A Christian vs. an Atheist: On God and Government, Part 1

Author’s Note: This post kicks off the “Of God and Government” debate series, featuring me and a Christian author, Andrew Murtagh, which I intend to become a semi-regular feature on Daylight Atheism. You can read Andrew’s opening statement on Patheos’ Versus blog, and this is my initial reply. I’ll also be appearing at the Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with Andrew on December 14 for a live debate.

* * *

Hello Andrew,

Thanks for contacting me! I appreciate your kind words about my writing, and I hope to learn more about yours over the course of this debate. I’m sure I’ll be able to offer a similarly positive and enthusiastic recommendation of it. You describe yourself as a “doubting theist”, which isn’t a term I’ve heard anyone claim for themselves before, and I’m curious to hear more about what it means.

I think this blog exchange was an excellent idea. These are the deepest and most fascinating questions there are, and I’m always happy to have a friendly debate with people of good will, whatever their viewpoint is. Besides which, I’ve always been of the opinion that any forum which consists only of people agreeing with each other is bound to be boring and unilluminative. Truth is best revealed in the light of the sparks that fly when two worldviews bump up against each other, illuminating the corners where they mesh and the rough areas where they clash.

You’ve laid out your starting principles, and I’m sure you’ll have ample opportunity to expound on them over the course of this exchange. In return, these are mine. Suffice to say that I see plenty of areas of both agreement and disagreement that we can productively explore.

You asked about my views on morality, and that’s a good starting point, because that’s really what it all comes down to, right? No matter what we think of someone else’s beliefs or customs, the most important question is whether we can live on the same planet together.

Well, my answer is that morality is the science of human happiness. In the same way that medicine is the science of restoring the body to health (whatever your definition of “health” is), I contend that morality is the same thing, but with a broader purpose: not just fixing what’s gone wrong, but figuring out how we should treat each other so that all our lives contain the most happiness (whatever your definition of “happiness” is).

I’m not saying that there’s a scientifically provable answer to the question of what we should do in every possible moral dilemma. But I am saying that we can know, and can prove to a reasonable person’s satisfaction, that some principles work better than others, and that we should construct our society along those lines so as to make it a better place for everyone. This is similar to what Sam Harris said in The Moral Landscape, although I flatter myself that I’ve been thinking independently along these lines for quite a while. My essay on atheist morality, “The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick“, was first published in 2001!

My contention is that morality should be based not on armchair reasoning or religious decree, but on evidence: the empirical observation of the world which shows that some things are more conducive to happiness and well-being than others. Once you accept this idea, the consequence of morality being an objective truth just falls right out of that, in the same way that the answer to any other scientific question is objective. That’s not to say it will always be easy to discover. But if morality ever seems vague or subjective, it’s only because we’re asking such big, complicated questions, and our evidence is still so incomplete.

I think that most people, including most atheists, who say they’re moral relativists really mean that they don’t grant any single book, tradition or authority figure the sole right to decide what’s right or wrong; that they find good ideas in many different viewpoints. And I agree with that! I doubt that anyone, including me, has the full picture of what’s moral and what isn’t. My most important objective isn’t to defend a specific set of moral principles as established truth – although obviously I do argue for certain conclusions – but to get people to think about morality in the right way, to ask the right questions. Once we’re doing that, I think we’ll converge on the same answers without too much fuss.

I find that the greatest source of opposition to this progress is the view that someone – some perfect source – has already told us what morality is, and all we have to do is find where it’s written down. I want to argue that this idea is unworkable for discovering moral truth just as it’s unworkable for discovering scientific truth. So here’s my question to you: To what extent do you think we can derive morality from religious belief? Do you believe that the Bible and other religious texts are trustworthy guides to how we should live, or do they need to be taken with a grain of salt? And whatever your answer, what do you think the best way is to communicate that message to everyone else?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Jason K.

    I think that most people, including most atheists, who say they’re moral
    relativists really mean that they don’t grant any single book,
    tradition or authority figure the sole right to decide what’s right or
    wrong; that they find good ideas in many different viewpoints. And I
    agree with that! I doubt that anyone, including me, has the full picture
    of what’s moral and what isn’t. My most important objective isn’t to
    defend a specific set of moral principles as established truth –
    although obviously I do argue for certain conclusions – but to get
    people to think about morality in the right way, to ask the right
    questions. Once we’re doing that, I think we’ll converge on the same
    answers without too much fuss.

    I’m an atheist and I definitely think morality is subjective. Note, this isn’t the same thing as believing “anything goes,” as it is most ofter characterized.

    Morals are a kind of subjective bias. Humans share many the same biases (favoritism of people over non-people, favoritism of relatives over non-relatives, etc.), so it shouldn’t be surprising that we often separately arrive at the same moral conclusions. However, it is important not to mistake consensus for objectivity.

    I find it useful to think of morals as analogous to homoplasy–the correspondence between parts or organs acquired as the result of convergent evolution. Fish, squid, and dolphins have all separately converged on the same solution–a torpedo-shaped body–for moving through a fluid.

    Is a torpedo-shaped body objectively the best body form? No. It depends on the medium being traveled through, the size of the organism, etc. Other organisms have evolved different solutions that work with varying degrees of success. But a torpedo-shaped body is among the best solutions in a particular context, so there is a tendency toward it. A bias in that direction.

    In the same way, I think we converge on similar moral solutions, towards optimality but never reaching it. It’s tempting to the see this convergence as a kind of objective moral law, existing apart from ourselves. But I think we’re just seeing optimal solutions to subjective desires.

  • silentsanta

    Morality is fascinating because it is necessarily the study of hard questions, analysing and weighing the wellbeing, preferences, values of conscious creatures with competing goals. Any question in which there is a clear, straightforward answer to is barely even considered moral reasoning.
    No one (apart from a few biblical apologists) seems to be interested in justifying slavery anymore, for example.

    What to do in the face of one of Phillipa Foot’s trolley or fat man scenarios, how to balance the interests of children versus parental preference, or figuring out how best to balance autonomy with due diligence in the case of patients experiencing mental health difficulties are all hard questions, and they are considered hard because we don’t have a satisfying catch-all theory that tells us how to respond justly.

    But the question of Biblical vs secular morality is not ‘Why isn’t this or the other moral theory able to answer all moral dilemmas satisfactorily?’ but rather which provisional moral theory or theories are our best tools thus far.

    When considered like this, attacks on secular moral systems fail catastrophically, because of the numerous gaping holes in Biblical moral codes. Of the very simplest of moral crimes: namely murder, genocide, slavery, and rape, the Bible might -at best- prohibit 1 of these 4, while either sporadically advocating the others (genocide of the Amalekites), commanding them by divine fiat (instructions to take virgins of other tribes as brides), or instructing how to best to commit them (sections on slavery and how to conduct it, section on rape of non-betrothed, forcing them to marry their rapist).

    Grounding morality in the Bible is clearly an absurd idea; the instructions themselves are demonstrably barbaric, the God that ostensibly issues these broken commands is so evasive that we’re even now considering that he may be entirely fictitious (and perhaps you are too, as a ‘doubting theist’), there are no clear reasons to believe that Biblical morality even represents the actual instructions of a Creator God (if we grant his existence for argument’s sake), and it is not at all deducible that the instructions (or existence) of a Creator Deity would amount to a foundation for on an objective moral system anyway, any more than my immediate creator (Mum) would be considered a source of objective morality. And at least her existence is not widely disputed.

    When compared to this, the arguments between secular ethical philosophers advocating for Deontology or Utilitarianism or Virtue ethics barely register. We as a species have never been so moral as when we threw out ‘holy’ scripture and began to ground morality in the wellbeing of conscious agents; we began to value things like bodily autonomy, consent (where is this in the Bible?), privacy, racial equality, sexual equality, freedom, liberty, religious tolerance (what does the Bible teach us here?), LGBT tolerance, and most of all, stopped pretending that we had all the answers and began to actually listen to the different concerns of the people involved in each moral issue. Whatever moral system we progress towards, we have good reason to believe it will have to privilege listening as a starting point. Doctrine does not listen.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    As I have already commented over at Murtagh’s post, objective morals and complete relativism are not the only two choices, and I would reject both. Another choice I will point out is intersubjective morality.

    Human morals are far too anthropocentric to imagine they could be objective. But still, humans can agree on many aspects of morality because we share 3+ billion years of evolutionary history with each other.

  • MNb

    “we can know, and can prove to a reasonable person’s satisfaction, that some principles work better ”

    Define better. It probably means something different to atheists like you and me than to theists, notably christians, who have to deal with the question how to secure their ticket to heaven.

    You’re very close to a circular argument here: better means promoting happiness, promoting happiness is your standard for judging if something is better.
    That’s why I object to “morality is the science of human happiness”. I prefer “ethics is the study of the question what good and evil means using the deductive method.” Deduction always needs an axiom; yours (and mine) is that being happy is to be preferred to being unhappy.
    The interesting thing is that many, many theists agree when dealing with daily life issues.

    ” the consequence of morality being an objective truth just falls right out of that”
    Here you simply go wrong. I already showed what your axiom is; it is an opinion, not an objective truth. To make things worse from your point of view – what makes you happy certainly doesn’t need to make me happy. Happiness itself is utterly subjective. To top it off: happiness can’t be measured.
    Now I don’t mean we should abandon happiness as our axiom for morality, though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if theists would immediately draw this conclusion. We should not grant our morality more than it can take though. You do.
    I simply deny that something like objective morality is possible. The conclusion “then you can’t condemn Hitler”, so beloved by theists, is a non-sequitur. I perfectly can condemn him based on my happiness axiom. He made lots of people extremely unhappy. Just ask his victims.

  • MNb

    A fascinating example of an orthodox-protestant being a utilitarian is Dutch resistance fighter Helena Kuipers-Rietberg. Alas I haven’t English texts on her.

    http://www.go2war2.nl/artikel/2467/Kuipers-Rietberg-Helena.htm

    ““Zeg kerel, zou het nou zo erg zijn als jij om het leven kwam, als er duizenden jongens gered werden?” Ik heb daar niets meer op kunnen zeggen.”
    “”Well, lad, would it be that bad if you died if thousands of kids could be saved?” I couldn’t answer anything anymore.”
    The lad was Reverend Frits Slomp, who actually survived while HKR died in a German concentration camp.

  • L.Long

    When discussing gawd you only need one question…”does your gawd care what you do with your dick?
    Yes it cares…Then it is an imaginary gawd and does not exist so piss off.
    No it don;t care….Then the gawd is relevant and can be ignored and who cares if it exists.
    So let’s discuss ethics as determined by our society, science, and philosophy.
    I have met many xtians, jews, and a few islames and they all where more moral then their silly 10-suggestions or the other 613 found in their dumb assed books. And they all had basic morals that were essentially secular in nature.

  • L.Long

    Yes my life is better because if you can make up silly stories so can I ….I let the 1000 kids die because if I had died for them, they would all grew up to be mass murderers.
    See anyone can make up what if stories, they prove ad mean nothing.

  • L.Long

    I meant ‘IRRELEVANT’

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Define better.

    I’d like to emphasize my comparison of morality to medicine. How do you know whether one person is in better health than another? Is there a single, straightforward way of measuring this?

    It probably means something different to atheists like you and me than to theists, notably christians, who have to deal with the question how to secure their ticket to heaven.

    Yes, it does. The idea of an afterlife whose importance dwarfs the importance of this world would skew morality in impossible directions, the same way that adding infinity to an equation makes the results nonsensical. That’s why I insist that all moral decisions have to be based on evidence, not mere belief, and there is no good evidence for the existence of an afterlife.

    Happiness itself is utterly subjective. To top it off: happiness can’t be measured.

    Happiness is a subjective state of mind, but the conditions that tend to produce it are not. And happiness most certainly can be measured, the same way as you measure anything else in a population.

