Don’t Take Me Literally!

Patrick made a good observation about the disparity between some apologists’ stated beliefs and their actual behavior and the problems this hypocrisy creates in debates.  He summarized some of William Lane Craig’s more terrifying beliefs (particularly with regard to Old Testament slaughters) and asked

Do you treat Craig (and by extension his faith and his holy text) as monstrous, since that’s what his interpretation makes them? Do you treat him as an idiot, because you know he’s not a monster even though anyone with two brain cells can see that he’s describing a God that’s literally indistinguishable from a Nazi version of Cthulhu (read up on Craig’s conception of “cultural pollution” as a justification for murdering kids)? What do you do?

Its a hard question, particularly for atheists, many of whom became atheists because they weren’t any good at separating professed beliefs from actual, real life belief.

I’ve run into this problem with atheists as well as Christians, and I’m sometimes torn about how to handle it.  If the problem comes up in a formal debate or with a public figure/apologist, it makes sense to call them out on the contradiction and point out how the problem is resolved or is prevented from coming up entirely in your metaphysical framework.  In that kind of situation, I’m using the absurdity of the contradiction to make a play for the audience and persuade them that my opponent’s position is untenable.  It gets a little more complicated in a one-on-one conversation.

The hypocrisies I run into most frequently in college are lived by atheists who are professed nihilists or materialists, but act as though their interactions with others are imbued by profound and transcendent meaning.  Even though they respond skeptically to the arguments of Christian (or weird little me) if we make claims about human exceptionalism or virtue, they still behave in many of the same ways as their opponents do.  I’m torn about calling out my friends on this kind of thing since I’ve seen some people respond by doubling down on their positions and become even more nihilistic.

An insistence on perfect logical consistency among college students pushes people towards uncontradictory but narrow philosophies like nihilism or objectivism.  When I care about the person I’m talking to, and I’m not trying to score points off them, sometimes I’d prefer to let the contradiction stand, and trust that further experience and reflection will bring them around.  I don’t want to make them pick a side for the sake of appearing strong.

I think some of the nasty ideas that Christians have about atheists are born out of the contradiction between the rhetoric of materialists and nihilists and the way those atheists live their lives.  Hearing this subset of atheists go after the idea of virtue, moral fibre, and love frightens Christians and plenty of others.  Seeing the way these professed nihilists live their lives might offer comfort.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18065529769651450157 Brian

    This is one of the many reasons I converted from atheism to Catholicism. It is impossible to live consistent with atheism – to really carry atheism to its logical conclusions, I would have to affirm all sorts of irrational things that are incongruent with reality. I didn't realize it then, but this was a disproof of atheism via reductio ad absurdum. GK Chesteron had a wonderful chapter on this in his "Orthodoxy" in which he compared the atheist to a mad man who denies the world that is plain to everyone else. I would have to deny things like my free-will, my mind, my reason, the very idea that there was anyone or anything that could possess any of these things, for the self was an illusion. It was all so absurd. With Catholicism, I can act contrary to beliefs, but not really, since concupiscence means falling short of perfection is the natural state of humanity.Can I ask a question: what are you talking about with regards to the OT?

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    i'm the exception in my family — i'm christian and not agnostic. it never fails to surprise me how many of my fellow believers assume that atheists have no morals or virtues. it doesn't seem that there is a contradiction between not believing in a deity and having a moral compass.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16991041531807247116 jdmccullough

    "When I care about the person I'm talking to, and I'm not trying to score points off them, sometimes I'd prefer to let the contradiction stand, and trust that further experience and reflection will bring them around." "Sometimes" huh, Leah. In six months you are going to be a useless witness for atheism because you already have that Christian love for the unlovely aching to break out of your heart. I love your stuff. Jim McCulloughOur Lady of GraceGreensboro, NC

  • Patrick

    Brian- I'll answer, since it was initially my quote. The specific passage that Craig was discussing that led to that comment were the ones about slaughtering everyone (read: absolutely every single person including kids) in Canaan in order to take their land. Its not the only passage that's problematic in this way, or that Craig's argument could have addressed, but it was the specific one under discussion at the time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18065529769651450157 Brian

    I do not know what Craig said, but I do know about the passage. It is very misunderstood by atheists because they tend not to know that Protestantism is not the only game in town. Jen, Christian anthropology would have it that atheists are children of God in spite of themselves and have an internal moral sense as a result. That some or even many atheists act morally, then, is not an issue. There is plenty of Scriptural support for this besides the Church's own dogmatic teachings and theology. What is at issue is that atheism per atheism does not really allow for things such as morals at all, hence Leah's mention of nihilism, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Could you give more examples of atheistic contradictions? You only really mentioned nihilism/materialism vs. thinking there is "profound and transcendent meaning" in human/human interactions. Could you provide some more?@Brian: I guess I'd have to be stuck in "no man's land." Having recently deconverted from Catholicism, there's no way I could currently buy anywhere close to 50% of it. I see far more issues of inconsistency with respect to theism than atheism at present.The OT comment has to do with William Lane Craig's stance on the OT slaughters commanded by Yahweh. It comes up on many of his debates. He's most likely an aberration from "tactful" Christians who have a difficult time outrightly saying both that 1) God is just and 2) God commanded the genocide of men, women, children, and animals of various nations. Craig's response is simply that since God created us he is free to remove any one of us from existence whenever he wants.I just googled "craig and OT genocide" and found THIS. Google similar items and you'll find more I'm sure. In live debates he adds the "cherry on top" that if God desired to end his life right then and there, he could. I can't believe that no one has ever pointed out that God rearranging one's particles back into their pre-creation form of dirt is light years away from actually commanding other humans to take up sharpened pieces of iron and slay hundreds of thousands of people who are absolutely innocent except for not believing the right God.I guess I'm not positive, but I think the more "tactful" answers I've run across are that the Israelites misinterpreted God in some way, that they just did it and retroactively based it on God's commands, or that perhaps there is missing information such that a violent attack was more necessary than it's portrayed.You probably don't have to worry about Craig's stance on this since he's not even Catholic ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Brian:You said:,—| Jen, Christian anthropology would have it that atheists are children of| God in spite of themselves and have an internal moral sense as a result.`—If God can implant a humanly universal compulsion to be more-or-less moral, why can't he implant a universal knowledge of at least who he is or even go a step further an implant a nagging desire to believe in him, love him, obey him, revere his transcribed word, etc.If one can point to a "natural law" that the scriptures and Church dogma state is universal to all man and woman kind, I see no reason to suspect that a hinting at proper believe in the human heart would be a violation of free will. Despite having a "moral sense," we seem to remain free to transgress. Thus, even with a "God sense," it would seem that I'd remain free to ignore it.I can't even begin to tell you how much easier my plague of doubt would be if the universal belief was in Christianity as the one true religion and all others were inherently laughed off the face of the earth due to not aligning with the "natural internal belief compass."How many people would buy that morality, regardless of its form/premises/end-goals, is defined as raping ones family members and killing at will. Yet billions of people are quite aware of your prized scriptures and beliefs and yet happily accept Islam, Mormonism, Scientology and the like instead.I don't know why killing vs. not killing is so amazingly apparent due to being "children of God" and the resultant "moral sense" and yet we cannot even recognize the supposed father who gave us this amazing sense from a lineup of the various 20 or so (being generous) major deities.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18065529769651450157 Brian

