Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Atheists and Morality

Someone who goes by the name Barefoot Bum linked my last post on the lack of atheist saints. I touched on morality there but just briefly. His comment seemed to focus on morality so I will give a longer answer here. The first thing to understand is that atheists can be and usually are very moral people. That is frequently thrown out as the straw man that Christians simply assert atheists are immoral and it is not true. Some Christians might say that. I don't and most of the Christian thinkers I respect don't. So the straw man accusation is itself a straw man. We generally don't make the straw man argument we are accused of making.

So what is the argument? The problem is not that atheists don't have morals but that they don't have a source for those morals that is greater than themselves. They can base morals on their feelings or on their reason and end up with a moral code that is pretty good. The problem is it is something they have created and therefore they can change it at any time. If they convince themselves that something is OK then there is no standard that someone can point to and show them they are wrong. The classic example is Hitler and genocide. This is just because it is something that everyone agrees is immoral. What do you say to a person who has honestly comes to the conclusion that genocide is a good idea? Is their opinion of what is moral just as valid as yours? You can question their motives. You can question their logic. They can question your motives and logic. But at the end of the day they can just dismiss your argument and simply say they disagree.

So why does this matter? Because humans are capable of skewing their reasoning. What is known as rationalization. Here is Thomas Merton:
I think that if there is one truth that people need to learn, in the world, especially today, it is this: that the intellect is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, actual practice. It is constantly being blinded and perverted by the ends and aims of passion, and the evidence it presents to us with such a show of impartiality and objectivity is fraught with interest and propaganda. We have become marvelous at self-delusion; all the more so, because we have gone to such trouble to convince ourselves of our own absolute infallibility.  The desires of the flesh–and by that I mean not only sinful desires, but even the ordinary, normal appetites for comfort and ease and human respect, are fruitful sources of every kind of error and misjudgement, and because we have these yearnings in us, our intellects (which, if they operated all alone in a vacuum, would indeed, register with pure impartiality what they saw) present to us everything distorted and accommodated to the norms of our desire.
Moral reasoning is one place where our intellect bumps right against appetites and desires. Atheist morality makes the assumption that reason will win that encounter. At least if we can put aside religion then human reason will be able to follow what logic tells him is right and not be hopelessly skewed by our passions. It isn't true. The most intelligent alcoholic will fall for the silliest line of reasoning if it justifies his drinking.

So what is the solution? People need some reason to overrule their own opinion. Sometimes the state law serves this purpose. But the laws can be immoral. Then there are cases like the Hitler example where the person has the power to rewrite the law. So we need some higher law. Like a law that says it is always wrong to break your marriage vows. It might come from religion or maybe just your sense of some moral absolutes. Then no matter how many interesting arguments for adultery cross your mind you dismiss them all because this law trumps your reason.This is good because those arguments are going to be skewed by your passions. But if you don't believe in moral absolutes then your chance of succumbing to bad reasoning is a lot higher.

The truth is that most atheists are moral because they have some unquestioned moral absolutes. This is a good thing. It is not a rational thing because they don't have a logical reason for believing these principles trump all logic. Yet they are there and they are typically true. Principles like honesty, hard work, the pursuit of truth no matter the cost, respect for other people, etc. The reality is most atheists were raised in a society formed by Christian morals. So they have picked up these ideas and have them so deeply ingrained they don't even know they are there. But how long will that be true? As the Christian world and life view becomes less and less dominant in the west how long will we see atheists displaying these values?

28 comments:

  1. "The problem is not that atheists don't have morals but that they don't have a source for those morals that is greater than themselves."

    The problem with theist morals is that they are often mutually contradictory, which means some of them must be false. Yet theists all defend their particular morals as absolute truth, and often try to impose their morals by force (since, of course, they are sure they are right).

    Gods never show up anyway; all morals, even ones supposedly given by "gods" always have humans who claim to be speaking on behalf of these gods, or being gods themselves. But why believe any of them?

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  2. The problem with theist morals is that they are often mutually contradictory, which means some of them must be false. Yet theists all defend their particular morals as absolute truth, and often try to impose their morals by force (since, of course, they are sure they are right).

    Not everyone says the same thing for sure. But there is quite a bit of agreement. Sure there are some in left field but it seems like the majority are converging around some truth rather than making stuff up.

    On the points where they contradict there is a problem. But that is where reason comes in. A detective does not just give up because he has more than one suspect. He investigates. We can do that. We can sweat the details. It is work but nothing worthwhile comes easy.

    Catholicism welcomes that. Ask all the hard questions. Expect the truth to stand up to rational scrutiny. But also be open to the possibility that there may be something there.

