Humanists raise funds for good cause!

And the good cause is to tell everyone how good they are! 

I have no objection to them spending their own money to advance their worldview via their sign campaigns:

No God? …No Problem!

Be good for goodness’ sake.

Humanism is the ideas that you can be good without a belief in God.

I just see some inconsistencies.  What is their standard for good?  No lawgiver = no laws. 

And their premise is made of straw.  As Christians we know why they can do “good” — God’s moral laws are written on their heart.  You can do good by their definition even if you suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness.  I know lots of “good” atheists (by their definition, not God’s). 

Telling others how good you are probably isn’t one of those acts that goes in the “good” column.

According to an April 14, 2008 AD Barna study entitled, “New Study Shows Trends in Tithing and Donating”; in 2007 AD evangelicals Christians (one of three subgroups of Christians under consideration) donated a mean of $4,260 to all non-profit entities while atheists and agnostics provided an average of $467.

According to an April 25, 2005 AD Barna study entitled, “Americans Donate Billions to Charity, But Giving to Churches Has Declined”;

“In 2004…Barna’s national study found that the people least likely to donate any money at all were…atheists and agnostics…A quarter or more…failed to give away any money in 2004.”

Keep donating money for billboards and bus ads. We will feed, clothe and house the poor.

I know that some of the money donated by Christians goes to their churches, so one could claim that they benefit.  But the gaps there are huge.  And they get bigger when you compare Bible-believing Christians to others who check the Christian box.

0 thoughts on “Humanists raise funds for good cause!”

  1. An Arthur Brooks book, “Who Really Cares” has the same results. Perhaps he used some of this data for his book. Conservative Christians were shown to be the most generous, even in terms of giving time, and in terms of giving time and/or money to even secular causes. Imagine that. Christians giving more to secular causes than secualar people.

    Even better was a report of giving by people like George W. Bush, John McCain vs Barry Obama and Joey “Plugs” Biden. Which guys do you think were more charitable?

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    1. Great points, Marshall. If you really want to make Obama & Co. look bad then compare them to Darth Cheney. He gives away loads of money.

      Obama’s giving % would be embarrassing enough without him forcing others to “give.” But that’s just the theologically Liberal way.

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      1. I don’t pay much attention to the amounts given by anyone with a ton of money. In most cases the amount of money they donate happens to be the exact amount that provides the greatest tax benefit for them.

        There are plenty of exceptions. For instance, atheists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

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      2. I noticed how they gave lots of money when it was risk free to them and still left them with billions. And Buffet thinks abortion is good for population control and thinks that is good charity.

        Don’t be so cynical and pretend that you know the hearts of people who give. Seems kinda judgmental to me.

        Try giving sometime for the right reasons.

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      3. Last I checked, Dick Cheney had a bit of money left over after his donations.

        Try giving sometime for the right reasons.

        I hope that was not aimed at me, right after you told me not to assume I know the hearts of people who give. Seems kinda judgmental to me.

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      4. Last I checked, Dick Cheney had a bit of money left over after his donations.

        And Barack, Bill, Al and more have a lot left over because they gave so little.

        I hope that was not aimed at me

        You made the generalizations about people lying and not giving for good reasons. I thought it was a confessional of sorts.

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  2. That’s just it. Why make sacrifices now by giving money when this life is all there is and in a few millions years, or even a hundred, it won’t mean anything. In fact, it is meaningless now.

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  3. People are generally good. I believe that is the case due to evolutionary reasons, and you believe it because you think that God imprinted “goodness” in our hearts, which is basically a cop-out that tries to explain why people who don’t believe in God are just as likely to be well behaved as Christians.

    I don’t believe the statistics because I don’t think a lot of people tell the truth about either their personal donations, or their believe in God when asked in a survey. I also think that chucking a envelope of money in a collection plate because you think that God is watching is much less of a show of “goodness” than making a donation for no reason other than pure altruism.

    There are many wonderful Christian charities (I’ve volunteered for some), and most of the people doing work for them are wonderful charitable people doing good work, but I’m sick of you making it sound like you have the charity market cornered. You don’t.

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    1. “I don’t believe the statistics because I don’t think a lot of people tell the truth…”

      Yet they are generally good? Or they’re good except that they’re liars? I’m confused here.

      ” I also think that chucking a envelope of money in a collection plate because you think that God is watching is much less of a show of “goodness” than making a donation for no reason other than pure altruism.”

      How do you tell the difference?

      “I’m sick of you making it sound like you have the charity market cornered.”

      Stats show that Japanese kids do really good in math and science. Does that mean that no American kids excell? No one made any claim about cornering the charity market. The claim, which seems to be somewhat verified, is that conservative Christians do more of it (as opposed to “all of it”) in general. You don’t have to get upset over it.

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      1. conservative Christians do more of it (as opposed to “all of it”) in general.

        Do you have data on that? Who decides who is most conservative?

        Also, money given to your church is not all charity. You are paying for a service for you and your family. Those stained glass windows aren’t cheap. Of course, man churches turnover a lot of that money into charity work, and donations to great causes. I don’t know what percentage that would be, but that percentage is your donation, not the whole amount. I think Christians include the whole thing when answering surveys about charity.

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      2. Also, money given to your church is not all charity. You are paying for a service for you and your family.

        Oh, you caught me! Wait, no you didn’t — I conceded that in the post, even though as you note, many of the services flow out from the church to others. Really, conservatives give more by any measure. Even blood donations. I’m not looking for kudos, it is just a fact.

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      3. I gave a source of data, as did Neil. Mine was the book, “Who Really Cares?” And in it, it shows that conservative Christians give more across the board, that is, no matter how you cut it up, even taking out donations to their own church. In mine, for example, donations to the general fund are separate from charitable donations. Thus, donations to the general fund wouldn’t be counted as charity in the first place. As to who is most conservative, I guess it’s one poll that you woudn’t put stock in? How convenient if true.

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      4. Statistics can say whatever you want the to say. An article by the same author says that religious liberals give as much as religious conservatives, and this was a year after his book was published. So there seems to be only the religious factor in the mix. But then you have the problem that he considers every penny given to church as a charitable donation. That’s not a fair comparison.

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      5. Actually, Ryan, the author says that religious liberals give at a rate comparable to religious conservatives. He didn’t say that they give the same. “Comparable” is not equal to “the same” or “as much”. In the book to which I referred, it did say that religious libs give more than non religous libs, if that makes you feel better. As to church contributions, from my reading of your link, he stated that giving is greater by the religious over the secular even without church donations counted. More specifically, giving to secular causes is greater for the religous than the secular.

        He gives one rationale for this that I could see. That would be that the secular believes taking care of the needy is the job of gov’t and will even agree to higher taxes for this purpose. To me this seems to equate to “scoring points with God” in the sense that their method of giving is less altruistic than a true desire to help. Nonetheless, your link actually backs up Neil’s original contention regarding one group giving more than the other.

        Forget the reasons why. The fact still remains. The secular don’t give as much as the religious.

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      6. I actually thought his article was interesting, and I agree with him that liberals think that the government needs to do more to help those in need. That may be part of the reason he find that they do not give as much.

        But as for conservative and liberal Christian giving, saying that they are comparable, in a social science setting, is what you say when the difference between the two is not statistically significant. The author himself found there is no difference, so I don’t know how you can say that conservatives give more, when it comes to Christians.

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      7. But he did say so in the book to which I referred. He did NOT recant in this article. “Comparable” is NOT “identical”. Even if they are close, he stated in his book a scale that put conservative Christians at the most giving side of the scale. I understand your desire to see that they are the same, and yes, that would indeed be lovely, but the research said otherwise. I’m not making a big deal of the difference, but the difference does exist as of the writing of that book, and this article does not refute that point. Try to find a way to deal with it.

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      8. I thought you were the anti-generalization guy? You should see our church building. No stained glass. Understated to the hilt, but well maintained.

        True percentages of church giving go to paying the bills, the preacher’s salary, etc. But I think you understate the the amount of good that is done in the community both by direct charitable work and contributions, as well as the service that is GIVEN TO THE COMMUNITY.

        Also, many of the charitable efforts churches do/are involved in are above and beyond the weekly giving. In other words, special collections, individual donations, etc.

        Here is an example: for the tsunami relief efforts a few years ago we decided that we’d take a week’s contribution, double it, and send that to the relief work. Our normal contributions at that time were about $1800/week (our congregation is fairly small). That week the contribution was $4100, and we sent $8200 to the tsunami relief.

        Other examples: baked goods privately donated for a elderly care center baked good sale, private donations of products needed at a local orphanage (last year we collected vast amounts of Cascade dishwashing detergent), privately donated school supplies for a local troubled girls boarding school. That is just a sampling. Note: These are all above and beyond the weekly contributions AND done without tax receipts for claiming this stuff on individual taxes.

        This doesn’t even mention that many of our members, including myself, have given people help that have come to the church from our own finances. A few bucks there, or a tank of gas there. It adds up, again without tax incentive.

        I think those surveys are probably grossly underestimated on Christians’ behalves.

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      9. I’ll throw one generalization at you that I’m sure you are comfortable with. Christian congregations collectively donate a lot of money to a lot of great causes.

        The employees at my company raised a ton of money for the tsunami relief, and the Katrina hurricane, and every year when the food bank is running low, and we partner with a church to send a bunch of people every week to a soup kitchen. When people get together with each other they tend to be more generous, possibly because it seems like we can make so much more of a difference together, than as individuals.

        Your congregation sounds like wonderful people. I’m not trying to diminish the good work you do.

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    2. People are generally good.

      I wish you ex-“Christians” would have left churches with better theology. Christianity teaches that we know what is wrong but do it anyway. People are not basically good, which you seem to concede with your “knowledge” of why people give.

      I also think that chucking a envelope of money in a collection plate because you think that God is watching is much less of a show of “goodness” than making a donation for no reason other than pure altruism.

      Straw man.

      But people are generally good, even though according to you they lie on surveys and give for the wrong reasons? Or do only the Christians lie and the atheists tell the truth?

      I’m sick of you making it sound like you have the charity market cornered. You don’t.

      I never claimed I did. I just pointed out what surveys have demonstrated plus an example of what I see as truly ironic charity — “I gave money to tell people how good I am!”

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      1. People ARE generally good. They are often weak, and often do bad things, but the huge majority of people know the difference, and harbour guilt for wrongs done.

        What’s the straw man? I never said there was anything wrong with Christians giving money – even to their church. Most people do so out of the pure goodness of their hearts. You are the one using it as a measuring stick, and I’m pointing out that it may not be a valid one.

        As for surveys, I didn’t say people lied on surveys, but many leave questions out, and many decline to participate, and that also has a huge impact on survey results. Personally, I hate surveys, especially when the purpose of the survey is to find out what I might buy in the near future or to find out something about me that is none of anybody’s business. In those cases, I’m likely to give some strange answers. it’s a no win situation. You are forced to either give up your personal information, or contribute (by not answering) to skewed results.

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      2. I said it was a straw man for you to claim this:

        I also think that chucking a envelope of money in a collection plate because you think that God is watching is much less of a show of “goodness” than making a donation for no reason other than pure altruism.

        How do you know people give for those reasons? Ironically, I gave that way before I was an authentic Christian. Now I love to give. God lets me be part of his plan here. He doesn’t have to, but He does. I want to do all for the kingdom in this life that I can, so I am intentional about giving.

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      3. I didn’t mean to say that you do that, or that many people at all do that. I’m just saying that I’m sure there are some that do.

        So what are you saying about your giving motivations? If I understand you correctly, you think that you are a bad person that, through the grace of God, is compelled to give money to honour him and his kingdom? You don’t really give so you can help people? Is that just a good side effect?

        I think you give money because you see people less fortunate, and want to help them, full stop.

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      4. Of course we give to help people. I love helping people. I’m a soft touch. I just try to do it for God’s glory, not mine. I can honor him and help them at the same time.

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  4. Ryan

    What do you mean by “good” in your statement that you think that people are generally good? There are a lot of people you know who thought that the 9/11 Hi Jackers were good. They were dancing in the streets to prove it. Is that what you mean? Or were they brain washed? But wait a minute. Maybe its you who is brainwashed. Who’s to say? You? So what do you mean by that word good?

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    1. We all know what I mean by “good”. Some people here just like to pretend that I can’t possible know what that means as an atheist. I get my sense of morality from my innate instincts, from my life experiences, and from reading and hearing about the experiences and opinions of others. You get yours from one single book, and from the opinions of other people who read the same book.

      I hold the door for people who I will never meet again, give money to people less fortunate, and I fix computers for people who can’t afford to get it done themselves I return money to cashiers who give me too much change. I don’t charge my company mileage when I get to a job site on my bike. I’m sure you do these sort of things too. That’s being “good”, in my humble opinion. It goes much further, and it gets far more complicated, but when it does, I think most everyone knows the difference between the right choice and the wrong choice, and that is rarely related to whether or not the person has read the Bible.

      Which one of us has a moral system closer to that of the 911 hijackers? Which type of person is ore likely to pilot a plane into a building – one who thinks this life is all there is, or one that thinks there is something better to come? How can I be brainwashed when I get my information from such a wide variety of sources? Heck, I read this blog all the time, and despite what some people might think, it’s not to piss you guys off. I’ve learned a lot from people here.

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      1. We all know what I mean by “good”. Some people here just like to pretend that I can’t possible know what that means as an atheist.

        Not at all. We know what you mean, we just like to remind you that you have no philosophical grounding for such a term. Chemical reactions will never produce morality.

        You get yours from one single book, and from the opinions of other people who read the same book.

        Bzzzzt. That’s not what we’ve said. You just keep repeating that.

        I have no doubt that you are a good person by the world’s terms and certainly a good husband, friend and neighbor. But you are self righteous in the extreme if you think you are good enough for God — even the one you think doesn’t exist.

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  5. Ditto what Neil said and also:

    I get my sense of morality from my innate instincts, from my life experiences, and from reading and hearing about the experiences and opinions of others.

    Lots of “I”s and “my”s in there but no definitions of good. That is, except with you as the reference point. Instead of using the word good to project your morality you should use a word that more closely defines the truth of what you are saying, like “my good” or something. I can understand why you would prefer not to for if you did you couldn’t speak as though “your good” is universal which would present other problems. But hey, at least you could define the words you are using and true communication could occur.

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    1. You could just as easily replace those with “we” and “our”. You make the assumption that there is one source that tells us the difference between right and wrong. I disagree with that, and I told you where I (we) get our morals from, in my opinion. You want me to call it “my good”, that’s okay with me. I’m comfortable with that.

      My definition of “good” boils down to being mindful of the feelings and wellbeing of others, and treating them as you would wish to be treated. That’s pretty much it.

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      1. Even assuming you “definition” as a given, how perfect need one be at being so mindful in order to still lay claim to the title “good”? It would seem to me, that absolute perfection is required in order to say that people are good. To be “generally good”, as you say most people are, indicates that sometimes those same people are NOT good. Another way of questioning your suppostion would be, are people good to begin with and learn “non”-goodness, or are they “non”good at first and must learn to be good?

        To say that “people are generally good” does not take into account people like Sadam Hussein and his boys, for example. Add to that your typical gang-banger or tax cheat. There are also serial killers and thieves who steal not out of need but instead out of laziness and an aversion to the delay of self-gratification.

        Personally, I think that people in general do not think of the well being of others primarily. I don’t even see that as a natural compulsion. It exists, but not in the majority. Understand that I don’t believe it takes a lot for most people to be mindful of others, but as a rule, the first thought is of the self. It is rare to find an individual who constantly has the welfare of others above his own as a primary thought. To what degree would such a quality need be inherent to label a person as even “generally” good?

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      2. M.A. said: It would seem to me, that absolute perfection is required in order to say that people are good.

        Then perfect depravity’s required in order to say that they’re bad. Nothing less than a constant stream of the most heinous atrocities available will do.

        People are perfectly goofy, that’s about it.

