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The Alien Nation of “Fargo”

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Filed under Culture

Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo

Right before becoming hypnotized by a UFO in the middle of the road – a fatal error which puts him halfway through “self-actualizing” hairdresser Peggy Blumquist’s windshield – Rye Gerhardt, the youngest son of a North Dakota crime family, corners a judge in a waffle hut in a fledgling attempt at extortion. Before Gerhardt resorts to shooting everyone in sight, the judge sighs and explains why he’s wasting his time:

“One day, the Devil came to God and said, ‘Let's make a bet between you and me for the soul of a man.’ And from on high they looked down on Job, a devout man, religious. And the Devil said, ‘I can change his mind and make him curse your name.’ And God said, ‘Try and you will only fail.’ So the Devil begins. He kills Job's herds and takes his fields. He plagues him with boils and throws him on the ash heap. But Job's mind remains unchanged. So I ask you, son, if the Devil couldn't change Job's mind, how the hell are you gonna change mine?”

Coen Brothers fans will recognize the extraterrestrial MacGuffin of season two of Fargo; the melancholy barber Ed Crane had a similar close encounter in The Man Who Wasn’t There. It’s the first of many nods to the Coens’ films, from O Brother Where Art Thou (when a mournful rendition of “O Death” plays) to Fargo itself (when a character bangs on top of a static TV in a remote hideout).

But the reference to Job offers a deeper thematic connection to the Coens: existentialism. From Barton Fink toNo Country for Old Men, angst and death are the warp and woof of the Coens’ world, sometimes with a comic flair that few filmmakers can pull off. The episode titles (“The Myth of Sisyphus,” “Fear and Trembling”) and later dialogue (deli worker Noreen Vanderslice carries and quotes Camus) are more recognizable references; but while existentialism is often associated with a Camus or Sartre, it runs through the heart of Western thought, not dividing atheists and theists so much as the dispassionate and passionate. Long before the French systematized being and nothingness, that righteous man of the Bible was tempted to “curse God and die.”

Fargo draws existentialism to tell a bleak story of human life, where “the dizziness of freedom” releases a wildfire of violence, anguish, and horror. If the presence of aliens feels prosaic and unsurprising (“It’s just a flying saucer, Ed – we gotta go!”), it’s because Fargo’s characters are alienated themselves. Whether “good guys”, “bad guys”, or something in-between, their freedom to choose (and as the last episode hints, their freedom to speak) sets them apart from the world around them. “To be human,” Czesław Miłosz put it, “is to completely alien amid the galaxies” – and this could very well be the epigraph of season two of Fargo, which is brimming with misfits and lost souls. They wonder as they wander, asserting themselves in hollow spasms of violence to try and overcome their disconnection from the world.

That disconnection is never fully bridged. Where Job heard God assure him of his sovereignty, the characters of Fargo can only confront the eternal silence of space. Their human predicament – like the UFOs – remains an absurdity, one that just comes and goes without so much as a cursory explanation of why.

But from True Grit to A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers never succumb to nihilism, and Fargo follows suit. In the final episode, we return full circle to the faith of Job in a dialogue between Noreen and the dying wife of state trooper Lou Solverson:

Noreen Vanderslice: “Camus says knowin’ we’re gonna die makes life absurd.”

Betsy Solverson: “Well, I don’t know who that is. But I’m guessing he doesn’t have a 6-year old girl.”

Noreen Vanderslice: “He’s French.”

Betsy Solverson: “I don’t care if he’s from Mars. Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We’re put on this earth to do a job. And each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord…Well, you try tellin’ him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.”

Like Marge Gunderson’s final monologue in the original film, Betsy Solverson’s words are a kind of self-critique of the Fargo universe. Noreen hasn’t seen everything the viewers have, so her matter-of-factness seems naïve; still, her insight cuts to the heart of the story in an unexpected way. In the riddle of our finitude and freedom – and our freedom for evil – the light of faith breaks through, and has the power to change everything. Not as a magic wand that denies the world as it is, but as a lived reality that makes the existential picture of man – as Sisyphus, as stranger, as a “saint without God” – complete.
 
 
(Image credit: Archetype Online)

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • Michael

    A spoiler alert would be nice.

  • Mike O’Leary

    That disconnection is never fully bridged. Where Job heard God assure him of his sovereignty, the characters of Fargo can only confront the eternal silence of space. Their human predicament – like the UFOs – remains an absurdity, one that just comes and goes without so much as a cursory explanation of why.

    A few things don't make sense to me. One, Job never questioned God's sovereignty. He knew that what happened it to him occurred because God allowed it.Two, it doesn't make any sense to try and contast the "absurdity" of the human perdicament with the Job story as though the Biblical tale isn't replete with absurdity. It was Job's friends who kept telling Job that what happened to him was due to God's justice, but Job said they were wrong . God came down, and after admonishing Job for not being equal in power to him, he tells Job's friends that what Job said about God was right. How does a person see any difference between the absurdity of a godless universe and one that just adds an extra step of a God who twice submits to temptation and allows absurd acts for no reason?

    • Will

      How does a person see any difference between the absurdity of a godless universe and one that just adds an extra step of a God who twice submits to temptation and allows absurd acts for no reason?

      Personally, I see a big difference. I prefer the absence of authority over living under tyranny. The God portrayed in Job is nothing short of a petulant and arrogant tyrant. I'd add evil too...murdering Job's children just to see what he would do? Oh, he gave Job new children at the end, so that makes it ok...right (if you look at children as property like goats)? I still don't know how a parent can read such things and not say WTH?

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I have to admit I don't care for the epilogue where Job goes off to "live happily ever after". It seems like a Hollywood-devised saccharine ending to an otherwise awesome story. In any case, I don't think that is where the real resolution of the story occurs. I see the resolution as occurring earlier, when Job says, more or less, now that I've seen what you have shown me, I trust that you are doing the right thing ("I have spoken but did not understand; things too marvelous for me ... but now my eye has seen you ... I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes"). I don't read the "happily ever after" bit as restitution for what he has lost - it's more of just a feel-good epilogue after the story has already come to its resolution.

      • Mike O’Leary

        You're absolutely right. I meant no difference from both the perspective of how one's actions has no bearing on how outside forces can impact someone as well as from the perspective that there is an equal amount of absurdity (albeit from different sources).When it comes to the difference in those scenarios you said it best, showing how the implications of an all-powerful god causing such pain and suffering purposefully yet without reason is much more horrifying and tyrannical than how random events can cause that same pain and suffering.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Epistemically, maybe there is indeed no distinction: either way, we are cast into a world that appears to be absurd, at least in some ways. The difference is in whether we assent to an ontology where all the apparent absurdities will one day be revealed to be part of a grander plan. In the story, Job's specific suffering is never justified, but he nonetheless comes to be satisfied by the glimpse he is offered of a cosmic plan that begins with the morning stars singing to each other and ends with a reminder that even Leviathan and Behemoth, mighty as they may be in our lives, are ultimately tame-able (though not by us). To trust that the apparent absurdity of suffering can be situated within a larger not-yet-fully-appreciable narrative of beauty and grace is, I think, value added over nihilism.

      • Mike O’Leary

        I would disagree that Job was satisfied God's explanation. Job had many questions for God. When God deigned to appear in front of Job numerous chapters later he answered none of those questions, but instead prattled on about how mighty he (God) was and how powerless Job was.I find it hard to trust that beyond the absurdity was a narrative of beauty and grace. It was a deity who is said not just to be loving, but love itself, who submitted to temptation (as he is alleged not to do). He met a challenge to his actions not with explanations or a call for forgiveness, but with a withering disdain and reparations (the likes of which will never be enough to overcome the loss of one's initial family).

  • So... I assume the point here is that, absent God the Coens are pretty much right, life would be meaningless and we would be confronted with a problematic feeling of disconnection from the world?

