To Christians: What is morality to me, an atheist?

August 8, 2009 at 1:54 pm 217 comments

To my Christian readers:

By far, the most common argument I see made against atheists is that while they have moral standards, they do not have a defense of morality and therefore are “borrowing” from a Theistic (e.g. Christian) worldview every time they make a moral statement. This is presented as evidence that atheists have an internal contradiction in their worldview whereby they are not allowed to make any moral statements because they cannot account for the origin – or source – of morality.

Before I begin a discussion on what I hold morality to be, I want to carefully outline a series of important concepts that have lead me to my current position. Before that, I want to outline my interpretation of the Christian argument for absolute morality that for many is a compelling reason to believe in an Absolute Moral Law Giver. The latter is just to demonstrate that I do understand the Christian position and am not trying intentionally to set up a straw man argument.

The Christian perspective is generally a top-down approach to morality, wherein God is the source of all morals. While there are many nuanced perspectives on this, most Christians argue that morality extends from God’s nature. God is good, therefore He cannot do anything wrong or He defines what is right and wrong. Common moral laws (or concepts) found among men are evidence that we share a common nature and this common nature is what separates us from other animals and is evidence that we were made in the image of God. In this way, morality is absolute because it “comes from” an Absolute Moral Lawgiver – so to speak. Hence, all we have to do is “look around us” and see that men follow common morals and this is evidence of God and the fact that we are made in His image.

Please forgive me if I have not addressed the view as precisely as you wish, as I have heard many nuanced and sophisticated perspectives on this and do not wish to take the time to address each and every one of them; but I must in some way “sum them up” so that I can move on in my paper. Bear with me if you think I am not addressing your particular perspective on this argument, as I will show that from my perspective the nuances are irrelevant because the presuppositions of the entire argument are not completely accurate. It is not that I just do not believe in God, and so I therefore “interpret” the world through an anti-God bias, it is that I believe there is a better and more comprehensive explanation of all morality found among men than that our morality comes from God. You are allowed to be quite skeptical. Quite honestly, I encourage your skepticism. Just please give me a chance and be respectful of the conclusions I have now reached and before you critique my simple arguments, please demonstrate that you understand my point of view at least to the level that I understand the Christian argument out of respect for the Golden Rule.

So then, to start I would like to try and find some common ground between us. We both agree that some things are wrong and some things are right. Some things are always wrong and some things are sometimes wrong. For example, it is always wrong to murder, but not always wrong to kill. Why? Because murder is more than just killing. Murder is killing with an intention to harm.

Now then, from the atheist perspective, things are bottom-up instead of top-down. If you can for a moment – just for the sake of a thought exercise to “sympathize” with my atheist perspective (no matter how wrong I may be) – consider that there are two possible ways to look at the data.

If a person is trying to find a common thread in a set of data, they will probably find it. On the other hand, if a person is trying to find differences in a set of data, they will probably find those too. Just as a person looking at a set of numbers can both look for a common denominator or look for the differences between those numbers.

So it is with morality. If a person is looking for a common thread of morality in all of mankind, they will find it. If a person is looking for differences in morality among mankind, they will find it too! So the Christian looks at cultures and sees moral consistency. The atheist looks at Christians and sees moral inconsistency. Both groups perceive that what they see is evidence for their particular perspective. The Christian sees all common morals among mankind as evidence of a common moral source for mankind. The atheist sees all moral discrepencies among Christians as evidence that there is no common moral source among Christians.

So, in a sense, I sympathize with both perspectives. Confirmation bias plays a part in both cases. We see what we want to see because we are either looking for discrepancies in the data or looking for consistency in the data. Now, understanding this helps us see why both groups end up at the conclusions they do; but it does not so far help us resolve what is moral.

The Christian argues that without an absolute source of morality, morality becomes relative and therefore makes each person autonomous and without a restriction on human behavior that lies above all mankind, societies will fall into moral chaos. Christian’s then appeal to communism, the falling of Rome, atheist nations that have collapsed, etc. as examples of this.

The atheist argues that despite the claim to an absolute moral law giver, Christians still cannot agree with each other quite often on what is right or what is wrong. Each person who claims to be a Christian firmly holds that their particular understanding of God’s absolute perspective on a moral issue is accurate. Furthermore, those who claim to be Christian look at others who claim to be Christian and argue that since their perspective differs, they must not be a “true Christian”. This produces a sense of moral chaos as well. The atheist then appeals to church splits, the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, etc. as examples of this.

Both sides think the other sides perspective on morality will cause harm. Both sides want to avoid harm.

Consider the atheist dilemma: how are we supposed to determine which Christian interpretation of morality is the accurate one? Indeed, there is a common thread among Christian morality and I will get to this in a bit. However, there are differences and we do not know how to deal with these if the Christian perspective has some truth to it. It is easy to uphold your own personal Christian interpretation and argue that we know “deep down” what morality is, but is that not begging the question and somewhat arrogant on your part to argue that you know us better than we know ourselves? To us, this attitude itself seems immoral and we feel justified in ignoring anything you say after this point.

Despite our understanding of the difference in worldview, the problem still remains: how do we determine what is moral? Even deeper: what is morality? Once we determine what morality is, then we can tackle the issue of where it comes from. Once we have determined these things, we have formulated a hypothesis as an explanation of morality. Then, it is simply a matter of comparing our hypethesis with the data. If the hypothesis fails at any point, we must start over. In other words, I am personally trying to come up with an explanation of all morality that always makes sense and never fails. Only then can we begin to determine what is moral and what is not.

Now, the argument that could be made at this point is that I am beginning my search for morality with an assumption that God does not exist and will therefore inevitably reach the wrong conclusions. Because I am “blinding” myself to the Truth, my search is hopeless.

Now it is obvious that I will disagree with this, and please bear with me as I explain why. As a Christian, surely you know that even those who do believe in God oftentimes have strongly differing opinions on whether certain actions are moral or not. So to me, it seems silly for a Christian to dismiss my entire search for morality on the basis that I do not start with a belief in God because even those who do believe in God apparently lack unity in their perspective on morality – except that they all agree morality comes from the same God! But if morality comes from their same God, why do they disagree on moral issues? So then, if I were to start with a belief in God, which moral framework would you expect me to come to? Your own or that of another Christian you disagree with? How would I know which Christian moral view is accurate? You cannot set me on a search for absolute morality based on a belief in God when even the morality among Christians seems relative to their own interpretation of what God is saying.

So my first conclusion is that it looks like morality is quite relative among those who can only seem to agree on this one point: that morality is absolute. In other words, the consistency among believers is that they believe morality has an absolute basis. But their moral interpretations are inconsistent. This seems quite a strong contradiction and makes me highly skeptical of the claim that morality is absolute.

And this brings us around again to the genuine Christian fear that without absolute morality, society will descend into chaos! At this point, Christians and atheist are basically arguing on the exact same basis (what will reduce harm) but are rapidly spinning in circles around each other by accusing the other of causing harm by their beliefs!

Personally, I think the fear that without moral absolutes society will descend into chaos is both true in one sense and false in another. I believe the premise is close to the truth, but misses one important item. I hold that morality is absolute but it’s absoluteness is found in the laws of nature, not in a moral law giver. Just as we do not daily fear the universe will descend into chaos without an Absolute Source of Gravity, so it is my perspective that if we can define morality in a similar way, we have not only declared a foundational moral absolute, we have solved the riddle of what morality is and now can explain what is moral and what is not in a way that will benefit society and help us solve the most complex moral issues. Just as discovering what sickness is allowed us the ability to fight it, so discovering what morality is will help us to fight the dangerous result of immorality: anarchy.

So keep in mind, I am actually trying to help you, not harm you. If we can find a common ground, it will help us live peacefully together as best as is possible despite our differences of beliefs at that time. But we do have a common ground: we are both trying to avoid harm! But, by trying to impose our perspectives on what is moral on others, we are actually contributing to the problem!

When I look at the morals of men, I see that what one man considers moral another man considers immoral. As a result, both see the other person as evil or deceived to some extent. This produces wars, fighting, bickering, jihads, crusades, suspicions, threats, attempts to convert, etc. All of which cause pain, which is why some people consider it wrong to attempt to convert!

Every man is trying to avoid whatever they perceive to be harmful.

Now at first, it appears that the solution is to get everyone to recognize a common morality. And quite honestly, I believe this is true. If everyone had the same moral code and followed it, mankind would be at peace with each other. But since men are not at peace with each other, either men have different moral codes or men are not following the one moral code they have.

The Christian perspective is that men are not following the one moral code that they have on the assumption that there is one absolute moral code. The atheist perspective is that men have different moral codes on the assumption that morals are based on what a person believes to be wrong, not on any absolute moral code. The Christian perspective is trying to solve the issue by getting men to recognize the one moral code and to follow it. The atheist perspective is trying to solve the issue by getting men to recognize that there is no single moral code and to stop men from trying to impose their morals on others.

But why do men need morals in the first place? Like we have already covered, I think that every person can agree: we need morals to avoid harm. Without morality, men suffer. So then, in some sense, morality finds its basis in keeping people from harm. Theists will normally argue that morals are given by God for our good. Even Moses declared this in Deuteronomy 10:13: “and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” Moral laws are given for our good. This, I believe, all men can agree with – even atheists.

But how do we determine what is good? Some men believe that it is good to worship a particular God. Other men believe it is good to worship no god. Some men believe it is good to lie when it defends a human life. Other men believe it is wrong to lie no matter what. Some men believe that eating animals is not good because it causes harm. Other men believe that it does not cause harm and is therefore morally irrelevant.

From my perspective, this reveals that morality is both absolute in principle and relative in practice. It is absolute in that all moral laws are given on the basis that, if followed, they will help men to avoid harm. However, men have different perspectives on what causes harm: men can agree with each other that avoiding harm is good, but they cannot agree on what will cause harm. So morality is relative to what a person perceives will be harmful and absolute in that it attempts to avoid harm.

Therefore, based on this, here is my definition of morality: morality is the set of rules that are naturally held to by men who perceive a potential intentional threat to harm. A man’s moral framework is dependent upon perceived intentional harm.

This is why atheists consider hurricanes to be examples that God is evil. The atheist sees the hurricane as a threat and believes that if God exists He had the intention of bringing that hurricane. This is a perceived intentional threat to harm. Therefore the atheist sees this as evil.

The theist, however, holding to a belief that God is good and interprets the hurricane differently. The theist says that despite the perceived intentional threat, there must be a beneficial reason for the hurricane. The theist then looks intentionally for any possible way to interpret the hurricane that would be beneficial. The easiest interpretation is that God was enacting some form of justice by bringing the hurricane. At this point, the theist has undermined the atheist interpretation that the hurricane was harmful. By saying the hurricane was an act of justice, the theist can then argue that that the hurricane was for our good, thus justifying God’s intentions. [The atheist, naturally, sees this as post hoc interpretation and anthropomorphizing the source of natural events and as, therefore, a form of animism.]

For example, the Christian naturally believes that hell is a harm that should be avoided. The atheist, however, believes that hell does not exist and therefore the harm is actually found in teaching about hell. So the two clash on which will cause the most harm: a belief in hell or a lack of belief in hell. If the Christian is right, the atheist teaching that hell does not exist will cause inconceivable amounts of harm by causing people to go there. If the atheist is right, the Christian teaching about a hell that does not exist will cause inconceivable amounts of manipulative psychological and emotional damage by teaching people about a non-existent threat that influences their only life.

So then, we cannot determine which moral perspective is correct unless we can determine which truth claim is correct. A person’s natural perspective on what is considered moral is therefore dependent upon what a person believes. What a person believes is dependent upon what a person considers true or not. What a person considers true or not is dependent upon what a person considers valid evidence of truth. What a person considers valid evidence of truth is dependent upon what sources of information a person trusts.

Christians trust the Bible. Atheists do not. Do you see why the moral systems are so radically different?

Morality is dependent upon what is perceived to be truth because the truth informs us as to what is harmful. People, then, develop their sense of morality based on what they trust.

An example. In the middle ages, leeches were considered beneficial to a sick person because people who were trusted – doctors – concluded leeches were beneficial. Today, we know that blood-letting can actually be harmful because people we trust – also doctors – say they can cause blood poisoning! So in the middle ages, refusal to place a leech on a person might have actually been considered evil because it was depriving them of benefit. Today, placing a leech on a patient might actually be considered evil because it could be perceived as harmful. The only thing that has changed is our knowledge about the effect of placing a leech on a person. Our understanding of the truth has changed and that which is considered moral has changed with it.

Another example. A Christian believes that pre-marital sex is harmful because it deprives a person of the potential for God’s perfect marital plan. A non-Christian sees pre-marital sex as irrelevant to harm because they do not believe there is any perfect plan for marriage. The truthfulness of the claim is what determines whether a person perceives pre-marital sex as moral or not. Now consider how Christians will often argue that pre-marital sex is wrong. They will point out happy, successful Christian marriages where both partners waited until marriage to have sex. This become valid evidence to the Christian that Christian marriage is the most beneficial way to go by nature of the fact that it is the least harmful. The non-Christian, however, will immediately point out counter-examples: of Christian marriages that have failed, thus demonstrating that to them this is not valid evidence. Confirmation bias plays a part in both cases; although Christians please consider that good marriages occur outside the faith as well. Perhaps this just means that some marriages work and some marriages do not for reasons which we cannot always explain? The key then, is to determine the truths surrounding relationships and what relationship dynamics are harmful and what relationship dynamics are not.

[Keep in mind, it is not inconceivable to the atheist that authors of the Bible did actually discover moral laws that work, just as Biblical authors may have discovered things about technology that also work, so please expect our morals to sometimes line up with what Biblical authors said. This does not mean we are "stealing" from your worldview, it just means that some of our discoveries as to what causes harm naturally happen to match what Biblical authors also discovered causes harm. And yes, this does mean there is an absolute morality! All morality is based on what causes perceived harm. Atheists I know do not dismiss all Biblical morality, we just hold ourselves to a higher standard as to what causes harm than what a person said 2000 years ago during a period when superstitions abounded. The Biblical authors may very well be right, but we do not hold that they are right just because they said so or claimed to be speaking for God.]

So, now I hope that we can all see how morality works. It is dependent upon what a person perceives is true. Now then, it is ridiculous – and disrespectful – to try and impose your morality on someone else by insinuating that they secretly believe what you do. Why? Because it causes harm: people naturally feel endangered when others insinuate they are lying. Therefore, it is immoral to insinuate that another person is secretly lying when they tell you what they believe in an attempt to manipulate them into a confession in conformance with your moral standards. For example, it would be wrong for atheists to insinuate that Christians secretly do not believe in God in an attempt to undermine Christian morality. On the same token, it is wrong for Christians to insinuate that atheists secretly do believe in God in an attempt to get atheists to confess to Christian immoral behavior. An understanding of another person’s moral system begins with an understanding of what they believe to be true. You can then, based on this, determine what they believe to be harmful and can predict what they will consider morally wrong.

So having a proper means to determine truth (and therefore what causes genuine harm) is the foundation to understanding how to understand and develop our own perspective on what is moral or not and also to understand what others consider moral.

Morality, then is both absolute and relative. It is absolute in principle: it is always against causing harm. It is relative in practice because people have different perspectives on what will cause harm.

Therefore, the foundation of a moral society is a common set of rules to determine what is true, not undemonstrable assertions as to what will cause harm. Therefore, if we want a truly moral society we must conform our understanding of the truth to reason alone, not faith claims. Why? Because faith provides no rules at all to determine truth and is therefore morally bankrupt.

“Just believe” will always lead to moral anarchy and chaos and the crumbling of society because it will never reform itself to new discoveries as to what causes harm.

- Josh

P.S. I have been asked in presenting this argument what my definition of “harm” is:

Harm is a reduction in perceived value.

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Skepticism vs. Faith Rabbis take to wing and a prayer vs. flu

217 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Neil  |  August 8, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Well done. I don’t think I’ve ever read a clearer description of morality, or a better justification for the use of reason over faith in determining what is moral. If more believers could appreciate this way of thinking the world would be a better place, or at least a more sane place!
    A bit off-topic…If we ever get that far as a society, I hope that we can still keep a healthy respect for the idea of personal freedom, even if it seems counterintuitive or sometimes causes harm. While I believe that a morality based on reason is superior to a faith-based morality, there would still be those who like the theocrats of today would be willing to cause quite a bit of harm to individuals for the greater good. Faith-based moral systems have proven especially bad in this regard, but it is possible that some would not see as much value in individual liberty if our moral systems were closer to reality and provided better results than the current ones. Hopefully people would be wise enough to lose faith in the idea that perfection is achieveable, and realize that as soon as dissent is stifled, the moral system has lost its superiority and has become just another faith.

  • 2. Joshua  |  August 8, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Hopefully people would be wise enough to lose faith in the idea that perfection is achieveable, and realize that as soon as dissent is stifled, the moral system has lost its superiority and has become just another faith.

    Agreed. That’s why I think it is so important to realize that morality is relative. It keeps a person humble enough to realize their own perception of what is right (beneficial) and wrong (harmful) is subject to error.

    Thanks for your comment, it is greatly appreciated.

  • 3. Rover  |  August 8, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Josh,

    I believe that mankind can and has developed a set of morals to live by but if there is no soveriegn being holding us accountable what is to stop me from doing immoral things that may potentially cause no harm? I can cheat on my wife and as long as I don’t get caught, there is no harm. I can lie for my own benefit and as long as there is no harm I am perfectly justified in lying. As a former Christian have you found that your morals have “slipped” just a bit? Honestly, does the realization that there isn’t a grand inquisitor allow you to relax your morals somewhat? I don’t mean that you are evil or despicable, just a bit more free to not be concerned about the “harmless” moral slips that you may engage in.

  • 4. Joshua  |  August 8, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I can cheat on my wife and as long as I don’t get caught, there is no harm.

    Surely you jest.

  • 5. Quester  |  August 9, 2009 at 3:38 am

    Rover,

    You seem to have confused “no punishment” with “no harm”. If you are hurting someone or something, there is harm being done, even if the target of that harm is something as hard to define as a relationship. If you are not, in what way are you doing anything immoral?

  • 6. Rover  |  August 9, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Quester,

    What harm is their in cheating on my wife if she never finds out? Many men love internet porn. Are they causing harm to their marriage? Maybe, maybe not. The Christian has the concept that their is a God who sees even the things done in secret. My question for Josh was, does the lack of belief in a God allow the atheist to be bit more liberally with morality? It would seem that the obvious answer is yes. I know some will take that as in insult, but it is not meant as such. Many atheist are far more moral then Christians, in that regard I am not naive. However, our believes do impact our behavior. I am sure that Josh has relaxed his moral code since leaving the faith. Perhaps due to no longer believing certain things are “sins” and maybe because there is no Being observing his private behavior. I am not talking about great moral lapses here, but perhaps someone could, in a non emotional manner, comment on my question? As I drift from my Christian roots I see a slight chance in my morality. Again, I am not becoming a horrible person, but I am changing to a small degree and I think it has something to do with my losing the sense of constantly being watched by a God.

  • 7. Joshua  |  August 9, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    What harm is their in cheating on my wife if she never finds out?

    Sorry for my original comment, I was just trying to get you to use your imagination and I was honestly shocked that you asked that :)

    It does not matter whether it causes direct harm or not, people generally find it harmful (immoral) to unnecessarily increase potential for harm. For example, people always consider it immoral if a military leader puts a soldier into an unnecessary situation that increases their chance of getting killed (Uriah the Hittite, for example). Is there an absolute moral law that says “Thou shalt not put a soldier into a situation that unnecessarily increases their chance of getting injured or killed.” No, not at all. We use our reason to evaluate this – almost without conscious thought.

    By cheating, you put your relationship with your wife at increased potential for massive harm. The more you cheat, the greater the risk. The greater the risk, the more genuine harm. Before you know it, the risk in your relationship is astronomical and the bubble pops. Your wife finds out you have been deceiving her and the relationship collapses because of the inability of her to trust you. Right?

    This is why confession is good (moral / beneficial). It helps restore trust. Better to confess than to let her find the mess.

    Confession isn’t good because “God says so”, confession is good because it reduces risk of harm and is beneficial to something valuable – the relationship.

    Now then, consider another scenario. Moms will say to kids: “fine, do what you want, just don’t let me find out” – referring to dangerous situations. Why? Because the knowledge is what causes pain. They “know” their kids are probably not going to get hurt, but they would rather not have the pain of worrying. Ignorance is bliss – in this scenario. “Boys will be boys” etc. etc.

    Rover, is lying an absolute wrong? What if your lie is to cover up a surprise birthday party? Is that sinful?

    See, it is no easy. It has to be evaluated on a case by case basis using reason.

    My question for [you] Josh was, does the lack of belief in a God allow the atheist to be bit more liberally with morality?

    If you mean that we are set free from being forced to make decisions in life without being able to use our minds, then yes, we become morally “liberal”. We evaluate our decisions on a case by case basis, using reason instead of trying to figure out whether a command from God is “black and white” or a “gray area”. Ultimately, the only difference is that we stop making decision in life based upon our own personal interpretation of what will make God upset. This is freeing, but it does not necessarily make us more morally liberal. For some people, it may actually make them more moral as they now cannot appeal to God’s grace to cover up their behavior. It depends on the person.

    [That said, the first few months after leaving the faith left me reeling and I made decisions that caused a lot of pain. Quite frankly, this was more due to the fact I was so used to not thinking about my decisions and just using the "God says" reasoning that I had to learn to think.]

    For example, how many Christians would just support torture because the “Bible allows it” (regardless of how “wrong” their interpretation is)? Now take Christopher Hitchens. He allowed himself to be tested on this point by being waterboarded to verify whether waterboarding was torture. He used his reason, not just some appeal to authority. He thought and experienced: reason. His reason allowed him the freedom to change his mind on what causes unnecessary harm and is not beneficial.

    Yet how many times, when trying to show someone that their interpretation of what “God said” is wrong, do they respond with “well, but God said it, therefore it is what I should do.” Once a person has locked in their mind a request from an omnipotent deity, no man can then turn them. They will bomb abortion clinics, run planes into buildings, kill abortion doctors, etc. without a twinge of conscience.

    Let me repeat that: without a twinge of conscience.

    A man who has decided that God commands their obedience in causing massive harm will do so without a twinge of conscience. Why? Because they “reason” that not obeying God is always more harmful than obeying him. They will commit atrocities in the name of whatever God this may be.

    And a person can argue they were “misinterpreting” what God said… but hell…

    Isn’t that the entire point of my article? That morality is about:

    One’s perception as to what causes intentional harm?

    Rover, I have one question for you: if God says something is wrong – is it always wrong… even if it saves a whole bunch of people from harm?

    Like, say, sacrificing your child?

    Or do we somehow allow exceptions for God based upon our own reasoning on what reduces harm?

    If Theists claim morality is absolute and comes from God, but then allow God to break his own rules because they perceive that it reduces harm, Theists are demonstrating that the secular definition of morality found above is accurate.

  • 8. Joshua  |  August 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    A person who believes in God is morally bankrupt because they cannot genuinely evaluate what causes harm, without assuming that disobeying God causes the most harm.

    This creates a feedback loop in their reasoning which allows them to do anything harmful they conclude God is telling them to do.

    And what is the reasoning of “mere man” compared to the commandment of God?

    Genocide is beneficial when God tells you to do it.

  • 9. Joshua  |  August 9, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Does this make sense? Do you see why atheists are genuinely afraid of believers in God?

    We see massive, massive potential for harm because the only difference between the little old lady Christian who would not hurt a fly and Islamic jihad is:

    interpretation.

    That’s it.

  • 10. Florent  |  August 9, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    My mother once told us, to my girlfriend an myself, that she did’nt see the point in making Good, if there was no God behind. It was just like that… I found it rather scary. To see how religion can anihilate one’s mind, reason, or thoughts…

    This post is very clever anyhow ^^

  • 11. rustywheeler  |  August 9, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    I think a useful term and distinction to introduce here is ‘righteousness.’

