What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Bill
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What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

(Please disregard the smilely faces. They were not intended but I do not know how to make them go away.) 

Hello!

I would imagine that most of you as atheists (who tend to be intelligent) know what the question I used as this thread's title is all about and thus have an idea as to where I am headed. But before we get all would up in the great religious debate, I would like to divulge a few facts about myself and my beliefs so as to make this conversation as open and clear as possible. Here they are:

1. I was raised as an atheist and was one until months not long passed.

2. I am now a theist, non-denominational Christian would be a better description and 'Home Baptist' might be the best.

3. I will readily admit that my religious belief is not based on any facts in the world that I can point to and that all of my religious belief may well be false.

4. In my atheist days I was hardcore and used to nail "fundies" in debate in a very serious way, so I am well aware of the most poignant atheist arguements.

5. "Yes", I have read the 'God Delusion' and "No" it has not had any effect on my beliefs.

Alright, those things out of the way I think we can get down to the business of full fledged God debate! My essential contention is one that no doubt you are all well aware of, and likely quite fond of as well, which is that there is absolutely not one shred of evidence to support the claim "God exists." (and by 'God' I am intentionally being very vague and refering to that which can be best described as 'creator of the universe and morality&#39Eye-wink. However, there are two sides to this coin and that in the same manner as there is no evidence in support of the claim "God exists." there is equally no evidence for the claim "God does not exists." To say that no evidence for the affirmative claim lends itself as evidence for the negative claim is simply wrongheaded and for obvious reasons at that. (I have no evidence that there is a spider on my property at the moment yet that surely does not give me any evidence that there is not one as, if past experience qualifies as a guide, there likely is one somewhere. Certainly, the spider is not meant to be taken as a 'stand in' for God, but rather I was merely expounding the point that 'no evidence' does not translate into 'evidence for not'.)

Yet, as I am sure none will forget to remind me, lack of evidence may not support the negative claim it certainly supports an "I believe that not..." claim, at least it sure does (and should) in a scientific context. It is here that I will grant you what I believe to be my last and most crucial concession, that being that from a scientific standpoint alone it is quite reasonable to not believe in God and consequently to ascribe to some form or another of agnosticism. (I am afraid however, that atheism does not come from the above if that is what you were hoping for...)

The problem with this, however, is that science, despite its undeniable importance and influence in human affairs, does not get the job done when it comes to religion. (To say that science can not foot the bill for certain questions should not and I hope is not a surprise to you. Science can not tell you why Hemingway is a better author than I, nor can it tell you why you should give back the extra $20 the cashier accidentally gave you.) As I see it, religion (which I am flat-footedly calling " the claim 'God exists'&quotEye-wink is much more like morality in that its basis comes from something other than science (or if basis is not to your liking think of 'reason to belief in God' and 'reason why one ought be moral&#39Eye-wink. For all its greatness science can never tell us the 'why?' of certain things and it is for that reason that we have to look beyond it (or behind it if you think like me, but this is an irrelevant digression) and so when looking at the question of God I am forced to consider other alternatives in the search.

Now as a brief intermezzo in this theistic concerto, that going into the 'alternative' areas is quite a dangerous manuever and one that turns bogus if not done with the utmost care and integrity. Therefore, I think, and I imagine that you agree, that a little more justification for leaving the scientific realm would be helpful. Were the question of God's existence to have no practical importance on everyday life (I think it does for everyone but I can accept your anticipated denial and place 'my' as the antecedent to 'everyday life&#39Eye-wink then I would wholeheartedly say that leaving science behind is a foolish mistake and go about my business as a hearty agnostic. Yet, (for me) this is not true.

The question of whether God exists has monumental consqeunces on one's beliefs about life and consquently the way one actually live. And because remaining agnostic, in the practical sense, aligns one with the atheist in one's disbelief, one is forced into either belief or disbelief in the existence of God. To clarify, atheism and agnosticism amount to the same thing when the consequences being weighed are those of belief and disbelief. So then one is caught, forced to accept the consequences of believing or disbelieving in God. From this point one has to weigh the consequences of these two options against those of his other beliefs. For me, my other most closely held beliefs that can be affected are those about morality, which essentially are that what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' is absolute, universal and objective. As I see it, these beliefs are coherent with God's existence yet incoherent without. Thus, in order to maintain coherence in my worldview I either have to believe in God or ditch my ethical views. (No doubt this will sound slick to many of you. "Why can you not have a secular moral system" one may indignantly say. Well this is a good question and is one that contemporary ethicists tend to shoot for these days. Utilitarianism, secular deontological ethics, contractarian views are all attempts to answer this. Yet despite giving somewhat plausible descriptions of the considerations people take when making ethical decisions they fail to give reasons to be ethical. As I see it, the only reason to actually be ethical is that God wants you to. This point can be debated and may well be the point on which my argument turns, yet if you take issue with it at least grant it for the rest of my argument so that you can at least see the position which I inhabit before attacking its supports.)