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      3. I don’t necessarily disagree. The notion of “good” is seen by the Christian as a quality only God truly possesses. Thus, “good” is a relative term. It would seem for the human, an overwhelming amount of good works, let’s say at least 2 good works for every bad at a minimum, would be required to qualify a person as good. So the notion of “good” needs more specificity.

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      4. Ryan

        You make the assumption that there is one source that tells us the difference between right and wrong.

        You prove my point. You are correct in this statement when you say I make this assumption, but at the same time, it infers that you make the opposite assumption, that is, there is no objective source for right and wrong. It only follows then, if there is no one source for what is right and wrong, it is left up to the individual to decide for himself what is right and wrong, good and bad. While this is the normal template for thought in these modern times, it results in rendering words like “good” as objectively meaningless beyond the person using them. This is the existentialist’s dilemma. He in his heart knows there is objective truth, but by accepting it he must also accept it’s author. By rejecting it’s author, he rejects any bases beyond himself to assert the existence of good… or evil.

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      5. I think there are certain objective truths when it comes to morality, but they do not have to come from any source.

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      6. Chemical reactions do not create morality. Laws must have a lawgiver. One illustration Greg Koukl gave was that if randomly selected Scrabble letters that gave you a command (“take out the trash,” or whatever) then you would have no reason to obey it. I could command you how to drive but what really counts are the laws in the area you are driving in. And so on.

        If they exist, they need a source.

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      7. So pretend for a minute that I have a program that generates a random map of a mythical city. Roads and buildings can be anywhere. Let’s say that you and I decide to look at this map, and pick the best route between two points. Odds are we will pick the same route, or they will be extremely similar. If we extend this to a mathematical mapping model, there will always be one and one only “best route”.

        Who is the “giver” of this route?

        I say there is no giver. The route exists based on the layout of the map.

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      8. But we’re not talking travel patterns, but morality and goodness.

        Without a lawgiver, then laws are subjective based on one’s perception of right and wrong. In fact, it’s one’s personal view of how one would like to be treated that might not match the next guy’s. Further, some aren’t concerned at all with anything beyone how THEY are treated. That is, they don’t give a flying rat’s butt what happens to you, so long as the worst doesn’t happen to them. There exist those who have no trouble acting nasty to their neighbor, but clearly feel that goodness in others is based on how well others treat them.

        You could say that a route of non-violence exists based on the layout of your morality map. Yet, at the same time, there are those who have no concern for others, and see murder as a worthy tool to use in order to get what they want. They think you are bad for trying to murder them, but for them it’s not a two-way street.

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      9. What Marshall said. That example doesn’t address morality.

        Even if it did, it involves at least two instances of a creator — one who made the whole thing plus one who made the software program.

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      10. But we’re not talking travel patterns, but morality and goodness.

        Did you think I was talking about travel patterns? I was trying to show you that when given a situation, even a random one, properties and rules can exist without the help of an author. On any random chess board, there are certain ways to win, and one way to win in the fewest moves. Those are rules, or laws, that have no author, and are completely objective.

        I propose that there are rules that lead to a successful and happy society, and that through time and experience, we are getting closer to figuring out what those rules are.

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      11. I propose that there are rules that lead to a successful and happy society, and that through time and experience, we are getting closer to figuring out what those rules are

        Could you please expound on this?

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      12. You want me to call it “my good”, that’s okay with me. I’m comfortable with that.

        Thanks, I’d appreciate that.

        My definition of “good” boils down to being mindful of the feelings and wellbeing of others, and treating them as you would wish to be treated. That’s pretty much it.

        I have only one question. Do you live up to this definition enough to qualify as being a good person?

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      13. Do you live up to this definition enough to qualify as being a good person?

        It’s impossible to label people with good or bad, but yes, I think I do. I’d certainly like to higher up on the scale though.

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  6. And morality *has* to be the inherent logic of the situation if you want an objective morality — that’s the *only* way to get one. God doesn’t help at all. If morality is imposed from outside, by a lawgiver, then it’s arbitrary to the situation and yes, subjective. (Just happens to be God’s subjectivity instead of yours or mine. See Euthyphro dilemma for demonstration of why morality has to be either logically self-contained, or else subjective).

    If God ordains that the quickest way to the store is via Mass. Ave., it had better really be the quickest way. Else there isn’t much objective truth in his directions.

    And again, the logic of why we have obligations to others is absolute child’s play: all beings value their own well-being as dearly as I value mine, so from an impartial standpoint they must be considered equal interests. There’s nothing logical to give my own interests more value; only my own preference for them, which I can plainly see has no objective, universal basis.

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    1. Why does it need one? IF there is no God, it really doesn’t matter what the ramifications of my actions after I have died. I can do what I like, and if I’m willing to deal with the consequences on this earth, that can be the most selfish and malevolent lifestyle this side of the Hussein boys (or the other side). What does it matter to the totally selfish who possesses the power and means of defending his selfish world view what universal basis does or does not exist in his actions? For that person, “good” is whatever pleases him, even if that action cause YOU unquestionable pain and suffering.

      Regarding God’s subjectivity, as the Creator, His subjectivity is our morality. It’s just that simple. HE can be subjective because there’s no one greater to tell Him otherwise. So the point is rather moot, I would say.

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      1. It sounds like you’re acknowledging the possibility of an objective ethics without God (no?), which is refreshing. It’s a tiresomely popular apologist’s talking point that no such is possible. Which to me, has always seemed the slipperiest non sequitur. I’m amazed people give it the time of day. A god doesn’t provide any help at all in getting you to an objective morality: if obligations to others aren’t already *really there* in the facts of the situation — the situation, namely, of multiple sentient beings — then all God could provide, as you also seem to acknowledge, is his own subjective morality. Which therefore would be, pretty much by definition, arbitrary. Plainly. If a morality isn’t the innate truth of the situation, it can only be arbitrarily imposed.

        *Enforcement* of our obligations to others is another story, and I don’t deny that believing you’re under telepathic surveillance every second of your life by an all-powerful enforcer might stay your naughty hand sometimes. But fortunately, it’s also true that the happiest life is one of generosity and flexibility, non-attachment to personal preferences. What comes to mind is fMRIs of deeply experienced meditators (Buddhist monks and nuns) performing different forms of meditation. When they meditated on compassion — contemplating all the suffering of sentient beings and wishing them well — the activity in parts of the brain associated with positive emotion was off the charts, broke the scale. I think they said they’d actually never observed so much positive emotion.

        I’m quite certain the Hussein boys would have been a lot happier with a less elfish lifestyle. Selfish compulsions are actually mostly quite painful; fulfilling them doesn’t bring peace, whereas releasing them reveals the peace that’s already here without the bondage of those torturing demands, spasms.

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      2. I have not acknowledged objective morality without God. My bad if it sounded that way. The moral thing to do might conflict with what I’d prefer to do. If I’m selfish by nature, to give to the poor what I could’ve used to satiate a desire would result in a feeling of loss and not much else. Thus, to make myself happy would be to deny the poor and give to my selfish desires. That, to me, would be “good”. Up until right before they were blown to bits, I would wager the Hussein boys would’ve denied your contention, and then they would’ve enjoyed themselves butchering and killing you for fun. That would have been “good” to them.

        But God’s Will is defined and fixed and SHOULD provide us with happiness if we wish to please Him by abiding. The focus is on God here, not ourselves. Doing good by His definition is often a matter of submission and sacrifice for ourselves. We submit to and sacrifice for Him by submitting to and sacrificing for the good of our fellow man. Doing good is for God’s benefit, not ours. Whether or not it makes us feel good to do good is irrelevant. Hopefully it will and it does for many. But pleasing God is the goal, whether it is a pleasing experience for us or not.

        This also speaks to what Ryan was saying about altruism. Is it altruistic if we do good because it makes us feel good? Pleasing ourselves instead of God? What’s the difference as regards altruism?

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      3. I’m sure the Hussein boys had sadistic *pleasures*, but that’s quite different from happiness. Being a slave to pleasures is inimical to serenity of mind and openness of heart.

        Regarding “the moral thing to do might conflict with what I’d prefer to do” — yes, but not with what I *know* to be fair (provided I’m taking an honest look). I may want to steal your cupcake, but I *recognize* it wouldn’t be a just act, simply because I recognize that you have interests like I do. I’m capable of recognizing — and everyone who understands that other people have feelings is capable of recognizing — that my selfish desires are partial and biased. That unavoidable recognition is all it takes to establish an objective morality, even if I have impulses to act against it.

        So to show that a godless morality isn’t possible, you need to do more than point to our contradictory impulses and tendency to rationalization. Rationalization is defined precisely by the need to reason away some inconvenient fact which we *know* to be true. Granted people can become mightily gnarled with rationalization; it might take a million years to dissolve some people’s wrong thinking. A Hitler can believe fervently that he’s doing right. But I assert that there are always objective facts of which such a one is failing to take account. (Most importantly, again, the fact that others value their own well-being as much as I value mine, and so from an impartial standpoint my own well-being does not weigh more).

        Regarding selfish altruism: I don’t think you’re considering the full dimensions of the happiness of altruism. You make it sound like a paltry thing. In a real sense it isn’t a selfish happiness — even though it requires zero real sacrifice and brings great rewards — because it’s the dissolving of your imagined limited, isolated self. Into the “self” shared by all. I’ll expand.

        I don’t remember what specific compassion meditation those fMRI’d monks were doing, but most Tibetan compassion meditations have a similar flavor to the very popular “Tonglen.” In Tonglen you inhale, picturing a black cloud of others’ suffering drawn in on the breath; picture it vaporized into mist and light by a brilliant diamond in your breast; exhale, giving all your well-being away freely to others in the form of blessing light; and repeat. Both the inhale and the exhale, when resistance abates, are an elation. And why is this? Three reasons occur to me.

        1. It’s a tender joy to invite others’ and your own pain right in, to realize you don’t have to hold suffering at arm’s length. (It’s of course the stiffness towards your own vulnerability that makes the world’s pain seem overwhelming). It’s an exhilaration to realize you’re large enough, empty enough, to touch it all freely without holding any of it.
        2. It’s a titillating joy to realize you don’t have to hold one scrap of your happiness for yourself, you can give it all away and more will faithfully come for ever. It’s an exhiliaration to realize you’re large enough, empty enough … etc. Happiness is that much happier without the anxiety of hoarding it. Ultimately happiness *is* that very empty-handedness, that very absence of hoarding or protecting.
        3. It’s fun to think of others in your most intimate mind, and to give love unstintingly. Again, a tremendous relief: to be unstinting.

        It would be a cold altruism that left you grumpy and isolated, that had no effect on the hue of your heart. It would be no altruism at all, but a fearful checking off of God’s rules.

        So when you say “pleasing God is the goal, whether it is a pleasing experience for us or not,” bear in mind that no action is unmotivated: it’s either love or fear that moves you to please God. The former feels good in itself, while the latter is the anticipation of feeling good, or at least of not feeling as bad. Neither is unselfish, if by unselfish you mean “unmotivated.” But love and generosity are unselfish in the important sense that your own good becomes indistinguishable from everyone else’s.

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      4. My personal joy at giving to the needy is meaningless if that’s all there is. Without God, what good does it do me? Karma? Ain’t no such thing for the non-believer unless he just believes in a different god. Yeah, as I said, I might feel fulfilled and the needy one might feel filled, but without God there isn’t any significance to it beyond that one act. That might be good enough for the atheist, that is, when they decide to give and not feel they have through taxes, but in the end, who really cares?

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      5. Well for me, giving to someone less fortunate, or volunteering to help at a soup kitchen is something that makes me feel really good, and helps someone else get through a difficult time. It also makes that person see that someone else cares, and can be something to cling to in order to pull themselves out of a rut. If you need something else to make that meaningful then I really pity you.

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      6. The journey of loving more and more critters with less and less reference to myself is maybe the most exciting and absorbing and aesthetically dazzling and emotionally juicy project available. Whatchoo talkin bout.

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  7. I’ve read through all the traffic on this post and have a few things to share that I hope will be helpful.

    First, with regard to the basic concept of good and moral choices there have been comments about basic goodness that humans have without acknowledging God (or the moral law giver). I would present the position that C.S. Lewis brings out that calling something ‘good’ is to have an a priori definition of good. His example is a person in a hallway (which represents a morally neutral position) with multiple doors (which represent moral choices). Which door would the person choose? How would the person know which was the “right” door? To make a moral choice you must begin with a moral law, otherwise you are just making a choice for purely existential or utilitarian reasons.

    Second, if one were to stipulate that good is subjective then what of evil? If good is subjective then musn’t evil also be subjective? I believe this is the point regarding the 911 attackers. If good and evil is allowed to become a subjective exercise then there would be no ultimate difference between a Hitler and a Mother Teresa. I don’t think life would be liveable if that were the case. Again, Lewis is helpful when he states that it is possible to be good simply for the sake of being good, but it is impossible to be evil purely for the sake of being evil. To be evil one must exist, which is good. One must think rationally, which is good. One must have the freedom of choice, which is good. So evil has to borrow from good for its existence. Again, if we rightly say that there is an absolute moral law established by a moral law giver then evil is quite simply any perversion of the absolutely established good.

    Finally, in discussions about good and bad I think it is important for followers of Christ to point out that Jesus didn’t come to argue good and bad. As Ravi Zacharias so eloquently puts it, Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to make dead people live, hence the repeated instruction to “go and sin no more”. I believe this point was touched on in a previous comment as well. What end is there to goodness if there is nothing of the eternal as part of the overall worldview. To speak of a subjective moral good without beliving in an eternal implication would give no credance to the idea that it is at all worthwhile to do even generally good things during a lifetime. Some may feel it is worth it, some may not it would all be reduced to a matter of preference (e.g. you may like chocolate ice cream but I prefer vanilla). If someone were to ask is it good or bad to torture innocent babies the answer would be expected to be no, not because there is a preference involved, but because there is an absolute standard that would be violated.

    I hope this is helpful.

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    1. Hi Jeremy, I think you’ve given me a better understanding of what Christians mean when they say that evil has reality only contingent on good, so thanks for that. I agree evil is contingent on good, but the reverse is equally true. Just try to imagine a world in which even the possibility of such a thing as evil had never been conceived of. I find it’s pretty hard to do, and certainly hard to imagine “good” being at all meaningful in such a world.

      But that’s just since you asked — I don’t feel much fire for debate on the point. It’s apparently a quite inoffensive doctrine. (Unless it’s used as a stepping stone to some more irritating idea somewhere. Is it a foundation for any larger theological argument? When C.S. Lewis makes a questionable philosophic claim it tends to be useful to him in some nefarious purpose or other…). (I know it won’t be original with Lewis. Same goes for Augustine or whoever).

      As for subjective morality: I for one haven’t been arguing for a subjective morality. Ryan’s position I’m sure to mischaracterize, and he can correct me, but while some of what he writes could be read as making room for subjectivity, his chess board and mapquest type analogies argue for an objective bedrock at least.

      Re what end is there to goodness without the eternal — If you can’t see any immediate ends to goodness, I would have to worry about you! I would have to wonder whether you know what goodness is. I would have to wonder how abstract to you are the people and animals and world around you. (That’s rhetoric. You sound perfectly nice. 🙂 )

      Re: “To make a moral choice you must begin with a moral law, otherwise you are just making a choice for purely existential or utilitarian reasons” — the moral imperative is simplicity itself: I recognize that others have interests as fervent as mine, I recognize that only a parochial viewpoint could consider them less important. From any objective or universal standpoint, they weigh as much.

      Re “…is it good or bad to torture innocent babies…”. So long as it’s moral to torture guilty babies, I’m good.

      (Um, that would be the colloquial “I’m good”).

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  8. seasofbrightjustice

    I appreciate your follow-up questions and I will try to answer as best I can.