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  3. Much better. At least you try and make an argument.

    A couple of problems, though.

    The problem is not that atheists don't have morals but that they don't have a source for those morals that is greater than themselves.

    The most obvious problem with this line of reasoning is that theists also lack a source of morality greater than themselves. Simply inventing a fictional deity and calling it post hoc a "transcendent" source of morality does not make this fictional deity an actual source. There's ample evidence (e.g. the religious justification for slavery) that indicates that religious people do just this. Throughout history, the gods — at least according to the priesthood — have almost always smiled on the moral beliefs that supported the ruling class.

    What do you say to a person who has honestly comes to the conclusion that genocide is a good idea? Is their opinion of what is moral just as valid as yours? You can question their motives. You can question their logic. They can question your motives and logic. But at the end of the day they can just dismiss your argument and simply say they disagree.

    Indeed. At the end of the day you must use force: police, prisons or, as in the case of Hitler, armies.

    Sure, it would be nice if there was some neat, clean set of objective moral laws that we could discover scientifically. But the evidence shows that there is not. There are only rational analyses of our mutual benefit, and the forces of natural selection operating on our social and cultural constructions. And we see precisely the sort of messiness that an evolutionary model predicts that we see in human behavior, even when the soi disant spokesmodels for a thousand different gods were running society.

    A naturalistic model of ethics and morality might contradict your desires, fantasies and wishful thinking. So what? The question is, does it contradict the evidence?

    The truth is that most atheists are moral because they have some unquestioned moral absolutes.

    Randy, if you want to be taken seriously, it is completely unacceptable for you to put ideas and beliefs in the mouths of your opponents. If you can prove this statement, show me your proof. Otherwise, please at least try to show a modicum of intellectual integrity.

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  4. Much better. At least you try and make an argument.

    Thanks, I was trying to make an argument in the previous post but not about morality.

    The most obvious problem with this line of reasoning is that theists also lack a source of morality greater than themselves. Simply inventing a fictional deity and calling it post hoc a "transcendent" source of morality does not make this fictional deity an actual source.

    You are right if one accepts your assumption. That is that any notion of deity would be fictional. This shows that human morality seems to be ordered towards a transcendent source of moral good. It does not directly address the question of whether it exists. Unless you go with the CS Lewis line of reasoning that the desire itself is evidence that something exists to satisfy that desire.

    There's ample evidence (e.g. the religious justification for slavery) that indicates that religious people do just this. Throughout history, the gods — at least according to the priesthood — have almost always smiled on the moral beliefs that supported the ruling class.

    Sure religious people do this. The Merton quote was not about atheists. It was about Christians having their theological reasoning skewed by appetites and desires. This is why we ultimately need grace. As you point out. Making up some God myth does not solve the problem. It is only because God is truly there and gives us the grace to see Him that this has any chance of working. But it is a struggle and we do make lots of wrong steps. This is why we have a church to call us back after those wrong steps.

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  5. Indeed. At the end of the day you must use force: police, prisons or, as in the case of Hitler, armies.

    Sure, it would be nice if there was some neat, clean set of objective moral laws that we could discover scientifically. But the evidence shows that there is not. There are only rational analyses of our mutual benefit, and the forces of natural selection operating on our social and cultural constructions.


    I guess you are making the point that without God there is no hope for humanity. Somebody somewhere does some rational analysis of what is to our benefit and then imposes it be force. But what does "benefit" look like. Just what the ruling class wants? If there is no transcendent good then it can look like anything.

    And we see precisely the sort of messiness that an evolutionary model predicts that we see in human behavior, even when the soi disant spokesmodels for a thousand different gods were running society.

    Predicting messiness is not a big trick. If a model predicted and certain kind of order and it happened than that would be something. Like predicting that the Catholic church would always teach the same gospel. That is an order one would not expect.

    Randy, if you want to be taken seriously, it is completely unacceptable for you to put ideas and beliefs in the mouths of your opponents. If you can prove this statement, show me your proof. Otherwise, please at least try to show a modicum of intellectual integrity.

    There is often an attempt to appeal to general observations that atheists are often good people. I agree with the general observations. I just think that generally those same atheists have not really rid themselves of moral absolutes. It is all a bit of a hand waving proof. I never claimed it has intellectual rigor. But it does ring true with many people.

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  6. Also, Randy, do you have even the tiniest clue that the conversation about this argument goes back almost twenty-five centuries, to the first surviving recorded Western philosophy? Do you have even the tiniest clue that philosophers have been discussing this subject almost continuously in that time?

