Atheists Speaking “Outside the Subject”

From Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot,  Part II Chapter IV, trans. Eva Martin. The italics are in the original.

“As to faith,” [the Prince] said smiling, and evidently unwilling to leave Rogozhin in this state—“as to faith, I had four curious conversations in two days, a week or so ago. One morning I met a man in the train, and made acquaintance with him at once. I had often heard of him as a very learned man, but an atheist; and I was very glad of the opportunity of conversing with so eminent and clever a person. He doesn’t believe in God, and he talked a good deal about it, but all the while it appeared to me that he was speaking outside the subject. And it has always struck me, both in speaking to such men and in reading their books, that they do not seem to really to be touching on that at all, though on the surface they may appear to do so. I told him this, but I dare say I did not clearly express what I mean, for he could not understand me.”

Comments

  1. John Moore

    It is indeed a great challenge for people of such different mindsets to communicate with each other. Christian evangelists surely appear just as out of touch as that learned atheist did to Prince Myshkin.

  2. toddes

    “Out of touch” with what, John? Faith (since that is the subject of the quote and the subject at hand)?

  3. JAD

    I wonder, are we wasting our time with the typical atheist who shows up on sites like this one? I have given much thought as to how I would treat most people of faith if I were an atheist. The answer is I would mind my own business and leave them alone. Isn’t atheism, after all, just disbelief? As a disbelief what is there defend or argue about? What sense does it make to try to convince anybody else to believe in disbelief? That by itself should be enough to convince any authentic and clear thinking atheist the absolute absurdity of advancing atheism as if it were some kind of cause. I think there are probably atheists out there who are like that. Unfortunately, the riff-raff that shows up on the internet and make up the so-called “new” atheist movement are giving other atheists a bad name– but ironically they (the authentic clear thinking ones) probably don’t care. As a disbelief there is nothing to really care about, right?

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  5. BillT

    Isn’t atheism, after all, just disbelief?

    No, it isn’t (though that seems the default position for many here). Atheism is a worldview that makes the positive assertion that there is no God. As WLC explains “…the assertion that “There is no God” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “There is a God.” Therefore, the former assertion requires justification just as the latter does.” More from WLC on this here.

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    Tom Gilson

    Further, atheists typically (not always, but usually) subscribe to naturalism, which entails most if not all of these beliefs. (Be sure to read the section, “What If Someone Claims To Be An Atheist But Won’t Accept This List?”)

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    Tom Gilson

    Nevertheless, JAD, you are right in this: they claim it is a disbelief, a lack of belief. To the extent that they claim that of themselves, to that same extent it seems weird they would campaign for it.

  8. JAD

    In other words, trying to convince anyone else to accept your disbelief is to turn it into a belief, which of course then is self refuting.

  9. Jenna Black

    Friends,

    I happen to think that the position of what I call the “hard core” atheists is even more dubious and tenuous than we realize. If an atheist claims that there is no God and that there is no evidence of God, IMO, they are making the claim that the associate or equate the term “God” and the idea of God with non-existence. So now, let’s talk about non-existence. What is there to say about it? Why would we even bother to talk about it? Can there be such a thing as a non-existent something or other, a non-X, since if non-X is non-existent, we can’t describe it or talk about its nature or characteristics or interactions with the universe and humanity, because there is no language to do so. Language is used to talk about (symbolize, represent) our reality. There is nothing to say about nothing and no language in which to say it.

    Now, I know from experience that the first counter-argument is what I call the Unicorn Argument. When you use the word “unicorn” (derived from Latin roots meaning “one horn”) I conjure up in my mind an image. This image is an assemblage of things that exist in nature: an animal with horns, a long pointy horn, a horse, the color pink, etc. In fact, you and I can both independently draw a picture of what each of us visualizes in our mind when we think of a unicorn. We can then look at each other’s drawings and agree as to whether or not the image is what we both mean when we talk about a unicorn. However, you and I both know that there is no such animal assembled with exactly these body parts that exists in nature, so of course we don’t go looking for its droppings.

    However, I have not assembled a unicorn in my imagination from anything that does not exist in nature. And if I go to the toy store and find my grand-daughter a pink stuffed unicorn, that unicorn exists because someone imagined it and then created it from his/her imagination. The non-existence in nature of the assemblage that you and I both imagine that we call a unicorn says nothing about whether or not God exists.

    We need to be prepared to pose this question to atheists who make the “positive assertion” (what I call the null hypothesis): If, as you claim, God does not exist, then God is non-existence. What is non-existence?

    Thanks for the enlightening conversation. JB

  10. MikeH

    In my somewhat limited contact with atheists I have witnessed some strong anger present. This has been true of those who were at one time Christians in fundamentalist churches. Coming out of those experiences they carry some significant animosity toward “the faith.” I think they find it psychologically therapeutic to campaign against theism. Some do so with what they consider altruistic motives, wanting to help others who de-convert and feel secure in doing so. I would not presume to say this is true of all atheists.

    And Jenna, come on, everyone knows unicorns don’t come in pink! 🙂

  11. Jenna Black

    MikeH,

    So you and I will simply have to agree what a unicorn looks like based on a black and white sketch! Thanks for the laugh. JB

  12. Ray Ingles

    If there were an Office of Unicorn-Based Programs at the White House, and people earnestly pursued policies that negatively affect me and mine in an effort to protect unicorn grazing land and so forth, then it would probably make sense to actively discuss a-unicornism too.

  13. John Moore

    Yes, as Ray Ingles suggests, the reason atheists are angry or try to persuade theists has to do with politics or trends in our society. Atheists and religious people seem to be pursuing different goals that conflict.

    For example, religious people might be trying to get into heaven, whereas atheists might be trying to increase our physical prosperity here on Earth.

    These goals might conflict in the area of science. Atheists want scientific knowledge to spread so more people can contribute to building prosperity, but religious people hinder the spread of science.

    Getting back to the original posting, we can see that religious people and atheists might be out of touch with each other. The great thing about forums like this one is that it gives both sides a chance to understand the other.

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  16. Random99

    JAD, I agree with BillT in that atheism is a belief system or worldview that most certainly has consequences. Like you though I wonder about the…. “absurdity of advancing atheism as if it were some kind of cause.”

    If atheism denies objective morality, then subjective morality is in play. Or, as some suggest there is no morality. And, if religious belief is an evolutionary by product which conveyed some benefit to humanity, then why do they promote their cause against this evolutionary benefit? According to their worldview I should be free to pursue whatever belief system I choose, for there is no choice which is right or wrong, and that must include religious belief.

    I simply don’t understand their motivation? It certainly cannot be benevolence. Granted they may think it’s benevolent, for they are free to choose for themselves what is benevolent, but if they are trying to persuade me to choose their philosophy over my own, by what authority do they speak? The meaning and purpose of life is mine to choose and assign for myself, if atheism is true. But they apparently believe that they know what’s best for me?

    This seems to me to be the ultimate in hypocrisy and arrogance. And that is what I observe in most atheist blogs, a condescending attitude and a smug elitism that they know what is best for me to believe and what I should teach or learn. I also agree with MikeH they often convey an unjustifiable anger as well.

    The Christian is motivated by a moral conviction to share the Good News of what God’s love and mercy has done and can do in a person’s life. We share this Good News to all who will listen in spite of the consequences of hate or rejection, for we know we were once non-believers and someone selflessly shared the Good News with us.

    The atheist can make no positive, uplifting moral claim for their cause to promote atheism. It must be an act of pure self-aggrandizement, which is an attitude which turns most people off.

    It seems to me that their actions clearly betray their worldview.

  17. Shane Fletcher

    #4

    Hi JAD

    “I have given much thought as to how I would treat most people of faith if I were an atheist. The answer is I would mind my own business and leave them alone.”

    “As a disbelief there is nothing to really care about, right?”

    You don’t really need me to rattle off a list or provide the links to all sorts of atrocities being done today by the religious, do you? People that believe they have a supernatural edict pertaining to what is right and wrong are capable of all kinds of evil.

    There is plenty to care about.

    Cheers
    Shane

  18. Random99

    Shane,

    Certainly provide the list, as long as you include the list of the atrocities done by the irreligious and atheistic-based governments as well.

    Cheers to you.

  19. Shane Fletcher

    #17

    Hi Random99. Pleased to meet you.

    “And, if religious belief is an evolutionary by product which conveyed some benefit to humanity, then why do they promote their cause against this evolutionary benefit? According to their worldview I should be free to pursue whatever belief system I choose, for there is no choice which is right or wrong, and that must include religious belief.”

    If you kept your belief to yourself instead of trying to obstruct the freedom of others we wouldn’t have a problem. But religious people can’t do that. It is their job to spread the word and try and convert the heathens.

    “But they apparently believe that they know what’s best for me?”

    I’m surprised you can my speck with that plank in your way. Whether two gay people want to get married is none of your business. It doesn’t affect you in any way. But Christians can’t let these strangers live their lives in the way they want to. They have to try and impose their belief upon them, because they know what’s best. Why is it so surprising that atheists want to stop you from being able to do that?

    “The atheist can make no positive, uplifting moral claim for their cause to promote atheism. It must be an act of pure self-aggrandizement, which is an attitude which turns most people off.”

    As I posted at the same time as you did, my moral claim is that all people are equal and deserve to be treated that way. I can find nothing more positive and uplifting than that.

    Cheers
    Shane

  20. Shane Fletcher

    #19

    Hi Random99,

    I wasn’t referring to governments, but rather churches and individuals who do things for religious reasons. I will be hard pressed to find a irreligious or atheistic church, or an individual that has done some evil to a fellow human being for the atheistic ideology. Genital mutilators and suicide bombers, for example, are pretty much exclusively religious. Can you suggest a heinous act that is exclusively done by the atheist community?

    Cheers
    Shane

  21. Melissa

    Shane,

    Genital mutilators and suicide bombers, for example, are pretty much exclusively religious.

    The Tamil Tigers are credited with inventing suicide belts and the use of women as suicide bombers. They are a secular group with atheist leadership.

  22. Chris

    I check this site on a frequent basis to help me understand the thought-process of those who are religious.

    Its fascinating to me what people believe. One of the deepest mysteries in life that I know of, is why very intelligent people believe so strongly and utterly in all of the things that make up the Christian faith (not to mention all other belief systems). As a non-theist I’ve learned a huge amount from this site and have even changed my opinions on a couple of things (not towards theism mind you 🙂 ), but really its been just about challenging my own positions and learning from others.

    Thanks!

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    Tom Gilson

    Shane @#18: Atrocities? Is that all you see going on in Christianity? If so, you live in a strangely simple world.

    Do you know nothing of all the homeless fed, the families cared for, the free counseling provided, the humanitarian aid sent far distances, the homes built near and far, the free medical clinics, the benevolence given away for the asking?

    One preliminary study indicated that 12 Philadelphia congregations contribute $52 million in social welfare to the community, including day care, counseling, arts, and much more–to the tune of some ten times the churches’ budgets.

    In America if not elsewhere, every major city has at least one hospital with a name like St. Mary’s, Presbyterian, Methodist, Mercy, or Jewish.

    In other words, do you have any balanced idea what you’re campaigning against?

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    Tom Gilson

    John Moore @#20: You wrote in another paragraph, “Atheists want scientific knowledge to spread so more people can contribute to building prosperity, but religious people hinder the spread of science.”

    Call that an example if you want, but it’s a lot like every other stereotype I’ve ever heard shot down for its dehumanizing effect.

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  27. BillT

    I will be hard pressed to find a irreligious or atheistic church, or an individual that has done some evil to a fellow human being for the atheistic ideology.

    Stalin, Mao? Both avowed atheists. Perpetrators of the two worst mass murders in human history. And yes, their “atheistic ideology” was a prominent part of their stated worldview and central to their political philosophy, acts and actions.

    Then there is this from Ted Bundy.

    Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong”….I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment” that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these “others”? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.

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    Tom Gilson

    Ray @#29: There are lots of atheists who hold to objective morality, yes. That’s based on the datum of reality: we all know that objective morality exists.

    I would actually go with Random99, though: atheists may not deny objective morality, but a logically consistent atheism does.

    That’s another topic for another day, however.

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  30. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    Your link to Robert Miller’s essay is delightful. Thank you.

    Btw, congratulations for finally seeing the truth of Aristotelian-Thomism on moral matters. The rest will soon follow.

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  32. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues – I think A-T is right about many things… for the wrong reasons. And not right about everything. Sort of like geocentrism vs. heliocentrism. Geocentrism makes a lot of good predictions about the paths of planets and the timing of eclipses and so forth; but it doesn’t work so hot when you want to pilot a spaceship to Jupiter.

    And Tom – we’ve been over the ‘atheism and morality’ thing before – I linked to one example – and will doubtless do so again.

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  34. JAD

    From the OP:

    He doesn’t believe in God, and he talked a good deal about it, but all the while it appeared to me that he was speaking outside the subject.

    Notice how, true to form, the atheists have shown up here and have not given me, or anyone else, any good reasons to disbelieve theism. Rather, what we have gotten are some very prejudiced and ill informed caricatures and stereotypes, along with a lot of fallacious logic. So far there have been no arguments given that in any way undermine foundational beliefs of either theism or Christianity. Do you atheists here even understand what the foundational beliefs for theism and Christianity really are? (If you don’t, wouldn’t this be a good place to ask?) I don’t see how the arguments that any of our atheist interlocutors have given so far can even be used to justify their own disbelief. Of course, like anyone else they are free to hold irrational beliefs. However, that is not a good starting position for self described paragons of reason.

  35. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    Notice how, true to form, the atheists have shown up here and have not given me, or anyone else, any good reasons to disbelieve theism.

    Actually, some atheists have responded to the ways that atheists have been characterized. Which is, note, the topic of the thread. Mostly, the subject has been ‘why would atheists even talk about being atheists’ – not ‘is there a God or not’. That’s why the arguments haven’t addressed that topic – it’s not the conversation we’ve been having.

    However, that is not a good starting position for self described paragons of reason.

    Can you point out an atheist who claims to be ‘a paragon of reason’? I’d be curious to see.

  36. BillT

    Further to the excellent article Ray linked. Key to it’s conclusion are these two excerpts.

    But, in such a system, (without acknowledging the existence of God) the nature of moral obligation—the meaning of should or ought when used in their moral sense—will be rather thin. When a man acts immorally, we can say that he does wrong, that he acts contrary to human nature, and that, to the extent of his wrongdoing, he makes himself a bad man and his life a bad human life. But that is about all we can say, and some people find this inadequate.

    The assumption that God exists thus changes the meaning of should or ought, transforming it from a hypothetical imperative (“If you would reach your final end, do thus-and-so”) into something akin to a categorical imperative (“Thou shalt do thus-and-so”)..

    And Mr. Miller goes on to point out the existence of God also “…affects the content of morality.” and the “…consequences for morality.”

    So, to the extent that you don’t care about how “thin” your should or ought are and you can ignore how the existence of God affects both the content and consequences of morality I guess you could say, in what I can only think is fairly described as extremely qualified, that you could deny God and still have an “objective” moral view. And given that laundry list of qualifications I believe “objective” has earned it’s ” “.

  37. G. Rodrigues

    @BillT:

    The things are much worse (for Ray that is) than your quotes might otherwise indicate. The thing is, an objective morality after the Aristotelian-Thomist function is crucially predicated on a network of interlocking metaphysical ideas, of which I single out:

    (1) Real essentialism about natures in general, and human nature in particular.

    (2) Objective, immanent teleology.

    It is no secret that Aristotle was a theist. Rumor has it that St. Thomas also was one. One of the reasons is that they adduced arguments starting from premises like or in the neighborhood of (1) and (2) to the existence of God.

    So Ray is in a sort of dilemma: he cannot subscribe to the Aristotelian-Thomist robust account of morality because then it is checkmate for him. That is why he says:

    I think A-T is right about many things… for the wrong reasons.

    But then what does it mean to even say that there are objective purposes or goals? What is the principle he is appealing to show they exist and how to recognize them? So he has to give us an account of these; but of course as it is easily recognized, without something in the *neighborhood* of what the AT guys are saying, there can be *no* objective purposes or goals, because to even assert the existence of such is tantamount to recognize something like (1) and (2). Then he has to square the circle and avoid the arguments leading from the metaphysical assumptions to God. I suppose the circle could be squared by adopting some version of pantheism or other. But at this point, virtually every single (godawful) atheist talking point is dead in the water.

  38. SteveK

    Good comment, G. Rodrigues. Like Ray, Sam Harris and James Lindsay are also confident they can square the circle by taking your (1) and (2) and trying to shoehorn them into a Darwinistic / naturalistic framework.

    Good luck, boys.

  39. BillT

    G. Rodrigues,

    Thanks so much. I dip my toe in A-T waters very carefully given my limited understating. The article creates an “objective” morality for use in the public square which by itself is useful. However, it falls quite short, I think, of establishing a true objective morality (without God) in anything but this limited sense as you so well describe.