    I have found that usually when believers defend certain harmful behaviors as ‘moral’, what they really mean is ‘righteous.’ I think morality weighs potential human harm and potential human happiness, righteousness weighs the perceived mandates of God only, and gives not thought to human harm or happiness.

    Rover, above, says he feels his ‘moral’ compass slipping, or something to that effect. I think he’s just letting go of righteousness, because it’s not a useful concept. Masturbating to internet porn might not be amoral, but it would probably be deemed unrighteous by believers. Now, LYING to your wife about masturbating to internet porn, especially if you’ve promised not to, IS amoral. And if you think that there’s no ‘harm’ done as long as she never finds out, I would say: harm to whom? Is it comfortable for you to hide this secret? Are you at ease with her? And if not, aren’t you harming yourSELF, as well as the intimacy between the two of you, and the foundation of trust?

    Just because your wife or God never catches you in the act doesn’t make it harmless.

  • 12. Teleprompter  |  August 9, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    “Righteousness”, the way you’re using it, is a great catchphrase for things you can’t otherwise justify rationally.

    What else do you plan to justify using “righteousness”: homophobia? violence? Where do you draw the line?

  • 13. Joshua  |  August 9, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    “I think morality weighs potential human harm and potential human happiness, righteousness weighs the perceived mandates of God only”

    But we follow the perceived mandates of God to avoid harm, so there is no distinction between morality and righteousness. Just the latter term involves a deity as a factor in determining harm and benefit.

    If you obey, you will be blessed (benefit). If you do not, you will be cursed (harm).

    “Just because your wife or God never catches you in the act doesn’t make it harmless.”

    Agreed. My question is: why do we need a deity to back up morality at all? If He never shows up to catch us anyway – and we just have to appeal to the unknown (what happens after death – which nobody alive has ever experienced by definition), why not just learn how to avoid harm and ignore making up afterlife scenarios?

    Personally, I think most believers think like this:

    I do not feel that doing X is right. Why do I not feel that doing X is right?

    I do not know why I feel this way, therefore God.

    Just think about the believers we have all met who argue that because they don’t feel right about a situation, it must be the Holy Spirit raising a red flag in their heart.

    They are interpreting the unknown (their gut instincts / intuition) as God.

  • 14. LeoPardus  |  August 9, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Just for my own part, I can see plenty of reason for morality based simply in self interest. We all want to live our lives in a minimum of fear, want, hurt, etc. The simplest way to do that is to be kind and helpful to others and to respect their property, life, desires, etc.
    If you go for the ‘grab what you want and to hall with the rest’ attitude, odds are very high that you’ll come to grief.
    Obviously this sort of “enlightened self-interest” approach can be expanded on indefinitely, but it forms a very good basis for morality.

  • 15. Joshua  |  August 9, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Leo –

    Exactly. That’s the other part of the argument:

    People decide what causes harm based on what they value. Harm is the reduction of perceived value.

    So, the way a person perceives their own value is important. But the animal form naturally seeks to avoid death and reproduce. Therefore in most instances it appears that men are seeking their own interest at the expense of others. And, well, they are.

    Even a person who dies for someone else does so because they cannot imagine living with themselves if they do not die. Therefore, rather than reducing their own value before their very eyes by living (extreme harm), they suffer death (less harm).

    This is why people become martyrs. The perceived value of their own death (a great harm) is greater than the perceived value of living with themselves for “giving in” to a demand and spitting in the face of their cause. Thus they die for their cause, because they perceive the cause is more valuable than they are.

    The same goes for suicide. People kill themselves because the perceived value of living is less than (more harmful) than killing themselves

    Obviously, they are not always right, but, well, people make moral decision based on their perception.

    So, to turn a person’s morals – and their entire conscience – just change their perception.

    People do make moral judgments based on selfishness because man always ascribes some value to himself. The reason we dislike “weakminded” people is because they perceive themselves as having no value and so we tend to perceive them as having no value either. This is why confident men get laid. They perceive themselves as having value and women do not want to sleep with someone who is not worth anything. This is why arrogant men are hated: because they perceive their own value as higher than others and nobody wants to be reduced in value.

    The reason Christianity likes to tout “made in God’s image” is because it gives every man equal value and therefore sets up a solid value system.

    They imagine a perfect world where everyone treats everyone else as equals.

    But don’t we all?

    The problem is that the only way this can happen is if we all have the same value system, and our value system is based on our interpretation of reality, our interpretation is based upon the rules (heuristic) by which we weight evidence.

    Therefore, reason and logic – strictly followed – is the only answer to a solid morality.

  • 16. rustywheeler  |  August 10, 2009 at 12:46 am

    Truly: couldn’t agree more. My personal approach to morality is based on relative harm and happiness. For the people involved.

    “But we follow the perceived mandates of God to avoid harm, so there is no distinction between morality and righteousness. Just the latter term involves a deity as a factor in determining harm and benefit.

    If you obey, you will be blessed (benefit). If you do not, you will be cursed (harm).”

    This was kind of my point; that when pressed to show the harm in something like consensual homosexuailty, believers will tell you it’s ‘against God.’ Which is how they see it. But the burden of proof of harm is on them, as gay people just want to be treated equally, and don’t see our relationships as harmful. So to call their stance moral, the believer must SHOW harm, not threaten it or insist that it will come after death. The stance is one of righteousness.

    Hey – it’s an ugly word, not one I ever use. But as the son of fundamentalist evangelicals, I can tell you that some people use it proudly to defend all kinds of views.

  • 17. anti-supernaturalist  |  August 10, 2009 at 1:10 am

    there are no xian foundations of morality whatsoever

    The de-deification of western culture (including the sciences) is our task for next 100 years.

    You have only to step outside monotheistic thought to understand how much western atheism and theism alike operate on the narrowest bandwidth of knowledge.

    If your model of religion is based on the big-3 near eastern monster-theisms, you won’t even understand non-theistic philosophical theories and practices so vigorously quashed by the hope-faith-charity crowd for the last 2,000 years:

    1. Xian (Jesus’ or Pauline) “ethics” is not ethical at all.
    2. Non-western example: the ethic of Confucius is superior.
    3. There is no inherent relationship between religion and morals.
    4. all god proxies are frauds

    Jesus’ ethic is irrational, otherworldly, and impractical. It promises much, and delivers nothing. Jesus’ “interim ethic” couldn’t outlast one generation of true believers. After all, the world was about to end. “Behold the lilies of the field . . . . ” (Search term: interim ethic)

    The fideistic irrationality of Paul of Tarsus with its anti-intellectualism, misogyny, and revenge seeking has poisoned the West for 2,000 years. After all, the world was about to end and Christ would soon return to elevate believers and damn everyone else — but he didn’t show. (Read 1Cor1:20-30 NIV See N. Cohn. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come 2nd ed Yale)

    Chinese culture was far luckier. Based on that very rational, this worldly, and practical book, The Analects [Conversations], attributed to Confucius. Five hundred years before a fictional Jesus and hysterical Paul, Confucius was eons ahead of contemporary xian (jewish/islamist) thinking:

    6:20 Fan Ch’ih asked what constituted wisdom. The Master said, “To give one’s self earnestly to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.”

    Get the point? No relationship between religion’s “spiritual beings” and ethics, “the duties due to men.” The latter cannot be understood in terms of the former. (For the western parallel, see ER Dodds. The Greeks and the Irrational. Cal Pr. esp pp. 31-32.)

    What follows? “God is dead.” No surrogate for gods: no Pope, prelate, priest, pastor, rabbi, imam can dictate human behavior — or force submission to some state-supported officer of “God”. (State support of religion in the US comes through non-profit federal tax status and 1st amendment busting “faith-based” initiatives.)

    15:23 Tsze-kung asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not ‘reciprocity’ such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” [trans. S.R. McIntyre 2003]

    All religions are outdated cultural artifacts. All ethics are irreducibly social. An ethic is a cultural artifact with certain necessary conditions — for example, prohibition of murder. Not killing, but . . .

    Deliberate killing of an in-group member(a person) cannot be tolerated (generalized). Otherwise, no culture could exist.

    the anti-supernaturalist

  • 18. Rover  |  August 10, 2009 at 5:48 am

    I agree that the Bible does not give us an objective standard of morality. Obviously, we see that the OT standards of morality are different from the NT standards. My point is this. Whether God is real or not, there are those who believe He is real so they alter their behavior accordingly. When I drive down the highway and I see a cop I slow down automatically. When I come to a known speed trap I do the same, even though the officer might not be there. Remove the police totally and I would probably speed a lot more.I wouldn’t give up following all of the rules of the road, but I would be a bit more “free” to do what I want. I see this applying to my life as I move away from the biblical God. I am not abandoning morality, but I also don’t have a cop looking over my shoulder all the time.

  • 19. numbers  |  August 10, 2009 at 11:29 am

    There are also compelling, evidence-based explanations for the origins of human morality that arise from the writings of sociology, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology – among other disciplines.

    For instance, the powerful gut feelings of injustice that many experience when they come into contact with (or hear stories of) self-seeking violence, deception or betrayal can be explained by looking at the hisotory of the species – evolving as it has from a common ancestor with today’s chimpanzees, through homo erectus, to homo sapiens (first paleoloithic, then neolithic, then modern). During that time a lot of “moral” attributes held by an indicidual – such as finding exploitation revolting at an emotional level – were likely selected for insofar as bands of prehumans increased their odds of prosperity and biological reproduction (on average and over the course of huge stretches of time) if their members were psychologically inclined to fairness and cooperation.

    Think tool-making, hunting expiditions, agriculture, trade, stable social heirarchies etc.

    The fact that people from all societies today share common gut reactions to particular forms of behavior in others is in large measure thanks to shared biological and cultural inheritances which are ancient. In other words, fair-mindedness and empathy are probably hard-wired into most of us in ways we don’t fully understand.

    However, this is complicated by the fact that fear of (and the realities of) things like exploitation, potential poverty, social exclusion and death are also common to everyone and deeply engrained into our minds as natural anxieties.

    It also doesn’t help that everyone first learns about morals, ethics, rights-and-wrongs etc at exactly the same time as they’re first becoming aware of their own mortality and the fragility of life – in childhood, when it’s not easy to comprehend the complexities of empathy and when for the sake of getting the job of a good upbringing done the parent falls back on easy to learn rules and precepts.

    Okay, I’m blathering on now. The points I’m trying to make are:

    1. Christians are right that it matters for people to understand where morals come from. They are wrong though to say they come from a god. They arose partly as a result of historical circumstances – the demands of toolmaking, agriculture, and, latterly, of mass-society.

    2. Christians are right about there being a significance to the fact that different cultures converge on similar moral rules. Again, God is no explanation. Understanding empathy and it’s natural origins seems like a better route, and one that is way more efficient in not requiring recourse to the supernatural to explain.

  • 20. Joe  |  August 10, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    River—

    #18 I understand your point about the cop looking over your shoulder. That is one type of Christianity. But isn’t there another, where driving the speed limit isn’t because of the “cop”, but because it’s good to do so, and you are less likely to harm other people because you are obeying the law?

  • 21. Joe  |  August 10, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Rover—oops typo—not “River”, I meant “Rover” LOL

  • 22. Joshua  |  August 10, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I am not abandoning morality, but I also don’t have a cop looking over my shoulder all the time.

    Right, the concept of a cop is there to harm people who would cause harm to others.

    God is like the same thing, except that he is never there – which is why people who do not believe in Him can actually get away with shit and not be punished.

    Which is the reason so many OT writers were so damn confused. They were obeying the invisible cop and being blessed… but there were other people who were not obeying… and getting blessed?

    Quite a bit of the OT is basically a big WTF response to this observation.

    Thankfully, when people move further away from expecting God to enact justice, they start building better judicial systems rather than blaming God for dangerous people running around ripping everyone off.

    numbers –

    Thanks for your input. Really appreciate it. I try very hard not to get into sociology and psychology when talking with Christians because I know quite a few fundamentalists who dismiss psychological / sociological studies simply because they claim scientists are fallible and we should never trust fallible scientists above an infallible God.

    But since they cannot claim God is illogical without knowingly undermining all of theology and hermeneutics, I think pure logic when dealing with these issues is the best way to communicate – on the assumption that the God of their description exists.

    It’s like reverse presuppositionalism. Find the presupposition and show that it contradicts the conclusions or observed reality. When they notice the contradiction and then redefine God or inerrancy or creation so that the contradiction disappears, just rinse and repeat. With enough rinsing and repeating the pattern that emerges is that they are just reinventing God over and over and then the accusation can be made that they are inventing God, not discovering Him. Once this occurs, their trust level of their own understanding of God begins to erode (because they have failed over and over to come up with any sort of rational explanation that does not change) and until they learn not to trust their own understanding they will never begin to trust reason. A God whose definition and defense “changes” every time the old definition and defense is shown to be irrational is not a very stable God (think Cosmological Argument vs. Kalam Cosmological Argument) and might as well be no better than human ability to invent gods. And a primary reason people stick with fundamentalism or ideologies is stability. So until they realize that their God is less stable than reason – and that reason must be used to interpret God, therefore subjecting any understanding of God to reason – they will not see any value to subjecting the existence of God to reason as well. Once that trust in all definitions and defenses of God’s existence is broken, then it is only a matter of time.

    That’s how I was converted anyway.

    God I’m devious and underhanded. And I just gave away my entire tactic… probably a big mistake because it will be used against me. Oh well, I know the tactics of believers to convert so it will just make things even :)

  • 23. Rick Lannoye  |  August 10, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Excellent points. I touch on this topic in my book (Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell. Ffor any interested, you can download a free Ecopy from my website: http://www.ricklannoye.com) in the chapter entitled Why Hell Retards Morality.

    When one’s sense of morality comes only from the notion “Some cop might catch me and hurt me if I do this or fail to do that,” there’s still no INTERNAL moral compass. Take away the cop or The Cop and there’s no restraint from doing any sort of wickedness.

    But when morality is “bottom up” as you say, or internalized, then it doesn’t matter if there’s someone or Someone else watching. Morality is about finding the best way to live in the here and now, by agreeing to some reasonable limits on how we behave so we may all live in peace with each other.

  • 24. Joshua  |  August 10, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    But isn’t there another, where driving the speed limit isn’t because of the “cop”, but because it’s good to do so, and you are less likely to harm other people because you are obeying the law?

    I’m not sure how River would respond, but you know me. I’ve always got something to say…

    Joe, brilliant point. So how is this any different than secular morality?

    Almoooost… theerree…

  • 25. Joshua  |  August 10, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Rick –

    Appreciate the reference. I’ll have to check your book out :)

  • 26. Joe  |  August 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Joshua—-

    I see your point (#24). My post to Rover was really about different types of Christianity. There is the legalistic approach–the “cop” over your shoulder—-and there is the “grace” approach— you desire to do what is right due to so much goodness having been done to you.

    I’m sure there are many other types also—-but you are entirely correct—-secular morality needs no “cop” either—as you are on your own, and determine the moral direction you want to take, as you hold your own moral compass.

  • 27. Joshua  |  August 10, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I’m sure there are many other types also—-but you are entirely correct—-secular morality needs no “cop” either—as you are on your own, and determine the moral direction you want to take, as you hold your own moral compass.

    Hmmm, I don’t actually think I hold my own moral compass. I think the moral compass every person has is determined by their past experiences and reasoning.

    I mean, no matter how hard I try I don’t really feel I have much choice but to conclude that teaching little kids about hell is wrong. My past experience and the way I reason predict that I will hold this moral judgment.

    I can’t change my past experience and I cannot just “change” the way I currently reason.

    So, as a thought exercise, how could you – Joe – change my moral judgment and conscience on this particular issue?

    And yes, you can :) I know exactly how you could do it. You have the power, bro.

    How could you do it?

  • 28. Joshua  |  August 10, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    There is the legalistic approach–the “cop” over your shoulder—-and there is the “grace” approach— you desire to do what is right due to so much goodness having been done to you.

    Just as an FYI, yep I understood you. This is the now “classic” Pharisees vs. True Believers argument, the Spirit of the Law verses the Letter of the Law discussion which is addressed quite extensively in Galatians and Romans.

    To demonstrate I understand the argument: the OT Law was given, not because it could lead to life, but as a tutor to lead men to Christ. The idea is that as soon as a law is given, it evokes in man a desire to sin, thus revealing man’s sinful nature. This sinful nature causes man to sin, demonstrating to man that no matter how hard he tries, he cannot keep the law. This despair and the recognition of one’s “death” at the hands of the law (for without the law there would be no sin) that is produced leads a man to realize that He needs a Savior. Enter Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died – having kept the entire law – thus satisfying God’s Wrath on mankind for their rebellion against Him (well, that’s one interpretation anyway). Now when we believe, we die with Christ and are raised with Him, thus gaining a new nature – being born again, so to speak. This new nature that we have sets us free from the OT law and its associated curses and blessings, and because we have a new nature we are under a New Covenant: the covenant of grace. Under this covenant we no longer follow the letter of the Law, but are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in accordance with the nature of Christ and the spirit of the Law. Every day we learn more and more to die to our old nature (the flesh) and to live in the fullness of the Spirit, bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.

    Like that?

    I just don’t understand how it is right for Paul to take man made conceptions of justice in the 1st century and to apply them to a deity (especially his reading of Roman Law into the Jewish system per his point about a person being set free from the law when they die, etc.)

    Quite honestly, if a person is set free from the law when they die, then no one should be judged after death. I think what Paul was trying to say was that a person needs to die to the law, which means to die with Christ. But after that it gets really shaky, because what the heck does this mean? Christ actually physically died, but Paul somehow interprets this metaphorically, indicating that somehow we can die while we are still alive. We die to the flesh. But what does that mean? I mean, every Christian still has their flesh. So I think what He means is that our old spirit dies – is separated from God so to speak. But that doesn’t make any sense because supposedly our spirit is dead to start with. So what does Paul mean when He says to die with Christ?

    It doesn’t make much sense. It sounds like Paul is trying to free himself from the guilt associated with his Pharisaical background. Honestly, I cheer Paul on for being set free from that system, but it does not mean that his interpretation of what set him free is accurate at all.

    Just because one is set free from something does not mean that one’s current understanding of the supernatural is the cause of that freedom.

    Hell, I’ve been set free from the Law and its associated condemnation and guilt too: and I became an atheist. Is it accurate to conclude that becoming an atheist is the way to set yourself free from guilt and condemnation? Not necessarily.

    Anyway, I say all that to let you know that I feel I have an intimate understanding of the Biblical arguments and concepts. There is a massive difference between having a good hermeneutic and knowing the Bible word for word and understanding the concepts behind what the writers were writing in such an intimate fashion that you feel you can predict what they would say.

    I just wish I could meet a Christian who had that sort of intimate knowledge about atheists that he would lead me back to Christianity. That would convince me I was wrong and turn me back to Christ.

    Unfortunately, I set out to be that person and look where I ended up.

    Wow, this comment is long.

    This goes out to you Joe.

  • 29. CheezChoc  |  August 10, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Rick, your link is not working.

  • 30. Quester  |  August 11, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Rover #6,

    What harm is their in cheating on my wife if she never finds out?

    1) If someone other than your wife found out, you might be causing people to lose respect for your wife, blaming her for your actions.

    2) If you betray her trust, how can you trust her? If you can’t trust her, how healthy is your marriage? If you are in an unhealthy marriage, I can’t see this as a good thing for you or your wife.

    That’s just off the top of my head.

    My question for Josh was, does the lack of belief in a God allow the atheist to be bit more liberally with morality?

    For me, it does. I’m less fearful. I can hang out with people without having to minister to them, and bring them closer to God’s will for their lives. I don’t need to witness to non-Christians, preach to homosexuals nor convert pagans. I’ve even participated in a pagan ceremony with a few friends. I no longer have to fear for the souls of my polyamourus friends, nor condemn their loving relationships as sinful. I’d be more comfortable drinking alcohol, if I could find any I like the taste of. I’m more likely to swear when with my friends or on my own. I no longer thank a god for everything, lift everything up to god, pray for everyone and everything, try to make my life a prayer, bless people, share the wisdom of scripture, attend worship whether I wish to or not, nor do I tithe to a church. I’m more willing to confront stupidity in a blunter fashion. I’m more willing to let people be who they are, instead of trying to lead them to be who a god might want them to be, and am the same with myself. I no longer add spiritual disciplines to myself for the practice, nor beat and berate myself when I fail. I neither read nor research scripture. I do not look for signs of who God wants me to be and strive to be that person. I have, to adopt your phrasing, relaxed what was my moral code, in the above ways, no longer seeing such things as sinful, or immoral.

    Is this the sort of stuff you were talking about?

  • 31. atimetorend  |  August 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    “…so please expect our morals to sometimes line up with what Biblical authors said. This does not mean we are “stealing” from your worldview, it just means that some of our discoveries as to what causes harm naturally happen to match what Biblical authors also discovered causes harm.”

    As does almost every religion that exists, stumbling on the same moral principles. It is awfully convenient for Christians to claim their principles have just been co-opted.

    Great post Josh, very helpful in providing an understanding of the basis of morality and how Christianity can misrepresent its underpinnings. Thanks for posting.

  • 32. Joshua  |  August 11, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    It is awfully convenient for Christians to claim their principles have just been co-opted.

    It is even more convenient when new moral norms are incorporated into the culture and Christians steal those norms and say “See, that is what we were teaching all along!” and then when examples are given to show that is not true, Christians just argue that everyone in the past was “interpreting God’s Law” wrong.

    Christians worship morality because it keeps them safe.

  • 33. Joe  |  August 11, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I just wish I could meet a Christian who had that sort of intimate knowledge about atheists that he would lead me back to Christianity. That would convince me I was wrong and turn me back to Christ. (#28 Josh)

    Josh—-

    I’m not sure I understand this statement. How could having enough of an intimate knowledge of atheists be enough to lead you back to Christianity? I don’t think anything or anyone could really convince you that you are wrong to turn you back to Christ. Very few come to Christ in the first place due to some “reasonable assumption”—they come due to faith. I don’t think faith is going to be enough to turn you around, would it? Or am I misunderstanding your premise? Please explain a bit more in depth if you can. Thanks.

  • 34. Joshua  |  August 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I don’t think anything or anyone could really convince you that you are wrong to turn you back to Christ. I don’t think faith is going to be enough to turn you around, would it?

    So you start with the premise that your communication on this blog is ineffective and then continue talking anyway? I am, for your sake, confused.

    I think you assume this because you would never leave the faith, no matter what we could say. You just believe and so you assume we just do not believe. Well then, why communicate at all?

    BTW, thank you for asking questions. I’m sure we all appreciate it. Very few Christians ever ask questions, they just make assertions, claim to be victimized, and then tell us they are praying for us.

    Joe, why do Christians always make assertions and rarely feel the need to back them up with reasoned arguments?

    Why do so many Christians bicker with each other about interpretations? Do you think that maybe it is because they are happy to make assertions about what they think God is saying and rarely feel the need to back them up with reasoned arguments?

    Further, why do you think that reasoned arguments need to be used when interpreting the Bible, but reasoned arguments are useless to bring someone to faith?

    Could it be because faith is useless for determining the truth, but reasoned arguments are useful?

    Why the double standard? Why are people told just to believe and ignore reason when coming to the faith but then told to use reason once they are inside?

    Did you read my article on Skepticism vs. Faith? Did you learn anything at all?

    Very few come to Christ in the first place due to some “reasonable assumption”—they come due to faith.

    Joe: you are a genius.

  • 35. Joshua  |  August 13, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Joe, forget my other questions, I want to ask you one pointed, serious question to think about. Please answer this question:

    When a person makes a prophecy that something will happen on a certain date, and it does not happen, historically what do the followers normally do and why?

    I don’t claim to have the answer, I think I have a pretty good one, but I want you to take a stab at this yourself.

  • 36. Joshua  |  August 13, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I just wish I could meet a Christian who had that sort of intimate knowledge about atheists that he would lead me back to Christianity. That would convince me I was wrong and turn me back to Christ.

    BTW, to get back to your original question, in order to understand the latter point, you have to understand the answer to the previous question :)

    And, BTW, you have already answered the question, you just don’t know it yet.

  • 37. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Joshua,

    I enjoyed your article and all the comments.

