Sunday, 22 June 2008

Being Good Without God

This is a straight reposting [with odd small changes to references to old blogs which are not readily available - and marked with brackets like these] from my old blog from April and May 2007. It's a bit unpolished and I would probably change a few bits around here and there now but I thought it might be interesting to get it on to Blogger to get some feedback and as an easy reference for folks who continue to tell me that I can't know right from wrong because I don't follow their particular god, as I wander around the internet asking questions.

Ethics Based On The Human Experience And Critical Thinking


I can remember having a conversation with my grandad, I suppose I must have been about 10 or 12 years old at the time. In this particular conversation I had fetched home a prize from Sunday School - a bible - he asked me what I thought about the bible.

I told him that some of the bits in the ten commandments seemed to make sense but there was an awful lot of other stuff I couldn’t make sense of at all, let alone agree with. I remember he smiled at me and seemed happy with what I had said.

My grandad was in the royal marines and took part in D Day. He fought in Africa and Italy as well as France and this, not surprisingly, was a formative experience in his life. He died before I had reached the stage in life when I would have sat down and had a proper discussion with him about the war and what he learned from it, but looking back at him from 20 odd years of additional perspective, I am fairly sure he was not a religious man and that he was pleased with my answer because it showed that I was thinking for myself. I would like to think that my answer went some small way towards making him feel that his sacrifice in the war was worthwhile, but I will never know.

This conversation came back to me unbidden as I sat down to think about ethics just now. My grandad was a deeply ethical person who cared a great deal about others and always seemed to have a view on right and wrong without ever referring to any kind of god or holy book. He seemed to work things out using the Golden Rule and it saw him through his whole life. I am aware of the old saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes” but I like to think he may have been an exception to this.

I do think that morality plays a central role in human life; indeed, ethics was developed as a branch of human knowledge long before today’s religions proclaimed their moral systems to be based upon the word of their particular god.

If you have read this blog before you will know I have views on ethics.

This post is an attempt to answer questions from [a religious commenter] Paul;

“Oh, and another thing. Your "non-religious ethics" tells you its wrong to lie, does it?
What do you mean by "wrong"? And what is a "lie" - or more significantly, what is
“truth"? What is "ethics" with no external absolute? What is "religious", and in what way
are your ethics therefore "non-religious", and David's not?”

I will leave aside the observation that Paul could rephrase his question so as to doubt the existence of anything at all without the external absolute (I presume he means god via the Bible) I will now try to answer these questions.

I would take the view that ethics is an autonomous field of inquiry, that ethical judgements can be formulated independently of revealed religion, and that human beings can cultivate practical reason and wisdom and, by its application, achieve lives of virtue and excellence. I take the view that ethics should be based on the human experience.

Paul has asserted that is isn’t possible to know right from wrong without some external absolute, but he has given us no evidence that this is the case. Please do Paul.

If by this external absolute Paul means “the word of god in the bible” as a moral and ethical guide then we can look into this further, indeed some people already have.

There is an fascinating online experiment, asking people to answer moral questions based on various hypothetical scenarios. You can have a go yourself, if you like here.

The results are interesting;

Extract from this article;
“Non-believers often have as strong and sound a sense of right and wrong as anyone, and have worked to abolish slavery and contributed to other efforts to alleviate human suffering.”

And from this one;
“On the view that morality is God’s word, atheists should judge these cases differently from people with religious background and beliefs, and when asked to justify their responses,
should bring forward different explanations. For example, since atheists lack a moral compass, they should go with pure self-interest, and walk by the drowning baby. Results show something completely different. There were no statistically significant differences between subjects with or without religious backgrounds, with approximately 90% of subjects saying that it is permissible to flip the switch on the boxcar, 97% saying that it is obligatory to rescue the baby, and 97% saying that is forbidden to remove the healthy man’s organs. . When asked to justify why some cases are permissible and others forbidden, subjects are either clueless or offer explanations that can not account for the differences in play. Importantly, those with a religious background are as clueless or incoherent as atheists. “

So this evidence seems to disprove that element of Paul’s implied claim.

If, on the other hand, by external absolute Paul means simply that god did it, (whatever that means) and because god exists people know right from wrong, then there is no way of testing this one way or the other.

We can’t ask people outside of Paul’s god based system for their opinions can we? If this is indeed his assertion, it is not falsifiable, which does not mean it is true or not true, merely that we can never test to find out if it is is true or false. In this very real sense his claim is ultimately just a sentence which makes sense to you if you agree with Paul and is meaningless if you don’t. Clearly such a claim will not change anyone’s mind, well not anyone who makes up their mind based on reasoned arguments.

It seems fairly straightforward and obvious to me that because human’s evolved from social primates over millions of years, a sense of morals, ethics, group need’s and basic Golden Rule-ish principles would have evolved as a survival mechanism. Indeed, the Golden Rule would appear to be the simplest distillation of this kind of thing.

Furthermore, if we look at the animal kingdom there are examples of moral behaviour in primates and other animals, something which presumably Paul would agree with me in claiming is “not god given”.

For me, ethical conduct is, and should be, judged by critical reason - cogita tute. Look around you, see what is right and wrong, look at what other think and ask them why, make up your own mind in a rational way. Follow the Golden Rule.

This extract from a secular humanist site;

“Morality that is not God-based need not be antisocial, subjective, or promiscuous, nor need it lead to the breakdown of moral standards. Although we believe in tolerating diverse lifestyles and social manners, we do not think they are immune to criticism. Nor do we believe that any one church should impose its views of moral virtue and sin, sexual conduct, marriage, divorce, birth control, or abortion, or legislate them for the rest of society. As secular humanists we believe in the central importance of the value of human happiness here and now. We are opposed to absolutist morality, yet we maintain that objective standards emerge, and ethical values and principles may be discovered, in the course of ethical deliberation. Secular humanist ethics maintains that it is possible for human beings to lead meaningful and wholesome lives for themselves and in service to their fellow human beings without the need of religious commandments or the benefit of clergy. There have been any number of distinguished secularists and humanists who have demonstrated moral principles in their personal lives and works: Protagoras, Lucretius, Epicurus, Spinoza, Hume, Thomas Paine, Diderot, Mark Twain, George Eliot, John Stuart Mill, Ernest Renan, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Clarence Darrow, Robert Ingersoll, Gilbert Murray, Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Max Born, Margaret Sanger, and Bertrand Russell, among others.”

A couple more points I would make on this subject are as follows;

Firstly, look how morals change - even “Christian” morals - look at the role of scripture in slavery, first as justification and then as a reason for abolition. Hardly an absolute standard to judge things by.

