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Why would a Christian want to change the world?
Posted: 24 September 2012 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 136 ]
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Now, back to Maitzen for a minute.

One of the things that Maitzen has shown quite convincingly is that common-sense morality presupposes that there is no afterlife. So we believe that generally speaking life is a good thing, and death is a bad thing. So killing someone is bad because you are actually harming a person when you kill them, and indeed harming them in a very serious way. Christianity, however, does not seem to fit with these simple ideas about the badness of death and the wrongness of killing. The Christian doesn’t (or shouldn’t) believe that death is a bad thing, so what makes killing wrong can’t be that you’re harming the person. What makes it wrong must be that you’ve offended some third party (ie God). This strikes me, and I would guess many Christians, as absurd. As Maitzen says, secular people and Christians all agree that killing is wrong, but the reasons Christians give for the wrongness go against our deepest moral intuitions whereas the reasons secular people give fit perfectly with them.

So when we reflect deeply on the ethics of life and death and killing, it seems that deep down most people don’t really believe in these stories about heaven and hell. Our behaviour and our emotional reactions show this. This of course doesn’t mean that Christianity isn’t true. It just means that it’s not consistent with ordinary common-sense morality.

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Posted: 24 September 2012 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 137 ]
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Dom1978 - 23 September 2012 10:24 PM

I don’t think it’s a good thing when any child dies, including a Christian child.

Well if Christians believe that the child goes straight to heaven to be with Jesus, then surely they should be celebrating the death of a Christian child.

A person serious about arguing against the morality of Christians needs to pay attention to the Christians’ position on morality.  I’ve explained to you why one doesn’t celebrate that sort of death (and I could add to it).

This is the point, and this is why we believe that the Christian world view conflicts with common-sense morality. The secular world view, on the other hand, gives the right answers when it comes to the wrongness of killing and the badness of death.

And this is a key weakness of the entire argument.  The atheist has no way of knowing the “right” answers to moral questions without some sort of reliable moral compass.  Where is the coherent atheistic account of that moral compass?  Seriously, why rely on your (evolved) deepest moral intuitions?  Would survival pressures truly tend to produce morality?  A highly successful rapist might radically increase the inheritance rate of his genetics.  So rape is actually a moral act, isn’t it?  And those babies who represent the genes of somebody else—there’s nothing really wrong with killing the children of others.  Is there?

Maitzen’s point here, of course, is that most Christians deep down also believe in the secular moral position rather than the fundamentalist Christian one.

What “secular moral position”?  Secularists are all over the map on morality.  Probably no group welcomes moral subjectivism/moral nihilism more than secularists.

I totally agree with him on this point, but it’s more a psychological point than a philosophical one. It’s important, though, because it means this is the right way to go about trying to show Christians that there’s something wrong with their world view, rather than going on about irrelevant stuff as the new atheists tend to do.

I’ll say it again:  Get your own moral house in order (referring to defensible moral foundation consistent with atheism).  Then you’ve really got something.

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Posted: 24 September 2012 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 138 ]
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Dom1978 - 24 September 2012 08:16 AM

Now, back to Maitzen for a minute.

One of the things that Maitzen has shown quite convincingly is that common-sense morality presupposes that there is no afterlife. So we believe that generally speaking life is a good thing, and death is a bad thing.

Really.  Why believe that?  Where’s the refutation of secular nihilism?

So killing someone is bad because you are actually harming a person when you kill them, and indeed harming them in a very serious way.

When you squash a bug you’re likewise harming a life-form when you kill it, and indeed harming it in a very serious way.

Christianity, however, does not seem to fit with these simple ideas about the badness of death and the wrongness of killing.

Maybe because those simple ideas are too simple.

The Christian doesn’t (or shouldn’t) believe that death is a bad thing, so what makes killing wrong can’t be that you’re harming the person.

Yeah, you keep saying that, but hardly any Christian believes it.  So if they don’t believe it then how do you expect your point to have any impact?

At the bottom line, you don’t understand Christian morality (you really don’t).  So you’re at a serious disadvantage trying to press your case even if you had some alternative to offer.

What makes it wrong must be that you’ve offended some third party (ie God).

Again, you keep saying that even after I offered you an alternative explanation. If you’re going to argue successfully you need to occasionally pay attention to what the other guy is saying.

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Posted: 24 September 2012 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 139 ]
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Back to the orginal question.