    Do you understand that your ridiculously oversimplified "argument" is the philosophical equivalent of the "if people descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" argument against evolution?

    This is why I don't particularly want to engage with you. I'm not saying you have to get a PhD in philosophy, but just having a tiny bit of awareness that you just might not be such a magnificent genius that you're the first person to come across a particularly devastating argument would go a long way towards me not calling you stupid, and anyone who does have even a little philosophical education not thinking that I'm right.

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  7. I guess you are making the point that without God there is no hope for humanity.

    Good grief, Randy. If you're going to put words in my mouth, why do I need to spend any time at all engaging with you? You appear perfectly able to conduct both sides of this discussion.

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  8. This is why I don't particularly want to engage with you. I'm not saying you have to get a PhD in philosophy, but just having a tiny bit of awareness that you just might not be such a magnificent genius that you're the first person to come across a particularly devastating argument would go a long way towards me not calling you stupid, and anyone who does have even a little philosophical education not thinking that I'm right.

    Actually I have engaged with a lot of smart people. So I know there is much I don't know. But most smart people can show their intelligence without simply declaring themselves to be smart. That is they can respond to the "why are there still monkeys?" question without simply declaring the question to be too stupid to deserve a response.

    A charitable and understandable answer can educate and lead to something good. But if you have a deep understanding of something it only has value if you can actually lead people into that understanding from where they are at. Just like there are many religions, there are lots of people saying "trust me I am smart" and making contradictory assertions. There are some who can interact graciously with opponents while showing why that opponents position is inferior.

    I think one reason for that is because their positions really are more sound. Particularly the Aristotelian-Thomism position seems to have very few problems finding amazing answers to honest questions over and over again. The atheist position seems to have defenders who get abusive very quickly. It does not make your view attractive at all.

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  9. Good grief, Randy. If you're going to put words in my mouth, why do I need to spend any time at all engaging with you? You appear perfectly able to conduct both sides of this discussion.

    I am showing there is a huge problem in trying to base morality on reason alone. Your response was "Sure, it would be nice if there was some neat, clean set of objective moral laws that we could discover scientifically. But the evidence shows that there is not."

    So leaving aside the question of what the evidence shows (about which we obviously disagree) I was trying to find some common ground. That if we assume there is no God then we have a moral problem that seems unsolvable. Human reason cannot save us because human reason is infected by human desires and appetites. The theological way of saying that is that man has no hope for salvation without God. I know you are not going to say it in theological language but the messiness you see in human behavior does seem to echo that in my mind. So I am not trying to put words into your mouth so much as trying to connect what you said to what Christians would affirm.

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  10. ---another venturer from Larry's blog, which I enjoy reading.

    Randy said:

    "The problem is it is something they have created and therefore they can change it at any time."

    Which seems to be a more useful attribute than an ethic that never changes and is fixed and static, thereby precluding even the possibility of progress and improvement.

    "If they convince themselves that something is OK then there is no standard that someone can point to and show them they are wrong."

    Except their own. You can show them that they are being inconsistent with their own standard, and operating on a double standard, being hypocritical, biased, etc. It is quite common for people to engage in such behaviors, where they espouse one principle and behave in another (and sincerely, never realizing what they are doing). If people can become more self-aware, then self-consistency will be more likely to follow than if people never reflect on their own actions.

    "What do you say to a person who has honestly comes to the conclusion that genocide is a good idea?"

    Maybe God told that person that he wished to kill off an entire race. God has built up quite the reputation as a mass killer. Does genocide become good if God commands it?

    "...at the end of the day they can just dismiss your argument and simply say they disagree."

    At which point they may be engaging in a violation of their own standards and principles, and we can try to get them to realize that. Maybe they can be persuaded to stop once they realize that, maybe they cannot be so persuaded. The goal for the rest of us should be to try and maximize the number of people in the world who are honest, reflective, and make an effort to be consistent in their ethics. Religion stands in the way of that though, as it promotes an ethical system that is extremely hyper-authoritarian in nature. What is "good" or "bad" is determined entirely by the decree of a cosmic entity. Your opinions, your thoughts, your values, your feelings are completely irrelevant in determining what you should or should not do, what choices you should or should not make. Your job is to obey orders, because using your own mind and thinking for yourself is dangerous and will lead to all sorts of chaos (for reasons like the ones you have expressed).


    This is part of the reason why Christianity does not even pass the smell test of being reasonable, or ethical. It is obviously geared towards controlling the way people think, influencing their biases in certain directions. Some of us are more interested in controlling our biases though, not having them control us.

    Brian

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  11. Which seems to be a more useful attribute than an ethic that never changes and is fixed and static, thereby precluding even the possibility of progress and improvement.