Secondly, but of course a related point to that above, look at the contradictions in the bible. Should we kill gay people or merely banish them. Is it OK to beat or kill your kids if they talk back at you? What about the rule about not killing and the previous two sentences?

What about the bit where “smashers of babies” will be blessed? Again hardly an absolute standard to judge things by.

On this topic I regularly have Hitler, Stalin and others thrown at me in righteous indignation, as examples of what happens when you don’t believe in god. (David Anderson was one to do this)

I would make the following points;

Hitler was a Roman Catholic.
I would assert that these evil people did what they did because they were irrational.
The experiment mentioned above shows identical results for believers and non-believers.
From this we can infer that the same proportion of believers and non-believers alike
would give answers the average person would view as evil. (3% of people apparently
wouldn’t save a baby from drowning if that would mean ruining a new pair of trousers -
that’s 3% of believers and 3 % of non-believers alike - seems pretty evil to me)
I can give examples of very bad behaviour by both religious and non-religious people, all
of whom were irrational.

This is one of the problems I have with religion, it teaches people to be irrational. It says being irrational is good, and from irrationality can come evil.

- - -

If you are there Paul, I am genuinely interested in your reply.

Comments on the original entry;

Paul
A reply will take some time - however, it is worth noting that this ground is covered in many reputable books of philosophy and apologetics. "Does God Believe in Atheists?" by John Blanchard is a substantive book that covers a lot of ground. He would disagree with the old saying about atheists and foxholes as well, I suspect ....

"I will leave aside the observation that Paul could rephrase his question so as to doubt the existence of anything at all without the external absolute (I presume he means god via the Bible)"

Indeed. Which was Descartes' point. The Enlightenment could have stopped there and then. Empiricism is a poor substitute for the epistemological certainty that Descartes was looking for.

There is such a thing as a humanistic ethic. What I am challenging is whether it has a sufficiently sound epistemological foundation to be genuinely useful. So you say the Golden Rule had served your grandad well. Somebody else may well then say, "Well, given that all these people observe the golden rule, it actually serves me really well to cheat and manipulate so as to get what I want and score one over them." With no external absolute, are you in any position to argue that what they are doing is wrong? Or that the word "wrong" actually has any meaning?

As for the issue of slavery, you can go back several posts on my blog and discover that in actual fact, evangelical Christians had been challenging it almost from the establishment of the slave trade. Yes, "the church" may have used the Bible to endorse the practice, but I would argue that this was only possible through distortion of the text. And John Locke, now regarded as a leading light of humanistic tolerance (although he was also a Christian) also supported the trade.

It may have suited Hitler to claim that he was a Catholic, for political reasons, but his behaviour was incompatible with this assertion. "By their fruits you shall know them."

Wednesday, May 2, 2007 - 09:14 PM
psiloiordinary

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your input and thoughts. I have written a response to your questions and added a couple of my own for you to consider.

I made it into another blog entry [shown below].

Regards,
Thursday, May 3, 2007 - 04:55 PM

- - -

Part Two

- - -

A few blog posts ago I put up my ideas on why you don’t need religion to have ethics and morals in response to questions about right and wrong and how you can tell what they are without a god. Paul has kindly responded and rather than adding a long comment reply I thought I would respond here;

I will respond with some excerpts from his comment;

Paul says; “Empiricism is a poor substitute for the epistemological certainty that Descartes was looking for.”

Well yes I do find it difficult to be absolutely, positively, categorically certain about most things. And yes I certainly can’t produce a form of words to prove that rationality works beyond any possible doubt. So in your own framework then I would have to say that I have “faith” in reason and rationality.

I would however point to the huge sum of empirical evidence in vast fields of investigation and human endeavour which so far seem to back up my faith that logic and reason work. Further I would claim that, for many things including evolution, medicine, ESP, alien abductions and miracles etc., I have seen enough evidence to be happy to take a fairly firm view on them, although I would always welcome new evidence as interesting and exciting.

I am happy and comfortable with this uncertainty at the foundation of my world view and I certainly don’t feel that I need to switch to anything which more certain and absolute by deciding to have a religious faith which in its own dogma claims such absolutely positively categorical certainty about how and why we are here.

I am very well aware that many other people do feel a need for this certainty. Indeed many of my blog posts covering things from alien abduction to psychic powers and alternative medicine reflect this in some detail.

I think there are fairly well understood reasons why people feel the need for such certainty. These boil down to our evolutionary history and the typical psychological makeup of a human being which results from this.

So, reading what I have just written, I suppose it shows that the reason I am able not to believe in a god is that I don’t feel a need this certainty. The reason that I don’t believe in a god is that I haven’t seen any persuasive evidence of one (yet).

Paul also said;

“There is such a thing as a humanistic ethic. What I am challenging is whether it has a sufficiently sound epistemological foundation to be genuinely useful. So you say the Golden Rule had served your grandad well. Somebody else may well then say, "Well, given that all these people observe the golden rule, it actually serves me really well to cheat and manipulate so as to get what I want and score one over them." With no external absolute, are you in any position to argue that what they are doing is wrong? Or that the word "wrong" actually has any meaning?”

I think it has as sound a foundation as we yet know exists. Given my (nearly) blind faith in reason I am happy to look at the Golden Rule itself and give it the thumbs up, look at the evidence of how humans get along when I live by the Golden Rule and give it another thumbs up and listen to hearsay evidence of other people’s experience with it and say “good enough for me”.

First of all I don’t agree with Thatcher, I think that there is such a thing as society, and I also believe in democracy. These follow fairly obviously from the Golden Rule, as a sensible way to resolve disputes and competing needs, in society.

Following on from this I think it a reasoned approach to believe in the rule of law. This would put in place checks and balances to catch the people doing wrong and have a police force to police the system.

Looking around, a law based democracy seems to be pretty useful so far on planet earth, and fairly obviously does a better job of organising society than either secular, atheist or religious dictatorships and states, both now and historically.

Going back to your first point I can’t see why the type of foundation of a system of ethics should be automatically related to the effectiveness of that system. Why would a religious, faith based system of ethics automatically be “more genuinely useful” than reason based ethics? At least I think you would grant me the comparison would vary widely depending upon which of the millions of faiths we have on offer we actually choose?

I presume you have a preference and so actually are comparing humanistic based ethics to your own particular faith. Why is this more “genuinely useful” than ethics developed in a democracy through thought and reason?

I do take your points about slavery, but I was getting at the fact that parts of the bible say its fine and others don’t, as I’m sure you are aware there are many other subjects of such contradiction.

My question to you would be “How do you decide which bits of the Bible to follow?”.

Paul finished with;
“It may have suited Hitler to claim that he was a Catholic, for political reasons, but his behaviour was incompatible with this assertion. "By their fruits you shall know them."”

