Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Life Is Short. Must It Be Brutal?


is a question Ian Martin asks in a political context.  Eli is a strange creature who always wondered why others need the promise of an afterlife to answer that question one way or another.  The existential drive others have towards settling other planets, even star systems is to Eli another such question.

Now some, not Eli to be sure, are constantly asking, "Is that all there is?" The question too often blocks making the most of what we have. In Eli's humble opinion, yes, the Earth is all there is for us who here abide for better or worse.  

83 comments:

Pete Dunkelberg said...

Clearly.

Kevin O'Neill said...


I've always found it ironic that many of the same people who feel the only argument for morality stems from religion and a belief in an after-life are the same people who wear a veneer of religiosity to cover a core of crass money-worship and hypocrisy. Baker, Swaggart et al make that point pretty damn easily.

The Republican Party in general makes that point emphatically.

Godless Europe versus 'Christian' America makes that point just as emphatically.

There appears to be an innate belief in justice and fairness built into most of us. We don't need a God to muddy the waters. Or as I've always maintained, if there's a God I want him to present himself so we can put him on trial. An omnipotent being that allows some of the atrocities we've seen in human history should be held accountable for his actions and inactions.

"It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn't it ironic...don't you think
A little too ironic...and, yeah, I really do think..."
-- Alanis Morissette

Tom Curtis said...

As one who would like to hope that humans will colonize, first, the Moon, Mars and the Asteroids, and then other solar systems - I do not see the possibility of our doing so as having any bearing on our ethical commitments. Even if we should progress into space, the human population on Earth will be undiminished by that, and we must still survive on Earth on the ecological resources of Earth alone. That we may have a colony on Barnard's Star would in no way diminish that fact, or the importance for the humans on Earth, of the survival of humanity on Earth.

Mark said...

Nice Alanis Morisette quote, Kevin, but I'm a little confused, is it intended to illustrate irony, or do you think Alanis' song is an atrocity?

Everett F Sargent said...

Hallelujah Brother Rabett. Praise the Sun. Praise the Earth. Praise the Moon. This holiest of Holy Trinities giveth and taketh all that is righteous.

Consider the daffodil. And while you're doing that, I'll be over here, looking through your stuff.

Things tend to even out. Religion, some people say, has caused wars and fighting. Yes, but it’s also boring to sit through a church service, so it evens out.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

KON: There appears to be an innate belief in justice and fairness built into most of us.

BPL: That must explain why there's genocide, murder, rape, child molesting, incest, 800 million people starving, and the current ongoing destruction of the ecosystem we all need to live. Because we have an innate belief in justice and fairness built into most of us.

Sorry, I find it difficult to believe that innately good people could have created Auschwitz and the GULAG. Must be my hypocritical, self-righteous Christian beliefs.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

@BPL - Ever notice that the greatest atrocities seem to be motivated by ideology and religion? Or that people seem to separate other people into "us" and "them", usually on the basis of religion, nationality, ideology or race, and reserve justice and fairness for "us" and murder for "them?"

That's human nature, the nature evolution gave us.

Mark B said...

KON: "There appears to be an innate belief in justice and fairness built into most of us."

I would say, rather, that the concepts of justice and fairness are learned behaviors. In order for a social structure to function there must be enforced standards of behavior within the society and, because these have evolved with the particular society, the social norms likewise differ from one social group to the other. Human morality then is inherited from the social norms of the individual's particular society. Views on justice, fairness, and morality will evolve with the changes in a social structure.

If one accepts that religion is a human construct, then the particular morality of the religion follows from the society that gave rise to the religion. Religions norms are typically more resistant but not immune to evolution with the situation of society which can be either a beneficial or detrimental feature in a rapidly changing society.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Even non-human animals that have been tested show a sense of justice or fairness and altruism. This includes primates and dogs.

*most* does not mean *all* - so atrocities and events like genocide can still happen. We also know that people often behave in a manner they *know* is wrong, but succumb to various pressures. Having a sense of fairness does not mean that you can't act contrary to it. So, the arguments that cite individual acts neglects the 99% of humanity that is *not* engaging in these acts.



Russell Seitz said...

Alanis Morrissette is a fearsome argument against the existence of a beneficent god.

Arthur said...

Isn't that "brutish" not "brutal"? I've actually been reading Hobbes recently. He really attempted to describe things in a scientific manner from basic first principles - and his argument for why we need governments obviously still resonates. Though he argues strongly against the US approach of divided sovereignty - he felt it could never be stable, each entity would strive to use its power against the others until only one remained with all of the power. Which maybe we are facing in the present election, but still it's been good for almost 250 years...

The other thing that interested me though was the latter half of his book that deals with religion and the "kingdom of God". I suppose that was normal for philosophy of the time, but it's certainly an interesting mixture of careful reasoning and strong faith,

EliRabett said...


The motivation for this rather cranky post was the question of motivation for one's actions. Is the motivation fear of retribution, or is it a giving of thanks and honor.

Do we try and garden this planet, or trash it and move on? As far as that goes, IEHO, there is no place to move on to so that question itself is dangerous territory.

wheelism said...

"The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet — it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars — that's the Biblical view."

- Bodhi McBoatface

Barton Paul Levenson said...

KON: *most* does not mean *all* - so atrocities and events like genocide can still happen.

BPL: Ah, so it's only the bad people who do those things. If we just got rid of the bad people, everything would be okay.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

wheel, that quote is not from the Bible--it's from Ann Coulter, aka the Coultergeist. She wouldn't know Christianity if it bit her on the thin, suspiciously well-muscled butt.

