Saturday, August 26, 2006

Redefining marriage

“It’s not natural.”

“The traditional family will be destroyed”

“Children will be harmed.”

These are some of the arguments that were raised during an informal debate on gay marriage that arose during a management course I attended a few weeks ago. It arose from a discussion that focused on managing diversity in the workplace with regards to race, religion and sexual orientation. I took part in the debate by making a few points in support of gay marriage. Most of the group argued against homosexual union, while two of us voiced support for the idea. It was an interesting and thought provoking debate for all of us.

Where does South Africa stand with regards to gay marriage? In December 2005, the South African Constitutional Court (analogous to the Supreme Court in the United States) ruled that South Africa’s Marriage Act was unconstitutional on grounds that it discriminated against homosexuals. Last Thursday, Cabinet voiced its support for this decision. The result of this is that from December this year, homosexuals can legally marry and share all the legal benefits that heterosexual unions enjoy.


I am excited about this decision. I could never understand why Cori and I could easily marry and enjoy legal benefits of such a union, while gay friends of mine - who were in committed relationships with their partners - were barred from those same benefits. During apartheid, mixed racial couples were not allowed to legally marry in South Africa. Fortunately, this changed after the advent of democracy in 1994. The South African constitution, which was drawn up in 1996, prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. It is only logical that if South Africa repealed laws that discriminated against couples of mixed racial groups, it would also have to repeal laws that discriminate against gay couples. The amendments suggested by the Constitutional Court for the Marriage Act was a positive step in this direction.

Some conservative Christian groups have naturally reacted negatively to these developments. Listening to some the arguments raised during the debate, I can understand their concern. However, South Africans live in a secular society that is characterised by many different cultures, races, religions and beliefs. To enjoy the benefits of secular society (e.g., to have the freedom to worship one’s religion of choice) one has to make various sacrifices (e.g., to be subject to limitations that restrict one’s ability to impose religious beliefs on others). Conservative Christian groups should realise that they cannot force society to live by some of their values, simply because there are many individuals in society who are not Christian.

I look forward to attending and celebrating the marriages that will eventually take place between my gay friends. It is a freedom that should not be taken lightly because it is a freedom that was hard fought for.

70 comments:

SuperSkeptic said...

I'm glad that South Africa allows gay marriage now. I support religious freedom, and I believe this is a religious issue--the liberal Christian church I used to attend performed "commitment ceremonies."

I am pretty confident that in my lifetime (I'm in my 30s), the USA will allow gay marriages too. But I'm pretty sure just about every other Westernized country will allow it before the USA does.

Rodolfo said...

I saw film of male pygmy chimps performing fellatio on each other and I have to admit I was fascinated with their display. I don't have any problem with gay people marrying or even adopting children. To be honest I can remember questioning my sexuality once or twice growing up. Once with an ex-girlfriend right before we became intimate. I think back on it now and it was probably just me using it as a pathetic scheme to convince her to sleep with me. I'm not proud of it but it worked and we had fun. Since I started immersing myself with "freethinking" books and websites I've had to remind myself that not everyone is reading the same things as I am. But maybe that's a good thing. My acceptance of homosexuality has skyrocketed now that I've allowed myself to get educated about the subject. Who really suffers with homosexuality anyway? I've never had a gay friend before so I don't have any experiences to really bring to the table. I'd like to read about arguments against gay marriage though. Particularly from those who have gay friends or family members.

ursa smaller said...

I guess christians have a bit of a martyrdom complex after all these years, and homosexuality is their very favorite sin to hate.... but still, I've always wondered why it was such a big deal. I'd like to see them make such a big stink about the stuff that's truly detrimental to society.... child poverty, domestic violence and the like..... but alas. Good on ya, South Africa. If you think about it, it's a long way to come in such a short time.... from apartheid to gay marriage.

Anonymous said...

That's amazing. Hooray for South Africa. I'm a 45 year-old, married, mother of one and I'm a VERY pro-gay marriage. Unfortunately, I live in the U.S., where many people are against it. As an Agnostic, it's hard for me to understand the other side of the argument. It always comes around to, "it's just not natural" or something along those lines. I respond with,"according to whom?". "The bible" is usually the answer I get.
I just think if you're a tax-paying, U.S. citizen, you should be afforded the same rights as every other tax-paying U.S. citizen.

So good for you South Africa, what wonderful news!

Dar said...

Good news indeed! I can only hope that the U.S. will come around!

More and more social studies being done in countries with legalized gay marriages are concluding that the new law is not playing any part in the detriment of society, despite what some fundamentalists would like to beleive.

eddie{F} said...

As an expat South African, as a gay man who lives in the US, someday, I hope I can marry my partner.

It's such a "conversation starter" here in the US to say my home country is more tolerant and progressive than what they "fought" against in apratheid South Africa. I am proud of SA for this move, and it makes sense in so many ways, and it puts to shame what the religious right is trying to overturn in this country.

Thanks for keeping me up to date ... I plan to take my partner to SA for a visit as soon as I have my green card.

Mike said...

Hi all,

The best argument that I have heard from the Christian side in opposition to gay marriage has to do with childhood development. The argument is that children need influence from both a father figure and a mother figure - having both in a child's life makes it more likely that the child will be psychologically stable, secure, etc. So, the argument is then that the state should protect heterosexual marriage (or somehow keep it in a special category) in order to promote healthier childhood development, and thus a more stable society in general. I don't know the sociology behind this argument, but it's an interesting argument. What do you think? I'm just throwing this out there.

ursa smaller said...

well I do know that growing up without a father figure did screw me up significantly. But then it's perfectly legal for a father to up and abandon his children, isn't it?

Skywolf said...

I think a child with two supportive, loving parents will be better off regardless of their respective genders. Kids need all the love they can get, right? Given the choice between an unhappy heterosexual marriage or a happy, loving homosexual one, which do you think would be healthier for children?

Of course, homosexual couples are no less likely to split up than heterosexual ones, but I think in today's society and the massive divorce rate, we have no cause to condemn any loving couple who want to remain together and provide a family for their children.

eddie{F} said...

Well Mike

This is a typical tactic of James Dobson and his ilk – throwing around “stats” that never included gay parents to begin with in any of these studies he so loves to quote. It compares for the most part only heterosexual configurations of parenting – whereas the actual studies shows no significant difference, or perhaps a slightly better odds for kids growing up with two gay parents, probably because they have to work harder at it.

See here

tichius said...

Kevin,

This is a very sensitive issue, and I appreciate your initiation of this open discussion.

I think it is clear in the healthy differences between men and women (physically and emotionally), that a male-female union is the only true union.

Many questions are suppressed when one is trying to justify homosexuality, such as:

Why is it that homosexual union can produce no offspring?

If gay marriage is just as natural as straight marriages, why are we not equiped to have a sexual relationship with either gender?

The real issue is not whether homosexuality is natural or not, but whether it matters that it is unnatural.

If we were created, as I believe, then we were designed and homosexuality is a misuse of our design. If we are just the products of time + matter + chance, then it really doesn't matter if we chose to be unnatural.

eddie{F} said...

The real issue is not whether homosexuality is natural or not, but whether it matters that it is unnatural.

If we were created, as I believe, then we were designed and homosexuality is a misuse of our design. If we are just the products of time + matter + chance, then it really doesn't matter if we chose to be unnatural.

Tichius

Unnatural in what sense? You argument seems to suggest that because a male and a female can produce offspring, that sex is therefore designed for only that purpose. The natural conclusion of your argument is that sex between to heterosexual people is only valid for that purpose, and all other uses of sex, such as for pleasure, therefore falls outside of the domain of the “natural” use of sex as well. Clearly, with medical technology where it is, it’s possible for homosexuals to produce offspring via surrogate mothers and donor sperm, etc. – so therefore homosexual couples are just as much capable of producing offspring as heterosexual couples. Unless you want to bent the definition of the word “natural” even for heterosexual couples that are unable to produce their own offspring “naturally” – your argument is a slippery slope.

Skywolf said...

There's also, of course, the biological studies of homosexuality in animals. It occurs in many species, from primates to dolphins, and it has been suggested that a homosexual gene occurs in order to prevent overpopulation of certain species.

Perhaps there is no need for every single individual to reproduce. And yet, most of us still have sex drives and feel the need to share our lives with a partner. So homosexuality, I would argue, is yet one more of nature's (or God's) ways of removing the likelihood of reproduction from certain individuals in order to maintain a steady and healthy population.

Of course, that's an impersonal argument and in no way removes the validity of the love and companionship shared by any couple, be they hetero or homosexual. It just poses a biological reason as to why homosexuality may have cause to occur - in any species.

Casey Kochmer said...

400 years ago : marrying for love was consider not natural: The norm was arranged marriages in much of europe.

Heh, and i love this: the church 400 years ago said: if to marry for love were to be allowed over arranged marriages... that it would be a disaster and it would lead to same sex marriages...

Seems like the issue is not about same sex marriage folks. The real issue is about the human heart and the control of it.

Be free... be yourself!

Kevin Parry said...

With regards to Mike's comment about children and homosexual marriage: I believe that a loving and stable home environment is more important than gender related roll-models. If a homosexual couple (or a single homosexual person) can provide that stability and love for a child, then what is the problem?

I still can't understand why conservative Christian groups make such a fuss about homosexual marriage. They make it seem that the entire fabric of society will fall apart if homosexual marriage is allowed. I think their focus is misplaced, through: at this moment, heterosexuals seem to be causing massive damage to the institution of marriage (with the high divorce rates, abuse, etc). If conservative Christian groups are really concerned about marriage, they should place all their resources into trying to help heterosexual marriages, instead of trying to limit the freedoms of homosexual couples. One can argue that, at this present time, heterosexuals pose more of a threat to the institution of marriage.

marc said...

Hmmm...I don't really see the point of homosexual marriage. Why would you want to enter into an institution that is religious and against homosexuality?

Is homosexuality natural? I don't think so. We are by Gods deisgn or by natures design ultimately here to continue our race, to pro-create and homosexuals cannot do that.

