Where I Cram My Ideas


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Proving God

If there's anything more impossible than living around the turn of the millennium and not having heard of Morgan Freeman, it's proving the existence of God.

Which God?

Atheism can have a few meanings, but in general that meaning depends on to what it's referring. "A" means "without," and "theos" is, of course, "God." Theos is seen so differently around the world, though. Sometimes god is known by a different name, and other times by different characteristics. Many Christians feel that their God is different from Allah because of certain traits - a triune nature, omni-benevolence, the trait of 'heavenly Father-ness.' So when asked if they believe in a god of Allah's characteristics, the proper response is to say 'No, there is no such god. The universe is without (A) such a being (theos).'

Nearly every Christian in America, likewise, does not believe that the God of the Westboro Baptist Church exists. Such a God exhibits the characteristic of hating people - most people, in fact. When asked about their belief in such a god's existence, most Christians' proper response is 'No, there is no such god. I am an atheist in that regard.'

More commonly, atheists describe themselves as people who simply do not believe in any gods because no compelling evidence can be provided in support of such a claim. This is probably best described as a materialist or secularist outlook. The premise that 'all is matter' is sufficient until proof is provided by those on whom the burden rests - those claiming that a 'super-natural' aspect to the universe is real. Along with the burden of proof, such people also strive against the principle of Occam's Razor, which suggests that when given two alternative explanations to a phenomenon or phenomena, the simpler is to be preferred. Clearly, when a natural explanation for the universe is plausible and well-evidenced, it makes no sense to propose the infinitely complicating factor of the supernatural.

All of this to lead to the idea that proving 'God' is very difficult. Einstein's idea of God was something akin to the mystery of the unknown in the universe. Hell, I believe in that God. Disproving that concept of God is impossible. Yet the more specific we get in terms of describing the traits/characteristics of this divine entity, the more realistic it becomes to disprove it.

I believe the universe is just matter. I see no reason to infer the supernatural - except to explain things which we don't have answers for yet. However, an argument from ignorance has never been my idea of a strong stance. When it comes to the Christian God of the Bible, though, I believe such a being can be disproven because of its characteristics: all-powerful, all-knowing; all-good.

www.proofthatgodexists.org

I was directed to this website a few months ago, and I quickly came to the conclusion that it was ridiculous. I had forgotten about it until I had the good fortune of coming across an excellent blog called The Set of All Things Not Identical to Themselves.

I found a blog entry describing the author's experience at the website, and his critique of it. The author of the site then responded. Now I feel compelled to offer my own criticism of the website, as I feel it is misleading.

False Dilemmas

A false dilemma usually takes the form of an 'either-or' statement. "Either you believe in God, or all morality is subjective opinion." Well, that's not true. The typical way of dealing with this sort of argument is to 'go between the horns' and point out counterexamples where it doesn't have to be one or the other.*

Of course, in the case of contradictions, a dilemma is valid. You can't go between the horns of 'Either I am holding a pen or I am not holding a pen.' Logically, either one or the other must be true. It becomes a fallacy when there is an excluded middle... 'Either there are elephants on Mars, or it is raining in Seattle today' happens to be my current favorite example.

Back to the Website

When you enter the site, your first choice is to select whether you believe in absolute truth, don't believe it, don't know, or don't care. The author is not careful at first to point out what he means, but he seems to mean 'X is either true or false for all people at all times,' and that X is the sort of statement that exists in the real world. So far, so good. "It is cold out" is not an absolute sort of truth, but "I am cold" is. So I click that I agree.
"The Bible teaches that the existence of God is so obvious that we are without excuse for denying it."
Alright, let's see just how easy this is.

1. Laws of Logic Exist: True. Regardless of what we call them, our system of describing why 2+2=4 refers to actual phenomena.

2. Laws of Mathematics Exist: True... if redundant.

3. Laws of Science Exist: True. Here, however, it becomes important to consider what 'exist' means. Many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore exists about unicorns. From that, we cannot infer that unicorns exist. A law of science does not mandate how the universe operates. A law of science is a human idea that makes predictions and seeks to explain what we can observe about the universe. A law's existence does not necessitate the existence of its subject. For instance, I can reference a law that peasants are to be afforded no mercy when they steal from the royalty - but that doesn't mean that peasants and royalty exist (at this time). It is a valid point, however, to say that the phenomena described by laws of logic, mathematics and science exist, though. In this case, I will go for it.
PS, remember that this same consideration should be taken into account in the previous questions - what people have codified is irrelevant; its congruence with reality is what matters.

4. Absolute Moral Laws Exist: This question has issues on so many levels.

First, there is some equivocation on the word 'law.' Equivocation means the word or phrase can mean two different things as it is used in the argument.** A law of science is an invariable and universal fact about the physical universe. If matter behaves in a way that contradicts such a law, it disproves the law. Likewise, if numbers behave in a way that contradicts or violates mathematical or logical law, then we are wrong about the laws.

Are moral laws the same? Would the author state that a set of principles of right behavior exist in the universe, and all interactions of matter must conform to those laws - and that if matter violates those laws, we must reject and/or rewrite the laws? Well, no. There is no universally agreed-upon set of laws for right and wrong behavior (although we see globally, cross-culturally exhibited aversions to some types of behavior in, perhaps, a majority of cultures).

So the author is using the word 'law' differently in this question. In fact, he seems to be using it more in the sense of government. A law, in this sense, governs how an individual or group is to behave in a community, and is established by some authority. Presumably, given the premise of the website, the author is referring to a law established by the authority of God to rule over the community of humankind.

Second, we're back to the idea of 'existence.' Can we observe this sort of moral law? That is, a code of right and wrong established in communities by forms of authority? Sure! But they're not absolute. The 'moral foundation' of the law for adults not to sexually trifle with 14 year olds in our nation is not something people in other places and cultures are expected to abide by.

On the surface, such a question doesn't usually demand much thought. That's why the questions about laws of logic, math and science were asked first - the reader becomes settled in the rut of thinking that somehow a moral law is the same as these other, more obvious, laws.

So what if you select the right answer? What if you click 'No?'

You're presented with a dilemma:
"Either molesting children for fun is absolutely morally wrong, or it could be right."

The problem here is introducing a motive. Motive plays a huge role in discerning moral culpability. If there's a difference between killing and murder, it lies in the motive of the person taking the life of the other. Essentially what this site is doing, though, is presenting you with a false dilemma. "Either molesting children for fun is potentially good behavior, or there's an absolute moral law." That is not a necessary conclusion to come to. It could be the case that molesting children for fun is terrible behavior to all people, at all times, AND that there is no absolute moral law. In fact, that is the conclusion that I hold at this website (if you read my second post, you may understand why).

So imagine I pose this question to the author:

"Either killing is ALWAYS a morally disgusting thing to do, or NO absolute moral laws exist."

I imagine he'd protest. He'd say, "No, sometimes killing is necessary - even God does it. That doesn't mean that no absolute moral laws exist."

Exactly. Motive is necessary to determine whether an action is right or wrong behavior. Had the question excluded the phrase 'for fun,' the answer would obviously be yes: it could be right to molest a child. If an alien race invades and says 'either you molest this child, or we molest everybody,' then the right thing to do is undoubtedly to molest the child. At the same time, the desire to molest children for fun is evil. These concepts are not contradictory, and thus, though cleverly concealed, the question poses a false dilemma.

Finally, this part of the website is very obviously, and self-admittedly, an appeal to emotion. While an important aspect of persuasion in many cases, and not necessarily a logical fallacy, there are still responsible and irresponsible ways to appeal to emotion.
"I feel that the best test to determine whether or not you really believe that absolute moral laws exist, is not whether you feel that atrocities like rape and child molestation could be right somewhere in the universe, but whether they could ever be right if perpetrated against you or someone you love."
I find this sort of thinking strange coming from someone who feels that morality is not dependent on individual feeling - yet he feels inclined to appeal to individual feeling to make his point. If what he is arguing is true, then an appeal to emotion and subjective feeling would be pointless - unless he were to make a further argument, such as that these absolute laws are ingrained in members of the human community just as societal laws become ingrained in members of a society. Yet, we find that this phenomena is not the case. It's a prediction of the Bible that all people have 'the law' written on their hearts, but this prediction is not substantiated in tests. Testing seems to confirm, as a matter of fact, that value judgments and emotional responses to situations depends largely on factors in people's upbringing.

