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Why would a Christian want to change the world?
Posted: 20 September 2012 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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Dom1978 - 20 September 2012 05:12 AM

Hi Bryan. Yeah, I take your point about the omni properties and logical possibility, but I still think there’s a big problem with that particular issue of God being completely just and completely merciful. Perhaps you could address that particular problem. 

There are books written about it, because that is the central problem Christian theology would address (the solution to sin).  It’s a standard sermon in evangelical churches (“You’re all damned to Hell!”—perfect justice/“But God made a way out—through Jesus your savior!”)—the substitutionary atonement, said to work because the nature of the sacrifice.

When there is a historically obvious attempt to answer the question, there shouldn’t be much need for me respond at length, but in brief the idea is that God’s justice is perfect because all who are guilty of sin have the sentence hanging over their heads and perfectly merciful for providing for lifting the sentence for potentially all depending on the will of the individual (Calvinism may have some questions to answer on that point).  To make the solution independent of the human will would violate at least one other omni-attribute.   

What you seem to be suggesting here is that some Christians could just bite the bullet and admit that they can’t trust their moral intuitions about what’s right and wrong, and so they just have to go with what the Bible commands.

I’m at a loss to figure out what statement of mine you took that way.  Would you mind quoting me?

What I would say is that one who believes in God has a reason to trust in moral intuitions.  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).  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.

However, there are some huge problems with doing that. First of all, the bible isn’t clear or consistent about things like politics,
capitalism, divorce, war, marriage, and all the rest.

Why should it be clear on absolutely every moral issue?  Aren’t there infinite moral issues?  Who’d have time to read a book that dealt with infinite possibilities?  It’d take forever just to index to the right page.

Secondly, we’ve got all these new moral problems in bio-ethics that aren’t mentioned or even hinted at in the BIble. So the idea of just forgetting about your moral intuitions and going with the Bible is a complete non-starter as far as I can see.

I agree, which is why I’m hoping you’ll quote me as to why you think I believe that.

So the Christian would seem to be in an impossible position where he has absolutely no idea what’s right or wrong as he looks around the world, and on top of that the Bible isn’t very clear on ethics.

So let’s just toss the book and rely on a compass programmed for survivability?  I’d be interested in hearing why we should trust moral intuitions in any case other than a god put them there (another thread is fine if folks have concerns about derailing the topic).

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Posted: 20 September 2012 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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Bryan, this is the part I was thinking of when I wrote that.

That’s a bit like saying that the nihilist might as well commit suicide because
everything’s ultimately meaningless.  But nihilism doesn’t command that, does it? 
Neither does god instruct inaction.

 

I took this, perhaps wrongly, as suggesting that it’s ultimately going to come down to what God commands. 

And as for this, 

It’s a standard sermon in evangelical churches (“You’re all damned to Hell!”—perfect justice/“But God made a way out—through Jesus your savior!”)

If he’s perfectly just, then why would he want to give us a way out?   

Now, as to the point about moral intuitions, you seem to be saying that any attempt to naturalize morality, or to show that it is a human phenomenon, is bound to fail. The idea is that killing, for example, is just wrong full stop, and would be wrong even if there were no creatures like us with feelings and desires and reason, and even if there were no societies or social institutions. It’s just wrong, and anyone who who suggests otherwise must be a relativist. I think this way of looking at things is completely wrong-headed, but it’s pretty popular with some Christians. To say that morality wouldn’t exist if there were no creatures like us around is not relativism! Perhaps morality just IS the human conversation over centuries about values and social institutions, using insights from anthropology, history and sociology, and using our reason and our emotions.           

Still, these are really difficult issues, and I certainly don’t have a fully worked-out theory of
moral intuitions, but I’ll take a quick stab at it here. We are social animals, we have natural feelings of empathy and some kind of innate sense of justice, we are capable of abstract thought (so unnecessary pain is bad for me, and therefore it must also be bad for others, etc. and the burden of proof is on me to say why I’m different if I want to make an exception for myself!), we can learn from the lessons of history, and finally we can look around the world at different societies to see what works best. So when I use the term ‘moral intuitions’, it encompasses many different things. This is not a case of evolutionary adaptations vs absolute moral truths, as the likes of William Lane Craig would have you believe. These are not the only options.         