Children need both a mother and father for a balanced up bringing, this is the best we can do but it is not always possible, but gay parents I don't think it's such a good idea.

Can you be christian and gay...now that's a whole other deabte.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Mike

Thank you for your comments. They got me thinking about the whole subject, and I just have a few comments:

ultimately here to continue our race, to pro-create and homosexuals cannot do that.

I know that many heterosexual couples who can’t procreate (due to medical problems). Some couples also choose not to have children. But I don’t see anybody making a fuss about their marriages.

Is homosexuality natural? I don't think so. We are by Gods deisgn or by natures design

How are you defining ‘natural’ here? What criteria are you using to determine what is natural and what is unnatural? The reason I ask is that I hear this argument all the time, but few explain what they mean by the word ‘natural’.

All the best
Kevin

Mike said...

Hi Kevin and all,

BTW Kevin you addressed your last post to me but they were marc's comments.

I think you have a point when you say that Christians should be concerned about marriage in general. Marriages are crumbling at an alarming rate and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

So I was wondering, what resources might atheism provide to help marriages? If we agree that stable, loving families should be promoted and encouraged in societies, then what insights might atheism provide us with to do this? What moral truths might atheism stand on to tackle this problem?

marc said...

Kevin. Not having the ability to concieve and not having the organs to have children are somewhat different.

Help such as IVF for couples who cannot have children due to a medical condition as opposed a sexuality. And you are right some couples do choose but for homosexuals their is no choice.

Nothing can be done for homosexuals to have children, it is and will always remain a physical impossibility.

Well I look at this in two ways:

1. If you are a Christian it is generally accepted that God is not in favour of homosexual relationships.

2. The opposite of this is the natural world where we are descended from apes, if all the apes had been homosexual then there would be no us and so the prime motivation for animals is to procreate.

Is there a middle ground that I am missing?

Skywolf said...

I think the middle ground comes firmly from the fact that people do not have partnerships with others purely to procreate. Procreation is, of course, important, but I would argue again that it's a very good thing a significant proportion of people don't procreate (for whatever reason), or the human race would become ridiculously overpopulated. Some would argue that it already has, but that's a different discussion...

My point is that a man and a woman don't fall in love, marry, and spend the rest of their lives together out of a sense of duty to keep the human race going. They spend their lives together because they love each other and because they desire that level of deep companionship. Following your logic leads to a conclusion that once the having of children is over, the marriage isn't valid. What's the point in an older couple staying together once they can no longer have kids?

The point is that they love each other. The point is, to me, that marriage, or any spousal relationship, is about love and a sharing of lives. And I cannot see how homosexual relationships can be excluded from this. I have a lesbian friend who is in a deeply committed relationship with her partner. They have no desire for children. I, personally, am in a deeply committed heterosexual relationship, and we also have no desire for children. Would you argue that one relationship had more validity than the other, or would you dismiss them both as 'unnatural' or somehow wrong? Because I simply can't see a difference.

marc said...

I suppose the question would be 'why would you want a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex?

Men and women have all the attributes for a fully natural sexual loving relationship.

Same sex couples just don't, there is no way round that i'm afraid. That's not too say that they can't love each other but not in a natural sexual realtionship.

I would ask why is it when we are not in any way designed for a fully sexual loving same sex relationship that it is percieved as natural and normal when it clealry isn't?

tichius said...

I agree with Marc. You cannot argue that same-sex couples can raise children the same way a man and woman can. One of my professors is lesbian, and she and her partner are raising three boys. You cannot logically argue that two women can teach these boys to be men.

Legalizing gay marriage is not just ignoring a standard, but removing it completely.

If you say that marriage is no longer a loving relationship between a man and a woman, then what can it become? Anything.

There are pedifiles who argue that they love the objects of their affection, should they not also be respected for what they chose? Are we not discriminating against them by saying it's wrong?

Where do you draw the line?

There has to be structure, or freedom is no longer free.

Freedom does not mean anyone can do whatever they want, going wherever their sexual impulses lead them. Think of what kind of society that would be.

CS Lewis says, in his Great Divorice, that one may be free to enjoy drinking water and be refreshed, but he is not free to also enjoy being dry.

eddie{F} said...

You cannot argue that same-sex couples can raise children the same way a man and woman can.
Perhaps you didn’t look at the link I provided earlier – children raised by homosexuals do slightly better. Your argument becomes even more moot with the divorce rate among Christians in America at the current rate. Of course a mother and a father is the best configuration for a child, but most homosexuals opt not to have children, but when they do, their children is not off worse than the average *christian* kid in America. Furthermore, going back to Biblical times, it’s more about the community they are surrounded with that shapes them as human beings, as opposed to only the sex of their parents.

One of my professors is lesbian, and she and her partner are raising three boys. You cannot logically argue that two women can teach these boys to be men.
Uhm, don’t how that relates, but most boys learn to be boys around other boys and not their fathers necessarily.

Legalizing gay marriage is not just ignoring a standard, but removing it completely.
Define your standard? Does it look something like marriage in the Old Testament or in the New Testament? Are you for polygamy and marrying off your daughter at the age of 13? If not, why not? After all, it’s the standard according to your Bible. That’s what the “traditional” marriage looked like.

If you say that marriage is no longer a loving relationship between a man and a woman, then what can it become? Anything.
That’s an argument from adverse consequences, and no-one says that it could be anything, but why could it not be at a minimum what society accepts today, less the restriction on the sex of the couple? How could gay marriage possibly harm you or your family? What exactly is it that you are afraid of?

There are pedifiles who argue that they love the objects of their affection, should they not also be respected for what they chose? Are we not discriminating against them by saying it's wrong?
Pedophilia is non consensual abuse an adult inflicts on a minor. The average homosexual relationship is between two CONSENTING adults. There is a difference.

Where do you draw the line?
The minute it harms you or any of our fellow creatures, then we can draw the line, but definitely not where uneducated and scientifically ignorant Bronze Age tribesmen decided it should be.

There has to be structure, or freedom is no longer free.
If freedom is no longer free then it wasn’t freedom to begin with. Problem is, you really have no right to take away the freedom from another human being to decide what they would like to do with their bodies, unless it harms you.

Freedom does not mean anyone can do whatever they want, going wherever their sexual impulses lead them. Think of what kind of society that would be.
Another argument from adverse consequences. There is a difference between normal sexual impulses and perverted sexual impulses.

Just as a matter of interest: do you think homosexuality is a choice or that homosexuals are born that way?

Kevin Parry said...

Mike wrote
BTW Kevin you addressed your last post to me but they were marc's comments.

Oops! My mistake! I sincerely apologise to you and Marc. There was so much discussion taking place on this post I got mixed up between all the comments. I think I should slow down when writing comments - I press the send button too quickly! :-)

You, Tichius, Marc, SkyWolf and eddie have raised very interesting points here. I’m busy compiling a response and will post up next week.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment

Arizona Expositor said...

I know people here in the US who oppose gay marriage because they believe it will lead to polygamy again. Their argument is that polygamist groups will argue under the equal proctection clause of our constitution.

As a former mormon who once opposed gay marriage because it isn't sactioned by the Bible, as I have lost my faith the arguments against gay marriage fade away as well. It's not like our societies will fall apart.

Lui said...

From what I understand, homosexuality is not something that homosexual people "choose". (there's no good reason for human exceptionalism here. There are many species, most notoriously the bonobo chimpanzee, who's members engage in rampant homosexual activity, and given that WE are primates and therefore members of the animal kingdom, I see ourselves as being another example) This doesn't mean that all homosexual activities are done by homosexuals, however. Heterosexuals are not above experimentation. Even then I would not oppose it. If I were to engage in sex with a man, I don't think I'd feel guilty. (It doesn't mean I WANT to do it, only that IF I were to do it, my feelings afterward wouldn't include feelings about its "morality") When told that homosexuality should be opposed, my attitude tends to be, "So when does what other people do in the bedroom start being any of MY business?" The only restrictions I would place on sexual activity are that children not be exposed to it (first and foremost), that all sexual activity is fully consensual, that those infected with an STD (at least a serious one like HIV) be obliged to inform their partner of their condition, and MAYBE that it should be mandatory to use contraceptives. Outside of that, I couldn't care less.

Skywolf said...

When told that homosexuality should be opposed, my attitude tends to be, "So when does what other people do in the bedroom start being any of MY business?"

I couldn't agree more. As long as sexual activity occurs in privacy between consenting adults, it's nobody else's business. Even between heterosexual couples, there are certain bedroom activities that one couple might engage in that another couple might totally shy away from. That doesn't make one right and the other wrong - it just means that sexual preferences and activity are extremely varied and a question of personal preference. If a heterosexual couple engages in S&M, would you condemn that as well because you, personally, wouldn't enjoy it? Or because the Bible doesn't advocate it?

The point has been brought up regarding where to draw the line... I would argue precisely the same in reverse. If you condemn consensual sexual activity between adults of the same gender, what other forms of activity would you declare 'unnatural' for two adults? A preference is just that... a preference. What I prefer may not be what you prefer, but I don't choose to restrict you and discriminate against you because I don't have the same preferences as you.

That said, I do not believe that homosexuality, for those predisposed to it and with no heterosexual feelings at all, is in any way a choice. To gay people, their feelings are completely natural. To deny them, as so many end up forced to do, is what is unnatural, and causes huge amounts of pain and confusion.

marc said...

Not all sexual activity between husmans is healthy. There are instances when it is taken too far with dire consequences.

Damage can also be mental as well as psychological, there should be some standard we should all live by

Mike said...

Hi Lui and Skywolf,

I would be very careful with the privacy argument. If two adults consent to something in private, does this mean it is always right and should be allowed? How about drug use? How about cutting each other's arms and legs with knives? How about infecting each other with viruses?

The real question is whether homosexuality is damaging to the persons engaging in it. That is why we have drug laws, because we believe as a society that it damages the person and the people associated with that person. But the jury is still out on homosexuality. Most people probably believe that there is no harm done. No harm, no foul. But this still needs to be investigated, and I suppose that we will see more and more studies on this in the next several years, like the one that Eddie cited above about gay parenting.

