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Why would a Christian want to change the world?
Posted: 22 September 2012 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 106 ]
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I find both of these answers odd and self-contradictory.

Bryan,
As I’ve pointed out above, it’s a real question whether an atheist can have moral standing to condemn any particular behavior, much less that of a sovereign god.  The best the atheist can do, so far as I can see, is try to condemn God according to the religious moral system supposedly favored by God.  Your case continues to rest on a vaporlike foundation

IMO, the entire case FOR a god (theism) rests on a vaporlike foundation. What if I told you that my morals came from a pink elephant in the sky. Would that authenticate my morals and provide a “better” foundation for moral judgement?
What if we took god out of the bible and just used it’s moral teachings as a human recognition of ethical behavior? Would that make the bible less credible or useful as a philosophical book of ethics?

George,
I think if you at least tried to understand the answers to the big (and not so big) questions, you wouldn’t be so fast to condemn any religion. To make assumptions on what “every fibre of your being tells you” is probably not the best way to proceed.

Is the belief in a god not something one finds in what “every fibre of your being tells you”? Is that a better way to proceed? 

What does belief in a third party have to do with any of this?  I believe that a persuasive case for morals or ethics can be posited on the basis of observation of “laws of nature”, i.e. cause/effect, action/reaction, symbiotic behavior for self preservation.

I have stated in the past that IMO, that the honeybee exhibits natural moral behavior and by its “virtues” is instrumental in the continued existence of flowering plants which feed 50% of the worlds animals, including man. Is that demonstrable behavior a result of evolution or endowed by a god? The bee feels this compulsion in every fibre of its body too.

Man’s problem is having choices, which is both a blessing and a curse. We need to be taught ethical behavior. The rest is just a curriculum on how to make these choices. That is why there are so many religions. But a well informed atheist is no less able to make ethical choices than a theist of any cloth.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 12:09 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 107 ]
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Write4U - 22 September 2012 11:54 AM

I find both of these answers odd and self-contradictory.

Bryan,
As I’ve pointed out above, it’s a real question whether an atheist can have moral standing to condemn any particular behavior, much less that of a sovereign god.  The best the atheist can do, so far as I can see, is try to condemn God according to the religious moral system supposedly favored by God.  Your case continues to rest on a vaporlike foundation

IMO, the entire case FOR a god (theism) rests on a vaporlike foundation. What if I told you that my morals came from a pink elephant in the sky. Would that authenticate my morals and provide a “better” foundation for moral judgement?

If you want to talk about gods let’s talk about gods.  If you want to talk about elephants then let’s talk about elephants.  Getting morals from a pink elephant in the sky is about as good as getting them from a grey elephant at the zoo.  Cases like the one you present don’t do much to advance the conversation.  Pretty much all they do is express your disdain for religion.  Give me George for that.  He keeps it short and more often than not he’s funny.

What if we took god out of the bible and just used it’s moral teachings as a human recognition of ethical behavior? Would that make the bible less credible or useful as a philosophical book of ethics?

Let’s see your answer to that question.  I’ve already given mine.

What does belief in a third party have to do with any of this?  I believe that a persuasive case for morals or ethics can be posited on the basis of observation of “laws of nature”, i.e. cause/effect, action/reaction, symbiotic behavior for self preservation.

I have stated in the past that IMO, that the honeybee exhibits natural moral behavior and by its “virtues” is instrumental in the continued existence of flowering plants which feed 50% of the worlds animals, including man. Is that demonstrable behavior a result of evolution or endowed by a god? The bee feels this compulsion in every fibre of its body too.

Is the continuing existence of life a moral good?

At some point such arguments end up relying on axioms.  When the axiom lacks a foundation (such as an epistemological process for deriving morals in a naturalistic universe) the whole system lacks a foundation.

Man’s problem is having choices, which is both a blessing and a curse. We need to be taught ethical behavior. The rest is just a curriculum on how to make these choices. That is why there are so many religions. But a well informed atheist is no less able to make ethical choices than a theist of any cloth.

I’ll try once more to state this very clearly.  The critical (relevant) difference between a theistic universe and a naturalistic universe is this:  If the universe is naturalistic then we have no reasonable expectation of being able to accurately sense that universe’s manifestations of moral realism.  In contrast, if one presupposes the existence of a god with knowledge of morality and the desire and ability to give its creations the ability to detect that morality then such beings, based on the existence of said being, have a reason to expect their moral intuitions can serve as some sort of reliable guide to morality.

One can argue separately whether the existence of a god or gods has a foundation, but it should be clear enough that presupposing a god interested in allowing humans to perceiving morality leads naturally to the expectation that humans will have the potential to accurately perceive (moral) reality.

