Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Brief Logical Explanation of Why Ethics Without God are Bankrupt

Francis Schaeffer is probably the single apologist who has most shaped how I approach arguments from non-Christian worldviews. One of the things he often said was that it is impossible to arrive at a universal when you begin with a particular. That of course sounds rather vague but what Schaeffer was getting at was this: when you begin with autonomous man (man apart from God) and his reason you can never arrive at concepts that are universally applicable, things like objective ethics, laws of logic, uniformed laws of nature etc. These concepts are universals (apply in all places at all times) and they simply can not be reached logically when you begin with man and his autonomous reason.

This is the dilemma of all thought that begins divorced from God and His self revelation in the Bible. All thought starts with man the particular and can not break free from that subjectivity. This is where we are today as a culture as we hear of the various "culture wars" and different groups trying to impose their morality through law. It is tragic because I think so many of the moral "victories" through legislation are really hollow and speak more of the decadence then of the hope for the culture still maintaining it's integrity. I just think about how states are voting on whether same sex couples should be allowed to marry. Many consider the outcomes which almost unanimously support (I wanted to say "traditional" but that is part of the word games going on as if non-traditional is an equal option) marriage. Many hail these as victories I can't help but see them as defeats dressed up in the victors garb. The mere fact that we as a society have lost our moral compass to such a degree that we now will VOTE and decide for ourselves what will be "moral" speaks of the degree of autonomy and thus lostness of our culture.

The above paragraph is all a side note for what I am really trying to get at in this post and is really a picture of the effects of trying to base ethics off of autonomous man. The effect is moral relativism. What I want to really display here is the statement of Schaeffer in the area of ethics. In an earlier post I responded to an Atheist who was attempting to give reasons for his acting morally in the universe. If you read the dialogue (scroll down or click here) you will see him offer one reason for acting morally after another only to have each reason challenged with the question "Why is that the standard?".

This is the problem of beginning with particulars and trying to arrive at a universal (in this case a moral ought or obligation). Each reason or argument is itself a particular and thus falls short of universal application and thus makes it impossible for a objective moral ought to exist when you begin with man philosophically. This is what the problem looks like in a more formalized fashion:

Autonomous: Morality is based on that which will bring the most happiness to the most people (Argument A)

Skeptic: Why should I care about anybody elses happiness?

Aut: You should care about the happiness of others because you should treat others the way you want to be treated. (Arg B in support of A)

Skep: Why should I engage treating others the way I happen to like to be treated?

Auto: When we do that (B) it encourages the greater good of society. (Argument C in support of B in support of A)

Skep: Why should I care about the "good of society" and others in society?

Auto: You should care about the good of society (C) for the future of humanity. (Argument D in support of C in support of B in support of A)

Skep: Why should I care about D?

This sort of discussion will go on ad infinitum because all Mr.Autonomous can do is point to another particular to try and support another particular and then he will need to point to another particular to support the one he just brought up and so on. He will never make a statement where he can say: "The buck stops here! This is the absolute and final standard, you can not ask 'Why?' to this."

This same sort of issue applies to all forms of universals, morality just happens to be my favorite one to bring up. I could equally point to the uniformity of nature and how modern science when run autonomously from God and His revelation has no reason to believe in the uniformity of nature (that the future will resemble the past) it is simply irrationally assumed. This is to philosophically build without a foundation, the ideas are just kind of floating like a house without a foundation.


The house that autonomous man builtMy final and concluding point is that to arrive at a universal you must start with a universal. A universal to clarify would be a reference point outside of the particulars within system to which particulars can point to as a standard. The Christian God fits this bill perfectly. With the Christian God we have an objective standard of ethics, secularists and atheists might not like the Biblical standard but that doesn't change it's objectivity. It is objective because it's reference point is God who is outside of the universe of particulars being the creator of that very universe. He gives a rational basis on which science can proceed, being that nature is uniform because He has created it's laws and holds it together thus we have reason to suppose a regularity rather then a blind leap as science divorced from theism must make in this foundational area.

I could really go on with other areas but again my main point in this post was to get at what I laid out above, which is simply this: When you begin with autonomous man as a particular you can never arrive at a universal. I think this is important especially for us as Christians to note. Because what it ultimately means is that though the God rejector may use moral language and even share similar ethical values as us he in reality is still miles apart. Ultimately the unbeliever is living as Van Til said on borrowed capital, they go through moral motions and believe them to be meaningful but having divorced these motions from God these actions are really foundationless and thus irrational (mere existential leaps) and meaningless.

30 comments:

natamllc said...

Bobby,

again, could you try and be muddie for a change! This clarity is causing me to see!!! grrrrr

Dave S. was preaching a couple of Sundays ago and read something from a book the men are reading now for the umpteenth time where the author, Gerhard, Forde says that in this age coming he imagines Satan having complete control of our society.

Here is my loose paraphrase of what Satan imagines for a MORAL SOCIETY under his control.

It is a society where everyone prospers. Every household holds to high moral standards. Husbands and wives do not fight. Children are always happy and pick up after themselves without being told to do so or else!

When driving, everyone is courteous to everyone else and stops completely at stop signs and yields gladly to someone else when ever possible. No one is in a hurry and all laws are completely obeyed! There is no lying and everyone this thinking about others as more important willing to go extra miles to please their neighbors.

There is peace and harmony and there is no war among nations. This earth is just a happy place to live!

HMMMMMM?

That is the best the devil can do in his world on earth!

What's wrong with this picture?

It is a world that does not need God or His Savior.

This is a world where there is no need for a Savior to die for the creations rebellion against Him so that creation can be reconciled back to him!

hmmmmmm.

Well anyway, here's my glory story about our dear Brother Shaeffer.

I use to own and operate a business in Hawaii. I loved going over to Kauai Island and stay at a friend's place at Princeville, Kauai. It is truly paradise on earth there!

One day Francis was seen calmly walking with a cane around the Sheraton grounds just below my friend's house!

I was more of an idolater then than now! Then I thought God had visited the Island of Kauai and as soon as I heard he was around I went looking for him!!!

I have read his and Edith's books. I tend to lean in your favor in presuppostional reasonings because of what you have posted above and more to the point, because your wife is such a joy! Two babies heh?

Going for four? :)

Bob said...

Michael, this was great! I think the picture you pointed to of this Utopia with out God is in fact what many think (demonically). God is superflous in their moral thinking, extra baggage. In reality without Him morality ceases to be morality, it is just man made and we can take it or leave it.

I liked the Schaeffer story, it's hard not to idolize godly men you really look up to. I wish you and Schaeffer could have talked, from what I gather biographically he was very down to earth.

Bob said...

Oh and as for the children I don't know how many we will have...we want quite a few, well just have to see how things develop. So no set number yet.

godma said...

Thanks for the great post. I'm glad you're revisiting the topic.

I agree with you and Schaeffer on it being impossible to use particulars to reach a universal. It's a great distillation of where you and I diverge, and I'll try to remember it so I can use it myself later on.

For me, the particulars are enough. I don't feel any need to believe in universals, and certainly don't feel that my life is any less meaningful, moral, etc. for my not holding these beliefs. I can certainly imagine that they exist and can even BEHAVE AS IF they existed. But in the end I'm content to admit that I, as a limited being, am unable to know universals. So I refuse to bother with believing in them. Maybe they exist, maybe they don't...I don't feel compelled to believe either way. Especially since I can live a rewarding life without them.

I'm similarly not bothered by not believing in a universal basis for my taste in wines. That doesn't mean my taste in wines is "bankrupt".

For me, the stories told by the particulars are more wondrous and beautiful than any "universal" story ever dreamed up by mankind. I can be just as "moral" as the next guy without believing in an objective basis for that morality. And I can teach my children to be just as moral without pretending that those morals are absolutes, independent of mankind.

You, on the other hand, do feel a need to feel grounded in the absolute. You yearn for this feeling so much that you can't imagine other people not also (deep down) yearning for the same. But I'm here to tell you that this is not necessarily the case. Not everyone yearns for the absolute, as you do. To call these people bankrupt because of that seems a bit arrogant to me. What makes you so sure that you are right to yearn and they are wrong not to? From their point of view it's the other way around.

People who are free of this yearning do not feel that their morality is bankrupt. They might feel that yours is over-confident.

All this is beside the fact that, by the same reasoning you cited from Schaeffer above, one can't use the particulars to decide which of a boundless number of competing and contradictory "universal" stories to believe in. So how is one to choose? Most people just choose one that is close to what they were taught as children. That doesn't seem like a reliable technique for finding the truth, now does it?

Since you need a universal, but you only have particulars to work from, you just postulate the universal thing then believe in it (or you consciously choose one, or you were taught one as a child, etc.). If that works for you, fine. But you go too far when you then call everyone else morally "bankrupt" because they don't need this.

Bob said...

Hey Godma, nice to hear from you again. I really do appreciate your comments and sharing your ideas and challenging mine. I really like how you have been very respectful and gracious in our dialogues, the majority of Atheists I have talked with get angry and start throwing insults and vulgarities around when I say things like this, so it is nice when I meet the guys who do want to have an intelligent discourse.

On to the heart of what you said above, what I see you doing is simply saying that you don't need any rock bottom rational reason for the "oughts" and "whys" of morality you just act morally. This is a very postmodern approach, we have ethics divorced from a rational foundation yet you want to still hold that these moral motions are meaningful though rationally they are floating in mid air.

Now I just want to be clear that I know you are probably for the most part a "good guy" and that you do try to practice things like "Do unto others" just like myself. Now it has been my assertion that you have no rational basis on which to support WHY you even should practice "do unto others", and you seem to now be saying that that is just fine. You in fact don't need an objective moral ought or a why in order to be moral and to raise a moral family.

Well that's great, but I can see at a quick glance 2 glaring problems with this sort of approach:

1) You have no basis rationally to tell your kids WHY they should act morally.

2) You have no rational basis on which to stand where you can declare with any authority "X is immoral!".

You are reduced to sheer subjectivity in the area of ethics. You may not like it when people steal your car stereo at 2 am but rationally you can give no reason for condemning such actions other then you happen to not like them. As soon as you invoke the lines of "Do unto others" or "Greatest happiness...and not hurting..." you are appealing to standards the theives don't agree with and thus you have no reason to condemn their actions RATIONALLY. Now I am sure that you in fact would condemn people stealing your stereo at 2 am but not consistently with your worldview.

Lets look at a bigger example, take 9/11. The guys who blew up the WTC were acting very moral based upon their worldview, once you have surrendered objectivity in the area of ethics you can't rationally say these actions were "wrong". People might not have liked them but you have no standard to which you can appeal that judges all men since man is your standard.

In short you have lost your right to be morally outraged, at least to be RATIONAL and outraged. But as you yourself said that doesn't stop you from "BEHAVING AS IF" the WTC bombings were in fact wrong. I think that is in essence to give up on reason. You know you can not arrive at any real moral foundation rationally based on your worldview so you have given up and just live off of the borrowed capital from Christianity.