    First, with your comments, “Just try to imagine a world in which even the possibility of such a thing as evil had never been conceived of” and “If you can’t see any immediate ends to goodness, I would have to worry about you! I would have to wonder whether you know what goodness is. I would have to wonder how abstract to you are the people and animals and world around you” I would say that as a Christian I have no problem imagining a world where there is only good because that is exactly the world we are told God created. In Genesis we are told that God created “and it was good”. God walked with man and there was no evil. Evil came in when man believed a lie, according to the free will with which he was created. This also goes to my point on good without the eternal. For me as a Christian I see good around me every day in nature, in all the created order, in the existence of myself and family, and the ability to make choices and to reason these very topics out with you. My point is that I have hope in returning to that very same condition of eternal goodness (with no evil) because of the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. He made forgiveness for evil possible, defeated death and the grave and made the way for each of us to be justified before God and thereby spend an eternity in His presence. If this world is all there is, you may do ‘good’ all your years on this planet but it could only be “for goodness sake” not for any other transcendent purpose. I certainly believe that people who do not believe in God can do good things, but without a belief in God I really don’t see how doing those good things amounts to any more than a preference (again like chocolate vs. vanilla).

    As regards your “the moral imperative is simplicity itself: I recognize that others have interests as fervent as mine, I recognize that only a parochial viewpoint could consider them less important. From any objective or universal standpoint, they weigh as much.” I would say that although the moral imperative is simple, the practice of morality is anything but. Think of the hypothetical case where you are on a bus and you get up to walk to the bathroom and the gentleman behind you accidently sticks out his foot and trips you. You may be upset with falling but you would not say here had done anything morally reprehensible because he did not intend to trip you. What if, however, you got up and he stuck his foot out on purpose meaning to see you hit the deck but you saw it and evaded successfully. You would be upset this time and condemn his actions as morally wrong even though you didn’t fall, all because of his intentions. I don’t want to get too far afield here, but goodness, morality, ethics, etc. is a matter that extends beyond just what we do to what we intend, think and desire.

    I appreciate your thinking me ‘perfectly nice’ and you seem to be the same, but I would have to ask you one tough question here. You questioned my knowing what goodness really is and I would agree that how we see the issue is quite different. Saying this as delicately as I can, if you feel like it is OK to torture innocent babies for any reason whatever, it may be you who has a misconception of ‘goodness’.

    I thank you for the dialouge and pray that God will bless both our minds as we struggle with these issues.

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    1. Thanks likewise for the dialogue, Jeremy, and for addressing the points conscientiously.

      “I have no problem imagining a world where there is only good” — but we’re not just talking about a world where only good things happen: rather one where evil is unimagined, unimaginable. Even to be able to perceive any relative stature among the various desserts in God’s perfect world — “this one’s really nice, but that one’s *exquisite*” — would require some admixture of evil, of the consciousness of evil. “Good” only has meaning in a mind that can conceive its opposite.

      “I certainly believe that people who do not believe in God can do good things, but without a belief in God I really don’t see how doing those good things amounts to any more than a preference (again like chocolate vs. vanilla).” — It’s more than a preference for the reason I offered: we perceive our selfish preferences; we perceive also that others possess preferences and interests quite as vigorously as we do; and in perceiving both these facts, we recognize that our own preferences are parochial and that to an impartial, objective observer they weigh no more than another’s. Fairness and unfairness are mathematical facts. Fairness is more than a preference precisely because it recognizes the existence of a world beyond my preferences.

      Whereas if obligations of considerateness aren’t logically innate in the situation of sharing a world with others (they are), I don’t see how God’s imposition of “thou shalts” from outside the situation amounts to any more than *his* preference. If what he says is good really *is* good, i.e. a true description of the situation, then it isn’t him that (subjectively) *makes* it good.

      I also think there’s a certain flaccidity in the feeling that good is something palely washed-out in the absence of a heavenly second act. Whenever you find yourself peacfully at rest, to the point where all the usual fantasies of having a life outside the present moment fade, the person in front of you has as much an infinite being as anything. Certainly more being than the little mental fantasy of heaven. It’s only a wandering mind and heart that can feel this world to be a pale shadow realm. A beleaguered psyche always seeking a way out. Which, of course, describes most of us most of the time. But since it’s mere mental story-spinning that keeps us this way, the other beautiful way of being is very much possible. It can over time, with deep investigation, displace the conditioned resistance to and alienation from life to an amazing extent. (I’m talking about a life of meditation, formal and informal, in plain words).

      The “torturing guilty babies” bit was a joke. I did actually have at the back of my mind, though, the sharp divide that many Christians make between the innocent and guilty, where I see mostly a world of fumblers. I think of us all as babies, at least in some sense of ultimate sympathy. Meanwhile an eternity of torture strikes orthodox Christians as proper recompense for a life of ordinary flaws and affections. I think the worst criminal is eminently forgivable, certainly by any God who knows the first thing about love.

      Re “I would say that although the moral imperative is simple, the practice of morality is anything but” — I agree that the situations ethicists debate can get very intricate, and I wished only to establish that an obligation to others is more than a preference. But on the other hand I feel like the practice of love is very simple: you do all you can to make things more beautiful for everybody. It’s only when you’re keeping accounts that it seems complicated.

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      1. seasofbrightjuice (sorry for the mis-spelling last time)

        I’m really glad this is a Saturday so that I have the time to respond twice in a day. I have but two points in return for your last post.

        First, I would like to say again that I believe it is fallacious to believe that evil must exist as good or that there must be some equality between the two. I refer back to the Lewis analysis that for there to be evil humans capable of choosing must exist. Human existence is good and the ability to make a rational choice is good, therefore evil has to borrow from good for its existence. This being the case, the two are not on equal ground.

        Second, I think it is probably important to point out the fundamental difference between our points of view, as they are on full display. You may feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but from the content and tone of your comments you approach life from an existential position. As posited by Sartre so effectively, existentialism being the belief that existence preceeds essence, or what you do defines who you are. An absolute moral law or transcendent ethic could not be accepted on that frame.

        I am approaching the topic from the base that essence preceeds existence, or that who I am defines what I do. God created me in His image, and presented the greatest commandment as “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” (paraphrase) So, because that is how i was created, to Love God and my neighbor is good not because it is preferential or parochial but because it is according to that absolute and transcendent moral.

        It would be a bit off topic to address Heaven and Hell and the issue of reward and/or punishment here (I also need to prepare supper for my children so I am out of time) but I would like to agree that everyone and every evil action is forgivable, in fact that is one of the most beautiful aspect of my Christian belief. Namely, that Jesus would choose to have the sin of the world fall squarely on His shoulders so that a way would be made for those who would otherwise be unable to stand before a perfectly holy Creator and be seen as acceptable. God loved so much that He gave what was most precious to Him. God most certainly knows a few things about love.

        Although i’m worlds apart with you on my view of things, I do thank you for your thoughtful and considerate responses.

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      2. Oh! That misspelling is marvelous, heh heh, I hadn’t noticed it. Seas of Bright Justice. Sounds like some noir comic book vigilante’s motto.

        Jeremy said: Human existence is good and the ability to make a rational choice is good, therefore evil has to borrow from good for its existence. This being the case, the two are not on equal ground.

        Existence and reason could be called innately good only if they were innately directed toward good ends, toward helpfulness. Obviously there’s nothing innately altruistic in either of them. It’s at the very least questionable to claim that they’re Good, capital G. I agree existence and rationality are both *nifty*, but that’s something different.

        Is there anything on earth that can work only good? Love maybe, but evil hardly borrows from love to do its thing.

        And even if it were true that evil had necessarily to borrow good’s capital in order to effect its ends, thus making the two “not on equal ground:” that’s still a lesser claim than that it’s dependent on good for its very *existence*. It *is* dependent on good for its existence, being meaningless without it; but the reverse is also true, as I think I’ve shown in my previous comments.

        We’ve probably pretty much run the course on this argument anyhoo … is Lewis’ case for the inherent goodness of rationality and existence to be found in either “Mere Christianity” or “Surprised by Joy”? I own copies of those, so I could save you the work of explaining if you wanted to just give me a page number.

        The existence-precedes-essence question seems a potentially interesting lens for considering the two positions, though it’s cloudy to me what that really means in terms of interpreting immediate experience, or what you have in mind with it. I’ll tell you in my own words what “defines who I am,” and you can tell me where that fits in the essence-existence equation.

        –(READERS INTERESTED IN THE MAIN “MORALITY” CONVERSATION CAN SKIP THIS SECTION WITHOUT LOSS. EVEN YOU, IF YOU WANT, JEREMY)–

        Body, mind and world appear flickeringly, intermittently in “cognizant emptiness,” as the Tibetans call it: that awareness or knowingness or sense of being which alone does not come and go, which can never be an object of experience (in which case it would cease to be the subject, it would be at some distance from “me,” this awareness), and which is therefore the only reasonable candidate for what I *am* in any more than transient and contingent sense.

        I say body, mind and world arise, but really I should say that sensation, thinking and perception arise. That’s all I ever experience is these three processes. I never experience any *entities* called body, or mind, or world, though of course there’s a certain limited continuity to the appearance of such entities.

        The idea that “these bodily sensations are me, these thoughts are me; that lamp is *not* me” is just that, an idea. Sensations, thoughts and lamp all arise at zero distance from awareness, and all *as objects*, not as the subject. None of them has “me” or “not me” written on it any more than the next one; it takes a subsequent thought to make such claims, which thought is just one more object within awareness.

        The subject itself is unlimited, since any limit would be an object of consciousness. It is already at peace, even when body-mind-world are in turmoil. It is already awake and transparent, being incapable of dimming. It is innately loving, being incapable of doing aught but welcoming everything unconditionally and with utmost intimacy — since everything ultimately *is* itself. Because even objects are ultimately none other than the subject, are awareness. I distinguish them just to show that this knowingness itself is not limited or affected in its nature by any of its appearances. Waves are still water, as they say. But the substance of every appearance is likewise none other than consciousness. (In a way it’s a truism — that everything we’re conscious of, is a manifestation of consciousness — but to really see it feelingly is a liberatory thing. We usually labor under delusions of a fragmented and opposed field of experience).

        So, anything I *do* as one arbitrarily segregated part of the totality (bodily sensations, thoughts), defines precisely who I’m *not*! Or at least, defines much less than all of who I am. I, as knowingness, am unchanged by any appearance. Of course the relative person, who lives a life in a world which he imagines to exist apart from him, has all sorts of habits and personality traits which define him more or less transiently. But awareness itself definitely precedes that person, as well as all universes. (I mean, phenomenologically speaking: in intimate and direct rather than inferential experience. I’m not making any speculative claims about awareness’s independence of the brain or any such).

        Anything I do as a body and mind is ultimately the expression of the whole universe. I have no separate existence, however often I think I do. Certainly not a Sartrean existential loneliness in a void. (That’s probably a caricature. I haven’t read existentialists in any depth).

        Sorry, you asked.

        If everyone is forgivable, it would be nice of God to forgive everyone instead of burning the vast majority of them for eternity. “They’re refusing his free gift of forgiveness” really doesn’t wash. Forgiveness is what you give someone regardless of what they do or don’t do. You don’t punish someone for not accepting your forgiveness. (Not to mention that “accepting forgiveness” is a euphemism for taking on a whole raft of beliefs. I’ll accept any old free gift that’s *really free*).

        P.S. forgive my delay, had other business.

        P.P.S. cute family. (In your blog picture).

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      3. I’d like to insert here a flaw in your position. God is eternal. There is no “before Him” for God as He always existed. HIS preference, therefor is a result of His being, His existence. His preference for one form of behavior over another a “good” might reasonably be labelled “subjective”, but subjective for Him. That I don’t find a disagreeable point of view. But because He always was, it is at the same time an objective thing for us. Yet, we can each have our own opinions of “good” based on our own preferences, but they don’t change the truth which is God’s preferences, for God is truth as well.

        Without God, it’s all subject to our own preferences. Some people plainly don’t give a flyin’ rat’s patooty for the welfare of others; the thought never crosses their minds without someone else bringing it up to them. It becomes what Mel Brooks said about comedy and tragedy, which I think is how the perception of good and evil is for some people without God’s Law to guide them. Mel said, “Tragedy is when I hit my thumb with a hammer. Comedy is when you fall through an open manhole and die.” For the Christian, preventing that fall, even at the cost of his personal suffering, is good. To the godless (not all of them), personal comfort rules over all. Personal comfort and happiness determines good.

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      4. You can’t use that argument that God has always existed without proving it. Atheists don’t believe that, so it is not a valid supporting statement for moral objectivity.

        Also, where is your evidence that for the “godless”, personal comfort alone determines good? That is merely your assumption, and it is wrong. I can say that pleasing your God is the only objective for you, meaning you lack morals of your own.

        Seas has provided you a very well reasoned and clear explanation for the objective source of the morals of atheists.

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      5. Ryan, seriously. You know the arguments for God’s existence, and you know that Marshall knows them as well. There are good reasons to believe in God’s existence, and proof only exists in mathematics. As far as Marshall’s comment goes he does not need to prove God’s existence in every statement he makes concerning God.

        By definition God is eternal. If you want proof of something I suggest you take up algebra.

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      6. M.A. said: But because He always was, it is at the same time an objective thing for us.

        It’s an interesting tack to take Marshall. So you’re saying it’s objective enough “for us” in the sense that although it isn’t ultimately objective, doesn’t ultimately correspond to a necessary reality, it’s consistent enough (since God’s will is omnipresent) to build a society on? Kind of like Newtonian physics being accurate enough for practical purposes?

        Because to repeat myself yet more tiresomely, the only way for morality to correspond to a necessary reality is if it accurately describes *the situation itself*. Otherwise, it can only be arbitrary and imposed.

        If morality accurately describes the situation, then God, plainly, is not its source; the situation itself is the source. If it doesn’t — this is the option you take, in claiming God as the source of moral obligations, rather than just a messenger of really-existing ones — then it’s arbitrary, it isn’t *really* moral. Just pragmatically moral, a consistent fiction on which to build a society.

        Such a tack, then, preserves God as the source of “good,” but makes the rather significant concession that this “good” is not NECESSARILY one way rather than another — that it’s arbitrary, doesn’t describe the situation objectively.

        You don’t salvage an objective morality by saying “HIS preference, therefor is a result of His being, His existence.” It means only that he has no choice about his preferences — which is true of some of my own preferences too, and it doesn’t make them a whit more universal or objective. Nor would it make them any more objective to have had them since beginningless time. To be objective, they must describe the situation accurately … objectively.

        Alternately, “His preference is a result of His being” could be read to mean “he’s good because he’s good because he’s good!” Which I would have to further interpret as saying something like, “I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’m so used to the idea that God=good, good=God, look they even sound the same, God=truth too, how could such a Great Being not Be the Source of everything Cool…” (I’m not mocking you. I can feel the attraction of that line of mystification myself, since as much as anyone else in western culture, I grew up with these ideas about God in the taken-for-granted air around me).

        Actually your tack doesn’t even salvage a consistent morality for humanity. If God’s dictates don’t describe an objective reality, why should I observe them, ethically speaking? Fearing punishment? That’s true of Saudi Arabia’s laws too, which are equally consistent.

        As for some people not giving a flying rat’s patooty about others: some people are blind; doesn’t mean the red light isn’t there. Other beings are really there, their suffering and happiness are *facts*. And it’s a fact that their suffering and happiness matter as much to them as mine do to me, and so an impartial, objective observer would have no justification for giving mine more weight.

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      7. I kinda think we’re talking about two different things. It might be helpful if you give an example of “To be objective, they must describe the situation accurately … objectively.” as regards “good”.

        To restate (and hopefully more clearly) God being eternal, good is what He says it is. He is before everything, even “good” if “good” is a set of proper behaviors because He mandates what “good” is as we understand it to be. We say that God IS “good” so from that statement, God and “good” exist at the same time eternally. One is the Other.

        But all of that is apart from what “good” is to us. The notion of what is good and what isn’t is given to us by Him.

        It occurs to me that possibly you are also including statements one might make about what is good, such as, I finally fixed the faucet and that is good. That would actually be morally neutral, even if the alternative was a higher water bill, which I would call bad. That’s not a moral call, but a mere preference for one scenario over the other, or rather, the consequences of either. Having the flu is bad, but that’s not a moral description anymore than being healthy is good.

