Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ongoing Dialogue, Part II

Let's continue the discussion (from Part One) here, since Blogger is a pain to load after 200 comments. Okay, back to the comment box:


214 comments:

  1. Leila, I can say that his existence can be placed in doubt and scholars are in recent days. Richard Carrier is leading that charge in my opinion. He is the one you should ask or read his recent books (which I have not but wouldn't mind getting my hands on). Here is a review of one such book of his: http://www.nobeliefs.com/Carrier.htm

    Who are your other eye witnesses other than Paul? I'm curious not that we are scholarly good enough to analyze the texts like Carrier to determine forgeries and the like. I think you can argue about Mark's gospel, but none of the other copies. Mark's alone was written between 55 and 70 AD. An at least 20 year old story written down is hard to accept especially those that take it as the word of god. Many people can't even re-tell a joke correctly after hearing it once. Anyway, we've gotten way off your original topic.

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    1. Also, I'm not stating whether I think he existed or not. I'm simply showing you a respected scholar that does not and should be taken seriously instead of laughed off.

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    2. Adam, thanks for the comment. Over at Strange Notions, we have several articles debunking Richard Carrier's "Mythicist" theory, the belief that Jesus never existed, written by both believers and non-believers:

      http://www.strangenotions.com/tag/mythicism/

      You should know that Carrier's view is not held by *any* mainstream historian, either theist or atheist. In fact, even Bart Ehrman, perhaps today's most prominent scholarly skeptic, has written a whole book defending Jesus' existence.

      To be quite frank, suggesting that Jesus never existed is the surest sign that someone has little familiarity with current historical scholarship on Jesus of Nazareth. It's a fringe position held by Carrier and a small group of Internet followers. You do yourself no favors by giving it serious attention; doing so is akin to discussing space travel and having someone who believes we never landed on the moon.

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  2. Nubby,
    Atheism is not holding a belief in a god. It states nothing about what other things someone may or may not believe in. Very simple.

    I'm still not sure what your hangup is on the BVG theorem is. I never disputed it. I simply stated that it applies to the understanding of our universe. Call me dishonest all you want. I will also say that just because something has not been dis-proven, does not mean that it can't be or won't be, such is the nature of science. Tomorrow we may find that gravity behaves differently than we once knew to a high certainty.

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  3. Adam, it's just not something I'm interested in spending time on -- the idea that a "respected scholar" who lives over 2,000 years after the fact can suddenly deny the existence of Jesus, negating the countless scholars through millennia (including today) who know without doubt that he did exist. It's just silliness to me. I do wish you would answer some of my questions, though. And if you don't want to address the "Did Jesus Rise" scenario publicly, I am very willing and hopeful that you will send me your chronology/scenario privately (littlecatholicbubble@gmail.com). I would be interested to read a reasonable alternative to the story in the gospels.

    One more thought: 20 years after the fact, in a culture that told its stories and history orally, is not very long at all. In fact, I believe Hillary Clinton did a memoire? I think she had to reach back some 20 years, and perhaps she did not get every detail precisely correct, but I'm guessing she was capable of writing some history that is not complete fabrication. Gosh, I recently wrote my mother-in-law's conversion story, and I had to remember things that happened years ago. It is possible to do, and even easy. Also, if the whole story was a fabrication, there were thousands upon thousands of folks who could have and would have refuted it and laughed it right out of town and it would have never seen the light of day. The people of that generation were very much still alive.

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  4. Leila, I'm not that interested to spend time on it either. What questions are you referring to that I haven't answered besides the "Did Jesus Rise" post? I thought I answered all of them or did I miss something?

    People will believe all kinds of what you and I would probably both agree as laughable. Mormonism, Scientology, Heaven's Gate, etc. Joseph Smith is laughable alone because he translated golden plates that we now can translate that is referring to the Sun god Ra, and so certainly could not have been an inspired translation by god through him.

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  5. StarFireKK says: "So how do you decide which approach is moral? Is it up to each of us to decide alone? Do we decide by majority vote? Logic? empathy?"

    If by "moral" you mean what is the way to lead the best life, it is both up to each of alone (in our personal lives) and up to all of us by majority vote (to pass laws). Our modern civil societies try to draw a reasonable line between things we must decide together (laws that restrict behavior to increase our safety), and things we don't _need_ to all agree on through law (how to be a good friend, spouse, etc).

    Nubby says: "Matt, Since you're happily ignoring the God component..."

    Nubby, all I saw you do was claim that God's Law is integral to morality, and not support it. You know I don't believe in your god, but you're just stating an assumption or conclusion, not making an argument. Why should someone accept your claim the God's Law is integral to morality? I think that's what Leila wants to lead to, but you haven't made any argument for me to respond to.

    Leila says: "Matt, do you agree with Dawkins that nothing is something?"

    I missed that. Is that about the Big Bang or something?

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  6. Hi Leila
    Are there any historical records of Jesus's life other than what is written in the bible? Any accounts of his life by non-Christians? I not asking because I doubt Jesus lived: I don't. I'm just curious. Thanks.

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    1. Yes. See the section titled "Non-Christian References to Jesus as a Historical Figure" in this article, which was written by an atheist:

      http://www.strangenotions.com/an-atheist-historian-examines-the-evidence-for-jesus-part-2-of-2/

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  7. Hi Johanne! Yes, there are. In this article you will find some references:

    http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/are-the-gospels-myth

    Including:

    The historian Tacitus, in his Annals —considered by historians to be one the finest works of ancient Roman history—mentioned how the Emperor Nero, following the fire in Rome in A.D. 64, persecuted Christians in order to draw attention away from himself. The passage is noteworthy as an unfriendly source because although Tacitus thought Nero was appalling, he also despised the foreign and, to him, superstitious religion of Christianity:


    "Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular." (Annals, 15:44)

    Robert E. Van Voorst, author of Jesus Outside the New Testament, offers a detailed analysis of scholarly controversies about this passage, and then states, "Of all the Roman authors, Tacitus gives us the most precise information about Christ" (45). This includes Tacitus’s understanding that "Christus"—not Paul or someone else—was the founder of the Christian movement. He notes that Christ was executed under Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, and that Judea was the source of the Christian movement. All of which further confirms the historical reliability of the Gospels.

    And then there is Josphus' reference to Jesus:


    http://www.bede.org.uk/Josephus.htm

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    1. Actually there is much debate over, but from what I've read the consensus is that the Josephus passage is a forgery.

      http://www.examiner.com/article/jesus-passage-josephus-a-forgery-says-expert

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    2. The link I provided addresses the debate. Again, what Christian sources or scholars have you or do you use when assessing a claim?

      And I'm just curious if your wife is still a Christian? Your rejection of your Faith and God must be very painful for her, if so. :(

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    3. She is. Why do you assume it is painful for her? Just because we sometimes vote for different candidates doesn't make it painful for us either.

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    4. Just to follow up on Adam's suggestion that the Josephus passage (known as the Testimonium Flavianum) is a forgery, most scholars don't believe the *whole* passage is inauthentic, just part of it. Because of this, no serious scholar doubts that the Josephus passage, at a minimum, testifies to some basic facts about the life of Jesus, most obviously the fact that he actually existed. This article has more on the Josephus controversy:

      http://www.strangenotions.com/is-this-mention-of-jesus-a-forgery/

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  8. "I missed that. Is that about the Big Bang or something?"

    Yes, Matt. Dawkins said that "nothing" is "something". I think we talked about it in our private emails a while back, too. He couldn't understand why the audience laughed. And yet I guess some people do believe that "nothing" is "something"... kind of defies logic.

    But from what you have written in your last comment, you are saying that morality is subjective (to the individual, or to the society), is that right? So it's sort of "I decide" or "we decide" when it comes to morality and/or laws that govern our actions. Subjective truth. No Objective Truth. Correct?

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  9. Adam, there were just a few questions, like this:

    Do you know of anyone in history (or in your sphere of life and interactions) who has come to believe in leprechauns? I mean, for real. I'm just curious, because you are basically equating God to leprechauns, but I don't see the parallel? So, have you ever seen it? Sane, healthy, intelligent people who come to believe in leprechauns as adults? (Or FSMs?)

    And then I had asked you what sources you used for the Christian side of your investigations about the veracity of Christianity and its claims. Thanks!

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    1. Actually, I responded just not directly.
      People will believe all kinds of what you and I would probably both agree as laughable. Mormonism, Scientology, Heaven's Gate, etc. Joseph Smith is laughable alone because he translated golden plates that we now can translate that is referring to the Sun god Ra, and so certainly could not have been an inspired translation by god through him.
      But to answer directly, no, I haven't specifically found someone currently believing in leprechauns that is sane. I do know someone that is schizophrenic that believes he sees little men though.

      I totally missed anything about sources. I use a multitude of sources. I do tend to lean to non-christian (not just atheist) sources to try to get the most unbiased view.

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  10. A Carmelite Here---

    I'm off here in my own mystical world, so forgive me for being off topic.

    I am not super interested in the debate of "Did Jesus Live In The Past."

    I believe the Jesus is Alive and at work NOW.

    We believe that his life, death and resurrection happened because we have a long line of witnesses. But we also believe in his promises are trustworthy because cool things are happening to Christians NOW!

    Pick your part of the world and there is something fantastic and amazing that is happening with Christians there. There is Saint Teresa of Calcutta helping the lepers. There is St. John Paul II stopping communism. There was a Pope who turned back the Mongol Invasion of Europe. There are some ordinary nuns in Pennsylvania who calmly and kindly talk to parents who's kids have just OD on heroin.

    This stuff is not just a placebo effect.

    There are some miraculously awesome human beings who inhabit the Catholic Church.

    For me, the faith debate is easy. "I want what they've got!"

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  11. Matt, you said, "If by 'moral' you mean what is the way to lead the best life, it is both up to each of one (in our personal lives) and up to all of us by majority vote (to pass laws). Our modern civil societies try to draw a reasonable line between things we must decide together (laws that restrict behavior to increase our safety), and things we don't _need_ to all agree on through law (how to be a good friend, spouse, etc)."

    But how do you know if you're "right"? How do you know if your society is "right"? To what do laws and individual morality have to conform in order to truly be right?

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  12. Abigail, I love your comment! You are acknowledging that there is evidence of the working of God. It is there in individual lives. There have definitely been people who have been converted for the very reason you give - "I want what they've got!" In the early Church, that was expressed by those observing early Christians as, "See how they love one another!" It is awesome when a person's life draws another person to God - and sad when our faults and failings actually cause people to turn away from Christianity.

    That also makes me wonder - do the atheists in this discussion, or those lurking, deny that miracles have taken place?

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  13. Nubby, all I saw you do was claim that God's Law is integral to morality, and not support it. You know I don't believe in your god, but you're just stating an assumption or conclusion, not making an argument.

    I’m just stating an assumption? A whole body of scholarship exists on ethical theory. Every. Theory. Is tied to God’s law. Do you disagree with scholarship? On what logical grounds do you refute this scholarship?

    LURKERS: Matt hasn’t answered whether he believes in absolutes (i.e., absolute evil) but if he says yes, and he unties God, he’s got half and equation. He will need to posit something in God’s place, otherwise he has no argument, because he has not defined a thing. Which is obvious to me, at this early point.

    Basically, all he has said is, “I don’t believe in God.”
    Great. Well, I already know that. Tell me something I don’t know. Argue it thorough a debate. Posit something debatable. Not just conjecture.
    Name a thing, I don’t care. Tell me morality comes from the wind. We can argue that at least.


    Why should someone accept your claim the God's Law is integral to morality?.

    Because in the operating world of planet earth, that claim is fact. Maybe give five minutes and look up ‘ethical theory’ in the Cambridge Encyclopedia. On what possible logical grounds, would you refute that?

    LURKERS: Truth-seeking never starts from a factor of 0. There is always a presupposition; a trust in ideas, understanding and information that we don’t create or make-up or even control by ourselves. Don’t let an atheist’s irrelevant questions to the direct topic act as a smoke screen to blur the argument.

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  14. I will also say that just because something has not been dis-proven, does not mean that it can't be or won't be, such is the nature of science. Tomorrow we may find that gravity behaves differently than we once knew to a high certainty.


    LURKERS: The irony is astounding. Adam uses faith in science. Adam is hoping beyond hope that ‘science’ will dis-prove God.

    Adam is explicitly incorrect in his hope because, as I said back in Thread 1, you cannot use “science” to make a negative pronouncement about anything beyond our world.

    If you can’t observe it, guess what? You can’t measure it. AND, what Adam really needs to hear at this point is that in order to make such a claim he would need the FULL ENTIRE set of questions and the FULL ENTIRE set of answers! He’ll never have it, as it pertains to God. Because you cannot take data from inside the world to disprove a thing outside the world.

    He might as well say, “There are no aliens.” He can only make such a claim if he has gathered all the details and answered every single solitary part of a question that arose from his gathering evidence. Silliness and a complete hope in science that is illogical and incorrectly placed!

    To his point on gravity acting differently – that’s neither here nor there. That’s a measurement we can take that is *within* our world. Has no bearing on the notion of God who is outside of the observable universe.

    What Adam should do is be open to all other methodologies and seek through various means. What displays an atheistic childishness of the will is when someone actually says that “Aquinas has been … shredded”, I think he said. In order to be taken seriously, don’t make claims like that about an intellectual genius who has stood centuries with his arguments.

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  15. Margo, it's not off topic. The topic is Truths.

    I can admit that many unknown things are possible, because if I think logically I understand the man does not have all the answers, so one should keep their minds open.
    Now if you ask if I believe in god that is one thing, but you didn't. You asked if no one believed is gods existence still possible.
    And because we don't have all the answers I honestly answered yes.
    Hope that makes sense to you.

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  16. (So) much ado about no-thing!
    But hey, maybe all the ado will eventually amount to some-thing? :)

    (By means of "noting" [which, in Shakespeare's day, sounded the same as "nothing," and which is gossip, rumor, and overhearing], Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero at the altar on the erroneous belief that she has been unfaithful. At the end, Benedick and Beatrice join forces to set things right, and the others join in a dance celebrating the marriages of the two couples.)

    As for me, this “nothing=something” proposition makes me giggle so much, I reckon I too might go crack open a coldie, put on some music, and dance to the banns of impending marriage between mister Nothing and miss(ing) Something!

