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

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Thought Experiment

Meet the Bernards:

Bernard A wanted to murder his Aunt Agatha in order to inherit her fortune. Sadly – for him – the opportunity never arose in which he was able to do so safely, and therefore he had to wait until she died of natural causes.

Bernard B exists in a parallel reality which is identical to Bernard A's in almost every respect, except that an opportunity arose in which he was able to murder Aunt Agatha and inherit her fortune.

The Day of Judgement comes... should Bernard A be judged more harshly than Bernard B?

75 Comments:

Blogger Alex said...

From the horse's mouth:
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment."

Matthew 5:21-22

As far as the harshness goes... I'm not sure. It's really not my area. As I'm sure you expected this, I'm interested to see where you are heading with this. Lead on brother. Lead on.

8:15 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Hmm. Sounds like a sort of reverse version of moral luck. Sort of.

Well, both Bernards were willing to murder for money and both plotted to do so, so on those counts they're equal. I don't think Bernard A deserves any credit simply for lacking the opportunity to do the deed.

But: Is it definitely the case that BA would have gone through with killing her if he'd had the chance (as BB did)? Might he have pulled back at the last minute? That depends on what people think the implications of "a parallel reality which is identical... in almost every respect" are for free will.

But we never talk about that stuff, do we? Nyuk nyuk.

8:18 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

This sprang from thinking about the Free Will Defence to the problem of evil.

Should Bernard B be condemned more than Bernard A? In other words: Which matters more - intent or action?

Is Bernard A less guilty than Bernard B (from an omniscient pov) simply because he never had the opportunity to commit the crime? (And, for the sake of the thought experiment, assume that both Bernards would act the same way in the same situation).

9:03 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

The Protestant Answer:
After the grizzly act, did Bernard B receive Jesus, ask for forgiveness, and repent his sins? Because if he did, and Bernard A didn't, Bernard B would be headed for ambrosia, and Bernard A straight to hell. Otherwise they're both going to hell anyway, so their life acts are irrelevant.

Catholic Answer:
Did Bernard A buy off the damnation of his intent by confessing, doing the appropriate number of Hail Mary's and throwing some hard green down on the plate for the new church organ?

Bernard B's buggered for eternity either way.

The Atheist's Answer:
There's no mention that the Day of Judgement comes after they have died. If it's after, then their dead, so that's pretty much that. If before, it's a straight up legal matter, in which the law clearly states than Bernard B should do hard time if tried and convicted by a jury of his peers, where as Bernard A gets off scot free because the day we start convicting people on the basis of intent only, we'll have to accept that Philip K Dick was right after all, everybody is guilty, and that hell really is on Earth.

9:15 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"They're"

Blogger really needs an edit function for comments. How else can one hide one's illiteracy?

9:18 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Should Bernard B be condemned more than Bernard A? In other words: Which matters more - intent or action?

I guess in my view it's the heart, or as you say, "intent".

What are the implications you're kicking around?

11:46 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

If intent is the important thing, then why is action necessary? Why couldn't an omnipotent being create a world which had intent (allowing us to be moral beings) but never actually allowed us to harm other beings?

12:28 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Interesting thought,
What would you have in mind? I have a hard time conceiving what such a world would look like. How could God's end game of love win the day when none of his creatures had the capacity to enact their intents? How could any of us come to the point of having intents in the first place if no action was ever realized?

At first pass such a possible world doesn't seem consistent with a God who's aim is love.

1:04 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I'm not suggesting that no action be possible - just ones that harm others.

Significant limits already exist on human behaviour (psychological, biological, geographical, etc.), so why not just extend that slightly further and create beings that can't actively harm others? If every time I went to harm another person I was overwhelmed by feelings of nausea it would still be possible for me to want to hurt someone, but difficult - if not impossible - for me to actually harm them.

Let's say I develop an intense hatred of Bill Gates, to the extent that I'd punch him in the face if I had the chance. My intent never translates into action because I can't afford to go to the US, he's surrounded by security, etc. Why not extend this limitation so that - say through the nausea reflex - everyone else was equally safe from harm?

1:18 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

I am reminded of a similar scenario that James Rachels used to argue that active and passive euthanasia are morally equivalent. I think his lucid example proffers a strong intuition on the matter.

Imagine Smith and Jones, who each stand to inherit a great amount of money if their respective kid nephews die.

Smith's nephew comes to visit. He is upstairs taking a bath alone. Smith, in his greed, sees an opportunity. He sneaks into the bathroom, seizes the child, delivers a severe blow to the child's head, and forces him underwater. The unconscious child helpless drowns in his uncle's bathtub.

Jones' nephew comes to visit. He is upstairs taking a bath alone. Jones, in his greed, sees the same opportunity that Smith saw. He sneaks into the bathroom and -- lo and behold -- the child is already drowning in the tub! Jones hastens over the tub, ready at any moment to dunk his nephew back into the water should he emerge. However, the child never does, and dies without Jones laying a hand on him.

Smith murdered his nephew. Jones simply let his nephew die. Is there a moral difference between Smith and Jones or are they each equally wicked? The intuitive answer is that Smith and Jones are on the same level. Each was equally committed to his own profit and equally cast aside their responsibilities to love and care for there nephew. In this case, there seems to be no moral difference between committing a murder and wishing to commit the murder.

2:13 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"In this case, there seems to be no moral difference between committing a murder and wishing to commit the murder."

I agree, but I'm not sure that example is the same as Matt's. In yours, Jones' might not kill the boy, but he does fulfill his intent to assist, albeit passively, in the boy's demise. Bernard B doesn't even have that opportunity, and his actions or lack thereof are not responsible for his aunty's death. I think the similarity would be nearer if Jones didn't even go up the stairs, and so didn't necessarily know that the boy was dying.

4:33 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

rev. dr. incitatus,

You highlight an important point. Bernard B neither murdered Aunt Agatha nor let her die; Bernard B was not involved in her death. In that sense, Bernard B's actions are better than either Smith or Jones.

However, there are two balls in play here. Bernard B's actions may be morally better than Bernard A's, but his character and the principles he holds are the same. Matt stipulated that Bernard B would have killed Aunt Agatha if he had the chance -- he just got lucky (or, unlucky, if you prefer to think of it that way). Do you see what I'm getting at?