    You said:

    I just wish I could meet a Christian who had that sort of intimate knowledge about atheists that he would lead me back to Christianity. That would convince me I was wrong and turn me back to Christ.

    Facts:

    1. I am a Christian.
    2. I have an intimate knowledge of atheists.

    Question:

    Do you want to be lead back to Christianity?

    If your answer is yes, I might be able to help.

  • 38. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Joshua,

    You also said:

    Unfortunately, I set out to be that person and look where I ended up.

    I don’t think there is anything unfortunate about your setting out to be that person. It is actually quite fortunate. Open minded people do not “end up” anywhere. By definition, they (we) are always seeking the truth, but never find it. Close minded people, on the other hand, have found the truth, and stop seeking it.

    I congratulate you on where you have come and encourage you to keep heading where you are going!

  • 39. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:10 am

    Joshua,

    I misstated the question.

    The question is actually not whether you want to be led back to Christianity, but whether you want to turn back to Christianity.

    If the answer is yes, you will not be “turning back” to where you came from, but heading forward toward “new” truths that are not faith dependent. I actually can’t lead you or anyone anywhere. I can only attempt to describe where I am and invite you to join me.

  • 40. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Roy,

    If you have an intimate knowledge of atheists and possess the indwelling Holy Spirit, why do you need to ask that question? :) And if you have an intimate knowledge of atheists, please tell me you saw this point coming…

    Ok, enough Joshing around:

    Excellent, Roy. I believe (1), but am skeptical about (2).

    Do you want to be lead back to Christianity?

    I want to know the truth. If Christianity is true, I want to know it. Therefore, I do not want to believe Christianity, I want to know Christianity. Just as I do not want to just believe an interpretation of verse, I want to know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that the interpretation is 100% infallible, because – after all – I have an eternal destiny at stake. Therefore, I expect the clarity of my understanding of the message to match its pivotal nature. Does this make sense?

    I want no room for error due to a misinterpretation due to lacking access to knowledge. I want the Holy Spirit to be unquestionably present to ensure that my interpretation of my spiritual state is accurate.

    I also do not trust any internal perception I might have about spiritual experiences and I do not trust someone else’s spiritual experiences because of their conflicting nature and too many false positives. This does not mean that spiritual experiences cannot happen, just that there needs to be a reasonable test in place to clarify which experiences are mental or only perceived and which experiences are real.

    Just beware, if you are right then I am influenced by the devil. Woo, scary. He has me, how shall we say, “right where he wants me”. Trust me, your task will be cut out for you – if you are right. If you are not right, well, then… maybe we should start here:

    I am willing to admit that I might be wrong about the existence of God, therefore you must be willing to admit that you might be wrong about the existence of God in order to do unto me as you would have me do unto you.

    So here is the thing: a deception is an accepted distortion of the truth. Therefore, if Christianity is true, I have accepted a distortion of the truth. Thus, all a person needs to do is find where my reasoning is inaccurate and point it out, thus demonstrating that my conclusions are false. Since I am an atheist – and atheist are supposed to be fools – then this means that – possessing the wisdom of God in the form of the Holy Spirit – this should not be a difficult task for you and your indwelling God.

    But: here is the trick. You have to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity using:

    1. Reason

    or

    2. The present power of God

    If you cannot use reason, then I will simply point out that I do not want to worship a God whose own nature of being logical does not bring Himself glory.

    If you say that God is not, by nature, logical – because logic is part of the created order – then I will ask you what the point of theology is.

    If you cannot use the power of God, then I will argue that you are probably not a True Christian in the Biblical sense. If you say that you are cessasionist, I will simply argue that this is post hoc reasoning to explain to yourself why you do not see any genuine evidence of the Holy Spirit in the world today. If you argue that changed lives are evidence of the Holy Spirit, I will simply ask you to demonstrate that Christianity is more effective than a placebo. If you do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit active today, I will place a reasonable test before you to make sure you are not a false prophet.

    So, yes, I want to be lead back to Christianity if it is true. If it is not, I want you to leave. Fair enough?

    If your answer is yes, I might be able to help.

    Said with an out by the insertion of a “might”.

  • 41. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:30 am

    I can only attempt to describe where I am and invite you to join me.

    The invitation goes both ways :)

  • 42. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:31 am

    The question is actually not whether you want to be led back to Christianity, but whether you want to turn back to Christianity.

    Out of curiosity, since you have an intimate knowledge of atheists, how do you think I would respond to this subtle change in wording?

  • 43. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Rover said:

    I can cheat on my wife and as long as I don’t get caught, there is no harm. I can lie for my own benefit and as long as there is no harm I am perfectly justified in lying.

    There absolutely is harm done in both these scenarios.

    There is always somebody watching everything you do. Who is that someone? Hint: It’s not a supernatural being. Don’t discount the harm to that person. Corruption is very real and very harmful. Love is a response to virtue. It is impossible to love others if you don’t love yourself. Why would you want to cheat or lie to the one you love most?

    Now, if whatever it is you want to do doesn’t violate any contractual agreements with your wife (or you renegotiate the contract), you discuss it beforehand, and you are both okay with it, then it’s not cheating, and hence not harmful. Who knows, your wife might want to participate, making it a shared experience and hence a truly win-win scenario.

    As a former Christian have you found that your morals have “slipped” just a bit?

    Actually, I am still a Christian, and my moral clarity has never been better. Am I perfect? No but I’m trying to be and I have a pretty good idea of what it is I’m striving for.

  • 44. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:50 am

    Joshua,

    Out of curiosity, since you have an intimate knowledge of atheists, how do you think I would respond to this subtle change in wording?

    Well, since you are an atheist, I would assume that you are a free thinker, and that you enjoy thinking deeply about things. As such, you cannot be led anywhere, nor would I want to lead you anywhere. That would be an insult to your intelligence, no?

  • 45. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:55 am

    Joshua,

    The invitation goes both ways

    I accept your invitation.

  • 46. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:20 am

    As such, you cannot be led anywhere, nor would I want to lead you anywhere. That would be an insult to your intelligence, no?

    Hmmm, if this is what a free-thinker is, then I am not one.

    A free thinker is to a man what freedom is to a country: freedom from oppression, but to responsibility. In my view, becoming an atheist is to Christianity what Christianity is to the OT Law. It is being set free from something by means of submission to something else. After all, without rules there is no freedom, only slavery to passion.

    The thing that set me free was reason and logic: the ability to discern truth by following rules, which I then applied to Christianity and found it lacking.

    Christianity proposes rules / guides / whatever-you-would-like-to-call-them on behavior and beliefs, but not so much on discerning truth in our day-to-day life. Free-thinking takes a step back and proposes rules on discerning truth, thus having the potential power to trump any faith-based system. It is not the freedom to think whatever we want, but the freedom from dogmatism.

    So, if you can use these tools to discern truth to discern the truth of Christianity, by all means, lead me there.

  • 47. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:44 am

    Joshua,

    If you have an intimate knowledge of atheists and possess the indwelling Holy Spirit, why do you need to ask that question?

    I have an intimate knowledge of a particular atheist, not all atheists. I ask the question because I don’t know you.

    And if you have an intimate knowledge of atheists, please tell me you saw this point coming…

    Again, I do have an intimate knowledge of a particular atheist, but not you, so no I did not see it coming, but I do understand your question. It seems to imply that you believe that the so-called holy spirit is omniscient, which I’ve not implied nor do I think is the case.

    Ok, enough Joshing around:

    Ok Josh.

    Excellent, Roy. I believe (1), but am skeptical about (2).

    Good, Joshua. I would expect no less than skepticism.

    Do you want to be lead back to Christianity?

    I want to know the truth. If Christianity is true, I want to know it. Therefore, I do not want to believe Christianity, I want to know Christianity. Just as I do not want to just believe an interpretation of verse, I want to know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that the interpretation is 100% infallible, because – after all – I have an eternal destiny at stake. Therefore, I expect the clarity of my understanding of the message to match its pivotal nature. Does this make sense?

    Yes. I want to know the truth too. What are the stakes of your eternal destiny?

    I want no room for error due to a misinterpretation due to lacking access to knowledge. I want the Holy Spirit to be unquestionably present to ensure that my interpretation of my spiritual state is accurate.

    I also do not trust any internal perception I might have about spiritual experiences and I do not trust someone else’s spiritual experiences because of their conflicting nature and too many false positives. This does not mean that spiritual experiences cannot happen, just that there needs to be a reasonable test in place to clarify which experiences are mental or only perceived and which experiences are real.

    Just beware, if you are right then I am influenced by the devil. Woo, scary. He has me, how shall we say, “right where he wants me”. Trust me, your task will be cut out for you – if you are right. If you are not right, well, then…

    Right about what? Devil? How do you define that? What task have I cut out for myself?

    maybe we should start here:

    I am willing to admit that I might be wrong about the existence of God, therefore you must be willing to admit that you might be wrong about the existence of God in order to do unto me as you would have me do unto you.

    Whoa! May be we should start here: How are you defining god? May we dispense with the caps for god, holy spirit, christian, etc.? It will make typing easier.

    So here is the thing: a deception is an accepted distortion of the truth. Therefore, if Christianity is true, I have accepted a distortion of the truth. Thus, all a person needs to do is find where my reasoning is inaccurate and point it out, thus demonstrating that my conclusions are false. Since I am an atheist – and atheist are supposed to be fools – then this means that – possessing the wisdom of God in the form of the Holy Spirit – this should not be a difficult task for you and your indwelling God.

    Who said that atheists are supposed to be fools? Not me. Since I hardly know you, I disagree. It would be a very difficult task for me, right now. We need to back up and agree on a good definition for god, christianity, holy spirit and other things, before we can move forward.

    But: here is the trick. You have to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity using:

    1. Reason

    or

    2. The present power of God

    I choose option 1.

    If you cannot use reason, then I will simply point out that I do not want to worship a God whose own nature of being logical does not bring Himself glory.

    If you say that God is not, by nature, logical – because logic is part of the created order – then I will ask you what the point of theology is.

    God is logical by nature and a part of order, created and/or otherwise.

    If you cannot use the power of God, then I will argue that you are probably not a True Christian in the Biblical sense. If you say that you are cessasionist, I will simply argue that this is post hoc reasoning to explain to yourself why you do not see any genuine evidence of the Holy Spirit in the world today. If you argue that changed lives are evidence of the Holy Spirit, I will simply ask you to demonstrate that Christianity is more effective than a placebo. If you do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit active today, I will place a reasonable test before you to make sure you are not a false prophet.

    What is “the power of god”?
    What is a “true christian in the biblical sense”?
    I am not a cessasionist.
    I don’t argue that changed lives are evidence of the so-called holy spirit. Again we need definitions to continue.

    So, yes, I want to be lead back to Christianity if it is true. If it is not, I want you to leave. Fair enough?

    Fair enough.

    If your answer is yes, I might be able to help.

    Said with an out by the insertion of a “might”.

    Yes. I believe in using language precisely if it is truth we seek.

  • 48. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Hmmm, if this is what a free-thinker is, then I am not one.

    Good start. Let’s be sure we agree on our definitions.

    A free thinker is to a man what freedom is to a country: freedom from oppression, but to responsibility. In my view, becoming an atheist is to Christianity what Christianity is to the OT Law. It is being set free from something by means of submission to something else. After all, without rules there is no freedom, only slavery to passion.

    Good analogies.

    Are you in submission to atheism? If so, then maybe you need to figure out what that “something else” is with regard to atheism.

    What are the rules that you speak of here?

    The thing that set me free was reason and logic: the ability to discern truth by following rules, which I then applied to Christianity and found it lacking.

    Here you seem to be referring to rules of logic. Maybe you were applying them to the wrong thing.

    Christianity proposes rules / guides / whatever-you-would-like-to-call-them on behavior and beliefs, but not so much on discerning truth in our day-to-day life. Free-thinking takes a step back and proposes rules on discerning truth, thus having the potential power to trump any faith-based system. It is not the freedom to think whatever we want, but the freedom from dogmatism.

    I think you are free to think whatever you want, but since we have agreed on your narrower definition of free-thought, then we are submitting ourselves to the rules of logic. Great. Agreed, let’s reject dogmatism and make sure we are starting from the same premises and then work from there. We need to agree on definition and premises.

    So, if you can use these tools to discern truth to discern the truth of Christianity, by all means, lead me there.

    Let’s start with a definition of christianity. Oops, back up, first things first. Let’s define god.

    We can take this offline if you would like.

  • 49. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Joshua,

    So that we don’t clutter the comments, if there is a way for us to exchange email addresses without making them public, then we can discuss this offline. If the result of our discussion gets us both closer to the truth, which I hope it will, and we decide that parts of it might be useful to others, then maybe we could post excerpts later.

    If you can think of a way to exchange emails privately, let me know.

  • 50. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:01 am

    Joshua,

    The OT calls god YHWH. This is a transliteration of Hebrew meaning “I will be what I will be”.

    Let me propose a working definition for god:

    The sum total of everything, everything that we can know, plus anything that we can’t know, if such things exist.

    Note the use of “sum total” in the definition. This is important. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

    Most christians seem to limit their god, by suggesting that the creator is wholly separate from the created. I think it is a mistake to limit yhwh in that way.

    Note that this is not pantheism, meaning that god is the universe. Why not just say universe and despense with the term god?

    It is panentheism. This is not new stuff.

    Congratulations, if you will agree to this definition, not only are you no longer an atheist, but you have a better understanding of yhwh than most (but not all) christians.

    If, on the other hand, you insist on going with what you believe is most christian’s definition of god, assuming that they have actually thought about it and have one, then you are setting up a straw man to argue against. That is a waste of time.

    Are you with me?

  • 51. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Joshua,

    So, yes, I want to be lead back to Christianity if it is true. If it is not, I want you to leave. Fair enough?

    To clarify my position here to atheists, christians, and others on the deconversion continuum:

    I’m not looking to lead anybody back where they came from, if it was a false christianity. I’m also not looking to change the minds of those of any stripe who are happy where they are. In fact, I can’t. If you want to be led forward toward the christianity that is true, then I will be happy to help if I am able. If you want to be led out of a false christianity, then I would be happy to help if I am able. For some, it may be impossible to convert from a false christianity and head toward the true one without becoming an atheist first. There is nothing wrong with “cleansing the pallet”. I had to do it. I am the atheist that I have intimate knowlege of.

    It really doesn’t matter to me. I will be happy to leave, or stay and read without comment, or stay and limit my help to the “pallet cleansing”.

  • 52. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Interesting websites that I hope can help somebody in their quest for truth. An internally consistent philosophy is essential. Use what you need. Discard what you don’t. The first link has an excellent free book containing an attempted rational proof of secular ethics (which ties in nicely to this discussion):

    Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Ethics, etc.
    The Market For Liberty
    Was Jesus an Anarchist?
    Church of Yahweh

    DISCLAIMER: I don’t agree with everything at any of them, but there is truth to be found at all of them.

    Enjoy!

  • 53. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Let me propose a working definition for god:

    The sum total of everything, everything that we can know, plus anything that we can’t know, if such things exist.

    Let me propose another working definition for God:

    An imaginary being, said to be the creator and ruler of the universe, and said to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

    If you will agree to this definition, then you are an atheist.

  • 54. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Roy:

    If it is acceptable to define god into existence so that the word has a use, can we also define Satan, angels, warlocks, fairies, Mother Nature, ghosts, disembodied spirits, demons, the soul, UFO bases on the backside of the moon etc. into existence as well?

    This is, then, a battle of definitions finding its root in our imaginations :)

    I do like what you have said about the sum being more than its parts, though.

    How about we just define God as the sum total of everything we cannot possibly comprehend? Then we can sit back and not talk about it while smoking some cannabis – because it’s impossible to comprehend!

  • 55. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Gary,

    “If you will agree to this definition, then you are an atheist.”

    You are correct. But what is the point of defining god as something imaginary and self-contradictory? So you can have a straw man to demolish? I think that is a monumental waste of time.

  • 56. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Joshua,

    “If it is acceptable to define god into existence so that the word has a use, can we also define Satan, angels, warlocks, fairies, Mother Nature, ghosts, disembodied spirits, demons, the soul, UFO bases on the backside of the moon etc. into existence as well?”

    I didn’t define god into existence. It is impossible to define something into existence, so in that sense, what you allege is unacceptable.

    Is it possible to speak of spiritual realities metaphorically?

    So no, we can’t define any of those things into existence, but it might be useful to use some of them metaphorically to speak of spiritual realities, provided we are clear and in agreement as to what we are really talking about.

    “This is, then, a battle of definitions finding its root in our imaginations”

    I see it as a discussion between you and me in which we are both seeking to converge on truth.

    “I do like what you have said about the sum being more than its parts, though.”

    That’s great. Maybe we are starting to converge somewhere.

    “How about we just define God as the sum total of everything we cannot possibly comprehend? Then we can sit back and not talk about it while smoking some cannabis – because it’s impossible to comprehend!”

    Because I’m not sure that “the sum total of everything we cannot possibly comprehend” exists in reality, and it’s unacceptable to define something into existence. I prefer to pick out something that exists in reality and define that as god and see where it leads. Then we could smoke some cannabis and talk about it.

  • 57. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    You are correct. But what is the point of defining god as something imaginary and self-contradictory? So you can have a straw man to demolish? I think that is a monumental waste of time.

    It would certainly be a monumental waste of time, given a definition of God as “imaginary,” to debate whether God exists, though in other respects the definition I proposed seems quite unexceptional.

    My question to you is this: Why would any discussion based on your proposed working definition of “god” (I use lower case here because you did) not be an equally monumental waste of time? Why call the concept to which you refer, insofar as it is actually intelligible, “god”? Why not call it, with a nod toward Lewis Carroll’s Humpty-Dumpty, “glory”?

  • 58. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I prefer to pick out something that exists in reality and define that as god and see where it leads.

    Bullshit exists in reality. Lets define that as god and see where it leads.

  • 59. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    My question to you is this: Why would any discussion based on your proposed working definition of “god” (I use lower case here because you did) not be an equally monumental waste of time?

    For you it might be, so don’t waste your time.

    Why call the concept to which you refer, insofar as it is actually intelligible, “god”? Why not call it, with a nod toward Lewis Carroll’s Humpty-Dumpty, “glory”?

    So we have a common premise on which we agree. Well god has fewer characters and hence takes fewer keystrokes. How about x?

    Bullshit exists in reality. Lets define that as god and see where it leads.

    OK, god is warm. god is brownish. god is a byproduct of digestion in the adult male of various species of large mammals. god is ….

  • 60. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Now, now, you two – god is watching your every word… make sure they are pure and for the edification of your neighbor :) Unless, of course, your neighbor is already over-edified – which may be the case.

    Roy, I don’t have a problem if a god / deity / large-brown super-byproduct in the sky exists. If it is true, so it is. The definition of God as “I will be what I will be” is genius, quite frankly, because of its simplicity and impossibility of being questioned. As a definition of God, it works. The next question would be, well then, what is? Suddenly we find we are back where we started, limited in our understanding of the universe and flailing about trying to define all our unknowns into one big super Known so that all questions are – at least for the time being – answered with the word “god”.

    If we do want to have a common starting point, I think it has to be here:

    Everything every man knows – or believes he knows – is due to that which he believes his senses have communicated to him.

    By senses, I mean all sensory input – including any internal emotions, voices, etc. If the spirit exists, this too is a sensory input – a connection into a spiritual realm. Although I think the very fact that man can question the existence of a spiritual realm – yet rarely questions the existence of light or sound – is strong evidence our spiritual sense is imagined or untrustworthy. Not to mention the fact that men rarely – if ever – agree on anything in this spiritual realm, making it highly suspect as well.

    Therefore, why should I trust what any man proposes about a spiritual realm as being real – including any of the Biblical authors?

    Defining God in a panentheistic way “works”, so to speak, but it still has the smell of imagination lingering in its wake.

  • 61. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    “The next question would be, well then, what is?

    Ah yes. That is the question. And what will be?

    Everything every man knows – or believes he knows – is due to that which he believes his senses have communicated to him.

    I can’t disagree. I’m with you.

    By senses, I mean all sensory input – including any internal emotions, voices, etc. If the spirit exists, this too is a sensory input – a connection into a spiritual realm. Although I think the very fact that man can question the existence of a spiritual realm – yet rarely questions the existence of light or sound – is strong evidence our spiritual sense is imagined or untrustworthy. Not to mention the fact that men rarely – if ever – agree on anything in this spiritual realm, making it highly suspect as well.

    Therefore, why should I trust what any man proposes about a spiritual realm as being real – including any of the Biblical authors?

    You shouldn’t until you’ve agreed on what it is. You want to throw out a definition?

    BTW, I was just BSing with Gary. I would suggest that we all lighten up a bit. See my latest comment on the “Rabbi, prayer, flu” article. Click the link on the word “site” if you want a good laugh. BUT DON’T GO THERE IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED. That goes for Chriistians AND Atheists.

  • 62. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    You shouldn’t until you’ve agreed on what it is. You want to throw out a definition?

    Sure.

    The spiritual realm is all sensory input that we have not yet been able to define naturally.
    :)

  • 63. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Ah yes. That is the question. And what will be?

    Given the track record of mankind, what will be is that we will discover more and more that all things are natural, not supernatural. Which makes sense, since it is odd to propose that anything is supernatural anyway. I mean, if it is there, it is natural, right? Just as it is odd to propose that there could be the possibility of nothing existing. Ah, Ray Comfort – god bless him.

  • 64. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    So we have a common premise on which we agree. Well god has fewer characters and hence takes fewer keystrokes. How about x?

    Fair enough. We now have your working definition of x, but apparently no longer need concern ourselves with whether that definition makes sense as a definition, “working” or otherwise, of god.

    At this point, it is necessary to note that your previous statement, “if you will agree to this definition, not only are you no longer an atheist…,” clearly no longer applies. Anyone can agree to your definition of x (to what end is not clear), and be an atheist (or Christian, or Muslim, or whatever).

  • 65. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    And the Christian defined God into existence, ex nihilo!

  • 66. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    And the Christian defined God into existence, ex nihilo!

    Maybe, maybe not. Let me give you two definitions taken verbatim from the dictionary at my desk:

    God = The Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.

    unicorn = a mythical creature resembling a horse and having a sinlge forehead; often symbolic of chastity or purity.

    Let us take these definitions, for the moment, at face value. The unicorn, by definition, does not exist. It is “mythical”. Its nonexistence is part of the stated definition. In the case of God, things are not so clear. God is not defined here as mythical. Did the lexicographers mean to imply thereby that God is real by definition? I’m not at all sure that they did.

    Do many Christians actually assert that God is real by definition, so that anyone who denies the existence of God must simply be someone who fails to understand what the word “God” means? I don’t think so.

  • 67. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Lordy, I can’t write today. The definition of “unicorn” should have read, “a mythical creature resembling a horse and having a single horn in the center of its forehead….”

  • 68. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Unicorns are biblical you know.

  • 69. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    The spiritual realm is all sensory input that we have not yet been able to define naturally.

    That sounds like a good starting point.

    Should we attempt to define it naturally?

  • 70. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Fair enough. We now have your working definition of x, but apparently no longer need concern ourselves with whether that definition makes sense as a definition, “working” or otherwise, of god.

    Wait just a minute. Who said anything about x being a definition of god?

  • 71. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    I know! Let’s ask x to reveal itself to us. And if it does not, then it does not exist or it does not care. If either of these are true, then silly conversation :)

    Constructing a deity from concepts just seems so silly to me if the constructed deity does not actually do anything. God is the original modern art: beautiful to look at if you interpret it just right and incapable of actually doing anything but titillating the imagination by “summing up”… well… whatever.

  • 72. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    At work we define a unicorn as a female Adobe Flex programmer. We just hired two of them. Therefore, unicorns exist.

  • 73. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Should we attempt to define it naturally?

    Why would we do that?

  • 74. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Wait just a minute. Who said anything about x being a definition of god?

