As Richard Dawkins says, some of us just go one god further

gods-we-dont-believe-in.jpg

From Matterr via The Friendly Atheist

A question and a comment:

Why is Buddha on this list? Isn’t Buddha said to have simply been a creative, deep-thinking, compassionate and insightful human male?

Including the Flying Spaghetti Monster probably would have put things further into perspective.

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Comments
89 Responses to “As Richard Dawkins says, some of us just go one god further”
  1. Russ says:

    Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1Jn 2:23)

  2. ronbrown says:

    Russ:

    Okay, so is Zroya the father or the son?

  3. Colin says:

    Buddhism is atheistic.

  4. Badger3k says:

    Well, there are many varieties of Buddhism, and some (notably the Pure Land tradition) seem to get pretty close to calling him a god. Further, many Christians believe that Buddhists worship Buddha as a god, so that is probably why he would be on the list.

    That said, I have a book that has some 14,000 or so names of various gods from around the world, so that list is a little short, but a good start. :)

  5. ronbrown says:

    Badger: If there is an online transcription of that list, feel free to send me a link. (email: theframeproblem (at) live (dot) ca)

  6. Stoobs says:

    Eris is not included on the list. As a practicing Discordian (Monday through Thursday only) I find this highly offensive, and demand that you take down the list immediately, or else amend it to include my deity of choice!

  7. This makes the point, perfectly! Bravo!

  8. MJ "revoltingpawn" says:

    Your post made my day!

    One of my favorite quotes… “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71)

    If interested check out our final post in the series “Does God have a Future?”

    http://www.shadowdemocracy.org/2008/02/11/does-god-have-a-future-part-10conclusions/

  9. ronbrown says:

    Sorry for oppressing you, Stoobs.

  10. Neil says:

    That is a tired canard that displays Dawkins’ disingenuousness and/or ignorance of logical thought.

    Saying there is no God isn’t a little different than saying there is one God, it is the opposite.

    His saying may seem cute to his followers but it proves nothing.

  11. Brian says:

    Budda is said to have been born from an opening in his mothers side, and he is also supposed to be enlightened and beyond human. Sounds like he should be on the list.

  12. ronbrown says:

    Neil: The point is to show that humans have believed in many Gods. Humans have sincerely believed in many Gods. They can’t all be correct. This *should* give believers reason for pause. Sadly, it rarely does.

  13. Neil says:

    Hi Ron – Thanks for the response. I heartily agree that they can’t all be correct, because they have mutually exclusive truth claims (glad to see you aren’t a pluralist / postmodern!).

    I just don’t see how this argument proves that one can’t be right. For example, the Bible teaches that people make up false gods or deny God’s existence, so the existence of atheism and other religions is no surprise to Christians.

  14. ronbrown says:

    Neil:

    Yeah, I haven’t read much on postmodernism but the idea that all points of view are somehow equal is just stupid.

    That argument alone doesn’t prove that one can’t be correct. I’m confident that Christianity along with the other religious viewpoints are most likely wrong, but my view is based on far more than the multiplicity of gods that humans have believed in.

  15. Neil says:

    Agreed. Just to be clear, I try to distinguish between two types of pluralism:

    Good pluralism: Numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.

    Bad pluralism: All religions are true and equally valid paths to God.

    The 2nd kind is just intellectually bankrupt.

  16. evolution says:

    Neil,
    Your types of pluralism lies in absolutes, one or the other.

    I don’t believe in either of those types of pluralism, but may i suggest a third though analogy.

    I think of it like an exam: there may books you could read to pass the exam, the textbook is your choice. But perhaps there is the probability of passing the exam through any of these books, but some books offer a greater probability. i.e. not true or equally valid but at the same time some are not complete fabrications either.

    On the other hand, some students prefer different textbooks, but they may all pass the exam even though they used different methods of studying!

  17. ronbrown says:

    I really don’t see any reason to believe that any of them are not fabrications. Sure there are valuable lessons in them when it comes to morality, organizing a society, and living one’s life, but as for the truth value of the supernatural claims, I don’t see any reason to believe any of them.

  18. Harrison says:

    Yes, there is no Truth in believing. Why believe in anything? It’s just an excuse for not being true to God.

  19. ronbrown says:

    Harrison: Yeah, that’s what it is….

  20. Neil says:

    Hi evolution – if your illustration was referring to some of the commonalities of various faiths I would tend to agree.

    Where I think the illustration fails is at the central issues: The nature of God, salvation, if/how He revealed himself, etc. For example, Hindus and Christians may teach some similar things, but in a logical universe we are either reincarnated or we die once and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We can’t both be right.

    And Jesus is either God or He isn’t. And He died on the cross (Christianity) or He didn’t (Islam). And He is the only way to salvation (Christianity) or He isn’t (everybody else). Since those are “test questions,” if you will, I think the absolutes are important to consider.

    All – Thanks for the charitable dialogue – I don’t always find that on atheist sites. (Just as you probably don’t always find it on faith-based sites!).

    Peace,
    Neil

  21. evolution says:

    Neil,

    Thanks for your response. May I first say that i was writing that late last night and obviously I do agree with with the first type of pluralism (it would be strange is i didn’t!)

    Secondly, there are obviously significant differences between the faiths and all cannot be right. Personally, as a Muslim, I think you know which type of textbook I prefer! However, I think in that respect, there is a difference between the monotheistic faiths nd polytheism.
    However, I think the issue of pluaralism is immensely complicated and I think that given that the underlying premise of religion is morality, and inner spirituality, I think that only God can judge who his true followers are, and I don’t think they all necessarily need to come from the same religion (although to be fair, I’m only considering monotheism here)

    I don’t think this is the right place to have this discussion – I may blog about it in a few days.

  22. Stoobs says:

    Both of you are sinners against Eris for your use of declarative sentences containing the word ‘is’. Repent now, or face being reincarnated as precious mao buttons. Textbooks are for wusses – I only bought them to put on my shelves so I would look erudite. I passed all my classes through sheer brilliance, without recourse to actual learning. Your failure to realize that your silly ‘gods’ were just Eris in drag will condemn you to an eternity of cabbagedom. Repent, I say!

  23. Stoobs says:

    On a marginally more serious note, there is a big difference between monotheistic and polytheistic religions – polytheistic ones are substantially more plausible. The gods worshiped by monotheistic religions are generally logically incoherent, rather than only physically impossible. The idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being is completely incompatible with the universe as experienced by anyone with two braincells to rub together, whereas the idea of a bunch of extremely powerful but somewhat dim types who are often in massive disagreement with one another is far more reflective of the chaotic world I experience every day.

    Not, you understand, that I’m a polytheist. I find it weird that someone who believes an invisible superman who lives in the sky created mankind is taken seriously, but someone who says it was aliens is viewed as some kind of nut. Aliens coming to Earth and creating life is far more plausible than any theistic religion, IF you are inclined to accept the arguments involved in intelligent design.

  24. Neil says:

    Oops – looks like I spoke to soon. Sadly, ad hominem arguments like “anyone with two brain cells to rub together” and straw-men like “invisible superman who lives in the sky” are what I usually run into. Oh well.

  25. Stoobs says:

    An ad hominem attack is when you attack an argument by attacking the person who made it, as in “Christians lack two brain cells to rub together, therefore you should not believe their claims.” What I gave was not an ad hominem attack, but rather a gratuitous insult – my argument is not affected in any way if it is restated without the insult, as in “It is clear to anyone who takes the time to examine the world that it was not designed by someone who (a) loves mankind, (b) has the power to accomplish anything he wishes, and (c) knows exactly what consequences any decision he makes will have.”

    I simply chose to frame it in an insulting manner because frankly, I feel that theists don’t have their stupidity insulted enough.

    As for the straw man accusation, again, I don’t believe that is a straw man. Man was supposedly created in gods image, so god apparently looks like us. He alledgedly possesses powers superior to ours. This makes him a super-man. Heaven is invariably framed as being above, and this only suddenly became metaphorical when we actually went up there and saw that no, heaven isn’t there. And if you’d like to claim that god is visible, then that would make his existance much easier to dispute.

    Frankly, every attribute christians add on top of those I listed only makes him less believable, so if anything I’ve done you a favor by casting him in a substantially more defensible light.

    In short, I can be accused of being intolerant of christians (and that would be fair – I was okay with them 15 years ago, but they’ve gotten a whole lot more asinine over time) but the claim that I can’t defend my position is false. Just as soon as I hear an argument for theistic religion that doesn’t depend on ridiculous premises, or clear logical fallacies, I’ll be happy to debate on the topic. I have yet to see any such argument, so what is there left to do but fling feces, like the slightly more evolved primate I am.

  26. Neil says:

    “It is clear to anyone who takes the time to examine the world that it was not designed by someone who (a) loves mankind, (b) has the power to accomplish anything he wishes, and (c) knows exactly what consequences any decision he makes will have.”