    You don't want an ethic to be completely static either. Catholicism is not. We believe we can deepen our understanding of God's revelation and therefore progress. But that does not mean what we knew before was wrong. It was just incomplete. But God's will for man is that he constantly struggle to progress. So Christians who's first impulse is to reject any innovation don't really understand God on this point.

    Except their own. You can show them that they are being inconsistent with their own standard, and operating on a double standard, being hypocritical, biased, etc. It is quite common for people to engage in such behaviors, where they espouse one principle and behave in another (and sincerely, never realizing what they are doing). If people can become more self-aware, then self-consistency will be more likely to follow than if people never reflect on their own actions.

    You are right. Sometimes people can be made to see they are not being moral even by their own standards. They sometimes do change for the better. But when it get hard the option to just say the standard is the problem is going to be tempting. The point is nothing prevents them from doing that.

    Maybe God told that person that he wished to kill off an entire race. God has built up quite the reputation as a mass killer. Does genocide become good if God commands it?

    This is why we need to get God's revelation right. Osama Bin Laden, or now his successor, can and does say "Kill the Jews" just as well as Hitler says it. They definitely claim it is God's will. They are simply wrong. Just because there are counterfeit gods does not mean there is no real God. Just because there are false prophets does not mean there are no real prophets. In fact, false religion is expected.

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  12. At which point they may be engaging in a violation of their own standards and principles, and we can try to get them to realize that. Maybe they can be persuaded to stop once they realize that, maybe they cannot be so persuaded.

    People will always try and persuade each other. But when the immorality reaches a certain level it must go beyond persuasion. Self sacrifice is called for. Like Martin Luther King or Corrie Ten Boom. They knew that something was being violated that was bigger then themselves. So they risked everything to fight it.

    The goal for the rest of us should be to try and maximize the number of people in the world who are honest, reflective, and make an effort to be consistent in their ethics.

    Why? If there is no transcendent morality why do we care if people are honest, reflective or consistent? If there is a morality greater than ourselves then we want everyone to understand it and live it. But if there isn't one then maybe we should just change people's morals when it suits us.

    Religion stands in the way of that though, as it promotes an ethical system that is extremely hyper-authoritarian in nature. What is "good" or "bad" is determined entirely by the decree of a cosmic entity.

    What is good or bad just is. The decrees make us realize the truth. They don't manufacture the truth.

    Your opinions, your thoughts, your values, your feelings are completely irrelevant in determining what you should or should not do, what choices you should or should not make.

    You are forgetting that the lawgiver is also your creator and father. He knows you better than you know yourself and loves you more than you could love yourself. So why not listen to Him?

    Your job is to obey orders, because using your own mind and thinking for yourself is dangerous and will lead to all sorts of chaos (for reasons like the ones you have expressed).

    I don't think recognizing that someone knows more than you makes you a non-thinker. I think it is smart. God does not tell you ever detail of what you are to do every day. That would make it quite oppressive. Trust me. There are many occasions where you have to use your mind.

    This is part of the reason why Christianity does not even pass the smell test of being reasonable, or ethical. It is obviously geared towards controlling the way people think, influencing their biases in certain directions. Some of us are more interested in controlling our biases though, not having them control us.

    We are all interested in controlling our own thinking. The reality is we are always being influenced big time by others. Like the teen who rebels against his parents only to join a gang. We need a world and life view and a community. I would say the community of academic elites are at least as controlling as the church. You must believe what is fashionable. That is mind-numbing. Christianity is mind-enabling. It teaches you how to think on a higher level rather than thinking for you.

    ---another venturer from Larry's blog, which I enjoy reading.

    Welcome Brian. Good thoughts.

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  13. Randy said:

    “You don't want an ethic to be completely static either.”

    If you say that now, why did you earlier say denigrate an ethic that can “change at any time?” It sounds like you are trying to have it both ways. Are you trying to find some middle ground there, and perhaps favor an ethic that is sometimes static and sometimes fluid? Please feel free to elaborate on how much an ideal ethic should be one versus the other.

    “Sometimes people can be made to see they are not being moral even by their own standards. They sometimes do change for the better. But when it get hard the option to just say the standard is the problem is going to be tempting. The point is nothing prevents them from doing that”

    That is wrong. They may have intellectual honesty and a desire to be consistent and unbiased, and if so then that would stop them from engaging in a behavior that is hypocritical, biased, and exhibiting a double standard. The goal then, as stated before, is for the rest of us to encourage people to be honest, consistent, and reflective of their ethical principles and how they apply them. The more people there are in the world that are ignorant of their own behavior, engaging in hypocrisies and double standards and without caring that they are doing so, the worse it will be for the rest of us.