All I want to say is in doing this you are inconsistent with where your Atheism logically leads. I would also say that the reason you are inconsistent is because you are made in the image of God and though you can not rationally give a moral ought you know that certain behaviours are wrong without anybody needing to tell you.

Now as for all of this "For me" talk about the need for moral absolutes or universals. This really isn't a matter of personal tastes as in you like Budweiser and I happen to like Oatmeal Stout better (I actually believe in objectivity in aesthetics as well so this tastes talk only goes so far). Moral oughts are not like prefrences in ice cream, if you want to talk about how bad it is for people to fly planes into buildings yet you can't furnish any bedrock reason WHY that is bad, it's a bankruptcy of your moral pronouncements issue not a you happen to be prefer your morality with two scoops and a cherry issue.

"People who are free of this yearning do not feel that their morality is bankrupt. They might feel that yours is over-confident."

Feelings do not=fact. Sure people like yourself may not feel like your moral system is hollow but that is why I am here, to take the roof off and show you rationally where your Atheistic autonomy leads...ethical nihilism.

Now this is where what you wrote gets interesting because you take the offensive and send the calvary and charge my argument as you write:

"All this is beside the fact that, by the same reasoning you cited from Schaeffer above, one can't use the particulars to decide which of a boundless number of competing and contradictory "universal" stories to believe in. So how is one to choose? Most people just choose one that is close to what they were taught as children. That doesn't seem like a reliable technique for finding the truth, now does it?"

Well first of all I don't think that there is this vast landscape of ethical systems as if one were overlooking a valley full of wildflowers and each flower represented a different worldview and ethical system. Things are much simpler then that, ultimatly I think there are really when it all boils down only 4 worldview systems, Atheism, Pantheism, Monotheism and Polytheism. Now the argument I laid out in this post would deal with more then just Atheism but would apply with equal force to the other 2 systems I just listed. That really narrows things down, wouldn't you agree?

When we look at monotheism we really have Judaism, Christianity and Islam. If I am right Judaism and Christianity ultimatly are the same and Islam is really just a Christian heresy. Now I can go into the texts and history and explain why what I just said is so but it is beside the point. All I am trying to get at here is that things are not as cloudy and confusing as it is often made to seem.

Realistically there simply are not "boundless universal stories" to pick from. It only takes a little critical thinking to elimnate most of the pseudo religions and philosophies.

Now as far as picking, I don't think for a minute that we just standback like cool observors and decide which worldview to embrace after looking at the "evidence". To even do that involves much assumption like trusting your noetic faculties as reliable, what is "evidence", logic, and even a bit of moral assumptions. Now if your worldview is what is supposed to support these assumptions how in the world can you rationally use these things in deciding upon a worldview. I don't think you can rationally.

I would argue therefore that Christianity is properly basic. By that I mean it and it alone gives a rational foundation for things like the laws of morality, laws of logic, laws of nature, the reliability of our cognitive faculties, communication is possible etc. Thus you don't sit back as a cool observor puting God on trial, you repent for your rebelion and autonomy and put God on the throne and come under His lordship.

Sorry for being so longwinded....

godma said...

Thanks, Bob. I feel likewise.

I'll try to briefly answer your points:

1) You claim that my system of ethics has no rational basis. What do you mean by that? What would it take, at minimum, for you to consider a system of ethics to be rational?

My guess is that you are implicitly requiring objectivity here...that any proposed system of ethics which is not founded on the presumption of objective moral truths would be automatically considered invalid by you for that reason alone. But if you are just going to dismiss out-of-hand any argument that does not presuppose the very point your are trying to make (that the only valid morality is objective morality), then there is no point in having this conversation with you. You're presupposing your own conclusion.


1a)You say that I have no rational basis to tell my kids WHY they should act morally.

But I do (unless by "rationally" you merely mean "with the presumption of objective morality"). If you actually just mean the common definition (based on reason), then you are wrong here. I can still give my kids perfectly valid rationality-based reasons why they should behave. For example:
- Because if you don't, I will punish you
- Because if you don't, society will punish you (jail, for example)
- Because if you do learn to behave well, it will benefit you a lot in the future
(it will help you learn how to get along well with others in our culture)

As you can see, those are quite rational, since they apply valid logic that is consistent with the evidence. The also appeal to something that matters a lot to the child... their own self interest.


1b) You also say that I have no rational basis on which to declare with any authority that "x is immoral".

Again with the caveat that unless you are presupposing your own conclusion here (by implicitly redefining either "rational" or "authority" to require an objective basis)...I do have a rational basis to declare such things with authority.

I can declare X to be moral or immoral based simpy on my own morals or on the norms of our society. The latter is how the courts do it. It simply follows from a purely rational examination of societal norms that certain things are clearly immoral, others are clearly moral, and yet others somewhere in between.

That said, I would be very unlikely to declare X to be moral or immoral, so it's kind of a moot point. I don't care about the morality aspect anywhere near as much as I care about the practical aspect. The next point elaborates on this.


2) What about thieves and murderers who have their own systems of morality?

It's perfectly consistent for me to condemn thieves and murderers. I just condemn them based not on a moral basis but on a practical basis. If they violate my boundaries or those of our society (civil laws, for example), then I am perfectly justified to condemn them on that basis. I don't care whether they are consistent with their own personal moral codes or not. Their own sense of morality doesn't give me any less of a right to be outraged at them for harming me, my family, my country, etc.

Or would you claim that the only legitimate basis for any condemnation is on moral, not practical, grounds?


3) You claim that my system leads to ethical nihilism.

Perhaps. So what? That doesn't bother me. Why does it bother you?

In actuality, it leads me to something closer to moral pragmatism or perhaps humanism.


4) You lump "all ethical systems" into just atheism, pantheism, monotheism, and polytheism.

First of all, these are not "ethical systems", but rather classifications of God-belief.

Secondly, this is a ridiculously broad stroke of the brush. I hesitate to even start down this path, so I won't.

Instead, let's just pretend for argument's sake that I agreed with you that Christianity provided the only legitimate system of ethics. There is still the enormous problem of which of the many many moral claims of Christianity are actually the moral parts, and which ones are not. Also, we must reconcile the contradictory moral claims within the vast spectrum of Christianity.

We both know that deep moral divides exist on certain issues across Christian denominations.

But even within a single denomination, on what basis do you recommend that we decide which moral claims of scripture should be accepted as moral (like the golden rule) and which ones we should discard (like many parts of Leviticus, for example. 20:9, 20:11, 20:12, 20:14, ...)

I would argue that our basis for how to cherry pick the scripture does not come from the scripture itself. It comes from our own culturally and instinctually influenced moral intuitions.

Bob said...

Hey Godma, thanks for the reply I am enjoying our conversations. Now I want to be as intellectually honest as possible and I think I stand corrected on some things you said. In your 1A you wrote:

"But I do (unless by "rationally" you merely mean "with the presumption of objective morality"). If you actually just mean the common definition (based on reason), then you are wrong here. I can still give my kids perfectly valid rationality-based reasons why they should behave. For example:
- Because if you don't, I will punish you
- Because if you don't, society will punish you (jail, for example)
- Because if you do learn to behave well, it will benefit you a lot in the future
(it will help you learn how to get along well with others in our culture)"


Now I will explain the "rational" business momentarily, but I will concede my statement that you can not furnish ANY reason why to behave morally. Fear of jail time is a reason. So point taken.

However, I would still contest that the scope of such a moral ought is limited to a society with jails and police or parents ability to control. I guess the real issue is this (and this is more of the heart of the failure of the moral oughts of Atheism): Most criminals don't plan to get caught, so the ought is only as powerful as the police state (whether it is mom and dad or literal police).

Now as for what you write here:

"1) You claim that my system of ethics has no rational basis. What do you mean by that? What would it take, at minimum, for you to consider a system of ethics to be rational?

My guess is that you are implicitly requiring objectivity here...that any proposed system of ethics which is not founded on the presumption of objective moral truths would be automatically considered invalid by you for that reason alone."


There are two things here, by "Rational" basis I would mean that it is intelligible (communicable) and would be more then subjective in it's application. So YES I do presuppose a universalist standard, that is the nature of the discussion. I am arguing that without the Christian worldview ethics reduces to purely subjective utterances. As such they are really unintelligible.

Now it certainly on the surface wouldn't look like when you say "Rape is wrong" that you are making a nonesense statement. People know what rape is and they have a general notion of wrongness. What I am getting at is that without the Christian basis "wrongness" becomes gibberish. You might as well say "Stealing money from poor people is glshmizooole".

This becomes clear as you continue and write:

"I can declare X to be moral or immoral based simpy on my own morals or on the norms of our society. The latter is how the courts do it. It simply follows from a purely rational examination of societal norms that certain things are clearly immoral, others are clearly moral, and yet others somewhere in between."

Well, "wrong" is just a convention then. Conventions change. As far as stipulating you own morality and then making moral pronouncements against others...you don't see a problem there? You just stipulate a morality and then start arbitrating it on others? I can only see this reducing society back to tribalism is applied consistently.

"That said, I would be very unlikely to declare X to be moral or immoral, so it's kind of a moot point. I don't care about the morality aspect anywhere near as much as I care about the practical aspect. The next point elaborates on this."

So I am just wondering whether you feel justified to make moral pronouncements or not. Here you seem to be backing off a bit. After all it does seem a tad arrogant (And really unwarranted altogether) to say that you autonomously stipulate a morality and start to condemn others by this morality you just made up. So which is it?

It seems like the personal peace aspect (pragmatic application) is all that really matters. Not whether these actions we call "wrong" are in fact "wrong" (whatever that means based upon your worldview). What matters is that we put the guys who might mess up my trip in jail. Right?

"It's perfectly consistent for me to condemn thieves and murderers. I just condemn them based not on a moral basis but on a practical basis. If they violate my boundaries or those of our society (civil laws, for example), then I am perfectly justified to condemn them on that basis. I don't care whether they are consistent with their own personal moral codes or not. Their own sense of morality doesn't give me any less of a right to be outraged at them for harming me, my family, my country, etc."

You are using words like "justified" "condemn" and "right" as if they have meaning based upon your worldview. Again I think you assume these are still meaningful when you are reduced to sheer subjectivism. You assume that there is some sort of moral code which entitles you to envoke them. These are moral words and I think they are nonesense coming from an Atheistic worldview.

Let me try to make this as clear as I can. You are a sack of meat and chemicals, another group of meat sacks engage in a behaviour (based on their chemical makeup) that harms other meatsacks you have special chemical attatchments to (often called "love"). You have a release of chemicals in your brain as these meatsacks stimulate the pain sensors of these other meatsacks (often called "outrage"). Where do concepts of "justified" and "rights" fit in here?

I would submit that they are borrowed from MY worldview.

"You claim that my system leads to ethical nihilism.

Perhaps. So what? That doesn't bother me. Why does it bother you?

In actuality, it leads me to something closer to moral pragmatism or perhaps humanism."


Well yes you are appealing to pragmatism, but that philosophically isn't an answer. Your just concerned about what works not what in fact is ethical...pragmatism is a cheap patch on a dam that only will hold up until the pressures of the moral vacuum get too great.

