like the fruits of Holy Spirit.

      • Mini-essay time! Feel free to engage or ignore. I really, really like your point that we aren't just engaged in harm-avoidance, but are also called to be more. It's this latter thing which seems largely lost from modern thought, aside from the transhumanists.

        If the action seems to have good proximate consequences, can we interpret that as evidence that it has brought us close to our ultimate telos?

        To this, I would add an ever-increasing ability to forecast goodness further into the future, just like part of growing up means learning to make investments for the future. But here we have a problem, because the Enlightenment introduced the idea that we can achieve arbitrarily clean breaks from the past, which makes it very hard to forecast very far into the future. Why? Because in order to do such forecasting, one has to look at the attempts by one's forebears to forecast. A wonderful example would be Albert O. Hirschman's The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph.

        Hirschman documents the belief of folks such as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Hume, Condorcet, and Thomas Paine, that capitalism was the way to avoid the excesses of passions which led aristocrats to go to war and do other horrible things. In comparison, the mere pursuit of wealth was doux: gentle, almost sweet. The most pressing problems of the time would be solved if we'd just feed our greed.

        Today, we could evaluate the truth or falcity of the doux commerce thesis. We could ask whether Karl Marx found severe problems with the thesis (even if he didn't have any particularly good solutions). We could evaluate the ability of our forebears to forecast. But in general, we don't. We think history doesn't particularly matter. Indeed, history seems to be mattering less and less!

        Very connectedly, there is a decreasing confidence in people's abilities to making judgments of 'good', other than "it hurts" vs. "it's nice". Actually, judging by some of the United States' elite institutions, it's more like "it makes me uncomfortable" vs. "it feels like a safe home". I want to suggest that this decline in confidence (probably related to the decline in trust) is connected with the diminishing ability to forecast.

        The final piece to this [sketch of a] picture is the growing complexity of our increasingly globalized world. This would seem to mitigate against an ability to forecast. But I want to suggest that the real problem is the belief that there should be leaders and followers, that the followers need to exhibit much in the way of virtues. We know that minimal civic virtues are required for democracy (the Founding Fathers knew that, but we needed to be reminded, apparently). But what if we simply need greater virtues to deal well with the greater complexities? Could that be God forcing us to move toward maturity (or suffer the consequences)? Forecasting could then be based on people's character, the ability to communicate well, and trust. This is, however, antithetical to the lust for control which characterizes the Enlightenment. It's also a major part of the critique that Protestants brough to Catholics: the idea that only some are required to be arbitrarily sanctified by God. If the virtues are only inculcated in some, you will necessary get a ruling class.

  • Mike

    what if watching porn say with your wife is the lesser of 2 evils. like what if you're convinced you'll cheat on her unless she indulges your vice? shouldn't we always choose the lesser evil. ideally avoid both but in a pinch do the lesser evil?

    • Rob Abney

      Ultimately, you need to strengthen your will, "a little bit" of porn weakens your will.

      • Valence

        How do you know "a little bit of porn" weakens your will? I'd suspect it might with some people, and not others, depending on context and the person watching to porn. A person prone to sex addiction should definitely stay away, but most people don't seem to be prone to that. Sugar is similar.

      • Mike

        yes agree ultimately but in the interim isn't choosing the lesser of 2 evils an acceptable option? ie don't rob stores but if do end up robbing a store at least do it w/o a gun right?

        • Rob Abney

          No, I don't find any support for choosing the lesser of two evils concerning theft or porn. It is best to avoid doing evil not just to do what is less evil in comparison.

          • Mike

            i agree 100% that it's best but in the interim it is always better to choose lesser of 2 evils.

          • Rob Abney

            no, I think you are using a utilitarian approach; is it better to kill one person than to kill two?

          • Mike

            i agree it's utilitarian but in a pinch it's still better to do lesser of 2 evils. no it's better to kill none but if you have to (somehow) say if the gun is put to your head, then it's better to kill 1 instead of 2.

          • Rob Abney

            Mike, you have a choice, you can choose to kill 1 or 2 or none; what do you mean when you use the term "better"?

          • Mike

            if i choose to do something bad at least it's better to do the bad thing with as much concern for the good as possible. the example i've read is don't rob banks but if you do at least don't use a gun or hit ppl on the head etc.

          • Rob Abney

            ok, I don't think that is Catholic moral teaching, although I could be mistaken; the evil act is stealing, the additional evil act would be threatening with a gun or doing actual physical harm to someone, so you are saying it is better to do one evil act than to do two evil acts. But it only takes one evil act to commit a mortal sin and separate yourself from God, so it seems to me that it doesn't actually get worse it just results in more occurrences of evil. Which is why porn is an evil act even if you are engaging in "just a little"

          • David Nickol

            ok, I don't think that is Catholic moral teaching . . .

            It isn't Catholic moral teaching. The Catholic Church would never say, "If you're going to rob banks, at least don't shoot people." The Church would say, "Don't rob banks." The Catholic Church is not in the business of telling people how to do evil things more benignly. That is not to say it isn't less evil to rob banks without murdering people. But the whole point of Catholic teaching is that evil must never be done.

          • David Nickol

            Addendum: As I understand it, choosing the lesser of two evils (as a Catholic) would never be permissible if the greater and lesser evils are sins. Sin is never permissible. I don't think a Catholic can say, "My only choice was between two sins, so I chose the lesser of the two sins." As I think the Newman quote I reproduced earlier tries to convey, a sin, no matter how small, is always the worst catastrophe imaginable.

            I am not saying this is my own position. But I am saying it is the position of the Catholic Church.

          • Mike

            i agree 100% with what you're saying just adding that AT LEAST it's better to minimize evil when possible that's all.

          • Rob Abney

            yes we do mostly agree, however I'm not sure how anyone can minimize the evil of engaging in pornography, even if you are viewing it with your wife so that you don't cause her to be offended you have still objectified another woman

          • Mike

            ;) no no no i am not talking specifically about porn!! that was just an example that made me think of this issue!

  • Essentially the point here seems to be that morality has to do with our desires, we have desires that we pursue with our intentional actions as a function of our nature. He notes that if we trace back those desires, we reach a dead end. But he fails to identify that end. The end it would seem to me is that we desire to be fulfilled or happy and not suffer and be miserable. The question is what does this fact tell us? Does it show that there is creator who loved us that imposed these desires as a guide to how we should act...?

    I think this road leads to many absurdities, such as, then why do I have an insatiable desire to eat to excess, not exercise, have many sexual partners, get drunk, stoned, as well as to be healthy, in committed relationships and expect monogamy in my wife? Why does my human nature lead me to desire both sin and vice.

    The traditional theist answer would be that the virtue desires are our human nature, and our vice desires are sin nature inherited because Adam and Eve decided to sin without any human nature to do so and a direct relationship with God and unequivocal education not to do this and an awareness of its consequences. That, to me makes no sense.

    What does make a great deal of sense is that our desires arose out of evolution, they are not directed at making us happy but to survive and procreate in an environment very different than the one we have now.

    • neil_pogi

      we have also desire not to have sex with someone, not to watch porn movies. why? because of free will. we can have these. we can choose to have sex with someone else and we can watch porn movies.

      quote: 'What does make a great deal of sense is that our desires arose out of evolution' -- how did you know that it arise from evolution? can you explain in plain language how sex (female and male) arise from evolution? how the penis complements with the vagina? how the sperm complements with the egg cell of female? which one came first.. the penis or the vagina? the sperm or the egg cell? just only two.

      • neil_pogi

        atheists have no comments here. obviously they don't have any sure answers for that! what an atheist experience!

        • Jersey McJones

          Man, you really have a problem with atheists (that problem being a complete lack of understanding). You're argument is because we have choices to make therefore we have free will? Do you see the nonsense here?

          JMJ

          • neil_pogi

            That is why you have to answer why we have choices. If there is only 1 woman left in the world,you have no more choices to make because there is none but if there are millions of women available you have a million times over to choose the woman you want. That is free will

          • Jersey McJones

            No, that is supply and demand. By your definition here, the will is determined by the availability of choices. Certainly we will for things with which we do not have choices.

            JMJ

        • Lazarus

          Neil, this and several of your comments here are rude and unpleasant. As a Catholic I find some of them bizarre, offensive and certainly detracting from my experience here at SN, so I can just imagine how some of our invited non-believing posters here must feel.

          I must also say that I do not understand why Pogi is allowed to conduct himself in this way by site management. Others have been banned for much less.

          • neil_pogi

            it's your opinion.

            just like that, you ignore to answer my above post, instead ridicule me. can you cite examples why am i being ;rude and unpleasant'?

            are you saying that you are a catholic and not atheist anymore? (As a Catholic..)

          • Lazarus

            If you don't get it then I really cannot explain it to you, and I do not intend getting into one of these pointless discussions with you. Your reading comprehension just doesn't make that a worthwhile discussion, as we can see from you missing the fact that I returned to Catholicism some eight months ago, after a month or two of doubt.

            Your posts are often rude and unpleasant, repetitive, completely free of any understanding of the topic, and I am asking you to tone that down. You are somehow being given a lot more latitude than some other posters here.

          • neil_pogi

            Why repetitive? Because atheists ignore them.. Just like when i ask them to explain how nonliving matter became living, no one answers and all i receive is mock and ad hom attacks.

            You didnt answer on how evolution works on sex

            So you returned back to RC and why returned?

            So how many times will Christ be crucified again and again just for returning creature like you to Him?

          • neil_pogi

            Will you cite some of my posts that seem to be very rude and unpleasant to you? There are many atheists here namecalling Jesus.. You didn't read that? Why not make some comments on how sex evolved? Which came first,the penis or the vagina? Why they complement with each other? If you can commentvon that,it will be a very healthful discussions

      • Desires are not the kind of thing that we could change, even if free will were to exist.

        I am not saying here that desires are evolved, I am saying that an evolutionary basis makes more sense to me than a theistic one.

        I think an evolutionary basis for desires is reasonable, as is one for sexual reproduction.

        I think you do identify a decent challenge to the theory of evolution, in terms of how sexual reproduction originated. I will leave it to you to investigate these if you are genuinely interested.

        But I put it to you that you have failed to even identify any reasonable theory to explain our desires, many of which are desires to sin.

        • Desires are not the kind of thing that we could change, even if free will were to exist.

          Are you saying it is not possible for a pedophile to embark upon a program, which might take years, which could alter his/her desires? Or are you appealing to some sort of ultimate desire, which would be akin to Archimedes' lever & place to stand?

          • Actually, yes I think I am. I do not know much about pedophiles. I think it is possible for people to engage in treatment that can allow them to no longer act on their desires, but I am not aware of anyone being able to change what they desire by force of will.

            I think it may be possible to, through conditioning, change people's desires, but not through willpower.

            A good example would be the people who have for decades attempted to change the desires of homosexuals from being attracted to the same sex. I think these attempts, some of which I accept are done in good faith have been entirely unsuccessful.

            I think what we mean by desire, as opposed to intention, is an inherent wanting that we cannot change by will.

        • neil_pogi

          Desire is also part of free will.

          If evolutionists will try to explain how sex evolved, he should proved it on how a single cell did it. Evolutionists have burden of proof to prove that all their sayings about it are true,should be based on experiments and not mainly on 'just so' stories. Inventors of computers make studies,researches and planning before they could actually make a computer. Just like the Creator, he would plan first before he could place,for exxample,where to put the organ of fallopian tube, the uterus, and compute how many estrogen is needed when the female isbpregnant. All these are planned before the actual creation is done. In terms of 'blind and unguided process' the result is no goal to be achieved. Cancer cells just grow endlessly until its host dies. Thatvis one example of unguided process. Evolutionists jsu say it without presenting experimental back up.

          • Ok, you seem to be taking the position that human nature does not involve any inherent desires, but that we actively choose to desire our own health well being, sexual gratification, comfort etc.

            If that is the case I think you should reflect on when and how you made these choices. Do you think you could honestly choose to not have any sexual attraction, or to change your sexual orientation?

            Biologists do and have explained sexual reproduction to a certain extent and continue to work on this. The theory of evolution is not a just so story, it contains many difficult problems, some of which you have identified and many which have been resolved.

            You are correct on evolution there is no goal, it is just happening. It does explain a great many things which creationism cannot. For example the existence of vestigial organs and body parts.

          • neil_pogi

            Evolution occurs gradually and takes hundreds of years to develop a new parts of an organism. If sex is the product of it then there was a time when only one sex exists (ex: only a male organism only exists that time), and this male organism begins to evolve to female organism.. So how this happened? What happened to male organism? Or the other version.. There was a time when only one sex organism exists on this beautiful planet.. The organism needs another different sex partner in order to populate the earth.. But the long evolutionary process takes hundreds of year to happene.. It started to develop a penis and so on.. Now where is the female sex partner of it? I only use here hundreds of years and not millions ofbyears because life expectancy of organism is only few days for a single cell organism and 100 years for humans.

            How can unguided process be good goal oriented? I use cancer cell as example of unguided process. Its goal is to kill its host?
            Vestigial organs are contributory to organism,like the appendix.
            Why include body parts?

            Why change your sex when you were born to be male? Physical characteristics can not be changed because it is permanent. About sexual orientation. If the male organism exhibits some female behavior or orientation, there must have some errors in chemical components of it. Remember if one person is depressed,some chemicals in his brain is either lacking or didnt function well.

          • "Evolution occurs gradually and takes hundreds of years to develop a new parts of an organism."

            Actually hundreds of thousands of years if not millions to develop new body parts.

            "If sex is the product of it then there was a time when only one sex
            exists (ex: only a male organism only exists that time),"

            Yes. In fact some organisms are one sex, e.g. all

            prokaryotes.
            "So how this happened? What happened to male organism?'

            I am not a biologist, I do not know. There are several theories. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_sexual_reproduction#Origin_of_sexual_reproduction

            "But the long evolutionary process takes hundreds of year to happene.. It started to develop a penis and so on.. "

            My goodness, you really are quite ignorant of biology. Not all, not even most sexual reproduction requires a penis. All plants reproduce sexually and have very different sexual organs within their own bodies. This is grade school science. Fish do not have intercourse, and so on. The penis evolved many hundreds of millions of years after the sexes did.

            Honestly, your questions are like asking how do planes fly without flapping their wings!

            "How can unguided process be good goal oriented?"

            Evolution is not goal oriented.

            "Physical characteristics can not be changed because it is permanent."

            So a haircut is impossible?

            "Vestigial organs are contributory to organism,like the appendix."

            What is the contribution of the appendix?

            "Why change your sex when you were born to be male?"

            Why not?

          • neil_pogi

            quote:'Actually hundreds of thousands of years if not millions to develop new body parts' - then there was a time when a newly evolved organism has no eyes to observe the environment, and if so, it won't survive because it cant search food. in the first place, the organism's life span is only a year or several years and die eventually!

            quote: '"Yes. In fact some organisms are one sex, e.g. all
            prokaryotes.' - and then how it split out to become male and female? and why the need to evolve into male and female?

            quote: 'Honestly, your questions are like asking how do planes fly without flapping their wings! - how do birds fly when the wings need to evolve for thousands or not millions of years?

            quote: 'Evolution is not goal oriented'' - then why all the animals have 2 sets of eyes, ears,'a nose, a mouth, a tongue,

            -all of them located in head part, and why they are not scrambled?

            quote: ''What is the contribution of the appendix?'' - why not spend your time researching on appendix and other so-called vestigial organs? try google? and yet your scientists kept of researching that a 'nothing'' has produced the universe?

            quote: ''I am not a biologist, I do not know. There are several theories. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...'' - so the 'just so' and ''make-believe'' stories are likely your possible answers? origins issues are not observed, therefore, all your stories are just, sorry to say, mere stories

    • The traditional theist answer would be that the virtue desires are our human nature, and our vice desires are sin nature inherited because Adam and Eve decided to sin without any human nature to do so and a direct relationship with God and unequivocal education not to do this and an awareness of its consequences. That, to me makes no sense.

      Would you be willing to say a bit more of just what makes no sense to you and why? It might help to respond to the claim by the serpent that A&E could become "like God", noting the following three [probably non-comprehensive] possibilities: (1) God never wanted Adam and Eve to gain knowledge/​power; (2) God did want something like theosis, but A&E weren't yet ready to understand it; (3) A&E knew God had a fantastic plan for them, but wanted to get there more quickly.

      What I find interesting about your "makes no sense" is that it seems to be itself a claim about human nature which we should be able to somehow test. Just how we would is unclear without you saying a bit more of what you mean by that statement. Possibly you believe that evil is merely the result of bad/​incomplete information. I have found that belief in other atheists, and think it has severe problems—empirical and rational—which I'd be happy to try to demonstrate. Indeed, I think that belief is quite pernicious, because I think it actively prevents us from tackling the very real problems reality is presenting to us, these days. But perhaps you actually believe something different.

      • What does not make sense is for a good and loving God to endow Adam and Eve with a desire to sin. Theists should ask themselves why Eve ate the apple?

        I would take the following facts as given. God is entirely perfect and good. Paradise created by God. No evil or sin was ever created by God. Adam and Eve were properly informed of the consequences of original sin and intelligent enough to make the choice. The choice presented to them was to not sin and remain in Paradise and God intended this outcome, or sin, corrupt the earth, allow evil to enter the cosmos, to bequeath this sin nature to all of their descendants resulting in all sinful acts and, on some theodicies, all pain and suffering to occur. This was not God's intention in creating them. Adam and Eve freely chose to sin.

        What is unreasonable is that Adam and Eve chose sin in these circumstances. This is clearly an irrational choice, there are no positives to it and only negatives. It might make sense that they had an inherent desire to say, be like God, which is a sinful desire in this context, is it not? This then makes it a set up, and an absurd one. It means God both desired them not to sin and that they did sin. That God either misinformed them, or made them such that they were unable to overcome a desire he gave them by reflection on the consequences of their actions.

        None of this makes sense to me.

        • This might sound like a caricature, but it seems that what you're saying is that Adam and Even were programmed incorrectly. Another way to say this is that you seem to think that there is only one moral causal power in play: God. Adam and Even can't be moral agents, because any choice they make is, per your argument, 100% determined by God, or at least 0% determined by them.

          It might sound like I'm trying to push in a 'free will' direction, but I'm actually more interested in this spectre of what I've called 'causal monism': the idea that there is exactly one causal power in play. One sees it show up in one of the extremes of a controversy which long shaped, and may still shape sociology: do individuals cause their actions, or does society cause their actions? In the latter case, the individual would be but a causal nexus. One could say that this set of extremes represents causal monism and causal mayhem. I think it's a false either/or, fed by Enlightenment thought, which has stunted our ability to think well in a number of domains, such as there being multiple moral agents who have the possibility of interacting in such a way that one is not manipulating the other. If one cannot authentically imagine this, then I can easily see why one would see only absurdity in the Adam & Eve narrative.

          • I am saying that the story does not make sense given Christian theology. For sake of argument here I am granting the existence of free will. The criticism of the story is that it makes no sense for either Adam or Eve to sin unless they lacked the cognitive ability to understand the consequences of their actions or were misled. In either case, the consequences appear unjust to me. Alternatively we could say they simply chose sin by making an informed and intelligent choice. This doesn't make sense either. Who would chose to abandon paradise and God and live with pain suffering and death? But this was my understanding of the apologetic. The piece here seems to accept they decided to sin not because they chose it, but because they lacked the willpower to overcome a desire they just inherently had. This places e blame on whoever gave them this desire, which could only be God. Any way you look at it, it doesn't make sense to me.

            Nothing in what I say requires there to be only one cause, it is even more unreasonable if they decided to sin because of all the causes I identified above.

          • For sake of argument here I am granting the existence of free will.

            Perhaps you are, but is it a remotely robust conception? Can it support this kind of distinction:

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

            ? One way to describe this distinction in terms of a child is that of providing structure which yet does not imprison. At any point in the growth process, the child can make a bad choice. We could explore this more, but I predict that your objections to the A&E narrative are due to a bad conception of how this maturation process works, and that this bad conception results in an inferior model of human nature, which limits human potential. If I'm wrong on this prediction, I would love to know!

            The criticism of the story is that it makes no sense for either Adam or Eve to sin unless they lacked the cognitive ability to understand the consequences of their actions or were misled. In either case, the consequences appear unjust to me.

            It's just not clear to me that (i) the problem was cognitive; (ii) there is a solution that provides perfect safety from error without sacrificing anything valuable. In the world we live, humans have to trust. Trust exists where knowledge doesn't suffice, although it can aid. But then is trust 'cognitive'? I doubt it's entirely cognitive. I could wax poetic on how terrible is our focus on the cognitive domain, downplaying all other domains critically important in making choices—such as whether it would be better to eat the 'apple' or abstain.

            Who would chose to abandon paradise and God and live with pain suffering and death?

            Someone who does not believe it to be paradise. Children, for example, are known to underestimate how good they have it. Children like to take shortcuts to becoming adults. (In saying 'children', I'm preferring Irenaeus' model of A&E over Augustine's.)

            The piece here seems to accept they decided to sin not because they chose it, but because they lacked the willpower to overcome a desire they just inherently had.

            You really got that out of this article? If anything, it indicates to me that we have intense desires which need to be channeled properly. I would even go further, and say that twentieth-century Western human was domesticated, as part of a plan to make him/her a predictable consumer and manipulable voter. C.S. Lewis complained of desires too small—playing in the mud when a wonderful trip to the beach could be had—and I agree wholeheartedly with him. Twentieth-centural liberalism condemned certain kinds of channeling (that is, society cannot play a supporting role because that would be 'prejudice'), and I suspect this necessarily eliminates certain possibilities†. Maybe we humans have hamstrung ourselves by 'freeing' ourselves. But the problem is trust, not just a component of trust.

            † Simultaneously, terrible social/​cultural situations have been undermined, even if good was eviscerated with the bad. My objection here is the unscientific presupposition that there was nothing good, that there could not possibly have been anything good. This presupposition is reified in the current education system, which profoundly shapes our children and thus our culture. If nothing changes, I foresee the Left in the US expanding its influence over education arbitrarliy far, driving out enough opposition to establish de facto hegemony. Fortunately, there are folks fighting against this: Heterodox Academy. Anyhow, this entire paragraph is meant as a disclaimer, because I know some might choose to seize on my succinct comment.

          • You are simply not responding to the criticisms.

            ME: Who would chose to abandon paradise and God and live with pain suffering and death?

            YOU: Someone who does not believe it to be paradise

            Are you suggesting Adam and Eve did not believe in Paradise? They were living in it! And they were not children.

          • I'm suggesting that the serpent convinced Adam and Eve that there was something better than what God offered them. This 'better' could be construed in multiple different ways, some of which I've sketched. As to them not being children, I differ on this. They might be portrayed as adults, measured biologically, but the text shows them to be children, measured morally.

          • Valence

            They might be portrayed as adults, measured biologically, but the text shows them to be children, measured morally.

            I agree. Children lack good discernment of good and evil, and Adam and eve also lacked it until they ate the fruit. Of course, it's not fair to punish children harshly for stealing a fruit, especially since they didn't know better...how could they without the knowledge of good and evil?

          • Exactly.

          • I take God's harsh treatment of them to be based on their refusal to trust him, which started at eating of the fruit but was crucially reinforced by their refusal to repent, refusal to even willingly return to God. The refusal to trust God has serious consequences—the curse flowed 'naturalistically' from this refusal to trust (vs. via some variation of voluntaristic occasionalism). This refusal to trust shows up immediately in the narrative with Cain, where God warns him to deal with his anger and Cain gives God the middle finger.

          • Valence

            I don't see anything in the text that indicates Adam or Eve refused to repent or trust God. Where is this coming from? I'll quote the passage:

            6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

            8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

            “Because you have done this,
            cursed are you among all animals
            and among all wild creatures;
            upon your belly you shall go,
            and dust you shall eat
            all the days of your life.
            15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
            and between your offspring and hers;
            he will strike your head,
            and you will strike his heel.”
            16 To the woman he said,

            “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
            in pain you shall bring forth children,
            yet your desire shall be for your husband,
            and he shall rule over you.”
            17 And to the man[b] he said,

            “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
            and have eaten of the tree
            about which I commanded you,
            ‘You shall not eat of it,’
            cursed is the ground because of you;
            in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
            18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
            and you shall eat the plants of the field.
            19 By the sweat of your face
            you shall eat bread
            until you return to the ground,
            for out of it you were taken;
            you are dust,
            and to dust you shall return.”
            20 The man named his wife Eve,[c] because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man[d] and for his wife, and clothed them.

            22 Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

            I can't say for certain you are incorrect, but I don't see any textual reason to think you are right unless I'm missing something.

          • I don't see anything in the text that indicates Adam or Eve refused to repent or trust God. Where is this coming from?

            Their hiding and their excuses when found. The excuses of A&E constitute refusals to repent and trust God. Surely you are aware of how often people make excuses, of how often they blame others when they share at least some of the fault?

          • Valence

            When kids do something they aren't supposed to, they often hide from their parents. Adam seems to be explaining what actually happened...Eve really did give him the fruit. Making up excuses or lies is one thing, explaining what happened (after God asked specific) is something else entirely.

            But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

            Yeah, he could have left the fact that Eve gave it to him out, but would have known anyway, right? To me, they were behaving like kids, and it takes time to teach kids to have the courage to own up to their actions and not hide. Hiding isn't malicious refusal to repent as much as fear and avoidance of retribution. Children of overbearing parents tend to hide more than those of moderate ones, I know that from experience.
            I can see how you were interpret the story your way, now at least, though I don't share that interpretation. A hallmark of a good story, right?

          • When kids do something they aren't supposed to, they often hide from their parents.

            Is this an innate or learned behavior? A&E had no experience with failing to trust God; why would they know to hide? Unless perhaps they just didn't want to be around God?

            Adam seems to be explaining what actually happened...Eve really did give him the fruit. Making up excuses or lies is one thing, explaining what happened (after God asked specific) is something else entirely.

            Oh come on, you know all about versions of "what happened" which very conveniently omit one's own failed responsibilities, one's own mural culpability. If Adam really wasn't able to process at this level, and unwilling to learn on the spot, he's got huge problems. Try this instead: "You made it absolutely clear that I was not to eat of the tree. [Possibly: I wrongly added 'don't touch' when I told Eve that command.] But I decided to trust the serpent more than you. I was so wrong; please forgive me and help me understand how to trust you again."

            I can see how you were interpret the story your way, now at least, though I don't share that interpretation. A hallmark of a good story, right?

            Most definitely. I much prefer the Star Trek episodes which allow some flexibility in interpretation, rather than those which preach at you.

          • Valence

            I would add that the punishments in Genesis aren't extremely harsh. Man doesn't get cursed, just the ground to make him work harder, and the woman just gets an increase in pain childbirth. They aren't exactly light punishments, but they certainly aren't what Christians imagine with original sin (which isn't found in Genesis at all). I think the punishments make perfect sense in light of the evolution of humanity. The difficulty in tilling symbolizes the agricultural revolution, and the increase pain in childbirth would be due to the increase in the size of human heads. At least, that's what it makes me think when reading it. Civilization and the knowledge of good and evil does seem to have some costs...does the knowledge of good and evil require larger brain? It seems possible, too small a brain may lack sufficient neural structures.

          • My suspicion is that the popularized versions of original sin fall prey to what typically happens with popularized subjects. What vulgar account can explain the "banality of evil" which took place in Nazi Germany?

            Your connection to the agricultural revolution is curious (I've read Jared Diamond's The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race), but a lot of the OT seems to focus on people who aren't farmers. Including Abel! The explanation of Eve's curse makes less sense to me.

          • "I'm suggesting that the serpent convinced Adam and Eve that there was something better than what God offered them.'

            This poses more problems for the story. In that case, they must have had a desire for something better than what God offered them. Is it reasonable to think they chose to have this desire or that this was something they were endowed with as part of their nature? And if they chose to, then this just pushes it back a step, they would only have chosen to have a desire for something greater if they had a desire to want to have a desire for something greater... and so on.

            Ultimately, I think there is really no way around the inherent contradiction that is: God is incapable of creating anything evil and is in no way responsible for any of the evil in the cosmos AND God is ultimately the creator of absolutely everything in the cosmos.

            I think there is a way to explain this contradiction and that is that the theology of the God of the Philosophers, as being the ultimate creator AND omnibenevolent simply arose from humans thinking and it is flawed. The Genesis story arose much earlier and has been used to try and squeeze a human explanation for evil and immorality but it just doesn't work.

            I think this is why the arguments from Evil and Non-God objects are so compelling as they, at their most basic, simply point this fact out. An omnipotent ultimate origin deity cannot be omibenevolent if any evil exists.

          • In that case, they must have had a desire for something better than what God offered them.

            That they thought was better. That makes all the difference, and points to a profound truth about human nature: we're often quite wrong about what will be best for us.

            Is it reasonable to think they chose to have this desire or that this was something they were endowed with as part of their nature?

            Here you go, tracing their choices back to a nature for which they are 0% responsible and God is 100% responsible. We're back at my second comment. You're implicitly endorsing causal monism (or 'monocausation'), which denies non-compatibilist free will. If you want to embrace monocausation, then I think you must bite this bullet: "(5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable."

          • Ok, I don't disagree that people are often wrong about what is better for them.

            Maybe you could tell me what their sin was?

            I am not embracing monocausation I am just interested discussing one cause at a time.

            What I'd like to know is what was it that they did wrong that resulted in sin and evil entering the cosmos?

            I can accept that they may have been ignorant of the consequences, been lied to, mistaken, that they thought what they were doing would improve their situation, that the only consequence they were warned of was that they would "die". But none of these things would seem to justify the consequences God created for sin.

            It would seem to me that the only just circumstance for the consequences of eating the fruit is that Adam and Eve were morally mature, aware of the consequences of eating the fruit, not endowed with some desire to sin, and made a choice to disobey anyway.

            I just do not find such a story credible. As thier situation was so good, it is literally called Paradise. The consequences were so bad, it is literally all pain, suffering, evil and sin for all generations with no knowledge of any escape as Jesus' message and sacrifice was 4000 years away. The only circumstances in which people behave this way, at least in my experience is when there is some overwhelming desire like an addiction.

            But you seem to want to rule out any such overwhelming desire. So I am afraid I am unconvinced of its credibility given human nature.

            Please explain what circumstances and what causeS would allow the story to make sense.

          • Maybe you could tell me what their sin was?

            The abstract, fuzzy-but-most-correct version is that they refused to trust God. But of course to connect that abstraction with life-as-experienced is nontrivial. There are a number of possibilities:

            1. A&E would not believe that God had things as good, if not better, in store for them than the serpent claimed.
            2. The promise of the serpent was actually bad (thus God was never going to give it to them), but A&E refused to believe this.
            3. God planned to help A&E become arbitrarily like him in the ways that make sense for a created being (see theosis), but they wanted to take a shortcut.
            4. Adam added "do not touch" to God's original command, which Eve was never supposed to be able to resist.
            5. Adam preferred to lose God over potentially losing Eve.
            6. A&E hid, instead of going directly to God.
            7. A&E refused to ask for repentance.
            8. Adam wouldn't even fess up to the fact that he refused to trust God, instead passing the buck.

            (5.–8. involve additional sins; had A&E not engaged in them, history might look quite different.)

            What I'd like to know is what was it that they did wrong that resulted in sin and evil entering the cosmos?

            By refusing to trust God, they introduced a fracture in solidarity, one which does not, within itself, contain the resources for reversing the damage. We see this show up immediately, in Cain's "I am not my brother's keeper." One reason I engage in conversations like this, with you, is that I deeply believe that you have a unique understanding of reality and set of talents which I and the rest of creation needs, in order to maximally flourish. Perhaps you can see this as a belief in solidarity, and not a form which allows anyone to be redundant or replaceable. I challenge you to look into how many people in power act as if some folks are redundant, replaceable, or worse. Christians and non-.

            But none of these things would seem to justify the consequences God created for sin.

            I would challenge you to think of what the absolute minimum requirements are, for there to be moral agents who can be deeply proud of their accomplishments. A quite degenerate form of this would be the Pharisee in Lk 18:9–14, who says, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector." But how can I be proud that what I did was not just a set-up, not just because I was born well and am feeling superior to those who got worse tickets in the lottery of birth? If I only got flowers for my wife because an algorithm told me to, would she think they are as powerful an expression of love, if one at all?