What the Bible actually says about the environment--the same words, verbatim, six times in the Old Testament--is, "The Earth is the LORD's, and the fulness [sic] thereof" (e.g. Psalm 24:1). It does NOT belong to humans and we do NOT have the right to trash it.

Ezekiel 34:18 Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?

Kevin O'Neill said...

BPL writes "Ah, so it's only the bad people who do those things. If we just got rid of the bad people, everything would be okay.

Simplistic answers that don't appear to have much reading comprehension behind them typically just tend to annoy me. That said, what part of " Having a sense of fairness does not mean that you can't act contrary to it." didn't you understand? People in unfortunate circumstances will sometimes act in unfortunate ways. And, as Elvis Costello sang, Accidents Will Happen.

It is difficult to judge any act in isolation. A man has a gun. He shoots a woman with it. Is he good or bad? We can devise a near infinite number of scenarios around this single act with different moral connotations.

Yet there are acts that defy any contextual extenuating circumstances. Yes there are "bad" people that walk the earth. What we normally call sociopaths or psychopaths. It would likely be a better place if we could treat or isolate them. Reliably identifying them would be the problem.

cRR Kampen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cRR Kampen said...

"Simplistic answers that don't appear to have much reading comprehension behind them..."
Interesting. Contains the disclaimer implicitly (look up a phrase like 'appear'..).

As to Eli's question, life is short, and there is no must - not even that.

As to Eli's clarification.
'Do we try and garden this planet, or trash it and move on?'
Wdic. Just gtfo of my garden and off my planet.

(man have I had to prove I'm not a robot there)

Hadassah said...

The aspect I miss from most of these recurrent discussions (religion is a man made fable) is acknowledging the consequences of a godless universe: that is, values are ultimately meaningless. In a godless universe all values or self-defined or adopted from someone else's self definition. Thus while we may passionately hold to our values and denounce those of others, they are really no more than a statement that "I prefer this over that". Consequently, values are relativem and one may think of personal values as the epitome of selfishness - even altruism when valued is only because I think its right so it pleases me to be altruistic. Likewise, selfishness is relative ... you can dislike it, but you can't ultimately say its wrong as there is no ultimate right or wrong. Hence, in a godless universe at best we can dislike how others treat the planet.

wheelism said...

BPL: If you're suggesting that the Bible doesn't encourage drilling strippers and driving drunk, I'm just going to have to take your word for it.

cRR Kampen said...

'acknowledging the consequences of a godless universe' which I did in the post above yours ('there is no must').

Your reasoning troubled in many different ways.
1. First, the consequence you come up with is no consequence. Apart from the strange idea that values could be 'meaningless' (values are almost synonymous to meanings), there is no reason to conclude they would be but for some or other religion.
2. So we witness ethical/moral/altruistic behaviour in many animals, behaviour that suggests a measure of sentience and is in fact exactly what we, humans, know it to be. This means morality can arise from the dus precisely as life itself did. Read e.g. some Frans de Waal.
3. The statement 'no morality without God to guide' is de facto scary. It is a confession of a total lack of moral conscience. A typical projection (people who cannot think for themselves can only project. 'I feel worthless' will always out as 'they're worthless, kill 'm all'.

Yes we are free, deal with it! Pro-tip: you'll need some very soundly based morality, and values. They cannot be given to you like a tattoo. They have to be lived every ffing day.

cRR Kampen said...

(typo... 'dus' to be 'dust')

Hank Roberts said...

"Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?"

Also, keep yer grubby mitts off the stratosphere.

My personal theology:

Deus longtime absconditus returns in wrath, saying:

"You stupid monkeys, I gave you this galaxy full of opportunities for you to grow into, starting with a planet rich with life forms that could thrive in any possible environment out there. I expected you'd take the opportunity to grow, froth and multiply. And you've burned every living thing that you couldn't eat, and made your shit toxic.

"Go to hell. I'm going to try with the raccoons next time....."

EliRabett said...

If you ever had raccoons in your attic you would not go that way.

Howard said...

Religion just gives license to men who will play God. "Is this all there is?" depends on what your meaning of what is is, what this is and what all is...

It is what it is and we do what we do. This universe requires value contrast for beings to see hear, feel, smell, taste and for bending spoons.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

cRRK: So we witness ethical/moral/altruistic behaviour in many animals, behaviour that suggests a measure of sentience and is in fact exactly what we, humans, know it to be. This means morality can arise from the dus precisely as life itself did.

BPL: But it has no meaning aside from, "This is how social animals act." You can't say it's good or bad if you have no standard.

cRRK: The statement 'no morality without God to guide' is de facto scary. It is a confession of a total lack of moral conscience.

BPL: That's a pure non sequitur.

Kevin O'Neill said...

BPL, let's revisit the evolution of this argument:

OP -- "Eli is a strange creature who always wondered why others need the promise of an afterlife to answer that question one way or another.

KO -- "There appears to be an innate belief in justice and fairness built into most of us. We don't need a God to muddy the waters."

BPL-- "Sorry, I find it difficult to believe that innately good people could have created Auschwitz and the GULAG. Must be my hypocritical, self-righteous Christian beliefs.

KO -- 1) "Even non-human animals that have been tested show a sense of justice or fairness and altruism."
--- 2) "*most* does not mean *all* - so atrocities and events like genocide can still happen."
--- 3) ". Having a sense of fairness does not mean that you can't act contrary to it. Ah, so it's only the bad people who do those things. If we just got rid of the bad people, everything would be okay."

KO -- [paraphrase] No, that has already been covered in point 3 above.


