Coming up on Unequally Yoked…

Coming up on Unequally Yoked… July 15, 2010

Sorry for the slow responses to your comments. I’ve been (foolishly) trying to reply to every point raised at once. To give myself a little time, I’m using this post to outline the major questions I’m going to try to address, and give you a very brief précis of the posts coming up on these topics. Sound off in the comments if I’ve left out a topic you’d like to get feedback on!

What is your definition of God?
Aristarchus says:

What counts as a god? I say I am an atheist, meaning not only that I don’t believe in an omnipotent Judeo-Christian-like being, but also that I don’t believe in gods of the sort in Hinduism or Native American religions or ancient Egyptian mythology. I think the normal definition of a “god” would definitely include those things, but I don’t see what definition would include them but not also include oracles and wizards and other things of that sort. I therefore see basically any “entity that can perform miracles” as in fact a god. 

I tend to define a god-entity less by the powers it has and more by my own relationship to it.  A hurricane has power over me,. and its ways may be (to me) as inscrutable as the almighty, but my only duty to it is to get the hell out of its way.  I think of a god as something that provides an order to my life, not another set of accidents to avoid or ameliorate.  I know I’m defining a lot of things that traditionally got the label god out of the category (the Greek gods being perhaps the most glaring example) but I do believe these are qualitatively different gods, and should be treated separately.

How can you believe in objective morality if you only have imperfect access to it?
Hendy said:

The problem with forms of objective-morality-prescribing systems is that they are subjective in practice. In other words, these values exist but must be somehow discerned and translated. 

My answer to this is a little long (and frequently mocked by my friends, to the point of calling it my hypercube hypothesis) but I think it’s reasonable to say that we can approach the metaphysics of morality the same way we approach the metaphysics of mathematics: we ask questions, draw up hypotheticals and other analogies, and clumsily approach a workable representation of something we don’t have the language to express.  [Yes, I will go into considerably more detail in the forthcoming post, but I’ll tell you upfront, I’m pretty sure C.S. Lewis agrees with me]

What if a religion is wrong, but its moral teachings are right?
Arkanabar T’verrick Ilarsadin said:

Once you’ve absorbed what the Church teaches is moral behavior, ask yourself: would the world be better, or worse, if everyone ascribed to that morality? 

I certainly won’t deny that some churches have been ahead of the curve on many moral issues.  And it’s an endless torment to me that all the good words for talking about morality (soul, sin, etc) are all extremely Christian language.  [I do promise a post soon on why I think Original Sin is a useful concept even in atheistic conceptions of morality].  My primary fear of organized religion is that it has the power to make people abstract themselves from their moral sense.  Ultimately, I think it’s bad for people to trust others too much on moral questions, to trust them to the point of ignoring their own visceral moral experiences.  No matter whether the church is preaching truths today, you don’t want to get into the bad habit of contracting out your moral sense.

Hopefully, these brief answers will whet your appetite for the longer posts coming soon.  Comments are appreciated, especially so I can refine the essays I’m writing, but please remember these are brief overviews of my positions.  I promise to justify them better soon.

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  • Hi Leah,I've obviously become a recent hanger-around-er… hope that's okay!I'm looking forward to hearing about the hypercube! You stated in a pretty recent post that morality was one of your atheistic weaknesses and I would tend to agree with that statement for myself.I'm currently in the midst of a crisis-of-faith of sorts that's been ongoing since Christmas (~7mos). I'm all but deconverted but still wonder! My biggest weak points seem to be:- how did the universe come about?— comfortable with 'I don't know'— physics may have actually answered THIS– what is the meaning of life without god?— Perhaps Carl Sagan answered this already as well? "The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal."– Lastly (the point): morality— is it objective or not?— is our sense of it reliable?— is this sense even a reason to suspect that a 'moral realm' exists objectively?I'd love if you incorporated some of those into your response. You posted previously that you believe morality to be objective somewhat by an appeal to 'because I just feel like it is' (forgive the paraphrase if it sounds insulting — it's not meant to be!) and I just wonder how true that appeal can be. Even if the 'sense' is accurate (a moral realm of facts exists), is it accurate in a way that gives any access to that realm?If one uses the 'sense' justification I think an accurate hypothesis should explain the variance in the 'sensitivity' and 'alignment' variations we see across the human race as well as how often this sense 'happens' to correspond to cultural trends as well (hint: this would suggest the 'sense' is taught, not inherent).Sorry to ramble. Perhaps something in there can give you some food for thought on what I expect will be a fantastic post.

  • Rek

    Whoa, I just watched that video you posted, Hendy, and it totally blew my mind. To be clear, I already studied basic astronomy, so much of the mechanics Krauss addressed are already familiar to me. However, the entire point about the implications of a flat universe somehow skated past me in class last year (or maybe I just arrived too late that day). All the same, the apparent reality is that, as many of us atheists long suspected, the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing" is nonsensical. Nothing must always produce something. A flat universe (like ours) is the natural byproduct of literally nothing, and the KCA (which is, independent of this, conceptually flawed) is thus totally a non-issue. Wow. Of course, the real kicker is the point that Krauss made towards the end: civilizations that evolve in any galaxy 100 billion years from now will never be able to determine anything but that they are living in a single static galaxy surrounded by endless, eternal nothing. "We will be lonely and ignorant, but dominate." Wow. Inversely, there must be a wealth of information that would have been available to us had we evolved 5 billions years ago (e.g. much more galaxies and whatever else within the light horizon) that is now lost forever–the ultimate unknown unknowns. Science is just so fascinating. It's funny, for all my years of devotion to Christianity, I never experienced any sense of awe and wonder remotely commensurate to my capacity to marvel at the discoveries and mysteries of science. Such a crazy world we live in…One last point that I really appreciated: "If this Anthropic picture is right…there's [sic] no fundamental laws necessarily, we're just here by an accident…Now that, I find repugnant although it may be true". I wish the faithful would finally understand this approach to knowledge, morality, and, really, everything we know. Honestly, I think it makes all the difference between the atheist with that gleam in his eye and the theist grasping at abstractions based in comfort, not reality.Thanks for that video, Hendy. Once again, I find myself wishing I were a scientist (or mathematician) *sigh*

  • @Rek:Thanks for the comments. It's on the the best videos I've found yet. Actually, over at CommonSenseAtheism the point was made that (you said it as well) when I say, 'Nothing will always produce something'… we're not really talking about 'real nothing.' We're talking about dark energy/matter containing nothing… So, some posted responses to me asking about this. I didn't have a clue so I emailed Dr. Krauss himself! The email is over there in the comments and I'll post back if I get his answer.Essentially, the key question is whether or not dark matter/energy containing 'nothing' now needs no explanation and can be infinite… or if we still run up against a regress issue and an 'actual nothing' needed to come before the 'energy/matter-containing nothing'! Headspin…I agree about awe and wonder. I didn't really like God Delusion but while reading Dawkins' passage on how we are on one of just a hundred billion planets which is part of just one of a hundred billion galaxies and we're whirling along on our infinitesimal planet… I actually felt something extremely 'religious.' To add insult to injury… I was sitting on the toilet (I'm a dude). I can't imagine god was speaking to me through a book of the New Atheism as well as somehow inspiring me to be inspired by not thinking he's the creator…A great post I ran across which echoed my desire to know everything is HERE.