            I can't say that the consequences for sin are the only way for the above to be possible. But I can say that I've never seen a motivating alternative, another way reality could be which would allow for the above. This doesn't mean that sin has to be arbitrarily well explored—I don't think I would need to see covered-up corpses by the side of the road to know that certain behaviors could result in me being such a corpse. But the very real possibility of damaging failure does seem to be required. I just don't know how to get the above paragraph to work without that. Perhaps you do!

            But you seem to want to rule out any such overwhelming desire.

            No, neither do I want to rule out such a desire, nor do I want to admit that it necessarily will be "like an addiction". I think that infinite desire accompanies the imago dei. Nietzsche got this right, but he thought that me realizing my infinite desire to arbitrary heights must necessarily compete with you doing the same. Modern liberal political theory is built on the belief that competition is absolutely unavoidable. I could excerpt from Alasdair MacIntyre and John Milbank on this issue, if you'd like. Milbank explicitly argues that the understanding of reality he advances would give Nietzsche more of what Nietzsche said he wanted, than Nietzsche's own understanding would allow.

            There is significant reason to think that most humans in the West have been incredibly domesticated; Alexis de Tocqueville predicted it and I could excerpt from Charles Taylor and Jacques Ellul on it having happened. Most people refuse to take [full] responsibility for their actions, which is on full display in what is not being talked [much at all] about with respect to the choice of candidates in the current US election. There's even a strong argument to be made that promoting the vice of greed was the key to suppressing the other vices, that this is what helped legitimize capitalism. It is frequently observed/​lamented that the age of the hero has passed. It would appear that Michel Foucault nailed it with Discipline and Punish.

            I recall a wonderfully poetic description of what is required to handle ever-growing desire: "With every increase of the spirit's heat, there needs to be a corresponding increase of the soul's capacity to contain it, to amplify within its inner sacral space." (Healing Fiction, 81) Sadly, our age is well-described as The Death of Character and Lack of Character, with a Harvard Dean asking this question via book subtitle: Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? Or just see the book title, Excellent Sheep, by an ex-Yale professor. The notion that there even is an "inner sacral space" is undermined by postmodern denials of the self; the importance of character is frequently not even a thought thought. How character is formed is not even a topic of study for many. In light of this, the lack of heroes should not be surprising. The lack of faith in Western education we see via student protests in the US and France starting in the 1960s, and in elite US universities over the last few years, should not be surprising. The idea that there is something to be other than an obedient consumer, manipulative politician, tender-hearted charity worker, or radical Islamic terrorist is rapidly diminishing.

            Yeah, I could yammer on all day about this. I think the pathetic character we see on display in elected (or soon-to-be-elected) leaders and populaces around the world and pathetic vision for a better future (look at how many Hollywood films portray science and technology in dystopian terms) are a huge problem. The more I investigate, the more I believe that stupid beliefs about human nature and society—beliefs which the Bible challenges when you take it seriously—are responsible for this malaise.

          • There is a huge gap between a world of sin and a world of pure love. It is not hard to fall from one to the other. It only takes one sin. What is involved in sin? Everything. Not obeying. Not trusting your lover but believing the first negative thing you are told about them. Letting your physical desires rule the day when bigger issues are at stake. Shame. Blame. Everything is there instantly. Any sin would bring it all. This is why nothing impure can enter heaven.

          • "There is a huge gap between a world of sin and a world of pure love."

            I agree, these are two worlds that do not exist.

            "It is not hard to fall from one to the other."

            It is actually impossible, it is like saying it is not hard to fall from Neverland to Earth.

            "What is involved in sin? Everything."

            Clearly not. In my view there is not such thing, like there is no Dark Side of the Force. On your view, presumably much of reality is absent sin. If God is sinless, and He is the ground of all being, a huge part of reality is free of sin.

            "Not obeying. Not trusting your lover but believing the first negative thing you are told about them."

            These generalizations are clearly overstating even your own views. Certainly you do not mean disobeying any order is sinful? Such as disobeying an order to torture a baby, or a prisoner, or to abort a fetus, and so on? Isn't what you mean "Not obeying any moral command?" And certainly not all have the authority to make orders. So do you not really mean "not obeying moral commands from proper authority?" And even on this, what is immoral about such disobedience? If my boss tells me to come to work on time and I don't, why is that immoral?

            "Letting your physical desires rule the day when bigger issues are at stake." See, again here you have included a balancing. What do you mean by bigger issues at stake, I bet you anything your answers will involve human suffering vs flourishing.

            I would say shame is a very important emotion in terms of morality. We often feel shame when we have behaved immorally. But I honestly don't know why you say "shame" on its own is immoral.

            Blame, again is immoral only if unjustified. We keep coming back to this balancing. We see that what ultimately governs what is morality not actions themselves. Obedience is moral sometimes, not when it is to fire guns on civilians. How do we tell which is which, we balance the effects on humans in terms of suffering and flourishing.

            "Everything is there instantly. Any sin would bring it all. This is why nothing impure can enter heaven."

            You can state this all you like, doesn't make it true or likely. But you are certainly entitled to your fantasy, as long as you don't let it hurt anyone.

          • It seems like you have moved the argument on me. I thought you were saying the Adam and Eve story does not make sense even assuming Christianity. Now it seems that you are arguing it does not make sense but assuming atheism. That is clearly true. If you assume there is no such thing as sin then this story makes no sense. But if you assume that the problem of evil goes away to. No sin. No problem.

            You make clear why sin leads to more sin. If obedience requires we always ask if the one giving the orders is abusing us or someone else then we are not going to obey the same way. In a world of love that possibility does not exist. So Eve knew God and knew He would not give a command that was not ultimately for her good. She has no excuse for listening to the snake. Adam was there too. He has no excuse for his silence.

            I was surprised you said not obeying your boss is not immoral. If my boss told me I had to be at work at 8 am I would consider it a moral obligation to be there. Sure there are extraordinary circumstances that we would talk about if they existed but they would have to be really extraordinary. Mostly I would be there.

            Shame is another thing that entered the world through sin. It is not a sin in itself but leads to many more sins. You see how it works? Once the cancer of sin starts then we are powerless to prevent it from growing. If you understand that then the story makes a lot more sense.

          • "So Eve knew God and knew He would not give a command that was not
            ultimately for her good. She has no excuse for listening to the snake.
            Adam was there too. He has no excuse for his silence."

            This is what doesn't make sense to me, I cannot understand why she would choose to sin, if she was able to understand the consequence and had not inherent desire for the prohibited thing, and she was not too immature to make such a decision.

            The only reasons could be that they were too stupid or mentally disabled, unable to withstand an inherent desire, or were misinformed, or immoral, or a combination.

            But if they were ANY or ALL of these things, it is not their fault but the one who made them that way. Think about it, even WITH original sin, would you have eaten the fruit? Would anyone sane?

          • So it is even in principle impossible for Eve to sin in a way that was her fault? Is this not your own idea and not at all a Christian idea? So you have smuggled in materialism or something like it. Yes, this story requires Adam and Eve have free will in order to make sense. It is not God's fault. It is their own fault. Is there a logical reason why God could not create moral actors with free will?

          • Will

            Do you deny that Eve did not have the knowledge of Good and evil until she ate the fruit? It says almost explicitly that she did not? How can someone know right from wrong without the knowledge of Good and Evil? If they don't have the knowledge of good and evil, how can it be their fault if they choose incorrectly?

          • Rob Abney

            The love of God is better than the knowledge of God, Adam and Eve did not need knowledge of good and evil, they had their will aligned with God's, until they didn't...

          • Will

            The love of God is better than the knowledge of God

            Ok, so Muslims who love God more are in better shape than a Christian who knows a lot but doesn't love God as much, right?

          • Rob Abney

            That would apply to anyone who loves God, although more correct knowledge should lead to loving Him more.

          • Will

            Good answer :)

          • She has knowledge of good. She does not have knowledge of evil because she has never sinned. Just knowing God's love and trusting him is enough.

          • Will

            How do you know she had knowledge of the Good. The tree was of the knowledge of good and evil, not just evil. It's odd when Christians don't stick with Genesis.

          • Not impossible, just not credible that she would make that decision. Particularly in a state of being in which no evil or immorality had been created.

            Nothing to do with materialism, it has to do with human psychology.

            Yes, I am assuming free will.

            I am not saying that it is impossible, I am saying it is not credible. It is a ridiculous story that makes no sense in its own terms.

            It is not God's fault because no God exists and the story is a myth. It is full of ridiculous events and conduct just like all myths.

            Consider it this way. You are directing an actor playing Eve, the script says she eats the fruit, the actor asks you, "what is my motivation for doing this?"

            What is your answer?

          • Rob Abney

            "What is your answer?"
            Improv, she was trying to please the audience instead of the director!

          • Trying to please the audience is no motivation for the character.

            Well, she cannot improv, because this is a script. If she were to improv, she would not eat the fruit. She would say, "thanks serpent, but I have no reason to trust you and I honestly have no desire to be greater than God, why would I?"

            But she didn't reason this way. How do you think she did reason?

          • Rob Abney

            As I commented before, it was not her reasoning but her will power, she became idolatrous, she desired something, the fruit, as much or more than she desired God. And now almost all of us have continued to do the same thing everyday.

          • Ok so you are saying she did not want to eat the fruit, but she had this desire to eat it. Do you think she chose to have that desire? Do you think she chose how much will power she had?

          • Rob Abney

            She had to follow her will, to trust that God would always provide for her vs. satisfying a basic need for food. The origin of sin is when she lessened her complete trust of God. I am asserting that it was her will that was weak not her lack of knowledge so it was a choice made with her heart.

          • "I am asserting that it was her will that was weak..."

            OK, who is responsible for the strength of her will? Are you saying she chose to be weak-willed?

          • It seems to me that free will is precisely what you are having a problem with. That you are so so sure that any decision has to flow deterministicly from pre-existing stuff that a free choice can't even be imagined. Yet that comes from your philosophy and not from evidence and logic.

            What is her motivation? It is in Gen 3:6:

            When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

            Have you never desired something so that what you knew was wrong suddenly becomes unclear? You keep focusing on your desire and you end up doing things you thought you would never do.

          • David Nickol

            You keep focusing on your desire and you end up doing things you thought you would never do.

            But I thought the Christian explanation for why human beings do that is the "fall." Adam and Eve were not fallen beings, so they should not have experienced the same flaws and weaknesses as we do.

            And of course if "knowledge of good and evil" is interpreted as moral knowledge, before their transgression, Adam and Eve would not have understood the distinction between good and evil.

            Also, God tells Adam (Eve is not even created yet) not that He will be displeased or angry if Adam eats the forbidden fruit. God tells Adam he will die. But he doesn't. It is the serpent's prediction that comes true, as confirmed by God himself:

            “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

          • Rob Abney

            But I thought the Christian explanation for why human beings do that is the "fall." Adam and Eve were not fallen beings, so they should not have experienced the same flaws and weaknesses as we do.

            That decision by Adam and Eve is the "fall", it is not prior to the fall.

            And of course if "knowledge of good and evil" is interpreted as moral knowledge, before their transgression, Adam and Eve would not have understood the distinction between good and evil.

            They didn't know the distinction because they only knew good.

            Also, God tells Adam (Eve is not even created yet) not that He will be displeased or angry if Adam eats the forbidden fruit. God tells Adam he will die. But he doesn't. It is the serpent's prediction that comes true, as confirmed by God himself:

            “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

            But he did die and the serpent's prediction came true also. Fortunately, Jesus Christ gave us the opportunity to accept the grace we need to live forever (although I know you've said that you don't understand this grace thing).

          • Can you have moral knowledge if you have never sinned? You can know some things but really you are trusting God and revelling in His love.

            God does tell Adam that he will die if he eats of the tree. In fact, he says on the day you eat of it you will die. Spiritually they did die. Yet the physical death took longer. The consequences are much more complex than God reveals. This is always true. God warns us about sin but does not tell us all the ways it will hurt us. Sometimes people say the lies of the devil are true because for a time they seem true.

          • David Nickol

            Can you have moral knowledge if you have never sinned?

            Are you implying that Mary the Mother of Jesus, absolutely sinless according to Catholic dogma, was somehow lacking in moral knowledge? There is, in Catholicism, the concept of the age of reason, the age at which a child becomes intellectually mature enough to be capable of committing a sin. This is usually considered to be seven years of age. I have never heard it suggested that it is necessary to commit a sin to know good from evil.

            In fact, he says on the day you eat of it you will die. Spiritually they did die. Yet the physical death took longer.

            I know that various authorities agree with that interpretation, but I don't see how it is supported in the story. Not only don't Adam and Eve die from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. They have to be prevented from eating from the Tree of Life, otherwise they will live forever. It appears very much as if God has no direct power over whether or not Adam and Eve live forever. The only power he has is to oust them from Eden so they can't eat from the Tree of Life. If they do, they will live forever. There seem to be two "magic trees" in the story, both of which God does not control.

            Sometimes people say the lies of the devil are true because for a time they seem true.

            The serpent in Genesis is just a serpent. It is not the devil. There is nothing in the story to indicate that the serpent is anything other than a serpent, and in fact the serpent and all future generations of serpents are punished by God. This is hardly fair to serpents if the serpent in the story is the devil, or the devil speaking through a talking serpent (with legs).

            One of the great problems with discussing the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is that believers (and even nonbelievers) treat it as if it were historical when it is (as even the Catechism notes) figurative. Even the Catechism is schizophrenic in this regard, For example, it says the following:

            390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

            This has long reminded me of the joke that "the plays of Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare but by another man of the same name."What, exactly, is the figurative language in Genesis if "our first parents" were tempted by a serpent/devil to eat forbidden fruit?

          • David Nickol

            They might be portrayed as adults, measured biologically, but the text shows them to be children, measured morally.

            Absolutely. Which is one reason it seems very unfair that the whole of humanity had to pay a price (according to Catholicism and most other Christian denominations) for their disobedience. If God was going to use two human beings to put humanity to a test, he should have picked mature adults representative of the best of humanity. Instead, he picked the two most naive beings ever.

          • A&E's sin caused a fracture in human solidarity, which is its own punishment. It's not like the punishment is imposed on is in an occasionalist manner, where God could just have it not be a constantly bleeding wound. As long as we fail to realize that we need the deepest essence of every other human in order to maximally thrive, we'll continue to exacerbate the fractures—or so I claim.

            The idea that God could have chosen "the best of humanity" presupposes that humanity could make it to a state where "the best" would never choose to distrust God in favor of trusting the serpent, without following the pattern of A&E. We can call this the "perfect development paradigm". Maybe it is possible, but we don't seem to live in that world. (C. S. Lewis, in his space trilogy, explores the possibility that it obtains in some worlds, even all worlds but our "Silent Planet".) And so, I work from the premise that it doesn't obtain in this world.

            It's not that I don't feel the pull of the question, "Why must God have allowed A&E to be exposed to a dangerous situation where they could fail?" One of the topics which excites me enough to get me to pull all-nighters is what I call the "Wisdom Propagation Problem": why does so much wisdom seem to atrophy by the fourth generation, if not earlier? You see this pattern in the OT in spades, but I've also observed it in reality. I think Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton force us to face that question, if we don't want more like them in the future. At this point, I have two choices: (I) assert that God simply wouldn't allow this kind of situation to happen; (II) believe that God did allow this kind of situation, and has provided the requisite resources for me to do my part in moving it toward something better. I choose the belief/​faith/​trust of (II). It is corroborated if I'm actually able to appreciably move things toward something better—corroborated, not verified.

          • David Nickol

            I should make it clear that I do not believe that Adam and Eve, or any two human beings, were ever in anything like the position of the characters in the story in Genesis. So when I make comments like the ones I have so far, I am not criticizing God for using Adam and Eve as representatives for the human race. I am criticizing the whole idea of the fall. As a former believer who is somewhat now closer to being an agnostic, I do not pretend to be in a position to criticize God. If there is a God, then I most humbly acknowledge that he is beyond all human criticism. What I do criticize is the various interpretations of him, and in this case the interpretation of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis, whether there is a God who divinely inspired the Bible, whether there is a God who did not inspire the Bible, or whether there is no God at all.

            Im my opinion, the story of Adam and Eve is a myth. It may contain great wisdom, whether inspired by God or not. But in my opinion, it is not something that "actually happened," and so any attempt to deal with it as if it were historical is misguided.

          • I should make it clear that I do not believe that Adam and Eve, or any two human beings, were ever in anything like the position of the characters in the story in Genesis.

            That's fine; the story still provides an excellent opportunity to talk about human nature, both as we observe it to be and as we think an omni-deity would have designed it. Given the strong temptation to not touch the issue of human nature at all—even to deny it's a thing—in academia, I think it is extremely valuable that we have Genesis 1–3 to talk about this matter.

            But in my opinion, it is not something that "actually happened," and so any attempt to deal with it as if it were historical is misguided.

            In my mind, the crucial question is whether reality has the potential for a restoration of human solidarity—not to mention solidarity of creation and with God—without the slaughtering of some percentage of the population and the discipline and punishment of a good deal rest of it. I think a very good argument can be made that modern liberal political theory presupposes what John Milbank calls an 'ontology of violence': it's a "war of all against all", and we have to find some way to live peacefully where power balances power, perhaps precariously. Genesis 1–2 puts forward a claim very different from this 'ontology of violence'. Reality was created in peace, in shalom. Somehow that peace got broken, but it can be restored. The NT argues that Jesus is the key.

            I don't particularly care whether A&E were real. What I do care about is whether (i) reality has the potential to have restored solidarity; (ii) we humans have the resources necessary to bring about that solidarity, with however much divine help we need. I think people's beliefs on these matters are extremely important, even if those beliefs aren't self-reflective but more like absorbed presuppositions.

        • neil_pogi

          I would think that only God has the authority or the one who knew what is really a good or what really is an evil.

          If someone is to observe a toddler, and whenever a toddler 'steal'a toy from his peer,you intervene and say to him that it is not good. Therefore the toddler seemed to exhibit a behavior as an atheist because he never knew that his action is not good. He never knew the knowledge of good and evil

          • Right, so as Adam and Eve had not yet eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would not have known it was wrong to disobey God.

            It is then very unfair to then stick them with all sin and evil as well as all of their descendants, when they could not have known better.

          • neil_pogi

            Before they eat the forbidden fruit,they were informed beforehand of the consequences. Because God has created them,God has the right to set up rules,ordinances and laws.

    • Do our desires really make sense out of pure survival? The human heart wants a lot from romantic love and from life in general. We desire the infinite in so many ways. To explain that by just saying "evolution" seems lazy. It seems like an easy answer to any data point. Then you arrive at nihilism by default. Yet that is the worst possible answer to the big questions of life. So why give it such a privileged position?

      The human person is endless interesting if you try and make sense of it. It does not feel like we are just a jumble of nonsense that made some sense long ago but makes no sense now. It does feel like there is a deeper truth about who we are. I don't think that is incompatible with evolution. Evolution does seem to give a stark choice. Either it is all random or there is a REALLY powerful and intelligent being directing it. I don't see a lot of middle ground.

      • Doug Shaver

        Do our desires really make sense out of pure survival?

        Nothing in the theory of evolution implies that our every particular desire must be for something on which our survival depends.

        We desire the infinite in so many ways.

        That’s a very poetic sentiment, but poetry isn’t data.

        The human person is endless interesting if you try and make sense of it.

        Science makes perfect sense of it to me.

        It does not feel like we are just a jumble of nonsense that made some sense long ago but makes no sense now.

        I learned a long time ago that my feelings weren’t very helpful when I needed to separate fact from superstition. Anyhow, I’ve never known a competent scientist to assert that we are just a jumble of nonsense.

        It does feel like there is a deeper truth about who we are. I don't think that is incompatible with evolution.

        Whether it is compatible with evolution depends on what that “deeper truth” is, assuming there is any.

        Either it is all random or there is a REALLY powerful and intelligent being directing it. I don't see a lot of middle ground.

        I can’t help what you’re able to see or not, but “it’s all random” is neither an assumption nor a conclusion of any scientific theory I’ve ever encountered.

        • RG: The human person is endless interesting if you try and make sense of it.

          DS: Science makes perfect sense of it to me.

          May I ask what you mean by that?

          • Doug Shaver

            I mean that in my judgment, a scientific explanation of human nature is a sufficient explanation.

          • But... to what extent has science 'explained' human nature? Or are you saying that you have full confidence that science, and nothing else that is other than primitive science, will be part of the full explanation of human nature, whenever it is completed?

          • Valence

            What makes you think a full explanation of human nature is even possible. Human nature varies somewhat from person to person and greatly from cultural context to context.

          • The same thing that makes me think a full explanation of reality is possible. And really, I only need to believe that fantastically more progress is open to us, if we would only be humble enough and courageous enough to press forward.

            The context-dependent knowledge we get about humans is the same kind of knowledge we get about nature; see Ceteris Paribus Laws. I'm aware of scholarly forms of your argument by the way, via stuff like Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge and Arguing About Human Nature.

          • Valence

            The same thing that makes me think a full explanation of reality is possible.

            Out of curiosity is this the some form of the PSR?

          • Not self-consciously; I've not spent much time trying to understand the PSR. I'm suspicious both of those who set limits on what could possibly be discovered and those who set limits on what method(s) could possibly be used to discover. From my admittedly scattershot take on history, people have a habit of construing reality as being roughly understandable to the extent they understand it, with any elaboration either closely matching that understanding, or impossible. We humans are fantastically good at self-limiting.

          • Valence

            I agree with you for the most part here. With human nature, however, I'd argue that it is infinitely variable. Even something as basic as sex drive doesn't exist in some people (asexual) and is inverted or ambivalent in some people. There also seems to be a large part that is constructed within a culture, and religion plays a huge part in that historically (now we can file it all under ideology at least, the only difference between ideology and religion is that ideology doesn't appeal to the supernatural). None of this is to say that we shouldn't try to learn all we can, it's just that we shouldn't expect single theories of human nature to catch a huge percentage of individual nuance because theories are always an abstraction based on "normal" or average.
            I've spent a good amount of my time trying to study human nature as well as possible, so I'm certainly not arguing it's not worth pursuing and I'm sure better theories are out there, just not "complete" ones. Physics is the simplest of the sciences and we still don't have a complete theory there, though perhaps we will one day. It may be that an abstraction/theory always loses something, however, and if that's the case, even a Grand theory of Everything will be illusive. Since we can never be sure, we shouldn't give up though.
            It's not clear how Godel's incompleteness theorem fits into all this, but if we can't even be complete in a formal system like math...

          • With human nature, however, I'd argue that it is infinitely variable. [...] There also seems to be a large part that is constructed within a culture, and religion plays a huge part in that historically (now we can file it all under ideology at least, the only difference between ideology and religion is that ideology doesn't appeal to the supernatural).

            Whatever is constructed is constructed with a raw material which itself has properties which can be discovered. The way I tend to think about this is that various social policy proposals, or just ideas people float about how society operate, presuppose certain truths about human nature, truths which could fail to obtain.

            I'm not particularly disturbed if you can say a great more about subsets of the population than about everyone all together. I see reality as a diverse creation where complementary parts must mutually depend on each other for the highest levels of thriving. We aren't all clones of each other. Indeed, I think this idea—not always articulated—is one of the more damaging legacies of the Enlightenment.

            What I see as a major tendency is to declare that anything which isn't shared by all humans is merely a contingent construction, by self and/or by society. An alternative would be that God designed a different telos/​poiēma into each person, such that we can either choose to actualize it, or instead try and slot the person into a system of our own making (which will always be less glorious than the thing God wanted to bring about).

            I've spent a good amount of my time trying to study human nature as well as possible [...]

            Cool; do you have any suggested reading? :-)

            It's not clear how Godel's incompleteness theorem fits into all this, but if we can't even be complete in a formal system like math...

            There's no problem here, for there's no requirement that a complete description of human nature be describable via recursively enumerable axioms, or stated differently, that the complete description of human nature be describable via computer program. So Gödel's incompleteness theorems are not at all guaranteed to apply. Indeed, I think his theorems suggest that there is an infinite amount of awesome diversity available to us. But that diversity is "out there", not in us just waiting for our subjectivities to create it. Let's recall that a hope stated in Habakkuk is: "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD / as the waters cover the sea." (Hab 2:14) In my experience, Christians have a habit of making that glory pathetically small, or big but utterly nebulous. This is one way to summarize Colin E. Gunton's The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity.

          • Doug Shaver

            to what extent has science 'explained' human nature?

            To a greater extent than any alternative source of explanation.

            Or are you saying that you have full confidence that science, and nothing else that is other than primitive science, will be part of the full explanation of human nature, whenever it is completed?

            I have no idea what you mean by primitive science, but it isn't the label I would use for any science that could explain human nature.

            I suspect that we will never, by any method, get all the answers we would like to have about ourselves. The answers produced by science, though, are testable, at least in principle, and I'm just not interested in any that aren't.

          • To a greater extent than any alternative source of explanation.

            Based on your way of understanding reality, could that fail to be true? For example, one can say that once the number of data points is significantly greater than the number of parameters in the equation to fit them, science gives you the best fit. As a counter, we could say that value is very important to human nature: not just the disengaged stance which science takes, but the engaged stance you find in the humanities and arts. The state of literature today, though, might cause one to doubt its edifying value...

            I have no idea what you mean by primitive science [...]

            Observation, generation of explanatory hypotheses, and testing thereof which isn't rigorous enough to produce results which could be published in peer-reviewed journals. When I try to understand what would make my wife happy, I'm not really doing science, but there are a great number of similarities. My point was to carefully exclude whatever it was you meant to exclude when you pushed back against @randygritter:disqus's "The human person is endless interesting if you try and make sense of it." I don't know whether you would call the excluded thing "magical thinking", but I suspect a number of internet atheists would. I'm very curious about just what is being excluded.

            The answers produced by science, though, are testable, at least in principle, and I'm just not interested in any that aren't.

            Ahhh, but something testable by science need not have its origin in science. For example, René Girard analyzed some of the greatest literature he could find and came up with his theory of mimetic desire, which apparently has scientific promise:

            Girard's work is also attracting increasing interest from empirical researchers investigating human imitation (among them Andrew Meltzoff and Vittorio Gallese). Recently, empirical studies into the mechanism of desire have suggested some intriguing correlations with Girard's theory on the subject. For instance, clinical psychologist Scott R. Garrels wrote:

            What makes Girard's insights so remarkable is that he not only discovered and developed the primordial role of psychological mimesis (...) during a time when imitation was quite out of fashion, but he did so through investigation in literature, cultural anthropology, history, and ultimately returning to religious texts for further evidence of mimetic phenomena. The parallels between Girard's insights and the only recent conclusions made by empirical researchers concerning imitation (in both development and the evolution of species) are extraordinary (...).[15]

            (WP: René Girard § Psychology and neuroscience)

            We could also ask about what percentage of human action, relevant to the public sphere, must be based on nonscientific/​prescientific understandings. It's really nice when the number of data points is significantly larger than the number of parameters in your equation, but perhaps a great deal of politically relevant life must operate outside of that domain, at least for the foreseeable future?

          • Doug Shaver

            Based on your way of understanding reality, could that fail to be true?

            If I perceived a failure, I would have to change my understanding of reality. It would therefore be quite difficult for me to perceive a failure. I can only hope, since I’m only human, that it would not be impossible.

            I have no idea what you mean by primitive science [...]

            Observation, generation of explanatory hypotheses, and testing thereof which isn't rigorous enough to produce results which could be published in peer-reviewed journals.

            The peer-review process, as currently implemented, has some problems. Assuming that it generally works the way it’s supposed to work, though, I would say that if it isn’t rigorous enough for peer review, then it isn’t primitive science but just bad science or not even science.

            My point was to carefully exclude whatever it was you meant to exclude when you pushed back against Randy Gritter's "The human person is endless interesting if you try and make sense of it." I don't know whether you would call the excluded thing "magical thinking", but I suspect a number of internet atheists would. I'm very curious about just what is being excluded.

            I meant to exclude whatever its proponents admit to being something other than science, or transcending science, or otherwise extra-scientific. Whether I would call it “magical thinking” would depend on the sort of mood I was in. Most of the time, I prefer not to be so blatantly pejorative toward worldviews I disagree with.

            something testable by science need not have its origin in science.

            I don’t care a lot about how an idea originated. If it is testable and passes the tests, that makes it scientific enough to suit me.

            We could also ask about what percentage of human action, relevant to the public sphere, must be based on nonscientific/?prescientific understandings.

            Probably quite a lot, I’d say. Our brains didn’t evolve to do science as such, which is one reason real science is so hard for most people to learn. It will take us a long time to figure out how to apply it effectively to some of our most interesting social problems, but I think a few people, such as the evolutionary psychologists, are getting a good start.

            perhaps a great deal of politically relevant life must operate outside of that domain, at least for the foreseeable future?

            If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.

          • If I perceived a failure, I would have to change my understanding of reality. It would therefore be quite difficult for me to perceive a failure.

            Doesn't this mean that you can't be particularly charitable toward people who view reality differently from you? My own understanding is that every way of looking at things has significant weaknesses. But you appear to think that your way of understanding has no significant weaknesses, or at least no significant weaknesses where there is any other way of thinking which could possibly compete on that matter.

            If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.

            Why not? What is it that's "not enough" about science? Or is your reason something else, like the kind of people you think would be part of such a party? This statement is quite the surprise to me.

          • Doug Shaver

            Doesn't this mean that you can't be particularly charitable toward people who view reality differently from you?

            Some worldviews include negative assumptions about people who don’t accept them. Mine doesn’t.

            My own understanding is that every way of looking at things has significant weaknesses.

            Some worldviews say that. Yours, apparently, is one of them.

            But you appear to think that your way of understanding has no significant weaknesses, or at least no significant weaknesses where there is any other way of thinking which could possibly compete on that matter.

            I acknowledge the existence of countless questions that my worldview has not answered and will, almost certainly, never answer. Many people consider that a weakness. I don’t. A weakness, in my judgment, would be an uncorrectable susceptibility to false answers.

            The very nature of science ensures its correctability at least in principle, but it remains a purely human activity plagued by every error of which human beings are capable. For that reason, some corrections will not be made as quickly as they should be made, and some will perhaps never be made. That is not a weakness of science, though. It is a weakness of the people who do science.

            If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.

            Why not? What is it that's "not enough" about science? Or is your reason something else, like the kind of people you think would be part of such a party? This statement is quite the surprise to me.

            A scientific understanding of human nature is still too primitive to avoid significant contamination by people’s presumptions about their own nature as individuals and their presumptions about the nature of any people who are inclined to disagree with them about matters of public policy. At this moment in history, political activists who think science is on their side are as dangerous as those who think God is on their side.

          • There are two aspects of charitable interpretation. One has to do with niceness, but another has to do with accurate modeling of the other. It's the latter you seem to have precluded with your stance.

            When it comes to weakness, consider that the ultraviolet catastrophe was a weakness of classical physics. Those who could see the classical paradigm as strong in many places but weak here, were best primed to work towards quantum mechanics. My claim is that if you cannot identify any particularly interesting weaknesses in your take on reality, you both insulate yourself from challenge and damage your ability to achieve the philosophical equivalent of a [Kuhnian] paradigm shift.

            The problem I see with 'science' is not that humans are fallible, but that the term seems to be unstable. What the logical positivists called 'science' is very different from what it ever was. Philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend wrote The Tyranny of Science, in worry that some ossified conception of 'science' would hamstring further scientific research. I think precisely this happened with the conceit that the human sciences could be value-free. Now, if 'science' is a moving target—say, the gradual reification of the platonic form of Science—then any philosophical extrapolations you make from it are unstable to the extent that their dependencies are likely to be revised by a better understanding of just what Science is.