    "I see far more issues of inconsistency with respect to theism than atheism at present."lol, give it time, Hendy. I am not laughing at you, to be sure, but I just had to chuckle at the proposition. Give it time.As for the slaughter of the Amelikites/Canaanites, let's just say there's more to the story than either Protestants or atheists usually understand. A lot more. I don't want to get into it, now, that would require a bit of time to type up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Brian: "I would have to deny things like my free-will, my mind, my reason, the very idea that there was anyone or anything that could possess any of these things, for the self was an illusion. It was all so absurd."Those views (some of them) only follow from a strict scientific, materialist view of the world, not atheism per se.There is no such thing as free will, as understood by the religious.Your mind exists, no idea why atheism would make you think otherwise. Likewise reason.The self is an illusion, Leah has done a few posts on transhumanism which is one aspect of how the self is an illusion, I take a broader view that the self is actually a series of slightly different individuals that are similar enough to give the illusion of continuity, others are free to disagree, but I think science will ultimately be on my side.However, the main contention – that people don't act as if their beliefs are true – is true of lots of our beliefs: we know that we are mostly space yet act as if we're solid; we know cigarettes give us* cancer yet we smoke nonetheless; we gamble when the odds are in the house's favour; we obey laws when no-one is looking (e.g. waiting at a red signal in the middle of the night when there are no cars around.)In short, we are irrational and it is these heuristic behaviors that allow us to function in the world. While these behaviors may be inconsistent with our knowledge of the real world we rarely apply our actual knowledge and go for the heuristic most times. When someone throws a ball to you do you calculate the velocity angle etc. to decide the best place to put your hand to catch it or do you rely on the seriously imperfect heuristic evolution has bestowed upon you to make a rough estimate of where it's going to be?What confuses me with Brian is not that strict materialism turned him off atheism but that he thinks atheism does not allow for morals. He has fallen into the very bigoted thinking that many people have and he should know better as I assume he had morals when he was an atheist. Also, when deciding to become religious how does one choose Catholicism of all the available options? I can understand a move to deism, but the leap to theism requires some strong motivating factor, I'm wondering what it was?*Or a person like us in the distant future.

  • Iota

    A thought just struck me (it may be a stupid thought) that the very insistence of perfect logic and on truth in a materialist or nihilist position looks kind of self-contradictory. After all, you'd have to at least assume there is a reason why being right (knowing the truth) is any better than not being right pretty much irrespective of whether it's comfortable and that somehow, perfect logic is the best way to really BE right. I fail to see how either of those assumptions is actually a product of materialism or nihilism.

  • Patrick

    Most nihilists are really some form of moral non cognitivists, but they don't know the language to explain what that is. Unfortunately, a lot of atheists have learned everything they know about moral philosophy in church, but in church people lie. In church morality is often presented as a strict black and white dichotomy between their belief structure and nihilism/relativism, which are of course equated.

  • http://deusdiapente.blogspot.com J. Quinton

    What is it about "materialism" that leads to contradiction? The only time I've ever encountered this is when people are arguing against a strawman version of "materialism".

  • http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com Alex

    Leah,It's just groupthink writ large. When people identify themselves with a particular group, they go all-in with it. Even if that group is tiny, like nihilists, or large, like Catholics. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," as Emerson said. But it affects big minds, too. Nobody is immune to the reductio ad absurd or groupthink. The key thing is to simply minimize it in your own life. Refuse to lump people together as groups, refuse to label yourself, and be unafraid to change your mind.

  • Iota

    @ J. Quinton – is that a question for me?

  • http://khaosandeffect.com Ashok

    I'm with you up to the point where you start implying that "doubling down" (stated as if it's a bet) on hard materialism is a bad thing. What, exactly, is wrong with asserting that there is no objective morality, virtue, human purpose (which is a very human-centric view of the entire universe), or free will? I hold these positions and lead a reasonably happy life. Subjective morality, virtue, and purpose still exist, as do consequences for antisocial behavior. I'm not particularly distressed by having no free will, either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    What's the metric by which you judge your life to be happy, Ashok? Is there any kind of life that you would judge to be unhappy or wrong, regardless of the subjective claims of the person living it?

  • http://khaosandeffect.com Ashok

    Futhermore, I find your professed neutrality to be lacking when you label an entire philosophy as "narrow" and imply that following its positions makes one a nasty person (i.e. abhorrent to others). I expect you to show what makes nihilism "narrow" and why exactly this is a bad thing when making such a statement.Lest anyone take this as an example that atheists are nasty, I am simply asking Leah to hold to the standards of behavior that she says she holds to. I am not going out of my way to insult her.