The key point here, though, is that secular people (and indeed liberal Christians) can get
together and agree that the Holocaust was bad, and that it’s bad when children starve to
death through no fault of their own. The type of Christian I’m attacking here, however, can’t
even do this. They have no idea whether the next massacre or natural disaster is bad or not. God could be testing us, or could be trying to bring more people to Christ in some weird
and complicated way. As Maitzen has put it, the Christian who tries to stop these things
from happening could be like a person who goes around trying to stop vaccinations because they hurt people. They think they’re doing the right thing, but they’re actually messing things up really badly. So, yes, I do argue that Christians should be completely in the dark as to what to do, but that they do in fact rely on the ‘moral intutions’ (in the broad sense) that we all rely on when thinking about how to act in the world.

[ Edited: 20 September 2012 11:48 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 21 September 2012 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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Dom1978 - 20 September 2012 04:41 PM

Bryan, this is the part I was thinking of when I wrote that.

That’s a bit like saying that the nihilist might as well commit suicide because
everything’s ultimately meaningless.  But nihilism doesn’t command that, does it? 
Neither does god instruct inaction.

 

I took this, perhaps wrongly, as suggesting that it’s ultimately going to come down to what God commands.

Ah.  My point was simply that the moral commands in the Bible are there regardless of any doctrine of meticulous control.  And the commands, as you’ve noted, do not provide specific instruction for every eventuality.  So there’s plenty of latitude for action, just as for the nihilist. 

And as for this, 

It’s a standard sermon in evangelical churches (“You’re all damned to Hell!”—perfect justice/“But God made a way out—through Jesus your savior!”)

If he’s perfectly just, then why would he want to give us a way out?

Because god is not only perfectly just.  God’s omnipotence probably allows him to add 2 plus 2 to obtain the sum of 5.  But God’s not that stupid. 

Now, as to the point about moral intuitions, you seem to be saying that any attempt to naturalize morality, or to show that it is a human phenomenon, is bound to fail.

I suspect as much, yes.  I think it’s a hard case for the naturalist and probably the biggest reason why atheism isn’t much more popular than it is.

The idea is that killing, for example, is just wrong full stop, and would be wrong even if there were no creatures like us with feelings and desires and reason, and even if there were no societies or social institutions. It’s just wrong, and anyone who who suggests otherwise must be a relativist. I think this way of looking at things is completely wrong-headed, but it’s pretty popular with some Christians. To say that morality wouldn’t exist if there were no creatures like us around is not relativism! Perhaps morality just IS the human conversation over centuries about values and social institutions, using insights from anthropology, history and sociology, and using our reason and our emotions.

I see you saying that the idea is wrongheaded but I don’t yet see any backing for that assertion.  In a naturalistic world an objective morality might exist.  But what reason would you have for thinking humans could figure out what it is?  How do you detect it?  How do you get around the fundamental evolutionary mechanism that a naturalist should expect accounts for the development of our morals and/or moral sense?         

Still, these are really difficult issues, and I certainly don’t have a fully worked-out theory of
moral intuitions, but I’ll take a quick stab at it here. We are social animals, we have natural feelings of empathy and some kind of innate sense of justice, we are capable of abstract thought (so unnecessary pain is bad for me, and therefore it must also be bad for others, etc. and the burden of proof is on me to say why I’m different if I want to make an exception for myself!), we can learn from the lessons of history, and finally we can look around the world at different societies to see what works best. So when I use the term ‘moral intuitions’, it encompasses many different things. This is not a case of evolutionary adaptations vs absolute moral truths, as the likes of William Lane Craig would have you believe. These are not the only options.

   

“unnecessary pain is bad for me, and therefore it must also be bad for others”

I don’t see that the premise entails entails the conclusion.  Indeed, I don’t see any reason to accept the premise in the first place as an axiomatic moral precept established via an epistemology based on naturalistic thinking.

I’ll emphasize once more that it is not my intention to derail your thread.  I’m interested in seeing the discussion take place, of course, but it’s completely fine with me if it takes place in a different thread.  Regardless of that, thanks for addressing the issue.

The key point here, though, is that secular people (and indeed liberal Christians) can get
together and agree that the Holocaust was bad, and that it’s bad when children starve to
death through no fault of their own.

Agreed, and thanks for making the point.  I don’t think Objectivism (for example) succeeds in producing a successful philosophical foundation for morality.  I think it’s fundamental axiom is built on philosophical air.  But I have a certain confidence that (atheist) Objectivists share with me a moral framework to the extent that we can coexist pretty easily in a common peaceful society.