BPL -- "But it [innate fairness/justice/altruism in animals] has no meaning aside from, "This is how social animals act." You can't say it's good or bad if you have no standard."

That's not the argument. We are all admitting there is a standard of 'good' and 'bad'. The question is where does it come from. The position that the OP takes is that belief in an afterlife is not necessary. I agreed and supported this with tests that indicate most humans and several other species have an innate sense of fairness. I.e., it doesn't require God.

"good and evil' are oftentimes social constructs, but it would be very difficult to build a culture where murder is good. It's an evolutionary short-circuit.

God is a social construct often used to enforce beliefs - some of which are innate already and others that are simply cultural mores peculiar to specific religions. Yet many individuals, and indeed nation states, exist and behave in a manner consistent with what would by most definitions be considered 'moral' -- despite the lack of a belief in God. This alone should be sufficient contrafactual evidence to dismiss the idea that morality must come from God.

BBD said...

"Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer"

- Voltaire

cRR Kampen said...

'BPL: That's a pure non sequitur.' - no that was not. Would you call calling bigotry 'bigotry' a 'pure non-sequitur'? Of course not.

'You can't say it's good or bad if you have no standard.' - I read the unreadable, BPL, because I can.
It was that tiny word, which has such a powerful meaning, which however is so seldom parsed.
if.
Oi!

There IS no 'good' or 'bad' outside of subjective choice. As has been explained since the beginning of writing. Doesn't get thru though, cause bigots must be forever.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

KON: The position that the OP takes is that belief in an afterlife is not necessary.

BPL: I agree, since the early Jews did not believe in an afterlife (see Psalms 6 and 88), and Hindus consider the afterlife something to be avoided. What I object to is the straw man argument that theists think people can only be forced to be good with a big stick, which is EXACTLY the atheist belief being promoted here.

The atheist alternative for God (God, not an afterlife) being the source of morality seems to be that we "evolved to be good," which gets you nowhere. Male lions evolved to kill cubs of other male lions; cecidomyian gall midges evolved to eat their mothers alive after they find a big source of food. You can't get from an "is" to an "ought." Something being "natural" doesn't make it right, Stoics to the contrary. Cancer is natural. Plague is natural. Asteroid strikes are natural.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

cRRK: There IS no 'good' or 'bad' outside of subjective choice. As has been explained since the beginning of writing. Doesn't get thru though, cause bigots must be forever.

BPL: Bigotry is only a bad thing if you believe some things can be bad.

wheelism said...

"We can say that the universe consists of a substance, and this substance we will call "atoms," or else we will call it "monads." Democritus called it atoms. Leibniz called it monads. Fortunately, the two men never met, or there would have been a very dull argument."

Kevin O'Neill said...

BPL writes: "What I object to is the straw man argumentthat theists think people can only be forced to be good with a big stick..."

I agree that in this comment thread that is a straw man. The OP doesn't make that argument. I haven't made that argument. It appears the straw man was created by you.

Your argument from where I sit is that religion is a necessity, otherwise there is no moral compass to guide our actions. That is contradicted by the many moral people that do not believe in God or a religion. It's that simple.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

KON: Your argument from where I sit is that religion is a necessity, otherwise there is no moral compass to guide our actions. That is contradicted by the many moral people that do not believe in God or a religion. It's that simple.

BPL: Nope. My argument is that GOD, not "religion," or belief in God, is the source of morality. Or, to put it another way, an absolute standard exists to which we must simply conform. That many non-believers get it right is nothing to the point.

Arthur said...

A little more recent than Hobbes is Derek Parfit's "Reasons and Persons". I found it an excellent discussion on how one would attempt to formulate a purely rational ethics/morality. It turns out to be very difficult - but I think he goes quite far. Some of the dilemmas concern how one should weigh the value of future lives, of potential human lives under different scenarios, etc. One of his deepest problems is the "repugnant conclusion" - http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/repugnant-conclusion/ - that a vast number of people living lives barely worth living would be better than a much smaller number with a high standard of living. This seems wrong, but most mathematical formulations of ethics lead straight to it. Anyway, getting ethics right is a very difficult intellectual exercise. Religion is a whole lot easier :)

Bryson said...

The widespread notion (see BPL above) that the recognition of group actions that reinforce pro-social behaviour in other species is a 'mere' description of behaviour without normative implications is quite popular, but it's as much a mistake as saying that the widespread admission that (e.g.) the earth orbits the sun is a merely a shared social practice. Without norms we don't have descriptive facts anymore than we have 'moral' ones. You can push this observation in either direction, but if you really think there are descriptive truths, you're already committed to norms of description. Adding in norms of social behaviour is not a mysterious further step-- it's a recognition that some norms are grounded in different values than those involved in description. That said, convincing ethical theorizing is harder to do than convincing descriptive theorizing, partly because the ground-level practice of declaring some kinds of actions and persons good or bad (or right or wrong) is entangled with a lot of social influence, prejudice, authority and power relations etc., while everyday descriptive language seems to be more stable and less influenced by these. However, this difference is just a matter of degree.

Hank Roberts said...

OK, I've been overruled on the raccoons:
http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/rainbow.png


> good or bad

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
Leopold (1949, pp. 224-225)

Kevin O'Neill said...

BPL writes: "Nope. My argument is that GOD, not "religion," or belief in God, is the source of morality."

I see. And which GOD would that be? And where did he hide the moral code that we are to live by?

Bernard J. said...

I'm an empiricist.

As such, whilst there may be a supernatural presence in the universe there is no evidence that it will ever do anything to alter the fact that humans are necessarily confined to this little blue marble for the terms of their material lives.