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    Tom Gilson

    Ray,

    Could you respond to what G. Rodrigues wrote, please? I request it because I want to have it on hand the next time you link to that article, as you told us we should expect. Thanks.

  41. Ray Ingles

    BillT – The conclusions of a game-theory-ish “should” or “ought” are as unimportant as your own goals are. If living, loving, creating, and all the other passions humans are heir to aren’t particularly important to you, then certainly you won’t find effective ways of pursing them to be particularly compelling.

    Of course, there are two corollaries. First, if there are things that are supremely important to you – for example, I care rather a lot for the well-being of my loved ones – then those “shoulds” will likewise be supremely important. And, secondly, if nothing is important to you, don’t be surprised at the responses of those who do find things important.

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  43. BillT

    The conclusions of a game-theory-ish “should” or “ought” are as unimportant as your own goals are.

    That’s not what the article you linked said.

    So it’s all up to BillT, eh?

    Just as I’ve suspected all along!

  44. JAD

    Ray:

    Actually, some atheists have responded to the ways that atheists have been characterized. Which is, note, the topic of the thread. Mostly, the subject has been ‘why would atheists even talk about being atheists’ – not ‘is there a God or not’. That’s why the arguments haven’t addressed that topic – it’s not the conversation we’ve been having.

    Yes, I know; atheists are more than happy to show up and participate in any discussion about peripheral issues. That was the main point of the OP. Again, I quote from The Idiot:

    He doesn’t believe in God, and he talked a good deal about it, but all the while it appeared to me that he was speaking outside the subject.

    You do realize, don’t you, that if you could prove that God doesn’t exist that that would be game-set-match? However, if you can’t prove that then, it seems to me, you are left in the absurd position that to believe that God does not exist you must believe so by faith. No wonder atheists want to avoid the main issue.

  45. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    (1) Real essentialism about natures in general, and human nature in particular.

    We’ve discussed essentialism before, until you stopped responding.

    (2) Objective, immanent teleology.

    Objects don’t have goals or ends. Subjects have goals or ends to which objects are put. Given N subjects, you have up to N different teleologies. A teleology exists as a relationship between subjects and objects. To the extent that the subjects and objects exist objectively, that relationship exists too.

    One of the reasons is that they adduced arguments starting from premises like or in the neighborhood of (1) and (2) to the existence of God.

    Which depend critically on an intuition I don’t share. This is where you stopped responding last time. (The section about “not paying attention”.)

  46. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    That’s not what the article you linked said.

    You misunderstand. The conclusions – the strategic ‘oughts’ – are the same either way. How significant they are can vary. But humans tend to find things like living and loving and creating to be very important, so…

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    Tom Gilson

    I don’t find the string “essential” on the linked page, Ray.

    Your objection to #2 is probably consistent with your worldview, but it doesn’t fit with the A-T perspective necessary for Miller’s theses. You’re borrowing from theism to argue against it.

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    Tom Gilson

    And at #50 you’ve left Miller behind completely. Totally disavowed him.

    Do us a favor, and if you’re going to make reference to him again, be sure to (a) change your position between now and then, so you can tell us how you and he are in agreement, or (b) tell us how you see him contradicting your position, not how you imagine he’s supporting it.

  49. BillT

    If you can’t prove that then, it seems to me, you are left in the absurd position that to believe that God does not exist you must believe so by faith.

    And I’m not even sure how absurd it is. The question of whether there is or isn’t God is a question of religious belief. It’s religious because it has to do with a religious subject, God. It’s a belief because it’s a proposition that can’t be proved. I have never understood why atheists were so adamantly opposed to the description of their beliefs in these terms. I have never understood, or seen explained, how atheists could deny this.

  50. BillT

    The conclusions – the strategic ‘oughts’ – are the same either way.

    No, they aren’t. One is a hypothetical imperative the other a categorical imperative. The adjectives matter.

    And Ray, it’s not like my explanation didn’t take into account the nuances of the author’s explanation. In the end though, the point was that objective morality without God is appropriate in certain circumstances (under mutual agreement) and in a certain context (the public square). Otherwise it’s quite different.

  51. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    As Tom said in #51. What are we to make of: First, link to a self-consciously and self-avowedly Aristotelian-Thomist article, supposedly in support of your position, then explicitly disavow him?

    Second, you said in #50 in response to BillT and I quote:

    But humans tend to find things like living and loving and creating to be very important, so…

    Now, what I said was, and I will quote again:

    But then what does it mean to even say that there are objective purposes or goals? What is the principle he is appealing to show they exist and how to recognize them? So he has to give us an account of these; but of course as it is easily recognized, without something in the *neighborhood* of what the AT guys are saying, there can be *no* objective purposes or goals, because to even assert the existence of such is tantamount to recognize something like (1) and (2).

    So there are two prongs here:

    (a) You need to offer an account of purposes and objectives that can do the work you needed it to do.

    (b) If you actually reach the stage of giving such an account, it will of necessity involve recognizing something in the neighborhood of (1) and (2) above.

    I could expand on (b), but since you do not even get off the ground at stage (a) besides mumbling irrelevant platitudes about how much you care about your loved ones, I will spare myself the bother of writing it and the audience of reading it.

  52. Shane Fletcher

    Wow, this went off since yesterday.

    #23,

    Hi Melissa,

    The Tamil Tigers are the militant extreme of the Hindus who want to make a separate state from the Buddhist majority of Sri Lanka.

    Cheers
    Shane

  53. Shane Fletcher

    #25

    Hi Tom,

    Do Christians do good things? Sure. But would they still do them if they weren’t Christians? Of course they would. Would charity grind to a halt if all religion disappeared tomorrow? The world is full of non believers that give selflessly of their time and money to show that it wouldn’t.

    125 million women and girls alive today have had part or all of their external genitalia removed because of the religious beliefs of their parents (father). Would I give up a hospital in my home town for these appalling atrocities not to have happened to a fellow human being? You bet I would. And I’m sure you would too.

    Cheers
    Shane

  54. Shane Fletcher

    #30

    Hi BillT

    “Stalin, Mao? Both avowed atheists. Perpetrators of the two worst mass murders in human history. And yes, their “atheistic ideology” was a prominent part of their stated worldview and central to their political philosophy, acts and actions.

    Expand on this, if you would.

    Cheers
    Shane

  55. Shane Fletcher

    #30

    Hi BillT

    Forgot to add your second part and can’t edit my post.

    “Then there is this from Ted Bundy.

    Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong”….I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment” that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these “others”? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.”

    Are you seriously suggesting that atheism made him a killer? He is a psychopath and gets pleasure from inflicting pain on others (definition of the word). To try and make a connection from this mental disorder to a lack of belief in a deity is disingenuous, at best.

    Cheers
    Shane

  56. Shane Fletcher

    #31

    Hi Tom,

    “There are lots of atheists who hold to objective morality, yes. That’s based on the datum of reality: we all know that objective morality exists.”

    How do we know that objective morality exists?

    Cheers
    Shane

  57. Shane Fletcher

    #48

    Hi JAD

    “You do realize, don’t you, that if you could prove that God doesn’t exist that that would be game-set-match? However, if you can’t prove that then, it seems to me, you are left in the absurd position that to believe that God does not exist you must believe so by faith. No wonder atheists want to avoid the main issue.”

    But faith is belief based on evidence, right? So what’s the problem? 🙂

    And you have highlighted a misconception there about atheists. It’s not that we believe God doesn’t exist. It’s that we don’t believe God exists. In the first instance there has to be some reason for the belief. But the second revolves around the fact there is no evidence. See the difference? It’s the reason we say “I don’t believe in Santa Claus” as opposed to “I believe there is no Santa Claus”.

    Cheers
    Shane

  58. BillT

    Shane,

    As to your question in in #58 Tom in #32 linked to a prior post here. In the OP and in the comments is a very good discussion of this issue. Comment #12 has some especially good information relating to your question though there are good posts throughout.

    As to Ted Bundy I think his comments are self explanatory. Absent any moral imperatives Bundy felt free to do whatever he liked. This attitude is well summarized by Feodor Dostoyevsky’s famous forewarning “Without God anything is permissible.” Bundy understood this explicitly. If you doubt this is true perhaps you could explain where Bundy or Dostoyevsky have it wrong.

  59. JAD

    Shane:

    But faith is belief based on evidence, right? So what’s the problem?

    Faith defined as belief without proof is different than faith as belief without evidence. So even though I can’t prove that God exists there is evidence that he does.

    And you have highlighted a misconception there about atheists. It’s not that we believe God doesn’t exist. It’s that we don’t believe God exists. In the first instance there has to be some reason for the belief. But the second revolves around the fact there is no evidence. See the difference?

    Whatever… It’s irrelevant. Since there is more evidence than not that God exists, an honest and rational person, weighing the evidence objectively, will believe in God.

  60. Shane Fletcher

    #62

    Hi BillT

    “As to your question in in #58 Tom in #32 linked to a prior post here. In the OP and in the comments is a very good discussion of this issue. Comment #12 has some especially good information relating to your question though there are good posts throughout.”

    Oh my goodness there is so much to read there. I will get to that when I can. Cheers for the link.

    “As to Ted Bundy I think his comments are self explanatory. Absent any moral imperatives Bundy felt free to do whatever he liked. This attitude is well summarized by Feodor Dostoyevsky’s famous forewarning “Without God anything is permissible.” Bundy understood this explicitly. If you doubt this is true perhaps you could explain where Bundy or Dostoyevsky have it wrong.”

    I used to be a Christian. I am no longer a Christian. My morals have not changed. I still do not drink, smoke, or do drugs and I have no desire to procreate with another person other than my wife of 25 years. If you stopped being a Christian do you think you would suddenly desire to murder, steal, cheat on your wife, beat your kids, etc? Ted Bundy did not choose to rape and murder because he was an atheist and therefore “it was permissible”. He choose to rape and murder because his brain was wired differently to the average humans and he got pleasure from it.

    And the word “permissible”stops that line from being a forewarning as it doesn’t make a prediction. “Without God good people will do bad things!” is a forewarning, but not one that has been born out. I prefer Steven Weinberg – “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    Cheers
    Shane

  61. Shane Fletcher

    #63

    Hi JAD

    “Faith defined as belief without proof is different than faith as belief without evidence. So even though I can’t prove that God exists there is evidence that he does.”

    As has been said to death in the other thread, if your definition of evidence is broad enough, of course you can find evidence to support your belief.

    “Whatever… It’s irrelevant. Since there is more evidence than not that God exists, an honest and rational person, weighing the evidence objectively, will believe in God.”

    Wow. Really? So I’m either dishonest or irrational? Else I’m not weighing the evidence objectively? You state it as a simple, straight to the point, fact … so let’s hear it. What’s the overwhelming evidence that God must exist? I have a forum where a few people I know are discussing the matter. Feel free to drop by and have your say. The only rule is be polite and respectful. http://bornagainatheist.firechildcreations.com Tom if posting this is against policy, please delete the link or this reply.

    Cheers
    Shane

  62. bigbird

    I used to be a Christian. I am no longer a Christian. My morals have not changed.

    No surprise really – if you are a Christian for many years, it seems likely that someone would largely maintain their morals when they are no longer a Christian, although of course not everyone in your position would do so. After all, God designed the Christian moral framework for our good.

    Countries that no longer have a Christian majority largely maintain Christian morals (for at least a time) for the same reason.

    Ted Bundy did not choose to rape and murder because he was an atheist and therefore “it was permissible”. He choose to rape and murder because his brain was wired differently to the average humans and he got pleasure from it.

    Why was he wrong to do so when he got pleasure from it and it was because his brain was wired differently?

    I prefer Steven Weinberg – “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    I’ve always thought that quote of Weinberg’s particularly idiotic (as well as bigoted). Good people don’t do evil things. People who do evil things are evil.

  63. Melissa

    Shane,

    The Tamil Tigers are the militant extreme of the Hindus who want to make a separate state from the Buddhist majority of Sri Lanka.

    Interesting that the militant extreme of the Tamils are not Hindus but secular and the leadership atheist. All people are capable of horrendous evil, none of them need a belief in the supernatural to commit crimes.

  64. Shane Fletcher

    #66

    Hi bigbird,

    “No surprise really – if you are a Christian for many years, it seems likely that someone would largely maintain their morals when they are no longer a Christian, although of course not everyone in your position would do so. After all, God designed the Christian moral framework for our good.

    Countries that no longer have a Christian majority largely maintain Christian morals (for at least a time) for the same reason.”

    Exactly. The idea that Ted Bundy decided to kill because he became an atheist is preposterous.

    “Why was he wrong to do so when he got pleasure from it and it was because his brain was wired differently?”

    Because impinging on another person’s freedom is rude.

    “I’ve always thought that quote of Weinberg’s particularly idiotic (as well as bigoted). Good people don’t do evil things. People who do evil things are evil.”

    Well that’s very black and white. Lying is wrong and therefore evil. So everyone who lies is evil, and that’s that?

    I can think of few things as evil as slicing off part of a babies penis? Are all Jews evil in that case? Or could some of them be good people doing an evil thing because of their religion?

    Cheers
    Shane

  65. bigbird

    Why was he wrong to do so when he got pleasure from it and it was because his brain was wired differently?

    Because impinging on another person’s freedom is rude.

    Rude? Ted Bundy was behaving rudely when he murdered all those women??

    I’ve always thought that quote of Weinberg’s particularly idiotic (as well as bigoted). Good people don’t do evil things. People who do evil things are evil.

    Well that’s very black and white. Lying is wrong and therefore evil. So everyone who lies is evil, and that’s that?

    Do you think that Weinberg was referring to people who lie in that quote? The context is actually slavery.

    I can think of few things as evil as slicing off part of a babies penis?

    Ted Bundy was rude, and circumcision is evil? Did you know that the World Health Organization recommends circumcision in areas where HIV is prevelant?

  66. G. Rodrigues

    It’s not that we believe God doesn’t exist. It’s that we don’t believe God exists.

    Of all the asinine irrationalities that Gnu atheists have invented, this has got to be the most comical one.

  67. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    One is a hypothetical imperative the other a categorical imperative.

    That doesn’t make a difference in practice. Why? Because the conditions of the hypothetical apply, the antecedents hold. Miller puts it as “If you would reach your final end, do thus-and-so”. But “if you would reach your final end”, in this case, expands to “if you are a human being subject to these physical laws”. And I assert that you, me, and everyone reading this is a human being subject to the same physical laws.

    (If anyone reading this is not human, or is reading it from some other universe, please let me know now!)

  68. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    Of all the asinine irrationalities that Gnu atheists have invented, this has got to be the most comical one.

    Actually, I’m tickled that you think ‘Gnu atheists’ invented it, or that it’s not expressing a cogent point. (See the “Proof of God” section. It’s not a long essay, I’m sure you can spare the time to read a few paragraphs.) (Of course, you should know the difference between “positive” and “not negative” anyway.)

  69. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    You need to offer an account of purposes and objectives that can do the work you needed it to do.

    I’ll let Miller do it for me, if you don’t mind. The answer is that just as, given an end, reason can determine which means are effective means to attaining that end, so too, given a means, can reason determine the end or ends to which that means will be an effective means. Thus, confronted with an unfamiliar apparatus, an engineer can work out the purpose of the machine by examining its structure and seeing how it operates under different conditions. Similarly, a biologist who discovers a new protein in a living cell can, by examining its chemical structure and its interactions with other molecules in the cell, determine what its function is—that is, the end to which it is an effective means. In general, just as human reason is very good at means-ends reasoning (given the end, it can devise the means), so too is it very good at ends-means reasoning: given the means, it can work out what the end must be… We can inquire into the end of human nature without opening the question of its origins. We simply take human nature as given and ask to what end it is an effective means. This inquiry brackets the question of whether human nature was created by God, is the product of blind evolution, or arose in some other way. We can proceed in this manner because whether something is an effective means to an end depends on the objective characteristics of the thing itself, not on whether some intelligent agent gave it those characteristics for some purpose or other. This is why an atheistic Neo-Darwinist can speak about biological structures having functions and serving ends without thereby conceding the existence of a creating God.

    I’ll wait on (b) too, until and unless you make it necessary.

  70. BillT

    That doesn’t make a difference in practice. Why? Because the conditions of the hypothetical apply, the antecedents hold.

    No, they don’t because the hypothetical was that objective morality without God is appropriate in certain circumstances (under mutual agreement) and in a certain context (the public square). The idea that the hypothetical is limited to our humanness is a misunderstanding of Miller. That what all those other words were about where he explained the difference between the limited public square morality and real objective morality.

  71. BillT

    I used to be a Christian. I am no longer a Christian. My morals have not changed.

    The idea that Ted Bundy decided to kill because he became an atheist is preposterous..

    Your personal anecdotes are interesting but are not germane to the issue at hand. Nobody said “Bundy decided to kill because he became an atheist.” Bundy makes it abundantly clear that he felt that since there was no God no act “…can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong”. and it was permissible for him not to have to “…respect the rights of others.” Those are his words. They’re not hard to understand.