The type of Christian I’m attacking here, however, can’t
even do this. They have no idea whether the next massacre or natural disaster is bad or not. God could be testing us, or could be trying to bring more people to Christ in some weird
and complicated way. As Maitzen has put it, the Christian who tries to stop these things
from happening could be like a person who goes around trying to stop vaccinations because they hurt people.

I think you’re trying to cross a bridge too far, here.  People don’t necessarily care if their philosophies are held consistently across the board.  That’s as true of atheists as it is of Christians.  If I’m right in my suspicion that atheism can’t provide a reasonable expectation of gaining moral knowledge then it’s just as true that no atheist can know moral truth (except by accident) than it is that a Christian believing in meticulous control invalidates his actions, the latter assuming that your argument on that point is correct.

They think they’re doing the right thing, but they’re actually messing things up really badly. So, yes, I do argue that Christians should be completely in the dark as to what to do, but that they do in fact rely on the ‘moral intutions’ (in the broad sense) that we all rely on when thinking about how to act in the world.

I don’t think you’ve made your case.  Regardless of meticulous control it is true by tautology that a person will do what a person will do.  So even the Calvinist can perform any action at all without disrupting God’s sovereign will.  And that’s what I meant when I pointed out that God doesn’t command inaction.  If it followed theologically that human action was wrong then believers could expect God to figure that out and caution them against acting.

Yet there’s not need for that, as I’ve pointed out.  Meticulous control ensures the eventual outcome regardless of any perceptions of the would-be agents of disruption.  There no reasonable worry about disrupting such a sovereign plan.

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Posted: 21 September 2012 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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I wonder which developed 1st, a sense of right and wrong or belief in God/s.  (This is not rhetorical.  I really do wonder.)

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Posted: 21 September 2012 04:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]
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TimB - 21 September 2012 01:59 PM

I wonder which developed 1st, a sense of right and wrong or belief in God/s.  (This is not rhetorical.  I really do wonder.)

That would be probably very difficult to answer; perhaps not that different from wondering who was the first human. Both religiosity and morality must have gone through numerous steps before they got to what they are today. Surely, even today people have different moral compasses and are not all equally religious (indeed, some have lost their inclination to be religious all together).

I imagine that superstition must be much older that any belief in deity, and the first supernatural beings could have very well been some sort of forest trolls and nymphs before they evolved into the more complex gods and goddesses.

And the moral sense could be even more complicated than that. My dog seems to know when he did something terribly wrong, which would lead me to believe that moral sense precedes religious behaviour; although he does seem to worship our middle boy, his master.

One thing, though, seems clear to me. There are certain types of moral sense and religious behaviour that seem more primitive than others and some groups of people (like the republicans, for example grin ) resemble living fossils, reminding us what most people at one point used to behave like.

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Posted: 21 September 2012 06:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]
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George - 21 September 2012 04:59 PM
TimB - 21 September 2012 01:59 PM

I wonder which developed 1st, a sense of right and wrong or belief in God/s.  (This is not rhetorical.  I really do wonder.)

That would be probably very difficult to answer; perhaps not that different from wondering who was the first human. Both religiosity and morality must have gone through numerous steps before they got to what they are today. Surely, even today people have different moral compasses and are not all equally religious (indeed, some have lost their inclination to be religious all together).

I imagine that superstition must be much older that any belief in deity, and the first supernatural beings could have very well been some sort of forest trolls and nymphs before they evolved into the more complex gods and goddesses.

And the moral sense could be even more complicated than that. My dog seems to know when he did something terribly wrong, which would lead me to believe that moral sense precedes religious behaviour; although he does seem to worship our middle boy, his master.

One thing, though, seems clear to me. There are certain types of moral sense and religious behaviour that seem more primitive than others and some groups of people (like the republicans, for example grin ) resemble living fossils, reminding us what most people at one point used to behave like.

Your response is appreciated.  Now I wonder whether dogs may have had their moral and religious-like behaviors honed through their history of selection by their human masters. Although, Write4U could probably give us examples of moral and religious like behavior by apes (actual apes, not republicans smile ).

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Posted: 21 September 2012 10:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]
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OK, Bryan, let me try to make a strong case here by listing all my main points. 

1. There’s an all-powerful God in control of the world, and so everything must be going according to his plan, and yet at the same time Christians are meant to go out there and make the world a better place. 