Many people, xtians and otherwise, want to change the world. Religion is just one of the tools they may use to try to accomplish these often competing visions of what human society to become.

And they be totally sincere.

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Posted: 24 September 2012 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 140 ]
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Here is a possible explanation of a fundamental moral compass. Fear. Fear of the unknown after we die.

That’s how theism is able to marry the concepts of dying being both bad and good at the same time.
“Only through me” and “by my laws” will you not have to fear death because you will meet your maker and experience everlasting bliss in the hereafter.

It becomes a problem when theists insist that their particular compass always holds true and that without their specific fixed compass you cannot navigate life.
Secularists recognize that we are all in the same boat, but that in order to be able to navigate one must occasionally adjust the compass to allow for relativistic “errors”.

This also explains why stepping on a bug has nothing to with morality. We kill bugs from fear. Some bugs can kill you, theist and atheist alike.

[ Edited: 24 September 2012 11:50 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 24 September 2012 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 141 ]
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Hi Bryan,

Bryan - 24 September 2012 08:54 AM

And this is a key weakness of the entire argument.  The atheist has no way of knowing the “right” answers to moral questions without some sort of reliable moral compass.

Well, I dunno about “reliable moral compass”. The problem is justifying what the atheist believes is right somehow.

I don’t see how the theist is in any better position.

Stephen

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Posted: 24 September 2012 11:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 142 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 September 2012 11:18 AM

I don’t see how the theist is in any better position.

He isn’t. The standard theist reply is that he has the Bible, but except perhaps for the Taliban that won’t work, since I think we all agree the Bible is nobody’s ultimate source for moral truths. (All those who believe it’s morally necessary to stone someone to death for collecting firewood on a Saturday raise their hand!)

Of course, the theist is going to say that our moral compass comes from God, but that assumes that God exists, which remains unproven. Further, as Plato showed in the Euthyphro, if God is good, he is good because he acts in accord with moral law. Otherwise God’s rule is just the rule of the stronger, which is no sort of morality.

Further, since the theist typically believes that heaven is a possible state of affairs, it follows that the theist must believe it is possible to have a realm without actual evil.

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Posted: 24 September 2012 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 143 ]
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Bryan,
Where’s the refutation of secular nihilism?

http://www.nihil.org/nihilist/nihilism

Thanks for that link Bryan. I can identify with much of that.

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Posted: 24 September 2012 04:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 144 ]
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Bryan, I can tell you’re eager to get me into a discussion about META-ETHICS. You want to discuss the Euthyphro problem, and you want to discuss whether values are part of the natural world or whether they’re more like logical and mathematical truths or more like platonic forms or something else. You also probably want to talk about what exactly normativity is and where it comes from. It should be obvious by now that I don’t want to go there. Frankly the whole thing just makes my brain hurt. People have been arguing about these things for thousands of years, and not much progress has been made as far as I can see. Your question of how we can know that our moral intuitions are really really true also falls into this meta-ethical category of things I don’t want to talk about.   

So let’s get back to the matter at hand, namely Maitzen’s claim that our ordinary ways of thinking about ethics fit much better with atheism/secularism than they do with Christianity. It seems to me that the Christian should just bite the bullet on this one and admit that Maitzen is right. They could perhaps even come up with some story about how sin has warped our moral sense. So whereas they should as Christians be celebrating the death of the Christian child, they just can’t bring themselves to do this. 

Bryan, I didn’t want to ignore your responses. It’s just that I couldn’t make head nor tail of them. All you gave me in response was some story about Jesus crying when someone died. The question is whether the Christian world view as a whole suggests that death is a good thing or a bad thing. If I kill a Christian, then according to secular ethics this is a bad thing because I’ve harmed that person, but according to Christian ethics I’ve actually in some bizarre way benefited this person because he’s now with Jesus in heaven. This is why Maitzen argues that Christianity destroys morality. You can only have morality if you have some basic starting points that most people can accept, such as the badness of death and the wrongness of killing. Belief in heaven takes away these foundations and thus destroys morality.         

Also, you keep coming back to this question of what we should do with the secular person who just doesn’t feel empathy and doesn’t care about right or wrong. This is a question that different societies will deal with in different ways. If they’re dangerous, they should probably be locked up.