  • GCT

    And yes, mine is a curious case as I am quite comfortable with philosophy, mainstream science, and admit up front that my faith is irrational.

    Is there any reason to go on after an admission like this?

    Mine is the outlandish thesis that Christianity and atheism are both completely irrational.

    Atheism is the rejection of religion because it is irrational and not supported by evidence, hence it is not irrational.

    Again, is there any reason to proceed? How does one hold a productive discussion about this topic and all (at least sort-of) related topics, like ethics/morality, when the Xian has just loudly proclaimed that he is not held to rationality?

  • Aleph

    “Rational” behaviours are not the only ones people take part in, though. People do lots of things that are irrational (“What is your favourite colour?” “Red!” “Why?”) because strict rationality does not define the human condition.

    More, I think this discussion is not about winning the debate on morality because you can’t win that debate because people have frankly bizarre notions of morality no matter what. As Adam points out, a strictly, 100% comprehensive rational measure for all of potential morality does not exist and so the whole thing is evolving, much as each person’s personal understanding of the whole thing must evolve. And one of the ways in which the understanding of morality can be advanced is through discussion. It may not change Andrew’s perspective but at the very least it could give a chance for a moral philosophy uncoupled to a religion to lay out its principles and explain another (better) way to consider questions of morality and ethics than to take a situation and compare it to a book or what a bunch of people have written about a book.

    I interpret your comment, though, as you positing a false dichotomy between these two states of being (atheist and christian) where one is wholly rational and the other wholly irrational. To be atheist is not only to consider what can be scientifically observed but to interpret the evidence of your senses and build from there; one can (as many have throughout history) use scientific facts to justify heinous acts without needing to bring a God into it, just as there are christians who can look at their holy book, see that God got it wrong when it came to slavery and view it as a document of the time while still doing something worthwhile with their faith.

    More importantly, the christian viewpoint is something we have to reckon with because it is a fact in many Western countries. In the US, there are precious few people in positions of nationwide power who do not identify as christian and getting them to understand us, even if it’s only by friend-of-a-friend helping them understand what us heathens are on about, can only be good for creating a world where we don’t have people with their fingers on the Big Red Buttons feeling like they have a reason to hasten their armageddon.

  • JohnH2

    Pretty sure he is following the long tradition of ‘I believe that I can not believe’ or the even longer ‘Credo quia absurdum’ (I believe because it is absurd). It is called fideism and in today’s usage means that it is likely that he holds to Kierkegaard.

  • JohnH2

    I am sorry, why would a God desiring that people not rape each other make that God to be imaginary? Why wouldn’t a God care about the continuation of society and the happiness of the average member of society and therefore instruct people on those subjects?

  • L.Long

    Read the OT dud gawd does not mind rape at all.
    And there is nothing in the buyBull about GOOD instruction on GOOD sex.

    And I’m sure you know exactly what I meant by the comment.

  • Maxximiliann

    You’re equivocating. What do you call someone who believes God does not nor cannot exist?

  • JohnH2

    The Bible actually has quite a lot in terms of the purity laws that appear designed to lead to maximum fertility. There are also multiple cities which get slaughtered due to them raping someone, though the laws and morality expressed on the subject do not match up with modern understandings of morality.

    That is really only a problem if one believes both that the Bible is infallible and that the OT views on the subject aren’t superseded by the higher law Christ.

  • Andrew Murtagh

    John-

    Very receptive! Bravo!

  • GCT

    If the “OT views on the subject” are “superseded by the higher law Christ” then you’ve got bigger problems as you’ve just tossed out the idea of a perfect god and absolute morality.

    And, there are parts of the Bible where god commands his chosen people to rape.

  • GCT

    “Rational” behaviours are not the only ones people take part in, though.

    That has nothing to do with this, however. Yes, people are irrational, but I don’t expect to have a debate over whether aliens have an ice cream stand on the far side of the moon, because it is irrational. In the same way, when someone tells me that their god belief is irrational, how does one have a debate about it?

    More, I think this discussion is not about winning the debate on morality because you can’t win that debate because people have frankly bizarre notions of morality no matter what.

    My point was that you can’t even get off the ground when one person starts with the admission of irrationality.

    As Adam points out, a strictly, 100% comprehensive rational measure for all of potential morality does not exist…

    That’s quite different from what I’m talking about. It is not irrational to use evidence, logic, and reason to make determinations about what is or is not moral, even if one cannot have all the possible information available.

    And one of the ways in which the understanding of morality can be advanced is through discussion.

    Not when one person clearly states that their view of morality comes from irrationality. They are clearly rejecting evidence, logic, and reason. No matter what I say, they can counter that homosexuality is immoral, for instance, simply just because. (Note, that example was chosen because so many Xians do tend to believe that.)

    I interpret your comment, though, as you positing a false dichotomy between these two states of being (atheist and christian) where one is wholly rational and the other wholly irrational.

    It’s not a false dichotomy, nor did I present it that way, although I can, if you like. What I said was that Andrew Murtagh outright claimed to be irrational and I stated that this was not a basis for having a discussion. I further pointed out that Murtagh incorrectly claimed that atheists are irrational.

    I would go a step further and say that god belief is irrational by default, because it relies on faith, which is inherently irrational. The difference, however, is that people who understand that and intentionally choose to be irrational have stated pretty loud and clear that they are not open to rational discussion.

    …one can (as many have throughout history) use scientific facts to justify heinous acts without needing to bring a God into it…

    Completely irrelevant.

    … just as there are christians who can look at their holy book, see that God got it wrong when it came to slavery and view it as a document of the time while still doing something worthwhile with their faith.

    Not if they want to hold to absolute morality or a perfect god they can’t.

    More importantly, the christian viewpoint is something we have to reckon with because it is a fact in many Western countries.

    OK, this, I agree with. The western world is rife with religious privilege, specifically Xian privilege, and reaching out isn’t a bad thing. That doesn’t change the fact that one participant in this has specifically stated that he will not be tied to rationality.

  • GCT

    Anyone who doesn’t believe in god is an atheist, whether they think god can or cannot exist. What’s your point? The vast majority of atheists don’t make the claim that god cannot exist. Your comment smacks of religious privilege.

  • GCT

    And, this makes it better how?

    Claiming to believe something because it is irrational (IOW, glorifying irrationality) doesn’t actually make it better.

  • L.Long

    He knows that but likes to be in de-nile.
    Many xtians love to think(oxymoron) jepus superseded the buyBull but the actual buyBull states that he did not and states jepus was a devote jew. The only thing jepus objected to was that the jew religious bosses did some things he didn’t like.

  • JohnH2

    Being a Christian who was not previously a Jew then per the book of acts I am not required to follow the Law of Moses but just the Noahide laws and the requirements that Christ taught, which for what there is are more stringent than the Law of Moses as instead of dealing with the action alone they deal with internal states.

  • JohnH2

    No, I toss out the idea that people receive everything at once from God rather than people receiving piece by piece from God. My understanding of the subject is that God did give Moses the higher law, but the Israelites were at that same time making the golden calf and worshiping it after already having covenanted not to do so, causing Moses to break the tablets that contained the higher law and go back up the mountain to receive the law of Moses, which Christ fulfilled and gave us again the higher law.

  • Maxximiliann

    My point is you were equivocating.

  • GCT

    There are also multiple cities which get slaughtered due to them raping someone

    Which ones are you referring to here? The only thing I can come up with off-hand is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which doesn’t really work. Lot was more than willing to let the crowd rape his daughters, and that was not seen as an evil act.

  • JohnH2

    I was pointing out his position, not claiming it as my own, under the assumption that you would consult with google, which is your friend, and come to a better knowledge of what he was saying.

    I mean I could explain my own position on the subject of not being able to a priori have a knowledge of God via reason alone and how one comes to know God, but I know that my position is very different from Kierkegaard and am not familiar enough with that position to be able to accurately explain it sensibly.

  • JohnH2

    Also the city of Hamor the Hivite in Genesis 34 for the rape of Dinah. Also Gibeah in Judges 19-20, though in Judges 21 the remaining men of Benjamin kill the men of Jabesh-gilead for not coming to kill the people of Benjamin and get to take all the women for wives so the whole thing is pretty messed up.

  • DavidMHart

    I suppose you could call such a person a ‘strong atheist’. Or maybe a ‘gnostic atheist’ – i.e. not merely someone who claims that there are no good reasons to believe in a god, but someone who claims to know that there are no gods. But such people are relatively rare. After all, you presumably cannot know with absolute certainty that there are no vampires or leprechauns, but that does not stop you from concluding that on present evidence there are no good reasons to think that vampires or leprechauns exist.

  • Maxximiliann

    But he’s still an Atheist. My point exactly.

  • Jon Jermey

    I think it’s useful to compare moralities with languages. Both are complex and flexible human constructions designed and developed on an ad hoc basis to make life easier and happier. Both have lots of flaws; but both are flexible and capable of redesign and redevelopment as required. And both provide room for individual interpretations.

    The other point that always strikes me about discussions of morality is how rarely I actually need to make any moral decisions. Once a year, perhaps; not much more. The posts and comments from people who claim to be making moral decisions every day baffle me; surely they should have ordered their lives better by now? The advantage of behaving according to rational principles is that ‘moral issues’ very seldom arise, and when they do they can usually be dispelled by a bit of research into the facts. My view is that if your approach to life requires you to make large numbers of ‘moral decisions’, then you’re probably doing it wrong.

  • L.Long

    ACTs is not the words of jepus but the writings of BS artist to gain power. Jepus said NO one can get to the lord that violates any of the laws given to Moses. Sermon on the mount.

  • Maxximiliann

    Your inimical retort is a specious naturalistic fallacy for the passage in question is descriptive, not prescriptive. Try again.

  • Maxximiliann

    Non sequitur. Rapists were executed in ancient Israel because rape was proscribed, never tolerated. This is expressly manifested at Deuteronomy 22:25-27:

    ““If, however, it is in the field that the man found the girl who was engaged, and the man grabbed hold of her and lay down with her, the man who lay down with her must also die by himself, and to the girl *** you must do nothing . The girl has no sin deserving of death ***, because just as when a man rises up against his fellowman and indeed murders him, even a soul, so it is with this case. For it was in the field that he found her. The girl who was engaged screamed, but there was no one to rescue her.” – Deuteronomy 22:25-27 (Emphasis mine.)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Rapists were executed in ancient Israel because rape was proscribed, never tolerated

    So, this comment raises an important question: Are you an ignorant person who’s never read the Bible, or a dishonest person who hopes we haven’t?

    “When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, and seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.” –Deuteronomy 21:10-13

    “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.” –Deuteronomy 22:28-29

  • Maxximiliann

    Neither but I see you’re hard of reading. No problem. I’ll walk you through these passages :)

    First, Deuteronomy 22:28,29 isn’t describing a rape because rapists were executed in ancient Israel. This is expressly manifested at Deuteronomy 22:25-27:

    ““If, however, it is in the field that the man found the girl who was engaged, and the man grabbed hold of her and lay down with her, the man who lay down with her must also die by himself, and to the girl *** you must do nothing . The girl has no sin deserving of death ***, because just as when a man rises up against his fellowman and indeed murders him, even a soul, so it is with this case. For it was in the field that he found her. The girl who was engaged screamed, but there was no one to rescue her.” – Deuteronomy 22:25-27 (Emphasis mine.)

    What we have described in Deuteronomy 22:28,29 is a case of consensual sex. This law obligated the man to pay a fine and, were he to marry the girl whose virginity he took, he would never be allowed to divorce her. (cf. Exodus 22:16,17)

    These laws obligated the man, not the girl.

    In other words, what you have here is a good ‘ol fashioned shotgun wedding.