        I’m speaking only of morality as in, killing for self-defense, while not good necessarily certainly isn’t bad morally as would be murder. Lying for profit is bad morally, while lying to prevent a killer from finding his victim is morally good. Sex within the traditional marriage is not evil, when it doesn’t consume either party, but sex outside marriage is always morally bad. You might not agree with all of these descriptions, but they are examples of God’s definitions of goodness or wickedness and those are the definitions Christians abide. Outside of the faith, we can create similar laws for ourselves as a society, but they then become subjective according to society’s whims at the time and thus are changeable as the whims change. But the whole time, God’s definition remain. For us, they are objective and not determined by OUR will or desires.

        As to what other religions might believe about their god, I’m not concerned because unlike for the atheist, I do not hold their beliefs as equally valid to Christianity. I’m sure they feel the same about their religion, but unfortunately, they are wrong.

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      8. This is what I was referring to when I asked for an example:

        “What do you say to my familiar points that any morality which isn’t an accurate description of the *situation itself*, is necessarily arbitrary and imposed?”

        That would be helpful. Thanks in advance.

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      9. No time to re-enter the fray fully at the mo, but sure, I can offer that clarification. The situation itself is the situation of multiple sentient beings, beings who suffer and enjoy. (I made this point earlier somewhere too).

        Good is maximizing the happiness and minimizing the suffering of sentient beings, so yeah, I do mean good in the sense of morally good.

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      10. Sorry to interject, but where in the Bible does it say “lying to prevent a killer from finding his victim is morally good” or anything related to that? I thought that bearing false witness was a sin.

        Of course I know it is good, and so do you, but I’d argue that we know that because of our reasoning and not because of the Bible.

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      11. Do you feel that what God says is good REALLY IS good? Then it’s *necessarily* so, in any universe, not dependent on him.

        M.A. said: The notion of what is good and what isn’t is given to us by Him.

        So you think it WOULD be possible to have empathetic creatures without ethical concerns making an appearance — possible for them to have not the first clue whether it’s ethically preferable to torture babies or visit their grandmothers?

        M.A. said: Outside of the faith, we can create similar laws for ourselves as a society, but they then become subjective according to society’s whims at the time and thus are changeable as the whims change

        Nations can and should have different laws to meet their different conditions, and similarly a nation should change a law if changing circumstances render an old one less helpful than it was. It’s precisely *because* the guiding principle is singular — easing suffering, promoting flourishing — that its truest application must be diverse, sensitive to circumstance. Alertly non-habitual, non-mechanical.

        I see no such singular principle in orthodox Christian morality. Some occasions of sex outside marriage, for instance, do pretty much only good for all concerned. The punishment of eternal fire does infinitely more harm than good, by infinitely exceeding any utility as a deterrent (half of eternity would suffice for that). It causes suffering *for its own sake*, punishment for punishment’s sake, bereft of any educational or deterrent purpose.

        I’d rather the principle be consistent and its application diverse, than the application uniform and the principles inconsistent.

        The single principle is *compassion.* On the other hand, compassion plus inexorable (and hugely disproportionate) retribution for the tiniest misdemeanors plus a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who believe certain historical propositions plus a “purity” that’s actually irrelevant to purity of mind and body, is an impossibly contradictory stew of principles.

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  9. Ryan

    With respect to seasofbrightjuice for the thoughtful discussion we have had in recent posts, I do not believe seasofbrightjuice has provided “a very well reasoned and clear explanation for the objective source of the morals of atheists”. All I have read has been that the notion of ‘good’ is parochial and subjective. In fact, for the atheist there cannot be any objective source of good, for the very reason that to have an objective source of ‘good’ (i.e. something that is good for all people regardless of location, culture, etc.) one must posit a giver of that objective moral law, i.e. it cannot just be.

    The illustration I gave was of a man standing in a hallway with doors representing moral choices in front of him. The question for the atheist is: How does he know which door to choose? To make a ‘good’ choice there must be a ‘good’ already established upon which to measure the choice so it can be deemed ‘good’.

    My second illustration was much more practical (and was glad to learn that seas was only joking in the response) in that torturing innocent babies is considered bad. If the atheist were to walk up on someone with sword drawn ready to kill the innocent wouldn’t they have to say that was wrong, regardless of any outside circumstances? Even if the wielder of the sword said he was perfectly fine with the action, it would still be wrong. Where does this feeling of what ‘ought’ to be done come from?

    These are exactly the things we cannot leave to be subjective. If there is no absolute ‘good’, or transcendent ethic then you cannot say what a Hitler or a Mao did was wrong. In fact you cannot say that they are any better or worse people than a Mother Teresa, they just chose to call something else ‘good’.

    Once again, these are difficult questions for each of us to deal with, so I pray we will both think carefully not only about what will justify our personal preferences, but what the possible outworkings of our beliefs might be.

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    1. With your example of the doorways, you assume that we, as humans, have no way at all to determine if something is morally right. You assume that our moral choices are doors that open to the unknown. That’s rarely the case. Our moral choices are made knowing the likely outcome of the choice. If that outcome could potentially affect someone other than the person making the choice, that person could put himself in the position of the person affected, and can know the outcome from another’s perspective. This lets us know the morality of the situation objectively, and while it doesn’t ensure we will make the right choice, we will almost always know the moral choice.

      Do you really think that without God’s law, you would have no idea if it was wrong to kill a baby, or massacre an entire population?

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      1. “Do you really think that without God’s law, you would have no idea if it was wrong to kill a baby, or massacre an entire population?”

        That’s really all it comes down to, that’s why it’s simply absurd that nonbelievers have had to argue this point so endlessly. Does anyone really think that, once there are critters with the capacity to imagine how other critters feel, there’s any way for moral considerations *not* to appear? That there’s any way not to notice the principle of fairness and unfairness? It’s like having to argue endlessly that 2 + 2 really does = 4.

        And most extraordinary of all, though predictable, is theists’ message discipline on the matter. I have yet to hear one of you say even, “hmm, you MIGHT have something there, let me think about it.” It’s a remarkable thing when we’re dealing with 2 + 2 = 4. On other subjects, too — I never hear “yeah, I also sometimes have trouble understanding why a loving God would torment the mass of humankind for eternity. I suspect it makes sense somehow though.”

        It’s nothing personal y’all — and that’s just the point, that’s just why revealed religion is unhealthy for human thought and society. Even if someone has an intellectually flexible temperament personally, there is so much non-negotiable party line in religion, so much that’s ALL OR NOTHING, that in large swaths of thought s/he can never feel unbound and zestful in her curiosity. In so many areas s/he forfeits the opportunity to say “Hmm! Interesting! Who knows! Let’s see! Let the chips fall where they may!”

        In most arenas, it isn’t admitting *defeat* to say “hmm, let me think about that. I have a hunch you’re wrong (or right) but I have to think it through.” But the saved have to put up a sure front in a way that must be uniquely tiring.

        (I’m just prodding and probing. If I’ve touched no nerves, that’s fine, you can correct me).

        …Lest it get lost, the salient point was: “Does anyone really think that, once you’ve got critters with the capacity to imagine how other critters feel, there’s any way for moral considerations *not* to appear? That there’s any way not to notice the principle of fairness and unfairness?”

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      2. That would be assuming that Christians do not possess their doubts, which isn’t true at all. There’s always some doubt because it’s hard to live in the world and experience life and not have them. We don’t have the benefit of direct communication with God as we do with each other. We pray and believe our prayers are heard, but often don’t see a tangible response. We know that sometimes we don’t get the answers for which we hoped and sometimes get what we needed to get and don’t even realize that we’ve been answered, writing off the answer as luck.

        But fairness is subjective as well. To the truly selfish, fairness is always a matter of what pleasures the selfish receive. If none are experienced, fairness did not occur. In the same way, good is a matter of what’s good for the selfish. They may even acknowledge the tough luck of the disadvantaged, but still only think of good and bad as what happens to themselves. Are they really rejecting what they know to be good and fair? That’s debatable. For some that may be and they simply have learned to ignore their conscience. For others, who knows? Do you think Hitler thought of fairness for all those he put to death? His idea of fairness and good was the elevation of the Third Reich to what he thought was its rightful status.

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      3. M.A. said: But fairness is subjective as well. To the truly selfish, fairness is always a matter of what pleasures the selfish receive.

        They need only look up “fair” in the dictionary to realize they’re wrong on that point. The first click after googling gives us: “free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception.” Fairness is math, it’s the mathematical recognition that (all together now…) to any objective observer, there’s nothing to give my own interests inherently more weight than yours. There’s no way for beings capable of walking in another’s shoes, of understanding that others feel just like oneself about their own well-being, not to conceive the principle. It’s a *necessarily existing* principle, like 2 + 2 = 4, an objective one. As opposed to any principle that has to be given by a god. (I hope you don’t feel a god is necessary for 2 + 2 to = 4 instead of 3 or 5. Actually Bubba argued something like that back in the day).

        M.A. said: [Truly selfish people] may even acknowledge the tough luck of the disadvantaged, but still only think of good and bad as what happens to themselves. Are they really rejecting what they know to be good and fair? That’s debatable.

        I thought you guys believed everyone without exception has the Law written on their hearts?

        Again, the existence of blind people doesn’t disprove the color spectrum. If those selfish folk did the math right, they would be forced to conclude that disregard for others is unfair. (It might be that sociopaths are handicapped, by their empathy deficits, in the ability to reason ethically. But the suffering of others exists whether they feel it or not, just like tetrachromatic animals see really-existing bits of the light spectrum that we trichromatic animals can’t).

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    2. Jeremy said: All I have read has been that the notion of ‘good’ is parochial and subjective.

      You misread me. What I called parochial was selfish desires which don’t take others into account. But we *recognize* their parochiality the moment we consider that others care as vitally for their well-being as we do. We recognize that objectively, universally, impartially, there’s nothing to give my own interests more value than theirs.

      Jeremy said: to have an objective source of ‘good’ … one must posit a giver of that objective moral law.

      What do you say to my familiar points that any morality which isn’t an accurate description of the *situation itself*, is necessarily arbitrary and imposed? Subjective, whether I make the law or God does?

      Jeremy said: Where does this feeling of what ‘ought’ to be done come from?

      From understanding how we would feel if we were the baby.

      P.S. since you thought I was calling morality subjective, I wonder if you missed my exchange with Marshall Art just above your first comment? It’s where I laid out (not for the first time here, Heaven knows) the reasons morality’s objective and the reasons it’s a non sequitur to say that God could provide an objective morality, be its source. (Really it’s not so different from saying “I can provide an objective morality!” or “Bill Cosby can provide an objective morality”)! (God could easily *coexist* with an objective morality, offer insight into it, just couldn’t be its source).

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  10. Ryan,

    I have stipulated all along that every human being has the ability to determine good from bad, precisely because the absolute moral law giver created us with that ability. We know what we ought to do because it is something unique to us as humans.

    The man with the doors is the position the atheist takes by positing that no absolute moral law exists. You state “Our moral choices are made knowing the likely outcome of the choice. If that outcome could potentially affect someone other than the person making the choice, that person could put himself in the position of the person affected, and can know the outcome from another’s perspective.” Knowing the outcome of a choice is world’s apart from knowing which choice you ‘ought’ to make. How does knowing that taking a sword to an innocent human proceed to feeling like you ought not strike the innocent?

    With respect, nothing you presented represents an objective morality. You cannot make the leap from knowing what two choices are to knowing the morality or immorality of the choices. This is the point in your thinking I am questioning. To know the morality of a situation you must begin with a moral framework in place. If you begin at a truly morally neutral point (i.e. no absolute moral law) which you are suggesting, you would have to approach moral choices like the man in the hallway.

    So, with regard to your last question I would say that without an objective moral framework already established there would be nothing against which to judge whether any decision is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I believe that we are created beings, who were endowed by our Creator with an absolute moral framework in place that tells us what we ought and ought not do. I believe history has proven that when God’s law is thrown out the possibility for exactly what you’ve described has happened. Due to his philosophical mindset, Hitler felt completely justified in attempting to exterminate an entire race of people. I would say that without God’s law it is much worse than not knowing if it is wrong to massacre an entire population. Without knowing God’s law we might even have the idea we were doing the right thing.

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    1. I have stipulated all along that every human being has the ability to determine good from bad, precisely because the absolute moral law giver created us with that ability.

      That’s sort of a fancy way of saying you agree with me, that our morals are inherent, while still attributing them to God.

      Did I say there was no absolute moral law? I’m not arguing against moral objectivity. It is you that says we need a law-gver for there to be laws. I totally disagree with that, and have tried to show you why with my map routing example.

      So, with regard to your last question I would say that without an objective moral framework already established there would be nothing against which to judge whether any decision is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

      Seas explained this well. I’ll try to repeat it.

      Without an objective framework, we first look at a situation and can make a decision based on our personal needs and desires. But since we have big huge brains we can take a step back, and look at the effects of our actions on others. We know that the other person has the same needs and desires as we do, and we have no reason to believe that our needs outweigh that of others. We may end up being selfish, and allowing our desires to overcome our morals, but we know the “right” decision.

      I’m pretty sure there’s no positive correlation to being religious and being moral. As far as I know there have been no changes in the words of the Bible in the last few hundred years, but Christians have long been known to burn people at the stake and feed them to wolves, pretty much disregarding these moral laws that are in the Bible. Muslim groups are doing that now, and I think it is simply due to their countries being further behind on the civilization scale than most nations where Christianity reigns.

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  11. Seas and Ryan,

    We have been back and forth for some time on ethics and the notion of good and bad, and at this point I feel pretty sure we are close to doing all the damage we can to that dead horse we keep pummelling.

    I have re-read the entire thread again and have really tried to take a fresh look at your points. I hope this response will be well-explained enough to both share the bare basic principle i’m trying to get across and at the same time not mis-represent what I well grant you have gone through many times already.

    Seas said: ” Does anyone really think that, once there are critters with the capacity to imagine how other critters feel, there’s any way for moral considerations *not* to appear?” You repeated later that this is the “salient point” of the discussion. I am glad you put it this way because it is the very crux of my argurment as well. Origins. In saying “once there are critters with the capacity to imagine how other critters feel” you are making a giant leap. What I am asking is *WHY* these critters are able to imagine how others feel? Why are we unique in all the natural order in the ability to diagnose a situation, look at it from various points of view and have a sense of what we ought to do? How do you go from knowing what different positions are to knowing which of those positions are *right*.

    I understand from previous posts your return point, the situation dictates the moral. But again I would ask *why* is the situation pregnant with a moral imperative? I just don’t believe it is enough to assert we are moral beings, or just assert that situations have morals. These morals have to come from somewhere, they are not just there. I won’t be presumptuous enough to guess at your answer to this, but I will give you my rationale and hope that you can see I have in fact thought a lot about the issue and come reasonably and logically to my conclusions, just as you have with yours.

    Any time in this life we as humans see a design or a law we attribute that design or law to a designer or a law-giver. If I am traveling 65mph down a roadway where the posted speed limit is 40mph and I get a ticket for speeding, I am well aware that a governing body with authority made a law that I broke by speeding. I don’t attribute my ticket to the situation where a police officer and I happened to be on the same road and he looked at the situation from both his and my point of view and felt the right thing to do was to correct my behavior. My ticket was not the result of the situation being pregnant with a traffic ordinance, the law was in place already and I broke it. In the same way, I believe that for there to be an absolute moral law that applies to every human being a lawgiver with authority must have given that law. To suggest it is just there goes against everything we know to be true in the reality you speak about.

    Ryan, I did read your illustration of the map and my point remains. You begin with a program that generated the map. The two points and both of us traveling between them is incidental to the programmer. Without the program there is no map. By supposing first the program you argue from the position of design.