    Firstly, I am not sure this is accurate. I think both theists and atheists are confronted by such feelings of disconnection and many of both camps are barely bothered with such concerns. Some, who believe, may frame their retreat from states of being in terms of finding meaning in God or faith. Others may find it in their children or job, as Betsy Solverson seems to in the quote above. Others will not be able or interested in retreating with various outcomes.

    I don't see what the existence of a God has to do with dealing with this issue. I do not see what solace Job was supposed to have taken in God's expression of his sovereignty. To me this has seemed utterly unsatisfying and the whole story seems incapable of any good interpretation, by the morals and ethics we expect of each other these days.

    What existentialism does, is not say that the world is bleak, uncaring, cold. It says, (or my version of it says) the world is what it is. Meaning is not in the world, it is in human minds. There doesn't seem to be an ultimate purpose, if there was, we can't confirm it with certainty. But that doesn't mean there is no purpose. The purpose you chose for yourself counts. It counts as much as anything can.

    • ClayJames

      To me this has seemed utterly unsatisfying and the whole story seems incapable of any good interpretation, by the morals and ethics we expect of each other these days.

      Could you explain how the morals and ethics that we expect from each other makes this story unsatisfying?

      • David Nickol

        Read as ancient religious literature, Job is a masterpiece. However, read as an actual account of goings on in the "heavenly court," with God giving carte blanche to "the satan" to torment Job in any horrific way he can think of, it is appalling. It contradicts everything Jesus says about God being a loving father. How can anyone even imagine an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good God feeling the need to hand over an innocent man to be tormented to win a bet?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I agree with the general spirit of your comment, but I don't think the disagreement between God and "the satan" has the dynamics of a bet, or a pissing match, unless we read those dynamics into it. What we see in the text is a disagreement about the true nature of Job, and God's acquiescence to let that true nature be probed, so that the truth can be revealed. In order to take on the dynamics of a bet, we would have to imagine that God's acquiesces for the sake of God's own self-aggrandizement, so that He can tell Satan, in effect, "I told you so". We are running out ahead of the text if we imagine that, because the text does not offer a window into God's inner logic.

          If we do want to run ahead of the text and imagine "God's reason", we might instead suppose that God's acquiescence is ultimately (in ways that we can't expect Job to appreciate) out of love for Job, out of a recognition that Job can only truly become himself (can only achieve his authenticity, if we want to be existentialist) in the context of extreme adversity.

          • Darren

            Jim wrote,

            If we do want to run ahead of the text and imagine "God's reason", we might instead suppose that God's acquiescence is ultimately (in ways that we can't expect Job to appreciate) out of love for Job, out of a recognition that Job can only truly become himself (can only achieve his authenticity, if we want to be existentialist) in the context of extreme adversity.

            An interesting take, truly.

            This self-improvement on Job's part is a bit rough on the furniture, though, so to speak. Sure, after Job wins God's bet / proves his nature, take your pick, God gives him a new wife, new children, new wealth, new slaves, and new employees. All well and good and I am sure Job suitably appreciates the life lesson, but would we be reading too much into the text to assume that Job's old wife, old children, old slaves, and old servants stay dead?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Ha! Well, sure. The text is clear enough that they meet their doom. I guess your point is then, how is this all fair to them? I think to answer that question, we would have to tell their stories. Since we are presented with a story that is only about Job, we are left to imagine for ourselves what opportunities these other characters may have had for choosing and experiencing lives of authenticity while they were alive. I think a Christian is precluded from imagining that these other characters were mere pawns that were used to advance God's personal improvement plan for Job. Beyond that, again, we are left to our imaginations.

            Let me also clarify that I really didn't really want to put forward an interpretation that justified Job's experiences in terms of "self-improvement", as if it is all just a preparation for something else. What I am (tentatively) proposing is that his travails in themselves give him the opportunity to be "who he truly is".

            I could maybe clarify by speaking of the same idea in a more mundane context. I coach my youngest daughter's travel basketball team. They are very good, and it is not easy to find teams to play that can beat them, but I seek such teams out. I don't do it merely because playing tougher teams will make us better for the future. I do it because the very act of playing tough teams, in itself, is an opportunity to *be* who we truly are as a team. It's not a dress rehearsal for something else. It's just, in itself, an opportunity to be more fully and more deeply alive, whether we win or lose.

            The contours of life are sculpted by adversity, and ultimately by death. I don't seek out adversity (except in artificial settings that I can control, like my daughter's basketball schedule), and I certainly don't seek death, but I try to embrace the contours of life that are sculpted by these forces. That may sound like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but that's the best way I can articulate it for tonight.

          • Darren

            Jim wrote,

            Ha! Well, sure. The text is clear enough that they meet their doom. I guess your point is then, how is this all fair to them? I think to answer that question, we would have to tell their stories. Since we are
            presented with a story that is only about Job, we are left to imagine for ourselves what opportunities these other characters may have had for choosing and experiencing lives of authenticity while they were alive.

            Well, it would seem clear that none of the, say, hundred or so were living lives of authenticity while being burned, crushed, and otherwise messily dispatched.

            I think a Christian is precluded from imagining that these other characters were mere pawns that were used to advance God's personal improvement plan for Job.

            Here we are both in agreement as to the length of the Christian intellectual leash.

            What I am (tentatively) proposing is that his travails in themselves give him the opportunity to be "who he truly is".

            Kudos for attempting an honest and meaningful answer. What I find interesting in your post is that, of all the potential benefits/authenticity/meaning accruing to Job, yourself, your daughter, her teammates, etc., not a single one requires
            God. Here we both agree, but it would seem in marked contrast to the gloss put on the tale by Mr. Becklo.

          • David Nickol

            What we see in the text is a disagreement about the true nature of Job, and God's acquiescence to let that true nature be probed, so that the truth can be revealed.

            But God is omniscient. He knows "the true nature of Job." Why should God let "the satan" put Job through such a horrific ordeal to prove what He already knows to be true? Why should Job have to suffer because God believes in him but "the satan" doubts (or claims to doubt) his goodness?

            . . .out of love for Job, out of a recognition that Job can only truly become himself . . .

            But that is not what the story says. God, who is omniscient, says, "Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil.” He does not point out Job as someone with great potential.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To me, this is a strange perspective that you are arguing from in regard to God's omniscience. If I know what will happen in Romeo and Juliet is there no value in acting out the play? If I already know a secret that I will reveal to a friend, is there then no value in my revealing it? Life is an act, life is not just knowledge about what the act was or will be.

            I agree that God is not initially referring to Job's potential, but the unmeasured gap between Job's current goodness and his potential for a deeper participation in goodness is revealed in the dialogue between God and Satan. I have tried to flesh out my thoughts on this a bit in my response to Darren.

          • David Nickol

            Do you feel it is necessary, as a Bible-believing Catholic, to maintain that Job was an actual, historical personage, and that the events described in Job are things that really happened?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Oh, my goodness, no, not at all.

          • Fundamentally, a good and loving God would have simply said to "the Satan" "I know Job would maintain his faith in me, I have no need to let him be tortured to demonstrate anything to him at all."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            We disagree on this point. To my mind, the proper shape of Job, who he really is, who he needs to become, is a man who will not give up on his relationship with God. How can he become that person, how can he live out his true identity, how can he achieve his proper shape, if not by passing through purgatorial fire, so to speak. In the words of T.S. Eliot, he needs to live out the choice of being consumed "by either fire or fire":

            The dove descending breaks the air
            With flame of incandescent terror
            Of which the tongues declare
            The one dischage from sin and error.
            The only hope, or else despair
            Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
            To be redeemed from fire by fire.

            Who then devised the torment? Love.
            Love is the unfamiliar Name
            Behind the hands that wove
            The intolerable shirt of flame
            Which human power cannot remove.
            We only live, only suspire
            Consumed by either fire or fire.

          • I see no reason in the story of Job to think that he was not "a man who will not give up on his relationship with God" from the outset. Certainly God thought so at the outset, indeed God knew this from the outset. There is no evidence of Job learning anything through the torment, at the end of it he is not plagued by doubt in God's existence or nature, but why he must suffer so. There is no reason in the story to think that after Job's lecture from God about how strong and powerful and authoritarian God is, that Job was in any way transformed.