    Think about your own personal ethical history. Have you ever changed your mind on some ethical position? Reflecting back on your original position, why did you hold it? What reasons would you have cited back then? What caused you to later change your position? What was the flaw in your earlier stance? If you look hard enough I think you will find that there was an inconsistency in your worldview that you became aware of, where you espoused some moral principle but then had the realization that your position on this other issue was in violation of that same moral principle. Sometimes our brain can live with inconsistencies and double standards (via cognitive dissonance and various biases) and sometimes it cannot, compelling us to change something. If more people can become more self-aware and less controlled by their biases, then people will on the whole adopt worldviews and ethics that are more consistent, reducing the amount of double standards that are in play when making choices.

    “This is why we need to get God's revelation right. Osama Bin Laden, or now his successor, can and does say "Kill the Jews" just as well as Hitler says it. They definitely claim it is God's will. They are simply wrong.”

    How do you know they are wrong? God wiped out entire races and species in the OT, and also punishes some people for all eternity after they live out their lives here on Earth. There is ample precedent for God being extremely violent to humans. You may respond by trying to justify God’s actions in such cases, but note that that would implicitly acknowledge that God did and does such things. Whenever apologists are presented with examples of the Christian god’s violent and genocidal behavior, some will deny that God does such things. Others will admit that God does such things, but then try to justify it. So far it looks like you are going the first route, but that is not entirely clear.

    Perhaps God again had some reason now to command a genocide, and also chose to reveal it directly only to certain individuals (remember also that God works in “mysterious ways” to us).

    “If there is no transcendent morality why do we care if people are honest, reflective or consistent?”

    Because those people use their morality to make choices, and some of those choices have consequences for me and others that I care about. So, I have a vested interest in the choices that other people make, and how they make them.

    Brian

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  14. “He knows you better than you know yourself and loves you more than you could love yourself. So why not listen to Him?”

    Assumes many facts not in evidence. It is also a mammoth-sized conversation on its own, and for now I do not want to derail from the main topic.

    “I don't think recognizing that someone knows more than you makes you a non-thinker.”

    Nor did I ever say it did, or would I. My point was not even about the amount of KNOWLEDGE such a being possesses. It was about the nature of its INVOLVEMENT in our lives. What I actually was saying was that under a Christian objective ethical system, your proper role is to be obedient to God’s will, to obey God’s moral standards. God is not merely a being that knows more than us. It is a being that is also commanding us what to do. Not obeying those commandments is a sin.

    “God does not tell you ever detail of what you are to do every day. That would make it quite oppressive.”

    Methinks you are beginning to understand. :)

    “There are many occasions where you have to use your mind.”

    How is that possible under Christianity? How can we ever know what we should do, without just being told what to do by the Christian God? Are you saying we have the ability to use our own judgments, our own values, our own feelings, our own opinions, and our own thoughts to make decisions about what we should or should not do?

    Welcome to ethical subjectivism.




    This response will be my last one on this topic on this site, as I generally prefer to not get engaged in back-and-forth exchanges on blogs particularly. If you want to continue I would be happy to do so, but in a different venue. I am a member at the atheist-oriented FRDB:

    Freeratio (dot) org

    but if there is some other place you prefer I may be willing as well. Time is short for me at the moment too, so my responses may have some delay.

    Cheers,

    Brian

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  15. Ah, the age old question: "Is it wrong because God says it is, or does God say it is wrong because it is wrong without His saying that it is wrong?"

    You answer that question by posing a thought experiment (with which there are an infinite number of variations): "If God said that touching children sexually was okay, would I be able to touch children without feeling as though I'd done something wrong?" Remember that you are not asked if you would WANT to follow through with the action in this hypothetical. We simply want to know how you'd feel once you'd done it.

    Now, if the answer is "yes," then you seem to have a strong extrinsic motivation. You may go to work for the money. Maybe you don't murder people because you would be sent to prison. You may help commit genocide of a group of people because you were coerced by your peers. Strictly followed, they're not all bad. In fact, at the beginning of civilization, such intrinsic motivations may have been absolutely essential for the function of society. Who knows?

    If you answered "no," then you're in an interesting position. You're not doing it because someone told you that you shouldn't do it. You're doing it because of something within you. Intrinsic motivations are interesting that way. A guy named Steven Reiss came up with around 16 of them, and they each balance, attenuate, and amplify each other depending on... well, who you are as a person. This sounds a lot brighter than extrinsic motivation, but it APPEARS a lot more personally subjective.