Coincidentally, the argument from morality is one of the traditional intellectual arguments in favor of theism.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 04:18 PM by Bryan ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 05:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 108 ]
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Bryan - 22 September 2012 04:01 PM

...If the universe is naturalistic then we have no reasonable expectation of being able to accurately sense that universe’s manifestations of moral realism…

This seems to me to be an unfounded assertion.  Or maybe I don’t understand what you mean by the “universe’s manifestations of moral realism”.

If there is a God, it has obviously chosen to create a universe that functions naturalistically.  So whatever we can sense is a function of naturalistic processes. Even our ability to sense that there is a God (correctly or not) is a function of naturalistic processes.

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Posted: 22 September 2012 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 109 ]
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Bryan - 22 September 2012 04:01 PM
Write4U - 22 September 2012 11:54 AM

I find both of these answers odd and self-contradictory.

Bryan,
As I’ve pointed out above, it’s a real question whether an atheist can have moral standing to condemn any particular behavior, much less that of a sovereign god.  The best the atheist can do, so far as I can see, is try to condemn God according to the religious moral system supposedly favored by God.  Your case continues to rest on a vaporlike foundation

IMO, the entire case FOR a god (theism) rests on a vaporlike foundation. What if I told you that my morals came from a pink elephant in the sky. Would that authenticate my morals and provide a “better” foundation for moral judgement?

If you want to talk about gods let’s talk about gods.  If you want to talk about elephants then let’s talk about elephants.  Getting morals from a pink elephant in the sky is about as good as getting them from a grey elephant at the zoo.  Cases like the one you present don’t do much to advance the conversation.  Pretty much all they do is express your disdain for religion.  Give me George for that.  He keeps it short and more often than not he’s funny.

I believe that elephants are moral. I have seen several females assisting the mother in trying to save a baby stuck in a watering hole. This is a moral act by definition. Then there was the child that fell into the Gorilla compound in a zoo and the Alpha protected the child from the aggression of the younger males. It provides a just as good real world example of morality as any written word.

What if we took god out of the bible and just used it’s moral teachings as a human recognition of ethical behavior? Would that make the bible less credible or useful as a philosophical book of ethics?

Let’s see your answer to that question.  I’ve already given mine.

If we could do away with all the inaccuracies in the bible, yes, we might end up with a good moral guide.

What does belief in a third party have to do with any of this?  I believe that a persuasive case for morals or ethics can be posited on the basis of observation of “laws of nature”, i.e. cause/effect, action/reaction, symbiotic behavior for self preservation.

I have stated in the past that IMO, that the honeybee exhibits natural moral behavior and by its “virtues” is instrumental in the continued existence of flowering plants which feed 50% of the worlds animals, including man. Is that demonstrable behavior a result of evolution or endowed by a god? The bee feels this compulsion in every fibre of its body too.

Is the continuing existence of life a moral good?

I have no way of answering that meta-ethical question. Is the existence of the universe a moral good or just an inevitability?

wiki,

Divine command theory is a meta-ethical theory which proposes that an action’s status as morally good is equivalent to whether it is commanded by God. The theory asserts that what is moral is determined by what God commands, and that to be moral is to follow his commands.

Thus if god commands that I kill someone, that is a moral good?

At some point such arguments end up relying on axioms.  When the axiom lacks a foundation (such as an epistemological process for deriving morals in a naturalistic universe) the whole system lacks a foundation.

I could argue that the meta-physical assumption of a sentient god lacks a foundation. But even setting aside QM and GR for non-intelligent physical expression, one could hold that MAN (not god) is intelligent and can learn (and make abstractions) from observation. IMO, the axiom of a god lacks foundation. It is an abstraction itself. Do you believe that some shepherds actually “heard” the voice of god, more so than any atheist philosopher, who ponders morality from real world observation?

Man’s problem is having choices, which is both a blessing and a curse. We need to be taught ethical behavior. The rest is just a curriculum on how to make these choices. That is why there are so many religions. But a well informed atheist is no less able to make ethical choices than a theist of any cloth.

I’ll try once more to state this very clearly.  The critical (relevant) difference between a theistic universe and a naturalistic universe is this:  If the universe is naturalistic then we have no reasonable expectation of being able to accurately sense that universe’s manifestations of moral realism.  In contrast, if one presupposes the existence of a god with knowledge of morality and the desire and ability to give its creations the ability to detect that morality then such beings, based on the existence of said being, have a reason to expect their moral intuitions can serve as some sort of reliable guide to morality.

Clearly that is not the case. Even in monotheism we find a great variety of moral codes. Religious wars have existed since the “assumption” of sentient gods. And what is a “moral intuition”, other than a concept inside the human mind?

One can argue separately whether the existence of a god or gods has a foundation, but it should be clear enough that presupposing a god interested in allowing humans to perceiving morality leads naturally to the expectation that humans will have the potential to accurately perceive (moral) reality.

I see no proof of that in reality.  Just the expression that “humans have the potential to approximate reality” and draw moral concept from these observations, is sufficient to me. I believe that I am a moral person, I have never intentionally hurt another living thing. Does my lack of belief in a god exclude me from being moral?  If it does not, I need not make the argument that god is allowing (ordering) me to be moral.