    That isn’t an argument, that is an assertion – and a false one at that. Plenty of people have examined the universe and realized that it (a) things don’t come from nothing, (b) that life doesn’t come from non-life, (c) etc.

    Thanks for making theists appear so reasonable by comparison.

  27. Stoobs says:

    Things do come from nothing. This is a fact, if only about particular kinds of subatomic particles. The fact is, while we don’t know exactly how things got started, all currently available scientific evidence strongly supports the idea of a big bang – and science has only had a scant few hundred years to work on the problem. By contrast, the problem of evil has been around for as long as theism, and they still don’t have a convincing response to it.

    Living creatures are built from the exact same molecules as non-living creatures – we even have viruses to provide a bridge, behaving much like they are alive, but lacking a few key attributes. We have a long chain running from complex organic molecules, to viruses, to microorganisms, to creatures like volvox and slime molds, to more complex multi-celular life, and all the way up to human beings.

    The likelihood is that we will produce self aware machines in the relatively near future. We are already capable of genetic engineering and cloning – how much further is it till we’re creating life in a lab? Probably not too far. And we’ve accomplished all of this despite the constant attempts by religious types to block progress because “we shouldn’t play god.” If the god described in the old testament is the standard, I’d rather have that power in the hands of scientists than him in any case, since he seems to combine the worst traits of an abusive father and a high-school bully.

    I can’t really argue with “etc”, so I guess I’ll have to cede that point to you. I’m not sure how it supports your position, though.

  28. This Busy Monster says:

    Neil mentions:

    a) things don’t come from nothing

    Where did god come from?

  29. Neil says:

    Hi TBM – Wikipedia usually mucks up most things religious, but they do a servicable job with the first cause argument – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument

    There are variants on the theme, but it generally goes like this:

    “Framed as an informal proof, the first cause argument can be stated as follows:

    Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
    Nothing finite and dependent (contingent) can cause itself.
    A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
    Therefore, there must be a first cause; or, there must be something that is not an effect.”

  30. Neil says:

    “The likelihood is that we will produce self aware machines in the relatively near future.”

    Actually, I don’t think that is likely at all, if you mean it in the sense that humans are self aware. And either way, it is interesting that you said, “we will produce.” Yes, if is to be, someone will design and produce it.

    “By contrast, the problem of evil has been around for as long as theism, and they still don’t have a convincing response to it.”

    Responding to the “problem of evil” resides with atheists, not theists. The Christian worldview explains it quite well. Here’s just one example – http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6023

    But if you subscribe to the nothingness-to-mud-to-man theory, then there is no foundation to explain evil. Every example I’ve ever seen from atheists has to borrow morality from somewhere and bring it in the back door.

    For example, some will try to rationalize – however inconsistently – that such-and-such is “moral” because it perpetuates the species. But notice how they assume perpetuating the species is a moral good. They have to prove that first, and they’ll have to sneak in some other moral good to do so. Examine all your other examples carefully and you’ll find they sneak in some presumed morality as well.

    Note that I’m not saying atheists are necessarily less moral than theists. In a Christian worldview, we’re all sinners in need of a savior and are not saved by anything good we do. I’m just saying that the materialist worldview can’t provide a foundation for morality, no matter how mightily they try.

    The endlessly amusing irony is that the New Atheists (same as the old atheists, just much louder) such as the Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens trinity, can rarely go a paragraph without making a moral claim.

  31. ronbrown says:

    Neil: If you want to be a theist, be a theist. But don’t claim to be rational. That you are unwilling to allow that something could come from nothing or that life could come from non-life, but you are willing to allow an eternal God, and not just any eternal God, but that of the Bible is untenable. If you want to put an argument forward for your position, you’re welcomed to, but I will anticipate the holes that your response will enter (and thus be disqualified for):

    Your arguments will fall into one, some or all of the following:

    1. Arguments from ignorance: I don’t know how this could have happened, or the assertion that this couldn’t have happened, therefore God. This is an invalid argument, as it is merely stating that the evidence for your God is your inability or unwillingness to give another explanation.

    2. Arguments from authority: e.g., this great scientist or author or some other high status person was/is a Christian, and this lends my beliefs credibility.

    3. Related to 2 is the argument from popularity: Since a generous proportion of humanity believes in the divinity of Christ, it is probably true. By this logic, the credibility of Islam is currently increasing and that of Christianity is decreasing as Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. People believing something doesn’t make it true or rational. A rational belief is one based on rational argument.

    4. Argument from morality: Without God, there can be no absolute moral standard. This falls in 2 ways. Firstly, there could be an infinite array of infinitely varied “Gods” that could fill the role of setting the moral standard. So this is not an argument for Christianity at all. Secondly, there is no evidence for the existence of an objective morality. Given this, there is no reason to assume a God given that we cannot even assume that which the God is supposed to explain in this argument.

    5. Argument from personal experience: The assertion of personal religious experience, one of the biggest in theist’s repertoire, is also invalid. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, people of all faiths have these experiences. We’ve already established that these faiths cannot all be true. Given this, and given the genuineness of people of varying faiths’ experience, it is obvious that one can have a genuine religious experience based on a theistic placebo. Second, secular meditators can have experiences that have a great deal in common with religious experience (e.g., feeling connected with the universe, or a blurred sense of separation of self from universe, altered bodily perception, feeling connected to others). Third, many charismatic church-type experiences (e.g., diminished self-consciousness, feeling connected to others or to a greater purpose, etc.) can be created in other large group, impassioned settings such as emotionally charged political rallies, rock concerts, etc. Fourth, users of magic mushrooms and LSD frequently report religious (theistic) or buddhist-like (sense of connectedness with the environment) experiences. Given that religious-type experiences are experienced by people of all faiths and can be generated in a number of secular settings and by some drugs indicates that these experiences do not consitute a strong case for any particular theism, or theism in general.

    6. Arguments based on misinterpretations of science. For instance, ID arguments flagrantly neglect well-established means of evolving an irreducibly complex structure. And the fine-tuning of the universe argument makes the assumption that *this* universe is special and also fails to acknowledge that the small sliver of the universe that we occupy is but a speck of the whole, and thus far it is the only part of the universe that we know of that supports life. The fine tuning argument also fails to acknowledge that for all we know there are other parallel universes with different settings (I’m not saying that such universes are out there, but there is no basis for ranking the plausibility of God above that of other universes).

    7. Argument that atheism is itself a religion. This type of argumentation usually is based on the specific interpretation as the outright denial of a God. To outright deny the existence of a God is surely a faith statement. However, the agnostic atheist position (which I hold) is one of simple lack of belief, rather than outright denial of a God. Since I have no evidence for a God, I don’t believe in one. But I don’t hold the assertive stance that there is no God. Agnostic atheism involves zero faith. And even if it did. Even if agnostic atheism was highly irrational. This would not make theism more rational.

    8. Argument from hindsight-informed cherry-picked scripture. The OT and NT are roughly 1,300 densely packed pages of text written by humans who had a general understanding of things like human nature and how groups interact. It is not surprising that there be a few loose (and very few relatively tight) matches between these texts and the world after they were written. There is also plenty stated in the texts that did not occur (e.g., the creation stories (in many of their details)). Valid prophecy should be specific, not vague, and should not be surrounded by hundreds of pages of prophetically invalid or irrelevant text.

    9. Argument from failure to disprove. Since we haven’t disproven God, it is respectable to believe in God and indeed, the existence of God is a realistic possibility. The postulation of the Flying Spaghetti Monster disqualifies this argument.

  32. ronbrown says:

    Stoobs:

    I was also going to say that I don’t see reason to be particularly assured that AI will create self-aware artificial life. And if it did, how would it know that it did?

    Neil:
    The cosmological argument is not strong. I’ve had this debate out with a commenter named Colin at great length. I can find links to the discussion if you’d like.

    Also, regarding morality, evolution is amoral. There is nothing moral or immoral about preserving one’s genes or the species. I could comment further on the subject of morality more broadly, but instead I’ll just point those who are interested to the currently active thread entitled “Cafe Inquiry: Can we be good without God?” in which the relevant issue of objective morality is being discussed: http://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/2008/02/10/cafe-inquiry-can-we-be-good-without-god/

  33. Neil says:

    Ron, we appear to agree that your worldview has no foundation for morality. Please let Stoobs know. The whole question of “Can we be good without God?” is humorous, because by your own admission there is no universal “good.” Therefore, your answer has to be, “No.” (Unless you want to equivocate and say that “Yes, we can all be good by our own definition of good,” which would be meaningless.

    Thanks for the offer but I’ve seen quite a bit on both sides of the cosmological argument. If you have something new, be sure to let Wikipedia know.