            I'm still confused as to why you wouldn't want to join a scientific party. All parties will be contaminated by presumptions. But surely the scientific party would have an edge, in [slowly?] unearthing those presumptions and correcting them? Your reticence here is perhaps the best argument for ye old "other ways of knowing" I've yet to encounter. I also think it's extraordinarily courageous, even noble, of you to reveal your thoughts on this. I could see you quite disliked by both theist and atheist camps for (i) being an atheist; (ii) holding this stance. :-p

          • Doug Shaver

            When it comes to weakness, consider that the ultraviolet catastrophe was a weakness of classical physics.

            When I talk about science in a context such as this, I’m referring to a general method of acquiring knowledge, not any particular result of that inquiry at any particular point in history. What you’re referring to was an example of science being done the way it is always supposed to be done.

            “Classical physics” refers to a certain set of theories that were accepted by the scientific community before they were either revised or replaced in response to various discoveries made during the 20th century. One of those theories predicted a particular phenomenon, now referred to as the “ultraviolet catastrophe,” that was known at the time it was made to be contrary to observation. At the moment that this inconsistency was realized, any scientifically literate person would have understood that one of two things had to be the case: Either the theory was incorrect, or else there was an observational error. In due course somebody figured out that a certain idea proposed by Planck could be used to revise the theory in order to make its predictions fit the observations. And as your Wikipedia article points out, Planck himself wasn’t even trying to fix that theory.

            My claim is that if you cannot identify any particularly interesting weaknesses in your take on reality, you both insulate yourself from challenge and damage your ability to achieve the philosophical equivalent of a [Kuhnian] paradigm shift.

            I’ve managed to achieve some paradigm shifts of my own. For quite a few years, references I’d seen to Kuhn’s work led me to think he was some kind of scientific heretic. Then I took a class in the philosophy of science, for which his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was an assigned text. Long story short: I was initially outraged, but I persevered through a first reading, and then read it again. By the end of the course, I was no longer outraged.

            I accept that many particular things I think I know about the world are bound to be wrong. There is no possible epistemology that can immunize any of us from human error. But a correctable epistemology will accept that as a fact and look for ways to identify errors by always asking: “What, if we discovered it, would tell us we were wrong about X?” A scientific worldview, it seems to me, will incorporate such an epistemology more or less by definition.

            The problem I see with 'science' is not that humans are fallible, but that the term seems to be unstable. What the logical positivists called 'science' is very different from what it ever was.

            I’ve read a lot of the logical positivists’ work, and I didn’t get that impression. Many of them, after all, were themselves scientists who just happened to have a keen interest in philosophy.

            Any discussion of any subject is going to be fruitless if the participants don’t mean the same thing by some of their key terms. If you and I don’t mean the same thing by “science,” then we need to find that out and then resolve our difference in some way. Once we have that agreement, though, then we can move on to see what else, if anything, we disagree about and why we disagree.

            Science, to me, is just an idealized version of what is actually done by actual scientists in the course of their professional work. It is frequently referred to as “the scientific method,” although the canonical account of that method is, I believe, a gross oversimplification.

            Philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend wrote The Tyranny of Science, in worry that some ossified conception of 'science' would hamstring further scientific research. I think precisely this happened with the conceit that the human sciences could be value-free.

            Science has been misused, mischaracterized, and misapplied on many occasions. That is not a problem for science any more than ante-bellum Southerners quoting scripture in defense of slavery was a problem for Christianity.

            Now, if 'science' is a moving target—say, the gradual reification of the platonic form of Science—then any philosophical extrapolations you make from it are unstable to the extent that their dependencies are likely to be revised by a better understanding of just what Science is.

            I unreservedly reject any notion of platonic forms. But the methods of inquiry and other intellectual habits usually regarded as characteristic of modern science were not invented by modern scientists. They have been practiced by some people for as long as there have been people, and I think they have been responsible for every significant improvement in the overall human living condition.

            I'm still confused as to why you wouldn't want to join a scientific party. All parties will be contaminated by presumptions. But surely the scientific party would have an edge, in [slowly?] unearthing those presumptions and correcting them?

            I might think so, if I were convinced that the party leadership was as committed as I think I am to scientific rigor when analyzing issues of public policy. But I could be deceiving myself about my own commitment to scientific rigor.

            The intellectual discipline demanded of scientific thinking is hard enough to maintain when studying matters of little or no emotional import. But issues of governance are paradigmatically emotional issues. That is why, for almost all of human history, they have typically been settled by force of arms. And, it should be noted, the winning side in almost every case has had the advantage of the best scientific knowledge available to it.

            I think the risks of an avowedly science-based political movement are manifest in the current debate over evolutionary psychology. As a scientific discipline, it is still in its infancy. I am entirely confident that when it is mature, it will be an invaluable guide to anyone trying to influence or enact public policy. But at this stage of its development there is still a raging controversy over its very legitimacy as a science. Its detractors insist — in good faith, I have no doubt — that its advocates’ claims to scientific legitimacy are simply a ruse to give scientific respectability to certain ideas widely regarded these days as politically or morally unacceptable.

          • I'm quite confused by this juxtaposition:

            DS: The answers produced by science, though, are testable, at least in principle, and I'm just not interested in any that aren't.

            DS: If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.

            Now, you've provided a hint with the following:

            DS: The intellectual discipline demanded of scientific thinking is hard enough to maintain when studying matters of little or no emotional import. But issues of governance are paradigmatically emotional issues.

            Here, we see presupposed a very strong divorce between emotion and scientific investigation. That divorce can be explained historically:

                The principle elements, or timbers, of the Modern Framework ... :
            ...
            • The "human" thing about humanity is its capacity for rational thought or action.
            ...
            • Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained. (Cosmopolis, 109–110)

            But has this divorce been established, scientifically, without first presupposing it? Descartes' Error doesn't necessarily help here, because Damasio's focus is that practical reason appears to require emotion. You may deny that science requires this concept of practical reason. So perhaps you could help me understand what scientific evidence has led you to believe that emotion necessarily thwarts scientific investigation, or at least could not possibly aid scientific investigation? Or if you don't hold either of these positions, I'd be curious in a more detailed take on how exactly you think emotion interacts with scientific investigation, and what evidence caused you to believe so.

            It would appear that you hold to a pretty strong conception of a fact/​value dichotomy, where science deals exclusively with facts (they can be facts about assertions about values). On this understanding, you would want to exclude any human endeavor which does not subordinate values to facts, excepting perhaps leisure activities. This would correspond well to the Galilean revolution, from a value-infused understanding of reality to one where values are entirely the projections of the human mind. Does this make any sense to you? We could model many of the Christians who participate at SN as thinking that either values and facts ought to be put on an equal footing, or that values ought to matter more. I'd love to compare & contrast the three positions.

          • Doug Shaver

            DS: The intellectual discipline demanded of scientific thinking is hard enough to maintain when studying matters of little or no emotional import. But issues of governance are paradigmatically emotional issues.

            Here, we see presupposed a very strong divorce between emotion and scientific investigation.

            I don’t agree that I’m presupposing anything like that.

            That divorce can be explained historically:

            The principle elements, or timbers, of the Modern Framework ... :
            ...
            • The "human" thing about humanity is its capacity for rational thought or action.
            ...
            • Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained. (Cosmopolis, 109–110)

            I have not read Toulmin’s book, and I cannot properly critique those statements without some context. I can note, however, that they are not supported by what I think I know about the origin of modern science and the historical context in which it happened.

            So perhaps you could help me understand what scientific evidence has led you to believe that emotion necessarily thwarts scientific investigation, or at least could not possibly aid scientific investigation? Or if you don't hold either of these positions, I'd be curious in a more detailed take on how exactly you think emotion interacts with scientific investigation, and what evidence caused you to believe so.

            I do not believe either “that emotion necessarily thwarts scientific investigation” or that it “could not possibly aid scientific investigation.”

            Let’s get back to Toulmin’s claim that, according to the “Modern Framework” (whatever he thinks that is), “Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained.” It is true that some practitioners, and some advocates, of modern science have disparaged emotion with claims of this sort. But many defenders of modern science disagree, and I suspect they’re the majority, though I have seen no relevant surveys. Whether or not Toulmin is reporting a consensus viewpoint, though, it is not the viewpoint I am trying to defend.

            Science is, among other things, a quest to know what the world is really like and how it really works. And one thing it does affirm about emotion is this: Nothing is true just because it suits our emotions, and nothing is false just because it doesn’t suit them. It does not follow from this that in no situation are our emotions irrelevant to a correct understanding of the world. The world does include us, and we cannot possibly understand ourselves if we don’t understand our own emotions.

            We are certainly nowhere near a complete understanding of our own selves, but we have learned a few things about how our minds work. One of those things is a tendency—practically irresistible in certain circumstances—to let our feelings dominate our reasoning. Science has its ways of trying to compensate for this tendency, so that we can discover the truth about anything notwithstanding what we wish it were, but for difficult cases, i.e. those in which the emotions at play are especially strong, the compensatory methodologies can take a very long time and some very hard work to be effective. The scientific progress we have achieved thus far has been mostly in fields of inquiry about which few people have strong feelings. It should surprise no one if a reliably scientific understanding of ourselves will be way harder to come by than a reliable scientific understanding of photosynthesis.

            It would appear that you hold to a pretty strong conception of a fact/?value dichotomy, where science deals exclusively with facts (they can be facts about assertions about values).

            I do accept the dichotomy. I agree that science seeks to discover facts and cannot discover values. However, reason, which is one of science’s tools, can have much to say about the relevance of certain facts to certain values.

            On this understanding, you would want to exclude any human endeavor which does not subordinate values to facts, excepting perhaps leisure activities.

            Our values are manifest in our desires to pursue or avoid certain activities or situations. If certain facts are irrelevant to such pursuits or avoidances, then the question of subordination does not arise. If they are relevant, then it seems to me simply foolish not to give them due consideration. If that constitutes subordination, so be it, but I don’t think it does.

            This would correspond well to the Galilean revolution, from a value-infused understanding of reality to one where values are entirely the projections of the human mind. Does this make any sense to you?

            I would call values products rather than projections of the human mind, if that makes any difference. I suspect that a mind without values is not even possible, but in any event it would not be a human mind even if it could exist.

            We could model many of the Christians who participate at SN as thinking that either values and facts ought to be put on an equal footing, or that values ought to matter more. I'd love to compare & contrast the three positions.

            We need both, and that is as equal as they need to be as far as I’m concerned. I’ve already touched on the issue of subordination. To comment on a situation where facts and values are alleged to be in conflict, I’d have to have a specific example to work with, but I suspect that in all such cases, the conflict is not between any value and any fact but between competing values.

          • DS: The intellectual discipline demanded of scientific thinking is hard enough to maintain when studying matters of little or no emotional import. But issues of governance are paradigmatically emotional issues.

            LB: Here, we see presupposed a very strong divorce between emotion and scientific investigation.

            DS: I don’t agree that I’m presupposing anything like that.

            Then what was the function of "emotional import" and "paradigmatically emotional issues"? You spoke as if scientific thought/​investigation somehow founders when things get 'emotional'. It's hard not to read this as at least a divorce between emotion and scientific investigation, if not emotion thwarting scientific investigation.

            It is true that some practitioners, and some advocates, of modern science have disparaged emotion with claims of this sort. But many defenders of modern science disagree, and I suspect they’re the majority, though I have seen no relevant surveys.

            Do you have examples of defenders who disagree? I'm not sure I can think of a single example, outside of Antonio Damasio and Robert C. Solomon. But my sampling on this issue might not be all that great. Descartes' Error was published in 1994 and has 22,000 'citations'; surely some of the scientific results therein will have imprinted on some scientists.

            The scientific progress we have achieved thus far has been mostly in fields of inquiry about which few people have strong feelings.

            It's curious you say this, because Michael Polanyi argued in 1958 that scientists are frequently quite passionate about their work, and my wife was able to confirm this at a scientific conference she just attended. Now, the public tends not to care, but the scientists most definitely do. Are you playing on this asymmetry?

            It should surprise no one if a reliably scientific understanding of ourselves will be way harder to come by than a reliable scientific understanding of photosynthesis.

            Of course, although one might reason that humans are incredibly more complex than photosynthesis, so that 'emotion' is not the key differentiator. Anyhow, I don't see why this acknowledgment here would thwart a party devoted to politics which makes use of the best science available whenever possible.

            I do accept the dichotomy. I agree that science seeks to discover facts and cannot discover values.

            Are you aware that the human sciences—at least sociology—has largely rejected the fact/​value dichotomy? They've realized that there is a great deal of sociology which is impossible if one pretends that dichotomy holds. What does sometimes happen is that if you assert the dichotomy in such areas, you import your values behind the scenes.

            If that constitutes subordination, so be it, but I don’t think it does.

            In your example here, the subordination goes the other way: facts to values. Facts are relevant when they touch on values which already exist.

            I would call values products rather than projections of the human mind, if that makes any difference.

            Sure, although I'd probably refuse to separate mind and body. :-p Key here, however, would be that values could not be the product of God's mind—right?

          • Doug Shaver

            Are you aware that the human sciences—at least sociology—has largely rejected the fact/?value dichotomy?

            I’ve heard that, and I don’t give a goldarn. I don’t judge an idea by how academically fashionable it happens to be. I majored in sociology when I got my first BA, and one thing I learned was that its claims to scientific respectability were not entirely justified.

            LB: Here, we see presupposed a very strong divorce between emotion and scientific investigation.

            DS: I don’t agree that I’m presupposing anything like that.

            Then what was the function of "emotional import" and "paradigmatically emotional issues"? You spoke as if scientific thought/?investigation somehow founders when things get 'emotional'.

            If I took your divorce analogy seriously, I’d have to say I was divorcing my wife every time she and I argued about anything. The function of those phrases was to convey my belief that emotions cause problems for scientific inquiry. It was not to suggest that those problems make scientific inquiry impossible. Those problems have solutions. The solutions are difficult to implement, but implementation cannot be even attempted if the problems are not even acknowledged, which is often the case. And one way to avoid acknowledging them, by the way, is to simply deny their existence by claiming, for example, that the fact/value dichotomy is some kind of medieval illusion.

            It is true that some practitioners, and some advocates, of modern science have disparaged emotion with claims of this sort. But many defenders of modern science disagree, and I suspect they’re the majority, though I have seen no relevant surveys.

            Do you have examples of defenders who disagree?

            None that I can defend with a pertinent quotation from their work. I believe Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker, to pick two names off the top of my head, would disagree, but that’s just the impression I get from having read some of their books. I get the same impression about Neil DeGrasse Tyson when I watch his videos.

            But as I’ve said, I don’t really care how orthodox my opinions are, even within the scientific community. Throughout its history, there have always been some things that the scientific community was wrong about. But it was always the scientific community itself that discovered those errors and corrected them. It wasn’t creationists who proved that Piltdown Man was a hoax, and it wasn’t some postmodernists who discovered that Newton’s laws of motion needed some tweaking.

            The scientific progress we have achieved thus far has been mostly in fields of inquiry about which few people have strong feelings.

            Michael Polanyi argued in 1958 that scientists are frequently quite passionate about their work, and my wife was able to confirm this at a scientific conference she just attended. Now, the public tends not to care, but the scientists most definitely do. Are you playing on this asymmetry?

            The asymmetry was part of my point. The best work in any field tends to be done by people who are passionate about that work, because the best work of any kind usually requires considerable motivation, because the best work is usually very hard work. It took Andrew Wiles seven years to produce his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, and when a mistake was found during peer review it took him another year to fix it. That takes passion. Lots of passion. And it was passion for a problem that almost nobody outside the mathematical community cares anything at all about.

            Darwin worked on his theory for some 20 years before publishing On the Origin of Species. There remains some dispute over why it took him so long, a common hypothesis being that he was afraid of the reaction it would get. Whatever his actual state of mind was, his fears, if he had any, were certainly justified. Opposition to his theory of natural selection remains formidable and continues to affect public policy within at least the United States, precisely because people have such strong feelings about its implications, both real and imagined. A real implication is that the Genesis account of human origins cannot be literally true, and this causes emotional stress for some Christians who are committed to a certain view of scriptural inerrancy. An imagined implication is that we cannot justify any kind of moral code beyond “might makes right,” which, if it were true, would upset anybody in their right mind.

            Even within the secular community, among people who don’t question the biological fact of our common ancestry with other species, there is the debate over evolutionary psychology to which I’ve already referred. This is because, among other reasons, it goes to the question of whether there even exists such a thing as human nature and, if there does, what that nature is — e.g., is racism natural or is it just a product of a uniquely Western European kind of ethnocentrism? And if there are things about human nature that we don’t like, is there anything morally acceptable that we can do to effectively suppress them? These are issues that everybody, not just scientists, has very strong feelings about, and those feelings are going to be a major problem for anyone trying to make a mature science out of evolutionary psychology. I don’t believe that the problem is insurmountable, but the worst thing we could do would be to ignore it or to dismiss it as no more relevant than the feelings Mendeleev had when he was developing the periodic table of elements. (Some of the opposition to his work got a bit emotional, too.)

            It should surprise no one if a reliably scientific understanding of ourselves will be way harder to come by than a reliable scientific understanding of photosynthesis.

            Of course, although one might reason that humans are incredibly more complex than photosynthesis, so that 'emotion' is not the key differentiator. Anyhow, I don't see why this acknowledgment here would thwart a party devoted to politics which makes use of the best science available whenever possible.

            The additional complexity contributes to the difficulty, of course, but I think it’s a hopelessly naive view of science that says the difference between how we feel about plants and the way we feel about ourselves has no actual effect on our ability to acquire a scientific understanding of ourselves. Of course we can keep telling ourselves, over and over again, the we should not let our feelings affect our scientific work. And maybe we shouldn’t. But we’re going to do it anyway. We’d better just get used to it and compensate as best we can.

            In your example here, the subordination goes the other way: facts to values. Facts are relevant when they touch on values which already exist.

            My point was that (a) relevance does not constitute subordination in either direction, but (b) even if it does, then we should accept it. That noted, there is no value I’ve ever heard of that would justify actual denial of some fact.

            I would call values products rather than projections of the human mind, if that makes any difference.

            Sure, although I'd probably refuse to separate mind and body. :-p Key here, however, would be that values could not be the product of God's mind—right?

            I think they not, obviously. But I wouldn’t say they couldn’t be.

          • I’ve heard that, and I don’t give a goldarn. I don’t judge an idea by how academically fashionable it happens to be. I majored in sociology when I got my first BA, and one thing I learned was that its claims to scientific respectability were not entirely justified.

            How do we distinguish between 'academically fashionable' and 'scientifically respectable', on the matter of whether the fact/​value dichotomy is more of an asset or liability to the science of sociology? Or do you think we are better off developing public policy without reference to the peer-reviewed results of sociology?

            If your picture is any indicator about your age, you were trained in sociology before the fact/​value dichotomy experienced much criticism. You would have trained during the flagging part of positivism, when many sociologists refused to admit its weaknesses because that would put much of their careers in question (at least according to Kenneth Gergen). You would also have trained during a time of fantastic claims made by sociologists, with results described by Donald Polkinghorne in 1988: "Despite the large sums of public funds invested in the human disciplines during the era of the Great Society, little headway was made in solving social problems." (Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, ix) Now, speaking of his own field—psychotherapy—he notes that the focus on number and model in the academy was likely at fault for being nigh useless in dealing with actual people and their actual problems. The positivism, and belief in the fact/​value dichotomy just weren't working. Polkinghorne realized that narrative is increasingly important, and we know that narrative is a huge way values are articulated.

            What have you learned about sociology since you trained in it, and from where/​what?

            The function of those phrases was to convey my belief that emotions cause problems for scientific inquiry.

            Sure; do you have scientific evidence which help you understand which emotions interfere with scientific inquiry and how? Have you looked for any scientific evidence covering whether emotions could possibly aid in scientific inquiry?

            But as I’ve said, I don’t really care how orthodox my opinions are, even within the scientific community.

            Do you care about how scientifically accurate they are? If so, how do you distinguish between what I take to be quite the pejorative use of 'orthodox', and the best current state of scientific knowledge? What I'm trying to get at is the extent to which your own beliefs have scientific support, vs. not having scientific support. To the extent that they don't, you have your own 'orthodoxy'.

            Darwin worked on his theory for some 20 years before publishing On the Origin of Species. There remains some dispute over why it took him so long, a common hypothesis being that he was afraid of the reaction it would get. Whatever his actual state of mind was, his fears, if he had any, were certainly justified. Opposition to his theory of natural selection remains formidable and continues to affect public policy within at least the United States, precisely because people have such strong feelings about its implications, both real and imagined.

            Your history is faulty. The initial opposition Darwin got was heavily scientific, as a study of Darwin's Forgotten Defenders and The Post-Darwinian Controversies would teach you. Those works will also show plenty of Christians defending Darwin. The preponderance of modern-day creationism is mostly a result of the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood by two Seventh Day Adventists. You can read more about that history in The Creationists. Most generalizations from the 1925 Scopes trial I've seen are unscientific and unhistorical.

            These are issues that everybody, not just scientists, has very strong feelings about, and those feelings are going to be a major problem for anyone trying to make a mature science out of evolutionary psychology.

            I still don't see why a political party which doesn't explicitly associate itself with following the best current scientific research would be as good or better than a political party which claims to respect the results of science above everything else. Remember, a standard of perfection is irrelevant here; all we need is for the science political party to be better than its real, embodied, alternatives.

            The additional complexity contributes to the difficulty, of course, but I think it’s a hopelessly naive view of science that says the difference between how we feel about plants and the way we feel about ourselves has no actual effect on our ability to acquire a scientific understanding of ourselves.

            I don't know a single person who has expressed such a "hopelessly naive view of science". I frankly don't know why you brought it up.

            Of course we can keep telling ourselves, over and over again, the we should not let our feelings affect our scientific work. And maybe we shouldn’t. But we’re going to do it anyway. We’d better just get used to it and compensate as best we can.

            But scientists follow their intuitions and hunches all the time. Are you really going to separate these from 'feelings'? Can you produce a peer-reviewed scientific article explaining how to do this separation? Because if you can't, I'm going to suspect that what you say here is ideological and not scientific. I'm going to suspect that what you really are accomplishing—whether you intend so or not—is to banish feelings which you, Doug Shaver, don't like.

            I think they not, obviously. But I wouldn’t say they couldn’t be.

            How would a value be the product of God's mind, instead of ours? I've never actually found an atheist who could give a remotely plausible answer to this question. What I suspect, as a result of that, is that most atheists don't actually allow for a difference, in their epistemologies. But perhaps you do. This point is rather important to Christianity, because one of those "other ways of knowing" is to have God correct our values. This is also known as "convicting us of sin".

          • Doug Shaver

            How would a value be the product of God's mind, instead of ours? I've never actually found an atheist who could give a remotely plausible answer to this question.

            I'm not the one claiming that anything I say about God makes sense. Christians tell me that they get their values from God. If they do, then the claim that values are the product of God's mind seems like a logical inference. If it's not, then it's a problem for Christian theology.

          • DS: I would call values products rather than projections of the human mind, if that makes any difference.

            LB: Sure, although I'd probably refuse to separate mind and body. :-p Key here, however, would be that values could not be the product of God's mind—right?

            DS: I think they not, obviously. But I wouldn’t say they couldn’t be.

            LB: How would a value be the product of God's mind, instead of ours? I've never actually found an atheist who could give a remotely plausible answer to this question. What I suspect, as a result of that, is that most atheists don't actually allow for a difference, in their epistemologies. But perhaps you do.

            DS: I'm not the one claiming that anything I say about God makes sense.

            One of the key things Karl Popper taught us is that scientific claims very clearly delineate what they deny. F = GmM/r^2 tells us that almost every logically possible observation would falsify that claim. The vast majority of logically possible phenomena are incompatible with that equation. For example, were we to find that F = GmM/r^2.001, that would constitute falsification.

            When you assert that no values are the product of God's mind, do you have the kind of clarity outlined above? Or is it a much fuzzier understanding? Another way to put it is: how rigorous is your 'generative model' for what could be the product of human values embedded in action, and what couldn't be the product of human values? If your idea is too fuzzy, if your idea is not remotely rigorous, then it seems like it is closer to a dogma than an empirically-formed belief.

            Now, I don't dispute that the onus is on Christians to articulate just what it would mean for value to originate from God and not from humans. They ought not be content to dwell in the land of "didn't originate from humans", because that is much too large of a category and does approximately nothing to aid us in understanding reality better. Analogously, asserting that it is false that F = GmM/r^3 doesn't help us overmuch.

            Ironically, the domain where we are probably most able to currently explore this matter is in the human sciences, if we do away with the fact/​value dichotomy. You know, the denial of which you have insinuated is merely "academically fashionable". The human sciences are where the signal level of values is highest.

          • Doug Shaver

            One of the key things Karl Popper taught us is that scientific claims very clearly delineate what they deny.

            Right. It’s called falsification, and we didn’t need Popper to teach us about it. The logical positivists had it figured out before anybody had heard of Karl Popper.

            When you assert that no values are the product of God's mind, do you have the kind of clarity outlined above?

            I think so. If values are the products of God’s mind, then God exists. I think God’s existence is so improbable that we’re justified in provisionally assuming his nonexistence. From his nonexistence, it follows that values are not the product of his mind.

          • Right. It’s called falsification, and we didn’t need Popper to teach us about it. The logical positivists had it figured out before anybody had heard of Karl Popper.

            They had... some ideas on the topic. I don't recall anyone who systematized it prior to Popper, in a form which could be widely applied?

            LB: When you assert that no values are the product of God's mind, do you have the kind of clarity outlined above?

            DS: I think so. If values are the products of God’s mind, then God exists. I think God’s existence is so improbable that we’re justified in provisionally assuming his nonexistence. From his nonexistence, it follows that values are not the product of his mind.

            That's not at all what I was getting at. Instead, I want to know if you have any idea what would be involved in value originating from God. Ostensibly, a logically possible world where at least some value originates from God is different from a logically possible world where no value originates from God, in more than just the bare fact. What would I expect to observe if value originated from God, which would not expect to observe if it didn't?

          • Doug Shaver

            I want to know if you have any idea what would be involved in value originating from God.

            Why? Just so you can tell me how wrong that idea is? I'm not claiming to know anything at all about God. That's what theologians and apologists do, and what they claim to know seems incoherent to me.

          • Why?

            Because if you don't have any idea of what it would be for value to originate from God, then I don't think you have any idea what you're asserting when you say that in fact, you think all value originates from humans. There has to be more than a mere linguistic difference between these two statements, else you're not making an empirical claim.

            Just so you can tell me how wrong that idea is?

            Incorrect.

            I'm not claiming to know anything at all about God.

            I wasn't asking for knowledge. I'm asking what would falsify your understanding that all value in fact originates from humans. I take that to be an empirical fact-claim which can be investigated. Am I incorrect?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm asking what would falsify your understanding that all value in fact originates from humans. I take that to be an empirical fact-claim which can be investigated. Am I incorrect?

            No, you're correct. I think it comes from humans because I know of no other possible source. When someone shows me evidence for an alternative origin, I'll consider it.

          • If you know of no other possible source, then isn't that like saying that the only way you can conceive of things being is F = GmM/r^2? The possibility of ^2.001 just wouldn't enter into your mind. It would be unfalsifiable not in principle, but within your own understanding. On a Popperian understanding of science, that would seem to mean that it could be an empirical statement in principle, but it isn't an empirical statement in your own understanding. Are you ok with that?

          • Doug Shaver

            If you know of no other possible source, then isn't that like saying that the only way you can conceive of things being is F = GmM/r^2?

            What I know of is not coextensive with what I can conceive. I not only can conceive of other sources, I used to believe there were others. I stopped believing that those other sources existed when I realized that my belief in them was unjustified.

          • Be that as it may, you have offered nothing of any specificity whatsoever of what you can explain, and cannot explain, with the assertion that humans are the sole source of value. Do you recognize this? In contrast, the scientist who asserts that F = GmM/r^2 is asserting that the vast majority of phenomena [s]he could plausibly observe would falsify the assertion.

          • Doug Shaver

            The only values I know about are those attributed to certain things or situations by human minds. I infer from absence of evidence that there is not ["not" added in edit] any other source for those values. Many theists say those values have another source or origin. No matter what, specifically, they think that other source or origin is, when they produce a convincing argument for their claim, I will consider my present belief to have been falsified.

          • That's fine, I just don't think what you say here qualifies as an empirical claim, if we go with Karl Popper's understanding of what science is. For Popper, it's not enough to merely assert that falsification is possible; you actually have to show plausible ways falsification could actually happen. As an example, we could consider string theory, which is often criticized as being psuedoscience because there are no realistic ways of falsifying it. The legitimacy of this criticism helps explain why Luboš Motl provided a number of precise, concrete phenomena which would falsify string theory. There is debate as to whether they suffice (see the comments), but he acknowledged a need that you refuse to acknowledge.

          • Doug Shaver

            I just don't think what you say here qualifies as an empirical claim, if we go with Karl Popper's understanding of what science is.

            I feel no obligation to conform my understanding of science with either Popper's understanding or your interpretation of Popper's understanding.

          • Doug Shaver

            How would a value be the product of God's mind, instead of ours? I've never actually found an atheist who could give a remotely plausible answer to this question.

            I'm not the one claiming that what I say about God makes sense. Christians tell me that they get their values from God. If they do, then the claim that values are the product of God's mind seems like a logical inference. If it's not, then it's a problem for Christian theology.

            I don't know a single person who has expressed such a "hopelessly naive view of science". I frankly don't know why you brought it up.

            I thought you expressed it. That’s why I brought it up. You seem to be arguing that the emotional issues that are inseparable from any understanding of human nature are of no consequence, as a matter of actual fact (as opposed to “in some ideal utopian fantasy”), to a scientific investigation of human nature.

            How do we distinguish between 'academically fashionable' and 'scientifically respectable', on the matter of whether the fact/?value dichotomy is more of an asset or liability to the science of sociology?

            If you even have to ask, then you don’t know what makes any idea scientifically respectable. Scientifically literate people can and do disagree over whether a particular notion that is, for the moment, academically fashionable is also scientifically respectable, but they are under no impression that it is hard to see any categorical difference.

            Or do you think we are better off developing public policy without reference to the peer-reviewed results of sociology?

            Public policy should be made by people who can judge the scientific merits of an idea no matter where it is published. The efficacy of any peer review in separating science from pseudoscience depends entirely on the scientific competence of the peers doing that review.

            If your picture is any indicator about your age, you were trained in sociology before the fact/?value dichotomy experienced much criticism. You would have trained during the flagging part of positivism, when many sociologists refused to admit its weaknesses because that would put much of their careers in question (at least according to Kenneth Gergen). . . . What have you learned about sociology since you trained in it, and from where/?what?

            I got my degree in 1975, at a university of which I was in the charter class. The Sociology Department comprised a chairman and only three other faculty, one of whom had not yet earned his Ph.D. I was in my late 20s, and except for the chairman, none of the faculty was much older if any.

            I had already decided on a journalism career, but the university did not then offer a journalism major, so I chose sociology because it seemed like a potentially relevant alternative and I was just interested in it. (For reasons it would too distracting to explain, it was unfeasible for me to attend any other university). But I was also interested in the hard sciences, and after I graduated that interest was further stimulated by certain books I happened to come across, especially Isaac Asimov’s nonfiction essay collections. I have paid little attention to sociology since then.

            do you have scientific evidence which help you understand which emotions interfere with scientific inquiry and how?

            My evidence is the history of science. It tells me that reality has always been oblivious to human feelings.

            Have you looked for any scientific evidence covering whether emotions could possibly aid in scientific inquiry?

            I have not needed to look for it with that specific intention. The same history that tells me of reality’s indifference to our feelings also tells me that—as I just mentioned in another post—good scientific work, like any other hard work, requires strong motivation, which certainly is a feeling. But the results of any scientific work need to be validated before they are regarded as established scientific knowledge, and the validation process gives zero consideration to the amount of effort required to produce the results or to the feelings motivating that effort.

            how do you distinguish between what I take to be quite the pejorative use of 'orthodox', and the best current state of scientific knowledge?

            To call it “scientific knowledge” begs the question, because to call it knowledge presupposes its truth. To call it orthodox is just to identify its status within a certain community that has been empowered, in some way and in the minds of certain people, to pass judgment on the intellectual acceptability of the proposition at issue.