    Oh, before I go, young Nubby is right.

    1. Physicists are now generally agreed that time is an emergent property of the universe. In other words, no (material) universe = no time. Or, for that matter (no pun intended!), no multiverse = no time. We (rightly) think of something as having existence “in time” but the mechanics of it (also rightly) is: if there isn’t anything in existence, then there isn’t even time! The latest physics seems to be confirming exactly that.

    2. But wait, there’s more! Even more intriguingly, from the above finding physicists are also now theorizing that if someone could observe the universe from outside of it, time would stand still for such a “god like observer”. In other words, the past, present and future would all be available to the view of said “god like observer” as a single, immanent instant. Every event of the past, present and future - no matter how minute or opaque to dwellers within an universe/multiverse - would be on display before his/her/their vision. Hmm. Somehow I seem to recall having heard that kind of proposition before! Something about someone… some “god like observer”… being absolute and eternal… Perhaps if I go groove to the right music, on a productive wavelength, with the wine of gladness in hand, I might be able jig my memory into remembering! Meanwhile, all you scientists, you clever boys and girls, keep going! Some of us believe we know where you’ll arrive eventually, but then again, we wouldn’t want to come across as know-alls or ruin your delightful surprise! :)

    Here. Have fun, everyone:

    https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/quantum-experiment-shows-how-time-emerges-from-entanglement-d5d3dc850933

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  17. Leila, we agree that war is not an accident yes?
    We agree that people are killed during a war yes?
    We agree that civilians are killed during a way yes?
    So now how you can tell me that is unplanned killing, and it is moral?

    If god imprinted on our hears and minds that killing was immoral then why are there so many wars? War is intentional killing, whether one is defending themselves or not.

    And sorry, I've no idea what questions you asked that I missed.

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  18. Sharon, thank you for the kind thoughts. I hope you have been well.
    I've had a hell of a year caring for my 87 year old dad in my home.


    I am saying that all killing is immoral. It's nothing to do with defending one's country or not. To me, that is an objective truth.
    There are no unintentional victims when you invade a country. The intent is to kill so that your way of life will continue to exist.

    But that is my whole point here. You all seem to want objective morals, but you want them to be your religions objective morals. And that is where we fall apart. That is why I say it is very very very difficult to define what is an objective moral truth and what isn't.
    In a way you prove my point for me, although I know that not one christian here will see that.

    Quick question. Were there no morals before religion?

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  19. Question for Alan:

    Alan, if a religious fundamentalist was in your house, about to behead your child for believing in your God (assuming you have one), and you had a gun within reach which could stop, or even kill, him, what would you do?

    Why this hang-up about what is obvious to all - people of faith and no faith - as a just , defensive, war?

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  20. But that is my whole point here. You all seem to want objective morals, but you want them to be your religions objective morals. And that is where we fall apart.

    Alan, We shouldn't fall apart there, because every moral system throws back to God's law. It is implicit, whether you're talking how one ought to behave, moral choices, moral quandaries, etc. Whatever you're measuring for, any variable of morals always relies on Absolute Standard. This is not my opinion. There's an entire field (including applied sciences) pertaining to Ethics. Give it a read, seriously. If anything, it will help logically.

    Please realize, if you take God's Absolute law off the table, you would have to posit something new as "law giver" in its place. Because your theory would be incomplete and your central thesis very weak.

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  21. Side note/mini-vent:
    It is good that people post links. I personally don’t do it, because to me (this is meant to sound direct, not uncharitable) if you’re going to posit a wrong-headed notion using an erroneous method, you can then also go do your own stupid (read: erroneous, incorrect) homework.

    I refuse to point people to links to correct them, because I personally want to see how people think for themselves, just right off the cuff.

    If I tell you “x” method isn’t right, and you don’t know that, that is okay. That allows honest room for correction, which leads to acceptance of truth. You know, like when your prof marked up your paper with so much red ink, you knew your method was wrong, but you took time to re-do the homework on your own to make it correct. Right?

    But if you insist on asserting that, “x” method is right, and you absolutely cannot logically support it off the cuff in simplified terms that shows me that you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

    I lose respect for commenters like that. As Bishop Sheen always says, “You don’t truly understand something, until you can give an example of it.” So, it’s always been with me. Give an example. Think aloud. Don’t refer me to stupid arguments where someone doesn’t even understand Aquinas but claims to ‘shred him’. I mean, I don’t think so. Tell me in your own words. Use illustrations. Draw distinctions. Check for accurate thought processes. Just consider what is logically plausible.

    Is it logically plausible that the Legos in the room just appeared in a perfectly constructed Lego city? Or is it more logically plausible that someone had to bring the Legos into the room and assemble them?

    Is it logically plausible that a dollar just appeared in your account? Or is it more plausible that someone had to deposit that for you? I’m not talking about accruing interest, because that can only be added to an already existing ‘something’. I’m talking zero dollars then $1.00.

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  22. Alan, you say you believe that all killing is immoral, yet you support abortion. Isn't that a contradiction?

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  23. If anyone is likening a (robustly reasoned) belief in God to a goofy belief in leprechauns (or Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or a Spaghetti Monster in the Sky) , then, as an investment towards their own proper understanding, they need to back way, way, way up and ascertain first what believers actually mean when they speak about a creator, sustainer and savior God. Just saying. Goofy concepts don't rule the intellects of perceptive man for thousands of years (since time immemorial), unlike the ebbing and flowing waves of atheism and its inherent hopelessness. If that were the case, we'd have been extinct by now.

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  24. How do I "like" Nubby's comments on this thread? Especially that last one about $37 turning to $100,000 in my bank account. Boy, that got my interest! :)

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    1. Ha, ty.
      Let's hope the rebuttal doesn't include, "well, ya know, 'nothing' in monetary terms really doesn't mean 'nothing'...."
      Let's sell that idea to the bank manager when we want a car loan and our account and income read: $0.00

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    2. Precisely, Nubby. When the debate boils down to a pivotal proposition that nothing = something, we're traipsing off to the wholly strange paradigm of a Twilight Zone, into an acid induced imagining of a multiverse that is, even in sober scientific conjecture - i.e., for those who are truly evidence reliant - even more fantabulous than a leprechaun or a tooth fairy or Santa Claus. Meanwhile, God continues to be charged with having provided man with no proofs of His existence!

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    3. lol- I know and I'm sober, I guess that's the obstacle.... ;)

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  25. >> ""you're just stating an assumption ""
    > "I’m just stating an assumption? A whole body of scholarship exists on ethical theory. Every. Theory. Is tied to God’s law. Do you disagree with scholarship? On what logical grounds do you refute this scholarship?"

    Nubby, unless by "scholarship" you mean "Catholic scholarship", you are quite wrong. There are dozens of non-theist ethical theories. For example, the universal prescriptivism I mentioned. THese theories have had literally thousands of journal articles and books published on them.

    In fact, there are even a large number of non-theist theories that are also realist! That is, many atheist philosophers believe that moral values exist as "real" objects, etc. The largest survey of professional philosophers (3,000) reported that 72% of them are atheists, although 56% of the whole group subscribe to moral realism [see http://philpapers.org/surveys/]. This means at least 30% of philosophy professors subscribe to an ethical system that is realist but non-theist.

    If you think that morals *have* to, implicitly, be tied to God, let me ask you this classic question:

    Is an act good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?

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    1. The answer to your question is "both/and". God commands good things because they are good (for us) and things are good for us that are commanded by God, because God - by definition - is goodness itself. Notice how all things progress towards the good. How love wins in the end. How justice/karma prevails in the end. It's inexorable. And so, precisely because it is the work of God. Unless you can offer an alternate, plausible theory...

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  26. Sharon wrote: "But how do you know if you're "right"? How do you know if your society is "right"? To what do laws and individual morality have to conform in order to truly be right?"

    I think this is a confusion of language. We use the words "right" and "wrong" both for logical statements (" '3+2=5' is Right "), and for moral statements ("It's not right!"). This confuses us, because they are not similar things.

    If society votes in a law you dislike, or makes something that you dislike popular, or something that you like shameful, well, deal with it. It's a democracy. But society voting something into law does not change your own sense of morality, of what you think is "right" or "wrong". And if you are a moral realist, it does not suddenly swap out one platonic moral truth for a different truth. If you believe X is always wrong, your belief shouldn't be changed by society endorsing X.

    This seems to me to be a non-problem.

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  27. unless by "scholarship" you mean "Catholic scholarship", you are quite wrong. There are dozens of non-theist ethical theories

    Ha. Well, don’t assume I mean “Catholic anything”. I was educated at two big name secular institutions, Matt. Never even attended Catholic elementary or high schools, either. You can take “Catholic” out of it, since I never posited it in the first place.

    For example, the universal prescriptivism I mentioned. THese theories have had literally thousands of journal articles and books published on them.

    Not interested. Just want to hear your own logic. Not thousands of others.

    If you think that morals *have* to, implicitly, be tied to God, let me ask you this classic question:

    Is an act good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?

    False dilemma. He commands something because he is Goodness itself. See?
    Now please posit something in place of God’s law for your complete version of ethical theory. Please don’t point me to some link.

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  28. Francis, I have no children and I don't allow guns in my home.
    Would I protect my husband.....you betcha. Would I try to kill that person? Certainly not. If it happened that would be wrong, perhaps even immoral.
    I know you won't agree, but hey, what can I say.

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  29. "Why do you assume it is painful for her?"

    Adam, because you may be separated from her for an eternity. Eternal salvation is not like "voting for different candidates."

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  30. Nubby, gods law is your opinion. So if we HAVE to start there then there is no point in discussing with you. It's you saying we must agree or we are wrong. You see that right?

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  31. Jo Anna, subtle distinction. I support a womans right to do with her body what she wants. I don't support abortion. I think abortion is wrong. However it's not my body so it's not my decision.

    But please, as Margo asked when I asked her a question, stay on topic.

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    1. She was on topic, Alan. You said all killing is wrong, but that you "support" abortion. Abortion is killing, Alan. Even abortionists have admitted that. Science is clear on that. So, you are contradicting your own stated philosophy and she is calling you on it.

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  32. Alan,
    I didn't create ethical theory. So it's not my opinion. If you remove God from the equation, you, by logical necessity of argument, need to posit a new law giver in his place. If no God's law, then what? If only nature, then how?

    What compels you to feel the weight of morality?
    How does nature account for accurate truth-knowing and truth-finding capabilities when it only selects for survival?

    LURKERS:
    Note that not even one non-believer has posited a legitimate argument. At all.

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  33. It is on topic, Alan. And I'm still confused. If you support a woman's choice to kill an innocent child, why don't you support a soldier's choice to kill an innocent child? It still seems like a contradiction to me. (For the record, I think it is always wrong to kill an innocent child, whether it is a solider or a mother.)

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    1. *whether it is a solider or a mother doing the killing, to clarify

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  34. Mankind's progress, over millenia, has been predominantly driven by an underlying theism, shedding crucial light on understandings of wise and unwise, reality and unreality, good and evil, right and wrong, ethics and boundaries, justice and injustice. What are a-theism's claims to being a catalysis for man's historic progress? Anyone?

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  35. Alan, first, you are a very good son! That is not easy, caring for an elderly father.

    Okay, so I am confused. You think all killing is immoral. So, if a cop kills in the line of duty, in order to protect a citizen from harm, he is committing an immoral act? He is wrong to do so?

    Is it also wrong to maim or injure? So, if you (or a cop) saw a child being attacked by a man with a knife, it would be immoral to use force (that might kill) to stop that man? So, murderers should be allowed to commit the acts even if we could stop them in the act, with either severe injury or by killing them if it's the only way?

    Also, it seems like you are saying that all war is bad because all war is going to end in innocent lives lost. But what if (hypothetically) only armed combatants are killed in a particular war (no innocent bystanders). Is the war (even if the cause is just) still immoral in your eyes?

    I hate war, by the way. My dad was little boy in a war zone. My grandpa was in a refugee camp for months because of war. My grandma had a bullet whiz by her head and kill a priest on the next balcony during a war. My cousins (my age) fled to America in the '70s to escape their nation's war. My uncle, as a little boy, had to be rescued by my grandma from his elementary school years ago because there was a war battle outside the school, which almost cost them their lives. I am no fan of war.

    But here's the thing. If you oppose even a just war because there is a potential (or even certainty) of innocents being killed inadvertently, then why are you not against cars? We build cars, and yet we know WITH CERTAINTY that tens of thousands of innocent lives will be lost every year, lives that would not have been lost if we did not build cars. Cars are deadly. Why are you not against car manufacturing? Why do you drive a car (if you do), knowing you could kill someone by mistake?

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    1. "If god imprinted on our hears and minds that killing was immoral then why are there so many wars?"

      His dictate is against murder, not all killing. And the reason there is so many wars is because of the nature of fallen man. Sin. Concupiscence. Why are there so many rapes? So much brutality? Because we are sinful, and drawn toward sin. Sin is the ugliest thing in the world, and that is why Christ lost every drop of blood to save us from it. To free us from it. But to the extent that we don't accept God's grace, we will stay firmly in our sin. It's amazing to me how many people can deny the reality of sin, when it's so obvious, it's everywhere, it's all around us, in every headline, in every family saga, in every human drama. And yet we deny it. We might as well deny the nose on our face.

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  36. Alan, please expand. If it's not immoral to protect someone in your home from a murderous intruder, why does it suddenly become immoral if the intruder is (necessarily or unavoidably) killed in the process? Your intention is not to kill the intruder. It is to protect your loved one. What happens when both aims cannot be simultaneously achieved? Do you just stand by and let your loved one's throat be slit? Which widely/historically accepted religious or non religious argument can you cite to support that stance?

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  37. Abigail, thank you! This is the stuff that has been on my heart and mind since my cousin Michelle died. If people knew the things that occur when holy people die... Good gracious, you cannot believe the heavenly consolations, visitors, experiences, all confirming the reality of things above nature (supernatural). Truly, there is no denying what we know, and what the saints know. We are spiritual and material. If one only believes in the material (denying the metaphysical), one cannot even begin to understand the amputation. All I can say is, my cousin died and my heart is FULL of joy, mingled with the sadness of missing her. Oh the stories I could (and will eventually) tell! :)

    And Brandon, thanks for chiming in! For those who don't know, Brandon gave up a very excellent engineering career to work for the amazing Fr. Robert Barron, of Word on Fire. Fr. Barron (whose series has been seen on PBS) debates atheists full-time, and has so many youtube videos addressing all the arguments. Check him out. Brilliant man, very holy, charitable. Meets people where they are. (He was instrumental in my mother-in-law's conversion from secularism.)