So the question for me becomes to I feel more sure that disbelieving in God is more likely to be the correct view because of a lack of evidence or am I more sure that there is an absolute ethic? I, at any rate, am more sure about absolute ethics and therefore, because God is a necessity for that belief, I may easily believe in God's existence with equal conviction. Essentially, the reason why I believe in God is that, if I did not, my views about how I ought conduct my life and act towards other people would be untenable. Thus, the only rational option, as it were, is for me to believe.

I apologize that I wrote this late at night and that as it got later I became more fatigued and likely got a little sloppy at the end. At any rate, I believe the essentials of the view are reasonable clear, at least clear enough to understand what I meant. Finally, I would just like to list for your convenience the anticipated weaknesses of this sort of view and also say that I did not get to the Christianity part because that can only come after the above is established. Here is the list of points likely to be found disagreeable:

1. God's existence has a practical bearing on one's life.

2. Without God ethics can not exist.

3. Ethics are absolute.

There are probably others, but the above three are what I expect will be the most contraversial. I look forward to answering your replies.

Cheers!


ShaunPhilly
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There is a lot to reply

There is a lot to reply to. But it really comes down to two points. If you were truly a non-believer for a while, you should know them already, but I just want to make sure that I'm clear because there are some points that even old-pro atheists don't know. That's why I'm here. Eye-wink

Atheism/theism and agnosticism/gnosticism answer different questions. the (a)theism question deals with belief and the (a)gnosticism question deals with knowledge. I'm an agnostic atheist; I admit that I don't know for sure but I still see no reason to believe in any gods. Thus, while I agree that one must choose between belief or disbelief (not belief that god exists and belief that god does nto exist, but belief v. lack thereof), I can't agree with all of your analysis.

But the second and most important issue comes from your comments about absolute good and evil. This is what you said;

Bill wrote:
Essentially, the reason why I believe in God is that, if I did not, my views about how I ought conduct my life and act towards other people would be untenable. Thus, the only rational option, as it were, is for me to believe.

Untenable why? Is it possible that absolute moral standards exist without a God? Is it possible that relative moral standards exist with God?

Have you ever read Plato's Euthyphro? If you have not, then stop what you are doing (after reading this post), search for an online copy, and read it. This question, known obviously called the "Euthyphro question," asks if God makes the good so because they are good or for some other reason?

In other words, if God declares that X is good because it simply is good, then we should be able to discover this on our own. If God made things that are good arbitrarily, then God could have made anything good and we would have to follow it. Is God the creator of goodness or is he subject to goodness himself?

The following is derived from what's called "Staks' wager," and it goes something like this. Does God have superior morality? Live a good life. If God is just, he will reward you for acting justly. if God is not just, he may or may not reward you no matter what you do. So, simply act justly, there is no reason to even bring God into it. In terms of morality, God is irrelevent.

The following is from a paper I wrote in grad school. So, why be good if there is no God? Ask yourself this;

1) Do you care about your own freedom, safety, health, and loved ones?

2) Are there other beings around you that, being like you in many ways, care about the same things?

3) Are your desires for these things somehow, in themselves, more important than those of others? In other words, are your desires for your freedom, safety, etc inherently more important than others' freedom, safety, etc?

If you answer yes to the last question, you are committing a logical fallacy; you are saying, without justification, that what you want supercedes what others want. You are using a double-standard for what rights people have; one for your own desires and one for others' desires.

If you answer no to the last question, then you recognize that there is an automatic and unspoken contract between sentient, free, intelligent beings to leave each-other be, not to harm them unjustly (in other words, unless they directly threaten you or others, therefore forfeiting their own contract).