The only logical issue with this Paul is that it would seem to imply that anyone who is bad automatically doesn’t count as religious. i.e. Look at their results, and, if they are bad, then we see that they aren’t religious after all.

Changing the subject drastically, the 9/11 and 7/7 bombers were extremely religious by their own standards. They were motivated by the promise of eternal life in the presence of large numbers of virgins, although I understand there is some dispute that they may have arrived in their after life to find raisins instead. No worldly motivations have been suggested for these people that I am aware of.

- - -

Going back to the comment about someone deciding not to follow the golden rule and instead cheat the system.

This subject is elegantly covered in a fascinating chapter of The Selfish Gene called “Nice guys finish first” which introduced me to the rather esoteric seeming “games theory” and how this links in with evolutionary theories before blowing my mind by giving some examples of it happening in the natural world.

The cherry on the icing on the cake of this chapter is the description of a basic version of the golden rule in operation amongst colonies of vampire bats.

I kid you not.

- - -

Quotes for the day;

“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.”
Abraham Lincoln

“True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness.”
“I do not believe in the immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern without any superhuman authority behind it.”
“A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”
Albert Einstein

Original Comments

Paul

I wrote a long answer to this, but it was swallowed up by my network. It'll have to wait .....

Thursday, May 3, 2007 - 11:07 PM

psiloiordinary

Hopefully not an "act of god" - ;-)

I look forward to your response.

Friday, May 4, 2007 - 07:43 AM

Kyuuketsuki

An excellent couple of posts sir ... it makes me proud to be associated with you even if only in a small way. I'm also interested (and slightly amused by) the fact that Paul's answer to your first post ("Being good without God") wasn't anywhere near as well thought out a response as your post inasmuch as he really didn't deal with all the points made and someone isn't religious if their actions don't appeal to the [religious] evaluator (gimme a break) and that his second answer turned out to be vapourware!

Friday, June 8, 2007 - 09:07 AM

Psiloiordinary

Thank you ;-D

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 - 09:56 PM

11 comments:

  1. ===accidentally left this on your *old* blog, here it is hopefully still looking fresh :) =======

    Hi Psi :) Listen, I commented on a tiny bit of your (and Rusty's) conversation over @SCO. Rusty knew I had an interest in the subject from way back when, although I don't discuss it much nowadays (I'm off the forums).

    Since I'm more interested in the thinking process than proving my side of it at this point, I'll reduce my whole argument as it appears to me:

    Humans, including those of atheist bent (just to be clear), have a desire for good. Humans can exhibit quite a bit of virtue and have a very workable set of values by which to live morally and ethically. I don't question that part of it. The part I think is unworkable in your assertions would be the way this is transfered to a group situation. Society.

    The problems occur when trying to convince another- who outside of constructs is in every way a peer- to abide by the sets of values which you conclude are moral, right, and just. Simply convincing through education is not enough... bribery is not enough... so what then? To what do you appeal ? Is it morality by majority vote that you would choose? Lots of problems, historically, etc. with that one.

    So as faulty as humans are in applying it, the authority has to come from some sort of higher power to be enforceable in a group of peers.

    ----that is my basic assertion: we need a standard outside of ourselves, that is not subjective.----

    I found some of your ideas ( like that of "innate morality") really piquing my interest. What do you mean by that, or since that is out of the context ( I'd have to dig around in your comments...) maybe you could discuss what you think on that idea. Is this what we would commonly call "conscience"?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi ilona,

    Welcome aboard.

    Some good questions and I won't pretend to have all the answers, but I would say this;

    Ultimately I must go for democracy even with all it's historical problems.

    I'll explain why by first of all explaining why I find your arguments un-persuasive.

    You say we should have some form of higher power in charge.

    To say that the evidence for this higher power is in dispute would be putting it mildly. The main counter claims would come from other religious folks with a different god, as well as plenty of other fellow christians who thought that the higher power was telling them something different to the message you think you are getting.

    Ultimately a theocracy means power wielded by the (usually) men or man who is doing the "interpreting" of god's will for their subjects.

    If you are going to persuade me that theocracy is better than democracy then you are first going to have to persuade me that your particualr god does exist and is telling this chap you want in power what to do.

    Fire away with the evidence whenever you are ready.

    Do you see that problem?

    To quickly list a few more of my objections to a theocracy, here we go;

    * Studies showing that religious belief is linked to violence by believers who think they are acting in the name of their god.

    * A history of horrific treatment of non-believers or heretics.

    * Built in "prejudice" against some segment(s) of society.

    - - -

    So yes democracy does it for me. Probably with some form of written constitution to build in checks and balances. Although we seem to have better anti-discrimination laws here in the UK than you do in the US without such balances.

    For me education is an important part of trying to ensure the continued success of democracy. Education and the willingness of everyday folks to question and hold their leaders accountable and stand up to those who would try to abuse the democracy with scare stories and irrational hatreds.

    I think that history teaches some good lessons regarding this.

    - - -

    I suppose the ultimate reason for choosing democracy is that it is fair, one person one vote, and so seems to fit with the "golden rule" pretty well.

    - - -

    What do you think?

    Regards,

    Psi

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oops nearly forgot;

    By innate I just meant built in to our brains. By evolution as social animals over millennia.

    "Conscience" is fine by me.

    Regards,

    Psi

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think it is premature to speak in terms of whether we are persuaded by one another or not. I don't expect that to be ther outcome here, but rather, that we may find some worthy arguments to further think about. fair enough?
    "To say that the evidence for this higher power is in dispute would be putting it mildly."

    That is what I believe, but in terms of the discussion that is jumping the gun a bit. what I say is
    1) there has to be an objective standard
    2) there must be some source of authority to make that standard of more merit to be followed than, say, your opinion or mine.
    3) I am not arguing for, nor do I wish for, a theocracy in this present life
    4) what I submit is submitted within the agreement that our present form of democracy is superior as a government. we still need the standard, we need the source of authority, we need to appeal on the basis of a higher power to persuade men of the necessity to adhere to the standard given. ( reasonings etc., which is exactly how our basic documents are constituted)

    I do agree we have a problem of major proportions if you expect me to "convert" you to believe in God as I do, that He exists, or otherwise.
    That is a different question.

    The question as I see it is whether you can support my prevailing belief and function within it for the sake of the moral basis it gives to making decisions or giving form to government. ( Mine- Christian- because that is what has most informed our Western civilization and the way we understand democratic principles... though arising from the Greeks).

    I propose that in a sense you already do that. You, as an atheist in this society, borrow ( as it were) the Christian beliefs based upon their God and the scriptures about Him in order to set in order you view of what is good and bad. There is no basis for such thinking in the matierialist philosophy.

