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

Friday, March 16, 2007

The search for congruity

Our good friend Incitatus has recently posted a comment that is so brutally honest I cannot help but honor it with a post all it's own. He's obviously not trying to "win" with a comment like this. The man is just being honest. I have a lot of respect for that. The following are a few brief out takes. Read the comment in it's entirety by following the link above.

I can't speak for all atheists, but my atheism often runs contrary to a very deep and primitive sense that a higher power exists. Now, for me, I choose to believe that this gut instinct is the psychological equivalent of an appendix, and hence I opt to override it with what I perceive to be a rationale outlook. However, the 'feeling' (which Alex has alluded to before) remains, and so there is something of a continual minor conflict, which I perceive to be the old and the new parts of the gray porridge trapped in my skull.

A question I have asked myself is whether that's really healthy; am I forcing my body to behave in a manner not in keeping with it's evolution? One can argue that atheists seem like very healthy people, but we can never really know what goes on in the mind of any other atheist except ourselves. How do we know some atheists aren't 'cheating' as it were? Secretly relapsing into theism under strenuous circumstances? The metaphysical equivalent of nipping into the alley for a smoke? Who knows. I can only speak for myself, but I freely confess that I cheat regularly; usually to hurl abuse at providence for anything that doesn't go the way I planned...


Alex responds:
I look at it like this:
I am conscious. I exist. At this point in my life I have been struck with a heightened sensitivity to things such as beauty, love, justice, mercy and redemption. I feel these qualities in a deeper sense than I have at any other point in my life. I am aware of a thread of truth that runs through out all humanity. Not only physical truth, but moral truth. We all appeal to it. We argue about who is closer to it. Thing is, the argument cannot even be started without the shared impression that such a thing exists. It's easy to appeal to physical truth because more often than not we can point to it. Moral truth is different. Most people are moral realists, though most do not think through the implications of that position. Also, as Moe hints at, there is this question of "why is there something instead of nothing?" We also have this reality that the deepest longing of every human is to be known... to be known completely... and to be loved while hiding nothing.

In my mind this all points somewhere. It points to something big. Much bigger than the god of religion that I knew growing up... but at the same time... maybe more importantly, it points to EXACTLY the God I knew as a child. It points to the same God I would thank for my toys and the big puddle at the end of our drive way. As I lay out on a moonless night and stare out into the universe, my mind feels as if it is about to collapse under the sheer weight of my situation. I move about with such an urgency, with such motivation...

why?

If there is no God, the stars themselves scream the answer...


I must admit throughout the last several months of this debate I have spent large swaths of time pretending to be an atheist. (I do a pretty poor job) I try to imagine that the entire purpose of my life is to make my own purpose and my own meaning. Then I ask why? What does it matter what purpose I choose?

Can you hear the crickets chirping?

There is no answer.

I pretend I'm part of an unfathomable reaction to an unknown cause. I try to feel weight of a story that tells me I am part of the grand march of evolution progressing onward and upwards... until of course it is all brought to nothing. I operate my morality believing that it is strictly evolved mental paths that proved conducive to survival. But then I remember – If I know this about my morality, I see that there is nothing of any weight behind it. I am under no obligation to surrender to it. I can obey it when it suites me and ignore it when it doesn't.

If I became an atheist, there's a lot of things I'd do differently. You'd be tempted to call me a bad man –  tempted, I say, because remember, there's no such thing as bad.

When I look at religions in general they make me rather ill. There seems to be this level of wishful thinking and propensity to suspend critical thought in favor of a nice story to hang our life on. I find it quite disturbing.

But then I look at Jesus. Not Christianity as it is often manifested, but the person of Jesus. You know, that guy who partied with the hookers and drunks. The guy who hurled abuse at the religious leaders. The guy who took compassion on prostitutes and turned away the proud. The one who's body the religious leaders claimed was 'stolen' (because it was gone) by his followers who then gained nothing form their 'hoax' but persecution and death. (all the while being in a position to know the 'truth')

To me it all ads up to something. A bigger story, if you will. It reaches the very depths of my heart's longings. It gives me strength to face a life I would otherwise have no purpose to live. Could it be there is more to this life than pure naturalism allows for? If I am wrong what will I have lost? My faith (and it is faith) gives a foundation for every belief I hold. Without God we are adrift. There is no right, or wrong, good, nor bad, beautiful, or ugly, life nor death. All existence "JUST IS". Oddly enough the faith I hold states, "I AM". We are not the center, He is.

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45 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

"Last weekend, my friend and I went into a farm, took some mushrooms, and we sat on a field. I looked up into the sky and saw God. He told me that there is nothing to fear, that he loves every single creature on this planet, and he showered gifts of forgiveness and love onto the Earth, and I realized that there was nothing to fear, and I loved everything…"
- Bill Hicks

Alex,

I think there's any number of problems with moving from a subjective experience to a grand unified theory of everything, as you seem to do in this post.

I'm sure that most of us here have had that experience of looking up at the stars and catching a glimpse of the sheer overwhelming vastness and alieness of the universe - but how we interpret that feeling depends on our beliefs.

As a theist, you interpret it in a religious manner, thereby reinforcing your theism.

As an atheist, I interpret it in a naturalistic way, thereby reinforcing my atheism.

From a psychological point-of-view, it's fascinating, but it doesn't move the debate on at all.

I am aware of a thread of truth that runs through out all humanity. Not only physical truth, but moral truth.

I'm sure these things seem true to you, but the very fact that you're arguing for them severely undermines their claim to universal status.

I've raised a number of objections to the idea of a universal moral truth before - to me, the idea just doesn't stand up. If we all have access to some kind of moral law then we do numerous contentious moral issues exist: abortion, the death penalty, homosexuality, the treatment of animals, human rights, is war justified, etc.

What about the porn issue that came up on another post? I have no problem with consenting adults indulging in or watching such acts, whereas you seem to. Where is this universal moral law?

Most people are moral realists

Moral realism and moral relativism aren't mutually exclusive: my moral compass may be subjective, but it still exists - my moral decisions are real to me.

There's also the results of the recent MORI poll in the UK:

What is right and wrong depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world (65%)
What is right and wrong is basically just a matter of personal preference (15%)
What is right and wrong is unchanging and should never be challenged (13%)

5:43 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

"This one time I prayed for a pony with wings and lasers that shot out of his eyes. When I woke up the next morning I looked under by bed to see if God gave me my pony, but to my dismay there was just an old sock and some dirty underwear. It was at that moment I realized God did not exist..."
- Some kid who wanted a laser pony with wIngs

Matt,
I think there's any number of problems living your life pretending God does not exist. You end up in a situation where "you" are the sole foundation of any moral proposition. Not only that but that, but all meaning and purpose must be self derived. Since you are nothing more than complicated chemistry, any meaning or purpose you "feel" is nothing more than the product of complicated chemistry. I see that as a big problem. You don't seem to. Agree to disagree?

As an atheist, I interpret it in a naturalistic way, thereby reinforcing my atheism.

Do you though? If you interpreted it in a truly naturalistic way you ought to realize that free will is a hoax, your life is purposeless, and all your hopes and dreams add up to nothing. Do you rise from the moist lawn on which you had been viewing the distant stars feeling a happy confirmation of your atheistic world view? Or are you left only with a feeling of despair?

Bertrand Russell himself states:
"That man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.

Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding dispair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."


Is this the uplifting confirmation of your atheism you feel? If your atheism is correct this is the great message atheism has to offer mankind. There's more to your existence than that Matt, however you need to be willing to look.

but the very fact that you're arguing for them severely undermines their claim to universal status

If I am on a vacation with my wife and we get into an argument about the proper directions to our destination, does that invalidate the claim that there really is a proper road to follow? Or does it merely illustrate that our perspectives are limited?