Now yes Nihilism is where your Atheism would logically lead. And like a good Atheist I see you standing on the craggy rocks as the bitter winds whisp through your hair and you are facing the impications of your worldview and saying: "So what bring it on!"

So what indeed. Well, the so what is that everything you have been saying is utter nonesense if you really embrace Nihilism. Again I would assert that this is where Atheism leads ethically, failing to give an ethic that is anything higher the arbitrary subjective stipulations.

Oh and no Nihilism doesn't bother me, I am a Christian, I am not left with the silent universe to comb for ethical answers.

"4) You lump "all ethical systems" into just atheism, pantheism, monotheism, and polytheism.

First of all, these are not "ethical systems", but rather classifications of God-belief.

Secondly, this is a ridiculously broad stroke of the brush. I hesitate to even start down this path, so I won't."


You are just saying: "It isn't this simple I could explain why but I won't" I am sorry but that is not an answer. I think just each general for of belief intrinsically has a sort of ethical potential. What I said rules out the other forms of theism leaving you to further examine the Monotheistic religions.

Now if you can name a religion/worldview that doesn't fit into one of the catagories I gave I will stand corrected. As it is just saying I have oversimplified the issue isn't an answer. Rather I think you have over inflated the different streams of thought. It really does boil down to this list. Please correct me, just saying I am wrong doesn't make it so.

Now you go on to offer this critique:

" Also, we must reconcile the contradictory moral claims within the vast spectrum of Christianity.

We both know that deep moral divides exist on certain issues across Christian denominations."


Well, that doesn't change anything. In fact I would say this is what we should expect in a fallen world, men twisting and misunderstanding God's revelation in the Bible. That doesn't change the fact that the Bible means what it means even if no one gets it right. I know I am wrong in some stuff that is not a problem with the system or the Bible it is a problem with man.

Now this is a great question:

"But even within a single denomination, on what basis do you recommend that we decide which moral claims of scripture should be accepted as moral (like the golden rule) and which ones we should discard (like many parts of Leviticus, for example. 20:9, 20:11, 20:12, 20:14, ...)"

Well as a Reformed Christian I make a distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law (things like kosher, uncleaness, mixing different fabrics) that was part of the Old Covenant. Christ also fulfilled the moral however these are commands that reveal the moral character of God and thus are eternally applicable (things like don't commit adultry, lie, and how to treat our neighbor). That is a breif look at how Reformation Christians have approached this.

So it is not a cherry pick issue because Paul makes it clear that the ceremonial aspects of the Old Testement law was done away with in Christ. Paul ate with Gentiles, didn't impose circumcision on Greek converts, and didn't impose kosher laws either. He plainly declared that these aspects were done away with.

Now I would certainly grant that there are "Christians" who purposely and openly do cherry pick and conform the "Biblical" morality to that of the culture. One can just turn on Larry King Live and see all these "Bishops" saying that Jesus was down with homosexuality, would oppose George Bush's Iraq war and would smoke pot and drive a bio-desil vehicle.

I don't deny that that goes on, and I am sure to a degree I do that to unconsciously. But again that is a sinful man problem not an issue with Christian ethics itself.

godma said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation, Bob.

Most criminals don't plan to get caught, so the ought is only as powerful as the police state (whether it is mom and dad or literal police).

Agreed. This actually leads to another interesting point, I think. When we talk about reasons why people ought to behave a certain way, I think you understand my position, although we don't agree. But I do hope we can agree that the reasons why we actually do behave a certain way are not necessarily the same as the reasons why we (at least think we) ought to behave a certain way. I mean, there are certain reasons why we have a disposition toward behaving a certain way, but those aren't necessarilly the same reasons why we actually do behave that way.

For example, say I have been taught throughout my childhood certain habits of behavior. I have been systematically rewarded for "good" behavior and punished for "bad" behavior. Over time, I will tend to repeat the "good" behavior more and the "bad" behavior less, all other things being equal. Regardless of how I justify my good behavior to myself later on in life (i.e. by the fact that I get a pleasant feeling from being nice to others), the actual explanation behind this pattern of behavior is different from that post-justification.


So I am just wondering whether you feel justified to make moral pronouncements or not.

Well, in a manner, yes, but not in the sense that you mean them, because "moral" means something different to me than to you. I would put it like this: I feel justified in making subjective, but not objective, moral pronouncements. Yes, I know that to you this is "meaningless". But not to me.


Well, "wrong" is just a convention then. Conventions change. As far as stipulating you own morality and then making moral pronouncements against others...you don't see a problem there?


My morality is not "autonomously stipulated", as you charge, but was taught to me by my parents, teachers, and culture in general. No, at least for the most part, I don't see a problem with making moral pronouncements against others according to the norms of the society.

Although I don't believe that there is an objective basis for that morality, I do feel that within the context of a given culture, it is justifiable for members of that culture to expect certain moral behaviors of others within that culture. The precise codification of those morals is something that the culture is constantly tweaking, and over time it changes. It's easy to see that even limited to Christendom, morality means something different today than it did 1000 years ago, in many respects.

By the way, I see this as consistent with my pragmatic justification for a moral system (which you seem to understand me on). Society functions better when the population generally gets along with each other. I'd prefer to live in a well functioning society than a poorly functioning one.


You are using words like "justified" [...] Where do concepts of "justified" and "rights" fit in here?

They are just human concepts that (like all others) have meaning based on their relative association to other human concepts. There's no need to take it further than that for the concepts to function (i.e. to facilitate communication).


I would submit that they [these concepts] are borrowed from MY worldview.

Maybe. Or perhaps your worldview and mine both borrow from multiple other worldviews. Christianity did not invent the concepts of justification, rights, morality, etc. Plenty of older religions and cultures have had these concepts too long before Judaism.

But even if I did believe these concepts had been borrowed from your worldview, that's no problem for me. This is how "progress" (another subjective concept) is made...we extend concepts and knowledge that were inherited from our forebears.

One could claim that the scientific method and Western-style atheism were both born of monotheism. I could probably go along with that to some extent. Doesn't bother me.


I think just each general for[m] of belief intrinsically has a sort of ethical potential

For you to list those four categories of x-theism and claim that you can associate a distinct flavor of ethics with each one is like claiming that you can categorize flavors of fruit based on the color of the fruit...color is not a reliable indicator of flavor, and vice versa. God-belief and ethical codes are largely independent qualities.

In particular, w.r.t. the 4 x-theisms
1) certain ethical rules span all 4 categories
Example- The Golden Rule is present in some form across all four categories (e.g. humanism, christianity, wicca, hinduism)

2) Within any single category, ethics vary greatly
Example- Different varieties of monotheism hold vastly different moral views with respect to divorce, adultery, heresy, etc.

Can you provide some supporting evidence that distinct ethical systems can be correlated with how many gods one believes in?


[...] that is a sinful man problem not an issue with Christian ethics itself

How can you tell one from the other? How do you know where man got it right and where he got it wrong? More importantly to me, how can I tell the difference?

It seems to me that the "sinful man" excuse can be equally well applied to any uncomfortable inconsistency I might find in Christian doctrine or culture. Surely you don't think of it as a panacaea yourself, so I'm curious how you can know when it applies and when it doesn't.


Thanks again for the dialogue!

Bob said...

Hey Godma, I will comment more tommorrow, I have to make it a short night due to some business in the morning. So I will take up the issue I think most salient at the moment...well perhaps I only think that because it was the last thing I read...at anyrate you write:

"How can you tell one from the other? How do you know where man got it right and where he got it wrong? More importantly to me, how can I tell the difference?"

Well, this is an epistemological tuffy. You are poking at what divides Bible believing Christians who hold to an objective standard of truth (or the innerancy of the Bible), and Liberal Theologians who have retreated to the cave of subjectivism and are content to look at shadows on the wall and gnash there teeth at someone claiming there is a phenomna called sunlight (Objective truth).

Well I would in response say as Paul did and answer that we see through a glass dimly, this is the humble approach toward theology. Now that said I still think that on the main things scripture is clear. In the area of ethics there really isn't all that much divergence between all Christians who actually believe the Bible, the Liberals don't believe in the Bible's inspiration so they really have nothing to say about whether or not someone can be a homosexual Christian according to the Bible for example.

So how do I know where man got it right and wrong...I know from the Bible, it is through the Bible's light that I see. I can look at the crusades and say "That was wrong." Because I believe in the Bible, and Biblically there is no warrant for New Covenant Christians to subdue the unbelievers and establish a Christian empire through force. Christ's simple command "Love your enemies" suffices to show the error in the Popish crusades.

As for how someone like you can tell who is right when they make ethical "Bible" based pronouncements I really don't think you can tell because you aren't a believer and done't hold to the Bible as authoratative. To be able to discern which of two parties is more consistent to a specific standard would require one to share such a standard. Also scripture declares that the natural man (man who hasn't been born again and repented of his rebellion) can not understand the things of God because they are foolishness to him. (1 Cor 2:14)

godma said...

I totally agree with you on this point, Bob. In order for people make such judgments on each other, they need to share the same standard. This is certainly a "tuffy", as you say, for faith-based belief systems. However, for evidence-based belief systems it is not much of a problem at all.

If one bases their beliefs primarily on evidence instead of on faith, then it becomes relatively straightforward to determine which claims are true and which are false. Just set up a repeatable experiment and see whether it confirms or invalidates your claim...and whether it holds up after many repetitions by different experimenters.

Since the claims of the naturalists (as opposed to the supernaturalists) are ultimately reliant only on direct, repeatable observations, there is little or no controversy over what is considered authoritative. The authority (evidence) is equally accessible to and independently testable by all people.

We all basically agree on this, whether we like to admit it or not. For example we basically all require evidence, not faith, to decide pretty much all matters that fall outside of religion, pseudo-science, etc. It's only when we get into the "woo woo" belief systems that people find a need to rely mor on faith (because the evidence isn't there, but they want to believe anyway).

For example, if I told you that I believed on faith that I could run faster than anyone else on the planet, you would likely not respect my belief. You would expect me only to believe such a thing if I had direct evidence of it (that I had won such a race).

Bob said...

Godma, it appears our train of thought is rounding a corner and is turning to the epistemology section of thought...that is fine. I think that is probably where we should begin anyway. But at any rate you write:

"I totally agree with you on this point, Bob. In order for people make such judgments on each other, they need to share the same standard. This is certainly a "tuffy", as you say, for faith-based belief systems. However, for evidence-based belief systems it is not much of a problem at all."

Well the "tuffy" I referred to is more that since I hold that I am fallen and prone to error how can I know that I know anything and explain to someone like you that I know? Well I think without a Christian base this is a serious problem. You see if God is not your starting point philosophically and you basically live in a silent vacuum how can you come to concepts of "truth" and "meaning" or "ethics" the universe (your originator) is silent on these. So I think this is an issue for you as well, more so because Christianity gives me an answer and I am not left in a silent closed universe.