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  38. "Quick question. Were there no morals before religion?"

    Alan, I can't state this enough. The moral law is objective. It does not even depend on a "religion" to exist. It has always existed. Yes, absolutely, there has been a moral law always. It's objective, it's transcendent. Just because a religion teaches a moral truth does not mean the religion "invented" the moral law.

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  39. This is kind of fun I admit.
    You are all jumping at me because I am saying I think something is morally wrong. But you want me to agree with what you think is morally wrong.

    Kids, war is wrong, just or unjust. The loss of life is wrong regardless of who is doing it.
    Is it justified at times? Certainly. Does that make it right? In my opinion no it does not.

    Leila, the intent of war is to kill. The intent of a car is not to kill. Stuff happens in this crazy world.
    Hope that answers you all.

    Oh Nubby, I think someone smarter than me was engaging you in the ethical theory arena in and you kinda blew him off simply by saying he is wrong. I'm not sure you read or attempted to comprehend what he was saying. But he seems to be doing ok.
    Please understand that you think god is the source of all. Good for you. I may or may not agree with you on that. But you've got to at least attempt to understand what others are saying. And he seems pretty logical to me.

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  40. "If you believe X is always wrong, your belief shouldn't be changed by society endorsing X."

    Of course, Matt. For Christians, this is not a problem. We lose our heads (literally) by living our Truths. But for an atheist, for whom the only "source" of truth is subjective, this is a problem. How can their be a "right" moral position and a "wrong" one? You have said before that if one truly really studies and thinks and believes something to be right, then, by goodness, he can claim it as right. But you have not accounted for the fact that the other side may have done the same. For example, Communism murdered untold millions. But those folks had really, really, really been convicted of their principles, their motives, their intentions, their ends. They really thought through their philosophy, just like you have done with yours. Why are they wrong and you are right? How on earth can you say that they (or the Nazis, or anyone else you disagree with) are morally wrong? What standard do you use, outside of yourself? Your morality is subjective, no?

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  41. Killing is an unfortunate byproduct of war, not the intent of it. I'm sure most countries would much prefer waging war without losing any of their soldiers.

    For example, the intent of WWII was not to kill as many Nazis as possible, it was to stop the Nazis from conquering Europe.

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  42. Adam, Matt, Alan,

    Nubby is right. These are the questions that have not been answered. If one of you could attempt an answer, that would be good, to move the discussion forward.

    If you remove God from the equation, you, by logical necessity of argument, need to posit a new law giver in his place. If no God's law, then what? If only nature, then how?

    What compels you to feel the weight of morality?
    How does nature account for accurate truth-knowing and truth-finding capabilities when it only selects for survival?

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  43. "The intent of war is to kill." Wrong. I agree with what JoAnna Wahland said.

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  44. Fulton Sheen said it well:


    A thing cannot measure itself: A tape measure must be outside the cloth; a speedometer must not be a brick in the roadway; a judge must not be a shareholder in the corporation whose cause he judges. In like manner the judgment of the world must be from outside the world. Such a standard is the need of the hour -- an authority that does not, like some politician, find out what the people want and then give it to them, but which gives them what is true and good whether it is popular or not.

    So, what is the atheist's measuring stick? Against what does he measure things for Truth?

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  45. I didn't blow anyone off, Alan. I'm merely waiting for the assembly of an actual articulated argument.

    Heck, I even supplied "nature" for you guys, since you gave nothing. You can posit anything you want. As long as you define it and argue your angle.

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  46. Alan,

    "Is it justified at times? Certainly. Does that make it right? In my opinion no it does not."

    How do you mean? How can something simultaneously be justified and the wrong thinh (not the right thing) to do? You might be meaning war is not a nice thing to have to do - and of course I'd agree with you - but surely it can't be an immoral thing to do if it's justified by the circumstances (like perhaps by being the only option to protect innocent life)?

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  47. Francis, yes! Something "just" is moral, by definition. "Unjust" would be immoral. So, how something be "justified" and also "immoral" at the same time? Makes no sense. Contradiction.

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  48. Wow, the discussion exploded. To bad I have to work- ha. Before I read the rest of the comments I will reply to Matt.

    From Matt: "If by "moral" you mean what is the way to lead the best life, it is both up to each of alone (in our personal lives) and up to all of us by majority vote (to pass laws). Our modern civil societies try to draw a reasonable line between things we must decide together (laws that restrict behavior to increase our safety), and things we don't _need_ to all agree on through law (how to be a good friend, spouse, etc)."

    That's basically a justification for mob rule. People get convinced of bad ideas all the time. People use dumb realizations to convince themselves they are right for hurting other people because it gets them what they want. People in groups are even more inclined to justify bad behavior.

    Does that mean if a group of psychopaths forms a society where it is legal to kill people, it is moral?

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  49. Alan,
    If no Absolute law, then no injustice. Right? How can you claim any injustices can be done to you or someone else, when you abandon the standard that would measure that?

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  50. If I may, Alan, (Hi, btw: *waves*) what you seem to be claiming is that the unintended consequences of a just war are immoral because even innocents will be killed. However, and someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but consequences are neither moral nor immoral, but rather the result of moral or immoral actions. For an action to be immoral/sinful there must be a deliberate, willful, intent behind committing the action. In the case of saving someone about to be beheaded by another person, if the willful intent behind the act is to save the person about to be beheaded and this action results in the death of the beheader, this is moral. If the willful intent behind the act is to kill the beheader without thought as to the saving of the other victim, and the actio results in the death of the beheader, this would be immoral. The consequences are the same, but they are not what is immoral or moral about the situation. The morality surrounds the action.

    Someone tell me that makes sense. Or if I'm completely wrong.

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  51. Alan,
    Just to branch off here for discussion, since we're awaiting an argument on a law giver apart from God...

    Do you believe that God is just one good among many kinds of goods? Like friends, family, good times, leisure, good experiences?

    I'd argue that He cannot be, because the impact of morality is always felt, first and foremost, no matter what kind of happiness we seek to attain. Aristotle touched on happiness quite a bit.

    Just throwing it out there.

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  52. If I may, Alan, (Hi, btw: *waves*) what you seem to be claiming is that the unintended consequences of a just war are immoral because even innocents will be killed. However, and someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but consequences are neither moral nor immoral, but rather the result of moral or immoral actions. For an action to be immoral/sinful there must be a deliberate, willful, intent behind committing the action. In the case of saving someone about to be beheaded by another person, if the willful intent behind the act is to save the person about to be beheaded and this action results in the death of the beheader, this is moral. If the willful intent behind the act is to kill the beheader without thought as to the saving of the other victim, and the actio results in the death of the beheader, this would be immoral. The consequences are the same, but they are not what is immoral or moral about the situation. The morality surrounds the action.

    Someone tell me that makes sense. Or if I'm completely wrong.

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  53. Okay, Matt you said the following: "If society votes in a law you dislike, or makes something that you dislike popular, or something that you like shameful, well, deal with it. It's a democracy. "

    No.

    If we pass a law to kill off our old because they are a drag. I will never let anyone take my father.

    If you tell me I can't attend public school because I am disabled (which did happen.) You should've have seen how my late mother replied to that. (Spoiler Alert- she won.)

    If we pass a law that outlaws religion, or makes Jews wear Stars or places the American citizens in camps. We should NOT just "deal with it."

    The majority vote does not absolve you of your responsibility to fight injustice.

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  54. Hello Bethany.

    Too many of you and only one of me. I'm not saying you are ganging up, I'm just saying it's difficult to be the dissenting opinion.

    Yes I find killing to be immoral. Regardless of intent or necessity, it's immoral. I don't feel the need to defend myself anymore on this.

    Death is more than an unfortunate by product of war, and as adults we all should acknowledge that. If you can't, well then again, no point in continuing discussing.

    It's also pointless to attempt to define a "law giver outside of god". I fear no matter what one says you won't even attempt to listen or understand, because your minds are set.

    Are you saying that through out all of time all morals have stayed constant?
    And you believe the intent is what makes something moral or immoral?
    I think that we all have to (or at least logically should) understand that societies have always played a part in giving us our morals. As have our parents, grandparents etc.
    I'm not sure there is an authority that imprints our morals on us.

    Sorry, can't/wont answer specific folk as you sure can understand when there are at least five of you telling me how I simply have to be wrong it's just too much.

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  55. Alan, I was my mom's right hand in caring for my father, who had Alzheimer's and died last year at the age of 87. You are carrying a great deal of responsibility in caring for your father, and will be in my prayers.

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  56. No one is telling you that you have to be wrong. We're asking you to reason with us. Show us A to B logic. That's about all anyone is doing.

    Alan, If you take God off the table ... from where do you get your idea or notion of morals? You have morals. You have strong feelings about morals. You could show me where they come from so that we can at least argue *that*.

    Srsly. I'm just waiting for someone to posit *something*. Say your morals come from somewhere or something and explain how God is not relevant to that. You have to do that because you've posited more unknowns in your opinion. It's not cohesive, which is the reason I'm even participating. I want to know you thinking. The whole line of reasoning. Which avenue and by which authority do morals come, since God is not a valid variable?

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  57. Nubby said: "Now please posit something in place of God’s law for your complete version of ethical theory."

    I think I've said where I lean several times: universal prescriptivism, a form of non-cognitivism. Why do I lean toward this? To me it's a logical description of reality, as well as an approach toward the way I want the world to act, without depending on assumptions (like God) I see no reason to assume.

    And you've said, several times, that no ethical theory is complete without God, but without giving a reason. Since you then say God "is Goodness itself", it sounds like your request for a "complete" theory is really tautological. "God is Goodness, therefore anything without God can't be good and moral." Okay, if that's your approach, you need to justify it. It's not sufficient to just claim it, and expect the many alternative viewpoints to disprove your unsupported claim.

    I asked: Is an act good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?

    You said: "False dilemma. He commands something because he is Goodness itself. See? "

    Sorry, I don't see. What does "goodness" mean? Is it the quality of being God? Or does it have something to do with moral values? You need to define it clearly, or else it seems like you're just hand-waving to avoid a dilemma.

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  58. Sharon, thanks. It ain't easy but he's my dad. I appreciate the prayers, he's got a lot of stuff wrong with him, but he still plugs along.

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  59. Matt, I must be more dense than I realize, because I honestly can't see how this could be a non-problem to you. Yes, I live in a democracy - or, rather, a representative republic, thank God. But neither my wishes, nor my opinions, nor the "rightness" or 'wrongness" of a math answer has anything to do with the question.

    A thing is not "right" or moral because I think it is. Can I give an example to see if I understand you? Do you believe that sharia law is moral? Specifically, is it moral to kill someone for leaving a religion, for being gay or for committing adultery?

    What I don't understand is, do you think that it is possible for two different people, or countries, to come to two different conclusions on morality, and for both of them to be right?

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  60. Nubby, my morals come from my parents. They taught me right from wrong.
    And they come from laws.
    And society.

    You all seem to be saying that morals have always been and have never changed. I don't think that is a provable theory as there is no accurate historical records from the beginning of time.

    So to expect me to just say "heck yeah god is the source of all morals" isn't going to happen. It's not logical.

    I have a good friend who always says during conversations "I have questions".
    Well I have questions, which is why I don't necessarily believe that morals come from god.
    I still question where morals come from beyond generations of alanl964's. If we all had the same moral views then maybe we would find agreement. But we don't, nor will we.

    So no, I don't have a master source for morals. I'm not sure one exists. And if there is I lean more towards society than any supernatural being.

    I hope that makes sense, I'm not sure how I could be more clear.

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  61. StarFireKK wrote: "The majority vote does not absolve you of your responsibility to fight injustice."

    I absolutely agree! Look, it's simpler if we temporarily leave philosophy and religion out of it, and just look at it as if it is politics.

    You decide for yourself what your thresholds are for different responses to new laws and policies. You might be willing to accept a certain new tax, and begrudgingly pay it because that's how a democracy has to work. But you may still protest it, and work to overturn it. Going further, there might be a truly heinous law that you feel is over the line, and you may be willing to use nonviolent resistance against it, risking arrest or being shot at, in order to fight it. This is all true *whether or not* we agree about meta-ethical questions!

    So when I said "deal with it, it's a democracy", I mean it in both senses. Depending how important the issue is, you can a) quietly observe the law, b) observe the law but protest it, or c) disobey the law and protest it. And other options, too. The point is, things happen around us all the time, regardless of whether our meta-ethical stance is "true", and we have to choose how to deal with it. We can't treat everything that offends or bothers us as worth going to jail for. But in no way am I saying people have to accept and quietly acquiese to majority rule on actions they consider beyond the pale.

    > Does that mean if a group of psychopaths forms a society where it is legal to kill people, it is moral?

    To them it would be, to you and me it wouldn't. But them passing such a law certainly doesn't make it "moral" in the sense of replacing previously existing platonic moral truths up there in the clouds. The confusion comes from us overloading the term "right" to mean both logically correct and morally proper. Separate them and the big concern goes away.

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  62. Leila, I admit I am having a problem,
    I read how dropping the bomb was immoral, but here you say it's moral that innocents get killed in war. Just a sad consequence.
    I don't understand the difference.

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  63. So, you don't believe we can reason, nor trust our reason, because according to your theory, Matt, statements about truth either cannot be validated nor valid. No moral judgments can be made, correct or not?

    Yet, ironically, here you are giving me objective instruction. You make every effort to seek and *objectify* your own experience of practical reason. See the self-refuting going on?

    You reflect and consider statements made on morality, only to make proclamations about those laws of morality. Those statements are not objective law.
    You're painted into your own corner, by your own method.

    Is reason its own measure, or not, Matt?
    And do you believe in absolutes, pertaining to action? Can you throw someone to the sharks for fun?

    Let's get away from theory and into practical application.