Your argument is faulty. All it illustrates is how people can disagree about what the particulars of the moral law. It says nothing about it's universal reality.

If we all have access to some kind of moral law then we do numerous contentious moral issues exist: abortion, the death penalty, homosexuality, the treatment of animals, human rights, is war justified, etc.

Does the fact that these contentious issues exist illustrate that that there is no moral standard? Or does it simply illustrate that people disagree about how the moral law applies to these issues,or even how government should handle them?

Matt, if there is no God, then these are not morally contentious issues. They are simply disagreements between chemical reactions. I know that sounds absurd, but that's exactly what atheism has to offer.

What about the porn issue that came up on another post? I have no problem with consenting adults indulging in or watching such acts, whereas you seem to. Where is this universal moral law?

Matt, all you illustrate here is that you can ignore the moral law, just as I could ignore my wife's advice to consult a map.

Moral realism and moral relativism aren't mutually exclusive

Moral realism Moral realists argue that moral judgments describe moral facts.

moral relativism Moral relativists hold that no universal standard exists by which to assess an ethical proposition's truth.

-source Wikipedia

Not mutually exclusive?

my moral compass may be subjective, but it still exists - my moral decisions are real to me.

what's the use of a compass that shows a different north depending on your situation? You may call that subjective, but I think most people would just call it broken.

So are you basically saying you are an expressivst?

Expressivists believe that when using moral language we are not claiming that a certain position is correct, but instead that we approve of it. So if someone said "killing is wrong" they are saying "I approve of the statement 'killing is wrong'" rather than "the statement 'killing is wrong' is true".

-source Wikipedia

Now regarding your poll results, in response to the first proposition:

What is right and wrong depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world

if that's what right and wrong depends on, who says that it is right to consider the effects on people and society? This is simply the proposition that hits most closely to what the moral law actually is. It says noting of where it comes from.

Now the second proposition: What is right and wrong is basically just a matter of personal preference This is exactly what you get if there is no God. It would seem most people don't much care for that option.

As for the third: What is right and wrong is unchanging and should never be challenged This proposition is set up for failure from the start. The way people interpret this is akin to: Those who tell you what is right and wrong should never be challenged Now if moral realism is correct it is impossible to challenge because it's a fact. It would be the same as challenging the law of gravity. We can argue all day about who is correct regarding such and such moral issue, but only if there is a such thing as "right" to begin with.

So anyway, if polls are arbiter of truth in this world, I'll offer this little salvation by survey for your reading enjoyment:

79% of Americans believe there is a God

Ha! Take that!

2:41 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
After rereading that last post I realize I sound like a two year old who missed his nap. I apologize for the sarcastic tone. At the time I was a bit irritated about the seeming correlation between your shroom popping friend and the faith I hold. Not that that's really an excuse. What were you trying to get at with that quote anyway?

So anyway I just wanted to apologize for my petty behavior. Sorry bout that man.

4:56 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

Sorry bout that man.

It's my fault for using the quote without explaining why - I simply wanted to make the point that people interpret emotional experiences in the best framework they have.

Bill Hicks, in case some people don't know, is probably one of the best comedians/social critics of the last few decades - once you get past the vulgarity, there's a profoundly optimistic view of mankind.

With regards to the quote: I don't believe that taking drugs enabled him to see God, but, if you listen to him tell the story, it's impossible to doubt his sincerity. So - if you're critical of his experience, you can hopefully understand how I'm critical of yours.

(I'll deal with the rest of your post later - I just wanted to clear up that no insult was intended)

5:30 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I think there's any number of problems living your life pretending God does not exist.

If you're "pretending" that God doesn't exist, then you're in trouble. But, as I don't believe in God, such a statement doesn't apply to me.

You end up in a situation where "you" are the sole foundation of any moral proposition.

Pretty much. I think you've hit the nail on the head with the label expressivist - through I think 'Quasi-realist' is more accurate:

Quasi-realism is an expressivist meta-ethical theory propounded by Simon Blackburn which asserts that though our moral claims are projectivist we understand them in realist terms as part of our ethical experience of the world.

Although my moral statements are ultimately emotional in origin, they feel just as real as anything else - which is what I was trying to get at by claiming that the distinction between relativism and realism is questionable. Once you drop the idea of 'objective' knowledge then 'subjective' knowledge is to all extents and purposes as real as anything else.

For you there's a clear distinction. But you can only get that by arguing that the world exists and is understandable separately from our perceptions of it. For me that's impossible and therefore the distinction doesn't exist.

Agree to disagree?

It may be the only way forward. If God exists as you think he does, then my scheme is as you describe it: meaningless and empty. If God does not exist, then my scheme is a perfectly valid and meaningful approach to life.

does that invalidate the claim that there really is a proper road to follow?

No, but it seems to invalidate the idea that we all have inherent knowledge of that road.

Or does it simply illustrate that people disagree about how the moral law applies to these issues,or even how government should handle them?

Is taking the life of a murderer right or wrong? Is homosexuality right or wrong? Is animal cruelty right or wrong? Is 'collateral damage' right or wrong?

Do these arguments look like they differ on the fundamentals or the particulars to you?

Matt, if there is no God, then these are not morally contentious issues.

'Objectively', no. 'Subjectively', they are. If there is no God then only the latter matters. So, these issues are just as contentious to me as they are to you. Regardless of our metaphysics.

Matt, all you illustrate here is that you can ignore the moral law

So... I actually agree with you, I just won't admit it?

what's the use of a compass that shows a different north depending on your situation?

North is pretty much always north, as our feelings are pretty consistent - I hate suffering now, I'll probably continue to hate it for a long while. That's my north.

6:50 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
I just wanted to clear up that no insult was intended

Glad to hear it. Thanks.

I simply wanted to make the point that people interpret emotional experiences in the best framework they have.

We both agree on this point. However I was not trying to make the argument that when I look out into the night sky I see God (I don't), therefore God exists. What I was trying to say is that when I look into the night sky I am put in my proper context. If there is no God my context dictates I am a pointless accident.

I was not familiar with Bill Hicks.

if you're critical of his experience, you can hopefully understand how I'm critical of yours.

Matt, are you trying to make the connection that my position is basically the same as being on drugs? I'm critical of his experience because he was altering his brain with foreign chemicals. I would hope you are critical of my position on other grounds than thinking I'm high. Besides, as I was stating earlier, when I look into the night sky I don't see visions or have any sort of mystical experience. All I am illustrating is our proper context. I'd venture to guess our experience of looking out into space is identical. It's how we fit that into our world view that differs.

6:53 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

if that's what right and wrong depends on, who says that it is right to consider the effects on people and society?

It's an is rather than an ought. People care about what happens to others - it's a simple fact of life. No amount of arguing can cause empathy to vanish. It can be misdirected, but never got rid of.

It would seem most people don't much care for that option.

I don't care for that option - it describes a moral system in which we fail to take others into account, and most people can't do that.

We can argue all day about who is correct regarding such and such moral issue, but only if there is a such thing as "right" to begin with.

Most people cling to an outdated notion of moral objectivity, claiming that they don't just think something's right, but it really is right. The end result of most arguments featuring such people is raised tempers and abuse.

Progress is only made through co-operation and compromise, when we take other people's views into consideration and come up with a way forward that most can agree to.

6:56 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

If there is no God my context dictates I am a pointless accident.

Heh, now it's my turn to say that you're better than your philosophy. For me, the point of life is to live it. That's a decision I made for myself.

If you feel pointless, I can only suggest that you take a good hard look around you and ask yourself whether you really think there's no reason to live.

I would hope you are critical of my position on other grounds than thinking I'm high.

