Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Atheist Forum Conversations 6

Here are excerpts from some of my conversations on a forum called Happy Atheist. It's really hard to edit a forum conversation to include all the relevant discussion without also including a lot of off topic banter. So there may be a line or two in reference to something not included. But I think I got the just of it here.



From Thread: Will there be more or less?… in the Philosophy section of HappyAthiest

-toink33-

"Believe or you will be in hell for all eternity."

Without this type of statement will there be more or less God followers?

In my case, it is some similar statement that was used to recruit me.
But when I was alone, I asked myself. why?
What have I done to deserve such punishment?
What if I was born in a Muslim nation?
How just is that?
If I am to believe in God, there has to be a better reason.
I never found one.

When I was a young boy the statement scares me, but not anymore

-Court-

toink33 wrote:

"Believe or you will be in hell for all eternity."

Without this type of statement will there be more or less God followers?



Probably less. Many people buy into the Pascal's wager sort of argument, from fear, and without it, Christian myths lose their edge.

toink33 wrote:


What if I was born in a Muslim nation?
How just is that?



This was literally my first theological dilemma, when I was about ten years old. We were learning about missionaries or some such in Sunday school and I asked the teacher what about our religion would make natives convert. I mean, what is so much better about our religion that they would abandon centuries of their own religious traditions? It simply doesn't seem fair, because if a missionary from some other religion came and preached to a typical American Christian, the Christian wouldn't even consider converting. So why should we expect the victims of Christian proselytizing to convert to Christianity? It simply doesn't make sense.
This question was reintroduced to me my senior year of high school when we read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (such a good book, btw, I highly recommend it), and I still haven't heard a good explanation from anyone. I've heard from make-shit-up-as-you-go Christians that these people won't go to hell, but they're clearly contradicting their own Bible when they say that, so I can't accept that explanation.

-Me (Scrybe)-

Court wrote:

I've heard from make-shit-up-as-you-go Christians that these people won't go to hell, but they're clearly contradicting their own Bible when they say that, so I can't accept that explanation.


I'm probably someone you would consider a "Make-shit-up-as-you-go Christian". But… isn't everybody making up shit as they go? No one can even prove they exist. None of us can prove our viewpoint is correct. There are far too many questionable leaps, assumptions, value judgments, etc.

Anyway, the thing I wanted to point out is your assumption that "our" Bible is the authority in every Christian's life. That is one view, held by many Christians. But another, equally valid view is that "the" Bible is a collection of writings by many who were inspired by God. People we respect, and find it reasonable to take their advice. So I'd encourage you to re-evaluate your definition of a Christian who does not view the Bible as THE WORD OF GOD, as being a Make-shit-up-as-you-go Christian.

Another point I could bring up is that the word translated in most Bibles as 'eternal' is better translated as age-lasting. You are all correct that an eternal torment for not being a Christian is not at all in line with a loving, merciful God.

-SteveS-


Hello Scrybe, I've got a question about what you've written here. You say that

Scrybe wrote:

another, equally valid view is that "the" Bible is a collection of writings by many who were inspired by God.


but you've pointed out,

Scrybe wrote:

None of us can prove our viewpoint is correct. There are far too many questionable leaps, assumptions, value judgments, etc.


So, how do we know that your above viewpoint is valid?

It seems to me we have to draw a "reasonable" line in the sand somewhere in order to have a meaningful discussion.

So many people have claimed to be "inspired by God". How do we know that anybody was, especially when most of us freely admit to believing that many who made the claim were lying? And if it's an internal judgment call, then we're right back to arguing competing viewpoints. So it seems to me that we have to use some sort of "external rubric" for judging these claims, and at the very least subject them to some sort of probability.

On another note, I too agree with the following:

Scrybe wrote:

You are all correct that an eternal torment for not being a Christian is not at all in line with a loving, merciful God.


It has always seemed to me that people don't want their god(s) to be entirely merciful. They want him/her/them/it to punish evil people. So it seems odd that they insist on describing their god(s) with such adjectives as "merciful" and "benevolent".

-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:

Scrybe wrote:

None of us can prove our viewpoint is correct. There are far too many questionable leaps, assumptions, value judgments, etc.


So, how do we know that your above viewpoint is valid?



Well of course you can't. Fortunately it's not my job to convince you! Laughing

SteveS wrote:


It seems to me we have to draw a "reasonable" line in the sand somewhere in order to have a meaningful discussion.



This is true. But I find it helpful to remind myself and others of our intellectual and philosophical limitations. When we are both mindful that we are both guessing about everything it helps to keep us humble, humorous, and easy-going. Without of the pretense of "I'M RIGHT AND YOU'RE WRONG!" we can have a much more enjoyable discussion. Now we can progress to the stage of "I think I'm right because…"

SteveS wrote:


So many people have claimed to be "inspired by God". How do we know that anybody was, especially when most of us freely admit to believing that many who made the claim were lying?



With the framework laid sufficiently, I can say with 100% certainty that we don't know if anyone was "inspired by God". Laughing

I believe that there is revelation, but the reason why will require a little preface…
I'm sure this is a drastically underdeveloped idea, (one of the reasons I'm here is to better develop, or demolish some underdeveloped ideas.) but it seems to me that the primary difference between atheists and theists is how we approach ultimate questions. That these questions exist is a psychologically inescapable fact. How we explain their origin and answer them is the great dividing line. It seems to me –and I could be totally wrong about this- that atheists decide that the questions are invalid, or ultimately meaningless. Whereas the theist sees them as pertinent and requiring investigation. That is the whole business of religion, right? So the root issue seems to be the discerning of an epistemological telos. In other words: Are these questions meaningful and worth investigating? Since this divergence of thought occurs so close to the root of the way a person interprets reality it is very challenging to hold an organized discussion together with people who see this differently. That is why I think debates about how valid "the" Bible is, or whether I.D. should be taught in schools are pointless wastes of time. They are putting the horse a couple miles before the cart.

So with that long-winded preamble, I'll attempt answer your straightforward and very legitimate question. How do we know anyone was "inspired by God"? I'll use the preceding arguments to justify changing the question – if you don't mind – to "Why do you think anyone has been inspired by God?" The answer is that I have made a judgment call concerning the ultimate questions, and consider them legitimate, meaningful and worthy of inquiry. The immediate problem you run into at that point is the epistemological dilemma that you can not trust anything or anyone, including yourself, to be completely accurate about anything. I realize I've gone a few steps past our divergent paths, but you'll need to follow me for a bit if you want to understand my answer.