  • http://khaosandeffect.com Ashok

    My judgment of my own happiness is purely subjective. I cannot judge the happiness of others. I can judge the way others live to be wrong. This is completely subjective, but in some cases I may judge the behaviors of one to be sufficiently wrong in my view (and perhaps many others' views) that I (and the agreeing others) will take steps to constrain the behavior of that one in accordance to our subjective views.Meanwhile, I would ask you – if you subscribe to the belief that objective morality exists, how can we determine this objective morality? And how certain can you be that the moral positions you hold are the correct ones, given that views on morality have fluctuated widely across recorded history?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    The war with the Canaanites is really just a specialization of the problem of suffering, right? Why does a good God allow suffering, which is presumably evil. The short answer (from a Catholic perspective) is that we don't know. No clear and definitive answer has been revealed. We have some hints that suffering somehow serves a redemptive purpose (which is why Jesus suffered so greatly). But the real bottom line is we don't know. Nonetheless, it is not the knock-down blow that atheists tend to present it as. It is at least conceivable that finite suffering is in the service of a greater, unseen, good, and therefore reconcilable with a benevolent deity. So there is no contradiction, just a question mark. I'll take that question mark any day over choosing to believe that we can neither choose nor believe, as strict materialists must.

  • http://khaosandeffect.com Ashok

    Dave, why is the existence of a benevolent deity that allows suffering inconsistent with a lack of free will?

  • Patrick

    "The war with the Canaanites is really just a specialization of the problem of suffering, right? Why does a good God allow suffering, which is presumably evil. "No, its not. Its a mass slaughter that's portrayed as specifically ordered by God. And why its ordered isn't a mystery. The reasons are expounded on for a very, very long time. Basically, God used to have a deal with the Canaanites where they were buds and the Canaanites got to live in Canaan. But then the Canaanites became jerks, so God doesn't want to renew the deal. But he can't throw them out right away, because a bargain is a bargain. He instead has to wait until their evilness matures sufficiently. Once that happens, he brings down the hammer in the form of a genocidal campaign from the Israelites in which the Israelites are specifically commanded to wipe out absolutely everyone in Canaan, even women and children. So they do.Whether this is a problem for Christianity, or if so what sort of problem, depends a lot on what a given Christian thinks about the Bible. Archaeologists seem pretty sure that this (and basically every other major event in the Old Testament) never actually happened. Or if it did, its been enormously inflated in scope. So if you're pretty light on Biblical literalism, the only thing that's problematic is deciding what sort of moral authority you ascribe to a people who made up this fable because they thought it made them look good. If you're a Biblical literalist of some form, its a much bigger problem because to you its a specific act of God, and therefore any character you ascribe to God or any system of morality you believe in needs to be compatible with ordering the slaughter of children.There are probably a few other perspectives that I can't remember off the top of my head.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Nonetheless, it is not the knock-down blow that atheists tend to present it as. It is at least conceivable that finite suffering is in the service of a greater, unseen, good, and therefore reconcilable with a benevolent deity. So there is no contradiction, just a question mark.Believe it or not, this very argument was useful to me the other day!I admit, things were looking pretty bad for me there in court. The prosecutors had presented videotaped evidence of me punching an old lady walking with a cane, snatching her purse, then leaping into traffic, dragging a man from his car, jumping behind the wheel and roaring off, as well as testimony from the dozens of police officers who chased me in a six-hour, three-state joyride that caused thousands of dollars in damage before I finally crashed through the front wall of a daycare center.But then, I rose to address the jury (I was acting as my own lawyer, naturally) and delivered my closing statement: "Ladies and gentlemen, I know what you're probably thinking, and I have to admit, these acts I committed – sorry, alleged acts – all seem to paint my character in a pretty bad light. Some of you might even think of me as evil. But I ask you: Isn't it at least conceivable that the finite suffering caused by these acts was in the service of a greater, unseen good, the nature of which I'm not going to tell you? And if that's possible, which you must admit it is, then isn't it also possible that I'm really innocent? Given this argument, your verdict can't be guilty. At most, it could be a question mark!"I don't like to brag, but I walked out of that courtroom a free man. I guess I'm lucky there were no atheists on my jury; you know how that kind tends to leap to conclusions on insufficient evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    @Ashok: There's no inherent inconsistency between the two subjects you mention. I was getting at the atheist/Catholic dilemma. Catholic problem: no definitive answer to the problem of suffering.Atheist problem: forced to pretend that they don't believe in free will. @Patrick: I'm not sure you're presenting a spot-on picture of the story here, but let it be. Bottom line is that God ordered large scale killing. I still say this is a subcase of the problem of suffering. If suffering is not inherently evil, then it doesn't besmirch God's character to allow (or order) it. And no conclusive case has ever been presented that suffering is inherently evil. @Ebonmuse: Cute. :-) I think I actually read a Batman story with those exact events. Of course, from the reader's perspective, we know that the old lady was really Clayface, and Batman had to rush to the daycare center to stop one of the Joker's plots. And, true to form, he didn't stick around to provide the reporters with his explanation, he just bataranged off without a word. What a difference perspective makes!But seriously folks. I take it your point is that the story of Joshua presents God's character as irredeemably evil, because he ordered large scale killing. You might consider that according to Christianity, death isn't the end of the story. What if, instead of "God ordered the Hebrews to kill the Canaanites", we read it as "God ordered the Hebrews to teleport the Canaanites from the desert to a land of eternal happiness where everyone gets a pony"? Does that change the verdict? Granted, the particular mechanism of teleportation in this case is downright unpleasant, but compared to eternity, it amounts to stubbing your toe while you step onto the transport pad.

  • Patrick

    @Dave- Well, like I said, what problems you do or do not derive from the story vary depending on your theology. If your theology is compatible with a God who orders humans to engage in mass racial slaughters to further his goals, then its compatible, and there's no problem for you.But the part where you think this all hinges on the inherent evil of suffering is just flat out wrong. You're simplifying so that you can change a very specific question into a very general question that you've set up to be unanswerable. The specific question I'd ask is this:"Given this passage, given a believer's attitude towards the Bible, and given a believer's conception of God, is there a conflict? And if so, what follows?"That simply doesn't turn on whether *suffering* *in general* can be proven to be *inherently* *evil.* Every word or phrase I've marked with asterisks is irrelevant to at least some theologies when wrestling with these passages. Someone might not care whether suffering *in general* is inherently evil, but have a strong opinion on whether this particular type of suffering is evil. Or they might not care whether *suffering* is evil at all, but believe strongly that murdering kids is "inherently disordered." I could go on for a while like this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I definitely want to second Patrick on this. The Old Testament genocides are qualitatively different from the general problem of evil and suffering. I was horrified by the explanations offered in Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith where one of the apologist argued that the cultures were diseased and needed to be blotted out from the earth. This is an incredibly strange and troubling solution for God to endorse (particularly at a time when his grace didn't really seem to be accessible to non-Jews).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Hi, Leah. Love the blog. :) I would ask you and Patrick to explain exactly why the case we're discussing is different from the generic problem of suffering. I'm honestly not seeing it. Patrick asks: "Given this passage, given a believer's attitude towards the Bible, and given a believer's conception of God, is there a conflict? And if so, what follows?"This depends so much on the particular believer in question that I have a hard time answering it. I *think* the answer is: if the believer has come to grips with the problem of suffering, then there is no conflict. If the believer has a conception of God that is incompatible with children (or adults) suffering during this life, then the believer will be shocked. I guess I need clarification on what I'm missing. Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Sorry for the double. Wanted to mention that Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin writes on this subject here: http://www.jimmyakin.org/2007/02/hard_sayings_of.htmlYou might find his thoughts more coherent than mine. I usually do. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01202543574090953195 Tony