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  64. You define objectivity as an accurate measurement of the truth of the world, and in the same breath you deny any possibility of there being objectivity. Huh?

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  65. Sharon, my response right now to StarFireKK is also my response to you :-)

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  66. How do you gauge "truthfulness" within your own parameters that deny positive statements and moral judgments?

    Reason has its own measure and so can become a measure. And why would you deny that measure? Or do you not reason or trust your own reason?

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  67. Matt,
    I already asked Peter these. Maybe you should give it a shot:

    If a person defines objectivity as an accurate measurement of the truth (or of some kind of truth) of the world, he cannot, in the same breath, deny the possibility of there being objectivity in all things. If it exists, it exists; you’ve just defined it. Saying it can exist this way but not that way is intellectually inaccurate.

    The question is, what grounds the objectivity? Is it just something we say exists weirdly (abstractly?) out in the world? Or do we ground it in our active mind/intellect? And what, ultimately, grounds that?

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  68. Hi Matt,

    I think I understand that you are saying that the psychopaths *think* they are being moral. Are you saying that if one thinks he is being moral, then he is?

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  69. LURKERS: My attempt later will be to walk down a 'proof' of God with Matt. One that gets to the heart of the unrestricted desire to know. If he wants to argue that we ground our truth theoretically through non-cognitivism then he's also going to find out that path leads to a tension of inquiry which is significant in Whom it points too.

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  70. Leila, you mentioned a few questions you think are unanswered, so I'll try them....

    > If you remove God from the equation, you, by logical necessity of argument, need to posit a new law giver in his place.

    You'll have to explain why first. Why do there *have* to be moral "laws"? One could similarly claim that there are laws of Aesthetics, which make certain paintings truly "better" than others. Hmm, maybe, but I doubt it. If you asked me who is the Aesthetic Law giver if it's not God, I'd say the question makes no sense.


    > What compels you to feel the weight of morality?

    Good question. Part, but not all of it, is probably biological. Babies, chimps, dogs and dolphins have all shown evidence of altruism, and recognizing unjust situations.


    > How does nature account for accurate truth-knowing and truth-finding capabilities when it only selects for survival?

    Short answer: we're living on the top of a huge pyramid of systems, from chemical up through cultural, where selective advantage goes toward those groups/people who can master such analytical tools. Check how much Data Scientists get on Monster.com, and think about how that salary improves one's chances of getting a date :-) Or more primitively, doesn't it make sense that people who can build a fish trap, and gather food more efficiently, have a better chance of passing on their genes?

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  71. Hi Matt,

    You wrote "Depending how important the issue is, you can a) quietly observe the law, b) observe the law but protest it, or c) disobey the law and protest it. And other options, too. The point is, things happen around us all the time, regardless of whether our meta-ethical stance is "true", and we have to choose how to deal with it.

    But, in the first place, how do I/we decide how to (rationally/correctly) react to a law if there is no absolute, external moral code ( your meta-ethical stance?) to measure it against? Every good law must accord with the truth and reality of whatever facilitates or furthers human flourishing, right? But to what do we turn, to ascertain whether a particular initiative might progress or regress our flourishing? We Christians turn to the moral law which we claim is imprinted on every human heart (what Thomas Aquinas associated with the "preambles of the faith") and to divinely revealed truths (which he broadly alluded to as the "mysteries of the faith"). I guess my question is, if you reject these two instructive faith sources (because you reject faith in God) then what is your reference point for good and evil, for right and wrong, for wise and unwise, for just and unjust? Or are the (real and demonstrable) things that make for human flourishing and social justice just established, discovered, and/or changed in response to good or bad majority experience, subjectively, as we go?

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  72. Matt: So, one day your child comes to you and says, "I really have studied and thought about it, and I am going to join ISIS [as many, many have]." You respond, how? You cannot tell him that he is wrong. Or that the actions of ISIS are morally wrong. Because your source of truth (I think, because you have never directly answered) is either your own brain, or society's laws.

    So, what do you tell him? And on what authority?

    Also, yes, God is the Author of Beauty. Beauty is objective, believe it or not. Maybe not in the way you think. But yes, that is a whole subject unto itself, and wow, it's awesome...

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  73. Nubby says: "So, you don't believe we can reason, nor trust our reason, because according to your theory, Matt, statements about truth either cannot be validated nor valid. No moral judgments can be made, correct or not?"

    You misunderstand me. We *can* reason and trust our reason reasonably (heh) well. But I'm saying that while reasoning about Math (through deduction) and Science (through induction) give us certain levels of confidence of "truth", I don't see a reason to believe there are "moral truths" that exist outside of humans being around.

    And I do make moral judgments, all the time.
    -----

    Sharon says: "I think I understand that you are saying that the psychopaths *think* they are being moral. Are you saying that if one thinks he is being moral, then he is?"

    Depends on your meta-ethics, and definition of "moral". If to you "moral" means "conforming to some platonic moral truth independent of culture and time", then no. But when I say "moral" it is shorthand for "I approve of this behavior, and want others to behave this way, too", so again, for the psychopaths, my answer is "no, they're not moral".

    BTW I think it makes more sense to ask whether a particular *action* of theirs is moral, rather than try to label the whole person moral or not, since people are complicated and imperfect.

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  74. And I do make moral judgments, all the time.
    According to your own theoretical process, you're not allowed to. Or it doesn't matter if you do. This is what you subscribe to (incogntivism). Btw, math isn't always only deductive.

    Regarding morals:
    Good question. Part, but not all of it, is probably biological. Babies, chimps, dogs and dolphins have all shown evidence of altruism, and recognizing unjust situations..
    There is *NO* biological mechanism that gives rise to a moral law, either in theory or in practice. Reason is the measure. And dolphins and chimps and the whole animal kingdom do not reason morally. You do, though. And how can those animals recognize injustices? Apart from God, there are no injustices. See? He is the measuring stick. Even if the animal kingdom operated morally, which it does not, according to your theory, Matt, there would be no such thing as objective injustices! See?

    Am I not clear? I feel like this is so self evident, and yet ...

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  75. And what your theory boils down to, Matt, is nothing more than a self refuting argument of, "What's true for you may not be true for me." Yet, you state that *objectively*.

    See? Here is the catch in the faulty logic of that theory:
    If it's only your truth, what do I care, right? But if it's true across the board, then it is *not true* that all truth is subjective. You have made an objective statement.

    You cannot do that according to your own theory.

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  76. Matt, can you just answer straight: Are you saying that morality is subjective?

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  77. And, to boot, the more skeptical you become via reason? The *more certain* you are in the end. So skepticism actually makes you *more objective* meaning you will come to an objective truth. Ha weird

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  78. Matt, one more straight answer if you would: Are there any acts which you believe to be intrinsically (of their very nature) evil? Such as, maybe, the rape and murder of a child?

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  79. Alan, Leila did NOT say that it's moral when innocents get killed in war. Actually, she said it is IMMORAL to deliberately target innocents.

    Intentionally targeting/killing innocent civilians = immoral

    Killing enemy combatants in a just war scenario = moral

    Innocents getting UNINTENTIONALLY and ACCIDENTALLY killed while fighting enemy combatants in a just war scenario = moral because the killing was not intentional, but still very regrettable.

    Dropping the atomic bomb = immoral because innocent civilians were deliberately targeted (as opposed to targeting an unpopulated area or 100% military installation

    Do you see that distinction? I'm honestly asking (not snarky!) because it sounds like you don't see that distinction, and I'm not seeing your logic.

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  80. > "Matt, can you just answer straight: Are you saying that morality is subjective?"

    In an absolute sense, yes, but so are most spheres of human thought.

    In a more practical sense, it depends on what the person's meta-ethics are. One approach might be intuitional and loosey-goosey. A different approach might be highly rational, like theories in other branches of Philosophy, but still founded on "unprovable" axioms (such as "all other things equal, it is morally good to extend our lifespans and general health").

    > "Matt, one more straight answer if you would: Are there any acts which you believe to be intrinsically (of their very nature) evil? Such as, maybe, the rape and murder of a child?"

    I'd certainly oppose it in all cases, and the nature of it is abhorrent. I'm not sure if that's what you mean by "intrinsically" though.

    Leila, I've explained myself a lot. Can you take a shot at the issue of "what is goodness"?

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  81. Matt, intrinsically means "of its very nature". So, an act that is evil "of its very nature". Is there such an act?

    So, if morality is subjective (which you have finally admitted you believe), you cannot say absolutely that the values of ISIS (beheading innocents, etc.) are absolutely wrong, or that raping a child and murdering her is absolutely wrong, correct?

    And you didn't answer my question about if your child wanted to join ISIS after much thought and conviction.

    Let's talk practical, not the philosophy of "good", because I want to get a handle on what you are saying. You say that the "nature" of rape and murdering a child is "abhorrent", but why? What makes it abhorrent? And is it absolutely (intrinsically) abhorrent?

    If you can answer only one thing, I really, really want to know if you think there are any absolutely evil actions.

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  82. In an absolute sense, yes, but so are most spheres of human thought.

    Again, you are not allowed to speak in absolute terms, according to your own theory. So you cannot posit positive data this way, Matt.
    You either need to switch theories or speak only in "perhaps'".
    You are bound by your own theory. To speak "philosophically" doesn't matter, it's the technical practical application that illustrates where the rubber meets the road, in terms of how you join reason + living morally.

    Do you believe in absolute evil, Matt? Is it wrong to throw ten innocent people to the sharks just for fun?

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  83. Absolutely subjective. Aka: Precise estimate.

    See, Matt?

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  84. The confusion comes from us overloading the term "right" to mean both logically correct and morally proper. Separate them and the big concern goes away.

    This statement from Matt caught my eye. Along with this one:
    But I'm saying that while reasoning about Math (through deduction) and Science (through induction) give us certain levels of confidence of "truth", I don't see a reason to believe there are "moral truths" that exist outside of humans being around.

    The first one: Why aren't both right? From where I'm standing what is logically correct is going to be morally proper (given that what is proper is anything and everything that is NOT improper) and what is morally proper is going to be logically correct.

    The second seems to indicate that because you and a relative handful of others over the course of humanity don't see the reason behind the existence of moral truths that exist outside of humanity, in the same way you can see the reason behind math and science, then moral truths must not exist outside of humanity. Is that what you're saying?

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  85. JoAnna, honestly go back, reread what you wrote, and tell me how I may have come to the conclusion that you think killing innocents during war is moral. I'll give you a hint. You said it.
    Lets at least be honest about that ok?

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  86. As for the rest got horrible news today and that got me thinking.
    This is all a huge waste of time. You've no real interest in honestly dialoguing with others. It's just a huge ram my opinion (yup I said it again) down your throat fest, or tell you you are wrong fest. Some of you get it and others don't. Wish I could help you, but I can't.

    Go outside, read a book, play a game with your kids, or watch Jeopardy with your dad (like I'm about to), but please stop this foolishness.
    At the end of the day who cares if there are objective moral rights and wrongs. It ain't gonna get you in heaven. Being a good person is. Do no harm (and I'm sure you understand what harm actually means). Love thy neighbor and lift them up, don't drag them down.

    Some day maybe we will meet in heaven. You see I know I will be there. God loves me as I am.

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  87. So, truth seeking is a waste of time? I don't think so. I play games AND I ponder the higher questions. We don't have to choose one or the other.

    As for this:

    "At the end of the day who cares if there are objective moral rights and wrongs. It ain't gonna get you in heaven. Being a good person is."

    It's a contradiction. To be a good person means to "do the good". You can't do the good without understanding what is right or wrong. That is so clear, no?

    And, no, we don't always agree on what "harm" means. After all, you have said that you support abortion, which is extremely harmful to the life of the child, for sure.

    Anyway, God bless! (I thought you were an atheist, but I may be confused, because you said God loves you, so you must believe in Him. Of course God loves you, but the question is do we love Him enough to conform out lives to His law and His will?)

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  88. Sorry, Alan, I don't see where I said that it's ever acceptable or moral to deliberately kill innocent children. I said that sometimes innocent people are killed unintentionally as a consequence of a moral action. That is much different than saying someone may act morally when they intentionally and deliberately kill an innocent child.

    Your position really confuses me. You say that if innocent children are killed accidentally in a just war, that's not moral. If a mother deliberately chooses to kill her innocent child via abortion, that is moral. How is it that an accidental killing of a child is immoral but a deliberate killing of a child is moral? Please explain your logic to me, because I don't get it.

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  89. Leila wrote: "Matt: So, one day your child comes to you and says, "I really have studied and thought about it, and I am going to join ISIS [as many, many have]." You respond, how? You cannot tell him that he is wrong. Or that the actions of ISIS are morally wrong. Because your source of truth (I think, because you have never directly answered) is either your own brain, or society's laws. So, what do you tell him? And on what authority?"

    I *can* tell him he is wrong, because my son at that age will understand the different senses of the word "wrong" (logical usage and moral usage), and he'll understand that I mean "this is a bad decision, not in keeping with what you and I both hold to be good."

    Remember that I'm not endorsing a view of ethics as spur-of-the-moment preferences for vanilla over chocolate. I'm endorsing a view of thoughtful reflection and reason, based on axioms that most people share.

    You seem to feel that the use of axioms unmoors any argument, even though we'll probably find some axiomatic assumptions if you ever get around to explaining why you believe your moral realism position :-) I'll also note that even in mathematics we can (and do) choose different axioms at different times. The parallel postulate (two parallel lines never meet) was assumed to be necessary for thousands of years, until the 19th century.

    And all of these side trips about consequences are really off topic, too. We were going to talk about truth. Whether society will fall into chaos if we step away from moral realism is completely irrelevant to whether moral realism is true.

    But if consequences are to be discussed, we might as well note that most members of ISIS are probably moral realists, and believe their moral principles are universal, unchanging, and independent of humans. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of millions of secular Europeans who behave quite ethically day-to-day. What these two facts suggest to me is that if consequences are important, the main question shouldn't be at the level of realism vs. irrealism, but at a more practical level of figuring out what the essential ethical principles should be.

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  90. Bethany wrote: "because you and a relative handful of others over the course of humanity don't see the reason behind the existence of moral truths that exist outside of humanity, in the same way you can see the reason behind math and science, then moral truths must not exist outside of humanity. Is that what you're saying?"