Yes and no. There's no ultimate difference between drugs and emotions - both are chemical reactions which affect the way we feel and distort our perception. We then interpret that through reason using the best conceptual scheme we have.

There's no fundamental difference between me, you and Hicks staring up at the sky - we all had experiences (of varying intensity) which we then interpret in the ways which make most sense to us.

7:03 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Although my moral statements are ultimately emotional in origin, they feel just as real as anything else

but in your view they are not actually real. Why do you then wish to live your live enslaved to a set of moral propositions that are in-fact groundless and prohibitive to you living your life as you wish. Or do I assume to much? If your a moral proposition gets in the way of your life do you simply chose to over rule it? After all, it's not actually real.

Basically what this amounts to is: "If you feel it, it's right". Which leads one down the road of "might makes right". Is that the place you want to be? What happens when you don't "feel" like being "moral" does that then make whatever you do feel a moral proposition as well?

It seems to me your philosophy is driving your decision regarding which moral school of thought you hold. This idea that morality is only as real as you feel it is amounts to utter nonsense. It essentially teaches that a culture that would sell it's children into prostitution, leave it's elderly to die in the woods and allow the husbands to beat their wives is simply wrong "to you". You can appeal to your empathy till you are blue in the face but it doesn't get you any closer to being able to call such a culture wrong.

So I guess it's no wonder that you don't have a problem with pornography. However, when you say, I hate suffering now, I'll probably continue to hate it for a long while. Where do you draw the line in your loathing of suffering?

to take this one step further

Armin and his buddy had a little consensual fun. Might say there was a bit of suffering involved, but hey in the end everyone got what they wanted right?

Do you find it distasteful that perhaps the women who involve themselves in porn have families? Mothers? Fathers? Does their decision to be involved in such acts for money not affect others who are a part of their world? Do you feel sadness that the culture of pornography is rife with abuse and those who feed off the low self image of certain women? Do you hate the suffering of these girls when they become to old to continue acting and then find themselves in dysfunctional relationships because a very personal and intimate part of their person-hood has been lost forever? Would you want your daughter to be a porn actress?

I can see how porn is easy to justify when you are all alone and feeling a bit randy, but does that mean it's a good and proper use of your time?

For me all the explanatory leg work is valid, but at the end of the day the main reason that I can make these justifications is that God created us for love. He loves each of us with a burning passion. Now when you ask me why is it wrong for one to violate another or to commit an immoral act that no one will see, I will tell you that it is wrong because it grieves the heart of God.

I am just finding it hard to believe that you would actually want to live in a world where your morality is basically an illusion. I would find it hard to act upon a stimulus if I knew it was illusionary. I find it hard to believe you are any different. I would seem that you prefer this route simply because it keeps the door shut on God. However, when you consider the fact that the quasi-moral realist argument was formulated purely as an attempt to avoid where "actual" moral realism points, it would seem the only reason one would chose the quasi or over the actual is to avoid the reality of God.

What's the point of accepting an illusionary version of reality when there is no real reason to reject the "actual" version? Other than simply saying you don't like where that logic leads, there really is no reason.

Your rejection of "outdated" moral realism, would appear to be born from a philosophical bias rather than an actual refutation of the concept it's self.

Without begging the question quasi-moral realism still leaves you with the reality that there is no such thing as right or wrong.

12:17 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

but in your view they are not actually real.

No, they're real - but not in the objective sense that a lot of people claim.

When I make the statement 'X is wrong', I'm essentially saying that I disapprove of X. My disapproval is real - but that's as far as it goes.

Why do you then wish to live your live enslaved to a set of moral propositions that are in-fact groundless and prohibitive to you living your life as you wish.

Because they don't.

If I were to go around stealing, lying and being violent my life would rapidly head down the crapper - I'd end up untrusted, friendless and with a large of number of enemies.

My 'moral rules', such as 'Don't cause people pain', are grounded in intuitive feelings, such as 'the suffering of others unpleasant' - I can't change the latter, so I can't change the former either.

If your a moral proposition gets in the way of your life do you simply chose to over rule it?

Yes. As a rule I don't lie to people - but, if I thought that lying would cause less suffering than being honest I'd set that rule aside in that situation. As a rule, I'm not violent, but I'd set that aside to protect people I cared about.

Moral rules are great as general guidelines, but in every situation you have to make a decision about the best cause of action to take.

Basically what this amounts to is: "If you feel it, it's right". Which leads one down the road of "might makes right".

Depends what you mean by "might" - there's no objective set of behavioural rules that we can appeal to in situations where we disagree, so ultimately it'll be the person with the best argument, or the biggest army that wins out. We see this all throughout history.

It'd be nice if things were different, if, when confronted by the likes of the Nazis, we could appeal to some divine rulebook to get them to change their ways. But, if you want that to be the case then you need to dedicate your life to convincing every single person on this planet that your views about God are correct and unquestionable, because that's the only way it's ever going to come about.

What happens when you don't "feel" like being "moral"

I'm not quite sure how I could. If my behaviour was intentionally immoral, in that it went against what I thought was the right thing to do, then my behaviour would be essentially self-harming, as I'd be acting against my better judgment.

It essentially teaches that a culture that would sell it's children into prostitution, leave it's elderly to die in the woods and allow the husbands to beat their wives is simply wrong "to you".

That's all we can say.

You can appeal to your empathy till you are blue in the face but it doesn't get you any closer to being able to call such a culture wrong.

In what sense? I do believe that such a culture is wrong, and therefore can call it that.

Where do you draw the line in your loathing of suffering?

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

Armin raises the issue of what we think about euthanasia - personally, I'm conflicted. On the one hand, if someone doesn't want to live then why shouldn't they do it, on the other, you have the problem of whether he was in his right mind when making the decision - which in turn leads to lots of questions about what constitutes a 'right' mind, etc.

But then what's the problem with having moral grey areas such as this? We can't be expected to have neat little answers to everything. All I can say is that, if I were to know someone like Brandes, I'd do my best to change his mind, because I think that life is worth living. Believing in an objective moral system would mean I phrased some of my arguments differently, but that's it. It wouldn't change what I thought or how I acted.

Do you find it distasteful that perhaps the women who involve themselves in porn have families?

I think you're conflating a whole range of issues with the porn question.

If someone is involved in a course of action which is harming others then, regardless of what that action is, I'd look for ways to change it - if I thought a friend's porn career was affecting his or her family, I'd make her aware of that and implore her to consider their feelings. If I thought a friend's career in finance was hurting his or her family I'd do exactly the same.

I don't consider porn, in itself, moral or immoral. It's the effect that specific actions have on people that counts. If a women worked as a porn star, but she and her children were perfectly happy and not heading for any real problems because of it, then I wouldn't consider it immoral in the slightest. If because of it she'd developed a crack habit and was neglecting the welfare of her children, then I'd have a problem with it.

I will tell you that it is wrong because it grieves the heart of God.

But what happens when you stop caring about what God wants? What happens when you choose not to listen to Him? Why would you bother listening to Him when it got in the way of what you wanted, etc.

1:46 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

However, when you consider the fact that the quasi-moral realist argument was formulated purely as an attempt to avoid where "actual" moral realism points, it would seem the only reason one would chose the quasi or over the actual is to avoid the reality of God.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by this. Quasi-realism makes no claims as to the existence of moral statements beyond the individual perception of the world - merely that, while such judgments are ultimately "internal" in origin, we perceive them as qualities of the external world.

(That they're not actually such qualities can be seen by the simple fact that different people react differently to events. I may see an act as inherently wrong, but the fact that others don't shows that it's an internal feeling rather than a solid 'fact' about the external world.)

1:55 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I am dying a death by volume. I'm sorry I don't have the time to address every single point you raise.

However I cannot resist this statement for the time being.