            Rather, the story is pretty clear, Job was already living the Jewish ideal, a faithful family man, who would not question his faith in God no matter the horrors God imposed or seemed to impose. God may torment and kill Egyptians, order Jews to slaughter infants, order you to sacrifice your children, strike you dead for daring to touch his Ark, let the devil kill your family destroy your livelihood, no matter what you do not let your faith waiver. Why? who are you to even ask, do you not know how powerful I am?

            This story is very difficult to reconcile with our morals today where we do not subscribe to authoritarianism, might makes right and torture or genocide. But in the Bronze Age, with very few exceptions, this was acknowledged as the way things simple are. The natural order, the divine right of kings. It is very supportive of a society that holds to do what the king says no matter what. You puny peasant dare not even question me, no matter what.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Why? who are you to even ask, do you not know how powerful I am?

            This is not the response at all. God doesn't say, "It's none of your business". He says instead (paraphrasing, of course), "There are things going on here that you cannot understand, but let me give you a glimpse of what it is like to run a cosmos. Let me give you a glimpse of the magnitude of the drama that I'm asking you to participate in." Is it the nature of a tyrannical king to confide in a subject in this way?

            It is true that Job's true nature was in a sense known from the very beginning, but again, we have to live our lives out. That true nature has to unfold in time, through choices and actions. That unfolding, that revealing of who Job really is, is most definitely transformative - to "repent" (to use the specific word that we see in the text) is to be fundamentally transformed.

          • As you note, God is saying "you cannot understand" why it happened. That is fine. That is what I am saying, Job's suffering is not explained.

            "Is it the nature of a tyrannical king to confide in a subject in this way?" What do you mean confide? There is not confidence being shared here. It is similar to Babylonian and Mongols bragging about their power which they did all the time.

            But does Job repent? For what is he supposed to repent? What at all is wrong with asking why did I, your most faithful servant, had to suffer like this? Why didn't you help me, did you actually authorize this abuse? If you did, am I not entitled to an explanation?

            Further, it is unsatisfying because it leads to more questions. Why cannot I understand why? Is it unintelligible? Are you not capable of explaining it to me? If it is intelligible, but I am not the kind of being who can understand, why didn't you design me so I could understand? Are you not capable of that? Why shouldn't I understand? Is it because you prefer me in a state that lacks the knowledge of good and evil? Why is that? And so on...

            The best you can say about this story is that it is trying to communicate that being faithful does not mean you will not suffer, or suffer tremendously. There is a reason for your suffering, a good reason, but I won't tell you, you wouldn't understand it. So deal with it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree on a number of points, most especially on your point that the story leaves many questions unanswered. I suppose I want to split hairs a bit and say that there are various levels of satisfaction, but I agree in any case that God's answers are far from completely satisfying, at least to us. I still read the line, "but now my eye has seen you", as implying a very deep level of satisfaction for Job himself (even though he ostensibly still has received no justification for his suffering), but perhaps one doesn't need to read that line in that way.

            Anyway, it's been enjoyable to discuss this very interesting bit of literature with you. Makes me want to go back and read it again. Perhaps I'll try reading it with less rose-tinted glasses, just for kicks. Thanks for the exchange.

          • Thanks for your insightful comments Jim.
            My uncle posted a quotation today from "Fire of Mercy: Heart of the Word" that I think is pertinent to your comment (and to the Job story):

            ...We will be operating on a very malformed idea of God until we come to understand that it is God's love for us--and not some warped desire for punishment on his part--that leads him to subject us at times to 'consuming fire' that must burn away whatever there is in us that cannot partake in the life of beatitude. The only thing a sinner is in God's eyes is a potential Saint, never a damnable criminal. God would cease being God if he did not use every means at his disposal to help the person complete the journey to sanctity and beatitude...What such fire destroys is an impediment to our bliss and therefore a hostile force undermining our eternal welfare from within our person. Without the dynamic movement communicated by this Divine Fire of Mercy, we stagnate in clammy mediocrity like an unbaked clay vessel.

        • David - I see you're still fighting the good fight in the Strange Notions comments! How's it going?

      • By current moral standards we consider torturing someone and killing their families and destroying their livelihood to be one of the worst things you can do to someone, unless there is some clearly greater good that can come out of it.

        In the story of Job, this was done to him and Job maintained his faith that the Lord was good and that there had to be some good reason for this.

        Job has the audacity to ask why.

        The reader of the story already knows why. We are told at the outset what is happening. God is trying to prove something to Satan or whatever that character is. He is demonstrating to this other that Job will maintain his faith no matter how much I torture him.

        Job is not given this explanation he is simply subject to pages of God telling Job how powerful God is and how audacious it is for Job to be questioning this.

        Neither the demonstration to Satan, nor the speech about how powerful God is, is to me is a moral justification for the tragedy bestowed upon Job.

        What greater good has accounted for the death of his children and wife? The boils and torment he suffered?

        Power, even ultimate power, does not make it moral to torture someone.

        You can say there just is no explanation provided, or you can say the treatment Job was subject to was not moral. But you cannot say it was explained and justified.

    • Mike

      "Meaning is not in the world, it is in human minds"

      so there is no actual objective standard? only your meaning and my meaning?

      • I think "meaning" is by definition subjective, in this context. I don't know how else to understand the term.

        • Mike

          right so it's all a complex 'head game' nothing more. inwhich case i don't think you can really fault say the nazis for killin the french or poles or jews. that was for those germans 'right' and not 'wrong'. maybe now it would be wrong but maybe not. since there is no obj standard it's just whatever happens to be in our genes moods at the time that determines that 'right' and 'wrong'.

          • It isn't a game, but yes, I see no reason to say that the term "meaning" has any... meaning, absent minds.

            I certainly can and do fault Nazis for killing Jews and Poles and many others. Because I acknowledge that my views on morality and meaning are, in the ultimate sense, subjective, it does not stop them from being my moral views. Of course I fault them and I can explain why. I cannot point to an objective moral standard that demonstrates why it is immoral, I can only point to nearly universally accepted values as a standard.

            All theists can do is say that they believe a behaviour is somehow contrary to a divine standard they cannot atticulate, based on their own interpretations of ancient texts, traditions and their own intuition. That is not an objective standard.

          • Mike

            NO! for the millionth time no we do not believe it is wrong bc God said so!

            we believe it is wrong given our Nature which is written by God but it's in our nature that it is wrong to kill innocent ppl etc. etc. with many qualifications but it is not some divine mystical decree but our Nature that says so.

            why would something be near universal then if it wasn't somehow in our Nature?

            "it does not stop them from being my moral views."

            Right so those are yours and the nazis had theirs and that's that. see how imho absurd that is? it basically says that if enough ppl think something it somehow becomes right. so if enough ppl thought that mild slavery was good it would become good.

          • I didn't say that. I said "divine standard".

            What do you mean "our nature", our history suggests that it is within our nature to kill innocent people in droves. The same can be said for lying, stealing, adultery. Most people do some or all of these things at some point. What is clearly not in our nature is to never do these things.

            How do you know what "our nature" is, if that is your standard, and how do you know it is perfectly objective?

            "Right so those are yours and the nazis had theirs and that's that. see how imho absurd that is?"

            No I do not. What is absurd about it?

            I did not and do not say that something is right or wrong based on how many people consider it to be wrong.

            When many people believe slavery is good, they believe it is good and moral, the people who do not, do not. In the American slavery debate both sides referenced theistic morality to support their cause. Where is the objective standard that demonstrated otherwise? Same for things like crusades, burning heretics and so on. It would seem that theistic assessments of "our nature" are just as subjective. Unless you can point me to an actual objective standard to assess these questions, I would say we are left with our own subjective assessments, based on, in my case, my assessment of the relative value of human life and suffering, in your case, it would seem to be your subjective assessment of "our nature".

