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

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Drawing the fire

Recently I tossed out one of my token objections to atheism in the comments section of one of Stephen Laws posts. His post had basically nothing to do with the comment I made, but I touched a nerve as I always seem to do and basically I ended up hijacking the entire comments section responding to objections to my objection. So, in the interest of drawing the fire in a different direction, I decided to move the debate over here. That way the good folks over at Stephen's blog can focus on the actual issues he raised. I will start where we left off by posting a thoughtful comment by Tom Freeman in the comments section, followed by my response. If you happen to be new to this blog, thanks for stopping in!

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33 Comments:

Blogger Alex said...

Tom Freeman Says:

Alex, “If you want to affirm that your moral stance has any meaning it must be in relation to a standard that is outside your own personal preferences.”

Two things seem to follow from your position. First, that god’s moral stance itself doesn’t have any meaning, because he has no external standard. Second, and from this, that you don’t ultimately believe in morality – you believe in love, which isn’t (in the absence of an argument to that effect) the same thing. If so, the standards that we think of as being moral ones are in fact wholly to do with similarities and differences between our personalities and god’s.

Why is love the ‘morally’ relevant aspect of god for us to conform to? If he exists, then he’s supremely intelligent as well. So people with higher IQs are more in conformity with god’s nature in that respect – are they thereby ‘morally’ better? I think we’d all say no to that. But why? Without a conception of morality distinct from divine character, how do you answer that?

In fact, back in the God of Eth 2 comments, you argue:

“If God could be in His very nature… hateful, lying, murderous, destructive, without mercy, etc… then the standard by which good and evil is judged would be shifted as well.

If cruel god was the source of all existence and according to his character cruelty would be a 'good' thing to him. Not only that, but cruelty would be a 'good' thing to all of reality, since all reality was rooted in him.”

So morality is subjective? It’s based on the personal feelings of whomever happens to be top dog in the universe? It sounds as though your view of morality has much the same failings as those you charge the atheist view with.

9:31 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Tom,
Good to see you again and nice to see some thought provoking comments, as always!

You say:
. "First, that god’s moral stance itself doesn’t have any meaning"

God does not have a "moral stance" He has an eternal character. He cannot be right or wrong. He just is. Outside of Him there is no other.

You then say:
"from this, that you don’t ultimately believe in morality"

Let's define our terms here. By morality all I mean is actions can be only be right or wrong only insofar as they relate to the character of God. Allow me to illustrate:

The Atheistic naturalism attempt
Q: Why is it wrong to flog a homeless man in the alley?
A: Because he's a person.
Q: Why does that matter?
A: Because he has feelings.
Q: Can you prove that? Even so, why does that make it wrong?
A: Because you wouldn't want that done to you. You have empathy don't you?
Q: True, but why should that stop me when I want to flog this guy more than I feel sorry for him? In fact I'd say he deserves it for being such a lazy bum! Wouldn't that make me right to flog him?
A: No! It's wrong! You can't just go around flogging folks because you think they deserve it!
Q: Wrong? What do you mean wrong? I think it would be the right thing to do. It would teach him a lesson. Maybe he'd get a job after that. I'd bet in the long run it would help him.
A: But he wouldn't like it!
Q: Perhaps not, but I sure would! [Bum beater guy switches to professorial tone and clears throat] *Ahem* You see no matter how hard you may try you cannot convince me that it is 'wrong' for me to ferule this destitute citizen. You may use many words to voice your personal displeasure over my voiced intentions, but I hope by now you realize there is noting for the sky hooks to catch on. You have your feelings on the matter and I have mine. The best you can hope for in labeling my actions as wrong is appealing to a majority opinion, to which I would simply ask: Who says they are right? You have your feelings and majority opinion, but you do not have and objective 'right' or 'wrong'.

The Christian attempt
Q: Why is it wrong to flog a homeless man in the alley?
A: Because he's a person.
Q: Why does that matter?
A: Because you do not own his life, therefore it is 'wrong' for you to abuse him.
Q: If I do not own his life then who does?
A: The one who created him.
Q: Ah! I see, you are talking about God. Well in that case I believe God would want me to abuse him! He's a maximally cruel God after all, you know.
A: You sir, have been listening to too much Stephen Law! You know full well that God is good. Not because I said so, but because He simply is.
Q: Yes, yes I know. I was just messing with ya. ;-) So at any rate why does God's goodness give us grounds to say that beating bums is wrong?
A: If God is good and he gave us life then we must learn to see each other as God sees us, that being with love. Is it the loving thing to do to beat bums?
Q: No, I suppose not. But does that make it wrong?
A: Yes, because that action would be in violation of the character of the one who made us. Therefore it doesn't matter if you think the action is right or wrong. The action is wrong in relation the the foundation of all existence.
Q: Good point, but what if I was to say that God is a floating tea pot floating 3 trillion light years away etc...

Point is, the Christian is able to have an objective moral standard because God's eternal character is the unchanging standard by which all things are measured. Now the interpretations and knowability of what that standard actually is begins a new topic all together, but I digress.

Furthermore Tom asks:
"Why is love the ‘morally’ relevant aspect of god for us to conform to? If he exists, then he’s supremely intelligent as well. So people with higher IQs are more in conformity with god’s nature in that respect – are they thereby ‘morally’ better? I think we’d all say no to that. But why? Without a conception of morality distinct from divine character, how do you answer that?"

Moral accountability involves a choice. One cannot choose ones IQ therefore it's absurd to think our intelligence is a reflection of our moral fiber.

In conclusion Tom asks:
"So morality is subjective? It’s based on the personal feelings of whomever happens to be top dog in the universe?"

In my view morality is objective as it relates to the eternal unchanging character of the source of all existence. God's character is an intrinsic property of who He is. His character does not shift or change as ours does. He is constant.

When you say: "It’s based on the personal feelings of whomever happens to be top dog in the universe?" I would disagree that it's based on His 'feelings'. It's based on who He is. However, yes I would agree that the ultimate standard of 'right' and 'wrong' must be rooted in the character of the creator and sustainer of all reality.

Good questions Tom. It's been a pleasure.

9:33 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

What if the conversation goes:

Q: Why does that matter?
A: Because you do not own his life, therefore it is 'wrong' for you to abuse him.
Q: If I do not own his life then who does?
A: The one who created him.
Q: Huh?
A: I'm talking about God.
Q: Why should that matter to me? I don't believe in your God, I'm a [insert atheist or memeber of different religion here].

10:17 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Well then, are you correct in your reasoning? If you are then see the atheistic naturalistic attempt at explaining 'right' and 'wrong' in the preceding q/a.