Similarly, I've never seen anyone (yes, even you TLE) explain how humans can relocate the current terrestrial biosphere to any non-Terran location. Not even a percent of a percent of a percent thereof... There's certainly no evidence that it can be successfully done, and there's most certainly no evidence that it can be done with the current confines of the laws of thermodynamics.

The result is that this little blue marble remains our first and last and only refuge in the whole universe.

Like sailors in a boat on an open ocean we're poking holes into the hull, and we have a stark choice: cooperate to plug those holes and stay afloat, or squabble over who gets to sit on the bow whilst the stern sinks beneath the waves, eventually taking all of us with it.

Bernard J. said...

Hank, I'd never seen that quote of Leopold's. Thank you - I am moved to follow up and read his work.

EliRabett said...

Bernard groked the op

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Bryson: The widespread notion (see BPL above) that the recognition of group actions that reinforce pro-social behaviour in other species is a 'mere' description of behaviour without normative implications is quite popular, but it's as much a mistake as saying that the widespread admission that (e.g.) the earth orbits the sun is a merely a shared social practice.

BPL: False analogy. Heliocentrism has no implications for moral behavior, and neither do primate behavior patterns. You can't get an "ought" from an "is." That something is natural does not make it either right or good. There are species that are territorial and species where the males eat the females' children by other fathers (lions, mice). What makes either objectively "better?" I prefer to ground morality in something other than biology, since you can use biology to "prove" pretty much any political point you want to make.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

BPL: Nope. My argument is that GOD, not "religion," or belief in God, is the source of morality.

KON: I see. And which GOD would that be?

BPL: There is only one.

KON: And where did he hide the moral code that we are to live by?

BPL: He didn't hide it. It is summed up in Micah 6:8 and Matthew 22:36-40. We are supposed to figure out the details ourselves. That's why he gave us minds.

cRR Kampen said...

So that is all there is to the moral code.
Love God. That's all.

Somewhere (hidden where?) it is said we are to figure out the details ourselves (what a peculiar God, doth it play?).

I figured out one detail.
It is everyone's moral responsibility to destroy this God that permitted, what say I, that gloated on Auschwitz.

wheelism said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EliRabett said...

Be nice, not brutal - Eli

wheelism said...

Yes.

Brandon R. Gates said...

cRR Kampen,

It is everyone's moral responsibility to destroy this God that permitted, what say I, that gloated on Auschwitz.

Isaiah 45:7 - "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."

There are some disputes that King James' scholars incorrectly translated "evil" from the ... original ... texts. However, I have trouble buying that they mucked up the entire Book of Job.

Anyway. There can't be good without evil, so by Godwin, Hitler gets into Heaven too.

Brandon R. Gates said...

A moral foundation in three easy steps:

1) Good is treating others how one wishes to be treated.
2) Evil is violating the will of another.
3) One's first moral duty is to oneself.

Brandon R. Gates said...

BPL: He didn't hide it. It is summed up in Micah 6:8 and Matthew 22:36-40. We are supposed to figure out the details ourselves. That's why he gave us minds.

Which implies that there may be more than one acceptable answer for a given detail.

Kevin O'Neill said...

BPL - you point to books from the Old and New Testament. There are, of course, many. And many more that didn't quite make the cut at Laodicea. I've always been fond of Leviticus. And 2 Kings. "And the LORD said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.

'Executing' is the operative word. Just what had Jehu done that had so pleased the Lord - your, there is only one GOD?

"So Jehu slew all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men, and his kinsfolks, and his priests, until he left him none remaining."

and,

Jehu met with the brethren of Ahaziah king of Judah, and said, Who are ye? And they answered, We are the brethren of Ahaziah; and we go down to salute the children of the king and the children of the queen.

And he said, Take them alive. And they took them alive, and slew them at the pit of the shearing house, even two and forty men; neither left he any of them.


and,

"And when he came to Samaria, he slew all that remained unto Ahab in Samaria, till he had destroyed him, according to the saying of the LORD, which he spake to Elijah."

and the coup de grace,

And Jehu said, Proclaim a solemn assembly for Baal. And they proclaimed it.

And Jehu sent through all Israel: and all the worshippers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left that came not. And they came into the house of Baal; and the house of Baal was full from one end to another.

.....

And when they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings, Jehu appointed fourscore men without, and said, If any of the men whom I have brought into your hands escape, he that letteth him go, his life shall be for the life of him.

And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, Go in, and slay them; let none come forth."



Moral code - kill people who believe in other gods. Nice. I don't think I'll bother to sign on.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

cRRK: So that is all there is to the moral code.
Love God. That's all.

BPL: You didn't actually read the quote, did you? Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

cRRK: It is everyone's moral responsibility to destroy this God that permitted, what say I, that gloated on Auschwitz.

BPL: Were you born this much of an asshole, or did you have to study?

Barton Paul Levenson said...

BRG: Isaiah 45:7 - "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."

BPL: The atheist's favorite verse, as usual, taken completely out of context. God is talking about the evil times he is going to bring on Israel if they don't shape up. Read the rest of the passage. He is not talking about "evil" in general.

BRG: There are some disputes that King James' scholars incorrectly translated "evil" from the ... original ... texts. However, I have trouble buying that they mucked up the entire Book of Job.

BPL: I'm pretty sure any quote from Isaiah is not from the book of Job.

BRG: Anyway. There can't be good without evil, so by Godwin, Hitler gets into Heaven too.