            What I am saying is that my subjective assessment is not an arbitrary one. It references shared values, which can be discussed and assessed. These shared values are not arbitrary either, if people want to survive and enjoy well-being, there is certain conduct that will be pro or con. These values are not universal nor can I say they meet some absolute standard of objectivity.

            Moreover, every moral issue I can think of falls into this framework.

          • Mike

            look you also deny formal causality and substantial forms and so of course deny human nature. but what we mean by that nature is NOT all the things that humans have done but what our "telos" is what we are here for what actualizes our potential and these things can be tested experimentally but also looked into metaphysically. but you folks think that every person is her or his own species which is just bad science but that's beside the point.

            we are rational animals. we in the west almost always forget that we are still animals. some animals are 'better' than others. some dogs have 4 legs which is proper to dog 'ness' while some are born with only 3 which we ALL agree is 'wrong'. yet when a human being say has the equivalent of those 3 legs we say no nothing wrong that just happens to be a different 'type' of human. this is a pervasive lie that rich white folks like you and me tell in order to excuse our gnosticism.

            it's very not pc or 'inclusive' to say it but i've honestly met I SWEAR! ppl who've had kids witih downs syndrome and have said that their child is NOT somehow impaired just 'different'. NOW i understand saying that from an emotional pov you just want to believe so badly that your chilld is just alittle 'different' except for that that is totally bonkers and it does not help those children. this is just an example that came to mind but there are many others.

            look "God"/"Nature" is unraveling/e-volving right now. the galaxies are getting futher apart trees are growing plants are growing putting down roots. children grow up and change. all of this "change" this "motion" from an aristotelian pov is impossible w/o "God" the uncaused unmoved fully actualized "thing". so if that's true that all things are being moved towards their "goals" and us included (and we have 100% proof of that by just looking at biology and how adaptation are selected for life etc so this is something which can be established empirically. so we are NOT somehow better humans if we become billionaires by inventing a vaccine for say cancer or whatever, as awesome as that is. we are NOT better if we invent the new Facebook or if we get a Nobel or become the funniest comedian. we DO become more human when we actualize something else. and the church and nearly all 'old fashioned' belief systems have taught that that is when choose 'right' over 'wrong'. now here the topic gets huge but there's no denying 1. that we have a nature as human beings all part of the same species and 2 that we alone have a very very deep sense of 'right' and 'wrong' or morality.

            anyway i am getting off topic but it honestly is astounding to realize just how obsessed we are with right and wrong. i bet you you can't go 5 minutes w/o in a sense 'judging' something.

          • I'm not denying human nature, depending on what you mean by that vague term. I'm asking you how it guides your understanding of morality, how you know what it is?

            I don't agree with the unmoved mover argument, and I'd be happy to discuss that again, but I don't see what this has to do with purpose of morality, even if there were an unmoved mover and creator, this does not entail creation with purpose or morality.

            You say we become better by actualizing something else. You also say curing cancer and making money does not improve a person. So are you saying that inventing a cure for cancer is not actualizing something else?

            Finally, I do not agree with your two points at the end, indeed they are fundamental to my view on morality, they also do not require any deity to exist.

          • Mike

            human nature guides morality bc it determines what is good for our flourishing and what frustrates or stunts our flourishing as human beings.

            if you deny that things are evolving towards greater and greater adaptability then your argument is with modern evo theory not with me. the point being that Nature has Telos. look at a simple tree that is pointed towards setting down roots and growing branches etc. the acorn and NOT just it's dna is somehow 'pointed' to becoming an oak. this is only possible with that unmoved mover which 'moves' all things to their proper end including us.

            my point about curing cancer is just that our human nature is not about prizes or solving riddles but about being "good" whatever that means. whoever created us does not care whether you were a 4 time nobel winner but whether you were "human".

            a deity is only required if there is to be a 'telos' or goal to something. if you deny moral progress then yes that's possible w/o a deity but if you see as ironically nearly all progressive see a 'progression' to human morality then that is incoherent on a nondeity theory. but only bc there just wouldn't be a goal.

            i'd recommend this book on the return of teleology in modern bio:

            http://www.amazon.ca/From-Aristotle-Darwin-Back-Again/dp/1586171690

          • Mike

            one thing about the 'unmoved mover.

            the argument may make more sense if you consider that it's not about something or one causing the big bang or whatever at sometime in the past but about 'causing' or imparting causality to the electron and neutrons and protons etc in the here and now in every instant.

            have you ever seen this animation? it's excellent. so that smallest thing somehow gives 'power' or 'causal power' to the bigger things. but those smaller things must derive their power from something even smaller. so how do you get in this instant anything at all unless there is some 'un moved mover' imparting to those tiny things the power to impart power to those bigger things. and then you get to atoms and molecules and your skin fingers etc. w/o that first thing everything would just disappear.

            http://scaleofuniverse.com/

          • Darren

            Mike wrote,

            NO! for the millionth time no we do not believe it is wrong bc God said so!

            we believe it is wrong given our Nature which is written by God but it's in our nature that it is wrong to kill innocent ppl etc. etc. with many qualifications but it is not some divine mystical decree but our Nature that says so.

            Traipsing back to Algebra: If A = B, and B = C, then A = C.

            Wrong 'cause God said vs. wrong 'cause our Nature (which is what it is because God said*). Sounds like A = C to me.

            * - Assuming such a thing as a Nature is even a real thing

          • Mike

            you folks deny Formal causes and of course substantial forms. w/o those there's of course nothing like Human Nature. but you folks are obv wrong about that.

            go back to chemistry. why does a flammable liquid and a poisonous gas when combined become table salt?

            but more importantly could you have known that it would be table salt w/o experimenting? is there a way to know all the properties just be analyzing the number and position of proton, electron and neutron? if there isn't you've just proved substantial forms.

            now either all humans are 1 species or they are not. this also can be easily ascertained. then do you think it just 'different' or somehow 'wrong' when a person is born with only 1 leg? if 'wrong' then you've just proved something called human nature. now it may only apply say to our legs but that's all i need to prove the existence of something so bleepin obvious that nearly all ppl through out history have known except some modern old rich white dudes called atheist philosophers.

            as for the 'telos' of human nature check out what prog liberals say about ppl who think homosex is a perversion. they say there are "stunted" they are "regressive" "beholden to an old wrong beliefe" they are "afraid" they are "irrational".

            so look how easy it is to prove these ppl believe PASSIONATELY in human nature: 1. a person should not be 'stunted' but grown up 2. ppl should progress to some goal 3. ppl shouldn't be irrationally beholden to wrong beliefs. 4 ppl shouldn't be afraid of what they don't understand. 5 ppl should be rational.

            there is that human nature which is so obvious to see anywhere on tv etc. we "fight' over what our "true" nature is but NOBODY honestly believes we don't have one. and the ppl who do are unfortunately just maybe not bright enough to see it or 'beholden' to that wrong "nature".

            now the only thing the church teaches is that that 'nature' is discovered not invented and can be established to be objective etc etc.

          • Darren

            Goodness but you have spilled a great deal of ink over a footnote, while rather pointedly ignoring the body.

            virtus dormativa is alive and well on the Catholic interwebs.

          • Mike

            ah i see. ok. ;)

            well anyway if you feel like responding with more than moliere's joke please feel free.

          • Darren

            Mike wrote,

            well anyway if you feel like responding more than moliere's joke please feel free.

            {Shrug} I'm not much interesting in debating my own footnote, but I suppose, lest Moliere be lonely, I should companion him with Voltaire:

            Pangloss gave instruction in metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. He proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause and that in this best of all possible worlds the baron’s castle was the most beautiful of all castles and his wife the best
            of all possible baronesses. —It is clear, said he, that things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything necessarily serves the best end. Observe: noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles. Legs, as anyone
            can plainly see, were made to be breeched, and so we have breeches.
            . . . Consequently, those who say everything is well are uttering mere stupidities; they should say everything is for the best.