In other words, do not do unto others what they would not want done unto them. or, as some Wiccans put it, Harm none, do what ye will

So, why do we act morally? Because if you value yourself, you must value others. To do otherwise is to unjustly place yourself above others, which they could do just as easily, making the action absurd. Any right you give yourself is possible for anyone, so you cannot apply a rule to yourself that others cannot use.

Now, did I need to refer to any god at all to think about that? No, therefore God is not necessary for ethics. So, if you believe in God because you cannot imagine being good without believing in God, then that's not a good argument for God, but it's a better one for believing in one. You may argue that this morality is not "good" enough. Fine, but who said a perfect morality actually existed. Perhaps there is no absolute morality, that does not mean we cannot live by an imperfect one. This craving for perfection does not make them exist.

---

For more, I very highly recommend the book Moral Minds by Marc D. Hauser. It takes an approach to ethics from developmental psychology, evolution, etc and is based on numerous actual scientific studied in behavior, comprehension, and the relationship bwteen the two. If you've read Rawls (A Theory of Justice) the idea of the veil of ignorance will give you a leg up in understanding his point.

Rawls' situation is the following; You are to design a society that will be optimally suited for anyone and everyone at every level of the society. The caveat; you don't know where in the society you will be placed. Not knowing where you are makes it kind of hard to design a system that screws someone, because that someone might just be you.

I could go on, but I think that's sufficient to begin with.

Shaun

I'll fight for a person's right to speak so long as that person will, in return, fight to allow me to challenge their opinions and ridicule them as the content of their ideas merit.


Bill
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Divine Command and Contractarian Views

Hi Shaun,

Bringing up the Divine Command Theory as well as the Euthyphro problem is certainly a good rebuttal, yet I am well aware of them and believe that I can make them look less serious than they are typically assumed to be.

For starters, the Divine Command Theory says that "x is good because God says so" and the Euthyphro problem states that if the Divine Command Theory is correct than could God make something which is immoral now into something moral tomorrow. In other words, Divine Command seems to imply that God could make purposeless killing a good thing yet, that seems horribly wrong. And I agree with that analysis and that the Divine Command Theory is wrong. However, there is a way to get around it without too much fancy foot work.

A typical mistake that most people make in the Philosophy of Religion is asking God to do what is logically impossible, i.e. "create a stone so big that even God can not lift it". Although these are fun at parties, they are not serious problems for the theist. All you have to say is that God created the universe with certain rules, one set of which are the rules of logic which can not be broken. Therefore, inside the universe God can not do what is logically impossible. This is often taken as a way to say that God is therefore not omnipotent but that is not true either. Omnipotent mean all-powerful, i.e. having the power to do all things. However, all does not include logically impossible things as evidenced by a simple thought experiment, that being list all the whole numbers from 1 to 10. You certainly would not include the logically impossible number between five and six would you? Yet despite that you can list all the numbers in that set. So then, no problem.

Now we can move on to God creating ethics without Euthyphro cramping our style. All you have to say really, is again that God created the the universe with certain rules, one set of which being the rules of ethics. God could not break them in the universe the way it is because doing so would be inconsistent with what it created.

The preceding is convoluted and cryptic so here is another try with an analogy. Think of a computer program, where in the analogy God is the programmer and the universe is the program. If ethical laws are a line of code in the overall program and they say something like "at time P given circumstances Q then X". Well in this case the programmer can not change things so that given P and Q then not-X for this would totally change the whole program. In other words, you can not have the same program if you change the consequent of P and Q (and this would be true because there are many other things which rely on X being that consequent which are not hard to come up with). So then, God could change morality if that is what God wanted to do, but it could not do it here in the universe as it is. You can not have the same program if you change an essential line of code.

Quote:
3) Are your desires for these things somehow, in themselves, more important than those of others? In other words, are your desires for your freedom, safety, etc inherently more important than others' freedom, safety, etc?

If you answer yes to the last question, you are committing a logical fallacy; you are saying, without justification, that what you want supercedes what others want. You are using a double-standard for what rights people have; one for your own desires and one for others' desires.

I would have to disagree. You are not saying that "your needs supersede everyone else's" you are saying that "to you your needs supersede everyone else's" and this is true. In your own world, you naturally always come first, it is only with a lot of discipline that you can put yourself aside for others. I hope that we can agree on this at least. Anyway, when you look at it that way it makes perfect sense why you would do something to the detriment of another that benefits you. And there is nothing logically wrong with this and in fact there is justification for doing so, hedonistic as it may be.