    I can feel your frustration with me as I continue to argue these points. I hear your words “Even if someone has an intellectually flexible temperament personally, there is so much non-negotiable party line in religion, so much that’s ALL OR NOTHING, that in large swaths of thought s/he can never feel unbound and zestful in her curiosity. In so many areas s/he forfeits the opportunity to say “Hmm! Interesting! Who knows! Let’s see! Let the chips fall where they may!” But even as you say them I get the sneaky suspicion you believe your position to be right and mine to be wrong and that I should change and believe as you do. Truth by definition is exclusive, so this is no surprise for me. What I feel we have to do is look at the positions on their merits and decide which best describes the situation. I for one am more convinced that if a law exists that applies to all humankind, it was given by one in authority over all humankind from the beginning of human existence, not that it is just there in the situation. It is not that I have not questioned, it is rather that I have questioned and made my choice of which is most cogent to my understanding. As guilty as many believers may be of being ALL OR NOTHING without careful consideration, may I say that atheists are many times just as quick to assume that the beliver hasn’t thought at all. You have not yet cornered the market on logical consideration.

    Let me also give you the reason I believe this is so important. If there is an absolute moral law defined and implemented by one in authority, then there is one we are accountable to, just like with the speeding ticket. We know what is right, we don’t do it. We are not perfect citizens, we are lawbreakers. We are sinners in need of a savior. I know this seems outlandish to you but again, this is my view. I don’t promote any particular denomination to you just the person of Jesus Christ. Christians are disciples of Christ, followers of Christ, those who seek to live in the likeness of Christ, so it would be inconsistent to stand on someone’s throat and demand them to believe or else. This has been done in the past to the shame of those who call on the name of Jesus, but it must be made clear that those actions are perpetrated contrary to what Jesus would teach, not in accordance with it. I am not demanding you convert, I am simply attempting to present God as He has revealed Himself, as inadequate as I feel I am to do so sometimes.

    Again, my salient point is to discover the Origin of the moral law. If you truly believe that a moral law that overarches all humanity just simply exists in the situation i’m afraid we’ve exhausted this topic. I’m sure i’ve not done my position due justice intellectually, but I do hope that at least you would apprecitate that my position is not haphazard but a product of some study and contemplation.

    Seas, let me also say that I found your description of who you are absolutely fascinating. Perhaps we can discuss that further at another time. I am putting together some thoughts on who I am for post on my blog most probably for some time in January so I hope you’ll stop by and comment so we can continue there.

    Lastly, and I apologize for the length of the email, I have enjoyed this line of reasoning and I will say (hopefully without offending you) that i’ll be praying for you both and myself that we can continue debating these topics in a respectful manner as that is the only way that truly productive dialouge exists.

    If either of you does reply to the particular point on origins I will be glad to continue, otherwise as I said I believe we have already done sufficient harm to a poor equine (possibly without sufficiently deciding if that is morally wrong).

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    1. I agree that this horse is well beaten. I’ll add one footnote to your speed limit analogy. Yes, in the case of speed limits, we have “law givers” which are essentially elected officials. But I would argue that those officials have boundaries in which those speed limits must stay. They need to be high enough that cars are still an efficient means of transportation, and low enough that cars stay on the roads during corners, and can stop in time when an obstacle is in the way. These are laws as well, governed by our physical surroundings, and the safety and well-being of others. We just fine tune them and enforce them.

      Thank you though, for the good discussion. You don’t offend me in the least by praying.

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    2. Hi Jeremy, I really appreciate your effort to encounter our points freshly and fairly, and the carefulness of your thoughts and presentation. And I wasn’t frustrated with you, the opposite: the responses from Marshall and yourself have been markedly less dismissive and more engaged with the points than in former outbreaks of the moral-basis argument here. I tried for a bracing tone in my comments about revealed religion just in hopes of ringing a bell more loudly. I try to sow doubts from any angle I think might work, and one of those is the meta-angle: addressing not what Christianity makes people think but how it makes them think.

      And yes indeed, I feel like I’ve done a good day’s work of carcass flogging by now. Yet I find myself reflexively pulling on my boots once more, half-asleep, at the shadow of a cockadoodledoo…

      Jeremy said: What I am asking is *WHY* these critters are able to imagine how others feel? Why are we unique in all the natural order in the ability to diagnose a situation, look at it from various points of view and have a sense of what we ought to do?

      Well “why” is a question for an evolutionary biologist (or Ryan, for that matter). Mainly has to do with the huge advantages to social animals of a capacity for empathy, for sensitivity to where others are coming from. (No, Ryan)? But how or why we’ve evolved these capacities makes no difference to the case for objective morality: they report on an independent reality regardless, namely the suffering and happiness of others.

      But we’re actually not unique in the natural order in any of the abilities you list, only in the degree of their development, perhaps their self-consciousness. (A whale or chimp might not think “let me put myself in that suffering comrade’s shoes”; it might just instinctively, involuntarily, grok its suffering comrade’s ‘point of view.’ And perhaps it doesn’t agonize over the ethics of a situation for hours, but it does ‘diagnose the situation’ enough to say “NO! You shouldn’t be electroshocking her!”).

      Jeremy said: But again I would ask *why* is the situation pregnant with a moral imperative?

      That was the bit about finding no possible justification, to present to an impartial observer, for why my suffering and happiness are inherently worth more than yours. This doesn’t compel me to *act* justly (as a lawgiver can, with his penalties), but it does compel me to *recognize* what the just, the fair, the impartial course would be. (But of course we don’t reason all that out — it’s implicit in empathy. We just have a consciousness of what the *kind* thing to do would be).

      Jeremy said: I believe that for there to be an absolute moral law that applies to every human being a lawgiver with authority must have given that law. To suggest it is just there goes against everything we know to be true in the reality you speak about.

      A world monarch would serve just as well as God for prescribing a law that applies to all humans. (Of course his/her capacity to enforce it would be less omniscient, but that’s irrelevant). If it isn’t “just there,” i.e. really there, it isn’t objective but imposed.

      Let me emphasize again that when I’ve spoken of how morality must be embedded in a “situation,” I haven’t meant to evoke an image of lots of different situations calling forth multifarious and contradictory guidelines. The contrast I meant to imply was to a morality arbitrarily imposed on the situation from outside, rather than one that objectively describes it, that arises inevitably from the logic of a situation of multiple suffering beings. If it isn’t *inevitable*, it isn’t *really good*, just “good” by fiat.

      Jeremy said: If there is an absolute moral law defined and implemented by one in authority, then there is one we are accountable to, just like with the speeding ticket. We know what is right, we don’t do it.

      But that’s just it, a law tells us what is not *allowed*, not necessarily what is right. Only the logic of the situation itself could tell us what is right.

      …Wow, sorry, dead horse, really. My apologies. Go to bed, Kieran.

      Thanks for the invite to your “who I am” post in January, sounds like fun. Insh’Allah I will be there.

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      1. The evolutionary roots of morality are far more difficult to study than the roots of physical attributes, but there has been a lot of study on this subject recently. Generally the theory of evolution is thought to be of the survival of the fittest organisms, but it is really about the survival of the fittest GENES. Families share most of their genes, so being nice to people related to you (even very distant relatives) tends to help promote the genes you share, and is almost like procreating yourself (just not as fun).

        I’d love to discuss it with anyone willing, but around here, my views of evolution are generally attacked pretty quickly as “unscientific”.

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  12. Seas and Ryan

    For some reason I am not able to reconcile your views on “oughts” drawn from what appears to be your optimistic view of evolution, and your stance on abortion. Would anyone be willing to help me understand?

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    1. Hi Dan, you might have to say more, but this from my comment to Jeremy above might be relevant: “How or why we’ve evolved [the capacity for empathy] makes no difference to the case for objective morality: [it] report[s] on an independent reality regardless, namely the suffering and happiness of others.”

      Re: abortion, my feelings about that are consistent with an ethic that sees suffering and flourishing as what’s ultimately morally relevant. My concern is not with how we abstractly categorize a living thing but with how living things experience suffering or flourishing from their own side (including already-born living things) — if at all. But, I vote we skip abortion arguments for now. It doesn’t bear on the objective-basis question.

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      1. You seem to be misinformed regarding abortion. Clearly it is objective – a life is terminated. How is that not objective?

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      2. Didn’t say abortion isn’t an objective situation. Said our positions on the matter have no bearing on whether morality has an objective basis.

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    2. Not sure what you mean Dan. My stance on abortion is that is should be avoided whenever possible, and that it is only morally acceptable at a very early stage in pregnancy. As for evolution, I don’t know if my views on that could be called “optimistic”. It’s just science – not good or bad. Evolution is responsible for our morals, but is also responsible for the desires that make being moral difficult.

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      1. Seems evolution is a little confused regarding morality. That, or we are. I mean, if evo is responsible for our morality, then we shouldn’t attempt to have a criminal justice system, as all people in prison today are just acting out what their genes are telling them they should do. Rape, after all, is one strategy of passing on one’s genes. We’re all just dancing to it’s tune, as Dawkins says.

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      2. Ryan, that is ridiculous. You just make up things as you go along. Chemical reactions do not produce morality. Your abortion views are grotesque and inconsistent.

        Sent from my iPhone

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      3. Chemical reactions do not produce morality.

        Evidently they do. Very specific chemical reactions in the brain, when suppressed, can remove all sense of morality.

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      4. I would agree actually that chemical reactions don’t produce morality. They produce the capacity for insight into the moral situation, namely multiple sentient beings.

        Such insight isn’t cognitive only: ethical thoughts are greatly aided by affective capacities, the ability to see feelingly what others might experience. All an evolutionary inheritance.

        And just like we can’t see the full spectrum of light even though it’s there, our capacity for empathetic insight isn’t perfect, it bears the stamp of its origins. We feel less wrenching sympathy, for instance, for animals who don’t have faces that are expressive in ways akin to our own. It takes a little more work to stand in their shoes imaginatively.

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      5. I’m guessing you mean the evolution angle? Evolution isn’t what I’m arguing for there, I quite assume it. I’m pointing out that right and wrong are real dimensions even though our ability to understand them is thanks to evolution.

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      6. Yup, evolution or evolution, that about sums up the reasonable choices.

        But plainly I was answering your “chemical reactions do not produce morality,” i.e. “how do you account for a real morality, assuming evolution?” For this purpose internal coherence is all that’s required of me.

        It’s not a tautology to assume something. It’s an assumption. I am in fact aware that you don’t share my assumptions.

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  13. Evolution isn’t confused. It’s a process. it’s not thinking about anything.

    Evolution is responsible for our desires, good and bad. It has nothing to do with justice or fairness. In other animals, evolution has created brutal situations. In humans, our thinking ability has shaped our recent evolution.

    Following evolution is no more a way to live a life than following gravity. It’s just an explanation for what we see in our world, not a way to go about living in it.

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    1. If evolution is truly responsible for our desires and actions, then please help break out the prisoners in San Quentin. They aren’t responsible for the things that put them there, evolution is, and there is nothing wrong with their actions. They’re just living out their genetic makeup, like penguins eating fish.

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      1. You’re not getting it. You say that God created us in his image, and that everything about us was created by him. So do you think that he is responsible for our actions?

        Evolution is responsible for our desires, good and bad, but it is also responsible for our ability to structure a society that applies appropriate punishment for immoral and destructive behaviour.

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      2. You can think what you want. I think that certain behaviours are immoral and destructive, and I can back that up with evidence and experience.

        You seem to get angry when my line of reasoning, absent of God, brings me to the same conclusion as you.

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      3. Yeah, but who cares about your experience? Others have different experiences. They may think that the disproportionate amount spent to save one preemie could save countless other people.

        And you don’t have evidence that we can kill the unborn who don’t meet your criteria, just your personal opinion.

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      4. “I think that certain behaviours are immoral and destructive, and I can back that up with evidence and experience”

        Should we then base the definition of immorality upon your experiences and evidence? What about my experiences? What about Neils….his may differ a bit from mine. What about Hitlers? Mao? They certainly didnt feel as if they were doing anything immoral or destructive.

        “We lost Truth in this period/and proof is so mysterious/losing absolutes is so serious/how we think we gon’ live when everything’s relative/is anybody curious?//without a standard of Truth society’s deranged/that’s why I’m up in your ear begging for change.” Tonic

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      5. My reply doesn’t encompass your full comment, I’ll finish that here.

        Gravity is a physical force. It affects you regardless of your choice. Much like evolution (according to you). You can’t fight gravity; you can’t fight evolution. It happens regardless. So why do we incarcerate those who are merely dancing to their genetic music? On what grounds can you judge one set of genes superior to the next if you are a result of the exact same process that produces a murderer?

        If true, evo absolutely gives one a worldview – a worldview in which there is no fairness, so why try to instill fairness upon the world when from a materialist worldview it does not exist?

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      6. You can’t fight gravity

        You fight gravity every time you get out of a chair. Gravity says “things fall down” – that doesn’t mean that to be a person that accepts gravity one must assist all things in their tendency to fall.

        Evolution is not a way of life or a philosophy. It is just what happens in nature. We don’t need to help it along. In fact, every time we cure a disease, or resist the urge to procreate, we are seemingly working against the natural evolutionary process (it can be argued that this is natural as well though). Evolution is just what happens in nature. We don’t need to like it, and we don’t need to help it. We can work as much as we can against it, and we often do that.

        So why do we incarcerate those who are merely dancing to their genetic music?

        Likely because their genetic music stole my car. They can sing their genetic music behind bars, so that I can sing mine in peace.

        evo absolutely gives one a worldview

        No it doesn’t You, and others, are assigning a worldview to people like me who accept evolution. It is a worldview that I don’t hold. I believe in morals like you, and I believe in free will, just like you. Fairness does not exist, you are right, but it doesn’t exist in the Bible either.

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      7. If you believe in evolution then you need to reconcile your views with determinism, which is where evo logically leads.

        I didn’t communicate clearly enough. For that I apologize.

        Sue you believe in morals, you just can’t ground them in objectives. You have faith that they exist, when you require material proof (if, after all, evo is the cause of them).

        I advocate jailing you so I can have your car. Just as acceptable to the natural world as you advocating the incarceration of the guy who steal it from you.

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      8. Jeremy has the right approach, you guys need to move more slowly. (Adam, Dan et al). Important distinctions are getting lost. We need to clarify what’s established and what’s in question.

        For instance, regarding genetic determinism, it needs to be recognized that the question of whether people are *blameworthy* for their actions is a different question than whether there is a right and wrong action in a given situation — a morally better one and a morally worse one. It could be morally preferable that I help a blind man cross the street instead of push him in the gutter, even if only the whole universe can be ultimately implicated in which choice I make.

        It’s possible to say one action is morally better than another one, even if you think that the actor doesn’t have a choice. As a kindergarten teacher, I use a stern voice sometimes without feeling stern inside, without feeling that the kid could particularly help himself. (And it is more often a “him,” poor guys). This is precisely because I think sharing is morally superior to grabbing, even if I don’t think the kid is much responsible for his confusion in the matter.

        So, that’s important. Genetic determinism is a question of blame, not a question of whether there’s an objective basis for judgments of right and wrong.

        Marshall Art made a similar elision by moving on to the question of repercussions for moral and immoral actions (in a theistic vs. a nontheistic world), without first explicitly acknowledging that this is immaterial to the question of a moral basis. It’s an important question itself, but not the proposition under debate.

        Cos one more time, all that’s necessary for judgments of right and wrong, fair and unfair to have a real basis, is the fact that you and I cherish our bones equally. Therefore mine aren’t inherently worth more than yours; there is no justification possible for such a position.

        Then there’s the elision of charging that if moral sensibilities are evolved, “evolved morality = arbitrary morality,” without acknowledging that moral sensibilities are different than the moral realm itself, into which those sensibilities give insight. The realm into which empathy is a “sense door” is a real and independent one: the realm of others’ suffering and happiness. (Incidentally, I should think there would be, on balance, a sizable adaptive advantage to more accurate representations of the world).

        Then too, no-one has answered whether they think it’s possible for animals capable of putting themselves in others’ shoes to exist without ethical ideas also making an appearance. Whether it’s even conceivable for such a species to be without moral compass, without any clue whether hitting or sharing is nicer. Without even any concept of “nice.”

