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6/28/08

Hello and Thank You!

My hearty thanks for being given the chance to contribute. For those who don’t know me (and most don’t), you can get a feel for who I am and what I’ve been up to lately here (link). I’m looking forward to shining some additional light on one of the more dangerous worldviews espoused by mankind. That’s not silly sentiment on my part; history cries out against the conclusions that atheism inevitably leads to. There’s a long list of reasons to treat atheism with skepticism. Hopefully, I’ll be able to add my two cents’ worth in respect to all of them before long.+/-


In a nutshell, I have two major problems with atheism. Three, actually, but only two that atheists themselves are liable to even pretend to take seriously.

First, atheism is what I refer to as a “hopeless hypothesis”. That is, where the rubber meets the road, it’s wholly incompatible with actual life. Ideas like meaninglessness, purposelessness, determinism, and so forth are all well and good on paper. They are unlivable in practice. Human experience makes no sense without free will - true free will, not quantum uncertainty. “Making your own meaning” is as senseless as “making up the rules as you go” – either there are rules (or meaning), or not. The same atheists loudly deriding god-worshippers for being “delusional” are willfully, and often openly, self-delusional on these same topics. Even if atheism is true, we can’t actually live out that belief in any worthwhile way.

Secondly, atheism knocks down a lot of fences and walls, and opens a lot of doors. That sounds good at first, but some fences, walls, and locks are there for a reason. An atheist with whom I was conversing once said that atheism said as much about the morality of mass murder as it did about ordering pizza for delivery vs carry-out. He was trying to deny that atheism had any impact on historical atrocities, but he inadvertently made the same point that I’m making here. Once you accept that idea that there is no law higher than “our” law, that “good” and “evil” are just constructs, and that man is nothing but matter, walls fall down. You’re not prohibited from doing good – but the major boundaries around “evil” are gone, too.

Third, it’s simply not true.

My thanks, once again, for the chance to chip in. I have a few ideas already in the works for AiD, and I’m looking forward to the discussions that may follow.

-MedicineMan

105 comments:

  1. So god exists because:

    1) You couldn't find a reason to live otherwise.
    2) You couldn't find a reason to be good otherwise.
    3) You say so.

    Is that right?

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  2. Kuhlmann,

    No, I think it's fairly clear that those critiques of atheism are primarily separate from the question of whether or not God actually exists. Hence, point three being given as a separate criticism. Please re-read.

    For what it's worth, the typical atheistic defense (in light of the problems I mentioned above) seems to break down to:

    1) I don't think I need God to have a reason to live.
    2) I don't think I need God to have a reason to be 'good.'
    3) I say so.

    Obviously, I think there are some serious logical and evidential problems with these, regardless of whether or not God exists.

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  3. I am so glad you are taking a stand against atheism. May God bless your ministry.

    ReplyDelete
  4. OK, Medicineman, where is this
    god? Have you seen him lately?
    And I don't mean all the worldly wonders xtians attribute to this god. I mean have you seen him, has he caused amputees to grow back their limbs, has he cured cancer, has he answered any of your prayers lately. (I know you'll say yes to that question,but do you have proof.) Has he done anything useful for the people he loves so dearly other than have his generals collect your money at church every sunday.

    Most of the world's
    problems are caused by simple people who are superstitious.
    Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, Peter Popoff and all the rest of the evangelists are known frauds, but they are christians. God could at least smite them you would think. NOT.

    You must be Fred Flintstone if you believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth with man. Evolution is a more likely belief than ID.

    Only 1/3 of the population of earth is xtian, 2/3s aren't. I guess hell will be pretty full when
    your day of reckoning comes.
    Have you paid for your seat in heaven, I guess have you paid dearly.

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  5. We don't just think that we have a reason to live without god. We obviously do because we don't, in general, kill ourselves.

    We don't just think that we have a reason to be good without god. We obviously do because we don't, in general, behave badly.

    Go ask a Buddhist atheist why he goes on living and why he does not believe that all is permitted. I think that you're confusing atheism with nihilism.

    There seems to be some serious evidential problems with your claims that atheism is unlivable and without moral direction.

    So what are these 'serious logical problems' with atheism that are independent of the question of whether or not god exists? I assume that your answer will be of the form: "Even if god does not exist, it would be logically incorrect to believe that god does not exist because..."

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  6. And what logical/evidential problems are those, medicineman? As an atheist, I'm living proof that one doesn't need god to be good or give oneself a reason to live. I live my life to serve promote health amongst my fellow human beings through a career in medicine and research.

    Atheism is simply a disbelief in god(s). Nothing more, nothing less. Attaching anything else to it is foolish, mate.

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  7. No, the typical defense of atheism is

    1) There is no reason to believe in God.
    2) God is logically contradictory.
    3) There are natural explanations.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Kuhlman,

    “There seems to be some serious evidential problems with your claims that atheism is unlivable and without moral direction.”

    My point is that atheists don’t actually live out the fullness of what they claim to believe. The fact that atheists live as though life has meaning and purpose is the evidential evidence that real atheism is unlivable. Case in point: Richard Dawkins himself has admitted that determinism, which is inseparable from atheism, doesn’t make any sense in human experience. Living as though we’re not determined is a contradiction to atheistic belief, but an inescapable one.

    What moral direction does atheism provide? One of the most common rebuttals I hear is, “atheism just means no God, nothing else.” There are no “oughts” in atheism; the problem is that are also no “ought nots”. Atheists are perfectly free to do ‘good’ things, consistent with their worldview; but, their worldview provides no constraints against doing ‘evil’ things. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot may have been ‘evil’ men, but they weren’t doing anything inconsistent with atheistic beliefs. It gives strength to rationalizations for a lot of ‘evil’.

    These/those are the logical problems, in a nutshell. There’s a self-contradiction in saying that the universe has no meaning or purpose, and man is purely matter – but a human life is meaningful. Either there is meaning, or not. Either there is purpose, or not. If good and evil are purely constructs of culture, then all we need to justify anything is the right (or wrong) cultural viewpoint…i.e. there is no ‘evil’ at all.

    For all the claims that atheism is “just” the lack of belief in God (a la you, Obi), that’s a belief with some pretty serious and necessary conclusions. Anarchy is nothing more or less than a rejection of all forms of government – does that mean that anarchism has no consequences to be considered? Making the statement, “there is/are no God/gods” is not devoid of consequential conclusions. Acting as though there are no conclusions to be derived from that statement is extremely foolish.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Samuel,

    1) Even I know that’s not true – you can reject plenty of reasons as good or bad, but there are reasons just the same.
    2) I don’t know what kind of material you’ve been studying, but the old "God is logically contradictory” shtick is not only inaccurate, but tired.
    3) Are there natural explanations for everything? Please contact the Nobel Committee, let them know exactly how self-replicating life formed through purely natural processes, and be sure to thank me in your acceptance speech.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "My point is that atheists don’t actually live out the fullness of what they claim to believe. The fact that atheists live as though life has meaning and purpose is the evidential evidence that real atheism is unlivable."

    I guess this leaves two options: either those calling themselves atheists aren't really atheists, or, and this would be my guess - you don't really understand what atheism is.

    I'm an atheist, and I live my life as if God does not exist, that's all. Whatever else you wish to attribute to atheism in terms of philosophy, morality or lifestyle are not necessarily consequences of atheism; while they may be consistent with atheism they do not flow down from it. A more instructive picture is to look at the atheistic worldview and other secular philosophies as sharing a common ancestor in curiosity, rational thinking and skeptical inquiry.

    "Case in point: Richard Dawkins himself has admitted that determinism, which is inseparable from atheism, doesn’t make any sense in human experience."

    Not knowing the context of that quote, I'd surmise that Dawkins was merely saying that the notion of free will is what makes sense in human experience, and that determinism traditionally has threatened that notion. But in reality there is no contradiction. Determinism is not the same as inevitability: free will on the level of autonomous agents is perfectly compatible with a deterministic universe (see e.g. Dennett's "Freedom Evolves"). Which is why a statement such as this:

    "Living as though we’re not determined is a contradiction to atheistic belief, but an inescapable one."

    is nonsense. Atheistic belief is simply that God does no exist. Belief in determinism is a scientific philosophy. The two are perfectly compatible with each other, and with free will.

    "What moral direction does atheism provide?"

    None, because it is not a moral system, and never claimed to be. Just because theism comes with a moral baggage does not mean that atheism must also. Atheism is simply the conclusion that God most likely does not exist.

    "There are no 'oughts' in atheism; the problem is that are also no 'ought nots'."

    That's because atheism is not an ethic. That does not mean that atheists do not follow an ethic.

    "Atheists are perfectly free to do ‘good’ things, consistent with their worldview; but, their worldview provides no constraints against doing ‘evil’ things."

    Because atheism is not a moral system. This is getting a little tiresome. You seem to labor under the misconception that atheists are only atheists and nothing else (and according to you they're not even "real" atheists), as if being an atheist precludes us from espousing a moral code. It does not.

    "There’s a self-contradiction in saying that the universe has no meaning or purpose, and man is purely matter – but a human life is meaningful."

    The universe may or may not have some deeper purpose to it, we don't know - but from our vantage point there is no need to assume that it does. "Purposeless" might be how it really is, because that's what it looks like. Why should this view of cosmology prevent us from valuing human life here at home, and find meaning in the lives of ourselves and others? I certainly value life and find meaning in my existence and in others' without needing to invoke God as some giver of absolute meaning.

    "If good and evil are purely constructs of culture, then all we need to justify anything is the right (or wrong) cultural viewpoint…i.e. there is no ‘evil’ at all."

    You seem to take a very liberal view on what it means to "justify" something. It is a very different thing to justify something to yourself (where you may invoke as much self-delusion as you like, and invent whatever viewpoint you want in order to sanction your actions) and to others (who may not share your delusion or be convinced by your viewpoint). If your viewpoint is not shared, your "cultural justification" is practically worthless, and if you committed an atrocity, you will still be punished for it.

    If you want to commit a particular atrocity and find yourself justified, you'd have to start by creating a culture wherein it is regarded as justified. So when you casually say "all we need to justify anything is the right (or wrong) cultural viewpoint" you don't seem to recognize how thoroughly this actually constrains the things which we can justify in practice.

    "Anarchy is nothing more or less than a rejection of all forms of government – does that mean that anarchism has no consequences to be considered? Making the statement, “there is/are no God/gods” is not devoid of consequential conclusions. Acting as though there are no conclusions to be derived from that statement is extremely foolish."

    Anarchy certainly has consequences when real forms of government are rejected. Atheism, if viewed as an anarchy against the government of God, only has a consequence if God and his government actually exists. Which, you will have understood by now, we don't think to be case.

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  11. adanois:

    "Anarchy certainly has consequences when real forms of government are rejected. Atheism, if viewed as an anarchy against the government of God, only has a consequence if God and his government actually exists. Which, you will have understood by now, we don't think to be case."

    Great rebutal, I especially liked this one:)

    MedicineMan, your not-so-subtle redefinition of atheism so you can shoot it down does not convince me. It seems that what you are doing is attempting to line it up with theism, but then acting surprised and shocked when you notice that they aren't the same. Could that be your entire objection?

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  12. Adonais,

    I think you’re missing a third option: they really are atheists, I really do understand it, but they’re not living consistently with the necessary outworkings of their beliefs.

    I can’t speak for the specifics of your beliefs, other than your profession of atheism. However, that leads to a lot. That belief necessarily means that matter and energy are all that exist; therefore, that belief necessarily means that everything you say or do is the product of physics just the same as ripples on a pond or the structure of a geode. If you live as though you, and I, and others have an actual, real choice in what we say or do, then you’re not living consistently with your faith in atheism.

    Dawkins quote was exactly in the sense I indicated it. He admitted that his atheistic beliefs required him to believe in determinism, and disbelieve in free will. He admitted this was in contradiction to how he lived, but called it a “necessary” contradiction.

    Philosophers can juggle around words all they want, but free will either exists, or it doesn’t. Either my mind is purely physical, or it isn’t. I either choose, or my particles just respond to various forces. If there is nothing but the physical, then “choice” is an illusion, and those who claim the former while denying the latter are self-delusional. This is why I roll my eyes when people like Harris and Dawkins berate believers for being deluded. They're willfully choosing to act out a belief in that which they claim does not exist!

    Belief in determinism is inextricable from atheism, as noted above. Gramattical gynamstics don’t change that: if you’re purely physical, then you have no more free will than a blade of grass or a grain of salt. Those are not the only areas in which an atheist has to make ad-hoc justifications when confronted with reality, either.

    Atheists do follow “an” ethic, of course. Everyone does. The problem I referenced is that the foundation of atheism allows a person to choose “any” ethic. As Chesterton said, disbelief in God doesn’t lead to one believing in ‘nothing’, it leads to one believing in ‘anything’.

    Please tell me what you do or don’t believe, because this is certainly getting tiresome:

    ”You seem to labor under the misconception that atheists are only atheists and nothing else…”

    I thought the big argument was that atheism has no implications whatsoever? That it means nothing but “there is no God?” Yes, as I acknowledged, atheists can espouse just about anything. There are different flavors of ice cream, but they still melt in the sun. Different types of atheists are still atheists. If you’re still trying to argue that the statement “there is no God” has absolutely no implications for one’s moral, ethical, or existential philosophies, then you’re just burying your head in the sand.

    You can choose to “invent” purpose and meaning in a world you see (note the opinion-driven nature of that statement, by the way) as ultimately meaningless and purposeless. As I said, that’s an option open to you, but it’s the option of self-delusion. That’s like Sisyphus claiming that each rotation of the rock up the hill is meaningful. If there is no purpose behind, under, or after the action, then there’s no purpose at all.

    Justification to one’s self vs. to others isn’t the point. The atheist can self-justify anything, since morality and ethics are purely human constructs (to them). Appeals to force are all they really have to encourage others to cooperate – as you yourself demonstrated in your comment. Ultimately, the only power an atheist can respect is naked force. There’s no transcendent ethic, no definition of anything beyond what men give to themselves. Taking atheism seriously means that might makes right, even to the atheist who hates that idea.

    The anarchist has only to state that those governments he rejects are purely constructs, not real things. “Federalism”, “democracy”, “communism”, “monarchy”, and “dictatorship” are not real, they are just ideas, so he can say. He’s not rejecting anything “real” – does that mean there are no implications to his rejection? But you’re missing the point, I think. While atheism is certainly metaphysical anarchy, that was not the gist of my analogy.

    I’m saying that the oft-repeated (tiresome?) dodge that ‘atheism has absolutely no implications whatsoever’ is as silly and evasive as an anarchist’s claim that anarchism has absolutely no implications whatsoever.

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  13. John,

    I accept the definition of atheism as simply, "there is no God." I simply recognize that that statement has meaning. It has implications for many, many other things.

    If you think my 'entire objection' is based on a redefinition, I'd have to ask what definition you think I'm using.

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  14. Medicine man

    You should take caution, most of the atheists that post either:

    Set up strawman (take Kuhlmann examples)

    SOme are known for being "trollish" and brushing aside sound and robust Christian/Theistic arguments -


    (whilst at the same time wanting you to believe everything has natural explanations. Of course the skeptics have VAST evidence: They know the exact time when groups of homosapien men from all over the globe gathered together to construct moral rules, and how they made sure such rules would be passed from generation to generation. They know the Big Bang is 100% not from anything remotely more intelligent than themselves -or at least more intelligent than Prof R Dawkins-. They also know that their knowledge is on par with knowing every single thing in the Universe, and thats how they know there is no God. They have refuted every argument against the alleged Resurrection of Jesus by just knowing "It never happened". They believe in the uniformity of nature, but you know, thats just the way it is & we don't need no explanation of why there is constant uniformity when in a godless universe there should be utter randomness. But that is just the way it is, right?)

    Guys - I am just choking your chain!

    There are a very FEW others who put up some decent arguments though, but I don't think any have posted at the moment...

    God Bless

    Mr. Patel

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  15. MedicineMan: So, if determinism/monism is right, then "I" is just the equivalent of an extremely complex but ultimately predictable, self-modifying program running in a little under a kilo and a half of fleshy brain?
    Wow. That is so cool.

    If "I" is ultimately an illusion, that means that Zen Buddhism, at least in part, is correct.

    More importantly, if it is correct, the illusion of "me" and "my purpose" is similar to your illusion of "you" and "your purpose" (my illusions are better than your illusions, as I don't deny that mine are naturalistic in origin. If we don't have free will, mine are less wrong than yours), we're in the same boat, figuratively speaking. Hopefully, your deterministic "I" and my deterministic "I" get along. My "I" likes cake. Does your "I" like cake?

    Most importantly, if determinism is correct, then there is jack sh*t you can do about it. Similar to gravity, you (or the, by human standards, practically infinite number of causal events that lead to your "I") can believe that you are lighter than air, but reality (and/or your "I's" perception thereof) will bring you down to Earth. God'd or godless, reality is a bitch, that way, no matter what "I" thinks it thinks.

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  16. Mr Patel,

    Calling me out for using straw men may have been more effective if it weren't followed by an enumeration of your own straw men. But since you're just 'choking our chains', I'll assume that you don't actually think that atheists on this site have claimed any of those things.

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  17. "I think you’re missing a third option: they really are atheists, I really do understand it, but they’re not living consistently with the necessary outworkings of their beliefs."

    It's hard to know what to make of your philosophy; I have lost count of how many times you have made this bizarre claim now, of atheists not "living consistently with their beliefs."

    If I understand you correctly, by your reckoning, atheism implies belief in a doctrine that supposedly precludes free will by accepting the reality of determinism, and your accusation is that atheists are living as if they had free will, in conflict with such a doctrine - is this what you're saying?

    (In a way I'd be interested to hear how you suppose one should live to be consistent with a doctrine of no free will, but I doubt you can have a meaningful answer to this, so I won't ask)

    First, your argument that atheism implies determinism appears to be unsupported. Although it is not so important, I would still be interested to hear your argument for this. Atheism is certainly consistent with determinism (why?) but is it not also consistent with indeterminism? (why not?) If it is consistent with either, it may be the case that determinism and the existence of God are independent hypotheses, with no logical reason for why one must imply the other.

    If God did create the universe, is there any logical reason to assume that He must have made it either deterministic or indeterministic? Where would you have such information from? And if the universe was created by natural processes, we have likewise no reason to assume a particular underlying causal or probabilistic structure - the universe will simply come out the way it is, whether deterministic or not. Recall that on the quantum level, by the currently known laws of physics, nature appears to be probabilistic rather than deterministic, although we probably don't know the full story there yet.

    So there you have it: we don't even know whether our actual universe is deterministic or not, and we don't know whether it was created by God or not - yet you have made the definite inference that disbelief in God must imply determinism. I have been unable to establish this inference, so I would like to hear your argument to this effect. There are of course other reasons for why we might think the universe might be deterministic, but none to my knowledge that has anything whatsoever to do with God.

    Now concerning free will. Since you haven't even elaborated your argument, I run the risk of your moving the goalposts after I address it, but so be it.

    There are scientifically viable forms of compatibilism wherein free will exists in a deterministic universe, and I gave you a reference to one. If this view is true, you have nothing to fear from determinism (determinophobia?) and atheists, whether implicitly espousing determinism or not, will be living entirely consistently with their world view, since free will is compatible with determinism regardless of whether God exists or not.

    Free will, in this philosophy, is essentially agency, the freedom to make choices - which is not a freedom from causality or some mystical ability to override the laws of physics in order to prevent things from happening in a certain way. The reason such freedom can exist in a deterministic universe is largely thanks to ontological emergence at the "design level" (Dennett's terminology). I believe this is related to the arguments by Kauffman and others that ontological emergence involving autonomous agents is what prevents biology from being reducible to physics. While violating no laws of physics, the description of ontologically emergent entities on the design level is often not reducible to the physical description of its constituent parts.

    Dennett's argument is fairly lengthy, and I will not be able to summarize all the salient points here. He offered the suggestive (if not very explicit) catchphrase "The whole can be freer than its parts," referring to the emergence of agency at the design level, and in the extension, free will.

    "You can choose to 'invent' purpose and meaning in a world you see (note the opinion-driven nature of that statement, by the way) as ultimately meaningless and purposeless. As I said, that’s an option open to you, but it’s the option of self-delusion."

    So you are saying that the meaning that I find in life by caring for my family and friends and striving to make a difference, that is delusional, while an alleged afterlife provided by an invisible incorporeal transcendent all-powerful jealous sovereign refusing to leave any evidence for skeptics to investigate - that is real?

    "If you’re still trying to argue that the statement “there is no God” has absolutely no implications for one’s moral, ethical, or existential philosophies, then you’re just burying your head in the sand."

    I don't recall making such an argument except for the case of myself. Regardless of whether God exists or not, it is obvious that adopting atheism would imply additional philosophical consequences for a theist already imbued with religious doctrines. But pick a person who is not already indoctrinated in superstitious beliefs (for instance, this was the situation with myself), and the philosophical consequences of adopting atheism are essentially zero.

    I'm sure that there are atheists who made other philosophical shifts when they turned atheists, but this is all dependent on personal circumstance, and there is no logical reason to generalize and assume that adopting an atheistic worldview must also imply adopting some particular set of corollary philosophies. Some may, some may not, I don't see what your bone of contention is here.

    "The atheist can self-justify anything"

    *sigh* Tell me, how many atheists do you find down there, being able to "self-justify" anything or everything? I think it's time that you started backing up your claims, or someone might accuse you of setting up straw men.

    "Atheists do follow “an” ethic, of course. Everyone does. The problem I referenced is that the foundation of atheism allows a person to choose “any” ethic."

    But it just doesn't work like this in reality, you're simply fantasizing. If you have any support whatsoever for these claims, now would be a good time to share them. Your view of morality as something that we can just pick and choose like from an a la carte menu independently of what anyone else does, is simply not realistic.

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  18. Adonais,

    “I have lost count of how many times you have made this bizarre claim now, of atheists not ‘living consistently with their beliefs.’”.

    Given that you don’t seem to even know what you believe, that claim should make sense. Which do you believe – that atheism has implications for philosophy, or not? Are atheists open to choose any ethic, or not? On one hand, you’re overtly stating the extreme position that there are no implications at all to atheism. The phrase, “there is no God”, to you, is more or less meaningless, since it has no connections whatsoever to anything else. On the other hand, you’re trying to deny that atheists are open to choosing any ethic at all.

    Which is it? You don’t even understand your own professed belief enough to defend it, so please consider that question before responding further. You and I can both point to professed atheists who have assumed highly “moral” practices, and highly “immoral” practices. We seem to agree that both are consistent with atheism. Why, then, do you act so incredulous at the idea that atheists can self-justify any moral or ethical practice, without being inconsistent to their atheistic outlook? Make up your mind, please.

    I'm saying that atheists are free to choose any ethic or moral, since atheism provides no prohibitions in those areas. I'm also saying that atheism has some impact on the way one views free will, meaning, and so forth. I'm also saying that the logical out-workings of atheism are unlivable.

    I’m not saying that atheism has ‘consequences’ just in the sense that it changes a person’s attitudes if adopted from some other perspective. I’m saying that a belief in “no God” affects the way one views, interprets, and considers the world; just as a belief in “one God”, “many Gods”, or “everything is God” does. It’s absolutely ridiculous to claim, ad hoc, that only one type of metaphysical belief has no implications for how one views the world. It’s an attempt to avoid having to answer tough questions about the viability of atheistic belief.

    If you think all life is ultimately meaningless, then choosing to believe that anything is meaningful is self-delusional. I’m sure you’d agree that, if I didn’t believe in God, but believed that there was divine influence acting in certain areas of my life, I’d be delusional. Either God exists, or not. Either meaning exists, or not. Self-delusion applies to the atheist who tries to talk about overall meaninglessness along with punctuated meaning.

    I’m well aware of Dennett’s argument – hence, I said what I said about “juggling” words. Note, even in the summary you linked to, this sentence (emphasis mine): “Evitability is entirely compatible with, and actually requires, human action being deterministic.” Please read that again, for emphasis. Dennett cannot escape the idea that there isn’t really free will. He can do grammatical backflips all he wants; either I can really, truly, choose to do A instead of B, or my “choice” is the product of particle interactions. He’s re-defined the terms to suit his argument.

    What Dennett is trying to deal with is exactly what I am saying: human life is incompatible with belief in determinism. I do, as it turns out, have a meaningful answer for how one should live consistently with a non-belief in free will: you can’t. That’s the point. Whether it’s true or not is entirely beside the point. It’s totally impossible to live out that belief. Hence, you get people like Dennett who try to explain how we’re “free”, but not really. Note, again, that Dennett carefully re-defined “freedom” in that sense into something different than what we’re discussing.

    Atheism implies that matter and energy are all that exist. There is no supernatural. Therefore, everything that happens does so by, and is restricted to, the interactions of matter and energy. You brought up quantum uncertainty, which is no help. Dice don’t “choose” to come up snake-eyes vs. a natural seven. “Random” isn’t the same as “free”. The universe may be “unpredictable”, but atheism has absolutely no answer for how one can be purely matter, and still have “real” choice. Genuine “free will” is inherently supernatural.

    I don’t think morality is something we can pick and choose – but, then again, I’m a Christian, so I don’t view morality as having the slightest thing to do with my opinion. I can’t justify certain behaviors without contradicting my professed belief in Christianity. Atheists have no such restriction.

    This (emphasis mine):

    …refusing to leave any evidence for skeptics to investigate…”

    …tells me all I need to know about the sense of discussing any such evidence with you. That whole “there isn’t ANY evidence, AT ALL” line is about as intellectually immature as it gets. You can debunk, reject, fail to consider, be unaware of, interpret differently, or override the evidence that exists: those would make you an actual “skeptic”. To say that there is “no evidence”, frankly, makes you a fool.

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  19. "I'm saying that atheists are free to choose any ethic or moral, since atheism provides no prohibitions in those areas. I'm also saying that atheism has some impact on the way one views free will, meaning, and so forth. I'm also saying that the logical out-workings of atheism are unlivable."

    Yes, you are indeed saying all those things, and I have already responded to them in previous posts. I guess you just missed it.

    "...the viability of atheistic belief."

    Your notion that atheism is logically impracticable is somewhat flaky to begin with. You have hinged everything, your entire argument, on the idea that determinism and free will are incompatible, and that atheism implies determinism, but you have made no account for what you think free will is.

    "If you think all life is ultimately meaningless, then choosing to believe that anything is meaningful is self-delusional."

    I almost pity you now, if this is what you truly believe. You accuse everyone not believing in your favorite superstition, yet still finding meaning in life, of being delusional. Even if life is ultimately meaningless, it can still be proximately meaningful to an individual, and indeed many people find it so even in the absence of God or other superstitions. Only a truly misguided person would say: "I DEMAND that the universe be created for ME, or else I am going to fall into despair."