Coincidentally, the argument from morality is one of the traditional intellectual arguments in favor of theism.

I admit I am not versed in the discipline of philosophy, but my intuition tells me that arguments from morality are arguments from authority without consensus. Theism cannot provide any historical proof that it leads to “better” moral values than a secular intellectual recognition that the ‘golden rule” is a good fundamental concept for living in close proximity to each other. In fact one might argue that European humanity experienced the Dark Ages when theism was the sole moral standard.

What happens if we change the thread title to “Why would a Muslim want to change the world? Are we still talking about morality then? Did Allah endow Muslims with the same moral intuition as the Christian God did for Christian infidels?  Is it not the same god?

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 08:04 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 08:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 110 ]
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TimB - 22 September 2012 05:09 PM
Bryan - 22 September 2012 04:01 PM

...If the universe is naturalistic then we have no reasonable expectation of being able to accurately sense that universe’s manifestations of moral realism…

This seems to me to be an unfounded assertion.

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewreply/167986/

If there is a God, it has obviously chosen to create a universe that functions naturalistically.

Obviously.

No, really.  Obviously?  I’m scratching my head.

So whatever we can sense is a function of naturalistic processes. Even our ability to sense that there is a God (correctly or not) is a function of naturalistic processes.

If you can’t pry yourself out of naturalistic framework even while allowing God to exist for the sake of argument then ... I don’t know what to say.

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Posted: 22 September 2012 09:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 111 ]
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Write4U - 22 September 2012 06:58 PM

If we could do away with all the inaccuracies in the bible, yes, we might end up with a good moral guide.

I suspect that you didn’t quite pick up the point, but maybe we can work with this.  If God provided the moral guide and God knows everything, then God knows what is moral and what isn’t, correct?  So, setting aside your deepest intuitions, a book with that type of original would, in principle, provide information about real moral oughts.

I have no way of answering that meta-ethical question.

That’s what I’m getting at.  Contrast the two.

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Posted: 22 September 2012 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 112 ]
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[quote author=”Bryan”]: ” ...If somebody who knows the score equipped us with a moral compass then we have a shot at doing right.  If the compass evolved randomly under survival pressure then I don’t see how it could possibly prove helpful except as a lying survival mechanism (in that it’s irrelevant whether the morals that compass embodies are real; what matters is how they affect survival).” 

TimB: Morals have the capacity to increase the quality of lives, not just to enhance the probability of survival to reproduction. Some morals diminish the quality of lives. (Some God fearing people are known for having some of these morals.)  Morals are relevant, for better or for worse (regardless of where they came from). 

Your stance is that they are only relevant if they match up to some theistic gold standard.  Which theistic gold standard would that be?  There have been multitudes of gods created in the imagination of humans during the course of our history and multitudes of varying theistic morals attributed to them.

[quote author=”Bryan”]:” ...If nature equips people with a moral compass that points out real existing morals regardless of survival pressure then nature starts to look like she has a purpose and begins to qualify as a god…”

TimB: Well, at least, here, you have reached the level of some primitive peoples who, in fact, worshiped nature.  However, that we have evolved in such a way that we are equipped to come up with morals, (and even to come up with the idea of deities, and attribute “real” morals to them) is not because nature wanted it to happen.  As far as I know nature doesn’t want.  It just is.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 10:17 PM by TimB ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 10:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 113 ]
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Bryan - 22 September 2012 08:57 PM
TimB - 22 September 2012 05:09 PM

If there is a God, it has obviously chosen to create a universe that functions naturalistically.

Obviously.

No, really.  Obviously?  I’m scratching my head.

So whatever we can sense is a function of naturalistic processes. Even our ability to sense that there is a God (correctly or not) is a function of naturalistic processes.

If you can’t pry yourself out of naturalistic framework even while allowing God to exist for the sake of argument then ... I don’t know what to say.

Excuse me. I didn’t know we were discussing some alternative universe in which natural laws do not apply.  You want me to imagine a universe in which God exists, but the naturalistic framework, in which we seem to exist, is irrelevant.

Okay…

I and everything that I perceive is just a projection in the mind’s eye of the Great Deity…

Oh, now I see it.  Everything is meaningless except God’s will.  Everything I thought that I knew is just an illusion.  All my perceptions were for naught.  Only the Great Creator and It’s moral standards have any relevance.  Brian was right, for once…


Okay.  Enough of that.

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Posted: 22 September 2012 10:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 114 ]
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So far as I can tell, I have addressed issues you’ve broached with the free-will defense.  If you think I haven’t then please provide specific examples and I will be happy to try to address them.