Jason Hughes said...

Tichius, you said: Legalizing gay marriage is not just ignoring a standard, but removing it completely.

If you say that marriage is no longer a loving relationship between a man and a woman, then what can it become? Anything. There are pedifiles who argue that they love the objects of their affection, should they not also be respected for what they chose? Are we not discriminating against them by saying it's wrong? Where do you draw the line?


Here is a post I wrote back in May of this year which tells where the line is, and why there is no slippery slope about pedophilia, beastiality, and incest in regards to homosexual relationships. I hope you find it enlightening: Incest, Bestiality, and Pedophilia... Oh My!

Kevin Parry said...

Mike wrote:
So I was wondering, what resources might atheism provide to help marriages?

I’ve given your question some thought, and I would suggest – and I stand corrected here – that atheism doesn’t have anything to say on this issue. Correct me if I am wrong, but your question suggests that the successfulness of marriage is somehow linked to a belief (or unbelief) in God. I don’t think that there is any link at all: there are many Christian marriages; some that are successful, some that fail. There are many atheistic marriages; some that also fail and some that succeed.

So atheism has no prescribed resources because marriage is not built, and does not depend, on a belief (or unbelief) in God.

Marc wrote:
Men and women have all the attributes for a fully natural sexual loving relationship. Same sex couples just don't, there is no way round that i'm afraid.

As far as I understand, and I could be wrong here, homosexual couples can satisfy each other sexually.

Mike said...

Hi Kevin,

I think you miss the point, but you are right that I believe that success in marriage is linked to God. What I am not saying is that if you believe in God you will have a successful marriage. Just because someone says "I believe in God" this doesn't mean that success in marriage is guaranteed. Success in marriage depends on the people making choices themselves to do or not do certain things, to think or not think in certain ways throughout their marriage.

Certainly there are successful marriages among atheists. But what I am asking is what resources can an atheist worldview provide to help a rocky marriage? To help a marriage become even better? Of course, we can just take the position that if two people "fall out of love" then they should just split. But isn't this giving in too soon to self-centeredness and fleeting feelings? What about the children? And isn't love greater than our emotions? Can't two people work through their differences? What can an atheist worldview provide us with for this problem (if indeed we even see it as a problem)?

marc said...

Kevin wrote:
As far as I understand, and I could be wrong here, homosexual couples can satisfy each other sexually.

That's not what I was saying Kevin, I said homosexual will never have a fully natural sexual loving relationship because, quite simply because they are not made for it and will never know that natural fullfilment.

Jason Hughes said...

mike: the phone book is chock-full of secular marriage counselors that help couples deal with their issues and problems. just because you don't look towards the bible for help, or to a counselor who works from a biblical perspective, doesn't mean there isn't hope or promise of something better.

marc: Um, I feel naturally satisifed. Is it just me?

I could argue you'll never be sexually satisifed until you've had a man--where does that leave us? (Probably with you going "EWW!!! I would never!")

So I guess I have to ask, what is natural? I mean, if we as human beings engage in it, it must be natural, right? Now going on a computer and typing on a machine is certaionly not natural, but here we are, talking away worlds apart form each other... no other animals go to church, bow in prayer, so one could argue, since this is also not seen in nature except by us, this is unnatural. Then, of course, we humans do a lot of things the animals don't, but we also do a lot of things that the animals do do, homosexuality among them--so what is this "natural" view point you are arguing from?

Lui said...

If homosexuality is "against God's will", then I suppose God should have been more careful when he created us. God is, afterall, the inventor of homosexuality if we're to take the creationist account seriously. If we adopt the theistic evolutionary approach, then homosexuality is also "God's will". And if there is no God to begin with, then homosexuality is as natural as anything else anyway. If you want to oppose homosexuality, then it had better not have anything to do with God or nature.

Marc, you said: "That's not what I was saying Kevin, I said homosexual will never have a fully natural sexual loving relationship because, quite simply because they are not made for it and will never know that natural fullfilment." I ask: what has that to do with you?

eddie{F} said...

marc: Um, I feel naturally satisfied. Is it just me?
Me too – Marc has yet to define “natural” or “fully” without twisting the definition to fit the straight world as well. Who gets to define “natural?” As someone who had it “both” ways, I can implicitly tell you that the homosexual way is the only way that feels “natural” to me. So, how about that Marc?

marc said...

Lui - ." I ask: what has that to do with you?

It's part of the discussion, if you don't want to hear other opinions then you may be in the wrong place.

Eddie. OK - Natural. Lets see. Men and Women are created with the sex organs that fit together, they are made for that specific use - that is what I would consider natural.

So eddie are you saying that if it feels natrual then that make behaviour correct because that is a very slippery slope. I mean there are paedaphiles that say their sexual desire feels natural to them but it clearly isn't natural is it.

marc said...

Jason

marc: Um, I feel naturally satisifed. Is it just me?

that quote wasnt me.

Jason Hughes said...

Um, yes, it was, marc... you said ...quite simply because they are not made for it and will never know that natural fullfilment.

Jason Hughes said...

Oh, I get it; I was responding to the "they are not made for it" by saying to marc and my response was, "I feel satisifed." I just left out the "to" part of "to marc."

Is that clearer? :)

eddie{F} said...

Men and Women are created with the sex organs that fit together, they are made for that specific use - that is what I would consider natural.
So are you saying that it’s the only way to stimulate those organs? I.E. – that one has to “fit” into the other? You do realize that both men and woman can reach orgasms without anything fitting into anything? So, is it unnatural for two heterosexual people to reach orgasm without penetration? Your premise seems to indicate this. Or do you believe the missionary position is the only “natural” acceptable method of sex? (Sorry for being graphic here.)

So eddie are you saying that if it feels natrual then that make behaviour correct because that is a very slippery slope. I mean there are paedaphiles that say their sexual desire feels natural to them but it clearly isn't natural is it.
You are setting up a false dichotomy between homosexuality and pedophilia, and I think we already answered that one efficiently.

marc said...

At the end of the day I don't believe homosexuality is a natural state because you do not have the organs to reproduce if you wish.

Homosexuals don't and there is nothing that can be said to change that. If we were all homosexuals the human race would die out and that goes against the theory of evolution and Gods plan for the human race.

As a Christian I have no prejudices against homosexuals, any homosexual would be welcome in my church and my home but I'm afraid I can't agree it's a natural state of affairs.

Skywolf said...

If we were all homosexuals the human race would die out

And if we were all reproducing heterosexuals, the human race would need culling.

It would never do for us all to be the same. And the fact that something is natural doesn't mean that we all have to share it. Personally, I see nothing unnatural about homosexuality, as I illustrated at the beginning of this discussion. That doesn't mean I think everyone should be gay.

Brown eyes are natural. That doesn't mean other eye colours are unnatural. Heterosexuality is natural... but that doesn't mean homosexuality isn't.

Jason Hughes said...

skywolf you mean, we don't already need a good culling? LOL!

and marc? Homosexuals can reproduce, just not with their chosen partners... :)

Not that you don't know that, but people seem to think that us homo's don't have kids; we adopt kids, we do the surrogacy thing, we do what we have to (like a lot of barren straight couples) to have the families (some of us) dream of. Just because I will never be (nor will I ever impregnate) someone else via a sexual act doesn't mean we don't have kids--we just go about it a bit differently...

Could that be considered unnatural also? Perhaps. But so would in vitro. And even animals adopt kids. We've all heard the stories about a dog who found kittens and nurses them with her own pups; or the goat and the baby calf that lost it's mother; even one more recently where a baby rhino whose mother died asopted a giant tortoise as it's mother...

Just some food for thought.

Catch y'all later!

eddie{F} said...

At the end of the day I don't believe homosexuality is a natural state because you do not have the organs to reproduce if you wish.
So, you ONLY have sex with you partner/spouse to reproduce? More than that would be “unnatural.” Of fucking course homosexuals have all the necessary organs to “reproduce” – maybe just not your definition of it.

Homosexuals don't and there is nothing that can be said to change that.
I beg to differ – there is more than ONE way to reproduce.

As a Christian I have no prejudices against homosexuals, any homosexual would be welcome in my church and my home but I'm afraid I can't agree it's a natural state of affairs.
You keep spinning your wheels on “natural” and you keep twisting the definition to fit your presupposition. Well Marc, you are wrong.

marc said...

Discussion and opinions go both ways eddie, mine is as valid as yours but it does seem that you are incapable of accepting that someone else may have a differing opinion.

So think what you want or grow and learn, the choice is yours.

eddie{F} said...

Discussion and opinions go both ways eddie, mine is as valid as yours but it does seem that you are incapable of accepting that someone else may have a differing opinion.
Please Marc, I didn’t deny you your opinion, I simply gave you MY opinion that I think YOUR opinion was wrong because of your circular logic.
And I wish the same for you: think what you want …

Lui said...