    That’s a handy little pre-emptive list there, but I don’t use those arguments. I actually agree that most are poor arguments to use and did a post on why people shouldn’t use them with atheists ( http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/poor-arguments-to-make-with-atheists/ )

    1. Arguments from ignorance: First, I don’t use that argument, and second, it cuts both ways. The “science of the gaps” is more prevalent in my experience (“we have no idea how the universe came into existence and how life formed, but we know it wasn’t God”). I find the whole “theists are anti-science / anti-progress” bit to be a canard. I love science and what it offers – unless someone thinks we should experiment on human beings, for example.

    2. Arguments from authority: I’ve never used that.

    3. Related to 2 is the argument from popularity: I’ve never used that. In fact, it is un-Biblical. See Matthew 7 (the wide/narrow road). The truth is the truth no matter how few believe it, and a lie is a lie no matter how many believe it. Most people will not repent and believe. I love to share the Gospel with anyone interested in dealing with their problem of sin and separation from God. But if they aren’t interested, I don’t push it.

    4. Argument from morality: That is a strong argument for God here. But if you really think there are no univeral morals (personally, I think that torturing babies for fun is always wrong no matter what culture you are in) then be sure not to make moral claims.

    And you may want to share that with your atheist buddies who make one moral claim after another. Given your postmodern view of morality, no matter what you say about something being good or bad (like Stoobs critiquing – in ignorance – God as revealed in the OT) I’ll always just say, “That’s your opinion. Why should I care?”

    5. Argument from personal experience: I have had personal experiences, but don’t use those as “evidence” for atheists.

    6. Arguments based on misinterpretations of science. –
    Wow, you just shot your credibility to pieces with your parallel universe theory. I’m surprised and disappointed. Seriously, anytime I hear that I view it as a concession speech.

    I realize that is a handy tool to rationalize anything you like. Because with that theory the most unlikely scenarios become givens, because with an infinite number of universes then everything happens eventually, somewhere.

    The alleged disproofs of irreducible complexity fail miserably, but I don’t have time to go into that here. Ok, a quick one – flagellum with different numbers of parts doesn’t mean they evolved. A car designed with three wheels operates fine with three wheels, but a car designed with four wheels can’t run on three.

    7. Argument that atheism is itself a religion. – I never use that.

    8. Argument from hindsight-informed cherry-picked scripture. – Straw man. I’d dig a bit deeper on that one if you really want the truth. Daniel predicted the rise and fall of the Greek empire hundreds of years ahead of time, for example.

    9. Argument from failure to disprove. I never use that.

    Wow, that was quite a list of things I never use – except for the morality item, which has exceptional support for it – and again, whether you are right or not, with your stated views you have no right to make moral claims and expect others to follow them.

    “But don’t claim to be rational. That you are unwilling to allow that something could come from nothing or that life could come from non-life, but you are willing to allow an eternal God, and not just any eternal God, but that of the Bible is untenable.”

    Saying things like that is irrational itself. I have examined the arguments like you have. I think the evidence strongly favors God. The first cause argument is just one of many (logic, morality, etc.). Disbelieve them if you like, but it is rather uncharitable to insist I’m irrational just because I don’t share your assumptions. Seems like cheating to me.

    Have a good life! (Or stop by my place some time). I’ve said all I can here.

    Peace,
    Neil

  34. Neil says:

    Oops – one more thing – I also did a piece on Poor arguments to make with theists. I know you’d never use those, of course.

  35. Stoobs says:

    I think it likely that biologists will be producing living bacteria in labs in the near future in any case, not self aware AI’s, which will probably take a bit longer. I can see how my statements could be read as applying to the self aware machines, however – my mistake rather than anyone else’s there. I intended the creating life in a lab to be an extension of the genetic engineering, with self aware machines as a separate, but equally valid, push in the same direction. I was unclear in my writing.

    Still, if machines are designed that have the various traits we associate with life – self motivation, self reproduction, etc, what makes them not alive? If a machine seems self aware in the face of all tests, who are we to claim that it isn’t self aware? At the moment the problems with creating such machines are more ones of scale and expense than technological limitations. We can build neural networks, we can build machines that build other machines… Add in the ability to acquire and produce their own energy, to self-repair, and whatever other criteria you feel like, and the only objection you have left is “Oh, but they don’t have souls.” Show my a soul, and I’ll accept that criticism.

  36. Stoobs says:

    God provides no foundation for morality either. God is described as being good. If good simply means “acting in accordance with the will of god” then that claim is an empty tautology. In order to god to be good, goodness must be something that exists outside of god, which he simply reveals.

    If god were to appear in the sky, today, and announce that torturing babies is now good, would that make it so? I tend to think that no, it would make god evil. Do you disagree? If so, then it seems like you’re the moral relativist, and I’m the one who believes in an objective standard of morality. If you agree, then you’ve conceded that god is not the source of objective morality.

  37. ronbrown says:

    “Ron, we appear to agree that your worldview has no foundation for morality. Please let Stoobs know. The whole question of “Can we be good without God?” is humorous, because by your own admission there is no universal “good.” Therefore, your answer has to be, “No.” (Unless you want to equivocate and say that “Yes, we can all be good by our own definition of good,” which would be meaningless.” [I’ve never said that there is no moral foundation without God. Do you really need an objective standard in order to take other people’s feelings into account? Do you really need a God to tell you that it would not be very nice to violate the trust, stability or safety of others or society as a whole simply for your own gain or enjoyment? I don’t need a God in order to be a person who considers the well-being of others. If you can genuinely say that without God you would have no other reason to not go around raping, betraying, maiming and killing, then I have some serious questions to you about your morality. The fact of the matter is that there is not evidence for an objective morality, as I’ll discuss below in a bit more detail]

    “1. Arguments from ignorance: First, I don’t use that argument, and second, it cuts both ways. The “science of the gaps” is more prevalent in my experience (”we have no idea how the universe came into existence and how life formed, but we know it wasn’t God”).” [I don’t know many scientists who say that they know there is no God. And if you can point one out, then I’ll be the first to say that they’re being ridiculous. We don’t know that there is no God. There’s just no evidence indicating that there is. The mere existence of the universe, morality, etc is not an argument for God. To make such an argument would be an argument from ignorance.]

    4. Argument from morality: That is a strong argument for God here. But if you really think there are no univeral morals (personally, I think that torturing babies for fun is always wrong no matter what culture you are in) then be sure not to make moral claims.

    [There really isn’t a strong argument for God here. The notion of universal morals cannot be validated by considering your own feelings or those prevalent in society. Most people who look at the sky say that the sky is blue. But that doesn’t mean that the sky is objectively blue. All it means is that humans perceive what they call the sky to be what they call blue. You yourself said above that a lie is a lie no matter how many people believe it, indicating that truth is not democratically determined. Surely you would agree that human vision is not by any means a transparent scope of the objective world. Why assume that what we call morality is?

    There is actually converging evidence from the cognitive and biological sciences indicating that moral cognition is a natural evolutionary phenomenon. Behaviour that we describe as morally relevant (e.g., sharing with those who have less, foregoing pleasurable experience to save another animal from experiencing pain, recognizing familial and fidelity relationships and recognizing violations of these (e.g., one member of a pair-bond mating with someone other than their pair-mate as being something worthy of contempt)) have been demonstrated in nonhuman animals (I’ve heard of studies showing these sorts of findings in species from mice to nonhuman primates). Another finding that is very interesting is that of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons have been found in a wide range of species, including mice, songbirds, nonhuman primates and humans. These neurons are called “mirror neurons” because they fire both when on organism carries out or attempts to carry out an intention (e.g., picking up a banana) as well as when they observe another organism carry out or attempt to carry out that intention. Mirror neurons provide a cognitive neurological means by which our brains can simulate the experience of others and put ourselves in their shoes. Mirror neurons allow us to feel emotional experiences of particular encounters without actually encountering them, but observing others encountering them. Since these emotions are activated, there is an impetus for moral behaviour. This cognitive neurological account provides a real evidence-based account of why we feel moral intuitions in the absence of objective moral standards.]

    “And you may want to share that with your atheist buddies who make one moral claim after another. Given your postmodern view of morality, no matter what you say about something being good or bad (like Stoobs critiquing – in ignorance – God as revealed in the OT) I’ll always just say, “That’s your opinion. Why should I care?”” [You should care because we are living, breathing people just like you who have feelings and just want to be respected and allowed to live our lives like you. Is that not a good enough reason? If you were to become an atheist, would you no longer care about the feelings of others? I don’t think that is true. You would care as much as you ever did, I imagine.]

    “6. Arguments based on misinterpretations of science. –
    Wow, you just shot your credibility to pieces with your parallel universe theory. I’m surprised and disappointed. Seriously, anytime I hear that I view it as a concession speech.”
    [How did I hurt my credibility? How did I make a concession speech? Just as we can’t disprove God, we can’t disprove parallel universes? Why favour God over parallel universes? Why favour God over a pre-existing universe with different laws than our own, including perhaps infinite existence? I’m not saying that I believe in any of these things, but how can I disqualify them?]