  • Maxximiliann

    Lastly, Deuteronomy 21:10-13 describes *** marriage ***, ceratinly not rape.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    First, Deuteronomy 22:28,29 isn’t describing a rape because rapists were executed in ancient Israel.

    Very nice use of the circular argument there.

    Deuteronomy 22:28 applies to cases where the man “lays hold” of an unmarried girl, using the Hebrew word taphas, which means “to catch, handle, lay hold, take hold of, seize” – clearly conveying a sense of force or coercion. For example, it’s the same word that’s used to describe conquering a hostile city, as in 20:19. Does that strike you as a likely word choice to describe consensual sex?

    Lastly, Deuteronomy 21:10-13 describes *** marriage ***, ceratinly not rape.

    Are you arguing that you can’t rape someone you’re married to? Or are you asserting that a captive girl would willingly wed a man from the army that just conquered her land and killed her father and mother?

  • Maxximiliann

    Strawman. Besides, if you had parents who were Canaanites you’d probably wish them dead too.

  • Wyrd Wiles

    The statement: “Atheism is the rejection of religion because it is irrational and not supported by evidence, hence it is not irrational.” is neither ambiguous or non-committal.

    I think it would be more accurate to say that your constant application of unnecessary verbiage is an example of equivocation.

  • Wyrd Wiles

    You’re Equivocating, Joseph. ;)

    Genesis 19:8 – “Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

  • Wyrd Wiles

    Actually it describes stealing women from warring tribes… If a soldier from an invading army broke into your house, stole your wife, and married her against her will, I think you’d call that Rape. It’s Rape with a ring.

  • Verbose Stoic

    First, people keep equating “know” with “know with absolute certainty”, but that’s not what it really means to “know” in that case. The definition of knowledge is “justified true belief”, and doesn’t require absolute certainty, because if it did you couldn’t know anything, which is a bit absurd. So, in those cases, the question is if you have a belief that you think is justified in true that vampires, leprechauns or gods don’t exist. If you think you do, then you’re making a knowledge claim and are a gnostic atheist. If you aren’t, then you aren’t.

    Second, even if you don’t think that you know that those things don’t exist, you might still BELIEVE that those things don’t exist, which is more than concluding that there are no good reasons to think that those things exist, including gods. So you’d still, one would think, want to justify that claim.

    Finally, concluding that there are no good reasons always includes an epistemological claim about what are good reasons to think that something exists, or at least what are sufficient. Even for gods, it isn’t that there are no reasons, so you have to argue that the reasons aren’t enough to form a belief, which runs into trouble the instant we look at all of our beliefs and note the ones we hold on rather flimsy evidence but don’t have a problem with.

  • DavidMHart

    I don’t see the problem. The word ‘atheist’ includes those who claim to have a high degree of certainty of the nonexistence of gods and those who claim simply that there is insufficient evidence in favour of gods at the moment to justify forming a positive belief that any gods exist. For that matter, it also includes those who haven’t really thought about the issue at all, but just never got indoctrinated into any god beliefs. If you want words to separate these categories, then words are available, but they are all subsumed under ‘atheist’.

    Of course, in the real world, we can be a lot more confident of the non-existence of specific gods, like Huitzilopochtli or the Christian or Islamic gods, than we can be of the non-existence of any god-like supernatural beings, because specific gods are always associated with specific claims that turn out to be false or logically incoherent, whereas a vague any-deity claim is sufficiently nebulous that it is a lot harder to offer positive evidence against.

  • DavidMHart

    Hey, I know these things are a bit fuzzy round the edges – my point was simply that the range of positions one can take regarding the strength of one’s rejection of claims of the existence of gods is the same sort of range as is the case for other apparently mythical things like vampires and leprechauns, and for the same sorts of reasons – so Polanco’s having a go at GCT for GCT’s earlier comment suggests that he was operating a double standard, in that he would never apply that sort of criticism to someone who was an a-vampirist or an a-leprechaunist, despite the fact that the evidence in favour of gods is not noticeably stronger than the evidence in favour of vampires or leprechauns.

  • GCT

    And, consequently you’re not a absolute moralist, which is usually a no-no in Xian circles as well as being quite problematic for the Xian mythology.

  • GCT

    No, I toss out the idea that people receive everything at once from God rather than people receiving piece by piece from God.

    When was the last time we received a piece from god? Secondly, that’s not moral absolutism and still problematic.

    My understanding of the subject is that God did give Moses the higher law, but the Israelites were at that same time making the golden calf and worshiping it after already having covenanted not to do so, causing Moses to break the tablets that contained the higher law and go back up the mountain to receive the law of Moses, which Christ fulfilled and gave us again the higher law.

    Then, you must have not read the just 2 chapters later. Exodus 34:1:

    The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    OK, you’re obviously not participating seriously in this discussion. Goodbye.

  • GCT

    Non sequitur.

    Which part and how?

    Rapists were executed in ancient Israel because rape was proscribed, never tolerated. This is expressly manifested at Deuteronomy 22:25-27:…

    Only for Israeli women and only because they were the property of their men. There are numerous passages where god tells them it’s OK to rape or even tells them to do so. In addition to what Adam already pointed out…

    Exodus 21:7-11 (sets up laws that allow women to be raped)
    Numbers 31:17-18
    Deut 20:14
    Judges 21:10-24
    2 Sam 12:11-12
    Judges 5:30

  • GCT

    Genesis 34 is a bad example. They used it as an excuse to attack, but then took all the women as plunder for themselves – IOW, rape.

    As for the Judges story, remember that the concubine was sent out to be raped in order to placate the crowd. Also, Gibeah was destroyed because they didn’t give up the rapists, not because of the rape.

  • GCT

    Yet, Lot is saved by god and seen as a moral and righteous man. We have to ask why the events happen as they do. It might be nice to simply accept the story without question, as you seem to do, but others of us actually look for what is really being talked about and what the real meaning is.

    Also, simply claiming that it was descriptive is not a defense for what Lot did. If you are claiming that Lot was evil for it, then you have to tell us all why Lot was allowed to go from the city and wasn’t destroyed for also being wicked.

  • GCT

    How am I equivocating? In fact, I’m doing no such thing. If you think differently, then it is incumbent upon you to point it out and explain how I’m equivocating.

    Atheism is simply the non-belief in god. Since god belief is predicated on faith, it is irrational. Rejecting the irrational faith of god-belief is not irrational in itself. In fact, quite the opposite. There is no equivocation there at all, unless you think that I’m equivocating on the definition of what atheism is. If that’s the case, then you are operating under a religiously privileged set of assumptions that are simply incorrect. But, unless you actually elaborate instead of simply tossing out accusations, we can’t know that.

  • GCT

    I was pointing out his position, not claiming it as my own, under the assumption that you would consult with google, which is your friend, and come to a better knowledge of what he was saying.

    FFS. He claims that he believes in god because it is irrational (was it GK Chesterton or CS Lewis that also made that argument? I don’t remember). Given that, I honestly don’t care why he’s claiming that or whether some previous person has claimed the same, it’s still a horrible argument. Belief in leprechauns is also irrational, so why not that belief too? How about belief in bigfoot, Allah, perpetual motion machines, etc?

    I mean I could explain my own position on the subject of not being able to a priori have a knowledge of God via reason alone and how one comes to know God, but I know that my position is very different from Kierkegaard and am not familiar enough with that position to be able to accurately explain it sensibly.

    If you admit that you cannot get from point A to point B without using reason, then you have the same issue as Murtagh, regardless of whether Kierkegaard had the same issue as both of you or not. “Kierkegaard said that it’s irrational too and he still did it” is not a sufficient answer to the objection.

  • GCT

    Here’s the real equivocation. You are equivocating the meaning of atheist with atheist plus another belief. That way you can claim that if an atheist has any belief that is irrational in any way, that means that all of atheism is irrational. IOW, you’re guilty of what you accuse others of doing. And, you’re very obviously laboring under some religious privilege.

    Atheism itself is simply the rejection of god-belief. It is the only rational position, because it is the only position that does not rely on faith.

  • GCT

    There are no good reasons, as they all rely on faith and faith is an inherently bad reason.

  • JohnH2

    “you admit that you cannot get from point A to point B without using reason, then you have the same issue as Murtagh,”

    I think you said this wrong?

    Anyway’s, I believe that belief is rational but except for (possibly) existence of God it is not a priori so; which really shouldn’t be a problem talking with any atheist at all (as science is also not a priori true). So I contrast with the Catholic Thomism perspective but don’t hold to fideism.

  • JohnH2

    GCT,

    Canonized for me the last thing was in 1978 though there has been other administrative things since then making it to be Tuesday.

    “moral absolutism”

    A problem why?

    ” you must have not read”

    Considering that the Israelites were not made to be a nation of priests but instead the priesthood was restricted to the Levites, I follow what was said earlier in Exodus combined with what is in the New Testament rather than the contrary view presented there.

  • JohnH2

    GCT,

    I know that you have discussed things with me before and I know that which faith I belong to has come up previously. Many (most actually) Christians do not consider me to be a Christian due to the faith I belong to.

  • JohnH2

    They did lose the birthright for their actions, at least under one interpretation of the subject of why Joseph got the birthright instead of any of them. (but yes).

    You are equivocating in regards to Gibeah.

  • GCT

    True, but hardly relevant. You *do* hold to the Xian mythology and advocating for non-absolute morality is still problematic for you.

  • GCT

    Canonized for me the last thing was in 1978 though there has been other administrative things since then making it to be Tuesday.

    And, in the 70′s is when god told us not to discriminate against blacks, right? We’re still waiting for him to tell us not to discriminate against gays. None of those “updates” can be verified as coming from god, however.

    A problem why?

    Because you’re claiming that god is changing his mind about what is and is not moral.

    Considering that the Israelites were not made to be a nation of priests but instead the priesthood was restricted to the Levites, I follow what was said earlier in Exodus combined with what is in the New Testament rather than the contrary view presented there.

    Neither Exodus nor the NT contradict this. Where in the earlier portion of Exodus does it say that the new tablets were different and not the full moral code? Where does it say that in the NT? You can’t even fall back on misinterpretation, since the Bible is quite clear on this. Further, Jesus never says he is doing away with the OT laws. In fact, he says the opposite, that he wants to enforce the laws so strictly that even thinking about breaking one of the laws should be considered breaking the law.

  • GCT

    There may be some equivocation going on there, but the fact that the women were taken after the battle in order to be raped pretty much kills the point.

    Rape wasn’t considered bad, stealing was. Women are portrayed in the Bible as being the property of men. When you rape a woman, you are stealing from her owner. Women are even considered and even outright called plunder at times during the conquests. god doesn’t seem to care and even orders it at times because the authors didn’t see women as equals. They were commodities to birth more sons.

  • GCT

    I hold that your belief is not rational, but we can at least have the discussion about it. When you come to the table and claim that your belief is irrational, yet you’re going to do it anyway, there’s nowhere to go. Worse yet is when you come to the table proud of your irrationality! What facts can I bring to counteract someone who not only will refuse to accept them but will also be proud of not accepting them? What arguments can be used to sway someone who is not only not open to arguments, but is proud of that fact? That’s what someone is expressing when they proclaim that they believe because something is irrational. (They are also proclaiming quite a few other things as well, like obvious selective bias, but try telling *them* that.)

  • Verbose Stoic

    The only reason you wouldn’t have a go at a-vampirists is because while they make the STRONG claim that they know that vampires don’t exist, pretty much everyone else agrees with them, because that’s part of our cultural beliefs that we learn as children. The belief in God is also one of those. Thus, the belief in God is more comparable to the belief that vampires don’t exist than the belief that God doesn’t exist.