Now more at issue is the dichotomy you imply between belief in God and "evidence" based belief. I think this is a false dichotomy, I don't view faith as an irrational leap. That's not Christian faith that Kierkegaardian, not biblical. I would again submit that without a Christian foundation you have no standard for evidence at all, nor any foundation for the scientific method.

You said:

"If one bases their beliefs primarily on evidence instead of on faith, then it becomes relatively straightforward to determine which claims are true and which are false. Just set up a repeatable experiment and see whether it confirms or invalidates your claim...and whether it holds up after many repetitions by different experimenters."

Now sure that may fly in science (with a Biblical foundation) but I don't think you actually apply repeatablitiy to you worldview to test beliefs. How does that apply to ethics? Or meaning? Nevertheless Hume's riddle of induction shows this to be insuficient, how many times to need to repeat some test and get the same result before you can be certain that the next time you do the test you will get the same result?

Moreover science divorced from a Christian base ASSUMES that the future will resemble the past. Without this assumption repeatability is a hollow methodology. To say that we know the future will be like the past because it has always been that way is to beg the question. After all this is a random chance universe...how can you have any certainty of "evidence"?

"Since the claims of the naturalists (as opposed to the supernaturalists) are ultimately reliant only on direct, repeatable observations, there is little or no controversy over what is considered authoritative. The authority (evidence) is equally accessible to and independently testable by all people."

BWAHA?! Well I don't think repeatability is a methodology that can ever give you any certainty and thus to say that there is no controversy over what is authoratative among naturalists is simply unsound and to gloss over the splinters within science and philosophy among naturalists.

"We all basically agree on this, whether we like to admit it or not. For example we basically all require evidence, not faith, to decide pretty much all matters that fall outside of religion, pseudo-science, etc. It's only when we get into the "woo woo" belief systems that people find a need to rely mor on faith (because the evidence isn't there, but they want to believe anyway)."

Well I don't think that evidence and faith are in opposition to one another, people who assume God out of the equation from the outset are the ones who talk like this. Again faith is not some leap in the dark, it is a trust in a person who has (evidentially) shown themselves trustworthy. The God of the Bible has done just that through His acts in time and space and His kept promises.

Think of it this way you are standing in the pool inviting one of your children to jump in and you will catch him, you have always caught him before (evidence) so your child trusts (faith) you and jumps. Now you might drop your child because you are finite but this picture applied to God who will never fail shows faith is not irrational. I have to explain this every time I talk with Atheists, the picture of "faith" as this blind leap is prevelant and simply does not represent Biblical Christianity. Now I am sure there are some Christians who have actually bought into this picture of "faith" and think that the blinder the "faith" the more virtuous. But that simply is not Biblical.

"For example, if I told you that I believed on faith that I could run faster than anyone else on the planet, you would likely not respect my belief. You would expect me only to believe such a thing if I had direct evidence of it (that I had won such a race)."

Well I agree, I would want you to back up your boast. I would say the God of the Bible has done just that through parting the Sea, the miracles of Jesus and well rising from the dead, you know things you would expect someone claiming to be God incarnate to be able to do.

godma said...
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godma said...

I don't view faith as an irrational leap

I'm guessing you'd say instead that your faith is based on reason, since this seems to be the common retort. Please let me know if you mean something else by faith.

The faith I'm referring to is in the sense of "I believe X on faith", which is not something people say about their beliefs in general. So by saying that, they mean to distinguish X from the rest of their beliefs, based on the method they use for justifying those beliefs. From the context in which I've heard people say this thing, it seems to me that the distinction at play is that people rely on direct evidence of some kind for their beliefs in general, but for belief X that kind of evidence is conspicuously absent. (I wrote about it on my blog here, in case you're interested)

Do you take exception to this description? In any case, I'm curious to find out what, in your words, it means to believe something "on faith"?


if God is not your starting point philosophically and you basically live in a silent vacuum how can you come to concepts of "truth" and "meaning" or "ethics"

We come to these concepts the same way we come to concepts of "alive", "red", "apple", "time", or any other concept. They're simply names for various subjects of perception (some physical and some mental). For example, "true" and "false" exist as concepts simply because we perceive a reliable and valuable difference between their underlying meanings (whether a claim is consistent or inconsistent with observation (a.k.a. evidence)). It is not surprising that, after repeatedly having a certain kind of perception (different examples of apples, say), people learn to categorize those into a single bucket and start thinking in terms of the more general "concept" of an apple. It's the same with "truth", "meaning", and "ethics", except that now we are talking about a higher level of perception...perceptions of our own patterns of thoughts and feelings.

The act of creating "concepts" to group together similar patterns of perception does not require postulating God, or any other supernatural being, as a starting point.

The problem I see with your line of thinking is that you then take these man-made concepts, which came into existence for the pure convenience of making it easier to think more complex thoughts, and you mistake them for something objective.


without a Christian foundation you have no standard for evidence at all

I'm curious what you mean by this. Surely you don't think, for example, that before Christianity people did not use evidence to justify their beliefs? (What else might they have used?) I'll wait for your clarification before providing counter-examples to your claim, trivial though they will be.


I don't think you actually apply repeatablitiy to you worldview to test beliefs

Oh but I do. And I require more repeats for potential beliefs that are less consistent with what I have inferred from previous experience. I require fewer repeats for those that are more consistent.

Care to challenge me with some examples?


How does that apply to ethics? Or meaning?

A few ways I can think of (regarding ethics):
1) Statistical surveys of people's (subjective reports of their own) perceptions.
2) Psychological experiments designed to determine what innate ethical "rules" people have (by asking them a series of cleverly construed thought experiments).
"The trolley problem" is a good example.


how many times to need to repeat some test and get the same result before you can be certain that the next time you do the test you will get the same result?

There's actually no magical threshhold of "certainty". We just become more certain with each confirming result and less certain with each contradictory result. Try not to think of it in binary terms but as a spectrum of certainty. For convenience, people do say "I'm certain" or "I'm not certain", this is just for convenience. In science, this "convenience" would actually be a hindrance. This is why scientists quantify expectations in terms of statistics and probability instead of the language of certainty.


Moreover science divorced from a Christian base ASSUMES that the future will resemble the past. Without this assumption repeatability is a hollow methodology. To say that we know the future will be like the past because it has always been that way is to beg the question.

You are mostly right here. It's true that there is an implicit assumption that the laws of nature don't change quickly enough to jeopardize the inferences made from repeated experiments. Science can't work without some assumptions, and this is one of them.

However, this is not only true of science, but of human nature in general. Even little babies above a certain age have this expectation. (link).


After all this is a random chance universe...how can you have any certainty of "evidence"?

This is where you go horribly, horribly wrong. I can't believe you actually wrote this. This is so obviously not a random chance universe, and no scientist thinks so either. This is a universe in which things happen predictably, and according to precise mathematical relationships. This is the very opposite of "random chance". If it were random, then not only would science not work, but nothing would be predictable whatsoever (and we wouldn't be here to witness it).


Well I don't think repeatability is a methodology that can ever give you any certainty and thus to say that there is no controversy over what is authoratative among naturalists is simply unsound and to gloss over the splinters within science and philosophy among naturalists.

Controversy exists, but not in terms of what constitutes evidence, which is all I was referring to. No naturalist believes that non-material "evidence" has any authority whatsoever. This is what it means to be a naturalist.

Please elaborate on why you think repeatability doesn't inspire certainty. I'm truly puzzled by this one, unless it's simply a matter of you casting "certainty" as "absolute certainty". If that's the case, then this is a nonsense point because (as I said before) absolute certainty does not play a role in science.


Well I don't think that evidence and faith are in opposition to one another [...]

This is something I've thought about a lot recently, and am happy to devote an entire discussion to. As I wrote above, you might be entertained, at least, by my post on the subject on my own blog.

Your example of being in the pool with a child is not the same kind of faith as "I believe X on faith". The word has multiple meanings, and in your example it is not used as a justification for belief but as a justification for an expectation of a certain outcome. Belief and expectation are different.


Now I am sure there are some Christians who have actually bought into this picture of "faith" and think that the blinder the "faith" the more virtuous. But that simply is not Biblical.

Doubting Thomas would disagree with you. Specifically, this line, which couldn't be any more clearly in contradiction to your claim:

(John 20:29) Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.


I would say the God of the Bible has done just that [provide evidence of his existence] through parting the Sea, the miracles of Jesus and well rising from the dead, you know things you would expect someone claiming to be God incarnate to be able to do.

That would probably go a long way toward convincing me if I actually had better evidence that those things had happened. I don't consider ancient writing from thousands of years ago to be reliable evidence (at least, not by itself).

Bob said...

Hey Godma, sorry I have been rather busy, I am not avoiding this conversation or anything. You write:

"We come to these concepts the same way we come to concepts of "alive", "red", "apple", "time", or any other concept. They're simply names for various subjects of perception (some physical and some mental). For example, "true" and "false" exist as concepts simply because we perceive a reliable and valuable difference between their underlying meanings (whether a claim is consistent or inconsistent with observation (a.k.a. evidence))."

Hold the phone here. Things like red and apple and alive are empirically verifiable. We have standards to measure such things, yet you want to throw a word like "meaning" into the same catagory as these? That simply is nonesense. Concepts like "meaning" or "moral" are not empirically verifiable and given your epistemology they are therefore nonesense words, like schligloper. And that really is my point, these words are gibberish when you start from a Materialistic naturalism.

Also the distinction you make between physical and mental is inconsistent with YOUR worldview. If you are a consistent Atheist mental processes are physical. There is no such thing as an immaterial, thought then is purely physical just chemicals slushing around in your brain.

That said I wonder how concepts of "truth" have any place in your worldview. I mean "truth" is really the caboose of the evolutionary train, the main thing is survival. And all though is just chemicals and mechanical firings I wonder how we are even free to arrive at truth. What I am getting at is twofold:
1)How can you even trust your cognitive faculties given evolution in the process of discerning "truth"?
2)How can your thoughts and beliefs be anything but determined given materialism?

You write:

"The act of creating "concepts" to group together similar patterns of perception does not require postulating God, or any other supernatural being, as a starting point.

The problem I see with your line of thinking is that you then take these man-made concepts, which came into existence for the pure convenience of making it easier to think more complex thoughts, and you mistake them for something objective."


Well sure we can invent words like "meaning" for purely conventional purposes. But they are just that mere conventions bereft of any correlation to reality. Because reality is after all as you say naturalistic, there is nothing we can point to in the natural world and say the word "meaning". The concept of "meaning" is in itself an abstract universal. You have given up on trying to arrive at any universals philosophically so you are desperatly trying to confine words that formerly in the Christian worldview abstract universals and make them purely subjective conventions. In doing so the words and concepts loose their intelligibility and are just gibberish.

Sure perhaps when politicians talk about the "good" or the "meaning to life" these sound nice and make people feel warm (espescially if they are Democrats) but these are just nonesense words. Man made conventions used to minipulate others.