7:57 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:02 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Linda,
Are you a universalist?

but nothing will change the fact that all of mankind has already been forgiven through the blood of Christ.

whether they have faith in God or not?

8:38 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:03 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Timmo said,
"Bernard B's actions may be morally better than Bernard A's, but his character and the principles he holds are the same. Matt stipulated that Bernard B would have killed Aunt Agatha if he had the chance -- he just got lucky (or, unlucky, if you prefer to think of it that way). Do you see what I'm getting at?"

Sure. If the fact that
"Bernard B would have killed Aunt Agatha if he had the chance" is definite (predetermined?), then there is no difference between his character and BA or Jones.

I suppose Tom's earlier point,
"Is it definitely the case that BA would have gone through with killing her if he'd had the chance (as BB did)?", is partly alleviated by the fact that presumably none of these characters are judged until after death, and hence after they have had the opportunity to atone for their real/thought crimes...

... although there's still the Claudius factor; how would a deity deal with a man who arguably didn't have sufficient time to atone for his crime? Especially if he never actually acted it out?

e.g. Both Bernard's get mowed down by a bus right after Bernard B has killed his auntie, but Bernard A has only expressed a wish to kill his auntie. I think Tom's point comes back into play, because as we've agreed the two Bernards are equally guilty at the moment of death, but we will never know if some life experience might have caused Bernard A to have a change of heart that ultimately left him morally superior to his other self, who would have died with blood on his hands either way.

If I was Bernard B's infernal advocate at the gates of St. Peter, I'd argue that to send Bernard A to hell would indicate that there was no such thing as Free Will after all, and that humans were slaves to determinism; i.e. that Bernard A would definitely not have regretted his wish to murder no matter how long he lived. This cannot be known, even by God, unless Free will is a myth. I'd then have good grounds for impeaching God on the basis of the moral precedent set by Peter Vs Jones, which infers that Criminally Negligent Homicide (in a deterministic world, God would have quite a long rap sheet on that one) is equally as bad as Murder One.

8:46 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

The intuitive answer is that Smith and Jones are on the same level.

I might be heading a little off-topic here (which, given that I started this topic is probably not a good thing), but Timmo's comment made me think.

The standard argument is that God does not intervene in this world because he wants us to live our own lives, correct?

But does intervening - when there's no other option - really damage our ability to live? If I see a child about to run into the road and I take action to stop them doing so my actions wouldn't be seen as damaging that child's life - in fact it'd be seen as quite the opposite. It's the same if I try to prevent a fight between my friends, or act to prevent a crime.

So why, when it's not possible for humans to intervene, wouldn't an omnipotent loving being do the same? Why, if no-one else can or will do it, wouldn't a loving God stop a child running out into the road?

8:50 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Significant limits already exist on human behaviour (psychological, biological, geographical, etc.), so why not just extend that slightly further and create beings that can't actively harm others? If every time I went to harm another person I was overwhelmed by feelings of nausea it would still be possible for me to want to hurt someone, but difficult - if not impossible - for me to actually harm them.

I admit this is a clever idea, but as I sit here thinking this through it raises so many questions and absurdities that I can't begin to list them all! Here's a few though:

How would your body know when to kick in this reflex? You could be seething with anger but only when you picked up the bat and tried to swing it you'd be overcome with nausea? Or would you simply become ill when you got steaming mad? If it's the latter then we would never reach the point of intense anger. We'd simply know the experience of illness. Though it would certainly bring new meaning to the phrase, "you make me sick!".

This solution also does not address passive evils. For this to stand you'd need to believe that the ONLY form of evil in the world is physical harm intentionally inflicted by another human. A brief moments thought about this should dispel that notion. You could still have a population of oppressive dimwits causing the starvation of the masses.

Furthermore, I don't thin that "freedom from harm" is the best of all possible worlds. Nor do I think physical harm is the worst of all possible evils. (or even close to it for that matter) This hypothesis would really do nothing to alleviate the problem of evil, but would simply make a lot of people sick. I'm not really sure what that would be accomplishing for a God who's highest aim is love.

"Why, if no-one else can or will do it, wouldn't a loving God stop a child running out into the road?"

I think it has everything to do with the end goal of Love. (predictably) Imagine a world where all natural evil ceased to exist. No mud slides, no hurricanes, no earthquakes... but now the problem arises when we try and deduce where we draw the line. Would one be able to stub one's toe? Would it hurt if we tipped over backwards on our chair? What if by tipping over we would smash our head on the corner of a concrete block? Would God need to be constantly jumping in and "magically" saving everyone all the time? Would we then not learn to abuse this protection and start jumping off cliffs only to have God catch us?

I'm with Polkinghorne on this one. It seems plausible that only in a world such as the one we have could beings such as ourselves come to exist and interact with each other and the world around us. Cars are great for getting from point A to point B. They are also good because they protect you in the event of a crash. But the very goodness of a car's speed and "hardness" must necessarily prove lethal when the chance freedom of a developing child leads the two to a converging intersection of time and space.

The Christian believes that such an encounter does not equal the end of this little child and that God plans for this little one's redemption, but unless you wish for the very strange universe where God is saving EVERYONE all the time from ALL physical pain, then you are left with the reality of the world we live in. The natural goodness of this universe must necessity have the potential for pain.

Even so there are theological hints that prior to the fall our interactions with this world were markably different, but honestly I don't know what to make of all that just yet.

9:50 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

rev. dr. incitatus,

You introduce some interesting puzzles about fairness and judgment. However, I think we can circumvent them by paying close attention to presuppositions we are making about Heaven and Hell.

The traditional conception of Hell is that it is a punishment for living a wicked life and refusing to repent. Hell is something God does to us. Moreover, we seem to be thinking of this in term of score sheets: too many black marks and you are worthy of punishment.

Alternatively, we can think of Heaven and Hell on the Choice Model, according to which we choose whether we will live with God forever in Heaven. I don't know whether this choice is made all at once upon resurrection or is implicitly made by the way we live, but this makes more sense to me that the traditional model. We can never be worthy of Heaven, but we can be reconciled with God. Indeed, it is actually the importance of this choice, the power to freely choose to love God or reject Him, that makes me think universalism must be incorrect. If, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, we are all moving along a trajectory towards Heaven, whether we will it or not, then God has transformed us into his helpless puppets.