     

The problem is that you just don’t seem to think there is a problem. I’m not sure what I can do to try to make this point clearer. You think God was right when he chose not to interfere with Hitler’s free will and when he allowed that earthquake to kill thousands of people, and yet at the same time you think you know for sure that you should do everything in your power to prevent disasters and help victims and fight evil dictators. If you can’t see the problem here, then I don’t know what else I can say. As far as I can see, Maitzen and Sehon are clearly right here. Having said all that, if the Christian could demonstrate that the Bible is absolutely crystal clear on the fact that we as human beings should always try to fight evil dictators and prevent natural disasters and massacres, then their point of view might be a little bit more coherent. I’m no Bible expert, but I would guess that the Bible is not clear on these issues, and so the Christian is in deep trouble. You can’t just say, “Well, my intuitions tell me I should fight against dictators,” because your intuitions also tell you that God should have stopped Hitler and that God should have warned those people before the earthquake happened. The whole point here is that you’ve been using the free-will defence and the God-is-mysterious line so often to try to get God off the hook that you can no longer trust your own intuitions about what’s right or wrong. And this contrasts with the secular person, who has nothing but moral intuitions (in the broad sense) to go on. It’s no good asking the secular person, “How do you know that your moral intuitions are really eternally objectively absolutely correct?” For us secular people, this is all we’ve got, and we just go with it and muddle along as best we can. We don’t really definitely absolutely know anything. 

   
Surely you know what I’m driving at here. Christians can’t know whether such things as
democracy, access to the arts, and a life free from torture and war are likely to bring more people to Christ. So, again, politically and socially, they’re paralysed.

To me, that seems like saying that since I don’t know whether chicken or turkey makes the
healthier meal therefore I don’t know which one to have for dinner.

I assure you if I have both available I’m not going to starve, so if I’m paralyzed it
is in no significant sense (if anything, not knowing that one of the options is unhealthy
gives me greater freedom in choosing).

I’m afraid you’ve totally lost me here. Sweden may be better than Nigeria if your goal is to make the world a better place, and Nigeria may be better if you want more people to come to God. But what kind of world is the Christian trying to bring about? It seems to me that they don’t know what they’re trying to do. In trying to make the world a better place, they may be inadvertently turning more people away from God. Again, Christians aren’t sure whether their ultimate goal is to improve the world or to maximize the number of people who believe in Christ, and even if they choose the latter goal, they can’t possibly know how to achieve it because only God can know this. 

 
I could agree with you that a god who prefers a terrible world is not worthy of worship.  I’m just not certain that you’ve giving a legitimate example of a terrible world that is, in fact, preferred by god.  You seem to obtain that conception via assumption (for reasons I’ve outlined in my previous replies).

Surely your God would a prefer a world with more believers, even if that world was awful politically, socially and ethically. Is there something wrong with my reasoning here? Am I not right in calling this God a monster?   

 
Actually, I’m pointing out that if we have existing morals in a godless universe then there is apparently no mechanism at your disposal which allows you to distinguish between existing morals and your own preferences.     

 

No, because my preferences are shaped by greed, self-interest, economic motives, sexual desire, moral intuitions, and all sorts of other things. Moral intuitions are just one small part of it, and the idea of ethical reflection is to try to cut away all the other stuff and get to the ethical core. Again, you just assume that moral intuitions are identical with subjective preferences or taste. I disagree. Also, I don’t want to sound like Hegel here, but there is a sense in which our moral intuitions are historical and social. So the moral intuitions we have now are almost certainly incomplete or wrong on many points, but we can still be pretty sure that things like slavery and the subjugation of women are wrong, and equally we can be pretty sure that certain aspects of the Christian world view are wrong. New evidence and new experiences are coming in all the time, so for example if we somehow discovered that trees feel pain and have a sense of self, then that would be new data that we’d have to reflect on with our natural feelings of empathy and our reason. Some religious people might say that the final moral truth we reach just is God, and frankly I don’t have a problem with that. But the fundamentalist will always say, ‘This still just isn’t objective enough!’ They’ll ask how it is that we can know for sure that we’ve got it all right. The answer, of course, is that we can’t be absolutely sure about anything, but that doesn’t mean we end up with an anything-goes relativism. Some views are still much more plausible and much better supported than others.     
 

 
And you’re tending to create straw-man theology, here.  There is a theological doctrine called “easy believism.”  It is not widely accepted, yet it may be looking at us from your supposedly absurd example.   

My own view is that as soon as you start talking about rewards and punishments in the afterlife, you lose your grip on morality. The reason for this is that you can justify almost anything in this way. For example, I could say that God loves slavery, and he will give everybody eternal bliss in heaven as long as we continue to have slavery down here on earth. If this little story is true, then it means slavery is in fact morally right, and of course the imaginary fundamentalist here will challenge the skeptic to prove that this story isn’t true. However, the skeptic should just respond by saying that ethics is about THIS WORLD and has nothing to do with the afterlife. As soon as you try to mix this-worldly ethics with beliefs about rewards and punishments in the afterlife, you get into all sorts of trouble. 

