Monday, January 05, 2009

Living by the rule, rather than the exception


It is often said that atheists have the same amount of faith as Christians. This is a common argument, and my response to this claim is the following question: which of the two belief systems has the most amount of assumptions?

I think that both the Christian and atheist assume (probably by faith) that there is an objective reality outside of ourselves, and that there is some sort of natural order that we all experience. But the Christian is generally the one who believes in incredible events that defy the natural order, such as virgin births, people rising from the dead and parting seas. These events are incredibly alien to our everyday experience and current knowledge of how the world works; they are the 'outliers', the exception-rather-than-the-rule kind of phenomena.

As an atheist, I base my beliefs on the rule-rather-than-the-exception: balls thrown into the air generally fall down; people who die generally stay dead; water does not generally transform itself into wine. As an atheist, the natural order – or the natural world – is all I believe in. Christianity requires the additional element of the supernatural, which includes God, demons, angels, hell, heaven, the soul, etc, etc. It seems to have many more – and I believe, largely unsupported – beliefs.

What do you think?

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

You bring up some good points here, as I too have often heard the "faith" argument used on both sides of the debate. I have also observed that different people have very different definitions for "faith" in the first place. David Marshall clarifies this issue very well in his book "The Truth Behind the New Atheism," which I recommend.

To an extent, it's not a matter of what requires more faith, but rather what is the object of one's faith. Naturalist evolutionists, for example, place a high degree of faith in the reliability of scientific research on natural phenomena that supports their view (such as the examples you have shared in recent posts). Biblical creationists, on the other hand, believe the scriptures are a more worthy and reliable object of faith.

Personally, I don't think it ultimately matters which side of the issue requires more faith; what matters is what is true. As someone who ascribes to biblical creationism, I personally don't care if you charge that my position requires more faith, because sometimes the truth is harder to accept than the lie. Furthermore, I would fully expect one who places priority emphasis on natural observation to reject biblical teaching on the spiritual/supernatural, because this is exactly what the Bible says will happen... another point on which I've found it reliable:

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." --1 Cor. 2:14

Jason Hughes said...

So--just to make sure I get this right--Anon, you are saying that you would fully expect an atheist to reject the bible because the bible says atheists will reject it?

Do you see the problem with that? Or do I have your point wrong?

Additionally, what are the standards by which "biblical" or "spiritual" phenomenon can be held as reliable? What is the criteria, and what methods can be used to test and verify that which is claimed as "reliable biblically" actually is so in regards to biblical creationism and dead people coming back to life sans medical treatment (i.e., paddles, IV medications...)?

webmdave said...

Excellent observation.

I'd love to cross-post this on ExChristian.Net. Let me know if that's something you'd approve. I can be contacted using the contact form athttp://exchristian.net/message.php.

In any event, excellent post!

CyberKitten said...

KP said: Christianity requires the additional element of the supernatural, which includes God, demons, angels, hell, heaven, the soul, etc, etc. It seems to have many more – and I believe, largely unsupported – beliefs.

Most definitely. Sure Naturalism does take some things on what can be termed 'faith' but this pales into insignificance compared to what theists take on faith. Personally I am amazed that so many people can take so much as a matter of faith. It never ceases to confound me.

DungheapTheUgly said...

Anonymous-

You claim that the scriptures are more reliable than the results of scientific research. I would ask you, though, to think about how you discern this reliability. You claim as objective evidence that the Bible is correct about the attitude of "natural man", but do you also find Mark 11:22-24 has to say about prayer?

And Jesus answered saying to them, "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you."

Do you find that you are granted whatever you ask? If, as I expect, the answer is "no", how do you reconcile that with the plain words of Jesus? Notice here that Jesus is using a completely frivolous and gratuitous prayer (withering a barren fig tree) to illustrate that a believer will get whatever he wants. There's no waffling about it being something God already wants (like 1 John 5:14 more realistically does), but simply the statement, illustrated with examples, that whatever a believer prays for, the believer gets.

As you think about this and all of the apologetics you've heard regarding the rarity of answered prayer, also think about why it is that apologetics is a Christian exercise and not a scientific one. Scientists that spend their time making excuses for hypotheses with fatal flaws don't get published. As an example of good scientific methodology, I urge you to read and ponder this paper about malaria and mosquitoes. It's not directly related to evolution (and so should be a neutral subject), is short and is easy to understand. The authors demonstrate that being infected by malaria makes one more attractive to mosquitoes. The hypothesis and test are very straightforward; simply present subjects that are either healthy and infected with malaria and count mosquitoes. To adequately demonstrate this, however, they needed to identify alternative explanations for their results (like mosquitoes simply preferring a specific tent) that compete with their hypothesis and control for their effects (in this case, by rotating tents). They not only demonstrate results consistent with their own hypothesis, they must also disprove other hypotheses.