Matt,

All this talk about freedom and choice leads pretty naturally to your inquiry. Perhaps you will be interested in my take on the problem of evil, as I presented it in my post Animal Theodicy.

9:56 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:16 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

How would your body know when to kick in this reflex?

I don't think it's impossible (especially for a divine being) to find a point between thought and action that preserves the intent but rules out causing actual harm.

Besides, if said reflex did exist we'd soon learn not to go through with our intentions - though this wouldn't prevent the intent itself. I can still want to punch Bill Gates even though I know it's impossible.

This solution also does not address passive evils.

Does it need to? Isn't preventing active evil in itself a good thing, even if it doesn't solve all our problems?

This hypothesis would really do nothing to alleviate the problem of evil...

It would prevent numerous deaths, injuries and suffering - murder would become impossible. No more stories about people being kicked to death by gangs. No more drive-by shootings. No more old people being set on fire. No more torture. No more war.

Sure, there'd be nothing to stop me refusing to help someone who's hanging off the edge of a cliff... but if we can reduce the amount of pain and suffering in the world by even a fraction... isn't that good?

...but would simply make a lot of people sick.

Behaviourism and Pavlov's dogs show differently - people would soon learn not to act on violent impulses. I'd happily trade the ability to skin someone alive for a few bouts of heavy nausea.

If only the act is prevented - not the desire - then we can still be moral beings.

the problem arises when we try and deduce where we draw the line.

It's only a problem is we want to remove all evil - if we merely want to reduce it then the issue becomes much clearer: I live in a moderate climate with no volcanoes, etc. My freedom isn't decreased by this, nor my enjoyment of life - in fact I'd say that both are actually increased by it. So why not remove volcanoes, mudslides and other freak weather conditions?

Would we then not learn to abuse this protection and start jumping off cliffs only to have God catch us?

There's a significant difference between a small child running into a road and a person jumping off a cliff to test God. Preventing the former doesn't necessarily entail preventing the latter.

Besides, the fact that health care in the UK is free at the point of use doesn't mean we spend all our time injuring ourselves in the knowledge that we can get it fixed in hospital.

But the very goodness of a car's speed and "hardness" must necessarily prove lethal when the chance freedom of a developing child leads the two to a converging intersection of time and space.

Why?

If you saw a small child about to run into the road you'd try to stop it - why should God be any different?

The Christian believes that such an encounter does not equal the end of this little child and that God plans for this little one's redemption

This conflicts rather heavily with the idea that we should try to prevent suffering.

Do you believe it's right or wrong to stop a child running into the road?

10:31 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Linda,

but it is to give us the opportunity to realize his great plan.

And the volcanoes, birth defects, flesh-eating bacteria, psychotic murderers and psychological disorders are all part of that plan?

10:34 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Also...

(You can all relax, I'm off out in a minute)

If suffering is a necessary part of life then why consider the Garden of Eden a paradise?

There was no suffering. There was no knowledge of good and evil. But God apparently intended us to live there - possibly forever.

10:42 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"
And the volcanoes, birth defects, flesh-eating bacteria, psychotic murderers and psychological disorders are all part of that plan?


And the mothers snorting coke of their breast-feeding babies, don't forget those.

10:45 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I know I'm hardly one to make fun of other peoples typos, but...

snorting coke OF their breast-feeding babies

...did amuse me.

You can't move for coke-dealing babies nowadays.

10:53 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"You can't move for coke-dealing babies nowadays.

Take a trip to north St. Louis, dude. They pack Glocks as well.

10:56 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

I am reminded of an article I read recently about brain-eating amobeas. But, yes, these "natural evils" are part of the natural causal order which forms the necessary backdrop for the exercise of our rational agency (as I discuss in my theodicy post). So, they are part of the plan, as it were.

11:32 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:51 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
"...find a point between thought and action that preserves the intent but rules out causing actual harm."

I dunno man, I think we humans are a bit to smart for the nausea solution. I get the feeling you'd simply end up with a lot more deaths by booby trap, time delayed firing mechanisms, and land mines.

But anyway the real objection you are offering here is if there is a God who is love and his aim is to create creatures to participate in this love... what the heck? Why are we so incredibly free as to be able to inflict such horror on one another.

A long ways back we talked about the equal potentiality between the capacity to love and the capacity to produce evil. I think this truth still holds. For creatures with the potential to love much, there is also necessarily the potential to go horribly wrong.

The temptation is to think that we could have designed the universe "better". I must say that in all honesty, I think that is a ridiculously presumptuous conviction to nurture. Theodocies abound which attempt to deal with these very real objections. In fact, I personally resonate with a lot Timmo had to say on his blog.

I concede that this is certainly among the most difficult of areas for the Christian to counter, mainly because we are not privy to the information. We are told precious little about why things are they way they are, thus all our best attempts at dealing with this area often rely heavily on speculation.

But really my final point is this. If the thrust of your argument is, "I could have done it better, therefore there is no God." (vis. the nausea solution) I think you are biting off more than you can chew.

There is much I don't know that I would like to. But of the things I do know — among which are my experience of being a material yet perceiving being, my profound experiences of love in the midst of my little family, my deep and abiding sense of beauty, and really just life as a whole — they seem to strongly be pointing to a reality that is much greater than what the atheist story can contain.

So no, I do not fully "get" so much of the hell we see on this earth, but the truths I just expressed seem much stronger to me than the darkness that we see so much of.

1:41 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:43 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Linda,

The whole story from Genesis to Revelation was laid out before the garden ever came into existence.

So how would you reconcile this with the concept of free will?

4:57 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Timmo,

So, they are part of the plan, as it were.

I can't quite see why they'd be a necessary part of the world, but...

If they are, how do you reconcile this with evolution? If something arises from random mutation how can it be necessary? Or were things like the AIDS virus always destined to happen?

Also, if evil is a necessary aspect of the world, how is it supposedly absent in heaven?

5:00 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

I get the feeling you'd simply end up with a lot more deaths by booby trap, time delayed firing mechanisms, and land mines.

It would still prevent crimes of passion though - it'd be quite difficult to set-up an elaborate booby trap in the heat of the moment. It'd also increase your chances of being caught (as there would be more evidence lying around), which would put a lot of people off.

For creatures with the potential to love much, there is also necessarily the potential to go horribly wrong.