BPL: Of course there can be good without evil. Evil is a lack of good, a dearth, an absence. The sociopath lacks empathy. That's all that's required. Cf Edmund Burke.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

KON,

Yes, there are a lot of distressing passages on the OT that seem to attribute moral evil to God. It's something a Jew or Christian has to wrestle with. An atheist can take the easy way out by simply saying, "Well, they were stupid primitives who didn't know any better, so I can ignore the whole thing." Have fun.

Arthur said...

Trying not to be "brutal" :)

On Brandon's 3 rules:
"1) Good is treating others how one wishes to be treated."
- I think pretty much every major world religion has taught something along these lines. It seems like a good principle but there are of course always complications in practice. Where does "making your children eat their vegetables" fall?

"2) Evil is violating the will of another."
- I don't think one can make such a blanket claim. See "making your children eat their vegetables". And many other instances where the right thing to do is against what somebody else wants. The world is full of differing opinions, how does one reconcile them? This rule doesn't seem helpful.

"3) One's first moral duty is to oneself."
- So greed is good? I think most religious feeling tries to replace selfishness with something better. But it's not even clear what you mean by this.

Seriously, there are major books out there on foundations of ethics. Derek Parfit, who I mentioned above, is extremely thoughtful on a lot of this stuff. No religion required, but it's very complicated.

cRR Kampen said...

/BPL: Were you born this much of an asshole, or did you have to study?/

Let's say both.
I will not accept the/your idea that everthing good is attributable to God while humanity gets the blame for all the shit.

There is no God, but if there were, he is accountable for the Shoa. By your very 'reasoning' and by 'omnipotence' (which cannot exist). There it is everbody's duty to destroy this God.
We, humanity, annex OUR responsibilities. Deal with it.

cRR Kampen said...

/BPL: Of course there can be good without evil./

The sentence is nonsense.
It omits all 'to whom'.

cRR Kampen said...

/BPL: You didn't actually read the quote, did you?/

I did. In fact, you may memorize that I rarely if ever speak of things I didn't study.
Also Quoran and Gitá. Also Mein Kampf... Well?

wheelism said...

How about "The Art of the Deal?"

(Seriously. I won't read it, but I fear the portents I'm avoiding.)

Brandon R. Gates said...

Barton Paul Levenson,

BPL: The atheist's favorite verse, as usual, taken completely out of context.

Not that it really matters, I'm agnostic.

God is talking about the evil times he is going to bring on Israel if they don't shape up. Read the rest of the passage. He is not talking about "evil" in general.

The immediate context of that section is things the Lord created. And that He is the only Lord. Was he not talking about being the Creator in general?

BPL: I'm pretty sure any quote from Isaiah is not from the book of Job.

Having read most of Isaiah and all of Job, me too. The commonality is that the story of Job is the Lord doing evil to Job by way of Satan. Here's how Job responds near the end of chapter 1:

21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

Job figured out that Satan is the Lord's agent. He both worships and blesses the Lord for allowing Satan to kill his entire family and most of his servants. Deal with the implications of that or not. Getting ruffled at me won't change what these verses say: you're here to be subjected to good AND evil at the hand of the Lord, and are to be thankful for the opportunity.

BPL: Of course there can be good without evil. Evil is a lack of good, a dearth, an absence.

Isaiah again, 5:20: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

If everything were sweet, we wouldn't need a word for it. Explaining bitter to someone in a world that only knows sweet would be like trying to describe colors to someone who has been blind from birth. I can only talk to you about sweet and bitter because I have tasted both and know the difference. If all I had ever known is either bitter or sweet, it wouldn't even occur to me to talk about the difference between one and the other.

The sociopath lacks empathy. That's all that's required.

That's kind of the point others here have been attempting to point out to you.

Brandon R. Gates said...

Arthur,

Trying not to be "brutal" :)

I've used my list in some pretty brutal conversations. Actually, it's more accurate to say that this list grew out of brutal conversations wherein I was challenged to define good and evil without invoking Deity. I go into harm's way by choice.

On Brandon's 3 rules:

They're more like ... guidelines. :-) More seriously, I meant what I said about foundation, or a framework if you will. As you have already shown, they don't always work cleanly, which I appreciate. They do in fact logically contradict each other, which pleases me because they are their own moral dilemma.

"1) Good is treating others how one wishes to be treated."
- I think pretty much every major world religion has taught something along these lines.


Straight up Golden Rule, and I unrepentantly filched it because in my experience it works more often than doesn't. I'm glad BPL brought up empathy because that's central to how it works.

Where does "making your children eat their vegetables" fall?

If one didn't know better, one might wish to be taught.

"2) Evil is violating the will of another."
- I don't think one can make such a blanket claim. See "making your children eat their vegetables".


Or keeping the mugger from taking one's wallet.

And many other instances where the right thing to do is against what somebody else wants.

Like preventing Nazis from killing others whose own wills are to continue living. This list of mine is a Godwin magnet, believe me.

The world is full of differing opinions, how does one reconcile them?

Peaceful negotiation of conflict is generally held to be a good plan. Not everyone gets everything they want, but the notion is that it's better than winner take all, loser forfeit all, otherwise known as might makes right.

Morality can get awful greyish in a hurry.

This rule doesn't seem helpful.

It has been said that there are exceptions to every rule.

"3) One's first moral duty is to oneself."
- So greed is good?


Presumably for the greedy.

I think most religious feeling tries to replace selfishness with something better. But it's not even clear what you mean by this.

That without self-interest -- a less loaded term than the ones you're invoking -- good and evil as I have defined them have no meaning. If I absolutely do not care what happens to my person, I have zero motivation to care about others' persons. Polonious says it well: "This above all -- to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." ~Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3

Item (3) is often a tiebreaker when (1) and (2) are in conflict for a given specific scenario.