    No, I thought was pretty clear and fair. I said "I don't see a reason". That doesn't mean I think it "must" be false. I've said I'm open to reasons, but so far I haven't seen a *reason* from anyone in this discussion. There _are_ reasons philosophers use to support moral realism, but nobody here has given any AFAICT, just conclusions ("God is required for morality").

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  91. "this is a bad decision, not in keeping with what you and I both hold to be good."

    Except that your son will NOT have held your idea to be "good". That's the point. He will have thoughtfully decided that your values are NOT good.

    And you have no reference point to say that he is wrong. Unless you believe in moral absolutes, you cannot legitimately say or teach that ANYTHING is wrong. The most you can do is say that it's not your preference. You don't prefer it, you don't like it. It give you the "yuk" factor.

    How can it be otherwise?

    Is it intrinsically wrong to rape and murder a child?

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  92. Posit something in God's place, Matt. Nature? Yourself? What? Posit something.

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  93. Leila wrote: "The most you can do is say that it's not your preference. You don't prefer it, you don't like it. It give you the "yuk" factor."

    No, that's not the most I can do. I've said this many times, but it's not about a vanilla vs. chocolate preference. If he wants to join ISIS, I use logic, evidence, and in this case emotional appeal to persuade him to change his mind. I use all the elements of classical rhetoric. I use the same kinds of tools we use when we want to persuade the city council to take a certain action. I show him how his understanding of Islam is contradicted by the Quran. I show him how ISIS members break their own vows and commit atrocities. I persuade him it's a bad idea, and meta-ethics do not need to enter into it. And if he insists (like some on this blog) that I first prove certain absolute moral truths, I remind him that he doesn't and can't follow that dictum in so many decisions in life.

    > Is it intrinsically wrong to rape and murder a child?
    > .... intrinsically means "of its very nature"

    Yes, I believe it's intrinsically wrong, where "wrong" is as I've already described it for universal prescriptivism. And I think you are encountering a language confusion due to logical vs. moral terms.

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  94. Leila wrote: "Posit something in God's place, Matt. Nature? Yourself? What? Posit something."

    What's his place? Again, I see no need to assume a "law giver". What in the positions I've outlined require that? Some moral realists might require it, but I don't see why I do.

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  95. "I've said this many times, but it's not about a vanilla vs. chocolate preference."

    Of course not, it's much more grave, of cooers. But ultimately, it's subjective and not grounded in any objective reality. After all, people on both side of an issue can appeal to logic, evidence, emotion, etc. and yet still both sides cannot be "right" (unless everything is relative, and then please just admit that). So, for example, there are impassioned arguments on both sides of the abortion debate. But only one side can be correct (it is either intrinsically immoral to kill an unborn child, or it is not).

    But then here you go saying that you believe that certain moral acts are "intrinsically wrong". So, of their very nature. You realize that you have just proclaimed an absolute, correct? Please tell me you understand that.

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  96. What or who gives or provides the moral law, Matt? What makes murder and rape of a child "intrinsically evil" or "absolutely wrong"?

    What is the source of that Truth? If it's not God, what is it?

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  97. Matt,
    In 30 words or less, posit an argument.

    I'm tired of reading 2,000 words that don't really attack any angle of anything. And since we Catholics spend our time defending our stance but get (apparently) nowhere, I figured I'd just give the straight up challenge: In 50 words, disprove God. Go ahead.

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  98. Or at least man up and declare there are absolute evils. If you admit that, then of course you tie yourself to the Absolute LawGiver, which is why you keep moving your goal posts b/c you don't wan to do it. Correct or incorrect?

    And I would challenge your idea of mathematical axioms. Anyday.

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  99. LURKERS:
    Here’s the sticking point with Matt’s replies:
    He’s banging on theory all day long.
    But we should be done talking mere descriptions, by now, because *scientifically* even, descriptions are only a starting point.
    The real test comes when we apply the data. I’m speaking this dryly because non-believers always demand the “hard science” line, so, fine. Let’s talk that way. Practical reason is the measure. So, then we should be miles away from talking about ideas and descriptions and see the real deal in action. Let’s talk about the reality of absolute evil acts and see how he replies. Then we can “see” and measure how accurate his theory is.

    Let’s move the vehicle out of the clay modeling concept studio where we are free to stay and play with ideas all day, and instead move toward the actual, physical manufacturing and fleet testing of this ride. Let’s check this out. How well does it *actually* (logically, soundly) operate and run?

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  100. Leila,
    I'm bowing out for a while. My impatience = my vice.
    No disrespect, Matt, but your ideas are not coherent.

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  101. Leila wrote: "you believe that certain moral acts are "intrinsically wrong". So, of their very nature. You realize that you have just proclaimed an absolute, correct?"

    Please re-read what I wrote: "it's intrinsically wrong, where "wrong" is as I've already described it for universal prescriptivism." You are confused about the meaning of "wrong".

    But again, I've done all the explaining, and nobody on your side has explained anything. So please tell me: what is "goodness"? Is an act good because God commands it, or vice versa? If God decided to declare murder moral. would it then be moral? Is he not capable of declaring that? If he can't, is he still omnipotent? These questions are all essential,

    And also, nobody has given me a logical argument why moral truths like you describe exist, and why/how they are related to God. I'm going to wait until you folks explain some of these questions before I post anything more :-)

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  102. Okay. I'm sorry, it's difficult to follow all of this with multiple people responding, and I currently only have access to my phone. My desktop is busted. And relieved.

    Therefore, for those of us who are lost in a sea of e-mail responses from everyone could you, as specifically as possible address this:
    Yes, I believe it's intrinsically wrong, where "wrong" is as I've already described it for universal prescriptivism.
    How does "universal prescriptivism describe "wrong" and how does it differ fromour traditional understanding?

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    1. Sorry about the typos. My phone is acting up. There should be end quotes after prescriptivism and a space between fromour - from our.

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  103. Leila wrote: "you believe that certain moral acts are "intrinsically wrong". So, of their very nature. You realize that you have just proclaimed an absolute, correct?"

    Please re-read what I wrote: "it's intrinsically wrong, where "wrong" is as I've already described it for universal prescriptivism." You are confused about the meaning of "wrong".


    Aaaaannnnd, this is where my logical brain starts to short-circuit.

    Wrong is not really "wrong" and "intrinsically wrong" is not really "absolutely wrong" even though it is?

    HUUUUHHHH???? Please, pretend I am four years old. Seriously. I mean it. Talk to me like I'm four and let me see if I can find out what you are saying.

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  104. Bethany, thank you! I am thoroughly, thoroughly confused! Matt, I beg of you, help us. My brain is not grasping anything of what you are saying. Please help, and I am not being snarky, I really want to at least understand your point, even though I will likely disagree.

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  105. In the last two days, we've had 18,000 page views. People are reading, learning, watching, weighing. Please, Matt, I am sure there are more confused people out there than just me and Nubby and Bethany.

    Okay, off to eat some dinner.

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  106. Let me take a shot at this question about goodness. I would say a rough definition of goodness would "that which is best for human beings". And see? This is why Nubby and Leila have tried umpteenth times to get you to posit something as a basis for determine morality. Who or what decides what is best for human beings? And no, God would never ever declare murder as moral because it is never in a person's best interest to intentionally kill another person. God is love in its purest form, complete selflessness, self-giving, not thinking about Himself at all. So yes, He is omnipotent, but He cannot permit sin or any other harmful act.

    I think where sometimes the Catholics and non-Catholics start talking past each other involves our differing notions of harm. Catholics perceive certain actions to be very damaging to our souls, even if there is no visible harm and on the surface, the action appears to bring pleasure and happiness. Whereas, non-Catholics don't always believe we have souls and sometimes think that as long as an action brings happiness (even if only temporarily happiness) then there is no way it could be immoral.

    Finally, moral truths exist to help us all come as close as we can to perfectly loving each other. Not loving each other in the affectionate sense, but loving each other down to our souls, deeply caring for each other, treating all people with respect and kindness. Plus, when did humanity become so arrogant as to think that we invented morality and that it is impossible for truth to exist outside of ourselves?? Even I sometimes get frustrated that I can't just make my own rules for my life, but that is where virtue comes in, especially humility. I realize there is a being outside of myself who knows far better than I ever will what is best for me. Sure, eating an entire carton of cookie dough ice cream seems to be in my best interest in the moment, but that stomachache and bloating would remind me how wrong I was. Granted, that is a trite example, but I'm just trying to drive home the point that there's certain things that are beyond humanity - we don't get to decide morality, but rather submit in obedience to God, trusting that He has my ultimate happiness in mind.

    Humility, trust, obedience, faith, agape (selfless love), these virtues point us towards truth.

    Ok, enough rambling from me. Back to lurking, hopefully some of what I said makes sense to you, Matt. I hope I answered all your questions :)

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  107. You ask what is goodness? It's hard to describe or define. Our limited understanding can't adequately define the concept. But I'll try.

    Goodness doesn't just come from God as a command, nor does He only command goodnees, but rather He IS goodness. Goodness exists whether humanity exists or not, so does Truth and Beauty.

    When we say that God can't declare murder moral, it is not because of a lack of omnipotence, but rather because God, being Pure Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Love, is transcendent of time. Every moment on our linear path from the actual beginning of Time (Big Bang Theory or whatever) to the very moment the Earth is engulfed by the sun, or the universe collapses, or whatever; it's all happening at the same moment, there is no time progression between any of these events for God (likewise Goodness, Truth, Beauty), not even the smallest unit of time measured by us. it's all the same.

    So to say that God (Goodness, Truth, Beauty) could or would one day say that something now evil is good... can't happen. Not because he couldn't do it, but because if He did it it would apply to ALL of time, and we would have no knowledge or perception of the alteration - actually more appropriately, there would be no alteration, because it have been so from the beginning of time.

    How's that for a start.

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  108. Hello Leila and Everyone, You don't know me here. I'm a lurker and am thoroughly fascinated by your blog and this debate. It's so refreshing to agree with the majority! I too am very confused with Matt's explanations. Meta this and that, cognitivism, prescriptivism. I wouldn't touch those "sources" with a ten foot pole without knowing thoroughly what they are! I do believe that the flipside could be true for many/most/all atheists as well. How can they really address our source when they really don't know/understand who God really is?

    In addition, how can any "ism" be the source of morality? We Catholics are not even saying that our Catholicism is the Source of our morality! It reminds me of how some atheists believe that the Universe was created because of the existence of Natural Laws. No law or theory or mathematical equation can create anything, it only describes. Therefore your prescriptivism, non-cognitivism, realist moralism cannot possibly be the "source" of anyone's morality.

    When moral relativism is discussed, because that is really what it seems that Matt and others are describing, it reminds me of Richard Dawkins comments that "we are all dancing to our DNA", that there is no such thing as good or evil, BUT religion IS bad, it IS abusive to teach your children to believe in God, mild pedophilia IS okay, unborn babies with Down Syndrome SHOULD be aborted, etc. So which is it? One moment there is no such thing as good or evil, the next judgement abounds. Where is this grounded? I know you've been asking that of Matt for 2 days. Why all the contradictions? Why not just answer the question? It's very clear to me that they do not want to/can't answer it. I would take no answer as Surrender.

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  109. You ask what is goodness? It's hard to describe or define. Our limited understanding can't adequately define the concept. But I'll try.

    Goodness doesn't just come from God as a command, nor does He only command goodnees, but rather He IS goodness. Goodness exists whether humanity exists or not, so does Truth and Beauty.

    When we say that God can't declare murder moral, it is not because of a lack of omnipotence, but rather because God, being Pure Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Love, is transcendent of time. Every moment on our linear path from the actual beginning of Time (Big Bang Theory or whatever) to the very moment the Earth is engulfed by the sun, or the universe collapses, or whatever; it's all happening at the same moment, there is no time progression between any of these events for God (likewise Goodness, Truth, Beauty), not even the smallest unit of time measured by us. it's all the same.

    So to say that God (Goodness, Truth, Beauty) could or would one day say that something now evil is good... can't happen. Not because he couldn't do it, but because if He did it it would apply to ALL of time, and we would have no knowledge or perception of the alteration - actually more appropriately, there would be no alteration, because it have been so from the beginning of time.

    How's that for a start.

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  110. How can they really address our source when they really don't know/understand who God really is?

    I’d just add for consideration:
    Non-believers don’t know God as intimately as believers, however, I’d argue that even though theories of morality take some explaining, there really is no way a person cannot feel the weight of God’s law in all their moral choices or deliberations. They make have a skewed perception, but this is why it is very important, in discussions like these, to get as far away from theory and into practicality as possible.

    We can see how God’s law can never, ultimately, be rationally denied. It may not be *obvious*, but it certainly cannot be denied.

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    1. * They may have a skewed perception,

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  111. Bethany, I have a small question about the idea that God is completely apart from time. Can we really have free will if all of our actions are already determined and known?

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  112. Chris Pennanen, yup! God knows every choice we will make, but He allows us to make the choices. He doesn't control our actions, but instead allows us to freely choose them. Does that make sense?

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  113. Chris P, pre-known is not synonymous with pre-ordained. Hope that helps.

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  114. Mary Beth, you are my kind of gal. Stick around! :)

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  115. I'm not sure. Thinking about this sort of thing makes my head churn a bit. To me, my future choices do not yet exist. To God, they already exist because God is outside of time and can see it all at once. Naturally, God's perspective would be the "correct" one. So does that mean my choices were determined at the moment the universe was created? If so, how could I possibly have had any time to make them? Yet of course there's plenty of time, it just doesn't mean anything to God...

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  116. Hi Alan, way back at 10:57 you said in the midst of a point

    "Are you saying that through out all of time all morals have stayed constant?"

    I'm taking it a bit out of context, but I think it deserves an answer in the broader context of this discussion. I believe the moral laws have stayed constant - the objective moral law has not changed through time/societies/etc. The way those truths are understood and the way societies try (or don't try) to live them is hugely variable, but just because by and large people are kinda lousy at living according to those objective moral truths doesn't make them not-objective.

    On a lighter note, I envy you your assurance of your spot in heaven. :-) One of my favorite Catholic prayers is "Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins and save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven especially those in most need of your mercy". I figure that's me! :-) I just keep on keepin' on trying to act in accordance with those objective moral laws and trying to understand them better.