I really can't agree with that - my ability to love has nothing to do with my ability to commit horrific acts. Losing the ability to bash someone's head in with a piece of wood wouldn't affect my ability to love in the slightest.

The idea that the ability to commit evil is an integral part of our nature also commits you to the possibility of evil in heaven.

(As does - now I think about it - the conventional story about the fall of Lucifer).

I think that is a ridiculously presumptuous conviction to nurture.

What is charity if not the attempt to make the world a better place? Do you look at people who are poor, starving and ill and think to yourself: "Well sure, I think that I could make them better off... but then who am I to interfere in the grand plan. Maybe God wants them to be ill."

We seek to make the world a better place all the time.

But really my final point is this. If the thrust of your argument is, "I could have done it better, therefore there is no God." (vis. the nausea solution) I think you are biting off more than you can chew.

Personally, I don't see the 'problem of evil' as allowing us to establish the existence, or lack of, of God - Proving that a loving God and evil can co-exist doesn't prove his existence (in the same way that proving that X can run a marathon doesn't establish that he has or ever will). Failing to come up with an answer doesn't rule out the possibility that someone somewhere will one day.

And, by stating that: "There is much I don't know that I would like to."

You effectively move it out of the sphere of rational discussion anyway. If you trust in God, it's not a problem.

5:04 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:39 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

matt m,

Thanks for your comments.

I did not say they were "necessary" parts of the world in the sense they had to exist, no matter what. As I expressed in my Animal Theodicy, the growth of free and finite beings like ourselves seems to require a world which operates according to dependable laws. Without the backdrop of a stable environment, we would be unable to make rational decisions about our actions. So long as there are such stable laws, it will be possible for agents to perform wicked actions and for natural evils to exist. These (creepy!) brain eating amoebas are part of the independent natural order, the stage on which the drama of human existence is played out.

Why is suffering absent in Heaven? Well, any answer would require a detailed account of what Heaven will be like. However, I neither have such a detailed account nor know how one could provide one. There are a lot of puzzles in the neighborhood (like those about time and eternity).

11:19 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

"It would still prevent crimes of passion though..."

It seems the utility of this "reflex" is getting less useful by the moment. I understand what you are getting at here, Matt. It's hard to get one's head around why a God who is supposedly the very embodiment of love would allow us to do such horrible things to each other. Why couldn't he have just __________? (fill in the blank) I just can't help but feel that as interesting as these sorts of questions are in terms of thought experiments, we simply lack exhaustive knowledge of all that goes into this place and thus, any conclusions we draw are mainly based on pure speculation.

I don't mean to try and shut down conversation here, but it just seems that this sort of "well what if..." line of objections could simply go on forever. If I were to expend a reasonable amount of energy trying to shut down the nausea hypothesis, you could simply come up with another creative "well what if" scenario. Honestly, I think if you were to spend a bit of time thinking critically about your own offering here, you'd probably be able to come up with better ways to shut it down than I could. There's so many potential holes in the nausea solution that I really don't think you need me to sit here and point them all out to you. I mean that only as a compliment, my critically thinking friend. ;-)

"I really can't agree with that -..."

You are confusing ability to cause physical pain with ability to act in such a way as to be considered evil. A sow grizzly has enormous power to inflict pain, but it has relatively little ability to be "evil" (if any) Man's incredible intellect, depth of emotional potential, and his ability to interact with moral decisions gives rise to a being with enormous potential for love. However, the dark side of that coin is the enormous potential for evil.

You seem to often be making a one for one comparison between physical pain and moral evil. I think it is really a mistake to do so. Just ask a young wife who walks in on her husband with another woman.

"The idea that the ability to commit evil is an integral part of our nature also commits you to the possibility of evil in heaven."

I think what I said last time was that perhaps only by forging souls in a realm prior to eternity could God create free agents with spirits forever freely joining him in a love relationship without such a "second fall". The logical possibility may indeed remain, but for all intents and purposes, these souls are already set in their trajectory. This is speculation, but it make sense to me. I'd be inclined to run with Timmo's agnosticism on the issue if pressed.

"What is charity if not the attempt to make the world a better place?"

I'm not so sure we end up making the world a "better" place by engaging in flights of fancy in which we are running the universe. Also, what do you mean by "better"? Is the world automatically better by having the population in good health and well fed? Spend any amount of time with those who have lead a constant life of ease and this myth ought to vanish like smoke in the wind. No my friend, our deepest problem is not lack of food and fitness. Our deepest problem is the fallen state of our soul. We are children of the enlightenment living in the postmodern age where we have lost any sense of significance. All our time is now spent on narcissistic endeavors with little sense of what our lives mean or who we really are. And before it all goes the questions, "do you know me?" and "would you love me if you did?"

Matt, I think one of the reasons you and I get on so well is because in spite of our differing conclusions, we think very much alike. I can feel with acute empathy what you might feel when your mind for a moment entertains the possibility that God exists. If your anything like me, your nagging objections quickly rush in and chase the thought away.

But through the years (especially this last one) I've come to see the limits of our human knowledge. It's clear to me that the brightest this world has had to offer have come down on both sides of this issue, thus convincing me it's not a matter of intellect. You have often mentioned the need for a direct experience of God. I think you are probably right. But I'd just want to add you'd need an open spirit to receive such an experience. (as Linda has been pointing out recently) You'd need to be able to accept God on his terms rather than insisting on your own.

Personally, I've learned that lesson the hard way. It has only been quite recently that I've been able to quiet my own objections and qualifications long enough to experience his presence. I've not seen my name written in the sky or woken up to find him sitting at the foot of my bed, but in a very real way his love has been shown to me, often through the love of my son, wife, mother and friends. "Ya but those things are just 'natural' things that have been there all along!" goes the internal objection. Perhaps. But then again if God has been speaking into the hearts of all humanity from our very birth, should it be such a surprise to awaken one morning with the realization he's been there all along? Should it be such a shock that much of the 'natural' world is really not so ordinary after all? Is it not true that by all accounts our very continued existence is in itself a miracle of the highest order?

It seems our willingness to receive him makes all the difference in the world. And that my friend cannot be accomplished through an impeccably reasoned argument any more than you can win the girl of your dreams with smashing deductive reasoning.