    The phrase "the map is not the territory" came up in another discussion (on computational trinitarianism) but it has application here.What I'm not sure of, is which (religion or atheism) is the map and which is the territory.Manson says, "the worms, they live in every host. it's hard to pick which one they eat most."In practice, one focuses … The object of one's focus, to the extent it can resolve, becomes a map. Still the territory remains.

  • Patrick

    Dave-This:Is suffering, in general, incompatible with the existence of God?is not the same as this:Is this act, specifically, incompatible with the character of God as I believe it to be?Its also not the same as this:Is the fact that this passage is in my holy text compatible with my beliefs about my holy text?And its not the same as this:If I feel that this passage is not incompatible with my beliefs about my holy text and about God, am I consistently applying the reasoning I used in other areas of my beliefs?I don't know what else to say, dude. They're just not the same questions. If you're Catholic, as I'm assuming from your citation to Akin, then this should be pretty easy. Its not that hard to find Catholic thinkers who believe morality is unrelated to issues of suffering. Read up on euthanasia and you'll find dozens.

  • http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/alexknapp Alex

    Curious as to what people think about the interpretation that when he was younger, Yahweh wasn't as good a deity. He was provincial and bloodthirsty, but grew up and became enlightened. I've read some very interesting interpretations of Job, for example, which suggest that God realized his treatment of Job was unjust and grew and changed as a result.

  • http://khaosandeffect.com Ashok

    @Dave – Why must atheists pretend they don't believe in free will? I don't really understand how this is the "atheist problem", nor do I understand how you were getting at it in your post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    @Patrick – I renew my request for elaboration. Why exactly does this act seem incompatible with a benevolent deity? I mean, I understand the knee-jerk reaction of "Wow, God really smacked those guys down hard, maybe that's not so cool." But when I analyze the problem, the reason it appears not cool is that the Canaanites suffered. What am I missing? I'm not saying that all moral issues are related to suffering, so I'm not clear what your point about euthanasia is. We seem to be talking past each other here. Let's sit down and have lunch, that will probably be more productive. ;)BTW, yes I am Catholic. @Ashok – if my actions are the result of physical law and nothing else (as strict materialists claim), then my actions are not the result of my free will. Any appearance to that effect is an illusion. Which leads to the conclusion that consciousness itself is an illusion (just a transient output of physical brain operations). Which is a contradiction, because illusions presuppose a conscious observer. Consciousness as an illusion is like a snake eating its tail. I have read some attempts to reconcile free will with materialism. Hobbes, if I remember correctly. They do so by redefining terms. Under Hobbes (again, this is by memory, and I don't have time to dig in in depth), "free" means an action that is free from external coercion, not an action that the entity determined for its own purposes. Well, under Hobbes's shiny new definition, materialism certainly allows actions without external coercion, so he says we have free will even though our actions are the result of physical law and nothing else. Fair enough, I guess – but that's not what *most* people mean when they talk about free will. Aside – I sometimes make the mistake of using materialism and atheism interchangeably. I acknowledge that one could be an atheist and still believe in a supernatural influence on our brains. That would appear to get past this dilemma; I've just never heard of an atheist who makes that claim. That's why I tend to use them synonymously.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Dave, having read through the comments I think the difference is between suffering allowed by God because It allows us free will, and God actually telling us to go massacre innocent women, children and animals, and probably some men too. There can be no case to be made for this. If God wanted the people dead for their own good then have at it, that might even be believable, but to have another group do Its dirty, murderous bidding is disgraceful – did they even have a choice in the matter? (Conscientious objectors would probably not be seen in the best light by such a deity.)Which brings us on to free will. Hobbes view can now be comfortably described as compatibalism which is as much as a cop-out as you can imagine, but it's still determinism.In terms of your leap from determinism to consciousness being an illusion I think you have glossed over a few steps and one of them is mistaken. There is no conflict between determinism and consciousness. There are many mistakes we make in terms of what consciousness actually is, but as an awareness of inputs and outputs and an ability to reason and decide between options it is perfectly acceptable in a deterministic universe. The only problem is that each choice it makes is determined too…If you think this removes the value of that choice to a simple mechanistic reaction (it does) then ask yourself if a chess computer chooses the next move or not. Scale that complexity up several orders of magnitude and you get our mechanistic brains making choices, having multiple feedback loops and many more inputs and much more memory. The illusion of free will is complete. Consciousness is, roughly and simply speaking, the second (and greater!) feedback loops of those inputs, heuristics and choices. Sorry, that doesn't do consciousness justice but it's a comment…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    I freely acknowledge that I was skipping steps in my free will pontificating. I guess you're right, determinism still allows something that can reasonably be called "consciousness". As for God using a group of humans to do his "dirty work" – why is it any worse for him to do his will through intermediaries than to do it through his own immediate power? I'm guessing that maybe you guys (March Hare, Patrick, Leah) have some underlying assumption that I don't share, and that's why I can't quite sync up with you on this. I would really like to ferret out what that assumption is. You say it would be better if everyone in Canaan had gone the way of Ananias and Saphira. Can you pin down exactly why? It seems like essentially the same thing to me.