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  117. It's very hard to wrap your head around, Chris. (I seriously have a headache right now.) It's not that your choices were determined at the moment the universe was Created. It is that in God's view (transcending time), the moment the universe was created, the moment you were born, the moment your great-great-grandchildren are born, are all the same instant. Therefore yes, you have the time to make all those choices because ALL of linear time is that 1 "instant" for God.

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  118. Matt,

    My understanding of universal prescriptivism is limited to wikipedia (which I take with a HUGE grain of salt). From that brief description and your comments so far, it sounds like your view is that each person has their own moral imperatives that they should be consistent about following. The rightness and wrongness of an act is measured against that person's imperatives. Is that close?

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  119. Chris P, this is probably an imperfect analogy, but it may help you visualize the concept. Let's say you are "godlike" and hovering above a mountain top, looking down. You see two cars on the single-lane winding road, going in different directions at high speed. You know that they will crash. You see it, you know it, you know exactly what is going to happen, but you don't force it to happen, you are not responsible for what the drivers are doing, or for their choices. Fore-known is not fore-ordained.

    Anyway, like I said, it's not a perfect analogy, but it's hard to take ourselves out of time. :)

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  120. Sarah, I looked it up in the same place, for what it's worth! Considering we don't have time to study every theory of philosophy, it's a quick way to try to at least get a little more information. What I noticed about it was the same as you, that it is a moral imperative that should be followed once the conclusion regarding the imperative is reached. But I also noticed how the imperative is expressed - "Do not kill." It seems that the person saying can only be talking to himself, since he cannot make a judgement call for another person. What I don't get is Matt's problem with calling something wrong. The word "wrong" can properly be applied to an action. It doesn't apply just to answers in a math problem. And I don't think the problem is that there is some concept I can't grasp. Matt says I don't understand the use of the word wrong, but I think he's wrong about that.

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    1. the person saying *that* can only be talking to himself - is what I meant to say!

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  121. It certainly is. The challenge is definitely separating "pre-known" from "preordained" in my head. Thanks for the responses, everyone.

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  122. Exactly, Sharon. Does prescriptivism imply/say that you can only measure an action's rightness or wrongness according to the actor's imperatives? That seems problematic on a lot of levels, but I want to make sure I'm not tilting at windmills. :-)

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  123. I didn't say anything new there, but the obvious question, then is why does one choose one set of imperatives over another? Utility? Just what you were taught by your parents/family? What your society says? Is it something you can reason to? Something you have and then try to put words/principles to? I don't know.

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  124. I want to thank some folks, particularly Margo and Bethany, for taking up the challenge to explain their theist/Christian position on "goodness" :-)

    > "When we say that God can't declare murder moral, [it's because God] is transcendent of time. "

    I'm not clear on how Christians know that time happens all at once (or maybe just for God?). It seems like a question better answered by Physics than by interpretation of scripture and revelations, etc., and also seems like something aimed at patching up flaws than describing the world as we know it.

    And it does seem, to someone not well versed in Catholic interpretation, that God does change his mind on a few things, particularly in the Old Testament. For example, after the Flood, he promises never to do that again, and he sounds contrite. Does he ever change his mind about anything?

    He also seems a lot more war-like in the Old Testament. Am I mistaken, or does he command the Hebrews to attack and kill numerous tribes to conquer their land? These commands don't seem to meet the requirements of modern Just War Theory, and could arguably be called genocides. I mean, I'm obviously not the first person to notice that it's only in the New Testament that God seems to focus on peace. The point is, it seems NT God would disapprove of OT God. So can you explain how his ethical principles are actually unchanging here? Asking sincerely.

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  125. Leila wrote: "pre-known is not synonymous with pre-ordained. Hope that helps."

    I think that confused me as much as my non-cognitivism confused others :-)

    Free Will would definitely be an awesome topic for another thread. I'm trying hard to stay focused on this topic, but I'd be very interested in the free will stuff.

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  126. Matt, as much as I know you want to get us into the "mean God of the OT vs. the nice God of the NT" (discussed ad nauseum elsewhere), let's focus on Truth, not on your problems with the faith in which you were raised (Matt was raised mainline Protestant, correct, Matt?).

    So, sarahcecelia and Sharon have raised great points and I'm dying for you to address those directly. We are getting somewhere!

    And as far as not understanding that pre-known is not synonymous with pre-ordained: If the word "known" and the word "ordained" have different meanings, then you can make the distinction. Not a perfect analogy, again, but let's say a psychic has a premonition of what a murderer is going to do tomorrow. She knew it, but she didn't make it happen. Does that make sense? At least in the conceptualizing?

    And you talk about God outside of time not "describing the world as we know it" -- well, that's because God is not part of the world, He is the creator of it. He is outside of it. He is the creator of time itself. That's why we don't use physics to "prove" God. God invented physics. Physics came from God, not the other way around. ;)

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    1. And to clarify, God is certainly in the world, but not in a pantheistic way. God would exist even if the material world did not. He transcends the world.

      Also, please, can you address my comment at 6:03pm? Thanks, I'm seriously interested in your clarification.

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  127. Leila wrote: "Matt, as much as I know you want to get us into the "mean God of the OT vs. the nice God of the NT" (discussed ad nauseum elsewhere), let's focus on Truth, not on your problems with the faith in which you were raised (Matt was raised mainline Protestant, correct, Matt?). "

    Whuh? Uh, that seems kind of ad hominem. I asked it because it bears very clearly on the main claims about moral truth from you, Margo, and Bethany. I think you've all said that God "is" Goodness/Rightness, he's always correct, and his principles are always unchanging. So if there are cases where it appears that God has changed his moral outlook, or contradicted himself, it goes directly to the heart of your claims. I'm not asking "Is God evil?", I'm asking "Is God consistent?". Or in other words, can he change his mind about what is moral. So can you take my specific examples and tell me how it's not out of character with the God that you know?

    In 1 Samuel 15:2,3 God orders them to kill all the men, women, children, and infants of the Amalekites.

    In Hosea 13:16, God orders then to "dash against the ground" the "little ones" of the Samarians.

    In Psalms 137:8-9, it praises those who dash the Babylonian infants against the rocks.

    Now, I've read that in the case of Babylon, it is said that the Babylonians did the same to Hebrew infants. That might be true, but to the extent I understand Catholic doctrine, one cannot kill innocent Babylon infants to punish the adults. That is treating the infants as a means to an end.

    The story of the Amalekite children and infants sounds similar. The Samarian babies are killed because the adults disobeyed God, AFAICT.

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  128. Sharon wrote: "The word "wrong" can properly be applied to an action. It doesn't apply just to answers in a math problem."

    Agreed, but we are using two different meanings of the word in those two cases (moral action, math problem). Think of how many meanings "right" has. Some are:
    1. Logically correct ("2+2=4" is "right")
    2. Morally correct ("being kind is right")
    3. A legal claim to have certain authority ("the right to vote")
    4. Opposite of left ("turn right")

    Nobody confuses #4 with the others. Some people confuse #2 and #3. And I contend that many people (including, pardon me, you :-) ) confuse #1 and #2. The reason is that #1 and #2 have similarities. But they are different because it is not clear that you the share semantic properties and observe logical rules in the same way.

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  129. Matt, how about this? Since this is a very popular topic that atheists like to explore with Christians, let me promise to do an entire thread on the "God who changes his morality" claims. We can do a whole "Ongoing Dialogue" about that subject. This is not that day. I have said that my source of Truth is God, but we can simply talk about Natural Law and reason, so we can leave God out of it. Anything to get you to be more specific about what you believe re: Truth. Could you answer my questions now?

    Thanks! :)

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  130. Matt, my 17-year-old son is reading this with me, and he doesn't confuse #2 or #3, and he knows just what each of those bullet points mean. So, I'm very confused why you think we would be confused?

    I've never heard of anyone confusing 2 and 3.

    And "being kind" is sort of nebulous. How about 2+2=4 is "right" and Not Raping and Killing Children is "right". Can we agree? And since we are talking about morality, let's just stick with #2. We all understand that math has a "right" answer that we are not disputing right now.

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  131. sarahcecilia wrote: "why does one choose one set of imperatives over another? Utility? Just what you were taught by your parents/family? What your society says? Is it something you can reason to? Something you have and then try to put words/principles to?"

    Good questions. There are short answers, and long answers. Long answers are usually written by philosophy professors, as most of us don't have time to go into such detail for our daily moral decisions. I can get detailed if you think it's useful, but in brief there are concepts I feel are important, such as honesty, justice, kindness, freedom, and tolerance. I value those for many reasons: partly from personal experience, where I've benefited from those values expressed by others, and partly by reading and learning what has seemed to be beneficial to mankind through history. There isn't Non-cognitivist Sunday School where this stuff is all laid out (not that I know of), but we all pick things up as we mature and grow up.

    I should restate, though, that I've been describing an approach that I *lean* toward, and I don't profess to have everything worked out. I think it's an ongoing part of growing as we go through life.

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  132. "I feel are important, such as honesty, justice, kindness, freedom, and tolerance. I value those for many reasons: partly from personal experience, where I've benefited from those values expressed by others, and partly by reading and learning what has seemed to be beneficial to mankind through history."

    That is your "truth", but the following is true of millions of others:

    "I feel that honesty, justice, kindness and freedom are NOT important. And definitely not tolerance. I believe that for many reasons: partly from personal experience, where I have not seen those things benefit myself, and partly from what I have learned and read that have been beneficial to advancing my worldview."

    So, why is the second group "wrong"? Under what authority would you claim yourself as having the correct view, and theirs the wrong one?

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  133. Leila wrote: "let me promise to do an entire thread on the "God who changes his morality" claims. ... This is not that day."

    Agreed, so long as we leave God's-unchanging-nature out of this "Truth" thread. (Which seems a shame, though.)

    Leila wrote: "we can simply talk about Natural Law and reason, so we can leave God out of it. Anything to get you to be more specific about what you believe re: Truth."

    I believe Truth, as I understand you to mean it here, is not a word that applies logically to moral choices. It is like asking whether "Where is Miami?" is true or false.

    So again, I'm open to hearing your argument. If there is no God, and no humans, in what sense does reason dictate platonic truths about what is good or bad? I think we'll want to hear your non-God-based definitions here of "truth", and "good".

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  134. "I should restate, though, that I've been describing an approach that I *lean* toward, and I don't profess to have everything worked out. I think it's an ongoing part of growing as we go through life."

    I guess I'm wondering if you are coming at this from the position of seeking truth (and then conforming your life to it, no matter the cost to yourself and your comfort), or are you coming at this from the position of seeing what "works for you". And if the latter, then wouldn't the morality you adopt change and be very fluid, depending on your feelings and circumstances during the different phases of your life?

    I am reminded of a very nice young mother, an atheist, who commented on this blog years ago, and she told me that she had never actually thought about the concept of truth or truth-seeking. It just was not a part of her experience. Is that sort of where you would place yourself? I'm truly curious.

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  135. Leila wrote: "So, why is the second group "wrong"? Under what authority would you claim yourself as having the correct view, and theirs the wrong one?"

    I don't need "authority", because I'm not claiming a deductive-style "right" like a mathematical proof. I'm claiming a high probability that my view is "better", and I do so based on my logic, evidence, and reasoning compared to the viewpoint I disagree with. Again, politics is a fair analogy. Let's say you claim "Obama is X." And I argue "no, Obama is not X. Because of A, and B, and C." That's all we need to do really. I don't have to have stone tablets from on high, or a detailed, 200-page tome based on first principles, to consider my viewpoint superior to yours.

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  136. Matt, I forgot that my Bible scholar friend Gayle did a Bubble post a while back addressing the God of the OT vs the God of the NT. If you are interested, here you go:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-is-god-of-old-testament-so-mean.html

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  137. Leila wrote: "she had never actually thought about the concept of truth or truth-seeking. It just was not a part of her experience. Is that sort of where you would place yourself? I'm truly curious."

    I assume we're not talking about seeking truth about straight facts, such as "did Company XYZ pollute that river?" You know I'm curious about facts in the world. So you're asking me am I curious about meta-ethics? Well, curious enough to discuss it with you, but I don't wonder about it most of the time. I consider my take on it good enough to get me through life most of the time. But I think I'm open minded enough that if you made a persuasive case, I would consider it deeply, and not sweep it away. I hope so, for sure.
    As for whether my approach may lead me to change through life, I"d say yes, and that is a strength. Though it's important to not become grumpy as we age; maybe the world hasn't gone downhill, maybe we're just getting tired.

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  138. And those others think their view is superior to yours, and then they lop off your head and laugh. So much for your superior view. And you can't even say that their morality is objectively wrong.

    Agreed, so long as we leave God's-unchanging-nature out of this "Truth" thread.

    No, not agreed. God has an unchanging nature. Truth is also unchanging. Boom.

    Now, your measuring stick for your "truth" is yourself. Your feelings on things, based on your subjective studies and what you see "works" for you and for what you'd like to see in society. Others come to a completely different conclusion. You can say they are "wrong", but you have not explained what "wrong" could mean in a subjective morality. You have said that some things are "intrinsically wrong", but that are not "absolutely wrong" (a contradiction). Which is it? What am I missing here? Please address my comment at 6:03pm

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  139. "Though it's important to not become grumpy as we age"

    Why? Why is it important at all? After all, if we are soon to go *poof*, why can't we all be grumpy? Who cares? What's so important about it?

    (Caveat, I happen to agree with you, but as a Christian, my life after bodily death expands and gets joyful and eternal, so I have the giddiness of hope. If I were about to be annihilated? I would be more than just grumpy.)

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  140. Leila wrote: "And those others think their view is superior to yours, and then they lop off your head and laugh. So much for your superior view. And you can't even say that their morality is objectively wrong. "

    Plus, you're arguing from consequences again.
    I really don't get this. If some psychopath is going to chop off your head because they disagree with you, they're going to do that whether or not you are a moral realist. If we run into an ISIS terrorist, who very likely is *also* a moral realist, you're going to have as much trouble keeping your head as I am. Moral realism doesn't buy you an advantage with him. And if it were the 1500s and we were in Europe's religious wars, both sides were moral realists yet killed each other quite freely.