Dude, I'm sorry this has been a rambling mush-fest but to be honest, the main reason I'm writing this to you at 12:00 am is because in my attempt to get in the academic mood this afternoon I brewed up a pot of coffee before settling down to read... and now I am reaping the consequences.

Hope yer Sunday's swell.

11:26 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:23 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:29 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Linda,

"If I walked in on my husband with another woman..."

My point was that evils that have nothing to do with physical pain (such at that of rejection by one whom you deeply loved) can often cary with them a hurt far beyond mere physical pain. Pain of the body is one thing, pain of the heart is quite another.

"Well....I have to disagree. I don't know about other women..."

Here I am trying to get at the reality that the opening of ones heart cannot be achieved by hard nosed logic alone. I think you are taking me in a way I did not intend. Though it's quite possible that's due to me sitting up till midnight writing on my glow box.

8:01 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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5:42 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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8:22 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Is the world automatically better by having the population in good health and well fed? Spend any amount of time with those who have lead a constant life of ease and this myth ought to vanish like smoke in the wind. No my friend, our deepest problem is not lack of food and fitness. Our deepest problem is the fallen state of our soul.

Absolutely yes, the world would be better. Still far from perfect, but vastly better.

Think how we here have all enriched our lives (from our various perspectives) from being able to chew over all these highbrow things at our leisure. And think how hard that'd be if we were deeply impoverished or bed-ridden in severe pain or had died of malaria a few months ago.

I don't subscribe to the view that suffering is ennobling; what's ennobling (or not) is how you play the hand you're dealt.

That doesn't mean, though, that the way the cards are dealt is beyond reproach.

We do not live by bread alone. But the bread's a pretty key condition for us to be able to pursue the higher things. It's no accident that material deprivation tends to be accompanied by lower education and higher violence.

8:46 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Linda,

It's just that I detected a dismissive tone in your comment, like "this subject is getting nowhere so there's no point in continuing..." and I kind of didn't like it.

I guess I am being a bit dismissive. I've been in conversations before where the "well why didn't God just..." questions start coming out. It takes relatively little effort to come up with such a question and an enormous amount of time to debunk every potential area of reality it might affect. If the conversation comes to a point where that question is sufficiently dealt with, all the skeptic needs to do is come up with yet another "okay sure, but why didn't God just..." kind of question. For instance if we were to come to a mutually satisfactory point on the nausea idea, all Matt would have to do to save the case would be to say. "Well ya, so maybe nausea wasn't the best solution, but that still doesn't let God off the hook. He could have just made the world out of really soft stuff and us being so physically weak so that we could never hurt each-other." Then the attempt to debunk that scenario would have to begin afresh. It could go on forever and all we'd end up with is a set of fantastic "what if" scenarios and be no closer to establishing the truth for falsity of God's reality.

Maybe it's unfair of me to take that stance since that's pretty much what we do over here in the first place.

And…I don’t have a clue as to what you said about the possibility of evil in heaven. It went completely over my head. Can you explain it to me?

If love requires the freedom to reject it. And God created us for love, then we must remain free in heaven. If we are free in heaven, then there must at least be the logical possibility of evil, regardless of whether or not there is much of a possibility in all actuality. Does that make any more sense?

9:20 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Tom
"Absolutely yes, the world would be better. Still far from perfect, but vastly better."

Ya I guess I agree with you here. All I meant to illustrate is that food, good health, and quality education are all good things, but so far as guaranteeing the betterment of the world as a whole I don't think it's the magic bullet.

In the words of Ravi Zacharias
"Some of the most unspeakable atrocities in this world have come not from those who's stomachs were empty, but from those who were full."

Germany was among the most highly educated nations in the world prior to WWII. As a country they were far from going hungry. The desire for power and influence is not a vice that comes easily to mind for those who are simply struggling to get by.

I agree with you that:
"I don't subscribe to the view that suffering is ennobling; what's ennobling (or not) is how you play the hand you're dealt."

I likewise don't see suffering as inherently ennobling, but I do think the poor are more able to grasp the idea of our lives being that of utter dependence in a way we who have plenty have a hard time taking hold of. It is far more difficult for us to adopt an existence of sincere humility when we think we are able to be the captain of our own ship.

At least it is for me...

9:37 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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10:07 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

There's so many potential holes in the nausea solution that I really don't think you need me to sit here and point them all out to you.

My point is simply that if preventing evil is a good thing then something like the nausea reflex - which would decrease violent acts simply by making them more difficult, whatever loopholes you come up with - must be a good thing. In which case, why would a loving God leave it (or anything similar) out of the world?

However, if you're not privy to God's full intentions then such discussions must remain speculative. But then it would seem a strange God who made reason so central to our lives yet shrouded such important issues in mystery. The problem of evil is one of the main things which drives people away from their early beliefs - you'd think that he would want to do something about that.

I can feel with acute empathy what you might feel when your mind for a moment entertains the possibility that God exists. If your anything like me, your nagging objections quickly rush in and chase the thought away.

I have no problem with the possibility of God - the fact that something somewhere might somehow have had a hand to play in our lives is undeniable. I just see no reason to assume that it's true.

With the cluttered illogic of religious culture swept away, the idea that this universe was created by a divine being - a being way beyond our comprehension - who possibly plays a part in the life of our species is unobjectionable. The question is whether such a being exists and so far no convincing argument has been put forward.

You seem to have the impression that I spend my time repeating anti-theistic mantras to myself, trying to ward off (for some bizarre reason) the God tapping at my window. But I'm afraid that's simply not the case. I have no idea whether a God exists - I just consider the evidence lacking.

The desire for power and influence is not a vice that comes easily to mind for those who are simply struggling to get by.

Hmmm....

By this logic, I should just pass by a dying child because there's the possibility he or she might grow up to be a murderer.

Besides, I'm neither starving nor particularly likely to invade Poland (not after the last time I tried!), so I see no problem with trying to help others out of their suffering.

So I'm not going to cancel my standing order to Oxfam quite yet.

10:47 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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2:43 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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7:02 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

This is totally unfair! How come Alex gets all the good questions?

Sorry - only had time to respond to one person. I thought I could cover the most bases through responding to Alex.

I keep suggesting that perhaps it’s not at all about good and evil, but no one seems to be listening...