I'm tempted at this point to simply exit the site. However, I will tell an untruth just to keep moving.

5. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Immaterial: True. In the sense that the website author presents the case, something material is able to be touched, seen, smelled, heard and/or tasted. I should add that most of the spectrum of light does not fall into this category. Atoms, likewise, are not seen so much as the effects they make are observed. Gravity, likewise, is 'immaterial.'

Apparently, it is a futile attempt to "find an abstract entity in nature." Since I can't find the physical number 3, it is immaterial. Ok, I can agree to this (but I thought I should elaborate before continuing).

6. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Universal: True. As far as we know (and this seems to be a safe belief), our understanding of logic, mathematics, and science are universal. Likewise, standards of right and wrong behavior that are universal can be argued (as I maintain in this blog).

7. Laws of Logic, Mathematics, Science and Absolute Morality are Unchanging: True. Our understanding of them (the actual laws, which are a codification) changes, but the phenomena we seek to describe using them does not.

Ooh, the quick jab from the right, the hard hit from the left!
"Universal, immaterial, unchanging laws cannot be accounted for if the universe was random or only material in nature."
This is downright wrong. For one thing, nobody claims that the universe is random. For another thing, nobody claims that the universe is material in the way the author used the term material. This is yet another instance of equivocation. As the website puts it, material = corporeal. However, materialists don't (obviously) disbelieve in things like light, atoms and gravity just because they do not take a physical form. Of course, I'm probably straying far too close to the realm of quantum reality than I'm qualified to tread here, but these very real aspects of reality in no way rule out the claim that all that exists is the natural.
"Only in a universe governed by God can universal, immaterial, unchanging laws exist."
Big question coming up: Why? Nah, let's be like the website author - let's leave that unexplained. We'll just state it and then not support it.

8. The Proof that God Exists: Without Him, you couldn't prove anything.

Yep, it's just stated like that. The bulk of the questions simply reaffirm that there is a uniformity to the universe. Great. What I'd be interested in hearing is how exactly this isn't circular reasoning.

Begging the question, for those unfamiliar with the concept, involves assuming your premise to prove your conclusion. In this case, check it out:

1. If there's no God, nothing can be proved.
2. We just proved something
3. Therefore, God exists.

Funny thing... mustn't the conclusion necessarily be true in order for (2) to be true? The answer is yes. If we assume premise 1, then we cannot state premise 2 until we've established conclusion 3. We're free to believe premise 2 is false until we're convinced of conclusion 3, so we can't use premise 2 to argue that conclusion, because the logic is circular and begs the question in point.

Ultimately

The sort of thinking behind this website is saddening. If the author makes an appearance here to respond, that would certainly be interesting, as I'd like to understand just how far he grasps the 'laws of logic' he referred to, ever so ironically, early in the website experience.

I found that the author has a blog website. I think I'll write him and leave this blog with the prominent quote on proofthatgodexists.org: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." Let's see how the truth of this statement bears out.

*http://www.fallacyfiles.org/eitheror.html
**http://www.fallacyfiles.org/equivoqu.html

38 comments:

Sye TenB said...

Your comment at the "Grace in the Triad" blog was not published since it was completely off topic, but as soon as I have the time I will respond to your post here.

Sye

P.S. My contact information is on the proofthatgodexists site.

Dan Marvin said...

"The Bible teaches us that there are 2 types of people in this world, those who profess the truth of God's existence and those who suppress the truth of God's existence."

"If you see a painting, you know there is a painter, if you see a building you know there is a builder, and if you see all of creation you know in your soul there is a creator."

Romans 1:18-21 was poetic and to the point and points to people like yourself, I find that amazing. I understand what you were saying about the fallacy, I disagree slightly though, that website proved that there is rational logical thinking without such there is no universe so in that kind of structured environment how can one conclude it was created by an explosion or anything else other then God. The only logical conclusion is that creation was created by a creator and that is just logical don't you agree? There is your Occam's razor. Speaking of fallacies, don't you agree that the whole atheist movement is mostly use a Ad Hominem fallacy anyway? I also find it amazing that the Bible is describing these days of what will happen as in 2 Timothy 3. Ezekiel 38 and 39 speak of an alliance between Rosh and Persia just before Christ returns. There's no doubt that Persia is Iran. They changed their name from Persia to Iran in 1935. There is also little doubt that Rosh speaks of Russia.

Hay, did you notice how much time you spent on the subject of morals? I think, like most atheists I know, you just cannot grasp the fact that your actions has an ultimate authority and you are held accountable to that higher authority. That possible narcissistic thinking of yours will have a rude awakening on that day of judgement. Remember conscience means con-with science-knowledge. The Ten Commandments were so important that God burned them in all of our conscience. Why do we know without doubt that lying or murder is wrong?

Raping in an evolutionist theory is a good thing, the dominate and strong survives and populates the world. Everyday seals are raped repeatedly and that is part of nature, so why are we different? We have to court and date and marry and then we can populate, how can any of us get anywhere with all those steps? The ones that skip some of those steps find themselves in stressful predicaments. It is truly a perfect universe without one flaw, not one. So in a perfect universe there is no way God is not good, to see such a perfect and good creation one can only conclude God exists! Please repent and trust in Jesus.

For Him,
Dan

Sye TenB said...

Alright, here we go… I’ll ignore the first part of your post, and address your comments about the site itself. Since in a roundabout way you seem to agree with the first steps, I’ll jump in where your disagreement starts.

“Absolute Moral Laws Exist: This question has issues on so many levels.

First, there is some equivocation on the word 'law.' Equivocation means the word or phrase can mean two different things as it is used in the argument.** A law of science is an invariable and universal fact about the physical universe. If matter behaves in a way that contradicts such a law, it disproves the law. Likewise, if numbers behave in a way that contradicts or violates mathematical or logical law, then we are wrong about the laws.”


Why in one case is the law ‘disproven,’ and in the other case, ‘we are wrong about the law?’ I submit that in both cases, the law can only be ‘disproven’ or we can only be ‘wrong’ about it, if there is in fact a transcedent law which we can appeal to. We can only know if we are ‘wrong’ about the law, if we discover what is ‘right’ about the law. That is not to say that the universal law does not exist, but merely that we are not fully aware of what that universal law is.

Are moral laws the same? Would the author state that a set of principles of right behavior exist in the universe,

Yes

and all interactions of matter must conform to those laws

No, moral laws apply to humans, not rocks.

and that if matter violates those laws, we must reject and/or rewrite the laws?

Again, moral laws apply to humans, and in this case we are aware of what those laws are, so no, we do not rewrite the laws.

Well, no. There is no universally agreed-upon set of laws for right and wrong behavior

You are begging the question with this assertion. Prove this please.

(although we see globally, cross-culturally exhibited aversions to some types of behavior in, perhaps, a majority of cultures).

Gee, wonder why?

So the author is using the word 'law' differently in this question. In fact, he seems to be using it more in the sense of government. A law, in this sense, governs how an individual or group is to behave in a community, and is established by some authority. Presumably, given the premise of the website, the author is referring to a law established by the authority of God to rule over the community of humankind.

Yip, the laws of morality are prescriptive, rather than descriptive.

Second, we're back to the idea of 'existence.' Can we observe this sort of moral law? That is, a code of right and wrong established in communities by forms of authority? Sure! But they're not absolute. The 'moral foundation' of the law for adults not to sexually trifle with 14 year olds in our nation is not something people in other places and cultures are expected to abide by.

Again, moral laws are prescriptive, how people behave is irrelevant.

On the surface, such a question doesn't usually demand much thought. That's why the questions about laws of logic, math and science were asked first - the reader becomes settled in the rut of thinking that somehow a moral law is the same as these other, more obvious, laws.

That is why I describe their difference at the beginning of the ‘Moral Law’ section.

So what if you select the right answer? What if you click 'No?'

You are only asserting that “no” is the right answer, what is your argument?

You're presented with a dilemma:
"Either molesting children for fun is absolutely morally wrong, or it could be right."


I think this is where you should tell me what other option you would have here.

The problem here is introducing a motive. Motive plays a huge role in discerning moral culpability. If there's a difference between killing and murder, it lies in the motive of the person taking the life of the other.

Yip, and one is absolutely morally wrong, the other is not.

Essentially what this site is doing, though, is presenting you with a false dilemma. "Either molesting children for fun is potentially good behavior, or there's an absolute moral law." That is not a necessary conclusion to come to. It could be the case that molesting children for fun is terrible behavior to all people, at all times, AND that there is no absolute moral law.