    I stress APPEARS because in reality, they are BOTH personally subjective. Someone may have already pointed out that one may develop intrinsic motivations and choose their religion based on the motivations; or, just by looking at all the denominations of Christianity, conformed their religious professions to their intrinsic motivations.

    There's one kink, though: How do we know that intrinsic motivations aren't developed through exposure to religion? Good point. Everyone is both a product of their genetics and their environment. But then, animals don't seem to have a religion at all and they can follow a few simple morals. Chimpanzees, for example, don't kill members of their group without provocation. Then again, neither do piranha! So we can say that, at least for one moral construct, genetics may intervene in at least some of the motivations related to killing.

    Emotion, consensus, and motivation are great building blocks for logical, secular bases for objective personal and objective general moralities. These moralities may be different for a given situation, but for each given situation, an OBJECTIVE moral decision may be formulated. And I'm thoroughly convinced that people of religion follow this model. Broad rules are largely unsatisfactory. For example, God may command, "Thou shalt not kill," but this may not be followed in instances where an individual is threatening to shoot and kill two small children unless she receives money or something.

    That's just my take on the situation. Maybe I'm wrong, but maybe someone here can set me straight.

    Thanks.

    -PJ

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  16. Brian63,

    I responded to you in a new post.

    http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/2011/06/dialogue-with-atheist.html

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  17. PJ,

    You are posing an either/or. Christians would say it is both/and. But they are not both subjective. They are both objective. We can discern within us what is right and wrong. We don't define it. We perceive a reality that is bigger than us. That is an important way God communicates morality to us. We can understand it regardless of our creed.

    Beyond that God gives us extrinsic information about the same moral code. From the bible, from the church, from the wisdom of previous generations. The two sources should both give us the same information but both can get messed up. Consciences can get badly formed. Theology can be wrong.

    You still don't seem to address the issue. It is not that morality can't be totally subjective. It is just that if it is we are in a lot of trouble. We can't trust our conscience because it is just an artifact of evolution and not really relevant to anything. We can't trust our reason because it is skewed by our appetites and desires. So in a subjective world it is every man for himself and pretty much everything that could help him get the right answer is known to be misleading.

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  18. We can agree that morality is not formulated subjectively and that morality is internally discerned, but there is no way that we may verify that morality is defined explicitly by a god. The Bible, the church, and wisdom of previous generations -- that's all fine and dandy. But >which< Bible? >Which< church? And >which< ancestors am I going to listen to? These should be infallible sources of morality. Yet >I< am the one selecting the Bible, the church, and the wisdom! Making a decision like that and then saying that my infallible god has the correct objective explicit morality is >exactly the same< as saying >I< am infallible and have the correct objective explicit morality. Unless you wish to claim infallibility, you must accept that your selections are fallible. And as you say, you trust neither your conscience nor your reason.

    What do you rely on to make your choice? Internal processes. You decide what your god believes is appropriate and inappropriate. Have you ever carried on through life and made "revelations" as to what you believe God feels is right? Is that the case, or are you making your own discoveries and reflecting your own beliefs on this unverifiable personality you are creating?

    If you come to this realization, you must seek other tools to answer moral questions. These are accomplished through an amalgamation of personal emotion, reasoned logic, and widespread consensus. Interestingly enough, this is the way we do it in justice, ethics, international relations, etc.

    There's an issue with assuming that religion is the source of objective explicit morality: conservatism. If morality is indeed something that needs to be reasoned and if it's something we need to come to a consensus to, then the fallible assumption that these religion-based moralities are infallible really impede progress to determining human morality.

    Do we agree?

    - PJ

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  19. We can agree that morality is not formulated subjectively and that morality is internally discerned,

    This is precisely what I was arguing for. That is that there is a transcendent morality. Something not defined by man but discoverable by man. Atheists often refuse to accept this because it means they have conceded a major point. That is that there is something supernatural. Something real that science makes no attempt to discover. If you are willing to concede that point then my main reason for this post does not apply to you.

    but there is no way that we may verify that morality is defined explicitly by a god. The Bible, the church, and wisdom of previous generations -- that's all fine and dandy. But >which< Bible? >Which< church? And >which< ancestors am I going to listen to?

    Sure you need to do some analysis and figure out which version of the truth about God is most likely to be accurate. This is not an argument for the non-existence of such a truth. We all agree scientific truth exists and it takes work to discover it.

    These should be infallible sources of morality. Yet >I< am the one selecting the Bible, the church, and the wisdom! Making a decision like that and then saying that my infallible god has the correct objective explicit morality is >exactly the same< as saying >I< am infallible and have the correct objective explicit morality.