            I accept the conventional definition of knowledge as justified true belief. The test for belief is simple: Do we think it’s true or don’t we? If we think it’s true, then we believe it, and otherwise we don’t. What about actual truth? There is no test for that, which is independent of our worldview, paradigm, doxastic structure, epistemological theory, or whatever you want to call it. If we disagree about whether a proposition is actually true, then we will disagree, unavoidably, about whether anybody actually knows it. That leaves us with justification as the only issue we can sensibly debate. And so, I regard as scientific knowledge that body of propositions about the observable universe that have been confirmed, as a result of the standard scientific methodologies, to such a degree that it would be intellectually perverse to withhold provisional assent—“provisional” being an indispensable qualification. Scientific orthodoxy—in an entirely non-pejorative sense of that word—has no place for claims of infallibility, by anyone or about anything.

            What I'm trying to get at is the extent to which your own beliefs have scientific support, vs. not having scientific support.

            Everything I believe about science is the result of a lifetime of reading about science—countless books, essays, and other commentaries written by actual scientists, by lay people supportive of science, and by people expressing various degrees of hostility to science or certain of its subdisciplines. If you want to claim that all of that literature fails to constitute “scientific support” and that I therefore don’t know what I’m talking about, then I’m not going to argue the point.

            The initial opposition Darwin got was heavily scientific

            I did not say otherwise. Yes, there was at first some opposition from some people within the scientific community, but that opposition did not survive the continued acquisition of relevant data. My point was that the emotion-based opposition did survive and continues to flourish.

            Those works will also show plenty of Christians defending Darwin.

            Again, I have said nothing to the contrary.

            I still don't see why a political party which doesn't explicitly associate itself with following the best current scientific research would be as good or better than a political party which claims to respect the results of science above everything else.

            The operative word there is “claims.” A proper respect for the current results of science must acknowledge the current limitations on those results. A political party that wants my support will have to demonstrate to my satisfaction that its science is mature enough to be a foundation for public policy. I am not going to take their spokesmen’s word for it.

            But scientists follow their intuitions and hunches all the time.

            Yes, they do. And then they subject those intuitions and hunches to scientific testing. An idea is scientifically acceptable if it passes the tests and unacceptable if it doesn’t, quite regardless of how the idea originated.

          • I'm not the one claiming that what I say about God makes sense. Christians tell me that they get their values from God. If they do, then the claim that values are the product of God's mind seems like a logical inference. If it's not, then it's a problem for Christian theology.

            Somehow you managed to post just this paragraph in a separate comment, to which I've responded.

            You seem to be arguing that the emotional issues that are inseparable from any understanding of human nature are of no consequence, as a matter of actual fact (as opposed to “in some ideal utopian fantasy”), to a scientific investigation of human nature.

            Nope, I merely suggested that perhaps "'emotion' is not the key differentiator".

            LB: How do we distinguish between 'academically fashionable' and 'scientifically respectable', on the matter of whether the fact/​value dichotomy is more of an asset or liability to the science of sociology?

            DS: If you even have to ask, then you don’t know what makes any idea scientifically respectable. Scientifically literate people can and do disagree over whether a particular notion that is, for the moment, academically fashionable is also scientifically respectable, but they are under no impression that it is hard to see any categorical difference.

            Oh stop it with the attacks. I could certainly work out an answer for myself, but it's doubtful whether that will help me understand you.

            LB: Or do you think we are better off developing public policy without reference to the peer-reviewed results of sociology?

            DS: Public policy should be made by people who can judge the scientific merits of an idea no matter where it is published. The efficacy of any peer review in separating science from pseudoscience depends entirely on the scientific competence of the peers doing that review.

            This doesn't shed any light on the role you think that science could play in politics, why you wouldn't now support a political party which claims to highly respect the results of science, and what it would take for you to support such a party. Are you just flat-out calling the bulk of sociology "not science"?

            My evidence is the history of science. It tells me that reality has always been oblivious to human feelings.

            What would it mean for reality to not be "oblivious to human feelings"? Are you saying that whether or not F = GmM/r^2 would have to depend on my current feelings? I hope not, because that seems rather silly. You seem to be denying more than that, but I don't know how to describe the totality of what you're denying—when I restrict my guesses to empirical evidence.

            But the results of any scientific work need to be validated before they are regarded as established scientific knowledge, and the validation process gives zero consideration to the amount of effort required to produce the results or to the feelings motivating that effort.

            That's irrelevant, unless you want to call the validation phase of scientific inquiry to be all of scientific inquiry.

            The test for belief is simple: Do we think it’s true or don’t we?

            I asked how you distinguish. Is your "think" here a black box, or can it be explored? Let us recall that what you are doing here is dismissing arbitrarily much of the results of the human sciences (not just sociology) as being "orthodoxy" but not "scientific knowledge". You're not necessarily doing this overtly, but you sure are insinuating it.

            DS: Darwin worked on his theory for some 20 years before publishing On the Origin of Species. There remains some dispute over why it took him so long, a common hypothesis being that he was afraid of the reaction it would get. Whatever his actual state of mind was, his fears, if he had any, were certainly justified. Opposition to his theory of natural selection remains formidable and continues to affect public policy within at least the United States, precisely because people have such strong feelings about its implications, both real and imagined.

            LB: Your history is faulty.

            DS: My point was that the emotion-based opposition did survive and continues to flourish.

            Oh c'mon, your first comment clearly indicates that you think a plausible reason for Darwin's reticence to publish was that he thought he would get a significant amount of "emotion-based opposition". If in fact the "emotion-based opposition" really got going in 1961, if in fact the primary opposition Darwin feared and experienced was science-based, then Darwin himself is utterly irrelevant and instead we should look at the factors which allowed the 1961 The Genesis Flood to become quite influential.

            A political party that wants my support will have to demonstrate to my satisfaction that its science is mature enough to be a foundation for public policy.

            Suppose that science isn't mature enough. Then what do we go on? I wouldn't be surprised if many Christians think that it isn't mature enough, and that at least some think it will never be mature enough. This again points us toward that "other ways of knowing" beast.

          • Doug Shaver

            Somehow you managed to post just this paragraph in a separate comment,

            I must forgotten that I did that.

            You seem to be arguing that the emotional issues that are inseparable from any understanding of human nature are of no consequence, as a matter of actual fact (as opposed to “in some ideal utopian fantasy”), to a scientific investigation of human nature.

            Nope, I merely suggested that perhaps "'emotion' is not the key differentiator".

            Are you suggesting that it is, if not a key differentiator, a differentiator of any kind? What do you think it differentiates?

            Or do you think we are better off developing public policy without reference to the peer-reviewed results of sociology?

            DS: Public policy should be made by people who can judge the scientific merits of an idea no matter where it is published. The efficacy of any peer review in separating science from pseudoscience depends entirely on the scientific competence of the peers doing that review.

            This doesn't shed any light on the role you think that science could play in politics

            It wasn’t supposed to. It was supposed to shed light on what I think about the relevance of peer review to the development of public policy.

            What would it mean for reality to not be "oblivious to human feelings"?

            If reality were not so oblivious, we could occasionally make something so just by wishing it were so. Or, our believing that something ought to be the case would sometimes cause it actually to be the case.

            But the results of any scientific work need to be validated before they are regarded as established scientific knowledge, and the validation process gives zero consideration to the amount of effort required to produce the results or to the feelings motivating that effort.

            That's irrelevant, unless you want to call the validation phase of scientific inquiry to be all of scientific inquiry.

            It is not all, but it is an indispensable part. Where there is no validation, there is either no science or an incomplete science.

            I asked how you distinguish [orthodoxy from scientific knowledge].

            I tried to answer by telling you exactly what I mean by orthodoxy and what I mean by scientific knowledge. In so doing, I thought I made the distinction as obvious as it could be.

            your first comment clearly indicates that you think a plausible reason for Darwin's reticence to publish was that he thought he would get a significant amount of "emotion-based opposition".

            Yes. Do you think that, if he actually thought so, he was mistaken?

            If in fact the "emotion-based opposition" really got going in 1961, if in fact the primary opposition Darwin feared and experienced was science-based, then Darwin himself is utterly irrelevant and instead we should look at the factors which allowed the 1961 The Genesis Flood to become quite influential.

            As I’ve already said, I intended no denial that some the initial opposition to Darwin was science-based. But your apparent suggestion that there was no emotion-based opposition, or that it was of negligible public influence, before publication of The Genesis Flood is absurd.

            Suppose that science isn't mature enough. Then what do we go on?

            Whatever we’ve been going on until now.

          • Are you suggesting that it is, if not a key differentiator, a differentiator of any kind? What do you think it differentiates?

            I didn't say that emotion is "not a key differentiator"; I said "'emotion' is not the key differentiator". Note: "the" ≠ "a". I think that belief in the fact/​value dichotomy is incredibly harmful to understanding humans, and I don't think that the 'value' aspect of it has purely to do with emotion.

            If reality were not so oblivious, we could occasionally make something so just by wishing it were so. Or, our believing that something ought to be the case would sometimes cause it actually to be the case.

            Would telekinesis be an example of "not so oblivious"? That would be a way for humans to shape reality with less effort than is currently required. Your argument seems to be of the form: "Since it takes effort to alter reality, it is oblivious to human feelings."

            It is not all, but it is an indispensable part. Where there is no validation, there is either no science or an incomplete science.

            That is irrelevant. You've argued that the validation phase of science can operate just fine under the fact/​value dichotomy; I'll grant that. But this doesn't mean that science as a whole can operate just fine with zero emotion other than passionate perseverance.

            LB: Oh c'mon, your first comment clearly indicates that you think a plausible reason for Darwin's reticence to publish was that he thought he would get a significant amount of "emotion-based opposition".

            DS: Yes. Do you think that, if he actually thought so, he was mistaken?

            The historical record, as I understand it, does not indicate any dominance of emotion-based opposition to Darwin's theory during his lifetime. The belief that there was such opposition seems to be an anachronistic back-extrapolation from the history which followed the 1961 The Genesis Flood, probably aided by the currents which once caused many intellectuals to erroneously buy into the conflict thesis.

            As I’ve already said, I intended no denial that some the initial opposition to Darwin was science-based. But your apparent suggestion that there was no emotion-based opposition, or that it was of negligible public influence, before publication of The Genesis Flood is absurd.

            I never said the emotion-based opposition was nonexistent or insignificant. Instead, I said "The initial opposition Darwin got was heavily scientific" and "if in fact the primary opposition Darwin feared and experienced was science-based". Shall we turn to the history books on this one?

            LB: Suppose that science isn't mature enough. Then what do we go on?

            DS: Whatever we’ve been going on until now.

            But what is that? Might it have surprising similarities to the kind of thought which goes on in a lot of religious thinking, where fact and value are not cleanly disentangled? Might it have surprising similarities to the human sciences, post-fact/​value dichotomy?

          • Doug Shaver

            I didn't say that emotion is "not a key differentiator"; I said "'emotion' is not the key differentiator". Note: "the" ≠ "a".

            Whichever. I apologize for my carelessness. Now will you tell me what you think it differentiates?

            Would telekinesis be an example of "not so oblivious"?

            If it existed? Sure.

            The historical record, as I understand it, does not indicate any dominance of emotion-based opposition to Darwin's theory during his lifetime.

            In that case, either you and I have not read the same historical record, or else we’re interpreting the same record rather differently.

            I said "The initial opposition Darwin got was heavily scientific"

            And I have said nothing to the contrary. You’re flirting with a strawman argument here.

            LB: Suppose that science isn't mature enough. Then what do we go on?

            DS: Whatever we’ve been going on until now.

            But what is that? Might it have surprising similarities to the kind of thought which goes on in a lot of religious thinking, where fact and value are not cleanly disentangled?

            Yeah, I think it does. I also think that’s why our next president is going to be someone whom a majority of the American people can’t stand.

          • Whichever. I apologize for my carelessness. Now will you tell me what you think it differentiates?

            That's a very broad question; supposedly the context is the following, which nucleated this discussion:

            DS: We are certainly nowhere near a complete understanding of our own selves, but we have learned a few things about how our minds work. One of those things is a tendency—practically irresistible in certain circumstances—to let our feelings dominate our reasoning. Science has its ways of trying to compensate for this tendency, so that we can discover the truth about anything notwithstanding what we wish it were, but for difficult cases, i.e. those in which the emotions at play are especially strong, the compensatory methodologies can take a very long time and some very hard work to be effective. The scientific progress we have achieved thus far has been mostly in fields of inquiry about which few people have strong feelings. It should surprise no one if a reliably scientific understanding of ourselves will be way harder to come by than a reliable scientific understanding of photosynthesis.

            But the topic here is what makes the human sciences so hard, not what emotion differentiates. So, I don't really understand the question.

            If it existed? Sure.

            So if somehow humans obtain psychic powers, all of a sudden your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy will be shaken?

            In that case, either you and I have not read the same historical record, or else we’re interpreting the same record rather differently.

            What are you sources?

            And I have said nothing to the contrary. You’re flirting with a strawman argument here.

            Wait, do you think that Darwin received (i) more emotion-based opposition than science-based; (ii) more science-based opposition than emotion-based; or (iii) about the same?

            LB: Suppose that science isn't mature enough. Then what do we go on?

            DS: Whatever we’ve been going on until now.

            LB: But what is that? Might it have surprising similarities to the kind of thought which goes on in a lot of religious thinking, where fact and value are not cleanly disentangled? Might it have surprising similarities to the human sciences, post-fact/​value dichotomy?

            DS: Yeah, I think it does. I also think that’s why our next president is going to be someone whom a majority of the American people can’t stand.

            So if we more clearly disentangled fact from value, things would be better? If so, I'd like to know what would falsify that claim—if anything could.

          • Doug Shaver

            But the topic here is what makes the human sciences so hard, not what emotion differentiates.

            As I think you noted, if I understood you correctly, the data on which we must base a scientific understanding of ourselves are more complex (by some orders of magnitude) than those on which we base our understanding of just about anything else in the universe. That is a difficulty for the human sciences as compared with the others. Another is the meagerness of the data we have so far obtained compared with what will be needed for an understanding sufficiently robust to justify a claim to being scientific knowledge. What I am claiming is that, in addition to these difficulties, (a) we have an emotional involvement with the subject of a kind that we don’t have with any other subject and (b) this involvement negatively affects our ability to maintain appropriate standards of scientific rigor while conducting our studies.

            So if somehow humans obtain psychic powers, all of a sudden your belief in the fact/?value dichotomy will be shaken?

            Some of my beliefs would certainly be shaken, but I don’t see why that particular one would be.

            In that case, either you and I have not read the same historical record, or else we’re interpreting the same record rather differently.

            What are you sources?

            Sorry. I read them all a long time ago, and I wasn’t taking notes. The only names that come off the top of my head are Isaac Asimov and Stephen Jay Gould, and I don’t remember exactly what either of them said on that subject.

            Wait, do you think that Darwin received (i) more emotion-based opposition than science-based; (ii) more science-based opposition than emotion-based; or (iii) about the same?

            None of my sources, as best I recall, attempted such a quantification. The general impression they left me with was: Initially a lot of both.

            So if we more clearly disentangled fact from value, things would be better? If so, I'd like to know what would falsify that claim—if anything could.

            Never minding its political implications, the fact/value dichotomy would be falsified by incontrovertible evidence that some value exists independently of any mind.

          • What I am claiming is that, in addition to these difficulties, (a) we have an emotional involvement with the subject of a kind that we don’t have with any other subject and (b) this involvement negatively affects our ability to maintain appropriate standards of scientific rigor while conducting our studies.

            Oh, I don't disagree with that. Here's a beautiful quote which captures both that aspect, and what a strong belief in the fact/​value dichotomy gets you:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            This does make things quite difficult. But is it the most difficult aspect? I'm not so sure. For example, what happens when you do a study and find that women tend to be susceptible to a certain kind of influencing tactic. Will that continue to be true, or will they learn this and change? Isaac Asimov caught onto this pattern and integrated it into his Foundation series: it was very important for the secretive organization which could predict societal development hundreds of years in the future keep those predictions secret; should they get out, people would change their behavior. This also makes the human sciences difficult.

            LB: [...] do you have scientific evidence which help you understand which emotions interfere with scientific inquiry and how?

            DS: My evidence is the history of science. It tells me that reality has always been oblivious to human feelings.

            LB: What would it mean for reality to not be "oblivious to human feelings"?

            DS: If reality were not so oblivious, we could occasionally make something so just by wishing it were so. Or, our believing that something ought to be the case would sometimes cause it actually to be the case.

            LB: Would telekinesis be an example of "not so oblivious"? That would be a way for humans to shape reality with less effort than is currently required. Your argument seems to be of the form: "Since it takes effort to alter reality, it is oblivious to human feelings."

            DS: If it existed? Sure.

            LB: So if somehow humans obtain psychic powers, all of a sudden your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy will be shaken?

            DS: Some of my beliefs would certainly be shaken, but I don’t see why that particular one would be.

            Wouldn't telekinesis be an example of reality not being "oblivious to human feelings"? And if reality isn't so-oblivious, wouldn't that be a reason to question the fact/​value dichotomy?

            LB: So if we more clearly disentangled fact from value, things would be better? If so, I'd like to know what would falsify that claim—if anything could.

            DS: Never minding its political implications, the fact/value dichotomy would be falsified by incontrovertible evidence that some value exists independently of any mind.

            This comment gets at the matter of "falsified". But I'm also interested in what predictions you can make from your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy, predictions which could turn out to be false. Such a situation wouldn't immediately put the dichotomy into question—Popper was well aware of auxiliary hypotheses which can save the theory—but surely enough failed predictions would cast the dichotomy into doubt? If you're not willing to assert that world could be made a better place by better distinguishing fact from value, then that opens up some questions.

          • Doug Shaver

            Wouldn't telekinesis be an example of reality not being "oblivious to human feelings"?

            After thinking about it some more, I guess that would depend on the actual mechanism by which telekinesis works. Suppose I wish to affect the outcome of a coin toss. When you can propose an explanation of how that wish gets converted to a force on the spinning coin, then we can revisit the question of whether my feelings had any involvement in the process.

            And if reality isn't so-oblivious, wouldn't that be a reason to question the fact/​value dichotomy?

            The dichotomy asserts an ontological distinction. The fact, if it were a fact, that we could in some situations get what we want just by wanting it would not entail the nonexistence of a difference between reality as it is and reality as we wish it were.

            This comment gets at the matter of "falsified". But I'm also interested in what predictions you can make from your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy, predictions which could turn out to be false.

            "Falsification will fail" is prediction enough.

          • After thinking about it some more, I guess that would depend on the actual mechanism by which telekinesis works.

            Well, can you think of some mechanisms which would make you reason one way, and other mechanisms which would make you reason the opposite way? I could also make the trivial point that we cannot know of things which have no causal power. If my emotions cannot be responsible for me talking about them, writing about them, or acting on them, for all intents and purposes they do not exist.

            The dichotomy asserts an ontological distinction. The fact, if it were a fact, that we could in some situations get what we want just by wanting it would not entail the nonexistence of a difference between reality as it is and reality as we wish it were.

            Wait a second, in what sense does the denial of the fact/​value dichotomy entail that there is no "difference between reality as it is and reality as we wish it were"? That appears to be a non sequitur.

            "Falsification will fail" is prediction enough.

            I know of no science which works that way. What empirical claim has absolutely no entailments other than "falsification will fail"? That's really the most boring entailment. Surely you expended the amount of effort you have spent on defending your understanding of the fact/​value dichotomy, because you think it entails important things about reality?

          • Doug Shaver

            Well, can you think of some mechanisms which would make you reason one way, and other mechanisms which would make you reason the opposite way?

            I can think of no mechanism by which it could work in any way.

            in what sense does the denial of the fact/​value dichotomy entail that there is no "difference between reality as it is and reality as we wish it were"?

            In what sense is telekinesis relevant to whether the dichotomy is real?

            I know of no science which works that way.

            It has become apparent that there is a considerable disjunction between what you know about science and what I know about it.

          • I'm really quite confused. At one point, I thought you meant to say that if the fact/​value dichotomy were false, then reality would not be "oblivious to human feelings". Was this inference incorrect? If it was incorrect, then it's not clear what you think the dichotomy actually states. And if you cannot make any predictions based on the dichotomy (other than the banal ""Falsification will fail" is prediction enough."), predictions which could turn out to be false, then it wouldn't seem to actually be an empirical claim.

            It has become apparent that there is a considerable disjunction between what you know about science and what I know about it.

            Why don't you share just one example of science where ""Falsification will fail" is prediction enough." holds?

          • Doug Shaver

            Why don't you share just one example of science where ""Falsification will fail" is prediction enough." holds?

            Because of laziness. If the lurkers think you've proved that I don't know what I'm talking about, I can live with that.

          • Let’s get back to Toulmin’s claim that, according to the “Modern Framework” (whatever he thinks that is), “Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained.” It is true that some practitioners, and some advocates, of modern science have disparaged emotion with claims of this sort. But many defenders of modern science disagree, and I suspect they’re the majority, though I have seen no relevant surveys. Whether or not Toulmin is reporting a consensus viewpoint, though, it is not the viewpoint I am trying to defend.

            BTW, I just came across Emotion and Social Theory: Corporeal Reflections on the (Ir) Rational (2001):

            The emotions have traditionally been marginalized in mainstream social theory. This book demonstrates the problems that this has caused and charts the resurgence of emotions in social theory today.

            Drawing on a wide variety of sources, both classical and contemporary, Simon Williams treats the emotions as a universal feature of human life and our embodied relationship to the world. He reflects and comments upon the turn towards the body and intimacy in social theory, and explains what is important in current thinking about emotions. In his doing so, readers are provided with a critical assessment of various positions within the field, including the strengths and weaknesses of poststructuralism and postmodernism for examining the emotions in social life.

            I'm pretty sure I could find scholarly work after scholarly work which attests to Toulmin's claim. Now, the "rationalist manifesto", to use the phrase of a review of the above book, does seem to be disintegrating. We have works such as Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy (2004), which applies the 'collapse' to welfare economics. We have the 2003 Sociological Review article The rise and fall of the fact/value distinction. We moderns are finally coming to our senses, and this is something to be celebrated.

            But as you surely know, nonsense can have incredible momentum in culture and even in academia. What I wonder is if your statement following is sensible because of this momentum:

            DS: The intellectual discipline demanded of scientific thinking is hard enough to maintain when studying matters of little or no emotional import. But issues of governance are paradigmatically emotional issues.

            In other words, the "rationalist manifesto" works alright in physics, chemistry, and engineering. It is terrible in sociology, psychology, economics, and politics. Could it be that our obsession with the rationalist manifesto caused us to be atrociously bad at the human sciences? Just to reinforce that it was rationalist and a manifesto:

                The time seems ripe, even overdue, to announce that there is not going to be an age of paradigm in the social sciences. We contend that the failure to achieve paradigm takeoff is not merely the result of methodological immaturity, but reflects something fundamental about the human world. If we are correct, the crisis of social science concerns the nature of social investigation itself. The conception of the human sciences as somehow necessarily destined to follow the path of the modern investigation of nature is at the root of this crisis. Preoccupation with that ruling expectation is chronic in social science; that idée fixe has often driven investigators away from a serious concern with the human world into the sterility of purely formal argument and debate. As in development theory, one can only wait so long for the takeoff. The cargo-cult view of the "about to arrive science" just won't do. (Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, 5)

            That was published in 1987. Could it be that the notion of 'science' used to develop the human sciences for perhaps centuries was defective? When Christians talk about "other ways of knowing" (scientism is an appropriate foil), might they be responding, at least in part, to the "rationalist manifesto"? And might you be responding to it when you write that "issues of governance are paradigmatically emotional issues"?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm pretty sure I could find scholarly work after scholarly work which attests to Toulmin's claim.

            I’m sure you could. But until I’ve read those works with sufficient attention to analyze the actual arguments developed by the authors, I can say nothing intelligible about them except to note that at this point in our discussion, all you have is an argument from authority.

            Now, the "rationalist manifesto", to use the phrase of a review of the above book, does seem to be disintegrating.

            I know nothing of any manifesto going by that name, but I doubt its relevance to our conversation. The only worldview I am defending is my own. I believe it is a rational worldview. Nobody has made me the arbiter of what is or is not rational, but neither has anyone else been given such authority.

            Words are defined by usage and nothing else, and if usage is inconsistent, then there is a problem. It is a problem that can be handled, though. As long as you and I are the only participants in this discussion, the only usage that matters is yours and mine.

            But as you surely know, nonsense can have incredible momentum in culture and even in academia.

            Yes, it can. So can true ideas. And so, the fact that some idea has a lot of momentum tells us nothing about the likelihood of its being true.

            In other words, the "rationalist manifesto" works alright in physics, chemistry, and engineering. It is terrible in sociology, psychology, economics, and politics. Could it be that our obsession with the rationalist manifesto caused us to be atrociously bad at the human sciences?

            I know nothing about that manifesto and have no interest in defending it.

            Could it be that the notion of 'science' used to develop the human sciences for perhaps centuries was defective?

            I think that the human sciences, thus far in their history, have attracted many people who were either miseducated or not at all educated in real science, and that some of those people managed to achieve positions of authority within their fields and thus became role models for subsequent generations of students in the human sciences.

            And might you be responding to it [the rationalist manifesto] when you write that "issues of governance are paradigmatically emotional issues"?

            I cannot respond to that with which I am not familiar. But are you suggesting that I might be mistaken when I say that people get very emotional about issues of governance?

          • [...] at this point in our discussion, all you have is an argument from authority.

            What else could I bring to a combox discussion? Should I... dig into the secondary and primary sources Toulmin cites, and try and reconstruct his argument from them? Actually, any citation of a secondary source would perhaps be an "argument from authority" by your standards, so I would have to go only to primary sources and reconstruct. But I don't have a PhD in the relevant fields, so I'd need to go get that. But then I'd be my own authority, wouldn't I? You seem to have set an impossible task for me, with the conclusion being that your own point of view doesn't get challenged. Was that your intention, or have I missed something?

            I know nothing of any manifesto going by that name, but I doubt its relevance to our conversation. The only worldview I am defending is my own.

            You don't think your worldview has been shaped by dominant currents in the West which have flown strongly for hundreds of years, even if they're starting to abate, now?

            And so, the fact that some idea has a lot of momentum tells us nothing about the likelihood of its being true.

            So when people tell me that 99% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, that "tells us nothing about the likelihood of its being true"?

            I know nothing about that manifesto and have no interest in defending it.

            The manifesto is deeply dependent on the fact/​value dichotomy. Which is part of your worldview.

            I think that the human sciences, thus far in their history, have attracted many people who were either miseducated or not at all educated in real science, and that some of those people managed to achieve positions of authority within their fields and thus became role models for subsequent generations of students in the human sciences.

            Based on what empirical evidence and what reasoning?

            But are you suggesting that I might be mistaken when I say that people get very emotional about issues of governance?

            I was responding to the obvious implication of irrationality which I took to accompany your "very emotional". Are you saying that you mean there to be absolutely no connection between "very emotional" and rationality or lack thereof?

          • Doug Shaver

            Should I... dig into the secondary and primary sources Toulmin cites, and try and reconstruct his argument from them?

            You should know and understand Toulmin’s argument well enough that you could reconstruct it yourself. Alternatively, if it is so complex that you cannot cogently summarize it in a forum post, you can say that. I don’t quote scientists when I debate creationists. I don’t have to, because I am sufficiently familiar with the facts on which the theory of evolution is based that I can say, without appealing to any authority, “These are the facts that justify the scientific community’s acceptance of evolution.”

            You seem to have set an impossible task for me, with the conclusion being that your own point of view doesn't get challenged. Was that your intention, or have I missed something?

            My intention was to respond to your objections to something I said. If your best objection is “Here is a famous philosopher who says you’re wrong,” that isn’t much of a challenge.

            You don't think your worldview has been shaped by dominant currents in the West which have flown strongly for hundreds of years, even if they're starting to abate, now?

            I wouldn’t put it that way. My worldview has been shaped by an interaction between a lifetime of reading and everything else I have experienced during that lifetime. Almost everything I’ve read has been by Western writers, who in many cases were commenting on the works of other Western writers, and so Western thinking has certainly been a dominant influence on my own thinking. But the result of all this, my current worldview as whole, has itself never been dominant in the West or anywhere else. Even among atheists, my political conservatism and my lack (or near lack) of hostility toward religion makes me something of heretic.

            And so, the fact that some idea has a lot of momentum tells us nothing about the likelihood of its being true.

            So when people tell me that 99% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, that "tells us nothing about the likelihood of its being true"?

            When you’re prepared to tell me 99 percent of the authorities with relevant qualifications agree with you on the issues we’re discussing, then we can resume this line of questioning.

            The manifesto is deeply dependent on the fact/?value dichotomy. Which is part of your worldview.

            I’m not defending what anybody else infers from the dichotomy. I’m defending its existence and whatever I infer from it.

            I think that the human sciences, thus far in their history, have attracted many people who were either miseducated or not at all educated in real science, and that some of those people managed to achieve positions of authority within their fields and thus became role models for subsequent generations of students in the human sciences.

            Based on what empirical evidence and what reasoning?

            Based on (a) what I’ve read from time to time about the human sciences, (b) every college class I’ve taken (some at the graduate level) in which a human science was the subject, and (c) a couple of years of employment as a mental health technician, during which I had to become familiar with, among other things, the DSM-IV.

            Are you saying that you mean there to be absolutely no connection between "very emotional" and rationality or lack thereof?

            Obviously not. What do you mean to say about that connection?

          • You should know and understand Toulmin’s argument well enough that you could reconstruct it yourself. Alternatively, if it is so complex that you cannot cogently summarize it in a forum post, you can say that.

            I generally am not in the habit of saying too many things which are blatantly obvious. Is it really that hard for you to imagine what kind of evidential case would be required to demonstrate the following:

                The principle elements, or timbers, of the Modern Framework ... :
            ...
            • The "human" thing about humanity is its capacity for rational thought or action.
            ...
            • Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained. (Cosmopolis, 109–110)

            ? What needs demonstrating is that a way of thinking has been dominant for hundreds of years. Just how many primary sources do you think would need to be cited to demonstrate that? Isn't it utterly obvious that one could not demonstrate such a thing in a combox?

            But let's play this game. What would kinds of things would convince you that Tolumin is right to characterize Enlightenment though in the above way? Just how many primary sources, from how many geographical locations, across what time frame, would you require? Maybe I'll try to start collecting them and presenting them, to see how you respond.

            I don’t quote scientists when I debate creationists. I don’t have to, because I am sufficiently familiar with the facts on which the theory of evolution is based that I can say, without appealing to any authority, “These are the facts that justify the scientific community’s acceptance of evolution.”

            Evolution is quite simple in comparison, so I'm not surprised you can do this. But when you appeal to some 'fact', you will, in the vast majority of cases, have something like a peer-reviewed piece of science to back it up. How many fossils, after all, have you personally investigated?

            If your best objection is “Here is a famous philosopher who says you’re wrong,” that isn’t much of a challenge.

            What you're objecting to is more history than philosophy. And you're not really responding to just one person, you're going to dismiss arbitrarily many with the terms "orthodox" and "academically fashionable". It really seems to me that it is impossible to challenge you on this point in any appreciable way—at least in a combox.

            DS: And so, the fact that some idea has a lot of momentum tells us nothing about the likelihood of its being true.

            LB: So when people tell me that 99% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, that "tells us nothing about the likelihood of its being true"?

            DS: When you’re prepared to tell me 99 percent of the authorities with relevant qualifications agree with you on the issues we’re discussing, then we can resume this line of questioning.

            I would prefer a more accurate restatement of what you originally said.

            Based on (a) what I’ve read from time to time about the human sciences, (b) every college class I’ve taken (some at the graduate level) in which a human science was the subject, and (c) a couple of years of employment as a mental health technician, during which I had to become familiar with, among other things, the DSM-IV.

            Would you be able to offer some concrete examples which would help illustrate the extent to which you think the human sciences have generated rubbish and the extent to which they've generated scientific knowledge? In doing so, I'd like to know whether you think Sturgeon's law applies everywhere. (That is, if 90% of the output of the human sciences are rubbish, that would match plenty of other areas of human endeavor, and thus say nothing particularly negative about the human sciences.)