          • Mike

            you'd probably get alot out of this littel book:

            http://www.amazon.ca/From-Aristotle-Darwin-Back-Again/dp/1586171690

          • Darren

            Beyond "shrug" and into "whatever".

            You are welcome to imagine all the grand high conspiracies that you like, but from where I sit, if Aquinian metaphysics actually, you know, worked, we would see a line of hot-spit young evolutionary biologists lining up to academically tea-bag the old guard with their Forms and Natures.

            As it is, AT metaphysics mostly sells at airport book kiosks and on the fringe-Catholic interwebs (i.e. here). Tells me about all I need to know.

          • Mike

            you are incorrigle geez are you like this with your friends and family :)?

          • Darren

            Mike wrote,

            you are incorrigle geez are you like this with your friends and family :)?

            When they give me books by Glenn Beck or explain to me how President Obama is a secret Muslim who will, any day now, declare martial law and establish the American Caliphate. ;)

          • Rob Abney

            I guess The Summa Theologia is available at airport bookstores because it is such delightful reading for relaxation.
            Do you reject Aquinas metaphysics because you've studied it extensively or is there a foundational error that causes the whole thing to collapse?

          • Darren

            These questions are fair, but I must be brief so I shall
            skip to my conclusions without laying out what I would consider supporting arguments.

            Having spent a fair amount of my adult life in airports,
            many times the shops will have a rotating wire shelf of “Inspirational” titles, Case for Christ, Chicken Soup for the X, etc. My inside-joke version of a dig.

            Far from extensive. I have read Aristotle, have read
            Aquinas, have read Ed Feser. I have always rather liked Aristotle, so I was inclined to find Thomism appealing and concluded I needed to give it a fair day in court .vs. my Existentialism

            My references to Moliere and Voltaire give a hint as to
            where I have found AT lacking.

            My overall assessment – AT is an intuitive and appealingly comprehensive metaphysical model, no gray areas, everything tidily explained. That is pretty attractive. Unfortunately, the world described by AT is not the world we live in. It describes a Lego Movie world, a world where everything and everyone is made of simple polymer blocks, distinguished into individualism through
            appliqué sticker Forms & Telos by “The Man Upstairs”. Its appealing comprehensiveness and black/white clarity only holds up if we don’t look too closely at the details, if we don’t compare the territory to the map.

            It is a model long on explanation, almost entirely lacking
            in prediction. This is not surprising, IMO, arising (and persisting) from true believers seeking to explain why the world they thought they saw (but didn’t look too closely at) matched up with the conclusions they already had.

            I will point out that I have no particular need for AT to be
            either true or false. I view it as a model, like any other. All models are wrong; some models are useful. This brings us back to my original point with Mike. If AT metaphysics was true, we could reasonably expect it to have better
            predictive power than, say, methodological Naturalism. If AT metaphysics had better predictive power than competing models, sooner or later Darwinian selection would give rise to a generation of scientists gleefully
            laying waste to the hopelessly flawed Materialist paradigms of their fuddy-duddy elders. Conceptual inertia is strong, and for all we know the revolution might be brewing in graduate programs as we speak, but I kind of doubt it.

          • Rob Abney

            I appreciate your detailed response. I've never really considered whether Aquinas Metaphysics have predictive power. I would say that it does though as it details the many ways to know God and conversely the many difficulties that make it possible to fall away from God. Maybe your concern is whether we can test that predictive power, that is certainly the difficult proof since the evidence is interior and indiviualized. But we have many examples of individuals that follow the precepts that he details, they are called Saints and great acts can be attributed to them.
            What predictive powers were you looking for?

          • Doug Shaver

            NO! for the millionth time no we do not believe it is wrong bc God said so!

            Fine. If you don't need God to tell you something is wrong, then neither do I.

          • Mike

            yes but grace builds on nature it doesn't destroy it. even if there had been no revelation given our nature we would know that certain things are wrong. but one has to accept that there really is a nature and that there really is a natural law. seems to me most atheists deny both. i've read that post moderns first have to become good pagans before they can become christian.

            it would also be very weird in the extreme if the only reason things were good or bad was bc God decreed them that way.

            now there is also christians claim a divine law which can only be known through revelation. so apparently Jesus came to teach forgiveness, the afterlife and other things of a theological nature which also it is claimed fulfills us as humans and which couldn't be know through the natural law alone.

          • Doug Shaver

            but one has to accept that there really is a nature and that there really is a natural law. seems to me most atheists deny both.

            I haven't seen any surveys on the subject, but many do, and maybe most of them do. However, their atheism does not compel them to such a denial. And, despite their denial, they perceive the necessity of following a moral code of some kind, no matter what they think its source might be.

          • Mike

            "their atheism does not compel them"

            to me for obvious reasons i think it does or would me. if i was reasonably sure there was no God my behavior would change. you may say that "speaks badly of me" but it's the truth and i think i'd be justified in my position. who knows how far i'd go but things would defn be different. maybe thats why they say God is more for sinners than saints.

            "And, despite their denial, they perceive the necessity of following a moral code of some kind, no matter what they think its source might be."

            Yes! that's why it's always seemed ironic to me the extent to which atheists seem to be 'obsessed' with morality and right and wrong. indeed many of them are atheists in the first place bc they feel that it is more moral than trad. religion. some of the loudest voices in the world for human rights deny human uniqueness, purpose and any kind of transcendence!

          • Doug Shaver

            if i was reasonably sure there was no God my behavior would change.

            Why?

          • Mike

            bc there would be no judgement no purpose to my life no reckoning. and if i felt guilty i would chalk that up to 'evolutionary remnants' to something wired into me but that really has no purpose beyond maybe getting my ancestors to reproduce.

            now of course i don't think that purpose morality etc can be real w/o God (they can be imaginary or delusions however) but i know you think those things can exist w/o God.

            am i only being 'moral' bc God is watching? isn't being moral a worthwhile goal in itself?

            yes and no i mean again imho it's only worthwhile being moral in itself if there really is a God, even if one doesn't believe in God but if there isn't then i think morality is an illusion.

            you've heard this alot but that's why atheists "can" be moral bc there is a God but i think that if there really isn't anything like God or transcendence etc then unfortunately anything goes.

          • Doug Shaver

            but that really has no purpose beyond maybe getting my ancestors to reproduce.

            Morality did not get our ancestors to reproduce. It enabled them to survive long enough to reproduce. We're a social species, and in any social species, individuals--or at least most of them, most of the time--have to comply with certain rules. Those rules can be instinctive or they can be learned, but without rules and a mechanism to enforce them, social species don't exist.

            Thus we all, theist and atheist alike, have morals. Because if we didn't, we'd all be dead. That might not be the kind of transcendent purpose that appeals to you, but it's an effective one.

          • Mike

            i guess then maybe we seem to have different defns of morality. it would seem to me that to you it is something like a set of instructions for optimal operation whereas to me it means something like that which is wrong or right no matter whether it increases the likelihood of life or health of you or even your whole 'social group'.

            but this is kinda beg the q bc this is exactly what's at stake: is morality just an animal learned function or is it more like math that is discovered in reality. to me if it is a more complex sort of thing that apes do then it is not morality at all since animals don't have "morality" only "optimal or suboptimal operation" or something to that effect.

            this is why i keep coming back to the stark contrast: either there is real morality or it's just an illusion. i don't think you can have both, something real and yet really at bottom illusory. and of course that's what i think many atheists want. ps of course you can have a real illusion but that's not what we both mean i don't think.

          • Doug Shaver

            i guess then maybe we seem to have different defns of morality. it would seem to me that to you it is something like a set of instructions for optimal operation whereas to me it means something like that which is wrong or right no matter whether it increases the likelihood of life or health of you or even your whole 'social group'.

            I define morality in terms of right and wrong, like just about everyone else does, but I believe it is our responsibility, as intelligent free agents, to figure out on our own what is right or wrong. I believe we cannot evade that responsibility by appealing to some transcendent source for our moral principles.