    You can’t be bothered to read reply #12 of the post I linked which answered your question specifically yet at the same time you think Dostoyevsky’s forewarning is “not one that has been born out.” even though proof of that was there for you to see. Seems convenient.

  72. Ray Ingles

    No, BillT, I’m afraid I don’t see where in Miller you get the idea that morality is not objective without God. He’s saying the exact opposite. He does argue that, if there is a God, there would be additional moral obligations – but that does not mean that the ‘natural law’ morality he’s talking about, without resorting to God, goes away. To quote: This supernatural final end does not conflict with the natural final end but includes and subsumes it. Hence, every action ordered to the natural final end is also ordered to the supernatural one, and every action contrary to the natural final end is also contrary to the supernatural one.

    Natural law morality is (a) objective, and (b) a proper subset of supernatural morality, according to Miller.

  73. BillT

    …a proper subset of supernatural morality,

    Yes, a proper subset. In limited “circumstances (under mutual agreement) and in a certain context (the public square).” The entire proposal was to show how we could come to agreement on certain moral goods even without God. I agree. At the same time it showed that this was limited circumstance and context and didn’t rise to the level of objective morality that exists in the circumstance and context of the existence of God.

    In other words, it’s “objective” only to the extent that those using it are in agreement. The agreement is a conscious one that has to be agreed upon beforehand and only remains in affect as long as the parties agree it does. It doesn’t attach naturally to any of the participants nor bind any of the participants beyond their willingness to adhere to their voluntary agreement.

  74. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    Actually, I’m tickled that you think ‘Gnu atheists’ invented it, or that it’s not expressing a cogent point.

    Thank you for the link, but Bertrand Russell is not saying the same thing as the Gnu’s. And in the particular essay he is also playing fast and loose with the terminology as agnostic does not mean what he takes it to mean — but then again, he is speaking for a popular audience.

    If what you want to say is that while you believe that God does not exist you have no airtight proof of it (a red herring, by the way), then say it, do not hide behind asinine crap like “It’s not that we believe God doesn’t exist. It’s that we don’t believe God exists.”

    I’ll let Miller do it for me, if you don’t mind.

    I just had a ROFL moment. Thank you for brightening my day.

    I’ll wait on (b) too, until and unless you make it necessary.

    And wait you will, unless and until you make it necessary.

  75. SteveK

    What is the ultimate natural end of human beings without God? That question makes no sense unless there is an objective human essence that we all share. You need this question to apply to *all* human beings as beings that are instances of this essence – beings that exist in various states of imperfection when compared to that ideal.

    Without God we don’t have that. That’s what Darwinism says, right?? Without an objective human essence there can only be individual beings with various character traits and features that we categorize as human beings. Species are a man-made concept.

    At the end of the day, because I evolved differently, my ultimate natural end is likely to be different than Ray’s.

    Am I wrong?

  76. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    In other words, it’s “objective” only to the extent that those using it are in agreement.

    You’re not quoting Miller there, you’re quoting yourself. What part of Miller’s essay – specifically – do you believe makes that claim?

    G. Rodrigues – If amusement is the only thing you’re after – not, for example, discussion or education – then you could save us all a lot of time and just say that. If, on the other hand, you actually do intend to discuss the topic, I’m afraid you’ll need to step up and make an actual case.

  77. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    If amusement is the only thing you’re after – not, for example, discussion or education – then you could save us all a lot of time and just say that. If, on the other hand, you actually do intend to discuss the topic, I’m afraid you’ll need to step up and make an actual case.

    Ray: I can make a good case for an objective morality. Here is a link.

    Me. That is an article from a self-consciously, self-avowedly Aristotelian-Thomist. Congratulations on the conversion.

    Ray: (disavows the article)

    Me: Then you have to make your case.

    Ray: I will just defer to the article I linked, an article I disavowed, whose conclusions may be right but the premises are all wrong.

    Me: Giggle (well, actually, it was real laughter).

    Ray: (with an indignant tone and shaking his finger) do you want to have a serious discussion or not?

    You are on a roll today as far as service on the free entertainment department goes.

  78. SteveK

    It does seem strange that Ray is both using Miller to argue his case while at the same time disavowing the fundamental principles that Miller’s case is built upon.

  79. BillT

    That said, however, nearly all the philosophers who regard the end of human nature as the basis of morality agree that the end for human beings is something like rational activity in a community of persons committed to such activity on some joint basis. This end—usually called the final end in this context—is the good life or telos for human beings. (emphasis mine)

    The basis for Eudaimonistic moral theory is an agreement. In fact, it’s two agreements. First, the one the philosophers come to above and second the agreement that those who wish to use it come to. Agreements are volitional. There is no requirement for anyone to either agree with the above philosophers or adopt Eudaimonistic moral theory as a basis for their acts unless they choose to. And even if they do so choose they can cease to agree at any time they like. Who’s to stop them. It was their choice to begin with.

  80. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    That’s what Darwinism says, right??

    Nope, sorry.

    “Darwinism” says that the boundaries between species are fuzzy, not that there’s no such thing as species.

    It’s not subjective that humans are tailless, forward-facing-eyes, grasping-paws, live-young-bearing hair-possessing milk-giving amniote-possessing tetrapodal jawed vertebrate notochord-possessing multicellular non-chloroplast mitochondrial eukaryotes. (And it’s also not subjective that life in general falls into nested hierarchies like this. Little-known fact: Linnaeus, who invented the “kingdom, phyla, genus, species, etc.” classification scheme for living things, tried to do the same thing for minerals. But minerals don’t form from copy-with-modification, and a ‘nested hierarchy’ just didn’t work and never caught on.)

    Sure, there’s variation within groups, and fuzz boundaries. But it’s pretty easy to see how much humans have in common with each other when you look at all the things they don’t share with everything else.

  81. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    I can make a good case for an objective morality.

    Ah. I see the problem. I didn’t think you were that obtuse; you’ve completely missed the point, I’m afraid. I’m not arguing that at all.

    The proposition that I’m arguing is: “I can make a good case for an objective morality without God.” Miller does exactly and expressly that.

    Now – and here’s the fun part – you assert that the assumptions necessary for that lead inexorably to God. But ‘assert’ the sum total of what you have done here. You have not developed an actual argument or anything in this discussion. I’m not disavowing the article, I’m disavowing your assertions about the article. So, yeah, I don’t feel the need to develop a counterargument, when no argument’s been presented in the first place.

  82. BillT

    In fact Ray, I believe it’s three separate volitional choices to get Eudaimonistic moral theory as a basis for “objective” morality.

    First, the one the philosophers come to. This could change. They could decide they are wrong.

    Second, the one a person comes to in agreeing with the above philosophers.

    Third, the choice to use Eudaimonistic moral theory as a basis for acts or actions.

    All choices. All volitional. The entire enterprise is built on volitional agreements that anyone at any time can choose to agree or disagree with. And you think the ” ” around “objective” aren’t deserved.

  83. SteveK

    Ray,

    “Darwinism” says that the boundaries between species are fuzzy, not that there’s no such thing as species.

    Okay, fine. I think the rest of my objection is still in play. As I see it, you still need an objective human essence to make sense of natural morality without God.

    Without it, how do you know which individuals of a species are defective/broken instances of a species (further from their ultimate natural end) and which are more true instances of a species (closer to their ultimate natural end)?

    How would you answer?

  84. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray @85: I think you’re having trouble distinguishing between a case for objective morality without God, and a case for objective morality without belief in God. Miller’s case for objective morality requires something far more substantial of human nature than any non-theistic system I’ve ever seen. Theism provides an explanation for human nature, and if theism is true, there can be such a thing as recognizable human nature whether one believes in God or not. The non-theistic systems that I’m aware of just can’t carry that weight.

    Simply stated, if humans are the current contingent dot on some evolutionary timeline, then we have no essence, no essential nature. We’re today’s version. Yesterday’s was different, tomorrow’s will be too. What satisfied us in the prior version was probably much different, and what will satisfy is tomorrow probably will be too. On this vision of humanity there is no “humanity,” only the current population of organisms we collectively call human. What satisfies us is not objective, it’s just what satisfies this current population for the moment.

    Evolutionary thinking is nicely consistent with philosophical nominalism, which is to say that it has little place for essences or natures.

    And I don’t think you’ve grappled with that yet.

  85. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    I didn’t think you were that obtuse; you’ve completely missed the point, I’m afraid. I’m not arguing that at all.

    The proposition that I’m arguing is: “I can make a good case for an objective morality without God.” Miller does exactly and expressly that.

    edit: I have deleted some harsh invectives in respect to Tom Gilson, but man you surely did deserve them.

    So let us take stock of where we are currently:

    (1) The assumptions Miller is using imply the existence of God. I never disputed that we can bracket off the question of whether God exists in discussing moral matters (*). And the reason I never disputed is actually quite simple: like Miller, I also favor Aristotelian-Thomism and the natural law approach to morality. So we can, as he says it, simply take human nature as a given and work out from there.

    (*) second edit: with the provisos Miller himself makes.

    (2) Not only that, you explicitly disavow the assumptions Miller is using. I singled out two: real essentialism about human nature and objective, immanent teleology. So no, you *CANNOT* invoke Miller’s case to support your own. Period. This is an elementary logical point, but as by now amply demonstrated, elementary logic is something you struggle with.

    (3) It is quite clear. e.g. because of (1) and (2), that it does not change one *FREAKING IOTA* in my argument changing “I can make a good case for an objective morality” to “I can make a good case for an objective morality without God.” And once again, it is no use invoking Miller because like any good Aristotelian-Thomist, he explicitly denies the latter — in the sense of (1), in the sense that *ultimately*, morality is rooted in God, and in the various senses he explicates in the article.

    So to repeat myself, until you make your case, I have absolutely no need to substantiate my (b), although StevenK, which has far more patience than me, has already hinted at how the argument goes.

  86. Shane Fletcher

    #67

    Hi Melissa,

    “Interesting that the militant extreme of the Tamils are not Hindus but secular and the leadership atheist.”

    What would be interesting is if atheism was the driving force behind their actions. But they are fighting to secede.

    “All people are capable of horrendous evil, none of them need a belief in the supernatural to commit crimes.”

    Well I guess it depends on your definition of horrendous evil, but I would say not all people are capable of taking a knife to their own child.

    “125 million women and girls alive today have had part or all of their external genitalia removed because of the religious beliefs of their parents (father). ”

    Cheers
    Shane

  87. Shane Fletcher

    #69

    Hi bigbird,

    “Rude? Ted Bundy was behaving rudely when he murdered all those women??”

    Well you asked a silly question so I thought it required a silly answer. Interrupting someone that is talking is rude. Interrupting someone that is living seems to me to be the height of rudeness.

    “Do you think that Weinberg was referring to people who lie in that quote? The context is actually slavery.”

    So you would say anyone who owned a slave was evil? Essentially every American during it’s founding and formative years was evil?

    “Did you know that the World Health Organization recommends circumcision in areas where HIV is prevelant?”

    I’m sure they think condom use is a more effective protection. what percentage of circumcised males are in HIV prevalent areas? Do you think adults should be able to tattoo their infants, pierce their ears or any other body part for that matter or inflict elective plastic surgery on them?

    Cheers
    Shane

  88. Shane Fletcher

    #75

    Hi BillT

    “Nobody said “Bundy decided to kill because he became an atheist.” Bundy makes it abundantly clear that he felt that since there was no God no act “…can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong”. and it was permissible for him not to have to “…respect the rights of others.” Those are his words. They’re not hard to understand.”

    “People that believe they have a supernatural edict pertaining to what is right and wrong are capable of all kinds of evil.”

    I didn’t think my words were hard to understand either. Did atheism make Ted Bundy kill? In the same way Christian fundamentalism makes the Westboro Baptist Church picket soldiers funerals, Judaism makes parents take a knife to their own child and Islamic fundamentalist stone girls that walk in public unaccompanied and fly planes into the World Trade Centre?

    “You can’t be bothered to read reply #12 of the post I linked which answered your question specifically yet at the same time you think Dostoyevsky’s forewarning is “not one that has been born out.” even though proof of that was there for you to see. Seems convenient.”

    I am busy living my life whilst trying to read Feser on philosophy and some serious posts from Tom with a lot of material in it regarding Faith. It’s anything but convenient. Though I t’s interesting that you would define a post on blog as “proof”.

    Cheers
    Shane

  89. Shane Fletcher

    #70

    Hi G.

    “It’s not that we believe God doesn’t exist. It’s that we don’t believe God exists.”

    Of all the asinine irrationalities that Gnu atheists have invented, this has got to be the most comical one.”

    You will have to explain the comedy, please. I could do with a laugh.

    You don’t see a difference between “believing in an absence” and “not believing in a presence”?

    Cheers
    Shane

  90. BillT

    “People that believe they have a supernatural edict pertaining to what is right and wrong are capable of all kinds of evil.”

    Which, of course, misses the point by exactly 180 degrees. Bundy felt no supernatural edict and said so. He felt just the opposite. He felt there was nothing to this world but his desire to satisfy his needs and he saw no reason not to do so. It really wasn’t that hard to see that unless you didn’t want to.

    And like I sad before, no one claimed atheism made Ted Bundy kill. If you are going to try to change the subject at least you could do better than just repeat yourself after you’ve been corrected. BTW, your examples of what religion supposedly makes people do is a clumsy and laughable list of red herrings.

    You asked a question. I showed you where to find an answer. You don’t have the time to read it. That’s your choice. Ignorance is bliss as they say.

  91. G. Rodrigues

    @Shane Fletcher:

    You will have to explain the comedy, please. I could do with a laugh.

    There can be no laugh if the joke has to be explained.

  92. bigbird

    Well you asked a silly question so I thought it required a silly answer. Interrupting someone that is talking is rude. Interrupting someone that is living seems to me to be the height of rudeness.

    “Why was he wrong to do so when he got pleasure from it and it was because his brain was wired differently?”

    To you this is a silly question? Asking why it is wrong? It’s an important moral question, and I asked it because I wanted to hear your answer.

    So you would say anyone who owned a slave was evil? Essentially every American during it’s founding and formative years was evil?

    Well, I’m going off Weinberg’s quote here re “evil”. From a Christian point of view, we are all evil and inclined to violate God’s laws, which is why we need redeeming.

    But I think in Weinberg’s quote, he is referring to people who do particularly bad things as “evil”. So I’ll use his terminology.

    The American system of slavery was evil. Not everyone who participated in it was evil, as there were some who treated their slaves humanely and even freed them. Those who did not treat their slaves as human beings were evil. I don’t know the proportions that did so.

    Do you think adults should be able to tattoo their infants, pierce their ears or any other body part for that matter or inflict elective plastic surgery on them?

    I think parents should be allowed to circumcise their sons if they think it is beneficial to their health, or if culturally it is an acceptable practice and is not harmful to their health (which is what the WHO says).

    I don’t think FGM is acceptable in any circumstance, as it seems clearly harmful. Again, the WHO states this to be the case.

    I’m not bothered about tattoos or ear piercings if that is an important part of someone’s culture, although it is not something I would inflict on my child (but of course these are not culturally important to me either).

  93. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    I believe it’s three separate volitional choices to get Eudaimonistic moral theory as a basis for “objective” morality.

    There are people who make the volitional choice to believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old and the geologic column was formed in Noah’s Flood. Does that mean that no objective case can be made that they are wrong?

    You’re confusing whether someone accepts an argument with whether the argument is actually valid. You can choose to reject an argument but that doesn’t mean the argument is actually wrong. (Don’t worry, G. Rodrigues, your turn’s coming.)

    SteveK –

    As I see it, you still need an objective human essence to make sense of natural morality without God.

    Tom Gilson –

    if humans are the current contingent dot on some evolutionary timeline, then we have no essence, no essential nature.

    Both of you are making the same mistake. The fact that the descendants of humans or the ancestors of humans were different doesn’t change what humans are now. Evolution happens, yes – but unlike the comic books, it doesn’t happen on the level of individuals and it doesn’t happen in one generation. Humans have been humans, so far as we can tell, for at least two hundred thousand years. It’s like you’re saying, “In a hundred million years or so Antarctica will have moved north from the south pole, so how can you say we shouldn’t plant crops now?”

    And there’s another problem. I’m okay with a morality that only applies to the general class of sapient, relatively hairless, fully bipedal, tailless, forward-facing-eyes, grasping-paws, live-young-bearing hair-possessing milk-giving amniote-possessing tetrapodal jawed vertebrate notochord-possessing multicellular non-chloroplast mitochondrial eukaryotes. That covers all of humanity and anything humanity might develop into for at least the next half a million years or so.

    When tackling viruses, epidemiologists have to worry about the cloud of variants. Most viruses have lots of alternate forms and variations on their constituent proteins. Targeting the average, the ‘center of gravity’ of the cloud, frequently won’t work. You have to target your treatments and vaccines at a whole class of viruses. And yet… that can be done. And the traits we can look at and measure are not “subjective”.