That they're not actually such qualities can be seen by the simple fact that different people react differently to events. I may see an act as inherently wrong, but the fact that others don't shows that it's an internal feeling rather than a solid 'fact' about the external world.

To say that because people disagree about something says absolutly nothing about whether what they are disagreeing on is a fact or not.

You are right to say that our disagreements show we do not have an infalible knowledge of the moral law, but that's as far as you can take it.

To claim that because people disagree then there is no absolute would be akin to me saying that no one won the world series last year because two people cannot agree on who won.

The fact that there is even an argument present gives creedence to the fact that there is a moral law, not the other way around. It's kind of hard to argue about a truth when there is no truth to begin with.

2:12 PM

 
Anonymous moe said...

then you need to dedicate your life to convincing every single person on this planet that your views about God are correct and unquestionable

If he could I believe he would. He is choosing to start with you.

7:37 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

What use is an objective moral law if no-one can agree on what it is?

To claim that because people disagree then there is no absolute would be akin to me saying that no one won the world series last year because two people cannot agree on who won.

I'm not outright denying the possibility of an objective moral fact, but all the evidence seems stacked against the idea. To put your analogy in context, imagine that numerous people claimed to know the results of the world series yet put forward numerous different answers and could offer no proof of its existence to those who asked.

The fact that there is even an argument present gives creedence to the fact that there is a moral law, not the other way around.

Except that the naturalistic explanation suffices just as well: we share a common genetic history, environment and (to a large extent) culture, which has taken a general aversion of pain and desire for pleasure and fashioned them into guidelines for living.

That we agree on general points (suffering = bad), yet disagree on specifics (such as porn), lends a lot of credibility to this theory.

Nothing you've offered up has given me any reason to question it.

It's kind of hard to argue about a truth when there is no truth to begin with.

People argue about fiction all the time.

We can have arguments about right and wrong because people have preferences - it's the extent that we share them that's the issue. I've yet to see any evidence that clear-cut moral facts (action X is wrong) exist separately to our perceptions and preferences.

5:11 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
What use is an objective moral law if no-one can agree on what it is?

What's the use of your brain if no one can agree how it works, or what's running it?

If everyone had a perfect moral compass do you think it would make much difference in the state of affairs? Besides, I'm not making the argument that the moral law needs to be objective for any sort of pragmatic reason. I'm making the argument that it's objective because it actually is.

Now as far as "proving" this to you I don't think we are going to make much headway. I believe Jesus is God. I've seen how living according to his revelation changes people for the better. I've experienced in my own life how making a conscious effort to love those you disagree with actually changes you from the inside out. The moral law revolves around love. You say your morality revolves around the avoidance of suffering. I think that's a bit short sighted.

I believe love is real. It's a reflection of God. It's what we were made for. Atheism believes love is a reproduction instinct acting upon an organism that has a consciousness that we cannot explain that will only exist for a brief moment as part of a mindless, purposeless singularity that came from nothing.

I believe the big bang was God speaking all creation into existence. I believe we are here for a purpose. We are here to love God and love each other. Funny how those who live in that reality seem to be the most vibrant and happy people I know.

could offer no proof of its existence to those who asked.

Would that lead you to the conclusion that no one must have won? Or would you conclude that surly someone must have won and begun a little honest research?

Except that the naturalistic explanation suffices just as well:...
Nothing you've offered up has given me any reason to question it.


I guess I really don't know what to say to you. It seems you really want to believe that your life is a chance happening of mindless chemicals. You act like you want to believe love is real, but only in the sense that the organism you call 'you' happens to feel it. The fact that you operate from a first person perspective does not seem to give you pause in your naturalistic outlook. The idea that the universe sprang from nothing is just brushed aside while waiting for some other 'theory' that will not be as problematic for the atheist. You say you live a meaningful life because it's meaningful 'to you', while at the same time affirming that 'you' are just the synthesis of mindless matter. I see it as a very odd world you wish to live in. I'm still not all together sure why you seem so determined to stay in that place. This will be the hell of your own making and God will step aside and let you.

Perhaps it is as Dawkins says and I'm simply deluded. However, if I was ever to lose this 'delusion' the 'reality' atheism sells would be exactly what Russell says. A foundation of unyielding despair.

I am at a complete loss as to why you don't see it that way.

7:21 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Perhaps it is as Dawkins says and I'm simply deluded. However, if I was ever to lose this 'delusion' the 'reality' atheism sells would be exactly what Russell says. A foundation of unyielding despair.

I am at a complete loss as to why you don't see it that way.


Well, that's only natural. You wouldn't be a Christian if you saw it the way we did. Similarly, you wouldn't be Christian if you saw things the way that a Muslim sees them. It's a critical part of our spirituality that we specifically don't comprehend the perspective of a radically different ideology. The moment we do, we are no longer capable of subscribing to our own personal worldview in quite the same way.

Funny how those who live in that reality seem to be the most vibrant and happy people I know.

Some are. Some aren't. Based on history alone, religious faith doesn't appear to correlate that much with quality of life and self-satisfaction. Bear in mind that the very notion of being an atheist requires an enormous sense of self-security. Of completeness in the absence of a 'Father' and 'protector'. Many atheists are perfectly content because an important prerequisite for atheism is this sense of self-assuredness. Natural selection at a philosophical level, almost. They aren't all happy in their lives, of course. Some are surely miserable, but not because of a lack of faith. Misery is determined by far more day-to-day matters than spiritual philosophy (employment, relationships, death etc).

For this discussion to develop further, you will have to accept that, so long as you remain Christian, you will probably never 'get' atheism. I said to an earlier poster that there is an inevitable part of a debate like this which ultimately comes down to two people staring at the sky with different coloured spectacles and arguing about what colour it is. The person wearing red tinted lenses is never going to 'get' the other guy's belief that the sky is green until he swaps glasses (or takes his off and realises that the sky is blue, perhaps).

For me, the main objective of this discussion is to assess not necessarily how other people justify their existence, but simply whether they succeed in doing so. I think Tom Freeman and Matt have made solid cases regarding how one can be atheist and yet retain a moral framework. That atheists exist and in many cases lead contented lives is proof alone that it is possible. Now, whether they are deluded or not is a timeless question that will perhaps never be answered to everyone's satisfaction.

And regarding who won the World Series...

GO CARDS!!!!!!!!


ps Alex, have you ever read Cicero's On Duties? I think there's a lot in there that would at least make the atheist moral anchor more tangible for you, even if you still didn't quite 'feel' it was right. I'm a fan of Seneca's letter, too. I dunno. The Romans just explain things easier and with a lot less bluster than contemporary writers and ancient athenians alike.

9:00 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Oh, neither Cicero nor Seneca were atheists of course (although Seneca does claim that whether God exists or not is largely academic to living a good life). However, their emphasis on material reasons for 'doing good' and 'being happy' are easily applicable regardless of spiritual belief.

9:05 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

There's not much that I can add to what Incitatus has just said - I agree with him pretty much 100%.

I'm making the argument that it's objective because it actually is.

Would I be correct in summarising your argument thusly: God exists and has a specific idea of how we should live. This idea constitutes moral law.

If that's the case, then the big stumbling block is the fact that I don't believe in God.

Funny how those who live in that reality seem to be the most vibrant and happy people I know.

Ouch.

I know a mixture of atheists, agnostics and theists, and can honestly say that their metaphysical beliefs make no difference to how vibrant or happy they are. You obviously need to start hanging around with a better class of non-believers.

Or would you conclude that surly someone must have won and begun a little honest research?

That's what I've been trying to do. But, the more I look at morality and hear what people have to say on the issue, the less plausible an objective system appears.

I see it as a very odd world you wish to live in.