            But to identify the source of a moral code is not by itself to answer any questions about what is the right thing to do in a given situation. Up to this point, a person could believe as I do and still decide that the right thing to do in some situation would be something that caused his death or even the extinction of his entire society. And, I’m not too interested in proving that such a person would be wrong. More to the point, it seems to me, is that any moral code must promote the survival of its adherents, or else it will become irrelevant when its adherents all die.

            this is why i keep coming back to the stark contrast: either there is real morality or it's just an illusion. i don't think you can have both, something real and yet really at bottom illusory. and of course that's what i think many atheists want. ps of course you can have a real illusion but that's not what we both mean i don't think.

            The ontology of abstract notions is a discussion I’d rather not have right now, but what we believe about the difference between right and wrong has consequences that are as real as anything gets. The church used to believe that it was a good thing to burn people like me at the stake. My being alive today is no illusion.

          • Mike

            i don't think i am evading responsibility by believing in a real moral law; on the contrary i think atheists do that when they go it alone but i know you disagree.

            it wasn't just the church, if the church even ever did that. all secular civilizations had a similar viewpoint. heck the most atheist actual countries have been the worst, if i know what you're referring to.

            either way those things don't change the truth or falsity of something.

          • Doug Shaver

            i don't think i am evading responsibility by believing in a real moral law

            You are saying that it is not for you to decide whether an action is right or wrong.

            on the contrary i think atheists do that when they go it alone

            I can certainly refuse to accept responsibility if I am so inclined, but that doesn't make me not responsible.

            either way those things don't change the truth or falsity of something.

            If you and I both agree that murder is wrong, and if you and I are both committed to living according to whatever moral code we accept, then I'm not sure what difference it makes what the source of that moral code might be.

          • Mike

            it is not subjective the moral law. it doesn't adjust to me i adjust to it. no i don't decide what is right or wrong i decide whether to acquiesce to it or not.

            yes you are still responsible even if you refuse..except of course if the moral law is something entirely material or conditioned by evolution, a complex set of instincts rather than something transcendent, in that case you are obv not responsible for breaking it. now breaking it may still cause a person psych pain or ill health or few friends or whatever but that's it imho.

            well the source determines whether it's worth following in the first place. if a judge rules such and such it matters more than what your buddy thinks. if nature 'rules' that eating too much fat is not good then it matters more than if someone thinks it up. if God decrees that forgiving and being hopeful and faithful is good than that matters more than what some atheist philosopher says.

            now a person still has to evaluate those 'laws' but their source is of paramount importance. i would also add that whether there is an afterlife matters. if there isn't then i can't see how things can truly matter - again they may be thoroughly convincing but would amount to nothing but a delusion imho.

          • Doug Shaver

            no i don't decide what is right or wrong

            How do you find out what is right or wrong? And whatever method you use, how do you know you haven't made a mistake?

          • Mike

            well we all look to what causes a thing to flourish and what causes it to wilt. again as long as i've been aware of it i've compared things to what would be 'natural' for them. even as a kid, maybe bc i was raised in a kind of chaotic family, i've 'sought' refuge in 'order'.

            the method is the same i suspect

            i know i've made a mistake when my predictions are wrong and there is some logical contradiction i didn't see.

          • Doug Shaver

            well we all look to what causes a thing to flourish and what causes it to wilt.

            And that is how you distinguish right from wrong?

          • Mike

            yes, to start.

            'mother nature' is a good guide, no?

          • Doug Shaver

            We can never ignore her, but she doesn't know squat about ethics.

          • Mike

            without her there wouldn't be ethics in the first place, would there?

          • Doug Shaver

            We have ethics because of nature, but all that means is that we naturally know there is some difference between right and wrong. It doesn't tell us what that difference is. Stalin's belief that killing millions of his nation's own citizens was the right thing to do was just as natural as my belief that he was badly mistaken.

          • Mike

            yes!
            ....
            ...
            ...
            now do you see why the source matters?

          • Doug Shaver

            now do you see why the source matters?

            No. Please explain it to me.

          • Mike

            bc to stalin killing millions of ppl was the right thing to do. he didn't see people with eternal souls ppl with a divine dignity. to him those ppl were just 'material', a necessary step on the road to his particular vision of right and wrong.

            that's why the source matters. to stalin ppl are strictly material beings with no ultimate purpose and since there is no God or gods or any of that it doesn't really matter what happens to them. his source i believe justifies his actions and that's why millions of communists long ago also agreed with him.

            if we really are just more complex pigs or falcons or ants or apes then all of this 'right and wrong' really is just a delusion. this seems plainly obv to me.

            depending on where you start you get a very diff idea of right and wrong.

          • Doug Shaver

            to stalin killing millions of ppl was the right thing to do.

            Only in certain circumstances.

            depending on where you start you get a very diff idea of right and wrong.

            Obviously. And some theists start with the notion that killing millions of people is the right thing to do in certain circumstances.

          • Mike

            whether or not ppl live up to the ideal is another issue but at least the goal is true.

            hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

          • Doug Shaver

            Whose hypocrisy are you talking about? The people I referred to aren't pretending anything. They actually believe in what they're doing. Their moral goal is different from yours, and they believe they have reached it.

          • Mike

            that's my point that some ppl have value x and some ppl have value y and unless there is some obj standard neither one is any more right than the other. you may be strong and so you kill the weak but that's not 'wrong' as there is no standard, the weak suffer and the strong decide what's moral and isn't.

          • Doug Shaver

            unless there is some obj standard neither one is any more right than the other

            Even assuming the existence of an objective standard, nobody can demonstrate that they know better than anyone else what that standard says.

            You and I can argue all day about whether X is morally right or wrong, and it won't make any difference if one of us, or both of us, claim to be stating an objective moral fact.

          • Mike

            ok so that's another topic right. whether or not we can come to some agreement on the content of said law is another thing but at least we agree that it exists.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't agree that it exists. My point was that if we had a difference of opinion about some moral question, it would do nothing to help us resolve the issue if I did agree. And therefore, it gives no one any advantage to believe that there is an object standard.

          • Mike

            you really don't believe in an obj moral law?

            if so there is no real right or wrong just your opinion and mine. and if i am stronger i can kill you and that's that. if i feel guilty about it later i can get some expensive psych therapy and get over it. i see no reason why i would be doing anything immoral. you may think it is but that would just be your opinion.

            to be perfectly honest i don't believe you nor anybody else doesn't believe in a moral law.

          • Doug Shaver

            if i am stronger i can kill you and that's that.

            Yes, that is true. And it is true regardless of whether or not there is an objective moral law.

            if i feel guilty about it later i can get some expensive psych therapy and get over it.

            Or, if you're a Christian, you can repent and have faith in God's forgiveness.

          • Mike

            no if there is an obj moral law i commit something like a sin against it and i will have to 'own up to it'. if the moral law is only in your head, after i kill everyone and get my therapy, i will not have to own up to anything at all.

            if i am a christian i can repent if i am truly sorry and hope and pray that i am forgiven. if i believe that moral law exists in human brains i believe in a fantasy imho.

            ps what do you think accounts for a 'moral law' existing in human minds?

          • Doug Shaver

            if the moral law is only in your head, after i kill everyone and get my therapy, i will not have to own up to anything at all.

            You said you sought therapy because you felt guilty. Feeling guilt is the beginning of owning up to having done something wrong. And your therapy won't make you feel any better unless you finish owning up to it.

            if i believe that moral law exists in human brains i believe in a fantasy imho.

            Your humble opinion is in error.

          • Mike

            but what if it does make me feel better? what then?

            maybe not a fantasy but at least a clever delusion foisted upon ppl by evolution.

            again it may tell me that this is right but it may tell you that that is right. in the final analysis both of us are correct as we have no choice but to follow our law.

          • Doug Shaver

            but what if it does make me feel better?