    I can't argue with your "Golden Rule" basis :) and I can't claim it to be exclusive to the Judeo-Christian ideas, either. I also have to protest that you do not understand our system if you really think it functions because "democracy is that it is fair, one person one vote". it isn't fair in that way, although it has a system of justice that seeks to maintain the individual rights as far as possible. But what you are saying is incorrect.

    As I said, I am not advocating a theocracy, only the maintenance of the historical influence of Christian values on the system. That is very different from trying to impose religion on all citizens- which I think is repugnant and contrary to the original intent of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do, however, believe we have to choose our values in the sense of a "Civitas" and so it is only fair to answer your remonstrances.

    * Studies showing that religious belief is linked to violence by believers who think they are acting in the name of their god.

    * A history of horrific treatment of non-believers or heretics.

    * Built in "prejudice" against some segment(s) of society.


    "Studies" -that is sufficiently vague. I don't believe it is supportable, want to try?

    "history of horrific treatment." Here, I have to admit there is truth. Human beings do horrible things to each other and they often, though not always, use religion in rhetoric, reasons, and fervor to accomplish their ends. but is religion the source or the tool of the cruel atrocities? Either way, would the excision of religion make a brave new day? Communist history might be something to look at there....

    The same argument goes to the "built-in prejudice". People find excuses to include and exclude for reasons that have little to do with religion. It has more to do with the desire to impose will upon another. That, my friend, is not eradicated with the diminishment of religion... it is a basic human problem that religion is oftentimes summoned to quell. With more or less success.

    education is an important part of trying to ensure the continued success of democracy. Education and the willingness of everyday folks to question and hold their leaders accountable and stand up to those who would try to abuse the democracy with scare stories and irrational hatreds.

    Ok fine. but let's get real here... education is not some entity to which we enquire... it does not exist in a vacuum of philosophy , ideas, and morals. Education teaches something that is already accepted as the source of our ideas of right and wrong... and you are back to where do you get yours? and how do you get others to agree with you on your definitions and applications in society?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Ilona,

    Sorry for the delay in this response - exams real life have delayed me.

    Anyway here we are now so;

    You said;

    "1) there has to be an objective standard "

    Why? Or perhaps more accurately why cant this be decided by society through democracy? I'm sorry but you can't have this as a freebie premise, I will have to ask you to justify it.

    "2) there must be some source of authority to make that standard of more merit to be followed than, say, your opinion or mine. "

    Well I agree if you finish your sentence with . . . to make this legitimately enforceable in a democratic society. For me that authority should be accountable and transparent; democracy seems to be capable of this.

    "3) I am not arguing for, nor do I wish for, a theocracy in this present life"

    Well we agree here. I see no evidence for any other life, but feel free to fire away on this.

    You said;
    "The question as I see it is whether you can support my prevailing belief and function within it for the sake of the moral basis it gives to making decisions or giving form to government."

    Sorry I don't understand this.

    You also said;

    "I propose that in a sense you already do that. You, as an atheist in this society, borrow ( as it were) the Christian beliefs based upon their God and the scriptures about Him in order to set in order you view of what is good and bad. There is no basis for such thinking in the matierialist philosophy."

    You can't have that for free either I'm afraid. There is loads of basis for ethics in a non religious world view. You can't just dismiss it like that out of hand. There are large numbers of papers and studies on this very issue.

    I don't "choose my values in the sense of a civitas", whatever that means, I think about them in the context of the real world and my life experience and use rational thinking to choose them. You are not really in position to deny this unless you claim to be able to read my mind.

    I said;

    "* Studies showing that religious belief is linked to violence by believers who think they are acting in the name of their god.

    * A history of horrific treatment of non-believers or heretics.

    * Built in "prejudice" against some segment(s) of society."

    You said;

    ""Studies" -that is sufficiently vague. I don't believe it is supportable, want to try?"

    OK this should get you started. But just do a google - there is lot's of research in this area - I'm surprised (not really) that you know nothing of this.

    You said;

    ""history of horrific treatment." Here, I have to admit there is truth. Human beings do horrible things to each other and they often, though not always, use religion in rhetoric, reasons, and fervor to accomplish their ends. but is religion the source or the tool of the cruel atrocities? Either way, would the excision of religion make a brave new day? Communist history might be something to look at there...."

    I never said religion was the only source of violence. Irrationality away from the belief in the supernatural, and Communist regimes certainly are packed full of this, also leads to violence.

    You said;

    "Ok fine. but let's get real here... education is not some entity to which we enquire... it does not exist in a vacuum of philosophy , ideas, and morals. Education teaches something that is already accepted as the source of our ideas of right and wrong... and you are back to where do you get yours? and how do you get others to agree with you on your definitions and applications in society? "

    As said before I get my sense of right or wrong from millennia of evolution as a social ape and by using my rational mind and life experience. Others don't necessarily agree, but then I don't claim my views are either perfect or sacrosanct and I am pretty sure that by having healthy and open debates about what is right and wrong I can improve my own thoughts and hopefully improve those of others. I certainly think that 'all of us' are capable of better morals than 'one of us'.

    You have so far ignored the problems I pointed out with your source of morals;

    Inconsistency in the bible itself.
    Reliance upon and interpretation of a particular version of a particular translation.
    Evidence showing religion can lead to increased violence by believers.

    It would be good to get your answers to these points.

    Regards,

    Psi

    ReplyDelete
  6. *The link to "research" you recommended isn't useful to support your contention. For one thing it is incomplete and tentative("possible origins"), for another thing it doesn't balance with the fact that some religious teaching promotes peacefulness ie Quakerism. So we might say that religion also accentuates the control of violence; all it tells us is that religion is a receptacle for peoples deepest convictions and motivations. If you remove religion from a society you will still have a propensity for violence if the convictions call for it- Soviet Communism provides some insight on that. Do you have more support for your contention- it is your burden to provide it for the argument, not send me looking for it.

    And an aside:"I'm surprised (not really) that you know nothing of this" is this a wee attempt at ad ridiculum? It says more of your bias than it does of me. We'll get further faster without snarky remarks, don't you agree?

    *"1) there has to be an objective standard "

    ...why cant this be decided by society through democracy? I'm sorry but you can't have this as a freebie premise, I will have to ask you to justify it.


    You are telling me that it is acceptable to decide morality through the majority rule? Do you believe slavery was abolished through the rule of the majority or the application of a standard? Do you also believe that might makes right? Democracy is not a true one man one vote system in our countries, it also employs force at times... do you think your system of golden rule and vague assertions of democracy cover these circumstances? What decides "right" in such cases?

    Your appeal to democracy, meaning our Western system of democratic representative government, is based upon such concepts as Lex Rex and English Common Law... these utilized Law as the objective standard.