After reading the paper, ask yourself if Christian apologetics requires the same rigor. For example, Matthew's misattribution of Zechariah 11:13 to Jeremiah in Matthew 27:9-10 is often explained away as Matthew using Jeremiah to refer to all of the prophets. Is that reasonable? Does Matthew do that in other verses? If you really are interested in the truth, start with a list of apologetic answers to Bible "difficulties" and ask yourself for each one if the explanation is rational and probable enough to justify your faith. You said that the truth is sometimes harder to accept than the lie. The truth is that the scriptures are inherently unreliable and honest examination of them will lead you there.

Nikeyo said...

I agree that the believer has more faith, or faith in more unusual things. An Atheist/evolutionist (usually) simply believes that the way the universe has been perceived to proceed is the way it will stay. As you said, simple laws of physics.

Philosophically that of course is a huge assumption. But it's much safer than going around believing that objects can pop in and out of existence and some day if you jump you won't go back down.

Anonymous said...

To Jason Hughes and DungHeap the Ugly:

First, I apologize for not identifying myself in the previous post; I don't mean to confuse myself with other potential "anonymous" postings.

Second, thanks for the excellent questions. I will provide responses with as much detail as time allows for, and I'd be glad to dicuss any follow up questions you might have.

Jason, I included the above passage from 1 Corithians simply to demonstrate that, as a Christian, I understand why those who don't believe in Christ have difficulty embracing spiritual concepts and realities beyond their everyday sensory experience; I would expect nothing different. However, when a person genuinely accepts Christ by faith, I've often seen such difficulties resolved instantly, as if a light has been suddenly switched on-- I believe that's the transition from the "natural man" to the "spiritual man."

Your second question was "what are the standards by which 'biblical' or 'spiritual' phenomenon can be held as reliable?" I must confess I don't fully understand the nature of your question; could you re-phrase or explain it further? I want to make sure my answer doesn't go down a path you weren't interested in.

DungHeap, your skepticism regarding Jesus' comments in Mark 11 about answered prayer are understandable; in the past I have spoken with others who share your feelings. However, I think some of the confusion comes from treating this as a stand-alone statement analyzed from a 21st Century western worldview rather than in the context in which it was written. I believe, as John Calvin said, that scripture should always be interpreted in light of scripture, and therefore, the statement Jesus made should be understood as part of the entire written counsel of God. The Bible gives several reasons why we can't just expect to pray and get whatever we want regardless of circumstances (Ps. 66:18, Jas. 1:6-8). Jesus was not negating this other scripture in his teaching on prayer, but simply using an extreme illustration to demonstrate the effectiveness of prayers when delivered in faith (and such prayers, I believe, will resemble those you referenced in 1 John 5:14). It's also possible, as some have speculated, that Jesus' words here were only meant to be directed to the disciples (his immediate audience), and the text shouldn't necessarily be applied in the same specific sense to everyone who reads it. After all, the disciples did some amazing things through the power of their prayers in the book of Acts.

Regarding your question on Matt. 27:9-10, what makes you so certain that Jeremiah did not originally speak that prophecy? Yes, those words are also recorded in Zechariah, but God often delivered similar messages through different prophets, and the subject matter of the Matthew passage is strikingly related to that found in Jer. 19. Jeremiah spoke many more things to Israel/Judah than were recorded in his book, and the Jews of this period placed a strong emphasis on preserving oral traditions and teachings as well as the written records. Therefore, Matthew was probably referencing Jeremiah's oral message rather than Zechariah's written one.

Many people claim the Bible is full of errors and contradictions, but I've found that a diligent investigation of the Bible as a whole, with an understanding of biblical history, cultures, and languages, resolves these problems and ultimately strengthens the trustiworthiness of the Bible.

Also, I read the paper you attached on mosquitos and malaria. It was an interesting read, though I would contend that serious Bible scholars apply just as much "rigor" in their field of study as biologists do in theirs.

phil

DungheapTheUgly said...

Phil-

I believe that I am reading Mark 11 in its correct context as written; a statement by John made years after Jesus died is hardly within the same context. I see nothing to indicate that Jesus intends anything other than that God will bring to pass anything earnestly prayed for. His prayer was for the destruction of a fig tree that annoyed Him and was, in fact, specifically called a curse. Claiming that such a prayer would be covered by John's statement seems somewhat disingenuous in light of the fact that modern Christians can only expect answers when praying for what might happen anyway.