    "Either meaning exists, or not. Self-delusion applies to the atheist who tries to talk about overall meaninglessness along with punctuated meaning."

    Again you are conveniently vague, but it can be surmised that you are first talking about an "absolute" meaning handed down by God, and later a relative or subjective meaning that we can create by and for ourselves. This leads you to equivocate between the two. There is actually no conflict between the two, but unlike absolute meaning, subjective meaning does not require us to endorse superstitious beliefs.

    "Dennett cannot escape the idea that there isn’t really free will. He can do grammatical backflips all he wants; either I can really, truly, choose to do A instead of B, or my “choice” is the product of particle interactions."

    You haven't read the book, then. If you are so well aware of Dennett's argument, what does he say about causality and determinism? How does he define free will? There is no conflict between my ability to chose A instead of B and a deterministic sequence of particle interactions. But discussion if futile if you haven't read the argument.

    Or perhaps you would care to furnish your own argument with some details. What is the difference between "really, truly, choose" and just "choose"? And what does that choice entail: does it do anything on the physical or causal level? Are you assuming an indeterministic physics? Even if you're assuming a dualistic explanation, let's hear it, because so far you have said nothing of substance.

    "I do, as it turns out, have a meaningful answer for how one should live consistently with a non-belief in free will: you can’t."

    QFT.

    So it was all word games on your part then, accusing atheists of not living consistently with their beliefs, when what you really want to say is simply that atheism is false. No need to beat about the bush and camouflage your arguments, someone might call that disingenuous.

    "Note, again, that Dennett carefully re-defined “freedom” in that sense into something different than what we’re discussing."

    But you haven't even defined what sort of freedom you really are discussing. Care to do that at some point, or want to keep your goalposts flexible?

    "You brought up quantum uncertainty, which is no help. Dice don’t “choose” to come up snake-eyes vs. a natural seven. “Random” isn’t the same as “free”."

    Err, right. I don't think I ever claimed that it was. I just brought it up as a reality check. There are also incompatibilism theories of free will, some of which invoke deterministic chaos and quantum indetermination. Dennett examines one such rival theory in his book, due to Kane (1996). While Dennett claims to have uncovered some fatal weaknesses of that theory, I'm not convinced that he sank it completely - it might still be a viable theory.

    Just to be clear on this point, it is not absolutely clear to me that Dennett's theory is the correct one, although I think it is a very appealing and reasonable one. But regardless of whether you take a compatibilism or incompatibilism view, there are scientifically viable models on both sides, so there is really no reason to doubt the reality of free will. To me, the issue of free will is basically a non-issue; however the universe comes out, we have some way of understanding (and retaining!) free will, even if we at this moment do not know which the correct model is.

    "The universe may be “unpredictable”, but atheism has absolutely no answer for how one can be purely matter, and still have “real” choice."

    Shouldn't that answer be the responsibility of science and philosophy rather than atheism?

    "Genuine “free will” is inherently supernatural."

    Well why didn't you say so from the start (and I would never have engaged in this discussion).

    Although I am still interested to know: do you feel that this answer absolves you of the responsibility of understanding the "explanation" that you are proposing, in the sense that "it doesn't matter how it actually works, it's all done by God"?

    "I can’t justify certain behaviors without contradicting my professed belief in Christianity. Atheists have no such restriction."

    I would ask you to consider the possibility that you didn't receive all of your moral code from Christianity. In addition to upbringing and the possibility of an innate evolutionary predisposition to reciprocal altruism (have you read any evolutionary psychology at all?), we become embedded in a society that already possesses shared moral norms; a culture of social contracts and justice systems. All of these can be independent of religion. Religion is a relative newcomer on the stage of moral guidance.

    When you say "Atheists have no such restriction" you are for the umpteenth time ignoring the reality that actually exists. You should test your statements against examples in reality every now and then.

    "…tells me all I need to know about the sense of discussing any such evidence with you. That whole “there isn’t ANY evidence, AT ALL” line is about as intellectually immature as it gets. You can debunk, reject, fail to consider, be unaware of, interpret differently, or override the evidence that exists: those would make you an actual “skeptic”. To say that there is “no evidence”, frankly, makes you a fool."

    You certainly are quick to insult. I'm beginning to regret my efforts of trying to be polite with you.

    Well let me make one correction then: instead of "refusing to leave any evidence" I should have written "refusing to leave any convincing evidence," since this is the view that I actually hold on that subject. That sentence, of course, was merely part of a different question (which you did not answer) and this particular phrase did not purport to start a debate on the credibility of evidence for the existence of God or the afterlife. If that had been the intent, I would have tried to be more explicit, so that you could not be confused about what my real question was.

    You are most welcome to present the evidence for the existence of God, heaven, the afterlife and all that, that you find convincing, if you want to have a discussion on that.

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  20. Adonais,

    ”Yes, you are indeed saying all those things, and I have already responded to them in previous posts.”

    Yes, and your responses were self-contradictory. You didn’t answer the pointed question I asked: are all morals and all ethics compatible with atheism, or not? One of your two arguments is going to have to be retracted. Either atheism has no implications for philosophy, at all, whatsoever OR atheists cannot claim/deny certain moral or ethical positions without contradicting their atheism. Both cannot be true at once.

    My argument is that there are many aspects of atheism’s necessary outworkings that are contradictory to human experience. I don’t blame atheists for living contrary to those – they have no choice. What I do blame them for is having the arrogance to tell the religious that they’re living in delusion and denial, when they themselves self-delude and live contrary to the implications of their own view.

    These problems are not intended to be arguments against the truth value of the statement “there is no God.” I’m arguing that there is such a thing as a “hopeless hypothesis”. There are some ideas that, even if true, cannot be treated as true in any meaningful way. Atheism logically leads to many of these, and so atheism itself is unlivable. I didn’t disguise that idea – I said early on that this was a problem separate from whether or not God exists. Perhaps you need to read the very first sentence in the very first comment I posted in this thread.

    Given your comments on meaning, I guess I need a clarification: is there such a thing as meaning, or not? If there is no meaning, there is no meaning. If there is no meaning, and we act as though there is, is that delusional, or not? Didn’t you imply that those who believe in God are delusional, since they believe in something which (you say) does not exist? Are you pitying me for applying the law of non-contradiction? What you’re really advocating is that we “pretend” that tiny little parts of life have meaning, while we know that nothing really has meaning anyway.

    ”There is no conflict between my ability to chose A instead of B and a deterministic sequence of particle interactions.”

    That statement is self-contradictory. Quantum randomness isn’t the same as choice, so just because there is “a chance” of choosing A over B does not mean that there was a legitimate free-will decision to do so. Either your decisions are the result of particle interactions, governed 100.00% by non-intelligent, non-purposeful physical laws, or they aren’t. This is one of those a priori issues. Did you not note the sentence in the very summary you linked to? The idea Dennett is relating “requires human action [to be] deterministic.” The words “determined” and “free” are polar opposites.

    I’m saying that “free will” is non-existent if your thoughts and actions are purely controlled by the laws of physics. The physical brain and the non-physical will interact, of course. But there’s just no rational way to claim that a system that’s determined has legitimate free will. Computer systems that use random number generators to set variables aren’t making free-will decisions any more than a human being whose will has some randomness, but is purely determined by physics.

    ”Shouldn't that answer be the responsibility of science and philosophy rather than atheism?”

    The mechanics of the answer, yes. But you have to have a rational basis for your beliefs. If your worldview is self-contradictory, then it’s invalid. If what you believe seems contradictory to experience, you either have some answer, or an open hole.

    I’m not expecting to be absolved of anything, but I do need to note that my critique is of the practical livability of necessary outworkings of atheism. I’m not even arguing that we do have free will, in this case! All I’m arguing is that the atheistic view leads to conclusions about free will that are unlivable, and contradictory to human experience. If you’re trying to change the subject, it won’t work. For what it’s worth, I think we do have free will, and I think that logically means that it’s non-physical in nature.

    Whether I got all of my morals from Christianity is beside the point. Perhaps you don’t understand the argument. If you’re suggesting that there is something about atheism that restricts a person from following moral codes that others would disagree with, please explain. You want tests from reality? Okay, let’s test a few historical figures:

    1) Pol Pot
    2) Stalin
    3) Mao Tse Tung

    You have two choices: explain how their actions were inconsistent with atheism, or admit that atheism itself provides no prohibitions against choosing any moral or ethical system you can self-justify. They didn’t think they were doing “evil”. All three applied ideas about human beings that are consistent with an atheistic outlook. That’s my point, and I don’t understand how or why you’re trying to argue otherwise.

    As I said, make up your mind. Either atheism provides moral restrictions, or it doesn’t.

    I’ll retract my assessment of you as a “fool”, given your addition of “convincing”. I didn’t answer the question because the truth/falsity of atheism or theism is not the topic at hand. The topic is the inconsistency of atheism with human experience.

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  21. "You didn’t answer the pointed question I asked: are all morals and all ethics compatible with atheism, or not? One of your two arguments is going to have to be retracted. Either atheism has no implications for philosophy, at all, whatsoever OR atheists cannot claim/deny certain moral or ethical positions without contradicting their atheism. Both cannot be true at once."

    Maybe your confusion is that, because religions often impose moral principles, you think that atheism must also. But it does not. Atheism has nothing to say about morality. Your belief in an absolute morality that flows down from God is only supported by the prerequisite belief in the existence of that God. But atheism is a belief in no god, and from no god can flow no moral precepts.

    Therefore your question "are all morals and all ethics compatible with atheism?" is meaningless, since atheism has nothing to say about morals and ethics; it is just as meaningless as "are all morals and all ethics compatible with the color blue?" Probably yes, since blue does not contain a moral dogma; there can be no conflict because of blue itself. But you are gravely mistaken if you believe (as appears to be the case) that this means that any moral or immoral principles would therefore be practicable by the person espousing blue.

    The reason, as I mentioned before, is that a member of the human community does not have the freedom to choose her morality independently of other members. Even if atheism does not prescribe moral constraints, something does, even in the absence of religion. Our evolutionary history has seen to it that we develop shared moral principles within our community by a number of methods (see previous post), most of which do not require religion.

    Your second statement is somehow muddled, an apparent false dilemma where both statements are false to begin with. First, that "atheism has no implications for philosophy" I already addressed in a previous post, but let me clarify here what appears to be fudged. If we consider natural philosophy, this is largely what leads to atheism in the first place - this is the way the implication arrow points, not from atheism to philosophy. Then there is a large subset excluding natural and theological philosophy that is mostly neutral, neither influencing or being influenced by atheism. Then we are left with theological philosophy, and I already said as much before: atheism is obviously not compatible with a philosophy of God that requires you to also believe in God, this much is true by tautology. In this case the implication arrow is certainly from atheism to philosophy, and it was my mistake to omit this case in my first reply, but I corrected it in my second reply, and still you're harping on about it.

    Your insistence that atheism must have implications for philosophy therefore suggests to me that you are arguing from an implicitly theocentric position, where philosophy to you means philosophy of God. That is certainly your prerogative, but you should be clear about it if it is the case.

    Finally, the statement that " atheists cannot claim/deny certain moral or ethical positions without contradicting their atheism" is also false, as should be clear. Atheism contains no moral dogma, so there is nothing in the atheistic worldview to be contradicted by a person's actual moral principles (unless that principle begins "God commands that..." - in which case they would no longer be atheists). The supposed conflict between your two statements, between which you would have me choose, does not exist.

    I must confess I am finding myself in want of motivation to carry on this discussion, seeing how much I am required to type in order to respond to a single paragraph of yours, most of which are just repetitions.

    Perhaps you should post a new topic more focused on a single question. I'd be happy to continue the discussion on Dennett's compatibilism theory in more detail if you write an article on free will.

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  22. This is a very interesting discussion and I wonder if I can jump in? From your comments, medicinman, I can conclude that you thought through these questions deeply. That's appealing, for I am tired to debate with idiots.

    So, will you excuse me, but I'm going to fire my humble weapons.

    You seem to say a number of things. I'll try my best to summarize them:

    1. Atheism is unlivable because it is self-contradictory. It inevitably leads to determinism because of its blatant materialism (even if we take for granted random, random is still not free-will), and determinism is incompatible with our everyday experience of free will. Therefore, it is false;

    2. Atheism implies that the universe is without meaning and it inevitably follows that any meaning one atheist places on his life or anything in general is an inherent contradiction, and self-delusion. It will even also lead to nihilism, due to such lack of meaning;

    3. Atheism leads to nihilism (see point 2) therefore any kind of ethics and morals are possible, therefore any society run by it would, reductio ad absurdum, always give way to totalitarian distopias or else to brutal anarchy.

    All these points are false. They suffer from different malaises. The first one is of logical inference, as noted from adonais. Simply stating, you infere too much with too little. You cannot simply say that Atheism leads to determinism because that simply is not true. The discussion between determinism and indeterminism is one completely independent of the question of God. Just because theists believe in indeterminism and free will, it doesn't compute that atheism doesn't. Simply put, atheism is agnostic on the subject. You'll find determinists and indeterminists in the atheism forum, and they will debate endlessly with each other on the subject.

    I'll put it in another way. Atheism is not a set of beliefs, so you can not try to pin down what you cherry pick about some stuff inside such "set of beliefs", because all you may achieve with that is a straw man, for everything that Atheism states is that there is most probably no God at all. It isn't itself a belief more than saying that Santa Claus most probably doesn't exist. It doesn't contain credos and dogmas and rituals. Nothing. Further, all the other philosophical developments are completely independent from it and the only consequence of taking the atheist view is to widen the scope of possibilities, which doesn't come from the nihilist stance of atheism, but rather to the dogmatic chains of theism which were cut off.

    So, I'll refrain of discussing determinism and materialism in this comment because it is a completely different discussion (but if you insist, I'll do it).


    Similarly, the conclusion that the universe is without meaning comes from that independent discussion. Simply put, I don't know if it is or not. I could however hypothesize to say that the universe is only embebbed from the meaning I give to it, that "meaning" is but a very practical human concept that we try to glue to everything we see, not in a solipsistic way, but rather in an inter-subjective way. It is we, as a society and a group of people that together form a web of thoughts and meanings to which surround us, evolving with it in the philosophies, literatures, arts, actions, journalism, speeches, etc. Civilization grows with it, evolves with it. It never stops, people debate and debate to reach consensus, conclusions, or else to draw even bigger answers or to not reach any conclusion at all and label the problem as "complicated, further discussion is needed".

    Likewise, the ethical problem is basically an evolution problem. Refrain your indignation, for this is historically proven. Today we do have problems accepting torture, slavery, genocide, child beating, etc, while one can look no further than the bible itself to see that such were no problems at all in the OT days. Simply put, there is no need of God to expain Ethics. Ethics evolves from the simple reasoning that we are not alone in this world, and if we are bound together in existence with other people, we should all build a social framework of laws to which we all should obey in order that all can be better off.

    I don't want to be killed, nor do I want to have any of my friends killed. Thus, I refrain of even thinking about doing so to others. Likewise with stealing, cheating, lying, etc, etc. There is simply no need of God into this equation.

    I hope this discussion can be prolonged.

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  24. Adonais,

    So, the boiled-down version of your response is:

    No, atheism does not prohibit or endorse any particular morality. Technically, then, a professed atheist can be either a humanitarian or a mass murderer; atheism neither endorses nor denounces either.

    Is that right, or not? That’s the first part of my argument, and I think all of your baloney before was just you expressing distaste that it’s true. Please don’t give any “but…but…but” nonsense. We can, and should, agree that atheism provides no moral or ethical restraints, in and of itself.

    Perhaps you don’t get my rather simple suggestion about atheism “having implications” for philosophy, so I’ll try a different approach. I think you’d agree that when a person says, “I believe there is a God”, that belief influences the way they view themselves, other people, and the universe. I don’t see how you could argue otherwise. The same would be true for a person who says, “I believe in many Gods”, “I believe everything is God”…and “I believe there is no such thing as God.” That’s it. Plain and simple.

    You cannot coherently argue that atheism – uniquely, magically, amazingly – has no impact on how a person views the rest of the world. We can, and should, agree that atheism has implications for philosophy.

    This paragraph…

    “Finally, the statement…does not exist”

    Sounds like a long, wordy way to say “that statement is false.” Meaning, you agree that there is no moral or ethical position which can be undertaken that would contradict a person’s atheism (see above, again), other than statements which imply the existence of a deity, of course.

    I’m not asking you to type dissertations just to give obvious answers to basic questions, so if being verbose makes you tired, then stop dancing around the points. Does atheism influence one’s philosophy? Yes. Does it provide any restrictions to one’s moral or ethical conduct? No.

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  25. Barba,

    Regarding your summary 1: I’d generally agree, but for the last statement. I am NOT suggesting that atheism is untrue for those reasons. Merely unlivable. In fact, my criticisms in the areas of self-contradiction and moral anarchy are totally separate from whether or not atheism is true or false.

    Regarding your summary 2: I’d generally agree, but for the last statement. I do think atheism tends strongly towards nihilism, I think it logically must lead to nihilism, but I don’t think it MUST lead there in practice (since, of course, the philosophy itself is actually unlivable). That’s a little bit of splitting hairs on my part, but worth mentioning. Those who take atheism the most seriously are also those who take life the most nihilistically.

    So, your point three starts from a position that’s not quite what I’m saying. It’s pretty close, though. As adonais’ grammatical contortions have shown, it’s a clear truth that atheism does not provide moral or ethical constraints. The repeated arguments about culture, for example, only serve to highlight the fact that atheistic morality is, in fact, infinitely pliable. History provides ample examples of atheists who chose moral and ethical positions, consistent with an atheistic outlook, which many people would call “evil”.

    I don’t have much patience, I’ll admit, for the argument that “atheism isn’t a belief, it’s a lack of belief.” As the after-school-specials like to say, choosing not to choose is still a choice. Humans are not empty vessels, and “lacking belief in God” is not “lacking in beliefs”. Atheists believe something; they do not believe “nothing.” Your beliefs are not a null set.

    If you think that philosophical, ethical, moral, or other systems have never been influenced by the implications of atheism, then you are sorely mistaken. First of all, if you really believed that, then you’d never bother talking about atheism with anyone, since it would be such a weak, meaningless, frivolous idea that no one would have ever taken it seriously. Second of all, there’s a wealth of literature and other evidence to contradict you.

    Nietzsche should be the first name that comes to mind. Atheism meets philosophy. And, in fact, I mentioned Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot specifically because they wove explicit atheism into their approach to humanity. The “cherry picking” occurs when an atheist wants to use the ultimate dodge: “atheism is not a belief” (and therefore, I can avoid defending anything I can’t or don’t want to defend).

    You mentioned the “dogmatic chains” of theism being cut off – I take it you’re not aware of the history of science. A large part of my point is actually that, yes, atheism “widen(s) the scope of possibilities”, to the point that anything, no matter how heinous or atrocious, is compatible with it.

    Check out the game “Calvinball”, as portrayed in the Bill Watterson comic strip. The game has no rules. Rules are made up to suit the whims and desires of the players – hence, as originally stated, there really are no rules. It’s another one of those self-evident statements. If the universe has no meaning, any profession of meaning is wrong. Professing meaning while disbelieving in it is self-delusion.

    If you’re suggesting that brutality was widespread “in the OT days”, meaning that era, then yes, history agrees. If you’re suggesting that OT law did nothing to lessen or prohibit these, then I suggest you actually open a Bible and read it.

    “I don't want to be killed, nor do I want to have any of my friends killed. Thus, I refrain of even thinking about doing so to others. Likewise with stealing, cheating, lying, etc, etc. There is simply no need of God into this equation.”

    A noble and commendable approach, other than the dismissal of God. Here’s the problem, for an atheist: naked force is your only real argument. If I, as an atheist, have the money, influence, and power to kill my enemies, rake in the wealth, and get what I want before oblivion takes me, why shouldn’t I (as an atheist)? You can’t appeal purely to morals (since I can dismiss those as mere constructs), you can’t appeal to divine retribution (I don’t fear it), or punishment in an afterlife (I don’t believe in it), or emotion (which I can dismiss as immaterial). You can’t even appeal to humanism (since I think people are ultimately just meat machines), or even my historical legacy (when I die, I won’t know, feel, or care). Ultimately, the only atheistically meaningful argument you have to not do "bad stuff" is “because others will band together and force you to stop.”

    Atheism does not (absolutely) force this conclusion to nihilistic dictatorship, but it does nothing to prevent it. As I said before, atheism tears down a lot of walls and fences (opens the possibilities), but some of these barriers are only surpassed to mankind’s detriment. There’s a reason that governments applying atheism into their regimes have been the bloodiest and most despicable in human history.

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  26. MedicineMan "Ultimately, the only atheistically meaningful argument you have to not do "bad stuff" is “because others will band together and force you to stop.”"
    If they're a psychopathic, I guess. But, since psychopaths commonly have poor impulse control, the threat of retribution lacks that special something for them.
    For those of use that have things like consciences, empathy, compassion, and the like, the "threat" is the memory of feeling bad when we do bad things to others and the guilt from that. While those are "beatable" characteristics, that's a problem for all people (whether Crusader or atheist in foxhole).

    "As I said before, atheism tears down a lot of walls and fences (opens the possibilities), but some of these barriers are only surpassed to mankind’s detriment."
    And (much like the Theory of Evolution) would that make it false?

    "There’s a reason that governments applying atheism into their regimes have been the bloodiest and most despicable in human history."
    Empires where the All-Knowing and Everpresent Leader is the Source of all that is Good and the Leader's Word is unquestionable and Perfect (so say the Leader's Earthy Appointees), all thanks be to the Great Leader for Freeing us from the chains that bound us, right?

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  27. Modus,

    “…the threat of retribution lacks that special something for them. For those of use that have things like consciences, empathy, compassion…”

    All of which can also be dismissed as emotional responses, not rational arguments. Theistic systems claim that morality is from a source higher than mankind, and not subject to our whims. Therefore, that morality cannot be excused away to suit human preferences. Human beings have demonstrated an ability to make whatever excuses they have to to do what they want to do, certainly. Some excuses are compatible with certain worldviews, others are not. Atheists have a lot less excuses to make to themselves in order to justify actions that are generally considered “evil.”

    I’ve made it quite clear that none of these criticisms are meant to be taken as arguments that atheism is false. They are arguments that the worldview of atheism is unlivable, even if it were true.

    Any government based on men is prone to error and the possibility of atrocity. That’s why theocracy is a bad idea – it’s still men in charge, with extra trappings of authority. That’s why God told Israel He didn’t want them to have a King, the way other nations did (Kings who told the prophets what to do). The point of Christianity, in particular, is that the Bible describes a perfect and unchanging system of morality, that is available for all believers to see and understand, and which no leader has the right to circumvent for their own purposes.

    What you describe is merely idolatry: acting as though some human being has ultimate (God’s) authority. That’s clearly something prohibited in Christianity, at least. As a matter of fact, it’s another problem with atheistic views of government. If mankind is the highest authority that exists, then the leaders of men are the supreme powers of the universe – and they “replace” God, so to speak. What you describe is exactly the kind of attitude which arises in atheistic regimes that empowers them to commit their crimes. This cutesy argument you’re trying to make turned out to be a good example of one of the dangers of atheism.

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  28. "Theistic systems claim that morality is from a source higher than mankind, and not subject to our whims."
    And the evidence for these claims is? How does that evidence compare against the baby science of evo-psych, which posits a naturalistic scenario?

    "Therefore, that morality cannot be excused away to suit human preferences."
    "Cannot" seems an awfully strong word. If all theists believed identical moral things, rather than the shades of grey so predominant with any large group of people, perhaps. From divorce to sex-ed to fer or agin' the invasion of Iraq, access to what is purported to be absolute morality seems to result in groups of people who are just as messy as those of us that ticked the "none of the above" box. Kudos on being just like us.

    "Some excuses are compatible with certain worldviews, others are not."
    So, which excuses are compatible with theism?

    "Atheists have a lot less excuses to make to themselves in order to justify actions that are generally considered “evil.”"
    Really? The Conquistadors just needed a saber and a padre, for moral (and biblical) support. Also, helmet polish.

    "They are arguments that the worldview of atheism is unlivable, even if it were true."
    I live as though I won't get another chance to undo whatever damage I do now. That the "I" in I is an illusion (the sum of all the subconcious "bits" running in the massive, multiparallel grey goo in my head) is moot, as the illusion of "I" is the I that "I" am. There's a zen koan in there somewhere. I'll ponder that while resting in the shade of my bodhi tree.

    "Any government based on men is prone to error and the possibility of atrocity. That’s why theocracy is a bad idea – it’s still men in charge, with extra trappings of authority. That’s why God told Israel He didn’t want them to have a King, the way other nations did (Kings who told the prophets what to do)."
    No matter what, until this God fellow that people talk about so much gets off His heavenly can and takes the reins, Man will be in charge (I would say that it was always Man in charge, but that's probably just my atheism lashing out. Pesky non-belief. Oddly, even in my deist moments that opinion doesn't change).
    Your paragraph is sending mixed messages. Atheism is bad, but theocracy is, too. I hope the right answer is some variant on a check'd and balanced secular democracy. That's my favourite.

    "The point of Christianity, in particular, is that the Bible describes a perfect and unchanging system of morality, that is available for all believers to see and understand..."
    Oh, thank God! So, you've finally all come to agreement on this absolute morality I hear so much about. If True Christianity changed just one more time, I was going to take you aside and tell you to get your collective act together. You people are worse than Muslims, with the schisms and backbiting and such.
    So, did it turn out to be the "meek shall inherit" Christianity (and all that entails), or the sword-tongued Jesus/U-S-A U-S-A! Christianity (and all that entails) now?

    "If mankind is the highest authority that exists, then the leaders of men are the supreme powers of the universe."
    Wow. "Supreme powers of the universe". That's not as cool as "I" being illusion, but it would be an awesome name for some comic book superheroes. The closest thing I see to a supreme power of the universe is entropy. It thinks it's so great. Damn entropy...

    " – and they “replace” God, so to speak."
    How come He's so easy to push out of the way? I mean, even a simply condom can apparently thwart his will. Even when He applies divine wrath, He ends up burning down a church or flooding Ohio, rather than the places filled with "the gays" and "the Democrats" and the various other nebulous "them" that apparently make Him so mad.
    Maybe he should get a job as a radio DJ so that He could tell all of us what His will was today. In between sermons, that cat could spin some wax (please, no contemporary Christian rock).

    "This cutesy argument you’re trying to make turned out to be a good example of one of the dangers of atheism."
    Actually, this cutesy example was an example of every totalitarian utopia, even yours. Maybe not yours, but that guy to your left. No, your other left. Bah! Dang internets.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Thank you for your reply. I can assume that my own resumé was somewhat on target, and your corrections helped to clarify better. There are different kinds of dissonance between our positions, from semantics, to facts and conclusions.