            Why would that be a problem? Don't Christians feel better believing that God has forgiven their sins?

            a clever delusion foisted upon ppl by evolution.

            Do you think everything that is not objective is a delusion?

            both of us are correct as we have no choice but to follow our law.

            No choice? Then you don't believe in free will?

          • Mike

            we HOPE he has but anyway asking forgiveness is NOT the same thing as getting therapy to put your guilt out of mind and out of existence. plus on our model we will have a day of reckoning whereas on yours there's no such thing.

            yes, if there is no God then eliminative materialism is true in which case everything like morality is a clever weird delusion.

            again if there is no obj moral standard even if just in our heads but at least put there on purpose then imho there is no God in which case eliminative materialism is true in which case all free will is again an illusion.

            ps do you think morality is subjective in the sense that for you something may be very right but for me very very wrong? or do you mean subjective as in it wouldn't be very very wrong for me bc i'd be the one who put a value on it in the first place?

          • Doug Shaver

            if there is no God then eliminative materialism is true

            I respectfully dispute the logic of that assertion.

            Don't Christians feel better believing that God has forgiven their sins?

            we HOPE he has

            Is that all? Isn't there some kind of promise that he will? Isn't that sort of what the crucifixion and resurrection were all about?

            anyway asking forgiveness is NOT the same thing as getting therapy to put your guilt out of mind and out of existence.

            I haven't claimed that that was what therapy was supposed to do.

            ps do you think morality is subjective in the sense that for you something may be very right but for me very very wrong? or do you mean subjective as in it wouldn't be very very wrong for me bc i'd be the one who put a value on it in the first place?

            That gets us to a point where I can no longer speak in generalities, except to this extent: I do not accept the notion that the alternative to "X is objectively true" is "X is purely a matter of personal opinion." When I say murder is wrong, I'm saying more than just that I don't like it. A lot more.

          • Mike

            we've discussed elim materialism before and i think ppl like a. rosenberg are correct.

            no if ppl don't repent they are not saved.

            ok i understand. we're talking about what grounds morality, to you it is human evolution to me that makes it a clever delusion.

            thx for exchange but i think we've exhausted the topic.

          • Doug Shaver

            ps what do you think accounts for a 'moral law' existing in human minds?

            I've already told you: https://disqus.com/by/disqus_fRI0oOZiFh/

          • Mike

            right so what makes you think that it is concerned with truth or that it should apply to all races equally for ex?

          • Doug Shaver

            so what makes you think that it is concerned with truth

            I don't remember saying that morality was concerned with truth.

            or that it should apply to all races equally

            I'm pretty sure I haven't said a word so far about race in this discussion.

          • Mike

            ok so morality is not concerned with truth in your opinion? at least not primarily?

            by race i meant that maybe there can be diff moral laws depending on a group's evolution or culture. on your model it seems that that would be the case.

          • Doug Shaver

            ok so morality is not concerned with truth in your opinion? at least not primarily?

            Right, but it's mighty important as a secondary concern. In philosophy, the difference between morals and truth is approximately the difference between ethics and epistemology. But if you have a hard time distinguishing truth from falsehood, your morals won't be worth much, except very accidentally.

            by race i meant that maybe there can be diff moral laws depending on a group's evolution or culture. on your model it seems that that would be the case.

            I don't at all accept pure moral relativism. Generally speaking, if another culture is no threat to my culture, I'm not interested in passing any judgments on them, but I can think of some exceptional cases.

          • Doug Shaver

            to be perfectly honest i don't believe you nor anybody else doesn't believe in a moral law.

            We believe in a moral law. We just don't think it exists independently of human minds.

          • Mike

            ok so it really has no authority correct?

            you have your moral law in your mind i have mine.

          • Doug Shaver

            ok so it really has no authority correct?

            Morality is not about submission to authority.

          • Mike

            you're viewing authority in the wrong sense. i mean authority as in say SCOTUS or gravity. legitimacy is another word for it. some laws have real legitimacy that others don't

            if the moral law is something only in your head and in mine then it has no authority over me beyond maybe guilty feelings but maybe not. your moral law may tell you it is good to steal from rich to give to your friends but that's only in your head as you've said.

          • Doug Shaver

            you're viewing authority in the wrong sense. i mean authority as in say SCOTUS or gravity.

            That was the sense I assumed you intended. Morality is not about submitting to those kinds of authority.

            your moral law may tell you it is good to steal from rich to give to your friends but that's only in your head as you've said.

            If I believed that, it would be my judgment, yes. But judgments can be justified or unjustified. They don't have to be arbitrary, and some judgments, such as moral judgments, should not be arbitrary.

          • Mike

            ok so to you morality has no authority, you either pursue it if you like or not, it's up to you correct? and what's the consequences of not following it?

          • Doug Shaver

            so to you morality has no authority

            I didn't say that.

            you either pursue it if you like or not, it's up to you correct?

            My morals are my responsibility. It is wrong to evade responsibility.

            and what's the consequences of not following it?

            A life of misery, if you don't even try to follow it.

          • Mike

            sorry can't help it:

            "My morals are my responsibility"

            you have yours i have mine? what kind of morality is that?

          • Doug Shaver

            what kind of morality is that?

            The kind where I can't pass the buck when I'm confronted with a moral decision to make.

          • Mike

            sure you can. you can disregard and do things your way.

          • Doug Shaver

            you can disregard and do things your way

            And therefore, what? Does objective morality negate our free will?

          • Mike

            no but it gives you a very powerful reason to try to do the right thing.

          • Doug Shaver

            As you said, we've probably exhausted this topic.

          • Mike

            yes. take care.

            maybe i am simple but i can't bring myself around to believing that i have a moral obligation to do anything at all if there is no God but only the mechanical laws of an impersonal nature. this is why i'd probably be a rotten person if i wasn't a christian! lol

          • Rob Abney

            Did you and Mike discuss who has the authority to judge whether an individual's action is moral or immoral? Take any behavior that we might discuss to debate the morality of, and consider that our society doesn't really have the authority to judge it (even if we do that anyway!). Who then is the judge of that behavior? Is it only me that can judge myself if society doesn't have the authority?

          • Doug Shaver

            Any society’s judgment is the collective judgment of its members, and our authority comes from necessity. We cannot avoid making decisions about whether to do or not do certain things, and about whether to tolerate certain behaviors in other people.

          • Rob Abney

            Judgement also entails consequences. So if a society judges an action immoral there should be negative consequences. Here's an example, incest is considered immoral, right? What are the consequences of engaging in an incestual relationship?

          • Doug Shaver

            Judgement also entails consequences.

            That depends on how much power the one passing judgment has over those they judge.

            Here's an example, incest is considered immoral, right?

            Yes, by most people.

            What are the consequences of engaging in an incestual relationship?

            That isn't something I've ever studied, actually, so I really don't know. It seems probable to me, however, that those who engaged in such a relationship, if the relationship were publicly known, would suffer some social consequences that they would prefer to avoid.

          • Rob Abney

            "That depends on how much power the one passing judgment has over those they judge."
            That's my basic question, who would have power or authority to judge whether an incestual action deserves judgement and consequences?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you think nobody is exercising such power or authority now?

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think anyone claims to have the authority. Marriage licenses can be denied but that cannot stop it. Society can disapprove but that doesn't represent answering to authority.

            I'll skip ahead to my conclusion, only God has the authority to judge immoral behavior (other than those that are regulated by the state such as murder, etc...), and He is the only one with authority to justly punish.

            I'll try to back it up with justice logic if you're interested in voicing your objections.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think anyone claims to have the authority.

            Are we now talking just about incest? I thought we were talking about morality in general.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't like to discuss incest but was using it as an example of immorality that would deserve to be judged but lacks an authoritative judge.

          • Doug Shaver

            Each of us has all the authority we need to have an opinion about whether a particular behavior is right or wrong. Every society delegates, to some of its members, the authority to compel others to comply with such opinions.