Humans have the same underlying biological structures as other mammals. We are capable of doing harm as well as acting out kindness and selflessness. Where we differ from other mammals is that we are capable of thinking through the moral implications of our actions. No one would claim, for example, that just because we're predisposed to commit acts of violence in certain circumstances that therefore we should. Likewise, no one would claim that just because it would serve the interests of our genes to hold giant harems and to rape and pillage that we should go ahead and do it. We want other people to treat us as they would like to be treated, and vice versa. Our moral system is based predominantly on the notion that we're conscious beings with feelings, entitled to protection from unwarranted harm and fear. Since, clearly, what's natural isn't always "good", our reasons for opposing homosexuality had better have nothing to do with assumptions about nature. That's a NEUTRAL point of view. It's just saying that to determine whether something is moral or not, we need to look at whether that something will result in someone else being harmed. We have to rise ABOVE our human nature and evaluate what a particular action will do to perpetuate or lessen our suffering; instead of simply subscribing to the notion that what's natural is good for us. Selfishness is natural in some circumstances, but we can still circumvent it by knowing how our actions will affect others. Homosexuality in humans appears to be the result of maternal influences in the womb and possibly genetics. We observe its occurrence in many other species, and we now understand that it isn't learned in those of us who are homosexual. Is homosexuality harmful? Or does it just offend our sensibilities? I argue that if we try to ban it, or curtail it, we only end up violating the moral system we hold so dear: we hurt other peoples' feelings by preventing them from doing something that doesn't harm anyone. We've become, essentially, hypocrites.
There is actually no slippery slope in this case. There's a clear difference between consensual homosexual acts between two (or more) adults on the one hand, and abusing children on the other. The latter had no say in the matter; they are having their innocence taken away from them, and any conscientious person, hetero or homosexual, opposes it in the strongest possible terms. With homosexuality I really can't see what all the fuss is about.
Finally, and on a similar note, it's true that the penis and the vagina evolved to complement each other for the purpose of reproduction. But that doesn't mean that "therefore" we're obliged to use them for that functional purpose. The side effect of having genitals is that they can be used in other ways to attain stimulation, and this itself presents a selection pressure to use them for the purposes of social bonding. (like in bonobo chimpanzees) Many heterosexual couples choose never to have children. This is at least as "unnatural" as a homosexual couple rasing a child. If anything, this really IS unnatural because they clearly have the ability to produce offspring and COULD if they so chose to, but instead choose to just have sex for pleasure or intimacy. If we're going to ban homosexual marriage, then let's also be consistent and require all couples to have at least one child. But if we do that, we keep on putting strain on the planet by overpopulation. And for what? The real slippery slope is banning gay marriage.

Kevin Parry said...

Mike wrote:
But what I am asking is what resources can an atheist worldview provide to help a rocky marriage? To help a marriage become even better?

As Jason mentioned, there are many non-Christian counseling methods that aim to keep marriages in place.

Mike said...

Hi Kevin and Jason,

I'm sorry but the mere presence of counselors does not mean that they have anything helpful or meaningful to say, and I would argue that it doesn't appear to be doing much good. This applies to both Christians and non-Christian counseling. What I am inquiring about is the actual content of the counseling... What ideas actually work? What ideas can really keep marriages together and thriving? What ideas can an atheist use and still be rationally consistent with his/her worldview? I would argue that the idea of unconditional love is the only idea that can cover all marital problems, and you can only get unconditional love (rationally that is) with God in the picture.

Jason Hughes said...

Hey Mike,

Having never had marital counseling, I have no idea what the content is. Knowing a few couples that have gone through it, both in a Christian and a non-Christian way, I can say that all the couples had unique problems, unique situations, and were given unique things with which to do to help them work through their problems.

You seem to conclude that "unconditional love" is not only the answer the all marital problems, but that a secular counseling service wouldn't even know of the concept--why is that? Unconditional love is certainly not unique to the christian faith; plus, dpeending on your brand of Christian faith, unconditional love isn't even part of the package.

Many cultures around the world have an ideal of love, a perfect picture of what unconditional love is and how to attain it. God is not a factor. Only people are. And only two people are when talking about a marriage--everyone else is baggage.

Are you implying there is no meaning outside of god? I think you tried posing that scenario earlier up in the conversation...

Meaning is irrelevant, in that, what I find meaningful you may think is total bunk. What you find meaningful I miught find to be a load of crap. Ever hear the phrase "One man's trash is another man's treasure"? One man's heaven is another's hell. One man's god is another's devil--ask any witch during the Salem Witch Trials... she'll tell you...

You are trying to find a universal where one doesn't exist, and ascribe a value to an non-constant. Love is an emotion, a feeling, and as such, is not only nonmeasureable, it is unknowable to any but the feeler of the love. Anyone else takes expressed love on faith, whether that be verbal, physical, mental, what-have-you. No one knows "how much" love is too much, too little, too many conditions, too little conditions, not sacrificial enough--everyone ascribes to themselves their own meaning of how much love--and how to give it, show it, recieve it, acknowledge it--in their own way. Counseling helps people to see how the other one tries to communicate not only their needs for love and its shown expressions, whether perceived or not, as well as the other myriad of emotions which are just as vitally important as love such as anger, jealousy, grief, sympathy, empathy, happiness, joy, sadness, despair--all these feelings and more are what goes into any relationship--not just marital ones. Counselors are there to help two people pick up on each other's signals, how to interpret them, how to communicate them, all of which are usually based on the models they each grew up with. God is nothing more than a metaphor, a cructh as it were, to help people understand that, and the world around them.

Granted, just my two cents, but unconditional love has nothing to do with god. Just everything to do with people...

Mike said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks for thinking about this with me, but I really don't think you have a grasp of what unconditional love really means. I think you used the term without knowing what it describes. You said:

"Love is an emotion, a feeling, and as such, is not only nonmeasureable, it is unknowable to any but the feeler of the love."

I'm afraid that this is a very deficient view of what love is. Sure, emotions are a huge part of love, but not all. What about when the feelings aren't there? What about when the other person says, "I hate you and I wish you were dead!" What about when you start feeling that same way toward someone else, maybe even your spouse, yet you sense deep down that you ought to love them. Love often times is a decision, not a feeling, and its grounded on a belief in the value of the other person. Often the feelings come after the decision, a natural byproduct of the decision. Unconditional love is love for someone else NO MATTER WHAT THE OTHER PERSON GIVES YOU. It is love for the unlovable, love for the enemy, love for the one who spits at you and wishes you were dead. It is in short, the love that Jesus displayed and the love he taught. This kind of love can only be grounded in a view that places a priceless value on other people, and I don't know of a worldview that gives each person a priceless value without God in the picture. There may be a worldview that SAYS people are priceless, but the metaphysical facts of the view don't support the claim. You can't just say, "Each person has an infinite value" and not have any metaphysical reason why this is the case. I believe you argued that many people know what unconditional love is and yet they don't believe in God, but my point is not whether someone knows what it is, but whether their worldview can rationally allow the concept - whether they can be consistent with their worldview and still champion unconditional love as the ideal.

Your view of love is also shown to be a bit deficient in your writing about how counselors help people. You said:

"Counseling helps people to see how the other one tries to communicate not only their needs for love and its shown expressions, whether perceived or not, as well as the other myriad of emotions which are just as vitally important as love such as anger, jealousy, grief, sympathy, empathy, happiness, joy, sadness, despair--all these feelings and more are what goes into any relationship--not just marital ones. Counselors are there to help two people pick up on each other's signals, how to interpret them, how to communicate them, all of which are usually based on the models they each grew up with."

Just to be clear, I agree that this is good, to learn how to listen to the other person, pick up their signals, take action to meet their needs, etc. But it is incomplete. What happens when the other person is not meeting my needs to my satisfaction? The tendency is to reduce the amount of love that I give back. And then when the other person sees that I am not giving as much love, he/she starts reducing their love for me even more, and people get caught in this vicious cycle. I think this whole scenario takes place so much because our view of love is too small, we think our spouse must earn our love, do good for me and I will do good for you... i.e., "My love is based on what you can give me. If you stop giving me love then I'll stop loving you." But if marriage is based on unconditional love, a decision to love this other person no mattter what, even when times are really tough... this view I think will clearly save more marriages than the view you have given. Now don't get me wrong, some marriages need to end, like in abusive situations, and when a spouse just quits and leaves... But the point is that unconditional love as a basis for marriage can go so much farther in helping people than the common "love me right and I'll love you right" view.

Jason Hughes said...

I have actually spoken briefly on my own blog about how love is definately a choice--I have to practice that with even my own flesh and blood at times! But choosing to feel something is still a feeling, i.e., I choose to love this person out of _____(obligation, duty, stubborness, hope). You can just as easily choose to hate as you choose to love...

And while you may decide to love a person no matter what, you are choosing to push this feeling to the forefront despite the other conflicting emotions you are feeling about this person you are wishing to show the love to. And how does one show love? Through communication, doing things, sometimes sacrificing, a touch, a kiss, a hug, a whisper... but they take it all on faith, as they know neither foir sure what you arte thinking or feeling, but can only surmise through what you express towards them...

I think you stopped thinking of anything but love when you came to the terms of what it means to be "unconditional." Of course you're right in that, despite the love you feel for someone you need to let them go... to show unconditional tough love, as it were.. :)

But just because you choose to love someone no matter what, not only does it not require a knowledge of god or jesus, it does require a working toward communicating your choice of feeling, why, how, and what the other person in the relationship also wants to show, feel, and communicate, all of which a counselor can point out and help with... The view I have given encompasses how to show the love, and, if the couple is seeking counseling (whether through the church or a secular organization), the fact that they are in counseling shows they are choosing to work through the tough times, to save the love they know they have for each other. It is taking your wish to show unconditional love into practical application. "Unconditional love" is a nice, fuzzy-warm idea, but without practical application, and sometimes a third-party to show how to utilize the practicality of your decisions to fight for what you _________(have, had, need, want) with the one you are choosing to fight for and with, unconditional love is nothing more than an ideal. You can choose to love someone unconditionally all you want, but if you don't know how to show it, how to communicate it, how to take that person and say "I love you no matter what," it's bunk and meaningless.

You again don't need a church or god to realize unconditional love, and you don't need them for showing that love either. You are still trying to marry the idea of uncondtional love to a religious entity or deity, but both are just middlemen that are unnecessary if your hearts are in the right place.

I don't know what kind of household you grew up in. My mother grew up in a house of total, conditional love. My grandmothers love for anyone in her family is always based on what we can do for her, what we can give to her, what the world in fact owes her, so my mom made doubly sure to make our house a home of unconditional, unselfish love. No strings attached, no limited warranty.

At times I'm sure she had to decide to love us. She had five kids in six years, probably went temporarily insane at that time, but none of us ever felt unloved. She chose to feel that for us, made it a counscious choice (but still just a feeling), and acted accordingly, in ways that would communicate her decision to feel that way.