    Regarding the definition of Atheism, we should clarify this further for I feel there is a confusion in here, where there should be none. The matter is very simple and straightforward. Atheism is not a set of beliefs and it only implies the disbelief of God, and albeit your lack of patience to accept this, it is the way it is. Now, of course that you are absolutely right that humans "are not empty vessels", for if they were, and if the disbelief in God was the only thing that defined my "set of beliefs", then I wouldn't even be able to have a coherent gramatical conversation with you. Rather, people are full of beliefs, for which there may be evidence or others for which there may be none. A sensible and common person will have a tremendously big set of beliefs, such as "I believe that if I jump, I will go down to the ground again", or "I believe she loves me", or "I believe that the world is a sphere". For all the beliefs one sensible person has, one will give more importance to the ones that interest him most, and will consider them to be true if the evidence is telling. Of course, I haven't seen any compelling evidence whatsoever that makes me "believe" in the existence of a supernatural world. Rather, all records point out to the fact that when pressed to evidences, all "supernatural" entries fail to the tests.

    Nevertheless, this is the most important part. If I am defined for what I believe and not exactly for what I don't believe, why should any atheist be compared to Nietzche, Pol Pot, Mao or Stalin? Even if that would be possible to do, then why not compare an atheist with a Lincoln, a John Adams, A Carl Sagan instead? To pursue this line of comparisons does not lead us anywhere, for I am certain that you will agree with me that there have been inummerous christians that were quite inhuman too. Yes, you could claim that they didn't have in common with you your own set of beliefs, but I could hardly say that I have much in common with Stalin.

    Regarding consequences that atheism has in philosophy, the only consequence of it is to open wide the possibilities of what we do. Yes, it can lead to Stalin, and Mao and Pol Pot, if one does not add nothing more than "atheism" to an equation of greed, power and sheer evilness. For Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were more than atheists. They were communists as well, which is a set of beliefs on its own (that depend on atheism, yes, while the contrary is obviously not true).

    So, the main consequence of atheism, or more precisely, the main consequence of leaving theism for atheism is to realize that it is in our hands the responsibility of judging right from wrong, to condemn or accept political ideologies, policies, morals and ethics, rather than in the hands of an invisible and quite absent entity. One further thought will highlight how in History it has never been otherwise, despite the fact that such "changes of heart" of our culture had mostly the "blessing" of the church in it.

    I do not understand what do you imply with the following statement:

    "You mentioned the “dogmatic chains” of theism being cut off – I take it you’re not aware of the history of science."

    Could you please elaborate? I can tell you that I have read history of science since I was 8, for my fathers were teachers of science, and I always loved that thematic of human history, so dramatic and full of adventures, so I would like to know where have I slipped wrongly.

    And last, a quibble where you state:

    If you’re suggesting that OT law did nothing to lessen or prohibit these, then I suggest you actually open a Bible and read it.

    Well, I bet that I am not even 10% literate on the bible as you probably are, but I do remember these lines from it:

    "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you may nations...then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy."

    Deuteronomy 7:1-2, NIV.

    I take it that the word of God overrules any "laws" because they are the law.

    PS: I try my best to observe your "Comment Moderation Policy" but I find that I would do even better if the link would actually work, which it doesn't...

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  30. "No, atheism does not prohibit or endorse any particular morality. Technically, then, a professed atheist can be either a humanitarian or a mass murderer"

    So can a professed agnostic, or a cultural relativist, or, heaven forbid (but it doesn't) - a theist. That religion contains moral precepts has not prevented it from committing atrocities, has it? Likewise, that atheism contains no moral dogma does not prevent atheists from acquiring moral principles elsewhere. How many times is this now? Your argument is vacuous.

    "We can, and should, agree that atheism has implications for philosophy."

    Have you even read my last two posts? Given that you are arguing from a theocentric position, you will get no argument from me, but I take a broader view that includes all of philosophy in the word "philosophy."

    So what? What is this "argument" of yours supposed to prove? You're saying absolutely nothing in a lot of words.

    "Does atheism influence one’s philosophy? Yes."

    Yes, with the qualifier "theistic" philosophy. If one has no theistic philosophy..

    But then again so what?

    "Does it provide any restrictions to one’s moral or ethical conduct? No."

    Quite. So what? Neither does any worldview that does not contain or relate to moral precepts. If this is an argument it is again vacuous.

    Please don't tell me that you still believe that, because atheism has no moral dogma, an atheist therefore has no moral system. I explained to you the error in that thinking, was some part of it unclear?

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  31. Adonais,

    “So can a professed agnostic, or a cultural relativist, or, heaven forbid (but it doesn't) - a theist.”

    Then you entirely miss the argument. A theist believes that a deity has prescribed certain “thou shall” and “thou shalt not” commands. Therefore, a person espousing belief in that deity cannot violate those and still be consistent with that belief system. For instance, a Christian ‘cannot’ commit adultery in the sense that doing so is not ‘allowed’ by the Christian moral/ethical system.

    There are no “thou shalt / shalt not” statements in atheism, of course, and further the worldview itself removes any rational barriers to choosing any system one finds preferable. The issue is not that atheists have “no morals”, it is exactly as you said: they can get them from anywhere.

    My argument that atheism has implications for how one approaches themselves, others, and the world (philosophy) is meant to directly counter the asinine implication that comes with the counter-claim that “Atheism just means there is no God; that’s all.” The word “atheism” means that; the worldview of atheism has an impact on one’s approach to the world. I hammer this point because I have no patience for the atheist who tries to weasel out of some of the less pleasant implications of atheism by making such a statement.

    Please also note that my arguments are not being made from a theocentric position. I’m not presuming any God or Goddess in my argumentation – I’m applying critical thinking to atheism itself. I have not argued for the existence of any God, nor the moral code of any God, nor suggested that these things are evidence that atheism is untrue. I’m not taking anything as a premise other than what flows from atheism, and the examples of observation.

    Coming from someone who took several hundred words to finally say “Yes” to two simple ideas, I can’t take criticism of my own verbosity seriously.

    “Yes, with the qualifier "theistic" philosophy. If one has no theistic philosophy..”

    Look, this is either over your head or you’re being deliberately obtuse. It makes no difference what other philosophies a person espoused before or after accepting atheism. There is no “null set” in this regard. Disbelieving in God affects how you interpret the rest of the world, period. It will produce different effects than theism, pantheism, or polytheism in many important areas. If those simple statements are beyond your understanding, then so be it.

    “Quite. So what?”

    So, the issue is not that atheists cannot have some morals, it is that they can legitimately choose ANY morals. Whether they bow to cultural pressures or buck them, accept popular opinions or not, they can internally justify anything without atheism getting in the way. This is not the case with the theist, for example, who will have to choose between certain actions and their theistic belief.

    I think I’ve said over and over and over that atheists are free to act morally and adopt an ethical system. What part of that has been unclear? My criticism of atheism is that ANY system of morals, no matter how terrible, can be held by an atheist without contradicting their metaphysics.

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  32. Barba,

    Whether or not one believes in a deity impacts their other beliefs. It is not merely one tiny belief floating unconnected in a sea of other unconnected ideas.

    Making a distinction between “what I believe” and “what I don’t believe” isn’t material here, because of simple non-contradiction. Atheism implies the non-belief of other things. Atheists are not bound to be compared to either the dictators or the heroes. I am not doing so – I have made no comparison between “all atheists” or “most atheists” and those persons.

    The point that I am making, relevant to your remarks, is that there are no actions prohibited by atheism, in contrast to the restrictions of theism. Pol Pot wasn’t being an “atheistic hypocrite” when he slaughtered millions. A self-professed ‘Christian’ who bombs an abortion clinic is violating the very system he claims to follow.

    I am aware that Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were also Communists. Communism is an inherently atheistic government – and they weren’t just incidental, apathetic atheists, either. They made atheism a cornerstone of their approach to governance.

    I, for one, don’t like the idea of letting human emotion or popularity or government decide what we’re going to call “right or wrong” for some given time period. Frankly, I’d rather people get their morals from an unchanging external standard, like a book (even if it’s described deity is unreal) than be blown around by the whims of petty human dictators, philosophers, and blowhards.

    My implication is that theism has not held the world back, particularly in terms of science. That’s not really the topic at hand, but I’d encourage you to note that even hard-heads like Dawkins admit that modern science was born out of Christian theism. The “war” between science and religion is a myth.

    So, you’ve found an OT quote where God tells the Israelites to “do bad stuff”, as you’d likely characterize it. Congratulations, but I’m a terrible cynic of the biblical scholarship of self-professed atheists, sorry to say. Off-topic as it is, I can say that history indicates that the martial practices of the Israelites were far more humane that those of their competing nations, and the specific rules spelled out in the OT bear that out. There is more to God’s philosophy of warfare in that time that a single verse or two.

    Re: the comment policy link; I have no control over it, since I’m just a contributor, not the blog owner.

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  33. Modus,

    There is a large difference between varying interpretations of a moral tenet and having no moral tenets at all. You can only stretch the command “no adultery” so far. That there can be large disagreements on certain moral issues within a group such as professing Christians is not evidence of fault in the moral law, but fault in some of those claiming it (but not living it).

    My point about moral / ethical decisions being consistent or inconsistent with certain worldviews has been answered in my comments to Adonais and Barba. That some people have made invalid rationalizations is part of my point; when someone breaks the rules of the system they claim to follow, they are to blame, not that worldview.

    I would say that it was always Man in charge…Your paragraph is sending mixed messages.

    No, you’re too busy failing in your attempts to be a comedian to take this seriously and read what I wrote. Man will always be in charge of the earthly government, as I said, so even a ‘theocracy’ is still men in charge. Theocracy is bad because it mixes human sinfulness with additional feelings of power and authority. Atheism is a worldview, theocracy is a style of government, and yes, both are bad concepts to base a society on.

    Again, no one is forced to follow a moral law, but that does not mean all actions are moral, nor are they all consistent with every worldview.

    I hate to break it to you, but George Carlin’s death didn’t leave you as the ranking “funniest atheist”. You might want to apply a bit more thought to the issue at hand, rather than lame jokes, because you’re not winning any prizes for comedic styling any time soon. Nor are you demonstrating understanding of the topics at hand. If you’re more interested in playing ‘open-mic-night’ than taking a hard look at your beliefs, then you can do so without my help.

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  34. And I hate to break it to you, but 50% coherence is pretty good for me.

    You claim that atheists don't live as their worldview says they should, that they make up purpose where there is no purpose. What you don't seem to realize is that if there is no divine purpose, then the purpose we give our lives is the only purpose we get. It's not much. Things on the human scale rarely are. But it's real (or as real as the illusion of "I" in a deterministic universe ever gets).
    If "human experience makes no sense without free will" and free will is an illusion, then, as I said in my first post, there's nothing you can do about it. Positing the divine doesn't fill in an unfillable blank (or, rather, a non-existent blank) any more than self-generating a limited, ne human, purpose does.

    Second, that atheism doesn't come with a pre-packaged moral code doesn't make it false. There, we agree. It doesn't make any brand of theism any more believable to me, either.

    Third, atheism may not be true, but from what I see, the universe appears to operate as though there's no one at the wheel or it's on autopilot. That we don't (and probably can't) know what happened before the beginning of time (not in the least because "before time" and causality in general lose their meaning when there's no time or causality at all) at best leads to agnosticism or deism. Functionally, atheism and deism are the same. One has no gods to be found, the other a god that won't be found. Neither has God-given purpose for Man, and the only rules for Man are the same ones as for the rest of the macro-scale universe (the Laws of Physics).

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  35. medicineman,

    This discussion is futile. All you do is repeat the same accusations over and over, blithely ignoring reality where your argument would be inconvenienced by it. You completely ignore (or fail to comprehend) the arguments that are presented against yours, and just repeat your own as if nothing. You appear to be living in a state of severe self-delusion (a word that you like to use), believing that atheism allows you to freely choose any moral system or none. Any attempt to explain a more nuanced and much more complex reality are completely lost on simpletons like you, as this thread demonstrates. I won't encroach on your fantasy world any longer.

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  36. What you don't seem to realize is that if there is no divine purpose, then the purpose we give our lives is the only purpose we get.
    We know this. The point is that this purpose we give it is arbitrary. Atheists couch their opinions in objective terms. For example, you will hear atheists say something like "the war in Iraq is wrong" (picking a random example, there will be atheists with opinions on either side). To say that it is wrong implies something objective. What the atheist needs to do is to remind himself and those he talks to that he doesn't have as strong a claim as his language would indicate. What is really the case is that "I think that the war in Iraq is more harmful to world peace than helpful" - you need to specify:
    a. that it is your opinion and not a universal truth
    b. what exact goal it is that this action is in support of or against
    You cannot simply say "the war in Iraq is wrong" because today we tend to think that you're making an absolute claim, such that if the immutable and unchanging God were to state His opinions, it would include "the war in Iraq is wrong". You don't mean that, but that's what we think when we hear you say something similar.

    Perhaps you'll say that when you say something is wrong, you really do only mean the more limited statement of your opinion and only in achievement of a particular goal. Fine. But most people when they hear you don't realise that, because that's not how our culture and language interprets those sentences. If I say "rape is wrong", I really do mean that it is never right, under any circumstances. When you say "rape is wrong", you don't mean that - you mean that it is in your opinion wrong, and only wrong when we consider certain goals (eg, respect the individual, never harm another). I'm making a claim about a universal truth, while you're making an aesthetic judgement, or perhaps a pragmatic statement for some specific goal.

    Why is this a problem? Because like you freely admit, you are the one who chooses your purpose in life. And you could equally well pick the goal of 'power' as you could pick 'happiness of others'. And the goal of power doesn't rule rape out as wrong, while the goal of happiness for others almost certainly does.
    Second, that atheism doesn't come with a pre-packaged moral code doesn't make it false.

    I would actually disagree with this. The moral argument operates precisely in this way:
    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist
    2. Objective moral values and duties do exist
    3. Therefore, God exists

    Most people in this world believe that objective moral values and duties do exist - therefore, on their view, atheism must be false. I personally think that belief in the existence of objective morality is an innate item of knowledge - atheists may reject the existence of objective moral values and duties on intellectual grounds, but they certainly live and act as though they exist. They know these objective moral values and duties exist, they just explain it away, or (shall I use the overused phrase) they compartmentalise their beliefs.

    You might still say that you reject the existence of objective moral values and duties. If I grant you this (though I don't), there are still most others on this planet who do believe they exist. And these people must be theists, since they cannot reject the existence of objective moral values and duties. Atheism is untenable for them.
    Third, atheism may not be true, but from what I see, the universe appears to operate as though there's no one at the wheel or it's on autopilot.
    So does the linux server running in my garage. What does this prove or demonstrate? Absolutely nothing. I'm still around. I still sometimes interact with my server. In the beginning I set it up, and got it to operate the way it does now.

    That we don't (and probably can't) know what happened before the beginning of time (not in the least because "before time" and causality in general lose their meaning when there's no time or causality at all) at best leads to agnosticism or deism.

    How do you get to this conclusion (that at best it leads to agnosticism or deism)? I don't see how your premise leads to that conclusion. Perhaps the cosmological argument at best leads to agnosticism or deism. but it's wrong for you to say:
    1. We can't know what happened before the beginning of time
    2. Therefore, at best we can be agnostics or deists
    For example, if we have a genuine divine miracle then we can be more than agnostics or deists. There's no way that premise 1 excludes that possibility. It's not like theists rest their whole case on one argument that only leads to deism.

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  37. Modus,

    “…if there is no divine purpose, then the purpose we give our lives is the only purpose we get.”

    Yes, this is logically true. At the same time, that purpose is also illusory, since it doesn’t really exist. The same is true for free will. The existence of a supernatural creator would make those things actual realities, though. These are just some of the parts of human experience that are made more sensible through theism, rather than atheism. One of the reasons I bring these ideas up is that self-professed atheists ought to be thoughtful and honest enough about their own worldview to be careful how and why they criticize other worldviews. Some of modern atheism’s attacks on theism are self-defeating, as the above should begin to suggest.

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  38. Adonais,

    Yes, the discussion with you is certainly futile. You’re so very upset that you can’t even choose which positions to take, and which to refute. You simultaneously agree and disagree with me, often in the same paragraph.

    You accuse me of ignoring reality – what reality did I ignore? Atheism has implications for how one views the world, true or false? You seemed to agree, but you also act as though no ideas could ever be traced to atheism at all.

    Does atheism have moral or ethical constraints, or not? You seemed, at long last, to agree with me that it does not. But then, you seem very indignant at that same idea. You act as though, in reality, there are some moral or ethical ideas that atheists cannot undertake. I gave some examples, albeit extreme ones, of atheists who chose moral positions vastly different from most. Are you ignoring that reality? Since you said this:

    “…believing that atheism allows you to freely choose any moral system or none.”

    …perhaps you’d like to explain what moral systems atheism prohibits. If you can’t, or won’t, then I guess by your own reference, you’re living in the same severe delusion as the rest of us.

    I’m well aware that morals and ethics can be complex and nuanced. The points I am making are plain and simple, and it’s been interesting watching you wriggle around trying to “but…but…but” your way out of them. You’ve been rhetorically writhing around in this discussion, presumably because you don’t like the implications of where this is going.

    I’m brushing aside your attempts to miss, muddle, or mangle the point, to be sure. You’re not arguing against my points, you’re pouting about the implications of them. I’d forgive observers for thinking you’d had a corpus callosotomy and were simultaneously typing out totally different ideas with either hand. If the fact that I’m not falling for invalid rebuttals or expressions of personal indignation puts me into a “fantasy” world, then I’ll consider changing my name to The White Rabbit.

    I think you’re treading dangerous waters calling someone a simpleton when you’ve demonstrated an almost pathological unwillingness to concede to overt realities. Personally, I think you’re frustrated because I’m holding your Godless feet to the rational fire, and you don’t like it one bit. It’s not done often enough, I’m embarrassed to say, by my fellow theists, and it’s one of the reasons atheists tend to think they’ve got a monopoly on reason. News flash: you don’t, and I’m not going to back off of clearly delineated ideas to avoid stinging the pride of someone who gets worked into a tizzy when he’s expected to stand and deliver.

    If you cannot or will not engage these ideas with brutal honesty, then you’re probably well advised to seek discussions elsewhere.

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  39. Croath,

    Just a friendly suggestion:

    Watch the references to "most people believe". That's well and good when the point being made is about whether or not an idea is widespread, controversial, or practical. It's got nothing to do with whether or not something is true.

    It makes no difference whether or not most people think that objective values exists (incidentally, I, too, think they do). They either do or don't, and if 99.9% of the world disbelieves the truth, then only 0.1% of the world is right.

    I realize you're not making an ad populum argument, but be sure to note that people are often found to hold contradictory beliefs. Objective moral values may be rationally, logically impossible to reconcile with atheism, but there are undoubtedly a lot of atheists who think they exist, all the same.

    I mention this because I can forsee otherwise good arguments being sidetracked when someone spins off into that line of discussion. As soon as they see the words "most people", they'll start to drift on you. Better, then, to close the loophole from the get-go.

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  40. Medicineman, thanks for the suggestion - as you suspect, I wasn't making an ad populum argument. I was simply pointing out that most people already hold the second premise as true, and for them the fact that atheism doesn't come with a moral code does in fact make it false.

    I was not suggesting that the popularity of belief in objective moral values and duties makes it true. I was making the very simple point that for most people the quoted statement is false (that atheism lacking a moral code doesn't make it false), and he should not be so quick to assume it is true in an argument. I brought up the moral argument to show him the reasoning that leads us to consider his statement false; and the widespread plausibility of the premises means he can't just brush it off to an audience. It demands an argument, a defence.

    Perhaps I might be called on to defend one of the premises, but that's for another time. I hinted at a path (innate knowledge, the inability of most atheists to live as though their morality is not objective), but didn't elaborate them.

    Thanks for helping me clarify this point.

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  41. medicineman,

    We have been over this a thousand times, that atheism is not a moral dogma and does not prescribe moral precepts nor "prohibit" moral systems. What you apparently can't get through your skull after so many attempts, which makes discussion with you futile, is that neither does atheism give one a free pass to choose any moral or immoral code that one might fancy. It's totally simple, evidenced by observation, and yet you just don't get it, this simple fact.

    "Personally, I think you’re frustrated because I’m holding your Godless feet to the rational fire, and you don’t like it one bit."

    You're a case study in psychological projection. Lately you are accusing me of not wanting to engage in debate or "stand and deliver" - there's nothing to deliver because you don't have a fecking argument. You have a muddle of confused ideas all of which have been addressed by me and others. Your ability to ignore input and repeat yourself does not render your arguments true.

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  42. MedicineMan et al:

    The discussion is definitely heating! Apart from a certain disparity of temperaments, and also a certain lack of tolerance towards them, I find it quite interesting. Your ideas amuse me, and I do undersand adonais desperate position, he's thinking he's hit a brick wall. I think that is a wrong atitude too, for I don't expect anyone here to make a breakthrough in their own views and admit it. It would require of me an almost supernatural power, and knowing my position against supernaturalism, you can see my drift.

    Rather, I'm of the position that we should enter the discussion in an open-minded and purposeless way, so that the discussion flows without hiccups of indignations, irritations and other faux pas.

    Regarding your points, I should be more clear about my position and my own points, which I found to be misunderstood.

    1. I was making no attempt to be compared to heroes nor foes, but I was rather comparing their philosophical principles (or conclusions) with mines. That is how it should be read, and you'll agree that my point makes sense. It is pointless to say that atheism can bring in Stalin and Pol Pot because I can also say that theism brought up anti-semitism, the cruzades, and the glorious actual muslim leaders. It is an absurd argument because Stalin and Pol Pot's system was atheist mostly because of pragmatic issues. Their governments imposed a system of propaganda and of idolatry as if their rulers were "gods". It is in this context that any freedom of religion was dangerous, for it was attested as a direct competition with power. In a sense, we can say that those systems were very similar to theocracies.

    2. The point that I am making, relevant to your remarks, is that there are no actions prohibited by atheism, in contrast to the restrictions of theism. Pol Pot wasn’t being an “atheistic hypocrite” when he slaughtered millions.

    As an atheist, Pol Pot was surely not being hypocritical. As a human being, though, he was. He definitely failed to cope with the Declaration of Human Rights, to which we can all agree that is a fine document regarding what a human society should be. What you are trying to imply here is that being an atheist you don't have to cope with any ethics at all, but you are failing to see the obvious things:

    a) No human being is forced to cope with any ethics at all, be he a christian or not;

    b) If there was no God, all the ethics and morals that we had were simply dictated or negotiated between men, for their own well being and happiness;

    c) To admit that there is no God turns out to be only an admition that we were the ones to build this moral and ethical code all along.

    Of course, to a theist, the notion that there is no "outside reference" to which we should aspire to and be inspired from, is maddening because the only consequence for him would be chaos. This is what drives this line of reasoning against atheism.

    I argue that this is simply not so. Evolution of moral codes is a confirmed reality, and the very existence of a political process should be viewed as its final proof. Hitler was right by saying that the system winner of the rule of world would always "dictate" its morals, ethics, and culture to the rest of the world. It is not that simple, but it is a straightforward reasoning. And before you judge me as a nazi idiot, (I abhor nazi) I should remind to you that freedom and later on capitalism won the day.

    Not because they are the "truth", but because they work better as systems, for their inherent freedom of people will foster more happiness, creativity and wealth than a totalitarian state. It was bound to win. Likewise, a society ruled with a cohesive ethical code, a moral code and true generosity towards their peers will always triumph against a society ruled by the greed of power and force. This has absolutely nothing to do with God.

    3. I, for one, don’t like the idea of letting human emotion or popularity or government decide what we’re going to call “right or wrong” for some given time period.

    I am afraid that this is what has been happening all along our history. Even if you take for granted that you have a "Holy Book", the interpretations of that book are so vague and contradictory that you'll have christians defending the death penalty, while others abhor it. You'll have christians defending torture, while others abhor it. It doesn't matter if you in particular judge this or that action as against or for the God's law. You are always judging with your ownjudgement, and not God's. You can see all the debate between "Allah is a God of peace" statements and the reality of what is going on on the ME. This problem is therefore outside the scope of atheism. It goes deeply inside theism too, and therefore it is a meaningless accusation towards atheism.

    4. My implication is that theism has not held the world back, particularly in terms of science.

    I understand where you come from, but I am afraid you are terribly wrong. I won't dwelve in that area now, but there is a ton of records of priests, bishops, archbishops and popes halting the advance of science simply because they put in danger their long-held (wrong) beliefs and dogmas.

    5. I can say that history indicates that the martial practices of the Israelites were far more humane that those of their competing nations

    But that is precisely my point. The mere fact that morals and codes have evolved despite what the Bible says should be a red herring to all those who believe that morals are an eternal gift to mankind and have come from religion.

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  43. Concerning some other issues that I've been reading throughout these discussions.

    From Croath, I've read these lines of thinking:

    The point is that this purpose we give it is arbitrary. Atheists couch their opinions in objective terms.
    (...)
    What is really the case is that (...) you need to specify:
    a. that it is your opinion and not a universal truth
    b. what exact goal it is that this action is in support of or against


    The point here, mr. Croath, is to discuss the "unlivability of atheism", as specified by Medicineman. I will answer your doubts with this in mind.

    To chase the accusation that an atheist will couch their opinions objectively from an arbitrary goal is a task to one who believes

    that his own moral code is:

    a) Eternal (without any "changes of heart", aka "Universal Truth");
    b) Never evolved through time or space;
    c) Given from an Higher Authority, a being that exists apart from this universe.

    WHile a) and b) are definitely disproven thanks to the history records and the ancient literatures that survived through the ages, c) was always

    impossible to disprove (from the difficulty to prove such a negative) but increasingly discarded of any evidence whatsoever.

    Therefore, any Theist will also make an objective opinion taken from an arbitrary goal, as I've explained in my last comment towards

    MedicineMan better, albeit he will probably be convinced of otherwise. Such accusation is but the recognition that we're but humans, and that is a

    truism.

    If I say "rape is wrong", I really do mean that it is never right, under any circumstances. When you say "rape is wrong", you don't mean that -

    you mean that it is in your opinion wrong, and only wrong when we consider certain goals (eg, respect the individual, never harm another). I'm

    making a claim about a universal truth, while you're making an aesthetic judgement, or perhaps a pragmatic statement for some specific goal.


    The problem is that unless you prove that such is an universal truth, it will always only be a kind of "truth until disproven". Now, my

    point is that even theists do have this problem, and if you don't believe in me, just give a peek to the history of Christianity's "dogmas". Given

    our history and our experiences, we can easily reach the almost truism that "rape is wrong", and in "any circumstances that we can imagine",

    though I refrain to say "all", for reality always trumps mankinds' imagination. Welcome to the realm of critical thinking!