    “The alleged disproofs of irreducible complexity fail miserably, but I don’t have time to go into that here. Ok, a quick one – flagellum with different numbers of parts doesn’t mean they evolved. A car designed with three wheels operates fine with three wheels, but a car designed with four wheels can’t run on three.”

    [Who says that the flagellum was intended ahead of time (parallel to a car being designed to have 4 wheels)? The more plausible explanation is that earlier components of it served completely different functions early on. Once each component (or fractions of each component) evolved, they became a part of what was available for selection, which allowed for new evolutionary possibilities that were not present before any of the parts were there. And even if we were legitimately baffled by irreducible complexity and had nothing to say, that would not give the slightest bit of justification to theism. If all of science was completely discarded, we would have no more reason to believe in God (your God, or any other) than we have now. The one and only rational thing to do would be to become blank slate agnostics.]

    8. Argument from hindsight-informed cherry-picked scripture. – Straw man. I’d dig a bit deeper on that one if you really want the truth. Daniel predicted the rise and fall of the Greek empire hundreds of years ahead of time, for example.

    [How specific was the “prediction”, what evidence did he have to work with before hand (could this have reasonably been predicted by a regular person? or could it have been guessed with a reasonable chance of fortuitous luck?), could you have anticipated this event before it happened based on the scripture, and how much neutral or fallacious alleged prophecy surrounds this particular unit? Also, was prophecy even intended to be prophecy? I’ve heard that it was more about saying what would happen if something else happen, as sort of cautionary lessons, rather than psychism]

    “Wow, that was quite a list of things I never use – except for the morality item, which has exceptional support for it – and again, whether you are right or not, with your stated views you have no right to make moral claims and expect others to follow them.”

    [Where is this exceptional proof? And why do I not have any right to make moral claims when I am a person with feelings and, as far as I can tell, so do others?]

    “Saying things like that is irrational itself. I have examined the arguments like you have. I think the evidence strongly favors God.”

    [Okay, make a case for it for that doesn’t fall into one of the traps I mentioned in my last post.]

  38. This Busy Monster says:

    Nothing finite and dependent (contingent) can cause itself.
    A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.

    Why?

  39. ronbrown says:

    TBM: Your last post reminds me of another argument against theism. Theism depends on the idea that God is beyond human understanding: his will and his ways. If theists are prepared to accept that what God did/does, how he did/does it, and why he did/does it are beyond our conceptual abilities, then they should also be willing to accept that other potential causes to the universe (including self-cause) are not possibilities that they can dismiss out of hand.

  40. This Busy Monster says:

    Yeah, the eventual point is that their definition of the situation simply begs the question and that the basic formulation of the argument has no merit to begin with. It amounts to the same old “I think so.” argument that we see so often.

    “Poor arguments to make with theists” should be retitled “Things I have no sensible answers for, please don’t bring them up around me, it makes my brain hurt.”

  41. Russ says:

    For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor 1:26-29)

  42. ronbrown says:

    Russ: I’m glad you’re able to think outside of the Bible…

  43. This Busy Monster says:

    I may be taking this out of context, but Russ’s bible quotation seems to suggest that the bigger ass he publicly makes of himself, the greater the glory of God.

    If so, that explains a lot of the lame arguments these believers come up with.

    I’m not a Bible scholar though, so I can’t say for sure.

  44. This Busy Monster says:

    The Tao is like a well:
    used but never used up.
    It is like the eternal void:
    filled with infinite possibilities.

    It is hidden but always present.
    I don’t know who gave birth to it.
    It is older than God.

    Tao Te Ching, Chapter 4

    If we are just quoting old books as arguments, it looks like the argument is over. Tao ftw.

  45. Russ says:

    Yes, pressing the “Submit Comment” button took me years to figure out. I couldn’t find it anywhere in my Bible… -:)

    Ron, I liked your comments on 90 day Jane but I don’t understand how the product of random chance can find or even create purpose. Can you show an example of any product of random chance, a flower or a worm, creating its own purpose for existence? Can you even define purpose?

    Life is precious because we were created in the image of God. If I am not created in His image, there is no purpose to life as Jane concluded.

    But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. – Purpose.

    Christians may be the most stupid, ignorant people on the face of the earth but at least we know what our purpose is.

  46. This Busy Monster says:

    Christians may be the most stupid, ignorant people on the face of the earth but at least we know what our purpose is.

    Christians, like everyone else in the world who have a purpose, choose their purpose and then follow it. Each of them is completely responsible for the choice they make and how they live that choice out.

    The big difference is that Christians seem to make their choice out of some kind of fear of being responsible, so they invest a lot of effort in rationalization and superstition.

    I don’t think anybody here would deny you your superstition, as long as you don’t try to claim it is more than it is.

  47. Stoobs says:

    Purpose is overrated. Purpose invites failure to achieve, it invites frustration and stress, it enervates and destroys. Purpose is a poison of the mind, a narrowing of the vision, an incitement to conflict. Life is simply to be lived, day to day, and enjoyed for what it is. Attempting to assign it purpose reduces it, excludes those elements which conflict with the purpose, raises up some parts and lowers others.

    To the man with a purpose, a day that does not bring them closer to that purpose is wasted, a thing which guides them in a new direction is an obstacle, a person who does not share that purpose is an opponent. To the man without purpose, each day is a rising and setting of the sun, each thing is just a thing, to be appreciated for what it is, and all people are simply people, to be judged solely by how they affect you.

    Purpose is the problem. Of all the religions I have encountered in books and in people, Taoism is the only one which I capitalize, because it is the one which dispenses with the evil that is purpose. A full stomach, a warm place to sleep, and experiences which expand your mind and bring contentment – if that is all you ask from life, you will rarely be disappointed.

  48. Justin says:

    So, Stoobs, it would seem your purpose is to get up, eat, make sure you do what is needed to keep a roof over your head, eat some more, then go to sleep. These things don’t just occur in a vacuum. You have to act to have them. This is doing things with a purpose. There is no act without purpose. Engaging in experience to “expand your mind and bring contentment” is a purposeful act. You are participating in an experience with the purpose of achieving the desired outcome.
    Nice try. Good day.

  49. ronbrown says:

    Russ says: “Ron, I liked your comments on 90 day Jane but I don’t understand how the product of random chance can find or even create purpose. Can you show an example of any product of random chance, a flower or a worm, creating its own purpose for existence? Can you even define purpose?”

    [Can you show any evidence for Christianity aside from arguments from ignorance and desparation like “without Christ, there is no purpose”? Next, evolution is not about random chance. It’s primary mechanism for generating functionally-complex mechanism is by the process of natural selection which at its core basically says: what will probably happen will probably happen; organisms with traits that allow for greater reproduction will generally speaking reproduce more. That is anything but random chance. Now how life and the universe came about, I have no idea. Maybe they were elements of random chance. I have no idea, and neither do you—as much as you might think you do. As for how the sense of purpose could have come about, I have no idea and I am perfectly fine with that. I am comfortable admitting what I do not know. But what the evidence suggests is that species evolved. This is a scientific fact, not a theory, a fact. (Clarification: evolutionary theory refers to the mechanisms by which evolution occurred (e.g., natural selection); that evolution (i.e., the genotypic and phenotypic compositions of populations did change over generations) is a widely recognized scientific fact, given the overwhelming evidence from genetics, the fossil record, and comparative anatomy and embryology). Given the powerful evidence for evolution, and given the absense of evidence for a God, the only epistemological path that has been paved is that of evolution. Now, what are the qualities of the units of evolution? Is there some element of consciousness to matter? Did consciousness simply emerge from certain configurations of nonconscious matter in a fashion analogous to how economic systems emerge from the behaviour of individual self-interested individuals? Who knows? There is nothing wrong with admitting that one does not know. In fact, it’s the only rational and honest thing to do.]

    “Life is precious because we were created in the image of God. If I am not created in His image, there is no purpose to life as Jane concluded.”
    [First off, the Jane thing was a hoax. There is no reason to believe that she actually thinks life is purposeless without God. However, I’ll concede that there probably are at least some atheists out there who think that, and this is a travesty. That our society is so wrapped up in unsubstantiated fairy tales that people claim are the root of meaning, purpose, and morality is clearly not only ridiculous, but it can be destructive to individuals by tricking some into thinking that they meaning cannot be internally generated. Second, why not simply say that life is precious because we were created in Umbilio’s image, and if we were not created in It’s image, life has no purpose? Umbilio, by the way, is a God that I just made up this instant. You can’t disprove Umbilio, just like you can’t disprove God. And if you can put forth a cogent argument for your God that does not depend on arguments from ignorance, authority, political convenience (e.g., we need a moral system), cherry-picked scripture, misunderstandings of science, the mischaracterization of atheism as a religion, personal experience (which people of all religions have, as do secular meditators, the users of some drugs, and some participants in emotionally-charged social events), and the like, you should write a book and become the savior of Christianity.]