I should also point out that this exercise was not meant to show how we are to go about changing peoples minds or enforcing our convictions in the lives of others. It is simply meant to illustrate that the Christen can logically point to an objective moral standard whereas the atheist cannot.

10:27 AM

 
Blogger Geoff said...

I don't care where you do it - Stephen's blog, your blog - but I'd still like to see a response to the "evolutionary ethics" explanation: our brains are "pre-wired" for what we call moral behaviour and attitudes, because... well, that's what happens with social animals when natural selection goes to work.

Our (human) cognitive capabilities give us greater freedom than other animals in escaping this programmed pattern, but there is no reason for thinking that the moral mind is either a tabula rasa (which you seem to attribute to atheism), or scripted by a deity.

12:31 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

You seem to hold a form of Divine Command Theory: whatever is good or right is what is commanded or dictated by God.

In Plato's dialog Euthyphro, Socrates meets Euthyphro. who is going to court to prosecute his father for murder. Socrates asks why Euthyphro would do this to his own father, and Euthyphro responds that it is the pious thing to do. It is what the gods command. Euthyphro advances his idea that the divine commands of the gods are source of moral norms and obligations.

Socrates challenges Euthyphro's position with this dilemma:

(1) Is it right to prosecute your father because the gods says so?
(2) Do the gods say it is right to prosecute your father because it is right?

Either way, we are in trouble.

If (1), then moral facts seem completely arbitrary. The gods could have dictated that it be wrong to prosecute your father. Moral facts seem to reduce to the whims of the gods.

If (2), then the gods are not the source of moral norms.

Likewise, supposing that God's will is the source of moral norms makes those moral norms arbitrary. Even if God's will is eternal and unchanging, so that murder is wrong now and always will be wrong, that does not change the fact that there are other possible worlds in which God might have dictated that murder was a moral obligation. In that possible world, murder would have been morally right and necessary. But, surely that's not right! Moral norms are inherently necessary, so they cannot be made contingent on God's whims. Divine Command Theory seems untenable.

Even if Divine Command Theory were correct, there remains what we might call the normative problem. Sure, what is morally good is what is commanded by God. But, why should I be good? This is the challenge that Thrasymachus poses to Socrates in Book I of Plato's Republic. The main task of the Republic is to solve the normative problem and show that moral norms really are binding on us.

So, you are glossing over some deep and puzzling philosophical questions. For what it's worth, I think that Christine Korsgaard did a good job at tackling this problem in her book The Sources of Normativity. Korsgaard endorses Kant's Enlightenment view that we know moral truths through Reason and that moral norms are binding because they are self-imposed principles from our own Reason. The are deep questions, so I don't think your challenge on Law's blog is all that worrying.

Lastly, you seem to equate "materialism" with atheism. But, actually, that's not right. The Christian philosopher Lynne Rudder Baker has articulated her view that Christians should be materialists about the human person insofar as she believes that human persons are constituted by human organisms. She has a lot of papers available online at her website.

12:57 PM

 
Blogger Steelman said...

The Atheistic naturalism attempt
Q: Why is it wrong to flog a homeless man in the alley?
A: Because he's a person like you, with feelings and rights. You wouldn't want to be harmed like that would you?
Q: True, but why should that stop me when I want to flog this guy more than I feel sorry for him? In fact I'd say he deserves it for being such a lazy bum! Wouldn't that make me right to flog him?
A: First of all, your flogging wouldn't cure his situation, so it’s a useless act. Second, if everyone went around flogging people they didn't like there would be nothing to stop them, or you, from ending up on the wrong end of the stick at a later date. Even if it felt good to unleash your anger on the guy in the alley, in the long run flogging the homeless would promote a social situation that wouldn't be in your own self-interest.
Q: So maybe I'd actually feel better in the long run if I used all that flogging energy to somehow help the homeless guy instead of hurt him?
A: Everyone would feel better if you did that.

There you go, Alex, the atheist's appeal to reason, subjectivity, and feelings seems to have worked. And what if the guy said he didn't care about his own self-interest and welfare? Well, I'm glad we have the police and mental health professionals to help out with such troubled individuals.

The religious attempt
Q: Why is it wrong to flog a homeless man in the alley?
A: Because he's a person.
Q: Why does that matter?
A: Because you do not own his life, therefore it is 'wrong' for you to abuse him.
Q: If I do not own his life then who does?
A: The one who created him.
Q: Ah! I see, you are talking about God. Well in that case I believe God would want me to abuse him! If the man is a Christian, and therefore a Dhimmi, and a lazy one at that, I'd be justified. Cluttering up our streets that way would be an affront to God!
A: You sir, have been listening to too much of that radical cleric! You know full well that God is good. Not because I said so, but because He simply is.
Q: Yes, yes I know, to the Ummah. To the People of the Book, not so much; they are second class.
A: If God is good and he gave us life then we must learn to see each other as God sees us, that being with love. Is it the loving thing to do to beat bums, Christian or not?
Q: God has told us that we must adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam. His word is the objective moral standard by which we must live. There should be no coddling of the infidels in our midst. Let them convert or be beaten.
A: But that action would be in violation of the character of the one who made us. Therefore it doesn't matter if you think the action is right or wrong. The action is wrong in relation the foundation of all existence.
Q: What are you, a Sufi mystic? You'd better go back and read your Koran, and accept the objective will of God, or you might find yourself at the end of a stick along with the lazy Dhimmi!

The above could have been written as a conversation between a liberal Christian and his extremist fundamentalist counterpart, who was willing to beat a homosexual, for instance, rather than two Muslims. Either way it would be the same God of Abraham, the same assertions of an "objective moral standard." People have fought wars over this type of "objectivity", and such conflicts continue today. Merely asserting objectivity, without the reason and evidence to back it up, is actually subjectivity, as I've just illustrated. And you find subjective moral standards unsatisfactory, yes?

You concluded: "Point is, the Christian is able to have an objective moral standard because God's eternal character is the unchanging standard by which all things are measured. Now the interpretations and knowability of what that standard actually is begins a new topic all together, but I digress."

I think "interpretation and knowability of what that standard actually is" is the topic that needs to be discussed first, before you go on asserting it just is because He is. As others back on Stephen Law's blog have stated, you merely assert the existence of that standard rather than providing any logical proof. You've a rather large epistemological hole in your arguments and you need to fill it with something substantial. Also, my radical Muslim seems as sure of God's character as you are. How does one go about figuring out which one of you is right about God and His objective moral standard? I mean, you can't both be right, can you?