    I don't think this is true. If say Jesus is without error is that the same thing as claiming infallibility for myself? No. I am only claiming to be correct. Claiming one statement of mine is true is not the same thing as claiming infallibility. The claim of infallibility extends to future statements. It is a claim about the statement maker that cannot be proven by simply verifying the truth of the statements in question because the set of statements might not be complete.

    Unless you wish to claim infallibility, you must accept that your selections are fallible. And as you say, you trust neither your conscience nor your reason.

    At some point you do trust yourself. But it must go beyond reason and conscience. It must get to the level of heart to heart. The way you can know you want to be with the same woman forever. You are right. If it was an impersonal force that was defining morals then I would not be able to know when someone understood it because I could not be in a love relationship with it. All I would have is my untrustworthy conscience and reason.

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  20. What do you rely on to make your choice? Internal processes. You decide what your god believes is appropriate and inappropriate. Have you ever carried on through life and made "revelations" as to what you believe God feels is right? Is that the case, or are you making your own discoveries and reflecting your own beliefs on this unverifiable personality you are creating?

    I can make discoveries about God but they are not unverifiable. Not for Catholics. That is the role of the church. We need to be constantly be checking our internal discernment against the thinking of the church and the teaching of the magisterium. So it is not purely our feelings. We beleive God leads the church as the body of Christ.

    If you come to this realization, you must seek other tools to answer moral questions. These are accomplished through an amalgamation of personal emotion, reasoned logic, and widespread consensus. Interestingly enough, this is the way we do it in justice, ethics, international relations, etc.

    That is the way the church does it to. But the church has help. She is guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. This is the point. That we need God's help. Human effort cannot get us to moral goodness. Sin is too strong. We need grace. But grace builds on nature. It does not replace it. So we still need "personal emotion, reasoned logic, and widespread consensus."

    There's an issue with assuming that religion is the source of objective explicit morality: conservatism. If morality is indeed something that needs to be reasoned and if it's something we need to come to a consensus to, then the fallible assumption that these religion-based moralities are infallible really impede progress to determining human morality.

    We do agree here. Conservatism can preserve truth but often at the expense of reason. When we sit down with others who do not share the same basic world and life view we will have trouble if we cannot go back to the reasons for our faith and interact with other viewpoints honestly and constructively. The catholic church teaches that this kind of dialogue with any human person is likely to lead us to know God better. Understand that. If the holiest Catholic sits down with anyone sincerely seeking truth and good, whatever their belief system, that Catholic will learn something about God.

    Catholics just want a seat at the table. We believe the beauty of Catholic teachings will do the rest. We can defend them without using the bible if you want. Anyone who accepts human experience and human reason as a starting point we can talk to. But can they talk to us? Too often the answer is No.

    Do we agree?

    - PJ


    Mostly, No. But thanks for stopping by anyway. Reasoned dissent is always welcome. God bless you.

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  21. I'm sorry, Randy. I would have overwhelmingly sided with you until I read what PJ provided. There truly could be a secular determinant of morality. You even said it yourself: "We can defend [Catholic teachings] without using the bible if you want." Well, that's precisely what PJ was saying. You've inadvertently conceded that conclusions on morality may be drawn without referring to God. Atheists don't need God for a moral system. By themselves, those elements PJ was talking about are enough to build one. Maybe some divine spark comes along behind to help make some peace within ourselves with what we find, but it seems so alien to think that the same spark would make us feel warm and fuzzy when we love our neighbors and then also make us feel warm and fuzzy when we destroy our enemies. Human emotion is at least partly innate and earthly (studies on brain lesions verify this), consensus utilizes the emotion of all individuals for a structured system shared by all peoples, and reason modulates these to formulate a clear moral picture. Morality is something which is discovered, but it is something which is discovered within and without ourselves, utilizing thoughtful intuition and rigorous logic. Maybe when God made this Universe, He instilled certain specific moral truths into it. The fact of the matter is, the Universe exists and certain truths, including moral ones, are going to be instilled within it regardless of its state or who made it. To say that we need God's active attention to bolster our views of morality is denigration of human ingenuity, which, in my opinion, may be insulting to both man and God.

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  22. I think you are missing the point here. It is not to prove Catholicism true. It is to prove materialism false or at least to show it is very problematic. As I pointed out, PJ concedes this point. You seem to as well.

    The fact of the matter is, the Universe exists and certain truths, including moral ones, are going to be instilled within it regardless of its state or who made it.

    This is the essence of a morality that does not exists as an epiphenomenon of the human brain. Morality is instilled in the universe. That mostly leaves open the question of who made morality. I say mostly because it excludes human makers. Something superhuman made it. That is huge.