My certainty about Jeremiah is based on the relative likelihood that Matthew simply misremembered the prophecy. The only relation that I see between Matthew 27 and Jeremiah 19 is that both include the word "potter". And do you really think that the most probable explanation for MT 27:9-10 is Matthew knowing of a six-hundred-year-old, unwritten prophecy that otherwise resembles a misquotation of Zechariah? That sounds remarkably like the Catholic claim about the Eucharist that tasting like bread after consecration is a miracle. In the same way that the Host is probably still flour and water because there's no Jesus to inhabit it, Matthew was probably just sloppy with his quotations because no Holy Spirit was there to help him with his memory.

Applying the same rigor to your hypothesis that Matthew is a trustworthy source would require you to examine the alternate hypothesis that Matthew is just wrong, as he is with nearly every other prophecy he tries to remember. In contrast, the response of apologists has been to actually redefine the rules of what constitutes valid prophecy and fulfillment. What you have mistaken for rigor is in fact dogma.

Kevin Parry said...

Phil wrote
Naturalist evolutionists, for example, place a high degree of faith in the reliability of scientific research on natural phenomena that supports their view

I don’t know if I would call this a high degree of faith. We all live in a natural world that seems to run by natural laws. Throughout my life – as a Christian and as a non-Christian – I have observed millions upon millions of instances where things happened (and still happen) through natural cause and effect. Not once did I observe anything that was ‘supernatural’ in nature that went against this, like a sudden appearance of a living being out of thin air, or a levitating human. So when I try to solve problems – for example, if I try and fix a problem with my computer – am I exercising a high degree of faith when I look for a natural answers first (e.g., looking to see if the plug is turned on) instead of looking for a supernatural ones (e.g., invisible demons are mucking around with the motherboard)?

Of all the scientific related problems that we have solved in history, the natural answers are the ones that have worked. No chemist presumes the affect of the supernatural when running an experiment in a lab. So I don’t see why evolutionists should presume the supernatural when looking at the development of living things. After all, living things are created from natural elements. Are we also not subject to natural laws?

Most people from all faiths would agree that we all live in a natural world with natural cause and effect. A mobile phone, which works by the principles of electromagnetic theory, works for any person, despite their religious beliefs. But not all faiths agree with each other on what is supernatural. There is little agreement on who God is, or whether he exists. And nobody has ever consistently demonstrated examples of supernatural events. So it only seems sensible to look for a natural answer regarding the development of living things.

Thanks again Phil for another excellent comment – it gave me something to think about, as always.

smithadri said...

HI all,
interesting as always. A maybe silly question if I may - is there room in the scientific material worldview for the existence of the supernatural? And if so how would you recognise it? i.e. is the supernatural (perhaps definition required) dismissed as a pre-supposition?

Adrian

Anonymous said...

DungHeap the Ugly and Kevin:

Thanks again for both of your comments.

Dungheap, I believe you are erroneously applying what is commonly called a "wooden hermeneutic" to the Mark 11 passage: your interpretation betrays the context, fails to account for normative uses of language in biblical times, and misses the point by getting lost in the illustration. Jesus' main point is that His followers "have faith in God" (v. 22), and he uses extreme illustrations (both verbal and visual) to drive home his point. We do the same thing in our everyday communication when we make statements like, "my new car cost me an arm and a leg." Do we mean such a statement in the most wooden, literal sense? Of course not; it is an exaggerated expression used to make a central point (my car was expensive). Likewise, Jesus is making the point that prayers delivered in faith are effective by using the exaggerated illustration of moving mountains (a verbal illustration), and uses his divine perogative as the Son of God to also give a miraculous visual illustration (the fig tree). If only I could drive home my points with a demonstration like that!

And yes, I believe it is quite probable that Matthew was quoting an oral tradition ascribed to Jeremiah. The references to the potter's vessel in Jer. 19, as well as in Jer. 18 and Jer. 32, in which the purchase of a field is also referenced (another parallel to the Matt. 27 quote), demonstrate that Jeremiah's prophecies dealt with similar subject matter as that of Zechariah. Given the strong oral traditons and teaching ascribed to the OT Jewish prophets at the time, it is far from unreasonable to believe that Matthew was quoting from an oral teaching attributed to Jeremiah which addressed these concepts. You have accused me of "dogma," but I find it at least equally dogmatic for you to so confidently assert that Matthew "misremembered prophecy" in light of a sound interpretation to the contrary. Your identification of this as a "problem passage" falls short of providing any compelling reasons to doubt the trustworthiness of the scriptures.

Kevin, I'm glad to hear my comments give you something to think about. I certainly wouldn't spend so much time on your site if I didn't feel the same about what you have to share. Again, I would recommend Marshall's book to you if you have time to read it; I think it will clarify some of the thoughts I've tried to express, as well as respond to your most recent comments above regarding our reliance on the laws of the "natural world" in which we find ourselves.

phil

CyberKitten said...

smithadri said: A maybe silly question if I may - is there room in the scientific material worldview for the existence of the supernatural?