    In short: you don’t have to identify a unique ‘essence’ to intelligently deal with many things in the real world. Tackling the traits of the general class a population belongs to is sufficient, and not subjective.

  94. Ray Ingles

    (Tom – Note, BTW, that the possibility of either “morality without God” or “morality without belief in God” is sufficient to contradict Random99’s comment #17, which is what I was saying in the first place. And according to Miller, that’s sufficient to say “why murder, adultery, and theft are bad and why honesty, moderation, and courage are good”. )

  95. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I had no idea #85 had anything to do with #17. I thought you were making some claim that you could refer to Miller as supporting your position. Imagine my getting that wrong.

  96. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray,

    Both of you are making the same mistake. The fact that the descendants of humans or the ancestors of humans were different doesn’t change what humans are now. Evolution happens, yes – but unlike the comic books, it doesn’t happen on the level of individuals and it doesn’t happen in one generation. Humans have been humans, so far as we can tell, for at least two hundred thousand years. It’s like you’re saying, “In a hundred million years or so Antarctica will have moved north from the south pole, so how can you say we shouldn’t plant crops now?”

    Wrong.

    The fact that we are dots along a continuum is completely inconsistent with the theory that there is an essential human nature. Your reliance on Miller is a reliance on the underlying substance of his argument, which includes the fact that there is an essential human nature. You cannot simultaneously put forth his argument and posit that today’s human population is a dot on an ever moving timeline, from something else before to something else after.

    Give it up, Ray: you’re employing theistic presuppositions to try to show that theistic presuppositions are false. If it were a reductio argument you could do that, but the reductio is on you.

  97. SteveK

    Both of you are making the same mistake. The fact that the descendants of humans or the ancestors of humans were different doesn’t change what humans are now.

    You aren’t dealing with the question of objective human essence, Ray. In what form does this essence exist, because as far as I know there are no perfectly formed human beings living today, or ever?

    So with regard to morality without God, you are using an image of our ultimate natural end to serve as your moral compass, yet you have no way of knowing what that end actually is. Your moral compass has no objective markings on it.

  98. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You say,

    When tackling viruses, epidemiologists have to worry about the cloud of variants. Most viruses have lots of alternate forms and variations on their constituent proteins. Targeting the average, the ‘center of gravity’ of the cloud, frequently won’t work. You have to target your treatments and vaccines at a whole class of viruses. And yet… that can be done. And the traits we can look at and measure are not “subjective”.

    That’s true. That’s fine. It’s absolutely the case. But Miller didn’t use averages and variances and standard deviations as the basis of his argument. He used essential human nature, in the Aristotelian-Thomistic sense. He used the idea that there is something that is essentially (metaphysically, even) what humans are and are for. That’s the basis of his argument.

    Think of his conclusions as the head of a glass of beer, and his premises as the drink beneath. You’re trying to offer us his conclusions, the head, while simultaneously draining out the beer from below and substituting root beer in its place. Sure, root beer foams up into a head, too, but it’s not a head of beer. It’s something else.

    Similarly, you too can draw conclusions all you want, but if they’re beer conclusions, don’t try to fool us into thinking they bubbled up from root beer. If you’re pouring root beer, you get root beer on top. If you’re pouring naturalism you don’t get Miller’s objective morality on top.

  99. Post
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  100. SteveK

    I like beer, Tom, but I think Ray will appreciate the simplicity of the moral compass analogy. I wouldn’t say that Ray is pretending to know where ‘true north’ is. I would say he only knows it because he is using a Christian compass – and then he is attempting to transfer that knowledge onto his own compass. His compass has no distinguishing mark so it’s impossible.

    In the case of Miller, Ray is taking Miller’s moral compass, tears it apart so that he can take only the dial face, and then puts it into his own naturalistic moral compass. He then throws Miller’s broken compass in the trash (disavowing the foundational principles) and attempts to claim victory, “See, morality without God”.

  101. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    I had no idea #85 had anything to do with #17.

    You never read comment #29? That’s… surprising, I admit.

    The fact that we are dots along a continuum is completely inconsistent with the theory that there is an essential human nature.

    The fact that the pixels on a computer screen can display a discrete sample of the color spectrum is completely inconsistent with the idea that they can display the color red. Indeed, light itself is a continuum of wavelengths – that’s completely inconsistent with the idea that there’s a color ‘red’ at all!

    SteveK –

    You aren’t dealing with the question of objective human essence, Ray.

    When writing traffic laws, do lawmakers have to specifically reference the Platonic Essence of ‘motor vehicle’? (How many wheels does that have, BTW?) Or do they address the general class of ‘vehicles suitable for travelling on roads’, which includes bicycles, semis, RVs, subcompacts, sports cars, SUVs, motorcycles, buses, pickups, sedans, coupes, tractors, minivans, etc. etc. etc.?

    When making laws about ‘assault with a deadly weapon’, what does the essence of ‘weapon’ look like? What’s the clip size, how many blades, how much does it weigh? Or is there a whole fuzzy cloud of things with widely varying traits that nevertheless can be recognized as being ‘weapons’?

    (Is the “objective human essence” male, female, both, or neither? Does the answer to that question affect whether we can call a particular sapient, relatively-hairless fully-bipedal tailless forward-facing-eyes grasping-paws live-young-bearing hair-possessing milk-giving amniote-possessing tetrapodal jawed vertebrate notochord-possessing multicellular non-chloroplast mitochondrial eukaryote human?)

  102. SteveK

    Ray,
    We are talking about *natural* objects (humans), not man-made objects. If you cannot see why that makes a huge difference when it comes to *natural* morality without God, you’re in worse shape than I thought.

  103. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    The fact that the pixels on a computer screen can display a discrete sample of the color spectrum is completely inconsistent with the idea that they can display the color red. Indeed, light itself is a continuum of wavelengths – that’s completely inconsistent with the idea that there’s a color ‘red’ at all!

    (G. Rodrigues, do you want a turn at that, or shall I?)

    Ray, that was a masterstroke on your part. You’ve drawn an analogy that undermines your own position and presented it as if it supported it. What is “red,” on your way of looking at the world? Haven’t you just denied that there is such a thing, starting from your own view of reality?

    And just what is the analogy that you’re drawing to my picture of the current human population as today’s contingent dot on an ever-changing timeline? Is the pixel “human nature”? I have trouble seeing how there’s any analogy there. Is it a single human, and is the collection of pixels analogous to the population? Then how does your analogy have any bearing on an essential human nature?

    I could go on, but rather than beat up on your analogy too much, I’m just going to say that if you can’t answer those questions, you’d be wiser just to say, “Okay, let me drop that one–it didn’t work.” I’d be glad to let it go at that. I’ve written failed analogies often enough.

  104. SteveK

    Ray,
    Further to #106, on what basis can you say that any natural object – human or otherwise – is less than objectively perfect? That’s what you are saying when you point to a human and say they exist in a state that is something less than the perfect human (immoral). You have no idea what the ultimate natural end is – the human essence – yet you are referring to it all the time. Where do you get this knowledge when it can only come from nature – which is without purpose?

    (G. Rodrigues – I feel like I’m jumbling my A-T terms so feel free to set me straight on that. I think my overall point remains generally accurate, but my terminology might be wrong. Thanks.)

  105. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    This is detour from the main topic, so I have no wish to continue down this line, but this in particular caught my attention.

    When writing traffic laws, do lawmakers have to specifically reference the Platonic Essence of ‘motor vehicle’? (How many wheels does that have, BTW?) Or do they address the general class of ‘vehicles suitable for travelling on roads’, which includes bicycles, semis, RVs, subcompacts, sports cars, SUVs, motorcycles, buses, pickups, sedans, coupes, tractors, minivans, etc. etc. etc.?

    Besides what SteveK (and *not* StevenK as I mistakenly wrote in my previous comment — sorry for that) and Tom said, I have to ask you in all honesty, do you read aloud what you write? Because you should.

    So you talk about “the general class of” such and such. Call them F’s and use the same letter F(x) for the predicate “x is F”. Then you form the set (using set comprehension notation in first order logic):

    C = {x: F(x)}

    We can ask in virtue of what is x, any x, in the class C? If you say because it has the property of being F, then you concede the point to the realist. If you say because “x is F”, then this is uninformative and circular. On the other hand, you can assert that class membership is a primitive, unanalyzable relation, just as by parity the realist asserts that the instantiation relation is primitive. But in order to assert that x is in C, we must be given the class C and scan it in order to see that x is in it; but this is false to the facts for in order to assert that x is in C we only have to check x and not anything external to it. If you want to construe membership in C as equivalent to assert that “x is F” then of course, it suffices to assert F(x) but this concedes the point to the realist that class membership is not primitive. In a nutshell, you have smuggled the universal F by the back door to account for predication and form the class C. Do you want me to continue to lambast class nominalism? I can do it alright. Better yet, I advise you to read first,

    David Armstrong, “Universals and Scientific Realism” vol. I

    David Armstrong is a moderate realist and does as thorough a job as we can expect of demolishing nominalism and extreme realism. He is also a naturalist and an atheist, so no fear of getting the cooties from him. In volume II, he makes his positive case for his version of moderate realism; since he is a naturalist, he squares both by — criminally simplifying things — deny that universals are abstract and the attending axiom of localization. In

    J. P. Moreland, “Universals”

    You can see a critique of Armstrong’s version of moderate realism, in my view decisive, but I will let you be the judge of that. Or just open any decent book of metaphysics:

    E. Lowe, “A Survey of Metaphysics”
    M. Loux, “Metaphysics, a Contemporary Introduction”

    Lowe, recently passed away, is one of the great metaphysicans of the second part of the 20th century. Both are in the neo-Aristotelian camp, more Lowe than Loux, but they are fair-minded.

    Note: some of this material may be tough-going and not for the faint of heart; since I am not a very good judge of that, I will just leave it be.

  106. SteveK

    I’m a beginner, so right now Feser’s book is my companion. I quote from it below in the hope that Ray will pick up on the foundational principles and the terminology.

    Philosophers in the classical (as opposed to modern) tradition, such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, tend to think of goodness in terms of conformity to the ideal represented by a thing’s nature or essence. To take the triangle example again, it is natural to describe the well-drawn triangle as not merely a true triangle, but also as a good triangle, and the poorly drawn triangle as a bad one. “Good” or “bad” are to be understood here in the sense in which we describe something as a good or bad specimen or example of a type of thing; and as this makes evident, the terms are therefore being used in a sense that is broader than (though as we shall see, it also encompasses) the moral sense of “good” and “bad.” As with true, then, something is good to the extent that it exists as, or has being as, an instance of its kind. As Aquinas says, “everything is perfect so far as it is actual. Therefore it is clear that a thing is perfect so far as it exists; for it is existence that makes all things actual” (ST I.5.1). Now it is also true that “the essence of goodness consists in this, that it is in some way desirable”; but “a thing is desirable only in so far as it is perfect,” and thus to the extent that it is actual or exists (ST I.5.1). “Hence it is clear that goodness and being are the same really. But goodness presents the aspect of desirableness, which being does not present” (ST I.5.1).

    This last part of the argument is liable to be badly misunderstood if it is not kept in mind that by “desirable” Aquinas does not mean that which conforms to some desire we happen contingently to have, nor even, necessarily, anything desired in a conscious way. Here as elsewhere, it is the notion of the final cause – the end or goal towards which a thing is directed by nature – that is key (ST I.5.4). As we have seen, a thing’s final cause, and thus that which it “desires” (in the relevant sense), might be something of which it is totally unconscious, as in the case of inanimate natural objects and processes; in creatures with intellects, such as ourselves, it might even be something we consciously (if irrationally) try to avoid realizing. But since the realization of a thing’s good is what it is by its nature directed towards as its final cause, we see that Aquinas’s dictum (borrowed from Aristotle) that “goodness is that which all things desire” (ST I.5.4) is, when properly understood, not a dubious piece of armchair psychology, but rather (given his basic ontological commitments) a necessary truth of metaphysics.

    Feser, Edward; Edward Feser (2009-09-01). Aquinas (Beginner’s Guides)

  107. Shane Fletcher

    #94

    Hi BillT,

    “Which, of course, misses the point by exactly 180 degrees.”

    Umm …. it was my point. Why am I the one that is missing it? I’m trying to show that Ted Bundy is not a good refutation of the point I am making.

    “BTW, your examples of what religion supposedly makes people do is a clumsy and laughable list of red herrings.”

    So here’s where you can refute my point that religion makes good people do bad things.

    Cheers
    Shane

  108. Shane Fletcher

    #96

    Hi bigbird,

    ““Why was he wrong to do so when he got pleasure from it and it was because his brain was wired differently?”

    To you this is a silly question? Asking why it is wrong? It’s an important moral question, and I asked it because I wanted to hear your answer.”

    It’s a silly question because you don’t disagree with me. Arguing about the reasons we agree on something seems like a waste of time. You think the reasons come from God and I don’t.

    But in the interest of moving the conversation forward, I’ve said in the past that I believe people should be free to live how they choose as long as it doesn’t impinge on the freedom of others.

    “The American system of slavery was evil. Not everyone who participated in it was evil, as there were some who treated their slaves humanely and even freed them. Those who did not treat their slaves as human beings were evil.”

    I would suggest that be definition none of the slaves were treated as human beings. They were property. And therefore anyone who participated in it was doing evil. Was there a law that said, “Everyone must own slaves.”? People choose to buy people which I would suggest is willing participating in the system of slavery, which you agree was evil. So we area back to were all slave owners evil, or they were good people doing evil?

    “I’m not bothered about tattoos or ear piercings if that is an important part of someone’s culture, although it is not something I would inflict on my child (but of course these are not culturally important to me either).”

    Your use of the word inflict highlights my problem with it. It impinges on the freedom of the child to not be circumcised, tattooed or pierced.

    Cheers
    Shane

  109. BillT

    Shane,

    I will be hard pressed to find a irreligious or atheistic church, or an individual that has done some evil to a fellow human being for the atheistic ideology.

    You then claimed Bundy did the things he did, and I quote, because “People that believe they have a supernatural edict pertaining to what is right and wrong are capable of all kinds of evil.” That (a supernatural edict) is exactly the opposite of his motivation. He didn’t believe in the supernatural. Bundy acted out of his atheism. It used it to free himself from any moral constraints. (But no one said his atheism made him kill. Those are different things.) And Stalin and Mao used their atheism even more directly as an stated element of their political philosophy.

    (BTW, if you think you’re making some other point you’re making it in a way that’s completely unintelligible.)

    As to your other questions the WBC aren’t Christian Fundamentalists or Christians or even a church of any kind. Your point on circumcision is based on your very personal value judgment on circumcision which I’d rather not comment on and has nothing to do with Judaism in any way. I’m a Christian and don’t defend Islam.

  110. BillT

    Shane,

    To be fair though, there is a basic problem that is making our interactions more difficult. You said “So here’s where you can refute my point that religion makes good people do bad things.” The problem here is that there are no “good people.” I’m not a good person, your not a good person, Gandhi wasn’t a good person. We’re all broken people. Broken by sin and anything but good. We are at odds over this understanding and it makes these types of conversation difficult because we come at the issue from opposite understandings.

  111. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT

    I think the word that is leading to the confusion is “for” in “… for the atheistic ideology”. Ted Bundy didn’t kill for atheism in the way the religious do things for their religion. Mao and Stalin are not recognised for the appalling things they did in the name of atheism, but because of their political beliefs and a desire for power (having done not much more the fine that thread a cursory glance, I admit).

    As you’ve said being an atheist doesn’t lead you to do bad things. There might even be case to be made that people who want to do bad things are more easily led to a conclusion that there is no God to avoid the consequences. Either way I’m sure we both agree that religious and irreligious can do heinous acts. But the point I was making (perhaps not as succinctly as I could have) is that there is no atheistic motivation to harm another human being, physically, socially or mentally, in the same way various religions do.

    Cheers
    Shane

  112. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT,

    “To be fair though, there is a basic problem that is making our interactions more difficult. You said “So here’s where you can refute my point that religion makes good people do bad things.” The problem here is that there are no “good people.” I’m not a good person, your not a good person, Gandhi wasn’t a good person. We’re all broken people. Broken by sin and anything but good. We are at odds over this understanding and it makes these types of conversation difficult because we come at the issue from opposite understandings.”

    I was replying as you wrote this, so I hope my response has cleared things up a bit.

    I agree that Good and Bad are simple terms we attach to the actions of complex people. When I was a Christian I firmly believed that we were all equal in the eyes of God, and had no problems equating Hitler with myself. Now I believe that any action that compromises the freedom of another human being is wrong. It’s hard to quantify right and wrong actions to good and bad people in that generally people have the capacity to do both.