        Nor has anyone proposed any way to justify the claim that your own happiness, from an impartial perspective, is inherently more important than mine.

        All these oblique angles of attack feel suspiciously like distraction tactics when no-one has directly addressed the simple and central, 2 + 2 = 4 points.

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  14. You can’t fight gravity

    You fight gravity every time you get out of a chair. Gravity says “things fall down” – that doesn’t mean that to be a person that accepts gravity one must assist all things in their tendency to fall.

    Evolution is not a way of life or a philosophy. It is just what happens in nature. We don’t need to help it along. In fact, every time we cure a disease, or resist the urge to procreate, we are seemingly working against the natural evolutionary process (it can be argued that this is natural as well though). Evolution is just what happens in nature. We don’t need to like it, and we don’t need to help it. We can work as much as we can against it, and we often do that.

    So why do we incarcerate those who are merely dancing to their genetic music?

    Likely because their genetic music stole my car. They can sing their genetic music behind bars, so that I can sing mine in peace.

    evo absolutely gives one a worldview

    No it doesn’t You, and others, are assigning a worldview to people like me who accept evolution. It is a worldview that I don’t hold. I believe in morals like you, and I believe in free will, just like you. Fairness does not exist, you are right, but it doesn’t exist in the Bible either.

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  15. Wow, I had some things to devote my attention to yesterday and things certainly have moved a long way. I’d like to back up if I could and move a bit more slowly with Seas and Ryan. Thank you both for responding to the issue of origin, and it seems you both agree that evolutionary biology is the origin of your position on morality. Also, I appreciate the frankness with which Seas offered, “Evolution isn’t what I’m arguing for there, I quite assume it.” You also repeated later that it was just your assumption. I believe the logical next step (as would be the case with any assumption) is to ask the obvious question: “Is that a good assumption or a bad one?”

    My answer to that comes in several ways. First, Seas you said, “Well “why” is a question for an evolutionary biologist”, I don’t really see that there is any reason to ask an evolutionary biologist about a moral issue. I think it is a mistake any time we ask science to operate outside it’s field, which is the material. Science is essentially about explanation based on testing and observation, and therefore is relegated to the material. Things like morality, love, creativity are non-material. Perhaps an illustration here, a scientist may hear many people talking about loving another person with all their heart. If that scientist were to completely dissect the human heart he wouldn’t find love anywhere, and therefore conclude that love doesn’t exist or at least isn’t located in the heart. With all the talk lately of people doing some soul searching, the scientist could again completely dissect the human body, wouldn’t find the soul located anywhere and could therefore conclude that humans have no soul. I believe it is Francis Schaeffer who does such a good job in making the distinction between the *soulishness* of man and the *manishness* of man (My book is on loan right now so I can’t provide a referencing quote, sorry).

    I’m not here beating up on science, just recognizing the obvious limitations. If science were someday perfected and everything about the natural world were explained, science still could not say anthing about how everything came to be because it would be hypothesising about something that is inherently untestable and unobservable. Science can record the physical responses to the stimulus of love, or chart the brain to see which areas are engaged when we are creative but that hardly explains there existence. It would be like saying that the clotting process in the blood explains the origin of a cut. Clotting is a response to the stimulus of a cut, not the explanation of the origin of the cut.

    I did read Ryan’s comment: “Evidently they do. Very specific chemical reactions in the brain, when suppressed, can remove all sense of morality.” I believe you make the same leap here. You can manipulate the brain so that a persons sense and response to pain is completely shut off and then repeatedly touch them with a hot iron. You can observe and record the fact that they do not respond in any way to the sensation of pain, but you have no way to tell whether or not they are begging you to stop the experiment.

    Another connundrum I have was actually well described by another comment by Seas: “And just like we can’t see the full spectrum of light even though it’s there, our capacity for empathetic insight isn’t perfect, it bears the stamp of its origins. We feel less wrenching sympathy, for instance, for animals who don’t have faces that are expressive in ways akin to our own. It takes a little more work to stand in their shoes imaginatively.” I wonder if this idea of imagining is really what the jump from morality to evolution is all about. We can imagine that some material or natural process can explain a non-material or supernatural one. But again is imagination really a reasonable line to take in something so important? I have three boys at home to whom I read Dr. Seuss. Often times when I come home from work the house is a mess. I can use my imagination and believe that the Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2 are responsible for the mess. It is much more reasonable for me to deduce that my boys are responsible. Although the imagination is very useful for fairy tales, perhaps the only reasonable way to speak of things we don’t know is to look at what we do know.

    As one who comes from the Biblical-Christian point or view, I see the Bible speak of God (Jesus) as being in His nature Good, Loving and Creative. Because we have to speak of what we don’t know by what we do know, it is much easier for me to believe that I know what is good, that I have the capacity to love and that I am creative because I was created in the image of God who is by nature Good, Loving and Creative than to imagine that some material processes account for those non-material attributes.

    I do apologize to you Ryan for continuing more on the philosophical line again. I would like to discuss some of the particular aspects of the evolutionary process as it is most commonly presented today, but I just thought that was jumping ahead too much and this reponse was long enough as it stood.

    I would also like to clarify, Seas, that the post to my blog in January will be, ostensibly, my thoughts on the meaning of life, and implicit in that discussion will be some views into who I am. Don’t want to mislead you so that you’re looking for one thing and getting something else.

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    1. I feel there’s a real danger of beguiling ourselves with words here, flying into airy logical chains with the vaguest categories of “material” and “immaterial” etc., never checking back in with how moral reasoning *actually works* in our concrete lives. Because it works and makes sense quite straightforwardly in our daily lives, wherein “material” and “immaterial” are hopelessly mixed up.

      Because in one sense we’ve never encountered anything “material” our whole lives long. We don’t experience a chair, we experience consciousness. We don’t experience our legs, we experience consciousness. I as consciousness play all the parts, every person on the subway. (Had some psychedelic moments during my commute yesterday).

      So my consciousness of other people is immaterial, and my consciousness of their suffering is immaterial, and my consciousness that their suffering and mine must have equal weight to any impartial observer is immaterial. No problem at all, therefore, with these things interacting.

      It’s no different in the case of ethical reasoning than any other kind: we have no problem reasoning about “material” things and relations, because they really do exist and have relations.

      Whereas, if you posit two absolutely separate and independent realms, the material and the immaterial, you don’t just have a problem explaining how brains make thoughts (material giving rise to the immaterial). You also leave yourself no way for the immaterial to influence the material in turn: for a moral impulse to lead to a moral action.

      Jeremy said: it seems you both agree that evolutionary biology is the origin of your position on morality

      I would say that evolutionary biology *interacting with* the real and given situation, multiple sentient beings, is the origin of my position.

      All my knowledge is assumption. I assume evolution, I assume the conventions of the English language, I assume the earth is round(ish), I assume I’m handsomer than Brad Pitt and cleverer than Yahweh. An assumption can be founded on rock or quicksand; to say I assume something is not to say it’s shaky.

      (“Founded on rock” — oh man, anybody heard that great song by Paul Robeson recently? “I got a home in that rock, don’t you see … between earth and sky, thought I heard my savior cry: you better get a home in-a that rock, don’t you see…”. Do you know the song? Maybe by someone else, if it’s a well-traveled spiritual? A tremulous piece of work, as per usual with Robeson).

      Jeremy said: perhaps the only reasonable way to speak of things we don’t know is to look at what we do know.

      True ’nuff, but my (visceral) imagination of what you’re feeling when you hit your thumb with a hammer is based on tons of reliable knowledge: how it feels when I bang my thumb; what sentiment that facial expression, and that shouted mix of the sacred and the profane, have consistently expressed whenever I’ve encountered them in the past.

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    2. I’ll make this a separate comment since it zooms directly into outer space.

      Re: the existence of love, creativity and goodness putting you in mind of a god: I feel some respect for this point, intuitive and unspecific as it is. I harbor a version of it myself, as I’ll explain anon. But I wonder if such an intuition rests on unexamined assumptions about the merely natural or material. When you think of the natural and material, do you visualize the coldness of infinite space and the indifference of rock? Why let these few mental pictures stand for the unthinkable variety of being? Do we think we know what nature is? What arrogance!

      Rock has no need for affections, being incapable of receiving either harm or boons. Neither is it indifferent, except via our projection. But as soon as sentience arises — even in the quahog — so too do affections, passions, tenderness, in some primitive form: tenderness for itself, at the very least.

      But I have a shameful confession to make, as an ostensible atheist: I don’t rule out the possibility that the awareness which is my beginning and my end is also somehow all being’s beginning, end and middle. I rush to add that *thinking*, and awareness of anything *in particular*, is to all evidence completely dependent on an incredibly subtle nervous system.

      I haven’t ruled out the possibility that intelligence, in a very particular sense, is basic to existence: because, like, it’s a pretty mysterious thing that I’m aware. But it seems a piece of idlest fabulation to imagine that this intelligence should be a PLANNING intelligence, a PERSONAL intelligence. Watching my own consciousness, whenever I see forms come forth — thoughts, perceptions — they appear spontaneously, without plan or warning, out of an unknowingness: before subject or object, self or world. But, it’s not entirely “unknowing” — because before and in between any thought-forms, this awareness knows that it IS. (Not even WHAT it is). Awareness before particular thoughts has no form, no objective attributes, certainly no personal outline, which is why some Tibetan traditions speak of it as a “cognizant emptiness.”

      Following this scent, the most likely “God” would be one forever surprised. So I don’t at all mean the usual sense of “intelligence” as something capable of putting 2 and 2 together. It would be sheer potentiality, luminousness without any content.

      But as I say, it’s only that I haven’t RULED OUT the possibility that this cognizing emptiness which is the base of me, is also basic to Being generally: I don’t conclude it’s definitely so. The differences in apparent awareness between me, a dog, a worm and a rock are not inconsiderable. But the foundation of my own awareness (and presumably of any sentient being’s) — before and between any thought-forms — is qualitatively unlike these differences. It knows only that it IS, not that it is any particular thing in any particular world, or in time. It can thus more easily be conceived of as basic and universal than can the self- and world-consciousness of which evolved brains are capable. Thoughtless awareness doesn’t know any THING at all, yet it’s still self-illuminated.

      I know that’s gobbledygook to probably everybody, but what can ya do. To me it’s both meaningful and interesting.

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      1. Seas,

        Once again I thank you for your candor in expressing your views openly, including the reservations and some of the problems with which you struggle. As to some of the particular points I would respond as follows:

        I don’t know that we need to introduce the complexity to the issue of material and non-material as you have suggested. There are two considerations in mind here:

        1) In our discusions (which as you have suggested can quickly deteriorate into philosophical ramblings) are generally thought to be bounded by reductionism on the one hand and Ockham’s Razor on the other. We can be too simplistic and not be explaining anything, or be long-winded or just plain nonsensical and be just as fruitless in coming to any real sensible conclusions. We don’t HAVE to operate in this frame, but it seems that the simplest explanation that best addresses the issue in a cogent and non-contradictory fashion would be most helpful.

        2) The issue of worldview came up previously and I think that although you were right in saying that evolution (as a particular belief) is not a worldview, I would say that it is a part of a belief system that is used to answer those fundamental questions we all struggle with: namely the question of origin, meaning, morality and destiny; or to put them in question form: “Where did I come from?” “Why am I here?” “How do I behave, or interact with others?” and “What will happen to me when I die?” This is why when we began this discussion with morality I was interested with origins, because if none of us are here, or if we haven’t thought about how we got here, it may be premature to be talking about how to interact with each other now that we are bumping into one another.

        Your answers are intriguing to me because you seem have your proverbial finger in a lot of different pies. You’ve said in a previous post and in another way in this one that you see yourself as ‘awareness’ or ‘conciousness’ and use this as a basis for your answer to the question of meaning and by extension the questions we’ve been discussing on morality. Once again, however, when we move to the precursor to those issues, namely origin, I have to ask again how did you become ‘aware’, what or who raised you into a state of ‘conciousness’. You said that you assume everything, but with your elaboration on awareness and conciousness it appears as if you are positing something akin to “I assume, therefore I am”.

        I don’t mean this to be condescending or belittling, so please don’t take it that way. We are all trying to answer those most important questions and without being all-knowing we won’t get perfect clarity on all positions in this life. As you have been honest with me, I will return the favor and say that in your writings on yourself and who you are (which I have read twice) I remain pretty confused. Now i’m not that bright, so it may just be that I don’t get it, but I sincerely wouldn’t want to be trying to sort all that out. Again, no offense intended.

        About myself I will also admit there are many things I don’t understand and am grappling with on a daily basis. I am not one of the ‘intelligencia’ by any means. I can say, however, that through all my struggle to understand things that are admittedly beyond my capabilities intellectually, in Jesus Christ and the explanations of the Bible I have peace that it is the clearest, most consistent and coherent explanation not only of the workings of the world around me but of the human condition as well. It answers simply, but completely, I believe, the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny in a cohesive and non-contradictory way. I choose to put my faith in Him (Jesus) and that gives me peace and hope both intellectually and spiritually as well.

        How that works for me in the questions you asked is as follows:

        You said, “Do we think we know what nature is? What arrogance!” I know what is natural because the Creator of the natural created me with the ability to reason and ‘know’ anything at all.

        You said: “Rock has no need for affections, being incapable of receiving either harm or boons. Neither is it indifferent, except via our projection. But as soon as sentience arises — even in the quahog — so too do affections, passions, tenderness, in some primitive form: tenderness for itself, at the very least.” I am different from a rock precisely because we were created differently. Sentience didn’t just arise, the Creator of all things chose to Create me in His image which included self-awareness and the ability to reason and know that I am different than a rock.

        You said: “Because in one sense we’ve never encountered anything “material” our whole lives long. We don’t experience a chair, we experience consciousness. We don’t experience our legs, we experience consciousness.” The material things in this world were created in an orderly fashion, they behave in a predictable way at the choosing of the Creator. So if I choose to step out into the street in front of a bus, I am not just aware of the bus, I experience the bus (if only for a minute). In a very material, physical, real way the interaction happens, and then our wonderings are over.

        My posts are long, I know, and this one has probably gone on long enough as well so i’ll stop.

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      2. Cheers Jeremy, some interesting questions there, graciously set forth.

        Our inability to answer many of the Big Questions, it seems to me, need not be a cause of any anguish at all. However fascinating they are, they’re points of curiosity unless they bear directly on living beautiful and happy lives. Mary Oliver says “I love this world, but not for its answers.” When I sink and expand into this moment without feeling a need to describe it, there is no alienation left in me, no life left outside me somewhere, and Being is breathtaking — without answering a single why or wherefore.

        Even if there was a Creator, knowing this would be basically irrelevant to spiritual life. It’s like knowing the details of the Big Bang or abiogenesis: interesting factoids, but not related to the immediate task of dissolving unnecessary knots and oppositions in consciousness. “God” can only ever be inside my experience as a hopeful or fearful mental picture, and the ensuing release of neurochemicals. Always an object, and a particularly vague and contradictory and hallucinatory and mentation-stimulating one. Like trying to hold a kite down in a gale. I’d much rather release all effort and discover that peace was always only obscured by striving for it, imagining it to be somewhere else. “What’s wrong with right now unless you think about it,” asks the title of one book. Like you say, wouldn’t you rather be without imagining sometimes? Just feel the sun and grass? (Or arctic wind and slush and fumes, as the case may be. Biking in Boston…).

        Answers are great, answers are fun, but it’s true that they’re not what we love about the world. We love it for its literally unimaginable newness and depth. So when I’m speculating about something speculative — like whether a very particular kind of know-nothing “intelligence” might be atomistically basic to existence — it’s just sport. I don’t feel an anguished need for an answer. My fingers in the many pies are only playing idly; my rock and my comfort is the sure knowledge that the simplest inward gesture (really it’s the spontaneous relaxation of all gestures in any direction, for or against) always resolves everything in love and clarity. Reveals that wholeness (a.k.a. love, clarity) is the underlying structure of even an apparent experience of anguish, striving, alienation. You were never *really* apart. You were lying under warm covers throughout the nightmare journey. The idea of a separate “I” was itself only ever a manifestation of seamless, self-less consciousness.