    “Christians may be the most stupid, ignorant people on the face of the earth but at least we know what our purpose is.””
    [No, you don’t know your purpose. You *think* you know your purpose. If you knew your purpose, it wouldn’t be called faith (i.e., belief without sufficient evidence), it’d just be plain old standard rationality.]

  50. Stoobs says:

    If you are willing to construe purpose broadly enough, sure, I have purpose. In that case, though, you seem to have undermined the argument for religion given above. I am an atheist, yet I apparently have just as much purpose as someone who believes in god.

    I, however, only do these things because life is more pleasant that way. If I were to suffer from some disease that made every moment painful, or if my life were otherwise to become unpleasant in a way that appeared unchangeable, I would kill myself rather than continue working to maintain a life that wasn’t worth living. In other words, my bothering to eat and keep a roof over my head is contingent on other things, and therefore can hardly be considered a purpose.

    In any case, you have two options here. Either construe purpose broadly enough that everyone has one, and eliminate the argument you think it provides for theism, or accept my basic position that it is possible to live a pleasant, subjectively worthwhile life without the need for purpose.

  51. Russ says:

    Can you show any evidence for Christianity aside from arguments from ignorance and desperation like “without Christ, there is no purpose”?

    No, I cannot prove to you that God exists. I can only tell you that I know that God exists because He has revealed Himself to me personally. Is it possible that God would chose to reveal Himself to some people and not to others? Yes. In fact, if you look at your own life, you will find you do the same.

    In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. (Luke 10:21)

    If you told me that you spoke with president bush on a daily basis, I might think that you are delusional but I might also conclude that it is possible that you could be telling me the truth.

  52. The major difference is that Bush exists and god doesn’t. If you said you spoke to the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, we would draw the obvious conclusion. There are a lot of 4 year olds that believe in both; still, they don’t exist.

    “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” Nietzsche

  53. ronbrown says:

    Russ:

    Hi. Well, if you’ve had such a personal experience and have given it credence, there really isn’t too much I can say to you. Really, all I can do is repeat that Christians are not the only ones who have had these experiences. People of all faiths have. And having religious-type experiences (e.g., feeling a decreased sense of self and/or an increased awareness of the self, increased sense of connection to the environment and others, etc.) is also not restricted to the faithful. Secular meditators and the users of drugs such as LSD and mushrooms have had these sorts of experiences as well.

    A compelling experience is a compelling experience, I’ll give you that. But lots of people have had the sorts of experiences we categorize as spiritual. The experiences clearly are out of the ordinary. People are obviously going to try to understand these amazing and peculiar experiences. It makes sense that a person in North America would attribute the transcendental and personally transformative experience to the Christian God, given that the Christian God is a pervasively endorsed supernatural concept associated with notions such as great power, spirituality, and the ability to touch individuals personally. Had you grown up in Afghanistan, chances are you would have attributed your experiences to Allah. If you were born in India, you would probably be a Hindu.

    When people come to take religious teachings in more a metaphorical sense, it’s amazing how the ideas come to converge on a number of Buddhist-like notions. I personally would love to see the full-blown metaphorization of religions, where people cease to view God as being some conscious entity that will reward or punish us, and start to view God in a more abstract sense. God could refer to the totality of the universe, the connection among people, the sense of what is important and meaningful, and one’s connection to the universe. This could be a beautiful experience.

  54. Russ says:

    If such a relationship with God were possible, an intimate relationship, it would only be possible if God were willing to reveal Himself. If He did not reveal Himself in some way to a person, that person would be unable to comprehend who God is. He would be like the blind man trying to imagine the sunset.

    But mankind is not like the blind man. It is not that man cannot understand that God exists, it is that man DOES understand that God exists but he suppresses the truth. He attacks the truth. And because man is in rebellion against God, man is under the wrath of God.

    The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, knight unto knight reveal knowledge. There is no language nor speech where their voice is not heard.

  55. ronbrown says:

    Russ: Just because you have an experience, it doesn’t mean that your attribution of that experience is accurate. You are essentially saying that humans can never hallucinate, and can never misappraise an experience. Humans are *known* to misappraise experiences. This has been extremely well demonstrated in psychology. People constantly misappraise their psychological states.

    Further, in order for your appraisal to be correct, how many other appraisals need to be incorrect?

    A friend of mine responded to this query by saying that it could be the case that there is a God, and the different religions each view that God from a different perspective. Thus, he admits that there is no reason to believe that any of the religions provide a comprehensive or completely accurate portrayal of God. I have a rebuttal for this, too. Firstly, how does one know that their appraisal of God for their religious experiences are simply completely off base. What if there is no God and they’re just making an incorrect appraisal. Related to this, how do we know which aspects of a given religion are the correct ones? Perhaps the speculation of God is incorrect. Perhaps the most important things that religions tap on is a sense of commitment to the sorts of things that are *truly* important in life; things like community, love, caring for others, not getting too wrapped up in oneself, not getting caught up in things like the rat race, etc. Perhaps it is these sorts of things that various religions have right. It is known that the practice of meditation, which can be practiced so as to cultivate less egocentrism, stronger empathy for others, lovingkindness to oneself and others, and mindfulness which can keep one connected to what is important and minimize distraction (e.g., getting caught up in things like the rat race). Perhaps it is these sorts of themes that are the core of spiritual experience, be they secular or religious. Now, of course a belief in God will affect this experience. But all kinds of beliefs can affect our experience, and the beliefs need not be true. If I told you that your mother died and you trusted me, you’d feel horrible. But what, for some reason, I was lying to you? Your overwhelming emotions wouldn’t make my lie any truer.

  56. Stoobs says:

    Forget meditation and drug use. Scientists can use electrical stimulation of the brain to directly produce a religious experience that lasts as long as the power stays on. Religious experiences are brain events, and can be produced by acting directly on the brain, without the need for any supernatural cause.

    At the same time, the person having the experience attaches their own meaning to it – christians associate it with Christ, buddhists with Buddha, and atheists with the wires hanging off their head.

  57. ronbrown says:

    Would many Buddhists associate it with Buddha? Don’t most Buddhists just view Buddha as having been a very special person, but still a person? It is an atheistic religion. Though a commentor has said that some Buddhists talk of the Buddha as being super-human.

    All this time I’ve been forgetting to mention the findings using the God helmet.

  58. Asad says:

    A couple characters are on here more than once including Dagon and Futsu-nushi-no-kami. Learn to proofread.

    asad123.wordpress.com

  59. lockligger says:

    More than simply a creative, deep-thinking, compassionate and insightful human male, Buddhists regard the Buddha as having fully transcended fundamental ignorance and self deception, and having established a comprehensive discipline for others to achieve the same effect. Since that is an exceedingly difficult thing to do, Buddhists regard the Buddha as someone very special and worthy of reverence, but it is taught that worshiping the Buddha or praying to the Buddha will not bring enlightenment or transcendence of ignorance. One must engage in the discipline of meditation and do the work.

  60. Russ says:

    “One must engage in the discipline of meditation and do the work.”

    Every religion in the world is based upon the works of the believer. Every religion except one, that is:

    For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. [Eph 2:8,9]

  61. A brahmin once asked The Blessed One:
    “Are you a God?”
    “No, brahmin” said The Blessed One.
    “Are you a saint?”
    “No, brahmin” said The Blessed One.
    “Are you a magician?”
    “No, brahmin” said The Blessed One.
    “What are you then?”
    “I am awake.”

    Buddha was not a God, saint, or magician. End of story.
    :D

  62. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. [Eph 2:8,9]

    So… Christians are lazy and expect their God to do all the work? Poor hard-working God. ;_:

    (Before you get your back up Russ, yes, I’m only joking)

    On a more serious note, one of the things that does disturb me about Christianity is the way it can be interpreted to promote the idea that humans are inherently bad (oringinal sin) and that we’re helpless to do anything about this without the aid of God.

    Firstly, I’ve always found humans to be inherently good – it’s only when we become deluded that we do bad things.

    Secondly, even if we were ‘inherently bad’, I still don’t like the idea of helplessness in the face of our so-called ‘baser’ nature.

    These ideas make me uncomfortable enough each on their own – but I really don’t like the product of them when they come together.

    Looking forward to your response, Russ.

  63. Russ says:

    UC,

    “Bad” is a relative term, wouldn’t you agree? Bad compared to what?

    The standard that God gives us in His word is based upon HIS definition of bad. And His definition of bad is based on who He is at His very core – He is HOLY – without sin:

    This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. [1 John 1:5]

    So God, who is perfectly holy, sets the standard for mankind and He communicated this standard in His word. You have heard of this standard before I am sure – The 10 commandments – God says that this is the standard He will accept. If any man will only keep these 10 simple commandments – God will receive Him into heaven – no questions asked.