Seriously, there are major books out there on foundations of ethics.

Indeed. The Bible in its various incarnations is one of them.

Derek Parfit, who I mentioned above, is extremely thoughtful on a lot of this stuff. No religion required, but it's very complicated.

I was just going to say that I like thinking too. If you flip the positions of (1) and (2), the first letters of each principle spell EGO. :-)

I'm in to letting people do what works best for them, so long as what works best for them isn't necessarily imposing the same on me. I'm also into challenging others on their views, especially when they're similarly thoughtful.

Thanks for a pleasant and thinking discussion, cheers.

Brandon R. Gates said...

cRR Kampen,

Let's say both.

Man after my own experiences.

Kevin O'Neill said...

BPL writes:"Yes, there are a lot of distressing passages on the OT that seem to attribute moral evil to God. It's something a Jew or Christian has to wrestle with. An atheist can take the easy way out by simply saying, "Well, they were stupid primitives who didn't know any better, so I can ignore the whole thing." Have fun."

You write this after you have declared there is only one God, pointed to books of the Old and New Testaments, and asserted that the 'moral code' is NOT hidden. So, which is it? Is the moral code of this one God hidden or not? If we can't trust the plainly written account of Jehu, why should we trust the words in Micah or Matthew? If the various books contradict each other, then which do we follow?

No, the truth is that even if we knew for a fact that YHVH was the one true God, it wouldn't help us much. The OT is full of heinous acts committed in his name and at his instigation. In fact, I'd still want him to appear and stand trial. Jealous, vengeful gods belong locked up far away where they can't do any damage.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

cRRK: There it is everbody's [sic] duty to destroy this God.

BPL: So you're on the side of Satan. Big surprise.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

cRRK: I did. In fact, you may memorize that I rarely if ever speak of things I didn't study.

BPL: Then it's amazing that you managed to leave out a major part of the message.

cRRK: Also Quoran [sic] and Gitá. Also Mein Kampf... Well?

BPL: I've only read parts of Holy Qu'ran. Did read the Bhagavad Gita, and you have to love any story where the characters are on the verge of a tremendous battle and the protagonist stops to argue philosophy. Mein Kampf I couldn't get through.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

BRG: Job figured out that Satan is the Lord's agent. He both worships and blesses the Lord for allowing Satan to kill his entire family and most of his servants. Deal with the implications of that or not. Getting ruffled at me won't change what these verses say: you're here to be subjected to good AND evil at the hand of the Lord, and are to be thankful for the opportunity.

BPL: No, that's not the point of the book at all. What a surprise you didn't get it.

BPL: The sociopath lacks empathy. That's all that's required.

BRG: That's kind of the point others here have been attempting to point out to you.

BPL: Hope that chip on your shoulder isn't too heavy for you. And you're apparently unable to get an illustration of a point you yourself just made. Amazing blindness.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

KON: You write this after you have declared there is only one God, pointed to books of the Old and New Testaments, and asserted that the 'moral code' is NOT hidden. So, which is it? Is the moral code of this one God hidden or not?

BPL: It's not.

KON: If we can't trust the plainly written account of Jehu, why should we trust the words in Micah or Matthew? If the various books contradict each other, then which do we follow?

BPL: You might try using the mind God gave you. I could give you a more complicated answer, but then you'd accuse me of not being "plain" again.

KON: No, the truth is that even if we knew for a fact that YHVH was the one true God, it wouldn't help us much. The OT is full of heinous acts committed in his name and at his instigation. In fact, I'd still want him to appear and stand trial. Jealous, vengeful gods belong locked up far away where they can't do any damage.

BPL: So you're siding with cRRK on the anti-God, pro-Satan side. See you at the judgment.

cRR Kampen said...

'Mein Kampf I couldn't get through.'
Let me confess that I performed the gargantuan task of making it up to about two dozen pages from the end. Then for the umpteenth time I laid it down with a dull pain in the gut - and that's where I've left it.

Arab words have many different spellings in our alfabet, all of them are correct... Reason: Arab alfabet contains no vowels. My version 'Quoran' I actually wrote for the first time.. Whatever.

Conversations like this have a 100% chance of a certain ending. It always ends with outright threats. Here it is!
->
'So you're siding with cRRK on the anti-God, pro-Satan side. See you at the judgment.'

Bryson said...

BPL: False analogy. Heliocentrism has no implications for moral behavior, and neither do primate behavior patterns. You can't get an "ought" from an "is." That something is natural does not make it either right or good. There are species that are territorial and species where the males eat the females' children by other fathers (lions, mice). What makes either objectively "better?" I prefer to ground morality in something other than biology, since you can use biology to "prove" pretty much any political point you want to make.

B: Looking for 'grounds' is hazardous work. The Euthyphro objection to the suggestion that the gods determine what's right or wrong is a particular difficulty for your approach. Does God approve of things because they're right, or are they right because s/he approves? Better not to ground morality or empirical truth. Both concepts are part of human practices-- empirical truth is a bit more consensual, for interesting reasons, but (aside from deniers who insist on bad traditions) we can make reasonable progress on both fronts, when conditions allow.

Unknown said...

BPL,

The brain is a product of blind evolution (assuming you don’t believe in intelligent design). Ideas are a product of the brain (assuming you don’t believe in dualism). Ideas that lead to genetic and memetic reproduction persist.

One such idea is that of forming groups or tribes. Being included in a group or tribe increases the chance of reproduction. Being “good” (as defined by the group or tribe) leads to inclusion in the group or tribe; being “bad” leads to expulsion. Being “good” becomes a “good trick” that increases the chances of survival. So, in my opinion, altruism is born, interestingly, out of the natural (selfish) reproduction driver. As groups or tribes become more complex, so does the concept of what is “good”. This morphs into a set of unwritten rules (morals) and then written rules (laws).