  • Patrick

    Ok, lets say you walk outside right now and strangle a five year old to death while her mother beats on you with her fists to make you stop. Presumably you think doing that would be wrong; that would be a traditionally Catholic thing to think.Now lets imagine that God tells you to do this, and then you go and do it. Exactly the same actions, except God told you to do it.What I'm taking from this is that you would NOT think the second was wrong (or even out of character for God). Now obviously the difference has nothing to do with suffering. The mother and the child suffer exactly as much either way. Therefore there's at least one other issue at hand besides suffering.I brought up euthanasia because its an area where Catholic ethicists have written quite a lot, and they invariably outline a moral theory of killing that takes NO REGARD of suffering, but which still concludes that killing in many contexts is wrong. They do so by arguing that there is something OTHER THAN SUFFERING that makes killing people wrong, so that EVEN IF suffering is never morally wrong, killing still is in many cases.As for sitting down with you for lunch… see, this is the crap I'm talking about. You have LITERALLY outlined a theory of ethics that would make it morally acceptable for you to poison me to death during that lunch. I suspect you don't actually think that, nor would you ever do that, but given everything you just said (your argument, perhaps due to its informal nature and not due to your intent, has justified not only the Canaanite holocaust, the rape of the Moabite children, every other crime in the Bible, but also the ACTUAL Holocaust) I'm kind of creeped out right now.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Dave: "As for God using a group of humans to do his "dirty work" – why is it any worse for him to do his will through intermediaries than to do it through his own immediate power?"My problem, which may be completely different from other people's, is that we are supposedly judged on our actions. Obeying God's will to do horrible acts would not only be a bad act in and of itself (without God's OK) but would impact the people doing it in ways we can only guess at – PTSD etc. If God decides to spare the people that result then why use them at all? Does it not leave a story in the book that could conceivably convince people that it's OK to wipe out races if we think God's on our side? Surely God should get his own hands dirty and try to get people to lead lives that are a GOOD example to future generations? e.g. Jesus' example.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    As for God using a group of humans to do his "dirty work" – why is it any worse for him to do his will through intermediaries than to do it through his own immediate power?You really don't see the precedent it sets to enshrine in a holy book, one that will be venerated and obeyed by dozens of cultures and billions of people throughout the succeeding millennia, the idea that God sometimes desires his followers to violently slaughter entire cultures?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Wow, I can't believe this discussion is happening! Dave, I think March Hare finally said the same, but as far as I know, the problem of evil/suffering always has to do with either:- why humans are able to carry out evil without god's intervention- why apparently gratuitous evils occurFree will is typically used to defend the first. Man is free, this freedom allows him to love/choose good (which makes love/choosing good mean anything at all), yet it also allows him to conduct evil.As for the second class, the fall can be invoked (an irreparable "tainting" of the natural world), some kind of indirect free will defense (our sins cause natural disasters), or other greater goods.As far as I know, none of these issues ever, ever, ever are said to be the direct action of god.You seem to be the one asking why this is any different. Would you present the work of a theologian who makes this comparison or ever discusses the problem of evil/suffering in light of god's direct/willed acts of apparent evil/harm on humans or animals?My understanding is that such actions are simply no compatible with an all-good, all-loving being. It may be said that god allows evil willed by humans, brought about by natural laws (disasters), or somehow conjured up by demons/the devil if it's for the greater good, but I don't think it's even coherent to say that god's direct willed actions involved evil.The "question mark" you bring up is always centered around what greater good god might foresee by allowing evil… not what greater good he's trying to bring about by literally committing or commanding evil. A good god cannot commit evil acts. Period.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    And, as an extension of Ebon's last post… what would it take to convince you that one or more persons actually received a divine command to kill one or more other persons? Under what circumstances would you actually be convinced that it really was god's will?Only if I could convince the pontificate to add a new book in the Bible to describe what happened next?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18065529769651450157 Brian

    I hope to respond more comprehensively to the responses I have received and to clear up the misunderstanding/repeated misrepresentations of the slaughter of the Amalekites, but for now, all I have time for is to ask Hare a question:What in the world is so bigoted about stating the incongruity between atheism and morality?