If that were the case, no children would be molested for fun.

In fact, that is the conclusion that I hold at this website (if you read my second post, you may understand why).

So you are saying that molseting children for fun is terrible behaviour to all people at all times? 1. How do you know this? 2. Do you believe that some children are molested for fun? 3. What is ‘terrible’ according to your worldview?

So imagine I pose this question to the author:

"Either killing is ALWAYS a morally disgusting thing to do, or NO absolute moral laws exist."

I imagine he'd protest. He'd say, "No, sometimes killing is necessary - even God does it. That doesn't mean that no absolute moral laws exist."


No, I’d say you are imposing an absolute morality on something which is not absolutely immoral. If you had worded it “Murder is ALWAYS immoral, or NO absolute moral laws exist, I would agree.

Exactly. Motive is necessary to determine whether an action is right or wrong behavior.

Absolutely wrong or right? That is my point.

Had the question excluded the phrase 'for fun,' the answer would obviously be yes:

I disagree, I put in ‘for fun’ to avoid having to have endless arguments about alien races invading earth, or terrorists forcing people to do things. Problem here is, you are again begging the question. If absolute morality exists, then it is absolutely morally wrong to violate those laws, aliens or no. You are assuming that your perspective is 'right' rather than God's perspective.

it could be right to molest a child. If an alien race invades and says 'either you molest this child, or we molest everybody,' then the right thing to do is undoubtedly to molest the child.

Says who? Would it be absolutely right then? What if your ridiculous scenario leads to the eternal damnation of all involved, would it be right then?


At the same time, the desire to molest children for fun is evil.

What is ‘evil’ in your worldview? Is this desire absolutely evil?

These concepts are not contradictory, and thus, though cleverly concealed, the question poses a false dilemma.

Naturally I disagree, but lets have you answer my questions first.

Finally, this part of the website is very obviously, and self-admittedly, an appeal to emotion. While an important aspect of persuasion in many cases, and not necessarily a logical fallacy, there are still responsible and irresponsible ways to appeal to emotion.

Sorry, but I am really getting tired of you appealing to a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong,’ and a ‘responsible,’ and an ‘irresponsible,’ do you mean ‘absolutely right, wrong, responsible, or irresponsible?’ If so, hey we agree, there are absolute morals, if not, why should I care what you think is right or wrong, or responsible or irresponsible?

"I feel that the best test to determine whether or not you really believe that absolute moral laws exist, is not whether you feel that atrocities like rape and child molestation could be right somewhere in the universe, but whether they could ever be right if perpetrated against you or someone you love."
I find this sort of thinking strange coming from someone who feels that morality is not dependent on individual feeling - yet he feels inclined to appeal to individual feeling to make his point. If what he is arguing is true, then an appeal to emotion and subjective feeling would be pointless - unless he were to make a further argument, such as that these absolute laws are ingrained in members of the human community just as societal laws become ingrained in members of a society.



Indeed, this is what the Bible teaches (Romans 2:15).

Yet, we find that this phenomena is not the case. It's a prediction of the Bible that all people have 'the law' written on their hearts, but this prediction is not substantiated in tests. Testing seems to confirm, as a matter of fact, that value judgments and emotional responses to situations depends largely on factors in people's upbringing.

It is a statement of fact, not a prediction, and what does this have to do with whether or not absolute moral laws exist?

I'm tempted at this point to simply exit the site. However, I will tell an untruth just to keep moving.

Well, the rest of the site is for those people who get that section right, so if you change your mind, I’ll be happy to address your next points.

Cheers,

Sye

B H said...

Thanks for the compliments!

Have fun debating Sye. If you're like me, you'll eventually give up when he fails to define existence for you, won't describe how humans can test whether a proposition is true or false in regards to absolute morality (without referencing the Bible, which he won't accept represents several successive cultures and moralities), and nor will he exhibit any real understanding on the foundations of mathematics or the relationship between formal models and systems.

Of course, all of this is hearsay and ad hominem. Feel free to experiment yourself. I doubt anyone will convince him that the sight is, if not academically dishonest, terribly under-informed on theoretical ethics, mathematics, cognitive science, symbolic systems, and a host of related disciplines.

G-man said...

Sye-

Thanks for responding.

You brought back the reference to laws - and you actually answered one of your own questions. You asked "Why in one case is the law ‘disproven,’ and in the other case, ‘we are wrong about the law?’" The answer is found later in your comment: "Yip, the laws of morality are prescriptive, rather than descriptive."

A descriptive law describes how matter interacts. If matter disobeys the laws, our description was wrong, and we must re-write the laws. A prescriptive law establishes the way matter 'ought' to act (in this case, humans). When humans disobey the laws, we try to correct the behavior, rather than the law. I hope this helps explain the situation, though I'm sure you already knew this.

I'm a little confused by what you mean by a 'transcendent' law. A law of logic, math or science is simply a description - a human codification used to evaluate and more easily understand what happens in the universe. There is nothing 'transcendent' about that sort of law. The reason such a law can be 'wrong' is quite simple - our understanding of the phenomena we are trying to describe is flawed.

Remember, judging a physical law involves assessing its accuracy. Laws of right and wrong behavior have little to do with that sort of assessment.

I said: "Well, no. There is no universally agreed-upon set of laws for right and wrong behavior"
_If you really want to challenge this, you'll be able to prove to me that all humans, at all times and places, have agreed to what right and wrong behavior are. The very fact that we're discussing a disagreement over what such a set of right and wrong behavior is proves my statement right. Satisfied?

"Gee, wonder why?"
_Hmm, maybe we see global tendencies in behavior because we're all human beings. However, the fact that we have deviance from all cultural norms, and a variety of cultural norms proves that we don't have a universally-agreed upon set of right and wrong behavior. If you actually think about the phrase 'universally-agreed upon' I think you might have less difficulty understanding the idea.

"Again, moral laws are prescriptive, how people behave is irrelevant."
_Ah, we seem to agree on something. If I may, I'd like to replace the word 'law' with the word 'obligation.' Other than that - great.

Anyway, hopefully you recognize that humans have codified the behavior of physical matter through laws of math, logic and science - and that such laws are nothing like the prescriptive laws of morality.

"You are only asserting that “no” is the right answer, what is your argument?"
_In an attempt to keep such statements from being circular, I directed readers to the second post I published.

"I think this is where you should tell me what other option you would have here."
_There is none. It is a contradiction to call something both wrong and right. However, that is not the false dilemma. By extension, though, you make the dilemma "Either molesting children for fun can be right, or there is an absolute moral law." This is a false dilemma. This is why: The desire to molest children for fun is a desire that tends to thwart the desires of other people generally. This is absolute in that it is true at all times and for all people.

Yet here, the 'wrong' part of the behavior described is the desire to perform the act of molesting a child *for fun.* The act, in and of itself, cannot be evaluated in terms of morality.

Similarly, the act of killing/murder cannot be distinguished without referencing desires.

Look at what you said: "Yip, and one is absolutely morally wrong, the other is not." You said this in reference to the difference between killing and murder. In saying this you've, in part, admitted to the claim that desires are necessary for evaluating the morality of actions. You can, then, admit that molesting a child for a good motive (haha, not assuming that every human would be damned... that would change the equation) could be the appropriate moral action to take - just as the act of killing another human might be.

-----

"So you are saying that molesting children for fun is terrible behaviour to all people at all times?"
_Yep.

1. How do you know this?
_Because molesting children for fun is the sort of thing a person with bad desires would do. Bad desires are those that tend to thwart the desires of others. Molesting a child for fun is impossible for a person with good desires to do - thus it is impossible for it to be a good motivation for action.

2. Do you believe that some children are molested for fun?
_I imagine so.

3. What is ‘terrible’ according to your worldview?
_Morally evil. Terrible is the sort of action that a person with desires that humans have many strong reasons to condemn with a great degree of harshness would perform.

"Is this desire absolutely evil?"
_Yep. Desires are the subject of moral criticism, not action - which is why the *for fun* part of the question changes everything.

"If so, hey we agree, there are absolute morals, if not, why should I care what you think is right or wrong, or responsible or irresponsible?"
_We agree insofar as that there are absolute right and wrong behavior. However, there are no absolute moral laws.