I'm getting kind of rambly (sorry!), so, to summarize:

Love is a feeling, even if it is a chosen feeling. To love unconditionally needs no god. It only needs people who know they are worth fighting for. Which, I'm guessing, is why they sought counseling in the first place. They are putting their relationship above their individuality to an extent that requires an effort that run-of-the-mill wouldn't have happening.

You asked, "What happens when the person is not meeting my needs?" Is that really a factor in unconditional love? Even so, isn't that why you sought counseling? To understand what is going on between you and your partner? So that you can both learn how to meet each others needs? Perhaps I'm missing something in your argument... but I still don't see your connection between needing a christian perspective as opposed to a secular one...

Mike said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks again for the dialogue. I think you are caught in a mindset that many people find themselves in... The issue is not whether we can know or choose unconditional love, it is whether our worldview makes it rational to do so. Why is choosing to love others unconditionally the rational thing to do, as opposed to conditional love, given atheism? In my mind, if your worldview is atheistic, you can be rational with either choice. There is nothing in the worldview itself that would rationally compel someone one way or the other. Good arguments could be given for both sides - choosing to be an unconditionally loving person or a conditionally loving person. There is nothing within the worldview that would tip the scales. If you think there is I would like to hear it.

Most of have the ideal of unconditional love in our minds, but what is it that makes it an ideal? Can atheism provide a rational ground for this as an objective ideal?

Lui said...

Why does it need to provide something "objective"? Morality is no more "objective" whether one believes in God or is an atheist. Religion simply passes on this thing called "morality" to a higher entity, without really explaining anything. For example, consider "Is it immoral to torture babies because God says it is, or does God oppose the torture of babies because it is immoral"? If God has free will, then he can commit immoral acts if he so wanted. But why doesn't he? "Because such acts are immoral, so God wouldn't commit them." But again, why are they immoral? If God said to everyone, go forth and kill every child in the village, would it then be okay to do so? Or would it be immoral to not do as God wishes? But then, on what objective grounds would you disobey? “It’s horrible, I don’t want to murder children.” But why is it “horrible” if God wills it? Apparently God gave such commands in the blood-drenched stories of the Bible. It is because such acts are naturally repulsive to our internal, evolved sense of ethics that most of us don't live exactly the way the Bible wanted. (and there are practical limitations to how many people you can kill when you're trading with them) I guess that's the closest you can come to an objective account of ethics: that it is itself an evolved trait, and that we hesitate to do certain things because of the evolutionary constraints imposed by living in groups. (even monkeys will sacrifice food to stop another monkey being shocked with electricity) But the forces that gave rise to it are indifferent and incapable of moral judgements.
All this applies to love. Really, who cares whether it's "rational" to choose going on living instead of committing suicide in a universe that is "objectively meaningless"? Atheists don’t think in terms of atoms bumping into each other when they decide on a course of action. We're human beings. We live for each other and ourselves, we have feelings that can ultimately be reduced to the interaction between matter but which we still cherish for what they give us as a result. If someone has an orgasm, they don't appreciate it because they're fascinated with the intricate workings of the brain. They appreciate it because it feels good. We live in the proximate, no the ultimate. God is modelled on us, not the other way around. He has the (human) ethics we prescribe to him (whether "good" or "bad"), because we want to think that the universe was made by a force with our ethics in mind. The reasoning is circular. Religious ethics are no more "objective" than atheist ethics.

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

I believe your reasoning is confused in a few areas. You wrote:

“Religion simply passes on this thing called "morality" to a higher entity, without really explaining anything. For example, consider "Is it immoral to torture babies because God says it is, or does God oppose the torture of babies because it is immoral"? If God has free will, then he can commit immoral acts if he so wanted. But why doesn't he? "Because such acts are immoral, so God wouldn't commit them." But again, why are they immoral?”

Your argument hinges on a faulty conception of free will and a faulty conception of the grounding of morals. First of all, free will is not to be understood (as it commonly is misunderstood) as “being able to choose any course of action.” Can you choose to flap your arms and fly? No, nor can any human being. Does this mean that humans don’t have free will? No, it just means that our human nature does not allow us to do certain things. But we still make free choices. So it is with God – God’s nature is perfectly good. It’s not so much that he CANNOT choose evil as it is that he does not WANT to do evil, because it’s evil! God does not think to himself, “Boy I wish I was able to do evil… confound this perfectly good nature that restrains my freedom!” No, God knows evil for what it is, and his character is so maximally good that he will never ever do evil.

Second, you ask the question, “Why are immoral acts immoral?” You seem to argue that there is no ground of morality if it is not based on God’s decision, and if it is based on God’s decision than this is just arbitrary. There is a third option that you did not consider. I think it best to understand objective morals as grounded in God’s character, his nature. God’s character provides the foundation for the goodness and badness of all things, and that’s where the objectivity arises because God is the understood as the Creator and provident sustainer of the entire universe. Thus, our actions no matter where we are, when we are, or who we are, are always measured against God’s character. If you don’t believe this explains as well as your explanation, well we will just have to agree to disagree. Although you do seem to abandon objective morals altogether, which I believe is a very shaky position to take because it leaves you with no rational ground to criticize the moral decisions of others, like the Nazis, the Taliban, and Christian fundamentalists to name a few groups.

You brought up some of the questionable stories in the Old Testament about God ordering violence against others (including children). This is a very difficult subject indeed, but there have been many Christian writers who have tried to tackle this issue. There is a recently written book called “Four Views on the Canaanite Genocide” which I have not read but it sounds interesting. I am simply not able to discuss this subject here without writing a whole lot.

Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

Lui said...

"No, God knows evil for what it is, and his character is so maximally good that he will never ever do evil."
And we're back to the beginning. It's all very well to say that God is perfectly "good". But what is "good", and why is God like that? Is it not enough to be good for the sake of goodness? Why must we invoke God to be good ro to even speak of morality? I certainly don't need to, and God is a million miles form my thoughts when I do something nice for someone else.

"You seem to argue that there is no ground of morality if it is not based on God’s decision, and if it is based on God’s decision than this is just arbitrary." I am arguing that morality is something that cannot help but being subjective. If morality is just defined as "God's character", then we are basing morality on something fundamentally unkowable. (everything below God is necessarily incapable of understanding him, otherwise he wouldn't be God, an infinite and all-powerful being)

"Although you do seem to abandon objective morals altogether, which I believe is a very shaky position to take because it leaves you with no rational ground to criticize the moral decisions of others, like the Nazis, the Taliban, and Christian fundamentalists to name a few groups."
My moral system is grounded in rationality, and that rationality tells me that morality is not an objective thing. There is no contradiction at all in that when you really think it through. I make no appeal to unsubstantiated entities for which there is no scientific evidence; I take into account people's feelings because I can empathise with them, as no doubt you can too. The Nazis and the Taliban were quite incapable of employing these emotions to the extent that would have stopped them from carying out atrocities. And they caried out these atrocities thinking they had the full moral support of God. They believed that their cause was righteous. It is on the grounds of empathy that I oppose what these people did. The victims of the gas chambers, the beaheading of infidels, the struggle to teach superstition in science classrooms, all were/are seen as legitimate goals by many a fanatic. (who don't even THINK of themselves as fanatics)

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

Our dialogues just keep getting longer and longer lol

You say:
“It's all very well to say that God is perfectly "good". But what is "good", and why is God like that? Is it not enough to be good for the sake of goodness? Why must we invoke God to be good ro to even speak of morality? I certainly don't need to, and God is a million miles form my thoughts when I do something nice for someone else."

I put the question back to you: What is "good"? You believe in "good" apparently, but what is it? Is it objective? Is it just your opinion? What is evil? Are there things that are really wrong all the time, despite what peoples' opinions are? The question is not whether you Lui KNOW what good is, again, the question is HOW YOUR WORLDVIEW CAN RATIONALLY JUSTIFY THE EXISTENCE OF OBJECTIVE GOOD. It's a metaphysical question, not an epistemological one.

You then say:
"I am arguing that morality is something that cannot help but being subjective. If morality is just defined as "God's character", then we are basing morality on something fundamentally unknowable. (everything below God is necessarily incapable of understanding him, otherwise he wouldn't be God, an infinite and all-powerful being)."

So now you admit that you believe morality is subjective, but then why do you speak of doing good for goodness’ sake in the previous paragraph? Are you trying to convince us that you believe in doing good for goodness’ sake, even though there is no such thing as objective good for whose sake you are supposedly doing it? Is it because our society has agreed that certain things are good and certain things are bad, and so you want to reassure us that you agree with what the consensus of society believes? In that case, you do good because of what society thinks, or because of evolutionary programming, not for goodness’ sake. Remember, you believe that there is no goodness for whose sake you claim to be doing it.

And your thinking about the unknowability of God is clearly flawed. You argue: "everything below God is necessarily incapable of understanding him, otherwise he wouldn't be God, an infinite and all-powerful being)." So, because God is infinite and "above" us he is therefore unknowable? It seems that you are arguing that because we cannot know EVERYTHING about God, because we can never exhaust our knowledge of an infinite being, than we can't know ANYTHING about him? Do you know everything there is to know about the atom? No? Then you don't know anything about the atom… That obviously doesn't follow, right? Do you know everything about the universe? Clearly no. But we still know a lot about it don't we? You obviously know enough about God to talk about him, to say that he is all-powerful and the like. And most people on this planet think they know enough about God to talk about him, describe him, write about him, pray to him, think about him, etc. Plus, the concept of "infinite" when applied to God is not a given that all Christians believe. It's an issue that is debated among philosophers.

Then you write:
"My moral system is grounded in rationality, and that rationality tells me that morality is not an objective thing. There is no contradiction at all in that when you really think it through.”

Please think it through for me to show this, because I can’t see what you see.

“I make no appeal to unsubstantiated entities for which there is no scientific evidence; I take into account people's feelings because I can empathise with them."

So, rationality is your ground, and apparently this rationality leads you to think that science is the only avenue for knowledge. How did your rationality lead you to this conclusion, given the epistemological limits of science? And how do you account for the existence of reliable rationality via natural selection/evolution? I believe that rationality actually leads us to the belief in objective good. That is what I am trying to reason here.