    Cheers
    Shane

  113. BillT

    Shane,

    Ok, but you’re wrong about this “Mao and Stalin are not recognized for the appalling things they did in the name of atheism…” Actually, they are. In any real sense, atheism was central to their political philosophy and they weren’t afraid to say so. If you’d look at the reply post #12 I reference above (it might take you 3 minutes) you’d see that. It’s different with a guy like Bundy but the reality there is as I said “Bundy acted out of his atheism. It used it to free himself from any moral constraints.” And he wasn’t shy about saying that either.

  114. Post
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  115. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    This is worded somewhat awkwardly, by the way:

    Mao and Stalin are not recognised for the appalling things they did in the name of atheism, but because of their political beliefs and a desire for power (having done not much more the fine that thread a cursory glance, I admit).

    The meaning is unclear. I think you might have meant (with my alterations in italics):

    Mao and Stalin are not recognised for doing the appalling things they did in on account of their atheism, but for doing them in service of their political beliefs and a desire for power (having done not much more the fine that thread a cursory glance, I admit).

    If that were your point, however, it would be false. They are recognized quite definitely for doing what they did it on account of their atheism, and for the advancement of atheism, besides the other reasons you affirmed.

    (Technical footnote: I changed “in the name of atheism” to “on account of their atheism,” because I don’t think it’s clear everyone agrees that atheism has the sort of “name” implied by “in the name of.” There are certain things that just don’t fit in that construction. Compare the phrase, “in the name of oxygenation.” It really doesn’t make much sense.

    If I’m right about that, then of course some people could say these tyrants didn’t do anything in the name of atheism, because for them, “in the name of atheism” is as empty a phrase as “in the name of oxygenation.” But something can be done for oxygenation, and something can be done for the advancement of atheism; or else on account of either.

    So I altered the phrase to allow it to say something more clearly recognized as meaningful.)

  116. Bill L

    Hi everyone,

    I haven’t been following this too closely, but I just wanted to ask – can anyone cite some scholars/work that believe Stalin did what he did on account of his atheism?

    Thanks a bunch

  117. Shane Fletcher

    #117

    “Shane,

    Ok, but you’re wrong about this “Mao and Stalin are not recognized for the appalling things they did in the name of atheism…” Actually, they are. In any real sense, atheism was central to their political philosophy and they weren’t afraid to say so. If you’d look at the reply post #12 I reference above (it might take you 3 minutes) you’d see that.”

    Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church in the ’40s to help with patriotism. This is not the action of someone promoting atheism but someone manipulating the people for political reasons. An atheist doing bad things is not the same as someone doing bad things for atheism. It’s Saturday evening here, and I’m confident I’ll have some time this evening to read the other thread and post some comments. I do appreciate your patience since supplying the link.

    “It’s different with a guy like Bundy but the reality there is as I said “Bundy acted out of his atheism. It used it to free himself from any moral constraints.” And he wasn’t shy about saying that either.”

    Again, An atheist doing bad things is not the same as someone doing bad things for atheism. I guess it’s impossible to draw a conclusion really, but based on his letter do you think someone who is driven to hurt people for their own pleasure, a psychopath who doesn’t see themselves as part of a society,could become a Christian and control that urge?

    Cheers
    Shane

  118. Shane Fletcher

    #118 and #119

    Hi Tom

    “Shane, suppose you were right that atheism wasn’t central to their motivations. How would you know?”

    Well with Ted Bundy I was just going by the letter that was supplied. It could be wrong. He could be lying. Anything is possible obviously.

    I will reply again after reading that other thread in detail.

    Cheers
    Shane

  119. bigbird

    being an atheist doesn’t lead you to do bad things

    I often hear this repeated by atheists, and of course most atheists lead lives as moral as anyone else.

    However as a Christian it is an open question in my view whether someone’s atheism can in some instances be a lack of restraint that can permit someone to do things that they may not have otherwise done (had they believed in God or some kind of judgement to come). In those instances atheism would be a contributor to doing bad things.

    Naturally, the converse can also hold – some people may do things because of their religious beliefs that they may not have otherwise done, and sometimes these things are evil (which is what Weinberg seemed to be getting at).

  120. bigbird

    E. Lowe, “A Survey of Metaphysics”

    I just finished reading this text of Lowe’s, and was saddened to hear of his death as I was reading the last couple of chapters. A very lucid, informative volume.

    David Armstrong, “Universals and Scientific Realism” vol. I

    One of our (Australia’s) most well-known and accomplished philosophers. Anything of his is worth reading.

  121. G. Rodrigues

    Of course Atheism leads people to do bad things; and (possibly and incidentally, but never mind) good things: Boghossian wants to cure us all of the Christianity Virus which presumably is a Good Thing ™.

    To say otherwise is to say that Atheism has no consequences at all which is just plain stupid, for ideas, and holding on to those ideas, has consequences.

  122. Post
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  123. Shane Fletcher

    Hi G.

    “To say otherwise is to say that Atheism has no consequences at all which is just plain stupid, for ideas, and holding on to those ideas, has consequences.”

    Surely some ideas are inconsequential. What are the consequences for not believing in Santa Claus, for example?

    Cheers
    Shane

  124. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Shane, please. Please, please, please. Of course some ideas are inconsequential. Das kennt jeder Esel, as Brahms reportedly said when someone pointed out one of his melodies sounded like one of Beethoven’s.

    Some ideas are inconsequential, and some blog comments are nuisances.

    I cannot believe you consider the question of God to be on the same level as the question of Santa Claus. If you do, then you have no business being here, because this is a discussion for thinking people, not for people playing “inconsequential” games.

    On the other hand, if you recognize that the question of God is far more significant than the question of Santa Claus, then you know that your analogy just now is worth no more than a passing poke in the ribs, with which it is equally annoying.

    Either way, it’s not what we’re looking for in real dialogue here. I think you know better.

  125. Shane Fletcher

    #117

    Hi BillT,

    “Ok, but you’re wrong about this “Mao and Stalin are not recognized for the appalling things they did in the name of atheism…” Actually, they are. In any real sense, atheism was central to their political philosophy and they weren’t afraid to say so. If you’d look at the reply post #12 I reference above (it might take you 3 minutes) you’d see that.”

    I’ll start by saying it took me a lot longer than 3 minutes. I couldn’t just take that reply out of context so I read the whole thread and “fact checked” as much of it as I could to fill in some of the enormous gaps in my knowledge. The essence of your point seems to be summed up with the intertwining of atheism and communism as in …

    “The World has never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized and tenaciously malevolent as that preached by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin and at the heart of their psychology, HATRED OF GOD is the principle driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. To achieve its diabolical ends, Communism needs to control a population devoid of religious and national feeling, and this entails a destruction of faith and nationhood. Communists proclaim both of these objectives openly, and just as openly put them into practice.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

    I’m happy to admit I was wrong there.

    Cheers
    Shane

  126. Shane Fletcher

    #129

    Hi Tom,

    With all due respect, how are G’s comments to me:

    ““It’s not that we believe God doesn’t exist. It’s that we don’t believe God exists.”

    Of all the asinine irrationalities that Gnu atheists have invented, this has got to be the most comical one.

    &

    “@Shane Fletcher:

    You will have to explain the comedy, please. I could do with a laugh.

    There can be no laugh if the joke has to be explained.

    … any less a “poke in the ribs”, a nuisance or inconsequential? I am trying to get an answer to the question I posed earlier

    “You don’t see a difference between “believing in an absence” and “not believing in a presence”?”

    and this seemed to be a good segue way back into it. No doubt G is a long time member who enjoys the leeway that brings, and you’ve probably discussed this before, but all I would need is a link to that topic if you were bored with the subject.

    Cheers
    Shane

  127. Bill L

    Shane Fletcher,

    Thank you for the link, but I’m afraid it really did not answer my question. I want to know if there are any serious scholars who believe that Stalin did what he did because of atheism. I see your quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn but I honestly don’t know enough about him to know if he was driven more by agenda (it seems like he had good reason on that account – I don’t blame him) or by historical accuracy. Perhaps I should read more about the history of communism.

    I am also wondering if anyone here (especially Tom) really believes that Ted Bundy did what he did because of his atheism… that is, doesn’t it seem that psychopaths will justify their actions any way they can (even if they are not aware that they are deceiving themselves)? Of course another way to ask this is then how do we account for the God-believing psychopaths?

  128. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L.

    For a sample start here then read Daniel Peris’ Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless. Or Pospielovsky’s “A History of Soviet Atheism in Theory, and Practice, and the Believer, vol 1: A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Anti-Religious Policies”. Or…

    The influence of Atheism on the official policies of Soviet Russia’s regime is undeniable and amply documented in thousands — literally — of documents. Solzhenytzin’s book, or actually books but sticking to the “The Gulag Archipelago” is enough, is just one example, a particularly poignant one, and of considerable literary merit. Was it the only motivating factor? Of course not. Was it an important one? Yes.

  129. BillT

    Again, An atheist doing bad things is not the same as someone doing bad things for atheism.

    And again you pull out this red herring that I’ve addressed multiple times. Like I said before ” “Bundy acted out of his atheism. It used it to free himself from any moral constraints.” He stated this directly in a number of ways in his original quote. Why do you keep trying to cast this in a way that was never stated.

  130. G. Rodrigues

    @Shane Fletcher:

    No doubt G is a long time member who enjoys the leeway that brings, and you’ve probably discussed this before, but all I would need is a link to that topic if you were bored with the subject.

    Who is G? What does G stand for? Gangsta? Bustin’ a cap on ya skull?

    Anyway see this and this. In the first two comments of the latter post I give my arguments. The discussion, particularly in the first thread, escalates to peaks of completely surreal inanity. Then see Against Terminological Mischief: ‘Negative Atheism’ and ‘Negative Nominalism’.

  131. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Shane, I think G. Rodrigues gets edgy, and even some what over the line of discourtesy at times. Especially once yesterday. I gave some thought to whether I should delete a post he invited me to yank if it was over the line, and then frankly I forgot to finish thinking it through. Probably a mistake on my part.

    I didn’t complain about you being discourteous, though. I complained about you being annoyingly thoughtless. It disrupts conversation, and it’s not helpful.

  132. G. Rodrigues

    @Tom Gilson and Shane Fletcher:

    Shane, I think G. Rodrigues gets edgy, and even some what over the line of discourtesy at times.

    My apologies to both for the edgyness and discourteousness. Should dedicate myself to prayer instead of drinking coffee by the mug and at getting edgy. Sigh.

  133. Bill L

    G. Rodrigues,

    Thank you for the links. That is indeed very disturbing reading about the League of Militant Atheists. I hope I can get to the books at some time.

    But here is what I don’t seem to be getting… The connection between atheism, communism and genocide. It seems that the WBC believes it is justified in persecuting what they see as secular Americans (from what I understand). They even point to passages in the Bible that seem to support their views. Whether they are right or wrong is another matter. But I think most intelligent believers would say that they are actually not justified in their actions and that they are really only doing what they are doing for other reasons, while they seek rationalization through religion.

    So it seems that it is probably that communists did not take something in atheism and follow it logical progression or directives. They simply chose to force their will and agenda on others in a brutal manner. But what in atheism says this should be done? Even is one decides that atheism should spread, he could decide that this should happen through education and conversation, or he could decide this should spread through murdering one’s opponents. But if the philosophy/belief (or lack there of) does not state how this is should take place, then isn’t one simply implementing one’s own will? Is there any necessary teaching/doctrine/belief in atheism that says it must forcibly spread?

    If one kills a suspected witch and says he did so because his holy book says he should kill witches, then that person could be said to be performing his actions because of his religion. So it seems that if someone is claiming that Stalin did what he did because of his atheism, then atheism itself should have some kind of directive stating these actions should have been performed. If it did not, then Stalin’s decisions to perform his actions must have come from something else.

    Maybe I have missed something. Maybe I need to read more on the philosophy of communism.

    This seems to have some similarities with Ted Bundy. He did justify his actions through the lens of atheism. But Karamazov was wrong – many other things must be absent for everything to be permitted such as empathy, compassion, and fear. It seems much more probably that Bundy did what he did because he was a psychopath, not because he had a revelation about the lack of God. Even if he did have that revelation, there was clearly something more to it since most atheists do not behave this way, and since there are plenty of psychopathic God believers.

  134. Bill L

    If my last post was not clear, another way I could have asked that is to say do these authors believe atheism drove Stalin to his actions, or are they saying Stalin claimed his actions were driven by atheism?

    By way of analogy, Charles Manson and his followers claimed they were following directives and prophecy from the Bible and The Beatles White Album, but no rational person seriously believes these directives and prophecy were there.

    Tom, I know you are busy, but since you are (I think) a psychologist, do you really believe Bundy did what he did because of atheism or was it because he was a psychopath that found justification in atheism?

  135. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I’ve never studied Bundy. This is what I know about human nature in general: we’re flawed. We’re self-oriented in a big way. Atheism has nothing it to correct that. That’s true if one is a philosophical-materialist atheist or an atheism-is-not-a-belief atheist. There’s nothing in atheism to guide behavior or to correct our self-centeredness.

    The problem, in my view, is not atheism, it’s human nature. Christianity offers a real solution. Atheism leaves human nature bare, exposed, unguided, uncorrected.

    I recognize there’s a variant of atheism called humanism, which claims to have a corrective principle in it. But the question wasn’t about humanism, it was about atheism.

  136. Bill L

    The problem, in my view, is not atheism, it’s human nature. Christianity offers a real solution. Atheism leaves human nature bare, exposed, unguided, uncorrected.

    It’s a good point that atheism does not guide behavior. I do agree that an atheist must go elsewhere (humanism being one example). But if Christianity did offer a real solution then it seems that we wouldn’t have Christian psychopaths, yet we do. So it seems that in the case of the psychopath, there is a lot more to it then laying out a rationale for correcting self-centeredness.

  137. Post
    Author
  138. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Besides that, there’s a boatload of psychological, medical, and theological problems with, “But if Christianity did offer a real solution then it seems that we wouldn’t have Christian psychopaths, yet we do.”

    I don’t think you’d really want to try to defend that. It’s both wrong and (as already noted) irrelevant.

  139. Bill L

    Actually Tom, we agree that it’s irrelevant. That’s why I’m surprised to see the Ted Bundy thing continuously brought up to show why Atheism is bad.

  140. Shane Fletcher

    #136

    Hi Tom,

    “I didn’t complain about you being discourteous, though. I complained about you being annoyingly thoughtless. It disrupts conversation, and it’s not helpful.”

    As I now have answers to my questions, I respectfully disagree. 🙂

    Cheers
    Shane

  141. Post
    Author
  142. Shane Fletcher

    Hi G. Rodrigues,

    “Who is G? What does G stand for? Gangsta? Bustin’ a cap on ya skull?”

    lol. No idea what it stands for, obv. I would use a title with your last name, but I don’t know your gender.

    Thanks for the links.

    Cheers
    Shane

  143. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    Your analogy of God to Santa Claus was ridiculous, disruptive, and unwelcome.

    Respectfully I did nothing of the sort. G. Rodrigues posited

    “… for ideas, and holding on to those ideas, has consequences.”

    and I wanted to know if that was meant to be totally inclusive of all ideas. As such I put forward an idea that seemed to me to have no consequences as an example. I am sorry you think it was a ridiculous question, but G. Rodrigues obviously knows far more about philosophy than I do and possibly had a point to the comment.

    Cheers
    Shane

  144. Post
    Author
  145. BillT

    That’s why I’m surprised to see the Ted Bundy thing continuously brought up to show why Atheism is bad.

    Bill,

    The quote from Bundy shows a very similar ethic as we see in the Dostoyevsky quote. We can see that absent an objective moral standard there is little that can be said to the Bundys of the world as to why they should act in any way differently than they desire to. Both Bundy and Dostoyevsky see, I think correctly, that under atheism there is no ethical restraint on their behavior. If you doubt this then all you have to do is explain why they are wrong.

  146. JAD

    Did I misunderstand the topic of this thread? Let me restate what I thought what it was. Again from the OP:

    He doesn’t believe in God, and he talked a good deal about it, but all the while it appeared to me that he was speaking outside the subject.

    In other words, atheists cannot keep to the topic even when it comes to a discussion of their own belief’s (or, disbelief’s). So the topic of this thread is the atheists ability or willingness to stay on topic. Have any of the atheists who have shown up here addressed this topic in any way? Because of the length of the thread I am asking honestly. Maybe I missed it. Ironically, it appears to me that the only way that the atheists, who have have commented here, have contributed has been to take the thread off topic.

  147. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L:

    You are going at it the wrong way. To add to what BillT said, a couple of points:

    (1) If your criteria for some world-view W to be credited for the actions A of person w is for a formal statement of W to logically imply A, then practically no world-view implies anything whatsoever — certainly *not* mass murder. Who ever advertised himself as defending mass murder? Where in the Communist Manifesto, drafted in 1848 by K. Marx and F. Engels, is it written that Gulags should be built in the vastness of Siberia to hold prisoners under the most minute justification (someone’s success at climbing up the ranks of the Party is envied by his neighbor; said neighbor snitches on him as having subversive pamphlets in his house; without due process or any regard for Justice, he is shipped off in a cattle train to some camp in Siberia — which reminds me, there is a very poignant song by a Scottish band of the 80’s called The Waterboys: Red Army Blues) to be used for slave labor in great State-sponsored constructions? Where?