It's not all about good and evil - but that's what we're focusing on at the moment. All I'm asking is: Is preventing evil (defined here as pain and suffering) a good thing or not?

Why can’t we consider the crazy possibility that we are so focused on other things that we are missing the big picture here?

It's possible - but then what is the big picture?

Exactly! “Religion” (not the people, but the driving force behind it) focuses so much on the problem of evil, and that’s why I sometimes even go as far as calling it...dare I say it?...the Anti-Christ.

I'm not sure religion is at fault here. A lot of people just can't reconcile the idea of a loving God with the shear amount of apparently arbitrary suffering in the world - be it people dying of horrific viruses, natural disasters, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, cancer, etc.

But he did...

What? (Sorry if that's a stupid question)

Gosh! I hope you never do.

Ahhh - but we spell it "arse" not "ass", so we don't have that problem. ;-)

6:22 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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6:58 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Germany was among the most highly educated nations in the world prior to WWII. As a country they were far from going hungry. The desire for power and influence is not a vice that comes easily to mind for those who are simply struggling to get by."

I think Germany was in pretty dire straits prior to WWII (her own fault of course, but...). There was intense political friction and serious economic problems. As I understand it, Hitler tapped right into fact that a lot of Germans were struggling to get by. He gave them exactly what they wanted; a convenient scape goat.

I'm not sure economic standing really correlates that well with decency or the capacity for terrible deeds. One can point to the Khmer Rouge as an example of peasants gone bonkers on the one hand, or point to Imperial Britain's recalcitrant behaviour in Africa as an example of blue bloods losing the plot on the other.

It's fair to say, though, that one of the most lethal weapons of any tyrant is a disenfranchised poor, precisely because poverty can cloud a person's judgment and leave them vulnerable to manipulation; "Look! See how your fingers bleed with hard work, while the [Jews/bourgeoisie/colonials/&c) live in luxury and splendour!". Although, in fairness, it isn't that hard to appeal to the aristocratic fear of the "mob" breaking down the doors, raping and pillaging your estate, and use that as a tool of oppression as well.

It's not an uncommon human instinct to seek wealth and blame others when we fail to get it, and that underlies a fair few of the more violent and destructive movements in the last couple of centuries.

I tend to agree with Tom in that,
"I don't subscribe to the view that suffering is ennobling; what's ennobling (or not) is how you play the hand you're dealt."

I'd go further and say a great deal of the misery in this world is brought upon ourselves precisely because we choose not to play those cards the right way, regardless of our social standing.

Which brings me onto my strong disagreement with this statement,

Alex said,
"It is far more difficult for us to adopt an existence of sincere humility when we think we are able to be the captain of our own ship."

I think an essential part of choosing how to play one's cards - with humility or without - is acknowledging that one is most certainly the captain of one's ship. That we are wholly responsible for our actions, regardless of whether we may or may not feel provoked. Dependency invariably leads to a sense of entitlement, IMHO. And with that a sense that when something goes wrong for us, it's because that which we are dependent upon has somehow failed us (whether it be the state, the church, or God Himself). With dependency comes a shift in responsibility, and that rarely bodes well. This is a strong reason why many atheists find Christian theology a little distasteful. The notion of surrendering our responsibilities and letting God "take care of us" seems like taking a step back towards childhood; indeed, the common description of us as 'God's children' really highlights that.

I simply can't see anything healthy about reflecting on ourselves as ignorant sinners that have no hope other than to give up and let God straighten us out. I find it something of a contradiction that God would grant us Free Will primarily so that we will, if we're good little children, choose to give it up to Him. It's like a parent letting a child do what he wants for a night in the hope that the child will have a horrible time with all that freedom and come home asking for a cooked meal and a hug. At the end of the day, a child that can't leave the nest for fear of responsibility can never really amount to being a productive member of society.

10:01 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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9:04 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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9:18 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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4:43 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Linda,

I would not want any interference that would alter where I am today.

while I can understand where you're coming from with this, it's hard to see how it'd apply in the case of parents forced to watch their children die of starvation and disease or be tortured and killed by local militias, etc. Overcoming obstacles can be character-building. But not all suffering can be overcome - what about those whose lives are torn apart, who suffer from psychological damage that ruins their life?

What of those suffering from illnesses that gradually destroy their lives, reducing them to mere hollow shells of their former self?

The biggest problem with this idea that suffering can be beneficial is that is drastically reduces the argument for preventing it - I believe that this brief time is all that we have, which makes easing suffering one of the most important things we can do. When religion tells us that we should accept our lot because none of this really matters in the long run... words fail me.

We would not know light without the dark.. Love without hate.. Beauty without ugliness..

So right now their are children suffering lives of deprivation, brutality and psychological abuse simply so that the rest of us can appreciate how good we have it?

6:45 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Instead of “debating” all the time and having boxing matches with what we already know, we can work toward a common goal of acquiring more knowledge.

But debate is the only real to knowledge. At least for those of us without a direct line to some omniscient being.

For me, this site is a great example of Hegelian dialectic in action.

6:49 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Linda,
Here's the document you sent me.

7:02 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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7:47 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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8:03 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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9:31 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I've never been a fan of that kind of personality test - but then I probably wouldn't be a Free-Thinker if I was.

Where are Tom, Timmo and Revvvvvvd?

Is it just a freak coincidence?

Well...

The personality types are rather vague, and given the nature of how blog communities like this one tend to form, I don't think it's that surprising that those four types can be found here. I imagine they're present - to varying degrees - on most debate-orientated sites.

9:52 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Linda,
"I really have a hard time controlling my anger and defensiveness whenever you speak with your superior and narcissistic tone.."

I try my best to abide by the The Four Agreements in debate (Their simplicity appeals to me). If I speak frankly, the intent is only to express how I feel at that time and why (it is always an opinion, regardless of whether I remember to preface the statement with an "IMHO"). The intent is never an aggressive or passive aggressive attempt to belittle somebody arbitrarily, and I always welcome an explanation for why I'm dead wrong. And believe me, it is certainly not rare for me to get just that.

"One thing I must point out is that your parent-child analogy is greatly lacking."

I think you misinterpreted my previous post. I said nothing about parental love (if anything I was speaking about the perspective of the child, although only as a metaphor); that wasn't part of the analogy. The analogy was about dependence, and love and dependence are not one and the same thing; Kahlil Gibran has a nice poem about this.