It's not about wishing, it's about being true to myself. I could devote myself to God and live a complete lie. Telling myself: "Well, no part of me believes in this, but, heck! it could be fun and it would solve certain problems."

Besides, if I based my view of the universe on what I want to be true, Buddhist concepts of enlightenment and karma beat the monotheistic religions anytime.

9:27 AM

 
Anonymous moe said...

Since we are sharing book ideas have either of you read the books The Case for Christ or The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel.

If it is proof you like to see then The Case for Christ does a great job of using the evidence we have currently and the criteria todays scholars use to make their claims. On a similar note Letters From a Skeptic by Greg Boyd may be another good one to read because for me that one answered some questions I had when I was in my 'searching' phase I guess you could call it.

12:15 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

FYI,
Taking some time to think these things through. Life has been quite fast paced lately as well. I have a few things started, but nothing I want to post just yet. You fellas have a good weekend!

7:08 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incitatus, Many atheists are perfectly content because an important prerequisite for atheism is this sense of self-assuredness.

Do you truly believe this? With every ounce of your being, do you believe this to be true? That many atheists are perfectly content?

Alex, with every ounce of your being, do you believe that those who live in that reality seem to be the most vibrant and happy people I know?

Is anyone ever truly content with their life and belief of what life consists of? Do I know that answer, of course not. We can all speculate as much as we want on how people feel. But only the individual knows this answer.

We are all capable of putting up facades. Some on the outside can see right past these facades. Others can put up some the most beautiful and intricate facades that no one at the storefront can see past, but only the owner knows there is brokenness on the other side.

I am not here to to fend one way or the other today. I'm here to ask you all individually what kinds of facades you are putting up. Are you being truly honest with yourselves? Will you allow a great work to take place in your life, if it's there knocking? Truth is out there. Let me tell you again. Truth IS out there. Are you being totally honest with yourself? Are you being totally, completely, truly honest with yourself? Please allow me to ask you to take down your facade. Show yourself.

7:29 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

anon,
Alex, with every ounce of your being, do you believe that...

I'm working on some things that will clarify what I mean by this. I can see how my statement could be taken as a kind of "Christians are the most happy people I know" sort of thing which is not at all what I'm hinting at. Also "happy and vibrant" are two words that can be taken quite differently than my intent.

You are totally correct about the facades. Christians are probably the most guilty of this. That's part of the reason I enjoy talking with these boys. They are not afraid to ask the questions that we ALL should be asking. I find these sorts of conversations getting shut down pretty quick amongst the average church goer. So on that level I really appreciate their honesty. However there are a few areas that I don't think they are being totally honest about.

Thanks for the thoughts

8:04 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Please allow me to ask you to take down your facade. Show yourself.

From Anonymous

; )



I also wrote:
They aren't all happy in their lives, of course. Some are surely miserable, but not because of a lack of faith. Misery is determined by far more day-to-day matters than spiritual philosophy (employment, relationships, death etc).

If I seemed to be making the case that atheists are happier for being atheists I certainly didn't intend to. My aim was to argue that they weren't any less content than their theist neighbours.

'Are you being totally, completely, truly honest with yourself?'

I strive to be, and that's all that anyone can ask of themselves.

11:28 AM

 
Blogger moe said...

Hi to all.

11:47 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incitatus, (and Matt)
Well, that's only natural. You wouldn't be a Christian if you saw it the way we did.

there is an inevitable part of a debate like this which ultimately comes down to two people staring at the sky with different coloured spectacles and arguing about what colour it is. The person wearing red tinted lenses is never going to 'get' the other guy's belief that the sky is green until he swaps glasses (or takes his off and realises that the sky is blue, perhaps).

So what are you saying here? Are you saying that well all are incapable of seeing the world from another's perspective? Or are you saying that the atheist is the only one with the courage to see the world for what it is?

Let me be perfectly here. When I say I have been trying to see the world through the lens of the atheist. I really mean that. My questioning here has in part been an effort to really understand your perspective. Numerous times I have attempted to state back to the readers here what it is I understand atheism to be. For the most part I have received little objection to my understanding of this world view. Most of the dissent is regarding the implications that I draw from my understanding. I cannot avoid the impression that most of the objections to my presentations of the implications are based on either a purposeful and willful self-deception, or just plain wishful thinking.

Based on history alone, religious faith doesn't appear to correlate that much with quality of life and self-satisfaction.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that I am not referring to religious faith. I am talking about those who know love and know why they are here. I would argue that the religious and those I speak of are not necessarily one in the same. Amongst the ones I have in mind they are marked by two things.

One, they exibit a love that most in society would call crazy. The general public view them as being a little "off". To most people their behavior just does not make sense. One individual in particular has raised his own children and sent them off to college, but he and his wife continue to adopt children from rough backgrounds and raise them as their own. These are the kids society would call broken, troubled, "problem kids". So far they've adopted five of them and raised them as their own. It makes no sense! The get nothing but "inconvenience" out of this arrangement. They are kissing their second honeymoon goodbye in order to give these kids a chance. There is a complete disavowal of self interest displayed in his life. He's one of the happiest and most loving men I know.

Second there's a general distrust of religion yet a radical love of God.


Let me be clear here. I am NOT saying that the atheist cannot be a happy person. I am not saying that all the atheists I know are dragging their feet through life. What I am saying is that the more I understand the implications of atheism, the more I see how the only way one can maintain a positive outlook is by generating it "yourself" in complete defiance of the world view you hold. Atheism posits a hopeless absurd existence. To be happy you must simply ignore that. Christianity not only answers the questions the athieist cannot answer (cause of the universe, consciousness, why the moral law ought to be followed) but it puts a foundation to all joy, happiness, love and purpose in life. It confirms our instinct. I live in harmony with my world view, not in defiance.

Now when Matt says this:

It's not about wishing, it's about being true to myself. I could devote myself to God and live a complete lie. Telling myself: "Well, no part of me believes in this, but, heck! it could be fun and it would solve certain problems."

I respect that. I do not by any means advocate a life built around baseless wishful thinking simply to solve some kind of cognitive dissonance. If you don't believe it, you ought not be a part of it. I'd imagine we can all agree on that. What I'm trying to accomplish here is not necessarily to show why I believe the way I do, but more so to show that atheism is not the noble, honest and reasonable world view it seems to be. I feel that if I could possibly illustrate the logical outcome of atheism you would look at it and want nothing to do with it. Then perhaps the discussion could move on a bit from there. The unfortunate realization I'm coming to, however, is that my impassioned rants are only solidifying your stance. Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. ;-)

Tom Freeman and Matt have made solid cases regarding how one can be atheist and yet retain a moral framework.

Certainly. But first they must choose to believe that consciousness can simply emerge from matter creating a immaterial state that is able to conceive it's self and others. I reject this notion as do a substantial number of people who study this sort of thing. Those that accept this position do so on existing philosophical presuppositions rather than evidence. Not that I blame them. I do plenty of rejecting on the basis of philosophical presuppositions myself. In fact, almost all my arguments are philosophical in nature. But I digress...

I've heard plenty of arguments that take our state of consciousness as a given, though I by no means think it should be treated as a such. From that point the argument goes:

I feel feel empathy towards people, therefore I should treat them as I would want them to treat me.

There are two things happening here. One is a pragmatic conviction that treating people in such a way will result in better treatment for yourself. This is motivated by self interest and I'd argue that anyone of moderate intelligence discovered this by the age of five. You don't motivate people to treat you as you'd like by being a prig. The second thing that is taking place in this argument the the positing of a value statement. Since you feel empathy towards people in general, you "should" submit to that feeling. Where does this "should" come from? The response I've heard so far is not that "it's a should, it's an is. But to me that's an unsubstantiated leap. One can develop or ignore ones sense of empathy over quite a wide spectrum. What's to say that an over-developed sense of empathy is "better" than an under-developed one? From a natural selection point of view a high degree of empathetic action runs counter to the survival of the fittest. Dawkins and Dennett both recognize this. They acknowledge that we have "outgrown" evolution. So if the cold hard reality of survival is no longer the motivator behind our morality but purely our own personal "feelings" where does that leave us?