  • Patrick

    Heh. I always love the irony.Side A: The Atheists. Amongst them we find moral nihilists, moral non cognitivists (that's me!), and disbelievers in transcendent morality of all kinds. Also they typically disapprove of murdering a bunch of women and children and dumping them all in mass graves. They may not have some magical transcendent reason to disapprove, but they disapprove nevertheless, and generally feel pretty satisfied with that. Side B: The Religious. Amongst them we find believers in timeless, objective, transcendent morality that exists above and beyond merely human opinion and instead stems from the nature of an unchanging God who epitomizes or even is the pure essence of love. Also they happily defend murdering people and dumping them in mass graves.I've seen this discourse happen dozens of times, but it never gets old. The psychological processes at work are what keep me so interested in this whole religion thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Brian: "What in the world is so bigoted about stating the incongruity between atheism and morality?"Only certain philosophical positions deny objective morality (e.g. I am effectively an error theorist so deny all objective morality) but some atheists totally go along with the idea, e.g. Sam Harris' latest book The Moral Landscape attempts to mark out an objective morality for all people, atheists and theists alike.However, even those of us that deny objective morality still have subjective morality and a sense of right and wrong even if we think it will be slightly different than most other people's – and is that not the same for even the religionistas?So, Brian, your bigotry is the continuation of the lie that atheists do not have morality – they do! And, has been shown in the above thread, a morality that is often superior to the theists' when it comes to making excuses for God's actions.When a person cannot get elected to office in the US as an atheist because they 'have no morals' and you perpetuate that myth, even though you claim that you used to be an atheist, then that is bigotry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Just wanted to apologize for the delay. Between job and family, I haven't had time to dig in. These aren't exactly easy questions to fire off a brief answer to. :) Hopefully will be able to get something put together tomorrow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Dave, considering this discussion got complex enough to be spun off into a standalone post, you're welcome to take a little more time and write a guest post, rather than a comment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    There are alternative atheistic philosophies to nihilism: humanism and hedonism spring to mind and really they can be classified as believing nothing matters, your desires matter, or everyone's desires matter. I'm a big fan of humanism, but a sprinkling of hedonism does a body good, I say ;DI see no conflict between materialism and meaning. As a humanist and a fan of Sam Harris, I think suffering is objectively bad and joy is objectively good. The only problem is trying to measure all the myriad types of suffering and joy (fear, anger, sadness, loss, love, pleasure, pain, humor, etc.).The science is just not good enough to measure individual scenarios authoritatively in many cases, but working for the interest of society using common sense and remaining within the bounds of U.S. law ain't bad – with some exceptions like personhood for corporations but not foreign nationals – which tbh isn't that surprising given that we all have basically similar moral intuitions when we are secure and unburdened by the shackles of religion.Why is consciousness illusory just because it is a transient physical phenomenon? Flowers and music and many things besides are passing strange, yet surely they are real.If you define free will as the ability to choose things as you wish, I still see no conflict with materialism and determinism. If consciousness is material, then your predetermined choice is still that which you wish to choose. I think maybe you are confusing free will for mere unpredictability.Minds arise from brains and reason arises from minds (logic being a system and reason being the application of logic). Again, I'm not sure what Brian's hang up with these things is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    @Patrick – yes, I believe that God, as the author and owner of life, has the right to order the murder of a child. If you're still reading, I do not believe he will order any such thing. If Jesus appeared next to me and ordered me to go murder a child, I would first seek psychiatric help and, assuming the wiring checks out, seek spiritual help. I firmly believe that God will not order such a thing, not because a child's death is incongruous with God's nature, but because it is incongruous with the plan of salvation as revealed to the Catholic church. All such orders that have been issued since the beginning of time have been issued to further the plan of salvation. For instance, to create a land for the Jews, from which would come the Messiah. Now, I know you don't believe that God exists (Actually, I'm not sure I know that – so many posters, I'm not confident I've got the positions staked out. Please forgive me if I'm wrong). But hypothetically IF he existed, and if this life (whether five years or a hundred years) is sort of a temporary staging ground for eternity, then wouldn't he have the right to decide how much life any individual gets? The ending of a life is different from God's perspective than it is from ours, and so different rules apply. Put another way, Shakespeare is not guilty of murder when he has Hamlet kill Polonius. Authors are subject to different rules than characters. As an aside, I think you're mischaracterizing the Moabite thing. I don't see anything about God ordering any rape. It's probably an unfruitful aside, but if you want to discuss it we can. @Ebonmuse and March Hare – I see what you mean about the problem of setting a precedent. That doesn't seem to be Leah's concern, though. When I said that I don't see the difference between God using Israelites or using lightning bolts, I really meant in terms of his moral culpability for the act itself, not in terms of what future generations might be mistakenly inspired to do. @Hendy – The problems of evil and suffering are not the same thing. I would tend to agree with your characterization of the problem of evil, and I agree that God cannot do evil. But not all suffering is evil. The problem of suffering is not "Why does God allow or cause suffering," but rather "Why does God allow or cause suffering which is not apparently just." God certainly can inflict suffering, both through omission (not curing some disease) and commission (smiting the Israelites for breaking their covenant). See Lamentations, for example.As for what it would take to convince me, I can see two scenarios. If I were to lose my faith in Catholicism, then all the above would go out the window. Who knows what beliefs would rise from the ashes. But that's kind of a long shot at this point (although I recognize that greater souls than I have fallen away, so who knows). The second would be some sort of world-wide crisis which set the geopolitical clock back about a thousand years. To be specific – if in the wake of such a cataclysm, the Pope were forced to return to wielding secular power to defend Christendom, then I would answer a call to crusade. Although to be even *more* specific, the Pope did not claim to be answering a command from God (not to my knowledge, anyway), he was answering a letter asking for help. So not exactly the same scenario. I think you'll agree that both scenarios are remote enough that it's safe to have lunch with me, without resorting to food-tasters. ;)@Leah – thanks for the offer of writing a guest post, but after kicking it around for a while, I don't think I will be able to wrangle anything readable enough in the near future, so I will stick to long comments, if that's alright.

  • Patrick

    Dave- Why are you assuming God's salvation plan is over?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Not over, but in its final stage. A stage in which God will not order acts of violence as in the past. I believe that because that is what I understand the Catholic church to teach, and I believe the Catholic church to be a legitimate authority on such matters.

  • Patrick

    Dave- Why does the Catholic church teach that? Where did they get their information?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Help me out here, Dave: Are you saying that genocide in the name of God is morally wrong, or are you just saying that God and the church don't use it anymore? These are extremely different statements, as I hope you can recognize.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Dave: "The ending of a life is different from God's perspective than it is from ours, and so different rules apply. Put another way, Shakespeare is not guilty of murder when he has Hamlet kill Polonius. Authors are subject to different rules than characters. "True, but the characters have no moral culpability for their actions outside of the play and Shakespeare doesn't take it upon himself to punish the characters for eternity for the choices he made them take.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave:,—| "Why does God allow or cause suffering which is| not apparently just." God certainly can inflict | suffering, both through omission (not curing | some disease) and commission (smiting the | Israelites for breaking their covenant).`—Thanks for the clarification, though you simply coat-tailed the topic in discussion onto the definition. I would suspect that most theists would agree that allowing suffering via omission is permissible… but I'm skeptical that it's widely believed by top theologians/apologists and god can bring about suffering by commission. Can anyone else speak to this?,—| As for what it would take to convince me…if| in the wake of such a cataclysm, the Pope were| forced to return to wielding secular power to| defend Christendom, then I would answer a call| to crusade. `—1) By "what would it take to convince you", I meant what it would take to convince you that I had received a divine command to kill. I don't know how losing your Catholic faith would increase your likelihood of being convinced of that.2) As to your second example… remind me to stay the hell away from you if you think that a Pope calling about another crusade to defend "Christendom" would ever be justified. Ever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    @Patrick – Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. What are you getting at? @Ebonmuse – I'm saying : – there are some cases where killing is justified. – orders from God constitute justification. – Church teaching is that such orders will not be forthcoming in this age, and any such perception is incorrect.@March Hare – the analogy was only meant to point out the ontological difference between God and humans, which you seem to agree with. Obviously no single analogy will capture all aspects of the relationship between God and humanity. @Hendy – I didn't think that "Why do bad things happen to good people", which is essentially what I said, was a controversial definition of the problem of suffering. I wasn't trying to sneak anything in on the coat-tails, as you put it. Peter Kreeft expresses the problem in these terms. I'm also surprised at your reservations about God causing suffering. I think you're taking for granted that suffering is evil, and there we disagree. It *can* be evil, but it can also be good. Consider the CS Lewis quote, ""God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world". To clarify about "what would it take to convince me" – as I understand Catholicism is inconsistent with divine commands to kill, I would only believe in the latter if I stopped believing in the former. Or, I suppose, if it turns out I am mistaken about that aspect of Catholicism. I'm even more surprised at your assertion that wars can never be justified. I mean, I know that there are absolute pacifists out there (generally sheltered from aggression by less absolute pacifists), but I've never known them to command all non-pacifists to "stay the hell away". That's an unusual juxtaposition. But this seems to be less and less on topic.