Then you talk about empathizing with others feelings, and making moral judgments apparently on this. So, pain and suffering is something we ought to prevent because we know how it feels – it hurts – and we don’t want others to feel that. But why ought we to feel this way, given atheism? Isn’t someone rational within atheism to have no empathy for others? It seems to me that empathy is based on the value of other people, and your worldview has not provided us with an account of each person’s value. An atheist can be rational within atheism and believe that other people are valueless and can be used to serve whatever selfish purposes he/she may have. This is what Jeffrey Dahmer reasoned. If empathy alone is your moral compass, should we not be concerned about animal suffering too? Should we not campaign against the senseless killing of ants? Again Lui, the issue is not THAT you have empathy or moral sensibilities, it is WHY we should have them given atheism.

You can’t say that morality is subjective and then argue for morals that we ought to follow. This is just inconsistent. You can’t have it both ways.

Then you wrote:
"The Nazis and the Taliban were quite incapable of employing these emotions to the extent that would have stopped them from carying out atrocities. And they carried out these atrocities thinking they had the full moral support of God."

So, because some people commit atrocities because they think God approves, this somehow counts against the case for God… Is this why you brought this up? Because if so, it is interesting that the atrocities committed by Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, AND many if not most Nazis (check your history again) were done for the sake of atheism. Does this count against atheism? Can’t we just agree that there are crazy fanatics on both sides?

Lui said...

"Are you trying to convince us that you believe in doing good for goodness’ sake, even though there is no such thing as objective good for whose sake you are supposedly doing it?"
Yes, that is precisely my intention. As goodness cannot help but to be subjective, we must see treat it as such and see if we can come up with a more human-centric, utilitarian, empathy-laden, equitable conception of "good" rather than what all-or-nothing religious dogma would allow us.

"Remember, you believe that there is no goodness for whose sake you claim to be doing it."
I don't remember that because I never expressed it. I never said that there's no goodness for whose sake I claim to be doing it; (in fact I explicitly said the opposite, when I asked why isn't it good enough just to do things for the sake of goodness. Clearly, I do believe in good. I just deny that it's an objective "thing" out there in the world. Something doesn't have to be objective for it to be worthy of keeping. Nor am I, as an atheist, obliged in any way (whether you think it hypocritical or not is inconsequential to me) to abandon my moral sense just because of that. I see morality as something very special and very much worth fighting for largely because it's subjective. Perhaps I lack the vocabulary to express myself more clearly than I have thus far, but I will read more on the issue of morality to see if I can find the right words. It IS a difficult topic, but I see that as a challenge, not a reason to acquiesce.

"You argue: "everything below God is necessarily incapable of understanding him, otherwise he wouldn't be God, an infinite and all-powerful being)." So, because God is infinite and "above" us he is therefore unknowable? It seems that you are arguing that because we cannot know EVERYTHING about God, because we can never exhaust our knowledge of an infinite being, than we can't know ANYTHING about him?"
All I meant to convey here is that we cannot possibly know the ultimate reasons for God being how he is. If we want to know why God deems certain behaviours as "good", how many levels down can we go before our understanding begins to falter? That's what I meant by him being fundamentally unknowable - because we STILL won't know the reasons for why he is the way he is. Anything that could understand God in his entirety would be a deity in itself, and that deity could only be God. We might be able to know THAT God is good, but never really WHY he is good, because such explanations will soon become too complicated for the human mind to comprehend. And so we're left with explaining good by invoking something we'll NEVER understand (at a superficial level, we might, but not at a "God worthy" level). If we could deconstruct God and break him down into sub components, then he is no God at all.


"So, because some people commit atrocities because they think God approves, this somehow counts against the case for God… Is this why you brought this up? Because if so, it is interesting that the atrocities committed by...many if not most Nazis (check your history again) were done for the sake of atheism."
Actually, i'm afraid it's you who needs to check your history, as you uncritically swallow such fabrications. "If not most?" As if that is even a possibility that is clearly plausible? Where is your evidence that "many" Nazis committed their atrocities for the sake of atheism? This is clearly rubbish worthy of talkback radio shock jocks. The Nazis were religious and so was Hitler. They despised the Soviet Union for things INCLUDING its atheism and set out to destroy the USSR in the most ferocious war in human history. Many religionists have tried to whitewash the Nazis by claiming they were godless. But this flies in the face of reality. Certainly they were ruthless. But Hitler saw himself doing a favour to God by exterminating the Jews and especially the communists. How then can many Nazis who followed his orders have seen themselves as carrying out atrocities for the "sake of atheism"? My point in bringing up atrocities by the Taliban and the Nazis was to emphasise that commitment to God doesn't automatically mean kindness to others. That's just your interpretation of honouring God. There are others. Why is yours any more "legitimate" than those of the fundamentalists and the fascists? Hitler apparently drew inspiration from accounts in the Bible where the followers of God carried out mind-numbing atrocities. Perhaps it was they who were more diligently following the word of God. Again, it is no more objective. Or if it is, then I am still given no compelling reasons to suppose that your chosen morals are superior to theirs (no “objective” compelling reasons, at any rate).

"You believe in "good" apparently, but what is it? Is it objective?"
No, as I have stated repeatedly, I certainly do not think that good is objective, (as in, something which is "out there", beyond human minds) nor can it be. But to make it more "concrete", this can be said: there exists in every normal person (i.e. one that is not afflicted with psychopathy) a module in the mind that allows us to place ourselves in the shoes of someone else. We have an evolved moral sense, an empathy centre, and this moral sense makes us feel good when we help others. Then there is the issue of living in a peaceful society. There are practical reasons to treat others kindly. If we treat others kindly, we are likely to be treated kindly in turn. So it's in our interests as individuals to treat others, as we would like to be treated. And this means enforcing a social code whereby “our interests” really does mean everyone’s interests, not just some people’s interests some of the time, because that just defeats the purpose. As humans are also equipped with the ability to inflict cruelty, we need to invoke a conception of the value of kind behaviour in order to live our lives without constantly having to keep a look out for someone else's spear in our kidneys. And a society in which people treat each other well is a productive society, because people know that they're unlikely to be mistreated and are more likely to work towards the good of it. Morality is an emergent property of the mind, and like love, sexual pleasure and all the other emotions and sensations we as humans experience, it makes life special NOT because we think of it all in terms of mindless matter interacting but because of what these interactions convey to us AT THE END of the chain. That is where we live, not in the ultimate causes of physics. In a way, that's really what makes goodness special. If it were "objective", it wouldn't have that humanness to it. It would be the way that SOMEONE ELSE wants us to live, and for reasons that we cannot ultimately ever hope to decipher. It would be something we'd want to embody, but why exactly? So God made the universe. Is that in itself a compelling reason to act in a way he wants us to? If he loves us all unconditionally, we won't go to Hell because we choose not to be separated from God - except, suppose we choose to act like jerks. Why not act immorally and still revere God? Why not believe that God is on our side because he "made us this way"? I argue that in fact the goodness is all our own making. We invented God as the moral agent, but we give him OUR sense of morality, not the other way around. Religion is the cream on the moral cake that humanity cooked up, not the crust. The crust of that cake is innate, the product of evolution. It is our innate sense of empathy, an evolved trait (or the by-product of other evolved traits). Living in large groups forced us to adopt something special indeed, and God was the symbol and embodiment of that something. I respect and am interested by that, but I don't therefore agree with what it implies. I still think the goodness is ours, however we define that goodness. (I define it as "empathy for others by refraining from undue emotional or physical injury in the service of ourselves and others, perhaps ultimately for ourselves from an evolutionary point of view but who cares about that quibble")
To deconstruct and explain our most cherished emotions and beliefs is not to lose them, it is to appreciate and reconstruct them on a firmer foundation so that they may be perpetuated more effectively. The underlying mechanics of these things has a certain aesthetic to them (aesthetics itself being subjective, and something we can begin to understand in terms of matter), perhaps disarming potentially harmful behaviour when others are made aware of the intricacy of a human being. Having appreciated all these things for ourselves, we can see how we can appreciate them in other people by striving to know something about how they work. Certainly for me, it makes it harder to mistreat someone knowing that the same processes and mechanisms of thought and emotion are going on inside of them. In a very real sense, to hurt someone else is to disrespect three and a half billion years of evolution. To understand oneself in terms of material interactions is to understand others, and for me at least this is indeed a compelling reason, or "rationale" if you like, to behave morally. It disarms me; it prevents me from doing harm to others.
If all that is not a sufficient reason of why an atheist account might lead us to behave kindly to others, then I have failed. But at least rest assured knowing that even if you find these reasons wanting, I will do my utmost to maintain a moral code of conduct that you would be proud to abide by.

"Is it just your opinion? What is evil?"
Of course it's an opinion. And so is your conception of evil: it's what you think God regards as evil. And that, too, would be an opinion. You still give us no reasons why God would favour kindness over cruelty. Why does he want us to live one way instead of another?

"Are there things that are really wrong all the time, despite what peoples' opinions are?"
Most definitely. I'm not saying it's all about opinion; I'm saying it's about utilitarianism PLUS emotional wellbeing of those unable to protect themselves. I've often thought about what it would be like to invade a country where women are stoned for adultery. "Everyone" in the country might agree with adultery, but I don't prescribe to any sort of silly cultural relativism. There are customs that I whole-heartedly DISrespect. Some societies really are more civilised and (sorry if I offend anyone) just better than others.

"The question is not whether you Lui KNOW what good is, again, the question is HOW YOUR WORLDVIEW CAN RATIONALLY JUSTIFY THE EXISTENCE OF OBJECTIVE GOOD. It's a metaphysical question, not an epistemological one."
I don't believe it is, nor is it necessarily the case. There's no rule I'm aware of that obliges us to regard morality as a strictly metaphysical question, nor is there a rule that obliges us to regard it as a metaphysical question at all. Nor do I see my worldview as rationally justifying objective good, simply because I don't see that there is objective good whose existence is to be so justified. Your question doesn't apply to me.