    And that’s also where the equivocation comes in: even in your example, we are talking about a knowledge claim about the non-existence of the thing, which is far from the mere lack of belief that GCT is relying on, and that you make reference to. We don’t need to care about that “range” because the claims, here, aren’t about the weak end of the range, but about the strong end. Especially since it seems clear that GCT, Adam and yourself are actually fairly strong atheists; you almost certainly believe that the God under discussion here doesn’t exist, and might even claim to know that.

  • DavidMHart

    You could have said the same thing about the belief in witchcraft not that many generations ago. Indeed, at certain historical times and places, you could also have said the same about belief in vampires. The fact that some particular beliefs-that-lack-good-evidence are more prevalent at any given historical moment than others does not in any way diminish the weakness of the evidence for them. Polanco is still operating a double standard if he has a go at non-god-believers in a way that he wouldn’t have a go at non-vampire-believers, even if the reason for him doing so is that he grew up in a culture that had discarded vampire-belief but not yet discarded god-belief.

    And the thing to remember is that for all practical purposes, in the real world, a lack of belief in something shades into an assertion that on present evidence, so far as we can tell, it is reasonable to proceed on the basis that that something doesn’t exist. I’m sure I, or Adam Lee, or even you, could be persuaded that a god or gods do in fact exist, if sufficiently compelling evidence turned up, but if it did, it would so radically overturn all the knowledge that humans have so painstakingly pieced together about how reality works that, given our current understanding of how reality works, it is entirely reasonable to proceed on a strong-ish basis of the non-existence of any gods. Just as long as we remain epistemologically open to new evidence.

    Just like if Morpheus showed up and liberated you from the Matrix, it would overturn everything you thought you knew about reality, but in reality, your non-belief in the Matrix, comined with the utter lack of evidence that your are in the Matrix, justifies you living your life on a basis which is for all day-to-day, practical purposes equivalent to a strong assertion that the Matrix doesn’t exist – unless and until a charismatic leather-coated figure shows up and hands you a pill.

  • GCT

    Thus, the belief in God is more comparable to the belief that vampires don’t exist than the belief that God doesn’t exist.

    Nice religious privilege you got going on there. Simply because god belief is more indoctrinated than vampire belief does not mean that the lack of evidence for both is somehow incomparable. Nor does it change the fact that professing belief for god is no more supported than belief in leprechauns or vampires.

    And that’s also where the equivocation comes in: even in your example, we are talking about a knowledge claim about the non-existence of the thing, which is far from the mere lack of belief that GCT is relying on, and that you make reference to.

    Sigh. The definition of atheist is one who lacks belief. It is only the religiously privileged that claim that it also must include the positive belief that a god does not and cannot exist. There is no equivocation in me saying that I’m an atheist that does not believe in god, that some gods are straight up contradictory and therefore do not exist, yet that there is some possibility, no matter how slim, that some god could conceivably exist and that we can’t definitively rule it out. This is not an irrational stance to take, as it relies upon what the evidence we have points us toward.

    We don’t need to care about that “range” because the claims, here, aren’t about the weak end of the range, but about the strong end.

    The claim only became about the strong end because of the religious privilege displayed by Joseph Polanco in claiming that all atheists must believe X and accusing me of equivocating for not agreeing with his inaccurate assessment. Then, you came galloping in here to pretend that it was all about strong atheism from the start.

    Especially since it seems clear that GCT, Adam and yourself are actually fairly strong atheists; you almost certainly believe that the God under discussion here doesn’t exist, and might even claim to know that.

    If by, “the god under discussion here” you mean the Xian god, I would claim that that god is impossible as has been demonstrated. The ideas behind this god are contradictory and logically not possible. That’s irrelevant. The original claim is that atheism (in general) is irrational. It is not, as I have argued (successfully here and elsewhere).

    So, if we wanted to go back to the original point, the claim that Mr. Murtagh’s faith is irrational and the fact that he knows it is still problematic. Additionally, he can’t hide behind the terrible defense of saying, “Well, you atheists are irrational too,” because it’s simply not so. There is one rational position when it comes to god belief, and that position is to not believe, because we have no evidence to justify belief in a god.

  • JohnH2

    It depends on where you look as to the exact status of women in the Bible; there are places where women are treated as being much more than commodities and actors in their own right, such as Ruth, Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Sarah, and others. In the (purported) history parts dealing with war I don’t know that it is possible to argue the point, though women (or at least their wombs) were more valuable than men even then.

  • JohnH2

    “Because you’re claiming that god is changing his mind about what is and is not moral.”

    It is more that God treats us differently according to what we know and what our actions are. What is and is not moral for me changes according to what I do or do not know to be true, even if there were (or is) a underlying perfect morality of which I am only ever in part aware of.

    In Exodus 19 God promises the Israelites that He would make them a kingdom of priests, later it is given that the Tabernacle was to be in the middle of the camp and the Lord would dwell in it. After the incident with the calf though only the Levites were priests and the Tabernacle was moved to the edge of the camp. As for the New Testament, I already pointed out Acts, Paul repeatedly talks about the subject of the Law being dead, Peter talks about how Christians have fulfilled what had been previously promised and how they are to be a nations of priests, and then Hebrews is pretty explicit on the subject. Jesus says He didn’t come to destroy the law but to fulfill it; which His great and last sacrifice did do, He met the requirements of the Law and gave us a better hope.

  • JohnH2

    They may be saying that from the outside it is irrational? My experiences are not your experiences which makes any personal evidence I have on the issue of God to only be of marginal value to you and even more so any conclusions that I draw from my experiences on the subject to be completely suspect to you. From your perspective the reasons why I do things does not appear to be rationally justified. My experiences themselves are not open to argument, though at least to some extent the meaning of and conclusions drawn from such experiences is open to argument.

    I know that many that have been said to be fideist were actually just expressing the view that one can not come to know God in any real sense via reason alone off of axioms. A purely rational knowledge of God, being one goes through all the evidence that one has and all the arguments that one has and proves the existence of God doesn’t lead to the desired result of someone reordering their life towards that knowledge. That type of knowledge alone is not equal to a knowledge of God which can only come from God, just as a dry description of the facts of ones future love would not produce love instead one has to get to know ones love for love to be produced, the love is not (wholly) rationally based.

    So, for instance, I am not really willing to go through all the evidence that I have for God and I don’t really believe that one can prove unquestionably the existence of God a priori, and that even if that were possible it may not be desirable. I am quite willing to go through some of the ways that I know of that lead to a knowledge of God and all of them require an action be taken, which action can not be shown to a priori lead to the desired knowledge (and for most of the possible actions requires at minimum a willingness to accept knowledge and a lack of active disbelief in the action being taken). The taking of the action can be described as acting on faith, and that may be what Kierkegaard was talking about.

    Andrew would have to tell what I got right and what I got wrong in what I said; Maybe he really is saying that faith itself is irrational, but I find that hard to believe and I know that is not what Tertullian was getting at in asking what Athens has to do with Jerusalem.

  • Andrew Murtagh

    GCT-

    You’re the man! But, I think you misunderstood my position…

    I am quite open to the arguments which I why I asked Adam to have this dialogue.

    Irrational is an interesting word my friend…

    You are quite correct that I am proud of my irrationality! Isn’t that a breadth of fresh air from the typical “evidential apologist”?

    :)

    Is there “evidence” for my Christian faith? I certainly think so but going from the historical Jesus to the Son of God requires a radical leap of faith that cannot be rationally defended.

    My argument though is that it’s ok…

    Life is absurd. Love is absurd. Consciousness and morality – totally absurd.

    So, sway me my friend!

    I assume you are a naturalist (I am not sure about your ontological/epistomolgical views of conciousness or moral philosophy).

    But, from a naturalistic point of view, can you explain to me the origin of Universe, life, love, conciousness, and morality?

  • GCT

    It is more that God treats us differently according to what we know and what our actions are. What is and is not moral for me changes according to what I do or do not know to be true, even if there were (or is) a underlying perfect morality of which I am only ever in part aware of.

    IOW, you’re claiming that god couldn’t tell people that slavery is wrong until recently? I doubt that very much. He could have told them rape is wrong, but he didn’t. Etc. And, on top of that, you’re claiming that god is just fine with telling people that X is moral when it is really not, only to change it later. This is not moral absolutism, and contradicts the ideas of the Xian god.

    In Exodus 19 God promises the Israelites that He would make them a kingdom of priests, later it is given that the Tabernacle was to be in the middle of the camp and the Lord would dwell in it. After the incident with the calf though only the Levites were priests and the Tabernacle was moved to the edge of the camp.

    This is completely irrelevant. In the text, it states that god gave Moses the same 10 commandments as before, regardless of the state of the camp. Also, nowhere does it claim that the state of the camp had any bearing on whether they were receiving the original commandments or not.

    As for the New Testament, I already pointed out Acts, Paul repeatedly talks about the subject of the Law being dead, Peter talks about how Christians have fulfilled what had been previously promised and how they are to be a nations of priests, and then Hebrews is pretty explicit on the subject. Jesus says He didn’t come to destroy the law but to fulfill it; which His great and last sacrifice did do, He met the requirements of the Law and gave us a better hope.

    None of those things mean that the law is abolished, or that a newer, better law has come forth, nor that the original 10 commandments were lost and not replaced. As I pointed out, Jesus went so far as to say that they needed to follow the commandments of god even more than they had. He wasn’t abolishing the law, he was calling for stricter observance.

  • GCT

    They may be saying that from the outside it is irrational? My experiences are not your experiences which makes any personal evidence I have on the issue of God to only be of marginal value to you and even more so any conclusions that I draw from my experiences on the subject to be completely suspect to you.

    I honestly don’t see how this helps in any way.

    So, for instance, I am not really willing to go through all the evidence that I have for God and I don’t really believe that one can prove unquestionably the existence of God a priori, and that even if that were possible it may not be desirable.

    Define “unquestionably” and maybe we can talk. And, why all this talk about “a priori” proofs? Evidence is gained from empirical results. Rational arguments can also be made, but must accord with empirical results in order to make sense. If you don’t think you can argue for god using rational means and actual evidence, then why would you claim that it’s a rational position? (I may be misreading what you’re saying, and if so, please correct me.)

    I am quite willing to go through some of the ways that I know of that lead to a knowledge of God and all of them require an action be taken, which action can not be shown to a priori lead to the desired knowledge (and for most of the possible actions requires at minimum a willingness to accept knowledge and a lack of active disbelief in the action being taken).

    What this reads to me is you saying that one must first believe in god in order to believe in god. That one can undertake actions to lead to belief, but only if one is already inclined to believe (which is begging the question). This is not a rational position.

    Andrew would have to tell what I got right and what I got wrong in what I said…

    Of course. I don’t expect you to speak for Andrew.

  • GCT

    I am quite open to the arguments which I why I asked Adam to have this dialogue.

    You are quite correct that I am proud of my irrationality!

    This is contradictory. No matter what rational arguments I bring to the table, you can always simply reject them because you prefer irrationality. I may as well simply claim that there is no god because bacon. It’s irrational, of course, but that’s what you want is irrationality.

    Isn’t that a breadth of fresh air from the typical “evidential apologist”?

    Yes…and no. Yes, because what you are saying is true. You faith is irrational, and it’s nice that you are admitting it. The no part comes in when I realize that it means that there’s no way to have a productive dialog.

    Is there “evidence” for my Christian faith?

    Does it even matter?

    My argument though is that it’s ok…

    Is it? Should we hold beliefs that cannot be justified? Why choose Xian irrational beliefs instead of any other religion, or belief in vampires or leprechauns? Or, how about this, if it’s OK to have irrational beliefs, how about the irrational beliefs that women/blacks/atheists/gays/etc. are inherently inferior? Is that an OK belief to hold? How would you argue against it?

    So, sway me my friend!

    How? If it is preferable to hold an irrational position, then no amount of argument is going to sway you.