Religions were also very likely developed in the same way. They were a “good trick” (increased likelihood of genetic and memetic reproduction) because they increased social cohesion (within groups) and provided a stronger sense of a reward/punishment system for obeying the unwritten moral laws. The fact that they sprouted up at difference locations and different times suggests that religions did provide some advantage. But the fact that these thousands of different religions were inconsistent with each other suggests that no one religion was “right” but instead they were simply a reflection of the specific temporal and spatial instance.

Now we see secular morality has advanced far beyond religious morality. Religions are begrudgingly and slowly having to catch up to 21st century morality (i.e. contraception, gay marriage, women’s rights, etc.). If any of the thousands of religions had a monopoly on moral truisms, it would be the other way around.

Morals are a product of the brain, driven by memetic evolution. Our brains are a product of genetic evolution. Evolution is a part of an amoral universe. There’s no innate moral truths in amoral universe (but nevertheless doesn’t stop sufficiently complex beings from inventing them). This makes moral truisms, be they from theists or secular moralists, a fallacious concept. The “innate belief in justice and fairness” appears to be the result of the biological advantage of belonging to groups. While some morals may be better, more useful or lead to a society we’d rather live in, none are truisms. We can, and I believe should, compare moral viewpoints but that has to be done by comparing how they improve our planet and society, not what holy text they came from.

Brandon R. Gates said...

Barton Paul Levenson,

BPL: No, that's not the point of the book at all. What a surprise you didn't get it.

Another interpretation of the entire book is that we're here to be tested.

Has it ever occured to you that the implications of Micah 6:8 and Matthew 22:36-40 ("We are supposed to figure out the details ourselves. That's why he gave us minds.") is that you may have it figured "wrong"? That *everyone* has it figured "wrong" to some extent or other? That maybe there is no "wrong", and that why we were given minds was to figure out what's "right" for us individually? Maybe an ancillary goal being figuring out how to play nice with others who hold differing beliefs is part of the point as well? By that I mean, the opposite of insisting that it's my way or the highway?

That way is slightly more consistent with the Gospels than the Old Testament. But then, I probably didn't get the point of those books either, eh?

BPL: Hope that chip on your shoulder isn't too heavy for you. And you're apparently unable to get an illustration of a point you yourself just made. Amazing blindness.

I know I can be an asshole when I put my mind to it. I don't for a moment imagine that other people like it. How's *your* self-awareness doing today?

Some people are never going to like your beliefs, BPL, no matter how much you insist yours is the only way. Deal with it gracefully if you can. If not, be prepared for a shouting match. It's pretty much just that simple.

Same rule applies to everyone else on this thread, including me.

Jeffrey Davis said...

I read a report of a deer being eaten by 3 kimodo dragons. The deer took a long time to die though two of the kimodo dragons were eating its foreparts and one of the kimodo dragons had entered the deer's anus and was consuming it from the inside.

And there are reports of children born deaf, blind, and paralytic. Or people born schizophrenic.

One of the consequences of Darwin and the discovery of deep time by 18th century geologists, is that the Biblical story of the source of evil don't match with the world we've found. Evil isn't the result of Man. It has always been part of the deal. What, then, is the promised Messiah supposed to do?

At the same time, I think personhood and consciousness seem beyond explanation. According to science, at the tiniest of scales there's a kind of hailstorm of particles and waves with all kinds of exotic qualities and energies. The strangest of all (for me) is the one where a state of the tiniest of particles isn't determined until you inspect it. Which makes inspection a different quality than the others storming around. And the further interesting thing is that this inspection quality is as much a part of the deal as all the rest. Which is as odd as all get out. Inspection doesn't merely imply personhood and consciousness. It demands it. An anesthetized patient can't inspect.

While I don't believe in the Biblical God, the idea that there is something else can't simply be rejected out of hand. If you pretend to know, your pretending is as suspect as the true believers blind faith.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Thomas Paine from Of The Religion of Deism Compared With the Christian Religion

"Every person, of whatever religious denomination he may be, is a DEIST in the first article of his Creed. Deism, from the Latin word Deus, God, is the belief of a God, and this belief is the first article of every man's creed.

It is on this article, universally consented to by all mankind, that the Deist builds his church, and here he rests. Whenever we step aside from this article, by mixing it with articles of human invention, we wander into a labyrinth of uncertainty and fable, and become exposed to every kind of imposition by pretenders to revelation."


And more Paine from Examination Of The Prophecies

"I have examined the story told of Jesus Christ, and compared the several circumstances of it with that revelation which, as Middleton wisely says, God has made to us of his Power and Wisdom in the structure of the universe, and by which every thing ascribed to him is to be tried. The result is, that the story of Christ has not one trait, either in its character or in the means employed, that bears the least resemblance to the power and wisdom of God, as demonstrated in the creation of the universe. All the means are human means, slow, uncertain, and inadequate to the accomplishment of the end proposed; and therefore the whole is a fabulous invention, and undeserving of credit.

The priests of the present day profess to believe it. They gain their living by it, and they exclaim against something they call infidelity. I will define what it is. HE THAT BELIEVES IN THE STORY OF CHRIST IS AN INFIDEL TO GOD."
[all caps in the original]




cRR Kampen said...

'the idea that there is something else can't simply be rejected out of hand. If you pretend to know, your pretending is as suspect as the true believers blind faith.'