    And you could equally well pick the goal of 'power' as you could pick 'happiness of others'.

    Yes, but it is precisely the consequences of both which will render them unequal and, unless you also claim an atheist to be a sado-masochist nazi

    monster rather than a pretty normal person, one will generally choose the latter rather than the former. We, the majority, will imprison the

    psychopathic minorities for they present an obvious danger for the rest of us. The end result would be exactly a society as you know it, which it

    is!

    I would actually disagree with this. The moral argument operates precisely in this way:
    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist
    2. Objective moral values and duties do exist
    3. Therefore, God exists


    That would be right if point 1 was true, but you do have to prove it first, and while you can present rethorics and nice speeches about point 1,

    you haven't proved it.

    From MedicineMan:

    Yes, this is logically true. At the same time, that purpose is also illusory, since it doesn’t really exist.

    Why do you state that "it doesn't exist"? It is as real as it gets. Please elaborate on evidence that points out that this purpose does not, in

    fact, exist.

    The same is true for free will.

    The problem is that you don't really "know" if you have a true free will or not, until you unchain yourself from yourself, which I find quite

    difficult to do. In other words, a completely not free will being who lives in a not free will world will not know the difference between having

    free will or not. Do you have the "free will", for instance, to disregard gravity? Do you have the free will of turning yourself into a lemon?

    Now, we could even say that "free will" is a human concept about choice (and again, what choices do we really have?), but I would refrain of

    putting a "divine halo" on that concept, for we still don't know exactly how it operates, outside of our own experience. It could be an illusion,

    or it could be a perfectly explainable materialistic phenomenon. We don't know.

    But what I know is that these fields of unknowns are theists favourite bastions of defence. It's like when we answer some difficult question (like

    what causes rain to fall, or explain lightning bolts, or explain conscience) as in "I don't know, but I know someone's working on it", then

    we get the common reply: "ahAH! Of COURSE you don't know, because GODDIDIT".

    It's getting old.

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  44. Croath "I'm making a claim about a universal truth, while you're making an aesthetic judgement, or perhaps a pragmatic statement for some specific goal."
    Is an action good because God commanded it, or did God command it because it is good? That's not my line. Some Greek guy wrote that. Also, if I was a moral absolutist, I would be the same as you, but from a naturalistic bent (for the record, I don't know what I am. So far, I'm up to big-brained, problem solving, social mammal. Everything after that is gravy).

    "The moral argument operates precisely in this way: 1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist, 2. Objective moral values and duties do exist, 3. Therefore, God exists"
    If point 1 is true, why then, does wikipedia mention Models of objective morality may be atheistic.... I'm no philosopher, obviously (I tend to follow links to see what the words that I don't understand mean, which happens a lot in philosophy, which has its own lingo. After a few clicks this inevitably puts me in a place I don't understand with no idea what I was looking for in the first place. Philosophy is like a big-box store. I'm trying to learn.
    Philosophy looks like one of those gigs that gets in its own way, which is why philosophers are still arguing about the same things they were arguing about back when the Greeks wore togas).

    "Third, atheism may not be true, but from what I see, the universe appears to operate as though there's no one at the wheel or it's on autopilot."
    "So does the linux server running in my garage. What does this prove or demonstrate? Absolutely nothing. I'm still around. I still sometimes interact with my server. In the beginning I set it up, and got it to operate the way it does now."
    Except for that bit about interacting, that's classical deism (the definition seems to have drifted). I don't see the interacting that others attribute to various conflicting images of God (or gods), even when that interference is slapdash at best. All I see are personal anecdotes. If it's mostly personal anecdotes and statistical anomalies/probabilities, then it's like homeopathy, except that homeopathic remedies, and this part is critical, only work if you shake them.

    "How do you get to this conclusion (that at best it leads to agnosticism or deism)? I don't see how your premise leads to that
    conclusion."

    I meant that there will always be this "gap" where we can't go. Deism, at least to me, is a reasonable (if provisional) stance, based on a complete lack of data. That sounded better until I wrote it down. It's an argument from ignorance, essentially.

    "For example, if we have a genuine divine miracle then we can be more than agnostics or deists."
    All you need is a genuine divine miracle. I'm unimpressed with the evidence for the ones put forward so far. God, unfortunately, won't be tested. An unmeasured miracle is an anedote.

    "It's not like theists rest their whole case on one argument that only leads to deism."
    The cosmological and some variants of the teleological argument for the existence of god are arguments for deism, and are compatible with
    theism. The ontological argument looks like bafflegab at its worst. The anthropic principle gets it backwards (as illustrated in Douglas Adams' puddle analogy). Specific miracles are arguments for specific gods, and
    hinge on which miracles (and which prophets) you believe are real and which aren't. Holy texts themselves make truth claims, which at least in part are testable. Specific creation stories, for some people, are arguments for specific gods, at least until evidence debunks them, at which time their varying degrees of literal Truth become poetry (don't tell Ray Comfort. He'd be crushed). Gen1 is better as poetry, anyway.


    MedicineMan "At the same time, that purpose is also illusory, since it doesn't really exist. The same is true for free will."
    And the non-existence of a personal, supernatural creator would mean that our uncomfortable reality is an uncomfortable reality. Amusingly, it's the opposite of Quantum theory. The illusion of "I" is an
    emergent property of the combination of the many predictable, causal elements of the brain, while the reality of the universe comes from the combination of the many unpredictable, probabilistic quantum elements.

    ...The existence of a supernatural creator would make those things actual realities, though."
    How would the existence of a creator make the non-existence of free will be the opposite of that? I'm not saying that free will definitely does not exist. I'm just saying that neuroscience indicates that free will ain't what it used to be.

    "These are just some of the parts of human experience that are made more sensible through theism, rather than atheism."
    If theism is required to make the non-existence of free will become the existence of free will... Try looking at it this way; if "you" and the illusion of free will are just emergent properties of sufficient brainpower, you're still you, you just aren't the you that you thought you were. Much like the heliocentric model, theory of evolution and deep time meant that God wasn't working the way that people thought He did (with the theological implications that result from that), determinism and a naturalistic origin of mind would just mean that you aren't working the way you thought you were (with the philosophical implications that result from that).

    "One of the reasons I bring these ideas up is that self-professed atheists ought to be thoughtful and honest enough about their own worldview to be careful how and why they criticize other
    worldviews."

    I freely admit that I don't have all the answers. In fact, my answers have more gaps than not-gaps, and some of the not-gaps conflict with other not-gaps. I'm pretty sure that I have little to no idea what it's all about, and I'm awfully vague about being pretty sure.

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  45. medicineman..

    Since you didn't like my previous reply (the one that didn't make it past the moderator), here's another one.

    "You accuse me of ignoring reality – what reality did I ignore?"

    1. That atheism does not necessarily require determinism.

    2. That freedom of choice does not necessarily require a supernatural explanation.

    3. That atheism contains no moral dogma.

    3b. Corollary: It follows that atheism is also not a dogma of amoral behavior, and thus atheism is not a moral free pass to unconstrained behavior.

    4. That absolute and subjective meaning are not incompossible.

    4b. Addendum: Subjective meaning is experienced by many people, while absolute meaning or purpose remains a speculative hypothesis.

    5. That there are individuals for whom adopting atheism implies no philosophical overhead.

    6. That an individual does not "select" a set of moral principles as much as receives one from the environment (including the genetic ancestral, familial, educational, communal and global social and cultural environment).

    7. That normative and descriptive ethics are different: the latter must be inferred from observations of reality.

    7b. Corollary: Statements like "atheists can self-justify anything" might be logically consistent in the normative sense, but an observation of reality shows it to be false.

    8. That the existence of a set of objective moral precepts in religious doctrines does not prevent people professing adherence to those precepts from violating them.

    8b. Corollary: Any argument to the moral superiority of theism must be regarded as suspect.

    9. That the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot et al. are demonstrations of the human species' capacity of inflicting harm and cruelty on itself, just as are those of the Christian crusaders, inquisitions and missionaries, who have committed morally and legally sanctioned mass murder and vanquished whole cultures in the name of God. Whether in the name of God and morally sanctioned or in the name of no God and sanctioned by other ideologies, atrocities have been (and are being) committed. Using historical atrocities as an indicator of the present ethic is an extremely weak argument. Furthermore, as an "atrocity-preventer," neither theism nor atheism has proven to be very effective.

    9b. Corollary: Any argument to the inability of atheism to prevent atrocities without acknowledging the same inability of theism, must be regarded as suspect.


    Medicineman, you are encouraged to state your point again.

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  46. barba rija,

    I apologise in advance if I have misunderstood what you're saying. I've found what you write a little difficult to follow. But it seems to me that you've misunderstood what I'm claiming. I did not say that specific objective moral values and duties are known (or even knowable). Talking about whether or not they exist, and the consequences of their existance, is separate from discussing whether they can be known. Thus when I say "rape is wrong" is an objective claim, it doesn't mean that I am right when I say "rape is wrong". It just means that if I'm right, I'm talking about an eternal truth that has not evolved.

    Thus I would not disagree with you when you say that people's view of what's right and wrong has changed over time.

    I was merely saying that theists are not acting in a contradictory way when they make an objective claim like "rape is wrong". They might be saying something false when they say "rape is wrong", but there is nothing inherently contradictory or wrong with them supposing that it might be wrong. You can criticise and ask them "how exactly do you know it's wrong?" But that's not the problem the atheist has - for the atheist, he can't form any sentence like "x is wrong" or "x is good" and ever hope to be right.

    Given our history and our experiences, we can easily reach the almost truism that "rape is wrong", and in "any circumstances that we can imagine",

    I don't know why you think this. Given survival of the fittest, surely you can easily imagine circumstances where the fittest includes rape? Doesn't need to be common, just often enough that "rape is right" is certainly easily conceivable in many naturalistic scenarios.

    Yes, but it is precisely the consequences of both which will render them unequal and, unless you also claim an atheist to be a sado-masochist nazi monster rather than a pretty normal person, one will generally choose the latter rather than the former. We, the majority, will imprison the psychopathic minorities for they present an obvious danger for the rest of us. The end result would be exactly a society as you know it, which it is!

    This is an intriguing paragraph. You seem to think that the "nazi monster" will not succeed - yet Hitler very nearly did succeed. If he had, what then would your argument be? Surely you would agree that it's possible for someone like Hitler to succeed in some scenarios? Just because selfish behaviour is less beneficial in our society doesn't mean it will be in all societies and in all times. I think you agree with this anyway. Atheists are quick to the defence when theists claim "under atheism, anything goes" - yet when pushed you will state exactly what we claim. You here say that the reason why an atheist is good is simply because it benefits him the most. You don't really disagree with us - you just dislike the way we state it in plain language that doesn't confuse people about exactly where you stand.

    That would be right if point 1 was true, but you do have to prove it first, and while you can present rethorics and nice speeches about point 1, you haven't proved it.

    I have defended point one on this blog previously, but you're right that I haven't demonstrated it here. I think that will be better left to a new blog entry. I don't think I need to defend it for now, as I was only trying to demonstrate how the point being made wasn't a given.

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  47. modusoperandi,

    Is an action good because God commanded it, or did God command it because it is good? That's not my line. Some Greek guy wrote that.

    It was Socrates takling to Euthyphro, and this is known as the Euthyphro dilemma. It is a point which is brought up frequently, and I have defended an objective moral position on it before. Something, again, which I will probably leave for a blog post so that it can be referenced in future.

    If point 1 is true, why then, does wikipedia mention Models of objective morality may be atheistic...

    Because wikipedia might be wrong? Seriously though, wikipedia might only be saying "there are some atheist models of objective reality" - just because such models exist doesn't mean they are contradiction free or possible. The only way I can see an atheistic mode of morality being objective is if they do some redefining of terms. I'll be impressed if you can find an argument that shows how there can be an atheistic model of objective morality. When I do a blog entry on premise 1 you will see why it is true.

    Philosophy is like a big-box store. I'm trying to learn.

    Philosophy, in my opinion, is fun - so keep trying :)

    Except for that bit about interacting, that's classical deism (the definition seems to have drifted).

    Not so. My server depends at every moment on my continued supply of electricity. It's not the best analogy, but that is how I see our universe as operating - though it runs on "autopilot" for most things, it still depends on God at every moment to uphold its existence and the laws that it operates by.

    Anyway, that wasn't my point. Whether the example is more deistic or theistic is irrelevant, because i was responding to the implicit claim that "if the universe appears to be running on autopilot, there is no God". I pointed out that my server appears to be running on autopilot, yet there is a creator and designer for it.

    I don't see the interacting that others attribute to various conflicting images of God (or gods), even when that interference is slapdash at best. All I see are personal anecdotes.

    I'll agree with you there's a lot of that out there, but I wouldn't rule out all miracles as impossible or lies. Miracles are by their very nature unrepeatable, untestable. If a miracle exists, it won't be testable by scientific means. That doesn't make it false or worthless - there's plenty of things that are true that can't be verified via the scientific method (take for example Descartes argument "I exist", when applied to me).

    The anthropic principle gets it backwards (as illustrated in Douglas Adams' puddle analogy).

    This does not in fact answer the arguments of a fine tuned universe. Read http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/barrow.html and search for 'firing squad' - read that bit.

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  48. Great discussion here guys, I'd just like to make a couple comments in response to one of Barga Rija's posts.

    Barba Rija wrote:

    "It is pointless to say that atheism can bring in Stalin and Pol Pot because I can also say that theism brought up anti-semitism, the cruzades, and the glorious actual muslim leaders."

    Regarding the violence caused or indirectly caused by atheism and theism (specifically the monotheistic religions) I think the main difference is that in the latter's case the perpetrators were acting *inconsistently* with their belief systems.

    For example, to blame Christianity for the abortion clinic bombings makes as much sense as if I went on some kind of killing spree, and when caught declared that I had a dream in which Barba Rija told me to do so... and then people blame you instead of me. Would you condone my actions in this case? I'm guessing no. Likewise, does Christianity condone the actions of abortion clinic bombers? No.

    A good quote by Peter Kreeft I think sums this up:

    "Religion has not caused wars. Irreligion, professed by people who claimed to believe a religion has been the cause of war."

    Religious believers who cause war are acting inconsistently with their religion's moral teachings. However, in the case of Stalin and Pol Pot, they were NOT acting inconsistently with atheism because given atheism there can be no objective standard of morality, so they can basically do as they please.

    "As an atheist, Pol Pot was surely not being hypocritical. As a human being, though, he was. He definitely failed to cope with the Declaration of Human Rights, to which we can all agree that is a fine document regarding what a human society should be."

    How was Pol Pot being hypocritical as a human being? If we believe that the Declaration of Human Rights is a fine document, but Pol Pot disagrees and does not think it is a fine document... who is right? It all becomes simply a matter of opinion. Why is he acting hypocritically just because WE believe the Declaration of Human Rights should be some kind of standard for humans to live by? Actually, he could do the exact same thing! He could come up with his own document, detailing his own personal philosophies... and if he sees some people who are not acting in accordance with his document... he could call them hypocrites, for not living the way he believes human beings should live! Under atheism, morality just becomes a matter of personal taste.

    Let's say we're right, because the majority of people generally agree with the Declaration of Human Rights. So right and wrong is determined by a democracy? Given this situation, if Hitler had won the war, and if after many years he had brainwashed the majority of people into having the same beliefs as him, then Hitler's ideologies would then be the norm, and consequently would then be the standard for morality.

    Given atheism, Pol Pot wouldn't be a hypocrite, as he would be acting consistently with moral relativism. He did as Nietzche said we should do... go beyond good and evil, discover our own values and go after them. If moral relativism is true, then Pol Pot wouldn't be doing anything wrong, and certainly wouldn't be any kind of a hypocrite as a human being just because we happen to disagree with his beliefs.

    Isn't the heart of relativism "True for you but not for me"? Well, that's exactly what he could say regarding the Declaration of Human Rights!

    Medicineman wrote:

    "3. I, for one, don’t like the idea of letting human emotion or popularity or government decide what we’re going to call “right or wrong” for some given time period."

    Barba Riaj responded:

    "I am afraid that this is what has been happening all along our history."

    You're confusing normative and descriptive ethics here. I believe Medicineman was making a normative claim, essentially saying that we *ought not* let right and wrong be determined by human emotion, popularity or government. (But he can correct me if I'm wrong.) You responded with a descriptive statement, saying that isn't how things have gone so far. This may be the case, but I find it to be irrelevant to Medicineman's statement, since his statement was normative and yours was descriptive.

    Croath, I'm looking forward to your upcoming post on objective moral values. I personally believe the existence of objective moral values is inconsistent with naturalism. I don't see how humans can be the foundation for objective moral values, because then they would only be *relative* moral values. The source of objective morality would have to transcend humans, would it not? And I can't see abstract objects like numbers, or mindless matter being such a source. I can only see some personal agent, or immaterial mind being a foundation for objective moral values, but I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

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  49. Croach,

    Thank you for your reply. I must reaffirm my position and acknowledge that in fact you did not understand exactly my point, both from the fact that my expression capacities in a second language like english, are not exactly my best, and that we come from a completely different mindset, which has problems on its own.

    For example, when you speak such:

    I did not say that specific objective moral values and duties are known (or even knowable). Talking about whether or not they exist, and the consequences of their existance, is separate from discussing whether they can be known. Thus when I say "rape is wrong" is an objective claim, it doesn't mean that I am right when I say "rape is wrong". It just means that if I'm right, I'm talking about an eternal truth that has not evolved.

    ... and then go ahead and clarify why is this so utterly different from the atheistic position, ending in:

    (...)the reason why an atheist is good is simply because it benefits him the most.

    ... you reach a conclusion that is "disliked" rightly so by atheists, because it is not what I was talking about. I'm talking about a rather different thing, much more subtle, precise, and, *gasp!*, human.

    Are you implying that the atheist is a kind of idiot who only behaves morally because the society has embebbed religious morals first, and if in power for too long, chaos emerges, because the atheist only thinks for himself?

    Before we continue this conversation, we should keep in mind that atheists are not monsters, which seems a thing that persists on your writings. This notion that atheists "only think for themselves" is offensive, so yes, you'll get atheists upset at that claim.

    So first things first. When you state that you are talking about an "universal truth that hasn't changed", denying evolution of morals, you are implying that morals are eternal and the reason why we "change" them is because we "evolved our knowledge about them". What you are having trouble to understand is that in practical terms (in life, history and everything that concerns actions and moral code production / enforcement), this hasn't got any difference whatsoever with a model of evolution of morals. Conceptually speaking, though, the latter model isn't in need of such references, it's simpler. Bring on the Occam's Razor.

    This is exactly the same debate between a creationist model and an evolutionist model. In the first, it is declared that in no way such complexity and beauty could be reached by "randomness", like the Boeing analogy, that the very concept of "evolution" is contrary to the laws of entropy, and that if such process was really left on its own, its result would only be decay, because everything was possible on this model, and one doesn't exactly see a boeing coming out of a tornado.

    The second model however claims that there are inherent forces and feedbacks that create complexity and evolve it, enrich it, and are able to build up a conscience on their own, without any external reference.

    I know that you probably won't believe that the second model is what really happens. But I do, and one only has to look no further than the laws of "the market" to a good analogy in this matter. In the market, feedback loops with price, supply and demands, which in turn create synergies, bubbles and busts, but also alternatives, etc. etc., almost by their own. There is no controlling system, rather than the rules that they abide by.

    Likewise, no God is really needed to explain the complex system of moral codes and ethics that we have now. That does imply that the atheist is bound-free to do what he pleases, but only regarding to a God. Every other thing is bounding him, and unless you rip off an atheist from every human companionship, every culture, every education, every memory, every tree, every flower, every breeze, every purpose, every moral code, everything whatsoever, will you have such demonic being that you are fearing. We are proposing no such thing and, really, we are not in peril of such really happening, now are we?

    It's not an easy point. For instance, when you say:

    I don't know why you think this. Given survival of the fittest, surely you can easily imagine circumstances where the fittest includes rape?

    ...It becomes clear that we are not speaking about the same things when discussing "fittest" and "strongest", etc. When you write those words, you seem as if you can't see beyond a fight club, with the cruelest being on top. That's not like it at all, for evidence points out to precisely the adverse. Like I said previously, it is clear that a society that abolishes rape is a happier society than not, and a happier society thrives always better than a sad one. Bring in Natural Selection and let it fight over for some decades or centuries and voilá!, the former wins the ideological battle. The process is the most natural you can get.

    Of course that in this case, Hitler could have won, and he could have tried to enforce his own distorted vision upon us, but in this case things should be kept in mind:

    1) He could have never washed the brain of every single human, so his visions would not be the only visions to survive;

    2) The idea of freedom is very strong. So strong in fact, that people are willing to die for it, for a world with freedom. This is a bottom-up force that the higher top had always trouble to keep quiet for too long. Tyrannies and dictatorships rarely sustain themselves for too long;

    3) The very fact that Hitler did menace a world view of freedom and human rights, that the danger of losing such a world was a true possibility, should be viewed as KEY to the motivation in their opponents armies, and probably an inherent "moral force" that pushed the soldiers beyond their own limits. If there was never such a danger, as you seem to claim, then why should anybody care? That by itself is a problem theists face.

    Another problem with the theistic morality is that religious embedded people think they have some kind of access to the "universal truth" that you spoke about, and a process happens over and over again: some high authority moralists come and claim that any change in morals is "depravation" and "satanic", disconnect any possibility of "debate", for that is a well-known "liberal" depraved concept, and delay any advance on things like slavery, divorce, universal suffrage, etc. etc. This seems to me the big problem of theistic morality: It suffers from soberba.

    Miracles are by their very nature unrepeatable, untestable. If a miracle exists, it won't be testable by scientific means.

    Which means that they can only happen by hearsay, just like ghost-sitings, UFOs, werewolfs, exorcisms, etc., which means that there is simply no objective method to testify the "supernaturalness" of specific event rather than the ones conveyed by the very same people who claim their existence. Which means that any attempt to prove theism based on miracles is a false sillogism.

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  50. Barba,

    If the particles and forces which make up the universe are all that exist, and those particles and forces are neither controlled nor designed by some kind of will, then there is no such thing as “purpose.” That's an a priori statement, which is obvious just by the definition of the words. The pattern of splashes from a water balloon is not purposeful, it’s an accident of physics. If there is no God, then so are we. There can be no purpose without intent, no intent without will. If the Big Bang was just a physical event, then we’re just physical objects like rocks, clouds, and leaves.

    The fact that we find ‘no-free-will’ incomprehensible is one of my points. We can’t live that way, so atheists need to be careful about how and why they criticize theism. How is the atheistic response of “there must be a natural explanation” any less a faith proposition than “there must be a divine explanation”? Again, atheists need to realize that many of their attacks on theism are self-defeating.

    As you noted, there have been some tyrants and dictators who espoused theism. Note the difference, though, between that and an atheistic despot. The person who claims to be a Christian, but commits murder, lies, perpetrates racism, and such is breaking the rules of Christianity. How can you blame a rulebook for the bad things that happen when someone ignores it?

    One of the dangers of atheism is that it makes men into “little gods.” They just replace the ultimate authority of God with the ultimate authority of some person – and that kind of power corrupts right down to the soul.

    As you note, if there is no God, then all ethics and morals are subjective and contingent on human whims. That means, if God is not real, then all that can be said about Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot is “I don’t prefer that.” In fact, you’re right that atheism truly must believe that might make right. He who wins, in atheism, decides what is actually right or wrong.

    Theists believe differently, that even if 99.9% of the world thinks action A is right, it can still be wrong. If Hitler had won, Christians would still condemn what he did.

    I have to disagree that generosity and brotherhood are bound to triumph over greed and power. WWII should be a good example of the fact that totalitarianism is more than capable of wiping out freedom. The attitude that there's something transcendent about "being nice" that gives it power over "being mean" is decidedly NOT naturalistic.

    Christians may well debate how to apply the moral laws of the Bible. What does an atheist debate? Much of the debate over Christian morals is between applying them or not applying them. You can only wiggle around so much under the command, “do not commit adultery.” There are many awful things totally off the table in Christian theism, which atheists have to find some way to argue around. Human fallibility will always result in disagreements over moral issues, but there is nothing gained by putting every moral tenet up for grabs. Note that, in your comment to Croath, you still degenerate into naked force: the only atheistic argument for moral change is violence.

    The idea of a war between science and religion is a myth. Frankly, it’s a bigoted lie that’s been spread by those with an axe to grind. History does not support such an idea. The claim didn’t even arise until the 19th century! The “ton” of evidence you mention does not exist. Even a rabid anti-religious bigot like Richard Dawkins will grudgingly admit that modern science owes its existence to theism.

    Regarding your point 5, you’ve lost me. Biblical commands made the Israelites more humane than their peers, and you’re claiming that humane conduct arose despite what the Bible said? That’s a non sequitur.

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  51. Modus,

    Neuroscience, actually, hasn’t done anything but support the idea that the will is non-physical. For example, when you stimulate the areas of the brain controlling muscles, you can make specific limbs move. The action of the brain is NOT the same as the will, and the person being manipulated doesn’t say, “I did it, but I don’t know why.” Human test subjects experiencing this invariably say, “I didn’t do that – you (the researcher) did that.” The physical mechanics of brain matter are not identical to the will.

    You’re right about uncomfortable reality. My point is that, more or less. However, there’s a logical issue at work here in regards to free will. We may find an observable mechanism for will, but for now I’m sticking with ‘inference to best explanation’.

    In fact, I’m certainly agreeing that we have to live as though we were “free-willed.”, even if we’re not. There is no way to apply belief in non-free-will in any meaningful way. The same is true for meaning, purpose, etc.

    The gymnastics adonais has gone through still boiled down to agreement on this: logically, atheism implies that we are determined, ultimately meaningless, and ultimately purposeless. We don’t like that “uncomfortable” thought, and so even the atheist lives contrary to that. My concern is that those who take atheism the most seriously – those who more fully live it out – are those who consider life the least meaningful, purposeful, morally constricted, or free. That’s a dangerous place to be, and it makes atheism dangerous when the worst results come from the most faithful adherence to its outworkings.

    You can choose to buck atheism's implications and live otherwise, of course. But atheism loses a lot of its ability to criticize theism at the same time. Theists can believe in purpose, meaning, and will without contradicting the foundations of their worldviews. Atheists cannot. When theists deny those fundamentals, we get atrocity. Atheism, on the other hand, produces atrocity when people apply it too completely.

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  52. Adonais,

    Note: I’m not the blog owner or moderator. I see nothing but what’s posted.

    I’ll take a quick second to respond to your points, but I think another problem with your approach is becoming clear. You define “ignores reality” as “disagrees with adonais”. I provided real-world support for my views, you have not. In your last post, you’ve (again) agreed with the essence of my main points. The only impetus I would have for responding to you any further would be to move forward from there, rather than watching you gyrate around the original ideas from days ago.