    *I get my sense of right or wrong from millennia of evolution as a social ape and by using my rational mind and life experience.
    ..and yet you must live your life under systems that may or may not line up with your personal moral sense.
    When you say,"right or wrong from millennia of evolution as a social ape" it is fantasy on your part. There is no way to scientifically quantify what of the moral sense comes through biologically, and a "millenia" time frame just makes it that much more fantastical. Even anthropologists studying humans mere thousands of years ago can only conjecture on their motivations or social structures for the most part. But you can think what you like, it just isn't much use in this discussion....

    civitas:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/civitas?r=75
    humans live as groups... this is their moral sense as a group, esp as a nation.

    I'm glad you agree with me on point 2. I don't think it is problem to append your specifics, although I think it is true in systems which aren't transparent, as well. Authority must be justified in some way: by power or by moral rightness... but it has to be more than what we individually opine.

    what is good and bad. There is no basis for such thinking in the matierialist philosophy."

    You can't have that for free either I'm afraid. There is loads of basis for ethics in a non religious world view. You can't just dismiss it like that out of hand. There are large numbers of papers and studies on this very issue.


    You keep appealing to unnamed "papers and studies", but regardless of this, logically there is no way to get moral sense that honors the dignity of man from within a materialist philosophy. If everything is reduced to the molecule level I can have the same moral sense for a worm as I can for a human. Why not? Construct something else for me logically- I can't see it. Democracy is fairly new on the scene not coming from a moral vacuum, it struggles under a materialist view. So, no simple appeals to that answer, ok?

    That non-religious persons can have ethics and that they may justify those reasonings, I agreed up front on that- I am saying they can't form their ethics from within their materialist philosophies. They have to borrow it from the surrounding theistic society.

    ===now, about me====

    Inconsistency in the bible itself.
    Reliance upon and interpretation of a particular version of a particular translation.
    Evidence showing religion can lead to increased violence by believers.


    "Evidence of increased violence": this is weak, at best, and doesn't address the difference of religious beliefs and peoples reactions.
    One question: is violence a usual characteristic in humanity?

    "translations":
    I think this is only an issue for specifics, but for ethics in general I don't think that it is much of a factor. It is far less individualized than your form of non-religious morality.

    This is where the idea of civitas enters: people as a group hold certain ethics in common and have one mind about them, they hold them as a unit. Individual interpretations would be subordinate to the doctrines as a whole. This is what gives religion or the political state its power... the numbers of those who hold those ideas as right and justified... calling upon their loyalty and resources for their continuance. Both religion and a political state require that a group of people view the entity as worthy of defense and often of promulgation. We believe that democracy should be promulgated.. that is a sort of proselytizing.
    Does it lead to violence? It can... does that make democracy a source of violence? Probably, in the way you have submitted the idea here. I suppose the American Revolution is one example.

    Anything people strongly believe in can be used to incite them to violence. Your statement is too simple to be of use, and the link offered was not conclusive or well-defined.

    inconsistency in the Bible:
    I suppose that depends on what you mean- I am not sure I would agree with your definition of inconsistency. I have read atheists lists of so-called inconsistencies; most are shallow surface renderings of things they have little interest in- except to argue against Christianity.


    If we reduce things to the larger points of the Ten Commandments, portions of Mosaic law, the Golden Rule, and many Christian precepts of rendering kindness to ones fellow man... I'd say we have some very consistent teachings in which to order ethical and moral judgments.

    I don't believe you have to have a purely symmetrical understanding of a system in order to have an objective standard to work from. Disputes on constancy would not be included in a general system until resolved. That doesn't make the entire body of doctrine fall apart. Democratic law works much the same way because that is the system it comes from.

    I hope I didn't overlook any of your disputed points.

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  7. Hi Ilona,

    Thanks for your response. Sorry for the delay in replying. Real life once again.

    I am now in France and settling into a family break which means that I should be able to formulate a response in the next few days.

    I may surprise both of us with how much of your answer I agree with.

    Regards,

    Psi

    ReplyDelete
  8. I did not contend that religion is the only source of violence, so pointing out there are other sources does not negate my contention.

    I did not contend that this one study proved anything 100 percent, I gave it as one example of many which showed this kind of link. Also, despite many creationist/ID claims to the commentary, science does not ever work by proving anything 100%, it simply gather evidence and looks at what it infers and marks that as the best explanation at the moment until more evidence comes in. All science is incomplete and tentative. I note that you offer no contradictory evidence.

    So please read what I actually write don't start making things up as you go along :-)

    My claim was this; "Studies showing that religious belief is linked to violence by believers who think they are acting in the name of their god."

    I did not claim that religion is the only source of violence, not that it can't also be a control of violence or any of the others things your "answer" implies was in my claim.

    Neither did I claim that taking religion out of a society would remove all violence.

    So please stop making up my side of the argument and stick to your own.


    You said;
    "You are telling me that it is acceptable to decide morality through the majority rule?"

    Yes. You are yet to give any argument as to why this can't happen apart from repeated personal incredulity. Feel free to make this argument any time you like.

    "Do you believe slavery was abolished through the rule of the majority or the application of a standard?"

    Yes to both. The standard was decided by the majority. What do you think happened?

    "Do you also believe that might makes right?"

    No.

    "Democracy is not a true one man one vote system in our countries, it also employs force at times... do you think your system of golden rule and vague assertions of democracy cover these circumstances?"

    Not always. I never claimed my suggestion was perfect - just a lot better than yours.

    "What decides "right" in such cases? "

    Democracy and the rule of law and individual people's involvement in this. For example; I have been involved in protests and demonstrations against the law and government policies. The law as laid down by previously democratically elected parliaments gave me certain protections and rights to do this. It is a complicated balancing act. We must all be vigilant to preserve the balance as we see it should be, as best we can.

    "Your appeal to democracy, meaning our Western system of democratic representative government, is based upon such concepts as Lex Rex and English Common Law... these utilized Law as the objective standard. "

    Well spotted. Your point being?

    I had said that ; I get my sense of right or wrong from millennia of evolution as a social ape and by using my rational mind and life experience.

    ..and yet you must live your life under systems that may or may not line up with your personal moral sense.


    Yes that is true. What is your point?

    "When you say,"right or wrong from millennia of evolution as a social ape" it is fantasy on your part. There is no way to scientifically quantify what of the moral sense comes through biologically, and a "millenia" time frame just makes it that much more fantastical. Even anthropologists studying humans mere thousands of years ago can only conjecture on their motivations or social structures for the most part. But you can think what you like, it just isn't much use in this discussion...."

    This denial of huge swathes of scientific endeavour and philosophical thought leads me to ask you one very important question; How old do you think the world is Ilona? Please answer this for me.