2:14 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"It is simply meant to illustrate that the Christen can logically point to an objective moral standard whereas the atheist cannot."

On the contrary, an atheist could just as easily appeal to evolution as "the higher power/influencing force" responsible for providing the platform for our moral standards. Few people arrive at their moral perpsective through pure rational thought alone. For extreme situations we just 'know' where we stand on moral issues, most likely as a result of the combined influence of hereditory traits and environmental factors during our upbringing. We have choices regarding how to act, but in terms of how we feel the choices are far more limited it would seem.

The pitfall when talking about morality is to assume that it is a higher function. It most certainly is not. Morality is not the sole property of the higher cortical areas of the brain, nor is it the sole property of Homo sapiens. Its building blocks lie in the far more primitive areas of the brain that still have a profound controlling influence on our instincts, and as a result its resemblance can be seen in lower animals (I always like to throw out the behaviour of meerkats as an example).

The atheist doesn't demand that the beating of the homeless man be stopped as a result of an internal rational dialogue (although this might come later); he/she does so because instinct brings about a strong visceral feeling that 'this is not right'.

2:19 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey everyone,
Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. I'm glad I have a bit of time to write some responses. You all raise some great points. Please don't expect me to have all the answers, but I'll be more than happy to explore them!

Okay first to Geoff,
You say: "I'd still like to see a response to the "evolutionary ethics" explanation: our brains are "pre-wired" for what we call moral behaviour and attitudes, because... well, that's what happens with social animals when natural selection goes to work."

I find evolutionary ethics unconvincing because all it does is tell me why I might feel certain impulses. It has nothing to say about why I ought to honor them. Kind of gets back to the "is/ought" problem. You can tell me why I feel certain ways, but if I recognize that all my 'feelings' are just the product of mindless natural selection then I also have the mental horsepower to ignore them as it suites my purposes. Like I said to Tea: I have a 'natural' inclination to ogle attractive women. does that then make this natural bent in me a moral virtue?

Timmo,
To be honest I'm not a big believer in possible worlds. I suppose it's possible ;-) but I really don't find them all that helpful in deducing the moral realities we deal with in the actual world. Having said that, let me say this: If God's character were different then moral truths would have to be different as well. If the were not they would transcend God himself, thereby making God not the ultimate source of all reality. Now we are having a different discussion. If God is not the source of moral truths then what is? Does that make whatever is the ultimate source God? If so we are right back where we started.

I hear the Euthyphro Dilemma tossed around quite a bit, but personally I don't find it to be that much of a dilemma. That may be because I believe Jesus to be God and when I look at Him I see His morality is so much higher than my own that I really have no problem submitting to His standard. Sure you can say that his character is arbitrary, but I suppose that's a bullet I'm willing to bite. Since He made me to respond to His character I obviously see Him as good. Is that a good thing? I dunno. Ask Him.

You bring up the problem of normativity:
But, why should I be good?

I deal with that like this: If God is the source of all life existence, it behooves me to act in such a way that is in right relation to my creator. To act in such a way that is contrary will end up leading me nowhere, since outside of God there is no other.

Thanks for the comments and the resources you posted. I'll try and look them up when I get a chance. I'm particularly interested in how atheism might not entail materialism. If that is the case then I am not sure why atheism desires to hold to the conviction of a Godless universe.

Steelman,
You say:
"Merely asserting objectivity, without the reason and evidence to back it up, is actually subjectivity"

Yep it is... to us. Any assertion we make is subjective to our own experience regardless of the evidence we use to back it up. Does that mean that there is no such thing as an objective reality? Some have argued that, but personally I don't find that sort of speculation very useful.

"I think "interpretation and knowability of what that standard actually is" is the topic that needs to be discussed first, before you go on asserting it just is because He is."

Can you debate the knowability and interpretation of a standard that you don't believe to exist in the first place? I would argue you first need to have reason to believe there is a standard in order to debate how we might come to know it. I sense that there is a reality that our moral claims point to, consequently I seek to discover more about this perceived standard. Is there any philosophical reasons to believe such a standard exists? Is there any cosmological reason to believe it might be real? How about historical evidences? Jesus made the unequivocal claim that He was this standard. I find the evidences of his resurrection, and the way he makes sense of all reality convincing evidence that He is who he says He is.

"How does one go about figuring out which one of you is right about God and His objective moral standard? I mean, you can't both be right, can you?"

Nope we can't. As for how we can know who's right... well that's the journey we are all on now isn't it?

Incitatus,
I think I sort of responded to you with my response to Geoff. I'll look it over a little closer later. As for now I gotta run! Good luck with them pirates!

4:49 PM

 
Blogger Geoff said...

"I find evolutionary ethics unconvincing because all it does is tell me why I might feel certain impulses. It has nothing to say about why I ought to honor them."

Evolutionary ethics doesn't tell you why you ought to honor those impulses. It tells you that you WILL tend to honor them, and explains why this is so. We're not just talking about ethics, but meta-ethics, and meta-meta...

"Kind of gets back to the "is/ought" problem. You can tell me why I feel certain ways, but if I recognize that all my 'feelings' are just the product of mindless natural selection then I also have the mental horsepower to ignore them as it suites my purposes."

You have a remarkable view of your "mental horsepower" if you believe that you can ignore your deepest feelings to suit your purposes. Frankly, I don't believe you for a second. Perhaps you cherish that delusion as some kind of corollary of free will, but it seems utterly unsupportable.

5:18 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

Well, I have to admit that you have made an admirably consistent move. Accepting the counter-intuitive consequence that moral norms are arbitrary in the sense that they could have been different -- biting the bullet, as you say -- is certainly one way of approaching the Euthyphro Dilemma. This is a fair move, but is not unproblematic. One should bite the bullet and accept some counter-intuitive consequence C of their view V only if V is at least as plausible as C is implausible. But, is it really the case that Divine Command Theory is at least as plausible as the contention that moral norms are arbitrary is implausible?

Consider the following argument:

(1) God does not exist.
(2) Therefore, human minds are the product of human brains.

The problem with this argument is that it is a complete non-sequiter: (2) does not follow from (1). I can hold (1) and deny (2). I can believe that my mind is a non-physical spirit wholly distinct from my body without thinking that there exists a omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect Mind. It may or may not be that dualism fits most naturally into a theistic worldview, but that does not mean that it is logically inconsistent with an atheistic one.

Similarly, consider:

(A) God exists.
(B) Therefore, human minds are something non-physical over and above human brains.

Again, this argument is a non-sequiter. I can consistently hold that human persons are comprised entirely of matter and that their mental states are a product of their brain states with the view that God exists. Indeed, St.Thomas Aquinas had a view like this. He held the Aristotelian view that the soul is the form of the body, yet was, of course, also a Christian theist.