2. There’s a deep conflict between the idea of trying to make the world a better place and that of trying to save as many souls as possible. Imagine that you have two worlds. The first one is full of torture, war and starvation, whereas the second one is full of people who follow the golden rule and is filled with happiness and joy. However, the first world has more people who believe in Jesus. The Christian is pretty much forced to say, absurdly, that the first world is better (ie more desirable and sth we should be trying to bring about) than the second world. Also, even if a Christian wanted only to maximize the number of souls saved, they obviously wouldn’t have a clue how to do it anyway.   

3. Christianity conflicts with our deepest moral intuitions on many points. For example, it’s a good thing when a young child dies, and not a terrible tragedy as secular people think, and it’s wrong to kill people not because you harm them or their family or their community but simply because it offends God and breaks his commandments. I would also add here the idea of eternal hell. Christians somehow manage to convince themselves that it is just for a person to be punished in hell for all eternity even if they’ve made one small mistake in their life, but I think it’s fair to say that their moral intuitions must be pulling in different direction here, and there must be a lot of internal struggle.   

4. The free-will defence against the problem of evil and suffering is used by many Christians, but again it conflicts with our moral intuitions. Pretty much everybody thinks we SHOULD interfere with the free will of people like Hitler, so how on earth can Christians turn around and say that free will is of such overwhelming value that God couldn’t interfere with Hitler’s free will? As Maitzen has rightly pointed out, Christians only say that free will is of overwhelming importance when they’re discussing the problem of evil and suffering. At other times, and in their everyday lives, they don’t believe this at all. And even if you really do accept the free will defence, then you still have to explain why it’s OK for us human beings to interfere with tyrants, but why it’s not OK for God to do this. The icing on the cake here is when people like William Lane Craig then go on to say that despite the overwhelming importance of free will, we’re not going to have any in heaven!!!   

5. When discussing evil and suffering, almost all Christians will at some point resort to saying God is mysterious/works in mysterious ways/is beyond our comprehension. However, as Scott Sehon has pointed out, this way of thinking is bound to lead to moral paralysis. If we say that this natural disaster or massacre or disease must have been for the greater good in the long run, then we are no longer able to say for sure that present or future natural disasters, massacres or diseases are really bad and will have no idea whether to try to prevent them or not. The secular person, on the other hand, can simply say that these things were bad in the past and we should try to stop them in the future, and so there’s no conflict or contradiction.   

So that’s my case against Christianity. And remember that it’s a moral argument against Christianity. Even if Christianity is true, we should still be against it because it’s immoral, and God is some kind of monster.

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Posted: 21 September 2012 11:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]
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Dom, I don’t know whether to say:  “Amen, brother!” or “That monstrous God has the redeeming quality of having created a morally aware and discerning person such as yourself.”

I think I’ll go with…..

Amen, brother!

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Posted: 22 September 2012 12:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]
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My problem is with the “need” for a bible in order to recognize and list moral (ethical) behaviors. After all, the bible was written by humans, not by a supernatural being. A god is not necessary to behave ethically.

What is wrong with a secular Book of Ethics (Morals)? Not enough fear of Hell in the after-life? How about punishment here and now by secular laws? Are laws not based on unethical behavior which actually harms another?

The problem as I see it is that religious zealots will impose personal “moral” behavior which has nothing to do with actual harm to others.
In days of old, all one needed to do is accuse someone of witchcraft and they would burn you at the stake. The Inquisition and their methods of extracting “confession” is a perfect example of immoral behavior in the name of spiritual morality.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 12:36 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 01:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]
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TimB - 21 September 2012 11:29 PM

Dom, I don’t know whether to say:  “Amen, brother!” or “That monstrous God has the redeeming quality of having created a morally aware and discerning person such as yourself.”

I think I’ll go with…..

Amen, brother!

Tim, If fundamentalist Christianity is true, then God is some kind of monster and the universe is a complete madhouse. However, there are other possibilities. Liberal Christianity or postmodern process theology or Daoism or something else could still be correct. And I’m not dogmatically commited to materialism or naturalism. It could turn out that all the naturalistic theories of ethics are false, and that values are indeed non-natural or even supernatual (whatever that means). I’m not ruling any of these things out. All I’m trying to say here is that Christianity (of the Craig, Swinburne, Plantinga variety) goes against our deepest moral intuitions.