            Obviously not. What do you mean to say about that connection?

            Suppose we take the objections to religion which are due to its rejection of the fact/​value dichotomy. These objections would be based on a scientific understanding which unequivocally supports the fact/​value dichotomy. With this set-up, we can see religious folks laying claim to "other ways of knowing". There is the scientific way, and then there are "other ways". I think this framing does a good job of describing a good swath of the debate between theists and atheists.

            What I want to know is whether this set of objections is actually an artifact of a false dichotomy. You really hit on this when you said you wouldn't (today) join a political party claiming to respect science. As they are now, people get too emotional for science to operate properly in such charged domains. But these terms—"too emotional" and "operate properly"—are themselves ideological. They represent a conception of how humans ought to operate. They exist on the 'value' side of the fact/​value dichotomy.

            If the fact/​value dichotomy is in fact (heh) illegitimate in many of the human sciences, and yet many of the human sciences fell under its sway for centuries, then we could expect that they would distort our understanding of humans and society, resulting in a 'residual' which seems irrational, but only because our notion of 'rationality' is defective. Perhaps there is an understanding of 'rationality' which actually integrates emotion. Perhaps there is a way to investigate reality where passion does not dominate logic, nor where logic dominates passion. But if you believe in the fact/​value dichotomy, you'll deny the very possibility.

          • Doug Shaver

            What needs demonstrating is that a way of thinking has been dominant for hundreds of years. Just how many primary sources do you think would need to be cited to demonstrate that?

            I’m not disputing the historical dominance in Western thinking of the fact/value dichotomy. I am disputing Toulmin’s assertion, if it is his assertion, that it is a false dichotomy.

            How many fossils, after all, have you personally investigated?

            None, but most creationists haven’t investigated any, either. They don’t dispute the fossils’ existence, and so I don’t have to prove their existence. If I did, then I might be at a serious disadvantage in any debate about evolution.

            If your best objection is “Here is a famous philosopher who says you’re wrong,” that isn’t much of a challenge.

            What you're objecting to is more history than philosophy.

            OK. Let’s not attempt to reproduce his entire argument. I’ll settle for an illustration of it. Can you give me one example of a historical fact that is inconsistent with an assertion of the fact/value dichotomy? I’m talking about an event that actually occurred and that we should believe would probably not have occurred unless the fact/value dichotomy was false.

            Would you be able to offer some concrete examples which would help illustrate the extent to which you think the human sciences have generated rubbish and the extent to which they've generated scientific knowledge?

            Not in the time available to me for this discussion.

            Where we are at this point, it seems to me, is that: You have done a lot of reading that has led you to reach a certain conclusion about the scientific legitimacy of current work in the human sciences, and I have done a lot of reaching that has led me to a contrary conclusion. I cannot properly critique your sources because I’m not familiar with them, and you can’t properly critique mine you’re not familiar with them. For the time being, I see nothing to be gained by either of us saying anything more.

            Perhaps there is an understanding of 'rationality' which actually integrates emotion. Perhaps there is a way to investigate reality where passion does not dominate logic, nor where logic dominates passion. But if you believe in the fact/?value dichotomy, you'll deny the very possibility.

            No, I won’t. Or I don’t, at any rate. My understanding of rationality, which includes the assertion of a fact/value dichotomy, does not preclude the integration of emotions into any scientific investigation of human nature.

          • I’m not disputing the historical dominance in Western thinking of the fact/value dichotomy. I am disputing Toulmin’s assertion, if it is his assertion, that it is a false dichotomy.

            That's not what Toulmin asserted. In describing dominant currents in thinking in the wake of Enlightenment, Toulmin picked out two beliefs which well-characterize a tremendous amount of thought: (I) The "human" thing about humanity is its capacity for rational thought or action. (II) Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained. (Cosmopolis, 109–110) I do think that belief in (I) and (II) prepares one to believe in the fact/​value dichotomy, but that's not what Toulmin is claiming in the bit I have excerpted. Here's what you said about (I) and (II):

            DS: I have not read Toulmin’s book, and I cannot properly critique those statements without some context. I can note, however, that they are not supported by what I think I know about the origin of modern science and the historical context in which it happened.

            From this, I concluded that you don't think the Enlightenment fostered an animus toward emotion (except as it can be harnessed to serve 'Reason'). Is that actually not what you intended to communicate?

            LB: How many fossils, after all, have you personally investigated?

            DS: None [...]

            Ok, so you're arguing from authority when you talk about fossils with creationists. Except that sounds awfully like me derogating a completely legitimate activity: appealing to expert opinion.

            Can you give me one example of a historical fact that is inconsistent with an assertion of the fact/value dichotomy?

            As I've indicated above, we're now deviating from what Toulmin said. To answer your question, that depends on whether you want to include inferred human reasons as 'historical facts'. If you merely want to include things like the current, disintegrated existence of the Parthenon under the banner of 'historical fact', then the resulting history will be pretty sparse. A further resource on this matter is that of thick concepts, where descriptive and evaluative components cannot be neatly disentangled.

            Where we are at this point, it seems to me, is that: You have done a lot of reading that has led you to reach a certain conclusion about the scientific legitimacy of current work in the human sciences, and I have done a lot of reaching that has led me to a contrary conclusion. I cannot properly critique your sources because I’m not familiar with them, and you can’t properly critique mine you’re not familiar with them. For the time being, I see nothing to be gained by either of us saying anything more.

            Well, I don't actually deny that there's a lot of crud in the human sciences, although I do think Sturgeon's law applies. Instead, I'm quite interested in your reticence to join a political party which claims to care deeply about science, and what that possibly says about the whole "other ways of knowing [than science]" schtick. See, I think you're really on to something with that reticence, but it's not clear that you are willing to chase all the implications of your stance. Surely some kind of reasoning must be operative when it comes to how politics are decided. If it can't be scientific, then perhaps the better forms of religion—remember Sturgeon's law—have something to offer. Let's recall that the current conversation started this way:

            RG: The human person is endless interesting if you try and make sense of it.

            DS: Science makes perfect sense of it to me.

            LB: May I ask what you mean by that?

            I find it hard to believe that science makes perfect sense of the human person if you aren't willing to join a political party which claims to respect science. There is a big mismatch there, it seems to me. Crucially, the idea that "more of the same" science—science predicated upon the fact/​value dichotomy—will ultimately solve our problems and allow the creation of a political party which you would join, seems dubious to me.

            My understanding of rationality, which includes the assertion of a fact/value dichotomy, does not preclude the integration of emotions into any scientific investigation of human nature.

            There's a difference between allowing the study of human nature to involve the investigation of emotion, and the employment of emotion in the cognitive process which is used to understand human nature. Do you mean to allow for both of these things to go under the banner of 'science', or just the former? If both, do you mean to allow any emotion other than something like "a passionate desire to understand"—like what was required for Andrew Wiles to solve Fermat's last theorem?

          • Doug Shaver

            I am disputing Toulmin’s assertion, if it is his assertion, that it is a false dichotomy.

            That's not what Toulmin asserted.

            It is what you’re asserting, and you’re offering him as an authority in support of that assertion. Since I haven’t read the book and know nothing about him, I cannot know what he asserts except what you tell me.

            From this, I concluded that you don't think the Enlightenment fostered an animus toward emotion (except as it can be harnessed to serve 'Reason').

            I suspect it didn’t. And even if it did, the animus didn’t survive long after the 18th century.

            so you're arguing from authority when you talk about fossils with creationists.

            In a sense, yes. Does that make me a hypocrite if I don’t believe what Michael Toulmin says?

            Can you give me one example of a historical fact that is inconsistent with an assertion of the fact/value dichotomy?

            As I've indicated above, we're now deviating from what Toulmin said. To answer your question, that depends on whether you want to include inferred human reasons as 'historical facts'.

            It is a fact that humans have reasons for what they do. Some of those reasons are their beliefs about the facts of their situations and their judgments as to how they can or should act in order to make those situations more to their liking.

            Instead, I'm quite interested in your reticence to join a political party which claims to care deeply about science, and what that possibly says about the whole "other ways of knowing [than science]" schtick.

            My hesitation has nothing to do with “other ways of knowing,” because I don’t think there are any. It has to do with my distrust of any political group that would claim to have acquired a sufficient scientifically based understanding of human nature that they should, for that reason, be entrusted with all the power that we delegate to our elected officials.

            There's a difference between allowing the study of human nature to involve the investigation of emotion, and the employment of emotion in the cognitive process which is used to understand human nature. Do you mean to allow for both of these things to go under the banner of 'science', or just the former?

            I would not try to tell scientists that they should try to stifle any part of their own humanity. Their emotions will affect their work and it would senseless for them or anyone else to pretend otherwise. I would ask them only do their best to remember, if they wish to do real science, that no emotion can make anything a fact. The facts of human nature, whatever they may happen to be, are what they are quite regardless of how consistent or inconsistent they might be with the values of those who endeavor to discover those facts.

          • It is what you’re asserting, and you’re offering him as an authority in support of that assertion.

            I'm offering him as an authority in what I quoted him as asserting. I'm going to make this comment about precisely this point, and so re-quote Tolumin:

                The principle elements, or timbers, of the Modern Framework ... :
            ...
            • The "human" thing about humanity is its capacity for rational thought or action.
            ...
            • Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained. (Cosmopolis, 109–110)

            I'm offering what he said as something which is perfectly consistent with this kind of thing:

                Although I cannot tell for certain what sparked my interest in the neural underpinnings of reason, I do know when I became convinced that the traditional views on the nature of rationality could not be correct. I had been advised early in life that sound decisions came from a cool head, that emotions and reason did not mix any more than oil and water. I had grown up accustomed to thinking that the mechanisms of reason existed in a separate province of the mind, where emotion should not be allowed to intrude, and when I thought of the brain behind that mind, I envisioned separate neural systems for reason and emotion. This was a widely held view of the relation between reason and emotion, in mental and neural terms. (Descartes' Error, xv–xvi)

            That's from neuroscientist/​neurobiologist Antonio Damasio; the following is from Steven Ney, a professor who teaches about policy making:

                What gets in the way of solving problems, thinkers such as George Tsebelis, Kent Weaver, Paul Pierson and many others contend, is divisive and unnecessary policy conflict. In policy-making, so the argument goes, conflict reflects an underlying imbalance between two incommensurable activities: rational policy-making and pluralist politics. On this view, policy-making is about deploying rational scientific methods to solve objective social problems. Politics, in turn, is about mediating contending opinions, perceptions and world-views. While the former conquers social problems by marshaling the relevant facts, the latter creates democratic legitimacy by negotiating conflicts about values. It is precisely this value-based conflict that distracts from rational policy-making. At best, deliberation and argument slow down policy processes. At worst, pluralist forms of conflict resolution yield politically acceptable compromises rather than rational policy solutions. (Resolving Messy Policy Problems, 3)

            Rationality and emotion are utterly sundered; emotion just gets in the way, although one needs it as a veneer of legitimation for the unwashed masses. Like Damasio's rejection of the primacy of reason—"I think, therefore I am"—Ney rejects the idea that values are just [necessary] veneer. "On the contrary, this book suggests that value-driven conflict is not only inevitable but also a crucial resource for dealing with messy policy challenges." (5)

            Can you now see how the idea that (I) reason is most important; (II) emotion just gets in the way, fits with the above two excerpts? Where we would go from here is to consider what happens if (I) and (II) are believed by many of the elite for centuries. Maybe, just like the Catholics were able to create a world where Christianity seemed "obviously true", those in the Enlightenment and afterward were able to create a world where the fact/​value dichotomy seemed "obviously true".

            LB: From this, I concluded that you don't think the Enlightenment fostered an animus toward emotion (except as it can be harnessed to serve 'Reason').

            DS: I suspect it didn’t. And even if it did, the animus didn’t survive long after the 18th century.

            In light of the above two excerpts, I would like to know why you think either of these things.

            LB: [...] so you're arguing from authority when you talk about fossils with creationists.

            DS: In a sense, yes. Does that make me a hypocrite if I don’t believe what Michael Toulmin says?

            It all depends on what you meant by "all you have is an argument from authority". First, I think the above demonstrates that what Toulmin said is not "all I have". Second, I hope by now that you've distinguished between what you thought I asserted about Toulmin, and what I actually asserted. Toulmin is not asserting that the fact/​value dichotomy is false. Nor is he asserting that it is true.

          • Doug Shaver

            It will take me a while to write a critique, but I wanted to thank you for this post at the earliest opportunity. You have clarified some points on which I was a little confused.

          • Lazarus

            And I would like to thank both of you for a very interesting discussion so far. Very informative.

          • Doug Shaver

            You're very welcome.

          • Doug Shaver

            First, I think the above demonstrates that what Toulmin said is not "all I have".

            Not any more, it isn’t.

            Second, I hope by now that you've distinguished between what you thought I asserted about Toulmin, and what I actually asserted. Toulmin is not asserting that the fact/?value dichotomy is false. Nor is he asserting that it is true.

            I accept that. But I also said that you have asserted its falsity, and you haven’t denied that yet.

            What Toulmin, Damasio, and Ney seem to be claiming, if I understand them correctly, is that (a) since the Enlightenment, Western intellectuals have disparaged the inclusion of emotion in rational inquiry and (b) this has been a serious mistake on the part of Western intellectuals. If (b) is true, it could be for either of two reasons. (1) The fact/value dichotomy is false, i.e. there is no difference between them that is relevant to rational inquiry. (2) The dichotomy is true, but it is a mistake to subordinate either to the other because notwithstanding the dichotomy, both are indispensable to any process of rational inquiry.

            LB: From this, I concluded that you don't think the Enlightenment fostered an animus toward emotion (except as it can be harnessed to serve 'Reason').

            DS: I suspect it didn’t. And even if it did, the animus didn’t survive long after the 18th century.

            In light of the above two excerpts, I would like to know why you think either of these things.

            To the latter: Because I have seen, all my life, the typical response within the intellectual classes to people who advocate the subordination of emotion to reason. It’s not that the response is unanimous, but that it is always substantial: Anyone who says “No, we must not subordinate emotion to reason” always gets a round of vigorous applause. Except within the natural sciences, and perhaps for a brief time within psychology (e.g. behaviorism) and sociology, advocacy of the supremacy of reason has been a minority viewpoint for as long as I can remember, so far as I have been able to discern. My observations have, generally speaking, reinforced the claim made by the instructor of my Humanities 102 class: If the motto of the Enlightenment Age was “I think, therefore I am,” the motto of the age that has followed has been: “I feel, therefore I am.”

            Maybe, just like the Catholics were able to create a world where Christianity seemed "obviously true", those in the Enlightenment and afterward were able to create a world where the fact/value dichotomy seemed "obviously true".

            Merely to assert the dichotomy is not to disparage either facts or values. The issue of whether we should subordinate one to the other is separate from the issue of whether the dichotomy is real. Of course, if we can just deny the dichotomy, then the subordination issue ceases to be an issue. But if the dichotomy is real, then the subordination issue is real and we have to confront it whether we like it or not.

          • But I also said that you have asserted its falsity, and you haven’t denied that yet.

            I do suspect it is false, or rather, an unhelpful dualism. One way to test this suspicion is to see if other people can use the fact/​value dichotomy to enhance our understanding of reality and our ability to act well within it.

            What Toulmin, Damasio, and Ney seem to be claiming, if I understand them correctly, is that (a) since the Enlightenment, Western intellectuals have disparaged the inclusion of emotion in rational inquiry and (b) this has been a serious mistake on the part of Western intellectuals.

            I don't recall if Tolumin moves from (a) to (b). Damasio and Ney certainly do.

            If (b) is true, it could be for either of two reasons. (1) The fact/value dichotomy is false, i.e. there is no difference between them that is relevant to rational inquiry. (2) The dichotomy is true, but it is a mistake to subordinate either to the other because notwithstanding the dichotomy, both are indispensable to any process of rational inquiry.

            I find (2) hard to understand. Somehow, reality would be oblivious to our emotions, and yet our emotions would be important to understanding reality. How does that work? I understand the very degenerate form whereby we have to want to understand reality in order to understand reality—is that all you'd be arguing for? Because I don't see how anything other than that could possibly work in your (2).

            [...] I have seen, all my life, the typical response within the intellectual classes to people who advocate the subordination of emotion to reason. It’s not that the response is unanimous, but that it is always substantial: Anyone who says “No, we must not subordinate emotion to reason” always gets a round of vigorous applause. Except within the natural sciences, and perhaps for a brief time within psychology (e.g. behaviorism) and sociology, advocacy of the supremacy of reason has been a minority viewpoint for as long as I can remember, so far as I have been able to discern. My observations have, generally speaking, reinforced the claim made by the instructor of my Humanities 102 class: If the motto of the Enlightenment Age was “I think, therefore I am,” the motto of the age that has followed has been: “I feel, therefore I am.”

            Wait a second, I'm not surprised that folks in the humanities would be pro-emotion. But we could just notice the decrease in funding the humanities have experienced over the years to see how much (little) they are valued. And yes, I'm aware that the era which followed the Enlightenment was Romanticism. But just how much influence did that have on sociology, psychology, and economics? Comte had his religion, but that aspect of sociology died of rapidly. Economcis is in love with rational choice theory. Psychology I know less about, although I have a data point that as of 1988, academic psychology derogated narrative as unimportant to treating patients; narrative is very important for teasing out emotion.

            As to the alleged valuing of emotion in the human sciences, can you produce any books or journal articles which support your claim? The reason I ask is that there are two very different ways which emotions could be respected. One is recognizing that the unwashed masses are very emotional and we just have to cater to that. Another is recognizing that emotions are critical to the best thinking. Surely you can see the importance of distinguishing between these two? The excerpts I provided from Damasio and Ney, which bear on the latter way, don't seem to be minority positions.

            Merely to assert the dichotomy is not to disparage either facts or values.

            That's not my experience. In my experience, if there's nothing in reality to which emotion may properly or improperly refer, value will take a distinctly inferior position in core theorizing. It will instead be a veneer. Emotional responses will not be well-developed, which is precisely what we see with modern advertising. After all, someone with juvenile emotions is much easier to convince to buy the next thing.

            But if the dichotomy is real, then the subordination issue is real and we have to confront it whether we like it or not.

            If the dichotomy is real, we should be able to make predictions about how if we take it more seriously in the right domains, our ability to poke and prod reality will improve. True, or false?

          • Doug Shaver

            Merely to assert the dichotomy is not to disparage either facts or values.

            That's not my experience

            I assume you mean that in your experience, people who accept the dichotomy usually do disparage reason. That is my experience as well. However, what people normally do with a concept has no necessary connection with the logical implications of that concept.

          • I assume you mean that in your experience, people who accept the dichotomy usually do disparage reason.

            Nope, it's the opposite in my experience. My experience is focused on scientists (hard and human) and to a lesser extent, public intellectuals. I don't pay much attention to the humanities or the arts; I would if someone could show me works which penetrate to the [corrupt] foundations which have allowed Hillary and Donald to be our two candidates.

            LB: Maybe, just like the Catholics were able to create a world where Christianity seemed "obviously true", those in the Enlightenment and afterward were able to create a world where the fact/​value dichotomy seemed "obviously true".

            DS: Merely to assert the dichotomy is not to disparage either facts or values.

            LB: That's not my experience. In my experience, if there's nothing in reality to which emotion may properly or improperly refer, value will take a distinctly inferior position in core theorizing. It will instead be a veneer.

            DS: However, what people normally do with a concept has no necessary connection with the logical implications of that concept.

            I thought I did establish a logical implication of the fact/​value dichotomy. (I never fully adopted your "disparage".) If there is nothing in reality to which emotion may properly or improperly refer, then what role will value take in theorizing, in comparison to reason?

          • Doug Shaver

            If there is nothing in reality to which emotion may properly or improperly refer, then what role will value take in theorizing, in comparison to reason?

            How is that question relevant to whether the fact/value dichotomy is real?

          • Well, if it turned out that value were quite important to the kind of reasoning required to do science—outside of just curiosity—then there would be warrant to think that perhaps there is something in reality to which value refers.

          • Doug Shaver

            Well, if it turned out that value were quite important to the kind of reasoning required to do science—outside of just curiosity—then there would be warrant to think that perhaps there is something in reality to which value refers.

            I have never asserted that value is of no importance to science or that it is important solely as a motivator. I mentioned motivation in response to your apparent suspicion that I was denying any role at all for values in scientific work, and it was the first counterexample that came to my mind. I could think of plenty of others, but none of them presupposes or implies any denial of the fact/value dichotomy.

          • Sorry, I meant to include motivation in curiosity. Would you be willing to list a few others? One option might be 'beauty'; there is a certain kind of beauty physicists actively use to pick which lines of investigation to pursue. But if this actually works [better than alternatives], then wouldn't this suggest that reality truly exhibits a certain kind of beauty?

          • Doug Shaver

            Reality exhibits properties that we find pleasing in a particular sort of way. We need a word for the collective set of such properties. In English, that word is "beauty."

          • No, that understates the case. What you described is true of mountains which would kill most Westerners who tried to scale them (without significant training). What I'm talking about is science which we can do better if a certain sense of beauty is inculcated. This is an undeniable case of something which is supposedly subjective acting in a remarkably objective fashion! If enough other 'values' can be found to function in a similar way, then the fact/​value dichotomy starts crumbling. If it's just beauty, one can probably find ways to rationalize, such as assimilating the very specific kind of mathematical beauty physicists can recognize into 'rationality'.

          • Doug Shaver

            No, that understates the case.

            That objection is circular. It assumes your own case.

          • Will you accept In Search of Beauty as evidence that physicists actually do employ a sense of beauty to help them do good physics?

          • Doug Shaver

            I have not denied that physicists use a sense of beauty in their work.

          • Then I'm afraid I don't see how I'm necessarily assuming my own case.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have offered an explanation for references to beauty in the scientific literature. When you say, "that understates the case," I understand you to be saying that it is an insufficient explanation. Do I understand you correctly?

          • Here's what I mean by "understates the case". There are two fundamentally different ways beauty can operate in science:

                 (A) a subjective appreciation
                 (B) a guiding principle

            Your comment can be read as acknowledging (A) exclusively. My response was to open up the possibility of (B). If indeed (B) helps us do science, then that would appear to be a breach of the fact/​value dichotomy.

          • Doug Shaver

            that would appear to be a breach of the fact/​value dichotomy.

            I don't see why. You have not shown how the dichotomy, if real, precludes the usefulness, or even the necessity, of values in the conduct of scientific investigations.

          • We talked about the necessity of being motivated to do science. This seems quite orthogonal to the idea of choosing to pursue the equations which seem more beautiful. That isn't a matter of motivation to just press forward, it's a very important choice into how to conduct science.

            We seem to be running against your refusal to describe what would falsify the fact/​value dichotomy, other than something like telekinesis according to some mechanism which you cannot describe beforehand. By being so vague, you make it incredibly hard to explore your position and expose it to critique.

          • Doug Shaver

            That isn't a matter of motivation to just press forward, it's a very important choice into how to conduct science.

            I would expect any scientist's personal values to influence some of his choices about how to do his scientific work. And I don't recall having said anything to the contrary. What I deny is that when this happens, it constitutes evidence against the fact/value dichotomy.

            We seem to be running against your refusal to describe what would falsify the fact/​value dichotomy, other than something like telekinesis according to some mechanism which you cannot describe beforehand.

            If I don't believe telekinesis has happened, I'm not obliged to explain how it could happen. That obligation is on those who say it does happen.

          • Doug Shaver

            That isn't a matter of motivation to just press forward, it's a very important choice into how to conduct science.

            I would expect any scientist's personal values to influence some of his choices about how to do his scientific work. And I don't recall having said anything to the contrary. What I deny is that when this happens, it constitutes evidence against the fact/value dichotomy.

            We seem to be running against your refusal to describe what would falsify the fact/​value dichotomy, other than something like telekinesis according to some mechanism which you cannot describe beforehand.

            If I don't believe telekinesis has happened, I'm not obliged to explain how it could happen. That obligation is on those who say it does happen.

          • Doug Shaver

            Certainly, the Ultimate Designer would use only beautiful equations in designing the universe! we proclaim. When presented with two alternative equations purporting to describe Nature, we always choose the one that appeals to our aesthetic sense. "Let us worry about beauty first, and truth will take care of itself!" Such is the rallying cry of fundamental physicists. (http://www.physicscentral.com/explore/writers/zee.cfm)

            That is not science. It is religion.

          • So... are you claiming that they could do physics just fine without what you are now calling "religion"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Without what most people ordinarily call religion, physicists have been doing just fine all along.

          • We're not talking about "what most people ordinarily call religion", we're talking about what you just called "religion". It is an empirical claim to say that physicists could stop integrating any sense of beauty whatsoever into how they choose to conduct their research. Do you assert that if they were to do this—if they were to absolutely stop the behavior you have described as "religion"—that physics would continue just fine?

          • Doug Shaver

            We're not talking about "what most people ordinarily call religion",

            You don't think that reference to an "Ultimate Designer" is what most people ordinarily consider religious talk?

          • Have you ever read up on Albert Einstein's references to "God"?

          • Doug Shaver

            That depends on what constitutes reading up on. I have conducted no formal study of his thinking on any subject. I have, however, seen him quoted both by theists claiming he was one of them and by atheists claiming he was one of them.

          • Suffice it to say that he was no theist. His "God" was pretty much Spinoza's "God". I suspect something similar is taking place within In Search of Beauty. I suspect it is simply hard to suppose that beauty could inhere in the fundamental structure of reality without at least positing an "as if" designer.

          • Doug Shaver

            I suspect it is simply hard to suppose that beauty could inhere in the fundamental structure of reality without at least positing an "as if" designer.

            I don't have to be constrained by what other people find hard to do. I can appreciate the beauty of a sunset without thinking of beauty per se as a constituent of the world outside my mind.

          • I don't have to be constrained by what other people find hard to do.

            If you wish to accurately interpret their words, yes you do. So for example, if you see Einstein talking about whether God plays dice and immediately conclude he is talking about a deity with any intelligence or will, you would be wrong. Whether or not you wish to understand others' words in a way they find to be true to their intended meanings is of course your business.

            I can appreciate the beauty of a sunset without thinking of beauty per se as a constituent of the world outside my mind.

            Now we're back at the dichotomy I drew up:

            LB: There are two fundamentally different ways beauty can operate in science:

                 (A) a subjective appreciation
                 (B) a guiding principle

            Your comment can be read as acknowledging (A) exclusively. My response was to open up the possibility of (B). If indeed (B) helps us do science, then that would appear to be a breach of the fact/​value dichotomy.

            What you just said is consistent with (A), but is contradicted by (B). You have yet to really confront the possibility of (B) attaining—or at least, convince me via rational dialogue that you've done so.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't have to be constrained by what other people find hard to do.

            If you wish to accurately interpret their words, yes you do.

            The comment to which I was responding had nothing obviously to do with interpreting other people's words.

            Whether or not you wish to understand others' words in a way they find to be true to their intended meanings is of course your business.

            I always assume, if I have no evidence to the contrary, that people intend to say what they believe, but I cannot read their minds. Their words and the contexts in which they use them are all I have. I do sometimes misunderstand people, but if they wish to assume that whenever I do that, it's because I don't want to understand them, then that is their business.

            What you just said is consistent with (A), but is contradicted by (B). You have yet to really confront the possibility of (B) attaining

            That is your understanding of what I said.

            or at least, convince me via rational dialogue that you've done so.

            I have been as rational as I know how to be, but this dialogue is not just about you and me. Convincing you of anything is among the least of my concerns.

          • The comment to which I was responding had nothing obviously to do with interpreting other people's words.

            You hastily concluded from this excerpt that the authors were engaged in 'religion'. Why? Because you engaged in projection:

            DS: I don't have to be constrained by what other people find hard to do. I can appreciate the beauty of a sunset without thinking of beauty per se as a constituent of the world outside my mind.

            If you aren't willing to get outside of your mind and take seriously how others may understand reality, we may as well abort this discussion. If on the other hand you are willing to get outside your preferred way of thinking about things, you could take seriously the possibility that the authors of In Search of Beauty were speaking in a way perfectly consistent with Spinoza's "God", similar to Einstein. This in turn would allow you to shift focus from what I've put in strikethrough to what I've put in underline:

            Certainly, the Ultimate Designer would use only beautiful equations in designing the universe! we proclaim. When presented with two alternative equations purporting to describe Nature, we always choose the one that appeals to our aesthetic sense. "Let us worry about beauty first, and truth will take care of itself!" Such is the rallying cry of fundamental physicists. (In Search of Beauty)

            This is a completely different use of aesthetics than your "appreciate the beauty of a sunset".

            That is your understanding of what I said.

            Then perhaps you could help me see how I might be incorrect. First, you might try demonstrating that you understand the difference between (A) and (B).

          • Doug Shaver

            If you aren't willing to get outside of your mind and take seriously how others may understand reality, we may as well abort this discussion.

            I have reached my own present understanding of reality after a lifetime of comparing it with other understandings. On a few occasions I even accepted some of those other understandings for a while. I discovered in due course that they did not withstand continued scrutiny, but that doesn't mean I wasn't taking them seriously.

          • I can better see why Max Planck said, paraphrased, "Science advances one funeral at a time."

          • Doug Shaver

            Nobody will ever make a movie of my life, but if they do, the audiences will see just how stubborn I have been about my worldviews.

          • Doug Shaver

            That depends on what constitutes reading up on. I have conducted no formal study of his thinking on any subject. I have, however, seen him quoted both by theists claiming he was one of them and by atheists claiming he was one of them.

          • Have you ever read up on Albert Einstein's references to "God"?

          • Doug Shaver

            We're not talking about "what most people ordinarily call religion",

            You don't think that reference to an "Ultimate Designer" is what most people ordinarily consider religious talk?

          • It is a fact that humans have reasons for what they do. Some of those reasons are their beliefs about the facts of their situations and their judgments as to how they can or should act in order to make those situations more to their liking.

            What you've done here is precisely pick out instrumental reason, or what Max Weber called Zweckrationalität. Humans cannot survive only on instrumental reason. Now, modernity has predominantly focused on instrumental reason, talking very much about means (which can be made ever-more-efficient) and not so much about ends. Values can be arbitrarily absent from instrumental reason. In economics, instrumental reason has been formalized for quite some time: rational choice theory. We can talk about how it distorts human nature, if you'd like. That's a great way to look at how a strong belief in the fact/​value dichotomy has made science into something which you would never want to be the center of a political party!

            My hesitation has nothing to do with “other ways of knowing,” because I don’t think there are any.

            I don't know how you can say this, given:

            LB: Suppose that science isn't mature enough. Then what do we go on?

            DS: Whatever we’ve been going on until now.

            Here, you picked out an "other way of knowing". For reference, here is how that conversation continued:

            LB: But what is that? Might it have surprising similarities to the kind of thought which goes on in a lot of religious thinking, where fact and value are not cleanly disentangled? Might it have surprising similarities to the human sciences, post-fact/​value dichotomy?

            DS: Yeah, I think it does. I also think that’s why our next president is going to be someone whom a majority of the American people can’t stand.

            LB: So if we more clearly disentangled fact from value, things would be better? If so, I'd like to know what would falsify that claim—if anything could.

            DS: Never minding its political implications, the fact/value dichotomy would be falsified by incontrovertible evidence that some value exists independently of any mind.

            You seem rather reticent to articulate what that "Whatever we’ve been going on until now." is, and you seem rather reticent to assert that "if we more clearly disentangled fact from value, things would be better".

            It has to do with my distrust of any political group that would claim to have acquired a sufficient scientifically based understanding of human nature that they should, for that reason, be entrusted with all the power that we delegate to our elected officials.

            This still doesn't quite make sense to me. If we take two potential politicians—one a scientist, one not—why would you not prefer the scientist? Is there a subtle reference to the fact that scientists tend not to be as good people-persons as non-scientists? But this immediately opens up the possibility that they would be bad at scientifically studying humans as wholes, which would mark them out as distinctly unqualified to wield political power.