7:05 PM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Hi Alex, thanks for replying. Gotta say, I’m with Timmo: that’s a bold bullet you’ve bitten there. I suspect that most people who call themselves moral realists wouldn’t agree with you on this.

God does not have a "moral stance" He has an eternal character. He cannot be right or wrong. He just is. Outside of Him there is no other.


OK, so basically, asking about God’s morality is a category mistake – a bit like asking what’s north of the North Pole, when in fact the Pole is the ultimate standard of northness. (Oh, and please take as read me pouncing and saying ‘aha!’ every time you now describe God as good, just, right, fair or any other moral term…)

the Christian is able to have an objective moral standard because God's eternal character is the unchanging standard by which all things are measured

Now that gives you an unchanging standard, yes. It gives you a standard that we might well call ‘absolute’ or ‘ultimate’ in a chronological or causal sense. But because it’s defined in terms of a character, calling it an ‘objective’ standard really does violence to that word.

(I’m happy to go with you in saying that this is about his ‘character’ rather than his ‘feelings’ BTW. And also, fair point on the IQ-is-unchoosable thing. My bad.)

Now, the bullet-biting. In fact, I think you’re guzzling a lot of lead here:

If God's character were different then moral truths would have to be different as well.

Your fundamental principle is: To act morally is to act in accordance with the standards set by the eternal creator’s unchanging character.

This certainly isn’t a circular definition, but… well, it does rather fail to describe what makes morality different in nature from obedience or conformity, don’t you think? It leads with quite impeccable logic to counterfactuals like ‘if the universe had been created by an eternal, unchanging, cruel being, then torturing kids would be moral’.

Now, I think that the only way somebody would assent to anything of the form ‘if X, then torturing kids would be moral’ would be if they believed in an extreme moral subjectivism or relativism or nihilism. If you’ve done violence to the concept of objectivity, I think you’ve positively killed the concept of morality here, stripping it down to mean merely ‘code of behaviour’. There’s nothing there that most of us would pre-theoretically recognise as goodness or rightness or justice or fairness in your accordance-with-creator view.

I hear the Euthyphro Dilemma tossed around quite a bit, but personally I don't find it to be that much of a dilemma. That may be because I believe Jesus to be God and when I look at Him I see His morality is so much higher than my own that I really have no problem submitting to His standard.

Remember what I said about the pouncing and the ‘aha’? So: you mean that Jesus’s standard looks morally higher than your own, right? Which means you’re looking at his deeds and teachings in light of some other standard, right? You’re drawn to his example not because you’d been looking for some creator with some sort of character to slot into your pre-existing ‘accordance’ view, but because his moral teachings seem to you to be morally excellent. Right? Unless…

Since He made me to respond to His character I obviously see Him as good.

But that sounds a pretty rigged set-up to me. Not only does it do nothing to establish his objective goodness, but it skews your psychology in such a way that you can’t properly judge the issue. False consciousness, dude!

8:45 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Tom,
I love your thinking. You are always invigorating to discuss these things with! Unfortunately I have real work to do today. Can't wait to dig in with you and Timmo on this. I'm sure I have much to learn.

I love the way this blogging stuff has become a wonderfully effective free education! To bad I can't throw down my "degree in metaphysical ponderances" in a job interview! ;-)

8:56 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"It has nothing to say about why I ought to honor them. Kind of gets back to the "is/ought" problem. You can tell me why I feel certain ways, but if I recognize that all my 'feelings' are just the product of mindless natural selection then I also have the mental horsepower to ignore them as it suites my purposes."

Ah, but once again your working on the assumption that the mind is separate from the body body that creates it. You're assuming that you can choose to, say, see rape and torture as virtuous. My contention is that short of having a physiological disorder, or succeeding in justifying the act in terms of your current moral code (i.e. that the raped and the tortured somehow deserve it) you cannot choose to overrule the underlying principles of your evolved moral code*. You can bend them, shape them a little to fit in which changing circumstances, but you cannot dispense with them altogether.


Your mind is not a free and separate entity; it is constrained by the limitations of the organ that produces it. It just happens to be advantageous for the mind not to be aware of these limitations, nor that it has evolve numerous ploys to trick itself into 'thinking' it is an independent entity.

Basically, your argument seems to be that if atheists are right then they should be able to simply choose the direction in which their moral compass points. They could simply create for themselves a new set of moral values by reason alone. However, IMHO one might just as well conclude that if atheists are right, they can simply choose to flap their arms and fly like a bird.

It seems to me that any argument that our virtue is dictated objectively by God, can just as easily be applied to evolution. Both are externally acting forces.


* IMHO, what separates real evil people, such as Hermann Goering, from fictional evil people, such as Aaron from Titus Andronicus, is that real people must severely distort their world view in a manner that justifies their actions in accordance with the inbuilt and largely unchangeable moral code. Aaron, on the other hand, was a pure villain in so much as he confessed to being evil, confessed to doing evil, and confessed to like doing evil to those who least deserved it. He did not require dehumanization/demonisation as a prerequisite for his actions; he was, essentially, operating on a completely opposite moral code.

9:04 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Rev. Dr. Incitatus,

I think Alex has you on the ropes. It may be that our conscience can be exhaustively explained through the various mechanisms of biological evolution. So, you may be right that I cannot control my moral impulses, altering, as it were, the direction my moral compass points. But, Alex's challenge still holds: what makes those impulses right? There's an explanatory gap that you haven't crossed. Intuitively, there is no necessary connection between the moral impulses I in fact have and what morality requires. I have an impulse to perform act A, but that still leaves the open question whether or not I should perform act A.

Indeed, you quickly run into the normative problem I mentioned earlier. How could I have a reason to follow those natural impulses? Suppose I recognize that my impulse to some act of altruism is just my herd instinct. I realize, then, that I can act some other way that promotes myself interest instead. Why should I allow my impulses to have any force in deciding what I should do?

There is a weird tendency for people to raise biological evolution to a near mystical status which I do not understand. One might as well deify fusion and become a sun worshiper.

10:54 AM

 
Blogger Steelman said...

Alex, you reminded me that I said:
"Merely asserting objectivity, without the reason and evidence to back it up, is actually subjectivity"
To which you replied:
"Yep it is... to us. Any assertion we make is subjective to our own experience regardless of the evidence we use to back it up. Does that mean that there is no such thing as an objective reality? Some have argued that, but personally I don't find that sort of speculation very useful."