    For fun, here is just one of the commandments:

    “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” [Ex 20:17]

    You will notice that this command pertains to the heart of man, not his actions. In other words, even if a person has been faithful to one wife for his entire life but if has looked at a woman to lust for her in his heart, he is guilty of breaking this commandment.

    Jesus said this about the “heart” of mankind:

    For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man… [Mat 15:19, 20]

    That is why the Bible says that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

    And,

    “…the soul that sins – it shall die”

    So, how about it? Do you still think that man is good? Do you still believe that you are capable of keeping just ONE of the commandments? We did not even look at the other nine.

    And then there is the obvious – like WAR – RAPE – MURDER – THEFTS – etc.

    The fact is, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” [Jer 17:9]

    When Jesus died on the cross – it was no accident. He willingly offered His own life in your place. He willing took the punishment for your sin – death.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [John 3:16-18]

    The only sin that remains that will condemn a man in hell is to reject the salvation that God freely offers to you.

  64. “Bad” is a relative term, wouldn’t you agree?

    No. No I wouldn’t.

    We all want to achieve happiness and avoid suffering. “Good” is just sloppy language for “somthing that leads towards happiness” and “bad” is just sloppy language for “something that leads towards suffering”.

    I really don’t see how happiness and suffering can be construed to be relative terms. The fine details of what would make each person happy (or make them suffer) might be relative, but there’s plenty that are standard for everyone. Health, security, freedom from abuse, friends, family, good food and drink, a place to live, and creature comforts are all things that are fairly universal in the pursuit of happiness and the freedom from suffering. These things aren’t relative, they’re common and universal to all humans – some of them even extend to animals!

    You set up your last post as if you were arguing against a moral relativist, which is not the case. Swing and a miss!

    Batterup! Next ball:

    Happiness and Suffering are universal and non-relative, and are the basis against which morality should be understood to function. That which increases happiness is moral, and that which decreases happiness is immoral. That which increases suffering is immoral, and that which decreases suffering is moral.

    I grant that there will be tricky, borderline cases. There will be tricky cases in any moral system – this is common to all of them, so doesn’t count against any individual system more than it counts against any other.

    Outside of this, I think it stands as a pretty good empirical, objective system for the generation, revision, and maintenance of moral codes.

    So taking morality from scripture is okay – but we have to check to make sure it isn’t going to lead to excessive suffering first, and that it will actually make people’s lives better if we do implement it.

    Scripture should be subject to our compassion. If it is not, then we’re all in trouble.

    Once again, looking forward to your response.

  65. Blogging with Badger has a good example of why this kind of thing is important. Taking a quote:

    “And [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” – 2 Kings 2:23-24 (KJV)

    Is this the kind of scripture that you’re suggesting we take as moral loaw, without the temperence of compassion?

  66. *take as moral law…. Stupid uneditable comments.

  67. Neil says:

    “Scripture should be subject to our compassion. If it is not, then we’re all in trouble.”

    Actually, when we get in trouble is when we pervert the moral law to satisfy our own selfish desires.

    Moral laws requires a moral law giver. Otherwise there is no obligation to follow them.

    “That which increases happiness is moral, and that which decreases happiness is immoral. That which increases suffering is immoral, and that which decreases suffering is moral.”

    I encourage you to think through that some more. Someone could rape an unconscious person to increase their happiness. If the unconscious person didn’t know it happened they wouldn’t be unhappy. That is clearly an immoral act, though. It would decrease the suffering of prisoners if we let them out of jail, but that might not increase the happiness of those outside prison.

    Using some kind of net-net utilitarian theory may seem practical but it falls apart quickly. What if it decreases your happiness by 100 “utils” if I rob you but increases my happiness by 110? Is that moral? Or if it only increases my happiness by 90 is it immoral?

    I could cite many other examples.

    Re. Elisha – If you really care about that, there are plenty of explanations available. Try Tektonics.org – they probably have something.

  68. L. Ron Brown says:

    If anyone would like to go through the incredibly easy process of deconstructing the many problems with Neil’s post – and then potentially follow that by going through the long and frustrating process of engaging in a pointless debate with him afterward, I encourage you to do so. But I have had the very same discussion that his comment will lead into a few times over with other people and do not have the time to do it again.

    Consider engaging in such a public debate to be your act of charity for the week: You will have done your part to show to small set of readers how notions that morality stems from a sky daddy is unfounded.

  69. Stoobs says:

    Most sophisticated, modern utilitarian theorists have considered his arguments long ago, and refined their theories accordingly. For example, one position holds that the primary consideration should not be total net utility, but rather the effect specifically on those who are worst off. In other words, its not increasing net utility that matters, but rather increasing minimum utility. Others point out to the great disutility of laws which do not protect people from being raped, beaten, or stolen from, and the simple fact that blanket protection from these eventualities brings far more utility than any situation in which they are sometimes permitted.

    Of course, you have already heard all of these arguments from L. Ron, and completely ignored them, since you are still using the same, refuted arguments here, so lets take a quick look at your alternative to utilitarian morality.

    Any moral system which condemns people for thoughts rather than actions (for wanting to do something wrong, rather than for doing it) is obviously insane, and worse than that, gives no real incentive not to act on such thoughts, since the moment the thought occurs you are already guilty.

    When the imaginary entity that judges these people based on their thoughts and feelings is the same entity that determines their character, and thus what thoughts and feelings they have, it goes from simply insane to perverse and evil. Holding someone morally accountable for something that is completely beyond their control is pretty warped, but holding them accountable for something that is beyond their control, and under yours, is sick.

    God almost certainly does not exist, but if he did, the bible would reveal him to be the lowest scum imaginable, a worthless shit heap of a being, a disgusting puss-filled cock-wart of a deity. There is nothing remotely good about the entity described in the bible – it is selfish, prideful, and obsessed with dominance and revenge, with no interest at all in improving the world or helping anyone but itself.

  70. Neil says:

    Gee, hard to reason with intellects like that. “Sky daddy?” Wow, never heard that before. I stand by my comments and just encourage any middle grounders to consider the foolishness of the “anything that improves your happiness” is good nonsense.

    Stoobs, I highly recommend some anger management classes for you. Seriously, I’m not sure who wounded you and when, but there is hope. And don’t light a match around all those straw men you’ve created.

    Don’t worry about a pointless debate with me. I just dropped in again because this post got refreshed in my WordPress comments reader (one of the things I hate about that is that making one comment on an extended thread means it pops up over and over).

    You guys are quite the self-parody. In true Dawkinsian fashion, you never live out the logical conclusions of your worldview, with every word you utter about morality mocking your very core beliefs.

    Carry on, you’re doing great!

  71. L. Ron Brown says:

    When did I say that anything that improves one’s own happiness is good?

    Haha, Neil. Enjoy your fantasy world. Let me know when you step outside of lalaland. You’re brainwashed pretty thoroughly, though, so I won’t hold my breath.

  72. Neil says:

    You critiqued my analysis of Che’s reasoning, which specifically said: “That which increases happiness is moral.” If you think Che is wrong, then we agree.

    If I’m brainwashed then it was self-inflicted. I was a skeptical atheist/agnostic until I was 28 or so. I did a thorough examination of the evidence and am convinced that, among other things, Jesus really rose from the dead. Life hasn’t been the same since. That doesn’t mean I’m right, but it does mean that little straw men ad homs about indoctrination, brainwashing, etc. are misguided, however comforting they may be to atheists.

  73. Rational Neil says:

    Neil –
    you state that before you were 28 you were an atheist, so you presumably have first hand experience of living life without ‘The Moral Law’. During these years you must have indulged in all kinds of depraved practices; drowning babies, sodomy, coveting oxen, eating shellfish etc…

    Now that you realise that you were born with original sin, you must see that these acts were ‘the norm’ and you must repent and follow Jesus in order to save your own eternal soul.

    Do you acknowledge that there exist atheists who lead ‘good’ lives based on feelings of empathy with humanity; and that these people may, actually, occupy the moral high ground over those who resist their predisposition to ‘sin’ based on a belief that they will burn for eternity if they don’t?

    You will improve you’re argument no end if you give some grizzly examples of your immoral behaviour before you saw the light, just to show what terrible consequences ensue from non-belief.
    (Remember, bearing false witness is a no-no)

  74. Neil says:

    Hi Rational Neil,

    First, you tipped your hand regarding your misunderstanding of original sin and the moral law. The shellfish argument, for example, is full of holes but is appealing to many because so few bother to read the passages in context. I encourage you to read flaws of the shellfish argument.

    No big deal, a lot of people make that mistake. The real question is whether you are sincerely interested in understanding the Bible in context or if you are just another person taking potshots. I’ll let you decide that.