"Then you write:
"My moral system is grounded in rationality, and that rationality tells me that morality is not an objective thing. There is no contradiction at all in that when you really think it through.”
Please think it through for me to show this, because I can’t see what you see."

It is simply this: there are things that, when one rationally analyses/looks at, turn out to be subjective and not something that exists as a separate concept out there in the world. Just because something can be analysed rationally does not automatically mean that it is something objective from the outset. Objectivity is not a prerequisite for something to be studied. That's all I meant to say.

By the way, I still need to reply to another of your posts! But not now, it's 2:03 in the morning over here.

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

I'm sorry but I will be going out of town for the next several days, and I sense that we aren't going to go any further with this, so this will be my last post. But I can't help ending with a few points:

- I will grant you the Nazi point, but you failed to address Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Khmer Rouge, and honestly I don't know why you can't agree that there are fanatics on both sides and so we shouldn't judge the idea system on those who abuse it. You ask me why my interpretation of following God is better than the Taliban's, but do you not see that the same question applies to you with respect to Stalin and the rest? So I hope this issue can just be dropped.

- I believe if you read through your last post, particularly your account of the grounding of morality, and the first few paragraphs, you might be able to see that you are actually arguing for both an objectivity and subjectivity of morals at the same time. In one paragraph you assert that moral judgments are just an opinion, and in the next paragraph you say it's not just an opinion, but it's based on other things like utilitarianism, empathy, etc. Now maybe we have a difference in understanding of what objectivity means, but to me one of the things that objectivity means is that there are rational grounds for why everyone should adopt a particular moral system. You seem to be trying to persuade others to adopt your morals based on empathy, rationality, societal peace (which boils down to self-interest), evolutionary progress, morality as an emergent property on the mind... and BTW, how in the world does saying that something is an "emergent" property provide a better explanation than pointing to something supernatural? Your complaints about needing an explanation for why God is good apply equally to your accounts of "emergent" properties and everything else? Does the belief that the universe "just is" escape your own criticisms of the need for an answer to "why is it that way?" Shouldn't you apply an equal degree of skepticism to your own accounts as you do to theism? I don't think that pointing to God as the explanation of all this phenomena complicates the situation, rather it unifies it. Without God as the unifying entity we are left with a vast array of unexplained entities.

- Continuing along the same lines, you wrote: "I see morality as something very special and very much worth fighting for largely because it's subjective." I do not see how this makes any sense at all. I am trying to see how this is not contradictory, but I can't. I know you are still working through this in your mind as you said, but to me it sounds like you are saying that you will fight for your subjective morality, which to me implies that you will try to persuade others to adopt your subjective morality because you believe other people (and perhaps everyone) should follow it... How will you persuade people without appealing to objective grounds? Indeed you already have appealed to objective grounds (evolution-programmed empathy, rationality, self-interest), and these grounds all fail to do the job:

Evolutionary-programming: Some people's genes may program them to be killers or thieves or whatever.

Rationality: Natural selection cannot guarantee that our rational faculties are reliable. Plus, people reason to different conclusions.

Self-interest: There are good acts in which self-interest plays no part. Good actions do not always make us feel "good" inside. Many evil actions make some people feel good inside.

- Ultimately, all a person has to say to you is "I do not choose your morality. You have no objective reasons why I should choose your morality over mine." Please understand me Lui, I am not saying that you cannot be a moral person who pursues the good. I trust you are a moral person... What I am saying is that you have no rational grounds with the worldview of atheism for believing that your morality is any more "moral" than anyone else's. You may say and believe it is, but as soon as you start appealing to objective reasons, you have just crossed the line into a belief in objective morals, and once there you must account for their existence in a materialist worldview.

I suppose we'll chat about this more in the future, and I will try to read your next post here if there is one. Thanks again.

Lui said...

Hi Mike,

"...you failed to address Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Khmer Rouge, and honestly I don't know why you can't agree that there are fanatics on both sides and so we shouldn't judge the idea system on those who abuse it."

But I do acknowledge that there are fanatics on both sides, and I see the ones on "my" side as perhaps even more dangerous, because they take what I regard to be a truth and mix it with falsehoods about human nature and other dangerous propaganda.

What I've been arguing for in my posts is that morality does have an objective BASIS in evolution and the structures of the brain that have to do with empathy and inhibition; but I also argue that morality itself is a subjective thing that isn't independent of the mind.

"How will you persuade people without appealing to objective grounds?"
I don't know, maybe I can't. I would try to persuade them of the virtues of behaving kindly to others; then perhaps they will see the worth of it on its own merits as they become more sympathetic to the feelings of others. I would appeal to their sense of wonder at the universe and ourselves as evolved entities, so that they might appreciate the intricacy that is a human being. (note that, along those lines, I somewhat contradicted myself earlier; I've been arguing for a subjective account of morality, but I also alluded to showing people that humans are amazingly complex machines, and that on those grounds we should give pasue before we do harm, instead of just regarding the other person's feelings as reason enough to do good) Since morality itself is subjective anyway, people are free to reject or accept my account of it, and behave accordingly. Note that even if you convince people of morality on objective grounds, they won't necessarily see YOUR morals as the ones to live by. They might see their own despicable behaviour as being sanctioned by God (try telling a Mafia boss about morals; he goes to church and does the rounds, and thinks that what he's doing is justified). We should fight for a TYPE of morality, not over the "opbjective" or "suybjective" basis of it. Either one can be abused. You and me seem to have the same ethical system, we just differ over its origins.

"how in the world does saying that something is an "emergent" property provide a better explanation than pointing to something supernatural?"
That's easy to answer: because it has a basis in reality, not myth. Consciousness, aggression, sadness, happiness, pleasure: all are emergent properties of a system of neurons that are interconnected. Even evolution might be seen as an emergent property of ecology and genetics interacting. The properties of water are emergent, as those properties are absent in hydrogen or oxygen alone. They are things that scientists can and do study intensively, and step by step we're getting closer to a fuller, more satisfying account of them. Saying that all this is no more compelling than an ad hoc supernatural explanation is like ignoring the vast body of research that has been going on for decades. It really is a MUCH better explanation than pointing to something supernatural.

"Evolutionary-programming: Some people's genes may program them to be killers or thieves or whatever."
Such people are dangerous because they put other people's lives at risk. It is therefore in society's interests to restrain, apprehend, and/or treat them (if possible) so that their behavior may be brought under OUR control. In arguing that morality is an evolved faculty, I don't mean to say that it will work on everyone. Something like two percent of the male population, apparently, is psychopathic.

"Rationality: Natural selection cannot guarantee that our rational faculties are reliable. Plus, people reason to different conclusions."
That's true, but we still need a moral system that will provide an equitable, fair, and humane set of rules by which to live by. Perhaps that should be part of grounds for kindess: because by providing as many people as possible witha safe, healthy environment, they will be less likely to seek safety and health at someone else's expense. Evolution has programmed us with selfish tendencies also, but we can override them with a system that punishes cheats. We aren't OBLIGED to live by the law of the jungle just because our ancestors evolved in that medium.

"Self-interest: There are good acts in which self-interest plays no part. Good actions do not always make us feel "good" inside. Many evil actions make some people feel good inside."
Such people will have to be restrained on the rational grounds that they pose a threat to the well-being of others.

"What I am saying is that you have no rational grounds with the worldview of atheism for believing that your morality is any more "moral" than anyone else's."
Neither do you. You're still arguing for a particular moral system that you think God is in favour of (and the "objective" validity of that is the condition that God exists in the first place). Other religious people have their own particular morality that they think God is in favour of. They see their morality as more "moral" than yours.
I have still been given no reason to suppose that YOUR morality is to be favoured, on "rational grounds", than those of anyone else. Perhaps that applies equally to me, but attempts to airlift oneself out of this dilemna by invoking God are no more compelling than for other theists. The airlift is either available to everybody, or nobody at all. In the end, you're still arguing for ethics grounded in human(e) sympathy. That's the most compelling reason in my books.

"but as soon as you start appealing to objective reasons, you have just crossed the line into a belief in objective morals"
Not in the sense you mean. An objective basis for something is not the same as that something being objective in itself. It doesn't follow that morality is "something out there, outside of our minds" just because it evolved by means outside of our mind. If that we true, then the universe must therefore be "evil" because of all the suffering that goes on within it. HIV didn't evolve to cause pain and misery. It evolved to infect hosts by wich its genes could be spread. If the EFFECT is human misery and suffering, that's purely incidental.

", and once there you must account for their existence in a materialist worldview."
That's where evolution by natural selection comes in. And in an atheist universe, we must look for meaning in the emergent, not the ultimate.

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

I think "emergent" is another way of saying "We have no idea what this thing is, but we think that it comes from this other thing, so let's just call it 'emergent'" This sounds like naturalism-of-the-gaps. If we find things in our universe that just do not look like anything physical, nor do they look like anything that could come from mindless, physical, stuff, than I think we should be a little more open minded and at least allow for the possibly of extra-natural realities as we search for truth.

I really don't find the "You've got to explain God" argument persuasive, because after all you have to stop somewhere right? I think it makes much more sense to stop with God - a being who embodies and defines goodness and a being who is the source and sustainer of all the contingent realities we observe - than it is to stop with the contingent realities themselves. This is what it really boils down to: Which explanation provides an adequate stopping point?

Finally, you fail to give an objective basis for morality, because evolution simply cannot guarantee the production of a moral code that everyone agrees with. If morals are up to us, everyone can have an opinion. Torturing babies could be okay for some people - but our gut says its not okay for ANYONE. If it's up to God (more accurately, grounded in his nature), then everyone's opinion is measured against one standard, and there is a real answer to the question, "Is this good/evil?"

Just out of curiosity, do you believe that some things are always wrong no matter what someone's opinion is? And are some things always good no matter what?

Lui said...