    Once we concede that higher morality exists we can use different ways to try and find it. One way might involve God revealing Himself through the bible. But there are other ways. Before the bible was written people had ways to discern morality. So it is helpful but not needed. The point is that you are discerning a higher truth. You are not defining what is good for society. We don't own it so we can't change it.

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  23. We imbue the word "morality" with some magical property. Really, it's just another natural phenomena. I would put forth that a morality would be instilled within organisms regardless of the state of the universe. Morality is evolutionarily-based. A group of piranha do not wantonly or unsystematically attack and kill one another. It is the same as morality. Their perceived universe is vastly different. In any universe, contrived or "accidental", a round peg would fit into a round hole. Likewise, in any universe, a system of what feels right and what feels wrong would emerge. It's not magic, it's nature.

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  24. Buddhists have morality without God. They call it Karma.

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  25. You can believe morality is just nature. It is just then you have to say there is no objective morality. So Hitler's choice to kill Jews was faithful to his vision of what was good for Germany and for the world so you cannot say he did something wrong. Same with the inquisition. Christians can say what they did back then was wrong. They tried to do something good and failed. Atheists can't say that. Even if someone rapes your wife and murders your children you must insist there is nothing wrong or bad or evil about that person if what he did was good in his eyes. In fact, if that was good in his eyes to fail to act on that impulse would be immoral. To let some superstitious idea of right and wrong prevent you from doing what you really think is right for you would be inconsistent with atheism.

    This is where the tread started out in may Atheist Saints post. Not saying that this has to be false but just saying atheists themselves don't really seem to defend it and live it out to the nth degree. Many Christians don't live out Christianity but the ones that come close are called saints and we would encourage people to evaluate Christianity by looking at them. Atheists have no analogous group of people who are models of consistent atheism.

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  26. Buddhists have morality without God. They call it Karma.

    Again, I was not saying God as Christians traditionally think of Him. Just some reality that is higher than any human. So Karma would qualify. Once you go there then you need to ask where Karma came from. Was there an intelligence that set it up? But I was just addressing the question of whether morality was inside the human brain or bigger than that.

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  27. Be careful. Proposing that morality is the result of evolution is not the same as proposing that morality is not objective. Evolution is not a random process, and neither is morality. If morality evolved, it was to help in the preservation and proliferation of a population. Morality must be systematic then, because a morality which impedes the preservation and proliferation of a population is rejected. If you look at it that way, then the "big contributor" to morality was the environment, or, if you wish, the universe. You could say that, looking between different universes or environments, that the resulting differences prove a subjective morality. However, this would be forgetting that morality still was the result of the preservation and proliferation of a population. It doesn't get more complex when you look at it from the perspective of the individual. He or she wishes to preserve and proliferate his or herself, either genetically or ideologically. It's a psychological phenomena. Of course, once the population is stabilized, we can look at other biological triggers to make up a system of morality. Our biology tells us to be as happy as we can for as long as we can while minimizing suffering as much as we can without sacrificing our individual or group preservation or proliferative abilities. No more rape, torture, etc. Summarizing: we evolve based on the environment; our morality results from our abilities to adapt to that environment; once adapted, we fulfill higher needs which have also been molded from the environment. Environment was there every step of the way, and it is the source of morality.

    If you must ask the question, "If morality comes from Karma, where does Karma come from?" you are setting yourself up for infinite regress. In light of that realization, I've devised an interesting thought experiment for you. God is a simple construct, and the downfall of proposing that morality comes from such an entity is the result of God's simplicity. God is typically proposed to be omnipotent. What differs between individuals is their answer to the question, "Can God defy logic?" Can God, for example, make a three-sided square? If the answer is yes, then your God is beyond rational discussion. If the answer is no, then your God is bound by logic, as well. This would not prove that He is not omnipotent, but it would suggest that if He formulated morality, He had to reference logic, as well.

    It makes sense. If you're God, and wish to minimize suffering are you going to permit rape? No. Why? Because it causes suffering. Now, you could propose that God could make an entirely new (bizarre) universe, where suffering did not result from rape. However, establishing the anti-rape moral code in this universe would not follow, because it would not functionally minimize suffering. It would be arbitrary. God's decisions on morality are bound by the logic of the universe which He creates; and the previous commenters propose that morality comes from the logic inherent in the universe. How do we thank a God for a moral code which we could have derived ourselves from the use of our own logical abilities? The former posters' arguments are sound. God isn't necessary for morality.

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  28. I replied in a new post

    http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/2011/07/reply-to-anonymous-atheist.html

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