What’s more, every conception of the afterlife I’ve ever heard of conflicts with common-sense morality even when it’s just taken in itself. If you reward people for believing things, that’s absurd. If you reward people for behaving well, you then have the issue of people who don’t quite make it and end up in hell forever, which seems crazy. If everyone is rewarded no matter what they do, then that seems unfair. An afterlife with no rewards or punishments seems unjust. If there is no afterlife, then that’s unfair because the world down here is terribly unjust. The answer is just to forget about the afterlife completely when thinking about ethics, even though the afterlife may exist. Many Christians can do this and so they just concentrate on following Jesus and making the world a better place, but fundamentalists can’t do this because beliefs about the afterlife are absolutely fundamental in their world view, and for some bizarre reason they seem to think that their beliefs about the afterlife are totally consistent with common-sense morality.   

 
Maybe Maitzen and Sehon need to spend a bit more time establishing a epistemological path toward a secular understanding of moral realism, if your presentation of their ideas is any indication. 

Nobody really understands what morality is, just as nobody really knows what logic and maths are. You make it sound as though Christian apologists have a perfectly clear and very well-worked out theory here, whereas in fact they do not. All you get from people like Craig is that we feel there are objective values, and therefore there are objective values, and we feel like we have libertarian free will, and therefore we really do have it. There isn’t really any serious argument or evidence provided. It’s just like saying, ‘God did it’, or ‘It’s magic’. It doesn’t really explain anything. And as we know from things like the euthyphro problem, it’s not at all clear how God and objective values are supposed to fit together anyway. So we’re all struggling with these issues, and we should all find values puzzling. The fact that apologists don’t seem puzzled or unsure is itself a very worrying sign, and of course suggests that they’re not really serious thinkers.

I get the feeling that some people on this forum think the only options out there are William Lane Craig or Richard Dawkins, and we just have to pick one and defend that side to the hilt. We really need to try to get beyond this and have a serious discussion about some of these issues.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 11:07 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 11:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 115 ]
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Dom, you said that nobody knows what morality is.  I think that it is a relatively easy concept.  I don’t know how helpful it is to get crazy-deep philosophical about it.

Just examine each thing that you do.

If it doesn’t hurt or help yourself or anyone else, it is amoral.

If it hurts you, it is to some degree, immoral.

If it hurts someone else, it is to some degree, immoral.

If it helps you, it is to some degree, moral.

If it helps others, it is to some degree, moral.

If it hurts you, but helps others, it may very well be moral, but think it over.

If it helps you, but hurts others, it may very well be immoral, but think it over.


Thus is the word of TimB, as enlightened by naturalistic processes or by some fantastic deity, who knows?

Go forth, and do good.

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Posted: 23 September 2012 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 116 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 September 2012 10:49 PM

   
The problem is that you just don’t seem to think there is a problem.

Dunno why you’d say that after I aver that it’s hard to make the case for something like hell.  Please pardon me if I’m not eager to accept your argument without subjecting it to strict scrutiny.

You think God was right when he chose not to interfere with Hitler’s free will and when he allowed that earthquake to kill thousands of people, and yet at the same time you think you know for sure that you should do everything in your power to prevent disasters and help victims and fight evil dictators.

Sure.  And there’s no comparison because between God and little ol’ me only one of us has the sovereign power to absolutely prevent Hitler from ever coming close to doing wrong.  God could make Hitler a pacifist ballet dancer, I suppose.

If you can’t see the problem here, then I don’t know what else I can say.

Have you considered alleging a specific contradiction and then arguing for it via a deductive syllogism?  That’s what I’d do in your shoes if I thought I could back up my claims with an argument.

As far as I can see, Maitzen and Sehon are clearly right here.

I don’t go for “clearly right” without a conclusion that follows from premises.

Having said all that, if the Christian could demonstrate that the Bible is absolutely crystal clear on the fact that we as human beings should always try to fight evil dictators and prevent natural disasters and massacres, then their point of view might be a little bit more coherent. I’m no Bible expert, but I would guess that the Bible is not clear on these issues, and so the Christian is in deep trouble. You can’t just say, “Well, my intuitions tell me I should fight against dictators,” because your intuitions also tell you that God should have stopped Hitler and that God should have warned those people before the earthquake happened.

And God should have put warning labels on cigarettes early on.  Don’t forget about that.

Seriously, this borrowed argument of your seems filled with straw men and false dilemmas.  Present it in an organized fashion (or refer me to such an effort from the originators) and I’ll point out the problems specifically.  That’s the beauty of formal logical arguments.  Not only do they make the steps of a good argument clear, they help about as much to make the missteps clear.

The whole point here is that you’ve been using the free-will defence and the God-is-mysterious line so often to try to get God off the hook that you can no longer trust your own intuitions about what’s right or wrong.

If you had a deductive syllogism then maybe I’d see how that’s supposed to follow.

