"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

beating up old men

The following is a response to Matt and Tom, but mostly Matt. To read up on the previous train of thought that has lead to this point go here for the background info.

I have to start by saying I really feel I have wondered into deep water. It would seem I need to read an entire library of philosophy to get up to speed on the topics we are discussing, so if I come off sounding totally ignorant, please forgive me. I am really basing my arguments off of life experience, feelings, and what little reading I find time to do. Having said that, you both have made some very good points that are more than worthy of some honest reflection.

Let me start by addressing Matt's comment:

"I don't regard "right and wrong" as inherent qualities of an object or situation... For example: let's say I see an old man being beaten up - it's an act I truly consider to be wrong. That's not because of the act itself, someone with a different biological and social set-up could probably walk past and see nothing bad about it (though given the general similarity of human nature across the world they'd be a pretty extreme kind of person.) For me the wrongness of it is all in my reaction to it"

That's EXACTLY the position you must take from the atheist perspective. There is no objective standard of right or wrong. There's only how I feel and react to given situations. At a glance this perspective may seem to bundle this problem up into a nice little package, but upon further inspection our life experiences betray it's adequacy.

Matt, you are telling me that you "know" that your old man example is not actually an example of something that is inherently wrong, you just "feel" that is given your biological / sociological situation. By means of logical extension you must now continue this train of thought. What then of beauty? Is there anything in this world that is then worthy of the title, or is there simply matter that your chemistry causes you to feel a certain way about? What of love? Is anything worthy of a love beyond reason?

Perhaps you are right. On logical grounds I don't think you can state it much clearer than you did. Perhaps humanity is truly on it's own. Perhaps we are the product of blind processes that take no notice of us. Could it be that all our strivings for honor, justice, love, and peace are nothing more profound than a species being ruled by a mindless, chemically induced, desire for survival? I don't know about you brother, but there's something deep inside me that rebels against the idea that there is no such thing as objective right or wrong. I cannot accept the notion that gazing into the heavens on a moonless night, far from our city lights, does not ACTUALLY warrant the feelings of awe it inspires. It rebels against the idea that my love for my wife an son is nothing more than breeding instinct and the instinct to preserve my genetic line. It's not rational. I readily admit that, but I would not go so far as to say it's illogical. The problem for us is that for me to use my logic, you would need to admit the "possibility" of something outside of what we call nature. Many people reject the supernatural because they reject religion and superstition. I, however, do not believe that one follows the other. There is much to reject about religion and superstition, but the idea of a personal God who who is the foundation of all reason, love, ethics and beauty is not one of them.

Okay, I'm sure I've lost you there, but that's where I'm at. I still plan on responding to Tom. It's just that he obviously has SO much time on his hands! ; ) I suppose I shouldn't talk. I'm usually in bed by nine, but this has kept me up til 12:15!!! All we need now is a campfire...

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Anonymous Andy said...

Here's a Thrice song, enjoy.

To what end do we
proceed so boldly
if all we are is
chemical reactions
and what world have you
so deftly sold me
if you reduce me
if I have no soul to touch
no heart to love
no evil to rise up above
no angels and no ghosts
no real victories to toast
if you believe that this is true
then I must ask
to what end do you proceed?
No fire in our eyes
No steel in our hearts
No magic in our songs
Are we just empty vessels?
No fire in our eyes
No steel in our hearts
No magic in our songs
and you tell me..
I have no soul to touch
no heart to love
no evil to rise up above
no angels and no ghosts
no real victories to toast
if you believe that this is true
then I must ask
to what end do you proceed?
Did I not feel your love?
Did I not feel your hate?
And did my heart not beat
and did my heart not break?
And are these tears for naught
and are these worlds in vain
if this is all we are then what
Have to gain!
What of all the art and books
music and poetry
What of all our memories
What of our hopes and dreams?
They hold no value then
We hold no faith but greed
So I must ask you
to what end do we proceed?

11:18 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Thrice has obviously been following this conversation.

1:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am really basing my arguments off of life experience, feelings, and what little reading I find time to do.

I think in many ways our own experiences are more important in these kinds of debate than the thinking of someone who died centuries ago. (Though I would recommend checking out David Hume [the Enquiries rather than the Treatise], Bertrand Russell's essays, or - if you're feeling adventurous - some of Bernard Williams works).

What then of beauty?

I'll hopefully respond more fully at some point tomorrow (it's about 9:30pm here at the moment) - but I just want to say that I have no problem arguing that beauty is a matter of psychology, rather than an inherent quality of an object. This is hardly a controversial view, as the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" stretches right back to the Greeks. Knowing this doesn't diminish my appreciation of stuff like art. In fact, I find the idea that breath-taking beauty can result from the hand of man to be quite inspiring and uplifting. Religious architecture, for example, is awe-inspiring, in that it shows what we humble beings can do when we put our minds to something. At least for me it is.

3:39 PM

Blogger Alex said...

You are right. Did a new entry on the topic. Going to bed not. G'night!

10:09 PM

Anonymous anna said...

Alex: geez. I can see this is not a blog for trifles. Terrific. I see I will have to do a lot of reading, reading, reading, and thinking before I will have much to say/contribute.
I read your full profile including your reading list. I notice that most of your titles are Christian or Theistic titles. Interesting...

10:46 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Hey Anna,
Happy to see you found your way over here! Yes this place has basically turned into a debate between Matt and I. I don’t really expect to get too much casual traffic through here. So far the conversations have been running pretty deep. Just the way I like it!

As for my reading list... I take it you are implying I need to broaden my horizons a bit. I agree. Give me some time. I’m reading some Dawkins at the moment. Matt has also recommended David Hume. This blog is also geared to talking with people who have taken the time to read from other view points. Discovering my world view is very important to me. The question is, is what I’m discovering worth hanging on to?

Looking forward to hearing from you. If you have the time and inclination of course. I want to devote a little more time to your last email so I’ll get to that later. =)

11:08 AM


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