        I should also reinforce that my allowance for the possibility of consciousness being basic is not some ragged doubt at the fringes of my atheism. I’ve always cosidered it a possibility, but it’s a possibility that’s 180 degrees from God: from a Mind with personhood and foresight, and separate from the universe. To me, the idea of a separate God is an error of the same type — by mentally alienating one from immediate and irreducible being — as the hallucination that I myself exist as a fundamentally separate subject interacting with objects “out there.” Without mental storytelling, this moment has no such divisions. It’s the first and last of what I can know or need to know, of what I am. Even time is dependent on my present awareness for its existence, so I’m not certain it makes sense to speak of awareness as having an origin in time that must be discovered. Maybe it makes sense, maybe not. (Of course my *cognitive abilities* are apparently thanks to a brain evolved over time).

        (I keep shuffling the words — awareness, consciousness, intelligence, being — because each one risks saying too much. What is awareness without something to be aware of? What is intelligence that doesn’t know one single thing? What is being that can never be an object of experience? Some traditions call it “I am,” though it must be pointed out that this “I” has no shape or outline, is not held before consciousness as a picture of a self like “I” is in ordinary thought. I guess “cognizant emptiness” is probably the term I’m most comfortable with, but it’s cumbersome).

        (To *experience* it, though, you don’t have to do any intellectual contortions. It’s all you ever experience! It’s simply presence. “Be here now” and all that good stuff. Breathing, sounds, light, shadow, sensations of weight and lightness and heat and cold, a cup of tea, a computer screen: these have no inside and outside, no observer and observed, no now and later, no problem).

        The existence of consciousness is an intriguing thing, tricky to get your head around. But we certainly haven’t answered the question by saying, “it was introduced by … a consciousness!”

        And not only a consciousness, but a thinking, planning etc. consciousness. Thinking and planning, unlike the fact of awareness itself, are relatively straightforward to explain in terms of evolved brain processes. This explanation, obviously, is not available for God.

        Heh, I do appreciate your delicacy about my more esoteric comments! No worries, I know they’re confusing. I have always a strong ironic awareness, while writing them, that it’s highly probable I’m singing my song for myself alone.

        I’ve spent a lot of time in the atmosphere of certain Buddhist and Hindu nondual teachings, so their terms of understanding are very familiar to me.
        And more importantly, I’ve spent a lot of time in meditation, to understand what the terms refer to in lived experience. They’re not confusing to think about, but it is quite a tricky question how best to present them digestibly to the uninitiated. They can sound hopelessly abstract, when they actually refer to very immediate and emancipatory facts.

        Actually, I’ve just realized one of my main mistakes: I should always start with the easily recognizable — the sights, sounds, sensations of present experience. Then I can point out how, when you look very closely at the nature of present experience, it’s actually very different from how we conventionally describe it to ourselves. For instance, there isn’t a self *doing* the thinking, perceiving, acting; rather each thought, perception, act happens spontaneously, and these in turn we mis-label as “myself,” an entity apart from experience, someone who acts on the given world.

        Or for another instance, the idea that awareness appears in the body: looking more closely, the body and the world both appear in awareness, a silence that can’t be broken, a stillness that can’t be stirred.

        But these are dimensions already implicit in naked presence, in being-here-now beyond descriptions of reality. It isn’t strictly necessary to understand them explicitly. Just by enjoying the peace and release of vivid presence, of being-here-now, we’re enjoying undividedness (no “self” apart from “world”), we’re enjoying non-identification with appearances (thoughts and sensations etc. are intimately felt and heard, but we’re not *stuck* in any appearance), whether we know it or not. We’re dwelling as awareness — which is the simplest thing in the world to do, because it’s the one thing we can’t *avoid* being.

        Jeremy said: So if I choose to step out into the street in front of a bus, I am not just aware of the bus, I experience the bus (if only for a minute). In a very material, physical, real way the interaction happens, and then our wonderings are over.

        I’m not a solipsist. I think people will continue to experience buses and trolleys and all manner of public transport after I’m dead. It’s just, what is constituting my experience of the bus besides consciousness? It’s completely made out of consciousness, from fender to fender. Presumably for the road there is no bus whatsoever. For the bus, too, for that matter.

        A reasonable follow-up question might be, who cares? Well in this case, I brought it up to answer the claim that morality is “non-material.” Morality, math, logic: you could call them all non-material if you want, but their only reason for being is to make sense of the objects of experience (sentient beings, numbers, shapes, cause and effect, etc.). And they arise only *with* the objects. Objects arise already arranged in certain spatial, temporal, mathematical, logical, and moral relationships to one another. And the whole theatre depends on awareness. So if there’s a problem with the material giving rise to the non-material, it lies in a much more radical place, with the existence of awareness itself. Once you’ve got awareness, there’s no problem at all in objects giving rise to their respective logics — shape and number to math, suffering beings to ethics, etc. The logic and the objects *both* arise *together* in “non-material” awareness.

        I didn’t make that clear at all the first time. Did a right awful job in fact. Sorry. :

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      3. Even if there was a Creator, knowing this would be basically irrelevant to spiritual life.

        I started scanning your comment, then saw this. Please tell me you were being sarcastic.

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      4. Nope. Deliberately provocative, but sincere. Spiritual or meditative life, in the form I’m interested in, is about what doesn’t need to be maintained through any mental or imaginative effort — what’s real, real, real, beyond doubting. It’s about the naked encounter with life, in all simplicity, without any occluding concepts, without description; letting go of your knowledge again and again (useful as it is in its own domain) to take a deep and fresh look at this moment. God, who can only ever be a mental picture to me, is no help in this entirely absorbing project.

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      5. And, I would have thunk, the only way to *avoid* making God (or your neighbor, or life) in your own image.

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      6. Seas,

        You covered quite a bit of ground in your response and I couldn’t even begin to respond to most of your comments except to say they are interesting. I’ll be honest that i’ve never encountered the perspective you bring, so i’m glad to have had the experience of hearing your point of view.

        I do have two observations and two questions for you, briefly.

        Observation 1) When reading through your response (both this one and your others again) there was a theme that sort of carried throughout for me. When you said things like “When I sink and expand into this moment without feeling a need to describe it,” and “I’d much rather release all effort and discover that peace was always only obscured by striving for it, imagining it to be somewhere else,” and “Just by enjoying the peace and release of vivid presence, of being-here-now, we’re enjoying undividedness” it doesn’s sound much different than escape. By that I mean instead of dealing with the experiences (by reducing them to just awareness or cognizant empiness, the descriptive words aren’t that important) you try to just move away from them and wave your hand and say it’s just a part of the way of things, sort of a pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by-till-I-die type of attitude. This concerns me on two fronts, first because there are others who have attempted to do this same thing by taking drugs or other mind altering substances for the express purpose of reaching a place of cognizant empiness. The reason this is a problem is because some things are lost in doing so, which leads me to my two questions:

        Question 1: What do you do with truth? If nothing is really important enough to focus on and we shouldn’t worry with anything, it seems you’d be saying truth is either umimportant or non-existant.

        Question 2: What about appreciation? You said ” Just feel the sun and grass? (Or arctic wind and slush and fumes, as the case may be. Biking in Boston…)” you can try to just feel the sun and grass, but were you to succeed you would have to give up an appreciation for the sun and the grass. Now the sun and grass may be more trivial to some but it would have to extend to everything else as well, like people you care deeply about.

        Observation 2) I’d like to go back to my statement regarding the limits of our thought, i.e. reductionism on the one hand and Ockham’s razor on the other. You have obviously spent a lot of time formulating all these ideas, and no doubt you have studied Budhism and Hinduism to garner some of those beliefs. But the more we talk the more confusing and complex your answers get. Again, let me quickly say I am not trying to belittle or demean you but just being an honest observer. We may never agree on many of the issues we speak of on this blog, but let me just say that what Jesus Christ offers is the hope, peace and joy of knowing that all the experiences in this world are under His watchful eye and being held together by Him at all times. Every day is truly a miracle and I can appreciate every person, object and situation because it is a part of His divine plan and created order. I can feel the sun just like you, but I can also appreciate it as being situated exactly where it is, purposefully placed as part of God’s creation and that my existence is due to thousands of other things situated exactly where they are that sustain my physical existence on this planet in order that I may comprehend this one thing among the numberless others I have yet to experience. Also because of God and His personal relationship with me I can know what it is to be loved and given the gift of an opportunity for forgiveness. There is inexpressible joy in the knowledge of these things, and my heart hurts to know that some don’t have that joy, or worse don’t want it. As i’ve said before, i’m not pushing or forcing my beliefs on you I just continue to pray that someday you’ll make a decision to accept the gift Christ gave and know the peace and love and joy as I know it.

        I would like to here your thoughts on truth and appreciation. Thanks for your time and consideration.

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      7. Very thoughtful questions Jeremy. I much appreciate your engagement and invitations to clarify. So — three main points to address, it seems: escapism, truth, appreciation.

        Escapism:

        Cognizant emptiness isn’t a state to be achieved, it’s a dimension of ordinary experience to be noticed and appreciated. It’s what you really are, unavoidably. We’re always the silence in which everything comes and goes, we just don’t notice it. And it has room for absolutely everything, every mood, sound, sensation. It has no need to escape anything, being pure light (so to speak),. Ordinary scared, conflicted thought, on the other hand, *innately* avoids and resists and dislikes what is. Presence is tender and vulnerable, without armor, without control.

        There’s no escape because there’s no *manipulation* of experience. It’s allowed to be exactly how it is, and in that, conflict melts. One escapes only the unnecessary — those anxious and small thoughts about “myself” and “the world” which, when looked at closely, are never really true of this boundless present moment. They startle at less than the shadow of a whip.

        In presence, I’m not TELLING MYSELF A STORY about how “nothing matters, everything comes and goes, zippedeedoodah.” If something really hurts or I really dislike something, I just let it hurt, I just let myself hate it. But in this accommodating space of presence, of non-resistance, I then tend to find that the hurt or the dislike lose their charge, left with nothing to oppose them.

        Experience can be vividly full of feeling, painful feeling or pleasant feeling, and still I can see that I’m not *limited* to that feeling, I’m not *stuck inside* it. Non-opposition is a manifestation of what I *am*, this cognizant emptiness in which everything appears without any opposition. Appearances can play utterly freely within it.

        –So, it’s the opposite of moving away from any experience. There’s no need for presence/awareness to move away from it, since it was never bound by it or located inside it in the first place.

        If all that sounds complicated: all it describes is our capacity to be aware of things, and to let them be.

        Truth:

        To discover a historical truth, a scientific truth, a D.I.Y. truth, you can read a book or whatever. But to discover the true nature of your own immediate lived experience — more intimately than all your habitual descriptions of it, or the conventional descriptions of it which you’ve absorbed from society at large — nothing will do except deep listening, setting aside every preconception. In this arena, any description is always the palest reflection of the wordless reality.

        Re “If nothing is really important enough to focus on…”: by all means examine anything that interests you. Just notice that before and after that examination, you remain the same: a silent openness in which all comes and goes. The examination too was occurring freely within it. It’s uber-accommodating! All manner of play is welcome within it! Because nothing can stain it. Even when you forget it’s what you are, when you violently believe that what you are is some passing petty thought or feeling or self-image, that doesn’t truly obstruct it. You wake from the dream and discover you’ve never left your bed.

        Appreciation:

        The first step in appreciating anything is noticing it. It’s also the last step, if that noticing is complete. If sun and grass fill your awareness vividly … just try and keep a bounce out of your step.

        But the appreciation is so close to the experience itself that thought doesn’t project a “me” who’s *doing* the appreciating. There’s no thought of “how long will this last,” no comparing today’s sun to yesterday’s sun. No “me” doing any accounting, and none of the anxiety implied therein. Just warmth, green, beauty, undivided.

        And a last thought about feeling grateful *to* Jesus/God: personifying the universe releases some pretty juicy juices, there’s no denying. Hindus acknowledge this implicitly in the way everyone has his little neighborhood god, on whom he lavishes a sumptuous devotional imagination … at the same time that he tacitly recognizes it’s a trick of the mind, that the divinity of life doesn’t fit in any image. (Or more traditionally expressed, that Ganesha or Kali or Krishna are provisional faces of the faceless Brahman). (Of course Hindus can also be pretty evasive about the ontological status of their gods. You can’t make many safe generalizations about Hinduism).

        But sweet as they are, devotional ecstasies aren’t of the essence, they don’t abide. The love that abides is the love that is awareness itself, undividednesss itself, whether you’re in a mood of high devotion or of five o’clock weariness. This love is subtle, quiet, but absolute and all-encompassing.

        …Ryan, Racing Boo, aren’t y’all gonna call me on any of this brazen woo…?

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      8. Seas,

        I thank you again for gamely tackling the questions I present. We’ve come a long way from our very first foray into the topic of “Can man be good without God?” I really don’t know that any further questions from my end will advance us any further so i’ll just make a few final comments. I’ve enjoyed the discussion and hope that we’ll cross paths possibly on a different topic. Also, i’ve been asking a lot of your position and so I did want to offer you the same courtesy. So if there is anything you’d ask of me that I didn’t make clear or you are curious about regarding my Biblical-Christian position feel free to ask and i’ll do my best to answer you as best I can.

        I believe truth to be correspondence. By that I mean that if anything is true it will correspond to reality. All of us live in a real world, with real feeling, real emotions and real struggles. There are many different ideas on how to live in that real world amidst all those real situations and concerns. Our very first discussion was on morality, which each individual interacts with first hand every day. In situations we see first hand, situations we hear reported and the attitudes of our own heart. In those real situations there are good choices and bad ones. The goodness or badness of a decision depend on their correspondence to an absolute moral law. This absolute moral law in common to all man. The simplest explanation of this absolute moral law is a moral law giver, who has eternally existed and wrote that law on the hearts of man. Beyond that most reasonable explanation of the origin of morality is the fact that all humans at some point has broken that moral law. Therefore we all are lawbreakers and therefore not neutral bystanders ot the moral law giver but rather in willing defiance of Him. Being defient lawbreakers, there is nothing we can bring to exornorate ourselves, to justify ourselves in His sight, so the God who established the moral law Himself provided the atoning work that makes available our forgiveness. Paying this penalty was not cheap, and God paid the price in the body of His only Son, Jesus.

        What this means, simply, for each one of us is that we know what is right, we don’t do it. In spite of ourselves, not because of us, an infinite Holy personal God loved us so much that He made provision for our malody and offers us forgiveness for our sinful behavior and to walk with us step by step, suffering with us as we strive to Love God as we should and love each other as ourselves.

        This is, in my opinion, the greatest truth to which we can become aware. It fully satisfies the questions of origin of the moral law, why we treat each other the way we do, how we can choose a path of correction for that behavior, and the peace, hope and joy that comes from knowing we are truly forgiven for those real things we have done and that our Savior walks with us through the real trials we face as we go.

        Again, thank you for the discussion and again, if you have any questions for me i’d be happy to give them a shot.

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      9. Hi Jeremy, thanks for the offer to answer my questions — none come to mind immediately. I’ve gained some familiarity with the basics, hanging out around here.

        Re: correspondence view of truth — it’s a fair definition, except that in many cases statements of truth can only ever approximate the reality they correspond to, or can tell only half the truth at a time. This is especially true of statements about the texture of experience itself. The description is always an extraordinarily poor substitute for the experience.

        What word can convey the sensation of silence? Only silence can convey silence. Or, out in the woods and fields: the stillness there, what you could call the sacredness, can only be felt by a corresponding inner stillness. I mean, noticed whatsoever. You’ll be perfectly oblivious of the hallowed dimension if you try to experience it through any description.