    1) You haven’t demonstrated anything suggesting that atheism and determinism are separable. Even your reference to Dennett implied that humans are, and must be determined. You’ll get the same assessment of naturalism and determinism from me as you will from Dawkins and Stephen Hawking.

    2) Again, you’ve done nothing to support that assertion other than repeat it and offer sources that actually disagree with you. If blind natural laws and/or randomness are 100% in control of our actions, then we have no free will. That’s a strong logical argument, and you’ll have to give legitimate evidential or logical reasons to the contrary.

    3) This was part of my original criticism. Are you now accusing me of ignoring my own ever-repeated premise? Let’s take this as a foundational point to go from, particularly the contrast between this and the moral dogmas inherent to theistic systems.

    3a) And, now you’re vacillating again. You can use emotionally-charged terms like “Free Pass” if you want, but you cannot escape the logic that atheism, in contrast to theism, does not encourage constraints on behavior. As you said, it contains no moral dogma.

    4 and 4b) No one is suggesting that objective and subjective meanings cannot coexist. This is a red herring – I am dealing with the purely logical outworkings of atheism. Either meaning exists, or not. Just because some things are perceived subjectively does not mean that they must actually have real meaning.

    5) This is total bunk. Absolutely, completely, irredeemably garbage. That’s the cop-out of all cop-outs. Use any terms you want, but one’s metaphysical foundations are very influential in how one views the world. There is no logically sensible defense for that statement. If that was true, it would mean that the statement “there is no God” is absolutely meaningless for that person. They may not see it as a “big deal”, particularly if they think it’s an obvious conclusion. But to say it has no impact on their worldview or philosophy is patently foolish.

    6) Are you implying that persons never choose morals different from their families and/or societies? I notice you threw in “global” social and cultural environment. That’s called hedging your bets. Now you can claim that any moral position anyone ever takes is just a product of the world. If you take this argument seriously, then you’ll have no way to criticize theists for doing things you don’t like – after all, they didn’t choose to follow those codes so much as they were conditioned by culture.

    7) Yes, and I’ve given examples of how atheists do choose some “bad” morals, and how that’s consistent with atheism. If you’re still claiming that atheists cannot be “bad” at all, then who is denying reality?

    7b)“Statements like "atheists can self-justify anything" might be logically consistent…” Yes, for crying out loud. That’s the point. But then, you fall off the wagon again: “…but an observation of reality shows it to be false.” What reality are you living in? Have self-professed atheists chosen some awful moral systems, or not?

    8) That’s why it’s called “free will”. Here’s part of my point, though: when someone breaks a rule, do you blame the rule? If I don’t follow the recipe, can I blame the cookbook for bad food? If the lawnmower says “Do not put hands under frame” on it, and I put my hand under the frame, who’s fault is it if I lose a finger? It is absolutely asinine to blame a moral system for atrocities that directly violate it.

    The warning on my lawnmower cannot prevent me from sticking my hands into the blade. It does, however, provide some pressure on me not to. This is especially true if I think the source of that warning knows what they're talking about. Atheism has absolutely no parallel to this.

    8b) See above. Making rules is better than no rules. You can’t blame a theistic system for actions that blatantly violate its tenets.

    9) Again, some of these are consistent with certain worldviews, others are not. All of the atrocities are consistent with atheism – there is no part of atheism’s outworkings that are being violated. You can’t say the same for Christianity. Beyond the fact that the crusades and inquisition have a more detailed history than you’re probably willing to realize (weren’t you the one harping on nuances?), you can find clear directives against those behaviors in the very system the perpetrators claimed to espouse. You can blame the inquisitors, but not the Bible.

    9b) This is just self-inflicted blindness. Theism gives you rules: “do this, don’t do that.” It also gives consequences and anchoring in objectivity. Atheism, as we keep hearing, is “liberating” from the “chains” of theism. You might as well argue that secular laws are no better than anarchy, since people still do bad things.

    Adonais, you are encouraged to take the main points and make an attempt to move forward. Since you accused me of ignoring all of the above “realities”, I think you also need to start distinguishing between the inside and outside of your own head.

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  53. I enjoyed much of this discussion, Croach, MedicineMan, Adonais, Modus Operandi et al.

    But if even posting polite and reasonable comments is subject to censorship, then I must say goodbye. I have no interest in repeating lengthy arguments with the storm cloud of censorship above my head.

    Of course, even the possibility of this message not passing through the gates is little.

    But again, fare well. It was nice to meet you and talk to you.

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  54. Croath "Because wikipedia might be wrong?"
    The heck, you say!

    "The only way I can see an atheistic mode of morality being objective is if they do some redefining of terms"
    The same can be said of the theistic mode. Your "objective" morality is based on the subjective views of one person (someone whose jealous, zealous and, at least in the Tanakh, picks favourites can hardly be called objective). That the person is purported to be 3-O'd is balanced out, I think, by His unfortunate fictionality (which is probably for the best, I think. He was never the same after Gen3:6. You'd think that He would've realized, being Himself, that making Man in His own image would result in curious children that would be bad at absolute obedience).

    "Whether the example is more deistic or theistic is irrelevant, because i was responding to the implicit claim that "if the universe appears to be running on autopilot, there is no God"."
    Golly. I hate when I'm implicit. I meant that a universe that needed X at the beginning, but after that runs on its own and doesn't need the X that doesn't appear to be there, is functionally the same as an Xless universe. A deist universe, in other words, runs exactly the same as a godless one. Theists see evidence that non-theists don't (and if your "it still depends on God at every moment to uphold its existence" is representative, use the lack of gods as evidence for them. He uses what to hold the universe together?).

    "...but I wouldn't rule out all miracles as impossible or lies."
    I'm the same way with UFOs, alien abductions and Bigfoot.

    "If a miracle exists, it won't be testable by scientific means."
    What about Lourdes (and faith healing in general)? A competent statistical analysis, with before and after medical examinations, would quickly prove or disprove whether it's one. Glossolalia and those that practice it, too, could submit to various types of linguistic analyses. Given a large enough sample, the difference between tongues and gibberish could be surmised.

    "This does not in fact answer the arguments of a fine tuned universe."
    Really? I've always heard the argument from fine-tuning as "Look how perfectly the Earth/universe was made for us" (at least, the weak anthropic principle). It probably made more sense before deep time and evolution entered the collective consciousness. Anthropocentrism is easier to sustain in a 6,000 year old universe with "kinds" *bamphed* up, than a 14,600,000,000 year old one that ended up with homo sapiens sapiens after 3,500,000,000 years or so of evolution, red in tooth and claw. "Ended up" is kind of a misnomer. Call it my anthropocentrism speaking.

    "That doesn't make it false or worthless"
    If Lourdes is no better than placebo, then it is false. If faith healers turn out to be all Popoffs, then it is also worthless. It would be criminal, actually.

    "Read...search for 'firing squad' - read that bit."
    I've read that before. The argument from improbability doesn't do much for me. For one thing, there apparently aren't as many "constants" as there used to be. There are six physical constants. The rest are either abandoned, or based on other things. The boiling point of water, for instance, used to be a constant, but, at least according to a Carrier essay falls under other laws. I'm no physicist, however, and could be wrong.
    The Many Problems of the Fine-Tuning Argument raises a couple of valid points as well (including the firing squad analogy), although I just got up after napping after a nite-shift and the text is all blurry.

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  55. But if even posting polite and reasonable comments is subject to censorship, then I must say goodbye.

    I personally have let through lately all but one comment, and that remaining comment is just so another of my peers can review it before letting it through. If any of your comments have not gone through, I suspect it may be because you have not submitted it properly. Sometimes I've had the same problem here.

    Another possibility is that your comments have been let through now, but hadn't been at the time you wrote this farewell. We have to moderate them in advance because unfortunately some see it as their duty to fill this site with spam if we don't. And moderating can take many hours at times.

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  56. There is still a post of mine missing. I'm beginning to feel very confused up here!

    I am addressing logan here.

    Yes I agree, it's been a good discussion.

    I think the main difference is that in the latter's case the perpetrators were acting *inconsistently* with their belief systems.

    Well, that's easy for you to blame on them now, but you surely would be burned at the stake for heresy and blasphemy if you claimed those things at that time! Likewise, if one now appeals to the cause of homossexuals, to the cause of women be allowed to clergy, to the cause of the end of death's penalty, to the cause of liberalization of abortion, one is most surely not labeled as a "christian moral (wo)man", much the contrary. And why? Because Christians have a direct connection which atheists do not, and therefore they can clearly see that such changes are horrible and will demean mankind and its pursuit of happiness. It's been this story forever. The irony of this is that while I doubt that you personally condone a cruzade, or slavery, or anti-semitism, or whatever the appaling thing that your great-great-great-father thought it were great ideas, I also do not have much doubts that at least some of the ideas that you find appaling now, your christian grand-grand-son will accept them as part of an "eternal moral".

    This is a point that theists in this blog seem to not accept: that the moral system that they see as "eternal" comes down as being perfectly equal to the evolutionist moral system that I hereby defend, with the exception of the existence of God. (Think about Newton when asked about his model of the solar system and the role of the creator: "I have no need of such hypothesis")

    "Religion has not caused wars. Irreligion, professed by people who claimed to believe a religion has been the cause of war."

    That's a good quote, but even here, you fail to see the obvious: if not for the religion, which is always a "leap of faith", despite contrary signs by reality, people perhaps wouldn't be so easily cheated by their own leaders and see right through what they really had in mind.

    However, in the case of Stalin and Pol Pot, they were NOT acting inconsistently with atheism because given atheism there can be no objective standard of morality, so they can basically do as they please.

    I am sorry, but you are appallingly wrong. While atheism doesn't by itself prohibits anyone to do what they please, it also never states that there "can be no objective standard of morality". It simply doesn't state that. The Declaration of Human Rights is by no means a "divine document", whatever that is, but it is the best that mankind has produced, for it meant that a large majority of this world leaders agreed with it, and most people also seem to agree with it and even I agree with it. It is by all means, an "Objective" paper, for it exists, it is established, signed, videotaped, and it is a world-wide reference for every crime on mankind. Nowhere in its lines do I see the signature of God. But then, I'm only human...

    Why is he acting hypocritically just because WE believe the Declaration of Human Rights should be some kind of standard for humans to live by?

    Yes, I see that I made a mistake. He was perhaps no hypocrite, to truly know it one had to know what he said about his own philosophy, and I don't. He was surely inhuman, and yes, that is a personal opinion of my own, subjective in part, but objective in part as well, according to the already mentioned DoHR. The fact that I am not alone and the fact that people share widely my opinion reinforces it, though even if no one shared it, that wouldn't mean I would abandon such a view (it would be stressful, though), for I am stubborn.

    Actually, he could do the exact same thing

    But alas! He didn't. And the reason he didn't is not because there is a God. The reason he didn't is because if one believes that the people's lives and freedoms are meaningless, then why should he bother trying to achieve a "global consensus" on his views? That would be an oxymoron. Only a philosophy of peace, of consensus, of universal suffrage and freedom would have the motivation to write in the United Nations a (distorted) Declaration of Human Rights.

    So right and wrong is determined by a democracy?

    Yes and no. If you check the law of your particular country, you'll see that it was written by democratically placed people who were elected for (allegedly) a program that they (supposedly) enforced when in power. The law determines raw parts of morality, and it is based on a democratic process. If the majority finds that abortion should be legal, for instance, then even the minorities ought to respect such. If that wasn't the way, then why bother for political struggle and debates and the like?

    Like Churchill once said something like, "Democracy is the worst kind of political systems, discarding all the others". It's far from perfect, but it's what we have invented thus yet.

    But also no, for personally speaking, one is always free to have his own mind of what our morals should be instead, and live by them, so long as they are legal (even if they are "right", if illegal, one can barely call himself free if in jail, discarding the obvious romantic part of it). You can even start your own party or movement, or even a blog! and try to persuade other people to reach out to your ideas and visions. Oh wait!

    Isn't the heart of relativism "True for you but not for me"? Well, that's exactly what he could say regarding the Declaration of Human Rights!

    Nobody told you it would be a cakewalk. It's difficult. It even starts wars. It often makes you think that perhaps you are the one terribly wrong. That's exactly how the world works.

    You're confusing normative and descriptive ethics here.

    What good is such a "normative" moral if it is impossible to achieve? Ethics are achieved by the most possible rational and inter-subjective (not subjective!) way. And yet, they are always fated to be embedded in zeitgeist, in invisible prejudices, in political interests, etc., because they are made by humans and that's how we are.

    Croath, I'm looking forward to your upcoming post on objective moral values. I personally believe the existence of objective moral values is inconsistent with naturalism.

    I really do not understand you guys. But let me help you.

    1. You have to define "objective" morals as something rather different than "subjective" and "inter-subjective" morals, and I dare you to prove that beyond just stating it. You'll find it impossible. No matter how you cut it, you will only be able to ascertain that some group or other has achieved some "kind" of a consensus on "some" moral stuff, other than the basicality of "don't murder, don't steal" mantra. And even those aren't consensual! Note that I am not arguing from consensus, but merely stating that this is the best thing I can imagine you can possibly do (rather than arguing from indignity, like "you don't believe that Though shall not kill isn't an objective moral?!" That qualifies as lame). Other possibilities consider the "consensus" from historical grounds. Please, do not dwelve to such perilous grounds!

    2. Then, you would have to prove that a naturalistic world excludes "objective morality", given your definition of 1. I am looking forward to this in particular. It will be a funny argument, I can already guess.

    3. Then, you would have to prove that a naturalistic world does not exclude "subjective morality" with the very same reasoning, like a controlling test, if you will.

    Regards.

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  57. <MedicineMan "Neuroscience, actually, hasn’t done anything but support the idea that the will is non-physical."
    How is watching your brain "think" before "you" make a choice not physical?

    "The physical mechanics of brain matter are not identical to the will."
    Odd. That we can see your brain "think" about choices (admittedly with poor resolution) makes brain and will look, well, like they're sitting on the same chair in the same apartment. I see no requirement for dualism.

    "We may find an observable mechanism for will, but for now I’m sticking with ‘inference to best explanation’."
    How does dualism explain what the brain does better than watching the brain explains what the brain does?

    "There is no way to apply belief in non-free-will in any meaningful way. The same is true for meaning, purpose, etc."
    Well, that non-free will is you. The non-divine, ne human, purpose, too. What is the divine purpose supposed to be, anyway?

    "My concern is that those who take atheism the most seriously – those who more fully live it out – are those who consider life the least meaningful, purposeful, morally constricted, or free."
    So, because most of us aren't running amok (because our probably deterministic consciences would tear us apart for such tomfoolery) aren't true atheists? That there's no divine purpose doesn't make the trip from here to there any less...human.

    "That’s a dangerous place to be, and it makes atheism dangerous when the worst results come from the most faithful adherence to its outworkings."
    You're going to disagree with this, but we say the same thing about religious fundamentalists (at least those of the Falwellian bent). They just focus on different passages than you. Jesus is nice, but giving away your property and taking care of the poor is tough (and even JC said that they'd always be with us), but a good, frothy Levitical passage or any of the various misogynistic passages that litter the Good Book are more fun to righteously push on other people, so I hear (and that's ignoring the Koran, which is no work at all to take literally).

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  58. medicineman,

    "1) You haven’t demonstrated anything suggesting that atheism and determinism are separable."

    This is just denial and ostrich maneuver. Both barba rija and I showed you that there is no logical inference between the two. Go back and refresh your memory, and maybe take the time to respond to those arguments made before. You have not presented any argument to support the inference. Make the argument in your own words, for why atheism must imply determinism.

    "2) Again, you’ve done nothing to support that assertion other than repeat it and offer sources that actually disagree with you."

    Err, no. The only source I cited does in fact agree with me (since I was only presenting the arguments of that reference to begin with - it's not my theory). Your confusion is self-inflicted by quote mining the wikipedia entry, which only gives a couple of highlights and sound bites, but not the whole argument.

    Your problem is with your definition of free will. You believe that it must necessarily entail a freedom from microscopic causality, but that's a mistake, a cognitive illusion. What is free will really? Is it not just our ability to make choices and decide things for ourselves? Choose action A instead of B? What Dennett shows is that we can have this freedom of choice on the design level without needing to require some impossible and unnecessary freedom from causality on the atomic level.

    Again, my writing a couple of paragraphs on this is not a substitute for you reading the book, if you actually wish to understand the argument. I'll leave you with one hypothetical question to think about, while you're deciding whether to read the book or not: Do you think it would be possible, in principle, for a universal Turing machine to simulate an information processing and control algorithm whose output would be indistinguishable from a human thought process, as judged by a real human being observing only the output of the machine? In other words, do you think that a universal Turing machine could, in principle, pass the Turing test?

    "3) This was part of my original criticism. Are you now accusing me of ignoring my own ever-repeated premise? "

    No, but you still don't appreciate the consequences (or rather, the lack of consequences) of this premise. See below.

    "3a) you cannot escape the logic that atheism, in contrast to theism, does not encourage constraints on behavior."

    I have no wish to escape it, it's absolutely clear that it does not. However, your belief in the ability of theism to constrain behavior is too generous. If you invoke this as an argument (as you often do) that atheism therefore can not prevent "bad" behavior while theism does, you are committing the tu quoque fallacy, see 8-9 below.

    "4 and 4b) No one is suggesting that objective and subjective meanings cannot coexist."

    You certainly suggested it before, let me refresh your memory:

    medicineman: "There’s a self-contradiction in saying that the universe has no meaning or purpose, and man is purely matter – but a human life is meaningful. Either there is meaning, or not."

    It seemed obvious that you were talking about absolute meaning there. And next you're mixing up the two, but still suggesting that subjective meaning is a "delusion":

    medicineman: "Either meaning exists, or not. Self-delusion applies to the atheist who tries to talk about overall meaninglessness along with punctuated meaning."

    "5) This is total bunk. Absolutely, completely, irredeemably garbage."

    And you argued for it so elegantly. As to its veracity I cited myself as a reference previously, since I am one to whom (5) applies. Personally I think there must be many others for whom it is also true that adopting an atheistic worldview implied no philosophical overhead, but I do know with absolute certainty that it was true for me. Your denial of this fact is tantamount to calling me a liar.

    Your point of contention seems to be that, when you consider the philosophical impact on a person of adopting the atheistic worldview, you are counting to that "consequence" all the philosophies that the person did not hold but could potentially have held before adopting atheism. In other words, you are counting it as a philosophical consequence that atheism precludes one from holding certain philosophies, even if one did not hold those philosophies to begin with.

    Well, perhaps that is an indirect consequence of sorts, in that it narrows down the future set of philosophies that I can hold, even if I have no interest in holding them; would you care to explain why you think that is an important or relevant consequence, and what it has to do with your argument? And what is your argument again? I insist that you take the trouble of explaining this.

    5) "But to say it has no impact on their worldview or philosophy is patently foolish."

    Now you are muddling it up again, you should keep worldview and philosophy separate here. Atheism is a deducible worldview but not a philosophy with any tenets, axioms, creeds or dogmas, so of course adopting atheism by definition means adopting a worldview, I never said differently. It does not necessarily imply adopting other philosophies in addition; this was how you originally formulated your accusation, although now you are conflating worldview and philosophy.

    Although philosophy and worldview can be partially overlapping concepts, there is at least one case where they don't, and that is atheism, which is only the latter but not the former, and therefore you should keep the concepts separate.

    "6) Are you implying that persons never choose morals different from their families and/or societies?"

    No. I am implying, however, that as a rule we invariably have some rudimentary set of moral understanding or instincts long before we become mature and informed adults capable of making our own philosophical choices to the matter. We were all infants once, oblivious of the world. We had to be morally potty trained and gradually grown into socially mature animals fit for a dense human society. Look into your potty and you'll find the roots of your morality (except for the Pope, who must rummage the woods).

    "Professed" atheism is an adult informed choice. The above argument implies that atheists (and everybody else!) have acquired a moral compass long before they decide to call themselves atheists. Of course we must recognize that we are a very mixed population, globally speaking, with varying mental faculties (mental anomalies being relatively common), varying cultures, varying conditions for upbringing and education, all of which contribute to creating the sort of spectrum of moral virtue that we observe. There is no contradiction in finding that good mental health, upbringing, education and community in good conditions can provide us with a complete set of moral principles that we need in order to get by in society, while also recognizing that not everybody is fortunate enough to be granted such good conditions.

    "I notice you threw in “global” social and cultural environment. That’s called hedging your bets."

    No, it's just a list of all the things that can possibly influence the formation of our moral principles. Sociocultural and informational globalization enables people to partake in a vastly greater community of ideas and traditions than ever before. It's to make you aware of all the sources of moral influence, and make you realize that religion is only a small part of it for a fraction of the population.

    "7) Yes, and I’ve given examples of how atheists do choose some “bad” morals, and how that’s consistent with atheism."

    Tu quoque again, see 8-9. I gave similar examples of Christians committing atrocities consistent with theism (or at least the Bible).

    "7b) What reality are you living in? Have self-professed atheists chosen some awful moral systems, or not?"

    Man, you're completely lost. The observation that some atheists have committed atrocities does not in any way demonstrate that atheists are amoral as a rule. You commit the overgeneralization fallacy and make false inductions. That's exactly the point of descriptive ethics: if you could infer that atheists as a rule indulge in amoral behavior, then there might be some reason to consider a connection between atheism and morality. But there is no such general connection (if you have evidence of one, show it), and from (6) you should get the point by now that atheists do have moral codes even though none of it derives from the atheistic worldview itself.

    "8) It is absolutely asinine to blame a moral system for atrocities that directly violate it."

    I certainly agree, and I did not place any such blame. (8) only served the purpose of pointing out the tu quoque fallacy that you have engaged in frequently. Your argument that "atheism has no parallel to this" [moral constraint] is irrelevant, since by (6) atheists certainly do have moral constraints even though they are not drawn from the atheistic position itself.

    "9) All of the atrocities are consistent with atheism – there is no part of atheism’s outworkings that are being violated. You can’t say the same for Christianity."

    So what? They both have failed to prevent atrocities, in this they are equal. What does it matter that Christianity has a book and atheism does not when the outcome can be horrendous in either case? While no "outworkings of atheism" were being violated, there were plenty of other moral and legal precepts being violated - certainly in the eyes of the victims and also the larger world community - but you are staring yourself blind at atheism, and continue to blame atheism for such atrocities.

    "You can blame the inquisitors, but not the Bible. "

    Ok, well, how about Pope Innocent VIII? Malleus Maleficarum and all that - unleashed a morally and legally sanctioned mass murder which was still being defended as morally and biblically correct well into the 18th century. Just an example.

    The thing is, the bible has something to say about so many aspects of human life, and often says it rather nebulously, that a selective reading allows almost any interpretation. Does not that imply that the Bible can be used to justify anything? History seems to give some support to this. Of course, if all you want to justify is good-natured behavior, the golden rule and all that - that's great, perfectly fine, I would applaud that. But if you want to justify genocide, the bible has sections for that too.

    "9b) This is just self-inflicted blindness. Theism gives you rules: “do this, don’t do that.” It also gives consequences and anchoring in objectivity."

    If you think that theism has a monopoly on making up rules and consequences I have to wonder (again) what sort of fantasy world you're living in. Can you think of any other, non-religious, system doing this? Also, I have a vague memory of my mom telling me about lots of things not to do and my dad spanking me for doing them anyway. An early rule-consequence system, perhaps.

    "Adonais, you are encouraged to take the main points and make an attempt to move forward. "

    Try as I might I can't see what your main points are, and even though I asked you to state them explicitly you avoided doing that. Do I have to say please?

    "I think you also need to start distinguishing between the inside and outside of your own head."

    I think your lame insults are probably the best part of your comments.

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  59. barba rija,

    Are you implying that the atheist is a kind of idiot who only behaves morally because the society has embebbed religious morals first, and if in power for too long, chaos emerges, because the atheist only thinks for himself?

    When I said "the reason why an atheist is good is simply because it benefits him the most" I was saying only what you had written. My full quote was "You here say that the reason why an atheist is good is simply because it benefits him the most." (emphasis added) You misquoted me. I did not claim that the reason why an atheist is good is because it benefits him the most. That was what *you* implied. Here is what you said, for reference:
    "Yes, but it is precisely the consequences of both which will render them unequal and, unless you also claim an atheist to be a sado-masochist nazi monster rather than a pretty normal person, one will generally choose the latter rather than the former. We, the majority, will imprison the psychopathic minorities for they present an obvious danger for the rest of us. The end result would be exactly a society as you know it, which it is!"

    Why did you say this? Because you were responding to my claim that the atheist is free to pick any goal he wants. You said that he wouldn't pick just any because of the consequences to him if he did.

    Please don't misquote me again. This was your claim, not mine.

    Just for the record, I don't think the atheist is good sometimes just because it benefits him the most. The atheist is good sometimes because he is a human created by God and has an innate awareness of good and evil. He knows how he should act, but just like the rest of us he does always do what he ought to.

    I'm making a much more limited claim - the atheist cannot justify any system of morality, and so his worldview leaves him free to pick any.

    Before we continue this conversation, we should keep in mind that atheists are not monsters, which seems a thing that persists on your writings.

    This is something I never claimed. I personally think that atheists are monasters about as much as everyone else in this world.

    What you are having trouble to understand is that in practical terms (in life, history and everything that concerns actions and moral code production / enforcement), this hasn't got any difference whatsoever with a model of evolution of morals.

    I think you're mistaken. There are practical differences between the morals that flow from objective views compared to those which account for morals in evolutionary terms. Most importantly, in the reasons for thinking we should adhere to a particular system of morality. We might also note the differences today between a naturalistic morality system and one based on objective morality - thinking of humans as "just" animals no doubt has a profound impact on how we think humans ought to be treated. So you are right that on the superficial level a naturalistic morality system will change over time just like an objective one, where we discover new information on what is right or wrong. But beyond that they are different.

    More importantly, describing morality in evolutionary terms allows us to justify any behaviour - an objectivist view does not. An objectivist must ask "what is right or wrong?" and try to determine that - having discovered it, the objectivist is aware of what he then ought or ought not to do. The relativist might ask "what do I feel is right or wrong?", but in answering that question there is no intellectual reason to then adhere to what is discovered - nothing he ought or ought not do.

    So there are differences both in what we will conclude is right or wrong, and also whether there is any justification in adhering to those moral judgements once discovered.

    This is exactly the same debate between a creationist model and an evolutionist model.

    First of all, as you probably know, occam's razor is a guideline and not a deductive guarantee. Second of all, occam's razor has us only postulate as much as is necessary to explain, no more. The arguments regarding both morality and evolution are that a naturalistic explanation is insufficient to explain either. It's not that they add to the explanation more than is necessary, but rather point out that naturalism is not sufficient to explain the items in question. Needless to say, these are big issues to deal with in short sentences, so we might just need to leave that for another time.