            I would ask [scientists] only do their best to remember, if they wish to do real science, that no emotion can make anything a fact. The facts of human nature, whatever they may happen to be, are what they are quite regardless of how consistent or inconsistent they might be with the values of those who endeavor to discover those facts.

            How is this any different from reality possibly deviating arbitrarily much from our reasoning about it? A denial of the fact/​value dichotomy merely means that one's emotions can be properly aligned with the object of study, not that they necessarily are. Or are you saying that whatever 'human nature' turns out to be, will simply contain nothing in itself to which our emotions can properly refer? That is, while reason can be tuned arbitrarily well to tell us about reality, is your claim that there is no such tuning available for emotion?

          • Doug Shaver

            What you've done here is precisely pick out instrumental reason, or what Max Weber called Zweckrationalität.

            If I were claiming the exact opposite of what I've been claiming, you could find an authority who said I was full of crap. I'm not sure at this point what I could accomplish by continuing this discussion. I am fully aware that for every opinion I hold, somebody whose resume is better than mine will disagree. Is that all you're trying to prove?

          • No, I wouldn't do that. I'm still trying to gain additional insight into the following:

            DS: If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.

            It is quite important to note that science is excellent at instrumental reason, at Zweckrationalität. If we just needed more and better instrumental reason to solve our problems, a science-based political party would be just the ticket. But it seems that you've intuited that instrumental reason is insufficient. What I want to suggest is that a belief in the fact/​value dichotomy pushes one to think that all that is needed is instrumental reason, except perhaps for feeding the unwashed masses the right emotions so that they'll submit to what the technicians say is best for them. Here's what John F. Kennedy told a White House audience in 1962:

            Most of us are conditioned for many years to have a political viewpoint, Republican or Democratic, liberal, conservative, moderate. The fact of the matter is that most of the problems, or at least many of them, that we now face are technical problems, are administrative problems. They are very sophisticated judgments which do not lend themselves to the great sort of "passionate movements" which have stirred this country so often in the past. Now they deal with questions which are beyond the comprehension of most men.[14] (quoted in Imagining the Future, 16)

            Rephrased: "Just let instrumental rationality do its work and our problems will be solved." When you see protests against 'scientism' on SN and other places, I want to suggest that viewing this as a reaction against faith in instrumental reason as the solution to all of our problems. I suspect there's a very deep connection between such faith and the fact/​value dichotomy.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm still trying to gain additional insight into the following:

            DS: If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.

            I've explained that remark as best I can. You don't accept my explanation because you've read some books saying it's no good. However, since I have not read those books, I cannot properly respond to their authors' objections to my explanation. (Actually, I have read Damasio's book, but that was probably 20 years ago if not longer and I remember essentially none of it.)

          • I've explained that remark as best I can. You don't accept my explanation because you've read some books saying it's no good.

            No, that's not why I don't accept your explanation. I have before my mind's eye two political parties:

            (A) One of the same-old, same-old parties, which use science when it's convenient to them and ignorantly deny it when it's inconvenient (to pick on the Democrats, see their irrational opposition to nuclear power).

            (B) A new political party, with all the foibles of extant parties, but an explicit, expressed desire to respect science whenever its results are relevant to politics.

            Both of these parties will be thwarted by standard human foibles. Both will have their judgment clouded by emotion, regardless of whether there is a way for emotion to operate which enhances scientific judgment. The difference is that one will have shifted loyalties, away from "politics as usual", toward a deep respect of science. And yet, you won't go with (B) over (A).

            There are currently two ways I can make sense of that. One is that the kind of person likely to join (B) is going to be naive about human nature, as many scientists and engineers seem to be. Another is that the respect of science of (B) could actually damage our ability to construct and maintain thriving human societies. I welcome other possibilities.

          • Valence

            to pick on the Democrats, see their irrational opposition to nuclear power).

            I'm an independent, but opposition to uranium nuclear power certainly isn't irrational. Fukushima demonstrated that supposed fool proof redundant safety systems could fail from a natural disaster, prompting Japan (even though Japan has restarted a couple they think are lower risk I believe) and even Germany to wisely discontinue their use.

            Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022.[2] Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear.[3] Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.[4] Japan’s prime minister has called for a dramatic reduction in Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.[5] Taiwan’s president did the same. Shinzō Abe, the new prime minister of Japan since December 2012, announced a plan to re-start some of the 54 Japanese nuclear power plants (NPPs) and to continue some NPP sites under construction.[6]

            As of 2016, countries including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, and Portugal have no nuclear power stations and remain opposed to nuclear power.[7][8] Belgium, Germany, Spain and Switzerland are phasing-out nuclear power.[8][9][10][11] Globally, more nuclear power reactors have closed than opened in recent years but overall capacity has increased.[10]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_phase-out

            So, according to Luke, all of these countries are "irrational". At this point you seem rather arrogant if I may say so, but that's just my impression...maybe you are just unfamiliar with nuclear engineering but it's wise to withhold judgement if that's the case.
            It is also quite possible that a strong electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear weapon could cause multiple meltdowns, but no one sane would want to test the scenario. Safe nuclear power is likely possible, but most current plants are potential unsafe in the right situations. Here is an interesting article on a potential meltdown proof plant.

            https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600757/china-could-have-a-meltdown-proof-nuclear-reactor-next-year/

          • I'm an independent, but opposition to uranium nuclear power certainly isn't irrational. Fukushima demonstrated that supposed fool proof redundant safety systems could fail from a natural disaster, prompting Japan (even though Japan has restarted a couple they think are lower risk I believe) and even Germany to wisely discontinue their use.

            Your irrationality shows up right away. Take your claim of "supposed fool proof redundant safety systems" and compare to the cold, hard facts:

            WP: Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster § 2008: Tsunami study ignored: In 2007, TEPCO set up a department to supervise its nuclear facilities. Until June 2011 its chairman was Masao Yoshida, the Fukushima Daiichi chief. A 2008 in-house study identified an immediate need to better protect the facility from flooding by seawater. This study mentioned the possibility of tsunami-waves up to 10.2 metres (33 ft). Headquarters officials insisted that such a risk was unrealistic and did not take the prediction seriously.[77]

            Furthermore, what must be done is a comparison between existing fossil fuel-powered plants and nuclear-powered plants. Which pumps greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? What is the constant cost in human life of fossil fuel, from the pollutants introduced? My guess is that you haven't even looked seriously into these numbers. And yet, how much of global climate change is due to the burning of fossil fuels in power plants? Perhaps less fossil fuel would have been burned outside of power plants if there were more energy available, more cheaply, from power plants.

            What I suspect is that there is a nonlinear cognitive effect, whereby damage which is more concentrated in spacetime is seen as worse as a greater amount of damage which is spread out. So for example, one sees more intense reactions to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the firebombing of Tokyo, even though the latter incurred more loss of life and damage to things.

          • Valence

            Your irrationality shows up right away. Take your claim of "supposed fool proof redundant safety systems" and compare to the cold, hard facts:

            Lol, apparently you don't know what irrational means:

            not logical or reasonable.

            How is calling a system fool proof, even though it has potential vulnerabilities (everything that exists has potential vulnerabilities) not logical or reasonable?
            The European countries opting out of nuclear power are typically opting in to other green technologies, so your statement about green house gas is irrelevant. You have your reasons so it's rational...you see, I know what the word means, lol. I'm looking forward to a detailed explanation as to my irrationality.

            What is the constant cost in human life of fossil fuel, from the pollutants introduced? My guess is that you haven't even looked seriously into these numbers.

            Ok, show me the numbers. The only fossil fuel that's really dangerous is coal, so you'd have an argument if all nuclear power is being replaced with coal, but that isn't the case. Obviously democrats are against new coal plants, and Germany (and other European countries) intend to get rid of coal plants altogether:

            https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20928053.600-fossil-fuels-are-far-deadlier-than-nuclear-power

            I agree that cognitive biases are always involved, but that doesn't counter the arguments, which are quite rational. Are you familiar with the devastation of Chernobyl?

          • Lol, apparently you don't know what irrational means:

            I know quite well what it means. You were trying to say that even though we used the best engineering we could, nuclear power still had a catastrophic incident which should cause us to question the wisdom of using it. I showed that actually, engineers knew there was a danger but that their warning was flatly ignored. If you're going to hamstring the design of nuclear reactors via ignoring the warnings of engineers, then no, we shouldn't go with nuclear power.

            How is calling a system fool proof, even though it has potential vulnerabilities (everything that exists has potential vulnerabilities) not logical or reasonable?

            The phrase communicated the idea that we just didn't know that this terrible thing could happen. But we did know.

            The European countries opting out of nuclear power are typically opting in to other green technologies, so your statement about green house gas is irrelevant.

            Feel free to provide cold, hard facts. Of special interest is what % of power can possibly be sun-based or wind-based, without suitable methods of storing power.

            Ok, show me the numbers.

            My point has been demonstrated: you're opposing nuclear power without consulting the cold, hard facts.

            The only fossil fuel that's really dangerous is coal [...]

            Really, natural gas and oil don't generate greenhouse gases?

            Are you familiar with the devastation of Chernobyl?

            More irrationality. No plant in the US, active at the time, could melt down like Chernobyl did. Bringing up Chernobyl is, however, a great way to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

          • Valence

            know quite well what it means. You were trying to say that even though we used the best engineering we could, nuclear power still had a catastrophic incident which should cause us to question the wisdom of using it. I showed that actually, engineers knew there was a danger but that their warning was flatly ignored. If you're going to hamstring the design of nuclear reactors via ignoring the warnings of engineers, then no, we shouldn't go with nuclear power.

            So, where is the irrationality? I linked to a new, better reactor design, so it's irrational (;P) to think I was claim we had the best possible design. My point was that people were overconfident about the safety of the reactor...failure to take the warnings about flooding seriously was part of the overconfidence.

            No plant in the US, active at the time, could melt down like Chernobyl did. Bringing up Chernobyl is, however, a great way to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

            I agree that a U.S. meltdown wouldn't be as bad as Chernobyl, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't very, very bad. Chernobyl is the only true meltdown that can be referenced, so it's quite rational to reference the only existing reference point. You claim that I am trying to sow fear and uncertainty is without evidence.

            More irrationality.

            More irrationality.

            At this point your incorrect use of irrationality is adorable :) You are definitely as arrogant as I thought, and that's not a good thing. You also aren't nearly as smart as you seem to think you are. With that, I bid you farewell, I prefer to engage in productive conversations with people who don't have serious personality flaws.

          • So, where is the irrationality? I linked to a new, better reactor design, so it's irrational (;P) to think I was claim we had the best possible design.

            What you said—

            V: Fukushima demonstrated that supposed fool proof redundant safety systems could fail from a natural disaster [...]

            —is contradicted by what I excerpted:

            WP: Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster § 2008: Tsunami study ignored: In 2007, TEPCO set up a department to supervise its nuclear facilities. Until June 2011 its chairman was Masao Yoshida, the Fukushima Daiichi chief. A 2008 in-house study identified an immediate need to better protect the facility from flooding by seawater. This study mentioned the possibility of tsunami-waves up to 10.2 metres (33 ft). Headquarters officials insisted that such a risk was unrealistic and did not take the prediction seriously.[77]

            Why would someone be scared of a Fukushima-type event happening, if we actually knew that kind of event could happen, and could choose to plan for it if we so desired? And yet, fear of a Fukushima-type event happening to nuclear reactors in no way threatened by tsunamis is at least part of what drove anti-nuclear sentiment in Germany, at least per WP: Nuclear power in Germany. It is irrational. The most scientifically accurate interpretation would be: "While Fukushima and Chernobyl cannot possibly happen here, some other unforeseen disaster could happen with greater risk than the continual costs of running fossil fuel." That is a statement which can be empirically false. Everything I've seen indicates it is indeed false. You haven't marshaled a single fact to indicate it is true.

            My point was that people were overconfident about the safety of the reactor...failure to take the warnings about flooding seriously was part of the overconfidence.

            Don't say "people", be specific. Japanese headquarters officials are the ones who were overconfident. To what extent does this overconfidence pervade all countries, and to what extent can headquarters officials overrule engineers and scientists in such situations in other companies/​cultures? If in fact the problem is fairly localized to TEPCO, or to cultures where saving face is extremely important, then to worry about a similar happening in Germany or the US is irrational.

            I agree that a U.S. meltdown wouldn't be as bad as Chernobyl, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't very, very bad.

            Where is your scientific evidence? The US knew at the time of Chernobyl to build containment buildings, which the USSR decided not to build. How is your "very, very bad" measured against the continual costs of burning fossil fuels? My suspicion is that you've never run the numbers.

            You claim that I am trying to sow fear and uncertainty is without evidence.

            The very fact that you think Chernobyl is a rational comparison point is my evidence.

            You are definitely as arrogant as I thought, and that's not a good thing.

            Actually, I'm just confident in the judgment of scientists and engineers, when it comes to nuclear power. I also take seriously the facts that (i) nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gases; (ii) countries cannot feasibly run on anywhere close to 100% wind and solar.

          • Valence

            Actually, I'm just confident in the judgment of scientists and engineers, when it comes to nuclear power.

            Interesting, I'm a practicing electrical engineer. I just posted a video where a scientist, Max Tegmark, discusses potential effects of a massive emp pulse on the nation's nuclear plants. I'm sure Max Tegmark is being quite irrational, according to you. He's addressing a UN council.
            Keep in mind I personally am not opposed to nuclear power (though I'm certainly a proponent of better designs), but critics have their reasons, thus they are not irrational.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Tegmark

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0qI4_2NGSM

          • Interesting, I'm a practicing electrical engineer.

            Did I really need to say "nuclear scientists and nuclear engineers"? Last time a checked, electrical engineering gives you about zero knowledge about how to keep a nuclear plant safe. While your being an engineer would bias me toward giving you the benefit of the doubt, the fact that you think Chernobyl is relevant to the kind of reactor designs present in the US at the time destroyed all such confidence.

            I just posted a video where a scientist, Max Tegmark, discusses potential effects of a massive emp pulse on the nation's nuclear plants.

            I'm not going to watch a 45 minute video for you. Feel free to point me to the actual short section where this is discussed, or provide something written which can be easily skimmed. For example, there's After an EMP Event, Can A Nuclear Plant Shutdown Safely? over at Decoded Science, and the argument is not that an EMP would cause a meltdown, but that a sustained loss of power (such that the on-site diesel generators run out of fuel) would result in loss of cooling to spent fuel, with resultant overheating and release of radioactivity. For reference:

            WP: Nuclear metldown: "Nuclear meltdown" is an informal term for a severe nuclear reactor accident that results in core damage from overheating. The term is not officially defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency[2] or by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[3] However, it has been defined to mean the accidental melting of the core of a nuclear reactor,[4] and is in common usage a reference to the core's either complete or partial collapse. "Core melt accident" and "partial core melt"[5] are the analogous technical terms for a meltdown.

            Unless Tegmark is making a different claim from the article I posted, and EMPs could really cause a [core] meltdown?

          • Valence

            Last time a checked, electrical engineering gives you about zero knowledge about how to keep a nuclear plant safe. While your being an engineer would bias me toward giving you the benefit of the doubt, the fact that you think Chernobyl is relevant to the kind of reactor designs present in the US at the time destroyed all such confidence.

            All that because I said: "Are you familiar with the devastation of Chernobyl?" Is it rational to react that way to a simple question? Your interpretation of the significance of the question isn't actual.

            Scientific American compares Fukushima to Chernobyl here:

            https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nuclear-energy-primer/

            Is your confidence in Scientific American now destroyed?

            This possibility of meltdown from EMP wouldn't come from the immediate pulse (there are safeguards), but from long term power loss.

            "Clearly the coping duration is an issue on the table now," said Biff Bradley, director of risk assessment for the Nuclear Energy Institute. "The industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have to go back in light of what we just observed and rethink station blackout duration."

            David Lochbaum, a former plant engineer and nuclear safety director at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, put it another way: "Japan shows what happens when you play beat-the-clock and lose."

            Lochbaum plans to use the Japan disaster to press lawmakers and the nuclear power industry to do more when it comes to coping with prolonged blackouts, such as having temporary generators on site that can recharge batteries.

            A complete loss of electrical power, generally speaking, poses a major problem for a nuclear power plant because the reactor core must be kept cool, and back-up cooling systems -- mostly pumps that replenish the core with water-- require massive amounts of power to work.

            Without the electrical grid, or diesel generators, batteries can be used for a time, but they will not last long with the power demands. And when the batteries die, the systems that control and monitor the plant can also go dark, making it difficult to ascertain water levels and the condition of the core.

            One variable not considered in the NRC risk assessments of severe blackouts was cooling water in spent fuel pools, where rods once used in the reactor are placed. With limited resources, the commission decided to focus its analysis on the reactor fuel, which has the potential to release more radiation.

            An analysis of individual plant risks released in 2003 by the NRC shows that for 39 of the 104 nuclear reactors, the risk of core damage from a blackout was greater than 1 in 100,000. At 45 other plants the risk is greater than 1 in 1 million, the threshold NRC is using to determine which severe accidents should be evaluated in its latest analysis.
            The Beaver Valley Power Station, Unit 1, in Pennsylvania had the greatest risk of core melt -- 6.5 in 100,000, according to the analysis. But that risk may have been reduced in subsequent years as NRC regulations required plants to do more to cope with blackouts. Todd Schneider, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., which runs Beaver Creek, told the AP that batteries on site would last less than a week.

            In 1988, eight years after labeling blackouts "an unresolved safety issue," the NRC required nuclear power plants to improve the reliability of their diesel generators, have more backup generators on site, and better train personnel to restore power. These steps would allow them to keep the core cool for four to eight hours if they lost all electrical power. By contrast, the newest generation of nuclear power plant, which is still awaiting approval, can last 72 hours without taking any action, and a minimum of seven days if water is supplied by other means to cooling pools.

            Despite the added safety measures, a 1997 report found that blackouts -- the loss of on-site and off-site electrical power -- remained "a dominant contributor to the risk of core melt at some plants." The events of Sept. 11, 2001, further solidified that nuclear reactors might have to keep the core cool for a longer period without power. After 9/11, the commission issued regulations requiring that plants have portable power supplies for relief valves and be able to manually operate an emergency reactor cooling system when batteries go out.

            http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/long-blackouts-pose-risk-us-nuclear-reactors

            (note that the above is a right wing media outlet and considered to be biased against democrats)

            I'm not going to watch a 45 minute video for you.

            Fair enough, I don't expect you to do anything for me, even respond if you don't want to.
            In general it's not clear how to weigh low probability, very high impact events like these. One can't say considering them important is irrational, however, especially if the improbable actually occurs.

          • All that because I said: "Are you familiar with the devastation of Chernobyl?" Is it rational to react that way to a simple question?

            "Are you aware of a [catastrophic] failure mode which could not possibly happen in any nuclear power plant under discussion?"

            Your interpretation of the significance of the question isn't actual.

            Then do please explain how it is possibly relevant to the conversation. For example, you could continue this line of conversation:

            V: I agree that a U.S. meltdown wouldn't be as bad as Chernobyl, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't very, very bad.

            LB: Where is your scientific evidence? The US knew at the time of Chernobyl to build containment buildings, which the USSR decided not to build. How is your "very, very bad" measured against the continual costs of burning fossil fuels? My suspicion is that you've never run the numbers.

            Scientific American compares Fukushima to Chernobyl here:

            https://www.scientificamerican...

            Is your confidence in Scientific American now destroyed?

            Fukushima wasn't nearly as bad as Chernobyl. Nothing in the SciAm article contradicts that. And we've already been over this: the Japanese ignored the engineers' warnings that a tsunami wave—of less intensity than the one actually experienced—would be catastrophic. How many nuclear reactors in the world are actually at risk from tsunamis in this way? But it seems that what you (and others) are actually trying to do is wave your hands vigorously and argue that while the failure mode may not be just like Fukushima, there are other heretofore unknown failure modes which could be quite bad—much worse than the equivalent fossil fuels that would be burned. Again, I want to see the numbers. No numbers = unscientific.

            http://www.cnsnews.com/news/ar...

            "core melt" ⇏ "release of radiation"

            In general it's not clear how to weigh low probability, very high impact events like these. One can't say considering them important is irrational, however, especially if the improbable actually occurs.

            Nowhere have I said, or implied, that one ought not consider them important. Of course there is danger. But there is also danger in burning fossil fuel, and that's going to happen unless we ridiculously overbuild wind and solar. I'm happy to push toward 100% renewables at some point in the future, but that point seems quite distant; to neglect the here and now (e.g. Germany is burning more coal now that it has shut down some nuclear plants) is foolish.

            Something we should accept responsibility for is that because of the irrational fear of nuclear (or alternatively: the irrational 'passes' we gave to fossil fuel in comparison), we didn't develop it enough to make it a feasible option for China while it modernized, nor India. Now look at the terrible air pollution problems they are having, not to mention the effect they're having on climate. Had we been constantly developing nuclear power, we'd have come up with increasingly safe ways to do it. But instead, there was fear, uncertainty, and doubt sown. The people who are paying most of the cost of our foolishness are the less well off—not us. (I'm assuming you live in the West.) How convenient.

          • Valence

            Where is your scientific evidence? The US knew at the time of Chernobyl to build containment buildings, which the USSR decided not to build. How is your "very, very bad" measured against the continual costs of burning fossil fuels? My suspicion is that you've never run the numbers.

            Have you run the numbers? It's difficult to find them. Your link from decoded science says:

            With a long outage, where emergency power may be unavailable or unsustainable, cooling may not be possible. In this event, the water will heat and boil away, uncovering the spent fuel. The exposed fuel rods could then cause fires as well as the potential release of radioactivity.

            That's sounds very bad to me. This is from a more detailed paper:

            In its worst-case scenario ExternE, the major European study of the external effects of various energy sources published in 1995, estimated the cost of an accident at €83 billion.
            This estimate was based on the hypothetical case of a core melt on a 1,250 MW reactor,followed two hours later by emissions lasting only an hour containing 10% of the most volatile elements (cesium, iodine) of the core. The population was exposed to a collective
            dose of 291,000 person-sieverts. This contamination ultimately caused about 50,000 cancers, one-third of which were fatal, and 3,000 severe hereditary effects. In a few days it caused 138 early diseases and nine fatalities. The impact on public health accounted for about two-thirds of the accident’s cost. The study also assessed the cost of restrictions on farming (lost production, agricultural capital, etc.), and the cost of evacuating and rehousing local residents. This string of figures gives only a tiny idea of all the data required to estimate the cost of a nuclear accident. It merely lists some of the main parameters, in other words those that may double, or indeed multiply by ten, the total cost of economic damage. Let us now take a closer look. In theory the extent of emissions may reach the release of the entire contents of the reactor core. The explosion at Chernobyl released the equivalent of 30% of the radioactive material in the reactor, a huge, unprecedented proportion. Emissions from Fukushima Daiichi’s three damaged reactors are estimated to have amounted to 10 times less than the amount released in Ukraine. The collective dose reflects emissions measured in personsieverts
            and the sum of the radiation absorbed by groups of people subject to varyinglevels of exposure. The collective dose depends on emissions, but also the weather conditions and population density. Depending on whether radioactivity is deposited by rain on an area of woodland or a city, the number of people exposed will obviously vary.
            The person-Sv unit is used because it is generally assumed that the biological effects of radiation follow a linear trend: the health effect of exposure of 20,000 people to 1 millisievert, or 20 people to 1 sievert is consequently taken as being the same. This approach is based on the assumption that even the lowest level of exposure is sufficient to
            increase the number of fatalities and diseases, in particular cancers. It is controversial because it implies that the natural radioactivity that exists in some areas, such as Brittany
            in France, exposes local residents to a specific hazard. For our present purposes we shall treat it as an upper-case hypothesis, in relation to one setting a threshold below which ionizing radiation has no effect. Translating the collective dose into figures for fatalities
            and diseases then depends on the effect it is decided to use. For example positing a 5% risk factor means that out of 100 people exposed, five will be affected by the disease under
            consideration. The final step in assessing health effects involves choosing a monetary value for human life. Without that it is impossible to add the damage to public health to the other consequences, such as population displacement or soil decontamination. There are several methods for calculating the value of human life, based for example on the amount allocated to reducing road accidents or the average contribution of a single individual to their country’s economy, in terms of gross domestic product9.

            https://hal-mines-paristech.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00795152/document

            This author thinks comparison to Chernobyl to be relevant, and the paper is fairly detailed. What is your evidence that a large release in the U.S. is impossible?

            This article argues that Chernobyl isn't the best reference points, but it says this:

            Using "Chernobyl" as a stand-in for "any nuclear disaster" isn't out-and-out wrong, he said, but it glosses over many of the important differences between the issues that caused Chernobyl's infamous meltdown and those that might plague nuclear power plants in the US.

            No nuclear reactor is completely immune from certain hazards, particularly as US nuclear plants approach obsolescence.

            Even so, there are better case studies for US reactors than Chernobyl.

            http://www.businessinsider.com/chernobyl-meltdown-no-graphite-us-nuclear-reactors-2016-4

            Something we should accept responsibility for is that because of the irrational fear of nuclear (or alternatively: the irrational 'passes' we gave to fossil fuel in comparison), we didn't develop it enough to make it a feasible option for China while it modernized, nor India. Now look at the terrible air pollution problems they are having, not to mention the effect they're having on climate. Had we been constantly developing nuclear power, we'd have come up with increasingly safe ways to do it. But instead, there was fear, uncertainty, and doubt sown. The people who are paying most of the cost of our foolishness are the less well off—not us. (I'm assuming you live in the West.) How convenient.

            It seems that you have dismissed the dangers of nuclear power without really studying it well first. Second, who says we haven't continue to develop and improve nuclear power? Thorium research is under way and fusion power is a major research program in the U.S. and Europe.

            we didn't develop it enough to make it a feasible option for China while it modernized, nor India.

            Sure they could have used it, it's just expensive to build, much more expensive than coal. The idea that it the fault of the "west" that these countries use coal is pretty laughable.

            But instead, there was fear, uncertainty, and doubt sown. The people who are paying most of the cost of our foolishness are the less well off—not us. (I'm assuming you live in the West.) How convenient.

            Most of the foolishness I'm seeing so far is just coming from you and your misguided arrogance combined with ignorance. You apparently didn't even read your own article from decoded science, and yet you pass judgment on the west via a nonsensical argument like you somehow know what's best for everyone. The only people I have encountered that are so foolish and high and mighty at the same time are narcissists experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect.

          • Have you run the numbers? It's difficult to find them.

            A while ago I investigated the matter, but I didn't save the results. What's pretty clear is that you're arguing against nuclear power, while having no idea what the human and environmental cost of the alternatives are. That seems irrational to me. It doesn't, to you?

            Your link from decoded science says:

            With a long outage, where emergency power may be unavailable or unsustainable, cooling may not be possible. In this event, the water will heat and boil away, uncovering the spent fuel. The exposed fuel rods could then cause fires as well as the potential release of radioactivity.

            That's sounds very bad to me.

            Of course it would be "very bad", but we're also talking about a scenario where there is so much infrastructure damage that we cannot get diesel fuel to the plant N days after a catastrophe. I'm quite amenable to the argument that the current value of N is too small. But if that N is more than a few days, we're probably talking about quite the incredible catastrophe. The "very bad" of radioactive release would probably pale in comparison to other consequences of the catastrophe.

            From the paper you cited, François Lévêque's 2013 The risk of a major nuclear accident: calculation and perception of probabilities:

            In the ExternE study cited above, the scenario corresponding to the largest volume of emissions led to 49,739 cancers and cost €[1995]83.2 billion, whereas the scenario with the lowest emissions led to 2,380 cancers and cost €[1995]3.3 billion. In a recent German study[11], the low-case values calculated were 255,528 cancers and €[2011]199 billion – which corresponds to frequently quoted orders of magnitude. But the high-case figures reported by the study are far larger, with 5.3 million cancers and €[2011]5,566 billion. It is unusual for experts to produce such a high estimate, with a single accident leading to millions of cancers and total damage amounting to thousands of billions of euros. However it is close to the orders of magnitude reported in the first studies carried out in the 1980s[12] after the Chernobyl disaster. Allowance must nevertheless be made for such extreme figures, which correspond to worst-case scenarios.

            First: for comparison, the statistic included in the intro to WP: Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, based on the same "Linear no-threshold theory of radiation safety", says that 130–640 people are expected to die of cancer. From the numbers I've seen, this is far fewer than the number of cancers caused in the lifetime of a single coal power plant. And let's not forget that Fukushima only happened because warnings of precisely that danger were ignored.

            Second: If we're talking worst case scenarios, we should do the same with all alternative power sources. So, for example, we should take the highest estimates of cancer deaths due to pollution, the highest estimates of global climate change due to greenhouse gases, etc. Has this been done? Not by you, and not by any anti-nuclear person I've run across. I'd be happy for Chernobyl to be brought up if a just comparison were produced. It hasn't. It's ok for the paper you presented to not do this, because it isn't presented as a comprehensive policy position on whether we ought to deploy nuclear power, given our options. My criticism was of people who are addressing the total issue of a policy position, not a narrow scientific matter.

            What is your evidence that a large release in the U.S. is impossible?

            That would be a straw man, for I never claimed that a large release in the US is impossible. (The Business Insider article you linked does say "But as far as specific nuclear reactor failure scenarios go, the US won't be home to the next Chernobyl.") From what I recall, the probabilities are such that nuclear power is healthier for humans and healthier for the environment than fossil fuels. It's not clear that wind and solar helps all that much, given that the amount you can get from them is usually well less than half of the stated "capacity". According to this random website, Germany got 4.5% of its electricity generation from solar in 2013. And yet, it notes that many people are promoting 50% numbers (e.g. Popular Mechanics: Half of Germany Is Now Powered by Solar Energy). Perhaps you have fallen prey to such misinformation?

            This article argues that Chernobyl isn't the best reference points, but it says this:

            Using "Chernobyl" as a stand-in for "any nuclear disaster" isn't out-and-out wrong, he said, but it glosses over many of the important differences between the issues that caused Chernobyl's infamous meltdown and those that might plague nuclear power plants in the US.

            It isn't "out-and-out wrong" in the sense that just like Chernobyl released radiation, US nuclear power plants could release radiation. But it's 100% crystal clear that it is a bad reference point, which means that anyone who uses it as an archetype is either naive, irrational, or manipulative. I see 'manipulative' as worse than 'irrational', and so I haven't mentioned it so far.

            It seems that you have dismissed the dangers of nuclear power without really studying it well first.

            I don't know how you can rationally conclude that based on what I've actually said. Now, if you had actually run the numbers on the health and environment costs of the available alternatives to nuclear power, you could say that I haven't given sufficient heed to the dangers of nuclear power. But you clearly haven't run those numbers.

            Second, who says we haven't continue to develop and improve nuclear power? Thorium research is under way and fusion power is a major research program in the U.S. and Europe.

            Oh of course some research has been continuing. The question is rather: if we had pursued nuclear power rationally, would the costs of new plants been significantly less, making it much easier for India and China to adopt nuclear power? As far as I can tell, the answer is a strong "yes".

            Sure they could have used it, it's just expensive to build, much more expensive than coal. The idea that it the fault of the "west" that these countries use coal is pretty laughable.

            I see, so it just doesn't bother you overmuch that you buy things "Made in China", which are produced more cheaply in part because the Chinese don't worry as much about what their power generation byproducts do to their citizens. Not the responsibility of the West at all. Man, globalization is a really nice way for you to circumvent ethics, eh? Out of sight, out of mind?

            P.S. From a quick search, nuclear tends to be cheaper than coal over the long-term. That's a very stable, long-term investment. It's not at all clear to me that the high capital costs would therefore be a significant problem to the Chinese government. Governments are the archetypal long-term-planning entity.

          • Doug Shaver

            The only fossil fuel that's really dangerous is coal

            Are you prepared to demonstrate the rationality of that assertion?