    My prediction here is that you will refuse to answer - please prove me wrong.

    Calling science fantastical is not an argument is is called poisoning the well with a bit of ad hominem thrown in. Please make an actual logical argument or keep your insults to yourself.

    "Authority must be justified in some way: by power or by moral rightness... but it has to be more than what we individually opine." Because . . . ?

    You are supposed to support assertions with arguments in a debate like this. Please try.

    "You keep appealing to unnamed "papers and studies", but regardless of this, logically there is no way to get moral sense that honors the dignity of man from within a materialist philosophy. If everything is reduced to the molecule level I can have the same moral sense for a worm as I can for a human. Why not? Construct something else for me logically- I can't see it. Democracy is fairly new on the scene not coming from a moral vacuum, it struggles under a materialist view. So, no simple appeals to that answer, ok? "

    You have given me the rather pejorative label of materialist. You then define it in your own terms and say that I can't logically hold the view I gave you.

    This is impolite and very poor debating to boot. I prefer the label rationalist, or even humanist. So take your unsupported comment that I can't logically hold the view I express because you have made up what it actually is and try again.

    Read my original posting again. No mention of just molecules at all. I give the human experience, and world history as well and informed debate as being a way to formulate morals. I give a lot of details. You are ignoring them and giving me a false and pejorative label and even then not making a case against it but just saying "you can't" .

    Well that position is not mine anyway.

    Why not address my actual position instead of making it up?

    "That non-religious persons can have ethics and that they may justify those reasonings, I agreed up front on that- I am saying they can't form their ethics from within their materialist philosophies. They have to borrow it from the surrounding theistic society."

    Again you make a bold assertion and don't say why. To argue against you in your own way is simple but unproductive. Let's try it and see wher it gets us "Yes they can. In fact I just did."

    Re inconsistency in the Bible:
    "I suppose that depends on what you mean- I am not sure I would agree with your definition of inconsistency. I have read atheists lists of so-called inconsistencies; most are shallow surface renderings of things they have little interest in- except to argue against Christianity.
    If we reduce things to the larger points of the Ten Commandments, portions of Mosaic law, the Golden Rule, and many Christian precepts of rendering kindness to ones fellow man... I'd say we have some very consistent teachings in which to order ethical and moral judgments."


    OK lets ignore the implied sideswipe at my lack of belief in the same one in three thousand gods as you and take the big one shall we? Is killing right?. Not too shallow a surface rendering I hope.

    How about these for some contradictions;

    • Ex. 31:15 Kill anyone that has worked on a Sunday.
    • Ex. 21:17 Kill anyone who has ever got upset and used swear words against one of their parents.
    • Lev. 20:10 Kill anyone that commits adultery (adultery is defined as marrying someone that has been divorced according to Matthew 5.32)
    • Ex. 22:20 Destroy those that follow other religions.
    • Deuteronomy 17:2-7 Kill anyone with a different religion.

    If your argument is merely that a different bit of the book tells you to ignore this bit then the question becomes one of how you chose which bits override which others?

    I had this question answered by a YEC previously as "very carefully" - I hope you can do better.

    While you are arguing about which bits are more important than others, we could, instead, have been debating what we think is right and wrong and voting on a law to control such wrongs.

    Why is killing wrong? Is it because god says so? Why does he do it himself? Is he a hypocrite?

    In my system it is wrong because we all vote and say so. We do this because we have evolved to realise that co-operation and peace is better than violence and destruction.

    If in your view it is wrong just because god says so then if you think god is telling you its ok to kill then you are ok to kill aren't you?

    What is your view on this?

    So to repeat, human law is made by humans and has problems and contradictions. But we can and do change them. They are human laws after all. This is not a perfect system but in my opinion it is far better than claiming all morals from an old book full of contradictions with no way of knowing what the original authors meant.

    What about slavery? Right or wrong? Because god says so? You can get the bible to support both sides of the argument. Would you like me to give the quotes?

    So what kind of a guide is that without your innate evolved sense of right or wrong.

    I look at the history of slavery and say that supports my case. Look at democracies and the history of the abolition of slavery, they were at the forefront of the change.

    I hope you will address the questions I have asked you.

    I also hope you will stick to making arguments against my actual position instead of making up what my position means even when I have contradicted your claims about my position already. This is considered general politeness around here.

    Regards,

    Psi

    ReplyDelete
  9. We are going at this rather in slow motion, aren't we? How was France?

    ...and to the matter at hand:

    "I did not contend that religion is the only source of violence, so pointing out there are other sources does not negate my contention."

    Ok. In saying this you are saying: I said this, but I didn't say it, but I'm saying it. You are making the point that religion is an *important* source of violence and you are well aware, I suppose, of the voices that wish to quell religion as a way to quell violence, yes?

    I'm saying it is a meaningless point when not modified by what sort of religion and in what sense it contributes to violence in mankind... and further whether mankind might just as well find a different form of justifying violence...in which case we can't very well vilify religion as a main source of it. I would argue with your use of the word "source" and how you weight the implications.

    So, yes, I think your contention as it stands is negated.

    "don't start making things up as you go along :-)"
    which is the same that I try to avoid :) and I hope you will keep in mind ( while I am minding that science is not 100% proof) that the written word is often composed in such a way to make things seems to be full strength truth, when they are not. That is just as important in such conversations, I think.

    After reading what you don't mean, I am left wondering why the statement was made at all, then?
    ====
    "morality through the majority rule?"

    Yes. You are yet to give any argument as to why this can't happen"

    Nazi Germany.
    In America, Slavery in the South

    ====
    Slavery: the history of its abolition in both the UK and the US was not at all by majority- though eventually the majority came around- which is as it should be in good legislation of moral standard. In the US a large amount of blood was shed to make the standard the rule.
    ====
    "I never claimed my suggestion was perfect - just a lot better than yours."
    How do you see "mine"? for comparison purposes.

    ====
    I speak of "materialist" in the philosophical sense. You would call yourself "Humanist" and I would have to ask ( although we both know) which sort? The religious based humanism of Erasmus or the materialist philosophy-based humanist of modern humanism? so which is it?
    Then apply my argument, which was not meant as ad hominem.

    To the case you are making I am saying that you borrow your moral base from religion, the Christian religion, specifically. I argued why you cannot claim otherwise ( as in the case of materialism based upon "science" in quotes for the broad spectrum word that it is)

    ===

    On killing. Well, you had to chose a topic worthy of volumes, right? :D

    Yes, well. We get a moral dictum in the form of one of Ten commandments. It state plainly that we in living our lives should not kill. Basic no killing of other humans. Now you don't want the intrusion of the rest of the Law to interfere, which was not addendum, but part and parcel of the moral code given to Moses. Without that how does one apply a simple "do nto kill" when someone just decides that they will kill, kill prolifically, cruelly and with no restraints? What do you, as one who holds to "don't kill" do? the rest of the legislative body of the Torah lets you know exactly what it is that you do.