Finally, it could turn out that something like Judaism actually fits better with our moral intuitions than both atheism and Christianity do, if it’s true that Jews don’t believe in heaven. On this world view you have a God who’s given us a moral sense of right and wrong, but since there’s no heaven, and since ethics is all about this life and this world, you don’t end up with all the absurdities that you get with fundamentalist Christian ethics. You still have to try to explain away God commanding genocide in the book of Joshua and so on, but hey, every world view has its problems.

So it’s important that we see all of this first and foremost as an attack an fundamentalist Christianity, and not as some kind of argument for atheism or naturalism. We don’t need to know what the truth is in order to attack Christianity. We could say that Christianity is internally incoherent and immoral, but we still don’t have a clue what the truth about the universe is. That is pretty much my position.

[ Edited: 24 September 2012 05:56 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 24 September 2012 08:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 145 ]
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Questioning whether a religion, Christianity, in this instance, can provide a coherent moral framework does not especially mean that one is claiming a secular outlook can provide one either.  In general, I believe most secularists see the whole question of morality and ethics as a particularly taxing one.  All healthy people possess and live by a code of ethics.  I suspect most secularists, at least those who frequent discussions such as this, are deeply concerned with morality and behave in what can be judged a moral and ethical manner. 

The difference between religious believers and secularists which strikes me, is that most of us secularists wouldn’t claim to fully understand the origins of morality, while believers attribute their moral system to revelations from their God.  Believers may attack secularism as having no moral foundation, but the very fact that people who don’t claim to have a religious basis for their morality still act in moral ways indicates that a moral sense of some sort is shared by all. The important question, for me, is, if we recognize all people have moral systems, and all moral systems have inherent conflicts, how do we address them?  To do so effectively we must try to gain a better understanding of the reasons for our shared morality and how it functions.

To try to examine the roots of morality through the study of Theology forces us to examine morality through an awkward, dysfunctional lens.  Christianity is such a kaleidoscope of ideas, and there is such an onus against questioning existing dogma that there seems to be little possibility of gaining an effective understanding.  It isn’t that Christianity doesn’t possess a moral framework which functions, but trying to use Christian theology to understand what this morality is that we all possess, Christian or not, is , is akin to calculating space missions to Mars using a Ptolemaic model of the solar system.

Individuals who assert that human morality can only stem from their God seem to be blind to the fact that all humans, and many other species clearly have a sense of morality.  The semantic contortions required to for Christians to assert that their God is the genesis for all morality are beautifully incomprehensible.  For example: Bryan tells us that his God is omnipotent and therefore must be the fount of all morality, but as soon as the absurdity of an omnipotent being is made clear, he has to toss that reality aside as an absurdity, claiming that through theological examination ages ago, even though God could make 2 + 2= 5, luckily for moral coherence, God has been found to restrain himself to being “logically” omnipotent.  No matter how convenient that would be, if you can limit omnipotence or even define it, you don’t really have omnipotence anymore.  My point is, this is a really difficult and tortuous way to come to an understanding of morality.

I’m aware of good number of very moral Christians.  I admire them and am not about to question whether they possess a sense of morality, it’s just that I, for one, am not satisfied with their
Christian explanation for the existence of morality, especially when their explanation implies that I, as a secular individual, cannot possess a valid moral system when, clearly, most of us, Christian or otherwise, do.

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Posted: 24 September 2012 09:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 146 ]
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Jeciron - 24 September 2012 08:11 PM

Questioning whether a religion, Christianity, in this instance, can provide a coherent moral framework does not especially mean that one is claiming a secular outlook can provide one either.

 

Exactly. It could be that both naturalism and Christianity are false, and that the real foundation of ethics is something that human beings have never even thought of, or something that the human mind is incapable of understanding. Again, why on earth do we have to choose between Craig and Dawkins? There are a million other posssibilities out there.   

All I’ve tried to do here is to present a critique of Christianity. Unlike Maitzen, I’m not arguing for atheism or naturalism. I have speculated a little bit about how a naturalistic ethics might work, but that was just speculation and I’m not committed to that view. Even if the attempt to naturalize ethics fails entirely, the criticisms of Christianity still stand. Bryan seems to think that we’re not allowed to criticize Christianity unless we’ve first figured out all the mysteries of the universe!