No. The scientific materialist world view is wholly *naturalistic* hence no room for supernatural explanations by definition.

DungheapTheUgly said...

Phil-

I agree that exaggeration and hyperbole exist in the Bible and in themselves do not represent contradiction. For example, it's clear that Genesis 7:19, Exodus 32:13 and Matthew 4:8 are all intended to be taken figuratively rather than literally. However, Mark 11:22-24 is neither like these verses nor like your "arm and a leg" example. Jesus' followers expressed disbelief at a bona fide miracle and He rebuked them, telling them that God will also perform such miracles for them if they only have enough faith. One might argue that God throwing a mountain into the sea is hyperbole, but it's a much tougher claim when Jesus has so recently accomplished another impossible thing and chastised His followers for the lack of faith (rather than ability) to do the same. Turning your example into an appropriate analogy, it would be as if my friends noticed that I had bloody stumps in place of limbs and I rebuked them as fools for failing to also notice my new car. I would no longer be speaking figuratively when I told them they could obtain one the same way.

As for Matthew, I understand that the scenario you have posited is possible, in that the probability of it happening is not zero, but it hardly qualifies as likely, either relative to the other possibilities or in any absolute sense. Matthew has a hard enough time with prophecies that were written, let alone with one purported to have been transmitted orally across half a millennium. This is made even less likely by the apparent rejection of the oral tradition as canonical by Jesus and His followers (the "tradition of the elders" in Matthew 15:2). Furthermore, even if such a prophecy did somehow survive amongst the Rabbinic oral tradition until the first century AD as you claim, then it must have disappeared within the next hundred years or so before the Mishnah was compiled. Again, this is possible, but I certainly wouldn't characterize it as probable enough to be considered "sound".

smithadri said...

CyberKitten said: No. The scientific materialist world view is wholly *naturalistic* hence no room for supernatural explanations by definition.

On what basis is this pre-supposition to close the realm of explanation made?

Kevin Parry said...

smithadri said
A maybe silly question if I may - is there room in the scientific material worldview for the existence of the supernatural?

Not a silly question at all, but a very good one! Victor Stenger, Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii, argues that science can be used to test supernatural claims – but only if such claims have some observed effect on the natural world. For example, many religions claim that intercessory prayer works – that God somehow steps into the natural world and ‘tweaks’ random events to favour his followers. Because God is claimed to affect the natural world, science can be used to test this claim. It does this by recording the results of intercessory prayer and comparing these to results that would have arisen by random chance (i.e., results that would have arisen if no prayer was involved).

Current studies have shown no difference, but what if the studies showed that only Christian prayers showed some significant difference from random chance? Or, what if Muslim prayers were shown to be the only ones that worked? Would this not lend weight to the claims of a specific religion?

So I think science can only measure natural events and processes, but there are supernatural claims (such as the example above) that make basic pronouncements about nature, and predictions of what we would expect to observe in nature if the claims were true. These claims are open to scientific analysis.

CyberKitten said...

smithadri said: On what basis is this pre-supposition to close the realm of explanation made?

On the basic pre-supposition that only the natural world exists. That supernatural claims are either patently false or cannot be independently verified easily or at all. That natural explanations actually explain things - and that useful usable information flows from those explanations.

Need I go on?

Anonymous said...

Dungheap,

Thanks for continuing to read and respond to my comments; although we disagree, I think we are uncovering some important issues.

Regarding the Mark 11 passage, you commented, "Jesus' followers expressed disbelief at a bona fide miracle and He rebuked them, telling them that God will also perform such miracles for them if they only have enough faith." According to the Scriptures, God did in fact later perform such miracles through the disciples. Peter, whom Jesus was directly responding to in this passage (Mk. 11:21), is a prime example of how his faith did result in such miracles (Acts 3:6-7). So, even if you are committed to a wooden literal interpretation of this passage (which you need not be), it is still harmonious with what is found in other passages. However, I believe you are still needlessly disqualifying this passage as an exaggerated illustration used to make a point about the importance of faith. You seem to be okay with accepting the mountain-moving comment as a figure of speech; I likewise don't believe there is any problem with understanding the fig-tree as Jesus using a miracle to make a strong teaching point about faith. This would not have been the only time he did such things in the gospels.