    I think it is a false question to isolate one part of the law from the rest. Context is everything, and that is what is given in the rest of the Torah: moral context.

    ====
    "we could, instead, have been debating what we think is right and wrong and voting on a law to control such wrongs"
    Yes we could. But consider this: if our entire premise of what right and wrong is ...wrong.. then what good do the majority votes do if they cause a deep moral wrong of mass proportions?


    ====

    "we have evolved to realise that co-operation and peace is better than violence and destruction. "
    Have we now? Now it is my turn to ask you to support your contention. Prove such an evolution to me... based on today's news and events.

    ====
    You ask some good theological questions about God, but that is another topic than this one.

    =====
    "if in your view it is wrong just because god says so then if you think god is telling you its ok to kill then you are ok to kill aren't you?"

    I'd have to first question whether I'm right in thinking that god is telling me to kill. I'd be hard put to find a rationale for that. Which probably explains my basically personal conviction of as a pacifist.

    My question would rather be whether God gave the state the right to ask me to kill. Not living under the Old Testament revelation I find it hard to believe that God ever asks us to kill in this dispensation of grace and His will that all men everywhere be saved. that just doesn't make sense to me personally- so it is hard to answer your questions that way I think you would like me to...

    How about this? did God have the right to ask OT Israelites to kill their enemies? Yes. He had that authority. I don't , you don't, but He does. We judge moral right by standards of His, yet do not recognize where the standards originate? You have to somehow be more "right" more "moral" to judge another. In any case, where does that authority come from? and where do you get it if you are using it?
    If from the consensus, does it disappear once the consensus dries up? How often do you have to check?

    We both have our areas of faith, Psi. I think I am just more aware of mine.

    ===
    "an old book full of contradictions with no way of knowing what the original authors meant. "
    This is an awfully big leap of presumption on your part.

    Human laws will still have the process of working out as you describe, they are simply based within a tested body of work on morality. what is the basis of your professed system...if not in these "old books"? And how much more exact is your science of knowing what the eons held in terms of understanding than the closely copied and studied books of Bible canon?

    ====
    The place where we might have agreement is in the effect of an evolving communal sense of what is right. Where we differ is what we believe informs that. I think there is a revelation from the scriptures which when better understood results in a higher form of morality for us all... as in ideas of the dignity of man that results in freedoms and abolishment of slavery, and the higher view of women.

    I think there are processes, and that we do need our rational minds and the influence of education to achieve this understanding. That is why I love libraries and the internet... and these types of discussions!
    but I think it comes form somewhere - it is not ex nihilo. It is not a case of a constant body of information either- otherwise how do you explain the rise and fall of civilizations?

    I guess my take is that there is a constant moral standard given by God, but that we as humans must work much of it out for ourselves in the manner you describe. That would explain why atheists are capable of having a sound ethical consensus and a moral sensibility, and why theists can be quite perverse and corrupt in theirs. -But that doesn't relate to it being necessarily that way.

    I do believe we are free moral agents, and have the power at all times to choose the way we will go.
    ====
    "I also hope you will stick to making arguments against my actual position instead of making up what my position means even when I have contradicted your claims about my position already."
    -do you really want me to address this schoolboy protest?

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  10. sorry for not editing better- I think my sentences are clear enough to make out, but I should have edited the mistakes!

    forgive me please. I wince and cringe and generally flagellate myself for such errors....
    ;)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Truegrit,

    Still in France - very hot - very civilised - very secular.

    All formatting forgiven - I try not to be a hypocrite and my own typing is poor.

    Welcome aboard. You are not iLona under another name I presume? - I guess not from your style. You seem much more smiley.

    Let's see if I can get you to get off your horse and drink your milk :0D

    Here is what I said;
    "Studies showing that religious belief is linked to violence by believers who think they are acting in the name of their god."

    I did not say any of the things you or Ilona are telling me I said or meant.
Here is the commentary form the link - it should be specific enough for you - perhaps you can even identify the bible verse used?

    New research published in the March issue of Psychological Science may help elucidate the relationship between religious indoctrination and violence, a topic that has gained renewed notoriety in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. In the article, University of Michigan psychologist Brad Bushman and his colleagues suggest that scriptural violence sanctioned by God can increase aggression, especially in believers.
    The authors set out to examine this interaction by conducting experiments with undergraduates at two religiously contrasting universities: Brigham Young University where 99% of students report believing in God and the Bible and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam where just 50% report believing in God and 27% believe in the bible.
    After reporting their religious affiliation and beliefs, the participants read a parable adapted from a relatively obscure passage in the King James Bible describing the brutal torture and murder of a woman, and her husband's subsequent revenge on her attackers. Half of the participants were told that the passage came from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament while the other half were told it was an ancient scroll discovered in an archaeological expedition.
    In addition to the scriptural distinction, half of the participants from both the bible and the ancient scroll groups read an adjusted version that included the verse:
    "The Lord commanded Israel to take arms against their brothers and chasten them before the LORD."
    The participants were then placed in pairs and instructed to compete in a simple reaction task. The winner of the task would be able to "blast" his or her partner with noise up to 105 decibels, about the same volume as a fire alarm. The test measures aggression.
    As expected, the Brigham Young students were more aggressive (i.e. louder) with their blasts if they had been told that the passage they had previously read was from the bible rather than a scroll. Likewise, participants were more aggressive if they had read the additional verse that depicts God sanctioning violence.
    At the more secular Vrije Universiteit, the results were surprisingly similar. Although Vrije students were less likely to be influenced by the source of the material, they blasted more aggressively when the passage that they read included the sanctioning of the violence by God. This finding held true even for non-believers, though to a lesser extent.
    The research sheds light on the possible origins of violent religious fundamentalism and falls in line with theories proposed by scholars of religious terrorism, who hypothesize that exposure to violent scriptures may induce extremists to engage in aggressive actions. "To the extent religious extremists engage in prolonged, selective reading of the scriptures, focusing on violent retribution toward unbelievers instead of the overall message of acceptance and understanding," writes Bushman "one might expect to see increased brutality."


    My point is no more or less than what I said - so why don't either of you address it rather than making up straw men?

    I think perhaps we can all see why.

    As I have already said - and this has been consistently ignored in this discussion - I see irrationality as a big problem for mankind leading to injustice, suffering and violence. Religion is built upon irrationality. Religious faith is a belief without evidence - look it up - previously fundamentalists have surprised me by trying to change the dictionary definition of common words like this - but I will stick with the standard language thank you.