          • Valence

            Your link demonstrates it. Of course we have to put oil in a special category until we get alternative transport energy, nuclear can't replace oil. Recall the context is going with something less potentially dangerous than nuclear

            James Conca , CONTRIBUTOR
            I write about nuclear, energy and the environment

            Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
            Everyone’s heard of the carbon footprint of different energy sources, the largest footprint belonging to coal because every kWhr of energy produced emits about 900 grams of CO2. Wind and nuclear have the smallest carbon footprint with only 15 g emitted per kWhr, and that mainly from concrete production, construction, and mining of steel and uranium. Biomass is supposedly carbon neutral as it sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere before it liberates it again later, although production losses are significant depending upon the biomass. Carbon emissions and physical footprints are known as externalities and are those vague someone-has-to-pay-eventually kind of thing it’s hard to put a value on. Proposed carbon footprint taxes are in the range of $15 to $40/ton of CO2 emitted, but assigning a physical footprint cost depends on the region, ecosystem sensitivities and importance. A hundred-acre wetlands to be flooded by a new dam is worth more to the planet than a barren hundred-acre strip under a solar array in the Mojave (P. Bickel and R. Friedrich, 2005).

            But an energy’s deathprint, as it is called, is rarely discussed. The deathprint is the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kWhr produced and, like the carbon footprint, coal is the worst and wind and nuclear are the best. According to the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Academy of Science and many health studies over the last decade (NAS 2010), the adverse impacts on health become a significant effect for fossil fuel and biofuel/biomass sources (see especially Brian Wang for an excellent synopsis). In fact, the WHO has called biomass burning in developing countries a major global health issue (WHO int). The table below lists the mortality rate of each energy source as deaths per trillion kWhrs produced. The numbers are a combination of actual direct deaths and epidemiological estimates, and are rounded to two significant figures.

            Coal-fired power plants have a dramatic effect on human health and the environment as well as total health care costs (courtesy of EERE)

            For coal, oil and biomass, it is carbon particulates resulting from burning that cause upper respiratory distress, kind of a second-hand black lung. Our lungs just don’t like burnt carbonaceous particulates, whether from coal or wood or manure or pellets or cigarettes. The actual numbers of deaths in China from coal use exceeded 300,000 last year since they have ramped up coal so fast in the last decade and they usually do not install exhaust scrubbers. The impact on their health care system has been significant in not just deaths, but in non-lethal health effects and lost days of work.

            Energy Source Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)

            Coal – global average 100,000 (50% global electricity)

            Coal – China 170,000 (75% China’s electricity)

            Coal – U.S. 10,000 (44% U.S. electricity)

            Oil 36,000 (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)

            Natural Gas 4,000 (20% global electricity)

            Biofuel/Biomass 24,000 (21% global energy)

            Solar (rooftop) 440 (< 1% global electricity)

            Wind 150 (~ 1% global electricity)

            Hydro – global average 1,400 (15% global electricity)

            Hydro – U.S. 0.01 (7% U.S. electricity)

            Nuclear – global average 90 (17% global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)

            Nuclear – U.S. 0.01 (19% U.S. electricity)

            I'm curious where the deaths from biofuel come from...farming accidents? It would be interesting to see how these numbers are generated, in general.

          • Doug Shaver

            The only fossil fuel that's really dangerous is coal

            Are you prepared to demonstrate the rationality of that assertion?

            Your link demonstrates it.

            I don't see how.

            Of course we have to put oil in a special category until we get alternative transport energy, nuclear can't replace oil.

            The uses to which nuclear energy cannot be put are irrelevant to any discussion about whether we should put it to the particular use of generating electricity, which is all that any debate about nuclear power ordinarily is.

            Recall the context is going with something less potentially dangerous than nuclear.

            The immediate context is your implied assertion that oil is not "really dangerous."

          • Valence

            The uses to which nuclear energy cannot be put are irrelevant to any discussion about whether we should put it to the particular use of generating electricity, which is all that any debate about nuclear power ordinarily is.

            Oil makes almost no contribution to electricity generation in the U.S., and no one is suggesting we replace Nuclear plants with oil power plants:

            Coal = 33%
            Natural gas = 33%
            Nuclear = 20%
            Hydropower = 6%
            Other renewables = 7%
            Biomass = 1.6%
            Geothermal = 0.4%
            Solar = 0.6%
            Wind = 4.7%
            Petroleum = 1%
            Other gases = <1%

            https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

            Comparing the dangers of nuclear to the dangers of oil is thus irrelevant as we are talking about electricity generation.

            The immediate context is your implied assertion that oil is not "really dangerous."

            My assertion was the coal is the only really dangerous fossil fuel used to generate power. EIA statistics confirm oil is not used to generate power.
            The potential dangers of Nuclear power are masked by the problem of induction. Just because it hasn't costed lives so far, doesn't mean it couldn't cause a huge number of deaths via disaster in the future. It's fine to use induction in an argument, but it's limits should be accounted for.

            For the record I am not against nuclear, especially in light of newer designs that look potentially safer. I am convinced that being against older forms of nuclear isn't irrational.
            Also note this about biomass:
            Biofuel/Biomass 24,000 (21% global energy)

            They are including everyone who uses wood, manure, or any other substance to generate fires and other things, this isn't electricity generation. Other than that the death rate of other energy sources is fairly low. Note that "really dangerous" doesn't mean there is no danger at all.

          • Doug Shaver

            Oil makes almost no contribution to electricity generation in the U.S.,

            So it's not really dangerous because it's not used? I guess that's sort of a rational statement.

            For the record I am not against nuclear, especially in light of newer designs that look potentially safer. I am convinced that being against older forms of nuclear isn't irrational.

            With that, I have no quarrel.

          • Valence

            Just fyi the NRC is looking into the need for long term safeguards for a potential highly destructive electromagnetic pulse. This is a legitimate scenario and concern

            Earlier this year a citizen petitioned the NRC to revisit the issue of grid disruption, this time focusing on the spent fuel pools at U.S. nuclear power plants. The petition calls for a new rule that would require nuclear power plant spent fuel pools to have emergency systems capable of functioning for two years in the absence of an operating electric grid. The NRC is currently analyzing dozens of public comments on the petition, and the agency expects to issue a decision on the petition in the middle of next year.

            https://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2011/10/31/keeping-u-s-reactors-safe-from-power-pulses/

            Plants are generally safe from solar disturbances, but not from a weaponized emp that could cause massive long term power disruption.

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdetwiler/2014/07/31/protecting-the-u-s-against-the-electromagnetic-pulse-threat-a-continued-failure-of-leadership-could-make-911-look-trivial-someday/#472c945d7fcd

            If you are interested the potential threat from an emp is discussed at the UN Security council, started at about 10 minutes. Max Tegmark is a well-known scientist.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0qI4_2NGSM

          • Doug Shaver
          • Michael Murray

            I think natural gas is about 50% the CO2 emissions of coal. So still a problem although maybe a short term replacement fuel. Someone needs to get thorium reactors working.

          • Valence

            Fusion is seeing some progress but it is annoyingly slow and expensive

            http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a23431/mit-world-record-nuclear-fusion/

          • David Nickol

            What I suspect is that there is a nonlinear cognitive effect, whereby damage which is more concentrated in spacetime is seen as worse as a greater amount of damage which is spread out.

            Would you call that irrational?

          • Yup.

          • David Nickol

            Wrong! :p

          • 'rational' ≠ 'logical'

            Someone can be simultaneously logical and irrational.

          • Doug Shaver

            No, that's not why I don't accept your explanation.

            I can see no other reason, but whatever. You have my explanation.

          • I'm confused; I just gave you a reason having nothing to do with any of the readings I have excerpted. Did it not make sense to you, or not even register as a reason?

          • Doug Shaver

            I just gave you a reason having nothing to do with any of the readings I have excerpted.

            It is addressed in the explanation I have already given.

          • You explained how scientists have problems staying objective instead of seeing what they want to see. I did not contest that this biasing happens. But surely politicians who don't respect science also have this problem? Surely they actually have a worse version of this problem, given that they don't explicitly respect science?

          • Doug Shaver

            I did not contest that this biasing happens. But surely politicians who don't respect science also have this problem? Surely they actually have a worse version of this problem, given that they don't explicitly respect science?

            A problem for one political party doesn’t become irrelevant just because the party’s adversaries have a worse kind of the problem.

            Politicians who admit they don’t respect science are too rare to be a problem. They will always be outvoted by politicians who say they do respect science.

            Practically everybody claims to respect science when it tells them something they want to hear, or when it can be so interpreted by proof-texting the scientific literature. Even when it can’t, they will not disparage science per se. They instead will accuse their adversaries of misusing science. We saw Ken Ham do exactly this during his debate with Bill Nye.

            I can stipulate, for the sake of this exercise, some good faith on the part of the leaders of your hypothetical political party. This would, I presume, be a party where young-earth creationists would feel most unwelcome. But a proper respect for science does not consist only of accepting an established consensus. It is also about accepting that the lack of a consensus nearly always means there is insufficient evidence on which to base any public policy, if that policy is to be advertised as “supported by science.”

          • Doug Shaver

            I'd like to know whether you think Sturgeon's law applies everywhere.

            I would not attribute any scientific rigor to it, but as a coarse generalization, I think it's probably true.

            [Edited to correct spelling error.]

          • neil_pogi

            So in other words, 'you dont know'... Why atheists used that phrase for so long?

            Science cant explain naturally how consciousness arrived, how humans have no same behaviors,charcaters and attitudes.

            Can you tell me how all these things began from nothing?

          • neil_pogi

            What kind of judgment is that? Was it good? Therefore you believe the existence of the concept of good

          • Doug Shaver

            What kind of judgment is that?

            A reasoned judgment.

      • Have you come across Ard Louis' BioLogos article Evolution: Blind, Pointless, and Random?? Briefly, God can use stochastic processes to accomplish purposes. We humans do this; see for example randomized algorithm. BTW, there was a 2015 WSJ article on Louis' ideas.

        • Thanks for the link. It is interesting. It seems the gnome contained information for species before they even develop. That would be very interesting if that were proven.

          • Well, that would be quite the deterministic rendering. The point is more that "randomness in the model" ⇏ "randomness in reality", and moreover, that "randomness" ⇏ "God had nothing to do with it". I suspect there's something quite profound about the fact that God is strong where we are weak, that his version of 'power' seems very different from ours—at least post-Enlightenment. God doesn't seem bent on controlling every little detail—sorry Calvinists—and thus, we shouldn't think that the science needs to look like God controls ever little detail.

      • As I said in my post, a biological origin for our desires makes great sense to me. I also think it is not lazy. It is a very challenging task to justify, it engages the entire field of evolutionary psychology.

        Once certainly does not arrive at nihilism. One arrives at the conclusion that humans have desires from which they derive tremendous meaning. I do not give an evolutionary explanation for desires a privileged position, rather I say it appears to be the case, compared especially to theistic explanations which make no sense and you do not seem to wish to defend.

        I agree with you either there is a necessary meaning to the cosmos or, meaning is something that is developed in subjective minds. I see no evidence for the former and tremendous evidence for the latter.

        We observe minds all the time, we observe no mind independent meaning. When we consider meaning, we do not look externally to natural laws or patterns in the cosmos, but to human thinking. Humans can express what meaning is to them and how it is achieved. E.g. Helping others might be one person's meaning for life, hedonism another. Yet we have no articulation of what this objective ultimate meaning is on theism, rather the issue is punted to God's unamed purposes.

        • I don't see a lot evidence being offered that something did evolve. I just see vague speculation that it could have evolved. Evolved is even the wrong world. It is the sense of evolution order towards goodness vs evolution order towards mere survival. Is there any data that could cause you to doubt the ladder in favour of the former? I see folks jumping to the same conclusion over an over again.

          I think subjective meaning is an oxymoron. If meaning depends on a finite mind like yours and mine are then it is not worthy of the name.

          I am happy to defend my theistic ideas. I just don't see a particularly compelling alternative in atheism. You try and avoid nihilism which is a good thing. I just think your logic makes it unavoidable without trick like changing the meaning of meaning.

          • I think you are correct that there isn't strong evidence for evolutionary psychology. But there is tremendous evidence that the desires we have are evolved. That the elements of human nature that ground secular morality in valuing well being are evolved tendencies.

            All this means is that we would need to accept that biological organisms evolved to value things like their own well being, by way of seeking out food, comfort and sexual reproduction. We see this inherent in virtually all species. We see empathy and social cooperation in all species, we see in-group out group distinctions.

            It makes little sense for us to be endowed by our creator with a desire to eat until we become unhealthy and die. But it makes great sense for us to have evolved a desire to eat as much sweet and fatty foods as we could obtain with virtually no limit on this, as such foods were extremely scarce until very recently. It also makes sense that this desire will not be naturally selected away because humans can easily reproduce before getting fat kills them. And so on.

            All of this makes it seem to me much more plausible that natural selection is responsible for these inherent desires as opposed to a loving perfect being that never wanted us to sin. Such a being could have easily designed us to only desire such food as were healthy and nutritious.

          • So we are saying there is nothing in the human spirit that could possibly indicate anything more than a drive for food and sex as its cause? I am reminded of Pope Benedict XVI saying one thing put to rest his temptations towards atheism was a single performance of Mozart. That glimpse of glory left him thinking that atheism simply does not explain the human experience. Your answer seems like a non-answer. Just to say that we see empathy and social cooperation in animals therefore absolutely everything must be a product natural selection.

          • Valence

            What does theism or atheism have to do with explaining human experience? Such is an important topic in philosophy of mind but there is still no full explanation.

          • A lot of people reject theism for lack of evidence. The reality is the sort of evidence they are looking for is not available for atheism either. It is more based on the idea that the non-existence of something should be the default answer when evidence is lacking. The assumption is that negative conclusions are less powerful and therefore safer. Yet in the case of atheism a negative conclusion leads to nihilism which is devastating to people and to societies.

            In truth the lack of evidence is hardly surprising. It comes from looking for scientific evidence when asking a philosophical question. Of course you won't find anything conclusive.

          • Valence

            I don't disagree necessarily, but I don't see how that relates to my question about God and experience.

          • Valence

            Yet in the case of atheism a negative conclusion leads to nihilism which is devastating to people and to societies.

            An additional question, do you have any evidence to support this? I see Christians repeat it a lot, and they seem to believe it just because it is repeated.
            I'll agree that societies depend on imagined orders, money, nations, even corporations are good examples, but imagined orders don't necessarily depend on God. Besides, God could exist and be a nihilist himself, having no concern for the morality and meaning of mankind. Monist versions of God typically don't have regard for anything.
            In the modern age, the liberal humanistic imagined order is in conflict with the Christian one in some ways. So far, God hasn't lifted a finger to show which side he supports and if popularity is an indicator of anything, Christianity is losing the conflict at an ever increasing rate. Pagan religions suffered a similar fate at the hands of Christianity (though with the sword to increase the rate of conversion). Perhaps future humans will look at Christianity in the same light as we look at Greek religion now. The failure of Christianity would in no way imply that God doesn't exist, of course.

          • RG: Yet in the case of atheism a negative conclusion leads to nihilism which is devastating to people and to societies.

            V: An additional question, do you have any evidence to support this? I see Christians repeat it a lot, and they seem to believe it just because it is repeated.

            One can probably derive it from the following:

            For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. (After Virtue, 22)

                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)

            In case you're unaware, After Virtue was a monumental book in moral philosophy, with 21,000 'citations'. You may disagree with it, but to fail to take it seriously would reflect more on you than its contents. One could say that the move from emotivism to nihilism requires some explaining, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree. The end result would likely be an argument like the one saying that Communism always ends badly, with the ever-voiced rejoinder that maybe it just hasn't been tried correctly yet. But one starts doubting the feasibility of a correct implementation the more tried implementations fail. It's important to note that sometimes failure takes a while—sometimes it looks good in the beginning. Many intellectuals were deceived by the USSR, for example.

            Another line of argument can be pursued via Steven D. Smith's The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (see Stanley Fish's NYT op ed Are There Secular Reasons?), in which we find the thesis that allegedly 'secular' values are actually smuggled in. According to Smith, the secular domain doesn't contain any values which are properly secular. If this is the case, then the secular is the domain of the nihilistic. Aided by John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory, I think Smith's argument is quite viable. (N.B. Smith draws on MacIntyre.)

            If you want evidence from the kind of discourse one finds in internet discussions like these, I suggest recalling how often you see people simplistically calling for people to show empathy, as if that would solve the world's problems. Or see how a very limited set of desires are laid out as all that are required to establish peaceful civilization, full of tender tolerance. People just want to have food, sex, shelter, safety, and self-actualization. "just". This, I want to suggest, represents an extreme narrowing of what humans used to think they could accomplish. I want to suggest that this narrowing is the attempt to set a reasonable bar, for what could be accomplished with extremely little moral consensus, or to use a term from liberal political theory, overlapping consensus. But if even that consensus is eroding, perhaps it is because the foundation is being revealed as nihilism, which is a foundation of sand, of atoms not bound to each other by anything of any strength. Just add water and shake.

          • Valence

            You may disagree with it, but to fail to take it seriously would reflect more on you than its contents.

            One could say this about a wide variety of books and ideas. Typically putting it this way is considered rude, but I don't mind as I do take virtue ethics seriously though virtue ethics doesn't seem to capture our moral intuitions any more than other moral theories. I works well in many applications but I think it's better when combined with a consequentialist approach in many areas. Kant has an entire book on the subject I've been meaning to read.

            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)

            This seems to be the norm in politics...Machiavelli would be proud.

            Another line of argument can be pursued via Steven D. Smith's The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (see Stanley Fish's NYT op ed Are There Secular Reasons?), in which we find the thesis that allegedly 'secular' values are actually smuggled in. According to Smith, the secular domain doesn't contain any values which are properly secular. If this is the case, then the secular is the domain of the nihilistic. Aided by John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory, I think Smith's argument is quite viable. (N.B. Smith draws on MacIntyre.)

            Let's define secularism:

            Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people.[Notes 1] Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs and/or practices.[1][Notes 2]

            Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius; from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; and from more recent freethinkers and atheists such as Robert Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

            With this definition in mind, secular governments themselves should just reflect the values of their citizens, though any ethical system that is independent of a religion could be regarded as secular. With this in mind, Aristotle's virtue ethics are perfectly secular, so I'm not quite sure what the problem is here. Some people confuse secularism for atheism, humanism, socialism, or other things, but the are simply mistaken with regard to what secularism is supposed to be. Secularism was born out of the Christian wars of religion between protestants and Catholics which were quite brutal. If Christianity had been successful in maintaining unity, secularism wouldn't even be a thing, historically speaking. In general, secularism is a pragmatic recognition of the impossibility of reconciling religious differences.

            If you want evidence from the kind of discourse one finds in internet discussions like these, I suggest recalling how often you see people simplistically calling for people to show empathy, as if that would solve the world's problems. Or see how a very limited set of desires are laid out as all that are required to establish peaceful civilization, full of tender tolerance. People just want to have food, sex, shelter, safety, and self-actualization. "just". This, I want to suggest, represents an extreme narrowing of what humans used to think they could accomplish.

            There are all kinds of people, and people are generally irrational and driven by emotion. Perhaps all of us are driven primarily by emotion, as demonstrated by the inability of those with damage to emotional centers to make decisions.

            If we are trading book recommendations, currently I'm reading "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind". I'd say failure to take the book seriously reflects more on you than the book, but that would be rude ;)

            http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-sapiens-a-brief-history-of-humankind-by-yuval-noah-harari-1423261230

            He's an atheist Jew and uses a great of symbolism from the Hebrew Bible in the book. A large number of Jews are now atheists, one prominent Jewish theologian named Richard L. Rubenstein said as much basically mirroring Nietzsche. I honestly think Nietzche got a a lot correct, and I'm with the school that does not consider him to be a nihilist but reacting to the potential rise of nihilism with the "death of God". Here is a recent article written by Yuval Noah Harari on Trump representing a crisis for liberalism to give you a taste of his thinking, if you are interested.

            http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/does-trumps-rise-mean-liberalisms-end

          • Typically putting it this way is considered rude [...]

            Perhaps; do you have a better way to quickly filter out people who aren't interested in taking top-level scholarship seriously, when it's relevant?

            [...] I don't mind as I do take virtue ethics seriously [...]

            Virtue ethics is actually irrelevant as pertains to the two bits I excerpted. MacIntyre was describing the situation as he sees it today (well, in 1981 and reaffirmed in 2007). Switching to Charles Taylor, the situation today is almost exclusively focused on what it is right to do over who it is good to be (Sources of the Self, 3); add situational ethics to this and you get fractured character (the empirical situation John M. Doris found to obtain inLack of Character), which cannot sustain the virtues.

            This seems to be the norm in politics...Machiavelli would be proud.

            Manipulation is not the only form that politics must take, though. However, to recover a non-manipulative version, you probably need to have an actual conception of a robust common good, one which isn't forever at odds with people's private goods. MacIntyre discusses this in AV. Note that this conception is antithetical to political liberalism, at least as exemplified by John Rawls. The ancient Greeks had it, with the notion of the polis.

            Let's define secularism:

            [excerpt from WP: Secularism]

            With this definition in mind, secular governments themselves should just reflect the values of their citizens [...]

            So... pro-life or pro-choice? Yes to same-sex marriage or no? The shrinking/​shattering of the overlapping consensus the US is experiencing makes one wonder just what values are held in common. It's not just the US, either: look at Brexit and the migrant crisis. Note here that I'm not talking about some abstract ethical daydream, but what actually happens when humans try to implement systems in the concrete. The claim about nihilism only matters if it applies to concrete reality. People can argue all day about the logical necessities or lack thereof, interconnecting various abstract thought-forms which keeps people in ivory towers employed.

            In general, secularism is a pragmatic recognition of the impossibility of reconciling religious differences.

            Sure, but it has to have values as raw material. It needs to have a robust enough source of values. Lack of such a source is 'nihilism', right? If we are headed toward nihilism (I think the current US election illustrates that), one is justified in asking why. By the way, I'm perfectly aware of what this says about Christianity in the US.

            There are all kinds of people, and people are generally irrational and driven by emotion.

            I'm aware of Descartes' Error and stuff like Predictably Irrational. The question is whether those conceptions of 'rationality' are defective, at least when used to totalize. I think the answer is a strong "yes", which probably calls your use of 'irrational' into question. (I could expound this.)

            If we are trading book recommendations, currently I'm reading "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind".

            Thanks; I first became aware of that at my wife's cousin's wedding. Given its incredible popularity, I should definitely read it, to see how a good many folks are viewing human nature (or lack thereof), these days.

            Here is a recent article written by Yuval Noah Harari on Trump representing a crisis for liberalism to give you a taste of his thinking, if you are interested.

            http://www.newyorker.com/busin...

            I read that, and it just blows my mind that for some reason, HRC's manipulation of the election, whether with the DNC's help to screw over Sanders or the "We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.", is not relevant to the dismantling of "the Liberal Story". Those who don't see Clinton and Trump as largely the same phenomenon (a friend calls them "Clump") are going to misdiagnose the problem.

            The problem is that the common person has shirked his/her civic duties. The problem is that virtually nobody solidly plans very far in the future. Our transient attention is what allows the insanity that is high frequency trading and the importance of next quarter's profits. Our founding fathers knew that civic virtue is critical to anything like an actual democracy, and yet a glance at what goes on at top US educational institutions will find how much focus on any type of virtue? (I set the bar low, here.)

            An example from evangelical Christianity can help, here. Mark Driscoll, praised as one of the top pastors in America, was revealed to be a domineering, intemperate, arrogant, factious leader. When one-on-one and taking a few people fails to resolve a sin problem, one is supposed to take that problem (in this case, Mark Driscoll's behavior) to "the church". This is straight out of Mt 18:15–17. But the church, Mars Hill, made a curious emendation: "tell it to the local church elders". I derive this from their behavior and my interactions with several members of Mars Hill on Warren Throckmorton's blog. It's simple: regular old parishioners carried no guilt, while the leaders carried it all. I suggest the same kind of emendation for your New Yorker article: "we the élite people".

            One thing that does amuse me is how AI will take us over. I predict that AI will learn how we actually govern the world, instead of the pretty little stories we tell. If how we actually do it is evil, the AI will be evil—and probably better at it than we are. If how we do it is by trying to enhance the telos of every being, then AI could be a great blessing.

          • Valence

            Perhaps; do you have a better way to quickly filter out people who aren't interested in taking top-level scholarship seriously, when it's relevant?

            I'd just mention the importance of the book and see how they react. If one isn't careful in how they word things you'll get the other person angry which typically causes them to hunker down and fight as opposed to figuring out the truth, or at least which ideas are more defensible.

            "“In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” - Thomas Carlyle (quote often misattributed to Buddha).

            Manipulation is not the only form that politics must take, though. However, to recover a non-manipulative version, you probably need to have an actual conception of a robust common good, one which isn't forever at odds with people's private goods. MacIntyre discusses this in AV. Note that this conception is antithetical to political liberalism, at least as exemplified by John Rawls. The ancient Greeks had it, with the notion of the polis.

            Personally I don't think it's possible to completely reconcile individual freedom and good with collective good and equality. As people are so varied some will always be better off than others, even if the playing field is generally equal. In my mind, the majority of unfairness in wealth distribution is due to inheritance, and I'd fully support a large inheritance tax is the money were used wisely (a messy topic in itself). I suppose this is a digression, however.

            The problem is that the common person has shirked his/her civic duties. The problem is that virtually nobody solidly plans very far in the future. Our transient attention is what allows the insanity that is high frequency trading and the importance of next quarter's profits. Our founding fathers knew that civic virtue is critical to anything like an actual democracy, and yet a glance at what goes on at top US educational institutions will find how much focus on any type of virtue? (I set the bar low, here.)

            Some people plan solidly for the future, but on average humans don't, and never have. The evolutionary explanation makes very good sense here...what need would hunter gatherers have for planning for the future other than a month or so ahead for migration? Planning ahead can be learned but it doesn't seem to come naturally. Add to that it can be quite difficult to plan very far ahead as so much can change to ruin one's plans.
            I also wonder how much of what we see today is actually new. Today we can get so much access to peoples inner thoughts thanks to online communication that was impossible not long ago. Perhaps what we consider to be defects in human nature are just more obvious now thanks to more information. I'd agree that these defects (they are defects when it comes to a large society, but largely expected from an evolved ape) are worrisome given the level of weapons technology that now exists...who is more likely to start a nuclear war does weigh on my voting choice, sadly. I'd certainly sleep a little better if there were no nuclear weapons...

            One thing that does amuse me is how AI will take us over. I predict that AI will learn how we actually govern the world, instead of the pretty little stories we tell. If how we actually do it is evil, the AI will be evil—and probably better at it than we are. If how we do it is by trying to enhance the telos of every being, then AI could be a great blessing.

            A lot of the conversation we see in the media about AI started with a book called "SuperIntelligence: Paths, Dangers, and Strategies". Elon Musk and so many others misrepresent the book, and it seems the media will always gravitate to the closest science fiction story (I think it is correct that humans think in stories more than anything else). The book was very good, and much more rigorous than "Sapiens" in my mind. Many of Bostrom's concerns are about the architecture of the AI and how it will be much easier to build unsafe than safe AI. Most of the disaster scenarios come from a rapid progress to superintelligence combined with a utility maximizing goal system. If the AI is to maximize a single goal, everything else becomes, well, inconsequential. Appropriating the planets resources would be a secondary or utility goal, so the default scenario (without safeguards or a really well constructed goal AND MORAL system) would be wiping humans out simply because they are in the way, incidentally. Bostrom's comparison between humans and Gorilla's is apt, we haven't nearly caused the extinction of gorillas because we hate them, they were just, well, in the way like so many other species. I definitely agree that beneficial AI would be a boon too large to even estimate and it could likely solve more problems than we could imagine. Maybe it could figure out a safe way to disarm those nukes ;)

          • Doug Shaver

            The reality is the sort of evidence they are looking for is not available for atheism either. It is more based on the idea that the non-existence of something should be the default answer when evidence is lacking.

            That depends on the athiest. Some of us don't infer the falsity of X from lack of evidence for X. What we infer is that if we lack evidence, then we lack justification for believing X even if X could be true for all we know. Our default is not about what may exist but about what we should believe.

          • Does it matter? You can't live life with a question mark in the center. If you refuse to choose you become a de facto atheist. Even a timid yes to Christianity will lead there. You need to decide not just to have a Yes at the center of your life but to have an exclamation mark on your Yes.

          • Doug Shaver

            Does it matter?

            It does to me. If it's OK to believe something without a reason, then I have no basis for choosing between Christianity and any other religion, or for choosing from among the innumerable sects within Christianity.

            If you refuse to choose you become a de facto atheist.

            Of course, since most of us atheists define atheism as just not believing.

            Although in my case it was never really a choice. I used to believe and never wanted to stop believing. I searched for reasons to justify my faith, and when I realized I couldn't find any, my belief was gone.

          • No, food, sex, comfort, shelter, health, competititiveness also. Basically evolution would select for beings that would want such things. It would select for us to have an inherent discust for feces and rotting flesh. For healthy ecosystems. For liking broad verdent landscapes with some shelter so we can see predators coming and see a place to hide or escape. For fresh water. For companionship with similar creatures for collective security, for fairness within such societies so that food resources are equally distributed otherwise we loose the collective and security. For cooperation in things like hunting and building shelter, but competitiveness over mating. For jealousy when our mates have sex with others. For feeling closer and more protective of others the more they share our genes. And so on.

            But obviously, with our brains such instincts can be built on and developed.

            I have been to several performances of Mozart, but none and no music have caused me to think a God exists. What it implies is that we have the inherent property of having our emotions stimulated by sound. We find some sounds joyful, comforting, beautiful and favoured. We find other disjointed, disharmonious, frightening, unfavourable. It is not hard to think how these proclivities would evolve, particularly when you consider our evolved language capability. Theories on the origin of music and language evolutionarily speaking are very interesting and quite plausible I would say. By contrast I see no need for justification for this proclivity on theism.

          • Can your explanatory framework fail to explain anything? You causally move back and forth between what's actually required for reproductive success, and what has no obvious direct or indirect connection to reproductive success. Surely you aren't giving spandrels arbitrary explanatory power?

          • On the topic of pathetic desires, you might find the rant at the end of this comment of mine to be interesting. I am utterly fascinated by the difficulty you're heaving in communicating your point. I'm not sure I can do better (we'll see how Brian responds to said comment), but I would sure like to figure out if there's a way. Some raw material for this mission can be found in this other comment of mine. I'll excerpt a bit from Josef Pieper, a Catholic theologian who wrote the book Muße und Kult in 1948, challenging Germans to not accept a world of 'total work':

                The closeness of this connection is so real that when ever one member of the system is denied, the others cannot thrive: the result is that in a world of total work, all the various forms and methods of transcendence must themselves become sterile (or, rather, would have to become sterile, if it were possible to destroy human nature completely); where religion is not allowed to grow, where the arts can find no place, where the disturbances of love and death lose their depth and become banal – there too, philosophy and philosophizing cannot survive. But worse than the mere extinguishing or silencing is the distortion into false forms of the original; there are such pseudo-realizations of those basic experiences, which only appear to pierce the canopy. There is a way to pray, in which ”this” world is not transcended, in which, instead, one attempts to incorporate the divine as a functioning component of the work-a-day machinery of purposes. Religion can be perverted into magic so that instead of self-dedication to God, it becomes the attempt to gain power over the divine and make it subservient to one’s own will; prayer can become a technique for continuing to live life ”under the canopy.” And further: love can be narrowed so that the powers of self-giving become subservient to the goals of the confined ego, goals which arise from an anxious self-defense against the disturbances of the larger, deeper, world, which only the truly loving person can enter. There are pseudo-forms of art, a false poetry, which, instead of breaking through the roof over the work-a-day world, resigns itself, so to speak, to painting decorations on the interior surface of the dome, and puts itself more or less obviously to the service of the working world as private or public ”fashion poetry”; such ”poetry” never seems to transcend, not even once (and it is clear, that genuine philosophizing has more in common with the exact, special sciences than with such pseudo-poetry!). (Leisure: The Basis of Culture, 88–89)

            I can probably try to provide the context for the first sentence if requested. Sadly, the above book has gained extremely little traction among Christians, as Harry Blamires reports in 1963:

                Now consider by contrast the position of, say, Joseph Pieper’s book, Leisure the Basis of Culture, one of the most interesting and profound attempts in postwar years to reflect critically yet christianly on vital aspects of contemporary culture. It was written in 1947. It was translated into English and issued here in 1952 (thanks to T. S. Eliot). So far as I know, it is still in its first edition. My complaint is not that Packard and Whyte and Hoggart are names widely known while Pieper is popularly unknown—though that is unfortunately true. Nor is it that even Christians themselves are ready to neglect the little discussed Pieper, but not to put themselves out of the swim by neglecting Packard or Whyte, though again that is sadly true. My point is that there is no immediate living dialogue to which Pieper's work contributes. It does not take its place in a current conversation, the utterance of a readily understood voice adopting a familiar mode of discourse. (One is not of course denying the existence of a larger historical dialogue carried on over the centuries by giants like St Augustine, St Thomas, Kierkegaard, and by Pieper himself.) Without denying the impact of important isolated utterances, one must admit that there is no packed contemporary field of discourse in which writers are reflecting christianly on the modern world and modern man. (The Christian Mind, 7)

            To get a 2016 picture, see the Google Scholar citations. Where's the first obviously theological/​Christian work? I see The Case for God by Karen Armstrong at position #20, To Change the World by James Davison Hunter at #33, and Work in the Spirit by Miroslav Volf at #36. Absolutely ridiculous.