So far I've gone from step 1: declare the ultimate questions worthy of investigation, to step 2: realize I can't use normal methods of information gathering to answer these questions. Now step 3 is, as far as I know, the only option available: revelation. Being finite beings with fallible senses, the only way we could possibly find answers to these questions is to have them fed to us by an infinite, infallible being or beings. That is the only kind of information source that could actually know the answers. (unless you disagree with step 2. … But I'm assuming you disagree with step 1, so I guess it doesn't matter. Smile)

The next part of the question is: Why believe any particular revelation over any other one? (enter F.S.M.) Well, to put it simply, I work with what I have. I have reasoning skills. I have access to an amazing array of historical, philosophical, and religious literature. I have five senses (seven if you count heat sensitivity and motion/balance) that, with a relative amount of certainty, I can claim to be working well. I live in a culture that is diverse and relatively sophisticated. These are all tools that help me investigate the most likely source of revelation.

SteveS wrote:


And if it's an internal judgment call, then we're right back to arguing competing viewpoints.



Well that is just inescapable!

SteveS wrote:

So it seems to me that we have to use some sort of "external rubric" for judging these claims, and at the very least subject them to some sort of probability.



Yes, I agree. With the understanding that the "external rubric" is as fallible as our viewpoints are limited by time, space, and intellectual frailties. After all, any rubric we have is a construct based on our interpretations of reality, and every person has a different lens through which they see. That being said, I assume we are on the same page when it comes to certain fundamentals of logic such as the law of non-contradiction. But I think our differences will be axiomatic rather than epistemological.

SteveS wrote:


It has always seemed to me that people don't want their god(s) to be entirely merciful. They want him/her/them/it to punish evil people.



Yeah… Sadly, that seems to be the human condition. If there is an all-powerful being it is natural to project your interpretation of justice on it. I think that is why as our society discards it's gods we find new things to project our revenge fantasies onto: movies, games and government institutions. We recognize the inherent injustice in the world and would like to think everyone gets their just deserts. (Usually seeing themselves as meriting only glory! LaughingP )

I know atheists see this psychological need as a reason to believe the whole story is simply man-made. But I would argue that need fulfillment is not a consistent explanation for a host of things. We don't have food because we need it. We need food and there happens to be food. We need air and there happens to be air. Food and air do not exist as a projection of our desires.

SteveS wrote:

So it seems odd that they insist on describing their god(s) with such adjectives as "merciful" and "benevolent".



Indeed. I prefer consistency.

-SteveS-

Thanks, Scrybe, for your thoughtful reply. I'm been reading over it and pondering it for a while. I'd like to add/answer a few things, and explore some of this a little further (it's a good conversation, IMHO).

I actually think we may disagree on epistemological grounds. I'm just not wired the right way to be a "hard core" philosopher that distrusts everything to such a large extent. Usually, this is because I have a problem with things that are "possible" but that don't give me any good reason for consideration. Argh, I'm having trouble explaining this. Actually, here's an example, take this statement

Scrybe wrote:

No one can even prove they exist.


I may be misinterpreting this, but I think that if you asked me to prove that you exist, I believe that I could reasonably do so. I could have many people see you visually, and hear you talk. I could put a scale under you and measure your weight. I could shine a light in your direction, and note that a shadow is produced behind you. I could bounce sonar waves off of you from multiple different angles and notice that they all return from the same location. I could attempt to pass my hand through your person and feel that it stops. Perhaps I could smell you. I could aim a FLIR camera at you and note that it registers heat at your (alleged) location. I'm sure you get the idea, but I could do all sorts of things like this, and I'd be left with a convergence of independent data that all suggest there is a person standing where you are. I would certainly accept this as very reasonable proof that you exist. Now, maybe we're all plugged into the matrix and you're one of the "agents", and therefore don't really exist like I think you do, as a flesh and blood organism standing somewhere. Possible? Of course. But what reason would I have for this suspicion? Just because I thought it up?

I understand your statement about our limitations --- it's just that after a certain level I have trouble finding meaning in them. What test could I perform that would either prove or disprove, or even suggest a probability, that we are or are not in the matrix? It seems to me none. So why should I worry about it?

Anyway, I'm not going to re-quote your middle paragraphs (from your preface down to steps 1, 2, and 3), but please consider this next piece of my message in reference to these (which I enjoyed reading, BTW).

I might be dealing with another misunderstanding (on my part). If what you presume I find meaningless is the extent to which we can trust our knowledge, then I guess you're correct, and I find too much distrust to be meaningless. If, on the other hand, what you mean by "ultimate questions being worthy of investigation" is more a purpose of existence thing, then I would disagree (although I'm not sure all atheists would, I guess I really don't know). What I'm getting at here is that if there is a purpose to our existence, I would very much like to know, and would like to know what it is. It's just that I view our current human understanding to be completely unable to even began to answer this question.

So, it's very possible, depending on my understanding of this, that I agree completely with your step 1. Step 2 I'm not so sure about. I guess I don't see why we would need to use alternate techniques to discern these questions? I mean, if some supernatural deities exist, they have to interact with our physical existence to affect it, right? So why couldn't our scientific examination of our existence be able to "find" them? In one of my Carl Sagan books (I think his Gifford lectures), he says basically that as little as we know about the universe, he believes we know even less about god. I guess this fits my thinking fairly well. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I don't think we have any knowledge of any gods. Personally, I very strongly suspect everything that we have that claims to be "divinely inspired" is really just fiction written by people. Eh, I guess I sort of disagreed with both steps 2 and 3 in this blurb Wink

Oh, one quick thing,

Scrybe wrote:

I'll use the preceding arguments to justify changing the question – if you don't mind – to "Why do you think anyone has been inspired by God?"


No objection whatsoever. This is, of course, what I'm really asking.

About the "external rubric" thing, you point out that everyone has a different lens through which they interpret reality. I guess that's what I was hoping to avoid, using the common parts of our different lenses, if you will. Measure things using elements that we can all agree are reasonably valid. For example, we would never suggest someone stand on a train track and watch an approaching locomotive without fear, since it's possible that our eyes are deceiving us, so the train might not be real. On the other hand, if you and I are in the same room, and I claim to have seen a ghost that you did not see, but I never see it again and neither does anyone else, then we might suspect that in this case my eyes did, perhaps, deceive me. Or, ghosts are real and it's just unlucky, there's no way a single eyewitness to a single transient event can possibly convince anyone, because in this case there's just too much room for error to be reasonably compelling.

Please pardon my example laced blue-collar philosophy, I'm an engineer by living, and I can actually feel my lack of eloquence attempting to discuss philosophical topics.

Phew, just two more things I wanted to hit,

Scrybe wrote:

We recognize the inherent injustice in the world and would like to think everyone gets their just deserts. (Usually seeing themselves as meriting only glory! :P )


This reminds me of those wonderful statistics where like, what, 80% of people think they are "above average" drivers. Haha.

Scrybe wrote:

But I would argue that need fulfillment is not a consistent explanation for a host of things. We don't have food because we need it. We need food and there happens to be food. We need air and there happens to be air. Food and air do not exist as a projection of our desires.


I, of course, would argue that we need food and air as a result of our physical nature, which we arrived at through evolution. The fact that we can breath the air that exists on our planet, and eat the other stuff on our planet as food, is a direct consequence of our evolutionary process modifying us for survival in accordance with our environment. Desire is a consequence.