    Let's turn to your next comment for examples of irrationality in the wider world and in your argument;

    
Re "morality through the majority rule?"

You have given the following as examples of why this can't happen;

    Nazi Germany.
    
In America, Slavery in the South


    Both of these are examples where the influence of irrationality through religion have fed into horrific situations, and where a lack of rational debate and discussion of the facts helped perpetuate things. If the prejudice against the Jews in Germany had not been originated by the Catholic church (did you know the yellow Jew badge was a catholic invention?) then perhaps Hitler's claims against them would have been exposed as simple lies backed in some cases by pseudoscientific tripe, then perhaps people would not have been so easily taken in by him. He did seize power from the democracy by the way - so not entirely a good example for your side of the debate.

    Yes atheists can be wrong just like religious folks.

    It is irrationality that tends to lead to this. The Nazi obsession with the supernatural is well documented and supports my case that they were irrational.

    Re your second example - it is the democracies that abolished slavery before any theocracies - I know of no exceptions to this - do you?

    Now, in addition to the fact that neither of your examples actually support your point, your point is logically flawed anyway.

    You were asked why democracy "can't" produce a moral society. You gave two examples of where you claimed it didn't. This is like claiming a cricket team can't catch and showing two examples of dropped catches.

    Can you spot your error?

    You forgot to mention all the actual catches.

    Such an example of picking out selective evidence to support your case is just plain irrational - it is not a logically valid argument.

    I don't know what your way of deciding right from wrong is. You know that.

    Why don't you tell me?

    Hang on - perhaps you are Ilona afterall;-)

    You said; "I speak of "materialist" in the philosophical sense."

    I have given you the basis of my morals by describing them in my original posting. I have no philosophical training - so forgive my lack of knowledge of the jargon. Please call me a rationalist.

    You have claimed several times that I can't have got my morals other than from your religion - you have yet to answer why this is the case.

    You can't read my mind - It seems odd that you can be so 100% certain of something based on no supporting evidence but with my honest testimony to the contrary.

    - - -

    Re - killing I point out contradictions in the bible and you simply call them "context".

    So you have no answer. The bible is not a clear guide after all.

    So when is it ok to kill then based on this context?
    You will end up using your brain and your innate sense of morals to come up with the answer to that.

    You haven't answered my questions about which bits of scripture you follow and which you don't - you wave your hands and say "context". That is not an answer.

    I have an answer to the mass murderer - lock them up for life. That's my personal opinion and I have used my vote to that effect.

    How does your context answer that simple point?

    You ask me what if I am wrong - I say good question - I am not certain I am right about anything - it is good that we keep doubt in our minds and are always ready to re-assess things - again something religion is not fond of.

    But that is the only way to move forward as new experiences and evidence comes in.

    You said; "You ask some good theological questions about God, but that is another topic than this one."

    Wow you really don't want to defend your own position logically do you?

    BTW I have noticed that you refuse to say how old you think the earth is. I therefore suspect you of being a young earth creationist and a fundamentalist. Perhaps this is simple paranoia on my part?

    Please let me know if I am correct. I hope I am wrong.

    
I asked this - "if in your view it is wrong just because god says so then if you think god is telling you its ok to kill then you are ok to kill aren't you?"


    You replied; "I'd have to first question whether I'm right in thinking that god is telling me to kill."

    So you would question - good.

    "BTW I'd be hard put to find a rationale for that. Which probably explains my basically personal conviction of as a pacifist."

    Good for you. I think we broadly agree here.
You also said; "so it is hard to answer your questions that way I think you would like me to..."

    Ducking again? Well just answer the easy ones then eh?


    You said; "How about this? did God have the right to ask OT Israelites to kill their enemies? Yes. He had that authority."

    Based upon one translation of one version of one bronze age book. You have ducked question about that quite a bit as well.

    How on earth do you know that the things in the book weren't just made up?

    You also said; "In any case, where does that authority come from? and where do you get it if you are using it? "

    I have only as much right to judge as you - I believe in democracy remember?

    You asked this ;"If from the consensus, does it disappear once the consensus dries up? How often do you have to check? "

    All the time. - That is part of democracy - always questioning and challenging and trying to base decision on rational discussion and evidence.

    

"We both have our areas of faith, Psi. I think I am just more aware of mine."

    You really do like to be superior don't you? I find this quite often with religious folks.

    Then again I am far too sarcastic I am sure.

    I am aware that I have faith in logic and rationality. I do at least have a rather large pile of empirical evidence to back up that it works.

    Read around - Dawkins biology is an excellent read and selfish gene gets into the morality issue - the new version has been updated recently. Wolpert's six impossible things is also good on this - Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous idea also sheds light - they all quote experimental evidence - you are not even aware of it and yet are certain it is wrong - again not a rational position to hold. I can give you quite a pile of reading if you are genuinely interested.

    What evidence do you have the bible is true?

    The human experience can do better than your bible with its contradictory "context". I have given you examples already.

    You also said this ;"The place where we might have agreement is in the effect of an evolving communal sense of what is right. Where we differ is what we believe informs that. I think there is a revelation from the scriptures which when better understood results in a higher form of morality for us all... as in ideas of the dignity of man that results in freedoms and abolishment of slavery, and the higher view of women. "
    "I think there are processes, and that we do need our rational minds and the influence of education to achieve this understanding. That is why I love libraries and the internet... and these types of discussions!"
    
"but I think it comes form somewhere - it is not ex nihilo. It is not a case of a constant body of information either"

    Yes I agree , in fact I think we agree on this completely.

    I think it evolved in us.

    I think that natural selection, ESS's, Prisoners dilemma, the tragedy of the commons etc. Illuminate this.

    I vote for the cranes - you think it was a skyhook to use Dennetts jargon.

    If you are a YEC then you presumably have a huge blind spot when it comes to most of this evidence. But it is out there. Have a look for yourself.

    "- otherwise how do you explain the rise and fall of civilizations?"

    We are human beings and fall prey to irrational meme's easily. Religion is just one.

"I guess my take is that there is a constant moral standard given by God"

    Yet even in the black and white issue of killing people - you can only point to context. You refused to answer if killing was wrong because your god said so - or if it was simply wrong.

    Convenient.

    You said: " but that we as humans must work much of it out for ourselves in the manner you describe.
    That would explain why atheists are capable of having a sound ethical consensus and a moral sensibility, and why theists can be quite perverse and corrupt in theirs. -But that doesn't relate to it being necessarily that way."

    I agree completely.

    

You said: "I do believe we are free moral agents, and have the power at all times to choose the way we will go."

    I agree.

    - - -

    So a few questions for you I think.


    Regards,

    Schoolboy Psi

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