That's how Nietzsche saw ethics. It was just words invented by the weak to control the strong, and keep them from barbarically killing them and raping. Not that killing and raping are wrong, "wrong" as a convention is just a weapon to control others. I think if you are an atheist this is much more consistent, espescially since you openly admit that these are just man made conventions.


"You are mostly right here. It's true that there is an implicit assumption that the laws of nature don't change quickly enough to jeopardize the inferences made from repeated experiments. Science can't work without some assumptions, and this is one of them."

Well, then science divorced from Christian Theism is making the leap of faith to even operate. In reality Reformation Christianity was the foundation of modern science and philosophically gave a basis to believe in the uniformity of nature. Now like a prodigal child science has declared autonomy and continues to assume the things Christianity provided, but she can only do so without intellectual warrant.

Now you bring up an interesting point with the babies believing in the uniformity of nature. I think that this is because we naturally know that the world around us is orderly and has regularity to it. So are babies irrational to make this assumption? No, because this is a world which God has made and He upholds it as the Bible says and He sets it's laws in place thus giving us a regulatity.

"This is where you go horribly, horribly wrong. I can't believe you actually wrote this. This is so obviously not a random chance universe, and no scientist thinks so either."

Really?! I happen to recall Richard Dawkins book "The blind Watchmaker" saying exactly the opposite...

What is it but pure chance that our planet happened to produce the right environment for life to pop into existence from non-life? You might not like the idea of pure chance being your father but that is really the bottom line. I just wonder how you as an Atheist can consistently say that this is NOT a random chance universe. How can it be anything but that without a Designer?

"This is a universe in which things happen predictably, and according to precise mathematical relationships. This is the very opposite of "random chance". If it were random, then not only would science not work, but nothing would be predictable whatsoever (and we wouldn't be here to witness it)."

I agree, however this doesn't fit your worldview. Again Humes riddle of induction, which you don't have an answer for, gives you no footing on which to stand and say that things are regular and orderly.

"Please elaborate on why you think repeatability doesn't inspire certainty. I'm truly puzzled by this one, unless it's simply a matter of you casting "certainty" as "absolute certainty". If that's the case, then this is a nonsense point because (as I said before) absolute certainty does not play a role in science."

Well there are a few reasons:

1)Naturalistic science cand answer Hume. Therefore repeatabiltiy has no foundation.

2)There are numerous forms of science where repeatability is simply impossible. Take oh evolution theory. Any repeatable tests done to support that? Dawkins wouldn't have a job if repeatability was THE standard in science.

(NOTE: I think the stronger sciences DO have repeatability as their standard and the weaker have other criteria. Strong sciences would be: Physics, Mathmatics, Chemestry. Weak sciences would be: Psychology, paleantology, and other social sciences. I would see geology on the border, because it does invoke some empirical tests but a lot of it is conjecture and making up stories...like evolution.)

Now there are other proposed criteria in the philosophy of science as to what constitutes an actual scientific theory repeatability is just one of many. Some others are verifiability, falsifiability (Does there exist criteria where a theory can be proven false? If so then it passes the test and is science.) I happen to like falsifiability because it knocks down all the pseudo science theories running around, like evolution, because there is no criteria given where if evolution doesn't measure up it is a false theory. That is not true of other scientific theories of say gravity, elictricity etc.

That said I know certainty isn't part of science I was applying this more epistemologically because you seem to think repeatability was how you arrived at truth in general. I was just wondering how using such a criteria you could ever arrive at statements like: "Rape is wrong" or "Life is meaningful" or "Human beings have worth".

"Your example of being in the pool with a child is not the same kind of faith as "I believe X on faith"."

You are right and I would never talk like that. A person saying that IS making an irrational leap, they might be right because they believe in Christ but mistaken in that they can't give a reason why.

"Doubting Thomas would disagree with you. Specifically, this line, which couldn't be any more clearly in contradiction to your claim:

(John 20:29) Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."


??? I don't see how this contradicts my claim at all.

"That would probably go a long way toward convincing me if I actually had better evidence that those things had happened. I don't consider ancient writing from thousands of years ago to be reliable evidence (at least, not by itself)."

Well yes the Bible is evidence by itself. You just don't like it. I could point to secondary sources that support the claims of the Bible but then we will just go on ad infinitum as in the post. My point is simply that because you are fallen and in rebellion to God you wouldn't bow the knee even if Christ was performing miracles in the flesh today. "Not enough evidence!"

You see here is the real problem, you are putting yourself in the judges seat and you have God in the defendents chair and you are demanding "reasons to bow the knee" and what then if reasons or evidence are given? Well you can just keep raising the bar and create a criteria of evidence that simply can not be met. Or you can get out of the judges chair and hand the gavel to God and repent. This won't happen because of any argument I or any other Christian can give.

As Christ said: ""Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

The problem isn't lack of evidence it is that you are blind and can not see. You are as the Bible puts it a "Natural man" (haven't been born again) and thus when you bump into the things of God you will by nature exclaim "Stupid! Boring! Not my thing."

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14)

What I have been attempting to show you is where YOUR worldview will lead you and to try and show you the philosophical mess you are in because you have rejected God from being your Lord. You are left with nonsense words like "meaningful", "good/evil", "mind" etc.

Yet you yourself have said you don't live like these concepts are nonesense. I would say that is because they aren't nonesense, in the world God has made. That is the world you live in and ultimatly you know this God but have suppressed the knowledge of Him fighting against Him saying He does not exist. This is the picture the Bible gives of the Atheist:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools" (Rom 1:19-22)

This is where you are. Now you may feel no desperation for your situation, and continue to make moral pronouncements and continue act as if life in Atheistland is meaningful. I would say that this is simply inconsistent to your own worldview and is "foolishness". This is the leap, you have no real ethical base but you use moral words and act like they are meaningful. You have no foundation for science or the scientific method but you make a leap and assume that it is trustworthy. I would also say that you have no reason to view human life and human beings as nothing more then meat sacks with chemicals slushing around but I am sure you don't view your loved ones nor yourself this way.

This is because you are made in the image of God, yet you have divorced yourself from Him. All I can do is pray that He would open your eyes, that is the bottom line.

Bob said...

By the way congrats on the new blog, I will keep in touch.

Here's one more analogy of what I am getting at. Suppose there is a man who stumbles upon a country where all the inhabitants are blind (now they don't know they are blind, that is all they know). He eventually falls in love with on of the women of the country and asks her father for her hand in marriage. the father says:

"Well you seem like a nice fellow but you are always talking about things like seeing, sunlight and colors and the blue sky and things called stars. That is just ridiculous talk, those things don't exist. But other then that you seem like a nice fellow. So if you will go see our cities psychologist and you check out ok then you can marry my daughter."

Well the young man goes to the psychologist and the psychologist asks how he "sees". "With my eyes of course." says the young man.

"I understand, well I think the best thing for us to do is to remove these 'eyes' then you will be just like us, no more of this 'seeing' business." Explains the psychologist.

This is an analogy of what I am getting at when unbelievers and believers interact, and why Christ said one must be born again.

godma said...
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godma said...

Concepts like "meaning" or "moral" are not empirically verifiable and given your epistemology they are therefore nonesense words

Not true. I think you're confusing "empirical" with "tangible". Look up the definition of empirical and you will find that it means "based on experiment/observation/experience". Since we can observe our own thoughts and feelings, and can infer the thoughts and feelings of others based on their behaviors and their own reports of what they think and how they feel, it is a perfectly empirical endeavor to infer meaning from words that refer to mental concepts.

Or would you claim that the science of psychology, for example, is not based on empiricism?

Here's how we would empirically verify the meaning of certain intangible concepts (like "moral"). Study the usage of it (in literature, oral conversation, et cetera) and infer the meaning of it from how it is used.


Also the distinction you make between physical and mental is inconsistent with YOUR worldview

Not true. Aside from the fact that I would hesitate to choose sides regarding materialism (it's not a requirement for being an atheist, by the way), the distinction I made between physical and mental concepts was for the sake of convenience. Materialists are not necessarily being inconsistent when they talk about intangible concepts like "thoughts" or "feelings". It's just a convenience for the sake of communication.

Try this analogy: we can both talk about software even though we know that it ultimately reduces down to entirely mechanical (i.e. material) state inside the computer that is executing it. Even though we know that, ultimately, the software is just a pattern of voltages traveling through circuits, that doesn't mean we are being inconsistent to refer to it as "software".


That said I wonder how concepts of "truth" have any place in your worldview.

I have the feeling that I'm opening another can of worms here, but here's my operating definition of "truth".

The "truth" of a claim is the measure of the degree of consistency between that claim and the rest of one's experiences.

At least, being the limited (non-ominiscient) creature that I am, that is the closest I feel able to approach it with any degree of certainty. I mean, perhaps there is an absolute reality out there, but I refuse to pretend to be able to know it. I have seen many examples of my mind's fallibility (it's just human nature), so it seems a good bet that I am not actually omniscient.


Well sure we can invent words like "meaning" for purely conventional purposes. But they are just that mere conventions bereft of any correlation to reality. [...] In doing so the words and concepts loose their intelligibility and are just gibberish

Although they are mere conventions, that does not mean they are gibberish. Conventions are meaningful.

It's not an all-or-nothing situation. You're casting the problem into a false dichotomy. Just because something isn't known to be objectively true doesn't mean it has no basis in reality whatsoever. There is middle ground, which we can call "subjective truth" or "subjective reality". Subjective truths are not automatically "gibberish".

I think this is one of the main meta-points of our disagreement. It's not just that your starting point requires an objective reality, where mine does not. (note: my starting point does not rule out an objective reality). It's that you demand that anything short of objective is automatically without meaning or merit. Plus, you imagine yourself to be priviledged enough to know at least some of this objective reality.

I, conservatively, hold back from such demands and claims to absolute knowledge.


Well, then science divorced from Christian Theism is making the leap of faith to even operate.

You can call it that, but it is a tiny leap, and it is one that everyone makes, whether they are scientists or not. We all base the majority of our beliefs on the reliability of our observations. It's instinctual.

But it is important to recognize that this doesn't mean that science is "faith-based" in the same colloquial sense that religion is. When people base their beliefs "on faith" they mean to distinguish those beliefs from the rest of their beliefs, so it is a relative measurement. What they really mean is that (faith-based belief) X is based primarily on faith, whereas their other beliefs (and science itself) aren't based on faith enough to be worth calling out.


In reality Reformation Christianity was the foundation of modern science and philosophically gave a basis to believe in the uniformity of nature. Now like a prodigal child science has declared autonomy and continues to assume the things Christianity provided, but she can only do so without intellectual warrant.

I think I agree with you here..at least it seems plausible enough (and I've heard it said before) that I'll take your word for it. I just don't think this "intellectual warrant" is necessary or should be expected. I'm not sure what point you're trying to make by that last statement. Science has outgrown religion and left it behind. Just what, precisely, do you think it yet owes its religious forebears?

godma said...

continuation...

What is it but pure chance that our planet happened to produce the right environment for life to pop into existence from non-life? You might not like the idea of pure chance being your father but that is really the bottom line. I just wonder how you as an Atheist can consistently say that this is NOT a random chance universe. How can it be anything but that without a Designer?