And this contrasts with the secular person, who has nothing but moral intuitions (in the broad sense) to go on. It’s no good asking the secular person, “How do you know that your moral intuitions are really eternally objectively absolutely correct?” For us secular people, this is all we’ve got, and we just go with it and muddle along as best we can. We don’t really definitely absolutely know anything.

Some of you are sure that morality is subjective.  grin
 


Surely you know what I’m driving at here. Christians can’t know whether such things as
democracy, access to the arts, and a life free from torture and war are likely to bring more people to Christ. So, again, politically and socially, they’re paralysed.

To me, that seems like saying that since I don’t know whether chicken or turkey makes the
healthier meal therefore I don’t know which one to have for dinner.

I assure you if I have both available I’m not going to starve, so if I’m paralyzed it
is in no significant sense (if anything, not knowing that one of the options is unhealthy
gives me greater freedom in choosing).

I’m afraid you’ve totally lost me here.

Put another way, Christians are second to none for muddling through when they don’t know everything.  grin

Sweden may be better than Nigeria if your goal is to make the world a better place, and Nigeria may be better if you want more people to come to God. But what kind of world is the Christian trying to bring about? It seems to me that they don’t know what they’re trying to do. In trying to make the world a better place, they may be inadvertently turning more people away from God.

Oh, that’s doubtless the case.  Just look at Jack Chick!

Then again, we’ve already talked about the existence of the Bible.  It offers instructions on how to go about bringing people to God.  So who’s at fault if they follow the instruction manual and the instructions don’t work?  I don’t see why you see a problem.  That’s why you could sorely use a syllogism.  It makes great arguments clear and pulls flaws out in bas relief.

Again, Christians aren’t sure whether their ultimate goal is to improve the world or to maximize the number of people who believe in Christ, and even if they choose the latter goal, they can’t possibly know how to achieve it because only God can know this.

Your argument above appears to imply that Christians cannot read the Bible and reasonably conclude that by following its instructions the results contribute to making an improved world.  I think you’re presenting a false dilemma.  Their ultimate goal is to improve the world and maximize the number of people who believe in Christ.  It’s up to you to show that they can’t choose both.

Surely your God would a prefer a world with more believers, even if that world was awful politically, socially and ethically. Is there something wrong with my reasoning here? Am I not right in calling this God a monster?

Show your reasoning step by step or syllogistically and I’ll help ferret out the problems.  At first blush it just isn’t apparent to me why you don’t consider the whole timeline.  Is suffering in the present worth an absence of suffering later on?  Does facing adversity make people better than they would be if they had faced an easy path all their lives?  I like how you go from the secular person knowing nothing for certain about morality to virtual certitude that a certain situation is immoral and makes God a monster.  Turn on a dime, you do.

(M)y preferences are shaped by greed, self-interest, economic motives, sexual desire, moral intuitions, and all sorts of other things. Moral intuitions are just one small part of it, and the idea of ethical reflection is to try to cut away all the other stuff and get to the ethical core.

Why?  You almost make it seem like greed is a bad thing.  But you don’t know that, do you?’

Again, you just assume that moral intuitions are identical with subjective preferences or taste.

Nonsense.  I ask you to distinguish meaningfully between the two using an epistemology appropriate to naturalism.

I don’t want to sound like Hegel here, but there is a sense in which our moral intuitions are historical and social. So the moral intuitions we have now are almost certainly incomplete or wrong on many points, but we can still be pretty sure that things like slavery and the subjugation of women are wrong, and equally we can be pretty sure that certain aspects of the Christian world view are wrong.

How does any of that follow from “there is a sense in which our moral intuitions are historical and social?

My own view is that as soon as you start talking about rewards and punishments in the afterlife, you lose your grip on morality. The reason for this is that you can justify almost anything in this way.

Sure, but doesn’t the instruction manual stipulate humility as well as pure motives?  Are we supposed to deviously figure out shady ways to have good motives or what?

As soon as you try to mix this-worldly ethics with beliefs about rewards and punishments in the afterlife, you get into all sorts of trouble.

That appears to explain some of the straw men.  Not that it makes them okay. 

What’s more, every conception of the afterlife I’ve ever heard of conflicts with common-sense morality even when it’s just taken in itself.

Have you read C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”?

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Posted: 23 September 2012 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 117 ]
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Bryan - 22 September 2012 09:07 PM
Write4U - 22 September 2012 06:58 PM

If we could do away with all the inaccuracies in the bible, yes, we might end up with a good moral guide.

I suspect that you didn’t quite pick up the point, but maybe we can work with this.  If God provided the moral guide and God knows everything, then God knows what is moral and what isn’t, correct?  So, setting aside your deepest intuitions, a book with that type of original would, in principle, provide information about real moral oughts.