Regarding Matthew's quote of Jeremiah, your recent comments reflect that you are making two erroneous assumptions: you wrongfully assume that the entirety (or even the majority) of the extant Jewish oral tradition would have been reflected in rabbinic writings such as the Mishnah (very unlikely), and you suggested that a writing or saying must be canonical in order to be usefully quoted in the New Testament. This is also not the case (e.g., Jude v. 9, 14; Titus 1:12). Also, the "tradition of the elders" you referenced in Matt. 15:2 is a reference to the Pharisaic legalistic oral teachings on casuistry (read the context), not on the entirety of the oral tradtion, and certainly not on all the sayings that would have been attributed to OT prophets. It is completely plausible (and far from unlikely, despite your claims) that Matthew had correctly quoted a saying of Jeremiah. The fact that a similar saying is also recorded in Zechariah does nothing to weaken the likelihood of this position, and certainly does nothing to challenge the reliability of the biblical record.

phil

smithadri said...

Cyberkitten said: "On the basic pre-supposition that only the natural world exists. That supernatural claims are either patently false or cannot be independently verified easily or at all. That natural explanations actually explain things - and that useful usable information flows from those explanations."

You could exclude supernatural claims on i) observation and experience and ii) the fact that you exclude supernatural claims before you even get started.
i) is not all knowing and there remains the possibility of the supernatural yet undiscovered/unexperienced
ii) is all knowing and will not leave room for supernatural explanations even when/if supernatural events do happen

Natural explanations do explain things. But I feel they are inadequate when explaining things like why independent reason and morality exist at all. The Biblical account explains the nature of man's (my) heart and why he is so messed up, why he pursues such high ideals, yet cannot achieve them. And of course the ongoing restoration of man's (my) heart.

Kevin, thanks for your comment. I think one of the key issues here is the separation of the spiritual from the natural. Where does for example, the law of cause and effect come from, which is observed in the natural world, and is actually, necessary, for the natural world to exist? Supernature I would say is the foundation for nature more than it is an independent world. And two ways in which supernature can be revealed/pointed to are through the natural world (beauty, even the concept of truth at all) on a regular basis, or as less frequent as special revelation.
Adrian

CyberKitten said...

smithadri said: But I feel they are inadequate when explaining things like why independent reason and morality exist at all.

That is because you seem to be making a fundamental error in dividing explanations of phenomena into either scientific or religious. There are other alternative explanations - concerning the nature of morality for instance. This is, of course, philosophy which seems to be overlooked far too often.

I find supernatural 'explanations' to be so far from adequate as to be easily dismissed.

smithadri said: Where does for example, the law of cause and effect come from, which is observed in the natural world, and is actually, necessary, for the natural world to exist?

Actually the link between cause and effect is *far* from certain.

smithadri said: supernature can be revealed/pointed to are through the natural world (beauty, even the concept of truth at all...

Why should beauty & truth be considered as an indication that the supernatural exists? That makes no sense to me - and don't get me started on *revelation* [laughs]

Steve Hayes said...

I suppose the biggest leap of faith most naturalists make is to accept the naturalistic fallacy.

smithadri said...

Cyberkitten said:

That is because you seem to be making a fundamental error in dividing explanations of phenomena into either scientific or religious. There are other alternative explanations - concerning the nature of morality for instance. This is, of course, philosophy which seems to be overlooked far too often.

I would possibly prefer the terms material and transcendent. I'd be interested in the alternative bases of morality.

Actually the link between cause and effect is *far* from certain.

..and so therefore would the value of science and the possibility of any real and practical knowledge. We all live our lives with the dependence on cause and effect at the very core.

Why should beauty & truth be considered as an indication that the supernatural exists?

What function/purpose would beauty otherwise have?

And how is it possible that the realm of reason which we experience as acting independently of reality is able to be linked and allow a decent representational knowledge (truth) of the way reality works?

C.S.Lewis writes about this in 'Miracles' and Jim Paul (L'Abri) touches on morality and knowledge in his article on Dawkin's worldview.

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

smithadri said: I'd be interested in the alternative bases of morality.

Oh... there are *many* books on the subject..... [grin]

smithadri said: We all live our lives with the dependence on cause and effect at the very core.

Maybe so.... that doesn't mean that its beyond question. Look up David Hume on the subject.

smithadri said: What function/purpose would beauty otherwise have?

Why must it have a function? What even *is* beauty? Of course one possible evolutionary advantage to beauty is that the chances of sex are *greatly* improved!

smithadri said: And how is it possible that the realm of reason which we experience as acting independently of reality is able to be linked and allow a decent representational knowledge (truth) of the way reality works?

Huh? Do you want to run that by me again in English? Its late, I'm tired and that really didn't make a whole heap of sense I'm afraid.

Oh, and I've read some Lewis. I have to say that I was far from impressed by him.

smithadri said...