I hold what I'd call a justified belief in objective reality: physical objects seem to exist whether or not I have knowledge of, or belief in, them. At least I infer this from comparing notes with those other minds that I assume to exist along with my own, so I think we may be on the same page there. However, I'm not following you on the "Any assertion we make is subjective to our own experience regardless of the evidence..." part. My statement at the top was meant to point out that human beings commonly identify things as objectively existing when the evidence (artifacts or observations) they both subjectively perceive, and the reasoned inferences they make from that evidence, match up. The question is: do our assertions about objective reality, which we get from our subjective perceptions, reflect something that is true in objective reality, or are we mistaken? You've being saying, God's objective moral standard just is because He just is, and I was saying that's not good enough; you need evidence to back that up. Unless we have some objective evidence (subjective evidence and inference that matches up between us somehow), I don't see why anyone should ever agree that this objective moral code you perceive is something real.

You said:
"Can you debate the knowability and interpretation of a standard that you don't believe to exist in the first place? I would argue you first need to have reason to believe there is a standard in order to debate how we might come to know it."

Well, since I don't perceive this God or His standard that you seem to perceive, I was thinking a discussion of the "knowability" of this moral standard might help me understand how it is you perceive it while I don't. Then I might be able to see which one of us might be mistaken about its existence.

You said: "Is there any philosophical reasons to believe such a standard exists? Is there any cosmological reason to believe it might be real? How about historical evidences? Jesus made the unequivocal claim that He was this standard. I find the evidences of his resurrection, and the way he makes sense of all reality convincing evidence that He is who he says He is."

To those three questions I'd answer, "no," per the alternative explanations that have already been offered by my self and others in the course of discussion. And, oh my, it seems the entire basis of your claim for an objective moral standard comes down to bumper sticker religious philosophy: God said it, I believe it, that settles it! I think Timmo is right; you're all about divine command theory, and in a much bigger way than I thought. That's not necessarily a real problem for me, though, as long as the commands you're following are ones that I would consider "good" in my atheistic subjectivity. *grin*

I asked:
"How does one go about figuring out which one of you is right about God and His objective moral standard? I mean, you can't both be right, can you?"
You answered:
"Nope we can't. As for how we can know who's right... well that's the journey we are all on now isn't it?"

I think you may be flying solo on that journey; my subjective moral standard, based on objective evidence as well as my own subjective feelings, has already told me that bum beating is out. My point, which you didn't address, was that the nice religious guy in your example, and the mean religious guy in my example, both claiming their behavior was morally justified by God's objective moral standard seems to reveal that standard to actually be subjective. It seems to me that this "objective" standard is really based on personal, non-objective beliefs about the character of a probably non-existent deity. Or maybe there really is a God, but he's got more than one standard? As I said above, I prefer (very subjectively, of course!) the behavior that is entailed by your version of that supposedly objective standard. I just think you're mistaken about where your standard comes from.

2:30 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Timmo said,
" ...what makes those impulses right?"

Right relative to what? There is no truly objective "right" is there? At least not in my opinion which is why I'm not trying to claim that the moral framework we have evolved is 'right'. The idea of right and wrong is something that has evolved with us and specifically to fit in with our needs for survival.

"Suppose I recognize that my impulse to some act of altruism is just my herd instinct. I realize, then, that I can act some other way that promotes myself interest instead.

Well, that's an experiment you can try, isn't it (and many people do). The question is can you do it and guarantee that you won't feel guilty? That you won't feel regret? That you won't invoke the wrath of those who take offence? I doubt it. Or at least, if you want to avoid those feelings, you will first have to justify to yourself that you are in fact not acting selfishly at all. That whoever suffers as a result of your selfishness had it coming to them. You also, of course, need to feel confident that you can adequately defend yourself against retribution. Guilt and fear are not easy impulses to overpower.

"Why should I allow my impulses to have any force in deciding what I should do?"

Well, first you have to be confident that you are aware of all of your impulses. I'll wager just based on my meager knowledge of neuroscience that you aren't. Next, for those impulses that you are conscious of, you'll find that there is usually both an emotional cost and a social cost of going against them, as I've said.

"There is a weird tendency for people to raise biological evolution to a near mystical status which I do not understand.

Not me. If someone trashes the whole theory with a sound scientific study tomrrow, I'll be ready to change my mind. As it is, my belief is that the subjective morality associated with our species can be explained on the basis of natural selection alone. It's a tough hypothesis to test given than consciousness is such a difficult thing to hold a ruler up against, but it seems to me the most plausible.

5:15 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Rev. Dr. Incitatus,

Thank your for your response. I took you to be agreeing with Alex that there are objective moral truths, but trying to offer an alternative source for those moral truths. That really would be elevating biological evolution to a near mystical status. I think the objections I offered succeed against that view.

But, that's not your view, is it? Let me try to get it right. It sounds like you are a naturalist in this sense: the best explanation for our having moral intuitions, beliefs, and practices is not that there exist objective moral facts to which our moral beliefs may conform well or poorly, but that we are constituted in such-and-such ways due to such-and-such natural processes. There is nothing to morality over and above biological facts about us. In Daybreak, Nietzsche writes, "it is always necessary to draw forth... the physiological phenomenon behind the moral predispositions and prejudices." Is this a good characterization of your view?

6:44 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Timmo,
The naturalism position pretty much sums me up. For now at least. In my previous response to Alex I was slightly hamfistedly trying to show that an atheist could just as easily adopt a similar, if flawed, argument to support the contention that there is an objective moral standard based on evolution rather than god. That is, if you can say that about God, then you can just as easily say that about natural selection. I agree, though, that it's difficult to support an argument for either. The stumbling block being the whole 'objective' bit.


For me, our subjective morality is something that we can affect through reason only to a limited degree, because its roots lie in our evolutionary development (I think this is Pinker's view, but I haven't read enough of his opinion on the subject). So I reject the argument that without God, the atheist loses his moral anchor.

11:21 PM

 
Blogger Geoff said...

Timmo, Alex, we can short-circuit a lot of this discussion if you will disclose your positions on evolution, specifically evolution of all forms of life on this planet (including humans) by means of natural selection (and, possibly, other natural mechanisms still to be discovered).

If you don't believe that we humans are simply big-brained hominids, it's going to be hard to continue, because you can simply toss in a supernatural twist whenever the going gets tough.

If, however, you do accept evolution as the best explanation of the evidence, you have to reconcile your absolute god-given view of morality with the scientific evidence, including non-human animal behaviour.

So....?

11:30 PM

 
Blogger Geoff said...