[ Edited: 25 September 2012 03:27 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 25 September 2012 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 147 ]
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So, the way I see it, there’s a certain amount of dishonesty and unfairness about the way the Christian debates. They agree that we’re all well within our rights to criticize Islam or Buddhism or Kantianism or Platonism, but as soon as the subject turns to Christianity, they will respond to any criticism by saying that we non-believers should shut our mouths because we don’t have an absolutely rock solid foundation for ethics and don’t know exactly where our moral intuitions come from or what they are. But actually all philosophies and religions are fair game for criticism in light of our reason, emotion and experience, and I just wish Christians would stop changing the subject and trying to silence people and just deal with criticisms. I’ve given reasons for thinking that Christianity is internally inconsistent and completely out of sync with our normal ways of thinking about ethics. So please, stop changing the subject and deal with the criticisms. 

Why should we think that death is a bad thing on the Christian world view? 
Why should we think that killing is wrong on the Christian world view?   

These are the kinds of basic questions that need to be dealt with.

[ Edited: 25 September 2012 10:48 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 30 September 2012 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 148 ]
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dougsmith - 24 September 2012 11:51 AM
StephenLawrence - 24 September 2012 11:18 AM

I don’t see how the theist is in any better position.

He isn’t. The standard theist reply is that he has the Bible, but except perhaps for the Taliban that won’t work, since I think we all agree the Bible is nobody’s ultimate source for moral truths. (All those who believe it’s morally necessary to stone someone to death for collecting firewood on a Saturday raise their hand!)

Of course, the theist is going to say that our moral compass comes from God, but that assumes that God exists, which remains unproven.

Sure, but morality itself is also unproven (in the sense of moral realism).  The point about positing a god is that one can reasonably hypothesize an accurate or somewhat accurate moral compass based on the existence of a god.  The extant question for the non-theist is:  Why would a moral compass work lacking the existence of a god?

Further, as Plato showed in the Euthyphro, if God is good, he is good because he acts in accord with moral law. Otherwise God’s rule is just the rule of the stronger, which is no sort of morality.

The same might be said of you.  wink

Further, since the theist typically believes that heaven is a possible state of affairs, it follows that the theist must believe it is possible to have a realm without actual evil.

True, but perhaps we can point to the center of the sun as an immediate realm free of evil.  Assuming no nasty sun-gods live in there.  Or fire-efreet.

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Posted: 30 September 2012 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 149 ]
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Write4U - 24 September 2012 11:14 AM

Here is a possible explanation of a fundamental moral compass. Fear. Fear of the unknown after we die.

Why would fear serve as an accurate basis for a moral compass?  If I’m afraid of Jews would that make antisemitism a (good) moral stance?

That’s how theism is able to marry the concepts of dying being both bad and good at the same time.
“Only through me” and “by my laws” will you not have to fear death because you will meet your maker and experience everlasting bliss in the hereafter.

It becomes a problem when theists insist that their particular compass always holds true and that without their specific fixed compass you cannot navigate life.
Secularists recognize that we are all in the same boat, but that in order to be able to navigate one must occasionally adjust the compass to allow for relativistic “errors”.

This also explains why stepping on a bug has nothing to with morality. We kill bugs from fear. Some bugs can kill you, theist and atheist alike.

How would one identify a relativistic error without some fixed point (some moral directive from the domain of moral realism) with which to compare?

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Posted: 30 September 2012 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 150 ]
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George - 24 September 2012 04:22 AM
Bryan - 23 September 2012 07:53 PM
George - 23 September 2012 07:49 PM
Bryan - 23 September 2012 06:11 PM

Describe to me any act of heroism that is possible if nothing bad can happen.

Give me omnipotence and I am sure I’ll think of something. You know how the story goes: if you are willing and able ...

Consider yourself in possession of omnipotence for the sake of argument.  Doubtless you’re sufficiently well-endowed mentally that we’ll see no subsequent request for infinite knowledge.  wink

Heroism without the possibility of ill consequences, please.

No, I am not sufficiently well-endowed mentally to think of such a possibility. But God is, since he is omniscient. He created evil because he wantet to. Or is it because he had to? Is logic greater than God?

I thought you said he could make 2+2 equal 5, had he wanted to. Why not, then, give us the power to commit heroism without there having to exist evil?

My argument is that if one insists on arguing a straw-man version of omnipotence where it is a premise of the argument that god can do anything up to and including the impossible, then it is child’s play for that god to not only accurately derive 5 from 2+2 but also to cheefully exist despite being impossible via the law of non-contradiction (the premise of the argument is that god can do anything including the impossible; existing despite the impossibility of existing in the face of contradiction is no problem for a being that can do the impossible.

Sorry for not detecting your reply earlier.

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