Cyberkitten,

Cyberkitten said: Oh... there are *many* books on the subject..... [grin]

what approach do you subscribe to? (and which book would you recommend?)

smithadri said: We all live our lives with the dependence on cause and effect at the very core.

Maybe so.... that doesn't mean that its beyond question. Look up David Hume on the subject.

Will do. Nothing it seems is beyond question - yet life happens and we live it and expect to live it in a more or less ordered fashion. The hardened skeptic position unlivable consistently. And if this is so there may be good reason to think it may be disconnected from reality

Why must it have a function? What even *is* beauty? Of course one possible evolutionary advantage to beauty is that the chances of sex are *greatly* improved!

it is something that one can experience yet not tie down. It is also something on which a great amount of value is placed in human existence, whether it is in maths, science, art, music or experience of nature. Why does it exist at all and on what basis is it valued so highly? I experience (and highly value) beauty in music for example. What is your experience of beauty?

smithadri said: And how is it possible that the realm of reason which we experience as acting independently of reality is able to be linked and allow a decent representational knowledge (truth) of the way reality works?

Huh? Do you want to run that by me again in English? Its late, I'm tired and that really didn't make a whole heap of sense I'm afraid.

It's early, but I'll try (for me this is a work in progress and Lewis does a far better job if you're interested)- reason appears to be independent of the natural world not emergent from it, yet reason is able to make inferences (A therefore B) that seem to truly describe cause and effect in nature (A causes B)

Oh, and I've read some Lewis. I have to say that I was far from impressed by him.

What did you read and what didn't impress you?

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

adrian said: what approach do you subscribe to? (and which book would you recommend?)

I'm not sure if I have an 'approach'... [muses]

I liked 'The Nicomachean Ethics' by Aristotle. Or you might like 'On the Shortness of Life' by Seneca.

Adrian said: Nothing it seems is beyond question...

Not from where I stand, no....

Adrian said: The hardened skeptic position unlivable consistently.

Not really. You just have to be realistic about it.

Adrian said: And if this is so there may be good reason to think it may be disconnected from reality.

Part of the problem is that we don't really know what 'reality' actually *is*.

Adrian said: it is something that one can experience yet not tie down.

That's because beauty is an invented temporal-culturally specific *concept* rather than an actual 'thing'.

Adrian said: It is also something on which a great amount of value is placed in human existence

That maybe so - but different cutlures place different values on different aspects of beauty which changes over time. Just like so many other cultural ideas.

Adrian said: Why does it exist at all and on what basis is it valued so highly?

A better question to ask is does beauty exist independently of the mind that appreciates it. I suggest not. Things are beautiful because we merely conceive of them as such.

Adrian said: reason appears to be independent of the natural world not emergent from it

Really? How so? As far as I know Reason is simply a way of viewing the universe - probably invented by the Ancient Greeks.

Adrian said: What did you read and what didn't impress you?

I was leant a copy of 'Mere Christianity' by someone who, I think, was trying to convert or 'save' me. I managed to get about 1/4 through it before I gave up. I found it practically unreadable because the construction of his 'arguments' were just so appaling. The man just couldn't reason very well. I found his propositions crammed full of assumptions and literal leaps of faith without any rational justification.

smithadri said...

CyberKitten said: I liked 'The Nicomachean Ethics' by Aristotle. Or you might like 'On the Shortness of Life' by Seneca.

thanks - will put it on my reading list

Adrian said: The hardened skeptic position unlivable consistently.

Not really. You just have to be realistic about it.

realistic? meaning closer to reality? closer to the way things 'are'?

Adrian said: And if this is so there may be good reason to think it may be disconnected from reality.

Part of the problem is that we don't really know what 'reality' actually *is*.

Agreed. Yet we live 'real' lives. And if we are to talk about reality it can only go so far as the 'reality' we experience on a daily basis. Surely it is meaningless to talk about a objective true reality that has no connection with that reality we experience?


A better question to ask is does beauty exist independently of the mind that appreciates it. I suggest not. Things are beautiful because we merely conceive of them as such.

I would sort of agree that it is not independent of the mind (otherwise it could not be experienced. However also that it is not 'just' in the mind, but the mind in relationship/engagement with something outside of it. Beauty is relational, a relation between object and subject.


Adrian said: reason appears to be independent of the natural world not emergent from it

Really? How so? As far as I know Reason is simply a way of viewing the universe - probably invented by the Ancient Greeks.

Perhaps formal reasoning was developed by the Ancient Greeks but man before the Ancient Greeks came along surely had the capability to reason, plan, relate, 'know' about his world. And this independently of the material world itself.