Why should you care? Well, why should I care what 'God' says is right or wrong? Fear of eternal punishment is not a good motivating factor. Truth is, humans in general have good reasons to promote moral behavior as I've described it. You might only have self-promoting interests, but you and the rest of us have reasons to promote certain values in people generally.

"It is a statement of fact, not a prediction, and what does this have to do with whether or not absolute moral laws exist?"
_It's actually not a statement of fact. If a 'law' was written on everybody's heart, we'd expect to see signs of that worldwide in cultures separated ideologically and geographically from one another... we don't.

"if you change your mind, I’ll be happy to address your next points."
_Well, the rest of my points will stand, then. Thanks again.

G-man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G-man said...

Dan -

"If you see a painting, you know there is a painter, if you see a building you know there is a builder, and if you see all of creation you know in your soul there is a creator."

_This is something I hear regurgitated by people influenced by the Way of the Master ministry, so it's nice to have a chance to explain to somebody remotely associated with them why it is a poor argument/set of analogies.

It makes an unwarranted assumption. Check it out:

1. A creation requires a creator.
2. The universe is a creation.
3. Therefore, the universe requires a creator.

Prove premise (2) , without using conclusion (3) . You can't do it. You only *know* it's a creation if it had a creator. Unless premise (2) is correct, conclusion (3) does not follow. So, the argument is circular and, therefore, meaningless.

It is a logical fallacy. Of course a creation requires a creator! But that just begs the question. Let me try to be clear:

What are you trying to prove? That the universe was created by God - you're trying to prove that it is a creation.

How do you prove it? You say 'well, it's a creation, so of course it is a creation!' When it's put that way, do you see how it's circular and assumes the conclusion is correct in order to prove the conclusion? That's circular argumentation, and it is illogical, actually.

" I disagree slightly though, that website proved that there is rational logical thinking without such there is no universe so in that kind of structured environment how can one conclude it was created by an explosion or anything else other then God."
_It's kinda simple, actually. See, there must be structure in an atheistic universe - otherwise, we wouldn't be here. As for the complexity and vastness of the universe... it all actually suggests an atheistic universe. You see, we have ways of looking for intelligent design. The only example of intelligent designers we can study, though, are humans. When humans design things for functionality, we design them as simplistically as we can. Complexity actually suggests that there wasn't an intelligent creator.

"There is your Occam's razor."
_Thanks for bringing that up. The razor is difficult to understand, so let me clarify.

You're bouncing a ball. You wonder why it bounces. Somebody gives you a complex understanding of physics and gravity - 'This is how matter functions,' he says. So yes, it is a complicated explanation, but then I arrive. I say 'an invisible gnome is throwing the ball back at you.'

Well, at first thought, the second explanation is 'simpler' and uses fewer words. But it isn't as simple. You see, if there is a gnome, it leads to questions like 'well goodness... why is it throwing the ball back at me? How does it know where you will bounce it and move so fast? Oh yeah, and how is it invisible?'

That's how Occam's razor functions. Given the two explanations, the first one is actually to be preferred. Likewise, if you say there is a God, you must explain how something non-corporeal has a brain, how spirit interacts with matter, and yada yada yada. It is far more complicated - and unnecessary complications are shaved away by Occam's razor. Does that make a little more sense?

"Speaking of fallacies, don't you agree that the whole atheist movement is mostly use a Ad Hominem fallacy anyway?"
_In some cases. An ad hominem basically ignores the opposition's arguments and tries to shame them or bring them down, instead of addressing the actual arguments. I think both sides are guilty of this, to a degree.

"Hay, did you notice how much time you spent on the subject of morals?"
_Haha, yes :) That is among the main points of this blog - though I'm learning I should lengthen my posts by prefacing them with a little moral understanding.

"Why do we know without doubt that lying or murder is wrong?"
_We don't. People are confused about that sort of thing all the time.

For example, imagine you live in Nazi Germany and a group of Jewish children seek shelter in your home. Ten minutes later the Nazis arrive and knock on your door. They ask you directly, 'Are you sheltering Jews?' If you answer 'Yes,' (which means both lying and going against the law of your country), they will be brutally killed at a concentration camp. Yet - your alternative is to lie. We're talking about conscience here... what would you do?

Most people understand murder as the impassioned, hate-driven killing of another person... so in times of war, killing is not murder. But can you kill a child with a weapon? What about an unarmed adult? An unarmed child? It's a time of war, and no hate motivates you, so is the answer written on your conscience, or will your conscience be torn because it has no idea what to do?

"Raping in an evolutionist theory is a good thing, the dominate and strong survives and populates the world."
_I think we agree on something here. See, evolutionary theory explains what people *do,* where morality concerns what people *should do.* If what we have an evolutionary tendency to do is what is right, then I'm very concerned :D So yeah, we seem to agree.

"We have to court and date and marry and then we can populate..."
_I can't seem to remember where the Bible lines out those steps. Could you remind me? Also, could you show me where God approved of our modern-day marriage ceremony?

"So in a perfect universe there is no way God is not good, to see such a perfect and good creation one can only conclude God exists!"
_Hmm, good thinking. Is the converse also true? Is it the case that, if the universe is imperfect, God doesn't exist? I suppose we need to understand what 'perfect' is.

How about the human eye? It has a big blind spot, right in the middle. Why can't the human body produce all the vitamins it needs to survive all on its own? Why is the memory flawed? Why is our reasoning flawed? Why do we lose our memory and functionality later in life?

I wonder just how perfect the universe is. Do you know what percentage of this earth is actually habitable?

Sye TenB said...

Alright, lets take this one point at a time.

Bad desires are those that tend to thwart the desires of others.

So, thwarting the desires of child molesters is bad?

G-man said...

Nope. Pay close attention between these two statements to catch the distinction:

1) A bad desire is anything that thwarts the desires of others.

2) A bad desire is one that has a tendency to thwart the desires of others.

The desire to molest children for fun is not one with a tendency to fulfill the desires of other people. It is one which we as humans have many strong reasons to discourage.

Sye TenB said...

So, according to the distinction in your definition, having a tendancy to thwart the desires of child molesters is bad?

G-man said...

"So, according to the distinction in your definition, having a tendancy to thwart the desires of child molesters is bad?"

_It depends on what you mean. Having desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others is good, and child molesters are, after all, humans.

However, the relevant desire - to molest chidlren - should not be encouraged; that specific desire is to be thwarted.

Sye TenB said...

It depends on what you mean. Having desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others is good, and child molesters are, after all, humans.

So, tending to help child molesters fulfill their desire to molest is good, and tending to thwart their desires to molest is bad?!?

However, the relevant desire - to molest chidlren - should not be encouraged; that specific desire is to be thwarted.

Why, if tending to fulfill the desires of others is good, and tending to thwart them is bad?

G-man said...

"So, tending to help child molesters fulfill their desire to molest is good, and tending to thwart their desires to molest is bad?!?"

_Pay attention here, Sye. No. If that were the case, I would not have said "that specific desire is to be thwarted," would I?

Tell me something: Is the desire to molest children for fun something that tends to fulfill the desires of all humans universally?

It's a rhetorical question. The answer is no. Nobody has an obligation to fulfill the specific desires of anybody in particular. We're talking about the tendency of desires generally.

In human society, do we generally have strong reasons to promote child molesters, or to inhibit their behavior?

We could continue to go through on a 'case by case' basis, but the real point I hope readers can take away from this is that there are particular behaviors which can be viewed as absolutely good or bad, but no such thing as an absolute moral law governing said behavior. This is precisely why your argument presented a false dilemma. All I need to do is show one counter-example and I have proved the dilemma false.

Sye TenB said...

You don't need to tell me to pay attention, I know exactly what you are saying, I am only trying to point out the fallaciousness of your reasoning, and I see that your answers are doing just that.

What your definition amounts to now is: "Bad behaviour is that which the majority of people consider to be bad behaviour."

Not only is such a defintion completely vacuous, it is entirely circular.

G-man said...

"I know exactly what you are saying"
_On the contrary, your responses show that I need to go into more detail somehow.

"Bad behaviour is that which the majority of people consider to be bad behaviour"
_That is not what I argue - and I agree that it is circular and pointless.

Since you seem unwilling to investigate my second post and actually understand this moral meaning theory, I suppose I can try to give a basic understanding here.

-----

- The only reasons for intentional action in humans are desires. Desires are attitudes about whether states of affairs are to be brought about or avoided.

Example: I desire that the state of affairs where 'I am in pain' is to be made or kept false.