    (2) You are thinking of Atheism as rational assent to a single proposition (e.g. “God or gods do not exist) standing in glorified isolation. But that is not how ideas work in the human mind in particular, and in culture at large, as they tend to cluster in groups. It is no coincidence that the majority of Atheists, from the ancient Greek Atomists to the current crop of New Atheists, hold to some form or other of materialism.

    (3) It is very significant that you said and I quote:

    He did justify his actions through the lens of atheism. But Karamazov was wrong – many other things must be absent for everything to be permitted such as empathy, compassion, and fear.

    The first thing to say is that this is simply false, or at the very least, it needs some heavy qualifications. But even if it were true, what you mentioned are feelings. Why should feelings such as empathy and compassion take the driver seat and command our actions? That seems a rather irrational stance. And why empathy and compassion and not hatred and loathing? And here we get to the heart of the matter and also to the end (thank God) of my comment; I address you to Fr. Neuhaus article Can Atheists be Good Citizens?.

  148. Bill L

    BillT,

    We can see that absent an objective moral standard there is little that can be said to the Bundys of the world as to why they should act in any way differently than they desire to. Both Bundy and Dostoyevsky see, I think correctly, that under atheism there is no ethical restraint on their behavior.

    I think we went into the idea of an objective moral standard before. Harris offers one that is as objective as something like a science of medicine – but I grant that it is not more objective than this. Shelly Kegan also offered an account in a debate with William Lane Craig. Also, an objective account may be accounted for under evolutionary psychology and game theory. I don’t mean to go into all of these again.

    The real reason I responded is because it seemed you (and others) were saying that Bundy’s actions arose as a consequence of his atheism. It seems quite plausible that the behavior of a psychopath could be mitigated by a belief in a God that would condemn his actions. But it’s all too easy to imagine what would come of one who believed God was on his side.

    But my real point is that it does not seem to be the case that atheism has a tendency to lead people to psychopathy. If it did, I think we would see a higher rate of that disease in atheists then the general population (I would love to know if anyone has any stats. on this). Again I agree that atheism does not give one an ethical restraint. Therefore given that atheists tend to behave as well as most other people would tell me that those ethical restraints arise from other sources.

    I just started a good book on this: “Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain” by Patricia S. Churchland

  149. BillT

    The real reason I responded is because it seemed you (and others) were saying that Bundy’s actions arose as a consequence of his atheism.

    Even though I refuted this directly more than once in the above replies?

    And like I sad before, no one claimed atheism made Ted Bundy kill.

    And the idea that people have put forth arguments for objective morality without God is true. The idea that people have put forth convincing arguments for objective morality without God is, in my opinion, not true.

    But my real point is that it does not seem to be the case that atheism has a tendency to lead people to psychopathy.

    As long as you discount Stalin and Mao, etc.

  150. Bill L

    BillT,

    Even though I refuted this directly more than once in the above replies?

    I’m sorry. My mistake for not reading more carefully. What was your point then for bringing up Bundy? (You don’t have to answer that… you can tell me to go back and read it more carefully if you have previously answered).

    As long as you discount Stalin and Mao, etc.

    Now you seem to be implying that their atheism caused their actions. Do you see a difference in motivation for them and Bundy? Do you think people like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro were motivated by their Christianity?

  151. Bill L

    G. Rodrigues

    1. I think we largely agree here… it is clear their motivations and justifications come from something else.

    2. I agree with you that ideas do cluster and I do not deny that the belief in a God who condemns certain actions could be a motivating factor for some people to avoid those actions, but I doubt that tendency is as strong as people think.

    3. Why do feelings play such a part? I don’t know all of the answers but it is rather significant that they do. If fear of retribution from God is at all a motivating factor for believers, then they are acting on their feelings, and I don’t see anything wrong (or irrational) about that. I think it is quite rational to avoid pain.

  152. BillT

    I’m sorry. My mistake for not reading more carefully. What was your point then for bringing up Bundy?

    I hope I explained it in my #150. (Also, #75)

    Now you seem to be implying that their atheism caused their actions.

    Atheism was a central element of the political philosophies of Stalin and Mao and informed their actions overall which lead to the greatest mass murders in history. There is both linked and pasted info to this effect on this thread. (#130)

  153. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    We are talking about *natural* objects (humans), not man-made objects.

    So? They’re all suited to purposes. Indeed, it’s specifically that suited-to-purposes that Miller’s appealing to – regardless of how the ‘suitedness’ arose, as he explicitly states.

    What is “red,” on your way of looking at the world?

    Electromagnetic radiation ranging around 630–740 nm. More complicated patterns of light can also result in human perception of red, but light in that range has an unambiguous reddish hue. There’s no one frequency that is ‘ultimate red’; 685 nm is the center of that range, but no one’s going to claim that 659 nm isn’t ‘red’. It’s a range. Sure, it has fuzzy borders, but the fact that the borders are fuzzy does not mean we there’s no hope of identify anything that’s unambiguously red. Which is the point. To wit:

    And just what is the analogy that you’re drawing to my picture of the current human population as today’s contingent dot on an ever-changing timeline?

    A pixel is an example of a light source that changes color over time. That doesn’t mean we can’t say, “this pixel is red now“. Maybe it was yellow a few seconds ago, and maybe it’ll be blue in a few seconds, and maybe in a half-second it’ll be hard to characterize, but it’s red now.

    The traits of a population can change over time; the population can even split and take on different collections of traits – which is what happens in speciation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at the members of a population now and characterize them. Even more, that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize patterns and characterize them rather precisely.

    What, exactly, is imprecise about “sapient, relatively-hairless fully-bipedal tailless, forward-facing-eyes, grasping-paws, live-young-bearing hair-possessing milk-giving amniote-possessing tetrapodal jawed vertebrate notochord-possessing multicellular non-chloroplast mitochondrial eukaryotes”? (SRHFBTFFEGPLYBHPMGAPTJVNPMNCME for short.) Sure, there’s still a lot of room in that range, just as many frequencies fit into the range ‘red’. And sure, there’s at least potential for fuzzy border cases. But some things still fit into that range unambiguously. Everyone we call human today, in fact. In fact, there have been people that solidly fit into that range for over two hundred thousand years.

    Red light – pretty much any light in the 630–740 nm range – is good for illuminating dark areas without compromising night vision. I don’t have to identify the Platonic Essence Of Red to notice that and make use of it (as is done in the military on night ops, for example). Nor do I have to identify the Platonic Essence Of Humanity to be able to state some general conclusions that apply to anything that fits into the range of SRHFBTFFEGPLYBHPMGAPTJVNPMNCME.

    An example – there once was a species that was composed of saber-toothed, qudrapedal, forward-facing-eyes, non-grasping-paws, amniote-possessing tetrapodal jawed vertebrate notochord-possessing multicellular non-chloroplast mitochondrial eukaryotes, that we call ‘saber-toothed tigers’. In fact, there were several kinds, that evolved separately at different times. They fit a ‘niche’ – hunting very large herbivores. If you want to put it in familiar terms, that was their telos. When large herbivores went extinct, so did the saber-tooths. When other large herbivores arose, some other population evolved saber teeth to hunt them.

    In your terms, the essence of ‘saber-toothed carnivore’ applied to several different, widely separated populations through the history of life on Earth. But simply based on their significant traits, no matter how they got there, we can say a lot about what was suitable ways for them to get along. The same applies to humans, which today fit a pretty precisely-defined niche too.

  154. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    We can ask in virtue of what is x, any x, in the class C? If you say because it has the property of being F, then you concede the point to the realist.

    We’ve discussed realism before, though clearly not to your satisfaction. Seems like some universals ‘exist’, in a way unlike objects like the computer I’m typing this on. Though neither do they seem to exist in the way that I’ve seen theists propose – e.g. the Thomist idea that they are ‘ideas in the mind of God’. A mathematical universal like the Mandelbrot Set would seem to ‘exist’, in the sense that it does, regardless of whether any mind conceived it or not. (“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” – Philip K. Dick)

    So the topic of this thread is the atheists ability or willingness to stay on topic.

    I didn’t really have any stake in that topic, but I responded to what Random99 said back in #27. That moved on to a conversation with SteveK, Tom, G. Rodrigues and so forth. Blame Random99 for that whole section of the discussion here.

    But that’s what gets to me about G. Rodrigues. He asserts that certain premises inevitably lead to God, but when I discuss it with him, he eventually stops answering questions about it. That seems most clearly related to the topic you want to discuss, JAD, but when I do talk about it…

  155. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Atheism was a central element of the political philosophies of Stalin and Mao and informed their actions overall which lead to the greatest mass murders in history.

    Monotheism is a central element of the philosophies that inform the actions of those who carry out the large majority of modern terrorist actions, and all of the most prominent ones, along with violent subjugation of women and brutal repression of religious freedom.

    But that doesn’t mean all monotheisms are created equal. Both Islam and Christianity are monotheistic, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same in practice. Communist atheism isn’t the whole of atheism, either.

    Neither atheism nor theism are free from the risk of dogmatic fanaticism.

  156. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    But that’s what gets to me about G. Rodrigues. He asserts that certain premises inevitably lead to God, but when I discuss it with him, he eventually stops answering questions about it.

    To BillT, #41, January 29, 2014 at 11:59 am:

    The thing is, an objective morality after the Aristotelian-Thomist function is crucially predicated on a network of interlocking metaphysical ideas, of which I single out:

    (1) Real essentialism about natures in general, and human nature in particular.

    (2) Objective, immanent teleology.

    You never heard of the Fifth Way, I gather.

    And btw, the reason why I stop discussing (at some point) is because of the crappy stunts you pull. Like you are doing now.

  157. Ray Ingles

    Okay, G. Rodrigues, just one single question:

    Where can I see an argument that a per se infinite regress is impossible that doesn’t rest on the assumption (or intuition, to be as generous as possible, though I don’t share it) that a per se infinite regress is impossible?

  158. BillT

    Communist atheism isn’t the whole of atheism, either.

    I never said Communist atheism was the whole of atheism. My point was just the opposite. That atheism was “the whole” of Communism (at least figuratively).

  159. SteveK

    Ray,
    I couldn’t even find the word “red” or “world” when searching the article by Miller so I’m not sure what to make of your statement here.

    Indeed, it’s specifically that suited-to-purposes that Miller’s appealing to – regardless of how the ‘suitedness’ arose, as he explicitly states.

    What is “red,” on your way of looking at the world?

    I did find Miller say the following:

    Miller: People who, like Kemp and me, adhere to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, and hold that human beings can rationally determine whether an action is right or wrong, must be able to explain exactly how reason determines which ends ought to be pursued and which ought to be avoided. Once we do this, the basic outline of morality is straightforward: morally right actions are the ones that reason determines are effective means to the proper end, and morally wrong actions are the ones that reason determines are in conflict with that end.

    Since you think that Miller and you are in agreement, I have three questions:

    (1) Can you explain how you came to know that humans were made for a particular natural end (final cause)?

    (2) Is it accurate to say that you currently believe that nature made humans for a particular natural end (final cause)?

    (3) If you reject the idea of final causes in nature and would rather use the term ‘suitedness’, explain how ‘suitedness’ is the same thing as Miller’s term “proper end” – especially in light of naturalistic biological evolution.

  160. Ray Ingles

    SteveK – Sorry, the “red” part should have been labeled as addressed to Tom Gilson.

    As to your questions, I’ll take them in reverse order. For (3), I’ll again let Miller have the first word: We simply take human nature as given and ask to what end it is an effective means… [W]hether something is an effective means to an end depends on the objective characteristics of the thing itself, not on whether some intelligent agent gave it those characteristics for some purpose or other. This is why an atheistic Neo-Darwinist can speak about biological structures having functions and serving ends without thereby conceding the existence of a creating God.

    For example, a screwdriver is good for turning screws, decent at opening paint cans, occasionally useful as a chisel, and no good as a hammer. But coins like dimes or quarters can sometimes be useful as screwdrivers also, even thought the U.S. Mint didn’t make the coins for that purpose.

    For (2), I don’t necessarily think that humans are suited to a singular end as such, but a limited range of ends, certainly. Even in classical ‘natural law’ conceptions, though, some variety of ends is granted – the precise ends for women and men are supposed to be different, for example.

    For (1), that’s a rather large question – note that Miller doesn’t more than sketch an outline of his version. But as an example, we are extraordinarily well-suited for cooperation with other humans; not just our capacity for language, which vastly exceeds any other species we know of, but in many other ways. See David Sloan Wilson’s “Evolution For Everyone” for many non-obvious examples of this. E.g. human eyes have a large color contrast between the sclera and the iris, so that we can tell very precisely what other humans are looking at – other animals (even higher primates) don’t key on that even when interacting with humans. We are truly social in ways that no other species on the Earth approaches except for a handful of insect species.

  161. SteveK

    A quick comment, Ray, and I’ll be back. It seems you agree with Tom’s comment in #88:

    “…humans are the current contingent dot on some evolutionary timeline, then we have no essence, no essential nature. We’re today’s version. Yesterday’s was different, tomorrow’s will be too.”

  162. SteveK

    Ray,

    For example, a screwdriver is good for turning screws, decent at opening paint cans, occasionally useful as a chisel, and no good as a hammer. But coins like dimes or quarters can sometimes be useful as screwdrivers also, even thought the U.S. Mint didn’t make the coins for that purpose.

    I’m noticing that you are connecting the objects intended purpose and judging it’s well-suitedness based on that known purpose. Tisk tisk.

    Take away that known purpose (final ends) and you have no objective basis for concluding that a screwdriver isn’t well-suited for anything and everything that it can be demonstrated to do: cut, poke, stab, scrape, chisel, lift, pry.

    Likewise, take away purpose (final ends) from human beings and they are naturally well-suited for anything and everything that they can demonstrate being used for: killing, personal gain, loving, building, creating, terrorizing, caring, designing, uplifting, raping.

    I’ll end here with three more questions for natural morality without God:

    (1) Would you agree that *some* individual humans are objectively naturally well-suited to rape, destroy and kill other humans and can demonstrate their well-suitedness of that natural ability?

    (2) Since some have this natural well-suitedness, what objective fact do your reference as the basis for saying that this is a natural human defect rather than a natural human ability?

    (3) For the majority of humans that more regularly demonstrate that they are objectively well-suited for loving, caring, nurturing, etc. what objective fact do you reference as the basis for saying they should not develop, nurture and ultimately demonstrate their ability to rape, destroy and kill?

  163. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    Where can I see an argument that a per se infinite regress is impossible that doesn’t rest on the assumption (or intuition, to be as generous as possible, though I don’t share it) that a per se infinite regress is impossible?

    (1) What does it matter if the assumptions lead to the existence of God or not, if you reject those assumptions?

    (2) What does it matter if per se infinite regresses are impossible or not, if the Fifth Way nowhere uses such an impossibility?

    (3) Are you seriously maintaining that per se explanatory regresses are a live option?

    (4) (this is more controversial) Regress to the infinite as much as you want; beyond a large ordinal if it tickles your fancy. Why do you think the proofs are halted by such a move?

    (5) (this is impishly controversial) By all means, defend the existence of actual per se infinite regresses. We already know that you are an inconsistent realist, so maybe you can offer us the Ultimate Argument in defense of realism — a rather extreme (and false, but never mind) of it, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

    These are just rhetorical questions; no need to answer them as discussion is by now officially over. I have from you all that I have ever needed: all the hedging notwithstanding, the tacit admission that you have no case.

  164. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    I’m noticing that you are connecting the objects intended purpose and judging it’s well-suitedness based on that known purpose. Tisk tisk.

    Not at all. In fact, I specifically pointed out an example of that not being the case – coins used to drive screws.

    Take away that known purpose (final ends) and you have no objective basis for concluding that a screwdriver isn’t well-suited for anything and everything that it can be demonstrated to do: cut, poke, stab, scrape, chisel, lift, pry.

    Why do we have other tools to cut (scissors, shears, knives, lasers, saws), poke (awls, drills), stab (knives, picks), scrape (putty knives, scrapers, razor blades), chisel (chisels), lift (crowbars, lifts), pry (crowbars, paint can openers), etc? Because those other tools are better suited to those jobs. I’m not a particularly good or experienced handyman, but I’ve remodeled kitchens and put in bathrooms. And I assure you, the right tool for the job makes a huge difference.

    Conversely, none of the tools I just listed above will help you out much when driving in screws, particularly when dealing with Phillips or Robertson or hex sockets.

    Would you agree that *some* individual humans are objectively naturally well-suited to rape, destroy and kill other humans and can demonstrate their well-suitedness of that natural ability?