    But, from a naturalistic point of view, can you explain to me the origin of Universe, life, love, conciousness, and morality?

    We know quite a bit about all of those things, and we have rational reasons to hold to certain positions, but none of that matters, because you don’t want rational reasons. You prefer irrationality.

  • JohnH2

    “one must first believe in god in order to believe in god”

    One must first be willing to take an action as though the belief were true from a position of uncertainty. For instance, praying and asking God if God is real and being willing to accept the answer that God is real if such an answer were to be given.

    ” god using rational means and actual evidence,”

    I am saying that the actual evidence that matters in terms of God is the evidence that God gives to each person personally as opposed to proving God a priori from axioms or proving God via other evidences. Those things are possible, but not relevant.

    “unquestionably”

    Short of direct theophany it is always possible to deny the existence of God. Any amount of evidence or argument is not capable of convincing someone of the existence of God if the non-existence of God is taken as an axiomatic truth.

  • JohnH2

    God could tell people those things were wrong, and they would then have more knowledge, which if they couldn’t accept would just serve to condemn them.

    As far as I know there haven’t been any Christian’s arguing for your interpretation of the subject since the heresies of the first century, which Paul taught against.

  • DavidMHart

    GTC has already dealt with most of this, but I must step in here:

    from a naturalistic point of view, can you explain to me the origin of Universe, life, love, conciousness, and morality?

    Do you realise how annoying it is to have religious people who have no good evidence at all for their position to come and assert that, just because there are areas in science where we haven’t fully worked out all the answers, that your religious assertions must automatically fill the gaps?

    Thing is, we have been setting many of our finest minds to questions like the origins of the universe, the origins of life etc for quite a few centuries now. In cosmology, we are still working out the implications of the Big Bang theory – and it may turn out that the origins of a universe are so chaotic that they erase crucial traces of their early stages, meaning we can never get a handle on some of the details. We have developed the theory of evolution by natural selection, which is the best explanation for the current diversity of life that anyone has ever come up with that doesn’t require you to presuppose the existence of an entity that’s even more sorely in need of an explanation – and we have turned our thoughts to abiogenesis too – how the first self-replacting molecules got their start. That too may be one where the process inevitably destroys some of the evidence, but we have worked out several chemically plausible processes that don’t require any supernatural intervention, even if we may never be able to conclusively determine which one is correct.

    We have prychologists and neuroscientists working on all kinds of aspects of human emotions and consciousness – neuroscience in particular is a filed still in its infancy, but if at any point we discover an aspect of the human mind that could not have come into being, or could not function, without supernatural intervention, I’m sure it’ll be headline news. And as for morality – well, Adam Lee has his own essay that he links to in the OP, so if you think there is anything about it that fails because it fails to take the supernatural into account – if you think that it is a worse morality than one that presupposes the existence of gods (or if you think it is necessary to presuppose the existence of gods to make it possible to have a system of behavioural maxims designed to increase the good and diminish the bad, however you’re defining them), then that is for you to demonstrate.

    The point is that all of the fields you bring up are ones that are still works in progress, but in not one of them have we found the slightest shred of good evidence for the existence of any gods so far, so why do you think that your question is a realistic challenge?

  • GCT

    God could tell people those things were wrong, and they would then have more knowledge, which if they couldn’t accept would just serve to condemn them.

    So, god couldn’t tell them not to take slaves and not to rape, because they wouldn’t understand that? I doubt that very much. And, you’re still arguing that god is telling them to be immoral and that it’s OK.

    As far as I know there haven’t been any Christian’s arguing for your interpretation of the subject since the heresies of the first century, which Paul taught against.

    Xianity has always been inconsistent. It’s not actually a good thing.

  • GCT

    One must first be willing to take an action as though the belief were true from a position of uncertainty. For instance, praying and asking God if God is real and being willing to accept the answer that God is real if such an answer were to be given.

    I believe that you and I have already been over this topic. There’s no evidence that this method works in any way. It’s also rather problematic that belief in the proposition would be necessary for the results to come out in a certain way. I shouldn’t need to believe one way or the other to investigate the veracity of a claim. In fact, if I really wish to come to the truth, I should be dispassionate about the claim so that my personal biases do not sway me.

    I am saying that the actual evidence that matters in terms of God is the evidence that God gives to each person personally as opposed to proving God a priori from axioms or proving God via other evidences.

    That does not constitute evidence.

    Short of direct theophany it is always possible to deny the existence of God. Any amount of evidence or argument is not capable of convincing someone of the existence of God if the non-existence of God is taken as an axiomatic truth.

    It sounds like you’re saying that one cannot prove god to 100% certainty since someone else can always deny the evidence…but you’re also claiming that one cannot prove god at all beyond using personal biases and internal states. This should be a red flag for you.

  • JohnH2

    yea, we have gone over it before so rather than go over the whole subject again and likely reaching the same result of us continuing to disagree, as I have no new brilliant (or otherwise) insights that I believe would substantially change the discussion, I will just focus on your last paragraph.

    For the first part yes, I am saying that someone else can always deny the evidence. For the second part I am not claiming that, what I am claiming is that personal experience (which is very different then personal biases and internal states) is more important than proving God and that internal states are relevant to God in God choosing to give someone a personal experience.

  • Andrew Murtagh

    Thank you David-

    You speak rather authoritatively on “no good evidence at all” for a theistic position.

    I respect your opinion.

    The advances of empiricism – and the many scientists you mentioned carrying the torch of empiricism into physics, biology, neuroscience, – odds are most of them believe in God from the latest polls I have shown. That being said, statistically speaking, most of them would disagree with you.

    But let’s just say it’s 50/50 – many brilliant minds see the natural world revealing a signature of the divine.

    Is that a fair counter to your position?

    You mentioned a God of gaps – that’s not at all my position. I just revel in amazing fact that we’ve had 15 billion years of empiricism.

    I asked you a question: From a naturalistic point of view, can you explain to me the origin of Universe, life, love, conciousness, and morality?

    On these matters – my position is quite opposite a God of gaps that says science just continues to reduce “God’s real estate”. I feel 15 billion years of empiricism has just further illuminated a signature of the Divine.

    I think that’s a fair position.

    Back to my question – you didn’t provide your specific view.

    Let’s get personal here my friend!

  • Andrew Murtagh

    GCT-

    You’ve definitely got swagger! And good catch on the apparent contradiction! Thank you for keeping me on my toes – perhaps I should have phrased this way: “I am quite proud of my religious irrationality.”

    I’ll explain.

    I am a philosopher, as are you, or you wouldn’t be interested in this discussion. I am also a theologian, which you are not.

    I claimed that any theological position requires an irrational leap of faith so I think you were enthused in part in my approach here as opposed to a “presuppostional” apologist.

    Let’s put theology aside now. I’ll take off my theological cap here. I’ll be an agnostic philosopher. Ready?

    :)

    As a philosopher, using only reason, I hold to the following:

    1) Theism is irrational
    2) Naturalism is irrational

    I think I struck a cord with you on item 2 here.

    My thesis (again as a philosopher here) – using only reason – is that if you hold to naturalism – “you got some splaining to do”

    :)

    On my question – you avoided it. You said “we know a fair bit about these things”. I assume you hold to naturalism and objective morality?

    If so, some brilliant atheists (namely David Hume and GE Moore) would disagree with you (ie. is-ought problem and naturalistic fallacy).

    On the validity of “reason” – the father of naturalism himself had his doubts:

    “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed
    from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? (Charles Darwin)

    Am I not allowed, wearing my agnostic philosopher cap, to share in Darwin’s doubts?

    You said “you don’t want rational reasons – you prefer irrationality”.

    Not at all my friend!

    I just don’t apologize for saying faith has irrational components. Keeping my “philosophy hat” on here only (again staying entirely within the limits of reason and logic) – I feel naturalism is incoherent and irrational.

    Back to my question -

    From a naturalistic perspective – how do you personally relate to time, life, love, objective morality, and consciousness?

  • GCT

    That you are “proud of [your] religious irrationality” doesn’t actually make the contradiction go away, nor does it answer the objections I brought up in my last comment.

    As a philosopher, using only reason, I hold to the following:

    1) Theism is irrational
    2) Naturalism is irrational

    This is moving the goal posts. You claimed that atheism is irrational. It is not. It is the rejection of the irrational position of faith in god. If we are going to talk about belief in god and whether it is justified or not, talking about naturalism is outside of the scope of the conversation. We should be talking about whether theism or atheism is irrational. And, the verdict is quite clear. Theism relies upon faith and is inherently irrational. Atheism does not rely upon faith – even rejects it – and is rational.

    If you’d like to talk about my views, we can do that as well…see below.

    My thesis (again as a philosopher here) – using only reason – is that if you hold to naturalism – “you got some splaining to do”

    Why? My views are based on the available evidence. That I can’t explain everything does not mean that you get to insert your god, which is god of the gaps reasoning no matter how much you protest that it isn’t. If you wish to insert your god into the conversation, it is incumbent upon you to give good reason to do so. Otherwise, making tentative conclusions based on the evidence we have that are open to further evidence is the rational position to take.

    On my question – you avoided it.

    Because it is irrelevant to the discussion we were having. No matter how many great reasons I give you for believing that the big bang happened, no matter how much evidence I can produce, you can simply claim that you like your irrational ideas better, because they are irrational, which is what you’ve done. You’ve actually given me no reason to think that there’s any point in discussing my views, which was the original point all along and one that you’ve not dealt with in a satisfactory way (although I’ll grant that you’ve tried to do so).

    If so, some brilliant atheists (namely David Hume and GE Moore) would disagree with you (ie. is-ought problem and naturalistic fallacy).

    I don’t base my positions on what other atheists believe. That would be fallacious in itself.

    On the validity of “reason” – the father of naturalism himself had his doubts:

    Wasn’t aware that Darwin was the “father of naturalism” but so what? Yes, our minds are easily fooled. That’s why we have things like the scientific method, independent verification, etc.

    Am I not allowed, wearing my agnostic philosopher cap, to share in Darwin’s doubts?

    That’s not what you are doing. You’re making claims about my beliefs without even knowing or understanding what they are.

    I just don’t apologize for saying faith has irrational components.

    Why aren’t you apologizing for being irrational? As I pointed out (maybe to you, maybe to JohnH2) there are all kinds of irrational positions one could take, and many times those positions have real effects on the world – deleterious effects. Bigotry, for example, is irrational. What would you say to a bigot who claims that you are proud of your irrationality, so why can’t they be proud of it?

    From a naturalistic perspective – how do you personally relate to time, life, love, objective morality, and consciousness?

    What do you mean by “relate”? I’m sure I “relate” the same way that most people do. If you want to know how I “explain” those things, I would say something very similar to DavidMHart. We have tons of evidence for natural causes and events, none for anything supernatural. We don’t have a single piece of evidence for anything supernatural. None. Not one bit. It is not irrational to say, “Based on the evidence we have, I accept the best natural conclusions we can come up with and I reject supernatural conclusions as irrational since they have no evidence and rely upon faith.” That is not a faith position.

  • GCT

    For the first part yes, I am saying that someone else can always deny the evidence.

    I’m not sure that we need to concern ourselves with this event. Nothing can be 100% certain (please don’t throw in the whole ‘that statement is contradictory’ thing, as you know what I mean) so I’m not worried about trying to find absolute certainty. I think we can safely not worry about that.

    For the second part I am not claiming that, what I am claiming is that personal experience (which is very different then personal biases and internal states) is more important than proving God and that internal states are relevant to God in God choosing to give someone a personal experience.