Really.
Well: I know.
No pretense there, either.
Very thoroughly not 'out of hand' - but I suspect you will consider even carefully thought-over gnostic atheism as 'merely out of hand'. In fact, you are a believer, and will so handle EVERY argument challenging your theism ('the idea that there is something else' is always theism).
Okay, show me.

Jeffrey Davis said...

re: cRR kampen

it's almost as if I said one thing and you invented something else to respond to.

cRR Kampen said...

Ah yes, Jeffrey... My terrain, my expertise.
I welcome any queries, of course.
Unfortunately I don't see your trouble. I took a certain quote from your post and responded to that. There may be questions as to my taking on that specific quote, of course. To be sure, I like your entire post except for that last sentence.

It is in fact very rare that 'missionaristic agnosticism' (read again: '...If you pretend to know, your pretending is as suspect as the true believers blind faith.' gets scrutinized. Well, I am doing it.

The short reply would be (and was given): I don't pretend. I know. And something else: everybody does. There is no God, there is not 'something else'. This is why religious people act as if they are always in severe doubt, and why they have to push their beliefs on others!
Likewise Dawkins is a believer. He confesses it himself when he puts himself at not exactly the top level of atheism as per his criteria.
Either you know, or you don't. Dawkins is clueless and so are you.

Jeffrey Davis said...

cRR Kampen,

I'm sorry we're at loggerheads. I suspect you and I have surprisingly different meanings for common words.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Jeffrey wrote:"...the idea that there is something else can't simply be rejected out of hand..."

Well, yes, one can reject it out of hand. Obviously cRR Kampen has as have I.

It is about the same logic as rejecting the existence of fairies, elves or gnomes. I.e., there is zero evidence for any of them. How is god any different?

The passage I quoted from Paine had two relevant sentences - one at the beginning: "Whenever we step aside from this article [God exists], by mixing it with articles of human invention, we wander into a labyrinth of uncertainty and fable, and become exposed to every kind of imposition by pretenders to revelation." And one near the end: "HE THAT BELIEVES IN THE STORY OF CHRIST IS AN INFIDEL TO GOD."

The first dispenses with the notion of anything other than a creator. Period. No omniscience. No morality. No afterlife. No church. No clergy. God exists. Period. The only evidence Paine presents is that the world exists.

The 2nd re-emphasizes this point using a specific context - Christianity. In this quote Paine would readily replace 'story of Jesus' with story of [name your god] and hold it equally true.

In this Deist vision, there's nothing to worship. God is simply the creator. Anything more than that is human invention. The question then becomes: Which is it easier to believe, that there was a creator or it's all just physics and chemistry? I find it easier to believe in basic science.

As I've said many times, if there is a god he ought to be held accountable.

"Swear there ain't no heaven and I pray there ain't no hell
But I'll never know by living, only my dying will tell
Yes, only my dying will tell, only my dying will tell"
- written by Laura Nyro, popularized by Blood Sweat and Tears (Billboard #2, November 1969)



cRR Kampen said...

Ah, Jeffrey, not agreeing is not something to be sorry about - I wouldn't. It makes life more interesting.

Perhaps you could answer Kevin O'Neill's last (8:10 PM) post instead?

Jeffrey Davis said...

When I said that "can't be rejected out of hand" I assumed that people would read it as intended. "Can't be convincingly rejected ..." As per the Monty Python argument sketch.

What re-opened my thinking several years ago was Thomas Nagel on Evolution. (He's an atheist, btw) Personhood, consciousness, intent are uncanny properties. Mere assertions abou them by fellow primates don't dispel that uncanniness. Hence my belief in Something Else. Is functioning personhood just a big enough pile of carbon and such? That seems pretty unlikely. Why does a magpie pass the Mirror Test but a dog doesn't? How does intent have an effect that is distinguishable from the myriad of other particles? "It just does" isn't quite satisfying.

rconnor said...

Jeffrey Davis,

Your "something else" almost certainly requires a violation of the laws of physics.

The only way it doesn't is to believe there is a yet-to-be discovered scientific explanation that "something else" impacts consciousness. However, this is even less convincing than it might first appear.

Quantum Field Theory tells us that if you want to postulate a new force that impacts neurons in our head, then we should be able to produce that particle in super colliders by rotating the Feynman diagram. If your "something else" force was strong enough to interact with neurons, it would be easily discovered in super colliders. Moreover, it would also pop up in Quantum Field Theory and the standard model.

The fact it's neither been discovered in super colliders nor is required in the standard model suggest that it ain't there. See this talk by Sean Carroll:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv0mKsO2goA&t=13m40s

So, then we are faced with two options:
1) There is "something else" and it does violate the most tested laws of physics. These violations, conveniently, lie only in areas where we don’t have a complete physical model. In every other instances, the laws of physics apply.
-or-
2) The anthropocentric desire to be something "more" than our physical selves has lead some to believe in a hypothesis that flies in the face of our scientific understanding of the universe.

(PS - I like Nagel. I find him interesting. But his theory of mind is, to me, nothing more than repackaged dualism and his theory of evolution is, to me, nothing more than intelligent design without a god. As a counter, I suggest reading Daniel Dennett.)

(PPS - I think you might be interested in watching that entire Sean Carroll video. It outlines his philosophy on this whole question. Basically, you don't have to throw out science in order to feel some sense of grandeur and purpose. Or read Carl Sagan.)

cRR Kampen said...

Jeffrey - add some reading of e.g. Daniel Dennett.
And two tips: demystify at all times, and use Ockham's Razor like a samurai at all times.

cRR Kampen said...

said rconnor already, yoi