That is what I said. But given the inaccuracies abundantly present in the bible and other scripture, why should I have to assume that the few valid universal moral commands in these books were told or written by “divinely inspired” shepherds. In fact, being a shepherd and having to care for a flock and on occasion having to assist in birthing would very likely instill a deep sense of morality (responsibility), even as it was for selfish reasons. Being a shepherd demands a symbiotic relationship with the flock.

It might be noted that the term “shepherd and flock” is still used in theism.

As I said, I am no philosopher, but as an atheist I can recognize moral behavior when I encounter it. To watch a 400 lb gorilla silverback gently pick up a 6 year old comatose child and cradle it in his arms, softly stroking its cheek with a finger from a hand bigger that the child’s entire head, while warning the more aggressive younger males to stay well away, was a “revelation” of natural compassion to me. When the zookeepers came into the compound he gently laid the child back down and moved away. It was a remarkable display of concern for the welfare for a young individual from a different family of apes. It was clearly intuitive moral behavior by preventing further harm to that child.
God was not necessary and I doubt that gorilla had the ability to analyze the meta-ethics involved.

I have no way of answering that meta-ethical question.

That’s what I’m getting at.  Contrast the two.

I see no contrast, other than confusion in theism re moral “oughts”.
A god (any god) is not necessary for moral intuition and behavior. It is a natural evolutionary extension of symbiotic inter-relationships and very much shaped by the natural environment of the subjects, IMO.

I am unable to use even a “what if” argument in this case. IMO, the only reason why theism still exists is that a god cannot be disproved by science, except for the entire concept of a 6 day creation, which the catholic church now has revised. OTOH, selectively citing a few examples of universal morality among a myriad of immoral oughts cannot be cited as proof of the existence of god. It is an extra- ordinary claim and demands extra-ordinary proof. Morality is not extra-ordinary proof of anything.

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Posted: 23 September 2012 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 118 ]
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I like how you go from the secular person knowing nothing for certain about morality
to virtual certitude that a certain situation is immoral and makes God a monster. 
Turn on a dime, you do.

 

Yes, it’s called fallibilism. It means I believe certain things passionately, but I also have
a meta-belief that any of those beliefs could in fact be wrong. 

 
Their ultimate goal is to improve the world and maximize the number of people who believe
in Christ.  It’s up to you to show that they can’t choose both.

   

The reason they can’t consistently choose both is that when they’re discussing such things as the problem of evil, they insist on saying that God uses persecution, hardship, disease and various other things to bring more people to God and to allow people to develop character and display courage and determination. If they’re right about that, then why do they think that having better governments, economic systems and material circumstances will help to bring more people to God? Why couldn’t they just leave the world as it is and tell people about the gospel. Is that not enough? Might they not be doing more harm than good by trying to improve people’s material circumstances?

I’m not saying that a better and more comfortable world WILL reduce the number of fundamentlist Christians, though I do think it’s likely. I’m just pointing out that fundamentalists themselves like to make a big deal of how seemingly terrible circumstances are in fact good when seen from the eternal perspective of saving as many souls as possible, but in the next breath they will go on to say that they want BOTH to save as many souls as possible AND to make the world a better place. They seem to be inconsistent here. How can they be so sure that these two goals go together naturally when they’ve already said that terrible circumstances are often necessary to save people?

So, if you want me to get all analytic about it, look at these two statements that many
fundametalists claim to believe:   

1. We want to create a decent world where there is no persecution, poverty or war
2. God often uses things like persecution, poverty and war to bring people to Him, and without these things you’d have fewer Christians. So, in these cases, these things may seem bad, but actually they’re good.   

So it’s almost as if they’re saying they want to create a world where there will be fewer Christians. They themselves are suggesting that a more prosperous and comfortable world would have fewer Christians when they talk about the problem of evil and suffering, but they then go on to say that they want to create this kind of world anyway! This is what I mean when I talk about there being some kind of conflict or tension between the idea of improving the world and that of saving souls. But note that this tension only exists because of things they’ve said in trying to defend God against the problem of evil.       

I’m not a professional philosopher, so naturally I’ve been quite polemical and not very careful with some of my arguments. Nonetheless, I feel strongly that there is a powerful critique of Christianity here. I just need to think of a better way to present it. I also think my
‘two worlds’ thought experiment is actually quite good, but it needs some fine-tuning. I’m
considering sending it to Maitzen to see what he thinks of it, but I’ve got a feeling
someone somewhere must already have thought of it before.         

You can read Sehon’s article against skeptical theism here: 

http://www.bowdoin.edu/faculty/s/ssehon/pdf/sehon-skeptical-theism.pdf 

You can listen to Maitzen’s lecture “God vs Morality” here, and also read some of his papers: 

http://philosophy.acadiau.ca/maitzen_cv.html   

Bryan, no I don’t think I’ve read that particular book by Lewis, but I’ve read most of his other Christian books, and I do admire him as a writer.

[ Edited: 23 September 2012 06:08 AM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 23 September 2012 01:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 119 ]
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Their ultimate goal is to improve the world and maximize the number of people who believe
in Christ.  It’s up to you to show that they can’t choose both.