- These desires are objective as they exist in the real-world firings of neurons in the brain.

- As objective entities, desires can be evaluated as 'good' or 'bad' just as other objective entities can be so evaluated.

Example: Sunscreen is 'good' insofar as it prevents my skin from being sunburned. It is 'bad' when it brings about the state of affairs I am trying to avoid - where 'I am in pain' is true.

Example: The desire to be patient is 'good' insofar as it is one with a *tendency* to fulfill other desires I have. There is not much which being impatient gains me.

Note that I'm not saying that 'whatever fulfills my desires is good.' I'm saying that a good desire for me is one which tends to fulfill my other desires. A good desire for humans is one which tends to fulfill the desires of humans generally.

Also note that I have made no mention of which specific desires of other humans we are talking about (as you assumed in the child molestation example). Simply that there are desires that *absolutely* have a tendency to fulfill or to thwart the desires of other human beings.

- In a utilitarian sense, desires can be further evaluated with regards to whether they tend to fulfill or to thwart the desires of other human beings.

Example: The desires to be empathetic, loving, respectful, honest etc. have a tendency to fulfill the desires of other human beings - in all situations, and at all times.

This is, mind you, regardless of what the majority of people or individual people 'consider to be bad behavior.'

Further, the 'good' and 'bad' nature of these desires are of a universal nature. Thus, this is a universal behavioral code distinguishing between right and wrong behavior, yet it is not some 'transcendent' law that you've imagined.

Again I state that your dilemma is a false one. I'm ready to move on to other points when you are.

Sye TenB said...

That is not what I argue.

We’ll see about that.

- The only reasons for intentional action in humans are desires. Desires are attitudes about whether states of affairs are to be brought about or avoided.
Example: I desire that the state of affairs where 'I am in pain' is to be made or kept false.
- These desires are objective as they exist in the real-world firings of neurons in the brain.


How is what happens in your brain related to any other brain, or in any way objective?

- As objective entities, desires can be evaluated as 'good' or 'bad' just as other objective entities can be so evaluated.
Example: Sunscreen is 'good' insofar as it prevents my skin from being sunburned. It is 'bad' when it brings about the state of affairs I am trying to avoid - where 'I am in pain' is true.


The problem is that the desire not to get burned by the sun, or not to have pain, is in no way objective. You even state this in the way you respond, as you say it brings about the state of affairs YOU want to avoid. You see, this is my point exactly, you state ‘getting burned by the sun,’ or ‘pain’ as objectively ‘bad,’ and if I asked you why this was objectively bad, no doubt you would say: ‘because most people don’t want pain.’

Example: The desire to be patient is 'good' insofar as it is one with a *tendency* to fulfill other desires I have. There is not much which being impatient gains me.

Again, how is this objective?

Note that I'm not saying that 'whatever fulfills my desires is good.' I'm saying that a good desire for me is one which tends to fulfill my other desires.

And again, how is this objective?

A good desire for humans is one which tends to fulfill the desires of humans generally.

Says who?

- In a utilitarian sense, desires can be further evaluated with regards to whether they tend to fulfill or to thwart the desires of other human beings.

Um, lemme guess, the majority of other human beings?

Example: The desires to be empathetic, loving, respectful, honest etc. have a tendency to fulfill the desires of other human beings - in all situations, and at all times.

Interesting how you are trying to refute the existence of the only being that could know what you just claimed. Have you witnessed all situations and all times let alone all potential situations?

So, if my neighbour’s wife is being beaten, runs into my house for protection, her husband arrives a few minutes later with a gun and asks if his wife is in my house, being ‘honest’ would fulfill the wife’s desires??? Methinks, according to your one counter-example rule, you’ve been refuted.

This is, mind you, regardless of what the majority of people or individual people 'consider to be bad behavior.'

You’ve just reworded it tis all. It is according to whether the majority of the people consider ‘love, respect, empathy, or honestying, to be good behaviour.

Further, the 'good' and 'bad' nature of these desires are of a universal nature.

Aye there’s the rub, how do you know this? It is not fair to assume the nature of the being you are trying to refute.

Thus, this is a universal behavioral code distinguishing between right and wrong behavior, yet it is not some 'transcendent' law that you've imagined.

Well, lets wait with that judgement til you tell me which desires are universally bad or good, and how you know this? Then perhaps you can tell me how you know they won’t change?

Again I state that your dilemma is a false one. I'm ready to move on to other points when you are.

I don’t blame you, but let’s not just yet.

Just out of curiosity, is adultery ‘bad?’

Sye TenB said...

honesty - ing (typo).

G-man said...

Well at least you're thinking about the subject.

"How is what happens in your brain related to any other brain, or in any way objective?"
_Good question. In this case, we're talking about desires, which are the entities that cause action. Desires, then, have a direct impact on reality. Reality, obviously, has a direct impact on other brains. Physical firings on neurons in the brain cannot seriously be argued as not "Having actual existence or reality." (Dictionary.com) Thus, they're objective.

"The problem is that the desire not to get burned by the sun, or not to have pain, is in no way objective."
_Sure it is, because the desire has actual existence in the real world.

"You state ‘getting burned by the sun,’ or ‘pain’ as objectively ‘bad,’"
_No, I call them 'desire-thwarting.' That's because something is good or bad based on how it fulfills or thwarts the relevant desires - good food is that which fulfills the desires to experience pleasure and to fill tummies. Those are other desires. So, just as other objects can be evaluated, objective desires can be evaluated in terms of how they tend to fulfill or thwart other desires.

"A good desire for humans is one which tends to fulfill the desires of humans generally."
"Says who?"

_Says this theory, which has nothing to do with authority figures 'saying' what is right or wrong. A generally good desire for an individual is one that fulfills the individual's other desires generally. A generally good desire for the set of all humans, by extension, is one that fulfills its other desires generally. We're talking about what's good for people (not the majority - all people).

"Um, lemme guess, the majority of other human beings?"
_Wrong again - all other human beings.

"Have you witnessed all situations and all times let alone all potential situations?"
_Haha, no, and I don't have to! I'm talking about general tendencies. I don't need to know every example of killing to know that a desire to kill is one that has a tendency to thwart the desires of humans generally. It's an answer I can come to through a simple application of reason and the scientific method, and just a small dose of common sense.


"So, if my neighbour’s wife is being beaten, runs into my house for protection, her husband arrives a few minutes later with a gun and asks if his wife is in my house, being ‘honest’ would fulfill the wife’s desires???"
_No, it wouldn't. In that case, being dishonest is the right action, because it's what a person with good desires would do. See, a person with good desires would not *want* to lie, but would do so anyway, because the desire to protect the innocent wins in this case.

We as humans have strong reasons to promote protecting the innocent even when it conflicts with the desire to be honest.

"Methinks, according to your one counter-example rule, you’ve been refuted."
_Feel free to keep trying.


"You’ve just reworded it tis all. It is according to whether the majority of the people consider ‘love, respect, empathy, or honestying, to be good behaviour."
_No, it's whether love, respect, empathy or honesty actually are good desires for people to have - that they are desire-fulfilling desires for humans generally to have. Again, it has nothing to do with what the majority of people think. That is cultural relativism, which I disagree is an accurate prescription for morality.

So this behavioral code is universal among humans. It's not an eternal law because humans may cease to exist or cease being humans as we know them, but it remains universal and your dilemma remains a false one.


"Just out of curiosity, is adultery ‘bad?’"
_Well, let's try a train of thought approach.

We have real-world reasons to encourage commitment. It is a desire-fulfilling behavior, especially because it helps children to be raised safely, and it otherwise tends to fulfill the desires of others - specifically, those to whom the commitment is made.

So the question is whether we as humans generally have reasons to condemn adultery, promote adultery, or neither.

We have reasons to condemn it. For one thing, it is dishonest - and dishonesty is desire-thwarting behavior. We also have good reasons to praise people who honor their commitments. An adulterer exhibits those bad characteristics along with a certain disregard for the happiness of his/her spouse; such disregard is not to be encouraged.

So there's the long answer. Have you removed yourself from the rut that somehow this is the same thing as cultural relativism?

Sye TenB said...

Well at least you're thinking about the subject.

Rather patronizing, but cleary you are not.