The problem is this: Empathy is just a feeling. To some degree you cannot help the feelings you have. As rational agents we can choose between which feelings we submit to according to our "preferences". The question is then what influences our "preferences"? Biology? Environment? Absolutely. However, if that the absolute end of the story, then you are basically saying your moral proclamations are nothing but the product of chance. They are nothing more than the burbling of matter + time + chance. They are meaningless.

In that light you cannot say is it "good" to have compassion on another human. There is no ground for that statement in atheism. All you can say is that your body feels pleasant when it considers an act of compassion.

The other aspect of the "I feel empathy, therefore" argument I reject is that idea that empathy is all we need for a moral foundation. This would indeed be true if man could not help but submit to his feelings, but as I stated earlier, over time empathy can be developed or diminished in accordance with the choices of the individual. Simply appealing to humanities empathy is insufficient because, like all feelings, empathy if a fickle emotion that is subject to the whims of biology and environment. You may even feel empathetic feelings towards someone who is receiving just punishment. However, in that circumstance your feelings will be informed with more information, plus your character (defined by past choices) will help influence how you formulate the two into either action, or non-action. The feeling of empathy is just one part of the puzzle. What you do with it is when we start making moral statements. Something as fluid as a human emotion will serve as a poor foundation for moral dialogue.

Now getting back to Incitatus's statement:
Tom Freeman and Matt have made solid cases regarding how one can be atheist and yet retain a moral framework.

We are left talking about two very different things. To the atheist morality is simply acting in accordance with your own personal feelings. Sure, the atheist can maintain that stance. To me that a such impotent type of morality as to make me even hesitate to use the word. It should be pretty clear to you at this stage in life that you probably should not act on every impulse you feel. For the most part, pragmatism will inform which feelings you choose to submit to and which you reject. Is that the end of the road? Cold hard pragmatic deliberation? Is the denial of self to the service of others with no expectation of benefit better than "just getting by"? Most people would like to say that altruism is the embodiment of a higher morality, but to the atheist it should not even factor unless one is being pulled towards it by a "feeling". Then, just as with any decision one makes regarding a feeling, it needs to be informed with information. When the information in part says that you get nothing but inconvenience in return for said action you then have the ability to choose between action or non action.

The rest of the "other information" I am referring to here is one's world view. If my reality is built around the idea that other people are just an interesting formation of matter running it's meaningless course, then my motivation to action is diminished. The Christian world view is markably different. In the Christian world view we are all created in the image of God. Every person you meet is an eternal creature who will have an existence long outliving our brief lives on this earth. We are all transient voyagers and our highest calling is love. The one who made us created us out of love, to be loved and to love. The basis of my morality is love. The basis of my morality is to place others above me. This is a higher morality. I can say this because I know the standard by which I measure and it's not my feelings. My feelings scream ME!!! at the top of their lungs. My feelings tell me to do "just enough"... Trust me, the less I rely on my feelings as the source for my moral standard the better off we all will be.

Now when I said that I "know the standard by which I measure", I mean just that. I know Him. He is my standard. I do not know Him perfectly, but like all relationships you grow. The more I trust Him the more I see that He truly is Good. There is no question He is a "hidden God" but I do not doubt Him for a second when He says, "If you seek me with all your heart you will find me." Yes, like anything this relies on interpretation and chances are I'm off on many things, but this reality does not hinder my search for truth.

So to sum this up, the gnawing feeling that there really is such a thing as a higher and lower morality and the reality that we all feel that people have value in a way that is beyond how they relate to us personally, leads me ever-on with my conclusion that there truly is more to life than the participation in a meaningless chemical reaction.

I know you want to believe that as well. I respect your admission that you just cannot believe in this god stuff and still be true to yourself. I would just encourage you to not shut the door without being darn sure about what's on the other side. The fact that you continue to engage me in conversation shows that you are open to the idea at least enough to carry on a several month long running debate on the topic. Keep questioning. But most of all check your heart. Watch your motivations. Try and restrain yourself from trying to win for winnings sake. Personally I have a tough time with that one. Let's try to continue this conversation as a search for truth. If I'm living a lie I want to know it. I'm sure you all feel the same.

1:00 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

This is just a quick comment - I might need a while to digest all of what you've written.

Let me be perfectly here. When I say I have been trying to see the world through the lens of the atheist. I really mean that.

I don't think anyone here doubts your sincerity. However, it seems incredibly different to see the world through another persons eyes without considerable effort.

From time to time I test out Pascal's Wager to a degree and try to pretend that there is a God (which, given that I believed in Him up until I was about 13, is a fairly easy belief to slip back into). But, because my entire worldview is non-theistic, I find it impossible to keep the pretense up for any real period of time - I'm just too used to seeing the world in purely naturalistic terms.

For me, trying to get into the religious worldview is akin to learning a foreign language - it's not just something you can slip into, but requires months, if not years of working at and often demands going right back to the basics of language and starting from scratch.

Saying that atheism doesn't feel right to you is like saying that you tried speaking Chinese but found English remained your natural language.

9:32 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

There is a complete disavowal of self interest displayed in his life. He's one of the happiest and most loving men I know.

But, if it makes him happy, as it obviously does, then surely it's in his self interest?

Most people seem to confuse self-interest with selfishness, when in fact that two are completely distinct.

For example, if I hate suffering (both in myself and others), then it's in my self-interest to try to minimise it - so I donate to charity, try to be kind to others, and encourage those around me to do likewise. In the same way, it's in my self-interest to promote a humanistic and democratic society - as that's what I'll be happiest living in.

Atheism posits a hopeless absurd existence.

Life is absurd. Gloriously so. But why hopeless? If you hope that your life is the result of a wonderful creator with a masterplan surpassing anything we human beings could come up with then you might have a point. But, if all you want is an interesting and fulfilling life then it seems quite possible.

I live in harmony with my world view, not in defiance.

So do I.

I don't regard the self-generated meaning of my life as anything more than a evolutionarily-inspired survival strategy - I'm simply enjoying the ride and making the most of it while I can.

9:43 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Okay - last comment, else this risks losing cohesion.

I feel that if I could possibly illustrate the logical outcome of atheism you would look at it and want nothing to do with it.

The problem is that you're arguing against humanism rather than atheism. The idea that our self-generated meaning is invalid (which I strongly disagree with) doesn't lead to God, it leads to nihilism.

9:45 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Matt,
Good to see your furry face again.

The idea that our self-generated meaning is invalid (which I strongly disagree with) doesn't lead to God, it leads to nihilism.

Hey hey! Exactly! But I'm not saying it's invalid. I'm saying it is valid and there's a reason it is valid. Atheism does not allow for any validity to your feelings. That's my whole point! You get such a bad taste in your mouth when I talk of your meaninglessness because you know that's not true. The thing I'm trying to get you to realize is that there MUST be more to life than mindless matter to allow for that. The leap from matter floating around in space to consciousness is a leap to that is insurmountable.

To allow for that on purely naturalistic terms you would need to admit that consciousness is a latent property of all matter. If that is the case then what's to say it did not all begin as one conscious unit? Or perhaps that it's progressing to a larger conscious end? Of course I'm not willing to go there, but it is a bit of a problem for the naturalist.

You can try and tell me that naturalism can account for consciousness, but you make that claim based solely out of our philosophical bias. Consciousness is a box that science will never be able to tap because to study an-others first person perspective all you can do is ask them about it. You can never "be" in that person's conscious state, for to do that you would still be "you" feeling their feelings, which is quite different than being them.