And while I'm asking about evolution, I guess we could also lay our monist / dualist / epiphenomenalist cards on the table. As you might imagine, I'm a monist - "minds are what brains do". Traditionally, Christians are dualists (otherwise what of the soul?), which means that they must deal with (or duck!) Descartes problem of how immaterial souls can have causal interactions with physical bodies.

12:51 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey everyone,
I got 45 min so we'll see how far I can get here. Thanks for all the comments! These are some sticky issues, but I can't seem to stop thinking about them. Soooo....

Timmo,
"But, is it really the case that Divine Command Theory is at least as plausible as the contention that moral norms are arbitrary is implausible?"

That's a good point. I can't seem to come up with an argument to support my position here. This comes down to a "gut feeling". I cannot seem to accept the contention that there is no such thing as 'right and wrong'. I can see clearly how my impression of this 'right and wrong' must be influenced, at least in part, by my up bringing and the environment I live in, yet still I cannot bring myself to say (as Incitatus seems to) that there truly is no 'right and wrong' outside of my personal preferences. The concept that 'right and wrong' don't exist in a way that transcends us seems so fraught with danger that I do not dare to approach it.

You bring up the possibility of atheists believing in some kind of spiritual dualism but still lacking a God. I have not yet spoken with any atheists who were willing to take this position, or if I have they have not explained it to me. Like I said earlier, if an atheist is willing to accept some kind of spiritual dimension, I cannot see why they would be also opposed to the idea of a God... Unless of course they are just mad at Him.

Tom,
"so basically, asking about God’s morality is a category mistake"

In a way yes... but I think as His creations of Him we can do no other than refer to Him using these words. When I look to God and call him good, just, and right, I am in essence saying "You are You". The descriptors I use to describe Him are not meant to be standards that He is measured against, but simply affirmations of who He is.

"But because it’s defined in terms of a character, calling it an ‘objective’ standard really does violence to that word."

I think where you are objecting here is this definition of the work objective:
not dependent on the mind for existence
But do you see where this would be problematic for me as a theist asserting that all existence flows from the mind of God? Really the closest I can come to using the word is in relation to an eternal, unchanging aspect of God. If I am not allowed that, the best I can do is say I believe in an eternal, unchanging subjective standard that is dependent upon the singular source of all reality.

"This certainly isn’t a circular definition, but… well, it does rather fail to describe what makes morality different in nature from obedience or conformity, don’t you think? It leads with quite impeccable logic to counterfactuals like ‘if the universe had been created by an eternal, unchanging, cruel being, then torturing kids would be moral’."

I hear you Tom. There certainly is the element of obedience in this formula. But I don't see what's wrong with that. In fact I think it essential. Combined with this call to obedience there is also the freedom to respond or reject this call. If I was to desire obedience of my son so that he avoids the painful consequences of his actions, but as the same time gave him enough latitude that he was free to make up his own mind, do you see that as problematic? Or is that in essence me acting in love towards my child while honoring his unique person-hood?

With regard to the troubling counterfactuals you mentioned I don't see them as problematic at all. Factually speaking, possible worlds are not actual worlds. If God is one and all, I see no reason to get bent out of shape over what-if scenarios that we are wholly ill-equipped to process. We can make up all kinds of goof-ball scenarios, but since, for the most part, we can barely conceive the wold we exist in presently, I doubt we'd be able to give an accurate analysis of a reality created by some arbitrary formulation of ours. For instance, this evil-god thing Stephen is noodling with; if you were to have a maximally cruel God who thrived on cruelty as the ultimate source of all reality, this being would thrive on the destruction of it's self. Am I right about that? Who knows we are making this up as we go. For that reason I find these kinds of thought experiments interesting, but not altogether helpful in dealing with the reality we actually life in.

"I think you’ve positively killed the concept of morality here, stripping it down to mean merely ‘code of behaviour’. There’s nothing there that most of us would pre-theoretically recognise as goodness or rightness or justice or fairness in your accordance-with-creator view."

Hmmm... How have I done that now? I in no way see morality as simply a "code of behavior". I see morality is a posture of the heart. It's the realization that we are not our own. It's the willful surrender of our "personal standard" and the turning of our hearts towards the one who made us. The one who says to die to yourself. Love God and love each other. Put the well being of others above your own desires.

"But that sounds a pretty rigged set-up to me."

Heh, if I'm right then it shouldn't be any surprise! The same could be said of the Anthropic Principal as well, now couldn't it?

Time's up! Gotta run.

12:24 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

I understand your strong conviction in the reality of objective moral facts. What I have challenged is not your view that there are such facts (which I share), but your supposition that those objective moral facts are contingent on God's will. Intuitively, they seem to be necessary all on their own. So, it is worth exploring conceptions of our moral life which are not God-dependent.

A good place to start, if you're interested, is G.E. Moore's classic Principia Ethica. The main question of the book is "What really is goodness? What do we mean when we say of something that it is good?" In response, G.E. Moore advances his famous Open Question Argument for moral non-naturalism.. According to Moore, goodness is a constitutive, but non-natural, property that some things have and other things lack. It is this special feature of the world that is the basis for morality. Friendships and beautiful things have this property of goodness, and it is a part of their very nature. They could not even exist without their having the property of goodness.

Though G.E. Moore was agnostic (I think), his view is perfectly compatible with both Christian theism and atheism. One could hold God is the creative source of all good things: He created all things which have the property of goodness. Alternatively, one can hold that there just so happen to be good things in the world. The key point is that are moral philosophies which acknowledge the existence of objective moral facts that both a theist and an atheist might agree to.

I think it is common for atheists to suppose that they ought to be materialists. As I pointed out, such a move is just a non-sequiter. The philosopher Thomas Nagel has argued it is hard to bridge the subjective-objective gap between our conscious experiences and the world "out there". He argued quite persuasively in "What is it like to be a bat?" that it is very difficult to understand consciousness from a materialist point of view. Need an atheist reject Nagel's arguments? Of course not.

To answer Geoff's question at the same time, I see the mind-body problem as wide open and as highly vexed. I am not committed to any particular position on the matter. For what it is worth, I think the most plausible candidate on the table is non-reductive materialism. On this view, every substance either is, or is wholly made up of, physical particles, that the well-functioning brain is the material seat of mental capacities, and that token mental states are are token neurophysiological states. However, mental capacities, properties, and the like to emerge from, or supervene upon, physical capacities, and properties and like like, rather than reduce to them. This is Donald Davidson's view.

I also find John Searle's so-called Biological Naturalism very plausible, and it might be construed as a form of non-reductive materialism.

4:50 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Timmo,
Thanks again for your thoughts. I'm looking forward to reading up on some of the links you posted. In the mean time...