    That does imply that the atheist is bound-free to do what he pleases, but only regarding to a God. Every other thing is bounding him

    Why do you think this? Sure, it might not be wise for everyone to do what he pleases. But what about the atheist who wants to murder, rape, steal, deceive, etc? Who doesn't want friends? Who wants to take what he can without giving in return? Who is willing to risk the repurcussions of that behaviour? What reason does he have to act against his desires?

    And if he has no reason, what about the every day person doing the every day little evil things - like returning a wallet but keeping the money? Why should they act differently?

    It becomes clear that we are not speaking about the same things when discussing "fittest" and "strongest", etc. When you write those words, you seem as if you can't see beyond a fight club, with the cruelest being on top.

    Here you have misunderstood me. I challenge you to point out where I claimed that fittest and strongest refers to those who are cruelest and strongest in the physical sense? I was very clear that I was saying there is a *possible* scenario (which has no doubt been true at some points in history) in which the strongest is a rapist. That does not mean that I'm claiming this is always true. I also think that the fittest to survive in certain scenarios are those who don't rape and are able to blend in to the society. What you are misunderstanding is that both these scenarios are reasonable given naturalism. There are times when rape has been, and could be, "right". There are times when it's not a fitness increasing behaviour.

    You seem to be forgetting that environments change, and so what means fittest also changes. Rape in some environments does imply the fittest - and I was very clear that I was only talking about some scenarios.

    Like I said previously, it is clear that a society that abolishes rape is a happier society than not, and a happier society thrives always better than a sad one.

    This claim is both unfounded and probably untrue.
    1. Abolishing rape does not necessarily lead to a happier society. Imagine if being a rapist makes someone happy, and being raped does not. Now imagine that 10 people rape one person. That means 10 people are made happy, and one is made unhappy. What if it's 100 that rape one person? 1000? Do you think it is true in that scenario that abolishing rape makes a happier society? No, abolishing rape does not necessarily make for a happier society
    2. Is happiness life's greatest good? I don't think so. Sometimes happiness must be sacrificed for a greater good that is itself not happiness increasing.
    3. I don't see any way you can claim that a happy society thrives always better than a sad one. Certainly this might be often true, but it's by no means a guarantee - there are many other factors to consider. Perhaps in granting happiness we sacrifice other things - like the pursuit of efficiency or self sacrifice. There's too many variables to consider before making such an outlandish claim.

    Of course that in this case, Hitler could have won, and he could have tried to enforce his own distorted vision upon us, but in this case things should be kept in mind:

    You've forgotten why I talked about Hitler. You were trying to say that the reason why an atheist would be kind and considerate of others, etc, was because if he didn't he would get locked up. I responded by pointing out this is not always true - for example, Hitler. Your responses to this are off-topic. It doesn't matter if he can or cannot eliminate everyone who disagrees, or if the idea of freedom is inherent (maybe he'll eliminate it through careful breeding programs), etc, or just kill those people. The point is that not every monster is going to have the reason of "fear of being caught" to prevent him from being evil. I suggest you scroll back and re-read why I mentioned Hitler.

    I think that's enough for now.

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  60. Adonais,

    1) No, you and Barba made a failed attempt to do so; in both cases you still inferred that particles and physics are entirely responsible for our choices. That’s not free will. I have made the argument, in my own words, at least twice so far (July 1st 6:15, July 2nd 8:12). Who is burying their head in the sand, again? Asking me to repeat my own arguments over and over is not a substitute for critical thinking. [Tally: 1]

    2) I “quote-mined” the article? [Tally: 2] I said atheism implies determinism. The article said the same. Determinism and free will are not compatible. Dennett keeps saying “at the design level”, which really means nothing different than what I’m saying: free will is an inescapable part of human life. If you don’t get the logical inferences I’m making, then just agree to disagree and move on. I understand that argument quite well, and I completely reject it, for the reasons I gave.

    I’m glad you noted that true free will is impossible from a naturalistic standpoint – why then are you arguing the opposite so frequently?

    A machine that’s not making free will choices is not making free will choices. Simulation is not reality. In any event, talk of machines doesn’t help nor hurt my point – which is that whether free will exists or not, we have to live as though it does, and atheism cannot be rationally reconciled to free will.

    3) Are you willing to say that the rule of law is no better than anarchy, since people still commit crimes? By your own reasoning, you should be. I clearly noted the fact that laws do not force behavior; they do provide incentives and objective standards.

    4) I think some of this is getting over your head, frankly. Subjective meaning is only possible or sensible if there is ultimate meaning. That shouldn’t be so hard to grasp. [Tally: 3]

    5) I argued for what, now? I said that atheism provides no moral constraints, but I also stated quite emphatically that it does impact the way a person views the world, in all senses and in all aspects. I’m not calling you a liar, I’m calling you foolish, in this case. I don’t see how you could be considered anything else. Even in your own comment, you can’t escape the fact that atheism impacts your thinking.

    I kept them separate with the word “or”, which you might have missed. [Tally: 4]

    7) You apparently don’t understand tu quoque. [Tally: 5] I’m not claiming atheism is false; I’m stating that an atheist can choose any moral system without contradicting their atheism. I noted that this is not the case for a theist. That’s not an ad hominem, that’s a logically inescapable truth. Also, you asked for the examples. You tried to suggest that atheists never choose morals differently from the “good and fuzzy” type; I mentioned the obvious examples of history.

    I never said atheists are amoral as a rule. I explicitly said that they are as free to choose good morals as they are to choose bad morals. I know you’re uncomfortable with the implications I’m raising, but you’re trying to defend against arguments I’m not making. [Tally: 6]

    8) But, you are. You’re claiming that the Bible condones these actions, which it does not. It’s a major problem when people claim to follow Christ, but don’t. The fact that people murder, cheat, and steal when the Bible says not to makes it tough for you to argue that Christianity caused these atrocities.

    9) So, again, you feel that anarchy and law are equal, since both fail to prevent crime. Here’s a big difference, though – You can’t get from Christianity to these atrocities, since the Bible explicitly prohibits the actions being performed. There are philosophical positions, possible only through atheism, that not only allow them, but encourage them. For instance, the ideas that human beings are not essentially different than animals, that this life is all there is, that there is no higher power or higher law, and so forth. These were the attitudes of men like Stalin. They can be reached through atheism, not through theism. The very statement, “there is no God” strongly implies those ideas.

    For those reasons, I would have good cause to “blame atheism” for what Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin did, though I have not yet done so. You have absolutely no cause to blame Christianity for the crusades or the Inquisition.

    No, the Bible cannot be used to justify anything. Please note that my contention was about following the worldview faithfully. Warping the Bible to fit a racist or totalitarian agenda is not a faithful treatment.

    So, by my tally we have at least 6 good examples of why this is just a silly waste of my time. I’m anticipating that you’ll just ask me to repeat something (again), and then act as though it was never said in the first place (again), or miss an obvious statement (again), or claim I'm denying reality (since your opinion apparently defines it).

    Look, you’re claiming that I’m denying reality because I disagree with you. I’m claiming that you’re denying reality because you’re ignoring the very words I’m writing. I think there’s ample evidence to the third-party reader of this. You’re being asked to take a hard look at your worldview, which you don’t like, and it’s giving you fits. I understand that. So, I’m going to give this a rest. I’m sure you have more to say, but I don’t.

    Just for old times sake, be sure to ask me to repeat or re-state something I’ve brought up several times. Might as well stay the course, right?

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  61. Modus,

    The brain is involved in thinking, so there’s no reason not to expect to see brain activity while someone is thinking. The motor control experiments, however, clearly show that the neurological actions of the brain are not identical to the will. What you’re saying is that watching TV gives you no reason to see a difference between the broadcast signal and the screen.

    Dualism is certainly a better explanation for the motor tests. If the test subjects had said, “yeah, I moved my arm, but I don’t know why…I just moved it,” then that would be at least a start to linking the physical brain to the will. The fact that they always say, “I didn’t do that” means that the action of the brain is not the same as the action of the will.

    Since this site is really about atheism, I won’t delve deeply into non-atheistic philosophies. In short, Christianity indicates that our purpose lies in service and worship to a Creator.

    It’s not so much that they (you) aren’t true atheists. It’s just that you’re not really applying the logical outworkings of atheism. You assume many things that atheism precludes: that a child’s death is meaningful, that you can actually decide what to do with your life, and that actions like rape or murder are always, always wrong. Those reactions are good – they’re responses to the innate moral law, but not logically or philosophically compatible with strident atheism.

    As I said to Adonais, those who warp the Bible are, by definition, not being faithful to Christianity. The basic ideas of salvation and morality are simple enough for anyone to understand. Some other issues in scripture require educated scholarship, like any other topic, and I’ll stand right beside you condemning those who try to read their own personal vices into the Bible, rather than reading the truth from it.

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  62. All,

    I’m not particularly interested in typing dissertations on the same ideas over and over, so I’m probably going to step out unless someone actually brings up something substantial. I’m kind of expecting the same broken-record stuff, especially from poor adonais, for whom I have sincere sympathy. In particular, I might be willing to take on some more specific ideas or objections, but don’t hold your breath for a reply. I simply have other, more pressing and worthwhile uses for my time right now.

    Looking forward to catching the rest of this, some other time.

    ReplyDelete
  63. MedicineMan:

    It has been a nice discussion. But when you state that:

    I’m not particularly interested in typing dissertations on the same ideas over and over,

    I should point out that I find your comments constantly berating my points of view with strawmans, neglecting to bridge over your own view point for some little hiccups in my lack of language skills. It is tiresome, I agree, and I don't want to waste your time.

    I will answer your strawmans though, for there were plenty in your last response.

    1."You said that he wouldn't pick just any because of the consequences to him if he did."

    That is outright untrue. I never stated such thing, and if you reread that same paragraph you quote me, you won't find that sentence anywhere. I never defended that morals are independent of people, which is the exact consequence of what you are talking about, I am actually defending the exact opposite: that is, that it is mankind (which is composed by humans) which creates, sustains and develops morals. Therefore, any human being is, by means of parental education, society education, friends, environment, literature, movies, journalistic information and last but not least, critical thinking, able to form his own list of moral codes to which he should abide by. This is exactly what happens, even to you. You read books, you listen to other people talking, you debate, ask questions, experience things to see for yourself and critically think over the issues. That is how everyone, some better, some worse, reach out to their own moral codes.

    Most importantly, in the reasons for thinking we should adhere to a particular system of morality.

    Therefore, you don't really believe in what you say you do. You don't believe in an eternal moral system, for you know better that it doesn't exist. But because you are so afraid that other people might be dumber than you and not be able to spot the subtleties of it, that we could fall into a world of hell.

    This is a vision of outright unfaith. You simply do not hope. For if you had hope, you wouldn't lie to yourself. You'd embrace truth, even if it seemed to contradict your dogmas.

    More importantly, describing morality in evolutionary terms allows us to justify any behaviour - an objectivist view does not. An objectivist must ask "what is right or wrong?" and try to determine that - having discovered it, the objectivist is aware of what he then ought or ought not to do. The relativist might ask "what do I feel is right or wrong?"

    So there isn't any difference whatsoever except in the arrogant attitude of one thinking he's figured out the key to the universe and that everyone who disagrees with him is therefore wrong. That in itself is a wrong moral for one to hold, don't you see? If you place humbleness (??) in your own set of morals, you cannot have this position of yours without being hypocritical! And boom, there shatters your unbeatable morality!

    Why do you think this?

    This is what I see. And what I see others seeing. Everything bounds my behaviour. I haven't seen though any supernatural event bounding my behaviours and choices, for those events are surprisingly always invisible and "unmeasurable".

    And if he has no reason, what about the every day person doing the every day little evil things - like returning a wallet but keeping the money? Why should they act differently?

    Exactly. They don't, even though they are christians and bhuddists and everything. There's a higher reason though for you to not do such a thing, and it excludes God. Have you heard of the "Golden Rule"? It says nothing, absolutely nothing about God. It is based only in the evident reality that we are bound to live with eachother no matter what, and therefore, if we don't like to find out that money was stolen from our wallets, we should also refrain ourselves of doing the same unto others. It simply does not require an untiring God evaluating with a pen and a calculator your actions in every moment. It only needs your own conscience.

    I was very clear that I was saying there is a *possible* scenario (which has no doubt been true at some points in history) in which the strongest is a rapist

    Ok, I got it that you got it. First of all, I'd say that I can't see a single scenario where such means would ever produce a positive "end", though "tough love" springs to mind as a distant possibility which I simply am not able to imagine just yet. But yes, that may be a possibility, which, by your own admission of not even knowing what the eternal objective morality might even be in its entirety, I might as well add that perhaps your own moral "evolution" could also admit rape!

    Second of all, in that regard theism is so strong in preventing such a crime as all other moral codes are, for as History well teaches, what religious people defended as "moral" did evolve as well. Or should I remind you of the literal condonation of God towards the rape of women of enemy tribes? I guess that in those times, God still didn't cope very well with that "objectivity" status.

    This claim is both unfounded and probably untrue.

    What follows is what I consider to be one of the silliest diatribes I've read here. Do you really want me to debunk it? It's so easy.

    1. Yes it does. Even in your own example, 10 people were "happy" according to your distorted vision (as if people are automatically "happy" by raping someone), but such happiness only lasts for a few hours. The victim will suffer irreparable loss forever. Consider also the arbitrary state of it. It means that anyone could be victim. Would it made the perpetrators confortable knowing that they also could be made victims of that kind of behaviour? Of course not. One could easily imagine the anarchic consequences of it, the hatred generated and hell gone loose in such a situation. How on earth is that even comparable to a definition of "happiness" is beyond me.

    2. Well then, what's life's greatest good? I didn't also say it was. I merely pointed out that a society full of happy people is a much more wealthy and motivated society than not. It grows quicker, it builds quicker, it develops quicker. Natural selection does the rest.

    3. Generally speaking, and looking upon history, I'd say just about that it is quite accurate indeed to say that happiness helps a society to thrive. Of course, that is not the only thing. There are other factors as well, as discipline, education, etc., etc. and I don't consider it as outlandishly at all.

    You were trying to say that the reason why an atheist would be kind and considerate of others, etc, was because if he didn't he would get locked up.

    No, I was not. Jail only prevents RAW morals to be enforced. That is what I said, and I used that particular word. Again, you are "strawmanning" here.



    In your repply to Adonais, you say:

    That’s not free will.

    That is the most hilarious comment I've seen here. How would you really know if it is or it isn't? You cannot answer this question because you are stuck in your own experience and "think" that you are "free". But you aren't even able to define free will! You keep repeating that such and such is not "free will", as if it has some kind of shining divine aura around it, and yet you can't even define it in a way that doesn't support Adonais claims. How could you if you don't have any control mechanism on that claim? You could be living an illusion, for all you know.

    Subjective meaning is only possible or sensible if there is ultimate meaning.

    Unproven assertion. Like saying that strange lights are only possible or sensible if there are UFOs.

    That’s not an ad hominem, that’s a logically inescapable truth

    This is what hits me the most. A theist claims that there is objective truth and morals. Then he goes on to claim that he has the key to it. Then he goes on to say that every other claim is foolish because his own philosophy is a "logically inescapable truth". That is the most dangerous thing of religion, and cause of many hurting mistakes in the history of mankind.

    You’re claiming that the Bible condones these actions, which it does not.

    You know that lying is against christian morality, don't you? If God condones such malevolent practices, I'd say that the Bible is condoning it, even if in the most metaphorical way possible. How you escape that "inescapable truth" without resorting to lies will prove my lifetime assertion that for one to respect the Bible in its entirety, one has to develop strange and incoherent mental gymnastic capabilities.

    For those reasons, I would have good cause to “blame atheism” for what Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin did, though I have not yet done so

    You are doing it now, despite our debunking of those myths. You firstly claim that evil theists were not considering your preferred parts of the bible while evil atheists were but the fault of atheism. I'd put the blame on man himself, but that would be demeanor to an almighty God, I guess.

    Look, you’re claiming that I’m denying reality because I disagree with you. I’m claiming that you’re denying reality because you’re ignoring the very words I’m writing. I think there’s ample evidence to the third-party reader of this

    I, personally, never held any optimism regarding your own acknowledgment of atheistic principles and validity, for I did recognise that you had made up your mind long ago. It wouldn't be a chit chat that would change it, really. These things take time to work out, and you are right that third-party readers will make up their own minds, for their own sake and purposes.

    Just stay the course, MedicineMan. Never surrender! I like you just the way you are!

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  64. "The motor control experiments, however, clearly show that the neurological actions of the brain are not identical to the will."
    No. The motor control experiments are controlling the "motor" section of the brain, not the subconscious level that leads to "I think I'll move" section/s/ of the brain. We can't (thankfully) at this stage tickle so many areas so accurately as to force "I will move my arm". We can, however, watch the areas of the brain not involved in motor control emit the "choice" before the conscious will "chooses". Unconscious brain thinks, mind "decides" what was already decided, arm moves. Read that link again. It's not definitive, by any means (and the white labcoated guys, at this stage, are hedging there bets), but it does show that "you" possibly aren't what you think you are.

    "You assume many things that atheism precludes: that a child’s death is meaningful, that you can actually decide what to do with your life, and that actions like rape or murder are always, always wrong."
    Evolutional psychology doesn't preclude them. It shows why we are the way we are. It shows the development of "moral law" in other species, like simple pack behavior up to our cousins, the chimpanzees.
    Neuroscience/Neuropsychology shows how we are what we are, with Mirror neurons" and such. Your conscience starts right there.
    That atheists don't believe in gods doesn't mean that atheists don't believe in biology. Temporary existence = yes. No divine purpose = yes. The illusion of "I"/free will = for some (I'm not sure, but again, can't do jack sh*t about it). None of that changes that we are here now and that we come from a long line of beings that made us what we are.

    "Those reactions are good – they’re responses to the innate moral law..."
    The innate evolutionary, naturalistic moral system that's built in to us, yes.

    ...but not logically or philosophically compatible with strident atheism.."
    Logically, I wasn't, now I am, soon I won't be. That, frankly, sucks. That I will only live on in the memories of others, until they, too, fade out, is also unfortunate. That I may or may not have free will is moot. If I've got it, I've got it and if I don't I can't. That feelings of joy or guilt are merely chemo-electrical pulses doesn't make me (or "my" illusion of me), as "I" am those chemo-electrical pulses (and the goo that makes them, and the links between the goo).
    Ascribing to a higher power, with divine purpose changes none of these things.

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  65. barba rija,

    you've directed your response to medicineman, yet half of it is a response to my comments. This will be shorter than usual.

    You're having trouble distinguishing between two quite separate discussions:
    1. The reasons why atheists (and everyone else) behaves morally the way they do
    2. The reasons that an atheist has for behaving morally the way they do

    These are quite separate things. The first talks about the reasons why I might do good - fear of being thrown in jail, conditioning through parental and societal education, or an innate sense of right and wrong, etc.

    The second talks about what *rational* justification the atheist has for behaving the way he does. Eg, imagine the atheist hypothetically wakes up one day and says, "I know that I act good because I've been taught that way, and it feels right - but I really would rather be raping, murdering and stealing. Why shouldn't I?" What reasons will his worldview give him for continuing the way he's currently behaving and not just indulging his desires? What rational basis does he have for being good? The person who believes in objective morality can simply say, "because it is wrong and one ought not do what is wrong".

    The problem we're having is that you keep trying to answer as though I'm talking about 1 when in fact I'm talking about 2. So we obviously have confusion, because I take your answer at face value as an answer to 2, and then you act indignant because you didn't realise what I was talking about.

    Try answering the question I wrote just above. Answer why that atheist should act good, not why he does.

    Therefore, you don't really believe in what you say you do. You don't believe in an eternal moral system, for you know better that it doesn't exist.

    What are you talking about? I most certainly do believe that there exists an objective system of morals. How did you conclude otherwise from what I said?

    Even in your own example, 10 people were "happy" according to your distorted vision (as if people are automatically "happy" by raping someone), but such happiness only lasts for a few hours. The victim will suffer irreparable loss forever. Consider also the arbitrary state of it. It means that anyone could be victim. Would it made the perpetrators confortable knowing that they also could be made victims of that kind of behaviour? Of course not.

    You need to learn charity in arguing - assume the strongest position that your opponent could present, and knock that down, not some weakened form.

    Sure, in a society where the rapist could equally be made a victim that might be true. But what makes you think that's the only scenario possible? What about a society/culture where a small percentage are outcastes, bottom caste, forever trapped like slaves. In this hypothetical society, these are the ones who are free to be raped, though they don't want to be, so the perpetraters know that the law is on their side when they act and need fear no repurcussions. There is a net increase in happiness, but some people are violated in terrible ways in the process. Attack the strongest form of my argument, not the weakest.

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  66. Barba,

    I was far more charitable to you in this conversation than your positions deserved, on account of the lingual barrier you are dealing with.

    That said, it's impossible to take seriously any complaints you make about other people's argumentation style when you can't even keep track of who you're talking to.

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  67. Yes, well. I think barba rija said it well, thanks for replying to some of medicineman's comments that were addressed to me - I confess I have neither the inclination nor the energy to keep this going.

    There is at least one thing that I agree with medicineman on, and that is that anyone reading this thread from the top (as if anyone would) will have all the material available to make their own judgement whether medicineman's latest accusations are true or not. Case in point: I invite the reader to use your browser's text search on the word "determinism," and see for yourself what medicineman has concocted here.

    medicineman: Save your pity. I don't know what to think of a person who awards himself points (literally!) in a debate; trying to be judge, jury and executioner all by yourself? You know what, here's a bonus [10*] points from me, go buy yourself a lollipop.

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  68. Croath:

    You need to learn charity in arguing - assume the strongest position that your opponent could present, and knock that down, not some weakened form.

    Likewise, you didn't understand my "strongest" position in my reply, and only take the weakest part of it. Why, you may ask? Let's see:

    Sure, in a society where the rapist could equally be made a victim that might be true. But what makes you think that's the only scenario possible?

    Instead of talking shenanigans, I was referring on how systems truly evolve in a real world. In the shenanigan world, everything is possible. In this world, however, gravity exists, actions have consequences, and system's choices have consequences for its own future. In a real world, a system which chooses to have "castes" is bound to disappear, as it has done so. Slavery existed not until late in the history of mankind, and many slaves were abused sexually. Christian morality taught us for bloody centuries that "niggers" were not really humans, and therefore were out of scope of the ten commandments. Christianity did nothing to prevent exactly what you are talking about.

    There is a net increase in happiness, but some people are violated in terrible ways in the process. Attack the strongest form of my argument, not the weakest.

    This is always a problem, and you don't need to address abstract problems that *could* evolve in the atheist world. You should look at the world today and recognise the history of minorities struggles, blacks, homossexuals (did you know that Turing, the scientist who revolutionized the computer theory, commited suicide after being sentenced to prison for having homossexual "activities"?), women denigrated for being women, children, etc. etc. This is still happening, and it is always a challenge for democratic societies to erase these descriminations.

    For all that is worth, I've seen Christians for the descriminated as well against them. I've seen incredible speeches by rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and I've seen appaling speeches by uncountable reverends against homossexuals, women and blacks. It rather depends on one's own morals rather than their religious preferences.

    All that this discussion has proven is that morals are important.


    @Medicine Man:

    Big Oooops. I am sorry about that. I don't appreciate blogpost's 400 pixels width format, it makes reading a struggle with scrolling up and down, and I lost myself up there. Like Adonais says, save your pity, for I have none to give you, only my respect and honesty.

    @Adonais:

    Good show. I also appreciated your comments, and I think what you said about determinism is very interesting. It is a field that is probably still in the shore of unknowns, with many, many things yet to discover and develop. I look forward to such discoveries.

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  69. Barba, I hope you're not serious about what you're talking about concerning Christian morality and slavery. I hope you realize it was because of Christians that we don't have slavery as an an accepted practice today, and that Biblical 'slavery' was more a form of protection than the slavery based that's popularized today.

    Can you refer to me where in the Bible it is taught that 'blacks' aren't human?

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  70. Barba, I suggest you read up about possible worlds - they are a valuable tool for philosophical discourse. You think I'm being silly by talking about things that aren't true, but I promise you that it's not meaningless.

    You are experiencing the same difficulty as I pointed out last post. I'm trying to shorten my responses to get us back on track. If you focus on the question I am asking, rather than the one you think I'm asking, the reason I talk about hypothetical scenarios should become more obvious. Can you answer the question I'm asking or not?

    The question is, what rational basis/reason does the atheist have for acting good if he does not want to?

    Note that I am not asking "why does the atheist act good?"

    What's this about Christianity teaching that black people were not really humans? Certainly there were Christians who taught that, just as there were (and are) Christians that taught against it. There is a difference between Christianity and Christians. Let's not argue about the specific morality that flows from Christianity - that's a large topic, and unfocussed discussions go nowhere fast. Leave that for another time. It's not relevant to the current discussion.

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  71. @Pierre,

    I was serious, but I must say that your excuse for the Bible's condonation of slavery is one of "Biblical proportions"!

    Can you refer to me where in the Bible it is taught that 'blacks' aren't human?

    Can you tell me where in the bible it is taught that abortion is wrong?
    Can you tell me where in the bible it is taught that masturbation is wrong?
    Can you tell me where in the bible it is taught that polluting is wrong?
    Can you tell me where in the bible it is taught that slavery is wrong?

    Child Beating?

    Women descrimination?

    Etc.


    @Croath:

    Barba, I suggest you read up about possible worlds - they are a valuable tool for philosophical discourse. You think I'm being silly by talking about things that aren't true, but I promise you that it's not meaningless.

    No, what you are being silly about is at drawing permanent conclusions from imaginary utopias or dystopias, as if you were capable of discerning what would be the exact effects and feedbacks on the system by changing one of its variables. Worse, you sounded simplistic, naive and dogmatic at it.

    Worse than that, you simply ignore that such "imaginable" issues already exist, and are being solved by political discourse, education and critical thinking.

    Can you answer the question I'm asking or not?

    What question? This question?

    What reasons will his worldview give him for continuing the way he's currently behaving and not just indulging his desires?

    I don't have the nerve to talk for every atheist, but I can wildly guess why the big majority of atheists don't become sexual maniacs or full-blown psycopaths.

    When we are born, we are atheists. Now, please, don't gasp at this. Even christians acknowledge this and that is why people are baptized (I can only imagine the twisted reasons I'm gonna be flamed on why I am wrong). But I am deviating. The thing is, when a child is born, the first feeling is one of pain (there's a reason for that cry), and perhaps the first desire is to come back to the mother's womb, where it was pretty darn more confortable.

    Why such pain, why such desire to end the pain? Do we really need a God to explain this? Isn't it so simple?