Therefore,

"With all due respect, I don’t believe you are qualified to speak about a parent’s heart."

although you are correct in this statement, I think if you look at my previous post you'll see that I made no attempt to presume the heart of a parent. Be sparing with such appeals to authority, though, because they only serve to shut down discussion, often before the opinions themselves have been assessed on their own merit rather than the qualifications of their owner. I'd rather be humiliated by a thorough dissection of my opinion than simply be told that I'm not qualified to give it in the first place.

And... Christians who know the true meaning of grace and freedom do not see themselves as "ignorant sinners." We see ourselves as Kingdom people.

I apologise for making generalisations. Nevertheless, there are many who do follow what has been a prevailing theme in Catholicism up until The Age of Enlightenment, and yet still lingers in several large Christian denominations. Arguably it's the will to rebel against this theme of original sin that is the driving force behind the slow secularisation of the West.

Overall, I apologise if I offended you. I will proffer this piece of advice, as a seasoned veteran of internet forums; take nothing personally. Most of the time, it wasn't meant to be personal, and on the rare occasions that it is, the perpetrator is not worth the response.

< /IMHO >

;)

10:38 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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11:29 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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11:56 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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1:35 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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5:09 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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3:01 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

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7:06 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incit,
I think an essential part of choosing how to play one's cards - with humility or without - is acknowledging that one is most certainly the captain of one's ship. That we are wholly responsible for our actions...

For quite some time I've been itching to know how you reconcile this view with a determinist wold view. Do you feel a determinist stance and the statement above are consistent?

10:14 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex,
Yes, I think they are consistent. To begin with, I would say that the gut feeling that we get that they are not consistent is simply a result of a natural tendency to think along dualistic lines. Even those of us who don't believe in dualism, still operate as if we did. It's a hard thing to shake, because The Big Question of how the meat connects to our thoughts is just too abstract for any of us to handle.

However, if consciousness is accepted as a product of physiology alone, and we define choice as simply being an action executed based on physiological processes, then there's nothing paradoxical about believing in determinism, and yet believing we have choice. Our choices are determined by our physiology, but we are our physiology, and therefore still completely responsible for those choices. If that makes sense?

I remember an article (Newsweek?) about the problem law makers foresaw vis-vis defendants blaming their actions on their genetics and physiology. One prosecutor said he would respond to such a claim by saying something like, "If your soul part ways and walk out of the courthouse doors right now, it can go free; but your physical body needs punishment and rehab either way."

Essentially, like Matt, I don't believe in libertarian free will. The sort that, technically, should allow a person to make a decision that is independent of the past, the future, and their material, physiological makeup.

The thing is, my abstract conviction that my choices are hard wired into me doesn't upset my day, because I'm simply not conscious of it. It's not as if I walk into a pizza shop and find myself screaming inside my head for the four cheese, while my body leisurely strolls up and asks for Canadian bacon.

It's actually starting to look like much of our decision making is made unconsciously, and that our consciousness simply records and then justifies those decisions after the fact. That's pretty far out, and certainly isn't how it feels. But what is, and what we perceive it to be, are not necessarily the same.

8:53 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

"if consciousness is accepted as a product of physiology alone...

Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of "consciousness". Even so, I don't see how one could come to the above conclusion without begging the question. Furthermore, the implications of the above view (which I am assuming to imply the exclusion of God or anything we might call supernatural) have some rather absurd consequences, of which you begin to delve into below.

"and we define choice as simply being an action executed based on physiological processes"

Surely this is not simply a redefinition, but an all out abolishment of the word "choice". Suddenly a rockslide in the mountains is a "choice". My fingers would then be "choosing" to grow finger nails. It seems one really needs to do violence to our language to pull this off.

"there's nothing paradoxical about believing in determinism, and yet believing we have choice. Our choices are determined by our physiology, but we are our physiology, and therefore still completely responsible for those choices. If that makes sense?"

If we are our physiology and our physiology is simply a phase in a mindless reaction, then thinking we have mind is an illusion.

I see it like this:

According to your arguments, all humans are their physiology, or "All P's are Q's"

It then follows that all physiology is (in your view) mindless matter reacting, or "All Q's are R's"

The conclusion necessarily follows that All humans are mindless matter reacting, or "All P's are R's"

Now if by definition we are mindless matter reacting where does this concept of "mind" get smuggled in? If you assent to the above logic you've just cut off the limb you are sitting on.

Now I don't claim to know what mind "is" or how consciousness "works". But it does seem to me that a theistic wold view allows for all the things we value as humans (beauty, love, morality, honor, justice, peace, friendship, creativity etc...) while following the logic of atheism continues to destroy all of the above.

"my abstract conviction that my choices are hard wired into me doesn't upset my day, because I'm simply not conscious of it. It's not as if I walk into a pizza shop and find myself screaming inside my head for the four cheese, while my body leisurely strolls up and asks for Canadian bacon."

You may not always be conscious of it, but if you ignore the above argument I just laid out for you and carry on your life, how can you remain "unconscious" of it? You have just articulated to me what you believe to be a conscious apprehension of our own deterministic workings. How can you reflect upon the love you feel for your wife without wondering what sort of meaning such a sentiment contains in light of your professed belief? "Love" is (apparently) just what "mindless matter" does. Your relationship must then be only as meaningful as any other physical event in a mindless system of matter reacting. There is no qualitative difference between the love you have for your wife and the decomposition of a corpse.

I realize you can play the Murrell card and say "ah, but it is meaningful to me!" Even so, I cannot imagine how we ought to think about such a statement while under the impression that "we are mindless matter reacting". Mindless matter does not "find things to be meaningful". But WE DO. Somehow, the mindless matter thesis must be false. I don't see how it can be sustained under the weight of our own experience.

The idea that we are somehow a part of a transcendent reality (though not in vogue these days) still seems to me to be the most compelling solution to the puzzle. Lewis' words ring so true to me these days:

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

10:26 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex,

Why do I get the feeling you knew what I was going to say and had your response prepared already?

;)

"(which I am assuming to imply the exclusion of God or anything we might call supernatural)"

That assumption isn't implied. A physiological basis of consciousness says nothing of a creator's hand or absence thereof. Agnosticism with this regard is, as Russell pointed out, the only legitimate position to hold.