I think this is another issue of you taking things too far to extremes.

We both agree that the universe operates in a largely predictable way, consistent with laws. This much is manifestly apparent by the fact that science produces very repeatable results that have given us all this great technology.

But if I roll a pair of dice, the numbers come out according to "random chance". Is that inconsistent with the above? Not necessarily. The problem is that we can't prove randomness. All we can prove is our inability, for the moment, to predict an outcome. This might be due to "true" randomness (true in the objective sense), OR it might merely be due to the causal factors being too numerous and/or complex for us to be able to account for them. Either way, the outcome appears random.

Random outcomes (in the sense of being unpredictable) can come from perfectly ordered processes. This is how I imagine that life originated, but of course it's just speculation. And I am very comfortable with the idea.

Regarding your claim that order/predictability implies a designer, this is not necessarily so. I recommend you look into the discoveries that have been made with self organization, in which it has been shown that closed systems (meaning without the influence of a designer), starting in a "randomized" state, can organize spontaneously themselves into an ordered state.

But even if that were not the case, there is also the simple fact that you are wrong to limit the possible explanations for an ordered universe to just intelligent design. There are other possible explanations, and there's just no way that we can know all of them ahead of time. You just can't use this kind of process-of-elimination strategy in this kind of argument, because the pool of potential explanations is limitless.


There are numerous forms of science where repeatability is simply impossible. Take oh evolution theory. Any repeatable tests done to support that?

Yes, there are some.
1) computer simulations are repeatable and confirm certain aspects of evolution theory
2) Observations made in the labs of the evolution of bacteria, insects, and fish
(I can try to find references for you later if you like, but I have to go now)
3) Predictions of the age range of fossils can be confirmed or disproved by a multitude of various kinds of dating methods
a) carbon isotope dating
b) "molecular clock" dating
c) others...
4) Calculations of "most recent common ancestor" for any two species can be made base on their genes, then (partially) confirmed by the fossil record (by what is found, where it is found, and when it died).

I can come up with more if I keep working at it.

Bob said...

I asked:

"There are numerous forms of science where repeatability is simply impossible. Take oh evolution theory. Any repeatable tests done to support that?

You wrote:

Yes, there are some.
1) computer simulations are repeatable and confirm certain aspects of evolution theory
2) Observations made in the labs of the evolution of bacteria, insects, and fish
(I can try to find references for you later if you like, but I have to go now)
3) Predictions of the age range of fossils can be confirmed or disproved by a multitude of various kinds of dating methods
a) carbon isotope dating
b) "molecular clock" dating
c) others...
4) Calculations of "most recent common ancestor" for any two species can be made base on their genes, then (partially) confirmed by the fossil record (by what is found, where it is found, and when it died).

Well apart from your #2 all the other "evidence" would have to presuppose naturalistic evolution to reach the conclustion that they support evolution. In other words they are pretty spacious reasons. I mean so what if geologists find rocks that are millions of years old (I personally am not a young earther but I also think some of the dating methods are rigged to make particularly the organic fossils support evolution) that doesn't prove evolution.

Honestly for me to even believe evolution is at all credible you are going to have to show me some research where information through mutation has been ADDED to an organisms DNA. So far the Darwinists have failed to provide this and this is absolutely essential for evolution to even have a shot.

AS for your #2 even that has to presuppose evolution to a large degree. The reason I wouldn't lump it with the others is because it actually does point to a mutation. Unfortunatly for the Darwinists no information has been ADDED in these mutations it is merely rearranged. So we still have bacteria, we still have fish they have merely adapted slightly to changes in their environment. That is a far cry from being able with any degree of certainty being able to assert that all life came from inorganic matter billions of years ago. Again that is an a priori assumption naturalists make, there simply is no evidence for this.

I just think that the issue is more philosophical then people try to make it out to be. I mean for Atheism to even have a shot philosophically life MUST have come about naturalistically and that is how these scientists approach these issues. I find it to be no coincidence therefore that the worlds most vocal Atheist happens to be a paleontologist and seems to think that by digging up bones and creating stories to go with the bones he has killed Theism.

Bob said...

I will deal with the other stuff you said in a bit, latter tonight perhaps.

Ubersehen said...

I understand that this discussion is largely between you and Godma, but I have found it rather interesting and, as a result, can't help but respond to the unfortunate bit of criticism you leveled at his argument just now:

You said:

Honestly for me to even believe evolution is at all credible you are going to have to show me some research where information through mutation has been ADDED to an organisms DNA. So far the Darwinists have failed to provide this and this is absolutely essential for evolution to even have a shot.

In response to this, I echo the sentiments of the folks over at talk.origins when they say "It is hard to understand how anyone could make this claim." Check out what Darwinists think about their allegedly having failed to provide such research here. You'll find, contrary to what you just stated, that there is actually considerable amounts of research supporting the addition of information through mutation.

Just my thoughts.

godma said...

Thanks for jumping in, Ubersehen. As far as I'm concerned, it's an open discussion, not limited to just Bob and me.

Well apart from your #2 all the other "evidence" would have to presuppose naturalistic evolution to reach the conclustion that they support evolution.

I'm not sure what you mean. Could you please elaborate on how a presupposition of the conclusion is necessary to view the results of these as supportive of evolution? As I see it, the results can be judged independently of any particular belief in evolutionary theory. The point is that, if evolutionary theory is true, certain kinds results should come from these (repeatable) experiments (and other kinds of results should not). The fact that the "right" kind of results come from these experiments is independent support in favor of the theory. That's how science works, isn't it?

I mean so what if geologists find [fossils] that are millions of years old [...] that doesn't prove evolution.

Of course it doesn't. I never claimed it did. It merely supports the theory.

Honestly for me to even believe evolution is at all credible you are going to have to show me some research where information through mutation has been ADDED to an organisms DNA

If you could define what you mean by "information" here, I might be able to address this point. In the mean time, I suggest reading the short explanation provided by Ubersehen's link.

That is a far cry from being able with any degree of certainty being able to assert that all life came from inorganic matter billions of years ago. Again that is an a priori assumption naturalists make, there simply is no evidence for this.

What you are addressing here is actually outside the scope of evolutionary theory. Evolution simply does not address the origin of life, but only the progress of life from that point onward. The study of the actual origin of life is another field of biology entirely.

Wikipedia says it well:
"The origin of life is a necessary precursor for biological evolution, but understanding that evolution has occurred and investigating how this happens does not depend on understanding exactly how life began."

I mean for Atheism to even have a shot philosophically life MUST have come about naturalistically and that is how these scientists approach these issues.

Actually, this is not even true. Atheism is nothing more or less than the lack of belief in deities. There is no necessary link between this simple act of disbelief and any particular belief regarding the origin of life.

For example, what if I believe that this universe, and the very concept of "life" within it, is ultimately just a dream? I could believe that and still be an atheist.

Bob said...

Uber:
Hey good to hear from you again, thought you disappeared of the blog scene. At any rate, I really wasn't impressed with the link. It just seemed to me that what was going on there was a lot of dust being kicked up and jargon being used in the name of a response. They point to a list of supposed "proof", none of which I can find the hard study of. They are just pointed to. No explanation of what happened or what information was added. Just another shell game in my estimation. In the written paragraph what we have is hardly a naturalistic mutation when information is added.

Godma:
Again great conversation. You asked:

"I'm not sure what you mean. Could you please elaborate on how a presupposition of the conclusion is necessary to view the results of these as supportive of evolution?"

Well I would say that all data is theory laden, in short evolution theory can be read into anything when you presuppose it, yet if you did not have the presupposition you would not reach the conclusion that the data you are looking at is supportave of your theory. Simply put science isn't as objective as the the Atheists would like to act like it is. There is a strong element of subjectivity in all research.

"Of course it doesn't. I never claimed it did. It merely supports the theory."

Ok, but I don't think they even do that.

"What you are addressing here is actually outside the scope of evolutionary theory. Evolution simply does not address the origin of life, but only the progress of life from that point onward. The study of the actual origin of life is another field of biology entirely."

I don't care what wikipedia says, this is not at all outside of the scope of evolution theory, it is a theory of origins. In the words of the now incarcirated creation scientist Kent Hovind "You believe we came from rain falling on rocks." I think that is a fair assesment and points to another leap Atheistic Naturalism has to make. We don't in any context observe organic life spontatniously generating from in organic non-life matter. This simply is essential for your philosophy to even have the potentiality of being viable. I am not trying to be cut throat here but is seems like you are trying to dodge this one and say it doesn't challenge your theory.

"Actually, this is not even true. Atheism is nothing more or less than the lack of belief in deities. There is no necessary link between this simple act of disbelief and any particular belief regarding the origin of life."

(Scratches head and sighs) Do you expect me to take that statement seriously? Of course your Atheism will effect how you view lifes origins don't be daft.

"For example, what if I believe that this universe, and the very concept of "life" within it, is ultimately just a dream? I could believe that and still be an atheist."

True, you would of course be wrong and that would create more philosophical problems then the ones your Atheism alrady creates. For instance ehtics is even more meaningless if everything around you is just a projection of your opium sleep. At least as an Atheist you know that other meat sacks (human beings in the Christian worldview) have nerve endings and experience undesired sensations when jabbed with knives. But if the universe is just a pipe dream you are having well then the people you stab aren't really even there so stab away.

godma said...

I don't care what wikipedia says, this is not at all outside of the scope of evolution theory, it is a theory of origins.

If you don't like wikipedia as a source, just look it up in any good dictionary or biology textbook. You'll find that it is only about the historical development of life, not the origins of life itself.

Here are the top few results from a quick search I just did myself, using www.onelook.com. All are in my favor, not yours:

Encarta: "the theoretical process by which all species develop from earlier forms of life"
Oxford English Dictionary: "the process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed, especially by natural selection."
Meriam-Webster: "4.a. the historical development of a biological group (as a race or species)"
"4.b. a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations"
Cambridge:"the way in which living things change and develop over millions of years, or a gradual process of change and development"

Where did you get your info on evolution, from the creationists? I can't figure it any other way...

Regarding the rest of your last response, I have lost all hope of making any more progress toward understanding each other there. Your insistent claims of absolute knowledge are no match for my self-admission of non-omniscience.

Ubersehen said...

thought you disappeared of the blog scene.

Not so much. You dropped off of our discussion on your post in March, so I haven't had much to address until the conversation veered back in this direction, albeit without having been affected much by what was said previously. I'm not much into harassing people for responses, so I just let it go.

In any case:

We don't in any context observe organic life [spontaneously] generating from [inorganic] non-life matter.

I'm not sure why you think this has anything to do with evolution since, as the numerous definitions that have been provided to you even on this page have pointed out, evolution is only concerned with the life that already exists. The first life on Earth could have been sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure and this still would have no bearing on what the current theory of evolution is attempting to describe. The development of life from non-life is abiogenesis. Once we have life, then we can talk about evolution (how it develops and changes over time, not how it develops from non-life). In other words, while it is "a theory of origins", it is more specifically a theory of origins of species, not of life as you erroneously stated.