I think I would agree with most atheists that need fulfillment can affect what people do and do not accept as evidence for things, and that the high desirability of surviving your own death and living eternally in unmatched bliss tends to make people less than objective when accepting religious stories as fact. Primarily, I would say we feel that way because the actual evidence for truth in these tails (edited, oops, I meant "tales", haha) is very weak, and yet such a large number of people accept them.

-Me (Scrybe)-

Thank you so much for the conversation! I appreciate your candor and listening skills. I hope that I am repaying you with the same.

SteveS wrote:


I actually think we may disagree on epistemological grounds. I'm just not wired the right way to be a "hard core" philosopher that distrusts everything to such a large extent.



I might be sounding a bit more hifalutin than I actually am. I only emphasize these limitations when speaking of philosophical or metaphysical issues. I agree with you that there is a threshold at which the probability makes an idea so minuscule that it's not worth consideration. When looking into getting my breaks fixed I don't waste time pondering whether there are breaks, or physical reality, or whether or not I deserve to use breaks. I just get the darned things fixed.
But when speaking of ultimate issues, I find it important to keep a proper perspective, which requires acknowledging that our very best ideas are still only guesses. Something that I find lacking in most philosophy and theology.

SteveS wrote:

Scrybe wrote:

No one can even prove they exist.


I may be misinterpreting this, but I think that if you asked me to prove that you exist, I believe that I could reasonably do so.



Actually, I meant that YOU can not prove that YOU exist, and I can not prove that I exist. But it works that way as well. And you are correct: you could reasonably prove that I exist. And that is what I mean about our agreement on epistemological grounds. I approve of your standards and you approve of mine. We have both implicitly agreed that we do indeed exist and our physical reality is perceived in a very similar way by both of us. We implicitly agree that there is a law of non-contradiction. These are necessary prerequisites to a meaningful communication, and I gladly accept them. I only feel it necessary to keep it in the backs of our minds that those are, in fact, judgment calls we have made and we could be wrong about any of them. But utility demands that we dispense with them.

SteveS wrote:


I understand your statement about our limitations --- it's just that after a certain level I have trouble finding meaning in them.



I agree with your assessment. I only bring them up to keep us in context, not as a tool for argumentation.

SteveS wrote:



If, on the other hand, what you mean by "ultimate questions being worthy of investigation" is more a purpose of existence thing, then I would disagree.




When I refer to Ultimate Questions, I'm talking about the sort that don't fit in a scientific box. They are fundamentally philosophical. Why are we here? (Or… Is there a reason we exist, and if so, Who or what gives us that purpose?) How ought we treat each other? What happens after we die. (If anything.) Why is there injustice in the world? What is beauty and why do we respond to it? Etc.

Clearly, many of these questions are pertinent to atheists. But when it comes to anything regarding a telos, or purpose, you are instantly trespassing on religious ground. Something most atheists I've conversed with find very distasteful.

SteveS wrote:


What I'm getting at here is that if there is a purpose to our existence, I would very much like to know, and would like to know what it is. It's just that I view our current human understanding to be completely unable to even began to answer this question.



As do I. Hence, the only viable solution: revelation. It's quite possible that revelation does not exist. It's quite possible that if there is a purpose, then, as you say, we could not even begin to grasp it. To me, that is a hopeless view of life. I choose to hope.

If such hope is seen as childish or stupid, than it's easy to see how a different interpretation of reality would occur.

SteveS wrote:


...if some supernatural deities exist, they have to interact with our physical existence to affect it, right? So why couldn't our scientific examination of our existence be able to "find" them?



You are working under a couple of assumptions there. First, that a deity would want to be found and proven scientifically. Second, that if they did want that, they would want it to occur at this time in history or earlier. Third, that we have not "found" them already and simply misinterpreted the data. (Remember that scientific data collection, interpretation, and integration are all driven by philosophical principals, opening them to a vast array of corrupting influences.) And forth, that historical accounts do not count as a "scientific examination".

SteveS wrote:


In one of my Carl Sagan books (I think his Gifford lectures), he says basically that as little as we know about the universe, he believes we know even less about god.



See what I mean about philosophical outlooks influencing science? He could be right. He could just as easily be wrong. I personally believe, philosophically, there is no way a finite being could scratch the surface of understanding and infinite being. So in that sense, I agree with Sagan. But that leads me to one of my biggest puzzlements about atheism. I completely agree with agnostics: We can not KNOW what religion – if any – is correct. What I can't fathom is how one can assert what Sagan does: that we know SO little about the universe, and yet go on to say that they are SURE that there is no God. How can you possibly be that sure? It sounds as ridiculous to me as the TV preacher who says he's SURE that JEE-ZUS is going to rapture him leaving everyone else in hell. How can you claim to KNOW for certain? Especially with the whole field of quantum physics that keeps showing us more scientifically minded folk how little we really understand the reality we inhabit.

SteveS wrote:


I guess this fits my thinking fairly well. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I don't think we have any knowledge of any gods. Personally, I very strongly suspect everything that we have that claims to be "divinely inspired" is really just fiction written by people.



Most of it certainly seems that way to me as well. One of the things that makes Christianity stand out to me (besides an acknowledged bias towards it as one raised in the belief system.) as a truth-claim is how it gets a lot of the typical religion process backwards.

SteveS wrote:


About the "external rubric" thing, you point out that everyone has a different lens through which they interpret reality. I guess that's what I was hoping to avoid, using the common parts of our different lenses, if you will.



Yes, we have many parts that overlap. But many that don't. Though, that doesn't have to be a problem if we are civil and generous with each other.

SteveS wrote:


Measure things using elements that we can all agree are reasonably valid.



Agreed. Though it can be difficult to describe my position without reference to some elements that we do not agree on, such as revelation, faith, and purpose.

SteveS wrote:


there's no way a single eyewitness to a single transient event can possibly convince anyone, because in this case there's just too much room for error to be reasonably compelling.



While it may be true that you could not convince certain people of these types of things, there are clearly some people who will believe anything. And most people fall somewhere in between. For example, you may convince someone who has had a similar experience. In the case of religious claims there is that mysterious element of revelation. Ideally, one does not adhere to a particular faith because the arguments for it were strong enough. (Though I think that should be a part of it.) But one adheres to a particular faith because one feels that they have been communicated with through its forms and rituals.

In that case, a single person could be a witness to a single transient event, and convince another person, not because they proved it, but because the other person had some kind of revelation confirming the report.

SteveS wrote:


Please pardon my example laced blue-collar philosophy, I'm an engineer by living, and I can actually feel my lack of eloquence attempting to discuss philosophical topics.



Most philosophy I've read could use a lot more "example laced blue-collar" influence! I'm certainly no genius. I appreciate every example I can get. I'm not educated in this field at all, so I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of nuance and other important aspects. But hey, I work with what I got!