    I do not agree. What’s possible is different from what’s suitable. That kind of thing is short-term gratifying and long-term self-defeating. It precludes the possibility of the kinds of things that make humans happiest. Let’s look at two recent examples: Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un. They did exactly what you said – and they literally cannot trust anyone at all, even their own families. Saddam couldn’t sleep if he heard anything that even remotely resembled a pistol cocking!

    Is that what you call the “good life”?

  165. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues – With you, I’m not starting with the Fifth Way. I’m starting rather more fundamentally than that, because it’s something that genuinely puzzles me. You’ve never been willing to answer questions about it, but I’m really asking real questions, not rhetorical ones.

    Are you seriously maintaining that per se explanatory regresses are a live option?

    I’m asking why they aren’t. We’ve found all kinds of counterintuitive things when we’ve looked around this universe. The argument against them seems to boil down to, “I don’t see how that could be, therefore it isn’t.” Apparently that’s bad logic when atheists use it, but fine when theists use it?

    If there’s an argument for why the chain of causality must stop, beyond “the chain of causality must stop”, I’d be very interested to see it.

  166. JAD

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that an infinite regress of contingent causes could exist. What could we conclude from that?

  167. SteveK

    Ray,

    Because those other tools are better suited to those jobs.

    In other words, suited for a purpose with a particular end/goal in mind (efficiency or speed or precision or whatever). Human beings have no purpose/goal under naturalism so there is no objective way to say they are better or worse at anything unless *you* invent a particular end/goal for them and then measure their abilities according to that goal.

    A natural human being that has no purpose has only capabilities that enable it to do certain things. Some human capabilities are faster, more efficient, slower, take more energy, etc. None of those abilities are objectively “better”.

    I do not agree. What’s possible is different from what’s suitable.

    I wouldn’t agree with my statement in (1) either for the reasons I will provide next.

    On your view, humans have no purpose, no natural end, so they are not objectively suited for A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G in particular.

    Some *individuals* seem to perform some activities more frequently, faster, with less energy expenditure, etc than others, and from that *perhaps* you might argue that they are well-suited for that function on the basis of frequency, speed, energy usage, etc.

    Go ahead and make that argument if you want because it will only serve to dismantle your primary argument about morality and “well-suitedness”. How can a human being that has a talent for raping be a defective human being? Really, at the end of the day all you can say is that humans do what they do with varying ability.

    It precludes the possibility of the kinds of things that make humans happiest.

    So? The natural end of human beings is not happiness because that goal would require a final cause. You don’t have that without God. You only have natural human abilities, and none are naturally deficient in any objective sense. This relates to my question (2) in #167 above. Will you answer that one, please?

  168. SteveK

    For additional clarification, Ray, I’ll quote the same part from Miller that you did, with bold highlight and followup comments.

    [W]hether something is an effective means to an end depends on the objective characteristics of the thing itself, not on whether some intelligent agent gave it those characteristics for some purpose or other. This is why an atheistic Neo-Darwinist can speak about biological structures having functions and serving ends without thereby conceding the existence of a creating God.

    That bold section is all you can say, and this is precisely your problem. It’s a problem because this same reasoning is also why the atheist cannot concede the existence of unnatural, defective or misapplied biological structures that function to serve natural ends.

    But you *need* this to make your case of morality without God. By what measure of ‘natural law’ are any of these natural things (structures, functions and ends) unnatural, defective or misapplied?

  169. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that an infinite regress of contingent causes could exist. What could we conclude from that?

    That the arguments for God that depend on that wouldn’t apply, for one.

    I’ve discussed before the problems humans have speculating at areas outside their experience. With all due respect to G. Rodrigues and the ability of humans to construct elaborate and rigorous mental models (a la mathematics), the record is clear that humans aren’t particularly good at figuring out which model applies to the real world.

    Not from an armchair, anyway. To nail it down requires experimentation, testing predictions, and so forth. Einstein didn’t like Quantum Mechanics, and figured out that it implied entanglement, ‘spooky action at a distance’. He assumed that was impossible, and that therefore QM must be wrong. Decades later experimental evidence showed that entanglement actually happens. Indeed, it’s being used as a tool in quantum encryption systems.

    So, yes, A-T theology is complex and rigorous and thought-out. It also rests on assumptions that humans can’t (yet?) test in the real world, so I find it suspect on that basis.

    My hunch is that it’s something we haven’t had the right insights to make sense of yet. Thousands of years ago, in the ANE, the world was considered flat, and people figured that the Earth must either have an edge or go on forever. Since it just couldn’t go on forever, it must have an edge. Later insights showed a way for the Earth to be finite but unbounded – it was spheroid. Right now, we assume causality must come to a stop or go on forever, but we can’t experiment with it. Until then, I’ll reserve judgment.

  170. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    The natural end of human beings is not happiness because that goal would require a final cause.

    Nope. Humans clearly have desires and purposes and motivations and interests, and those give rise to teleologies and values, no ‘final cause’ needed.

    How can a human being that has a talent for raping be a defective human being?

    What would a ‘talent for raping’ look like?

  171. SteveK

    Ray,

    What would a ‘talent for raping’ look like?

    Anyone who can demonstrate the ability has the talent. Don’t get too hung up on the word ‘talent’ because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you account for unnatural or defective human abilities in a reality that only has natural human abilities.

    Nope. Humans clearly have desires and purposes and motivations and interests, and those give rise to teleologies and values, no ‘final cause’ needed.

    Your “Nope” rebuts a statement I didn’t make. I know that humans have natural desires and I know they generate/invent purposes for natural objects (like themselves) that don’t have natural purpose in order to fulfill those natural human desires.

    What I did say was that the natural goal of human existence cannot be happiness because nature has no goal. That much is true.

    Do you have anything to say about #173 or my question (2) in #167?

  172. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    Anyone who can demonstrate the ability has the talent.

    Very much wrong. As I noted, a screwdriver can be used as a hammer – but that’s not at all the same thing as being suited for it. What makes a person especially suited to rape?

    It’s a problem because this same reasoning is also why the atheist cannot concede the existence of unnatural, defective or misapplied biological structures that function to serve natural ends.

    Sure “the atheist” can. E.g. colorblindness – the biological structures aren’t able to distinguish ranges of color. Precisely because they don’t serve to carry out the end of color vision, they are defective with respect to that. We can even identify structures that are defective with respect to certain functions and simultaneously well-suited with respect to others.

    What I did say was that the natural goal of human existence cannot be happiness because nature has no goal.

    You’re equivocating on different levels of the word ‘purpose’. Cone cells in the eye have the function of detecting color ranges. They don’t have the goal of detecting color ranges – only conscious beings have goals.

    Human beings can – and do – have happiness as a goal. They often misidentify what actually makes them happy, of course… but then, that’s part of why it’s wrong to rape.

  173. JAD

    Ray:

    Right now, we assume causality must come to a stop or go on forever, but we can’t experiment with it. Until then, I’ll reserve judgment.

    That’s probably a good idea. There would be hell to pay if you made the wrong choice… Wait a minute…

  174. SteveK

    E.g. colorblindness – the biological structures aren’t able to distinguish ranges of color. Precisely because they don’t serve to carry out the end of color vision, they are defective with respect to that.

    The biological structures of my rods and cones cannot distinguish ranges of sound. Precisely because they don’t serve to carry out the end of sound perception, they are defective with respect to that.

    There are only natural abilities. There are no natural defects.

  175. SteveK

    Unfortunately, Ray, the situation you are in is one where you hold two conflicting views:

    (1) you hold the view that there’s this natural process that produces natural things, none of which are directed toward any particular natural end, and

    (2) you hold the view that some of those natural things that this natural process produces are closer to a particular natural end.

  176. Shane Fletcher

    #135

    Hi G. Rodrigues,

    Copying some posts from the thread you linked me to as it is closed.

    “First I need to introduce some notation: let G denote the proposition “God exists” (working at the level of the barest of bare theism) and E the evidence that the theist purports it proves G, that is, a theist says that the inference E |- G holds. An atheist like David P. explicitly denies this, he says:

    (A) E |- G does not obtain

    note: proof or entailment does not need to be construed in the strict deductive sense; inductive or abductive inferences also count.

    First, note that (A) is a *positive* belief: belief is a certain relation between a person and a proposition. To say that person x lacks belief in proposition P is to say that this relation does *not* obtain for person x and proposition P. But here we have the first incongruity: David P. *cannot* say that he lacks belief in God *because* of (A). A belief in some proposition P can lead to belief in Q, because given P, Q is more likely than not-Q; but what is completely incoherent is to say that some belief leads to an absence of belief. And it is quite obvious what is the conclusion that is drawn from (A): that G is *false*, not that the relation of belief between the atheist and G fails to obtain. Nothing about beliefs can ever be entailed by (A), because (A) is not about beliefs but about certain propositions and the relations between them.

    Part 2: but we can say something more. First, the fact that every purported entailment E |- G fails does *not* imply that G is false.

    Now maybe I’m confused, but this seems to me to be the essence of our point. The fact that we believe E fails as evidence for ‘God Exists’, is not the same as believing E is evidence that ‘God does not exist’.

    “The claim that atheism is “not a positive belief, but rather a lack of belief” is simply absurd and inane, a rhetorical ploy to avoid the burden of proof.”

    How do we go about proving a negative? How do you prove there is no Loch Ness Monster, for example?

    Cheers
    Shane

  177. Post
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  178. G. Rodrigues

    @Shane Fletcher:

    Now maybe I’m confused, but this seems to me to be the essence of our point. The fact that we believe E fails as evidence for ‘God Exists’, is not the same as believing E is evidence that ‘God does not exist’.

    That is *one* of the points, yes.

    How do we go about proving a negative? How do you prove there is no Loch Ness Monster, for example?

    I do not know what you think the difficulty is, so you have to be more explicit. My background is in mathematics; mathematicians prove negatives (and by negative I presume you mean existential negative) as a matter of daily routine. It is about as common as eating and sleeping. Physicists do it. Historians do it. Everybody does it — Tom Gilson just gave an example.

    This Gnu meme that “you cannot prove a negative”, is just ignorant rubbish. I have a suspicion that what you want to ask is not what you asked but something else, and I also suspect what that something else is, but I am not going to try and guess it until you make it explicit.

  179. Ray Ingles

    JAD – There would be hell to pay if you made the wrong choice… Wait a minute…

    “Wirth made a language acclaimed in theory, but useless in practice. He appropriately named it after the guy who came up with ‘Pascal’s Wager’.” – Anonymous

    🙂

    SteveK –

    you hold the view that there’s this natural process that produces natural things, none of which are directed toward any particular natural end

    “Directed” is not the same thing as “suited”. A flat round rock isn’t directed toward skipping across a creek, but it’s well-suited to it. Some rocks are closer to being skippable than others, but that’s not ’cause they are ‘directed’ towards that.

  180. SteveK

    Ray,

    “Directed” is not the same thing as “suited”. A flat round rock isn’t directed toward skipping across a creek, but it’s well-suited to it. Some rocks are closer to being skippable than others, but that’s not ’cause they are ‘directed’ towards that.

    What exactly is the point of all this?

    If all that you are saying is that I should use a different term, how exactly does this resolve your problem of not having a particular natural end that you can be closer to?

    For all of your talk about well-suitedness, let me say this: some humans are well-suited to care for people, and some are well-suited to deceive people. What does natural morality without God do with this information?

  181. Post
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  182. Shane Fletcher

    #183,

    Hi G. Rodrigues,

    “This Gnu meme that “you cannot prove a negative”, is just ignorant rubbish. I have a suspicion that what you want to ask is not what you asked but something else, and I also suspect what that something else is, but I am not going to try and guess it until you make it explicit.”

    Well then please prove there is no Loch Ness Monster. And I am interested in a negative proved by a historian, as this seems close to the subject at hand.

    Cheers
    Shane

  183. Shane Fletcher

    #187

    Hi Tom,

    What game do you think I’m playing?

    What would constitute proof that there is no Loch Ness Monster in my living room? Photographic evidence? I can’t photograph all angles and behind all furniture in one image. How could you be sure it is not moving around to avoid the lens?

    Let alone, how could you be sure that the images are in fact of my living room?

    Cheers
    Shane

  184. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Shane: You can’t prove a negative: for example, you can’t prove there’s no Loch Ness monster

    G. Rodrigues: It’s not true that you can’t prove a negative.

    Shane: Okay, then prove there’s no Loch Ness monster.

    G. Rodrigues: Oh. I’m sorry. If I can’t prove there’s no Loch Ness monster, then I can’t prove any negative of any sort anywhere. I humbly bow out of discussion.

    Is that the answer you expect, Shane?

  185. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    For one thing, Shane, you added a condition. I didn’t say “Shane, can you prove to me that there is no Loch Ness monster in your living room?” I said, “Shane, can you prove that there is no Loch Ness monster in your living room?”

    And the answer to that, unless you want to play really silly Internet games that I hope are beneath your dignity, is yes.

  186. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “Shane: You can’t prove a negative: for example, you can’t prove there’s no Loch Ness monster

    G. Rodrigues: It’s not true that you can’t prove a negative.

    Shane: Okay, then prove there’s no Loch Ness monster.

    G. Rodrigues: Oh. I’m sorry. If I can’t prove there’s no Loch Ness monster, then I can’t prove any negative of any sort anywhere. I humbly bow out of discussion.

    Is that the answer you expect, Shane?”

    Of course not. That’s why I added “And I am interested in a negative proved by a historian, as this seems close to the subject at hand.” It seems you read my question with a tone of derision or some kind of “gotcha” when none is intended. I would have thought my interactions here up to this point would have laid a decent foundation for my intentions at this blog. There is no guile in any of my questions, and I ask them simply looking for answers.

    “For one thing, Shane, you added a condition. I didn’t say “Shane, can you prove to me that there is no Loch Ness monster in your living room?” I said, “Shane, can you prove that there is no Loch Ness monster in your living room?”

    And the answer to that, unless you want to play really silly Internet games that I hope are beneath your dignity, is yes.”

    Are you suggesting I can prove it to myself? That seems to be entirely pointless. Leaving aside the fact I’m not asking questions that I know the answer to, the essence of evidence is that it can be presented to a third party.

    Cheers
    Shane

  187. Post
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  188. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    The thing is, Shane, it’s hard to square “I am interested in a negative proved by a historian” with your answers regarding sea monsters currently in your living room. If you were really interested in answers, I might have expected you to say something else, like maybe, “Sure, Tom, that may be provable but it’s not relevant to the case I’m interested in.” Instead you’re quibbling to the very bone over whether it’s provable that your living room is empty of such animals.

  189. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “The thing is, Shane, it’s hard to square “I am interested in a negative proved by a historian” with your answers regarding sea monsters currently in your living room.”

    Are you saying I’m not taking this seriously? You are the one that suggested a sea monster in my living room. I asked about a creature living in a loch in Scotland, something which is believed by many people and seemed like a reasonable case (to me) when looking for an example of negative proof. It seemed very similar to the request for proof that there is no God. I wasn’t asking for actual evidence that there is no Loch Ness monster, but just a hypothetical ‘what would constitute evidence for the negative?’. There is supposed to be heaps of them, so it should be easy to do.

    “Third party = some person S. Any person S.”

    So I can prove it to some people, but not you? Are you suggesting it would be people that could come into the room and look for themselves? Because I would say in that case I am not proving anything, but rather they are making up their minds based on their own experience. I am superlative to the process.

    Tom, you seem to be implying I am playing some kind of game here. This could have ended if your first reply gave an example of evidence for a negative instead of asking another question.

    Cheers
    Shane

  190. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Shane, I don’t quite get the miscommunication here. Maybe someone else can help us.

    Tom, you seem to be implying I am playing some kind of game here. This could have ended if your first reply gave an example of evidence for a negative instead of asking another question.

    But I did give evidence for the provability of a negative. I did it by asking a question. That’s actually not considered an unusual move in discussions like this.

    You responded to my question with a question of your own.

    Prove it to you? Not that easily. Can you prove there is no Loch Ness Monster in my living room?

    You’ve bumped around from place to place on this Loch Ness thing. First, you used it as evidence that it’s impossible to prove a negative. I answered that with the question just referred to, and you responded by saying you don’t want an answer related to the Loch Ness monster, you want one from an historian.

    You explain that you intended that all along, and that we should have gathered that from what you added about an historian, but as I said earlier, you missed an opportunity simply to say so; instead you took off on a riff about the supposed unprovability of there being no sea monster in your living room.

    So for those reasons, yes, Shane, it has actually seemed like you’re playing games here. I believe you when you say you do not intend to be doing so. I would ask you to believe me when I say that from this end of the discussion, your communication style supports that impression.

  191. G. Rodrigues

    @Shane Fletcher:

    Well then please prove there is no Loch Ness Monster.