    How do you verify an alleged personal experience with god? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are supernatural entities out there – perhaps a god, a devil, some angels, etc. How would you ever discern the difference between a god talking to you and a devil talking to you? You can’t, and that’s a huge reason why we can’t admit this type of personal experience as evidence towards the proposition of god. What makes your personal experience more worthy of consideration than the personal experience of anyone else? When someone else’s personal experience contradicts your personal experience, how do we discern which one is correct?

  • DavidMHart

    Well, the first thing to notice is that people are the products of their cultures to quite a large extent. If a scientist grows up in a strongly religious culture, they will be more likely to absorb that and remain religious themself than another scientist who grew up in a largely non-religious culture. That doesn’t show that their belief in gods is empirically justified, it just means that for whatever reason they have not focussed their skeptical talents on it. I should point out that you would expect scientists who grew up in Hindu families in India to be more likely to be Hindus than not (or indeed, more likely to be Hindus than Christians) when they grow up, and even you would not think that that offers any evidence in favour of the existence of Vishnu.

    What you should consider is whether scientists are less likely to be religious than non-scientists. If the existence of gods is a true fact about the universe, you would expect that to better recognised among the people who have devoted their lives to honestly and skeptically scrutinising the universe to try to get closer to a complete understanding of it. In reality, statistics are a little hazy, largely because people don’t always finely parse the difference between those who identify as atheists and those who merely have no religion, but the strong trend of the polls is that scientists are less likely to be religious than non-scientists, and that the more high-up the faculty ladder a scientist is, the less likely they are to be religious, and also that those proportions have been increasing over time. You can find links to some polls if you do a bit of googling.

    This appears to also be true of philosophers, by the way – again with the more credentialled philosophers being less likely to be religious than the less credentialled, who in turn are less religious than the population average.

    So, no, the fact that some people who have devoted their lives to the study of reality happen to believe in gods does not offer any good reason to believe in gods, unless and until that study of reality gets explicity focussed on the subject, and starts to actually turn up good evidence in support of the existence of one or more gods. Until then, it is simply a good example of the human talent for mental compartmentalisation. Isaac Newton famously believed in alchemy, and, despite his obviously towering intellect in the field of physics, no one now suggests that that fact supports the truth of alchemy; just that he failed to exercise sufficient skepticism over what we now all recognise as a flagrant pseudoscience.

    What would impress me is if university theology departments started engaging in genuine scientific experiments to determine the number and nature of gods, and started to converge on some sort of consensus. For instance, if Jewish and Muslim theologians devised a test to figure out whether gods prefer to be addressed in Arabic or Hebrew; if the Unitarian and Trinitarian Christians devised an experiment to allow them reach a consensus on whether it was possible for three gods to simultaneously be only one god; if the Mormons got together with non-Mormon Christians to work out whether Kolob was a real planet, and if so, how to tell whether or not the Biblical god really made its home base there, if the Catholics and Protestants agreed a protocol to determine collaboratively whether or not the Transubstantiation was a genuine phenomenon. Hindus could try to reach a consensus between themselves on exactly how many gods there are, with that number being revised in the light of more accurate experiments, with those figures then being peer reviewed by Zoroastrian and Yazidi theologians, who would try to replicate their results and state whether the data they produced supported the same conclusion. All the while, we would be building up a more accurate scientific understanding of gods in the same way that we have built up an ever more accurate understanding of chemistry, biology, physics etc over the last several centuries. And if these results were robust enough, you would then see the theology faculties start to move into science departments, since they were beginning to show that they were actually studying real phenomena about the universe.

    Is anything remotely like this actually happening? Can you even name one demonstrably true discovery made in theology in the last 50 years, or the last 100 years, that has successfully reversed the previous consensus by a preponderance of evidence? Unless I’ve been living under a rock, the answer is no.

    This strongly suggests that belief in gods is simply not part of science, that theology is simply an exercise in coming up with ever more elaborate rationalisations for believing what you already believe but cannot satisfactorily demonstrate, and that therefore the existence of religious scientists does not support the truth of religious claims.

    If you think that ’15 billion years of empiricism’ (whatever that means – we have only been doing empiricism for a few thousand years tops, and have only been doing it in a formal systematic fashion for a few hundred) have ‘illuminated a signature of the divine’, you’ll need to explain what exactly has been illuminated that points more strongly to the divine, given that literally every single scientific advance that we have made has turned out to involve natural phenomena, with no sign of any spririts, ghosts, gods or gremlins putting their thumb on the scales. If you just mean something like ‘Look at how grand and awe-inspiring the universe is, in ways our ancestors never dreamed of’, then that won’t wash. The universe is the way it is, whether divinely engineered or not – obviously if it turns out to have been divinely engineered then that is testimony to both the intellect and the astonishing cruelty and callousness of the designer, but you would be assuming the very thing you need to prove if you simply assert that the scale and complexity of the universe supports your claims.

    I already gave you some answers to your questions. Like I said, we’re still working on them, but go and ask a cosmologist for our best understanding of the origins of the universe, go ask an evolutionary biologist for our best understandings of the origins of life, go ask some neuroscientists about consciousness, go ask some moral philosophers about morality. They will all give you better-supported answers than religions, which are based, so far as we can tell, not on answers that have been painstakingly worked out by testing ideas against reality, but on pseudo-answers that have just been
    made up by people that had no more of a handle on the truth than anyone else, but were simply less embarrassed about fabricating something to fill the gaps.

  • JohnH2

    “How do you verify an alleged personal experience with god?”

    If you aren’t the person that had the experience? As with any interaction between two actors there are two parties to such an experience and if they both confirm that an interaction happened then the interaction did happen (or they are both lying). This, of course, would require that the person doing the confirming get their own experience (in confirming that the other had such an experience), so even if there were the testimony of eleven independent people there would still be plenty of people claiming all kinds of things about it.

    “How would you ever discern the difference between a god talking to you and a devil talking to you?”

    That requires trusting some assumptions about gods and devils. Everyone has some ability to tell apart what is morally good and morally evil, especially in regards to the consequences of actions. A being that induces a person to do things which one finds to be evil should not be listen to while a being that induces one to do good should probably be listened to. There is obviously the gnostic cases that could be considered but in general that seems sufficient to get to discerning between God and the devil.

    “What makes your personal experience more worthy of consideration than the personal experience of anyone else?”

    To you, nothing (unless you know and trust one of us more than the other). To the person that has had an experience then obviously one should trust their own experience much more than anyone else’s.

    ” When someone else’s personal experience contradicts your personal experience, how do we discern which one is correct?”

    Barring something obvious such as one of us saying that God is a blind idiot or a plate of spaghetti or that we should all sacrifice our children on top of a volcano so the sun doesn’t die or that we should kill everyone that doesn’t believe in the way that we do or other similar things then I don’t see this as being a huge problem. Firstly, since the contradiction wouldn’t be in an obvious moral question then some form of peaceful coexistence would clearly be possible (at least theoretically). Secondly, as with the game of telephone, it is entirely probable that both parties have an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of what God was saying, discussing the subject and confirming again with God would seem to be the proper course of action. Thirdly, it is entirely possible for God to have different designs for different individuals and different groups of people.

  • Andrew Murtagh

    David-

    You’re a good dude… I’ll make this short as I’ve been replying to both my and Adam’s posts and need to cut off round 1 here or I’ll never get to round 2!

    15 billion years of empiricism – I meant 15 billion years of the universes’ discoverability – true we’ve only had thousands of years of human cognition and the instrumentation to process our findings – what I was getting at is that we’re pretty confident the universe began in a Bang (a Big One) 15 billion years ago.

    My point was that many brilliant minds that study that natural world think there is more than just the natural world – the cosmological argument and the universe beginning 15 billion years ago is just one example. You say that doesn’t carry theological implications.

    Fair, but many disagree.

    You said religion has geo-social-poltical pressures – that religious scientists are likely to remain religious scientists.

    Doesn’t the same go for atheism?

    You said “no good evidence” – many say there is plenty of evidence in the natural world without even opening a religious text.

    That was my point – “no good evidence” is a rather subjective phrase.

    Fair?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    That requires trusting some assumptions about gods and devils. Everyone has some ability to tell apart what is morally good and morally evil, especially in regards to the consequences of actions. A being that induces a person to do things which one finds to be evil should not be listen to while a being that induces one to do good should probably be listened to.

    I find the doctrine of Hell to be the most evil idea imaginable. What should I conclude about the authorship of a book that teaches such a thing?

  • Andrew Murtagh

    GCT-

    As I said to David, I have to cut off round 1 so this will be my last response or else I will never get to round 2…

    I think this is the crux of the case:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0a34nkmBGI

    :)

    Just kidding…I’m a bioengineer and philosopher so I love science.

    You said: “Based on the evidence we have, I accept the best natural conclusions we can come up with and I reject supernatural conclusions as irrational since they have no evidence and rely upon faith.”

    Fair – you’re a naturalist.

    But you also said “No matter how many great reasons I give you for believing that the big bang happened, no matter how much evidence I can produce, you can simply claim that you like your irrational ideas better”

    I have no problem with the Big Bang – no need for faith as it’s empirically proven.

    But I did ask you as a naturalist to reply to the is/ought problem and the naturalistic fallacy to justify your moral philosophy as well your foundation for knowledge.

    I understand if you’d rather not respond as you continue to avoid this question – you think I’m irrational.

    Fair – I think we’re both irrational.

    Remember, with an “agnostic hat” on, I’m claiming both theism and naturalism are irrational. I’ve only asked you to defend your view in purely naturalistic terms.

    Well have more time to discuss this…

    Adam and I will be discussing this in Round 2 as it’s a very fair question to ask any naturalist.

  • JohnH2

    You should probably ensure to the best of your ability that your ideas as to the ‘doctrine’ of Hell are actually contained within the book in question. I quite assume that you are referring to the Bible and are thinking of the normal Christian conception of Hell; now I believe the Bible to have part of the word of God within it but if you are at all familiar with LDS doctrine the subject of Hell is quite different from the normal Christian one.

    The Bible certainly doesn’t claim to have a single author,

    If you want me to suggest a different Book to read, I am very much able to do so.

  • JohnH2

    “if the Mormons got together with non-Mormon Christians to work out whether Kolob was a real planet, and if so,”

    In the Egyptian worldview of the Book of Abraham (which does contribute some counter evidence in regards to the papyrus) Kolob (a star) would be Sirius, the dog star, being the fixed star by which the flooding of the Nile was determined among other things.

    The book of Abraham says that the place where God dwells is near to Kolob and the description elsewhere of the earth Celestialized is of the elements melting with the heat, burnings, a sea of glass. Incidentally Sirius B is a white dwarf of one solar mass with a volume about equal to the earths.

    Both points are irrelevant though and misses the point of what is being expressed there.

  • GCT

    If you aren’t the person that had the experience?

    I don’t think that matters. Whether you are the person trying to verify your own experience or someone else’s, how do you verify a god experience?

    As with any interaction between two actors there are two parties to such an experience and if they both confirm that an interaction happened then the interaction did happen (or they are both lying).

    How do you get the god party to confirm?

    That requires trusting some assumptions about gods and devils.

    How do you verify your assumptions?

    A being that induces a person to do things which one finds to be evil should not be listen to while a being that induces one to do good should probably be listened to.

    Ah, but supposedly the voice talking to you is the one telling you what is and is not moral. Secondly, if you read the bible, you’ll note that when god tells you to do something, you do it. You don’t first ask if it’s moral or not. What you’re really doing is admitting that you don’t get your morals from god. You get them from another source.

    To you, nothing (unless you know and trust one of us more than the other). To the person that has had an experience then obviously one should trust their own experience much more than anyone else’s.

    Why? We know our senses can be fooled, quite easily.

    Barring something obvious such as one of us saying that God is a blind idiot or a plate of spaghetti or that we should all sacrifice our children on top of a volcano so the sun doesn’t die or that we should kill everyone that doesn’t believe in the way that we do or other similar things then I don’t see this as being a huge problem.