SteveS wrote:


I, of course, would argue that we need food and air as a result of our physical nature, which we arrived at through evolution. The fact that we can breath the air that exists on our planet, and eat the other stuff on our planet as food, is a direct consequence of our evolutionary process modifying us for survival in accordance with our environment. Desire is a consequence.



Ok, you got me there. I agree that we desire those things because our bodies need them. Whether through design or evolution the concept doesn't change.

SteveS wrote:


the high desirability of surviving your own death and living eternally in unmatched bliss tends to make people less than objective when accepting religious stories as fact.



Agreed.

SteveS wrote:


Primarily, I would say we feel that way because the actual evidence for truth in these tales is very weak, and yet such a large number of people accept them.



Yes, that is one way to interpret the data. Or the universality of the idea could be attributed to an inborn knowledge that tells us this. And there is only one test to determine which option it is.

-SteveS-

Thanks Scrybe for taking the time to go through this. I enjoyed the response, and I think we're getting very close to an end disagreement. In fact, let me take a stab at it right here,

Scrybe wrote:

In the case of religious claims there is that mysterious element of revelation. Ideally, one does not adhere to a particular faith because the arguments for it were strong enough. (Though I think that should be a part of it.) But one adheres to a particular faith because one feels that they have been communicated with through its forms and rituals.

In that case, a single person could be a witness to a single transient event, and convince another person, not because they proved it, but because the other person had some kind of revelation confirming the report.


This is my problem with revelation. There is no way that I can be sure that I have received any revelation, and we can't agree on revelation unless we've both received it. In short, I just can't find a reasonable way for me to accept that revelation is real. It would appear that we are going to be stuck on this one, as a true disagreement.

The only other thing I wanted to add was a further clarification on this paragraph,

Scrybe wrote:

But that leads me to one of my biggest puzzlements about atheism. I completely agree with agnostics: We can not KNOW what religion – if any – is correct. What I can't fathom is how one can assert what Sagan does: that we know SO little about the universe, and yet go on to say that they are SURE that there is no God. How can you possibly be that sure?


I think most atheists would say we are not sure that the existence of gods is impossible. What we would say is that we currently have insufficient reasonable cause to believe that there are any gods. Basically, examining the evidence that is put forward for the existence of a god, we find that it does not stand up to critical analysis. So, I don't go out on a limb and say "there could never be any gods in the universe!", more what I say is "without any compelling reason to believe gods are real, why would I do so?". I think that's all Carl Sagan is saying, is that the evidence that has been put forth for god(s) so far is weak, so what do we really know about god(s)? And without any knowledge, why have a belief? It's possible that we are going to disagree on the evidence for god, possibly for the reason above. If you believe that revelation is legitimate, then you're going to believe that revelation provides a legitimate reason for holding a god belief. I, on the other hand, have issues with revelation Wink

So, to apply this in some context,

Scrybe wrote:

there is no way a finite being could scratch the surface of understanding and infinite being


I am a finite being, as near as I can tell. If I can't even scratch the surface of understanding an infinite being, than how can I possibly claim to understand the existence of an infinite being? If I can't understand it's existence, then why would I feel that it does, in fact, exist at all? I'm not saying this in an "I'm right your wrong" sort of way, but I'm trying to convey why I hold my opinion. Hopefully this makes some amount of sense.

-Scrybe (Me)-

SteveS wrote:

Scrybe wrote:

there is no way a finite being could scratch the surface of understanding and infinite being



I am a finite being, as near as I can tell. If I can't even scratch the surface of understanding an infinite being, than how can I possibly claim to understand the existence of an infinite being?



I don't think anyone can claim to understand God. I think it is reasonable to claim that you have been communicated to by God. Naturally, and communion requires a condensation on His part. And most, if not all, of our understanding of Him is metaphorical in nature.

SteveS wrote:


If I can't understand it's existence, then why would I feel that it does, in fact, exist at all? I'm not saying this in an "I'm right your wrong" sort of way, but I'm trying to convey why I hold my opinion. Hopefully this makes some amount of sense.



Yes, It makes perfect sense. As far as I can tell, communion with God requires two elements. First, He must choose to communicate to you. This decision was made before you were created, so you don't have any say in the matter. Second, you must desire to orient your worldview in such a way as to interpret reality as a broader, deeper system than the mere mechanics of natural law. Obviously if I don't want to believe in fish, and I choose to never go near water, it will be easier to disbelieve the existence of fish. This analogy is clearly flawed since "seeing" God is a different sort of activity than seeing a physical entity, but I think you get my point.


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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Atheist Forum Conversations 5

Here are excerpts from some of my conversations on a forum called Happy Atheist. It's really hard to edit a forum conversation to include all the relevant discussion without also including a lot of off topic banter. So there may be a line or two in reference to something not included. But I think I got the just of it here.

From Thread: If God does exist… in the Philosophy section of HappyAthiest

-User192021-

Ok, obviously this is a complete hypothetical so I ask that you simply play along.

Let's pretend for just a moment that God exists and there is, indeed, a heaven and a hell (or something of that sort). If an atheist lives his whole life by a relatively strict moral code, generally treating others as he would wish to be treated, would God care if that person believed in him or not?

As a fairly new atheist, this is something I've contemplated while going through the "what if I'm wrong" phase. I find it to be somewhat unreasonable that God would punish people for doubting his existence based on the (lack of) evidence HE gave us using the critical, inquisitive minds HE gave us. Why would God punish people for using the same logical thinking processes which have enabled the human race to survive. In fact, I think God would prefer to have people who used their minds in a rational manner during their time on earth in his presence rather than people who simply followed the flock and never bothered to challenge themselves and the belief system they happen to have been born into.

I suppose it doesn't matter since I have absolutely no earthly reason to believe any such place exists...but it's something I would imagine most of us have at least considered. Thoughts?



-Me (Scrybe)-

I can only comment on the Christian God since I'm not a professor of comparative religion.

Let's pretend for just a moment that God exists and there is, indeed, a heaven and hell.

Let's pretend that God desired a family.

Let's pretend He created a universe bound by time and matter, with little sentient beings.

Let's pretend He is omniscient, so He knows exactly what will happen to each of these being. Every particle that exploded into existence went exactly where He planned it to go due to His brilliant laws of physics. Every being's intellect, will, and emotional makeup determined through the brilliant laws of D.N.A mixed with environmental factors in a chemical and psychological concoction only God could have foreordained.

Let's pretend these beings have a spiritual component that exists in a different dimension and is thus imperceivable to the beings themselves, save for the nagging questions it puts in their heads about why they exist and where they came from, and where they are going.

Let's pretend the world they live on is full of beauty and crap. And God doesn't appear to every person to prove Himself to them.

Let's pretend He wanted to show us an actual physical example of how He wants us to love each other, so He incarnates Himself, lives a life dedicated to loving other's and correcting wrong teaching about Him, then is executed as a result, demonstrating the fullest extent of love.