    You said, “Well god has fewer characters and hence takes fewer keystrokes. How about x?” I took that to mean that we could take your proposed working definition of “god” and, for “god”, substitute “x”. I then went a bit too far and said that this left us with a working definition of “x” but not of “god,” when apparently you meant, “For ‘god,’ we may substitute ‘x’, and thus save a couple of more keystrokes.” That is, it now seems to me that you were saying that your definition is a definition both of “god” and “x”, where “god” and “x” are interchangeable terms.

    In my defense, I will observe that atheists are generally defined as persons who deny the existence of God, not as persons who deny the existence of “x” — unless, of course, “God” and “x” are synonymous, as for some peculiar reason they appear to be here.

    I don’t see the point of accepting your working definition of “god,” since I don’t see the point of beginning the discussion with the suggestion that there’s some value in speaking a private language.

  • 75. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Sorry — it should be obvious by now that I’m html-challenged.

  • 76. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    It’s okay, Gary, judging by the quality of most Christian websites, God is too.

  • 77. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    What I mean is that we are talking about a concept here. Who cares what we call it, x, god, glory, or whatever. And so what if some people are more comfortable thinking of that concept as some sort of intelligent rational being like us? Actually that is comforting because that would suggest that god is just like me (or you)!

    God is not defined here as mythical. Did the lexicographers mean to imply thereby that God is real by definition? I’m not at all sure that they did.

    The lexicographer probably didn’t think about it at all.

    Anyone can agree to your definition of x (to what end is not clear), and be an atheist (or Christian, or Muslim, or whatever).

    Our end is the truth. Maybe Jesus was an atheist. Should we consider that possibility?

    Lordy, I can’t write today.

    Who is Lordy?

    Do many Christians actually assert that God is real by definition, so that anyone who denies the existence of God must simply be someone who fails to understand what the word “God” means? I don’t think so.

    I agree but who cares what many christians assert or don’t assert. All we care about is the truth. Right? Since when did the majority assertion determine what the truth is?

    OK, I’m going to try to get us back on topic. Here is a more specific link to an aforementioned rational proof of secular ethics:

    Universally Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics

  • 78. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Should we attempt to define it naturally?

    Why would we do that?

    To better understand ourselves? Who we are? What we are? We’re still seeking truth, right?

  • 79. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    In my defense, I will observe that atheists are generally defined as persons who deny the existence of God, not as persons who deny the existence of “x” — unless, of course, “God” and “x” are synonymous, as for some peculiar reason they appear to be here.

    I don’t see the point of accepting your working definition of “god,” since I don’t see the point of beginning the discussion with the suggestion that there’s some value in speaking a private language.

    Per our previous discussion:

    “god” and “x” are each shorthand for this: The sum total of everything, everything that we can know, plus anything that we can’t know, if such things exist.

    “x” is shorter hand than “god”, per our prior discussion. There is no private language here.

    How about we put it another way:

    The panentheist (that’s me) says “god is not the universe and the universe is god”.

    Not to be confused with the pantheist who says “god is the universe and the universe is god”.

    Not to be confused with the theists you seem to dislike who say “God is a supernatural being who will reward you if you are good and punish you if you are bad, unless you believe in his one and only son, and believe other things that most christians believe and perform rituals that most christians perform.”

  • 80. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    What I mean is that we are talking about a concept here. Who cares what we call it, x, god, glory, or whatever. And so what if some people are more comfortable thinking of that concept as some sort of intelligent rational being like us?

    Now you’ve lost me completely. How can a “concept” be an intelligent rational being, and why would people feel “comfortable” thinking about it as such?

    Since when did the majority assertion determine what the truth is?

    It doesn’t. On the other hand, the usage of language by the vast majority defines the meaning of the terms in that language in ordinary discourse.

    True, terms used in ordinary discourse may be insufficiently imprecise for a rigorous discussion, and that is why it is sometimes necessary to start a discussion by defining one’s terms. However, nothing is to be gained but confusion by borrowing terms from ordinary discourse, and then giving them idiosyncratic definitions that have nothing whatsoever to do with their use in ordinary discourse. What is the point of asserting that, for the purpose of the present discussion, “God,” “glory,” and “bullshit” shall be considered synonyms?

    Maybe Jesus was an atheist. Should we consider that possibility?

    As long as we are free to define terms any old way we like, and, if we define “atheist” as “Jew,” then I think it quite likely Jesus was an “atheist.” But what would be the point of defining “atheist” that way?

  • 81. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Bottom line, if you don’t like my definitions, propose others. If you prefer not to think about such things, walk away. We all walked away from the “God is a supernatural being who yada, yada, yada,…..” definition and rightly so. But I’m still looking for the truth which may well be that there is no point discussing it. If so, why not shut down the website and go home?

    Ok, why don’t we discuss secular ethics/morality?

  • 82. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    There is no private language here.

    Sure there is: the language in which “God” means “The sum total of everything, everything that we can know, plus anything that we can’t know, if such things exist.” I do not recognize this as English. Perhaps it is Royish?

    As a definition of “God,” it’s part of a private language. As a definition of anything at all, it’s murky, unclear. It is said that Augustus Caesar died Aug. 19th in the year 14. For the purposes of your definition, do we “know” this? If we do, then is “Augustus Caesar died Aug. 19th in the year 14″ part of the “sum total of everything” and therefore part of God?

  • 83. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    How can a “concept” be an intelligent rational being, and why would people feel “comfortable” thinking about it as such?

    I’m not saying that it can be or is. What I’m saying is that if a majority of christians are comfortable thinking about these issues in those terms, and it makes sense to them, and it works for them, what possible difference could it make to you or me (provided they are willing to do unto us as we do unto them or peacefully coexist)?

    True, terms used in ordinary discourse may be insufficiently imprecise for a rigorous discussion, and that is why it is sometimes necessary to start a discussion by defining one’s terms. However, nothing is to be gained but confusion by borrowing terms from ordinary discourse, and then giving them idiosyncratic definitions that have nothing whatsoever to do with their use in ordinary discourse. What is the point of asserting that, for the purpose of the present discussion, “God,” “glory,” and “bullshit” shall be considered synonyms?

    ok how about yhwh: I will be what I will be? It is more precise, matches up with my previous working definition, and is biblical.

    As long as we are free to define terms any old way we like, and, if we define “atheist” as “Jew,” then I think it quite likely Jesus was an “atheist.” But what would be the point of defining “atheist” that way?

    We are free to do that, but why don’t we just keep jew and atheist as separate and distict terms with their usage in ordinary discourse.

    Maybe Jesus was a jewish atheist. Maybe I’m a christian atheist.

  • 84. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Bottom line, if you don’t like my definitions, propose others. If you prefer not to think about such things, walk away. We all walked away from the “God is a supernatural being who yada, yada, yada,…..” definition and rightly so.

    We did? What’s wrong with the “yada, yada, yada” definition? Are you trying to say that you don’t like it because the thing defined doesn’t exist? Is there some peculiar rule by which every term must stand for something that actually exists? What, then, shall we do with “unicorn”?

    But I’m still looking for the truth which may well be that there is no point discussing it. If so, why not shut down the website and go home?

    You’ve lost me again. No point in discussing what?

    Ok, why don’t we discuss secular ethics/morality?

    Yes, that does seem to be vagule related to the topic of the thread….

  • 85. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    But I am actually a christian panentheist. And I suspect Jesus was a jewish panentheist.

  • 86. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    But I am actually a christian panentheist.

    The concept is oversouled.

  • 87. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    We did?

    OK, I did. You apparently are still clinging to it.

    What’s wrong with the “yada, yada, yada” definition?

    Nothing if you like to discuss sophomoric issues.

    Are you trying to say that you don’t like it because the thing defined doesn’t exist?

    No, I’m actually kind of ambivalent toward it.

    Is there some peculiar rule by which every term must stand for something that actually exists?

    No there is no rule about that, as long as we don’t define things into existence, as discussed in a previous life, in a galaxy far, far, away.

    What, then, shall we do with “unicorn”?

    Let’s make up T-shirts with images of unicorns on them.

    There is no need for a supernatural being to exist for an absolute moral law to exist. It’s called natural law. Jesus expressed it well – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Don’t aggress. Live and let live. It’s really pretty simple.

  • 88. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    But I am actually a christian panentheist.

    The concept is oversouled.

    I don’t know what oversouled means.

  • 89. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Ok, why don’t we discuss secular ethics/morality?

    Yes, that does seem to be vagule related to the topic of the thread….

    Why don’t we move on?

    Absolute moral law – Don’t do evil.

  • 90. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I don’t know what oversouled means.

    It’s a pun, derived from the intellectual history of panentheism. Ralph Waldo Emerson….

  • 91. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Sorry, I missed a question:

    But I’m still looking for the truth which may well be that there is no point discussing it. If so, why not shut down the website and go home?

    You’ve lost me again. No point in discussing what?

    I’m still looking for the truth.

    The truth may be: “There is no point discussing any of the things that are discussed on this website.”

    What? “The things that are discussed on this website”

    If so, it (the website) might as well be shut down.

  • 92. Roy  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    It’s a pun, derived from the intellectual history of panentheism. Ralph Waldo Emerson….

    Ah, thanks, I’ll look into that. Maybe you’ve helped me make a correction on my never ending journey.

  • 93. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Absolute moral law – Don’t do evil.

    Meaningless, of course, without some definition of “evil.” You also suggested Jesus’ “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s better in some ways, not so good in others, as it suggests an open-ended commitment to “others” whose boundaries are difficult to define, or at least to accept. It’s pretty easy to go with “Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you,” which is far more explicit than “Don’t do evil.”

    The real puzzle is not with our moral obligation not to “do evil,” but with the extent of our moral obligation to “do good.”

  • 94. Gary  |  August 15, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    The truth may be: “There is no point discussing any of the things that are discussed on this website.”

    What? “The things that are discussed on this website”

    If so, it (the website) might as well be shut down

    It ain’t your call, ’cause it ain’t your web site. It ain’t mine either, but I’m guessing that the folks who own it would have no objection if you went away because you’re not interested in what’s discussed here.

  • 95. Joshua  |  August 15, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Roy, I have to admit you are losing me completely.

    You asked to define the spiritual naturally.

    My point in asking “why would we do that” was simply to get you to thinking that it is impossible, by definition.

    Natural: existing in or in conformity with nature or the observable world
    Spiritual: lacking material body or form or substance

    Besides, I’ve tried extensively to do this already: by figuring out what demons / angels are, where they come from etc. after several months of intense thought and searching and reading Biblical texts and extra-Biblical texts I realized it was all quite silly. Why? Because these creatures – these apparitions – were completely invented out of thin air.

    So trying to “define the spiritual realm” – in any way – seemed like trying to catch the wind. This is not something I am interested in any longer.

  • 96. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 1:42 am

    I just wanted to bump this thread with this link. Here’s to hoping html still works in the comments.

    If Constructal theory is true, here is my prediction about morality: human moral systems always seek the least resistant path and therefore will continually evolve to reduce more harm.

    And, I think if we look at moral systems – internal to individual societal structures – throughout history, we find this is the case.

    Anyway, I just had a nerdasm and thought I’d share.

  • 97. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 11:52 am

    When a person makes a prophecy that something will happen on a certain date, and it does not happen, historically what do the followers normally do and why?

    I don’t claim to have the answer, I think I have a pretty good one, but I want you to take a stab at this yourself. (Joshua #35)

    Joshua—

    Normally, if someone makes a prophecy and it doesn’t come true they will attempt to alter the “true meaning” of the prophecy, or extend it somehow—-example: William Miller said Christ would return in 1843—when it didn’t happen he moved it out to 1844. :>)

    Usually though “fringe groups” make these types of prophecies. If I can ask though—did you have somewhere else you wanted to go with this? Please elaborate.

  • 98. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Joe,

    Exactly, that is the answer I would give too.

    Now, the next question: if a prophet was smart and wanted to save himself from being wrong, what are some things he could do to his prophecy to never be wrong?

    I’m basically asking you to play a small gave of religious chess to see how it works :)

  • 99. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    He could do the same things psychics do—be very general or vague about your prophecy. Such as “There will be a big earthquake in the Western United States in 2009″–there are ALWAYS earthquakes, so he pretty much cannot fail to predict it. :>) With the ability to do this though, it is amazing how many “prophets” will still set exact dates—–andt then have to jump through hoops when they don’t come true! lol

  • 100. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Exactly, Joe.

  • 101. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Mark 13:30 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

  • 102. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Joshua—

    I think I see what you are saying. That verse could refer to the generation then alive, or it could refer to the generation alive when “all these things come to pass”—perhaps in the far future. It is vague and hard to tell what is really being said. I think I’ll leave that one to the Greek scholars who know the Greek verb tenses, etc. :>)

  • 103. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Joe, next question:

    When a layman starts to notice a problem with a vague / ambiguous prophecy, what do they normally do so they do not have to admit it is a failed prophecy?

  • 104. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Joshua—

    The only “failed” prophecies I’ve seen are one’s given by people who think they are prophets, and predict the end of the world, etc. —they do as I have mentioned in the posts above—-they move out the dates, try to explain away what “they really meant” etc.—if this is the type of failed prophecy you are referring to then that has been addressed I believe.

  • 105. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    A smart prophet is one who realizes that he should create a prophecy that can never fail.

    A smart clergyman is one who realizes that he should just provide an intelligent reinterpretation of a failed prophecy so he does not scare his parishioners.

    A gullible layman is one who keeps appealing to smart clergyman and smart prophets every time he discovers a problem with his faith.

  • 106. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    A rich prophet is one who can package those three things and make a big profit.

  • 107. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    A self-deceived prophet is one who believes his own message.

  • 108. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    The self-deceived / mistaken prophet may be the poorest thing alive.

  • 109. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    How do we know that the New Testament writers were not smart, mistaken clergyman, reinterpreting Old Testament prophecies so that they would not fail?

    How do we know that the New Testament writers were not smart prophets, intentionally creating vague prophecies so that they could not fail?

    How do we know that Joe is not a gullible clergyman, because he appeals to smart clergymen when a potentially failed prophecy is thrown his way?

  • 110. Roy  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Gary said,

    Meaningless, of course, without some definition of “evil.” You also suggested Jesus’ “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s better in some ways, not so good in others, as it suggests an open-ended commitment to “others” whose boundaries are difficult to define, or at least to accept. It’s pretty easy to go with “Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you,” which is far more explicit than “Don’t do evil.”

    The real puzzle is not with our moral obligation not to “do evil,” but with the extent of our moral obligation to “do good.”

    Proposed definition for evil: Any violation of the free will of another.

    Proposed definiton for good: Not evil.

    It [shutting down the website] ain’t your call, ’cause it ain’t your web site. It ain’t mine either, but I’m guessing that the folks who own it would have no objection if you went away because you’re not interested in what’s discussed here.

    I know it’s not my call and not my website. I know they would not object to my leaving, and I would hope not. I am very interested in what is discussed here. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. I’m very sympathetic of those who feel wronged by indoctrination in childhood. I come down on the side of most people here in that regard because it happened to me.

    Joshua said:

    You asked to define the spiritual naturally.

    My point in asking “why would we do that” was simply to get you to thinking that it is impossible, by definition.

    Natural: existing in or in conformity with nature or the observable world
    Spiritual: lacking material body or form or substance

    Besides, I’ve tried extensively to do this already: by figuring out what demons / angels are, where they come from etc. after several months of intense thought and searching and reading Biblical texts and extra-Biblical texts I realized it was all quite silly. Why? Because these creatures – these apparitions – were completely invented out of thin air.

    So trying to “define the spiritual realm” – in any way – seemed like trying to catch the wind. This is not something I am interested in any longer.

    Proposed definition for the spiritual realm: Matters of consciousness.

    It’s immaterial, but is a manifestion of the material, namely the brain.

    I agree that angels/demons etc. are invented metaphors to assist primative people in discussions of spiritual matters. Indeed, they are invented in the minds of humans. You said you are interested in being led to a real and true Christianity, but I’m not sure you really are.

    Okay now, back to the topic at hand. What is morality? Would anybody be interested in reading the attempted rational proof of secular ethis I linked to and then discussing it? If not, I AM going away because all these tangents are becoming uninteresting.

  • 111. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Proposed definition for evil: Any violation of the free will of another.

    Proposed definiton for good: Not evil.

    This won’t work. If evil is violation of free will, then we cannot do anything evil before a deity, because how on earth could we violate its free will?

    How about:

    Harm: that which causes a creature discomfort.
    Benefit: that which increases perceived protection from harm or reduces present harm (discomfort).

    Good: that which has a perceived benefit.
    Evil: that which could cause or is causing perceivable intentional harm.

  • 112. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Gosh, Roy. I write an article on my secular backing for my morality and you are not dealing with the points I raised and instead are threatening to leave if people do not read the link in your comment?

    Hmmmm…

    I’ll read it later, but I already addressed a definition of good and evil in my article and all the sudden you pull free will out of the air.

    Here’s my proposal: free will is an illusion, the by-product of our ability to imagine alternatives and our inability to see all causes.

    If we could see all causes, nothing would appear to be free.

  • 113. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    How do we know that Joe is not a gullible clergyman, because he appeals to smart clergymen when a potentially failed prophecy is thrown his way? (#109 Joshua)

    Actually Joshua I said I would leave it to the Greek Scholars who know the tenses of verbs in the Greek language better. Just as I would leave a difficult phrase in Spanish to the judgment of a professor of Spanish.

    I am quite gullible though—–all I have to do is see a Burger King commercial and I’m in drive-thru for a Whopper pronto. :>)

  • 114. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Next question: What if all the Greek scholars are supporters of Catholicism?

  • 115. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Next question: What if all the Greek scholars are supporters of Catholicism? (#114)

    They aren’t. If they were I’m not sure what to answer. I guess that’s a hypothetical.

  • 116. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    What if smart, Protestant clergymen are the most likely group to become Greek scholars? And then what if gullible Protestant laymen appeal to Greek scholarship to back up vague or ambiguous reinterpreted prophecies from smart, 1st century prophets?

  • 117. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    I guess I would say there are lot of “what ifs” aren’t there? Fortunately the majority of Greek scholars are foremost linguists and true to interpretation. The majority are honest people, just as we expect scientists and archaeologists to be honest, not manipulating finds to “fit” their “own” theory—but meticulously investigating fossis, etc., and presenting these facts to a commitee of other scientists to either accept or reject.

    Your hypothetical is interesting, but would also call into question the character of men who have devoted their lives to linguistic accuracy of interpretation.

  • 118. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    fossis should be fossils oops

  • 119. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Your hypothetical is interesting, but would also call into question the character of men who have devoted their lives to linguistic accuracy of interpretation..

    A mistake is not a lie, so their character is not necessarily in question: just their presuppositions that lead to the conclusions.

  • 120. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I guess what I am saying is that the scholars use no “presuppositions”. An honest man totally familiar with the Greek language will translate it as accurately as possible. They will follow a “scientific method” when translating the language.

    It’s possible mistakes could be made—not saying there couldn’t be. But they would be based on inaccurate translation of a word here and there—-not on any presupposition the scholar had. If I am misunderstanding your thought I apologize–just trying to answer to the best of my own ability(which I admit is limited).

  • 121. Joshua  |  August 17, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I guess what I am saying is that the scholars use no “presuppositions”.

    Joe, I say this in the nicest possible way: you need to study, man!

    I’d recommend starting here

    Play around, goof around. Read internet articles. Research psychology, neurology, and then read up on what causes conspiracy theories and what schizophrenia is. Research what causes happiness, sadness, despair. Learn the chemicals in the brain that communicate these messages. Then study miraculous reports from around the world. Then study UFOlogy and why those people believe what they do. Study the scientific method and why it is necessary. Learn the logical fallacies backwards and forwards until you can spot them from a mile away.

    I think that if you understood the psychological / cognitive concepts that many de-converts are familiar with, it would greatly help your discussion with them.

    Cheers.

  • 122. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Joshua—

    By the way, i think I understand where you were going wtih this—and I appreciate your thought process. I appreciate the back and forth on this and the reasoning you are using. It really does make good sense from one perspective. Thankfully though every spectrum flows in two directions.

  • 123. Joe  |  August 17, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    I think that if you understood the psychological / cognitive concepts that many de-converts are familiar with, it would greatly help your discussion with them. (#121)

    Thanks Joshua. I’m open to learn far more than I have. I know I still have a long way to go. But again, thanks for the discussion, and the courtesy shown.

  • 124. Gary  |  August 17, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    “Proposed definition for evil: Any violation of the free will of another.

    Proposed definiton for good: Not evil.”

    This won’t work. If evil is violation of free will, then we cannot do anything evil before a deity, because how on earth could we violate its free will?

    There’s a more fundamental reason why it won’t work. Consider Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. According to the proposed definition, the priest and Levite of the parable were “good” when they left the robbery victim lying by the side of the road, for they violated no one’s free will in so doing.

    “Good” does not mean “callous” according to any dictionary of which I am aware.

  • 125. Roy  |  August 17, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Gosh, Roy. I write an article on my secular backing for my morality and you are not dealing with the points I raised and instead are threatening to leave if people do not read the link in your comment?

    I just re-read the article and a comment will be forthcoming to deal with the points you raised. Also, I just re-read my comment about leaving. I did not express myself very well.

    No, I did not mean to say that I would leave because you would not read the link. I only gave it because it is relevant to the topic of the article and I thought you might be interested in reading it. I didn’t write it, but I have read it and thought it made a lot of sense. Obviously reading it is your choice, and if you choose not to, I won’t leave for that reason.

    What I meant to say was that I am interested in discussing the topic of morality without getting off on tangents which were starting to become tiresome for me since we are mostly on the same page. Most Christians would either consider me a heretic or an atheist. I would probably come down on your side of most disagreements with most Christians. That doesn’t mean I’m an atheist and it doesn’t mean I am not a Christian. Many of our arguements were over semantics and they were getting tedious for me.

    I’ll read it later, but I already addressed a definition of good and evil in my article and all the sudden you pull free will out of the air.

    Again, that is your choice. It might lead to additional fruitful discussion. I mostly agree with your definitions of good and evil and will comment on a point by point basis later. I do believe free will is a component.

    Here’s my proposal: free will is an illusion, the by-product of our ability to imagine alternatives and our inability to see all causes.

    If we could see all causes, nothing would appear to be free.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with your proposal that free will is an illusion. If you wish to expand on the rest of your proposal, I’m open to being convinced otherwise. In what way would seeing all causes limit us in our ability to be free to act as we choose? I don’t follow that.

  • 126. Roy  |  August 17, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    This won’t work. If evil is violation of free will, then we cannot do anything evil before a deity, because how on earth could we violate its free will?

    Let’s forget about personal deities since they only exist in the minds of the theist.

    How about:

    Harm: that which causes a creature discomfort.
    Benefit: that which increases perceived protection from harm or reduces present harm (discomfort).

    Good: that which has a perceived benefit.
    Evil: that which could cause or is causing perceivable intentional harm.

    Intentionally causing a human being discomfort isn’t necessarily evil. Example: If you steal from me, or intentionally injure me or my wife or children, I will make your life uncomfortable until you make restitution for the damage you caused.

    I would propose that we define evil first and then define good as that which is not evil. Doing nothing should always be good by default.

    What I meant by using free will in my proposed definition, was that if you are abiding by the rule “Live and let live”, you are being good. If you are not “letting live”, you are doing something evil. If you are violently interfering with another’s right to be left alone to live their life, you are doing evil.

    Now, I’ll re-read your article and comment on it.

  • 127. Roy  |  August 17, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    There’s a more fundamental reason why it won’t work. Consider Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. According to the proposed definition, the priest and Levite of the parable were “good” when they left the robbery victim lying by the side of the road, for they violated no one’s free will in so doing.

    “Good” does not mean “callous” according to any dictionary of which I am aware.

    To not act is not evil. Let’s say you hear about people being wronged in some way, as the guy left in the ditch in the parable. Let’s also say that it is within your power to help these people. Do you really think it is evil not to do so? I’m sure there are enough people being wronged in the world that you could spend every spare minute you have doing something about it. Would it be evil for you not to do so?