    “Do you acknowledge that there exist atheists who lead ‘good’ lives based on feelings of empathy with humanity;”

    Absolutely, provided that by ‘good’ you mean relative to other people (I inferrred that you did). I did a piece on my blog about poor arguments to use with atheists. Among other things, I noted that:

    Don’t confuse moral behavior with a foundation for morality. The claim that atheists don’t have a foundation for morality (a true statement in my view) is often miscommunicated or misinterpreted as saying they don’t have morals (a typically unfair and inaccurate statement). Some atheists have better morals than “religious” people (and they hang out at this blog ;-) ).

    However, the “molecules to man” approach does not provide a foundation for morality. Classic atheist arguments attempt to read one in, but if you pay close attention you’ll see that they always bring some kind of moral framework in the back door. I think they often do it unwittingly (mainly because it is so hard to get away from moral reasoning).

    For example, I’ve seen the line of thinking that says such-and-such is moral because it is good for the perpetuation of the species. But note how that assumes a universal moral good of perpetuating the species. But where is the materialist proof for that? Who cares if the species is perpetuated if we are just a bunch of molecules? In the Darwinian worldview, lots of species have gone extinct – even before these awful, awful humans showed up.

    I’m not denying the innate desire to live and help others, and I’m not denying that atheists don’t have the same feelings. I’m just saying that materialistic philosophy can’t provide that foundation.

    “and that these people may, actually, occupy the moral high ground over those who resist their predisposition to ’sin’ based on a belief that they will burn for eternity if they don’t?”

    Again, you misunderstand the Gospel completely. We don’t resist sinning because that saves us – though I know many false belief systems such as the LDS church and way too many Biblically illiterate Christians who teach salvation by works. Those are heresies.

    We are saved by what Jesus did on our behalf. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. We gladly accept his pardon. My countless sins were transferred to his account, and his perfect righteousness was transferred to mine so that I can be right with God. If you don’t believe that then so be it. I’m on the Great Commission, not the paid commission. But that is what the Bible teaches.

    If I really thought that grizzly examples would sway you to Christ I’d be glad to share them. I basically broke all the commandments most of the time (no murders – but plenty of hate, no adultery – but plenty of lust, plenty of lying, using the Lord’s name in vain, coveting most of the time, etc.). Even when I did good things they were for my glory, not God’s, so those didn’t even count as good deeds.

    Another false notion people have of Christians is that we don’t sin after becoming believers. Paul covers this in Romans 7 quite well.

    Having said all that I will attest in “true witness” that this life is way, way better with Jesus (and we aren’t even talking about eternal life yet). I love him, I love serving in his name, I love fellowshipping with other believers, and so on. It has its challenges, but there is no way I’d go back.

    Peace,
    Irrational Neil ;-)

  75. Everyone Else:
    Thanks for the support, I do appreciate the sentiment – but I call dibs on Neil. Please let me fight my own battles. It’s more fun that way. :P
    Neil:

    You critiqued my analysis of Che’s reasoning, which specifically said: “That which increases happiness is moral.” If you think Che is wrong, then we agree.

    Yes. I did say that. I also said this:

    Scripture should be subject to our compassion. If it is not, then we’re all in trouble.

    I was using the universiality of happiness and suffering to justify the standard of compassion as the basis of morality. Compassion doesn’t just mean ‘increase net communal happiness’, although I’ll grant that a lot of the time it does. Compassion is the human ability to share in the happiness and suffering of those around you.

    Since I clearly do need to spell out where I’m coming from and define my terms, let’s take a quick jaunt into the science of neruology. :D

    When a person engages in an action – say, digging a hole – their brain can be scanned to see which areas are active. They contrast this against the scan of that person’s brain when they are at rest, and this way try and distinguish which areas of the brain are ‘active’ because the person is digging.

    They then do the same thing with a person who is watching a person dig. They find that many of the same areas involved in performing the action are also active in the person who is merely observing.

    Some of these areas will also be active when the observer is only imaginging that he is seeing someone who is digging, or when the observer is imaginging that he himself are digging.

    It’s not too far to go from this to see what I’m saying. When we witness happiness or suffering in others, it is very possible for these things to be echoed within us. It’s perfectly natural, and cognitive imitation of this sort can be explained very well through natural selection. No law-giver involved at all.

    Now, to take your example:

    Someone could rape an unconscious person to increase their happiness. If the unconscious person didn’t know it happened they wouldn’t be unhappy. That is clearly an immoral act, though

    First of all, you’ve confused happiness with sexual pleasure – the two are not always positively correlated. You’ve also ignored the possibility that the unconscious person may still be able to feel everything being done to them, regardless of whether or not they can remember it afterwards. And you’ve totally failed to show how this could possibly be regarded as an act of compassion.

    I acknowledge that there are tricky areas in the idea of compassion as the basis for morality, but the example of raping an unconscious person isn’t one of them.

    Also note that the second we try to set up any kind of system, we wind up with tricky areas. All systems have tricky areas – the existence of tricky areas alone aren’t grounds to dismiss a system.

    Take unchanging moral law, for instance. The meanings of words change over time even when those words remain static in a phonetic sense. So any law which can be expressed in words is doomed to change in meaning, even if the words that get written down in the first place stay the same. So in a very real sense, the kind of immutable and static moral law that you’re talking about is actually impossible.

    But this is just a tricky point, and there are work arounds. This tricky point, in and of itself, doesn’t render the concept of immutable moral law irrelevant any more than the tricky points of a system based on compassion would render that concept irrelevant.

    So instead of attacking the fringes of my argument, would you please attack the argument itself? You pulled the same trick when you tried to argue against me as if I were an absolute moral relativist. It’s annoying.

    To give an example of attacking the argument for rigid and unchanging moral law square-on: Suppose you had a source of moral law that passed all tests for perfection and authority. In that text it said that raping unconscious people was an act blessed by the moral authority. Under the concept of unchanging moral law that you’re describing, the very example you used against me would not only be accepted – it would be encouraged.

    The bible may not have this example in it (note that I’m not conceding that the bible passes all tests for perfection and authority – it’s just an example), but consider Psalm 137:8-9 where it is written:

    8O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
    How blessed will be the one who repays you
    With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
    9How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
    Against the rock.

    This is an immutable moral law that actually encourages infanticide – a clearly immoral act. It is clearly immoral because we are compassionate, and we feel the pain of those little ones as they are dashed upon the rocks.

    If there must be a law-giver, let that law-giver be compassion – not scripture.

  76. (Ron: I missed a closing tag in my last post? This post is a direct copy – can you delete the old one, please? It’s embarassing.)

    Everyone Else:
    Thanks for the support, I do appreciate the sentiment – but I call dibs on Neil. Please let me fight my own battles. It’s more fun that way. :P
    Neil:

    You critiqued my analysis of Che’s reasoning, which specifically said: “That which increases happiness is moral.” If you think Che is wrong, then we agree.

    Yes. I did say that. I also said this:

    Scripture should be subject to our compassion. If it is not, then we’re all in trouble.

    I was using the universiality of happiness and suffering to justify the standard of compassion as the basis of morality. Compassion doesn’t just mean ‘increase net communal happiness’, although I’ll grant that a lot of the time it does. Compassion is the human ability to share in the happiness and suffering of those around you.

    Since I clearly do need to spell out where I’m coming from and define my terms, let’s take a quick jaunt into the science of neruology. :D

    When a person engages in an action – say, digging a hole – their brain can be scanned to see which areas are active. They contrast this against the scan of that person’s brain when they are at rest, and this way try and distinguish which areas of the brain are ‘active’ because the person is digging.

    They then do the same thing with a person who is watching a person dig. They find that many of the same areas involved in performing the action are also active in the person who is merely observing.

    Some of these areas will also be active when the observer is only imaginging that he is seeing someone who is digging, or when the observer is imaginging that he himself are digging.

    It’s not too far to go from this to see what I’m saying. When we witness happiness or suffering in others, it is very possible for these things to be echoed within us. It’s perfectly natural, and cognitive imitation of this sort can be explained very well through natural selection. No law-giver involved at all.

    Now, to take your example:

    Someone could rape an unconscious person to increase their happiness. If the unconscious person didn’t know it happened they wouldn’t be unhappy. That is clearly an immoral act, though

    First of all, you’ve confused happiness with sexual pleasure – the two are not always positively correlated. You’ve also ignored the possibility that the unconscious person may still be able to feel everything being done to them, regardless of whether or not they can remember it afterwards. And you’ve totally failed to show how this could possibly be regarded as an act of compassion.

    I acknowledge that there are tricky areas in the idea of compassion as the basis for morality, but the example of raping an unconscious person isn’t one of them.

    Also note that the second we try to set up any kind of system, we wind up with tricky areas. All systems have tricky areas – the existence of tricky areas alone aren’t grounds to dismiss a system.

    Take unchanging moral law, for instance. The meanings of words change over time even when those words remain static in a phonetic sense. So any law which can be expressed in words is doomed to change in meaning, even if the words that get written down in the first place stay the same. So in a very real sense, the kind of immutable and static moral law that you’re talking about is actually impossible.