Anyway your strong disagreement is justified, but I'm not so sure you can defend it in a naturalistic framework.

10:10 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

The leap from matter floating around in space to consciousness is a leap to that is insurmountable.

So where did God come from?

10:25 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

That's a good question. I have a pat answer to that right over here by my... HEY! IS THAT CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON???

*the sound running feet off into the distance*

10:48 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

Ahhh, Christopher Eccleston. Great actor. Poor Doctor.

This is, I think, what it boils down to - which do you find the most plausible: God or emergence?

For you it's the former and for me it's the latter. Aside from making our cases and looking at each other in bemusement thinking: "Really? Really really? You find that plausible? Really?", it's hard to see how we might dislodge the instincts at the root of our views.

11:00 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Seriously though, if you are going to take that route, where did all the energy and matter in the universe come from?

What are you getting at here? Do you just want me to play my eternity card again?

Seems like you are side stepping everything I just said.

Does my argument have any wight to you? If not where do you see the flaw?

11:01 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

I'm not trying to side-step your points.

where did all the energy and matter in the universe come from?

I've no idea, but I know they're here - I see direct examples of them everyday. I can't say the same about God.

Does my argument have any weight to you? If not where do you see the flaw?

The absence of God in my life. If he exists, why haven't I ever - even when I believed in Him - seem any direct evidence of Him?

11:10 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

You beat me to my last post there, sorry if I sounded a bit out of context...

see direct examples of them everyday. I can't say the same about God.

And if all of creation you see really is His work? What will you say then? "I thought it was just luck" ?

Aside from making our cases and looking at each other in bemusement thinking: "Really? Really really? You find that plausible? Really?",

You make a good point.

I'm sure that's exactly what we are doing. We are at a point here where we have nothing more to draw from. Consciousness is not the sort of thing we can take a hammer and pilers to and "figure out".

We are each making of it what we wish. My question is why do each of us want to believe the way we do? You start to answer that question for yourself when you say:

The absence of God in my life. If he exists, why haven't I ever - even when I believed in Him - seem any direct evidence of Him?

Let me do my best to give you a few things to consider. First off there is a big difference between believing in someone and knowing that person. If my world view is correct God's ultimate goal for our lives is to have us trust Him so that we can be a part of the love relationship He created us for. So our ultimate end will be a relationship, not just a "knowing of" kind of situation. Now in the current state of affairs a relationship with God will be markably different than a relationship with other people.

There was a time (and often still are times) when I echo your same lament. "Why don't I see you?" Look into the Psalms. You see numerous examples of "God's chosen" lamenting His absence. Psalm 44 states:

“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?”

So when you say: why haven't I ever - even when I believed in Him - seem any direct evidence of Him?

It's a good question. But I must tell you this, I have trusted Him and I have seen the results. It's very personal stuff. Nothing that I could throw down as proof of His existence. To be honest, if I wanted to chalk them all up to coincidence I would be free to do that.

I know what you are thinking. Trust in an invisible entity who is hiding seems like a pretty tall order. For me that would also be the case if I didn't believe He showed up in history and that I can read about what He did and what He said while He was here. Matt, there is good reason to believe that Jesus was God, but you certainly don't have to believe it if you don't want to.

11:42 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

And if all of creation you see really is His work? What will you say then? "I thought it was just luck" ?

I'd complain about the lack of evidence - would a "signature" have killed him?

I have trusted Him and I have seen the results.

The thing is, I've had this conversation with a Buddhist and a Muslim, and they said exactly the same thing. It's like me saying to you that, while I can't prove anything, if you firmly believe in an atheistic universe for a few years, you'll eventually find enlightenment. Would you do it?

11:54 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I'd complain about the lack of evidence - would a "signature" have killed him?

Okay Bertrand, what if He came down and gave you a swift kick in the shorts? ;-)

The thing is, I've had this conversation with a Buddhist and a Muslim...

And THAT my friend is exactly why I said "It's very personal stuff. Nothing that I could throw down as proof of His existence." I refer you back to this statement: "there is good reason to believe that Jesus was God" If Jesus rose from the dead He allows for all the meaning and purpose you long for. If He didn't I have better things to be doing right now.

12:13 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

what if He came down and gave you a swift kick in the shorts?

It'd certainly give me pause for thought. ;-)

"there is good reason to believe that Jesus was God"

There's good reason to believe a lot of religious claims - otherwise people wouldn't believe them. But they can't all be true. I don't believe that past life regression shows the truth of reincarnation, and I don't believe that a handful of texts of question authorship put together by the church shows the truth of Jesus's divinity.

12:29 PM

 
Blogger moe said...

Is one of those good reasons you are referring to the fact that men get 70 virgins upon their death?

1:30 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I've never seen the attraction in that myself. An entire eternity of: "If you loved me, you'd wait".

2:49 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex,
I've read the main post and, like Matt, I need to go through it point by point. I fear we are treading familiar ground though.

Briefly, this caught my eye,
"What's to say that an over-developed sense of empathy is "better" than an under-developed one? From a natural selection point of view a high degree of empathetic action runs counter to the survival of the fittest.

It certainly does, which is why we are empathic only to the extent that it facilitates our communal survival. Hence we can also be mean little bastards when we want to be. Evolution is about attaining the right balance. Too much of anything is usually counterproductive from a natural selection point of view.

Dawkins and Dennett both recognize this. They acknowledge that we have "outgrown" evolution."

I have to confess, I don't read Dawkins, I find his rhetoric a little abrasive. Has he really said we have "outgrown" evolution? If he has he's just plain wrong, and certainly isn't speaking from the point of view of a conventional evolutionary biologist. You can't outgrow evolution; you might evolve to the point of recognising how to influence evolution, but you're still very much a part of it. I'll have to look into this. If he honestly believes such claptrap then he shouldn't be representing biologists. A similar sentiment I hear is that humans live outside of "nature", and that we need to get back to hit. Bollocks. We are completely a part of nature. Everything we do is "natural" in so much as it has been dictated by natural processes (i.e. evolution). That includes our making an absolute pig's ear out of our environment.

And finally for now,
"where did all the energy and matter in the universe come from?"

To get all Douglass Adams on you, I challenge you as to whether it's a matter of us not knowing the answer to questions like these, or whether we are simply asking the wrong questions. Or more likely, singularly incapable of asking the right questions.

It's like the common query of what came before the Big Bang. When you look at the contemporary view, which holds that time began with the Big Bang, you realise that the question is logically redundant. So what's the "right" question? Well, that's the tricky part. Because when you start to think about things that went on "before" or "outside" of our universe, you are dealing with an arena where we already know our physical laws collapse into irrelevance. Our questions are completely dependent on our perception of the physical laws that we observe; anything outside of that is simply incomprehensible.

Hence Stephen Hawking just stopped at the singularity and left it at that.

Perhaps that's where God is? Well, that's certainly where God is the safest from the prying eyes of empirical scientists. They will neither find him or not find him there because they will likely never know what/where/how/when "there" actually is.

Not even maths can help us there.

10:33 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

A quick restatement. They say we have outgrown "natural selection". Not evolution. My apologies.

10:47 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

There's good reason to believe a lot of religious claims - otherwise people wouldn't believe them.

Ya, I don't know about that one. Personally satisfying reasons, perhaps, but if all beliefs were held to the flame of unbiased scrutiny I doubt that you would find all beliefs to be all that well founded.

But they can't all be true.

Nope they can't.

I don't believe that a handful of texts of question authorship put together by the church shows the truth of Jesus's divinity.