  • 128. Roy  |  August 17, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Ok, I just went to my Bible and re-read the parable of the good Samaritan. Notice what Jesus did not say. Did he say that the Samaritan was good? Yes. Did you say that the priest and the Levite where evil? No. Does the fact that they did not do good in this particular case mean they were doing evil? Of course not. The could have had a perfectly good reason not to help. They might be headed to help some other person more important to themselves on down the road. They might not have the means to help. They might know nothing about first aid. They might be the type of person who faints upon the sight of blood. Or they might not have any reason other than a lack of compassion for their fellow man. That would not be particularly noble, but it wouldn’t be evil. You would be justified in not thinking much of them, but it would not be justification for saying they are evil. An evil act requires a victim that you are responsible to restore. The guys who beat him to within an inch of his life were certainly evil and could rightly be forced to make restitution to the victim, but an uninvolved person who came along the road by chance, would not be evil for not helping. They may not be good but at worst they are morally neutral. There are plenty of things we can do that are morally neutral.

  • 129. Roy  |  August 17, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Correction:

    Did HE (JESUS) say that the priest and the Levite were evil? No.

  • 130. Gary  |  August 17, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    To not act is not evil. Let’s say you hear about people being wronged in some way, as the guy left in the ditch in the parable. Let’s also say that it is within your power to help these people. Do you really think it is evil not to do so?

    Your proposed definition of “good” is “not evil.” Since “to not act is not evil,” by simple substitution we get “to not act is good.” Therefore, in the case of Parable of the Good Samaritan, the choice of the priest and Levite not to act to help the robbery victim was “good.” Am I right so far?

    You have also proposed, as a definition of “evil,” that it would be “any violation of the free will of another.” And you have said, “If you steal from me, or intentionally injure me or my wife or children, I will make your life uncomfortable until you make restitution for the damage you caused.” Now, making my life uncomfortable in that way would clearly be a violation of my free will, so such an action on your part would be “evil.” Am I right again?

    I’m sure there are enough people being wronged in the world that you could spend every spare minute you have doing something about it. Would it be evil for you not to do so?

    It would not be evil for me not to do so. I understand, by your proposed definitions, that whether I actually did so, or did not do so, might be equally “good.

    I wrote upthread, “The real puzzle is not with our moral obligation not to ‘do evil,’ but with the extent of our moral obligation to ‘do good.'” The problem I was getting at is precisely the one to which you alluded. In the case of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, think I would clearly have have a moral obligation to help the robbery victim if I were a passerby and happened upon him. But do I have a moral obligation to spend every spare minute I have seeking out people in need of help, wherever they might be and giving them such help as I can? That is less clear to me. If I do have such an obligation, why am I wasting my time writing this message instead of helping those in need?

  • 131. Gary  |  August 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Did you say that the priest and the Levite where evil? No. Does the fact that they did not do good in this particular case mean they were doing evil? Of course not.

    Given your proposed definitions, if their refusal to act was “not evil,” then it must have been “good” (because “good” is “not evil”). You cannot say that it was a fact they “did not do good in this particular case” without tossing overboard one or both of your definitions.

  • 132. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Hey Roy, I’m getting tired and I think we can both agree that the discussion is a little tiresome itself.

    Here is a link to a paper I wrote on chance, risk, and free will.

    Now we both have a link to an external paper :)

    Feel free to disagree, but try not to knock the conclusion because you don’t like it, especially when I spent so much time on the arguments and – quite honestly – I don’t give a rat’s rear posterior whether free will actually exists or not. Although if it does, I would have to rethink through quite a bit of my view of the world – which would take a lot of work.

    Eh, whatever. I’ve done that before. Nothing new here.

    Cheers.

  • 133. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 1:16 am

    Hmm, its not the best paper, but I think it shows my views. Chance is an illusion caused by our own uncertainty. Free will is an illusion caused by our ability to imagine ourselves “having done things differently”. We like to think “I could have chosen!” but, well, we could not. Because the only way we would have chosen differently is if we had the knowledge we did after choosing. And that is always impossible :)

  • 134. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 3:53 am

    So then, to start I would like to try and find some common ground between us. We both agree that some things are wrong and some things are right. Some things are always wrong and some things are sometimes wrong. For example, it is always wrong to murder, but not always wrong to kill. Why? Because murder is more than just killing. Murder is killing with an intention to harm.

    There is also killing due to negligence. This would not necessarily be evil, but the responsibility for restitution would still exist.

    There is killing in self defense, which if the choice is kill or be killed, would actually be good.

    The Christian argues that without an absolute source of morality, morality becomes relative and therefore makes each person autonomous and without a restriction on human behavior that lies above all mankind, societies will fall into moral chaos. Christian’s then appeal to communism, the falling of Rome, atheist nations that have collapsed, etc. as examples of this.

    There is an absolute source of morality, but that source is not a supernatural deity who is good by definition, so I part ways with most Christians on this point. People are always autonomous in the sense that they are free to do evil, but they are not free of responsibility for the consequences of the act. There is a natural law for human behavior. It is different from natural laws of physics in that we are free to break them, but there are consequences if we do. The fall of communism, Rome, or so-called atheist nations had nothing to do with atheism. They had to do with institutionalized evil in the form of government.

    The atheist argues that despite the claim to an absolute moral law giver, Christians still cannot agree with each other quite often on what is right or what is wrong. Each person who claims to be a Christian firmly holds that their particular understanding of God’s absolute perspective on a moral issue is accurate. Furthermore, those who claim to be Christian look at others who claim to be Christian and argue that since their perspective differs, they must not be a “true Christian”. This produces a sense of moral chaos as well. The atheist then appeals to church splits, the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, etc. as examples of this.

    Atheists and Christians both often disagree among themselve as to what is moral. They often fail to understand that morality is objective and as such is true for all people, at all places and at all times. Because of this lack of understanding they sometimes lack moral clarity which sometimes causes them to be willing to give evil a free pass. An example of this is embodied in the statement “Government is a necessary evil”. This is an admission that government is evil, which it most definitely is, but to suggest that evil is ever necessary indicates a lack of moral clarity. Church splits are not immoral. People are free to believe whatever they want to and to associate only with people who share their beliefs. Certainly, violently imposing your beliefs on another is immoral.

    Both sides think the other sides perspective on morality will cause harm. Both sides want to avoid harm.

    To the extent that either or both sides lack moral clarity, they are at risk of causing harm.

    Consider the atheist dilemma: how are we supposed to determine which Christian interpretation of morality is the accurate one? Indeed, there is a common thread among Christian morality and I will get to this in a bit. However, there are differences and we do not know how to deal with these if the Christian perspective has some truth to it. It is easy to uphold your own personal Christian interpretation and argue that we know “deep down” what morality is, but is that not begging the question and somewhat arrogant on your part to argue that you know us better than we know ourselves? To us, this attitude itself seems immoral and we feel justified in ignoring anything you say after this point.

    There is no dilemma. The Christian interpretation of morality that is most accurate is the one that most closely agrees with the absolute objective standard of morality. There does seem to be an intuitive sense of morality shared by most humans (e.g. murder/rape/stealing wrong), but moral clarity requires no small degree of rigorous thought to tackle the many seemingly gray areas. The only attitudes that can be immoral are the ones acted upon. Both sides of any “war of words” are always free to ignore the other side.

    Now, the argument that could be made at this point is that I am beginning my search for morality with an assumption that God does not exist and will therefore inevitably reach the wrong conclusions. Because I am “blinding” myself to the Truth, my search is hopeless.

    Such an argument could be made but it would be doomed to failure. The only good starting point for a search for morality would be an axiom, or a self-evident truth. A supernatural fully moral being is nowhere near self-evident. A better starting point might be “all human beings own themselves”. Once convinced that that statement is indeed self-evident, then we can work toward an understanding of morality and where it comes from. If we start with an axiomatic truth and apply rational logic at all steps thereafter, avoiding contradiction at ever step, we will necessarily arrive at the truth.

    Now it is obvious that I will disagree with this, and please bear with me as I explain why. As a Christian, surely you know that even those who do believe in God oftentimes have strongly differing opinions on whether certain actions are moral or not. So to me, it seems silly for a Christian to dismiss my entire search for morality on the basis that I do not start with a belief in God because even those who do believe in God apparently lack unity in their perspective on morality – except that they all agree morality comes from the same God! But if morality comes from their same God, why do they disagree on moral issues? So then, if I were to start with a belief in God, which moral framework would you expect me to come to? Your own or that of another Christian you disagree with? How would I know which Christian moral view is accurate? You cannot set me on a search for absolute morality based on a belief in God when even the morality among Christians seems relative to their own interpretation of what God is saying.

    Christians would do well to undertake the same search that you are. The result certainly will not be a reduction in moral clarity. All differences of opinions concerning moral issues originate in confusion caused by a lack of moral clarity. The more we think rigorously about it without appeal to gods, the more clear will our thinking be on the matter.

    So my first conclusion is that it looks like morality is quite relative among those who can only seem to agree on this one point: that morality is absolute. In other words, the consistency among believers is that they believe morality has an absolute basis. But their moral interpretations are inconsistent. This seems quite a strong contradiction and makes me highly skeptical of the claim that morality is absolute.

    The fact that morality is absolute is in no way invalidated by a failure to understand what that absolute is by those who correctly believe it is absolute. There may well be nobody on the planet who fully knows what it is and is capable of putting it into practice, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    And this brings us around again to the genuine Christian fear that without absolute morality, society will descend into chaos! At this point, Christians and atheist are basically arguing on the exact same basis (what will reduce harm) but are rapidly spinning in circles around each other by accusing the other of causing harm by their beliefs!

    Absolute standard of morality does exist, but that has never prevented society from falling into chaos. Case in point: war. Only an understanding of what that standard is and consistently putting it into practice universally will lessen the likelyhood of society falling into chaos. Beliefs cannot cause harm unless they are acted upon. Beliefs violently imposed on others cause harm.

    Personally, I think the fear that without moral absolutes society will descend into chaos is both true in one sense and false in another. I believe the premise is close to the truth, but misses one important item. I hold that morality is absolute but it’s absoluteness is found in the laws of nature, not in a moral law giver. Just as we do not daily fear the universe will descend into chaos without an Absolute Source of Gravity, so it is my perspective that if we can define morality in a similar way, we have not only declared a foundational moral absolute, we have solved the riddle of what morality is and now can explain what is moral and what is not in a way that will benefit society and help us solve the most complex moral issues. Just as discovering what sickness is allowed us the ability to fight it, so discovering what morality is will help us to fight the dangerous result of immorality: anarchy.

    Fear is an emotion. It is neither true or false. An objective standard of morality exists, but as I pointed out previously that existence in and of itself cannot prevent a desent into chaos. Yes, I absolutely agree that absolute morality is grounded in natural law, not in a law-giver. Natural law is by definiton not legislated and requires no legislator. While the law of gravity is also a natural law, it differs from the natural laws governing morality in that we cannot choose to disobey it. But yes I would agree that we cannot solve complex moral issues without a basic understanding of what the objective standard of morality is and a consistent application of it. I prefer sticking with the word “chaos” or “disorder” to avoid confusion because the word “anarchy” actually has two meanings. One is synonymous with chaos and disorder, but the other is an absence of government with no implication of chaos or disorder. As this discussion progresses, it will become apparent why I hold that preference.

    So keep in mind, I am actually trying to help you, not harm you. If we can find a common ground, it will help us live peacefully together as best as is possible despite our differences of beliefs at that time. But we do have a common ground: we are both trying to avoid harm! But, by trying to impose our perspectives on what is moral on others, we are actually contributing to the problem!

    We are actually quite justified in imposing our perspective on morality on others to the extent that our perspective actually agrees with the objective standard. To the extent that we try to impose a perspective on others that is not in accord with the objective standard, that is actually immoral and will contribute to the problem. Agreed.

    When I look at the morals of men, I see that what one man considers moral another man considers immoral. As a result, both see the other person as evil or deceived to some extent. This produces wars, fighting, bickering, jihads, crusades, suspicions, threats, attempts to convert, etc. All of which cause pain, which is why some people consider it wrong to attempt to convert!

    I agree. I have no problem with people persuading other people to adopt their beliefs, but not to coerce them into it. And I would consider it immoral to impose beliefs on a child who is not fully capable of reason, through threats of violence, real or not, in this life or an alleged afterlife.

    Now at first, it appears that the solution is to get everyone to recognize a common morality. And quite honestly, I believe this is true. If everyone had the same moral code and followed it, mankind would be at peace with each other. But since men are not at peace with each other, either men have different moral codes or men are not following the one moral code they have.

    Yes I agree that everyone needs to know that there is an objective moral standard, understand what it is, and apply it consistently to their lives. I think the problem is that men do not universally know, understand, and apply it, so yes I agree.

    The Christian perspective is that men are not following the one moral code that they have on the assumption that there is one absolute moral code. The atheist perspective is that men have different moral codes on the assumption that morals are based on what a person believes to be wrong, not on any absolute moral code. The Christian perspective is trying to solve the issue by getting men to recognize the one moral code and to follow it. The atheist perspective is trying to solve the issue by getting men to recognize that there is no single moral code and to stop men from trying to impose their morals on others.

    As for the Christian perspective, their assumption that there is an objective moral code is correct even if they don’t understand why it is so. To think that all men “have” it, and are willfully chosing not to follow it does not follow. Men need to know that it exists and know what it is, then they can choose whether or not to apply it. To the extent that the Christian knows what objective morality is before they try to get others to follow it, they are doing well. To the extent that they don’t know what it is, and try to get others to follow their mistaken version of it, they are doing harm.

    As for the atheist perspective, a persons beliefs as to what is wrong do not determine what is objectively wrong.

    Perhaps atheists should try to convince their fellow man that there is an objective moral standard, and try to stop their fellow man when they attempt to impose their incorrect moral standard on others.

    But why do men need morals in the first place? Like we have already covered, I think that every person can agree: we need morals to avoid harm. Without morality, men suffer. So then, in some sense, morality finds its basis in keeping people from harm. Theists will normally argue that morals are given by God for our good. Even Moses declared this in Deuteronomy 10:13: “and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” Moral laws are given for our good. This, I believe, all men can agree with – even atheists.

    When theists argue that morals are given by God for our good it may just be another way of saying that an objective morality exists because of our nature as humans in order to preserve life (avoid harm). God needn’t be a supernatural deity for this to be true. Moses may not have had a perfect understanding of the objective standard of morality. In fact, he engaged in some activities which would suggest that his understanding was quite skewed.

    But how do we determine what is good? Some men believe that it is good to worship a particular God. Other men believe it is good to worship no god. Some men believe it is good to lie when it defends a human life. Other men believe it is wrong to lie no matter what. Some men believe that eating animals is not good because it causes harm. Other men believe that it does not cause harm and is therefore morally irrelevant.

    It is good to believe or not believe whatever one wants, and to worship whatever one wants to worship or to not worship anything provided one doesn’t harm another. If a particular lie preserves innocent life, it is good. With regard to eating animals, I don’t have a problem with it. Since animals can be owned, and an owner by definition has a right to dispose of his property as he sees fit, if he wants to eat it, that is not evil. I suppose we could get into a debate as to whether it is moral to own animals and I’m sure some PETA types probably have. I really haven’t considered “animal rights” in any great detail. I’m not sure that they do have rights in the sense that humans do. Our rights as humans proceed from our nature as beings capable of rational thought and volition. The question as to whether it is moral for humans to own other humans seems well settled. As self-evident as human self-ownership is, it is amazing that slavery was ever tolerated.

    From my perspective, this reveals that morality is both absolute in principle and relative in practice. It is absolute in that all moral laws are given on the basis that, if followed, they will help men to avoid harm. However, men have different perspectives on what causes harm: men can agree with each other that avoiding harm is good, but they cannot agree on what will cause harm. So morality is relative to what a person perceives will be harmful and absolute in that it attempts to avoid harm.

    Agreed. There is an objective standard of morality, but men are imperfect in understanding what it is. But most of us who care seem to get progressively better at it. I think it is true that harm is in the perspective of the harmed, but I also think that the harmed must be able to objectively prove that he was harmed.

    Therefore, based on this, here is my definition of morality: morality is the set of rules that are naturally held to by men who perceive a potential intentional threat to harm. A man’s moral framework is dependent upon perceived intentional harm.

    I agree, but would differentiate between objective morality and a particular individuals perception of what that objective morality is. To the extent that an individuals perception differs from the objective, he will be at risk of causing harm to that extent.

    There is also the issue of personal morality. Certain actions can be harmful to self but cannot be placed in the same category of intentionally harming others. An example would be using drugs, or engaging in risky sexual behavior, or any kind of risky behavior like gambling. These are the types of activities spoken of in the saying “you can’t legislate morality”.
    Statutes against using drugs (including ethanol or tobacco), trading sex for money, or any consentual activity are actually immoral themselves. Further, I would argue that any statute forcibly requiring certain actions, or prohibiting any consentual activity is immoral. This might surprise you. What this means is that I believe that statutory law is either superflous to natural law and hence unnecessary or is immoral and actually harmful. So yes I believe that statutory law is evil and unnecessary. The only types of law I believe in are natural law and contractual law. In other words, I believe that all human interaction should be voluntary, and that to the extent that it is not, it is aggression. Aggression in any form must not be tolerated. This makes me an anarchist, or more specifically and anarcho-capitalist. There are a whole host of implications that can be derived from this, but I won’t get into them here unless you are interested. Objective morality is the basis of my philosophy of politics. Objective morality flows from the self-ownership axiom. Don’t aggress and abide by your contracts. That pretty much sums it up.

    This is why atheists consider hurricanes to be examples that God is evil. The atheist sees the hurricane as a threat and believes that if God exists He had the intention of bringing that hurricane. This is a perceived intentional threat to harm. Therefore the atheist sees this as evil.

    “Acts of God” as contracts refer to them cannot be evil. They are natural disasters. Only humans can do evil. I don’t believe all atheist see natural disasters as evil. Any who do are wrong. Why would an atheist think that unless they are still clinging to an unrealistic notion of a god?

    The theist, however, holding to a belief that God is good and interprets the hurricane differently. The theist says that despite the perceived intentional threat, there must be a beneficial reason for the hurricane. The theist then looks intentionally for any possible way to interpret the hurricane that would be beneficial. The easiest interpretation is that God was enacting some form of justice by bringing the hurricane. At this point, the theist has undermined the atheist interpretation that the hurricane was harmful. By saying the hurricane was an act of justice, the theist can then argue that that the hurricane was for our good, thus justifying God’s intentions. [The atheist, naturally, sees this as post hoc interpretation and anthropomorphizing the source of natural events and as, therefore, a form of animism.]

    I agree with you that this is a ridiculous worldview, of course natural disasters cause harm. But they are not intentional and hence are not evil. Nature has no intention to cause harm. If one wants to avoid hurricanes, they should not live in a hurricane zone. If one wants to avoid floods, they should not live in a flood zone. If people want to live their, they should bear the risk or buy insurance.

    For example, the Christian naturally believes that hell is a harm that should be avoided. The atheist, however, believes that hell does not exist and therefore the harm is actually found in teaching about hell. So the two clash on which will cause the most harm: a belief in hell or a lack of belief in hell. If the Christian is right, the atheist teaching that hell does not exist will cause inconceivable amounts of harm by causing people to go there. If the atheist is right, the Christian teaching about a hell that does not exist will cause inconceivable amounts of manipulative psychological and emotional damage by teaching people about a non-existent threat that influences their only life.

    If a Christian believes that hell exists and they personally wish to avoid it then that is their business. If they want to try to use persuasion to convince their fellow man that hell exists, that they too should want to avoid it, and that the Christian can tell them how to, that is fine also. But to terrorize people, especially children into adopting their beliefs and doing their will is not okay. It’s immoral. I suppose it could be argued that even trying to persuade somebody that such a thing exist could be a form of terrorism, but most rational people who weren’t indocrinated into such beliefs as children aren’t going to be buying it. Teaching that hell doesn’t exist doesn’t cause people to go there any more than not teaching them anything at all would. Psychological and emotional damage is very real. Eternal torture is not.

    So then, we cannot determine which moral perspective is correct unless we can determine which truth claim is correct. A person’s natural perspective on what is considered moral is therefore dependent upon what a person believes. What a person believes is dependent upon what a person considers true or not. What a person considers true or not is dependent upon what a person considers valid evidence of truth. What a person considers valid evidence of truth is dependent upon what sources of information a person trusts.

    A person should not blindly trust any source of information. For example, there is all kinds of nonsense available on the internet. It is up to us to personally to separate truth from falsehood. The scientific method is a great way and the only way to determine truth. Using it, we can determine which truth claims are correct. And hence we can discover what the objective moral standard is.

    Christians trust the Bible. Atheists do not. Do you see why the moral systems are so radically different?

    Not all Christians do blindly trust the bible and none should. Atheists needn’t throw the baby out with the bible bath water any more than they should ignore the internet because of the falsehood there. Yes, obviously they will be different because the one based on the scientific method will tend toward truth, while the one based on faith will tend toward error.

    Morality is dependent upon what is perceived to be truth because the truth informs us as to what is harmful. People, then, develop their sense of morality based on what they trust.

    An example. In the middle ages, leeches were considered beneficial to a sick person because people who were trusted – doctors – concluded leeches were beneficial. Today, we know that blood-letting can actually be harmful because people we trust – also doctors – say they can cause blood poisoning! So in the middle ages, refusal to place a leech on a person might have actually been considered evil because it was depriving them of benefit. Today, placing a leech on a patient might actually be considered evil because it could be perceived as harmful. The only thing that has changed is our knowledge about the effect of placing a leech on a person. Our understanding of the truth has changed and that which is considered moral has changed with it.

    Great analogy. Trusting priests who teach hell is analogous to trusting doctors who perscribe leeches.

    Another example. A Christian believes that pre-marital sex is harmful because it deprives a person of the potential for God’s perfect marital plan. A non-Christian sees pre-marital sex as irrelevant to harm because they do not believe there is any perfect plan for marriage. The truthfulness of the claim is what determines whether a person perceives pre-marital sex as moral or not. Now consider how Christians will often argue that pre-marital sex is wrong. They will point out happy, successful Christian marriages where both partners waited until marriage to have sex. This become valid evidence to the Christian that Christian marriage is the most beneficial way to go by nature of the fact that it is the least harmful. The non-Christian, however, will immediately point out counter-examples: of Christian marriages that have failed, thus demonstrating that to them this is not valid evidence. Confirmation bias plays a part in both cases; although Christians please consider that good marriages occur outside the faith as well. Perhaps this just means that some marriages work and some marriages do not for reasons which we cannot always explain? The key then, is to determine the truths surrounding relationships and what relationship dynamics are harmful and what relationship dynamics are not.

    Marriage in reality is a contract between two or more people. All contracts are a “marriage” of sorts. It’s up to the parties involved to agree on and accept the terms of the contract. One of my favorite lines from the movie “Arthur” was the marriage vow taken by Arthur (Dudley Moore) and his girlfriend (Liza Minnelli). Instead of “until death do us part” they used “as long as we both think it is a good idea”. That is the REAL vow taken by most these days, so why be hypocritical about it? If it ends up being a good idea until death, well and good, but my point is that it is up to the participants to decide, and they don’t need the permission of the state to do it. If a couple decides to be married overnight with an option to extend on a daily basis, that is their choice. There is no such thing as premarital sex. If a couple wants to contract sex for money, there is nothing immoral about that. “I’ll pay you $200 if you will marry me long enough to have sex one time.” If two men, two women, or a group of more than two people want to get married, they have a right to without the state being a party to the agreement.

    And I agree with the rest of what you say. Christians have not cornered the market on successful marriage, and many Christian marriages are abysmal failures. I don’t know how the divorce rates differ between Christians and atheists but I see no reason for a belief in a supernatural deity to have an impact one way or another. Relationship dynamics are indeed the key.

    [Keep in mind, it is not inconceivable to the atheist that authors of the Bible did actually discover moral laws that work, just as Biblical authors may have discovered things about technology that also work, so please expect our morals to sometimes line up with what Biblical authors said. This does not mean we are "stealing" from your worldview, it just means that some of our discoveries as to what causes harm naturally happen to match what Biblical authors also discovered causes harm. And yes, this does mean there is an absolute morality! All morality is based on what causes perceived harm. Atheists I know do not dismiss all Biblical morality, we just hold ourselves to a higher standard as to what causes harm than what a person said 2000 years ago during a period when superstitions abounded. The Biblical authors may very well be right, but we do not hold that they are right just because they said so or claimed to be speaking for God.]