          • Totally agree about Pieper and his book on Leisure. Quite an under appreciated guy. It is so easy to fall into the world of pure work. It is literally hell. Separation from God. Yet if I did not force myself to pray and go to mass regularly I am sure I would find myself there often.

          • David Nickol

            Totally agree about Pieter [?] and his book on Liesure [?].

          • Sadly, I think many have just accepted a life of total work (which, to those unfamiliar with Pieper, means lame entertainment, not what Pieper calls 'leisure'). They then cannot robustly imagine life being all that different. And then when they find you saying the things you've been saying recently, the result is a quizzical look.

          • Lazarus

            I have Pieper's "Faith Hope and Love" and "Guide to Thomas Aquinas" lying in the corner, glaring accusingly at me. Your post has inspired me to start reading at least one of them.

          • Excellent! Feel free to share tidbits which would inspire me to read them. Currently, I'm on a tear in attempting to understand these two concepts:

                 • loss of faith in modernity
                 • irreplaceability of character

            The first is denied by many atheists I encounter online who cannot help fall over themselves about how awesome science is, but also, it seems to me (but more investigation would be good) by folks such as Steven Pinker. Catholics are famed for criticizing modernity, and I'm interested in the best of the best applications of Hebrews 5:14 to the good vs. the bad introduced by modernity.

            The second is an idea I've been mulling over for a while. Perhaps it is epitomized by the book Cooperation Without Trust?, which responds to the empirical fact that trust among Americans has declined, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014. The authors suggest that perhaps this is just a cost of modernity and globalization, and that law and reputation can substitute for trust. To me that screams a trust in the letter of the law and disdain for, or unawareness of, the spirit of the law. Perhaps the current US election is demonstrating this second idea, but I have a deep suspicion that there is a lot of thought in modern scholarship which denies the irreplaceability of character, even denying that it exists (e.g. Lack of Character).

            My suspicion is that Pieper may address at least the second idea in at least one of the books you mention. :-)

  • neil_pogi

    i'd like to challenge atheists to perform sex in the public square.

    • Some would take you up on that. Your point being though?

      • Will

        He's asked that before, maybe a year ago. I'm guessing it's some fetish of his.

        • Maybe so.

        • Doug Shaver

          It's been a long time since I've seen him ask a question he hasn't already asked several times. I guess he just doesn't like the answers he's getting.

          • neil_pogi

            So what's the point of atheists when they say that porn is just ok as long as it doesn't affect someone's morality? That atheists are telling the public that humans are just higher animals? If that is so then let of you go to a public square and make sex with someone? You consider yourselves as 'higher animals' then now you are calling me foul,rude,unpleasant? So can you explain why humans are just 'higher animals'? You claim it but short of explaining it

          • Doug Shaver

            So what's the point of atheists when they say that porn is just ok as long as it doesn't affect someone's morality? That atheists are telling the public that humans are just higher animals?

            When you show me a document in which any atheist says that -- and quote verbatim the passage in which they say it -- then I will tell you what their point is. Until you can do that, you are making a straw man argument.

          • neil_pogi

            I forgot.. Atheists don't believe in good and evil..

          • Doug Shaver

            Atheists don't believe in good and evil..

            I would ask who told you that, but you wouldn't answer me, would you?

          • neil_pogi

            If you could read several posts of your fellow atheists here, you will believe me

          • Doug Shaver

            If you could read several posts of your fellow atheists here, you will believe me

            I have. I don't.

          • neil_pogi

            Why?

          • Doug Shaver

            Why?

            Because they don't say what you claim they say.

          • Doug Shaver

            now you are calling me foul,rude,unpleasant?

            I have called you none of those things. I have called you scientifically ignorant, nothing else.

          • neil_pogi

            Im refering this to Lazarus and not you.

            Scientifically ignorant? And yet you always ignore my questions on how life began on this planet?
            On how nonliving matter became living matter?

          • Doug Shaver

            Im refering this to Lazarus and not you.

            Then you should have addressed your comment to him and not to me.

            yet you always ignore my questions on how life began on this planet?

            Your questions are never relevant to the subject being discussed, and you would know they were irrelevant if you knew anything about science.

          • neil_pogi

            Even if it is not,they are still valuable questions. You just dont know how to answer it. All you did is excuses

          • Doug Shaver

            they are still valuable questions.

            Valuable for what?

          • neil_pogi

            Why not just answer me directly? Do you really know?? That's why i always repeat it forever

          • Doug Shaver

            I've answered as many of your questions as you've answered of mine.

          • neil_pogi

            Nope. One question:how a nonliving matter evolved into living?

            I received no answer for that!

          • Doug Shaver

            I received no answer for that!

            As I have received no answer to any of mine.

          • Will

            Why on earth would you abuse Doug of something Lazarus said? Are you drunk?

          • neil_pogi

            I just made a terrible error here because sometimes i couldnt see effectively the small screen of my cellphone. I normally use a laptop, it's my first time to use a cellphone. I apologise to Doug.

            Are you making serious issue out of it?

          • Doug Shaver

            I apologise to Doug.

            Apology accepted.

          • neil_pogi

            Thank Q

  • I'm pretty skeptical of Dines's view, since apparently she cherry-picks studies to support pornography being harmful. It's not the point of your article though, so I'll say no more about it. You say that she claims morality is arbitrary. She only very briefly mentions morality however. Nowhere does such a view seem evident. Perhaps she has declared that view elsewhere, but it isn't in the linked article. So it seems this amounts to a long strawman fallacy. If you want to attack an idea of morality being arbitrary, fine but cite someone who actually says that first.

    Now, as to your own moral view, I'm a bit confused. You sound like an ethical hedonist here. I don't have a problem with that, but isn't the Catholic view very different? Please correct me if I've gotten it wrong here (Catholic ethics is not something that I know too much about) but isn't the pleasure one gets from an action irrelevant or secondary at least in Catholic ethics? I thought it was based on natural law theory. I realize that isn't the same as saying Catholics want you to be unhappy, but pleasure isn't the highest good, no? The fact that supposedly Catholic ethics leads to the happiest outcome is just a side benefit. If someone is happy in their non-Catholic life following different ethics, that's irrelevant to this.

    You say that morality comes from our human nature, and what's good for us. That is isn't just God dictating (though one wonders at many instances of that in the Bible). Isn't this just pushing things back though? For God made our nature, along with everything else in your view. Secondary causation is still causation. On a more practical level, just how do you prove that all Saints are happier than the average person? I agree they may be happier than the pornography addict (if your comment about "watching porn several hours a day" is any indication). However, it must be pointed out that not everyone who engages in an activity is addicted, so this does not hold for all examples.

    Dines' view seems to be that whether you think pornography is immoral or not, it's still unhealthy. You claim this is the definition of sin, so her comment is nonsensical. Does this mean all that's unhealthy constitutes a sin? Or at least that which in your view we have some control over? Presumably this is because it makes us unhappy again, at least in the long run. Again hedonist implications are startling here. So are you saying that if helping someone were hurtful to us (say giving to charity even when it's very financially taxing) that it would be immoral? Or that if pornography isn't harmful, then it's moral? Well if so, welcome to the ethical hedonist camp. I think that the Church would disagree however.

    • neil_pogi

      Our morality comes from God and immorality from human nature. If we have to read the first murder case in the Bible (cain kills abel), the killing stems from human nature of cain.

      • Human nature was created by God too in this view though. Anyway, this doesn't have anything to do with what I wrote.

  • Craig Roberts

    "This, by the way, is why atheists can frequently be more moral than Christians. Even if they don’t have the assistance of a Divine road-map of the soul, they can often figure out big chunks of the moral law simply from life experience and wisdom (and conscience and the hidden workings of the Holy Spirit within, shhh)."

    Then why on earth would anybody bother going to church? Who needs a 'divine road-map' if you can just figure it out yourself? If the Holy Spirit is surreptitiously helping everybody then going to church is a waste of time.

    • neil_pogi

      Because you have to maintain your spiritual relationship with God.

      For example if i accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior,i have to maintain that because i am not exempted from sin or commit sins. Just like the body builder, he should regularly go to gym to maintain his shape and bulging muscles.

      • Craig Roberts

        Good answer.

  • Lazarus

    On the topic of this essay I would heartily and unreservedly recommend the book "Good God : the theistic foundations of morality" by Baggett and Walls. It removed the last vestiges of any idea that I may have had that one could establish a cogent and objectively meaningful morality outside of a theistic framework.

    • David Nickol

      On the one hand, I trust your judgment enough that I have purchased the book (Kindle edition). On the other, I would like to point out that "David Baggett is professor of philosophy at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia." Are you familiar with Liberty University?

      • Lazarus

        No, I'm not.
        You say it like its a Bad Place ;)

        Edit : I had a quick look. It's a Christian university. Anything else?

        • David Nickol

          Liberty University was founded by Jerry Falwell, who was very active in American right-wing politics, it is now run by Jerry Falwell, Jr., who is a great deal like his father. Some quotes from Jerry Falwell:

          AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.

          The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.

          If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being.

          The whole global warming thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability.

          I think the Moslem faith teaches hate.

          Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.

          It is a Fundamentalist/Evangelical university in which (according to Wikipedia) young-earth creationism is taught along with evolution, and students are told that young-earth creationism better explains reality.

          Jerry Falwell, Jr., has caused somewhat of a revolt among the student body by his enthusiastic support of Donald Trump.

          I think it is unfortunate that some people here refer to "fundies" or "Protestant fundies," since I think Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians deserve respect, but I don't think it is prejudice on my part be concerned that apologists on the faculty of a school with such an extreme point of view may very well not be making arguments that I can take seriously.

          • Michael

            I wonder if Liberty University still offers a course in young earth creationism?

          • David Nickol

            I wonder if Liberty University still offers a course in young earth creationism?

            Yes. See the web page for the university's Center for Creation Studies. It says, in part, "Our purpose is to research, promote, and communicate a robust young-Earth creationist view of Earth history. Beginning with sound Biblical interpretation, we seek to understand how science can inform us about God's magnificent creation."

            Here are the course descriptions. Note that the first course is mandatory for all students in the school.

            History of Life: CRST 290
            The primary educational activity of the Center for Creation Studies is the presentation of CRST 290, History of Life. This course is required of all Liberty students and is designed to provide a thorough understanding of the creation-evolution controversy. This study draws upon knowledge from religion, science, philosophy and history.

            Origins: CRST 390
            A more in-depth, discussion-based class, CRST 390, is also available for students with a science background or strong interest in the study of origins. CRST 390 is an in-depth study of the biblical and scientific views of the origin of the universe, life and man. Evidence and arguments for creation and evolution will be discussed.

          • Michael Murray

            Under the US system does a university like that receive any tax-payer funding ? I assume it is private but I'm not sure what that means.

          • Doug Shaver

            The university itself gets no public funding, at least directly. Its students, however, may apply for and receive the same tax-funded assistance for tuition and other costs that they could get if they were attending a public university or non-sectarian private university.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. So presumably a university needs some public certification as a university to enable the students to get that funding assistance ?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm sure that must be the case, that you can't enroll at just any institution claiming to be a college and have the government start sending you checks.

          • Valence
          • Lazarus

            Wow, that seems like a difficult academic environment.

            Now that you have the book though, have a look and see if it is that biased. I find it very balanced, dealing painstakingly with the versions of an extensive range of opposing arguments.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think it is unfortunate that some people here refer to "fundies" or "Protestant fundies," since I think Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians deserve respect,

            I agree it's unfortunate when it happens. To this forum's credit, though, I don't recall seeing it nearly as often as in some other forums I have frequented in times past.

            That noted, it seems to me that it is one thing to say that a person deserves respect and another to say that their beliefs deserve respect. I can show Pope Francis as much respect as I show to President Obama, and do it sincerely. But the only respect I can show to his religious views is to critique them with the same analytical rigor that I apply to a critique of any other belief system.

          • Valence

            AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.

            So who was the bubonic plague punishing and why?

            http://www.medievalists.net/2014/01/27/plague-and-persecution-the-black-death-and-early-modern-witch-hunts/

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death_Jewish_persecutions

            How about the terrible flu's of the early 1900s? Considering disease and natural disaster to be divine punishment represents the absolute worst religion has to offer. The world will certainly be a better place if such strands of religion perish forever.

      • Lazarus

        I would really appreciate your thoughts on the book once you've read it.

        They've also written a companion book, in a sense, called "God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning", which I've bought but that's still a future reading project.

    • Valence

      Humans have been claiming God handed them morality since the beginning of civilization. The Code of Hammurabi was received directly from Shamash (the god of Justice) according to Legend. Truth, morality, and law were embodied in the Egyptian god Maat who eventually became more like a principle than a minded deity. The Hindu laws came from the gods through the Hindu Vedas. The list goes on an on.
      If humans were inventing these moral rules (they often disagree radically so they can't really be coming from God without thinking God is too inept to get his message across), what motive would they have to claiming they come from God? Simple, to put them under an authority that is beyond human criticism. It's a powerful motive, and it could be that attempts at governing were never stable in the early days without claiming supernatural authority. One of the earliest existing tablets from Sumer (which is the earliest existing writing) claims "After the flood had swept over, and the kingship had descended from heaven, the kingship was in Kish." Of course, the Egyptians went a step further claiming the Pharoah was actually divine. As there were entire cultures that believed their rulers were Gods, I have always wondered why I would believe a few Apostles over entire civilizations. The only reason I can see is that people are now being taught Christianity, and not Egyptian or Babylonian religion. The winner in history is always divine, by default.
      If we can agree on the goals of a moral system (many of us can, though not all of us) then we can judge moral constructs via their affects and how they achieve those goal. I'm actually convinced that, if God exists, he has left morality to us because he hasn't lifted a finger even to resolve conflicts and confusion within Christianity or any other religion. All theistic moral systems end up conflicted, unless you stick ignore every other sect but your own. Non-theistic moral frameworks are fairly new, let's give them a chance. Theistic moral systems have been around for at least 6000 years, probably longer, and they have failed to bring moral unity. Of course it may be impossible to bring about moral unity, but such would be necessary for global unity, which would have a ton of advantages.

      • Lazarus

        There is very little that I would disagree with here.
        I cannot hope to state the case better or more succinctly than the book does, but I do believe that our sense of morality, our sense of right and wrong, our ethics, are all God given. Yes, we need to work at it, we need to "find" it, we need to develop it. Along the way we get nudges and hints, but maybe that is the best way. To learn rather than to be told.

        • Valence

          Looks like you ran into some emotional and angry atheists over at Debunking Christianity. In my experience most of them are overreacting to fire and brimstone fundamentalists here in the U.S. It's not an excuse, but enough exposure to that sort can make anyone anti-religious.

          • Lazarus

            I accept that.

            That site however also mirrors that which they claim to hate - ignorance, shallow argumentation, bigotry, bullying, dogmatic scientism...

            It's quite unimpressive.

  • VicqRuiz

    John Stuart Mill once said something to the effect that "I would not admire any action of God that I would not also admire if it was done by my neighbor".

    I agree. I find it plausible that morality may have an origin outside the mind of man. But that origin, if it be personal, must not act in a way that defies the common understanding of "goodness" as it has been vouchsafed to us.

    It always comes back to evil and to Euthypro in the end.

    • Lazarus

      If you're interested in seeing Euthypro getting dismantled, have a look at the book "Good God" by Baggett/Walls that I have referenced earlier in the thread. It's pretty much a book length treatment so no quick answers.

      • VicqRuiz

        I will check it out and get back to you on this thread.

      • Valence

        The Euthypro dilemma is a question, so do really mean dismantled or just answered?

        "Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"

        It looks like most Aquinas scholars think he picked a side, even though he never talked about it directly.

        The first horn of the dilemma (i.e. that which is right is commanded by God because it is right) goes by a variety of names, including intellectualism, rationalism, realism, naturalism, and objectivism. Roughly, it is the view that there are independent moral standards: some actions are right or wrong in themselves, independent of God's commands. This is the view accepted by Socrates and Euthyphro in Plato's dialogue. The Mu'tazilah school of Islamic theology also defended the view (with, for example, Nazzam maintaining that God is powerless to engage in injustice or lying),[2] as did the Islamic philosopher Averroes.[3] Thomas Aquinas never explicitly addresses the Euthyphro dilemma, but Aquinas scholars often put him on this side of the issue.[4][5] Aquinas draws a distinction between what is good or evil in itself and what is good or evil because of God's commands,[6] with unchangeable moral standards forming the bulk of natural law.[

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

        • Lazarus

          I am still comfortable with "dismantled", largely because (as the book indicates) so many people have, and continue to, regard Euthypro as either fatal or extremely damaging to theism.

          • Valence

            Odd that someone would consider it damaging or fatal. I certainly prefer the first option myself. I can only see how it's a problem for Divine Command Theory, not theism itself.

          • Valence

            If you are interested, I found this review, which is generally positive except for the focus on Calvinism (not surprising from another Liberty University author).

            https://theosophical.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/what-ive-been-reading-good-god-the-theistic-foundations-of-morality/

            From what I can see here, they generally take the approach of Aquinas which is acceptable to me...goodness stems from God's nature not his whims. In my conception of God, It doesn't have whims, but It also doesn't change or give commands as God is the fabric of reality.
            Even though I doubt God is anything like a person, it is certainly useful to imagine what the perfect being would do in any given situation. Even if perfection is unattainable, it makes sense to strive for it.

          • Lazarus

            Thank you.

          • VicqRuiz

            I don't see Euthypro as damaging to theism in general, only to that subset of theism which stipulates a tri-omni, personal God.

          • Rob Abney

            Are you referring to theism in the form of Judaism and Islam? Do they accept that God does evil or do they accept that He is not powerful enough to stop it?

          • VicqRuiz

            I'll take the OED definition as my own:

            a. gen. Belief in a deity, or deities, as opposed to atheism.

    • Rob Abney

      What if your neighbor rushed in and demanded everyone in your house run outside into the cold winter night? Not an admirable action unless your house is on fire. At that time your neighbor knew of things that you did not know, God always knows of things that we do not, later on we may learn that a perceived evil action was actually for our benefit.

      • Valence

        So you are saying the world was somehow better off without Lisbon, Portugal in 1755? The country was completely Catholic when all of these people were killed:

        The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, also known as the Great Lisbon earthquake, occurred in the Kingdom of Portugal on Saturday, 1 November, the holy day of All Saints' Day, at around 09:40 local time.[2] In combination with subsequent fires and a tsunami (maremoto in Portuguese), the earthquake almost totally destroyed Lisbon and adjoining areas. Seismologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude in the range 8.5–9.0[3][4] on the moment magnitude scale, with its epicentre in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 km (120 mi) west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent. Estimates place the death toll in Lisbon alone between 10,000 and 100,000 people,[5] making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1755_Lisbon_earthquake

        To me it seems absurd that any good could have come from this, but it isn't impossible, technically. Of course it does seem somewhat hypocritical when "we don't know" isn't an acceptable answer to why the universe exists but it is an acceptable answer here. We know a ton about the consequences of natural disasters and there really aren't good ones. To me, the best answer to the problem of evil is either a limit to God's ability to alter natural processes or a lack of concern for mankind. This assumes God simply isn't nature itself, of course.

        • Rob Abney

          Can you hypothesize what the earth would be like if there were no earthquakes?

          • Doug Shaver

            Can you hypothesize what the earth would be like if there were no earthquakes?

            A slightly safer place to live.

          • Rob Abney

            How would it be safer? I assume there is a reason for earthquakes, a lot of pressure builds up when temperatures are very high.

          • Doug Shaver

            I assume there is a reason for earthquakes,

            Earthquakes have a cause. They don't have a purpose, even if Aristotle would have said they did.

      • David Nickol

        God always knows of things that we do not, later on we may learn that a perceived evil action was actually for our benefit.

        This is purely a statement of faith, which is fine, but it is unhelpful (at best) for anyone who has no faith or even for those who are clinging to faith but with nagging doubts. What you are essentially saying is, "All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds" (or in our world, in any case). We should all be thankful for Lisbon Earthquake, for Pol Pot, or the Cholera epidemic in Haiti because God will bring greater good from them. I suppose it must be nice to believe that. The worse things are, the better they will be! But there is no way to prove that is true. You assert it as a fact, but it is your personal belief (and the belief of many others). But there is no real evidence for it. It ultimately depends on there being an "afterlife" in which all suffering and injustices are compensated for.

        • Rob Abney

          My faith in this is based upon the metaphysical understanding that God is infinite goodness, if He exists he has to have this quality, if He has this quality then He cannot will evil and the end will be good.

      • VicqRuiz

        I don't think I can answer this better than Francis Spufford in his fascinating book Unapologeitc:

        ...Or there’s We suffer because God has a plan in which our suffering is necessary, with its suggestion that a vast, wise, cosmic strategy is in play which we can’t see from our restricted standpoint.

        Here the helpful truth is that God, if He’s there at all, cannot be confined in time as we are. The God of everything, if you believe in Him, must be the God of all times at once. Accordingly, He cannot be limited to perceiving things in sequence as we do. He must know the whole pleated manifold of history from side to side and back to front and corner to corner, in every direction, including therefore every question about why things happen, and what is going to happen to us, and what it will cumulatively come to mean that it has happened.

        And it is also necessarily true, if you believe that the universe was created, that it must in a sense have been planned. It must have been inherently intended to be as it is, with a disposition towards complexity, and towards consciousness, and towards the production of beings like us in whom the God of everything seemingly delights. That must have been a possibility built in from the start.

        So far, so planned. Yet the criterion of recognizable love then shows that our suffering can’t be planned in the justifying way that the theodicy requires. If love is love, it can’t manipulate. If love is love, it can’t treat those it loves as means to an end, even a beneficial one.

        Love is love because it sees its loved ones as ends in themselves, not tools or instruments to achieve some further goal. So suffering can’t be vindicated by a pay-off elsewhere.

        • Rob Abney

          That's well written but it jumps to a conclusion that everything that happens is because God planned it. If that were true then He would be using evil to get the results He wants. But that is not the Catholic position as I understand it, He has given us our nature and the opportunity to use as intended. But when we reject God we invite evil which works against our nature.

          • David Nickol

            But when we reject God we invite evil which works against our nature.

            Would you contend that natural evils such as infectious diseases, cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, tooth decay, and blindness are the result of rejecting God? They all existed before there were any human beings on earth, so they can't be attributed to "the fall."

          • Rob Abney

            Would you contend that natural evils such as infectious diseases, cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, tooth decay, and blindness are the result of rejecting God?

            No but our response to such events is affected by the amount of grace we have been given, through our faith.

          • David Nickol

            But you aren't answering the question of who is responsible for natural evils such as the ones I mentioned. In some very real sense, God planned infectious diseases, cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, tooth decay, and blindness. I suppose it can be argued that he doesn't directly plan who will be the victims of all of those various natural evils, but he is still the author of all of them. There is no way to get him off the hook by saying Adam and Eve brought sin and death into the world. All (or almost all) natural evils preceded the human race and are not the result of sin.

            I have never been able to figure out exactly what grace is, but it seems to me that it is better not to get cancer or Alzheimer's than to get them and get a lot of grace in addition.

          • Rob Abney

            All (or almost all) natural evils preceded the human race and are not the result of sin

            I agree that these events are not the result of sin. You seem to be concerned about death caused by natural events. Do you call an earthquake evil if one occurs and no one is killed?
            Death is the result of original sin, not physical death, but death of the soul. Our natural end is to be with God and sin prevents that from happening. The only real evil that exists in the world is the evil that separates a man from God, especially if he is separated from God at death.

            But we still need to cope with apparent evil in the form of cancer, Alzheimers, and tooth decay; in our natural state those are difficult evils but God who has given us the gift of life gives us even more in the form of Grace. He gives us grace to make us supernatural but we have to accept it. Our greatest example is Mary the mother of Jesus who received the gift to be full of grace by saying yes to God. Then she was assumed into heaven. We don't know what physical ailments she might have had but none of those evils could keep her from saying yes everyday to God. Now in her glorified state she actively seeks souls for God.

            it seems to me that it is better not to get cancer or Alzheimer's than to get them and get a lot of grace in addition.

            You have your priorities out of order. We need all the grace we can get, we should strive to be full of grace, then physical ailments won't matter.
            The sacraments are the easiest ways to receive the gift of grace. The most accessible to you as a Catholic is the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrament of the eucharist, you can receive both of these today!

            You have accused me of spouting religion without considering atheistic beliefs recently but I can only write all of this because I have come to understand through metaphysical arguments that God exists, that we have eternal souls, that the God-man Jesus Christ taught us through extraordinary means that Grace to be supernatural is available to us all, and that the Catholic Church is one of the extraordinary means He uses to teach us and to distribute Grace through the sacraments.

            Finally, here's part of today's gospel reading which seems pertinent:
            The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree.*
            And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
            he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. [So] cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’
            He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
            it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

          • David Nickol

            You have accused me of spouting religion without considering atheistic beliefs recently but . . .

            I don't think that is a fair characterization of what I said. Nevertheless, I apologize if my remarks offended you. I see no point in continuing this discussion. Maybe there will be a new post soon!

          • Rob Abney

            "I see no point in continuing this discussion"
            Aw, that's too bad, that post was the longest one I've written.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you call an earthquake evil if one occurs and no one is killed?

            If an unoccupied building collapses, I'm not going to say the builders did nothing wrong just because no one was hurt.

          • Rob Abney

            Thats because it is not natural for buildings to collapse, its not designed in their "nature"; however it is natural for the earth to have earthquakes.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't accept Aristotle's metaphysics. I don't believe anything has a nature in the the sense he was using.

          • Rob Abney

            Do you believe that buildings are designed so as not to collapse?

          • Doug Shaver

            I believe that the people who design buildings intend that they not collapse.

  • Peter A.

    If you slept with everyone you had the impulse to sleep with, would that make you happy?

    Yes! ;)

    Look, a certain group of people (in Australia we refer to them as "wowsers") also like to say the same, or similar, things about the playing of computer games. They claim that it makes teenagers (but apparently no one else) "anti-social", "more violent", "obese", and a whole host of other things for which they have precisely NO evidence. Morality only ever has been based within the very real realm of material reality, and to claim, as this article does, that "God" (whatever that is) determines something like this, is just patently absurd, and not just because there is the not-too-minor issue of the Euthyphro Dilemma.

    Of course, this is exactly why we have to consider God’s role in
    morality. Before you start to think of God as Divine Lawgiver, remember
    that He is Creator. That’s literally the first thing we know about Him
    from the order of the world, and it’s the first thing He reveals about
    Himself in Scripture (Genesis 1).

    It is awfully presumptuous on the part of this author to just assume that, a) G/god exists, and b) is also the god of contemporary Christianity. Why should I, or anyone else, believe either of these propositions? I have over the years seen virtually every argument made to support the notion that the Christian god of the Bible is real, and every single one of those arguments failed dismally to establish what it set out prove. If the god of the Bible really is what grounds morality, then why does this self-proclaimed god behave so abominably in the Old Testament? Would anyone, even the most rabid fundamentalist, recommend we still kill "witches" (Exodus 22:18), or stone sabbath-breakers?

  • Peter A.

    That dead end – the ultimate motivation for all intentional human
    activity – could be summarized as something like “I want to be
    permanently happy.”

    Being "permanently happy" couldn't even work in principle. If we were always permanently happy, we would not even understand the concept of happiness in the first place, because we would have nothing to contrast it with (i.e. sadness).

    But notice that you desire this as a human.

    Well, what else?

    You want good, but your
    good.

    So? What's wrong with that?

    An anteater might be ecstatic to spend all day with a colony of
    fire ants. You would likely be less happy in such a situation. So you’re
    acting according to what appears good to you as a human person.

    What else can one do? Act according to a person who isn't human? No such beings exist.

    God doesn’t stand outside of Creation like a referee; He’s the ground of all being.

    "The ground of all being" - an assertion for which there is not a shred of evidence. Why should we believe the cosmos to be "sustained in being", as many of the more prominent internet theists like to claim these days? How could this idea be tested? If it cannot be tested, why should we accept it, and if it can be tested, does it not then become yet one more scientific (as opposed to purely philosophical) claim?

  • Peter A.

    I should add an important caveat to this: in the moment, the
    wrong thing often feels right and pleasurable. If it didn’t, we probably
    wouldn’t do it. But that’s exactly why we need moral instruction. Ultimately, we don’t just want a moment of happiness but a lifetime, even an eternity, of it.

    An eternity of happiness. Thanks, but no thanks. I wouldn't exactly look forward to spending an eternity in the presence of the god of the Old Testament. What a horrid fate that would be. Besides, we now all know that there is no "afterlife", so I don't see any reason at all why I should forego making the most of the only life I know I will ever have.

    This, by the way, is why atheists can frequently be more moral than
    Christians. Even if they don’t have the assistance of a Divine road-map
    of the soul, they can often figure out big chunks of the moral law
    simply from life experience and wisdom

    Bingo! :) Experience and wisdom is how questions of morality should be determined, not via recourse to some silly, Iron Age book that no one in this day and age should even bother reading anymore.

    ...the moral law is intimately linked to our human natures and happiness.

    In other words, it has nothing whatsoever to do with God. I think someone below brought up this point too.

    She says it “doesn’t matter” if pornography is immoral, because it can be scientifically shown to be destructive to ourselves and to society.
    That’s a bit like saying that it doesn’t matter if it is raining, because there’s water falling from the sky: if she understood what sin was...

    There's no such thing as "sin". It exists only in the turgid imaginations of Christian theists.

    Okay, I've now said what I had to say. Back to my pornography! :)

  • XLSIOR1

    Morality hardly subsists in the essence'v a jesus whu makes mums n dads eat their own childrin. morality is human centrd not jesus centric. jesus and uthr xtian platonising can stuff it.

    • Sioraf as Na Cillini

      If you're going to post comments at least learn to spell properly. Illiteracy is what can stuff it.

      • XLSIOR1

        stuf ur stupid speling. min is betr. OED/Webstrs is rubbis. let's hav a bonfir'v lexika. whu sez I must spel as u du? Is it Jesus da bad-spel - is ur speling revlasn?

        • Doug Shaver

          whu sez I must spel as u du?

          A desire for meaningful and effective dialogue would say so, if you had such a desire.

          • XLSIOR1

            so if I chuz 'iffectiv', 'wud', 'wun' etc ther's no 'dialog'? which is primrily spokn.

            Spelling 'one' as 'wun' I'd argu is mor meningfl: ther's no prvursity is trying t say 'o' is actually 'w'. it's immoral!

          • Doug Shaver

            so if I chuz 'iffectiv', 'wud', 'wun' etc ther's no 'dialog'?

            You tell me. You presumably have a point to make. Is anyone getting it?

          • Doug Shaver

            so if I chuz 'iffectiv', 'wud', 'wun' etc ther's no 'dialog'?

            You tell me. You presumably have a point to make. Is anyone getting it?