Intuitively, they seem to be necessary all on their own.

I would agree that to us they do seem to be necessary all on their own. But I would point out that we are living in a specific reality. It would make perfect sense to me that the character of the creator of all existence would permeate His creation to a degree that free agents such as our selves would intuitively recognize this moral good and would simply be incapable of conceiving of any other. To me this would be a perfectly logical deduction. However, I do agree with you that I would be wise of me to read up on God-independent moral arguments.

I hear you mention the term "non-natural property". I find the usage of 'property' in reference to goodness to be a bit troubling. I do not see goodness as a 'property', as if it was an objective quality of the topic under consideration. goodness can only be 'good' as it relates to a perceiving mind. Therefore if there is no ultimate perceiving mind then I see no reason to believe such a quality as 'goodness' could exist in any way that is outside our personal feelings. So as I see it, no God = no objective morality.

I think it is common for atheists to suppose that they ought to be materialists.

To be honest, I think there is good reason thy make such a supposition. Once they start opening the door to realities outside of the scientifically observable material universe there is really no good reason to go on entertaining the notion of a Godless existence. Any formulation I have heard so far involving a Godless universe while retaining the possibility of non-natural realities or even spiritual realities has come off with the very awkward disconnect between the supposed mindless birth of all of reality combined with a somewhat half-hearted acceptance of 'emergent' spiritual 'properties', such as mind and morality.

I see this as a feather in the cap of theism when the atheists start admitting that a purely materialistic reality is ill equipped to deal with the experience we call 'our life'.

Again, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. Hopefully I can find some time to read up on your recommended links.

11:59 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Geoff,
I guess I'd classify myself as a noncommittal evolutionist. Even so, I see no reason why that should in any way remove from the table the possibility of the supernatural. I would obviously reject the notion that we are "nothing more than" the material that forms our bodies.

Regarding my monist / dualist / epiphenomenalist cards. I personally have not made up my mind.

Sorry mate. I don't think I'm really helping you much here.

12:30 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"According to Moore, goodness is a constitutive, but non-natural, property that some things have and other things lack."

I will have to do some reading into Moore's argument, but just on the face of it this seems awfully like more hand waving to avoid the uncomfortable consequences (well, I'm not sure why they are perceived that way) of reductionism.

I'm inclined to agree with Alex that if we're going to take that leap of faith in an objective 'goodness' - a good that cannot be described, but simply is - then we might as well just push the door wide open and ask God to come in and take a seat.

12:38 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

"I'm inclined to agree with Alex"

I do believe that is the first time those words have been uttered on this blog. ;-)

2:20 PM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Hi Alex,

I think where you are objecting here is this definition of the work objective: not dependent on the mind for existence
But do you see where this would be problematic for me as a theist asserting that all existence flows from the mind of God?


Well, exactly – which is why I’d be puzzled for you to use such a definition. (You say that “goodness can only be 'good' as it relates to a perceiving mind”, which by your definition is clearly subjective.) And it causes other problems as well.

‘The Beatles are better than the Stones’ – that’s a subjective opinion of mine and not an objective fact. So what about: ‘Tom thinks that the Beatles are better than the Stones’. Now that’s not a matter of opinion. Whatever you or anyone else might think about me, my musical tastes are unaffected. It really – objectively – is true that I prefer the Beatles. But it’s still mind-dependent: I can’t have such a preference without having a mind. Or what about the fact that I know some basic French – that’s mind-dependent, but you can verify it in so many ways that it’s surely objectively true.

I think a better definition of objective (for morality-discussing purposes) would be something like: ‘dealing with facts without distortion by personal feelings or preferences’. Does that work for you?

Combined with this call to obedience there is also the freedom to respond or reject this call.

Technically, that’s true of any call to obedience (‘I’ve got a knife, so give me your wallet’) – but the consequences of disobedience may be rigged to be so bad that only a philosopher could call that a free choice!

If I was to desire obedience of my son so that he avoids the painful consequences of his actions, but as the same time gave him enough latitude that he was free to make up his own mind, do you see that as problematic?

In itself that scenario’s fine, but the thing here is that the painful consequences arise as a result of the way the world is (kettles are hot to touch, people get angry when you’re rude to them, etc.). The fact that you’re instructing him to avoid various actions isn’t what makes those actions lead to pain, so this isn’t a ‘parental command theory’ of morality. But with a divine command theory, the commands are supposed to be what makes certain actions right or wrong.

Don’t worry too much about the metaphysics of ‘possible worlds’. It’s not a phrase I like to use because it’s really just a way of teasing out some of the assumptions underlying the concepts we use. ‘What would we say if X?’ It’s perfectly intelligible for us to discuss what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to visit my friend over the weekend, or if Hitler hadn’t broken the pact with Stalin, or whatever. We don’t need to say that there are somehow ‘real’ (but not ‘actual’) worlds in which such things did happen.

I doubt we'd be able to give an accurate analysis of a reality created by some arbitrary formulation of ours

There is that risk – so we either give up wondering or think it over as cautiously and thoroughly as we can. But with a divine command theory holding that morality is rooted in God’s character, and no independent way of assessing the morality of that character, then there’s an arbitrariness built in to that view of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from the start.

I in no way see morality as simply a "code of behavior". I see morality is a posture of the heart. It's the realization that we are not our own. It's the willful surrender of our "personal standard"

The code of behaviour is to adopt a certain posture of the heart, so that you’re then inclined to obey commandments. Never mind whether you think they’re good or bad commandments, just use your freedom of conscience to surrender your own freedom of conscience, and give up your right to ask questions of they guy in charge. “I am the way, the truth and the life” – or, as Judge Dredd puts it, “I am the law”. I’m not sold on this!

if an atheist is willing to accept some kind of spiritual dimension, I cannot see why they would be also opposed to the idea of a God

These really are separate issues, as Timmo says. Just because there’s a ‘Christian package’ that says yes to god, dualism, afterlife and moral realism doesn’t mean that an atheist or materialist has to say no to all of them. One of my old philosophy tutors, Peter King, was an atheist mainly on problems of evil grounds, but of course that has nothing to say about the nature of the mind. He thought certain facts about it were incompatible with mere physical existence and so was a dualist.

2:04 AM

 
Blogger lady macleod said...

I find this to be a thought provoking blog. I shall return, and look forward to participating.

By the by, I was directed here by "Nourishing Obscurity"

2:41 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey lady macleod,
Thanks for stopping in. It's been a bit slow around here as of late. Spring has been keeping me pretty busy. We'll try and keep it going though!