Of course, it’s always open to the Christian to respond by saying, “I don’t care if Christianity seems wrong or counterintuitive.” But notice that very few of them will ever say that. There is a very strong desire to believe that Christianity and common-sense morality fit together nicely.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 01:29 AM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 01:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]
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Dom1978 - 21 September 2012 10:21 PM

OK, Bryan, let me try to make a strong case here by listing all my main points.

Appreciated.  Since you’re using numbering I won’t quote you except when it seems necessary to help make clear what point of yours I’m addressing (if I miss something you think is importantly please bring it to my attention in your following reply).

1.  Under meticulous control, yes. 

2. “The Christian is pretty much forced to say, absurdly, that the first world is better (ie more desirable and sth we should be trying to bring about) than the second world.”  The argument begs the question as to whether the afterlife represents only deserved suffering in conjunction with peace and happiness of the saved.  The critic is in the absurd position (minus the begged question) of asserting that a world where the innocent suffer is preferable to a world where the innocent do not suffer. “if a Christian wanted only to maximize the number of souls saved, they obviously wouldn’t have a clue how to do it anyway.”      I don’t see how that’s supposed to follow.  At minimum, the Christian has instructions for evangelism in the Greek scriptures.

3. “Christianity conflicts with our deepest moral intuitions on many points.”  That complaint kind of relies on a trustworthy moral compass for its weight.  Would you argue that Christianity is immoral on its own terms?  That might allow you to forgo the step of establishing that “our deepest moral intuitions” are more than subjective preferences. “For example, it’s a good thing when a young child dies, and not a terrible tragedy as secular people think,”  Surely it’s a good thing for your argument that fetuses are not children until birth.  confused   “and it’s wrong to kill people not because you harm them or their family or their community but simply because it offends God and breaks his commandments.”  Why isn’t it both for a believer? “I would also add here the idea of eternal hell.”  Definitely.  The doctrine of an eternal hell is a hard one to justify to skeptics.  For the record, it’s far from universal among Christians.  Some sects teach annihilationism, for example (the wicked are destroyed in hell rather than tormented eternally).  Also for the record, I’ll defend the doctrine of an eternal hell.  One of the easiest defenses, of course, is to question the basis for the critic’s judgment that punishing the wicked eternally is wrong.  Are “deepest moral intuitions” different from personal preferences?  Do they somehow represent moral precepts that exist independently of our minds (moral realism).   

4. If our moral intuitions aren’t more than subjective preferences then the appeal to them is not a good argument against the free will theodicy.  It can be an effective argument, but that simply makes it akin to any number of fallacious arguments that work reasonably well despite the fallacious appeal (such as ad hominem).  Free will is important to Christians because of the issue of guilt; many of us do not see a guilt problem for beings with no free will.  This is not the same as the problem of evil.  Finally, I think you’re misrepresenting Dr. Craig’s position on free will in heaven. 


5. “When discussing evil and suffering, almost all Christians will at some point resort to saying God is mysterious/works in mysterious ways/is beyond our comprehension.”  Let’s get that out of the way, then.  Sometimes God works in mysterious ways beyond our comprehension. “However, as Scott Sehon has pointed out, this way of thinking is bound to lead to moral paralysis.”   Color me skeptical.  “If we say that this natural disaster or massacre or disease must have been for the greater good in the long run, then we are no longer able to say for sure that present or future natural disasters, massacres or diseases are really bad and will have no idea whether to try to prevent them or not.”  That argument appears to conflate what is known (“love thy neighbor,” etc.) with what is unknown (how God sovereignly brings good out of evil on a consistent basis). “The secular person, on the other hand, can simply say that these things were bad in the past and we should try to stop them in the future, and so there’s no conflict or contradiction.”  Why can’t the same secular person say in the next moment (risking only moral intuitions of dubious reliability), “On second thought, that means more resources for the rest of us, and probably will help slow global warming”?

So that’s my case against Christianity. And remember that it’s a moral argument against Christianity. Even if Christianity is true, we should still be against it because it’s immoral, and God is some kind of monster.

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.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 01:44 AM by Bryan ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 02:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]
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Not wanting to distract from this interesting discussion, but when we speak of a god or His Laws are we not talking in the abstract? Would the universe end without a god? The curse of humanity is its intelligence and imagination, else we should be like any other animal trying to find the best way to survive.