This along with the fact that Rawls and all other Contractarian views will always fail in instances of immorality without justice, i.e. a situation in which one can act immorally without being punished in any way. Certainly Contractarian views say that you should not do this but they do not give you any reason as to why you shouldn't (that is given that you know you will not have to pay for it).

What I found a bit odd, yet this may be merely due to my own oversight of deficiencies, is that you seem to want to get rid of hedonism by saying it is a "logical fallacy" to think your own needs are more important than those of others, yet then you point to Contractarian systems which derive their force from our base hedonistic desires. Essentially, they say it is in your best interest to honor this contract because, if others do to, then you will not be harmed. That just seemed a bit off to me, but I may be missing something.

At any rate, I would agree that you do not need God to talk about ethics, but you need God to give ethics any force. At least I do. I need to believe that there is a universal law governing human behavior to believe that ethical living is a worth all the trouble (which I believe it is) and this is something that an arbitrary contract among social animals can never supply.

Two quick side questions:

1. Are you a Wiccan?
2. Do Wiccans have Metaphysical beliefs?

Thanks,

Bill


Rigor_OMortis
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Hello, Bill, I will start

Hello, Bill,

I will start with the assumption that you are a logical person and will continue as such.

Quote:
However, there are two sides to this coin and that in the same manner as there is no evidence in support of the claim "God exists." there is equally no evidence for the claim "God does not exists."

This is perfectly agreeable if you refer to "God" as a generic supreme being. There have been many arguments to refute the gods of specific religions as they are described. I will not insist further, just check the whole site. Indeed, by what you state, there isn't a 100% certainty that a generic God doesn't exist.

Quote:
Science can not tell you why Hemingway is a better author than I, nor can it tell you why you should give back the extra $20 the cashier accidentally gave you.

Well, actually, I can tell you why Hemmingway is a better author than you and also why it isn't (depending on the point of view), and I can tell you why you should/should not give the extra 20 euros back (depending on the point of view), mainly because the first is both obvious (nobody has heard of you as an author, or nobody can correlate you with an author, since we do not know of your true identity) and subjective (let's assume you were Fyodor Dostoievski... many people consider him better than Hemmingway, many people the opposite), and the other one is, again, both obvious (you are taped on camera and asked for the erroneous extra money next time) and subjective (whether or not you want to help the cashier by her not having 20 euros drawn out of her salary).

Although science is known to have answered questions that are quite obvious, answering subjective question is part of science if it represents the causes and evolution of factors that have led to that subjective decision you just took. The question "Which do you like more, Heidi Klum or Belinda Carlisle?" can be answered "I like (one of them) more, because I feel so..." (subjective answer) or "I like (one of them) more because (that one of them) has (attribute), attribute that I like because (history of factors and conditions that have led to you liking that)." (objectivized answer)

Quote:
For all its greatness science can never tell us the 'why?' of certain things and it is for that reason that we have to look beyond it and so when looking at the question of God I am forced to consider other alternatives in the search.

Actually, I have just refuted your claim of science not being able to answer that "why" in the sense that you are referring to it in the paragraph above. The problem, however, is on your side, and it is a limitation of the thought (which I've come to consider as normal, in the sense of considering normality as the way of the vast majority) which doesn't allow you to regress causality for more than... few steps.

For instance:

- Why do I like strawberries? (many people see this as a subjective question, and they stop here) Because my brain is wired up for me to like them.

- Why is my brain wired up for me to like them? (as strange as it may sound, the vast majority of people don't even dare to think this over) Because of the different factors: genetic inheritance (seeming that I have evolved from a primate strain that liked strawberries more), physiological factors (I like both sweet and sour tastes, causes similar to strawberries) and environmental factors (when I was young I had many strawberries, but only in certain very short periods of the year, thus that period of waiting for strawberries increased the feeling that a strawberry is a very desirable treat, etc.)

- from here we have many: why do I like sweet? why sour? why them together?, etc. etc. etc.

- why did we evolve like this? because... (and here I would invite you to read, as I do not want to elongate this uselessly)

I believe you have understood my point. All the above explanations are scientifical (well, at least logical anyway, scientifical if you were to be more strict than me in language), and they can be traced through cause-effect. The problem is that many people DON'T do this, considering certain questions and answers as subjective and impossible to trace, anticipate or explain.