  • Patrick

    Dave- I was asking a sincere question.Its perfectly fine for you to quit thinking about the subject because an authority you accept has issued a pronouncement. If you want to believe that there's literally nothing morally inappropriate for a God to do, but that for tactical reasons God doesn't need any Holocausts today (or rapes, or any other violation of innocent people, all of those are logically included in the reasoning presented), and you want to believe that because an authority told you, well, great. At least it will keep you from shooting up a Sunday School.But I'm curious whether that authority's reasoning makes any sense. So I was hoping you'd tell me what it was.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    I never said there is nothing morally inappropriate for God to do. I said that God has the right, as the giver of life, to end lives. The reasoning is that the wars in the Old Testament were fought for a purpose (creation and preservation of the state of Israel, from which would come the Messiah). That purpose has been accomplished. Jesus has provided the means for all humanity's salvation. BTW, thanks as always for your concern about my moral character. If not for your gentle reminders, I would be poisoning my lunch dates and shooting up Sunday schools, just like all Christians. ;)

  • Patrick

    Oh, don't worry, Dave. I don't think all Christians are horrific murderers of children.I think a surprising number of Christians are willing to posit that they WOULD be horrific murderers of children, and that this would be perfectly ok, except for a few lucky happenstances of history that meant that all the horrific murdering of children that needed to happen got done before they were born. And I think that these Christians are happy to posit this because its all just a big fantasy to them, a sort of suspension of disbelief surrounding ancient tales that happened long ago to other people who don't really count anymore. Which means that the modern day Christian's personal concern for scriptural accuracy* and theological consistency* become more important in that Christian's mind than the far distant, not really real to them in an emotional sense, suffering of ancient people.So they pretend to believe that they'd swing an axe into the neck of a child if God asked them to, and that it would be Righteous. Even though they wouldn't, and even though they wouldn't believe it Glorious to be if it were happening in front of them.*The irony is that these events probably never happened historically. They're probably just as mythical as Noah's Ark, which is no longer doctrine outside of a few nutcase churches. I predict that in a few decades no one will be engaged in these tortuous mental gymnastics, because they'll just relegate these events to the fantasies of ancient braggarts.tldr- I don't think you'd ever abuse a child, or morally condone it if happened in real life. I think you're just willing to pretend that you would in a fantasy because you think larger theological matters hang on your willingness to believe that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    I don't know what Christians you've been hanging out with, but none of the Christians I know (myself included) indulge in child-slaying fantasies. I don't know what I said to make you think that I, personally, would be able to swing the axe, so to speak. I'm talking explicitly to the moral question – whether it is incompatible with omnibenevolence for such an order to be given and followed. Could I do it, personally? I doubt it very much. I'm a 21st century American, the most coddled and insulated-against-ickiness society in the history of the world. I don't know if I could butcher a pig to feed my family. But that's not the point I'm discussing. It's not even tangentially related; my personal squeamishness is completely disconnected from the moral issue. I'm also not very interested in the historicity of the events in question. I have no dog in that fight. I will say that, generally speaking, Catholics do not hold to a literal interpretation of all events in the Bible. I think Origen of Alexandria first put forth the idea that the extermination of the Canaanites (etc) was an allegory for the extermination of sin from Hebrew society. I don't know. Again, I'm talking strictly to the question of whether or not a good God can order the killing of humans. I don't know if that's a hypothetical situation or a historical one; again, I don't think it's relevant to the question.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I think a surprising number of Christians are willing to posit that they WOULD be horrific murderers of children, and that this would be perfectly ok, except for a few lucky happenstances of history that meant that all the horrific murdering of children that needed to happen got done before they were born. And I think that these Christians are happy to posit this because its all just a big fantasy to them, a sort of suspension of disbelief surrounding ancient tales that happened long ago to other people who don't really count anymore. QFT. Well said, Patrick.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave:,—| Peter Kreeft expresses the problem in these| terms. `—Could you post a quote? I don't know many of his works and would be appreciative of his definition, which states that god can bring about suffering by acts of commission.,—| I'm also surprised at your reservations about | God causing suffering. I think you're taking | for granted that suffering is evil, and there | we disagree.`—I'll have to think more about this. Perhaps I am wrong. Could you provide a specific example to illustrate? For example, do you think that a body may go along working perfectly and then god literally infects it with cancer to bring about a greater good?Or that a child might be walking blissfully along and then god causes them to trip and break their leg because that suffering will build their character for a future purpose?I guess it would be helpful if you'd paint a picture of how, exactly, you see god actually causing suffering.,—| I'm even more surprised at your assertion that | wars can never be justified.`—Go re-read. I said crusades. To think that if the Pope commanded Catholics world-wide to take up arms and defend "Christendom" (is that a place or a command to just kill non-believers) and that this would be just… is what was crazy to me and prompted me to desire to "stay the hell away from you."As in if the divine-command-as-translated-via-the-Pope entailed that non-believers were a threat, I'd like to be far away from you when you picked up your weapon of choice and started looking for non-believers.How you read "pacifist" from that, I'm not sure. I very much do and would enjoy my military protection from any imposing forces that be.In response to Patrick, you said:,—| I don't know what I said to make you think | that I, personally, would be able to swing the | axe, so to speak.`—But why not? You just said you'd be up for a mandated crusade. What if such commands included something akin to what is described in Joshua 6:,—| They utterly destroyed everything in the city, | both man and woman, young and old, and ox and | sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.`—I mean someone had to be willing to kill those offspring. I'm surprised that you would be willing to "crusade" for the Lord, but wouldn't carry it to its full extension and be willing to do all that was required. The only thing you can go by is precedent in terms of what god might ask, and the Bible sets a clear one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave:,—| I said that God has the right, as the giver of | life, to end lives. `—Honestly, I would agree with this and am glad you said it. William Lane Craig says it often as well. If god, omni-max and the origin of everything, exists… then, yes, I think he can end lives if he wishes.My objection to all of this is that he would choose as his method other flesh and blood to do it with blunt objects. Why?Why not just evaporate the Canaanites or go all Storm-from-Xmen on them and use a natural disaster?I just have a hard time contemplating what would be so darn beneficial/necessary/integral that the best candidate for a deity's extermination method would be to use other humans.In other words, I think we're kind of on the same page, at least hypothetically. If evil people tended to painlessly evaporate before our eyes after a given amount of wrong-doing, that might actually build my case for god somehow. Or at least a universe that appeared to be intrinsically just.