Thanks!

6:29 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Tom,
Sorry this took me so long. Life's been busy.

I think you and I are both hitting on the same thing here.
1. Objectivity can mean the properties of a physical object that exist independently of whether or not anyone is around to perceive them. Phenomenalism puts an interesting twist on this view of objectivity. I can see how Berkeley's ontological formulation might resonate with my position.

"In Berkeley's view, the so-called "things in themselves" do not exist except as subjectively perceived bundles of sensations which are guaranteed consistency and permanence because they are constantly perceived by the mind of God. Hence, while it is true that for Berkeley, objects are merely bundles of sensations (see bundle theory), unlike other bundle theorists, objects do not cease to exist for Berkeley when they are no longer perceived by some merely human subject or mind."

In this view there really is no such thing as physical "objectivity". All reality is rooted in the mind of God and is therefore subjectively dependent upon Him.

2. Objectivity can also mean: not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts To a large degree this is what I mean when I refer to morality as being objective.

The following is one definition of subjectivity that I find particularly interesting. "existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought"

This view presupposes that there is the possibility that there is such a thing as matter that exists apart from the perceiving mind of God. In fact, I can see no way for this definition to be true unless we really do live in an atheistic universe.

Earlier I said:
"I believe in an eternal, unchanging subjective standard that is dependent upon the singular source of all reality." I think that still holds. I think you are touching on that as well when you purpose this: "dealing with facts without distortion by personal feelings or preferences"

"...so this isn’t a ‘parental command theory’ of morality. But with a divine command theory, the commands are supposed to be what makes certain actions right or wrong."

Well sure that's what divine command theory posits, but I'm not so sure I'm a divine command theorist. I take it one step past the command to the nature of God. Good is good because God IS. If there is no God, there is no Good. All you have is pragmatism. (though more likely you'd have nothing at all).

But let's get back to what caused me to give that illustration in the first place. You asked: "what makes morality different in nature from obedience or conformity"

Morality and obedience/conformity are two (three) different things altogether. Obedience/conformity are actions. The 'morality' of obedience or conformity goes beyond the action to the 'reason' for doing these things. You can be obedient to all sorts of different things. The question of morality comes in when you ask the question: "Is it good to be obedient to X". In Christianity, the reason moral living is different from simple blind obedience is that we have a God who loves us. Our Father is not after obedience simply to fulfill some kind of power disorder. (Surely one look into the heavens should put that idea to rest.) He remembers we are dust. We are broken and we are continually defining our own version of "good and evil". But where will that get us? If God is the source of all existence and the only standard by which creation can be measured, where will our own standards get us? Death. Our own standards will lead nowhere.

Because God loves us He desires that we would have life. The rules He gives are given that we may live! Omnipotence is tyranny unless the omnipotent one is your father who loves you. Ultimately morality is part of a relational dynamic between personal beings. I believe God is love and he wants the ultimate good of all his creation. I will freely act in obedience to Him because He first loved me.

there’s an arbitrariness built in to that view of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from the start.

To which I have to ask... so? It's there and it's good. Why get all tied up in knots because it 'could' have been otherwise?

Here I think is probably your most foundational objection to the faith I hold:

The code of behaviour is to adopt a certain posture of the heart, so that you’re then inclined to obey commandments. Never mind whether you think they’re good or bad commandments, just use your freedom of conscience to surrender your own freedom of conscience, and give up your right to ask questions of they guy in charge. “I am the way, the truth and the life” – or, as Judge Dredd puts it, “I am the law”. I’m not sold on this!

In response to this let me first repeat something I said only moments ago: "Omnipotence is tyranny unless tempered by love"

Next, I never said you must: "surrender your own freedom of conscience, and give up your right to ask questions of they guy in charge."

If there is no "guy in charge" your freedom of conscience doesn't exist in the first place, so lets just make the assumption that He's there and that you really do have some kind of moral radar that picks up more than just "what's good for you". In this case your "moral sense" is there for a reason; it will point towards a truth.

The problem is there's more to the equation than the moral law giver and a perfect moral sense. There are free agents involved, whom we are told have a strong propensity for disregarding the true moral law and crafting their own. This should be readily apparent when you look around and see all the various interpretations of the moral law. Not only that, but you see over and over again people trying to justify their horrendous actions by their personal distorted moral code. A suicide bomber will justify his actions by claiming he is carrying out justice on evil doers. A mother will kill her child by appealing to her 'right' to control 'her' body. A man will sleep with numerous women and say he just wants to be "sure" before he goes much further with the relationship. And on and on it goes.

We are rife with sin. We do not act as we should. I do not act as I should. What are we to do?

Tom, you seem to want to live in a reality where there really is such a thing as right and wrong. However, at the same time you seem to want to deny that God exists. If this is the case you will never have the life you wish to live without living a constant contradiction. If you are warily toying with the idea that God might exist, but are troubled by aspects of Christianity that seem immoral to you, let's talk about them. If indeed they are irresolvable to your moral sense then you have a couple options to consider. 1. Your moral sense is wrong. 2. Your moral sense is correct, but the God I believe in is wrong. 3. There is no God, but matter has a way of creating mental experiences that contradict reality.

Many people go with option 2. They then assume that 3. follows directly from 2. I am personally not ready to affirm any of these options. I am not ready to assent to the proposition that the revelation of the God I believe in creates moral problems that are irresolvable to my moral sense. Difficult perhaps, but should that be any surprise? Anything that is real is often the combination of simplicity and confounding complexity. To reject an objects truth and beauty based on our inability to easily deal with it's accompanying complexity is a rather silly notion that none of us really adopt in practice... except for the lazy man's approach to God.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

You end with:
Just because there’s a ‘Christian package’ that says yes to god, dualism, afterlife and moral realism doesn’t mean that an atheist or materialist has to say no to all of them. One of my old philosophy tutors, Peter King, was an atheist mainly on problems of evil grounds, but of course that has nothing to say about the nature of the mind. He thought certain facts about it were incompatible with mere physical existence and so was a dualist.

I do not deny that an atheist might affirm dualism, however I see that as a position that is maintained not because belief in God is unwarranted, but because (to the atheist dualist) God just doesn't make 'enough' sense.

I'm not ready to go there. Christianity is deep and there certainly are difficulties, but I keep running into this question. If it is not true, to whom would I turn? Dualism? What's that? There's no name or face associated with a term such as that. It's just one more absurdity piled onto an already absurd materialistic framework.

Unless there is a personal God who is working to bring life, love and beauty to all of His creation, then I have no where to turn. I am lost... and so are you.

9:28 AM

 
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