The material development of reason through 'cause and effect' produces a determined response that cannot be otherwise. The way I think is therefore completely determined by natural deterministic processes and cannot be any other way. it cannot be independent and choice and free will are illusions. including the freedom of reason. Along with this go personality, morality, knowledge and significance (taken from Jim Paul's article linked earlier.)
Yet we live and exist as if these things are real, I and You do exist and are not reducible to the same bag of elements.

So into the wheelbarrow on the left hand side I would add to the natural universe, "the illusion of personhood", "amorality", "the illusion of knowledge" (which is predetermined by natural process in this worldview) and "the illusion of meaning/significance."

Perhaps we should leave this thread behind? This could be a long long conversation:)

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: realistic? meaning closer to reality? closer to the way things 'are'

Not really. Just that even if you're not quite sure if anything exists you still wouldn't step out in front of a bus to test it!

Adrian said: Surely it is meaningless to talk about a objective true reality that has no connection with that reality we experience?

Then you obviously haven't read much philosophy [laughs]

Adrian said: And this independently of the material world itself.

I don't understand what you mean by 'independent' in this context.

Adrian said: The way I think is therefore completely determined by natural deterministic processes and cannot be any other way.

Actually we don't *know* how we think..... To say that our thinking is determined in the way you seem to be implying I think is going too far in my opinion.

Adrian said: it cannot be independent and choice and free will are illusions. including the freedom of reason.

Quite possibly.

Adrian said: I would add to the natural universe, "the illusion of personhood", "amorality", "the illusion of knowledge" (which is predetermined by natural process in this worldview) and "the illusion of meaning/significance."

I am actually coming to the opinion the 'personhood' is an illusion. If we are as determined as you seemed to be implying earlier then morality is an illusion too. It is certainly conceivable that we cannot ultimately *know* anything. I definitely think that any idea of meaning or significance is illusory.....

smithadri said...

Adrian said: realistic? meaning closer to reality? closer to the way things 'are'

Cyberkitten said: Not really. Just that even if you're not quite sure if anything exists you still wouldn't step out in front of a bus to test it!

But this is playing mind games. If you don't know whether the bus is going to kill you as much as you don't know when you eat your breakfast if that'll kill you, then you have no reason to believe that the bus will kill you. If knowledge is an illusion then breakfast may have a better chance
of killing you than that bus does!
Yet you live as if you believe that the bus has a better chance of killing you. This is not consistent with your worldview is it? You believe one thing, but act as if you believe something else.

Then you obviously haven't read much philosophy [laughs]

No I haven't [laughs], but no-one knows everything... (or as you say, anything...)

I don't understand what you mean by 'independent' in this context.

Basically freedom to reason apart from deterministic processes

Actually we don't *know* how we think..... To say that our thinking is determined in the way you seem to be implying I think is going too far in my opinion.

but if we are claiming nature is all there is deterministically, then (free) reason must be the result at some point of a deterministic, chance, cause/effect process (non-reason) How does that work?

I am actually coming to the opinion the 'personhood' is an illusion. If we are as determined as you seemed to be implying earlier then morality is an illusion too. It is certainly conceivable that we cannot ultimately *know* anything. I definitely think that any idea of meaning or significance is illusory.....

SO it a a pretty bleak picture, and we don't live as if it is true.. you and I regard each other and as valuable enough to interact with, we act as if each of us is a person with (perhaps limited, but real) significance.

If morality, knowledge and significance are illusions Cyberkitten, how would you suggest we should then live?

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: But this is playing mind games.

Possibly. I find it fun though, don't you?

Adrian said: You believe one thing, but act as if you believe something else.

I have my doubts certainly. I would not be overly surprised if we were indeed living in The Matrix or somehow discovered that we were fairly elaborate software and nothing more. I'm just not convinced that what we see is what there is..

Adrian said: No I haven't [laughs], but no-one knows everything... (or as you say, anything...)

You should read some philosophy of reality. It's either send you mad or you'll find it very relaxing... [grin]

Adrian said: Basically freedom to reason apart from deterministic processes

I'm still not sure what you mean.

Adrian said: but if we are claiming nature is all there is deterministically, then (free) reason must be the result at some point of a deterministic, chance, cause/effect process (non-reason) How does that work?

I don't know how the mind works. I'm also not a total determinist. I don't know hoe Free Will works - but it certainly *seems* like we have it.

Adrian said: SO it a a pretty bleak picture, and we don't live as if it is true

My outlook on life is far from bleak actually....

Adrian said: you and I regard each other and as valuable enough to interact with, we act as if each of us is a person with (perhaps limited, but real) significance.

I make the assumption that I relate to persons on a daily basis. There is, however, *absolutely* no way to confirm that. Likewise I can never confirm that *I* am a person either. It's just another assumption. One of which I'm happy to doubt.

Adrian said: If morality, knowledge and significance are illusions Cyberkitten, how would you suggest we should then live?