You are confusing the word ‘object’ with ‘objective’.
I do not want to know how what happens in your brain is an ‘object,’ (your reference to an online dictionary is not a proof that desires are objects btw), I want to know how what happens in your brain is objective. (i.e. “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.”(Dictionary.com)

I said: "The problem is that the desire not to get burned by the sun, or not to have pain, is in no way objective."

You answered: Sure it is, because the desire has actual existence in the real world.

Again, how is this desire objective, NOT how is it an ‘object?’

"You state ‘getting burned by the sun,’ or ‘pain’ as objectively ‘bad,’"

No, I call them 'desire-thwarting.' That's because something is good or bad based on how it fulfills or thwarts the relevant desires

This is where I asked, “says who?” And you responded with:

Says this theory… A generally good desire for an individual is one that fulfills the individual's other desires generally. A generally good desire for the set of all humans, by extension, is one that fulfills its other desires generally.

Again, I ask SAYS WHO???

Why is that theory correct and not one that says: “A generally good desire is one that causes skin to be burned by the sun, and fulfills no other desires?”

(You should be invoking the majority any time now).

But wait, no, you say:

We're talking about what's good for people (not the majority - all people).

I asked how you know what is good for all people, you ignored that question, and I see why, because here you state:

”I'm talking about general tendencies. I don't need to know every example of killing to know that a desire to kill is one that has a tendency to thwart the desires of humans generally.”

So, which is it now, all people or humans generally (calling it something else does not change the fact that you are saying the ‘majority of humans.’)

Then we go on to talk about right and wrong actions, and you are again all over the map.

With my neighbour example you say:

No, it wouldn't. In that case, being dishonest is the right action, because it's what a person with good desires would do.

But here you said:

Example: The desires to be empathetic, loving, respectful, honest etc. have a tendency to fulfill the desires of other human beings - in all situations, and at all times.

Clearly you are contradicting yourself.

And to this simple question:

"Just out of curiosity, is adultery ‘bad?’"

You give a convoluted answer with nothing to back it up. I really don’t even care if you ignore everything else I’ve written, just please, please tell me how do you know that “desire-thwarting behavior” is bad?

G-man said...

Objective, in that sense, refers to a truth not influenced by subjective opinion. In other words, like 'objective journalism,' which is the effort to report simply facts, independent of their portrayal by groups who view the facts with a particular bias.

None of that applies to desires.

A desire is an objectively existing part of reality describing how the physical brain is wired. Desires exist. Their existence is factual, measurable... nobody's subjective opinion changes the matter. That's why they're objective. Are we on the same page yet?


Ok, enough of the 'says who?' That is an irrelevant question. Now, I'll try to be as clear about this as I possibly can:

1. ANY objective entity can be evaluated as 'good' or 'bad' as to how well it tends to fulfill the relevant desires.

A 'good' car gets me from A to B. If you don't want to use the word 'good,' you don't have to - we can call it 'desire-fulfilling,' but whatever you call it, any entity can be so evaluated.

2. By extension, objective entities can be evaluated for groups. A supermarket that provides food for a community is good for that community. It's good because it fulfills the relevant desires, just as a car is 'good' or 'bad.' Again, I don't care what word you use, the evaluation amounts to what people who use the English language consider 'good.'

3. As desires are real-world entities, they can also be evaluated as to how they fulfill other desires. The desire to eat, for instance, fulfills certain other desires I have. Thus, it is good for me. A desire is 'good' insofar as it fulfills my other desires - just as a car is good insofar as it fulfills my desire to get from A to B.

4. Again, by extension, desires can be evaluated in a community. Desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others are 'good.' A desire to be honest is a perfect example. This is not because somebody 'says so' or the majority believes it, or because it is good for the majority. This desire is good because it has a tendency to fulfill the desires of people in the group. The world community is the same as an individual, but on a larger scale.

Just as an individual has many desires, and thus certain desires can 'tend' to fulfill his other desires, all humans have many desires, and can study them in order to ascertain which certain desires tend to fulfill the other desires of people.

If you say 'says who?' one more time, I'll begin to lose my patience with you.

You're still stuck in the 'majority' rut. Here's the basic idea:
There are desires that we all have reason to encourage. They have a universal tendency to fulfill the desires of humans generally. See the distinction?

Take the desire to be honest, and to avoid being dishonest, for example. While the act of being honest is not always desire-fulfilling in every case, it is something which has a universal tendency to fulfill the desires of other people, which is why we have reason to encourage that desire.

a) This desire's universal tendency to fulfill the desires of others does not rely on the majority or what is good for the majority.

b) When you said "Clearly you are contradicting yourself," you were referring to my statement that lying was the right thing to do in one situation, but is a bad desire generally. This is not a contradiction, and serves to illustrate more clearly just how well you understand the 'laws of logic' you referred to on your website.

You're clearly on another level entirely in this conversation. Let me try to level the playground.

A desire to be honest is universally good. It is good because it universally tends to fulfill the desires of others - just as a working car is universally good in its tendency to fulfill peoples' desires to get from A to B.

Desires have universal tendencies to fulfill or to thwart other desires. There are specific exceptions - as in those cases where lying actually fulfills the desires of another person. Yet this leaves unchanged the premise that desires have universal tendencies to be good or bad.

We can disagree as to which desires tend to fulfill or to thwart the desires of others - but we're disagreeing over matters of objective fact, not subjective opinion.

"how do you know that “desire-thwarting behavior” is bad?"
_'Bad' is a value term. Value exists in desire fulfillment. Money, for example, only has value in its ability to fulfill the desires of people. The fact that our American currency is not backed by gold demonstrates that it has value only insofar as it has the ability to fulfill desires. If it could no longer be traded for goods & services, it would be value-less.

So the only way to make value judgements (like 'X is good or bad') is in consideration of desires. We see that people evaluate things that thwart desires as 'bad' and things that fulfill desires as 'good.' The same kind of thinking can be applied to real-world desires.

I'm at a loss for which words I'd use to describe how people evaluate entities if I can't use 'good' or 'bad.'

Anyway, the point is that this is a view of morality which is universal and objective - claiming that morality is NOT determined by subjective opinion. Any moral meaning theory has to define its terms and use them to describe what good and bad behavior are. You don't have to accept it - I don't expect you to. It took me months to grasp what I've grasped of this theory so far, so I have no justification to be impatient with you... especially because people sunk firmly into their own ideas and abhorrent of the idea that they could be wrong immediately set up their defenses and struggle against other theories.

When you're fighting a theory instead of trying to understand it, you make big errors of reasoning and comprehension. The criticisms Christians bring up in the creation/evolution dispute is a good illustration.

You don't seem to like me very much, so you will probably reject out of hand any argument I make that disagrees with what you believe, and that's fine - if narrowminded.


Sye, what I've provided you with is a universal, objective approach to right and wrong behavior. It is very complicated, and you'll find it described much more effectively at atheistethicist.blogspot.com. A responsible person would be at least concerned that perhaps his website was indeed proposing a dilemma that was false. He would be very concerned that a false dilemma was leading people to make false conclusions about morality when they visited his site.

More importantly, he'd very carefully analyze the last part of his website. He'd note that, yes, he had simply asserted that "Only in a universe governed by God can universal, immaterial, unchanging laws exist" without qualifying why that might be. He had also presented a circular argument as his 'proof' that God exists.

He'd at least be honest with himself. Peace be with you.

Sye TenB said...

You don't seem to like me very much, so you will probably reject out of hand any argument I make that disagrees with what you believe, and that's fine - if narrowminded.

I reject your arguments because they are poor, and because you have no justification for the laws of logic you refer to, it has nothing to do with whether or not I like or dislike you. In fact there are very few people that I dislike, and I have no doubt that in person we would get along just fine. The problem is that you have given up on the only worldview that can justify logic, science, ethics, morality, human dignity, and origins, to name a few, then spend time trying to refute the beliefs that you say you once held.
I bring up legitimate points, and ask legitimate questions, and you simply ignore them, or bury them with obfuscation.

There are sooooooooo many points that I could argue in your responses, but your position changes so often that I hardly find it worth my while. If you wish to continue this debate, maybe you could address one issue at a time instead of rambling on with non-sequiturs.

Just please answer this one point: How do you know whether or not anything is universal? Before you say that you did not make such a claim, I refer you to your own words:
- A desire to be honest is universally good.
- It is good because it universally tends to fulfill the desires of others
- Sye, what I've provided you with is a universal, objective approach to right and wrong behavior.
- Anyway, the point is that this is a view of morality which is universal…


You have given up on a worldview which accounts for universals, yet try to lay claim to them in your newly chosen worldview without any justification for them. G-man, (why is it that atheists like to be anonymous?) how do you know ANYTHING to be universal?