    If we inflict pain on others, we feel no such pain. There's no incentive not to do it, and this is your point. It is a rather blind point, for it doesn't see 10 meters beyond it. There's no stopping the consequences for that pain inflicted, and if we live in a society that condones the tolerance of pain being inflicted, there is no one that escapes this violence.

    These kinds of societies were prevalent. There were always people who monopolized violence on other people, who were stronger and were able to inflict violence upon others, while gathering power with it. They were called leaders, dictators, kings, etc.

    Even popes and bishops.

    But violence always has a strong feedback. It may take years, decades or even centuries, but there is always a violence feedback, which chops off the heads of the Marie Antoinette's of this world.

    Evolution of morals teaches us that the powers have learned this, either in the grand scale, or even in the smallest scale. Democracy is an evolving tool of making tough decisions with the respect of people and without the forcing of power, of violence. Reason is a tool that we share and use to reach the benefits of certain measures and purposes. That is why education is of so much importance, for it is necessary that every one of us is embebbed with reason and good critical thinking to make good judgement over things.

    In the end, the reason why atheists don't turn themselves into a maniac demon is because he recognises the merits and the benefits that the society's rules and morals have if everyone practices them, that a tit-for-tat strategy has always the best achievements, that cooperation and trust are essential to guarantee wealth and protection of such wealth (and by wealth, I mean more than money, I mean having friends, love, health, sanity, etc.).

    What you give is what you get. And this is a rule that I empirically test and prove everyday, even if the ending results sometimes seem not to go well at first. It always pays off at the end, even if not only for the sake of my own conscience.

    God? Don't know. Where is he anyway?


    There is a difference between Christianity and Christians.

    The problem is that Christianity is always defined by Christians, so in a practical sense, there is simply no difference at all.

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  72. Barb:

    No, what you are being silly about is at drawing permanent conclusions from imaginary utopias or dystopias, as if you were capable of discerning what would be the exact effects and feedbacks on the system by changing one of its variables. Worse, you sounded simplistic, naive and dogmatic at it.

    This is simply false. We all draw conclusions based on possibility. It is possible that world hunger could be ended, but it is not actual. World hunger is something that ought to be ended. Therefore, we ought to work at ending world hunger.

    We consistently employ possible worlds semantics even if we do not call it that.

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  73. Barba,

    You keep answering the question "why does the atheist act good?"

    I'm asking, "why should the atheist act good if he does not want to?"

    You seem to think that the better world that exists from people looking out to each other is an answer to this second question, but it's not. He should act good because if he doesn't his quality of life will be reduced? Or he'll need to look out for others doing the same undesirable things back to him? Then you are basically saying that the atheist should act good because it benefits him. Is that the answer you want to give?

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  74. "I'm asking, 'why should the atheist act good if he does not want to?'"

    Why is this an interesting question, any more than the same question with "person" substituted for "atheist"? By asking the question this way, you're pitching the issue of morality as one of atheism compared to everybody else, but in reality theism is the odd one out with its creed of absolute moral laws. So the distinction is really one of theists compared to everybody else, isn't it?

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  75. By asking the question this way, you're pitching the issue of morality as one of atheism compared to everybody else, but in reality theism is the odd one out with its creed of absolute moral laws. So the distinction is really one of theists compared to everybody else, isn't it?

    This blog is titled "Atheism is Dead" - we focus on atheism. Whether or not other viewpoints suffer from a similar problem is irrelevant. Those that have this weakness I would ask the same question. Here, however, we're talking about atheism.

    Answering your off-topic comment, theism is the majority in terms of world population - so I assume you're calling it "the odd one out" on the basis of counting up the raw number of different views. However you measure it, it's not relevant.

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  76. Barba,

    Thank you for your response!

    I said:

    "I think the main difference is that in the latter's case the perpetrators were acting *inconsistently* with their belief systems."

    You replied:

    "Well, that's easy for you to blame on them now, but you surely would be burned at the stake for heresy and blasphemy if you claimed those things at that time!"

    Sure, I may very well have been, but this is irrelevant!! Even if I would be burned at the stake for telling them that they aren't acting in accordance with what they profess to believe in, this has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they were acting consistently with their beliefs! Actually, if they would have burned me at the stake, they would have in a sense be proving my point for me. By burning me at the stake they would be performing yet another action inconsistent with the teachings of Christianity, so you're actually helping my argument- a person's actions is either in accordance with his belief system, or it isn't.

    "The irony of this is that while I doubt that you personally condone a cruzade, or slavery, or anti-semitism, or whatever the appaling thing that your great-great-great-father thought it were great ideas, I also do not have much doubts that at least some of the ideas that you find appaling now, your christian grand-grand-son will accept them as part of an "eternal moral"."

    Sure, but this again is irrelevant. Just because human beings are prone to either misinterpreting or arguing over the meaning of a command, law or value doesn't mean the law/command/value doesn't exist!

    "(Think about Newton when asked about his model of the solar system and the role of the creator: "I have no need of such hypothesis")"

    Are you sure it was Newton who said this? I read that French mathemetician Pierre Simon de Laplace said the exact same thing. Do you have a source for Newton saying this?

    "That's a good quote, but even here, you fail to see the obvious: if not for the religion, which is always a "leap of faith", despite contrary signs by reality, people perhaps wouldn't be so easily cheated by their own leaders and see right through what they really had in mind."

    The key word you used here is "perhaps". You can't go back in time, and magically make it so no religion of any kind would exist, and then see how differently history would turn out... to see if "people perhaps wouldn't be so easily cheated by their own leaders and see right through what they really had in mind." You often ask us for proof of any of our hypothesis. Do you have some kind of proof that people wouldn't have been cheated so easily by their leaders if not for religion? Your statement sounds like mere speculation to me.

    "I am sorry, but you are appallingly wrong. While atheism doesn't by itself prohibits anyone to do what they please, it also never states that there "can be no objective standard of morality". It simply doesn't state that."

    There are a few ways how I could respond to this, but time is not my friend at the moment, so I'll just say one thing: there is *NOTHING* that atheism prohibits, that's the problem! There is no ethical aspect of atheism that prohibits any action, morality is reducted to a person arbitrarily deciding what they think is right and wrong. Some people love their neighbours. Other people eat their neighbours. Given atheism, everything is reduced to personal taste, pardon the pun. If everyone were atheists, and they all acted *consistently* within their worldview, it would look a lot like Hobbes' State of Nature, a war of "all against all". There is no "justice", because there is no objective standard of right and wrong.

    With regards to Pol Pot hypothetically writing up his own document, I wrote: "Actually, he could do the exact same thing."

    You wrote: "But alas! He didn't."

    Again, irrelevant. Why? Notice 2 key words. In my post the key word was "could", which implies a *hypothetical* situation. In your response your key word is "didn't", which is not hypothetical, but merely stating what actually did not happen. Do you see why this is irrelevant? I am NOT arguing over what actually did or did not happen, so your statement is completely beside the point and has no relevance to my post.

    "What good is such a "normative" moral if it is impossible to achieve?"

    Well, for example I believe that it is *objectively* wrong to torture a child for fun. So far I haven't done so. So thus far I have "achieved" this normative moral. Further, why do you believe it's impossible to achieve a normative moral? Do you have any proof that it is impossible? How did you arrive at the conclusion that it is impossible to achieve normative morals?

    I just have time to say one more quick thing. I think the main reason why discussions about morality between theists and atheists usually don't go anywhere is the confusion about what theists mean. If a theist says "If God doesn't exist then it's impossible for any action to be objectively right or wrong", and the atheist responds by saying, "wait, I don't believe in God and I know that rape is objectively wrong, so that argument is b.s." There is a difference between *belief* or *disbelief* in God, and the *existence* of God. The atheist is responding to the former 2, but the theist is talking about the latter.

    Also, like Medicineman has been saying, atheism is MORE than merely a lack of belief, whether atheists want to admit it or not. When a person says, "atheism is a lack of belief in God. Period! End of story!", to me this is simply a reflection of the person's unwillingness to seriously consider the inevitable implications of their worldview. I'm not necessarily talking about you Barba, it's just a general comment.

    If you respond to this, it's doubtful I'll be able to reply, as I don't have a lot of time on my hands these days. Thanks for the discussion and take care!

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  77. Censorship is real in this blog and without consideration towards the censored, with some kind of explanation for it. I must again remind you that your "comment Moderation Policy" page link is broken.

    So, that's a definite goodbye to you.

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  78. Censorship is real in this blog and without consideration towards the censored, with some kind of explanation for it. I must again remind you that your "comment Moderation Policy" page link is broken.

    So, that's a definite goodbye to you.


    Why would we want to censor you? Nothing you've said so far is shattering our arguments or "shaking things up". The only reason you'd be censored is if you were deliberately and excessively rude. Were you rude? Was there a reason why we'd sensor your posts? If it's just more of the same, we'd let it through.

    I personally haven't seen any posts by you recently that needed to be approved. Perhaps another moderator deleted yours, but I doubt it. Far more likely is that your post never reached our moderation queue. On this blog I've had that problem a handful of times where it didn't submit and I had to rewrite the whole post.

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  79. Well, Croath, if that is the issue, then it is a surely damning one. It's also the first time such happens in blogpost to me. It's worse, for I have to break with too many barriers:

    1st. Time between posting and moderation "clearance"

    2nd. Realizing that too much time has passed, so either I've been censored or the site has not worked. Because I don't even know if it still is in the queue or not, it's a bugger. Meanwhile, discussion goes on.

    3rd. Complaint about it.

    4th. Moderation clearance of complaint.

    5th. Reply to complaint stating that "perhaps" it wasn't deleted by people, but rather by the machine.

    6th. Repost of same post.

    7th. It makes through.

    8th. Post is misinterpreted by the "opponent" point of view and the very same things that were denied in my post are repeated again.

    9th Writing and posting of reply to such misinterpretations and straw-mans.

    10th. Too much time passes.

    etc.

    It's damn annoying. I'll search for other debate sites a bit more user-friendly. I'll probably lurk every so often to see further what a theist mentality is like.

    Take care.

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  80. Censorship is real in this blog and without consideration towards the censored, with some kind of explanation for it. I must again remind you that your "comment Moderation Policy" page link is broken.

    So, that's a definite goodbye to you.


    What's with the vain herald of your departure? Just be gone!

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  81. Adonias,

    I noticed your comment from July 7, which just showed up in my "notify" inbox. You accused me of having 'no argument', saying that atheism does not allow a person to pick any "moral or immoral code" that they want.

    Help me, then, to get something through my head, since you're such an enlightened soul. Please give me one single example of a moral stance that is incompatible with atheism.

    Tell me one thing that a person could be confronted with which atheism morally prohibits. Name just one single thing that atheism would call ethically off-limits. Give me one example of an action that you can point to and say, "atheism does not allow for that."

    I know you have some issues with logical concerns, so please realize that "worshipping God" is not a valid answer. That's merely non-atheism, not something morally prohibited by atheism.

    Funny you'd accuse me of "projection". This is not a difficult concept to grasp, but you hate the idea of it so much that you're contradicting yourself left right and sideways over it.

    You can't have it both ways: either atheism itself makes no ethical or moral demands on it's adherents, or it does. If it does, then stop stamping your feet and shaking your fists and give us one.

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  82. "You accused me of having 'no argument', saying that atheism does not allow a person to pick any 'moral or immoral code' that they want."

    No, that's not what I said. What I actually wrote was this:

    ...atheism is not a moral dogma and does not prescribe moral precepts nor "prohibit" moral systems.

    And:

    ...neither does atheism give one a free pass to choose any moral or immoral code that one might fancy.

    Maybe it was the metaphor of a "free pass" that befuddled you. It means that atheism is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It is not a moral veto. Atheism neither prescribes nor prohibits behavioral principles - and nor does it override them. Atheists have moral principles by virtue of being human beings, and those principles will help prevent the atheist from adopting any other arbitrarily immoral stance. The other factor is society, i.e. - other people with moral systems, keeping their end of the social contract.

    You can't just arbitrarily do what you like in a society of people that depends on mutual cooperation for its existence and function. Try it and see what happens. Social ostracism is a very strong incentive to behave, making you care about your reputation, even long before the justice system kicks in when you have become a criminal that much be punished for the deterrence of others. And none of this has anything to do with atheism.

    If you have a problem with any of this, here is some suggested reading:

    The Moral Animal
    The Origins of Virtue
    Primates and Philosophers

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  83. Adonais,

    So, are we finally agreed that atheism, in contrast to theism, provides no restrictions to behavior? That is, there is no such thing as an action which is inconsistent with atheism? I’m well aware that there are other factors in one’s choice of morality and ethics, but I also know that the metaphysical foundations for those are critically important. They form the anchor, and a person without an actual anchor is susceptible to going places that others cannot.

    You seem to forget that theists will have the natural moral law and societal pressures as well – plus the “shalt nots” of their particular philosophy. Hence, my original contention; that an atheist can reconcile anything and still be a consistent atheist, while a Christian, for example, cannot.

    The biggest proof of this is the tyrant. A you noted, social ostracism can be a very powerful incentive to “behave”, but what happens when a person’s power puts them beyond it? When a person can create the pressure more or less themselves, and they lack any higher sense of right or wrong, you get Stalin, Mao, etc. There’s no mystery to why atheistic regimes set the standard for atrocity.

    Most of our contention was/has been about the peripherals, really. The core argument here is beyond dispute, and we’d be able to agree to disagree about the consequences of it, but for this remark:

    “…none of this has anything to do with atheism.”

    That is my biggest problem with conversations like this, and the sole reason I ride atheists about these ideas so hard. There is this perpetual “what, me worry?” attitude towards atheism by atheists when it comes to the moral, ethical, and existential dilemmas it creates. Rather than admit and tackle the problems, they act as though there are none.

    Events like the Inquisition are not the fault of Christianity – but they are something that Christians have to deal with, because Inquisitors used a warped theology to support their actions. The same might well be true for Islamic suicide bombers. Atheism has a great deal to answer for, and at the very least atheists ought to be ready to do so, rather than playing “hide and seek”.

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  84. There's one very fundamental being repeated over and over here. It's a logical error. This is a long list, and it may not be immediately obvious what all of these have in common. I'll explain at the end.

    The fallacy I'm thinking of shows up in Obi's June 29 12:04 comment:

    And what logical/evidential problems are those, medicineman? As an atheist, I'm living proof that one doesn't need god to be good or give oneself a reason to live. I live my life to serve promote health amongst my fellow human beings through a career in medicine and research.

    It's in adonais' comment June 30, 8:25 pm:

    I certainly value life and find meaning in my existence and in others' without needing to invoke God as some giver of absolute meaning.

    adonais did it again, July 1, 8:51 pm:

    Regardless of whether God exists or not, it is obvious that adopting atheism would imply additional philosophical consequences for a theist already imbued with religious doctrines. But pick a person who is not already indoctrinated in superstitious beliefs (for instance, this was the situation with myself), and the philosophical consequences of adopting atheism are essentially zero.

    Also July 2, 7:24 pm:

    Even if life is ultimately meaningless, it can still be proximately meaningful to an individual, and indeed many people find it so even in the absence of God or other superstitions.

    And again here, July 3, 9:58 pm:

    Maybe your confusion is that, because religions often impose moral principles, you think that atheism must also. But it does not. Atheism has nothing to say about morality.

    Modusoperandi did something similar here, July 5, 9:05 am:

    For those of use that have things like consciences, empathy, compassion, and the like, the "threat" is the memory of feeling bad when we do bad things to others and the guilt from that. While those are "beatable" characteristics, that's a problem for all people (whether Crusader or atheist in foxhole).

    Barba Rija had a version of it, July 5, 4:23 pm:

    Regarding consequences that atheism has in philosophy, the only consequence of it is to open wide the possibilities of what we do.

    Adonais again, July 7, 2:10 am:

    We have been over this a thousand times, that atheism is not a moral dogma and does not prescribe moral precepts nor "prohibit" moral systems. What you apparently can't get through your skull after so many attempts, which makes discussion with you futile, is that neither does atheism give one a free pass to choose any moral or immoral code that one might fancy.

    The mistake that's evident through all (or maybe just most, I may have misinterpreted on one or more of them) is the same one Christopher Hitchens made in Search Magazine, discussed here. It's confusing the effects of "there is no God" with "I don't believe there is a God." The effects of the two are entirely different.

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  85. Hello Tom:

    You accuse us of mistakes and logical fallacies (myself 5 times of the same mistake, no less), but I think it is you who are mistaken in projecting this entire thread onto your two questions "there is no God" and "I don't believe there is a God." That is not how medicineman played this whole thing. He delivered two very specific accusations which we have all been replying to thereafter: 1) atheists are living in contradiction to their beliefs, and 2) atheists have no basis for rejecting immoral actions.

    You pull out a bunch of quotes that obviously are responses to some of medicineman's accusations, but you don't include the original argument that prompted the response (quote mining?). I don't think any of us have made the mistake you're accusing us of, but if we did, how come you're letting medicineman off the hook? We were after all only replying to his arguments, and if he needed to make the distinction that you claim is the source of logical fallacies, then he should have done so.

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  86. Well, I think you have been making that mistake, adonais. I don't know why medicineman did not call you for it, but that's neither here nor there. I do know from other discussions I've had with him that he is very aware of the distinctions.

    Let me draw out how it matters to the current discussion, because it really is relevant in spite of what you have just said. For simpliciity I'll focus on just one of your comments.

    And what logical/evidential problems are those, medicineman? As an atheist, I'm living proof that one doesn't need god to be good or give oneself a reason to live. I live my life to serve promote health amongst my fellow human beings through a career in medicine and research.

    You say that as an atheist you "are living proof that one doesn't need [G]od [it's a proper noun, and proper nouns are capitalized in English] to be good or give oneself a reason to live."

    Your being an atheist does not, in fact, prove that one does not need God to do those things. At best it proves that one need not believe in God to do those things. It cannot prove one does not need God unless there is first a proof given that one does not have God. Christian doctrine quite clearly affirms that God exists for everyone and is active in every person's life, including those who do not believe in him.

    MM speaks in his post about atheism being a "hopeless hypothesis," that it's "totally incompatible with real life." In this post he did not draw out the reason he said that, but it's there in the other post (on his own blog) that he linked to. He mentioned determinism, nihilism, and despair as logical entailments of a universe without God. If I read him right, he said something like this:

    1) Atheism is the belief that there is no God.
    2) If there is no God, then:
    3a) Every event is deterministically caused,
    3b) There is no free will or meaning,
    3c) Despair and nihilism are logically entailed.
    4) Therefore a logically consistent atheism entails a belief in nihilism and utter despair, and
    5) An atheist who wants to be logically consistent ought to believe in nihilism and utter despair.

    So let's consider two separate summary statements from the above:

    S1: If there is no God, then determinism and meaninglessness are logically entailed (from 2 through 3).

    S2: If I am an atheist I will believe in determinism and meaninglessness (from 4 and 5).

    S1 is logically entailed, in my opinion. S2 certainly is not; for atheists are not deterministically compelled to accept the logical conclusions of their premises. S1 and S2 are logically distinct; one could be true without the other being true.

    I'm not sure MM made this distinction, but it makes all the difference in the way you present your side of the argument. He was affirming S1, and you were answering, "No, S1 is false because S2 is false."

    This is the more technically complete exposition of the error I think you and others made, and I hope you see now how it is relevant to the post.

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  87. “…none of this has anything to do with atheism.”

    It has everything to do with atheism.

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  88. Tom:

    "For simpliciity I'll focus on just one of your comments."

    Except you picked one by obi, so I won't bother defending that one.

    "I'm not sure MM made this distinction, but it makes all the difference in the way you present your side of the argument. He was affirming S1, and you were answering, "No, S1 is false because S2 is false.""

    Show me where I made that argument. I suspect you may have misunderstood something.

    Your itemized argument reads like a long list of non sequiturs: 3 does not follow from 2, and therefore 4 and 5 does not follow from any of the above either, and both S1 and S2 are patently false, quite independently. It's all straw men. You think that S1 is logically entailed - well I don't, and I have spent a lot of this thread expounding why, so I am not going to rehash it.

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  89. Actually, I did make the distinction. I noted the fallacious response, and it was the first thing I brought up in the first comment I made:

    ”No, I think it's fairly clear that those critiques of atheism are primarily separate from the question of whether or not God actually exists.”

    I didn’t re-iterate it much because, frankly, I was spending too much time trying to get people like Adonais to make up their mind about whether or not they agreed or disagreed with my original premises. That was a marathon in and of itself. I mentioned the fallacy when it was more directly stated, e.g. here:

    “These problems are not intended to be arguments against the truth value of the statement “there is no God.” I’m arguing that there is such a thing as a “hopeless hypothesis”. There are some ideas that, even if true, cannot be treated as true in any meaningful way. Atheism logically leads to many of these, and so atheism itself is unlivable. I didn’t disguise that idea – I said early on that this was a problem separate from whether or not God exists. Perhaps you need to read the very first sentence in the very first comment I posted in this thread.”

    As Tom noted, there is a major difference between the statements “there is no God” and “I don’t believe there is a God.” Since atheists like to use silly fairy tale analogies, consider this one: There is a huge difference between the statements “there is no Boogeyman,” and “my child does not believe in the Boogeyman.” They are not inextricably bound to each other, and they have different effects on behavior.

    So, Hitchens has it totally backwards when he asks for a “good” action that an atheist could not perform. That’s the opposite of the problem, hence my challenge: name a single action an atheist could not perform. The problem is not that atheism discourages goodness, it’s that it encourages us to unlock some doors that shouldn’t be opened.

    It’s irrelevant, therefore, to the point that many (if not most) atheists live lives of generic “morality”. It’s much more relevant that there have been so many who demonstrate what can happen when atheism is really, truly lived out, like Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

    Tom is correct: I am not saying that belief in atheism MUST lead to behaviors consistent with nihilism and purposelessness, any more than I would say that belief in God MUST lead to behaviors consistent with purpose and morality. One is always free to be irrational and inconsistent, after all. I am, however, saying that human experience, particularly that which even the atheists here are calling “moral”, has no basis in a belief in ultimate purposelessness and meaninglessness.

    And, yes, it has everything to do with atheism. Ideas have consequences. On a day-to-day basis, people may or may not actually live what they believe, because there is room to “fudge”. Great power and great persecution strip people to their foundations. When people are in dire straits, or when they have enormous power, they will almost always do exactly what their innermost beliefs really indicate. History backs this up; it’s the reason that atheistic governments are universally brutal, and why Christianity actually flourishes under heavy persecution.

    The statement "I do not believe in God" is very dangerous, for that very reason. Atheism is most harmful when it is taken most seriously.

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  90. I was summarizing arguments. MM showed how (3a)-(3c) follow from (1) and (2), and how (5) follows from (4).

    You say you have shown that these do not follow. We need not discuss here whether you succeeded in that (I do not think you have), because by bringing that up here, you have changed the subject. The subject was this: earlier in the post, the claim was made that denying (S2) refutes (S1). This assertion is logically false.

    That was the point of my first comment here. I may have not made that point clearly enough, so this more recent comment was for the purpose of clarifying what I was trying to say. When I laid out (1) through (5) in my recent comment, it was not for the purpose of arguing for them (though I think good arguments can be made, and have been). Rather my purpose was to clarify the definitions of (S1) and (S2), and thereby clarify the point of my previous comment.

    Now, where has anyone used the denial of (S2) as a rebuttal to (S1)? Kuhlmann did on June 29 at 11:14 am. obi did it clearly (and I acknowledge my misattribution on this) the same day at 12:04:

    As an atheist, I'm living proof that one doesn't need [G]od to be good or give oneself a reason to live. I live my life to serve promote health amongst my fellow human beings through a career in medicine and research.

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  91. Tom Gilson "1) Atheism is the belief that there is no God.
    2) If there is no God, then:
    3a) Every event is deterministically caused,
    3b) There is no free will or meaning,
    3c) Despair and nihilism are logically entailed.
    4) Therefore a logically consistent atheism entails a belief in nihilism and utter despair, and
    5) An atheist who wants to be logically consistent ought to believe in nihilism and utter despair."

    Why does 3b lead to 3c? Sure, there are moments where a godless universe kind of sucks (when your wife has a tire blowout on the highway, when you stub a toe, when your kid gets cancer), but atheism doesn't require the mental gymnastics to make a 3-O'd, interventionalist, all-loving god fit in to a godless universe that runs adequately without one.
    As my fictional, ex-drill instructor grandfather would say, "Rub some dirt on it and move on, son. That hill ain't gonna climb itself."
    If a life-long glimpse of the whole universe isn't enough for you to stave off depression that all there is in the whole universe is the whole universe, then you're not trying very hard. "Oh, woe is me! I will soon die and the universe will go on without me!" Go feed some ducks or something.

    MedicineMan "The statement "I do not believe in God" is very dangerous, for that very reason. Atheism is most harmful when it is taken most seriously."
    I could say the same thing about theism, with the possible exception of the meek & mild Christians and Buddhists. When Stalin did bad things, it was because the voice in his head, Stalin, encouraged him to. When a Christian/Muslim/etc does, it's because the voice in his head, his own, is confused for the voice of God. Stalin's imaginary friend was Stalin. Hagee's is Hagee, but it sounds to him like God. This lends the latter a weight of which it's entirely undeserving. People talking to God is okay (in my book, prayer appears to be the thing that you do when you can't do anything else, or haven't decided yet what you're going to do), God talking back...not so much.
    There's a fine line between Special Revelation and talking to yourself. I would hazard to guess that it's a non-existent line, but it's hard to set up double-blind tests to prove or disprove such a hypothesis.

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  92. Why does (3b) lead to (3c)? Your rebuttals to that assume that you can choose. Free will (3b) means you can't. So your rebuttal fails. That's easy. And no meaning (3b) leads to nihilism (3c) by definition. That's also easy. Why do you ask?

    Now before you jump into the predictable next rejoinder, which is that (2) does not entail (3a-c), be sure you re-read my last comment. This is not an argument for why (2) entails anything. This is a clarification of terms I used earlier.

    The argument that (2) entails (3) could be made, and MM has been making it, but I am not doing that here.

    Now you can feel free to jump all over me for not proving that (2) entails (3). Just bear in mind that I already knew I hadn't proved that. Not here, anyway.

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  93. Adonais,

    You’re right on one point: that when a so-called Christian does something “bad”, it’s done as a response to his own desires, not the tenets of Christianity. The flaw in your position is that Christians, unlike atheists, DO have an external source of guidance for morality. The atheist has nothing but the “voice in his head”. The Christian has the Bible. Christian theology has never taught that God whispers literal words in our ears. There has always been the admonition to monitor our actions and desires in light of scriptural principles.

    Atheists have no such restriction, as I’ve said. Whether or not God is real, whether or not the Bible is His word, there’s a limit to how far a person can deviate from the moral example presented in that book without abandoning it. This is why, as many have noted, Christianity is most beneficial when most faithfully followed. Atheism, lived to its fullest possible extent, is catastrophic.