Let's pretend that there are reasons for the suffering these beings are going though. One part this:

Willravel wrote:

It is the bad in life that gives the good things meaning. Perfection is meaningless.



Another part: purification. The final result: perfection.

Let's pretend some people took the manuscripts that were written about Him, put them together in a book, and started worshiping the book more than the God that the book was about.

Let's pretend they mistranslated a word that means age-lasting into eternal so they could keep their Hellenistic views of eternal torment to use as a whip to keep people in line, threatening them with the worst thing imaginable.

Let's pretend some people were influenced by their D.N.A./environment in such a way that made them decide God must not exist. (Let's keep in mind He planned all this out.) Let's pretend the poor example that the religious folks set caused a bitter backlash from these people, so they discarded the book-worshiping, revenge-doctrine priests as what they really were- vipers.

Let's pretend the atheist (who was made that way by God) and the viper/priest (who was made that way by God) die and are judged according to their deeds.

Let's pretend the atheist says, "Wow. Who would have thunk it?" Sorry I didn't believe in you. I tried to be kind to people and stuff."

Let's say the viper/priest says, "YES! Now I shall get my giant crown to replace the giant hat that I had on earth. Now I shall be eternally happy while I watch those sick bastards who were foolish enough to doubt God writhe in agony while I laugh and laugh!"

Which one do you think is going to get the reprimand, "Depart from Me. I never knew you."?

Which one gets to spend an 'age' learning to love instead of hate?

-SteveS-

Scrybe, it occurs to me that your above argument is really an argument from "humanist morality", for lack for a more educated term. I think behind it is a fact that we can both agree on, which is that morals exist separately from religious belief and practice.

Also, one question if you don't mind,

Scrybe wrote:

(Let's keep in mind He planned all this out.)


If this is so, and the atheists don't believe because god made them that way, then aren't the priests (the vipers that worship the book more than the god) also just behaving the way god built them? If so, why should they be punished by god for doing what he programmed them to do (or, more mildly, for acting out their part in his plan)? I ask because I'm curious how someone of faith feels about this. I consider all this hypothetical, obviously because I don't believe any gods made anyone.

-Johndigger-

Because even though God is all-knowing and knows exactly what we're going to do - we still have free will - we have a rational human soul.

Sounds like a paradox?

Let's have an example:

I have a vision of the future, I see my friend getting run over by a bus the next day.

I run home, I grab my phone and I ring this guy up telling him to be careful and not to go outside tommorow.

So, this guy stays inside and doesn't get run over by the bus - but if he doesn't get run over by the bus, then I haven't seen the future at all.


God had to create us for him to be Omniscient, didn't he? Because if he saw that we were going to sin, then he didn't create us - then he wouldn't be Omniscent because we wouldn't have sinned.

JD,
at least, that's the way I think of it

-laetusatheos-

Johndigger wrote:

Because even though God is all-knowing and knows exactly what we're going to do - we still have free will - we have a rational human soul.

Sounds like a paradox?

Let's have an example:

I have a vision of the future, I see my friend getting run over by a bus the next day.

I run home, I grab my phone and I ring this guy up telling him to be careful and not to go outside tommorow.

So, this guy stays inside and doesn't get run over by the bus - but if he doesn't get run over by the bus, then I haven't seen the future at all.


God had to create us for him to be Omniscient, didn't he? Because if he saw that we were going to sin, then he didn't create us - then he wouldn't be Omniscent because we wouldn't have sinned.

JD,
at least, that's the way I think of it



If god is all knowing that wouldn't necessarily mean he would have to create just because his knowledge of what would happen if he created had to be fulfilled to maintain his all knowing nature...it would just mean that he would know the possible outcome of any event that occurs. In fact if he had to create due to his knowledge it woud take away his being all powerful.

Another way to look at it which makes more sense, imo;

For instance: God could know that given the events leading up to a certain point Billy will either go to class on 7:20a on friday (B) or choose to skip and go to the movies with friends (-B). Up untill the point Billy makes that decision God's knowlege of the future would include B and -B thus allowing him to be all knowing by knowing all possible events.

However, this view places god inside of time rather than the popular view of god being outside of time. I think this view also protects free will and the outside of time version doesn't. If god knows exactly what will happen to creation before creating it then we were all created to do exactly what he knew we would do and wanted us to do since he created anyway....no free will, like robots. An omnimax creator outside of time would have the knowledge of all possible creations prior to creating and chose one based on this knowledge...those who are created when he made that choice are just fulfilling a plan and cant truly have free will; just the illusion of it. He would know before creating anything that I would become an atheist and create this forum...he would know that all those who don't believe are hell bound from the start of creation. The only way for us to have free will with this type of God is to change his knowledge of events...which would take away his omniscents.

-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:

Scrybe, it occurs to me that your above argument is really an argument from "humanist morality", for lack for a more educated term. I think behind it is a fact that we can both agree on, which is that morals exist separately from religious belief and practice.




I wouldn't define it as "humanist morality". But I agree that morality can be separated from religion provided a fair amount of societal conditions exist. Morality comes from answering one of the big questions: "How ought we act towards each other." There are religious answers to that question, as well as utilitarian aspects. Hence the state, and societal mores.

Just keep in mind that humanists don't have a better track record when it comes to humanitarianism. Certainly, governments established on humanist pretense lack "morality" in their dealings with their populations. (This is in no way a plea for theocracy, as it ends in much the same way.) But the reason you and I answer this particular 'big question' the way we do has much to do with our upbringing and societal expectations and ideals. I think most of us agree that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves, (with the possible exception of the guy here who overuses the word hominid.) but this is not the natural human disposition. A brief survey of history or anthropological study of native civilizations can easily show that to be true. How we got from the ideal of "kill your neighbor and take his wife" to "love your neighbor" is an incredible (and incredibly complex) story. One that I think would be impossible to tell without the religious components and influences. The necessity of these influences can be debated, but to simply ignore them and pretend that you and I are as altruistic as we are simply by our own good grace is, I think, presumptuous and ungrateful. Human civilization has had to go through a lot of crap to get us to the point where we were raised with these values.

Yes, you can uncouple morality from religion at this point, but don't pretend that religion wasn't necessary to get us to the place we are now. And don't be surprised if our newly unchained morality peters out after not too long, as it seems to do in highly secularized political experiments like the U.S.S.R. and China.

SteveS wrote:

Scrybe wrote:

(Let's keep in mind He planned all this out.)


If this is so, and the atheists don't believe because god made them that way, then aren't the priests (the vipers that worship the book more than the god) also just behaving the way god built them?



Yes. I noted this in my post.

SteveS wrote:


If so, why should they be punished by god for doing what he programmed them to do (or, more mildly, for acting out their part in his plan)?



You are interpreting Hell® in the same way the majority of Christians do. As punitive punishment that serves no other purpose. But a study of the use of fire in Jewish and early Christian writing can make a convincing argument that fire is primarily used as a purging mechanism. Fire is used to describe persecution, suffering, and other 'good' experiences that God uses to bring maturity and humility. (An interesting side note is the fact that sulfur is an ancient cleansing and purifying element used for both practical and religious purposes.)