And yes, I am narrowminded. I also am narrowminded about the answer to the question what does 2 + 2 = in base 10 mathematics.

I'll leave you with the words of G.K. Chesterton: Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening a mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

G-man said...

Hello again.

I'm sorry if any of my arguments seem poor. I'd go out on a limb and say perhaps my presentation of them is what is poor, but maybe you could actually point out a flawed argument in what I wrote. I'd be much obliged.

"...you have no justification for the laws of logic you refer to."
_I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at here. Are you saying that just because I've yet to give you a foundation for why laws appear to be universal, you don't have to regard them as such, even though you believe they are? I hope not, because that sounds like a rather childish way to play debate.

The truth is, none of we can know with 100% certainty whether laws are universal or not. However, until we are given a circumstance in which a law is shown not to be universal, we are free to believe - with a great deal of justification - that they are, because they have been in the past, and nothing has changed to make us believe otherwise. That's how I approach the topic, anyway.

And even if there is a philosophical way to *know* that laws are universal, I'd prefer it to the rotundly circular argument you presented at the end (and the very essence) of your website.

"The problem is that you have given up on the only worldview that can justify..."
_No, this is what you're arguing, Sye, and what I am debating. All you've offered so far is that circular, pointless argument on your website. If you want to discuss how exactly it is circular, I'll be glad to.

"I bring up legitimate points, and ask legitimate questions, and you simply ignore them, or bury them with obfuscation"
_I wasn't aware that I'd ignored anything. Please bring whatever feels neglected to my attention.

"your position changes so often that I hardly find it worth my while."
_Really? Please, open my eyes to my own wavering ideas.

"why is it that atheists like to be anonymous?"
_Because it can be dangerous to be an atheist. I could lose my job, be denied my right to run for public office, be threatened by Christian groups... Let's just say I prefer anonymity.

And the important one:
"How do you know whether or not anything is universal?"
_The term universal is an interesting one. In the dictionary, the example is given of a 'universal cure,' that works for anything, at any time. The moral theory I adhere to does something similar.

When somebody says "I hope you're feeling better," the word 'better' is a value term, applying the idea that the state of affairs where "Person X is not-sick" is to be preferred over that where "Person X is sick." Clearly, these states of affairs tie in strongly with desire fulfillment.

A remedy with a universal tendency to cure disease would be one that we should give to all sick people because if they all take it, people generally will get 'better,' and those who don't will not be harmed.

A desire with a universal tendency to fulfill desires is one that we should give to all people because if they all have those desires, people generally will get 'better.'

And since we have the ability to 'give' people these desires which we can scientifically evaluate in terms of their ability to make things 'better,' (given that human beings all have desires, and these desires are objective) - through social praise/condemnation, reward and punishment, we have an obligation to do so.

But to expand on the analogy and hopefully answer your question more... can we *know* that a cure is universal? Of course not. We can, though, analyze results and our knowledge of diseases to find out which medicines tend to be good, for humans.

Some substances are poisonous - we don't want to introduce them to the human body. Likewise, some desires (the only things that motivate humans to action) are poisonous too, and we similarly don't want to introduce them to human society.

Inasmuch as there is a plausible idea of 'universal,' for human beings at least, we can discover universal tendencies. Have I made this murkier, or helped at all?

Sye TenB said...

So, after all that, we can surmise that according to your worldview you cannot know whether or not ANYTHING is universal:

”-The truth is, none of we can know with 100% certainty whether laws are universal or not.

- can we *know* that a cure is universal? Of course not.”


So, you cannot know that anything is universal
- therefore you cannot know that a ‘tendancy to fulfill desires’ is universally good
- you cannot know that a ‘tendancy to thwart desires’ is universally bad
- you cannot know that anything is universally bad
- you cannot know that child molestation is universally bad
- therefore according to your worldview, child molestation could be ‘good.’

Nice worldview.

And G-man, before you level the accusation of circularity, maybe you should examine what you now profess to believe. You see, I can know that my ability to reason is trustworthy as it is a gift from God. I can know this, and other things, because a being who knows everything (God), has revealed this to us. Naturally you may not like the justification I offer for my ability to reason or know things, but what is yours??? Tell me, without being circular, how do you know that your ability to reason is reliable?

G-man said...

Careful what you assume, Sye.

I can 'know' things are universal with precisely the degree of accuracy you can.

Let's see... first of all, you can't know with 100% certainty that laws are universal because you can't know with 100% certainty that God exists.

Consider this, though. -25 degrees Fahrenheit is universally cold among humans. That's something we can know, because the subject area is finite and measurable. A universal law which governs particular sets of matter, on the other hand, is impossible to know for certain - for either of us.

I hope that makes sense to you at least as much as it did to me :)

So all those neat little bullet points you made have to go away. We CAN know that a tendency to fulfill desires is universally good among humans.

"therefore according to your worldview, child molestation could be ‘good.’"
_We've already been over this, and I've told you that, yes, hypothetically, child molestation could be good... but the desire to molest children can't be.


"And G-man, before you level the accusation of circularity..."
_I already did, Sye.

I believe my ability to reason is trustworthy because it conforms to reality. Reasoning provides a means of understanding the world.

In fact, my ability to reason is shared with a great many people, including Christians. If my ability to reason is not trustworthy, then the entire world must reconsider what reasoning really is, and all the brilliant philosophers of the past are not to be trusted either.

However, since good reasoning conforms to reality, we're pretty safe to trust it. I don't have to trust my reasoning in order to find my reasoning trustworthy... that would indeed be circular.

But you do.

You trust your reasoning to lead you to the conclusion that God exists, and you say that if God doesn't exist, you can't trust your reasoning. ...Well, you shouldn't trust your reasoning anyway, Sye, because it's entirely circular... but I'm starting to sound like a broken record now.

Anyway, in your worldview you can't trust your reasoning unless you take a leap of faith to believe in God (knowing at the time that you can't trust the conclusions you come to) and then come to the conclusion that God exists (not a trustworthy conclusion). Then, believing God exists, you justify the unjustified conclusions you came to. Yikes, Sye.


There are aspects of reality which can be described by rules of logic. That's all there is to it. Our reasoning is trustworthy when it coincides accurately with reality. Have I explained this to your satisfaction?

Dan Marvin said...

"and I've told you that, yes, hypothetically, child molestation could be good... take a leap of faith to believe in God and then come to the conclusion that God exists (not a trustworthy conclusion)

Good luck with that you sick sick man. I will give you to God gman. Sye handed you your hat and now you can fight it all you want. You can kick and scream all the way to Judgement Day and then you will understand the universe. Wait I just thought of something, both the words universe and universal are in the same family, right? I digress

So G-man is the universe universal?

G-man, If God were to judge you based on the Ten Commandments would you be innocent or guilty. If guilty would that mean heaven or hell? Does that concern you because it concerns me. Have I explained this to your satisfaction? If not ask God himself.

For Him +†+,
Dan

Sye TenB said...

Alright, rather than sift through another huge post, and refute the myriad of points you brought up, lets get to the heart of the matter:

“ I believe my ability to reason is trustworthy because it conforms to reality.”

Did you use your reasoning to determine that your ability to reason conforms to reality?

G-man said...

Dan-

I wish you'd read more before calling me sick. It is never good to want to molest children, just as it is never good to want to kill somebody. However, if a hypothetical situation comes along, you have to wonder what a good person would do.

Imagine that you're a decent human being. Now imagine that a psycho has demanded that you molest a child, or otherwise he will molest your daughter and the children of all your friends. What would be the right thing to do? What would a good person do?

Anyways, when I hear that you believe Sye knows what he's talking about, and you subsequently ask if the universe is universal, I almost wish there were a deity to offer a silent prayer to.

I'm becoming increasingly familiar with the WOTM ministry. Yes, I'm aware that Christian theology wraps itself around an impossible standard. I'm pretty such such an idea was invented to control people (you need to offer food and submit yourself to the priestly class... I mean, to God!). I don't measure up. Nope, it doesn't concern me in the slightest.

Sye-

"Did you use your reasoning to determine that your ability to reason conforms to reality?"
_No, that would be circular. Personally, I measure my ability to reason upon what greater intellects than my own have concluded.