    Have you not noticed how much strife is in the world because of religious differences? It most certainly IS a huge problem.

    As for the three points you list, you aren’t telling me how to tell which one is right. You’re saying that one of them might be right, both might be wrong, or both might be right. I think we can throw out the last possibility in many cases due to mutually exclusive beliefs. Even if we don’t, acknowledging that they might be wrong is only the first step. You’ve not told me how to figure out which is right, because really there is no way to figure it out.

  • GCT

    Fair – I think we’re both irrational.

    But, you’re not saying why, except that I don’t have all the answers. So what? I don’t have to have all the answers in order to be rational. If that were the case, then “rational” has no actual meaning. My position is based on the best available evidence and is open to change if we receive more/better evidence. That is not irrational, no matter how much you avoid it and simply assert that it is.

    Secondly, as I’ve already pointed out you’ve moved the goalposts. The question is whether atheism is irrational, and it is not. You’ve straight out dodged that and ignored the fact that I’ve called you out on it.

    Remember, with an “agnostic hat” on, I’m claiming both theism and naturalism are irrational.

    I don’t think you even know what that means. (A)theism is the position of belief. (A)gnosticism is a position on knowledge. You’re using it in the sense of a linear space where it’s some sort of middle ground between theism and atheism. That’s simply not the case.

    I’ve only asked you to defend your view in purely naturalistic terms.

    And, I’ve done so. You simply ignored it because it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. I pointed out how my position is rational and why it is rational. You simply claim it is not rational with no support.

  • GCT

    My point was that many brilliant minds that study that natural world think there is more than just the natural world – the cosmological argument and the universe beginning 15 billion years ago is just one example. You say that doesn’t carry theological implications.

    Fair, but many disagree.

    This is both an argument from inappropriate authority and an appeal to popularity. It’s 2 fallacies wrapped into one statement, which is rather impressive.

    That was my point – “no good evidence” is a rather subjective phrase.

    No, it’s not, because words have meanings. That some people don’t understand what “evidence” means or what makes something evidence doesn’t mean that their misapprehensions validate anything.

  • JohnH2

    “how do you verify a god experience?”

    By the effects that come from it; it the experience with God leads to no effect then it is pointless to discuss whether it was from God or not, if it leads to bad effects then one should question whether it was from God, if it leads to one being and doing good then it would appear that the source is good.

    “How do you get the god party to confirm?”

    Same way one gets the experience in the first place.

    “How do you verify your assumptions?”

    I think the only way is through induction from experience of dealing with God; pointing out what it says on the subject in some holy book would require that you already have experience with the holy book and have some degree of faith or trust in what it may say, same with me or anyone else telling of our experiences.

    This is highly related to the next question, so unless you are going the route of some of the Gnostics I will leave this point and move to the next.

    “telling you what is and is not moral”

    I nearly completely disagree with that claim, Genesis has God say “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” after they had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which to me quite seems to contradict that view of morality.

    “god tells you to do something,”

    If God tells one to do something that one knows to be wrong then it seems prudent to get God to explain and to ensure that one has understood correctly and that it is in fact from God. God is the supreme ruler of the Universe as well as also all knowing so there are times when He may command something that seems contrary to our understanding of the subject in question and we are expected to obey based on our knowledge and trust in God gained from other matters.

    ” you don’t get your morals from god.”

    I don’t believe that I have claimed to get my morals from God? God is also bound by morality, though with a perfect understanding and in a different position of responsibility than us.

    “Why?”

    Because the person that had the experience had the experience and not someone else.

    ” strife is in the world because of religious differences?”

    Yes, it would be hard not to notice, but that isn’t the subject of inquiry. If Jesus commanded the Christians to love their neighbor as themselves and then Christians kill all their neighbors that believe differently then how would Jesus be responsible for that? Likewise if the Qur’an talks about living peacefully with the people of the book and Muslims blow themselves up to kill Jews, Muslims, and Christians then how is the Qur’an responsible for that?

    ” You’re saying that one of them might be right, both might be wrong, or both might be right.”

    Really I am saying that most likely both have some things right and something wrong in their understanding of things and that God doesn’t have an obligation to give to everyone the same knowledge at the same time.

    Everyone can ask God about the subject and assuming that all are asking actually wanting to know the answer then God still doesn’t have the obligation to tell everyone the same answer. God obviously can’t give directly contradictory answers, but He is capable of giving incomplete answers that could easily lead the recipient to assume they are contradictory: a less than fully hypothetical example being if a Jew and Christian were asking about Jesus being the Christ, it may not be God’s will that the Jew know that right now and so is able to tell the Jew to do something else.

    So what is right for you is to find out what God would have you know and go from there.

  • DavidMHart

    Sorry about the late reply, but let’s have a go at what you’ve said.

    It is true that our best calculations of the age of the universe is roughly 15bn years, but that still isn’t 15bn years of the universe’s discoverability because entities capable of doing such discovering have only been around a few million years at best, and have only actually been doing it is a systematic way for a few hundred. So I’m not sure what you mean here. I totally don’t get why you think that the age of the universe is good reason to think that there is more than just the natural world (though your phrasing implies you think that it justifies thinking there are also supernatural things out there, as opposed to other pockets of natural reality that cannot be reached from our own pocket of reality). Can you make that plain? Why do you think the age of the universe backs up any kind of god hypothesis?

    And the cosmological argument if it is true can only establish at a maximum that the universe had a prior cause. It tells us absolutely nothing about the nature of that prior cause, and therefore cannot possibly be used to justify a claim that that cause was a conscious entity of the sort capable of deliberately creating the universe, let alone caring enough about one species of ape on one planet among billions to bother to write a rambling and contradictory book for us to fight over.

    The fact that we are confident that there is more to reality than we currently understand does not remotely justify us drawing the conclusion that, just because we know our knowledge is incomplete, we should therefore accept as true a particular set of mythical stories from the ancient Mediterranean that centre around a being whose existence, if proved, would overturn pretty much everything we have so far discovered about reality.

    You said religion has geo-social-poltical pressures – that religious scientists are likely to remain religious scientists.

    Doesn’t the same go for atheism?

    Of course. But the point was that it was not the absolute number of scientists that are religious that you should be focussing on if you are making that argument, it is the number relative to the population average. A scientist is, pretty much by definition, one whose profession involves them doing their very best to overcome or disable their own cognitive biases and those of their colleagues, to systematically study, quantify and analyse an area of reality, and report back to the rest of us. I appreciate that that’s a somewhat idealised view, but the point is that science is the discipline of honestly trying one’s best to sort truth from fiction, so we should expect scientists to be better at sorting truth from fiction on the average, at least within their own specialised fields, and, because the critical thinking tools you need in your own field are somewhat transferrable, we should also expect those skills to be somewhat transferrable actually transferred to other claims sometimes [edited to remove badly phrased thing].

    Therefore, although we shouldn’t expect all the scientists whose area of study is something other than gods to apply their critical thinking skills to gods with full force, we should expect scientists to tend to believe in gods more than the population average if the existence of gods was a true fact about reality, supported by good evidence, and discernable when exercising a highly honed set of critical thinking skills.

    The fact that scientists are in reality less likely to believe in gods means that you cannot use the fact that some of them do to support the claim that there are good reasons to do so. I didn’t link you this video in my earlier comment, because I didn’t want to spam you with loads of homework, but if you still think that the existence of scientists who are religious backs up the specific claims of religion, you really should watch PZ Myers on the unavoidable irreconcilable gulf between religion and science.

    many say there is plenty of evidence [for the existence of gods] in the natural world without even opening a religious text.

    And they’re quite simply wrong about that; I make no apologies for saying so. Every single discovery we have ever made in our quest to understand the natural world has turned out to involve natural phenomena, ordinary laws of physics, and no supernatural gods, ghosts, angels, jinns, fairies, witches or vampires. Everything which we once attributed to the supernatural, but for which we have now worked out the causes has turned out not to rely on any gods – from the formation of the Earth, volcanoes, fire, wind, storms, and diseases to the movement of the planets and stars and the diversity of life. Everything that we have not yet fully explained, but on which we have made some progress, has turned out not to require any gods so far, from the origins of life to human consciousness, so anyone who asserts that these things do support gods is just making stuff up.

    Good evidence for the existence of gods would be in the same sort of ballpark as the good evidence we have for natural selection – the fossil record and molecular genetic record of species changing over time in response to environmental pressures, etc, or the good evidence that we have for relativity – from Einstein’s light-bending-round-the-sun prediction to the fact that GPS satellites have to take the maths of relativity into account in order to work. I note that you did not even address my paragraph about what it would take for theology to be considered a science (i.e. for the study of gods to have a proper evidential footing). If the existence of gods is a true fact about reality, then that paragraph describes exactly the sort of things that ought to be happening, but are not.

    In reality, gods at the moment have entirely the same sort of evidential status as the dragon in my garage* – that is – no independently verifiable positive evidence for them at all, just stories and assertions, and vague psychological phenomena that could just as easily be generated by our own brains. The only advantage they have is that gods are so shape-shiftey that they can be redefined, like the dragon, to be beyond the reach of any verification.

    But the price that they pay is that they become indistinguishable from the imaginary – there is no way to tell the difference between their existence and their non-existence, so nebulous have they become. And of course, believers never behave as if the gods they believe in are that nebulous. They always claim that they have some influence on material reality, whether it be by inspiring or dictating a book, incarnating themselves as their own sons, answering prayers, punishing sins, whatever. The unfalsifiable deist gods only ever get trotted out when skeptics point out the lack of evidence for the butt-kicking gods, and then people go right back to acting as if they believed in a god that should be falsifiable.

    *If you follow none other of my links at all, you should still follow the one to Sagan’s Dragon in the Garage – it is about the best parable for religious apologetics and other pseudosciences that I know of.

  • GCT

    IOW, keep reading until you find something you like, then forget all the rest.

  • GCT

    By the effects that come from it…

    Except you can’t, because you can’t know there’s any causal link to the supernatural or that you know what supernatural cause is responsible.

    …it the experience with God leads to no effect then it is pointless to discuss whether it was from God or not, if it leads to bad effects then one should question whether it was from God, if it leads to one being and doing good then it would appear that the source is good.

    Begging the question…big time.

    Same way one gets the experience in the first place.

    So, in order to confirm that it was god talking to you and not some other supernatural entity, you simply try to recreate and talk to the same entity? And, that helps you how?

    I think the only way is through induction from experience of dealing with God…

    You can’t verify your assumptions by simply assuming them to be true. That’s not what “verify” means.

    I nearly completely disagree with that claim, Genesis has God say “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” after they had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which to me quite seems to contradict that view of morality.

    Then you admit that god is not the source of morality. Good to know.

    If God tells one to do something that one knows to be wrong then it seems prudent to get God to explain and to ensure that one has understood correctly and that it is in fact from God. God is the supreme ruler of the Universe as well as also all knowing so there are times when He may command something that seems contrary to our understanding of the subject in question and we are expected to obey based on our knowledge and trust in God gained from other matters.

    This is contradictory, for numerous reasons. If god is the arbiter of what is and is not moral (a claim you denied earlier, but seem to endorse here) then no matter what god tells you to do, it must be right, so there is no need to question it, and no need to search your inner moral system. Just the fact that you claim you have an inner moral system that can judge whether god tells you to do something moral or not is contradictory. Also, if you read the Bible, you’ll note that not doing what god tells you to do is the fastest and easiest way to get yourself into trouble with god.

    I don’t believe that I have claimed to get my morals from God? God is also bound by morality, though with a perfect understanding and in a different position of responsibility than us.

    If morals come from a different source than god, then why do we need god? Also, where did they come from, if not god? You’ve just claimed that god is not omnipotent. What other of god’s attributes will you toss aside?