Greed (IMO the root of all evil) is uniquely human. I am reminded of this little poem, “As a rule man is fool, when it’s hot he wants it cool, when its cool he wants it hot, always wanting what is not”.  I could add, “when there is Nature, he wants a God”.

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Posted: 22 September 2012 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]
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“if a Christian wanted only to maximize the number of souls saved, they obviously
wouldn’t have a clue how to do it anyway.”    I don’t see how that’s supposed to
follow.  At minimum, the Christian has instructions for evangelism in the Greek scriptures.

 
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.   

The argument begs the question as to whether the afterlife represents only deserved suffering in conjunction with peace and happiness of the saved. 

 
The thought experiment simply shows how absurd it is that Christians will choose an awful world over a much better (and much more Christ-like) one. The point here is that it’s absolutely ludicrous that it should all come down to BELIEVING certain propositions rather than creating a world based on the golden rule. If God himself would prefer a terrible world to a good one so long as more people in the terrible world believed a certain proposition, then that God is not something that a decent person should be worshipping. You’re better off just ignoring him and trying to make the world a better place. Again, I will admit that many Catholics and liberal Christians will agree with what I’m saying here. It’s really only protestant fundamentalists who try to defend the indefensible on these kinds of issues. The key issue here is not whether there’s a heaven, but rather what you have to do or believe in order to get there.     

Now, regarding moral intuitions, I’ve already explained that I’m not simply talking about subjective preferences like your taste in icecream. You’re following the apologists here in arguing that you have to choose between individual subjectivism and absolute/eternal moral objectivism, whereas in fact there are other possibilities in between. What I mean by ‘moral intuitions’ is the collective ethical wisdom that’s been gathered over the centuries, and this is based on our empathy and sense of justice, on our reason, and on historical experience and evidence. So, for example, we learned that women were just as capable as men, and that black people were every bit as human as white people, and no doubt in the future we’ll learn that the way we treat animals now is wrong. So when Craig and other apologists say that the only alternative to God-centered morality is individual moral subjectivism, they’re just being extremely unfair and they’re attacking a position that virtually no one in the secular world accepts (with the possible exception of some libertarians and satanists). 

But as I said before, I don’t know exactly what moral intuitions are, or what values are or where they come from. I’ve just been speculating about how a naturalistic explanation might go. I personally feel that things like values, free will and consciousness are deeply mysterious, and I don’t want anyone to think that I think I know the answers to any of these big questions. The point is, I don’t need to know the answers to these big questions in order to condemn Christianity. I can simply say that every fibre of my being tells me that there is immorality and incoherence at the heart of Christianity, and this is true no matter whether my moral intuitions are natural or supernatural (or some combination).   

And Bryan, I don’t know why you refused to address the issues surrounding the free-will defence and skeptical theism (God is mysterious), and how these ideas can’t be made to fit together with the kind of common-sense morality Christians want to employ in their everyday lives. This really is the key point of the work of both Maitzen and Sehon. In my view these two have really dealt a crushing blow to fundamentlist Christianity, but since nobody reads academic philosophy, it’s going to be a long time before these ideas get out into the popular imagination. The new atheists hardly even mention the kinds of things I’ve been talking about here, and this really is a terrible shame.

[ Edited: 22 September 2012 09:14 AM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 22 September 2012 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 September 2012 09:07 AM

I personally feel that things like values, free will and consciousness are deeply mysterious, and I don’t want anyone to think that I think I know the answers to any of these big questions. The point is, I don’t need to know the answers to these big questions in order to condemn Christianity. I can simply say that every fibre of my being tells me that there is immorality and incoherence at the heart of Christianity, and this is true no matter whether my moral intuitions are natural or supernatural (or some combination).

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.

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Posted: 22 September 2012 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]
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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).
 

The argument begs the question as to whether the afterlife represents only deserved suffering in conjunction with peace and happiness of the saved. 

 
The thought experiment simply shows how absurd it is that Christians will choose an awful world over a much better (and much more Christ-like) one.

It can’t “simply” show that if it fallaciously begs the question.  It might show it in some trivial sense to a person already convinced of the conclusion.

The point here is that it’s absolutely ludicrous that it should all come down to BELIEVING certain propositions rather than creating a world based on the golden rule.

Is the Golden Rule a preference or a guideline that helps people track sometimes hard-to-discern real and existing objective morals?

You don’t get to reasonably declare any absurdity without addressing that issue.  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.