"Mindless matter"
This term crops up quite a bit. To me it's an oxymoron of sorts; I believe mind is matter, matter is mind. Wherever atoms and molecules are bouncing around and interacting, the building blocks of mind are in effect. It's just a matter of degree as to how complex that "mind" is, and whether it is sufficiently complex as to be aware of itself (that sounds a bit Joseph Campbell, but that's the way I think about it currently). Again, to say "mindless matter" is to assume a purely dualistic perspective; that matter is merely a dead thing manipulated by a living supernatural force.

"...while following the logic of atheism continues to destroy all of the above.

I'll need to ask you to carefully layout your argument for this. We've discussed this before, but we still seem to be stuck on different sides of the fence here. I still maintain that our evolution can (it has not yet been proven that it does; evo-psych is a young and controversial field) explain all of those things that you mention.

"There is no qualitative difference between the love you have for your wife and the decomposition of a corpse."

Objectively there isn't. The thing is that that really isn't such an ugly idea. Who cares whether, on an objective level, we're just a swirling collection of atoms? We're not trying to keep up with the cosmic Joneses here. What matters to me is that, subjectively, my Wife means a lot to me. That meaning is based in a lot of complicated chemical reactions. I cannot see why this is such a terrible idea. I find it rather beautiful.

"Somehow, the mindless matter thesis must be false.

You're betraying your bias here, but I think your fears are based on the presentation of a false dichotomy re the relationship, or your suspicion in the lack of such, between mind and matter. Incidentally, I was led to believe that Christian theology tended to avoid pure dualism, and the idea that matter is completely without a mind?*



*BTW, The Catholic Encyclopedia has an interesting essay on the history of the mind-body problem.

1:04 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incit,
"Why do I get the feeling you knew what I was going to say and had your response prepared already?"

LOL! Actually, not at all. For whatever unreasonably optimistic reason, I actually was expecting you to say, "Gee, that is a pretty inconsistent view to hold. I'm gonna have to think about that one." I thought (and still do think) I had you pegged on that one. Let's see if we can't find some common ground on this one point. Otherwise this gets unmanageable pretty quick!

When you say: "Our choices are determined by our physiology, but we are our physiology, and therefore still completely responsible for those choices." the only way I can see you pulling this off is by offering a minimalized version of what it means to "be responsible".

In the above view "responsibility" means, minimally, to be involved with. But to assent to this we would need to admit there is no qualitative difference between a man being responsible for having brown eyes, and a man being responsible for killing his wife and children. In a determinist view, one is "responsible" only insofar as one is "involved with" a certain state of affairs.

It is uncontroversially true that being responsible for something involves being "involved with" something, but is also no secret that there is a conceptual difference between simply being involved in some process and being truly responsible for some state of affairs. Your original sentiment was strongly pointing towards the latter: "...one is most certainly the captain of one's ship. ...[W]e are wholly responsible for our actions..." Surly being "the captain of one's ship" contains a clear conceptual difference between being in control of a ship and simply being the ship. Furthermore, I'm sure you meant something quite different than "stuff happens through my body" when you said, "...we are wholly responsible for our actions...". It seems to me you are speaking a language that is unavailable to you if you are just material dancing to the tune of a mysterious reaction.

It is this part of our lived experience that I find to be particularly convincing. Either everything humanity has thought and done since the beginning of time is just "matter doing what it does", or determinism is false and there is a bigger story to all of this.

So to close, I admit, I was trying to catch you in your words earlier. Sorry. I am continually trying to beat down my ever-so-strong desire to "win". In my better moments, I'm truly looking to discover the truth of our existence as possible. So having said that, lemme know what you think.

9:47 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Surly being "the captain of one's ship" contains a clear conceptual difference between being in control of a ship and simply being the ship."

Funny you mention this, because in the first draft of my previous reply I corrected myself by saying that the above is more consistent with my view (We're the ship, not the captain of it). But then, bizarrely, I thought of the speech I wrote for the boatswain in my universally panned pirate play, Blackbird White, which argued that the captain and crew were as much a part of the ship as the hull and the sails. So I went from being tied up by the mind-body problem to being tied up by the ship-crew problem. Which wouldn't do.

Part of our conflict is that I think we're approaching the problem of responsibility from two different paradigms (is that the right word?); I think that you're approaching responsibility from the traditional paradigm, in which the mind is supervisor to, and director of the body, whereas I'm thinking from the point of view of the emerging naturalist paradigm, which suggests that the subconscious machinery of the body largely hold sway, whereas the much later developed conscious mind of the body is, essentially a consultant; helping to analyze data about the physical world from which the rest of the body ultimately determines the best course of action. However, the "I" is not simply the consultant part of the brain, IMHO; the "I' is the sum of all the subconscious and conscious parts of our body. they are not separable.

The problems I have with the traditional view is that not only does it lead us down the path of dualism (it must), but it also leads to the idea that moral judgments (actually, any kind of decision) can be made irrespective of physiology (e.g. the strengthening and weakening of synapses as part of the process of learning and memory), and thus from the perspective of "what has come before". Dispatching with determinism doesn't just take away the idea of a predetermined future, it also dispenses with the ostensibly determined past. The implications go beyond biology into physics, although I'm less qualified to deal with that. Basically, a similar problem exists, though: if the future is not determined by the present, then the present cannot be determined by the past. That flies in the face of personal experience more than anything else, IMHO.


I still think that you're vastly underestimating matter and its potential for complexity. When I say that our emotions are physiological reactions, I'm not saying they are but a mere reflection of the siphon-withdrawal reflex in an aplysia. The difference in complexity is absolutely enormous (we're talking 10^15, or something ridiculous like that in terms of processing power). You have to entertain the idea that physiology can give rise to the mind through an evolution of these processes. The reason that you have to is that it is very likely to be proven, if not in your life time, the life time of your children, that mind can be generated purely from matter. Developments in artificial intelligence are already headed quite far along in that very direction; it's just a matter of replicating that kind of processing power. Asimov was absolutely right to labour the point that one of the next greatest challenges to human civilisation - particularly its religious element - will be how it deals with the implications of artificial intelligence and the conundrum of how a human can be replicated in the absence of a soul.

10:59 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

mired in the midst of a group debate for class. might be a bit.

12:42 PM

 

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