    Because the person that had the experience had the experience and not someone else.

    And? That completely ignores the actual objection I raised. The reason we develop scientific instruments and methods is because we are too easily fooled.

    Yes, it would be hard not to notice, but that isn’t the subject of inquiry.

    I was commenting on you saying it’s not a big deal. How to determine who is right and who is wrong about their alleged supernatural experiences has been a big deal ever since the first competing ideas of god came on the market. If we can’t tell which god idea is right or wrong, then of what use is it?

    If Jesus commanded the Christians to love their neighbor as themselves and then Christians kill all their neighbors that believe differently then how would Jesus be responsible for that?

    If god really is perfect, then I would say that god bears quite a bit of responsibility for it.

    Really I am saying that most likely both have some things right and something wrong in their understanding of things and that God doesn’t have an obligation to give to everyone the same knowledge at the same time.

    I would argue differently about god’s responsibilities, but this claim that everyone has some things wrong and some things right is unverifiable, and worse, you still can’t tell which things are wrong and which, if any, are right.

    Everyone can ask God about the subject and assuming that all are asking actually wanting to know the answer then God still doesn’t have the obligation to tell everyone the same answer.

    IOW, god can lie.

    So what is right for you is to find out what God would have you know and go from there.

    So, if I fervently pray to god and god tells me to go kill someone, then that is right for me? Sorry, I don’t buy it. In order to claim that one person’s experiences/perceptions of god are correct, we need some way of actually testing it. Returning to that person and asking them to talk to god again doesn’t actually work, because we are asking them to simply perform the same act that we’re supposed to be testing. It’s like someone handing you a proof on a piece of paper, but all the steps are blanked out. You say, “How do I know this is correct?” In order to figure it out, you go back to the person and ask them to give you some evidence. So, that person goes and grabs another sheet of paper that has the same alleged proof on it with all the steps blanked out and claims that it is evidence that the proof is correct. I guess you would have to accept that, or would you only accept it if the person said it came from god and you happened to agree with it?

  • JohnH2

    You appear to not have understood what I was saying in some instances, likely it was my fault.

    Axioms are not things that are proven but are just assumed true; Induction from experience is an axiom and so can’t be proven to be true. That everyone has some capacity to tell right from wrong also appears to be axiomatic: I can see no way of proving that which does not end up resorting to an equivalent axiom. That doesn’t mean that everyone has a complete infallible understanding of either right and wrong or of experience, in fact induction from experience directly means that we don’t understand everything.

    That doesn’t mean that experience is untrustworthy, quite the opposite, experience is nearly certainty: illusions depend on that, not contradicts it, as one actually experiences an illusion but draws faulty conclusions from the experience. Same with experience with God, the experience is not in question but ones conclusions drawn from the experience are likely somewhat faulty.

    In regards to asking God, if I ask God and receive an experience then I should trust that experience but doubt my conclusions drawn from it. If one were to discount the experiences of others from other religions then one must also discount the experiences from ones own; instead one should to accept that others have also had experiences and then work from that position. In order to confirm ones own experiences and conclusions then one should consider what the actions drawn from that are like, in order to confirm others experiences and conclusions then one should ask God about the others experiences.

    In regards to right and wrong, as one has experience with God and comes to trust what God says then God may trust that person with something that they have incomplete knowledge about and therefore from their position is of questionable morality. If one thinks it is actually wrong then one should still question God about it.

    God operates according to laws and in a universe that is co-eternal with Him, as are we. Neither He, nor we, can make morality, though He being prefect and in a position of responsibility different than our own is able to tell us things that are moral and do things which were we to do them would not be moral. Similar to how if we, individually, lock someone up in a little room for twenty years then we are wrong but as society if we lock someone up for twenty years due to actions they have taken we are not (necessarily) wrong in doing so.

    Hopefully that is clearer.

  • JohnH2

    No, the word Hell does appear in the Bible but the details of Hell as believed by Christians don’t.

  • GCT

    That doesn’t mean that experience is untrustworthy, quite the opposite, experience is nearly certainty: illusions depend on that, not contradicts it, as one actually experiences an illusion but draws faulty conclusions from the experience.

    I understand what you are saying. I agree that the experience is not in question. People have experiences, it’s how those experiences are interpreted that is up for debate, and you seem to agree with that.

    Same with experience with God, the experience is not in question but ones conclusions drawn from the experience are likely somewhat faulty.

    This is where it goes off the rails though. If you agree that the interpretation is where it goes wonky, why are you so ready to simply accept the interpretation that an experience is the result of god? That’s the problem here. You simply assume god, assume that an experience is of god, and then go about your business of interpreting what god meant to say. That’s begging the question and a leap that you can’t make. First you have to be able to verify that it was god. Simply saying that you assume it was god doesn’t help, because that is also begging the question.

    If one were to discount the experiences of others from other religions then one must also discount the experiences from ones own; instead one should to accept that others have also had experiences and then work from that position.

    You’re so close to getting it.

    God operates according to laws and in a universe that is co-eternal with Him, as are we. Neither He, nor we, can make morality…

    Euthyphro’s dilemma. Also, you reject the Xian notion of an omni-max god that created the universe. Apparently you also throw out Genesis, etc.

    …though He being prefect and in a position of responsibility different than our own is able to tell us things that are moral and do things which were we to do them would not be moral.

    So, god is able to do things that would be immoral if we did them…which is once again confirmation that you don’t hold to absolute morality.

  • JohnH2

    Why would I have to throw out Genesis? I just have to throw out the strained definition of create which is contrary to how it is used everywhere else.

    My experiences in context of how and why I had them suggest that they are from God, I have no problems with others thinking they are from some other source.

  • GCT

    Why would I have to throw out Genesis? I just have to throw out the strained definition of create which is contrary to how it is used everywhere else.

    It clearly states that god created everything. I’m unaware of that word meaning that he had nothing to do with the formation of the cosmos and simply lives within it or whatever. But, I guess that’s on par with god giving 2 separate sets of rules to Moses when the Bible clearly states that god gave Moses the same set on the second occasion.

    My experiences in context of how and why I had them suggest that they are from God, I have no problems with others thinking they are from some other source.

    This is circular reasoning and begging the question. You’re claiming that you know your experiences come from god because they suggest they come from god.

    IOW, you admit that we have to be careful with our interpretations of our experiences…except in the case of when we want to simply assume that it’s from god. Then, we can hand-wave away being careful, hand-wave away all evidence or the lack there-of, and ignore the fact that if supernatural beings are talking to us that we’d not be able to distinguish a god from any other supernatural being. It’s all illogical fallacies and irrationality all the way down, with each turtle getting even further and deeper into the hole.

  • JohnH2

    So you are denying that we have the ability to tell what is good from what is evil? As otherwise your response doesn’t make sense with what I said.

    Create doesn’t usually mean that one takes nothing and then has something. If I create anything what I am doing is organizing something that is already there.

  • GCT

    So you are denying that we have the ability to tell what is good from what is evil? As otherwise your response doesn’t make sense with what I said.

    Huh? If you have the ability to tell good from evil, the point is that you don’t get it from the Bible or from god. Your own arguments argue against both of those things. So, what need have we of this god?

    But, that’s not even what I was talking about. I was pointing out your special pleading. You claim we have to be careful interpreting our experiences (I agree) but you are not careful and don’t take care in simply interpreting your experiences as having come from god. You simply assume that’s the case. Then, you make your arguments based on that assumption. It’s begging the question and special pleading. I’ve just shown your arguments to be illogical.

    Create doesn’t usually mean that one takes nothing and then has something. If I create anything what I am doing is organizing something that is already there.

    It can mean either, and for a god it shouldn’t matter if nothing is there, because an omni-max god would have the power to create from nothing. Even if something was there, god would have formed all there is. You’re still disregarding Genesis when it suits your preconceptions, thus again proving that you take what you want into the Bible and ignore things that don’t fit what you want the narrative to be.

  • JohnH2

    Your own arguments argue against both of those things. So, what need have we of this god?

    This and the next paragraph tell me you haven’t understood everything that I have been trying to say. You seem to be assuming that I am coming from the normal Christian position, that is a false assumption and directly contradicts one of my main points as to how to determine if something is from God. I thought that it was very clear that my position is nowhere near the normal Christian position as I am a Mormon.

    “for a god it shouldn’t matter if nothing is there, because an omni-max god would have the power to create from nothing”

    That is not the metaphysical framework that I am working in and is also not what the Bible actually says, I am not disregarding what Genesis says, just how it is usually interpreted, which interpretation is contrary to how the phrases are used and interpreted elsewhere within the Bible.

    I am fine with either debating my position from within the Bible contrary to the normal Christian position or debating my position from a position of base assumptions about the world that are largely shared; It doesn’t make sense to me to try and do both at once.

  • Otto Tellick

    Sorry to be joining in rather late here. I’m glad to see this comment: “I doubt that anyone, including me, has the full picture of what’s moral and what isn’t.”

    I would suggest that morality is like language: it is a system of communication that develops and evolves within a community, as an intrinsic part of the community’s existence and cohesion. As any linguist will affirm, no single individual within the community possesses full knowledge of the language, and you cannot fully learn the language from just one person.

    Every person must actually infer, from available evidence, how language works in his/her community, and “invent” a system of rules, exceptions and habits that is consistent with the evidence (and that also produces desired results when trying to communicate). As a result, no two people share a fully identical grammar. There’s plenty of consensus, especially on matters that come up frequently (greetings, requests, apologies, etc), but a perceptive linguist can quickly discern questions on which individuals will be uncertain, and/or will be inclined to disagree.

    And so it is with morality. In fact, the analogy between language and morality seems to hold up remarkably well to a striking level of detail. Not only that, but the two domains are interdependent: how the vocabulary is used and how statements are formed can reveal quite a lot about how the conceptual terrain is divvied up.

  • Andrew Murtagh

    GCT-

    Just getting back into the swing of things here with Round 3… I would be interested in your feedback as I provided further comment on the rational/irrational foundations to my worldview.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/versus/2014/01/an-atheist-vs-a-christian-round-3/

    A few points on your comments here…

    1) Atheism and Naturalism

    Is using these terms interchangeably moving the goal posts? How does one be an atheist without be a naturalist? I don’t mean to be sarcastic – I am genuinely interested. For me to be moving the goal posts – I would have to start by saying atheism is irrational and then move to “skepticism” or “agnosticism” being irrational as well, which I did not do.

    I just equated atheism with naturalism as I do not see how they are not interchangeable. I don’t see how that is moving the goal posts:

    1) All atheists espouse naturalism
    2) Adam is an atheist
    3) Thus, Adam is a naturalist

    2) Agnosticism

    I am quite familiar with agnosticism as a concept of knowledge. When I said “I am putting my agnostic hat on” – as the topic was the existence of God – I was assuming we were staying on the topic of the knowledge of the existence of God.

    I’m not assuming linearity – I am assuming how the word is typically used in context. Consider the “agnostic” physics professor:

    Student: Professor, do you mind if I ask you your religious beliefs?
    Professor: I’m an agnostic
    Student: Professor, do you mind if I ask you your views on string theory?
    Professor: I’m an agnostic

    In the context of theological worldview, “agnostics” such as the physics professor, why wouldn’t she, or any other “religious agnostic”, not respond with “naturalism”?

    That would be a MUCH bolder position, hence my thesis…

  • Andrew Murtagh

    John-

    I don’t espouse a radical fideism or “Kiekagaaurd or bust” mentality. I am just inspired by some of his writing. Much of his position (and mine apparently) is misunderstood.

    I provided further comment in Round 3:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/versus/2014/01/an-atheist-vs-a-christian-round-3/

    I would be interested in your feedback.

    Thanks,

    Andrew


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