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  94. "Whether or not God is real, whether or not the Bible is His word, there’s a limit to how far a person can deviate from the moral example presented in that book without abandoning it."

    Well that's very convenient. Any transgressors or aberrations are simply redefined as Not True Christians™ and all is right with Christianity again.

    "Atheism, lived to its fullest possible extent, is catastrophic."

    I guess we are safe then, since you claim to have evidence that atheism is unlivable. Somebody call Sweden and bring them up to speed.

    While you are pondering whether to worry about catastrophe, here's an article to add to your concerns: Edge: Why the Gods are not Winning.

    Some salient quotes from the article:

    "The mass loss of popular faith in the Eurocultures is often waved away as an isolated aberration in a world still infatuated with the gods. After all, who cares what the "old Europe" of France and Sweden is up to? This is a big mistake. Such a thing has never been seen before in history. And where it has happened is critical to the future of faith. Aside from constituting proof of principle that religion is dangerously vulnerable to modernity, that secularism and disbelief do best in nations that are the most democratic, educated and prosperous directly falsifies the Shah and Toft thesis that these factors are the allies of religiosity."

    "Rather than religion being an integral part of the American character, the main reason the United States is the only prosperous democracy that retains a high level of religious belief and activity is because we have substandard socio-economic conditions and the highest level of disparity. The other factors widely thought to be driving forces behind mass faith—desire for the social links provided by churches, fear of societal amorality, fear of death, genetic predisposition towards religiosity, etc—are not critical simply because hundreds of millions have freely accepted being nonreligious mortals in a dozen and a half democracies. Such motives and factors can be operative only if socio-economic circumstances are sufficiently poor to sustain mass creationism and religion."

    "The practical implications are equally breath taking. Every time a nation becomes truly advanced in terms of democratic, egalitarian education and prosperity it loses the faith. It's guaranteed. That is why perceptive theists are justifiably scared. In practical terms their only practical hope is for nations to continue to suffer from socio-economic disparity, poverty and maleducation. That strategy is, of course, neither credible nor desirable. And that is why the secular community should be more encouraged. "

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  95. Adonais,

    “Any transgressors or aberrations are simply redefined as Not True Christians™ and all is right with Christianity again.”

    I know you have trouble with this sort of thinking, so this is probably a waste of time, but…

    You apparently subscribe to the “I am an eggplant” school of philosophy. That is, you apparently feel that anything a person claims to be true is true because they claimed it. So, all a person has to do in order to be a Christian is say, “I am a Christian.” Or, they can say, “I am an eggplant”, and you’d have to believe that they actually are one. The fact that they violate Christian tenets, or don’t have leaves, is not important to you: what matters is what they claim.

    There is no suggestion, on my part, or anyone else that I’ve noticed here, that “true” Christians are immune to error or sin. There is, however, a difference between believing in the Bible and obeying the Bible. What is so controversial about the idea that those who act in ways contradictory to a set of rules are acting contradictory to a set of rules? If the Bible says, “do not commit adultery,” and “do not murder,” what’s so confusing about me stating that adultery and murder are not consistent with Christianity? A “true” Christian can sin, but that doesn’t mean that their actions are consistent with their beliefs.

    So, I am perfectly justified in noting that acts of atrocity are not compatible with Christianity, because they directly violate its teachings. Where is the parallel for the atheist?

    You might want to check your stats regarding Sweden, and other European nations. (Quick start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism#Europe). There is a big difference between “non-religious” and “atheistic”. Not only is Europe a society based on Christian valuation of humanity (including social welfare: Lev 25:35; Deut 14:28-29; Deut 15: 7-11; 2 Corinthians 8:14), but most people in Europe still believe in some type of spirituality. In Sweden, for example, 23% claim to reject God, but 76% either believe in God or some generic supernatural force. That’s not an example of a society embracing “hard” atheism.

    I read the article you referenced, and thought it worthwhile to post on it, rather than fully critique it in this comment. Good reference, by the way. It very cleanly supports my contention that atheism doesn’t fit with human experience. In fact, it goes a long way towards showing how irreligion in general, and atheism in particular, are parasitical, rather than beneficial. Check out the link once it posts. (sometime today, August 12, 2008)

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  96. "There is no suggestion, on my part, or anyone else that I’ve noticed here, that “true” Christians are immune to error or sin. There is, however, a difference between believing in the Bible and obeying the Bible."

    The put me straight here. From virtually every Christian on this blog and others, what I've been hearing for a long time is that Christians are morally superior to atheists because you have some loosely defined ethical tenets, stemming, presumably, from the Bible. You implied as much yourself:

    "The flaw in your position is that Christians, unlike atheists, DO have an external source of guidance for morality."

    At some point I'd like to hear which of those tenets are truly exclusive to Christianity, and then I would be happy to demonstrate to you that what the Bible teaches isn't "external" at all, but entirely within our nature, as predicted by evolutionary psychology. But that's for some other time.

    For now your position appears to be that true Christians can err and sin and disobey the Bible and still be true Christians. Where does the "morally superior" part come in? Perhaps you are going to surprise me and become the first one to admit that maybe Christians are not so morally superior to atheists as they like to believe? What's the point of bragging about your "external source of guidance" and in the next sentence say that following it is optional, depending on whether one wants to be consistent with the creed or not? Woe the disgrace of inconsistency, although apparently it makes no dent on Christian moral superiority.

    "A “true” Christian can sin, but that doesn’t mean that their actions are consistent with their beliefs."

    Then what the Hades was the merit of your accusation, permeating this entire idiotic thread, that atheists are not living consistently with their beliefs, when you acknowledge that even true Christians don't???

    "So, I am perfectly justified in noting that acts of atrocity are not compatible with Christianity, because they directly violate its teachings. Where is the parallel for the atheist?"

    Honestly, we don't have a parallel for Christian hypocrisy.

    "Not only is Europe a society based on Christian valuation of humanity (including social welfare: Lev 25:35; Deut 14:28-29; Deut 15: 7-11; 2 Corinthians 8:14)"

    Citing the Bible as a source for the European welfare model??? You're hilarious!!! If you wanted to claim originality, I think that the inventors of democracy and the first philosophers of ethics and justice believed in some different kind of gods than yours.

    "but most people in Europe still believe in some type of spirituality. In Sweden, for example, 23% claim to reject God, but 76% either believe in God or some generic supernatural force."

    Talk about deceptive rhetoric, you're second to none... One part claim to reject God while the other part believe in God or supernatural forces. What sly wording to suggest doubts about the former but no doubt about the latter.

    Another way to report the same numbers would be: 23% claim to be believe in God, while 53% are uncommitted agnostics, spiritualists or pantheists and 23% are atheists, making for 76% rejecting monotheism. See, I can also cook the numbers.

    But then, why didn't you mention Zuckerman's study, which measured 46%-85% of Swedes stating that they "have no religion"? Or the >80% according to the first chart on irreligion reporting that they regard religion as "non-important"?

    I am going to let you in on a secret. If you count to irreligion only those who openly say that they are atheists, you are grossly underestimating the true numbers. Trust me, I was one of them. I am Swedish, I grew up in Sweden, and I was a de facto atheist all my life—but I had never called myself an atheist or even thought of myself as one before I moved to the US. You can read a lot into this fact. If I had been asked about my beliefs back in Sweden, I might well have fallen into the 53% uncommitted camp, atheist though I am, simply because neither God nor atheism is something Swedes think much about. This is exactly as reported by Zuckerman in that Edge article which you mangled so badly:

    "One of us (Zuckerman) interviewed secular Europeans and verified that the process of secularization is casual; most hardly think about the issue of God, not finding the concept relevant to their contented lives. "

    Yet you somehow managed to read something completely different into that article. That's not my problem though.

    "In fact, it goes a long way towards showing how irreligion in general, and atheism in particular, are parasitical, rather than beneficial."

    MM, you are simply beyond belief. Was it you or stan who was harping on about "logical inversion"? Maybe it was both of you. I'll leave you with some Dennett at TED:

    Dan Dennett: Ants, terrorism, and the awesome power of memes

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  97. MedicineMan "Christian theology has never taught that God whispers literal words in our ears."
    My bad. When I heard people say "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ", I had foolishly assumed that it meant "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ". Words are funny things, eh?

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  98. Quick comment to Adonais (I don't have enough time right now for more). You wrote,

    "The put me straight here. From virtually every Christian on this blog and others, what I've been hearing for a long time is that Christians are morally superior to atheists because you have some loosely defined ethical tenets, stemming, presumably, from the Bible. You implied as much yourself..."

    I think I can help "put [you] straight," since that's what you requested. See the explanation here.

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  99. Adonais,

    “…what I've been hearing for a long time is that Christians are morally superior to atheists…”

    Not from me, first of all, so what others say in contradiction to actual Christian teachings is not really my problem. You like to ask for citations, so please show me where I said Christians are “morally superior” to atheists. This is false, by the way:

    A: “You implied as much yourself: (MM): ‘The flaw in your position is that Christians, unlike atheists, DO have an external source of guidance for morality.’”

    That’s in no way a statement that atheists are morally inferior. It is, however, a statement that Christianity is morally superior to atheism. For better or worse, there is a difference between a belief system and those who claim to follow it. You have a bad habit of substituting arguments that I’m not making rather than putting some thought into the ones I am…or your own. It’s irrelevant whether or not particular Christian morals are or are not found absolutely nowhere but the Bible. The point is that a person who breaks the rules of a system cannot rightly blame that system for his actions. Are we going to have another drawn-out session of you denying a simple and non-controversial idea, or can we just agree that that’s a sensible statement and move on?

    You’re also applying a juvenile and shallow approach to the concept of Christian morality. Personally, I think it’s deliberate. You strike me as someone smarter than that, so it’s most sensible for me to think you’re being deliberately knuckleheaded about this. Free will means God won’t force anyone to act a certain way. That doesn’t mean Christian morals are “optional”. Note that, even in your own response you note that a person who violates those morals is acting “inconsistently.”

    As I’ve asked you before, (and I don’t recall a response, so refresh me if I’m forgetting), what about civil and criminal laws? The way you look at it, laws passed by governments are totally useless, since people aren’t physically forced to follow them. The US has laws against theft, but people still steal. Sure, it probably discourages some people from stealing to know that someone with authority will deliver consequences, but that’s irrelevant to you, I presume. We have laws against spousal abuse – but some men still beat their wives. I guess US laws about spousal abuse are in no way superior to non-existent spousal abuse laws, like those in Saudi Arabia.

    Heck, by your reasoning, I guess it’s better not to have any objective laws at all; we can tell what should or should not land a person in jail simply by the “predictions” of evolutionary psychology. Oh, but then again…if good morals are in our nature, what about bad actions like theft and spousal abuse? Or are you going to argue that those aren’t in our nature, as well?

    The point simply is not that hard to grasp: Christians cannot commit certain actions without contradicting their belief in Christianity. There is no action an atheist can commit that is “morally prohibited” by atheism. It is possible, in theory, for a Christian to live consistently. That’s why we have no one to blame for “sin” but ourselves. However, the atheist can never live consistently, no matter how he tries, because some aspects of human life require assumptions directly contrary to the implications of atheism. The more consistently a Christian lives out his professed belief, the more hopeful, optimistic, peaceful, loving, and selfless he should be. The more consistently an atheist lives out his belief, he tends to become more nihilistic, hopeless, and materialistic.

    I’m not falling for the old cop-out that some believers use, which is to deny the “Christian-ity” of anyone who ever commits any kind of sin. I think that’s part of your problem – you keep expecting me to make certain logical mistakes, and I’m not following the script. Christianity is not a magic talisman that makes you perfect; on the other hand, there are some who claim to be Christians who haven’t got anything Christ-like about them (think Fred Phelps). I have no problem dismissing their claims to the faith.

    The difference is in possibility, and remedy. Christians need to be called to a more faithful application of Christian morals. You don’t seem to realize that you pay the Bible a compliment when you talk about “hypocrisy”. At least Christians have legitimate standards. Atheists, on the other hand, have to deliberately circumvent some of the less pleasant implications of their belief, since they’re not compatible with the way human experience works.

    I also think you’re getting paranoid about my supposedly “deceptive rhetoric”. For someone who spends so much time thrashing and fuming and flailing (rhetorically) over a simple point of fact that he can’t argue with, you’re a little sensitive to my choice of words. I’m not trying to imply uncertainty on one side and certainty on the other. What people say is what they say. I’m also quite aware of the difference between “apathism” and “atheism.” The article didn’t mean only atheists when they say “irreligionists”, a point I was trying myself to make.

    The quote about “contented lives” is, in large part, my point. Social welfare acts like a numbing agent when it comes to spirituality. You keep bringing that up as though it refutes me – it’s part of what I’m saying! The fact that social supports act like a localized anaesthetic for a person’s sense of spiritual need isn’t much proof that the need doesn’t really exist, any more than the numbing effect of physical anaethetics proves that there is no such thing as pain.

    Believe me or not, but don’t expect me to give you a free pass on blurring the issues or dragging ideas I’m not defending under my tent. You’ve made a lot of noise disagreeing with theism, but I don’t see you defending the merits of atheism much, here included. I think you’re more than capable of aiming some of that tough thinking at your own beliefs, but you don’t. At least, what you say here strongly suggests that you don’t. In my experience, sadly, that’s not only believable, but typical.

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  100. Medicine Man wrote,

    "The point simply is not that hard to grasp: Christians cannot commit certain actions without contradicting their belief in Christianity. There is no action an atheist can commit that is “morally prohibited” by atheism. It is possible, in theory, for a Christian to live consistently. That’s why we have no one to blame for “sin” but ourselves. However, the atheist can never live consistently, no matter how he tries, because some aspects of human life require assumptions directly contrary to the implications of atheism. The more consistently a Christian lives out his professed belief, the more hopeful, optimistic, peaceful, loving, and selfless he should be. The more consistently an atheist lives out his belief, he tends to become more nihilistic, hopeless, and materialistic."

    I would add the following:

    Christians and atheists both fail to live consistently with their beliefs, but the kind of failure is completely different in the two cases.

    Christians often fail to act according to what we believe is the right way to act. That does not mean, however, that we contradict what we understand to be true about the world. We understand it to be true that there is a moral standard, and that there are consequences for succeeding and consequences for failing to follow that moral standard. We understand that God created us in that image, but that our experience of living according to that image is marred; and that the result of that is that moral failure is part of human experience.

    In other words, we have ontological categories in which moral beliefs are quite at home, and in which both success and failure in living up to those moral beliefs are also quite comfortably at home. They all fit the Christian ontology.

    If, on the other hand, an atheist says that there is such a thing as good or evil, or moral success or failure, it's very difficult to see how that fits into atheist ontology. It's not about the atheist's relative success or failure to live up to a certain moral code; it's about the atheist's claim that any moral code at all makes sense within an atheist understanding of reality. When an atheist makes a claim that some action either matches with or contradicts some morality, she is making a claim that moral reality actually means something real. That claim contradicts atheist ontology.

    But as MM says, atheists cannot avoid drawing conclusions about moral realities. You cannot (try it some week) go several days without thinking to yourself, or saying aloud, "what that person did was really good," or "Wait a minute--that's just not right!" This is where the ontological meets the existential; where trying to live according to a logically consistent atheism is impossible, and where atheist living is always self-contradictory.

    Similar points could be made about other topics besides morality; meaningfulness, for example.

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  101. Tom and MM:

    To make it really simple, both of you are now claiming that Christian ethics are superior to secular ethics, but not necessarily that Christian individuals are morally superior to atheists. To me, that is a distinction without a difference. That's like saying that I have a superior chess strategy, although it might not make me win any more when I apply it, but the strategy is still a "superior" one. Such an assertion is just worthless.

    But whatever the case, I call BS on Christianity's claim to moral superiority. You may convince me otherwise if you can show me that Christian ethics contain moral precepts that are: 1) exclusive to Christianity or incompatible with secular ethics, 2) not an innate behavior, 3) not espoused by non-religious people in secular societies (who may not explicitly adhere to a particular secular ethic). Assuming you find any such instances, you then need to show me that they render your ethical system "morally superior" to any alternative, however the heck you propose to measure that; simply having more rules does not make an ethic "better" by some linear relation (the reductio ad absurdum should convince you of that).

    "As I’ve asked you before, (and I don’t recall a response, so refresh me if I’m forgetting), what about civil and criminal laws? The way you look at it, laws passed by governments are totally useless, since people aren’t physically forced to follow them."

    "Heck, by your reasoning, I guess it’s better not to have any objective laws at all;"


    This is nonsense: I have nowhere said that laws are useless. I don't recall you asking about this; in fact it was I who brought it up before, here and here.

    "...we can tell what should or should not land a person in jail simply by the “predictions” of evolutionary psychology. Oh, but then again…if good morals are in our nature, what about bad actions like theft and spousal abuse? Or are you going to argue that those aren’t in our nature, as well?"

    This is so bizarre I hardly know where to begin. Evolutionary psychology explains human behavior, why we do the things we do, good as well as bad, and yes, they are both in our nature. From nature's point of view, morally "good" and "bad" doesn't exist, we create those distinctions ourselves. Altruism and cheating are both in our nature, this is hardly up for debate any longer. I gave you references to read before (in one of the linked comments); looks like you didn't get around to it yet.

    Your notion that evolutionary psychology should predict the current justice system shows that you don't understand the first thing about it. EP aims to explain human behavior from the framework of evolutionary theory; it is not a moral theory. Your suggestion that EP could substitute for criminal law is committing the naturalistic fallacy: EP only aims to explain why we behave the way we do, it does not say that we ought to behave in a certain way.

    "Christians cannot commit certain actions without contradicting their belief in Christianity."

    Yes, fine—and so what? What are the consequences of such contradiction? I thought before that this would make them less "true" Christians, but you told me that was not so. What is it then? The consequence of breaking the law is identical (or at least should be) for a theist and an atheist; what is the additional implication of a theist thereby also contracting his belief, that you find this distinction so critically important?

    "There is no action an atheist can commit that is “morally prohibited” by atheism."

    For the millionth time, I can't believe you still don't get this: atheists still have a moral system even while it is not defined by atheism itself. How hard is this to understand? Do you seriously believe that, because atheists do not buy into the truth claims of a particular fable wherein it was said "Thou shalt not kill", that therefore atheists have no inhibitions to commit murder?

    "However, the atheist can never live consistently, no matter how he tries, because some aspects of human life require assumptions directly contrary to the implications of atheism."

    This is just BS, and we've been over it. Your free-will versus determinism argument doesn't hold water; moral nihilism does not follow, it's all straw men on your part, I'm not going to reiterate the argument.

    Tom:

    "We understand it to be true that there is a moral standard, and that there are consequences for succeeding and consequences for failing to follow that moral standard."

    So do atheists, and I dare say, pretty much everybody; most of us however understand that the standard is set by society, and not by God.

    "If, on the other hand, an atheist says that there is such a thing as good or evil, or moral success or failure, it's very difficult to see how that fits into atheist ontology."

    There is no such thing as an "atheist ontology," that I know of anyway. People have an innate capacity for judging "good and evil" not based on absolutes, but on the social rules that come into existence with animals of sufficient cognitive capacity living and acting together in groups. In modern society this has grown into social contracts, cultural norms and justice systems.

    "Similar points could be made about other topics besides morality; meaningfulness, for example."

    And the same reply applies: what we find meaningful in life is de facto meaningful to us, regardless of whether the universe has a creator or a purpose (subjective and objective meaning are not mutually exclusive). No "atheist ontology" is required to live a meaningful life. All these points were made before in this thread.

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  102. adonais,

    There is such a thing as atheist ontology, and it comes in several versions. The most common is naturalism. These versions all have at least one thing in common. Atheist versions of ontology generally agree (check me if I'm wrong) that ultimate reality does not include a God. Generally that one statement extends to the position that reality does not include any transcendent, ultimate, personal source of morality, meaning, value, etc.

    If that's not correct, I'll be very eager to hear what atheism really is.

    I'm aware of your belief that meaning and morals came from the sources you cite. The question is whether these are ontologically adequate to bear the weight you place upon them.

    But I think I'm going to bow out at this point, because frankly, there's too much distance between us. Some of the distance is evident in your claim that there is no such thing as an atheist ontology: it indicates there is more I need to explain than I want to spend the time working on.

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  103. Adonais,

    ” That's like saying that I have a superior chess strategy, although it might not make me win any more when I apply it, but the strategy is still a "superior" one. Such an assertion is just worthless.”

    Wow. You really have to get your head in the game. No offense, but you’re so determined to disagree with me, even when you’re beating your head against a brick wall, that you’re just wasting our time. Please stop, think, and re-think before posting any more of this kind of phenomenally irrational, poorly-thought nonsense.

    I am stating that Christianity, the system, cannot be rightly blamed when a person DOES NOT follow it. Your chess analogy is completely backwards, for that reason. Of course you won’t have success if you don’t follow the superior strategy. Do you actually read that before you post it, or think about it at all?

    You’re also totally out to lunch on your demands re: Christian moral superiority. You’re setting up absurd, and, frankly, mindlessly irrational conditions. You couldn’t construct a moral guideline of any type that would meet a goofy standard like that.

    Are you saying that a moral system, or a strategy, cannot be “superior” unless some or all of it has never before been seen in all of human history? That it cannot be “superior” if those who believe in it are inevitably forced, physically, to adhere to it at all times?

    A chess grandmaster has not necessarily created “moves” never seen before. He doesn’t have to create a formation never before thought of. He only needs to combine the best actions in the best order under the best framework. He’s not operating in a deficient system if some amateur is capable of moving a piece or two in the same way he does, from time to time. He’s not operating in a deficient system if he sometimes breaks the system, and gets in trouble for it. If anything, that’s a ringing endorsement of the superiority of the system – that bad things always happen when you violate it.

    And you have clearly suggested that Christian morals are effectively useless, since we aren’t physically forced to follow them. If you want to retract that absurd contention, feel free, but don’t act as though you didn’t make it. If your argument doesn’t hold up for governmental laws, it surely cannot hold up for moral laws. US laws on spousal abuse are superior to Saudi Arabian laws, regardless of the fact that some US men beat their wives.

    And you also missed a purposeful caricature in my comments about evolutionary psychology. You were the one who said:

    “…I would be happy to demonstrate to you that what the Bible teaches isn't "external" at all, but entirely within our nature, as predicted by evolutionary psychology.”

    Either you think morals can be ‘predicted’ by EP, or you don’t. If you don’t fine, but pick an opinion, please. I caricatured that argument as a way to show how sure I was that you didn’t really believe it in the way you presented it. That, in fact, your line of criticism against Christian morals was patently foolish.

    People who break the rules of a system can’t blame the system for their actions; and a system does not have to produce infallible obedience by virtue of its very existence to be valid. Those are not hard points to get, and you’re again resisting them for no reason but to resist them. I’m going to start calling that “pulling an adonais”, like a gymnastics move.

    Likewise re: atheism and moral guidelines. Why do you get so tangled up over this? “… atheists still have a moral system…” Yes, any moral system is compatible with their atheism. “…it is not defined by atheism itself.” As I noted over, and over, and over. We agree, fundamentally, but you keep arguing about it for reasons I don’t honestly understand. You say I don’t get it, but I’m the one who keeps bringing it up. When I do, you have an intellectual seizure. You, and anyone else reading this, can go back and see my remarks on why I think atheism’s effect on morality is a problem. Or, you can type me another paragraph furiously berating me for stating this fact, when what you want me to do is state this fact, instead of stating this fact.

    Seriously, I cannot believe that you’re just not capable of seeing how horrible your critical thinking is getting on this issue. Your profile claims you worked in optics. You seem to have a decent enough grasp of English, and it’s possibly or probably your second language. Point being: you are apparently more than intellectually capable of doing better than this. This isn’t a question of differing ideas any more, it’s a matter of you totally falling off the wagon.

    I don’t have the patience or interest to run an impromptu clinic in logic or critical thinking, especially in hostile circumstances. Please, either show me something more thought-out, or admit that you don’t know how to counter some of these arguments. Either way, part of AiD’s purpose is to promote “intellectual responsibility”, so I’m done giving you a free pass on your logic.

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  104. Tom:

    "There is such a thing as atheist ontology, and it comes in several versions. The most common is naturalism."

    Well then that is the ontology of naturalism, not atheism! Besides, one does not have to be an atheist to accept naturalism. Lots of pantheists and agnostics or other non-religious wafflers and I'm sure even deists accepting scientific naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is a much broader metaphysical worldview than atheism, but of course they overlap.

    I'm sure you can find people with a different view, but this is my view. There is after all no official bible or creed of atheism save the one common denominator that God most likely does not exist, so there is nothing requiring atheists to agree on other philosophies (quoth Brian: "You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!"). There is no other "group" that so happily self-applies the aphorism of "herding cats" as atheists.

    "I'm aware of your belief that meaning and morals came from the sources you cite. The question is whether these are ontologically adequate to bear the weight you place upon them."

    What a difficult statement to address, can't you speak more clearly? By "ontologically" I presume you imply the distinction between subjective and objective bases for morality and meaning, but "adequate" for what? Are you not committing your own mistake of not distinguishing between the effects of reality and belief?

    If I reverse engineer your statement, the "weight" that I placed upon the explanation from evolutionary psychology has only to do with understanding why morality is natural, and subjective meaning is "real" and valuable without any reference to EP. When you say "ontologically adequate," that does not quite compute. That implies rather that you question whether a naturally arising morality and subjective meaning is "good enough," but you don't say good enough for what, and you don't provide any standard of reference by which to measure the degree of adequacy. So you're appealing to a subjective value-judgement there without even stating about what. That makes it hard to comment on!

    "Some of the distance is evident in your claim that there is no such thing as an atheist ontology: it indicates there is more I need to explain than I want to spend the time working on."

    It's funny how ubiquitous this practice is. The greatest experts on the modern atheistic worldview are apparently theists, according to themselves. This pattern is very common:

    The atheists says: "I think X because of Y."
    The theist says: "No you're wrong, you believe in A, B, C and D, and that's why atheism is untenable."

    Why is it that you have difficulties debating with someone making his viewpoint clear? You (religious apologists in general) invariably have to redefine the atheists' claims and standpoints in order to talk to/about them. It suggests a narrowness and rigidity of mind. It suggests that, because religious doctrines are locked down by centuries of theological harmonization, Christian apologists require atheism to be likewise shackled by antiquated enlightenment philosophy or communist manifestos in order to attack it. Why? Are theists unable to cope with a more dynamic and modern approach to unbelief? Just because you're living in the past, we don't plan to.

    Well. There's nothing I can do about that, it's just an observation. Don't waste your time. I'm on vacation, so I have time to orate all I like for the moment :-)

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