If God himself would prefer a terrible world to a good one so long as more people in the terrible world believed a certain proposition, then that God is not something that a decent person should be worshipping.

You’re a bit too vague for me, here.  Let me explain.

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).

You’re better off just ignoring him and trying to make the world a better place. Again, I will admit that many Catholics and liberal Christians will agree with what I’m saying here. It’s really only protestant fundamentalists who try to defend the indefensible on these kinds of issues. The key issue here is not whether there’s a heaven, but rather what you have to do or believe in order to get there.

I’m a Protestant and probably fundamental enough to meet your definition of “fundmentalist” (I don’t find it a particularly useful term these days, but whatever).  What is it we PF’s believe one has to do or believe in order to reach Heaven (in accordance with the outrage portion of your argument from moral outrage).     

Now, regarding moral intuitions, I’ve already explained that I’m not simply talking about subjective preferences like your taste in icecream. You’re following the apologists here in arguing that you have to choose between individual subjectivism and absolute/eternal moral objectivism, whereas in fact there are other possibilities in between.

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.  So no matter how many varieties of morality you come up with “in between” none of them will solve your epistemological problem.

I suppose I should allow one exception:  If your own preferences are, in fact the universal objective value system by definition (making you a god, in effect), then you have a handle on accurately identifying the true morality based on your own self-awareness.

What I mean by ‘moral intuitions’ is the collective ethical wisdom that’s been gathered over the centuries, and this is based on our empathy and sense of justice, on our reason, and on historical experience and evidence.

I get that.  But it doesn’t answer my question.

So, for example, we learned that women were just as capable as men, and that black people were every bit as human as white people, and no doubt in the future we’ll learn that the way we treat animals now is wrong.

Are we learning new subjective group preferences or are we discovering more broadly the truths of a moral realism manifest in our universe?  If you can answer the question then you should.  If you can’t answer the question then your argument is built essentially on nothing (apart from the reasonable strategy I pointed out earlier of trying to condemn the Christian according to his own moral system).

So when Craig and other apologists say that the only alternative to God-centered morality is individual moral subjectivism, they’re just being extremely unfair and they’re attacking a position that virtually no one in the secular world accepts (with the possible exception of some libertarians and satanists).

Perhaps if you could describe a knowable secular system of moral realism then I could better appreciate your objection to the claim of Craig and other apologists.  I’d say that if you have no epistemological path toward dependably knowing what is wrong and what is right then you can’t end up with moral system that is different in any relevant sense from one produced by pure moral relativism.

Given the non-existence of God, why would you think that humans can detect morality accurately?

But as I said before, I don’t know exactly what moral intuitions are, or what values are or where they come from. I’ve just been speculating about how a naturalistic explanation might go. I personally feel that things like values, free will and consciousness are deeply mysterious, and I don’t want anyone to think that I think I know the answers to any of these big questions. The point is, I don’t need to know the answers to these big questions in order to condemn Christianity.

You do if the condemnation of Christianity depends precisely on the legitimacy of the moral values according to which you condemn it.  Otherwise your only option is to condemn Christianity according to its own value system (with the previous caveat about the possibility of convincing people via a bad argument).

I can simply say that every fibre of my being tells me that there is immorality and incoherence at the heart of Christianity, and this is true no matter whether my moral intuitions are natural or supernatural (or some combination).

You’d still be begging the question as to whether your moral intuitions are suitably accurate.  Inaccurate moral intuitions make a poor foundation for condemning the morals of others.  Your first order of business has to be to obtain credibility as to your moral stance.  Your primary appeal looks like the appeal to popularity (a fallacy).

And Bryan, I don’t know why you refused to address the issues surrounding the free-will defence and skeptical theism (God is mysterious), and how these ideas can’t be made to fit together with the kind of common-sense morality Christians want to employ in their everyday lives.

I don’t know why you’d say I refused to address anything at all when I wrote to you that I’d be happy to address anything you thought I’d missed (“if I miss something you think is importantly (sic) please bring it to my attention in your following reply”).  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.

This really is the key point of the work of both Maitzen and Sehon. In my view these two have really dealt a crushing blow to fundamentlist Christianity, but since nobody reads academic philosophy, it’s going to be a long time before these ideas get out into the popular imagination. The new atheists hardly even mention the kinds of things I’ve been talking about here, and this really is a terrible shame.

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. 

Then again, I’m on record identifying it as perhaps the most pressing need among secularists.

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