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  141. Morality is not about "buying me an advantage". It would never occur to me to navigate morality based on consequences or outcomes. We do the right thing (and there is a right thing) no matter what the consequence. That is how the moral law is lived out.

    I guess I would just like you to admit that you cannot say, ever, that your moral code is "right" or "superior" to anyone's since it's as subjective as the next guy. You don't believe there is an outside standard of right and wrong (or if you do, you haven't told us what it is), so there can be no "truth" in morals. None at all.

    And yet, you say there are things that are intrinsically wrong, but not absolutely wrong. That makes no sense, because the intrinsic nature of a wrong implies its absolute-ness. Help?

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  142. >>Agreed, so long as we leave God's-unchanging-nature out of this "Truth" thread.

    >No, not agreed. God has an unchanging nature. Truth is also unchanging. Boom.

    You can't make those claims and then push off my challenge of them to a separate, future thread. You said you could do this thread with Natural Law and reason alone :-)

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  143. But see, Matt, my worldview is consistent and coherent. I believe in Objective Truth. I believe in God who has an unchanging nature. This is not the thread to discuss the OT verses that you don't understand. That is the link I gave you, or another thread. The source of Truth (as I responded at the very beginning) is God. You still have not said what the source of Truth is for your truth.... (it has to be either 1) You, 2) Society, 3) Nature, or ?? What is the *source*. Now "how do you find it", but what is its source?

    I told you mine. I still don't see yours. I think it would be really good if you just say, "My truth is my truth. It's subjective. I am the determiner of my own "truth", based on what I feel and decide." I think you sort of have said this, and if so, I'd like to go on to explore the implications of that as a worldview.

    (My worldview is super easy to know; read the Catechism. ;) )

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    Replies
    1. Should say "Not "how do you find it", but what is its source?

      PS: If you are arguing that the moral law has changed over time, then that is another thread to think about starting so that we can hash that out. But I think I've covered that tons and tons on this blog. ;)

      Getting tired over here. Wake for Michelle tomorrow, then funeral Friday. I have to pick folks up from the airport, so I will be back when I can. :)

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  144. @Nubby "I figured I'd just give the straight up challenge: In 50 words, disprove God. Go ahead."

    Hi Nubby. I wonder if you can prove God in 50 words? I already believe in God but I'm curious what a cogent argument would be. Maybe you've already done that in this thread--I haven't read every post. Thanks.

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  145. To deny that there are absolute laws of nature (ascertainable through science) that govern the physical universe, or to deny that there are absolute natural moral laws (ascertainable via conscience, reason and revelation) that govern the (spiritual) lives of all peoples, is actually to suggest that the codification of justice and injustice (i.e., righteousness and unrighteousness) in the civil and criminal laws of the greatest nation (ever) on earth is based on some imagined, ephemeral concept(s), or myth(s). Of course that cannot be true at all. Anyone who understands a thing or two about nation building (look right through history and all around you even today, folks) knows that 239 years of startlingly glorious American history (despite some occasional hiccups) did not emanate from man's ingenuity alone or by his unassisted, independent determination of good and evil. To those astute enough to notice America’s relative (and rapid) decline (within itself and in the world) today, I would posit that it is precisely the contemporary relativizing/trivializing of these absolute, guiding laws/truths that are by far its chief cause.

    Laws of Nature and Nature’s God: The True Foundation of American Law

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  146. Hi Johanne,
    That 50-word-challenge to disprove God was just to make a point, because we should be bringing this in with laser focus already. Too many words on posts with no real argument, was why I got frustrated.

    To boot, atheists like to say there is no evidence for God, but:
    No one can use evidence from the world to disprove a God who is not inside the world (i.e., you cannot use data from the bakery to disprove the baker, it’s absurd and non-scientific).

    I just wanted to see an actual brief argument with a one-word-replacement from Matt. If no God’s law, then what?
    If we’re going to dialogue, then we need to know the new thing that we’re actually arguing about.

    But, yes, I could “prove” God, in a few paragraphs, through many positive proofs because we have those legitimate proofs at our disposal.
    There are many proofs for God. Philosophical, historical, archaeological, there are even “proofs” from what we know about space-time geometry and the limits of our known universe. There are all kinds of things we can look at, because the data is observed, so there can be positive proclamations using this data.

    The conversation has gotten so far removed from practicality that I just glitch out. Now, we’re talking that ‘wrong’ is somehow ‘only wrong’ in some instances, but, then again, for all you or I know, according to Matt’s theory, we could just be the intellectual buffoons who are misinterpreting what wrong really is, or how it ought to be used or understood in which particular instance. Which isn’t logical, or practical.

    Was I wrong on Tuesday about the moral choice I made, but not wrong on Wednesday, about the same type of moral choice, even though it differed in some degree from my choice on Tuesday, according to the prescriptive of the moment. What even, what? You see? Honestly, there’s no morality here. There’s just “feelings”. B/c you’re not allowed to pass moral judgments as a foundational principle of this theory, anyway.

    I have mentioned several (hundred) times that, “reason itself” is the gauge. Right? Reason is not only a capacity of the mind, it is a gauge itself. We weigh things using reason alone. Therefore, reason tells me, that when I apply all the big points of Matt’s theory, I get a net result of = 0 real world application. There is too much incoherence between the driving principles, and there are major gaps in logical application. So “nothing” isn’t really “nothing” and “wrong” has degrees of “wrongness”. Man’s reason alone will not tolerate this confusion. Reason is the gauge. Mine says = “Unreasonable!” And I would move along to something way more discernable.

    One doesn’t need to “argue imperatives” when, according to this theory, one is not really permitted to make moral judgements about anything anyway! That’s absurd to my mind. We should be seeing this played out in a very practical reality. One can see how man was made to know the truth. Because any kind of confusion irritates us, and blocks our real apprehension of ideas. We should be able to see application of theory, in real conditions (life).

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  147. And here's the point of all of that:
    If Matt (or any non believer) believes that there are indeed absolute evil actions, but takes God out of it, then he needs to supply a new road of reason.
    The reasoning itself would take a person all the way to God's law, even in a round about way. See? There is no escaping the reality of natural law on the human heart. It may not be obvious without consideration, but it is undeniably real.

    So, he'd have to supply a brand new road to reason, a brand new definition, and a brand new law giver.

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  148. Matt, you said,"I contend that many people (including, pardon me, you :-) ) confuse #1 and #2. The reason is that #1 and #2 have similarities. But they are different because it is not clear that you the share semantic properties and observe logical rules in the same way."

    So what you're saying is, I really am more dense than I think I am? Well, at least you softened the blow with a smiley face! I appreciate that! ;) I've always suspected that was true anyhow.

    But if you don't mind my saying so, between you and me I am not the one who can't see why it is just as *wrong* for a psychopath to commit murder as it would be *wrong* for me to commit murder. Actually, I think you do know that it is just as wrong, but for the reasons Nubby is giving, you're uncomfortable with the implications of that reality. (Just to be completely clear, or at least try to be, I do not think that both the psychopath and I would be judged equally by God if we both committed murder, since I don't have the disadvantage of being mentally deranged, at least not as far as I know.)

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  149. Nobody confuses #4 with the others. Some people confuse #2 and #3. And I contend that many people (including, pardon me, you :-) ) confuse #1 and #2. The reason is that #1 and #2 have similarities. But they are different because it is not clear that you the share semantic properties and observe logical rules in the same way.

    Matt, first of all you say they are different because it is not clear (to whom?) that they are the same.

    Could you give me an example of how they are not the same?

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  150. Nobody confuses #4 with the others. Some people confuse #2 and #3. And I contend that many people (including, pardon me, you :-) ) confuse #1 and #2. The reason is that #1 and #2 have similarities. But they are different because it is not clear that you the share semantic properties and observe logical rules in the same way.

    Matt, first of all you say they are different because it is not clear (to whom?) that they are the same.

    Could you give me an example of how they are not the same?

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  151. LURKERS:
    It doesn’t matter how Matt defines things, because, you see, his non-cognitivism actually denies anyone the opportunity to make any real moral judgment.
    We’re bound by this theory.
    We literally cannot use reason as a scale, as a principle of his theory.
    In Matt’s theory, we can only reason to weigh the *idea* of ideas. See? It’s all very mental, not practical. It’s like two steps back from practical application.
    Saying, "this shade of wrong is different than this shade of wrong" doesn't matter. What matters is that "wrong" is an objective truth. Ideas of it work in a college classroom, that's about it.

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  152. I wanted to add this article, mostly I think for lurkers, too. If you are discouraged at how hard it seems to be for a highly intelligent person to come to the truth or how difficult it is to express why we believe as we do, you might be encouraged by this article. I came across it on FB, probably on the page of someone named Leila. :)

    http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/why-atheists-change-their-mind-8-common-factors/4729/

    Part of the thing with believing in, and even loving, God, is that it is not just logical and rational. Is love logical and rational? Can it be tested by science? If not, how can we express it to a person who is smarter than we are? Once the atheists in this article believed, they understood more than they did just before they accepted the truth that they did believe in God, after all. I'm not expressing this well, although other people can. I can't give you a scientific experiment that would prove my love for God - although maybe ISIS could give me a chance to prove it. There is so much of faith that has nothing to do with logic and understanding quarks and whatever else it is that physicists or philosophers understand.

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  153. Matt,

    Here's one thing that kind of confused me. You said:

    1. Logically correct ("2+2=4" is "right")
    2. Morally correct ("being kind is right")

    Now, everyone here seems to know the difference just fine. 1 is a tool to understand 2. It seems in your outlook, it's the only way while we have a few more tools to give us premises to reason on. How do *you* arrive at your premises on which to reason to the moral rightness or wrongness of your actions?

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  154. Francis, it's so sad to read your assessment of the U.S.. We are such a blessed country and we are throwing it all away. I feel as though I was born in America's Golden Age and I'm already living through its decline. But like Mother Teresa said, once we decided that killing innocent unborn babies was right, what could possibly be wrong?

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  155. LURKERS:

    He already supplied the theory. We now rebut the theory itself.
    We don't really need to question him on his definitions anymore.
    That just brings more confusion to the table, not clarity.
    Rebut the *theory*. He gave it to us, "I believe in non cognitivism".
    No need to ask further. We have "x".
    Let's dissect why that theory is wrong.

    It’s a perpetual state of doubting your senses and reason. It’s completely (ironically) unscientific. Why do non-believers go the unscientific route?
    It’s their primo path to truth, so I thought, so what gives with abandoning trusted measuring devices like ‘reason’? Confused.
    Aristotle would have a field day with this because his challenge said mainly, "try living without reason, see what becomes of you".

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  156. Leila and friends, thanks so much for this discussion. The next few days are going to be really busy for me, so I think I'll have to step away (though it's hard to resist!). I want to thank everyone for a good discussion. You've helped me think more deeply about a few things, and I definitely learned a few things. Would love to join another good discussion, like the ones that branched out this one (nature of God, free will, just war, etc.). Thanks, Leila!

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  157. Just for chuckles here. Don’t anyone get twisted up over it.
    I read up on MetaEthics today.
    I found out this much:
    Meta Ethics is the annoying half-sister of Concrete Reason- it talks a lot but never makes any sense. (No offense, Matt, but I’d rather be sunburned than have to sit thru one class on this).
    It’s like Herb from Accounting at the corporate Christmas gig, after his 6th Manhattan, blathering but making no sense.

    It’s this hybrid of some ‘psychology of words or wordplay’ and a pseudo-definition shell-game:

    “Well, what do you mean by moral? And what does moral mean for you? And what does it NOT mean? And your definitions actually don’t matter because we live in this perpetual cloud of thoughts, never concrete application.”

    Which shell is the “real meaning” under? Whoops- nope. Well, it was there, but anyway…

    The motto of MetaEthics could be:
    “We Just Talk”.

    They theorize all day. That’s the extent of it. No practical reason can 1) ever be grasped (that’s way too concrete for meta-thinking) and 2) reason would have to be the measure, but they won’t allow that by principle in the theory.

    I, personally, would be in a perpetual state of laryngitis if I had to view life this way, b/c I’d be exhausted from screaming concrete reason trumps all! into this abyss of ‘thought-cloud insanity’.

    This is just for smiles … take it for what it’s worth.
    Maybe when Matt comes back we’ll try to chew the fat on the angle of “perpetual questions”… because the reality of just having those questions actually leads to a ‘proof’ of God as Grounder of all.

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  158. Nubby, You are too funny! Herb and his 6 Manhattans. As dazed and confused as I am with Matt's explanations, he seems to be a really nice guy. Very refreshing to hear an atheist say he's actually gotten something out of his conversation with Christians!

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  159. Francis, it's so sad to read your assessment of the U.S.. We are such a blessed country and we are throwing it all away. I feel as though I was born in America's Golden Age and I'm already living through its decline. But like Mother Teresa said, once we decided that killing innocent unborn babies was right, what could possibly be wrong?

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  160. Francis and Sharon, I know America doesn't seem too great right now, but I do think we should remember that Jim Crow laws and forced lobotomies so on are still in living memory. I think we've advanced in some ways and regressed in others. It may be that I'm too young to really understand what people mean when they talk about America's former greatness, but I honestly can't think of any past period in American history that I'd particularly prefer living in. I often feel like our present culture is pretty soulless, but I also think I would have felt like that in most places and times throughout our history.

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  161. Matt
    Thanks for engaging. I hope you're willing to come back and do this again.

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  162. [Part 1 of 3]

    A simple definition of goodness: whatever conforms to (the fullness of) truth, leading to (the fullness of) life.

    If one accepts that definition, straightaway, of course, two questions arise: 1) what is truth and 2) how is it ascertainable to its fullness?

    To the first question I answer: truth is simply the recognition/acknowledgment of all things as they really (“truly”) are (ontologically-essentially-by nature).

    To the second question I answer: man arrives at the fullness of truth (reality) only by means of all these (divinely endowed) helps: observation/science, reason, (divine) revelation and conscience. (Yes, I am contending that none of these means are dispensable if one is to arrive at a comprehensive/satisfactory/profitable understanding of reality leading to the fullness of life.)

    Truth exists in two realms: the physical and the spiritual (although atheists might, understandably, prefer to limit the latter only to the intellectual realm).