    But this is just a tricky point, and there are work arounds. This tricky point, in and of itself, doesn’t render the concept of immutable moral law irrelevant any more than the tricky points of a system based on compassion would render that concept irrelevant.

    So instead of attacking the fringes of my argument, would you please attack the argument itself? You pulled the same trick when you tried to argue against me as if I were an absolute moral relativist. It’s annoying.

    To give an example of attacking the argument for rigid and unchanging moral law square-on: Suppose you had a source of moral law that passed all tests for perfection and authority. In that text it said that raping unconscious people was an act blessed by the moral authority. Under the concept of unchanging moral law that you’re describing, the very example you used against me would not only be accepted – it would be encouraged.

    The bible may not have this example in it (note that I’m not conceding that the bible passes all tests for perfection and authority – it’s just an example), but consider Psalm 137:8-9 where it is written:

    8O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
    How blessed will be the one who repays you
    With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
    9How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
    Against the rock.

    This is an immutable moral law that actually encourages infanticide – a clearly immoral act. It is clearly immoral because we are compassionate, and we feel the pain of those little ones as they are dashed upon the rocks.

    If there must be a law-giver, let that law-giver be compassion – not scripture.

  77. Neil says:

    Your comments are way too long to respond to, so let me give a couple samples.

    Re. Psalm 137 – that is an imprecatory Psalm – more here – http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/the-mean-psalms/

    (I love Bible lessons from atheists. Always so . . . uh . . . enlightening.)

    “First of all, you’ve confused happiness with sexual pleasure – the two are not always positively correlated. ”

    No, I noted that it was an assumption. In this case, the rapist was doing it to be happier. Got that? Just because they aren’t always positively correlated doesn’t mean it wasn’t in this example.

    “You’ve also ignored the possibility that the unconscious person may still be able to feel everything being done to them, regardless of whether or not they can remember it afterwards. ”

    No, I assumed they didn’t know it happened. They might know it happened, but in this example they didn’t. You are just trying to twist my words because my example clearly shows where someone’s “happiness” could be quite immoral even though no one else was made “unhappy.” Using your logic, it would be moral if the victim wasn’t aware but immoral if they were. That is a fair characterizaton of your arugment, and it is inonsense.

    “And you’ve totally failed to show how this could possibly be regarded as an act of compassion.”

    And you’ve totally failed to show why your criterion is relevant.

    “If there must be a law-giver, let that law-giver be compassion – not scripture.”

    Like it or not, you are a relativist. Why should I care about your definition?

    “So instead of attacking the fringes of my argument, would you please attack the argument itself?”

    I attacked your argument directly. You said, “That which increases happiness is moral, and that which decreases happiness is immoral.” I showed how that is faulty on many levels.

  78. Your comments are way too long to respond to, so let me give a couple samples.

    There was only one comment – I repeated it twice, because I screwed up my formatting tags in the first one.

    Second of all, grow the fuck up. If you’re not willing to actually read the arguments, why the hell are you arguing on a blog in the first place?

  79. *ahem*

    Excuse me. I got angry for a second there. I retract my vitriol.

    Writing a better response now.

  80. I attacked your argument directly. You said, “That which increases happiness is moral, and that which decreases happiness is immoral.” I showed how that is faulty on many levels.

    To repeat myself:

    You critiqued my analysis of Che’s reasoning, which specifically said: “That which increases happiness is moral.” If you think Che is wrong, then we agree.

    Yes. I did say that. I also said this:

    Scripture should be subject to our compassion. If it is not, then we’re all in trouble.

    I was using the universiality of happiness and suffering to justify the standard of compassion as the basis of morality. Compassion doesn’t just mean ‘increase net communal happiness’, although I’ll grant that a lot of the time it does. Compassion is the human ability to share in the happiness and suffering of those around you.
    I’m using compassion – not net communal happiness – as the basis of my argument.

    You’re arguing against net communal happiness – not compassion. Net communal happiness is the fringe. Please stop arguing against the fringes of my argument. It’s annoying.

    Secondly:

    “You’ve also ignored the possibility that the unconscious person may still be able to feel everything being done to them, regardless of whether or not they can remember it afterwards. ”

    No, I assumed they didn’t know it happened. They might know it happened, but in this example they didn’t.

    In your example, your rapist doesn’t know that.

    You rapist would also be capable of imaginging what it is like to be raped. His ability to do this would show him what it feels like to be raped. If he ignores this, he is not acting out of compassion.

    Rape is not a compassionate act. Once again, please argue against my argument – not it’s fringes. It’s annoying.

  81. Neil says:

    I’ve made my arguments as clear as I can. Just re-read them if you like.

    You’ve made your true, compassionate self clear as well ;-).

    BTW, I read all your arguments, but as I noted I didn’t respond to them all. I’m blessed with a wonderful, busy life and already spend too much time blogging. I’m content to let you have the last word and don’t feel compelled to respond to every last point someone makes.

    Peace,
    Neil

  82. Also, it should be noted that the article you linked to to justify the verse from Psalsm I mentioned could only do so by applying a subjective interpretation to it. The reasoning behind that interpretation was along these lines:

    Some of these psalmists seem to be venting in the first part of the Psalm, then they seem to calm down as they talk with God and start to see things from his perspective…

    Just because something is in the Bible doesn’t mean that God thinks the action being described is a swell idea. The Bible is a thoroughly honest book. The flaws of even the heroes of the faith are laid out for all to see. There is no revisionist history there.

    As far as I can tell, this amounts to:

    “Clearly that would have been immoral, so God couldn’t have wanted it.”

    Is it just me, or is that a subjective interpretation? Is it the case that an immutable, unchanging
    piece of the Bible is being interpreted according to some kind of subjective filter?

    Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along? That we can’t trust scripture at it’s word, and we need to filter it, and that the best filter is our compassion?

  83. Heh. We’re posting too close together. :P

    I’ve made my arguments as clear as I can. Just re-read them if you like.

    You were clear. Your arguments fail to do their job. Rape is not a compassionate act, so it doesn’t have anything to do with my argument that morality should come from compassion and not immutable and unchanging moral law.

  84. Russ says:

    CU,

    “That which increases happiness is moral, and that which decreases happiness is immoral.”

    I am not here to tell you what to believe and what not to believe. I simply try to tell folks what God says. It is completely up to you to dismiss it or receive it.

    God’s definition of what is good goes far deeper than yours. The Bible declares that the problems in the world, “that which decreases happiness” by your definition, comes from inside of man. He insists that it is the heart of man that is corrupt and that this corruption then acts itself out in the form of wars and sexual immorality, murder, etc.

    But the wars, immorality, etc, are only the symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Unless you deal with the root cause, you are only applying Band-Aids and you will never be successful in the long run.

    So how does God fix the problem with mankind? He replaces the heart of man with a new heart when a person trusts Jesus as their Savior.

    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. [2 Cor 5:17]

    Now, you are free to attempt to reform mankind from the outside – many have tried – all have failed. But God addresses the problem by changing the inside of man – then his actions follow the new heart that God freely gives him.

    My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
    “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    So are My ways higher than your ways,
    And My thoughts than your thoughts. [Is 55:9]

  85. “That which increases happiness is moral, and that which decreases happiness is immoral.”

    I am not here to tell you what to believe and what not to believe. I simply try to tell folks what God says. It is completely up to you to dismiss it or receive it.

    You’re not listening.

    I’ve explained several times that I was only using the universal nature of happiness and suffering as the foundation of compassion. Improving happiness is moral, and decreasing suffering is moral – the understanding for this is compassion, not net communal accounting of happiness ‘units’. Since then, I have given a defnition of what I actually mean when I say ‘compassion’.

    You’re still cherry-picking the things that I have written to argue against anything but my argument. It’s annoying – and it makes it look like you can’t argue against my argument.

    He insists that it is the heart of man that is corrupt and that this corruption then acts itself out in the form of wars and sexual immorality, murder, etc.

    Here we go. Original Sin!

    Your argument only works if you presume humans to be corrupt by nature. We’re not.

    The deepest nature of humanity is to desire happiness and to be adverse to suffering.

    We only get into trouble when we value our own state of happiness or suffering above that of others.

    However, we can overcome this selfishness through the natural means of responding to the happiness and suffering of others as if it were our own. This is compassion.

    If a human mind is developed in compassion, any moral laws worth keeping will keep themselves.

  86. Russ says:

    Your argument only works if you presume humans to be corrupt by nature. We’re not.

    Where do wars come from? Monkeys? Where does lying come from? Turtles?

    Wars and lying come from deep within the human heart.

    Have you ever lied? If you are not corrupt, why did you lie?

  87. Have you ever lied? If you are not corrupt, why did you lie?

    Because we’ve evolved the ability for Machiavellian social interaction. This doesn’t make us corrupt by nature – it only makes us corruptible. There’s a difference.

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