Hi Mike,

"I think "emergent" is another way of saying "We have no idea what this thing is, but we think that it comes from this other thing, so let's just call it 'emergent'""

To be sure, there ARE emergent phenomena we don't fully understand, but there are others for which we have a pretty good idea of how they come to be. It's still very much a "God of the gaps" problem. Science is continuing to squeeze God out of the functioning of the universe more and more. Pick up any issue of "Scientific American Mind", and you'll see how science is closing in on some of the deepest questions faced by humanity. And the explanations on offer have nothing to do with the supernatural.

"than I think we should be a little more open minded and at least allow for the possibly of extra-natural realities as we search for truth."

I agree, but that's no license to say that THEREFORE those things are extra-physical. We have been fooled too many time by nature to let our guard down. Science is what keeps nature from making fools of us. I still ask for evidence, and by evidence I don't mean desire to believe or anything so dependent on the observer's prejudices or emotions.

"I really don't find the "You've got to explain God" argument persuasive, because after all you have to stop somewhere right?"

Yes, we do have to stop somewhere, but that's not to say that God is the place to stop. In fact, why not BEGIN with God, as nothing comes close to matching his intricacy, sophistication, etc. To "stop" at God is to explain nothing at all. It's only to say "God did it".

"If it's up to God (more accurately, grounded in his nature), then everyone's opinion is measured against one standard, and there is a real answer to the question, "Is this good/evil?""

That would be convenient (and history has shown the horrors that this convenience is capable of producing, hence the move to secular systems of justice and morality in modern democracies) but it is no reason at all to believe to think that it's true. The universe doesn't owe us a living, it doesn't owe us comfort. The problems we face are complex ones, and it does them no justice to try to simplify them so arbitrarily by invoking a being who could tomorrow end all suffering but who has nevertheless allowed horrors in his name to be carried out, horrors that are supposedly against his nature.

"Just out of curiosity, do you believe that some things are always wrong no matter what someone's opinion is? And are some things always good no matter what?"

Yes; and not so sure on the second one.

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

You write:
"Science is continuing to squeeze God out of the functioning of the universe more and more. Pick up any issue of "Scientific American Mind", and you'll see how science is closing in on some of the deepest questions faced by humanity."

I think you need to reevaluate what science can and cannot provide us with. Science is a method, not a philosophy. Naturalism is the philosophy, and science can be used by naturalists and theists alike as an avenue for knowledge. But science cannot provide us with answers to every question. Can science provide us the answer to what electricity actually is? The strong force in the atom? Gravity? Numbers? Goodness? Consciousness? Can science tell us why things are the way they are? I really suggest again a philosophy of science class.

You ask me to see how science is squeezing God out of the universe, but I think you are mistaken... discoveries in the last few decades are actually making God more and more plausible. Scientists are now very confident that the universe had a beginning (Big Bang), and that the initial conditions had to be extremely precise in order to result in the arrival of life... Molecular biology has shown that there is quite literally nanotechnology in the cell, nanotechnology so brilliantly engineered that it causes us to wonder if it was designed... Quantum physics observes particles appearing out of nowhere and disappearing into nothingness... Astrophysicists have found that our planet is situated in our galaxy and our universe in such a perfect place that allows us to actually make scientific observations of the universe that we would not be able to make situated anywhere else, and they are discovering just how finely tuned all of the conditions on earth need to be to create/sustain life. It is not science that is squeezing God out, it is scientism, or naturalism if you will. And I must say again that I am NOT saying that these evidences provide absolute 100% proof as you seem to think I say when you write: "that's no license to say that THEREFORE those things are extra-physical." I am just saying, let's not be so constrained by naturalism that we will not even consider extra-natural realities. Let's not be afraid to consider all possibilities. Let's admit all theories and argue for which one is most plausible given all the data. Otherwise, we’re just being stubborn in our bias.

Also, I think it would be good to think about the nature of matter itself. This might sound weird, but think about what physical “stuff” really is. I think it is helpful because when we consider something like consciousness, physical stuff does not seem capable of producing mental phenomena in principle, or metaphysically speaking. Physical stuff follows natural laws mechanically, but mental phenomena do nothing of the sort. Unless ALL matter has consciousness (panpsychism), perhaps it does, but no philosopher today takes this extreme position.

You write:
"Yes, we do have to stop somewhere, but that's not to say that God is the place to stop. In fact, why not BEGIN with God, as nothing comes close to matching his intricacy, sophistication, etc. To "stop" at God is to explain nothing at all. It's only to say "God did it"."

Does God have intricacy? Does God have DNA? Organs? Please explain how you conceive of God as having complexity, intricacy, patterns, codes, whatever.

If you and a partner found a cave drawing of, say, a bunch of buffalos, and your partner says, "These drawings must have been done by someone, let's find out about these people." Would you say, "No, no, that would just complicate the situation. It will not help us explain anything to find out who did this." That would be rather foolish, right? Don't you think that stopping at the cave drawings themselves is stopping far short of a satisfying explanation? God does not complicate the explanatory process, he unifies it. Perhaps instead of excluding God altogether as an explanation you should allow for it at least as one of the options, and then select the option you think is most plausible. To exclude God altogether looks like evasion to me.

Finally, in response to God being the ground for objective morality you wrote:
“That would be convenient (and history has shown the horrors that this convenience is capable of producing, hence the move to secular systems of justice and morality in modern democracies) but it is no reason at all to believe to think that it's true. The universe doesn't owe us a living, it doesn't owe us comfort. The problems we face are complex ones, and it does them no justice to try to simplify them so arbitrarily by invoking a being who could tomorrow end all suffering but who has nevertheless allowed horrors in his name to be carried out, horrors that are supposedly against his nature.”

Please stop judging an idea based on those who distort it. This is just irresponsible and evasive. I do not agree with how people have used God to justify evil. Remember, people have used atheism to justify evil too, but I am not arguing that therefore ALL atheistic ethical systems lead people to justify evil practices. All I am saying is that if you want objective morals – morals that apply to everyone at every time in every place – then you must have a metaphysical ground for their existence, and our best option is God. This is not an arbitrary conclusion, because all the other evidence for God’s existence is also taken into account. Actually it is your moral theories that rely on arbitrary opinions of humans about what every human should do. Think about it. No matter how much you say that some moral action is the rational thing to do, someone else can say, “I don’t agree. I think I should be selfish.” Every other option besides God does not produce objective morals.

You also threw in there the problem of evil. So, you think God should stop all these horrible things that happen. Given free will, people will do good and bad things right? So, if God stopped all evil things, then we would not be free, so he has to allow us the power to do these evil things… But shouldn’t God draw the line somewhere? But where should he draw the line? Where is the threshold of allowable evils and unallowable evils?

Lui said...

Hi Mike,

i will get around to your other points in due time, but for now, I'd like to address this one:

"Molecular biology has shown that there is quite literally nanotechnology in the cell, nanotechnology so brilliantly engineered that it causes us to wonder if it was designed... "

The reason Intelligent Design is a bad argument for theists is that it implies that God had to violate the laws of physics he established because they weren't SUFFICIENT to produce the nanomachines observed. Assuming that the physical constants of the universe were set up by God, you're actually implying that God had to step in AGAIN to make those machines directly. So either God allowed the universe to evolve and eventually produce these nanomachines, or the physical constants of the universe don't count as they were inadequate to begin with.
Intelligent Design in biology actually makes God seem underwhelming, and hardly omnipotent.

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

I'm back, but I don't know if this is too late and whether you will even see this, but...

Why is it bad if God violates the laws of physics? He gives a gift to creation - the laws of physics, life, everything else - but he can't do anything more? He can't interact with his beloved creation? As a parent, he wants to be in constant relationship.

Lui said...

Then ask him to stop engineering things like HIV.

Mike said...

Lui, I really think you need to spend time thinking about the last issue I posted in the email before my previous one, about the problem of evil and where God should draw the line in preventing evil. This seems to be a real sticking point for you, and so I challenge you to think some more about it, because I don't think you have thought it all the way through.

Lui said...

Hi Mike,

unfortunately, I've been forced to think about evil all too often just by watching the horrors on the news, and it's tormented me just contemplating how such suffering can actually feel like. The problem with me, if anything, is that I've thought about this too much. I can give you many, many cases where a benevolent God would prevent evil (or at least, where I would): right now, as I write this, a child in war-torn Africa is being raped. Right now, a girl is having her clitoris cut out. Right now, someone is being put to death for expressing his or her opinion. Many of these things are being done in the name of God - a double sin in the eyes of many humane religious folk. If you want to introduce our emotions as "evidence" for God, then I ask that you be consistent and see for yourself how God is (or rather, isn't) intervening on behalf of those who have no way of doing so themselves. You can't cite our "need to believe" as a type of evidence for a supreme being and fall back on apologetics when what we see happening all over the world is inconsistent with the existence of an all-loving, omnipotent God. If human emotions are your benchmark for assessing truth, then you must provide an explanation for the millions of times that humans emotions have been utterly crushed upon with no intervention whatsoever from the entity that emotions supposedly show to be self-evident.

Anyway, back to the fiendishly "designed" entity known as HIV. This either evolved, or was created by God. Or it could be that only the "good things" were created by God and that the "bad things" like HIV and the Ebola virus evolved. But then, you'd have to go against the mountain of evidence that says that IN PRINCIPLE the processes that gave rise to us were not fundamentally different to those that gave rise to the worst that nature has thrown at us, in which case you must forfeit any claim for scientific evidence for God. (actually, from the point of view of the other life forms on this planet, WE are the plague. It's just that we're endowed with intelligence and happen to believe we were put here for a reason, unlike the Ebola virus that is incapable of such reflections. I am NOT saying that we are a plague, but even then I admit that what I've said is itself a subjective, human-centric view on my part, not something that "stands to reason" or that is obviously "self-evident". Ecologically speaking, we very much are plague, and it makes no difference that we are loathe to believe that. Perversely, it's ideas of human exceptionalism that have made us very effective in this regard, as they free us from considering other animals as in any way comparable to us and hence worthy objects of plunder)

Kevin said...

I'm sorry that you're an ex-christian. being gay doesn't make a christian a non-christian. i don't know if your repulsion of conservative christians caused you to reject your faith?