    Fixed laws of nature govern physical realities. Likewise, there are absolute moral laws which delineate truth in the spiritual realm. Even though these laws preside over different realities (physical and spiritual) I contend that they are not mutually exclusive, and are, to a certain extent, seamless, for ultimately all of them point to one Truth, personified, a reality of “I Am”, God Himself, the very ground and essence of all being/reality, whether physical or spiritual.

    I am going to digress (just a little) here, but it is necessary to include the following when we are discussing truth.

    Truth is integrally allied to goodness and beauty; none of these three things exist independently, without being characterized by the other two. As a package, truth, goodness and beauty coalesce into a living virtue, love (not narcissistic love but a truly unselfish benevolence), which neither a physical law of nature nor any tenet of moral law can either diminish or contradict. In fact, truth, marked by beauty and goodness, is a derivative of love. This is a very handy guide whenever it comes to determining truth (even acknowledging an unpleasantly truth): is it in furtherance of (true) love? Indeed, in this axiom about truth is reliably grounded the very rationality/sanity (aka commonsense) of man.

    Christians will note: St Paul writes that love is greater than its component characteristics of truth, beauty and goodness; thus even truth, beauty and goodness, on their own, are of little avail to man in his quest for fullness of life. Truth (the full and proper recognition of reality) sets us free from illusions about ourselves and all things around us, precisely in the furtherance of our common, divinely ordained, vocation to love.

    “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1Cor 13: 1-3).

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  163. [Part 2 of 3]

    Okay, to return to the issue of truth, and to bring all this high falutin’ “religious stuff”/philosophy down to earth, let’s consider a simple scenario.

    Matt has dropped the ball. It’s falling to the ground. The sight of the dropping ball indicates to Matt that there is a force at play on the ball. Then he discovers, by scientific investigation, that there is indeed such a universal force, that is, gravity. Okay, so far so good. Matt the atheist observer/scientist has no problem with either his observation or his finding.

    However, whether he realizes/acknowledges it or not, even in the very observation and researching of this simple, everyday phenomenon, Matt has embarked on an inexorable journey towards truth (reality), eventually/hopefully in its fullness. Only at its conclusion will Matt’s restless heart (watch him scampering to deny he’s restless! :) ) finds its rest. Only then will he die completely to self, to be subsumed into living Love. This perennial quest for knowledge – always unsatisfactory until truth (Truth) has finally been seized in its (His) fullness – is simply an integral (natural) part of the rational intellect (spirituality) of man.

    Okay, so what happens now for Matt? Why, reason(ing) now comes into play! (Notice now the subtle shift from investigating a law of nature by the tools of science, to more predominantly employing reason, which is [also] an investigative tool in the realm of natural law!) The rational mind of Matt is now demanding more enlightenment; the very existence of this force of gravity (as opposed to its non existence) needs to be explained. Wherefrom does it derive? Does it arise of its own accord or is it a spawn of other phenomena? Do those too arise of their own accord? Are these physical entities and forces finite or infinite? Are they eternal or did they have a starting point in time? What is time? How is it that the operation of such vast, complex, mind boggling phenomena in the physical universe (or theoretical multiverses) is so finely tuned? Indeed, how come all these phenomena are marked with intelligibility - able to be rationally understood at all - instead of just being randomly/chaotically/meaninglessly there? Does all this point to a well organized plan, or a creative intelligence, or not? These universal laws to which all things in the universe appear to be subject… do they include man? Physically, of course, but what about intellectually/spiritually? See the (“natural”) progression of Matt’s questioning? See the inexorability?

    Christians will note: “… that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Romans 1: 19-20).

    Antony Flew was one of the world’s most famous atheists of the 20th century. But eventually his recognition of the profound order and complexity of the universe, and its apparent fine-tuning, was a decisive reason for his change of mind about God’s existence. This was after he observed/concluded that it was reasonable to believe that the organization of space, time, matter and energy throughout the universe is far from random: “There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe.”

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  164. [Part 3 of 3]

    Why do so many (otherwise) perceptive minds baulk at deducing from their observations, studies and reflections the existence of God – and of His (absolute) natural moral law? I would attribute it to three main factors:

    1. Cognitive bias. All of us tend to suffer from this when presented with evidence of things that we have some interest/reason not to subscribe to.
    2. Refusal to use all the tools of research into reality – particularly divine revelation, which is summarily dismissed as no more than fiction. Between (1) and (2) the unbeliever dismisses not only a mountain of circumstantial evidence pointing to the existence of a Creator of the universe, but also tangible evidence of divinity, expressed, for instance, in the well attested miracles and the supernatural wisdom in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
    3. Attitude, chiefly a loathing to surrender one’s own opinions/understanding and life choices to some higher power which/who is both unobservable directly and demanding (of self sacrifice, for instance)! Of course, this stance is eminently understandable. In one (skeptical) view it is merely prudential caution, but in the view of believers who have (demonstrably) benefitted from just such surrender, it is shutting oneself off to the fullness of understanding/truth and life.

    Back in India, as a young man, I used to listen with interest to many tales from my Hindu friends and colleagues about their gurus and their teachings. One told of a young boy who approached this renowned guru (with extraordinary powers) in quest of profound knowledge and wisdom. The guru heard his plea and agreed to enlighten him provided he could first pass a little test. The guru would jump into the nearby river and hide, and the boy’s task would be to find him. The boy agreed, and the guru promptly vanished. Down went the boy to the river and jumped in. He looked among the weeds, but the guru wasn’t there. He grabbed and inspected every fish that came by, but decided none of them was the guru. Exhausted, he climbed back on to the river bank and sat there disheartened. Then suddenly, a thought occurred to hum: what if the guru had merged himself into the water itself? He ran into the nearby forest, and gathered up some twigs and a pot that lay there. Back to the river bank, where he rubbed two sticks together and lit the twigs, over which he placed the pot. Then he ran to the river and scooped up a handful of water which he placed into the pot. As the water started to heat up and get close to boiling point, hey, presto! out jumped the guru! “Come, my son,” he said “You have qualified yourself by your preparedness to explore all avenues of searching, to gain knowledge of many eternal truths!”

    Thinking back, I used to wonder why these gurus were so loathe to impart their knowledge/wisdom freely to all comers, without first putting the enquirers through such rigorous tests. It was only much later in life that I realized that attitude/honesty/openness/sincerity/arduous seeking are prerequisites to capture a big prize such as fullness of truth. Self imposed limitations on one’s methods of searching just won’t do.

    St Anselm of Canterbury used to say, “Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam” meaning, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand". This, in turn was derived from St Augustine’s exhortation, ”crede, ut intelligas”… “believe, so that you may understand”.

    A “guru” can indeed demand proof of faith in his credibility before he presents himself to the intellect of the novice and imparts to it the fullness of truth. That might be back to front, but the truly humble/open minded man accepts that a guru’s ways might sometimes not be our ways. “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29) for… “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11: 40).

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  165. I have been reading the past few days and been interested in the debate. Matt, I appreciate so much your comments and that you stuck with it! I hope Matt will return, even after being rebuked with the comment to "man up." I love reading this blog when it is respectful and challenging, but I tend to stay away for months when it gets personal like that, so I hope that was just a one-off. Thank you, Johanne, for encouraging Matt to continue the dialogue. Leila, I have had Michelle and her three daughters and your entire family in my prayers. As you bid her goodbye on Friday, my prayer is that you will be lifting each other up with your collective faith and your love for her. God Bless.

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  166. Oh, my word.
    Definition: Man up: Own up, buck up (sidenote: most guys don’t have an issue with this, at least not the seven guys I grew up around, and not the ones I know today).

    In this case, “own up” to the fact that your argument is weak because you haven’t posited a legitimate replacement for God, and do justice to the debate.

    And for policing etiquette:
    I’m well aware of my own tendency toward impatience. I have a well-trodden path to the Confessional. You’ll notice that 5 mins after I posted that ‘man up’ comment, I told Leila (publicly) “My patience = my vice”. So, yes, it was a “one off”, and honestly, by the time the debate ends, I could be a dash 20.
    So could you, if you participated, right? Or do you never use stronger descriptors when you’re frustrated?

    I own all of my shortcomings. I’m well aware of them.

    Am I allowed to say I think that people who police online debates for manners breaches are being self-righteous? Or should I just add a “smiley face” as I stick the passive-aggressive comment in (like was done to Sharon by Matt implying she wasn’t quite up to snuff intelligence-wise), I mean if we’re gonna be consistent?

    Let’s level the playing field. You work on your stuff and I’ll work on mine.

    People lurk and then dive-bomb to correct manners. Please. Leila lets us speak, and fumble, and speak again. The rest of you “manners cops” should to. It’s called “grace”. Allow it for everyone. Even during frustrated debates. Or, like Leila already posted, there are other ‘more soothing’ blogs.

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  167. Matt, thanks for participating, although my idea of an "ongoing dialogue" post was a little more "ongoing" than that, ha ha. I do wish you could have address how something "intrinsically wrong" was not also "absolutely wrong". Maybe you could come give a simple explanation for that?

    And I must say I was shocked by the idea that "man up" could be seen as "rebuke". When did we all become SO sensitive? Gosh, I wouldn't even blink if someone said that to me. I'd simply "bring it" after that! What in the world? We have become a nation of "the offended", and it is actually tearing this nation apart.

    ACA, but I thank you sincerely for your prayers. The wake was packed, and full of love, and now I must get dressed for the funeral. Please keep up the prayers for her daughters, and especially her closest sister, Nicole.

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  168. Hey, Nubby, it's a little harder to read when you put it that way! :)

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  169. Francis, I think that all you said was awesome!

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  170. Hi Leila,

    would you please pray for my Catholic friend's younger sister who was recently accepted as a candidate for membership into the Benedictines of Mary?

    THanks!

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  171. Miss Gwen, I would be honored to! How wonderful!

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  172. I have been reading these comments for the past hours, even going back to the beginning to take notes!
    I love this debate and the arguments. I grew up in an atheist household, but I converted to Catholicism a couple of years ago. There is still so much I do not know nor understand, but I am willing to learn and hold my (former) beliefs and ideas to the light and see if they are true or not.

    The notion of absolute Truth makes sense, of we agree there are absolute things, like the murder of a child is absolute evil, there must be a source. A reason beyond/above ourselves why that is.

    Just to make sure I understand correctly, a little recap.
    God is Goodness and wants us to do good.
    Some acts are not good, but in certain circumstances they can be justified. For example, taking a life or telling a lie are not good, but taking a life when you defend yourself or somebody else can justify it and telling a lie to prevent something horrible to happen can also be justified.
    Am I right when I assume that if we are forced to do something like that, God griefs for us, but he forgives us, because he knows we had the right intentions?

    And my question: how do we know if we have the right intentions and that we are not just bending God's law to suit ourselves?

    If I made any mistakes, please forgive me, English is not my first language and as I said, logic is not my strong point :-)

    Kind regards,

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  173. Great discussion. I have a lot of reading to do before I can comment effectively.

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  174. There is a lot to digest here, but I can comment on this statement:

    "The moral law is objective. It does not even depend on a "religion" to exist. It has always existed. Yes, absolutely, there has been a moral law always. It's objective, it's transcendent. Just because a religion teaches a moral truth does not mean the religion "invented" the moral law."

    There are laws and constants that may have always existed. We are not sure whether something like gravity or electromagnetism existed for all eternity or came into being at the beginning of this universe, assuming this is one of many universes.

    Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that the laws of nature have always existed, even before the Big Bang. Can we really say that moral laws have always existed? Or is it more likely that moral laws have evolved as we have evolved and that they are a social construct? There are commands by the god of the Bible that violate what we consider today to be moral laws. Therefore, I cannot see how moral laws can be considered to be absolute, objective, intrinsic, etc.

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  175. My computer ate my comment!

    Shortened version: Yes, for a humanist, there can be no other way to think of morality except as a social construct. I wanted Matt to be more succinct, but I think that's the crux of what he was saying (or that morality is an individual opinion, based on lots of though and reading).

    But yes, if God exists, the moral law has been constant forever, since God Himself is Goodness. The moral law is that which is reflective of the Good, so any evil that we see is simply a privation of the Good. It's a lack of Good. (Just like darkness is really only the absence of light, and cold is simply the absence of heat.)

    As for what God commanded.... No, he could never command evil. The Ten Commandments are the basis for our moral law, and we use them to do our Examination of Conscience before Confession, and they are expanded upon to encompass every part of life. For example, Thou shalt not commit adultery does not simply mean technical adultery, it means unfaithfulness in many ways, and also a misuse of human sexuality. As for "thou shalt not kill", the Hebrew word there is translated as "murder". God can never be guilty of murder himself, as he is the Author of Life. (Is the artist guilty of evil if he destroys or alters his painting?) If God takes a life, it's always a just act. And those who freak out about it forget that this life is not all there is. Death is a gateway to new life (or eternal death if the person is evil, and then there is still no injustice in God's act). He has the power over life and death, but we are not given permission to take a life of an innocent person.

    Hope that helps.

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    1. PS: That answer was for Secular Humanist! Thanks for your thoughtful comment, by the way!

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  176. Hi Bettina! Your English is excellent!!

    The clarification I would make is that we may never do any evil (sin), not even venial. Meaning, we never have permission to sin, even a little. So, killing in self-defense or killing an armed combatant in a just war is not sinful at all. It's not evil. It's permissible. We actually cannot lie to deceive. It's wrong to lie, period. Now, can we withhold information from someone who has no right to know something? Yes. There is a whole line of moral theology about that.

    Also, something like stealing. Stealing is taking something that rightfully belongs to another. We understand that, but we also understand that a starving man who takes food from a man who has plenty is not stealing. It does not fit the moral definition of stealing. Because food has been given by God for all his children for survival. If a man has food and will not share it with a starving man, then HE is the sinner, not the starving man who is permitted to take food to stay alive. God gave His resources for all. (This is why we all know that Jean Valjean in Les Miserables was not a criminal for taking the bread to feed his family.)

    I am so glad you are Catholic! What a gift to the Church. Where are you from? Also, let me know if that doesn't make sense, and I will try again. I just woke up. :)

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    1. Bettina, here is more about how we are to serve the good at every moment, and how we are never permitted to sin even venially (sin is never "justified"):

      http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/06/little-teaching-we-serve-good-not.html

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