They point to a list of supposed "proof", none of which I can find the hard study of. They are just pointed to. No explanation of what happened or what information was added.

Where did you look? What about the extensive list of references at the bottom of the page? And what do you mean by "shell game"? Trying to casually imply that scientists everywhere are devoting their entire lives to deceiving the public into thinking that they have evidence that they don't? That sounds more like the Discovery Institute's mandate to me. But regardless, it'll take more than just a casual remark to support a claim like that one, so don't make it lightly.

In the written paragraph what we have is hardly a naturalistic mutation when information is added.

Why not? What, specifically, is your beef with the theory? Simply stating that you don't believe it isn't that convincing.

Bob said...

Sigh, you know guys I thought our discussion was a little bigger then a scientific theory. Dictionary definitions only raise the question as to how life itself began, given your naturalistic Atheism you can't say anuthing other then that life came about through natural processes. Your just dodging the actual issue that you have no answer for this so you turn to rigged definitions and say you don't need one. Well I would hope that if you think God is out of the picture as far as lifes origins you would have an answer as to how it came to be. Yet again Godma you are turning to your popular "I don't feel need an answer to this I get on fine without one." line. It is at least the third time now you have pulled it out in your failure to provide a working worldview.

As for this:

"Regarding the rest of your last response, I have lost all hope of making any more progress toward understanding each other there. Your insistent claims of absolute knowledge are no match for my self-admission of non-omniscience."

Oh how humble of you Godma. You want a gold star? Here is arogant old Bob claiming that there are answers to questions regarding foundations for things like ethics, logic, rationality and science only to be found in a Christian worldview.

If this is where our discussion is goind then it is over. This generally happens around this point with Atheists, they start making straw men and insulting the believer. You of course know I do not claim omniscience that is just an ad-hominem slap to act like that is what I am doing in pointing to the Bible as authoratative. All I see here is that your are frustrated and mad and want to just pull out the "Your a closed minded jerk and I am leaving!" line. Well good day then.

Uber:

You could come an talk to me anytime you want it's not like I censor your comments and ignore you. Sorry if I didn't continue a certain thread you would have liked to continue, I am a busy fellow and probably just forgot. Nevertheless I have stuff on Atheism up here now and then and you are more then free to bring up issues when you please. I don't think it is really fair to start making accusations of not want ting to talk to you.

Anyway you write:

"I'm not sure why you think this has anything to do with evolution since, as the numerous definitions that have been provided to you even on this page have pointed out, evolution is only concerned with the life that already exists."

Ok fine perhaps it doesn't have anything to do with evolution, but that obviously isn't the full scope of what I am looking at, it is your Atheism as a whole. So evolution doesn't encapsulate life popping into existance from non-life, fine. But that is still an issue for you as an Atheist. So fine I will say I was wrong to put "abiogenisis" as you call it and evolution together as the same. I still think this is a rather moot distinction and honestly beside the actual point which has yet to be addressed in all this hand waving,

I also just want to say as a Christian I really don't care one way or another if evolution is the process which life as we knoe it came to be, I think Theistic evolution could be compatable with Christianity. (the Catholics hold to this) So I am free to look at what is being found in science and interpret it without needing a certain theory to be true. I don't think you Atheists have this same liberty when it comes to evolution, it is a philosophical neccesity for Atheism to even be viable.

"Why not? What, specifically, is your beef with the theory? Simply stating that you don't believe it isn't that convincing."

Well, I would just ask if YOU actually read it? Talk Origins seems to be the Bible for your Darwinists and it is often referenced in conversations. Here's what is simply unconvincing to me that they wrote:

"Two enzymes in the histidine biosynthesis pathway that are barrel-shaped, structural and sequence evidence suggests, were formed via gene duplication and fusion of two half-barrel ancestors (Lang et al. 2000).
RNASE1, a gene for a pancreatic enzyme, was duplicated, and in langur monkeys one of the copies mutated into RNASE1B, which works better in the more acidic small intestine of the langur. (Zhang et al. 2002)
Yeast was put in a medium with very little sugar. After 450 generations, hexose transport genes had duplicated several times, and some of the duplicated versions had mutated further. (Brown et al. 1998)
The biological literature is full of additional examples. A PubMed search (at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi) on "gene duplication" gives more than 3000 references."


All we have here is mutations occuring. I don't really see anything that points to new information being added IN the mutations, they expect you to assume that when they say the word "mutation". You are expected to import that data.

Ubersehen said...

I don't think it is really fair to start making accusations of not want ting to talk to you.

My apologies on this one. I merely intended to clarify my "absence" and state the fact that I hadn't received a response. Admittedly, it came out sounding a little snarkier than I wanted. Such are the joys of clear meaning expressed through text.

given your naturalistic Atheism you can't say anuthing other then that life came about through natural processes

I'd happily accept an alternative explanation if I thought it convincing, but the current non-natural/supernatural "explanations" don't seem to me to actually contribute any information to the matter. They seem, instead, to set a boundary on what information can be known or uncovered.

Your just dodging the actual issue that you have no answer for this so you turn to rigged definitions and say you don't need one.

I know of no reason to accept what I see as a poor explanation of the origin of life because we don't yet have a clear alternative to it. That's just intellectually irresponsible. In other words, while I'm perfectly happy declaring that I don't need to know how life came about, it doesn't mean that I'm not deeply interested in it. Do you understand the distinction, here?

You reiterate this issue here:

Well I would hope that if you think God is out of the picture as far as lifes origins you would have an answer as to how it came to be.

Why do we have to have a definitive answer on this issue to be able to rule out a god? That's very much the equivalent of medieval sailors writing "HERE THERE BE DRAGONS" on maps of the places that were too far yet for them to explore. To restate, is it not a bit irresponsible to conclude that "God did it" simply because we haven't come up with an alternative explanation yet? At what point would you suggest scientists stop researching the mysteries and workings of the universe, eschew the small matter of the complete absence of falsifiability, and conclude that it was all caused by a god? If naturalism is unacceptable to you as a process by which to acquire knowledge about the universe, what process would you recommend replacing it with?

Steven Schafersman outlined this issue about as well as anyone could in a great essay on the subject:

"Since everyone agrees that the natural exists, it is the responsibility of the supernaturalists to demonstrate the existence of the supernatural."

Talk Origins seems to be the Bible for your Darwinists and it is often referenced in conversations.

Talk.Origins is often referenced simply because it contains an extremely well organized and well supported resource of refutations for most Creationist arguments. More importantly, not only is everything indexed handily, but the majority of the information is backed up with references to reputable research. As a result, the site is more than just a "bible" from which an atheist could parrot information based on faith in evolution (as the anti-evolution crowd would like people to think), it is a well-supported archive of information backed by the scientific community at large. It is consistent with the methodology of acceptable scientific research and, thus, is an accurate and responsible choice for research into these matters.

I don't really see anything that points to new information being added IN the mutations, they expect you to assume that when they say the word "mutation". You are expected to import that data.

I think, perhaps, that there is a misconception here. If I'm not mistaken, these examples of mutations were listed because they are examples where new information was added. No doubt if we examined the cited research that each point was associated with we'd find a more thorough explanation of the data. Understandably, given that the site is attempting to be succinct, the whole of each paper is not included, only the information needed to locate said paper if interest warrants it. From the perspective of someone looking for all the details or the complete explanation on the matter, that might be an improvement for the site.

I am free to look at what is being found in science and interpret it without needing a certain theory to be true. I don't think you Atheists have this same liberty when it comes to evolution, it is a philosophical neccesity for Atheism to even be viable.

Atheists don't need evolution to be true to continue disbelieving in a god. If they were presented with evidence that passed scientific muster that disproved the tenets of evolutionary theory and/or better explained the available evidence, atheists would be happy to relegate evolution to the intellectual scrap heap. Their reliance is not on evolution so much as on naturalism. To get a better explanation than I can offer of why naturalism is the best way we currently have for acquiring knowledge of the universe, I recommend giving Schafersman's essay a look. It's an easy enough read and is quite thorough.

godma said...

Sigh, you know guys I thought our discussion was a little bigger then a scientific theory

It was. But then specific claims were made regarding the theory of evolution in particular, so now here we are discussing that instead of the original topic.

Dictionary definitions only raise the question as to how life itself began

I would agree that the theory of evolution leads one to wonder where life originated. But that does not mean that the theory makes any claims regarding life's origination.

The point of my providing those definitions was to refute your claim that the question of how life originated "is not at all outside of the scope of evolution theory".

Do you accept now that evolutionary theory is not concerned with how life originated? If not, what remaining points of disagreement are there?

given your naturalistic Atheism you can't say anuthing other then that life came about through natural processes.

It is true that this is the naturalistic view. For the record, though, not all atheists are naturalists.

But more to the point, just becase this is the naturalists' view doesn't mean it is inside the scope of evolutionary theory. (I think that's the point you were trying to make).

There are loads of other naturalistic theories out there too (plate tectonics, for example). Most of them have nothing to do with the question of life's origin either.

One that does address it, however, is the theory of "abiogenesis".


Well I would hope that if you think God is out of the picture as far as lifes origins you would have an answer as to how it came to be. Yet again Godma you are turning to your popular "I don't feel need an answer to this I get on fine without one." line. It is at least the third time now you have pulled it out in your failure to provide a working worldview.

I'm simply saying that I don't know how life originated, but I have eliminated God as a reasonable explanation. Just because I can rule out one possible explanation does not oblige me to have the actual answer. There's a huge middle ground here that you're discounting. I can just say "I don't know" until the day comes, if ever, when I actually do know. What's so wrong with that approach?

You of course know I do not claim omniscience that is just an ad-hominem slap to act like that is what I am doing in pointing to the Bible as authoratative.

Well, I'll admit that I was a bit frustrated, but the point I was making was only trivially ad-hominem. I was being flip, but I had a legitimate point, and it gets back to the original topic of the argument. It was this:

1. For any given scope, omniscience is required in order to have absolute knowledge within that scope.

2. Being far-less-than-omniscient beings, we are unable in principle to know absolute reality, including whether such a thing exists. This includes absolute morality.

3. Despite #1 and #2, you claim certainty that absolute morality does exist and that you know at least something about it. Thererfore, by claiming this you are implicitly claiming omniscience within that scope (morality).

4. But pursuant to #1 and #2, I claim that neither you nor I have any legitimate grounds for claiming that absolute morality exists.

5. However, we are justified in claiming that there is at least such a thing as subjective morality, since it is evident and directly inferrable from human and animal patterns of behavior as well as from my introspection of my own patterns of emotion and behavior.

Summed up another way, I'm the one claiming not to know absolutes, and you are the one claiming to know them (and insisting all the while that my "I don't know" answer is an evasion and a cop-out). Which of these positions is the more humble?

Can I have my gold star now?

Bob said...

Godma, you wrote:
"Do you accept now that evolutionary theory is not concerned with how life originated? If not, what remaining points of disagreement are there?"