          • Rob Abney

            There is no doubting the fact that we all have authority to make opinions but that is not the authority to make valid judgements.
            In our society (western civilization) who has been delegated the authority to compel others to not engage in an incestual relationship?

          • Doug Shaver

            but that is not the authority to make valid judgements.

            Judgments are not validated by authority. They are validated by sound reasoning.

          • Rob Abney

            Judgement is assuring each individual gets what is due to him so it does require sound reasoning but it also requires the authority to then give what is due. If my neighbors are in an incestual relationship I can use reasoning to say that it is immoral but I cannot give them what is due, namely some sort of punishment. And in fact we have no authorities who can give them what is due for their immorality.
            Who has that authority in this case?

          • Doug Shaver

            Judgement is assuring each individual gets what is due to him so it does require sound reasoning but it also requires the authority to then give what is due.

            You're talking more about executive decisions than judicial decisions.

            If my neighbors are in an incestual relationship I can use reasoning to say that it is immoral but I cannot give them what is due, namely some sort of punishment.

            Right, because their punishment is not your responsibility. That is society's responsibility. To rightly punish someone, you need some executive authority, which you get by having society delegate it to you.

            And in fact we have no authorities who can give them what is due for their immorality.

            Our society, at this point in its history, has decided not to punish incest in any formal way beyond prohibiting incestuous marriages. That doesn't mean we don't have informal ways of deterring it.

            There is an idea going around that whatever is not prohibited by law is morally acceptable. It is way too widely accepted, but not nearly universally. Lots of people still know better, and I'm pretty sure they're in the majority.

          • Will

            bc to stalin killing millions of ppl was the right thing to do. he didn't see people with eternal souls ppl with a divine dignity. to him those ppl were just 'material', a necessary step on the road to his particular vision of right and wrong.

            Let's see what the Bible says about what God does, Gen 6

            1 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.

            At least Stalin didn't kill everyone.

            says about ...

            And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. Deuteronomy 2:34

            And we utterly destroyed them, ... utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city. Deuteronomy 3:6

            And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them. Deuteronomy 7:2

            And thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them. Deuteronomy 7:16

            Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. Deuteronomy 13:15

            But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. Deuteronomy 20:16-17

            And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:21

            So smote all the country ... he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded. Joshua 10:40

            Thus saith the LORD of hosts ... go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. 1 Samuel 15:2-3

            It's beginning to look like Stalin was just embracing divine morality from the Hebrew Bible...makes me shudder. It's no surprise early Christians need Jesus to be God to undo all that and more.

          • Mike

            you seem to have a difficult time distinguishing stalin from God.

            i don't know much about the OT texts but it seems to me that it got the Jews through some really tough times and it doesn't seem to have hurt them at all. just see how brilliant they are today.

          • Will

            Everyone on Stalin's side is just brilliant today. Everyone on the other side is dead. Same with the Jews ;) I would say I'm surprised you don't get what I'm saying, but I'm used to it at this point.

          • Mike

            again you seem to have a very difficult time telling ppl and God apart.

            now i have no idea how those passages were meant but if ANYONE can giveth and taketh away it is God himself.

          • Will

            now i have no idea how those passages were meant but if ANYONE can giveth and taketh away it is God himself.

            With genocide, it was the Jews, not God who did the killing. How can you be sure God wasn't whispering in Stalin's ear. If you actually believe God would command genocide back then, you have no good reason to think he wouldn't do so again. This is one reason I whole-heartedly reject the Hebrew Bible. I feel like I'm defending God against slander ;)

          • Mike

            bc stalin said so. stalin was an uber atheist.

            i don't even know if God can directly will someone to stub their toe let alone commit murder but if anyone can it is God.

            maybe its bc you were a protestant that those passages bug you so much.

          • Will

            maybe its bc you were a protestant that those passages bug you so much.

            Maybe it's because I have a conscience, that those passages bug me so much.

          • Mike

            oh please.

          • Will

            Are you saying you don't think I have a conscience?

          • Mike

            i am saying you are a fundamentalist not a conscientious objector.

          • Will

            You, a mindreader? That's hilarious. In general, your comments are the most poorly thought out of any I've read on this site, and that's pretty darn bad.
            I will not say what else I think of you, but I certainly do not know you, and do not wish to.

          • Mike

            you are a protestant fundamentalist, you're just so dyed in the wool you don't see it.

          • Will

            I reject the entire Hebrew Bible, and you call me a protestant fundamentalist. Words fail me.

          • Mike

            bc your reasons, you're a literalist and can't help it.

          • Will

            If that's the lie you want to tell yourself, so be it.

          • Mike

            yeah that's what i see.

          • Will

            P.S. If God exists, he has certainly blessed me. I've had most everything I've wanted with very few trajedies in my life (the worst thing that has happened is me losing my best friend in 8th grade). I have also rejected Christianity since I was probably in 6th or 7th grade. Apparently God is just fine with my rejection of the religion, and my reasons then were moral ones. I will say Jesus and Paul did a great job patching the barbaric religion that was Judaism.

          • Mike

            just bc you get what you want doesn't mean you're blessed. if you were a saint you'd be blessed. having money and cars and women for ex doesn't equal blessing but probably a curse.

          • Will

            I'm not talking about money and cars. I've been monogamous my entire life. I'm talking about the health of my family, and my personal health. I'm also talking about my access to important things like knowledge and wisdom.

          • Mike

            then yes it sounds like you've been blessed.

    • Hi Brian,

      No, not at all. I agree that both theists (as in the Job story...or just read Kierkegaard's journals) and atheists (as in Camus' stories) are confronted by such feelings of being a "wayfaring stranger". I think you see that all over "Fargo" and the Coens' movies. ("A Serious Man" is a great example.) And I think the point of the Job story is not that God is a petulant overlord, or that theists "retreat" into faith to abnegate the muck of human suffering, but that lived faith (not hypothetical faith) transforms this experience of alienation into something meaningful and even beautiful. I suppose the only way to know this for sure is to hear the message and to act on it.

      I'll confess that that semi-Satrean reading of what existentialism does or says has never fully made sense to me, particularly when paired with an obdurate love of realism in the physical sciences. How can we be so tough-minded about understanding beings (where's the evidence, scientists have concluded, research shows, etc.), but so blasé about understanding Being (it's in the mind, we cant know, whatever works for you, etc.)? A materialist might feel forced to confess (even though in his heart of hearts he doubts it) that there is no purpose to any of this; but telling me in the same breath that the purpose I choose for myself "counts" feels like bad faith.

      • Its not bad faith and no one is being blase about anything. I made a clear distinction between ultimate purpose and a purpose determined by an individual. If there is no god or no reason to subscribe to notions of ultimate purpose than all purpose is is what it is to yourself and what it is to other people.

        It is in this context a human determined purpose "counts" as much as a purpose can "count". These purposes count as a framework to consider your behavior, to assess whether you are fulfilled or what would make you fulfilled.

        The atheists and theists I know are not hung up on these issues of ultimate existence.

        This notwithstanding, since theists are so hung up on ultimate purpose as giving meaning, what is that purpose? Why is it fulfilling? Betsy in your own example suggests her purpose is related to her child. This is a prime example of an individual determining her own purpose. What is our ultimate purpose? Do you know, does any theist know? Can they articulate it? How does it provide solace?

        • God freely created us so that we might know, love, and serve him in this life and be happy with him forever. God's purpose in creating us is to draw forth from us a response of love and service here on earth, so that we may attain our goal of everlasting happiness with him in heaven.

          Would that not provide you solace if you knew it to be true?

          • What would provide solace? Depends on the issue. Personally I never feel disconnected from the cosmos, the more I learn about the cosmos and myself the more I feel connected. I do feel tremendous despair at the thought of my own death and the death of others. I think everlasting life would dispel this despair, but so would winning powerball dispel financial stress.

            But my thinking that these would provide solace goes no way to establishing the truth of the thing. That would be a wishful thinking fallacy.

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