    I agree.

    That is what I mean when I say that I do not throw out the biblical baby with the bath water. There is one key thing that Jesus did that I personally relate to and that’s what makes me a Christian. It has nothing to do with his presumed divinity, his presumed virgin birth, his presumed miracles, or his presumed resurrection. I don’t really care about any of that, nor do I believe or believe that believing those things “saves” anybody. It has to do with something he did out of his humanity. And most Christians don’t seem to give him credit for being fully human and what that means. They think that he was somehow different from them. He wasn’t. I believe that salvation comes in this life. The bible speaks of “inheriting eternal life”. An inheritance is not something one gets when they die. It is something one gets while they are still alive, when somebody else dies. He showed us how to die to our own ego and I’m not talking about self-sacrifice here. I’m talking about the right balance between self and others. He showed us that we are all divine, that we are all gods, and that none of us are any more of a god than anybody else. To me that sums up the gospel (good news). That is what will ultimately “save” humanity. We have what it takes to save ourselves.

    ;-)

    So, now I hope that we can all see how morality works. It is dependent upon what a person perceives is true. Now then, it is ridiculous – and disrespectful – to try and impose your morality on someone else by insinuating that they secretly believe what you do. Why? Because it causes harm: people naturally feel endangered when others insinuate they are lying. Therefore, it is immoral to insinuate that another person is secretly lying when they tell you what they believe in an attempt to manipulate them into a confession in conformance with your moral standards. For example, it would be wrong for atheists to insinuate that Christians secretly do not believe in God in an attempt to undermine Christian morality. On the same token, it is wrong for Christians to insinuate that atheists secretly do believe in God in an attempt to get atheists to confess to Christian immoral behavior. An understanding of another person’s moral system begins with an understanding of what they believe to be true. You can then, based on this, determine what they believe to be harmful and can predict what they will consider morally wrong.

    I agree that it is downright silly to presume that we know what anybody secretly thinks. We can only know what people are thinking if they tell us. I don’t know that I would feel disrespected by it. If someone were to incorrectly presume to know what I think, I would just tell them that they are wrong and tell them what I really think if they really want to know. Then if they persist in saying that I secretly think something else then they would be accusing me of lying and yes I would not appreciate that, but I don’t know that I would feel threatened by it like I would if I truthfully claimed innocence of a crime and somebody claimed it was a lie. For me, there is such a total disconnect between belief in a supernatural deity and morality, that I don’t at all understand why Christians or atheists would try to convince the other that belief or non-belief has any bearing whatsoever on morality.

    So having a proper means to determine truth (and therefore what causes genuine harm) is the foundation to understanding how to understand and develop our own perspective on what is moral or not and also to understand what others consider moral.

    The scientific method is the only proper means I know of to determine truth.

    Morality, then is both absolute and relative. It is absolute in principle: it is always against causing harm. It is relative in practice because people have different perspectives on what will cause harm.

    So we need to focus on increasing our own moral clarity, and then work on helping our fellow man increase theirs, through reason and persuation. That is the only way human consciousness will evolve to a more enlightened state. It has been progressing throughout history and will continue to progress, notwithstanding the claim of some that humanity is in a permanent state of “sin”. That is just not true.

    Therefore, the foundation of a moral society is a common set of rules to determine what is true, not undemonstrable assertions as to what will cause harm. Therefore, if we want a truly moral society we must conform our understanding of the truth to reason alone, not faith claims. Why? Because faith provides no rules at all to determine truth and is therefore morally bankrupt.

    Yep.

    “Just believe” will always lead to moral anarchy and chaos and the crumbling of society because it will never reform itself to new discoveries as to what causes harm.

    Certainly believing that what is immoral is moral, and believing what is not immoral is immoral will lead to moral chaos. Again you are using the word anarchy to mean chaos and are hence being redundant. I prefer that the non-chaotic definition of anarchy not be sullied.

    - Josh

    P.S. I have been asked in presenting this argument what my definition of “harm” is:

    Harm is a reduction in perceived value.

    I like this summation by Morris and Linda Tannehill in The market for Liberty (I provided a link to pdf in a prior comment):

    “Since each man’s own life makes his values possible, chosen behavior which furthers his life as a thinking being is the moral, and chosen behavior which harms it is the immoral.”

    And free will is what makes morality possible. Without free will (choice) there is no morality. Free will is not an illusion.

  • 135. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 4:02 am

    Surrounding the paragraph before the winking emoticon in my previous comment, I intended this:

    [begin sermon]

    .
    .
    .

    [end sermon] ;-)

    The winking emoticon makes no sense without it. I’m not trying to persuade anybody to return to the old Christianity with all it’s attendant baggage, but to a more enlightened one, which in my opinion was the intended one.

  • 136. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Gary said:

    Your proposed definition of “good” is “not evil.” Since “to not act is not evil,” by simple substitution we get “to not act is good.” Therefore, in the case of Parable of the Good Samaritan, the choice of the priest and Levite not to act to help the robbery victim was “good.” Am I right so far?

    Well, in a way yes. Nobody has a moral obligation to do anything. We only have a moral obligation to refrain from doing some things, namely evil. That is not to say that it wouldn’t be good to help him or that I wouldn’t or that most humans wouldn’t. It’s just saying that it’s not evil not to. Jesus himself did not condemn them for not doing anything and neither would I. The only ones acting immorally in the story and with a moral obligation to restore the guy were the thieves who beat him up.
    Jesus makes the point in the story that it is good to help even when not morally obligated to do so.

    You have also proposed, as a definition of “evil,” that it would be “any violation of the free will of another.” And you have said, “If you steal from me, or intentionally injure me or my wife or children, I will make your life uncomfortable until you make restitution for the damage you caused.” Now, making my life uncomfortable in that way would clearly be a violation of my free will, so such an action on your part would be “evil.” Am I right again?

    Absolutely not. When one kills or steals or injures another, he forfeits ownership of that portion of his life necessary to restore his victim. The difference is offense versus defense. If you injure me, I can rightfully seek restitution from you forcefully, but only to the extent of the objective loss of value to me from your actions.

    It would not be evil for me not to do so. I understand, by your proposed definitions, that whether I actually did so, or did not do so, might be equally “good.

    No, my definition did not imply that all non-evil actions are equally good. How good a particular non-evil action would be would depend on the values of the actor. Clearly Jesus said the Samaritan was doing good, and he suggests that we do likewise, he doesn’t order us to. He neither characterized the priest or the Levite as good or evil. At best they are acting in a morally neutral manner. At worst they are not acting compassionately. By default, existing is good. This is the exact opposite of what most Christians think, which is that by default, existing is bad. In other words, that we are born sinful. This is not true. We are born ignorant, but not sinful, if sinful means evil.

    I wrote upthread, “The real puzzle is not with our moral obligation not to ‘do evil,’ but with the extent of our moral obligation to ‘do good.’” The problem I was getting at is precisely the one to which you alluded. In the case of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, think I would clearly have have a moral obligation to help the robbery victim if I were a passerby and happened upon him. But do I have a moral obligation to spend every spare minute I have seeking out people in need of help, wherever they might be and giving them such help as I can? That is less clear to me. If I do have such an obligation, why am I wasting my time writing this message instead of helping those in need?

    Well I would not agree that you or I, as a passerby, would be morally obligated to anybody else to do anything. If helping others was valuable to you, and you were able to do so, then perhaps you would have a moral obligation to yourself to help him. Never underestimate the value of feeling good about yourself, but to feel obligated toward others would be to rob yourself of that good feeling. To sacrifice oneself out of obligation toward others is not particularly moral, and I would even go so far as to say it is immoral because it short changes self. You are only obligated to help to the extent that you are WILLING and able. Sacrifice is noble if it is what will make you happy.

    As for spending every spare minute helping others, I was just following the moral obligation toward others of helping to its logical conclusion, which is obviously absurd. Yet there are Christians around who will tell you with a straight face that there is such a thing as “sins of omission”. That flies in the face of their belief that Jesus had the power to heal whomever he wanted during his life. If he had the power and practiced what he preached in this parable, then he would be obligated to do heal everybody. If he did not, then he clearly would be guilty of “sins of omission”. A truly bizarre concept. He did not have the power to heal everybody or he would have, and he probably didn’t have the power to heal anybody in a physical way, only spiritually (i.e. in their thinking), which arguably is the way that matters most. That whole paradox of an omnipotent and all-good god being incompatible with the evil we see in the world rears it’s ugly head again. Any alleged god that could possibly exist must have voluntarily given up some of his alleged omnipotence when he created us.

    Your writing your message might be helping somebody in need.

  • 137. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:18 am

    To put proper emphasis where needed in that last sentence of my previous comment:

    Your writing your message might BE helping somebody in need. It’s not always necessary to go out of your way to help somebody in need.

  • 138. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:37 am

    Hey Roy, I’m getting tired and I think we can both agree that the discussion is a little tiresome itself.

    Yep.

    Here is a link to a paper I wrote on chance, risk, and free will.

    Now we both have a link to an external paper

    Sounds interesting. I love thinking about chance and how it relates to free will, which I do believe is real, as I’ve previously stated. Chance is real too, and I believe that most Christians are too quick to attribute chance occurances to divine will however they define that. I will read it next chance I get. The fact that you wrote it is impressive. I did not write any of the ones I linked to. I just agree with a lot of it. But not all of it.

    Feel free to disagree, but try not to knock the conclusion because you don’t like it, especially when I spent so much time on the arguments and – quite honestly – I don’t give a rat’s rear posterior whether free will actually exists or not. Although if it does, I would have to rethink through quite a bit of my view of the world – which would take a lot of work.

    I will feel free to do so, and I promise I will try not to knock it just because I don’t like the conclusion. I highly respect people who are willing to spend time thinking about, writing about, and defending their beliefs. Willingness to rethink is a part of truth seeking and it is a lot of work. I’ve done plenty of rethinking in the half century I’ve been here. I look forward to reading your paper. You may well convince me to rethink again.

  • 139. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 11:00 am

    As for the atheist perspective, a persons beliefs as to what is wrong do not determine what is objectively wrong.

    I really, honestly do not understand what you mean by this. There are no objective moral wrongs.

    Here is the simple principle: it is considered morally wrong to intentionally create more harm than you reduce.

    In this case, it is not morally wrong to accidentally kill someone. It is not morally wrong to kill out of self defense. It could be morally wrong to not wear a condom, depending on situation – because this could cause harm.

    Hindsight is 20/20: we always determine what was morally right and wrong after the dust has settled and we can then look at the harm or benefits of a decision.

    This is one reason people tend to judge others, because it is easy to see the consequences of another man’s decision and point a finger and say “you should not have done that, it caused a great deal of harm”. But… often when the decision is made, the resultant harm is not predictable :)

    He showed us that we are all divine, that we are all gods, and that none of us are any more of a god than anybody else.

    Yes, but is this the TRUTH, or just an excellent reinterpretation of a falsely reported event?

  • 140. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I really, honestly do not understand what you mean by this. There are no objective moral wrongs.

    What I mean is that it is objectively morally wrong to INITIATE aggression against your fellow man. And this implies intent. This is true for all violent crime like murder, rape, armed robbery, etc. It is true for all theft by stealth or fraud, since those are merely substitues for force.

    Even a theif knows this because it would be pointless for him to steal if another person were justified in stealing from him what he just stole. This contradiction suggests that the only rational conclusion is that stealing is indeed objectively wrong. You could logically work out the same conclusion for any other particular crime. The contradiction will become apparent.

    The golden rule puts it well: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” or “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you”.

    Here is the simple principle: it is considered morally wrong to intentionally create more harm than you reduce.

    I’m not sure I understand that principle. What do you mean by “reduce harm”? How would I go about reducing harm?

    In this case, it is not morally wrong to accidentally kill someone.

    I agree that it wouldn’t be immoral lacking intent, but you could still be held liable for damages if the accident was in some way caused by your negligence.

    It is not morally wrong to kill out of self defense.

    I agree. The key would be that the INITIATION of violence is immoral. To respond to it is not.

    It could be morally wrong to not wear a condom, depending on situation – because this could cause harm.

    If you are raping somebody yes it would be, but if you are doing that why care about using a condom. For consensual situations it is less clear. If you have a sexually transmitted desease, unbeknownst to your partner, it would be morally wrong not to wear a condom. It could be argued that it would be wrong to do it without full disclosure, even WITH a condom. As long as both all parties are fully informed of all the risks, and agree not to use a condom, then it is not morally wrong not to use one. I’m happy to revise any of this if you point out an error in my reasoning. But my point is that morality is STILL objectively definable.

    Hindsight is 20/20: we always determine what was morally right and wrong after the dust has settled and we can then look at the harm or benefits of a decision.

    Generally true but not necessary always and only the harm would be relavent. At that point it would be incumbent upon the justice system to sort out the damages, order the perpetrator to pay restitution to any and all victims to the extent possible, and then everyone can move on with their lives once everything is completely settled.

    This is one reason people tend to judge others, because it is easy to see the consequences of another man’s decision and point a finger and say “you should not have done that, it caused a great deal of harm”. But… often when the decision is made, the resultant harm is not predictable

    Well, if the decision was to intentionally harm somebody, then the consequences of the act are completely predictable. If you think someone has has harmed you either intentionally or through negligence and damages are objectively quantifiable then you are absolutely justified in seeking a judgement against them to recover your loss. In the case of negligence, I would agree that the harm was largely unpredictable, but not completely. Only true accidents lacking negligence are completely unpredictable.

  • 141. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Sorry Joshua,

    I missed your last question:

    He showed us that we are all divine, that we are all gods, and that none of us are any more of a god than anybody else.

    Yes, but is this the TRUTH, or just an excellent reinterpretation of a falsely reported event?

    That would depend on your belief in the truth content of the Bible. Personally, I believe that the Bible contains much truth, much metaphor for spiritual (i.e. matters of consciousness, not supernatural) truth, mythology to explain as yet fully understood natural phenomena, and error introduced by human frailty.

    I can put some of the words on the lips and tongue of Jesus himself. The rest I deduced. In John 10:34-36 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, I SAID, YE ARE GODS? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?”

    He was referring to Psalm 82:6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High.

    The context here is that the Jews were trying to catch him in blasphemy and he pointed out that the Jewish scripture (Old Testament) referred to mere humans as gods and children of the Most High.

    The context in Psalm 82 is the problem of unjust judges. The word “gods” is translated from the Hebrew “elohiym” which can mean a deity, The Deity, or magistrates which are no more than mere humans. For me, the implication is that not only does Jesus claim deity for himself but he also claims it for ALL of us.

    Elsewhere in John 14:12 Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

    Hence we are all gods, deity, and divine and we are all as much deity as Jesus was, and none of us are any more or less gods, deity, or divine than any other of us. To me that speaks volumes about what humanity is and what our potential is. It’s REALLY GOOD NEWS, hence the gospel. That is about as true and as good as it gets for me.

  • 142. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    What I mean is that it is objectively morally wrong to INITIATE aggression against your fellow man. And this implies intent.

    What about animals?

    Boiled down: it is subjectively morally wrong to intend or affect a reduction in perceived value.

    This contradiction suggests that the only rational conclusion is that stealing is indeed objectively wrong.

    Then why is Robin Hood considered a hero? Why are Muslims considered good to steal or lie if it benefits Islam?

    The definition I propose explains, and predicts, these human reactions.

    Quite simply, Robin Hood is reducing a great harm by committing what is normally considered a small harm, therefore he is considered a hero for his theft. The ultimate intent – and result – is an overall reduction in harm.

    Theft is not objectively wrong. If stealing a man’s gun kept him from committing a murder, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    The golden rule puts it well: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” or “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you”.

    Or, in the sexified version “Do others as you would have them do you.”

    I’m not sure I understand that principle. What do you mean by “reduce harm”? How would I go about reducing harm?

    Harm is a reduction in perceived value.

    So if a person values something – for any reason – and another person reduces its value, that is considered harm.

    That’s why people do not press charges for theft equally. The charges they press depend upon the perceived value of the object(s) stolen.

    It is really, really, really this simple, Roy:

    Harm is a reduction in perceived value.

    A moral person always does that which either causes the least perceived reduction in value or that which causes the greatest perceived increase in value.

    We hail doctors, firemen, policemen, and skilled workers because their entire job is to fulfill the above.

    The bizarre thing is that a person can intend a moral action that others interpret as immoral :)

    This is the reason it appears so “complex”, when it is really elegantly simple. Everyone is trying to find a “core” moral system that everyone adheres to.

    The thing is: everyone is 100% moral in their own estimation. They just ascribe different values to things than their neighbor because of differing situations and beliefs.

    Roy, it really, really, really is that simple. After a good three years of thought I still have not found one moral scenario – no matter how complex – that cannot be explained by that simple equation.

    Robin Hood, Jesus Christ’s death, every church doctrine, Teri Shaivo, Pharoah and the midwives, sport’s heroes, saving the whales, vegetarians, capitalism, communism, cults, etc.

    It explains every single instance I can think of as to why a person would ever judge another person for anything. Ever.

    It explains every single debate or argument of man. Every war.

    Like I said in my article, if you can find one scenario in all of history that cannot be explained by this, then the entire theory is destroyed. Please find one.

    Simple and elegant, why do we need more?

    That would depend on your belief in the truth content of the Bible.

    Roy, I could hug you. You just proved the entire thesis of my post :)

  • 143. Tit for Tat  |  August 18, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    The thing is: everyone is 100% moral in their own estimation(Joshua)

    I dont know about you, but when I was doing it to others I was pretty sure I didnt want them doing it to me.

    Too funny……..and Denial is a river in Egypt. ;)

  • 144. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I dont know about you, but when I was doing it to others I was pretty sure I didnt want them doing it to me.

    Yeah, I’m inclined to agree. Your intent, though, was probably to increase your own value and you probably didn’t value them very much, so that’s probably how you justified harming them at the time…

    Eh, whatever. I’m probably wrong – normally am.

  • 145. Joe  |  August 18, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Friar Tuck joined up with Robin Hood due to similar arguments. :<)

  • 146. DSimon  |  August 18, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Harm is a reduction in perceived value.

    After a good three years of thought I still have not found one moral scenario – no matter how complex – that cannot be explained by that simple equation.

    Ah, a challenge. :-) Alright, I think I’ve got a good counter-example, but let’s get some preliminary points down first.

    Point the First: Based on your Robin Hood example, what we’re concerned about here is the net change in perceived value. An action that directly causes a small reduction in perceived value but indirectly causes a large increase in perceived value is a moral action, because the net change in perceived value is positive.

    Point the Second: Enslaving somebody causes a large decrease in perceived value, because the perceived value of their life and action is being drastically reduced. Therefore, slavery is an immoral action to anyone whose subjective conception of value isn’t incredibly screwed up.

    Point the Third: The experience of eating an ice cream bar has value to the person doing it, if they enjoy eating ice cream. Making an ice cream bar from scratch and then giving it to somebody who likes ice cream, and whose health won’t suffer from eating it, therefore causes a net increase in perceived value, and would therefore be considered a moral action to reasonable people.

    Please consider if you agree with me on these points or not before reading further.

    Okay, so now suppose we start enslaving people to make ice cream bars, which are then given away for free. I think we’d both agree that this is an immoral action.

    However, by points one, two, and three above, the only thing making this an immoral action is the rate at which the ice cream is made. The moment at which the enslaved people are capable of producing perceived value (which is tied directly to the rate at which they produce ice cream) faster than the perceived value of their lives is being reduced by their enslavement, it becomes moral by your equation to enslave them!

    However, I’d still say that enslaving people to produce free ice cream, no matter how quickly they can do it, is immoral. The problem here seems to be in your equation: it’s getting inputs about perceived value changes that are valid, but under some conditions it’s not producing an output that makes sense.

  • 147. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    The moment at which the enslaved people are capable of producing perceived value (which is tied directly to the rate at which they produce ice cream) faster than the perceived value of their lives is being reduced by their enslavement, it becomes moral by your equation to enslave them!

    Yes, exactly! To the person who perceives the value of enough ice cream bars as greater than the value of the enslaved individuals, this would be considered moral. This is how we justify things.

    This is why some modern western men like to say the value of a human life is immeasurable. This makes all enslavement of men immoral because nothing could possibly justify it: no outcome could be of enough value to account for the reduction of value that is caused by the enslavement of a human. Why? because all humans have equal, immeasurable value.

    This is how slavery in the 1800’s was justified: the perceived value of the individuals enslaved was reduced by believing things that were not true about them (e.g. they were just animals or lesser life forms or cursed by God, etc.)

    My definition of morality is descriptive, not prescriptive. It simply describes moral scenarios and does not comment on any objective value. Why? Because all ascribed value is subjective by nature.

    One man’s trash (low value) is another man’s treasure (high value): so one man’s sinner (a person who reduces value) is another man’s saint (a person who increases value or avoids reducing value).

    It is why a man can justify killing thousands in the name of his God. He believes our country is of no value and is causing harm and that “waking people up” for Allah’s glory would help reduce future harm.

    On the other hand, the moral prescription is the natural outcome of the moral description: define value consistently and accurately by getting access to accurate information which informs our understanding of what is true. Once we’ve got that common access, people’s morals will begin to align with each other automatically. This is how conversions occur.

    This is also why people’s entire moral systems – and consciences – can basically change overnight after a conversion. A person is “born again” into Christianity and their life radically changes overnight because their entire value system has basically an instantaneous shift because they believe different things are now true. The same goes for becoming an atheist.

    Black people are basically as equal to Caucasian people genetically as Caucasians are equal to Asians. Not only that, there is no way to determine one genetic pool as “more valuable” than others.

    Therefore all races are equal in value.

    Haha, and what is the natural outcome of this value system? Genocide is always wrong.

    So how do Christian’s justify God’s genocidal actions? They have to appeal to an outcome that is of greater value than the slaying of an entire race. What outcome could this possibly be? God’s glory. Justice. Etc. etc. etc. – whatever they can come up with in their value system that is of more value than the Canaanites, really.

    However, not all individual people are equal in perceived value. This is why some justify euthanasia or abortion and others do not. The mother’s choice is worth more than the fetus, therefore abortion is moral. A child of rape causes more net pain than an abortion: therefore abortion is moral after rape. Etc. etc.

    This is how socialist countries justified mass sterilization. This is how people justify their sexual practices. I’ll commit “adultery” with you because you are exceedingly sexually attractive, but I will not do it with you because your perceived value is not as high. etc. etc.

    From this simple moral description comes an entire array of exceedingly complex moral situations.

    It describes: it does not explicitly prescribe.

    And what is more: it describes all Christian behavior and doctrines in addition to secular doctrines.

    Why does mercy triumph over judgment?

    Because mercy is of higher value.

    Why is mercy of higher value? Because the net effect is less harm done and an overall increase of an individual’s value.

    Let’s get tricky:

    When is mercy morally wrong? When being merciful would cause more harm than enacting punishment.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. I think the descriptiveness of this definition should be evident…

  • 148. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Friar Tuck joined up with Robin Hood due to similar arguments. :<)

    Friendships are born of adversity.

    Why?

    Because when two men fight, and neither wins, the perceived value of the other person goes up.

    Sorry, I can’t help it… well I can, but I perceive the value of making my point pretty highly.

    *cough*

  • 149. Joe  |  August 18, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Yes, exactly! To the person who perceives the value of enough ice cream bars as greater than the value of the enslaved individuals, this would be considered moral. This is how we justify things.(#147)

    What would you do for a Klondike bar?

  • 150. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Oh, btw, this prescribes exactly the perfect way to torture and tempt someone, too:

    Torture: person B reduces perceived value of a thing in the eyes of person A to get person A to give something of perceived value to person B.

    Temptation: person B offers of a thing to person A of high perceived value in the eyes of person A to get person A to give something of high perceived value to person B.