Are you familiar with what mainline scholarship has to say about this "handful of questionably authored texts"? You offer a rather brisk dismissal and I wonder if that is warranted. Could it be that you don't believe that there's a God so therefore the Gospels must be legend and myth? Is your wold view dictating what is worth taking the time to look into? If you are going to use the "You didn't give me enough evidence!" excuse, could the response be given, "Well you didn't look at the evidence I gave you, what makes you think giving you more would help?"

I contacted our friend Revvvvvvd on this one as he seems to have his finger on the pulse of Biblical history better than myself. Here's what he had to say:

There are, in NT studies, two Pauline corpuses: the "Undisputed" letters, and the Deutero-Pauline texts. In no particular order, Philippians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon are all Paul. Ephesians and Collosians are 50-50 (or so), it's hard to tell. The rest - Tim, 2 Thessa, etc. - are almost certainly not Paul, and this has been known for hundreds of years. Even Luther knew Hebrews wasn't Paul. No one really knows who wrote the Gospels, but the scholarly consensus is that they date before the dawn of the 2nd century. Mark was written ca. 67, Matthew and Luke in the 70s, and John in the 80s.

Canonization is like Darwinian evolution. When it comes to historical texts, as when it comes to genes, small mutations are OK and large mutations are not. Also like Darwinian evolution, mutations increase over time. Unlike Darwinian evolution, in history texts don't get better with more mutation. Anyway...the selection process in NT canonization is no mystery: They got rid of the newer texts. So...Gospel of Philip, Barnabas, Mary, Peter (and so forth) were gotten rid of because they were too young. The canonizers only wanted letters old enough to have been written by apostles or their followers. The Dan Brown story of biblical selection is historically bunkem.

Next, is the NT historically reliable? Well...yes and no. No, because 1st century canons of historiography differ greatly from the rules of 21st century journalism. The quotations that appear in the NT are almost certainly NOT quotations in the strict sense. Facts about the details of events would also have been embellished, if not merely because human memories degrade. So, we can't look at a text and go, "Hmm...why did JEsus use the word "boat" instead of "ship"?" And now the affirmation:
First, the NT is reliable in a relative sense. We should treat the NT as any other historical document, this seems uncontroversial. How are the epistles different from the lettetrs of Tacitus, from the annals of Josephus, or the writings of Pliny and Seutonius, etc. And it appears that the information we have about Jesus rests on firmer evidential ground than the information we have about, say, Caesar and the Pharoahs and Alexander the Great. And yet those stories are passed down as fact. Well...isn't that a little biased?
However, the atheist may bite the bullet and suggest that our information about Caesar et al. should not be trusted either. Fine. But unless you can come up with a good story about why a bunch of Jewish peasants would totally reverse their religious worldview (a human god? a unique resurrection event? a suffering messiah?) as evidenced by the NT...I don't see why we shouldn't believe Jesus is God. Here's the problem: We don't believe Jesus is God "because some old text says so." That the old texts say he is God is a fact, and this fact requires explanation. Why in blue blazers would ANYONE think Jesus was God? Especially a Jew?

8:35 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

When it comes to the Bible I doubt we are going to get too far arguing authenticity.

I'm not putting forward a wikipedia article as the definitive answer, but, as Revvvvvvvd has pointed out, it's often an excellent place to start. This is what it has to say on the matter:

The critical analysis of authorship now encompasses every book of the bible. Every book in turn has been hypothesized to bear traces of multiple authorship, even the book of Obadiah, which is only a single page. In some cases the traditional view on authorship has been overturned; in others, additional support, at least in part has been found.

The development of the hypothesis has not stopped with Wellhausen. Wellhausen's hypothesis, for example, proposed that the four documents were composed in the order J-E-D-P, with P, containing the bulk of the Jewish law, dating from the post-Exilic Second Temple period (i.e., after 515 BC);[22] but the contemporary view is that P is earlier than D, and that all four books date from the First Temple period (i.e., prior to 587 BC).[23]

The documentary hypothesis has come into question in recent decades, at least in the four-document version advanced by Wellhausen and refined by later scholars such as Martin Noth (who in 1943 provided evidence that Deuteronomy plus the following six books make a unified history from the hand of a single editor), Harold Bloom, Frank Moore Cross and Richard Elliot Friedman. The direction of this criticism is to question the existence of separate, identifiable documents, positing instead that the biblical text is made up of almost innumerable strands so interwoven as to be hardly untangleable — the J document, in particular, has been subjected to such intense dissection that it seems in danger of disappearing.

Although Biblical archeology has confirmed the existence of many people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible[2], many critical scholars have argued that the Bible be read not as an accurate historical document, but rather as a work of literature and theology that often draws on historical events — and often draws on non-Hebrew mythology — as primary source material. For these critics the Bible reveals much about the lives and times of its authors. Whether the ideas of these authors have any relevance to contemporary society is left to clerics and adherents of contemporary religions to decide.


Given that both the authorship and the description of events in the Bible are suspect (Tom Paine's 'The Age of Reason' does a great job pointing out the inconsistencies and absurdities) it seems as reliable a guide to history as the works of Homer (the poet - not Simpson).

4:18 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Why in blue blazers would ANYONE think Jesus was God? Especially a Jew?

I don't know. But there was a lot of it about. Also from wikipedia...

List of claimed Jewish messiahs:

# Judas son of Hezekiah (Ezekias) (c. 4 BCE)
# Simon (c. 4 BCE)
# Athronges (c. 4-2? BCE)
# Jesus of Nazareth (c. 33 CE)
# Theudas (44-46) in the Roman province of Judea
# Menahem ben Judah partook in a revolt against Agrippa II in Judea
# Simon bar Kokhba (died c. 135), defeated in the Second Jewish-Roman War
# Moses of Crete (5th century)
# Isḥaḳ ben Ya'ḳub Obadiah Abu 'Isa al-Isfahani of Ispahan lived in Persia during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (684-705).
# Yudghan, lived and taught in Persia in the early eighth century disciple of Isḥaḳ ben Ya'ḳub Obadiah Abu 'Isa al-Isfahani of Ispahan
# Serene (Sherini, Sheria, Serenus, Zonoria, Saüra) (c. 720)
# David Alroy or Alrui (c. 1160)
# Abraham Abulafia (b. 1240)
# Nissim ben Abraham (c. 1295) active in Avila.
# Moses Botarel of Cisneros (c. 1413)
# Asher Lemmlein (1502) a German near Venice.
# David Reubeni (early sixteenth century).
# Solomon Molcho (early sixteenth century).
# Hayim Vital (1542-1620)
# Sabbatai Zevi (alternative spellings: Shabbetai, Sabbetai, Shabbesai; Tvi, Tzvi) (1626-1676)
# Barukhia Russo (Osman Baba), successor of Sabbatai Zevi.
# Miguel (Abraham) Cardoso (b. 1630)
# Mordecai Mokiakh ("the Rebuker") of Eisenstadt (active 1678-1683)
# Jacob Querido (d. 1690), said to be the reincarnation of Shabbetai Zevi.
# Löbele Prossnitz (Joseph ben Jacob), early eighteenth century
# Jacob Joseph Frank (1726-1791), founder of the Frankist movement.
# Shukr Kuhayl I, 19th-century Yemenite pseudo-messiah
# Judah ben Shalom (Shukr Kuhayl II), 19th-century Yemenite pseudo-messiah
# Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994). While Scneerson never claimed to be the messiah explicitly, he hinted strongly at the possibility on a number of occasions, and many followers maintain his status as the messiah to this day.

Besides, why would the bulk of the Jewish population reject someone who was obviously the son of God? Why would anyone think that Siddhartha Gautama had obtained enlightenment? Why would anyone think that Muhammad was God's final prophet? Why do Hindus believe in Samsara?

4:29 AM

 

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