    Frankly, I am quite tired of having to do all the work for the Gnu’s. You get to spout inanities like “I only lack belief in God” and save yourself the trouble of having to defend your beliefs, while Christians here are supposed to prove everything down to the minutest detail and to the satisfaction of wannabe lazy intellectuals. Ticked off by my words? Then how about this for a change: *YOU* prove that there is no way to prove existential negatives (hint, hint). Until then, you are just playing games and wasting my time (and yours — but that is your business).

  192. Bill L

    I don’t know if this will be of much help, but I would like to try… The short answer is that I think both Tom and Shane have a bit of blame for the misunderstanding. As a long-time atheist, I have had to correct far too many of my fellow atheists for the poorly thought out expression that one can not prove a negative. We do it all the time (e.g. Can we prove that President Obama was not born in Africa? Sure, here is his Hawaiian birth certificate.) But atheists still repeat this false idea to my chagrin. The real point is that it can be extremely difficult to prove some negatives (The Lock Ness Monster, someone can always say something like, “well, she hibernates under the mud”).

    Tom, I think you jumped on the idea that Shane was saying this, but if you look at where this started in 181, he actually says

    “How do we go about proving a negative? How do you prove there is no Loch Ness Monster, for example?

    He wanted you to discuss specifically how you prove negatives in difficult situations, but I don’t think he said that you can never prove a negative.

    Unfortunately Shane then seemed to digress into what I also thought was rather silly. After all, the point is about how one proves a negative to a reasonable person. If one states that a Lock Ness Monster (LNM) in his living room can not be proved, then he is not interested in a reasonable assertion.

    Perhaps Shane was trying to get Tom to reason through the rather silly example (LNM in the living room). But it seems a waste of time IMO. But Tom, should also stick to the point… proving a difficult negative (LNM in Lock Ness).

    Hope that helps.

  193. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You know, I was hoping someone else might be able to sort this out from a more objective position, and I think you’ve done that, Bill. I did miss the “how” question. Shane, does this help explain your position, too?

  194. Jenna Black

    Shane,

    You and I can both draw a picture of what we think the Loch Ness monster looks like based on legend and then go out in search of such a creature to try to “prove” that it exists or “disprove” its existence. But can you draw a picture of what you understand to be “God,” the one you claim does not exist, so that you can go out looking for this “God” and when you don’t find it/him, reassert your claim that God doesn’t exist? Or can you simply admit that it is very possible that God as you understand God may not exist, but that your understanding of God is not the understanding of the ancient Hebrews and/or the followers of Jesus Christ?

    My challenge to you is to define what you mean by God and define what you mean by “exists.” Chances are that once you do this, I can honestly say that I don’t believe that god exists either.

  195. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L:

    He wanted you to discuss specifically how you prove negatives in difficult situations, but I don’t think he said that you can never prove a negative.

    I am sorry Bill L, but I do not buy this explanation. Here are some reasons:

    (1) While your reading is a plausible one, the fact is that he never denied that existential negatives cannot be proved. And the most plausible reason he did not is that then the whole Gnu meme about “lack of belief” is down the drain, because now he has to provide a non-question begging criterium for deciding which existential negatives can be proved and which cannot. Obviously, the theists will insist that we can indeed prove that God exists — with the methods of proof and the degree of certainty proper to the subject matter. Or a majority of them will, at least, certainly everyone in the classical tradition — it is after all, a de fide teaching of the Catholic Church that the existence of God can be known by the light of natural reason alone.

    (2) No one doubts that it can be very difficult to prove existential negatives. In fact, a substantial amount of mathematical work is dedicated to prove that certain statements in some first order theory T, can neither be proved nor disproved. But this is not a particular feature of negative existential statements: some of these statements independent of T are existential negatives, some are not. But what is the *specific* difficulty in proving such a statement as that the Loch Ness does not exist? I asked Shane but he gave no response. Shrug shoulders.

    (3) What can the putative difficulty of proving that the Loch Ness monster does not exist, possibly say to us about the *real* point of debate, God’s existence? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

    (4) Presumably, by invoking this example, Shane thinks it is either difficult or impossible to prove that the Loch Ness does not exist. At the same time, also presumably, he does believe that the Loch Ness does not exist. There are only two options now: he has no reasons at all to believe in what he does in which case his belief is irrational, or he does have evidence to believe like he does, but for some misguided scruple he does not think it is a proof, in which case, I suppose there are no proofs in physics, history, etc. Which is the same thing to say: the word “proof” is doing no work and might as well be thrown out.

  196. Bill L

    G. Rodrigues,

    I know that the last thing I should do is to try and speak for another. I was just taking my best guess with Shane and Tom. I look forward to his response but I don’t want to try to infer any more at this point.

    Personally I think the common quibbling points about positive belief versus lack of belief are more about degrees of confidence. I have encountered so few atheist who ascribe certainty to the non-existence of God, but I would certainly be distrustful of any who did.

    Perhaps by way of illustration I could say that I do not believe that intelligent extraterrestrials have visited the Earth. I might describe myself as an atheist with respect to that idea. But why? Well, I expect evidence that is proportional to the claim. Some may say that these ETs are quite clever so they are pretty good at disguising and hiding themselves, so we actually do have the kind of evidence we should expect. Still, I am not convinced.

    Now do I claim that “no ETs have visited the earth?” No, I simply say the evidence that would convince me is not there, so I do not believe; but I am always open to new evidence.

  197. SteveK

    Bill L,

    Well, I expect evidence that is proportional to the claim.

    I direct you to what G. Rodrigues said above because it applies to God as well as ET’s. He said that proof can be obtained with the methods of proof and the degree of certainty proper to the subject matter. (emphasis mine)

    You would’t try to prove God exists in the same way you would try to prove ET’s exist. They are different things. More correctly said they are different beings.

    You might go about proving ET’s *don’t* exist on earth in a similar way that you might prove the LNM doesn’t exist in your living room – because they are similar kinds of beings. However, you would *not* go about it the same way for God.

  198. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L:

    Personally I think the common quibbling points about positive belief versus lack of belief are more about degrees of confidence.

    I suspect the same, but then why not say so? For that is a *different* claim, and quite a plausible one. If an atheist says that while he has evidence to support his belief that God does not exist, but no airtight proof, who will censor him? Who? In God’s name, why go about saying such blatant stupid things as “I only lack belief in God”? Why the disingenuousness, and quite frankly, intellectual dishonesty? Why all the hedging, the fleeing of the burden of proof?

    And the degree of confidence in some belief is a red herring, anyway. Where can anyone find such fabled degrees of confidence in any belief? The answer is nowhere in this life. And since atheists only believe in this life, this is tantamount to saying: nowhere. So why even mention it?

  199. Bill L

    SteveK

    ….proof can be obtained with the methods of proof and the degree of certainty proper to the subject matter.

    I know that is what is said. I am following Tom’s blog on this subject to see if it convinces me.

    You would’t try to prove God exists in the same way you would try to prove ET’s exist. They are different things. More correctly said they are different beings.

    I actually agree with you here.

  200. Bill L

    G. Rodrigues,

    I’m not sure I follow you exactly, but I think atheists do what they do because they are fighting an overwhelming majority of believers who often try to force their beliefs (or implications of their beliefs) on them. They also see religious and faith-based (‘faith’ in the Boghossian sense, which I have experienced as the most common) claims as leading to dangerous outcomes.

    If a substantial number of people were to go around preparing for an ET invasion and were doing what I see as destructive things because of that, it would make little sense for me to go around saying “I lack belief in these ET’s” as a way to change their mind and behavior. They simply wouldn’t listen to me. However if I say, “hey, there is no good reason to believe in these things; they are not real, and you are being irrational” then they may be more inclined to pay attention.

    I don’t know what to make of your claim about degrees of confidence not being found in real life… I think we do this, and we should do this all the time. I am currently testing several methods of water treatment in my research. It may be effective (and it does seem to be) and it may not. But I must always keep in mind that there may be something better.

    We invade countries based on imperfect evidence and we know this is the case. We must always be ready to change our beliefs with changing evidence or we are engaging in willful stupidity.

    Are statins the best drugs for lowering cholesterol? Maybe, but we had better keep open to evidence.

    How certain am I that there is no extraterrestrial life? I don’t know, 50/50? I think we should keep searching.

  201. Shane Fletcher

    Hey one and all.

    Thanks for the comments. I was thinking about the confusion over this issue after I went to bed last night and I think I can clarify my thoughts on all this:

    You cannot prove a negative. But you can prove a positive which makes the case for the negative.

    The birth certificate of Obama being an excellent example of this. You are not proving that he was not born in Africa. You are proving he was born in Hawaii and therefore could not be born in Africa. The thing about this though, is that the positive proves an infinite number of negatives. Obama was not born in Australia, or New Zealand, etc. I’m not sure what examples G. Rodrigues has for negatives proven in history, but at this point I think they have to be proofs of positives that then preclude the negative in question, along with a whole host of others.

    And this leads to the question of where does the evidence lead. Assuming I could prove that the Loch Ness monster was not in my living room, this would give an accurate and complete account of everything that was in my living room. If I gave this evidence to a third party and asked them,”What negative does this prove?” the answers would be infinite in regards to the number of things that are not in my living room. They might never get to the result I’m after. But the number of positives it proves is finite and could be reached easily. Best case example is that the room is empty, which proves the positive, “The living room is empty.” By extension it does not contain the Loch Ness monster. Or a dog. Or the members of cirque de solei.

    In the wider world, not constrained by the space of my living room (or a time frame for that matter) there is no positive that can be proved which would preclude the existence of the Loch Ness monster. And God, being all knowing and all powerful, is obviously way outside those boundaries. There are young and old earth creationists precisely because God can do things in any way he chooses. So atheists are left with no method of showing anything that would preclude it from being made by God. There is no positive evidence that can only exist in a universe with no God.

    To sum up.

    Negatives can only be shown by the proof of a positive that is its antithesis.
    There is nothing that can be shown to only exist in a universe with no God.
    Therefore we cannot prove there is no God.

    This is why I say you cannot prove a negative. To suggest we are trying to skirt the burden of proof is unfair unless you can offer me an example of something that could only exist in a universe with no God.

    Cheers
    Shane

  202. Bill L

    Shane,

    That is an interesting idea. I started to have that thought as I was writing today, but I obviously did not extend it. Thank you for clarifying and I’m sorry I assumed something you were not saying.

  203. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillL,

    No problems at all. Any dialogue is born out of people trying to clarify ideas, both with each other and ourselves. The former is dependent entirely on conversing with other people who want clarification and I appreciate yourself, and everyone else here, for wanting to understand.

    It seems to me to be logically consistent. Let’s see if it holds up returning to the originally point that started this whole ramble: lack of belief in something versus belief in lack of something. I’m not sure it will, so there could be plenty for people to pull apart. But I’m going to use the reasonable assumption that there must be some evidence for a belief, however you want to quantify that evidence.

    It is irrational to believe something with zero evidence.
    I see zero evidence to show that an all powerful, all knowing God has personally intervened in the workings of the universe.
    Therefore rationally I do not believe an all powerful, all knowing God has intervened in the workings of the universe.

    However

    It is irrational to believe something with zero evidence.
    As per my previous post we must live in a universe that contains zero evidence to show that an all powerful and all knowing God can not exist.
    Therefore rationally I do not believe that God can not exist.

    So I do not believe in God. Which is different to believing there is no God. Have I made an error there somewhere? I’m sure you’ll let me know. 🙂

    Cheers
    Shane

  204. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    some humans are well-suited to care for people, and some are well-suited to deceive people. What does natural morality without God do with this information?

    On what basis do you claim that someone is “well-suited to deceive people”? What (specific) traits do they possess that makes them well-suited to it? When I spoke of rocks suited to skipping, I made reference to specific traits – flat and round. I could add some size and weight and durability characteristics, as well.

  205. SteveK

    Ray,

    What (specific) traits do they possess that makes them well-suited to it?

    I’ll let you define the term “well-suited” any way you like and I’m confident my argument holds true. Why? Because you lack a real *specific* natural end that you can know and use as a guide to determine if we are getting closer to it.

    But to answer your question, I would say they possess a will that is oriented toward doing it for reasons they would express if you asked them. If you don’t like that answer, give the one you think is more accurate.

  206. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    Because you lack a real *specific* natural end that you can know and use as a guide to determine if we are getting closer to it.

    Hold up. You are proposing the ends of “rape” or “deceiving others”. So it’s up to you to specify the traits that make people suited to those purposes, isn’t it?

  207. SteveK

    Ray,

    Hold up. You are proposing the ends of “rape” or “deceiving others”. So it’s up to you to specify the traits that make people suited to those purposes, isn’t it?

    Under naturalism, traits are not suited in the teleological sense. For that reason your term “suited to” is synonymous with “able to” so that is how I am using it. If you want to expand that to mean something more than “able to” then go ahead but be sure to avoid any teleological language.

    Traits are suited in the functional sense. If a function can be carried out, the person must posses a trait that supports carrying it out. I don’t care what that specific trait is or how it got there, I only care that it exists – and it must.

  208. Ray Ingles

    For that reason your term “suited to” is synonymous with “able to” so that is how I am using it.

    Of course it isn’t! You could take a rock the size and shape of a softball, and if you threw it very hard with a very flat trajectory, you might get as many as three skips out of it. Maybe.

    That doesn’t mean it’s suited for skipping. No one will break the record for skipping with a softball-shaped rock, period.

    There are reasons why a flat, roundish rock skips better than a spheroid – why such a rock is more suited for skipping than a spheroid – and those relate to the properties of the rock. Again, what properties make a particular person suited to rape or deception, not just capable of that?

  209. SteveK

    Ray,

    ….you might get as many as three skips out of it. Maybe. That doesn’t mean it’s suited for skipping.

    Only in a world of contradictions does it mean this…as we shall see.

    No one will break the record for skipping with a softball-shaped rock, period.

    Oh, I see now. It’s because you’ve introduced *your* arbitrary goal by which *you* are making the standard for comparison. It’s not a real natural end because that would mean certain *natural* rocks were purposely formed to be record breaking skippers – and that idea is clearly false.

    We both know that humans don’t have a goal-oriented natural end under naturalism so there is no goal like “maximizing happiness” or “long life” by which you can use it as a means to determine if evolved humans are on target or if they’ve gone astray.

    Yet you continue to insist humans can actually get closer to this non-existing natural goal – this target. You continue to insist that natural morality without God involves falling short of some non-existing natural end. That’s a real problem. You’re a walking, talking contradiction, Ray.

    Again, what properties make a particular person suited to rape or deception, not just capable of that?

    This is a distraction to the main point being made.

  210. SteveK

    Ray,
    I don’t want this next comment to distract you from my main point in the prior comment, so I may not respond if you reply to it. I’m not asking for a reply.

    However you want define being naturally well suited to deceive people, I can either find you a person that currently fits your arbitrary definition or I can find someone who is naturally well suited to teach Deception 101, and someone who is naturally well suited to learn it. One way or the other I can get you a human being that will fit your definition.

  211. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    Oh, I see now. It’s because you’ve introduced *your* arbitrary goal by which *you* are making the standard for comparison.

    There’s a big space of potential ends or goals out there. It’s not ‘arbitrary’ that a flat round stone is good for skipping… but terrible for driving Robertson screws or fueling a truck or acting as a bob for a fishing line. That flows from the traits of the object itself, whether or not it was designed that way, as Miller specifically notes. Hemoglobin carries oxygen whether or not it was crafted to.

    We both know that humans don’t have a goal-oriented natural end under naturalism so there is no goal like “maximizing happiness”

    Ah, but we can look at the traits of humans, which clearly carry out the functions of both receiving and transmitting data about what people are thinking and feeling, and see that they function well to promote and make possible empathy. (Again, our eyes, unique among mammals, have a large contrast between iris and sclera, which makes possible seeing what others are specifically looking at. And humans demonstrably pick up on that, but other animals, even closely-related primates, don’t.)

    Then you add in the fact that humans do have wants and needs – goals and purposes in a teleological sense – and we can see how those traits of humans are best deployed in pursuit of those goals. And we can prioritize goals, as well. A simple example is air, water, and food – priorities in that order. Try it the other way around, and you’ll find you can’t enjoy your food if you’re not breathing.

    But before we develop a logical case for such things, we have to set up the basics. No point in proceeding until you acknowledge these basic points.

  212. SteveK

    Ray,
    I’m unlikely to keep going with this so this may be my last comment here.

    There’s a big space of potential ends or goals out there

    Careful with the language. There are no goals. Goals are teleological.

    There are many *potential* natural ends – but it doesn’t appear that way. Nature keeps moving us forward. It never ends.

    You’ve picked one of them arbitrarily and are arguing that that’s where humans are objectively headed, so let’s do everything we can to make sure we hit this arbitrary potential end point called happiness, or whatever.

    This is your natural morality without God – arbitrarily picking some end.

    No point in proceeding until you acknowledge these basic points.

    I’ll only acknowledge that you are inserting *your* goals for biological structures where there is only functionality.

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