    Torture and temptation are basically the same thing: only one is coercion by reduction of value and the other is coercion by an offer of value.

  • 151. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    What would you do for a Klondike bar?

    Anything. Therefore, all actions for the retrieval of a Klondike bar for me are justified :)

  • 152. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    What about animals?

    I addressed that as follows:

    With regard to eating animals, I don’t have a problem with it. Since animals can be owned, and an owner by definition has a right to dispose of his property as he sees fit, if he wants to eat it, that is not evil. I suppose we could get into a debate as to whether it is moral to own animals and I’m sure some PETA types probably have. I really haven’t considered “animal rights” in any great detail. I’m not sure that they do have rights in the sense that humans do.

    Now torturing an animal for no reason would seem evil. It would cause me to wonder what the torturer would be capable of doing to a defensless human. Not good. I would need to do more research and thinking about animal rights to develop a consistent moral framework regarding them. I really haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it.

    Boiled down: it is subjectively morally wrong to intend or affect a reduction in perceived value.

    I really don’t know what you are talking about here. If by subjectively, you mean for you, then great. A reduction in perceived value of what for whom? Who intends or affects said reduction? You? That would certainly be subjective, but I can’t even understand what you are saying, so I can’t say whether I would consider it morally wrong. Please explain.

    Then why is Robin Hood considered a hero?

    By whom? Certainly not by me!

    Why are Muslims considered good to steal or lie if it benefits Islam?

    They are? By whom? Other Muslims? I couldn’t even begin to answer that question. I certainly wouldn’t steal or lie for my religious beliefs. That’s pretty bizarre.

    The definition I propose explains, and predicts, these human reactions.

    What human reactions? I’m human and they certainly are not my reactions. Why does/did your definition not explain/predict my reaction.

    Quite simply, Robin Hood is reducing a great harm by committing what is normally considered a small harm, therefore he is considered a hero for his theft. The ultimate intent – and result – is an overall reduction in harm.

    And what exactly is the great harm that Robin Hood is reducing and just who was it that was being harmed? NORMALLY considered a small harm? By whom? Considered a hero by whom? And what exactly was his intent? To help the poor? If so, I would suggest that if he wanted to help the poor, that he do so with his own resources. You aren’t making sense.

    Theft is not objectively wrong. If stealing a man’s gun kept him from committing a murder, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    The hell you say. How in the world could you possibly know whether he WOULD use his gun to murder? What if stealing his gun PREVENTED him from defending himself? Theft is indeed objectively wrong. It’s his gun and hence his choice what to do with it. This belief in preemptive justice you seem to hold, if acted upon, would itself be immoral.

    Or, in the sexified version “Do others as you would have them do you.”

    I have no objection to that unless rape is involved. ;-)

    I’m not sure I understand that principle. What do you mean by “reduce harm”? How would I go about reducing harm?

    Harm is a reduction in perceived value.

    So if a person values something – for any reason – and another person reduces its value, that is considered harm.

    That’s why people do not press charges for theft equally. The charges they press depend upon the perceived value of the object(s) stolen.

    Well a person who has their property stolen or their person injured, stolen, or completely destroyed would certainly have a right to go after any damages that they could objectively quantify and prove. It does not just depend on their subjective value. There must be some basis in reality. For example, if you murder a person with a million dollar annual income, you are going to be on the hook for more damages, than if you murder a man with a $50,000 income. Obviously you can’t restore his life, but you would be liable for the expected value of the expected remainder of his life. Certainly there would be room for negotiation, but there would need to be an objective starting point.

    It is really, really, really this simple, Roy:

    Harm is a reduction in perceived value.

    A moral person always does that which either causes the least perceived reduction in value or that which causes the greatest perceived increase in value.

    I think it is actually quite a bit simpler than you seem to think.

    Let me get this straight. Are you saying that as long as, by YOUR calculation of value, the total value of good done by your action(s) to anybody (I would assume you are including yourself in the equation) is greater than the total value of harm done by your action(s) to anybody (excluding yourself as I doubt you would want to harm yourself) is POSITIVE, then it is MORAL?

    We hail doctors, firemen, policemen, and skilled workers because their entire job is to fulfill the above.

    I must be misunderstanding you because I can’t possibly see how any honest, moral person would want a job that fulfilled what I think you suggested, much less these particular jobs.

    The bizarre thing is that a person can intend a moral action that others interpret as immoral

    Yes bizarre. If my understanding of your hypothesis is correct, I would suggest that the bizarreness of the result might cause you to want to reconsider your hypothesis.

    This is the reason it appears so “complex”, when it is really elegantly simple. Everyone is trying to find a “core” moral system that everyone adheres to.

    Well there is a core moral system that everyone should adhere to if they want to make the most of their life, but if I’m understanding you correctly, yours is not it. I would suggest that the appearance of “complexity” suggests that it is wrong rather than that it is really elegantly simple. Not sure what you mean by “core” here.

    The thing is: everyone is 100% moral in their own estimation. They just ascribe different values to things than their neighbor because of differing situations and beliefs.

    Not true, so no, that is not the thing. I am not 100% moral in my own estimation. Apparently you are. What makes you so sure?

    Roy, it really, really, really is that simple. After a good three years of thought I still have not found one moral scenario – no matter how complex – that cannot be explained by that simple equation.

    I’m not sure why you feel compelled to use really redundantly. I’ve put a good bit many more years of thought into my theory of morality and I’m pretty sure that if my understaning of your equation is correct, I will have no trouble coming up with a scenario that might cause you to want to rethink it.

    Robin Hood, Jesus Christ’s death, every church doctrine, Teri Shaivo, Pharoah and the midwives, sport’s heroes, saving the whales, vegetarians, capitalism, communism, cults, etc.

    I’ve already shared my thought on Robin Hood. Please do explain your thoughts on the rest of this list.

    It explains every single instance I can think of as to why a person would ever judge another person for anything. Ever.

    What do you mean by “judge another person for anything”?

    It explains every single debate or argument of man. Every war.

    How so? Please share your explanation.

    Like I said in my article, if you can find one scenario in all of history that cannot be explained by this, then the entire theory is destroyed. Please find one.

    First I need to make sure I REALLY understand it.

    Simple and elegant, why do we need more?

    Since I’m not sure I understand it, I’m not convinced that it IS simple. Or maybe it’s me. Maybe I’M simple minded. As to whether it is elegant, that is totally dependent of whether it is TRUE. If you are right, then we don’t.

    That would depend on your belief in the truth content of the Bible.

    Roy, I could hug you. You just proved the entire thesis of my post

    Please don’t, I’m not a huggy person. ;-)

    What exactly WAS the thesis of your post and HOW did I prove it.

  • 153. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Btw, this describes why King David was so pissed that his mighty men went and got him that water from that particular well. Sure, he valued the water a lot, but he valued the lives of his men more. So, obviously he considered it immoral for them to intentionally reduce their own value just to get some valuable water.

  • 154. DSimon  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    This is why some modern western men like to say the value of a human life is immeasurable. This makes all enslavement of men immoral because nothing could possibly justify it: no outcome could be of enough value to account for the reduction of value that is caused by the enslavement of a human. Why? because all humans have equal, immeasurable value.

    Equal, immeasurable value? That definition doesn’t jive with some of the other things that some of those same modern western men would say, such as that it would be moral to kill a murderer if doing so saved the lives of 10 potential victims. That’s pretty clearly treating a human life as being a measurable unit of value. The issue is that not all units of value are comparable.

    You say:

    A moral person always does that which either causes the least perceived reduction in value or that which causes the greatest perceived increase in value.

    To restate this, you are saying that everyone’s system of morality can be described in terms of an algorithm that estimates the perceived net change in value of each choice, then picks whichever choice has the highest value as the most moral one.

    Except, my example seems to break that statement. You agree that a lot of people have systems of morality that say “no amount of ice cream production justifies slavery”. Therefore, their systems of morality cannot be modeled by a net-value-change algorithm, but just as a comparison algorithm that can take any two choices and tell you if one or the other is more moral, and thereby arrive at the most moral choice(s). Which is true, but trivially so, as it’s the same as saying “Morality systems are for deciding which choice is the most moral”, which is obvious.

    This might (okay, definitely is) just be me being nitpicky, but that’s how I get when people claim to reduce things to base principles. :-)

  • 155. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Joshua,

    I did read your paper. I still do not think that either free will or chance are illusions. Nothing in your paper convinced me otherwise. I find it interesting that belief in an omnicient god (omnicient in the sense that he/she/it REALLY knows everything including the future) implies that free will is only an illusion. What I particularly find interesting is that you come to that conclusion WITHOUT belief in an omnicient being. It’s not that I don’t like your conclusion, it’s that I don’t follow your reasoning. And maybe it’s me.

  • 156. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Then why is Robin Hood considered a hero?

    By whom? Certainly not by me!

    Exactly! You obviously have a different value system than people who consider Robin Hood a hero, therefore you will not consider him a saint in any way.

    Applying my principle: my guess is that you highly value objective moral truths, therefore any moral system that reduces the value of objective moral truths is – to you – immoral.

    The ease at which it is to apply this definition of morality is scaring me.

    Yes bizarre. If my understanding of your hypothesis is correct, I would suggest that the bizarreness of the result might cause you to want to reconsider your hypothesis.

    You must highly value the non-bizarre. I don’t. The truth is always bizarre at first. I value truth above all else, because I believe that grasping the truth will – above all other things – help us avoid the most harm. My value system could be out of whack, though. Maybe the truth does not lead to reduced harm.

    Well there is a core moral system that everyone should adhere to if they want to make the most of their life, but if I’m understanding you correctly, yours is not it.

    I am not proposing a moral system. I am simply describing every moral system, statement, or scenario every in existence and attempting to explain every human moral behavior or statement.

    There is a difference between describing what we see and prescribing solutions to perceived problems. I am just describing. The prescription is found in the understanding of the description.

    To understand how to destroy a disease, you must first accurately describe the disease. To understand how to be moral, you must first accurately describe morality.

    How so? Please share your explanation.

    Every debate and war is a clash between men over the perceived value of whatever it is they are debating and warring over.

    Do you want more examples and analogies?

    What exactly WAS the thesis of your post and HOW did I prove it.

    Hmmm, I’m not sure how else to describe it if I have not made it already clear.

    I look at the data.

    I assemble the data.

    I look for patterns in the data.

    I offer a theory (a proposed equation) that describes all the data.

    I test all the data against that theory.

    The equation always fits – and predicts the data.

    Therefore the equation is – so far – true.

    One moral statement or action ever committed could destroy the entire equation.

    ~

    The data is: every moral statement ever uttered.

    The proposed equation is: morality of action is directly proportionate to perceived change in value in the eye of the person making the moral judgment.

    Net increase in value is considered moral in the eye of the person making the judgment.

    Net decrease in value is considered immoral in the eye of the person making the judgment.

    Amount of decrease in value determines how evil something is in the eye of the person making the judgment.

    Roy, I think the key here is to realize that there is no such thing as objective moral statements. Because every man perceives things differently. Until that becomes clear, the entire thesis of my post will be elusive.

    I’m really sorry if this is not explaining it well enough. I’m trying.

  • 157. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    It’s not that I don’t like your conclusion, it’s that I don’t follow your reasoning.

    Are you familiar with limits in calculus?

  • 158. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Crap, I think I just realized that quite a few of my arguments are based on a form of deductive reasoning that I’ve never heard anyone use before. I don’t even know what to call it. Probably “Limit deduction” would work. It’s based on calculus.

    It goes like this:

    As A approaches B, X approaches Z. Therefore when A is equal to B, X is equal to Z.

    It’s not really inductive. It’s just a weird form of deductive argument. I once tried to explain it to a philosophy professor and I don’t think he got it.

    I can’t call it an inductive argument, because limit calculations in calculus are necessary given the premise of the equation.

    Let me give an example:

    As the contradictions between what I expect and what I perceive with my senses are reduced (C approaches 0), I increase in internal peace (P approaches maximum P). Therefore, when there are no contradictions between what I expect and what I perceive with my senses (C = 0), I will be at peace (P = Pmax).

    Therefore, the truth (no contradiction between what we expect and what we perceive) will set you free (bring maximum peace).

    Same thing goes for the argument on free will.

    As my ability to imagine alternatives decreases (I approaches 0), my ability to choose decreases (C approaches 0). Therefore, when I cannot imagine alternatives (I = 0), choice is impossible (C = 0).

    P1: I -> 0
    P2: C -> 0
    C1: If I = 0, C = 0

    My ability to imagine alternatives (I) is inversely proportionate to my knowledge of the situation (K). As my knowledge of the situation increases (K approaches Kmax), my ability to imagine alternatives decreases (I approaches 0).

    I = Kmax – K

    Therefore, if I had perfect knowledge (K = Kmax), my ability to imagine alternatives would be nill (I = 0), and therefore all ability to choose would disappear (C = 0).

    Therefore, free will only exists in the minds of creatures with limited knowledge.

    Sorry, I should probably explain my form of reasoning first.

  • 159. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Oh, this also proves that an omniscient being cannot have free will. So an omniscient being cannot choose anything.

  • 160. Roy  |  August 18, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Roy, I think the key here is to realize that there is no such thing as objective moral statements. Because every man perceives things differently. Until that becomes clear, the entire thesis of my post will be elusive.

    I’m starting to grow weary of this discussion. My impression is that if you are correct that there is no objective standard of morality, then we are all screwed, and this has NOTHING at all to do with belief in God.

    I find your statement that theft is not objectively immoral to be counter intuitive and therefore HIGHLY suspicious. How in the world could any sane person believe that theft could ever be moral. I find your statement that you would steal somebody’s gun scarey, frankly.

    Actually, I’m really not all that interested in continuing this discussion until you are willing to consider what I would consider to be rational proofs that EASY scenarios like rape, murder, and theft which are so intuitively immoral are in fact objectively immoral. If I crank a simple scenario like that through your scientific process and it comes out moral, I’m just not buying the ability of your scientific process to determine moral truth for more complicated scenarios.

    If you could at least check out the pdf I linked you to and explain where the author, Stefan Molyneux is wrong, I would appreciate it. His proofs made total sense to me. He is a strong atheist. He not only lacks a belief in God, but he KNOWS that there is in fact no God. Of course he is speaking of the sophomoric concept of God held by most Christians and I agree that THAT god doesn’t exist. He makes a REALLY good arguement as to why agnosticism is completely irrational which I also agree with.

    All in all he is a very interesting guy. Like me he is also an anarcho-capitalist, so I COMPLETELY agree with him on politics: Government is the greatest evil humanity ever has or ever will know. It is like cancer. It cannot successfully be minimized, it must be irradicated. That will only happen when enough people can be educated and convinced that we must collectively just walk away from it. There is no way to force it out of existence. This is the ONLY way we are EVER going to bring an end to the disasterous wars we’ve been plagued with over history, and have the maximum amount of peace possible.

    http://www.freedomainradio.com/

    The book is a free downloadable pdf called Universally Preferable Behaviour: A rational proof of secular ethics. Click on FREE BOOKS.

    Frankly I am totally shocked by your latest comments. I actually thought I agreed with most of your article. Obviously I missed something. My mind is still open, but you have to make some sense to me before I can properly evaluate what you are saying. Like I said, maybe it’s me, but I feel fairly confident that it’s not. I have a pretty good bullshit detector between my ears and what you said in your last few comments “stinketh”. ;-)

  • 161. Joe  |  August 18, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Net increase in value is considered moral in the eye of the person making the judgment. (#156)

    Just so I understand your reasoning. There was a man (a common citizen, not a firefighter) during 911 who continued to run upstairs in one of the towers despite warnings, to try to save as many people as possible, and he eventually died as a result. He did what he thought was the right thing—-yet this morality did not bring any net increase to him.

    Were his actions based on net increase or decrese, or simply from a decent, good heart?

  • 162. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Were his actions based on net increase or decrese, or simply from a decent, good heart?

    What’s the difference?

    I should probably clarify what I mean by this. From the fireman’s perspective, the only way he could be good was if he intended to produce a net increase in value. So, we think he had a good heart because his intention was good. The end result was a net reduction in value, but you have to remember that it is all based upon intent – not upon actual outcome.

  • 163. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    My mind is still open, but you have to make some sense to me before I can properly evaluate what you are saying

    Interpreted: you don’t understand.

    I have a pretty good bullshit detector between my ears and what you said in your last few comments “stinketh”.

    Interpreted: but it’s probably bullshit.

    Hmmm…

    That is almost exactly what my dad told me when I started to explain to him how I started to view Christianity differently. I showed him an article on moderate / liberal Christianity. He took a glance, told me he didn’t get it, but he knew it was wrong.

    Let’s save the judgments until you can understand what I am saying :)

  • 164. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    I’m starting to grow weary of this discussion.

    And hell, I grew weary a long time ago.

  • 165. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    My impression is that if you are correct that there is no objective standard of morality, then we are all screwed

    What if that is the truth?

    You seem to be running on this premise: if I don’t like its end result, the argument must have a flaw somewhere.

  • 166. Joe  |  August 18, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    I should probably clarify what I mean by this. From the fireman’s perspective, the only way he could be good was if he intended to produce a net increase in value. So, we think he had a good heart because his intention was good. The end result was a net reduction in value, but you have to remember that it is all based upon intent – not upon actual outcome. (#162)

    The person I described was not a fireman though. He was an average citizen. The fireman does think of net increase because he is trained to save lives, etc. But a common citizen who risks his own life to save others seems to be coming only from what he feels is to do the right thing. He is not basing his morality on net increase or decrease—his intent is purely “good and what he feels is right”—-not on net gain as a result of his actions.

  • 167. Joe  |  August 18, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding your whole premise though. If so, sorry.

  • 168. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    But a common citizen who risks his own life to save others seems to be coming only from what he feels is to do the right thing.

    Joe, but consider the reduction in value if the citizen had not gone into the building. Could you live with yourself for the rest of your life knowing you could have potentially saved lives but you did not? You would probably “feel worthless”. You might “not be able to live with yourself”. (To use the popular phrases we often say without thinking about what they mean.)

    So you can risk it and potentially save a bunch of lives or risk it and potentially end up feeling miserably worthless for quite some time.

  • 169. Joe  |  August 18, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Joshua—

    I understand what you are saying—-but there were many other citizens who did not go up to save others—-they headed down the stairs for safety. Many of them probably believed that the firemen would save the people and didn’t feel the responsibility lay with them. So, the lone gentleman who did go upstairs wasn’t thinking of increased or decreased value so to speak—-but out of pure goodness sought to save others. Does this fit into the moral model you have been giving. Again though, maybe I am misunderstanding the actual model of morality you are describing.

    What I am saying is that I do not believe all morality has to do with increase or decrease in value—-but in an actual goodness that lies within certain individuals—that makes the rest of us say “what a hero!!” because we know that what he did was the right thing—-and we all wish we could attain the same sort of standard.

  • 170. Joshua  |  August 18, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    What I am saying is that I do not believe all morality has to do with increase or decrease in value—-but in an actual goodness that lies within certain individuals—that makes the rest of us say “what a hero!!” because we know that what he did was the right thing—-and we all wish we could attain the same sort of standard.

    How do you account for people who think that Osama Bin Laden is a hero?

  • 171. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 12:17 am

    An accurate description of morality has to include every moral perspective – including ones that disagree with your own. A description of morality must account for all possible moral situations, not just ones from my – or your – perspective.

    That is why I concluded that morality must be relative to the individual somehow.

  • 172. Joe  |  August 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

    How do you account for people who think that Osama Bin Laden is a hero? (#170)

    Good point. However, I must say, that 95% of the world or more do not consider Bin Laden a hero at all, but a villain. Yet that same 95% would most likely consider the man who gave his life trying to save others a hero, and a man of high moral principles.

    It is possible to warp moral principles—but it seems that those principles are inherently within “most” of us–and that is why a person does not have to believe in God to be a morally responsible, upright person. The code of morality is a very interesting discussion, that’s for sure.

  • 173. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    It is possible to warp moral principles.

    What would you say to a Bin Laden supporter who says that you are warping moral principles? How do you determine whose moral principles are “warped” and who is “correct”?

    Joe, in my opinion the explanation is not good if it only accounts for 95% of the world, and then has to excuse the rest as “warped”. We need an explanation that explains 100% of cases, not just the ones with people who agree with us.

    Here is an example of how this type of explanation is invalid. It used to sometimes be argued that people of morals were people with souls. So, if a person had different morals, people would say “they do not have a soul”. In your case, using this explanation, these people would argue that Bin Laden supporters do not have souls. But whether you are an atheist or not – we know this explanation is not accurate.

    So, using the principle I am proposing:

    Morality is based on what a person believes to be true.

    What is the difference between the 95% and the 5%?

    Hint: the morality is not what is warped – something else is.

  • 174. Joe  |  August 19, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Joshua—-

    Good point again. I honestly don’t know. The 5% seem to be over-riding the morality that appears to be written in the consciences of the other 95%, and which I think they also used to possess. Indoctrination has seared their conscience and warped it to believe that killing people is doing the will of Allah. Yet, 95% of the followers of Allah do not hold to that type of morality at all. The majority of Muslims are peace-loving, moral people.

    So, I guess you would be correct in saying that Morality is based on what a person believes to be true. I would agree.

  • 175. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    If morality is based on what a person believes to be true:

    Q: What is the difference between the 95% and the 5%?

    A: What they believe.

    You need to stop thinking Biblically and start thinking logically :) It really is that simple.

    If a person believes that it is good to honor God’s wishes and the person also believes that God wants them to commit suicide bombings, they will consider a person who promotes or does suicide bombings to be a hero.

    It is really that simple.

    Alter the beliefs and you change the conscience.

    Paul was wrong.

  • 176. Joe  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Thou shalt not murder.

    The 5% are therefore wrong if there truly is an ultimate set of moral rules. The 95% adhere to that moral rule—the 5% have warped their own belief to fit their own morality.

  • 177. Joe  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Or I should say altered their morality to fit their belief. But actually, if you look at my post in 174 I was agreeing with you for the most part. :)

  • 178. Joe  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    You need to stop thinking Biblically and start thinking logically (#175)

    By the way, you may disagree, but there are times when thinking Biblically can be logical. “Thou shalt not murder” is actually quite logical. We all inherently know it is wrong to murder another human being.

    But I do understand where you were coming from.

  • 179. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Thou shalt not murder.

    The 5% are therefore wrong if there truly is an ultimate set of moral rules.

    If there are absolute morals, then God is in the 5%, no?

    Joe, you are making this far more complicated than it needs to be so that you can hold onto the illusion of absolute morals. They don’t exist.

    By the way, you may disagree, but there are times when thinking Biblically can be logical.

    Absolutely. And there are times when it is not :) So, there is a standard above the Bible (logic) by which we must interpret what the Bible says. Right?

  • 180. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    We all inherently know it is wrong to murder another human being.

    How a person defines murder depends on what they believe.

    Right?

  • 181. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Think about it, Joe.

    A taliban suicide bomber believes that murder is wrong.

    BUT

    A taliban suicide bomber does not think that what he is doing is murder.

    So what is the difference?

    The difference is in how the taliban suicide bomber defines murder.

    And where does the taliban’s definition of murder come from?

    His beliefs.

    So the taliban suicide bomber justifies his actions by concluding that they are not murder because his beliefs allow him to commit the bombing.

  • 182. Joe  |  August 19, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Good arguments Joshua. You’ve given me something to think about. I need to chew on this a bit and see whether I want to digest it, or regurgitate it. :) Man, that’s a gross way of putting it isn’t it? :)

  • 183. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks, Joe. I appreciate the willingness to mull the arguments over. I certainly could be wrong :)

  • 184. Roy  |  August 19, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I certainly could be wrong.

    And you certainly are.

    I don’t care what the suicide bomber thinks or believes. It doesn’t matter. For the sake of this argument, to simplify, let’s assume that we are all individuals. There are no Taliban, Muslims, Christians, or whatever. No groups, no teams. All interactions are one on one. The only time it is right to kill another person is in self defense (i.e. he initiated an attack on you and the ONLY way you could thwart it was to kill him). You would be perfecrtly justified in doing so. In any other situation, you are the one initiating the attack, so it is murder. Group think muddies the water. Murder is a one on one thing.