So I think your question does not apply to my beliefs since I (And I believe "the" Bible) don't view Hell® as punitive, but as purging and reconciliatory. Though part of the implicit question you raise is "How can this be a fair system?" If God creates many of us to be ass-clowns, we shouldn't be the ones to pay the price for His decision. This would be true if suffering were pointless. However, if suffering is as "the" Bible describes it: as prescriptive for maturation, bringing us into a state where we can be a part of God's final family, well then, we will all be very grateful for every bit of suffering we go through once we reach our destination. (Just as a child hates school, but once an adult, can appreciate the necessary struggles to bring him/her to the point they are at.) Once we see how every moment of pain caused us to progress, in some manner, towards heaven. This can either be accomplished in this life, or in a metaphorical lake of purifying fire and sulfur. I don't know whether one is preferable to the other.

laetusatheos wrote:


An omnimax creator outside of time would have the knowledge of all possible creations prior to creating and chose one based on this knowledge...those who are created when he made that choice are just fulfilling a plan and cant truly have free will; just the illusion of it. He would know before creating anything that I would become an atheist and create this forum...he would know that all those who don't believe are hell bound from the start of creation. The only way for us to have free will with this type of God is to change his knowledge of events...which would take away his omniscents.



I have come to this same conclusion. I don't understand the Christians who say that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, yet insist that people can thwart God's will with their choices. It's simply a matter of description. If free-will exists, then God can not , by definition, be omniscient. End of story.


Switch to full edit form



-SteveS-

Again, Scrybe, thanks for the answer. I certainly accept that the way you present your definition of hell this is not, in fact, a contradiction. Apologies if you addressed this in the original post and I was too obtuse (or drunk) to pull it out.

My only reason for invoking "humanist" was that you didn't think the priests were good because they had a god belief, or that the atheist were bad because they did not. In fact, your definition of why the priests were behaving amorally, namely,

Scrybe wrote:

Let's pretend they mistranslated a word that means age-lasting into eternal so they could keep their Hellenistic views of eternal torment to use as a whip to keep people in line, threatening them with the worst thing imaginable.


is something I would agree with entirely. So, I preceived a lack of absolutist morals, and more of consequentialist scheme here. I could have read far too much into this.

Scrybe wrote:

to simply ignore them and pretend that you and I are as altruistic as we are simply by our own good grace is, I think, presumptuous and ungrateful. Human civilization has had to go through a lot of crap to get us to the point where we were raised with these values.


I certainly agree with this, 100%. We are all a product of our environment and our times. To judge our virtues and vices otherwise would be far less than honest.

I don't know if religion was required to get us to where we are now, but I don't pretend that actual instances of it haven't been helpful. Historically, there were large parts of human education, discovery, and contemplation that were driven by religious people for what appeared to be religious purpose. Was it required that they did so from religious grounds? Maybe not, but historically they certainly did, I certainly acknowledge this.

About the failure of secular governments, well, if you'd like to stand together and throw stones at the establishment, then I'm your man. Personally, it is my political feeling that a secular government is essential for humanist justice in a society. I think governments fail morally because their officers, even in a government built on humanistic terms, are not themselves humanists. I'm try to say, politicians suck, and the reasons they have become politicians are not good reasons. So I'm not certain that it is the "tenets" of the goverments that fail us as much as the practioners that do so. This is a political opinion, and a personal speculation, and I'm not really prepared to offer any evidence in support of this feeling of mine outside of casual observation of political events primarily in my own nation, so take all this with a large grain of salt (somewhat bitter, no Wink).

I've heard the school analogy with suffering before,

Scrybe wrote:

(Just as a child hates school, but once an adult, can appreciate the necessary struggles to bring him/her to the point they are at.)


and I think it's fun to present my atheist view point. Working with this analogy, for me then graduation is death. Final death, no afterlife. So, you can understand why I would want to ditch class (avoid suffering), and wouldn't be too concerned about flunking exams along the way because I was out late drinking.

-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:

I preceived a lack of absolutist morals, and more of consequentialist scheme here. I could have read far too much into this.



How do you define consequentialist? In order to maintain consistency in a view of a sovereign God, it is necessary to make a distinction between what is prescriptive morality, and what is necessary for God's good plan to come about. In other words: shit happens because God made this world as a refiners fire for us. But He does not tell us to throw shit at each other. In fact, He specifically forbids it. (In varying degrees and various times) This is not double-talk. God doesn't tell us to be good while hoping we will be bad. He made us to be bad, but gives us examples of what good is, through the impartation of moral laws. It seems to me that one of the major purposes for this refining furnace we are in is to teach us the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, etc.

So I don't think you could say that I am not an absolutist. I believe there are transcendent absolutes that have been communicated to us by an absolute, transcendent God. I merely acknowledge the fact that we are all actors in His story, and we are all villains to some degree. God has graced some of us with more desire to be loving and selfless than others. Thankfully, He didn't limit the allotment to only a small group of "His people", but gave that gift to many, even those who deny His existence.

SteveS wrote:


I don't know if religion was required to get us to where we are now,... Was it required that they did so from religious grounds?



I think it was. Because there has to be a certain foundation before rational scientific explorations can begin. That foundation starts in the philosophical, but quickly veers into the religious. I think that certain questions have to be answered certain ways. Like: "Is there a law of causality, or is every event random and chaotic?" Different religions will answer this differently based on the personality of the deities. Many deities are chaotic and malevolent. In that sort of system there is not much point in researching, because the answers would always be changing. But in a religious climate where a good god ordered reality, then you have a stable platform to start working on. A religious climate that promotes meaning in people's lives, and especially equality will produce more motivation, opportunities, and inspiration that lead to innovation.

Of course these are all theories. But my point is that as you said, "large parts of human education, discovery, and contemplation were driven by religious people for what appeared to be religious purposes" That contemplation process can not evade religious questions and proposals.



SteveS wrote:


Personally, it is my political feeling that a secular government is essential for humanist justice in a society.



You could be right about that. Though I don't believe any true justice can be achieved on this earth for the reasons listed above. (The stuff about free will and our inability to account for all the reasons that actions occur.) But we should still strive for it as an ideal. But I don't believe it makes a difference whether a government is religious or not. It really comes down to the character of those in charge. And if, as you say, all or most politicians are not in it for the right reasons, it really doesn't matter what their take on religion is; they will use their power to their own gain.

SteveS wrote:


So I'm not certain that it is the "tenets" of the goverments that fail us as much as the practioners that do so.