        That’s part of what I mean when I say, how arrogant of us to think we know what nature is, can represent its infinite character in some mental picture. Indifferent? red in tooth and claw? Perhaps, but among many, many other faces.

        Yeah, hope our paths cross again! And our swords, you’re a humblingly chivalrous fencer.

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      10. “…except that in many cases statements of truth….” should be just plain “except that in many cases statements”

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  16. Ryan,

    I promised i’d try to get to more of the particulars of evolutionary processes, so here goes.

    First, I don’t want to guess, so when you say evolution in a biological sense what exactly do you mean? I don’t want to assume what you’re thinking and then proceed on a false assumption, we’d waste a lot of time that way.

    Second, you said way back when that “The evolutionary roots of morality are far more difficult to study than the roots of physical attributes, but there has been a lot of study on this subject recently.” Admittedly I don’t keep up with the technical aspect as closely as i’d like, so do you have some references of these studies and any recently reported results?

    Third, you’ll probably clear this up with your answer to the first, but when you said “Generally the theory of evolution is thought to be of the survival of the fittest organisms, but it is really about the survival of the fittest GENES”, I was a bit confused because the theory of evolution as you stated it is generally thought to mean the theory proposed by Darwin (and you can comment on whether you stick by that view or if you think on more of a neo-Darwinian bent, or other) and I thought that theory was that all life came from a single cell in a step-by-step process (going from very simple to more complex) through a process of time and chance, which corresponds to your point on evolution being non-thinking just reacting, but seems to contradict your position on desires. Again, maybe your answer to the first would clear this up for me.

    Once you respond on these, maybe we can have a starting point on which to begin.

    Thanks for your patience in getting to what is probably more in your wheelhouse. By the way, is it still cold in Canada? What kind of temperatures are we talking about? Sub-zero yet?

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    1. Hi Jeremy,

      We are getting our first flurries in Vancouver (sitting right at 0 degrees). The rest of the country is under 15 feet of snow from what I here.

      I can’t remember when I said “evolution in a biological sense”, but that is what I mean when speaking of Darwinian evolution.

      I will try to find some good studies on the evolution of morality. I think I’ve posted some good ones here before, but I’ll try to dig them up.

      Your third question will take a bit of time, but it’s extremely important. I think that all evolution can be considered “Neo-Darwin” in a sense, since we know so much more than Darwin did. Darwin did not know about genes or DNA. The discovery of DNA and the process of passing genes from generation to generation has uncovered the mechanism of the theory that Darwin proposed, and it is incredible that he was able to discover as much as he did without the benefit of the science we have today.

      Richard Dawkins wrote a book back in the 70s called “The Selfish Gene”. I wish it was someone else who wrote that book, since the people who need to read it have a deep seeded hatred for the man due to his criticism of religion. This book is required reading for just about anyone studying evolution. He postulated that natural selection acts on genes, not individuals. This means that populations of people with the same gene (let’s say it is a gene that makes a person “moral”) can be selected globally by natural selection over people without that gene. The theory also shows how organisms can assist their own genes in being passed to the next generation not only by procreating, but by assisting another organism who shares that gene.

      For example: Say you are not planning to have children, but you have several siblings having children. Let’s also say that you are blond haired, but all of your siblings have dark hair. The gene for blond hair is expressed in you, so it is very likely recessive in your siblings, just not expressed. Even though you will not have offspring, you have the ability to assist your siblings in raising their children, and in turn, passing on genes that you all share. This is a very simplified example, but shows how natural selection acts on genes in a population rather than just individuals.

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      1. Ryan, you are just making things up. We criticize Dawkins for being such a horribly bad and iconsistent philosopher and because he has proven to be a coward and a liar. Just search the blog. It is well documented.

        Sent from my iPhone

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      2. Are you reading my comments? List ONE THING I have “made up”.

        Criticize Dawkins for his philosophy all you want. That’s fair game. But if you want to criticize his scientific views, you had better bring something of substance to the table.

        Dawkins isn’t a coward for not wanting to spend his time debating people on a subject that is far over their heads. On the same note, Michael Jordan STILL has not answered my challenge to a game of one-on-one. Obviously he is a coward and remains fearful of my skillz.

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      3. I showed you where you made things up and where Dawkins lied then you did it again. I just linked to another of his cowardly dodges. You are the king of false analogies, like your map example.

        Sent from my iPhone

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      4. Ryan,

        I think it was Seas who suggested we take the origin of morals to ‘biological evolution’ so that’s where I got the inference.

        Please bear with me, but i’m still a bit unclear on your ideas on evolution, so if you’ll allow me to probe a bit further before we begin in earnest discussion.

        When you moved to Dawkins views on survival of the fittest at the genetic level, are you speaking only of morality, or are you suggesting that the physical process of evolution from a single cell to humankind also occured at the genetic level. Or are you saying that Darwin’s theory took us from the single cell to the gene and then Dawkins’ theory took over from there.

        You understand where i’m coming from i’m sure, since as you well stated we know much more now than Darwin did, in that genes are complex at the microcopic level and require first proteins, which require amino acids, etc. I haven’t read the book, but i’m sure a man of Dawkins’ intellect is not suggesting that genetic evolution explains the evolution of the DNA itself.

        Again, this is not my area of expertise so be patient with me as we begin so we can at least get to a common starting point.

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      5. Jeremy, I appreciate your interest a great deal. This subject is fascinating to me, and I love to share what I have learned and seen.

        I don’t want to give Dawkins all the credit for the “gene centric” view of survival of the fittest. He certainly was one of the first to publish on the subject, but there were many contributors to this theory, many of whom came before Dawkins. Darwin’s theory was one of common descent, and what follows from that is that we all came from exactly one common organism. Since then, the study of DNA and genetics, and the sequencing of genomes from many organisms has provided solid mathematical evidence of this theory.

        I think you may be thinking too much about the difference between an organism centric and gene centric view of the mechanism of evolution. They aren’t really that different. Think of it like people on an airplane. Fro afar, it just looks like big airplanes are travelling around the world, but it’s really the people doing the travelling, going from place to place, and hopping on different planes all the time. The genes are just passengers in our bodies, living on in our offspring. Not a great analogy, but it’s the best I can think of.

        Evolution via natural selection did take us from single celled organisms to where we are today, and it has been shown how natural selection worked right back until the protein level, but with different mechanisms. Genetic evolution cannot explain the creation of proteins, since genes require proteins to exist already. For this, we must look to chemistry, and I am not as familiar with these principles, but I will give it a go. Carbon is a wonderful element. It has an almost unique ability to bond with itself. That’s a very important point, because anything that can bond with itself can form a chain, and eventually one end of that chain can bond with the other. This creates a loop, which is the first step to forming something useful like a sphere. The amazing thing about a sphere, or even a partial sphere, is that there can be a separation between what happens inside and what happens outside. As more complex things came together randomly, amino acids formed strings that could capture other specific amino acids. This process eventually produces proteins. This has been done in lab experiments. We have observed proteins evolving.

        Now coming back to morality, evolution can easily explain why people have the very basic moral principle (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). We have these tendencies because organisms that don’t follow these guidelines do not function well in a social setting, and we are social beings. We rely on the family structure to provide the framework for our children to grow up. Traditionally, the males need to be able to trust others to watch their children while they hunted or gathered food. This requires trust, and reciprocation of good deeds. People who were “nice” were trusted more, would gain status, and would get reciprocation. They would also be more likely to have a mate, and to pass those “nice” genes to future generations. It gets way more complex than that, but that’s a basic idea of how an organism could evolve to be moral. The social setting is very important, and we can see in the animal kingdom that animals who generally travel in packs are much “nicer” to those they live with than animals who are loners.

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      6. Ryan, once again you share a “just so” story that is part of your tautology. You assume evolution and make up a bed time story to fill in what you “know” is true, such as the uselessness of “junk” DNA.

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      7. I never assumed that junk DNA was useless. I just assumed that it represented traits that are not expressed, and diverges accordingly. I’m happy to change my mind about that given some evidence, and the article you cited provides some evidence that the junk RNA provides a function. That’s very cool, and not really that surprising.

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      8. Ryan,

        First let me say that I don’t mind illustrations, and don’t really get too bogged down in them. I recall in grade school doing profile portraits by having a student turn sideways and shine a flashlight in a dark room so that the shadow is projected on a wall, then traced on a sheet of paper. I see an illustration as that type of tracing. It’s intended to give an outline so you don’t expect to get all the detail of the real thing. The travesty would not be in missing all the intricate details, but if once the paper were taken off the wall the outline didn’t resemble the actual figure.

        Also, without belaboring the point anymore i’m not trying to introduce confusion with a huge discussion on terminology, just get to a common ground. I guess what i’m trying to get to is if you see evolution to mean simply ‘change in whatever form it takes’ or ‘change from one thing to a new thing’, whether on the genetic level or another. Put another way, do you see evolution to encompass changes in degree AND changes in kind. I want to make that distinction because my beliefs don’t move me here nor there with regard to changes in degree (mutations, permutations and the like). What I have a problem with is the suggestion that natural processes explain changes in kind in a directionless step by step process. I hope I was clear enough in the distinction, and move on.

        It’s interesting that Dawkins and apparently his predecessors moved to the genetic level with the advent of new scientific data because I see an even bigger problem here than just at the physical level. What I mean by that is that when we speak of DNA and the genetic make-up of humankind we are talking not of form, but of information. I admit freely once again that I am not an expert by any means in this area, but I believe I know enough to know that DNA is like a blueprint that gives directions for hair color, procreation and the like as you described in your illustration.

        So I am not so much concerned with seeing mutations of proteins to other proteins, but rather how evolutionary theory (which you have described, and rightfully so, as thoughtless with no end result in mind) would handle not the changes in degree of one protein to another, but rather the change in kind from a protein to an information center like the DNA.

        I know that’s a lot for you to handle at once, not unlike taking a first step when that first step is across the Grand Canyon.

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      9. Thanks Jeremy,

        I do accept the idea the evolution is responsible for changes in degree and in kind (I assume you mean changing into a different species). Evolution has no purpose or direction. Each mutation is random, but whether or not the mutation helps the organism is driven by the environment of the organism. I totally understand how it is difficult to understand how a fish could become a mammal, and then a whale, but we know that it happened. We have the fossils from numerous steps along the way, and the DNA evidence falls into line perfectly. Whales even still have the pelvis bones of land mammals inside of them. There is simply no other explanation. If you can understand how a beak can gradually get longer with natural selection, then you understand that things can change gradually.

        A great example of major change via small steps is the evolution of the eye. It started with light sensitive cells. These cells exist in tiny microscopic organisms. Some primitive animals have light sensitive cells on the surface of their skin to tell them which way is up, and what time of day it is. If a mutation caused that part of the skin to become indented slightly, then we have light sensitive pit, which allows the organism to tell which direction the light is coming from. Further still, if that pit gets deeper, the directional accuracy gets better. If the opening to the pit closes in a bit, we have a pin-hole camera, which can actually let the organism “see” objects. If the pit closes in with a this layer of skin over it, we have the beginnings of a lens. There are organisms that exist today with eyes at every step along this process, and each is just a small step past the other, there are organisms with far more advanced eyes than the ones we have. All of this with tiny, well understood steps. It’s far easier to understand when talking about tiny changes that each took millions upon millions of year to happen, usually in organisms that reproduced multiple times per year.

        As for the difficulty understanding the advent of DNA, I must say that it’s really not something that I could do a good job explaining. I understand the process by which proteins were created, and I understand how they began to replicate, but beyond that, it’s not something that I have studied much, and there are many parts of it where we have much to learn.

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      10. Ryan, you are ignorant or a liar. The DNA evidence does not “fit perfectly,” it screams out for an intelligent designer. The math doesn’t work for your land to sea or your sea to land transitions. Your fossil “evidence” is a just so story and ignores evidence against it. There is “no other explanation” because you don’t consider another one, such as a designer who uses common parts (duh).

        Evolution is a tautology. I was at an aquarium (Boston, I think) where they had to update a sign for a creature. They had claimed how it had evolved — that is, until they discovered much older versions that were the same. Oops, what we really meant to say was that it had perfected itself so no evolution was necessary. What a joke. And this passes for “science!”

        If you can understand how a beak can gradually get longer with natural selection, then you understand that things can change gradually.

        Changes in beak size take you from nothing to single celled organism with spectacular amounts of information to butterfly / caterpillars, elephants, etc.? Please stop embarrassing yourself.

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      11. I was at an aquarium (Boston, I think) where they had to update a sign for a creature. They had claimed how it had evolved — that is, until they discovered much older versions that were the same.

        So, scientists DO admit when they are wrong? I thought you said they didn’t. Were the older versions fake too?

        I’m not ignorant, or a liar. You know that.

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      12. Sorry, that was harsh. I just think you should know better than to advance those arguments.

        Some scientists admit they are wrong, sort of. They couldn’t deny the older fossil find, but they don’t reconsider their assumptions. Bad thinking.

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      13. There is “no other explanation” because you don’t consider another one, such as a designer who uses common parts (duh)

        Pretty lazy for the god of the universe. Your comment appears to reduce him to the level of a CAD designer working on the average industrial wage.

        Imagine if every creature on earth was proven to be made of a completely different substance from every other. Now that would be evidence of design.

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      14. A designer could start from scratch each time or re-use design elements that work best. That says nothing about the qualities of the designer or his work ethic. I’m fond of cars with 4 wheels, for example, though you can buy vehicles with zero or seven if you like.

        The universe gives great evidence to the amazing creativity of God. Butterflies, crazy looking fish, dogs, jellyfish, humans and so much more. Just read Signature in the Cell and marvel at the way He uses DNA.

        Psalm 19:1-2 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

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      15. Ryan,

        Thanks for being forthcoming with regard to the origin of information. That seems to me to be a real sticking point for your position since none of the other changes we’ll discuss from here out can occur without the direction provided by that agent. It’s neat how this is tracking because I presented almost exactly the same argument to Seas regarding origins of morality (if you’ve been following that line). I’m perfectly willing to move on, however and talk about some of the other aspects of evolutionary theory. Thanks also for all the information regarding preliminary terminology. I think i’ve got a handle on your positions, so hopefully I won’t put words in your mouth or mis-represent your position in any way.

        I am interested to get a reference for your evidence on the intermediate whale form(s) you speak of. Do you have reference material I could get my hands on, a website or other? Also, you spoke of fossils, what exactly was found in the fossil record? Was the entire fossilized whale skeleton found together (like some of the fossils like a trilobite or other) and at one dig site? This is where i’d like to get more information from your side of the argument because I can see how birds beaks can grow longer, but that doesn’t necessarily move me to birds changing into lizards. I can imagine how it could possibly happen, but if we’re in the scientific realm we are talking about reporting on observations.

        It’s also interesting you’d give the human eye as an example. One book I have read in the genre is Michael Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box”. In that he spends a good bit of time discussing the eye and the cascade of processes involved, and that this particular part of the human body represents an irreducably complex system that could not come into being in the step-by-step process you proposed. Again, we could imagine things happening as you say, and we can look around nature and see many different kinds of eyes, but what is the evidence where we have observed a transition from one to the next? If you have a source for a refutation of Behe’s work or knowledge of data showing the transistion i’d be more than happy to consider that.

        The last thing I have a question about is with the idea that evolution is a thoughtless, random process. My problem specifically is that if evolution is random and thoughtless then it makes changes without knowing if they are for the better or the worse. Put another way, evolution doesn’t know which changes to keep, and which to throw away. I realize that natural selection probably comes in here, but it would seem natural selection would work against evolution in the sense that if the change is bad natural selection would weed out the changing thing (i.e. the weaker object less able to survive due to the poor change would die without passing on information). On the other hand, even if a good change is made, how does evolution know to keep this change and not just change back or to another less desireable product? Time also comes in here. How long does all this take? The universe is finite in age, is there really enough time for evolution to stumble onto a multitude of successive good changes in a row to get to where we are now? Maybe you can share your ideas on that point as well.

        Again, i’ve thrown a lot at you at one time, i’ll try to stick to one particular point next time.

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