    It’s simple Joshua.

    Joe, don’t think about it too much. Joshua’s argument is nonsense.

  • 185. Roy  |  August 19, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Oh and to keep this simple, I am only talking about intentional killing here. Accidental killings are a different matter, where negligence is an important factor.

  • 186. Roy  |  August 19, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I feel compelled to say one more thing here.

    Joshua,

    Your article was good and I understood you to be making the point that morality is in no way dependent on beliefs, especially religious ones. It matters not whether any gods exist, what any holy book says, what anybody thinks, or what anybody believes. THE SOURCE OF MORALITY IS OUR NATURE AS RATIONAL CREATURES. Let me say that again for emphasis. THE SOURCE OF MORALITY IS OUR NATURE AS RATIONAL CREATURES. Morality presupposes FREE WILL which is NOT an illusion. Without choice, there can be no morality. Without free will there can be no choice. Without rational thought, there can be no free will. Rational thought is what separates us from other creatures.

    I suggest that you go read some Ayn Rand.

  • 187. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    The only time it is right to kill another person is in self defense

    You are finally getting it, Roy. You are proving the point of my article again.

    Your article was good and I understood you to be making the point that morality is in no way dependent on beliefs, especially religious ones.

    Then you missed the entire point of my article.

    THE SOURCE OF MORALITY IS OUR NATURE AS RATIONAL CREATURES

    But why do we need to be rational?

    To use your ALL CAPS WAY OF SHOUTING HOW STUPID SOMEONE IS BEING:

    WE NEED TO BE RATIONAL TO AVOID HARM.

    WE CANNOT KNOW WHAT IS HARMFUL UNLESS WE IDENTIFY THAT WHICH CAUSES HARM

    OUR IDENTIFICATION OF THAT WHICH CAUSES HARM IS BASED ON OUR BELIEFS

    C’mon Roy.

    Morality presupposes FREE WILL which is NOT an illusion.

    Roy, this is genuine bullshit.

    Without choice, there can be no morality.

    Bullshit.

    Rational thought is what separates us from other creatures.

    Bullshit. My cats are rational. They get hurt and they don’t do that thing again. That seems reasonable to me, no?

  • 188. Joshua  |  August 19, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    The real issue here Roy, is this:

    Morality is absolute in that its goal is to use reason to avoid harm. Morality is relative to the individual’s beliefs as to what will cause harm.

    What don’t you agree with here?

    We are both saying the same thing.

  • 189. Roy  |  August 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    The only time it is right to kill another person is in self defense

    You are finally getting it, Roy. You are proving the point of my article again.

    I’m not just FINALLY getting that. I have known it for quit some time. Maybe I’m not being precise enough in my use of English.

    Your article was good and I understood you to be making the point that morality is in no way dependent on beliefs, especially religious ones.

    Then you missed the entire point of my article.

    I should have said the OBJECTIVELY CORRECT MORALITY instead of morality. The closer a persons beliefs are to the truth, the closer his morality will be to the objectively correct morality.

    Is this what you are saying?

  • 190. Roy  |  August 19, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Morality is absolute in that its goal is to use reason to avoid harm. Morality is relative to the individual’s beliefs as to what will cause harm.

    I agree with that.

    But let me add something else. Only an individual can himself define what does or does not cause harm to himself. Do you agree?

  • 191. Roy  |  August 19, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Joshua,

    If we don’t have choice (free will), then we are simply following a script. How in the world can following a script be described as moral or immoral?

  • 192. Lucian  |  August 20, 2009 at 7:48 am

    A taliban suicide bomber believes that murder is wrong.

    BUT

    A taliban suicide bomber does not think that what he is doing is murder.

    Change “taliban suicide bomber” with “abortion doctor”. Thank You.

  • 193. Joshua  |  August 20, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    The closer a persons beliefs are to the truth, the closer his morality will be to the objectively correct morality.

    Is this what you are saying?

    Yes.

    Well, there is no objectively correct morality, only different moral systems based on different beliefs. The closer beliefs are to the truth, the “better” the moral system becomes, in my opinion – because it will inevitably avoid more harm than moral systems based on false beliefs.

    The objective (purpose) of all morality is avoidance of harm, in my estimation. So if we want to call this objective moral values, then sure, we can call it that.

    I just don’t believe there is some “standard” out there, written by any non-human creature that defines absolute moral laws that we must follow. I want to avoid this as much as possible, because it will only lead to wars over who has access to this standard – which inevitably causes harm – thus is itself immoral!

    If that makes sense.

    It is immoral to propose that one has access to a list of any set of laws that define an absolute moral standard and can impose them on others – because it causes harm.

    I mean, does that make sense? Do I sound like I’m off my rocker?

    I don’t want a Muslim imposing his sense of divine morality on me, I don’t want an atheist imposing his sense of morality on me, and I don’t want a Christian imposing his sense of morality on me.

    I want the freedom to seek the truth, determine what truly causes harm, and make my own informed decisions based upon what I believe will cause the least amount of harm. And I believe that this is the right of every man.

    The key, then is to have a common set of rules used to determine truth and abide by these rules – not the resulting moral rules based upon a set of beliefs. These rules are what most free-thinkers call Reason.

    If we don’t have choice (free will), then we are simply following a script. How in the world can following a script be described as moral or immoral?

    For the same reason we feel a right to judge characters in a book. If morality cannot exist unless there is genuine free will, then no characters in fiction can be judged as moral or immoral. Yet we feel completely comfortable in discussing the morality of fictional characters.

    Think about it this way, Roy. All of past of scripted: because no one can change it. Therefore nobody in the past has free will. The past might as well be 100% scripted.

    But, we automatically judge people in the past. Why? To avoid future harm.

    All of morals, and all of judgments, are about avoiding future harm. I can’t think of any that are not! We kill a murderer because we do not want him to murder again – not because he broke some absolute standard of morality and “deserves” to die. He may very well need to die in order to avoid future harm, for sure.

    And even when a person is put to death for breaking “God’s Law”, the people putting that person to death do it so avoid the future harm of God’s wrath.

    We either punish to avoid a person harming again, or punish to avoid God harming us for not punishing. It’s two sides to the same coin in the theist world.

    Man, am I off my rocker here? It seems so simple to me.

    Change “taliban suicide bomber” with “abortion doctor”. Thank You.

    That will work too, Lucian :)

  • 194. Joshua  |  August 20, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Actually, Lucian, you brought up a really, really good point.

    Why did I say “taliban suicide bomber” instead of “abortion doctor”? Both are equally correct in that sentence.

    I chose “taliban suicide bomber” because I knew that all of my readers could agree that taliban suicide bombers cause harm and are therefore immoral. So, it was more correct given the context of the beliefs among my audience to say “taliban suicide bomber”.

    If I had said “abortion doctor”, I would have alienated a certain portion of my audience, because I knew that my audience is divided on whether abortion doctors cause harm. And since my audience is divided on whether they cause harm, I can accurately predict that my audience will have strong moral inclinations both ways on abortion doctors. I do not want to start a fight, I want to unite. Therefore, I find a common belief we all share about a common threat among us.

    The way to unite people is to find a common belief about what causes harm and point that out to them. This unites them against that common threat. Pointing out an area in which they disagree on whether it is harmful would only cause problems. Think: Iraq. Our nation is – and was – divided on whether Iraq was a threat. Therefore our nation was – predictably – divided on whether it was moral or not to invade Iraq. It’s that simple.

    A person’s conscience is easily predicted by their beliefs as to what will cause harm!

    If, however, I knew that some taliban supporters were in the discussion, I would have to find another common threat that we can all agree upon in order to bring about a sense of unity and to keep the conversation on track.

    So, here’s a question for everyone. I don’t know the answer (I have a hunch, though).

    What is a belief that every single human on the planet will agree to no matter what?

    Find that belief: and – if my understanding of morality is correct – you will find a common uniting point in all of mankind upon which to start a global moral system.

  • 195. Roy  |  August 21, 2009 at 6:02 am

    I just don’t believe there is some “standard” out there, written by any non-human creature that defines absolute moral laws that we must follow. I want to avoid this as much as possible, because it will only lead to wars over who has access to this standard – which inevitably causes harm – thus is itself immoral!

    If that makes sense.

    Now that I understand what you are saying, you are making sense. Obviously there is no standard written by a non-human that we must follow. But there is a best morality that will cause the least harm if followed and the only way to approach it is through reason. Call it the objective moralitity that will result in no harm. Humanity collectively seeks it using reason.

    I still disagree with you about free will being an illusion. Of course, it doesn’t exist in the past. It only exists now and into the future until it is removed from the equation by becoming the past. I can understand your analogy of an author writing a script containing chracters that had free will as the script was being written. That author for me is what I think of as god, but WE are the ones doing the writing, not him.

  • 196. Roy  |  August 21, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Joshua,

    I would like to state once more how wrong you would be to steal a gun you thought might be used to murder someone. You can’t know what someone intends to do with their gun unless they tell you. Yeah, the moment they let you know of their intention, then you would be right to stop them from murdering if you can. I’m not sure whether you mean by this that ALL guns can be used to murder therefore ALL guns should be stolen. That is CLEARLY wrong headed.

  • 197. Joshua  |  August 21, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I would like to state once more how wrong you would be to steal a gun you thought might be used to murder someone.

    If it causes harm, then yes :)

    So I agree with you.

    However, if stealing the gun would guarantee reduction in harm, it would be right.

    The problem is our limited knowledge. Which is the reason it is so difficult to know whether to allow a search warrant, arrest warrant, etc. If we had all knowledge, we would know whether the man with the gun was intending to commit murder and would therefore be able to make a guaranteed moral judgment in the matter. But because of limited knowledge we are uncertain about how to reduce harm. Our uncertainty as to what will reduce the most amount of harm is a moral dilemma.

    Now that I understand what you are saying, you are making sense.

    Yay!

    I still disagree with you about free will being an illusion.

    I know :) It’s okay, because I don’t think believing – or not believing – in free will could cause any harm (just arguments). Therefore that belief seems fairly amoral to me.

  • 198. Joshua  |  August 21, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Roy,

    BTW, I never thought any of your comments were bullshit. I don’t think anyone’s comments are bullshit, because if I knew everything they did from their perspective, what they have to say would make sense. Just as if everyone knew everything I did, my comments would make sense from my perspective.

    If I had full knowledge of everything inside your shoes, I would realize that your perspective is something you cannot choose :) Just as I do not think I can choose my perspective. Except, of course, under compulsion. But then if it is under compulsion, it is not a choice. Hmmm….

  • 199. Roy  |  August 21, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    If I had full knowledge of everything inside your shoes, I would realize that your perspective is something you cannot choose Just as I do not think I can choose my perspective. Except, of course, under compulsion. But then if it is under compulsion, it is not a choice. Hmmm….

    Ah, but Joshua, the data in my brain came from my senses. I had a choice (free will) as to if or how I would process that data, and the result was my perspective. So I did choose my perspective. We cannot be compelled to use reason, it is always a choice.

  • 200. TitforTat  |  August 22, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Roy

    Im not sure what world you live in, but you dont have free will. You just have limited choice.

  • 201. Roy  |  August 22, 2009 at 1:10 am

    So you assert. What do you mean by that?

  • 202. Roy  |  August 22, 2009 at 1:12 am

    Oh, and I live in the same world you live in, so can you please dispense with insults and state your case?

  • 203. TitforTat  |  August 22, 2009 at 9:04 am

    To state “will” means you have something to do with it. And if its “free” I would imagine I could “will” anything I want. But the truth is I can only work within the confines of the enviroment in which I live. Hence I only have limited choice instead of being able to do whatever I will. Aint nothing free about that.

  • 204. Joshua  |  August 22, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Roy,

    A lot of us somewhat “know” what you are implying:

    Morality cannot exist unless free will exists, because if free will does not exist, then no one can choose anything, and if no one can choose anything, then no one can be judged for anything they do, and if no one can be judged for anything they do, then there is no basis for any justice at all in the world. And if there is no such thing as true justice, then all morality disappears and mankind’s actions descend into chaos.

    Since mankind’s actions are not descending into complete chaos and morality does exist, then free will must exist.

    Therefore, those who do not believe in free will are mistaken.

    Is that close to your position?

  • 205. Joshua  |  August 22, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    We cannot be compelled to use reason, it is always a choice.

    I disagree, because even a person who say to a friend “you have a choice” is subtly influencing the other person toward a particular difficult decision.

    Saying “you have a choice” is meaningless unless the person saying it is trying to get the other person to choose to do – or believe – a particular thing.

    No?

    Thus the concept of free will itself is taught as if to achieve a particular end, thus hijacking the concept that those who should believe actually have a choice in whether to believe free will or not.

    Can I choose not to believe in free will?

    The internal contradictory nature of that question should give everyone a moment of pause… the only solution that does not lead to contradictions is (in my estimation) to discover (not choose) that free will is illusory. Free will is a concept in the minds of men that is useful to achieve a particular end.

  • 206. Janus Grayden  |  September 2, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I’m not generally given to copying and pasting a response I made to one post to another, but in this case, the sentiment is exactly the same:

    If people had rules and regulations concerning do’s and do not’s before your religion came around, then it’s a safe assumption that morality didn’t come about as a result of your particular theology.

    We have evidence of secular codes of law before the Ten Commandments were lightning bolted onto stone tablets. Amazingly enough, they were far more practical and went into far more detail than “don’t kill.” The most famous of which, because we actually have written records of it, is Hammurabi’s Code. Certainly, there is a great deal of barbarism in it, but what do you expect? There’s nothing any worse than saying that you can sell off your daughter or to kill people who stray from your faith. These people were all primitive, morally and technologically. The moral roots of your religion are just as archaic as everyone else was at the time. Big shock.

  • 207. Ashley  |  September 8, 2009 at 5:52 am

    I know the conversation on this has died down a bit, but I just stumbled across it today. I just wanted to say that I was EXTREMELY impressed by most of your interpretation of the atheist perception of morality.

    I’m a Ph.D. in the social sciences, and these kinds of debates are what oftentimes what bog down our research. Spectacular analysis and presentation.

    The one thing I would say to you is, don’t be so pleading with your audience! If you write a compelling argument, I’d hope they’d read along anyway. (Though, I must admit, knowing some of the believers I know, they’d tune you out as soon as you write the word “disagree” or “challenge”!) :)

    Best,
    -Ashley
    From whydowebelieve.wordpress.com

  • 208. Joshua  |  September 8, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Ashley,

    You’ve made my day :) A large portion of leaving the faith stemmed from my serious questions about why people believe what they do – why I believed – and why two people can believe so differently (even within the faith) and how I could find the truth despite the differences. As you can imagine, agreeing to disagree just seems like laziness to me because it means no one wants to work to figure out the truth.

    I do have a response to your comment about pleading.

    I don’t know how much to say without giving away everything – and then ruining my article – but if I were to write to a secular audience, I would not plead. At all.

    But people turn to the faith because the pleading argument is convincing to them. Cold, hard logic seems – to a believer – like it would inevitably lead to an emotionless, meaningless existence. Christians like to experience – they enjoy the emotional prodding of arguments – because it makes them feel alive in a way. It puts ‘relationship’ into the arguments and lets them feel the presence of the spiritual realm. Logic does not have the same effect. Logic is dead to a believer. Not to mention that Paul specifically says that the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God, so most believers are conditioned specifically to ignore anything that does not include emotional pleas.

    There is a reason that believers like the shepherd / sheep mentality. They are conditioned to hear Christ’s voice in their life… which generally means they are listening for the emotional aspects of life and its riddles. They are, in many ways, addicted to them. The tiny ‘voice’ that calls to them from the emotional tug that occurs when they read a particular scripture passage means more to them than all the logic in the world. It is their connection with the other-world. It makes them feel alive. To them, their conscience experience of this would be completely lost if they ‘died’ to God by submitting to a completely reasoned approach to life.

    And this is, in many ways, all that the believer is saying. They are experiencing something in life and when they try to convert others, most of what they are doing is trying to communicate the experience they are having and get others to experience it too. They are experiencing God and it just flabbergasts them that others are not experiencing the same thing. They cannot comprehend it.

    Thus they conclude that unbelievers are dead to God.

    I’d love to say more… and maybe I will at some point. But I’m at work :)

    Nice blog btw!

  • 209. Joshua  |  September 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    If I were to boil it down, believers have a love-hate relationship with reason. They love it when it leads to the conclusions they like that were also reached by their own emotional / spiritual experiences. They hate it when it contradicts these spiritual experiences, because it puts them in a vulnerable spot and implies they are believing an illusion. No one likes to admit they have been tricked by anything. Their instinctual animal reaction is to then conclude that there is a problem with reason, because it causes them pain.

    The key, then (in my opinion), is to woo them to reason using the very thing they love and are tuned to listen to: appeals to their emotional or spiritual experience of the world.

  • 210. Joshua  |  September 8, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Hmmm, after reading your About Us section, apparently I am preaching to the choir… forgive me :)

  • 211. Ashley  |  September 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    I’ve found that the “tiny voice” that believers here is different for each one of them, and it’s something that non-believers hear too — because we’re simply moral human beings, even though that morality is subjective. It’s that little things we call the voice of reason. According to believers, I also hear the “voice of God” when I stand dumbstruck at the complexity of nature…*cough*…lol. No, it’s simply MY AWE OF NATURE. *sigh*

    Have you ever read about the “Biological Leash” argument? It’s something that seems to be relatively undiscovered in the atheist community (with the exception of Thunderf00t, who talks about it in his debate with Ray Comfort), however it’s something that social/cognitive sciences have dealt with for some time now. It illustrates how moral development is tied in *various* ways to biological necessity — for example, it doesn’t make sense to murder a LOT, since if, as a population you murder more than you give birth, you have a dead civilization. Different aspects of morality are more or less tied to this leash; some have long leashes, and some short. It’s an interesting way to account for a *fair* amount of relative consistency you see with some morals (e.g., murder, theft, etc.). Henry Plotkin has a book about it, if you’re interested — it’s academic, and so rather dry, but worth a read.

    Thanks for the compliments on the blog!
    -Ashley

  • 212. Ashley  |  September 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Ack. Hear.* Go me, it’s early. :)

  • 213. Joshua  |  September 8, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    It’s okay, I said conscience instead of conscious… haha.

    Yeah, I understood Thunderf00ts argument in the video (I watched it several weeks back)… it makes a lot of sense. I haven’t thought about it much, though.

    And yeah, your video of Ray is incredible. His response to both of you is quite unique.I think you may have actually finally brought together a few brain cells that never met before. Hoping for the best. Sometimes Christians just need someone kind enough to not mock them, because mockery immediately puts a person in a defensive stance. They also need people who both try to understand what they are saying and get genuinely confused or frustrated.

    The tiny voice is definitely diverse, but I think I would lump all the different voices together and just say that Christians get addicted to whatever type of voice they need to confirm the other-world exists.

    More power to you two and congrats on the engagement!

  • 214. LeoPardus  |  September 8, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Ashley:

    I’ve never heard the phrase “biological leash” but I’m quite familiar with the concept. It’s just the old concepts of survival and propagation tied together. Like the term though. It gives a picture of sorts to the concept.

  • 215. LeoPardus  |  September 8, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Good blog BTW. I particularly like the quotes from Ray. ……… Sheesh!……….

  • 216. Mystery Porcupine  |  September 16, 2009 at 2:48 am

    Wow, I can’t believe I just read through all of these comments and it is now 2am. I was definitely one of those Christians who loved that voice. It was interesting to read Ashley say that we all hear it as moral human beings (we’re just not all hearing it as God Almighty). That makes me feel a little more normal, because I still feel a connection to the spiritual and moral even though I’m not a believer. Or maybe that’s just my old addiction to the voice…hoping that it is still there.

    Josh, up until recently, I would have been one of those people to whom you were pleading your case. Now I am just a newbie trying to learn. This thread gave me a lot to think about and struck some interesting fears.

    After reading this, I am left to wonder…if we were to try to set up a best-case atheist community, or just a best-case new community where rules were not based on religion, how the heck would a community of people agree on those moral rules at all? I am (oh lord if I write this people will be able to identify me as a de-con… quickly changing name that will appear on this comment) – oh back to what I was going to say – I am a member of the Free State Project. We are free-thinkers who believe in small government. We are all moving to New Hampshire to try and work toward that end.

    Now let’s just say a group of people like us could start from scratch. We have all kinds of people coming together, some of faiths and some not, with the one thing in common being the belief in personal responsibility and freedom. I always thought that ethics and morals were pretty straightforward in a crowd like that: Don’t initiative force against someone else. Most people I talk with in that crowd seem to think this way.

    After reading all of this relativity stuff I am wondering if any community could ever get anywhere close to agreeing on moral rules or guidelines without the process leading to violence because of different beliefs. Just because 80% of the people think that an action is more beneficial than harmful does not mean that it is right to impose that standard on others. That causes 20% to be forced into a standard that does not agree with their beliefs. And force (harm) is what most (in this particular example) agree is wrong.

    Look I appreciate your brilliance but I’m not as smart as you, so feel free to enlighten me if I’m off in left field here. I’m a practical kind of person, so immediately I take your ideas and try to see how they apply to real life scenarios – and I am in uncharted territory in my brain. Maybe that’s because it’s now after 2am. :)

    This reminds me of a high school Bible study I tried to start. The leadership (all students) went to different churches, and I think it took us six weeks just to come up with a name and some basic beliefs we had in common so that we could actually have a Bible study we could all support. LOL Funny that the example I think of is a Bible study. But if it took us six weeks just to do that, how long would it take to get people to agree on a basic system of social responsibility and morality? More importantly, could a group of free-thinking people ever come up with a system like that that didn’t end up in some sort of violence?

    Your thoughts? I’m looking forward to reading Ashley’s blog – TOMORROW now that it is 2:30am. :)

  • 217. Joshua  |  September 16, 2009 at 11:42 am

    “I’m a practical kind of person, so immediately I take your ideas and try to see how they apply to real life scenarios – and I am in uncharted territory in my brain.”

    Thanks for your comment, I do appreciate it. I think if I were to sum up your post as best I could, it could be phrased “now what?”

    Well, not to skirt the issue, but this entire post was crafted to be descriptive and not necessarily prescriptive. Other than, of course, my prescription to do all that can be done to avoid faith when making moral decisions and instead to rely upon reason.

    That said…

    If you were to start a community from scratch, no matter how things played out, I would hypothesize that at any given point you could look back at every single interplay between the people involved and recognize that the above description of morality is accurate. Whether anarchy happens or perfect egalitarianism, we could see how people’s beliefs influenced their consciences and lead to such and such decisions which caused this argument which lead to this resolution which lead to this perceived reduction in harm, etc. etc. etc.

    However, that description of “what happened morally or is happening morally” does not necessarily tell us much about how moral decisions should be made and applied to a group of individuals who – no matter what – will differ slightly in their beliefs.

    That is the realm of politics. Honestly, I haven’t cared much about politics recently, but now you have me curious…

    Now, the purpose of politics is to create a system of morals and moral enforcers whose end is to cause the greatest reduction of harm (or increase in comfort – same thing) in society.

    So, the generic prescription I propose simple says to use reason to figure out which political system will achieve this end most efficiently. What political system can be set in place which will cause the greatest reduction in harm and increase in comfort?

    Just remember, we have to start with these assumptions:

    * All harm cannot be eliminated.
    * Perfect comfort cannot be achieved.
    * Forcing everyone to believe the same thing so that morals are the same leads to cultism – which is itself harmful.

    So it seems to me – using reason – that the best political systems are the ones that allow:

    A) Individual freedom of thought and therefore freedom of beliefs (an increase in comfort and reduction of oppression – which is considered harmful)
    B) A system whereby every person’s thoughts and beliefs can be considered when making moral laws (compromise).
    C) A system where enforcement of the laws is separated from debates between individuals over which beliefs are accurate.

    (A) leads to a free country.
    (B) leads to a representative form of government.
    (C) leads to separation of church and state, democracy, and lobbying.

    Well, that’s as far as my thinking takes me right now…

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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