It's a simple cause-effect relationship. Man puts two objects side by side, and Man has two objects. Man observe this, Man thinks "Aha, I put two things together, and I have two things!" thus, reasoning is born.

Let me be the one to pose the question, this time:

Sye, do you realize that in your worldview, you cannot conclude that reasoning is trustworthy until you have reasoned that a god exists, and therefore you cannot reason that god exists in the first place?

Sye TenB said...

No, that would be circular. Personally, I measure my ability to reason upon what greater intellects than my own have concluded.

Hmmm, I thought you trusted your reasoning because it conformed to reality?!?

Okay, so NOW you trust your reasoning based on what greater intellects than you have concluded.

Tell me, did you use your reasoning to determine (a)What intellect is, (b)whose intellect is greater than yours, and (c) what those with a greater intellect have concluded?

Sye, do you realize that in your worldview, you cannot conclude that reasoning is trustworthy until you have reasoned that a god exists, and therefore you cannot reason that god exists in the first place?

Um no, I never said that ANYONE could reason that God exists, this is revealed to ALL of us by Him. You see, ALL reasoning is dependant on God, if one could reason that God existed autonomously, then what they would end up reasoning to, would not be God at all.

As has been clearly demonstrated in your post above, (and in all your other posts), one cannot make sense of their ability to reason, without God. Feel free to keep trying though, you are a beacon to your cause.

Calvin said...

I’ve been enjoying the debate for a while now, but this seems like a good time for me to jump in. I think I can get to the heart of why desire utilitarianism is hogwash.

For the most part, it works as a practical guide to moral behavior…but its logic only seems to be internal. In other words, it offers a generally smooth ride once aboard, but I can’t find any reason why I should board in the first place. You hold “tendencies to fulfill [good] desires” as good, but in your explanation I can’t find a starting point—a reason why I should care whether or not anyone’s desires but my own are fulfilled anyway. I don’t see why I should value the fulfillment of another’s desires—“value is in the eye of the valuer,” after all—so what happens when the valuer doesn’t, well…value?

You can say “I don’t want pain,” “molestation hurts kids,” and such ‘till you’re blue in the face…but every single one of those can be answered with “So what? Why should I care?” And I can’t find a core answer to that anywhere in your desire ethic, aside from “Because it is” and “Because those are the rules” (or, to use a direct quote: “Says this theory.”). If you can show me where I’ve missed it, be my guest.

The only secular reason I’ve seen is “so good things happen to me, and bad things don’t.” True, cultivating aversions to destructive tendencies is a vital investment if we want to enjoy freedom from those tendencies. But is reaping pragmatic future rewards the extent of society's interest in morality? Or is there another component?

Let's say you have someone who just doesn't care about the fulfillment of others' desires. Let's say that he only regards them to the extent that he's directly rewarded in some way. As for his indifference's detrimental effect on society, he's willing to take some near-future inconvenience, and he's confident the more serious deterioration that would be problematic to him won't go into effect until after he's dead.

What does morality say to/about such a man? Why should he care about the betterment of the world around him? Mulling this question, it seems that DU isn’t morality at all. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like manipulation in benign wrapping.

Now, if my only goal was finding something that would keep society relatively orderly, then your case is a bit stronger, if still lacking. But that isn’t my only goal. My other goal is truth. It’s not enough for me to know something has a generally productive effect; I need to know if there’s real meaning behind it, and is therefore morally right. I need to know whether or not human desires matter, and why they matter, to decide whether or not I have any obligations towards them.

If we expand our scope beyond desire utilitarianism, we can find a starting point: empathy, our basic tendency to reflect upon our own conditions, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and wish that our good conditions extend to others. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Granted, it’s true that empathy is instinctive and emotional, rather than logical. But that actually strengthens my belief that reason, though necessary, cannot alone lead us to morality. This is a point Dennis Prager expounded upon in Part 3 of a 20+ series of columns on the case for Judeo-Christian values, available here:

http://www.townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2005

It is also true that empathy could be that entry point for desire utilitarianism, as well as Judeo-Christian values. And here we come to the ultimate test. That truth, that underlying meaning I’m searching for can either be the soul, or it can be firing neurons. The former would reinforce my conviction that empathy is valid and binding; the latter would indicate to me that my empathy is either a mere societal construct or a psychological quirk no more binding than the average phobia, which I might as well cast off for my own benefit. It’s preposterous to think I should care in the slightest about firing neurons that don’t affect me.

Doing so would often “have a tendency to thwart my desires,” after all, and DU provides no reason whatsoever why I should think otherwise, to the extent that I can do so without bringing undesirable consequences on myself (or at least reduce the risks & consequences to a point I’m willing to put up with). In fact, with DU we see atheists taking something on faith, and then building an entire philosophy upon a non-reason-based premise! (By the way, my understanding of DU is based upon reading Alonzo Fyfe as well. His case ain’t any better.)

By contrast, the former’s power is that it elevates humans beyond atomic interaction, chemical reactions, cellular divisions, and biological functions that, when all is said & done, aren’t all that different than the rest of the lesser organisms and even inanimate objects that fill the universe, and make the duty to love thy neighbor as thyself non-negotiable—not subject to the petty greed, fickle desires, or enormous rationalization humanity is famously & tragically capable of. I, for one, think it’s self-evident which one would make a more honest, just, compassionate, and all-around better society. DU may not be moral relativism, but it offers no challenge to it.

Yes, it’s true that my morality is contingent upon my belief that there is a God. And speaking for myself, I don’t claim His existence can be proven in a strictly-analytical sense. I do believe that analytical reason alone is sufficient to lead to God’s likelihood far outweighing the likelihood of no God. It’s true that we take a leap of faith to get the rest of the way. But like I said, the secular aren’t exactly free of their own leaps of faith.

If your pure reasoning, truly free of ideology & emotion (and free of the poisonous influence of fanatics like Hitchens & Harris), honestly leads you away from God, so be it. I simply ask that you think the ramifications of that belief to their true logical conclusions. Because unless you’re willing to scrap DU entirely and somehow manage to find a brand-new secular ethic, there simply is no reason for morality in a godless world.

Dan Marvin said...

G-man wrote "Imagine that you're a decent human being. Now imagine that a psycho has demanded that you molest a child, or otherwise he will molest your daughter and the children of all your friends. What would be the right thing to do? What would a good person do?"

This is a very easy answer.mI have had people ask me, if your family is starving would it be stealing if you take bread to feed them. The answer is always YES! If you can reason, hypothetically or not, that molesting children would be OK then you are sick. To answer this scenario you pose, if you saying that I am somehow deemed helpless to help my own children as well as the others then I would NOT molest that child and I would let my own children be harmed.

If you could go back in time would you kill Hitler? Many would say yes, if you couldn't would you go further back in time and murder his Mom? Murder would still be murder in God's yes and we must trust him to right the wrongs with his plan not ours.

I know you heard of two wrongs never make a right. I am not afraid of that man with the gun, I am not afraid of the man molesting my children but I cringe for that man's soul when our Lord in Heaven judges that man for what he has done. The punishments have been revealed to us and weeping and gnashing of teeth describes the eternal torture of the evil ones of this world.

G-man said...

Sye -
I just posted a blog which puts this issue into another perspective.

Calvin -
I haven't forgotten about you! (And welcome to my blog).

I'm in the process of writing a little response to the idea of why one should follow a particular moral understanding. It just so happens that Mr. Fyfe has written at least two posts on that very topic. I may have to quote him extensively, but I certainly appreciate your interest in the topic.

Dan -
It's hard for me to imagine that you'd avoid doing something unpleasant yourself, knowing full well that its direct effect would be the molestation of your child.

Then again, the father figure of Jehovah is not exactly the best role model. Maybe it all makes sense.

It's also a little strange to imagine that God, in your eyes, would not forgive you for a transgression when it was done to save someone else. Didn't God want to murder his Son to save others? Didn't God order Abraham to murder his son just to prove his faith?

If I went back in time, I don't know if I could murder Hitler. If I did, it would be incredibly difficult... but hey, if I saw children being thrown into a gas chamber and screaming as they died, maybe I'd figure that my taking a sin onto my shoulders would be worth it to save them. You, though, would sit back and watch, I imagine. Don't worry, I won't be the one to call you sick.

"I cringe for that man's soul when our Lord in Heaven judges that man for what he has done."
_Yeah, he'll get precisely the same punishment as somebody who stuck out his tongue at his parents one time. How just.

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