Quote:
Now as a brief intermezzo in this theistic concerto, that going into the 'alternative' areas is quite a dangerous manuever and one that turns bogus if not done with the utmost care and integrity. Therefore, I think, and I imagine that you agree, that a little more justification for leaving the scientific realm would be helpful.

Yes, I, for one, agree.

Quote:
Yet, (for me) this is not true.

I have just proven that for every feeling and consideration that you may invoke, there is a scientifical explanation and a possibility to trace and anticipate. Analyzing your perspective and your image on science, I can say that what you say is simply based on a misunderstanding of the possible depth of science.

Quote:
For me, my other most closely held beliefs that can be affected are those about morality, which essentially are that what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' is absolute, universal and objective.

...and I shall thus prove that they aren't.

For instance, we both agree that to kill someone falls under the "wrong" category. Would you agree, though, that there are certain people in history that, due to their bad deeds, the world would have been better off without them? If so, could you say that killing them would necessarily fall into the "wrong" cathegory? I don't think so, therefore I can safely say that "right" and "wrong" are not absolute.

If you disagree with my example, you have just proven that they aren't objective either.

Also, if you think of the ancient aztecs (and the ritualistic sacrifices, for example), you can also say that they aren't universal.

Quote:
As I see it, these beliefs are coherent with God's existence yet incoherent without. Thus, in order to maintain coherence in my worldview I either have to believe in God or ditch my ethical views.

This is, however, strictly your point of view. Please do not expand your incapacity to differentiate between divinity and ethics on the rest of us.

Quote:
Therefore, inside the universe God can not do what is logically impossible.

...thus proving he is not omnipotent within our universe. but that is not the case by any means, proving you kind of misunderstand the point of the rock vs. God paradox.

Let me rephrase it for you: "Can god create an entity over which He would have no potence ?"

Quote:
All you have to say really, is again that God created the the universe with certain rules, one set of which being the rules of ethics. God could not break them in the universe the way it is because doing so would be inconsistent with what it created.

Well, if an ethics rule would be as you say it would be, then that rule would be generally applied here on Earth at least, like gravity. It would be something that our minds would have evolved to accept as axiom, like gravity, and the limitations and possibilities which result would also be genetically passed along, like those imposed/given by gravity. But I, for one, have yet to see such a thing...

Quote:
So then, God could change morality if that is what God wanted to do, but it could not do it here in the universe as it is. You can not have the same program if you change an essential line of code.

Well, from this point of view, God would not be able to change ANYTHING, because whatever He would change, it wouldn't be the same universe. Therefore, what's with the "miracles" ?

Quote:
This along with the fact that Rawls and all other Contractarian views will always fail in instances of immorality without justice, i.e. a situation in which one can act immorally without being punished in any way. Certainly Contractarian views say that you should not do this but they do not give you any reason as to why you shouldn't (that is given that you know you will not have to pay for it).

Right, and the problem is ... ?

Let's take a look at the open-source software community. Theoretically, all those programs are free-of-charge. Yet, there are many who donate (I am one of them, where I have a possibility of payment) to what they like, simply because they like it and would like to see it continued.

The problem with these principles is that they have to be idealistic in some ways, for, if everything was to be clearly specified, with exceptions and without considering certain facts irrelevant to the result, physics, for instance, would have many formulas and theorems that would be impossible to demonstrate or to use in practice because of excessive complications ("bureocrat's heaven&quotEye-wink.

Quote:
Essentially, they say it is in your best interest to honor this contract because, if others do to, then you will not be harmed. That just seemed a bit off to me, but I may be missing something.

You truly are missing something. Example: Essentially, it is in the interest of any businessman to honor his employees, because there is a higher chance that they will be more productive. It's not a guarantee, though. Practically, it's like taking risks: if you risk, you might lose, but you might win as well. If you don't risk, you will certainly not win.

Quote:
At any rate, I would agree that you do not need God to talk about ethics, but you need God to give ethics any force. At least I do.

Then, by all means, you are a very weak person (at least in this respect only, of course), and a serious and ethical atheist will have to seriously doubt your "good intentions" whenever he is forced to encounter them.

Others, however, do not have this limitation.

Inquisition - "The flames are all long gone, but the pain lingers on..."
http://rigoromortis.blogspot.com/


Bill
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Through your seemingly

Through your seemingly infinite grasp of logic you have convinced me.


Unlucky13
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Well, lets add that to the

Well, lets add that to the tally board, eh?