I agree to an extent. But I would add that governing systems that understand and take human nature into account the best, fair better than those that rely on ideals that do not exist. I think capitalism is the best system we have come up with so far, even though it has glaring holes in it that promote materialism and other very non-Christian ideals. So yes, my political examples failed because of their leadership. But I think that even with paragons of virtue at the helm, they would still have a tough go at it. I mean, I'd love it if communism worked. It's as close to the Christian ideal as we've concocted for a nation-wide government. But there are just too many selfish bastards out there for it to work. Crying or Very sad



SteveS wrote:


I've heard the school analogy with suffering before, and I think it's fun to present my atheist view point. Working with this analogy, for me then graduation is death. Final death, no afterlife. So, you can understand why I would want to ditch class (avoid suffering), and wouldn't be too concerned about flunking exams along the way because I was out late drinking.



Haha! Good counter analogy. Here I thought that I came up with the school analogy by myself. Doubtless one of those billion inputs that got filed away and regurgitated when called on. Actually, my first analogy was going to be foul-tasting medicine. But really, I like "the" bible's analogy the most: refining metal.

Anyway, your counter argument works for you because I'm assuming you are a man of high moral character. Imagine those words coming from a drug-addicted hoodlum with a gun and you can see how dangerous that philosophy can become.
Shock

-SteveS-

Scrybe wrote:

How do you define consequentialist?


I think I can do this fairly well. Is lying wrong? Depends. Is killing wrong? Depends. Is theft wrong? Depends. I could crack out some examples, but I think you get where I'm coming from. Absolute in my opinion would be "killing is always wrong". Or, "you must never blaspheme". Make sense?

It seems clear that "I read too much into it". I think I understand your position better after your explanation.

Scrybe wrote:

He made us to be bad, but gives us examples of what good is, through the impartation of moral laws.


I understand how your conclusions follow from this. Just, understand that I can't agree with this premise. I can't find a reasonable physical cause for believing that god imparted moral laws directly into our beings. I believe morality evolved right along with our physical forms. It's social instinct to me. I take courage in the fact that we can improve it through rational consideration.

Scrybe wrote:

But I would add that governing systems that understand and take human nature into account the best, fair better than those that rely on ideals that do not exist.


Lol, I agree completely, just in the mirror image. In other words, I believe that a naturalistic approach is a better understanding of human nature, and that it is divine morals that are the non-existent ideals. I have no remedy for this other than to "agree to disagree".

Scrybe wrote:

(The stuff about free will and our inability to account for all the reasons that actions occur.)


To keep from muddling this discussion up, I'll post something more over on the free will thread.

Just a quick wrap on the government thing. I think opening up the government to secular ideals presents a more fair base on which the politicians must practice. This is my opinion. I believe they have an easier time justifying mistreatment of individuals when operating on religious grounds. If you are talking about your own personal religious views, I understand that this may not be the kind of issue that it is for more fundamental regimes, like the Taliban for instance. The practical side of ideal government systems is something that appears very, very difficult to me, and I don't claim to have any answers, other than to be very aware of the risks and as good citizens to keep our government honest to the best of our ability.

Scrybe wrote:

But I think that even with paragons of virtue at the helm, they would still have a tough go at it.


Couldn't agree more strongly. I think in your intro you mentioned LOTR as a favorite. Remember in the movie version when Gandalf explains how even he would be corrupted by the ring? I think the government problem is something like this.

Scrybe wrote:

Anyway, your counter argument works for you because I'm assuming you are a man of high moral character. Imagine those words coming from a drug-addicted hoodlum with a gun and you can see how dangerous that philosophy can become.


Of course, but every system faces this danger. Imagine a Taliban leader patiently explaining that god created us and gave us moral laws. That they are absolute and just and come from a higher power that no man can argue with. That some particular woman was aware of the laws and yet had an extramarital affair anyway and must therefore be beheaded according to god's will. We can see the same dangerous philosophy arising from absolute religious morals.



-Johndigger-

SteveS wrote:

I think I can do this fairly well. Is lying wrong? Depends. Is killing wrong? Depends. Is theft wrong? Depends. I could crack out some examples, but I think you get where I'm coming from. Absolute in my opinion would be "killing is always wrong". Or, "you must never blaspheme". Make sense?




Well, this is quite interesting, but it's in a very general sense. If we take some specifics perhaps we can derive some kind of absolute morals.


Such as "Is killing an innocent person for no reason always wrong?"

"Is theft simply for your own greed always wrong?"

I would say that, yes, there are absolute moral answers to these questions. To apply absolutes in a general sense doesn't really work.

In fact, it's usually called stereotyping. Wink

But when we delve into specific situations, I believe in some kind of absolute morality.

-SteveS-

Johndigger, of course, but consider what you are doing:

Johndigger wrote:

Such as "Is killing an innocent person for no reason always wrong?"


Compare this with the statement,
Is killing an innocent person always wrong? (i.e. take out the "for no reason" part)

I believe you could make an argument that killing an innocent person is permissible under certain circumstances. For instance, when doing so prevents the deaths of a larger number of innocent people that will surely die if the other, solitary, innocent is not killed. This is contrived, but you understand what I'm getting at. It is the consequence of an act that defines whether or not it is moral, not the act itself.

When you add "for no reason" into it, you are adding the part that I consider the "consequential". Effectively, what you are saying in this case is that "the reason" dictates the morality of the act, not the act itself (a point on which I would agree).

I'm sorry if you feel I'm being pedantic about this, but I was trying to argue this from the perspective of moral philosophy (a subject in which I admit I'm no expert, but I think I'm using my terms correctly).

Johndigger wrote:

In fact, it's usually called stereotyping.


What I did do was consider "absolute" morals as "deontological" morals. While I don't think this is stereotyping, I will admit that deontology was perhaps not what Scrybe had in mind when he was postulating "absolute" morals. It sure sounded like it to me, but I'm frequently wrong, and if I am in this case I'll offer apologies in advance.

Here's a Wiki Link to an article that describes the terms I'm using (see the part on Deontology for the comparison). If I've guessed correctly that some of you do favor deontology, you may particularly enjoy the section of the article that lists criticisms of consequentialism Wink

-Johndigger-

I asked that particular question for a reason - there's no point changing it to fit Moral Philosophy. Wink


The question I'm asking if is there really is "no reason" can an act be justified? This is obviously a rare case - but I think we can draw some kind of moral absolute from this.

JD,
though I appreciate your point, of course, but you didn't really answer my question - you more changed the question to suit you and then answered it.



-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:


What I did do was consider "absolute" morals as "deontological" morals.



Yes… this is a fascinating issue concerning a possible line between theists and atheists. I absolutely would fall more on the side of deontology than consequentialism. And I think the reason goes back to those ultimate questions I was referring to. In the mind of a theist, there are two layers of meaning in every act and two layers of repercussions. My opinion is that God has us acting out these things for the purpose of teaching and changing us. Because of this, motive truly is the most important element of any act. But if, as an atheist, you do not believe in that second layer of meaning and consequence, there really is no reason to consider motive, only the outcome.

This brings to mind the movie, Gosford Park. >>SPOILER WARNING<<>

So if I were put in a situation where I had to kill one innocent person to keep the whole world from being killed… sorry. You'd be dead. But if it makes you feel better, if I was in a situation where I had to kill myself to save the world, I would gladly do it.