  • David

    Dave (and Hendy):"I said that God has the right, as the giver of life, to end lives."I don't see how that works. My parents, without whom I would not be alive, do not have the right to kill me, I hope you'd agree? If you cause to come into existence a conscious being capable of happiness and suffering, you have created a being to whom other conscious beings, yourself included, owe moral duties. This is surely true even if you are God – or, if you disagree, I'll need to hear some explanation why.To take this to an extreme, say we were able to build a self-aware robot with a comparable level of responsiveness to stimuli as ourselves, do you think it would be ethically acceptable to torture that robot? Or do you think that, since the robot is capable of feeling pain, we should not go out of our way to cause it pain, even if we built it in the first place?

  • Patrick

    Dave wrote:"I don't know what Christians you've been hanging out with, but none of the Christians I know (myself included) indulge in child-slaying fantasies. I don't know what I said to make you think that I, personally, would be able to swing the axe, so to speak. I'm talking explicitly to the moral question – whether it is incompatible with omnibenevolence for such an order to be given and followed. "Ok… there's something REALLY weird going on here. You seem to be upset that I think that you're engaged in a religious fantasy in which you yourself would be willing to murder children for God. But you also posit that it would be morally good to murder children for God if he asked.So… what's the deal? If you believe that it would be acceptable for a good God to issue the order to murder children, and you think it would be good to follow the commands of a good God (technically in this post you just said it would be acceptable, but I'm taking matters in the context of your religion as I understand it)……then why would you possibly prefer that people believe you would not be capable of doing so?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    I again wish I had more time to dedicate to this discussion. :-) There's much more that could be said. But let me hammer out a few responses in brief. Re: Hendy's request for Kreeft on suffering: http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/suffering.htm His book, "The problem of suffering" is highly recommended. Re: Dave the Crusader. We've got sort of an Internet problem here. Hendy (or someone) asked what it would take for me to perform violence in God's name. I said something like, "If civilization collapsed and the Pope called for a crusade." I intended this to be along the lines of, "Under what circumstances would you join the army?" "Oh, I don't know, maybe if Rise of the Machines really happened." In other words, so remote as to comically convey "never". Comedy: failed.Re: crusades' justifiability. Crusades are wars called by religious leaders who, for historical reasons, wield secular power as well. I think they can be just or unjust to exactly the same extent that any war can be just or unjust. @David: There is an ontological difference between God and man which is not analagous to the difference between parent and offspring. That ontological difference is the key here. I don't know about the self-aware robot thing. I strongly suspect that no human construct can be self-aware to the extent that I would have moral qualms about it. But I dunno. @Patrick: There is a difference between "This act of Bronze Age warriors was morally good" and "I could perform the same act" and "I fantasize about performing the same act". For a parallel – we probably agree that defense of one's family against an armed aggressor is morally good, right? But you might react with shock if I accused you of fantasizing about shooting a mugger. There's a difference between the moral liceity of an act and the personal desirability of performing the act. By the way Patrick, I wasn't upset. I'm just aiming for clarity. Now off to the other thread.

  • Patrick

    Right, right, I get that. I'm not sure you do though.I don't understand why you wouldn't want me to think you would murder children. If you're going to go out of your way to insist that its morally acceptable to murder children sometimes, I don't understand why you're bothered by the idea that people think you would murder children under the circumstances you specifically outlined.For example, I do believe its morally acceptable to use lethal self defense in defense of my own life. I am therefore ok with you thinking of me as the sort of person who would use lethal self defense in defense of his own life. For me to not be ok with that would be… bizarre. Absolutely bizarre.I can't even think of a topic where all of the following would be true:1. I believe [X] is morally good.2. I prefer that people not believe me capable of [X].Well… I guess I can come up with some utilitarian reasons for that. Maybe [X] is [saving children from Dave when he comes to murder them], and by "people" I mean "people who might rat me out to Dave." Maybe I should rephrase. I can't think of anything that would fit the following:1. I believe [X] is morally good.2. I would feel demeaned and insulted if people believed I were capable of [X].I think that the problem here is wrapped up in the pathologies that come about when you pretend to believe something you don't actually believe because failure to pretend would force you to admit you don't take a holy book as authoritatively as you like to think you do.

  • Patrick

    Dave wrote @David: "There is an ontological difference between God and man which is not analagous to the difference between parent and offspring. That ontological difference is the key here."If there is a relevant "ontological" difference between God and man, then your previous statements about why its ok for God to murder people or order people to murder people, which did not take into account this ontological difference and which would, if taken seriously, apply equally to a parent/child scenario, were not actually your argument.Suppose I, "The President can do X because of Y is true of the President," And you respond, "Y is also true of the Mayor of New York, so do you think the Mayor of New York can do Y?"It would be… weird of me to respond "But there is also an unknown difference Z which is really explains matters."If Z is the issue, then I should have talked about Z without all of this Y stuff.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    OK, but do you agree that even though killing in self defense is morally good, [b]fantasizing[/b] about such killing is creepy? I was reacting to the accusation of such fantasization. Looking back over the thread, I think I misread the accusation, which is probably why we're talking past each other now. I don't understand why you think I'm suddenly pulling ontology out of my hat. I may not have been using that word before, but ontology is the justification for my earlier claim that God, as the author and owner of life, has the right to order the murder of a child. Remember my Shakespeare/Polonious thing? That was ontology. There is an ontological difference between God and man. God is the creator, man is the creature. God is subject to different rules. There is not an ontological difference between parents and offspring. Both are humans. Both are subject to the laws governing humanity. I think the burden of proof is on you to show, rather than simply assert, that there is an analagous difference.


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