Sure I will accept the distinction between evolution proper and "abiogenisis" that is fine. I still think it is rather moot and beside the point which continues to be buried in minutae.

"I'm simply saying that I don't know how life originated, but I have eliminated God as a reasonable explanation. Just because I can rule out one possible explanation does not oblige me to have the actual answer. There's a huge middle ground here that you're discounting. I can just say "I don't know" until the day comes, if ever, when I actually do know. What's so wrong with that approach?"

So God is eliminated as being a possible originator of life? How did you reach that conclusion considering your ommision that you don't have an answer to how life actually began?

My point is that you are playing with a stacked deck and saying "I don't know how I ended up with 5 Kings...". You are saying that you don't know how life began but you DO KNOW it wasn't Theistic...Hmmmm that doesn't sound like an open minded seeker to me. That sounds like somebody who is supressing an answe they don't happen to like, just like the Bible says that the unbeliever is doing.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Rom 1:18)

You go on to make some very astute critiques to claims to knowledge:

"1. For any given scope, omniscience is required in order to have absolute knowledge within that scope."

Now I COMPLETELY agree with you here Godma. Which is why I think it is impossible for the unbeliever to have any foundation for epistemology because autonomous man is finite. The reason why this doesn't bother me is because I am not autonomous, but am under the Lord who made man, who is Himself omniscient thus His revelation is true truth. His word may not be exhaustive knowledge but it is gives a foundation for epistemology because it's authority is based upon the omniscent God being His revelation to man.

"2. Being far-less-than-omniscient beings, we are unable in principle to know absolute reality, including whether such a thing exists. This includes absolute morality."

Again I agree, this is where autonomy leads. Morality is just a convention and you can never definitively say X is wrong and be rational. You may "feel" that X is wrong and thus your utterance is a reflection of how you feel but beyond that it is gibberish, particularly in condemning the acts of others when you start with autonomus man moral condemnations are just gibberish.

However, this is the universe seen through the eyes of man divorced from God and His revelation. Man who is under God as Lord has an objective universal standard of right and wrong namely the character of the God who created all men, and who will judge all men. This character is revealed in His word the Bible.

We also have a foundation for human dignity (an essential part of any genuine working ethic) human beings are not just sacks of meat with chemicals firing in their brains (thoughts) and nerve endings. Human beings are precious because they are made in the image of God and as such their lives have worth. There really is no higher worth you can give to human life then to say we are made in God's image. As such it is in fact wrong amd ultimatly a crime against God to willingly inflict pain on other humans because they are made in his image and are not just biological machines.

"3. Despite #1 and #2, you claim certainty that absolute morality does exist and that you know at least something about it. Thererfore, by claiming this you are implicitly claiming omniscience within that scope (morality)."

Not at all, I just know the omniscient One. He has revealed Himself in His word the Bible and through His revelation I have a foundation for ethics.

"4. But pursuant to #1 and #2, I claim that neither you nor I have any legitimate grounds for claiming that absolute morality exists. "

Without a word from God you are right ethical utterances are just unintelligible utterances. Without an objective word from God all we have is the silent impersonal universe. So as products of that silent universe when we make utterances like "Rape is wrong" they really only correlate to how we feel about the practice not whether or not the practice is in fact "wrong" (meaningless word in a silent universe), thuse such an utterance is on par with utterances like: "Twinkies suck" or "The Mets should get Wade Boggs."

"5. However, we are justified in claiming that there is at least such a thing as subjective morality, since it is evident and directly inferrable from human and animal patterns of behavior as well as from my introspection of my own patterns of emotion and behavior."

WEll perhaps if you take the word "morality" off of your description and just call it animal behavioural patterns. The word "morality" is a left over from Christianity and has no place in a silent universe. So if by "morality" you mean one's personal feelings about certain actions other mechanical meat sacks do then I suppose that is ok. Again the problem is that when you go beyond personal feeling to declarations or condemnations of certain actions and act as though these statements are meaningful then you run into issues. Like shaking your head at the latest bombings and saying "That's not right." Well that is just how you feel it is in no way factual and in no way meaningful beyond the scope of declaring how you feel personally about such actions.

"Summed up another way, I'm the one claiming not to know absolutes, and you are the one claiming to know them (and insisting all the while that my "I don't know" answer is an evasion and a cop-out). Which of these positions is the more humble?"

Well I don't think claiming that there are absolutes necessitates omniscience for the believer. All it requires is a revelation from the Omniscient One. Also, you actually are claiming a couple absolutes in this comment alone:

1) You absolutely know that God is NOT the originator of life.

2) You absolutely know that there are no absolutes.

3) You absolutely know that absolutes are unknowable by finite men.

"Can I have my gold star now?"

You bet, I could send you one that can go on your blog's side bar.

"I'd happily accept an alternative explanation if I thought it convincing, but the current non-natural/supernatural "explanations" don't seem to me to actually contribute any information to the matter. They seem, instead, to set a boundary on what information can be known or uncovered."

How does supernaturalism set a stricter boundry then pure naturalism? It seems to me that the opposite is the case. If I could give an analogy:

Two men are in a room, the room represents the entire universe. The two men are both on chairs, the one man Mr.Naturalist sets out to explore the room and examines every nook and eventually sets out to write a book on the entire universe.

Finally as an older man, he comes to the Bible-believing Christian and brings him a big set of books, and he says, "Now here’s a set of books, they’re nicely bound, and they give in great detail a description of our universe." So the Christian takes a number of months, even years, to study these books with care. Finally the Christian turns to the materialist and says, "Well, this is a tremendous work. You have really told me a great deal about my universe that I wouldn’t otherwise have known. However, my friend, this is all very fine, but it’s drastically incomplete."

And you can imagine this man, who has spent his lifetime pouring out his heart to do his measuring and his weighing, suddenly taken aback. He turns and says to the Christian, "Well, now, I’m shocked that you tell me it’s not all here. What have I missed?" And then the Christian responds something like this: "I have a book here, the Bible, and it tells me things that you do not know. It tells me the origin of the universe. Your scientific investigation by its very nature cannot do that. And it also says nothing about where you and I as men came from. You have examined us because we, like the paint on the wall, are phenomena in the universe. You’ve studied something of our psychology and even given me several volumes on it, but you have not told me how we came to be here. In short, you don’t know the origin of either the universe or us."

"Furthermore," the Christian continues, "I know from this book that there is more to the universe than you have described. There is an unseen portion as well as a seen portion. And there is a cause-and-effect relationship between them. They are not mutually exclusive, but are parts of one reality. It’s as if you had taken an orange, sliced it in half, and only concerned yourself with one of the halves. To understand reality in our universe properly, you have to consider both halves – both the seen and the unseen."

"Why do we have to have a definitive answer on this issue to be able to rule out a god?"

BECAUSE YOU HAVE. Equating Christian theism to dragon tails and pink elephants is really just a straw man. It is disapointing that these really are the popular forms of argumentation in the new Atheist community, Bertrand Russel would be ashamed if he wasnt in hell.

"Atheists don't need evolution to be true to continue disbelieving in a god."

I don't know I mean Dawkins has that pretty foot in mouth statement where he pretty well said that evolution is the backbone to Atheism. It gives Atheism the potentiality it didn't have prior to Darwin. Also it is just arguing from ignorence to keep saying "Just because we don't have a naturalistic answer that doesn't mean we wont find one." Anyway here's the Dawkins quote I am sure you've seen it:

"It was serving in this capacity when Richard Dawkins (according to Peter Medawar, "one of the most brilliant of the rising generation of biologists") leaned over and remarked to A. J. Ayer at one of those elegant, candle-lit, bibulous Oxford dinners that he couldn't imagine being an atheist before 1859 (the year Darwin's Origin of Species was published); "although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin," said he, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

godma said...

Thanks for your latest response, Bob. I'm eager to answer some of your points.

You bring up some issues more than once that I'll address categorically rather than trying to go point by point. Please let me know if I missed anything big. :)

To start, I think we have reached a good common ground with respect to morality. You restated my position fairly well, although I would take slight exception to your characterization that I think of myself as "autonomous". I don't really think that I am autonomous, although I also don't think I have any relationship with supernatural beings. Rather, I tend to think of myself as being tied to my environment in the sense that everything I do or think are tightly dependent on the conditions of my existence (the state of my body, environment, history of experiences, etc.).

The nature of our disagreement on morality and meaning just boil down to our different assumptions (or starting points). You start from the assumption that any conception of morality or meaning are invalid unless they are grounded in "the absolute". I don't think either of us are qualified to make statements regarding the existence or non-existence of the absolute. The best we can legitimately do is infer from what we actually see around us in our limited worlds, and those inferences do at least suggest subjective truths about morality and meaning. And in all respects that matter to me, as an evidence-based (not faith-based) believer, those inferred subjective truths are good enough.

Now for the disagreements:

I think you are confused about my basis for the claims I have made regarding both God's supposed role in life's origin, and the supposed existence of an absolute basis for morality.

Specifically, you attribute these to:
1. A supposition of absolute knowledge, or of absolute certainty
2. Closed mindedness
3. Emotion, not rationality

My rejections are just like my rejection of the possibility that the sound in my attic is caused by a ghost. I eliminate them based on lack of supporting evidence, not on the basis of absolute knowledge to the contrary, nor due to having closed my mind to the possibility or developed an emotional aversion to the idea (although I have to admit that I do have emotions about these things...I try to be aware of them and account for them). I am still very open to having my mind changed if/when good evidence is presented, but not before then.

This is how reasoning works. We don't believe things until they are proven false...we disbelieve them until good enough evidence comes in to change our minds.

But even then, I would never ever call myself absolutely sure about anything, only relatively sure about one thing versus another. There's an entire spectrum of certainty that one can have about their beliefs, and I am generally more certain about those beliefs of mine that have a lot of good evidence to support them than I am about the ones that have less. At either absolute extreme end of the scale lie "absolute certainty", but in practice none of my beliefs make it all the way to either end. They all lie somewhere in between, arranged according to my impression of their plausibility, as well as I can discern it (based on reason and evidence).

So when I say I reject God or that I reject that there is a ghost in my attic, that just means that the level of certainty I have of their non-existence is quite high, relative to other possible explanations of things (e.g. "wishful thinking" or "a rat").


Secondly, you say that your claim of having received a revelation from God does not constitute a claim to absolute knowledge.

I'd say that the only way it would not constitute such a thing is if you interpreted that revelation as only a subjective truth that doesn't necessarily apply in an absolute sense. The moment that you infer from your private revelation that it actually represents some absolute reality, then of course you are making a claim to absolute knowledge right there.


Finally, in response to something Ubersehen wrote ("Atheists don't need evolution to be true to continue disbelieving in a god"), you countered with something Dawkins said to the effect of "it gives Atheism the potentiality it didn't have prior to Darwin".

Now this isn't really a counter argument because they are talking about two different things. The point that Ubersehen made was that evolutionary theory is not necessary for one to be an atheist. But Dawkins point was that evolutionary theory makes it easier to be one.