-Johndigger-

[Derail]

Sorry to derail a bit, Scrybe, from your posting I understand that you are some sort of Christian. One of your beliefs (I think) was that there is no hell and that they mistranslated it.

It was sort of like what I would call (as a Catholic) "Purgatory" where you are purified by fire and everyone goes to Heaven in the end.

But, what about the Unforgivable Sin of Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?


This isn't to bash or to poke holes in your beliefs, but this question sprang immediately into my mind so I had to ask. Smile

Feel free to correct me on what you believe - this is simply my own (extremely limited) interpretation of your posts.

JD

[/Derail]

-SteveS-

Hi guys, I'm trying to keep up, and I've addressed both of your (Johndigger and Scrybe)'s followups below. I think we're truly getting somewhere, BTW.

Johndigger, I'm not trying to change your question. What I'm trying to do is draw a distinction between an absolute answer and an absolute method.

To avoid any appearance of dodging the question, I can unequivocally agree that "killing an innocent person for no reason" is absolutely wrong. My reasoning is that I can think of no possible situation in which killing an innocent person, for no reason, can ever lead to a beneficial consequence, nor can the intended consequence ever appear to be beneficial.

The best way I can illustrate my point of view further is through my own simple minded "example laced blue collar" philosophy. For illustration, let me choose a slightly different question:

"Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person allowable?".

I'm going to add on more specific variants of this question, and I'm going to explore how I, as a consequentialist, and a Pacifist, as a more absolutist, answer all these questions.

Responder = SteveS (consequentialist)

Q1: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person allowable?
A1: Yes and No, it depends on the consequences.

Q2: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person for no reason allowabe?
A2: No, because "no reason" is not a beneficial consequence.

Q3: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person for a bad reason allowable?
A3: No, because a "bad reason" implies that the net consequences are not beneficial.

Q4: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person for a good reason allowable?
A4: Yes, because a "good reason" implies that the net consequences are beneficial.

Now for part two.
Responder = Pacifist (absolutist)

Q1: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person allowable?
A1: No, because violent acts are always wrong by their nature.

Q2: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person for no reason allowabe?
A2: No, because violent acts are always wrong by their nature.

Q3: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person for a bad reason allowable?
A3: No, because violent acts are always wrong by their nature.

Q4: Is commiting a violent act on an innocent person for a good reason allowable?
A4: No, because violent acts are always wrong by their nature.

The pacifist feels that violence is always wrong, the consequences bedamned. Another way to say this is that we have a duty (a categorical or moral imperative) to avoid violence.

Hopefully I've made it clear that it's the "absoluteness" of the method, versus the "absoluteness" of the answer, that is my distinction. In both cases, our individual yes and no answers are absolute. But how we arrived at them was not.

To me, you've provided an example of how religious thought seems absolutist to me with the following statement:

Johndigger wrote:

But, what about the Unforgivable Sin of Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?


It appears that to you blasphemy against the holy spirit is wrong. It is always wrong. There is never any case in which the consequences might cause an act of blasphemy against the holy spirit to be okay. This is a moral absolute, a duty to God, a moral imperative.

Consider the linkages to our above circumstance.
The act: above this is "commiting a violent act", here it is "blasphemy".
The target: above this is "an innocent person", here it is "the Holy Spirit".
The consequences: I need consequences to judge this act. You do not.

I'm not trying to be adversarial, nor am I claiming that your above reasoning about blasphemy is wrong. I am claiming that my motivations appear to be different then yours. This difference is philosophical to me, and there is no objective way to resolve it. We could be wrong or right in any combination, I don't even know how to tell.

Also, to claim that as individuals we are always deontological or always consequential is probably not very true. I suspect that in truth we are all some sort of blend of these two ideas. I would, however, suspect that what Scrybe said,

Scrybe wrote:

Yes… this is a fascinating issue concerning a possible line between theists and atheists.


is probably true, generically speaking. Some very famous atheists seem, to me, to be leaning toward the consequential, and in my experience religious people tend to lean toward the deontological. Also,

Scrybe wrote:

But because a theist believes in more than the physical, there is a broader spectrum with which to judge an act as moral or immoral. See?


I do see. And I basically agree with you that this is a prime suspect for the difference in motivation. One thing I feel I have to clarify,

Scrybe wrote:

Because of this, motive truly is the most important element of any act.


I think judging an act based on motive is common to both our philosophies. I can't actually know ahead of time what the actual consequences of my actions are going to turn out to be, so I have to act on"intended consequences". This motivation is important to me in judging an act, and I would agree that stabbing a person, with the intent to murder them, only not actually doing so because they were already dead and you didn't know, nonetheless qualifies the action as amoral because the intended consequences were amoral. It's just that the "actor" got lucky because no negative consequences actually followed. Our legal system draws a distinction between intended an actual consequences by treating "attempted murder" differently than actual murder.

To me, this plays directly into what Scrybe said above. If I feel the endpoint of my act is defined in physically reality, than I feel that there really was no harm done and the difference in "attempted" and "actual" murder is justified. If I feel my act carries ramifications beyond this existence into an afterlife, then I can't actually claim that no harm was done.

Of course this entire area is totally grey, in my humble and confused opinion, and I believe I lack seriously in the education required to distinguish some nuances and pull apart whether certain of my moral proclivities are consequentialist "rules of thumb" or instead are actually more like absolutist "moral imperatives". (shrugs).

But thanks for the feedback, I find this topic makes for enjoyable conversation, and I hope I've cleared up my view.

-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:



Also, to claim that as individuals we are always deontological or always consequential is probably not very true. I suspect that in truth we are all some sort of blend of these two ideas.



This is surely more true than any of us deontologists would like to admit!

SteveS wrote:

I hope I've cleared up my view.



Yes, you did very well. This has been a very good and infomative thread for me. Thank you.


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Johndigger wrote:

[Derail]

Sorry to derail a bit, Scrybe, from your posting I understand that you are some sort of Christian. One of your beliefs (I think) was that there is no hell and that they mistranslated it.

It was sort of like what I would call (as a Catholic) "Purgatory" where you are purified by fire and everyone goes to Heaven in the end.

But, what about the Unforgivable Sin of Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? [/Derail]



Well, it's really not much of a derailing considering the topic of the thread. Yes, I am some kind of Christian. Universalist would be the closest box if you wanted to put me in one. (Not to be confused with the Unitarians!)

I did not say there is NO Hell®, I said our definition of it has been corrupted by several factors including a mistranslated word, other religions, and some very creative writing on the part of Dante and Milton.

As to the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, I won't get into that on this forum, since this is not an appropriate place for interdenominational exegesis comparisons. But here is a link with a short article about the subject if you are really interested.

http://www.tentmaker.org/Dew/Dew1/D1-BibleThreatenings.html

And here is a longer one:

http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/savior-of-the-world/unpardonable-sin.htm