   

The reason they can’t consistently choose both is that when they’re discussing such things as the problem of evil, they insist on saying that God uses persecution, hardship, disease and various other things to bring more people to God and to allow people to develop character and display courage and determination. If they’re right about that, then why do they think that having better governments, economic systems and material circumstances will help to bring more people to God?

You’ve already answered your question.  “bring more people to God and to allow people to develop character and display courage and determination” (bold emphasis added).  Part of good character is trying to bring out alleviation of suffering in the small ways we can discern minus complete knowledge.  And it doesn’t prove a contradiction to make a statement and then ask a bunch of questions unless the answers to the question are really obviously plain in supporting the assertion.  In this case, you were leading toward the wrong answer by asking your question after dropping part of the premise of your original assertion.  Restore that part of the premise and the answer is both obvious and disruptive to your claim of inconsistency.

Why couldn’t they just leave the world as it is and tell people about the gospel. Is that not enough? Might they not be doing more harm than good by trying to improve people’s material circumstances?

Maybe it’s good enough, but how do they accomplish the character part?  I get it:  They rush in to visit disaster victims, trying to share the gospel before the poor folks pass away.  “Would you like to accept Jesus as your personal savior?”  “Actually, right now I could use a compress to stop the bleeding and drink of fresh water.”  “We have no time to waste on things like that!  Accept Jesus or BUURRRRRNN, infidel!”

The instruction book says love one’s neighbor as one’s self.  The word “love” is distinctive in the Greek.  It’s the type of love that calls for action in terms of caring and community.  The believer who’s paying attention to the instructions tries to stop the bleeding and gives a cup of water.  And maybe shares the good news about Jesus.  The courage and determination can come in when people refuse the gospel message but continue to receive medical help and a refill on the cup of water.

I’m not saying that a better and more comfortable world WILL reduce the number of fundamentlist Christians, though I do think it’s likely. I’m just pointing out that fundamentalists themselves like to make a big deal of how seemingly terrible circumstances are in fact good when seen from the eternal perspective of saving as many souls as possible, but in the next breath they will go on to say that they want BOTH to save as many souls as possible AND to make the world a better place. They seem to be inconsistent here. How can they be so sure that these two goals go together naturally when they’ve already said that terrible circumstances are often necessary to save people?

You’re doing the same thing again.  You’re asserting what you believe then asking for somebody else to prove you wrong.

If there’s a contradiction then you should be able to demonstrate it with your argument.  You should prove it, not assert it then ask for the disproof of your assertion.

So, if you want me to get all analytic about it, look at these two statements that many
fundametalists claim to believe:   

1. We want to create a decent world where there is no persecution, poverty or war
2. God often uses things like persecution, poverty and war to bring people to Him, and without these things you’d have fewer Christians. So, in these cases, these things may seem bad, but actually they’re good.   

So it’s almost as if they’re saying they want to create a world where there will be fewer Christians.

Well, yeah, but if we go with premise 1 we have a classic straw man.  God’s easiest move to create a world with no persecution, poverty or war is to create a big marble with no life forms on it.  Very peaceful.  But if God’s purpose is (as you mentioned separately) to create responsible beings who have opportunities for growth, sacrifice and heroism then we need the possibility of bad things happening.  Once you start saying god should eliminate bad event X from the list you need to offer some sort of stopping point or else we’re back to the big, clean marble.

They themselves are suggesting that a more prosperous and comfortable world would have fewer Christians when they talk about the problem of evil and suffering, but they then go on to say that they want to create this kind of world anyway! This is what I mean when I talk about there being some kind of conflict or tension between the idea of improving the world and that of saving souls. But note that this tension only exists because of things they’ve said in trying to defend God against the problem of evil.

Your argument is more intuition than logic, from what I can see.  Your latest characterization of the situation is hard to relate to the two premises you just got through listing.       

I’m not a professional philosopher ...

Here you’re indicating a laudable willingness to reassess your approach and examine the argument carefully.  I’ll have a look at the way the professionals present the argument and get back to you (thanks for the links).

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Posted: 23 September 2012 02:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 120 ]
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Bryan - 23 September 2012 01:49 PM

But if God’s purpose is (as you mentioned separately) to create responsible beings who have opportunities for growth, sacrifice and heroism then we need the possibility of bad things happening.

I didn’t know that. So the reasons why I bite the inside of my mouth when I chew on food and why babies are born with dangerous mutations only to kill them a few days after they are born, is in our facour, so that we can have an opportunity to grow and become heroes.

I can imagine God’s dilemma when he was creating Adam: “I really don’t want to design the inside of the mouth in such a way where my beloved creatures would keep biting into them, but unless I take away their opportunity to grow and to become heroes, I really have no choice. Oh, well. The biting of the inside of the mouth will have to stay. I hope they’ll get it ...”

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