I thought it was you making those observations....

Morality is not an illusion. We act in moral & immoral ways all the time. Its just that morality is not based on God but is a human invention - a construct.

We can never know anything *absolutely* but we can have limited knowledge of the world - if we assume it exists at all. We seem to have enough verifiable knowledge in order to adequately function.

Significance on a cosmic scale is a total crock though. Most people are insignificant on a global scale - never mind a cosmic one!

smithadri said...

Cyberkitten said: I make the assumption that I relate to persons on a daily basis. There is, however, *absolutely* no way to confirm that. Likewise I can never confirm that *I* am a person either. It's just another assumption. One of which I'm happy to doubt.

how then should you live? how should you treat yourself and others? as 'persons' of doubtful value?

Adrian said: If morality, knowledge and significance are illusions Cyberkitten, how would you suggest we should then live?

I thought it was you making those observations....

only looking at the logical implications of the materialistic worldview

Morality is not an illusion. We act in moral & immoral ways all the time. Its just that morality is not based on God but is a human invention - a construct.

And what would human invention base morality on? cultural consensus? Personal feeling? Survival of the fittest? Is there no objective distinction between right and wrong, good and evil? And if not are Mugabe and Hitler justified in their actions?

Significance on a cosmic scale is a total crock though. Most people are insignificant on a global scale - never mind a cosmic one!

On what basis is significance measured? What makes one person more significant than another? And how then should we treat those of little (or no) global significance?

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: how then should you live? how should you treat yourself and others? as 'persons' of doubtful value?

I'm not sure if my doubt of personhood has any effect on my moral outlook. I have been brought up to treat people as I would like to be treated myself. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

Adrian said: only looking at the logical implications of the materialistic worldview

I don't think a lack of morality follows from a materialistic worldview.... I also don't believe in hard determinism.

Adrian said: And what would human invention base morality on? cultural consensus? Personal feeling? Survival of the fittest?

Largely cultural consensus - which is why it changes over time.... But you need to throw in upbringing, peers, schooling, life experiences and genetics into the mix too.

Adrian said: Is there no objective distinction between right and wrong, good and evil?

No. Such things are subjective.

Adrian said: And if not are Mugabe and Hitler justified in their actions?

From their own twisted point of view, yes.

Adrian said: On what basis is significance measured? What makes one person more significant than another? And how then should we treat those of little (or no) global significance?

Again you brought up the idea of significance.

From an individuals point of view they're probably very significant - or at least have *some* significance. From an historical point of view very few people appear to have much significance - and the longer view you take the less significance they have. Taken from a galactic point of view I doubt if anyone in the whole history of the Earth has had any significance at all.

How should we treat insignificant people? Personally I tend to treat everyone the same regardless of who they are - as fellow human beings.

smithadri said...

Adrian said: Is there no objective distinction between right and wrong, good and evil?
-No. Such things are subjective.

Adrian said: And if not are Mugabe and Hitler justified in their actions?
-From their own twisted point of view, yes.

I'm not sure you have a basis then for making the moral judgement of 'twisted' - twisted compared to..?
another subjective view of morality such as yours or mine?

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: I'm not sure you have a basis then for making the moral judgement of 'twisted' - twisted compared to..? another subjective view of morality such as yours or mine?

Yes, of course. We judge them by *our* standards. What other standards could we judge them by?

smithadri said...

CyberKitten said: Yes, of course. We judge them by *our* standards. What other standards could we judge them by?

If they are free to make their own morality how can you judge them at all? What makes your moral system superior to theirs? it would seem to be that you cannot judge them because you have already given them the freedom to have their own moral system. And if you cannot make a moral judgement then what basis does one have for doing anything about it?
Adrian

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: If they are free to make their own morality how can you judge them at all?

By *my* standards.

Adrian said: What makes your moral system superior to theirs?

Must mine be 'superior' to judge them? Of course I believe that my morality is better than their morality but I couldn't objectively *prove* that as there is no independent morality to judge them both against. I presume that you believe in such a thing?

Adrian said: And if you cannot make a moral judgement then what basis does one have for doing anything about it?

But I *can* make judgements - as can you. Do you not judge the actions of others on a daily basis?

As to 'doing anything about it' now that's a whole other issue!

smithadri said...

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: If they are free to make their own morality how can you judge them at all?

By *my* standards.

Adrian said: What makes your moral system superior to theirs?

Must mine be 'superior' to judge them?

Not necessarily. But if your subjective moral framework is the only basis on which you are judging them, then it is superior by definition as you have rejected all moral references outside of yourself. I presume that you believe in such a thing?

I do. I believe that it needs to be the basis for a more or less moral society. There is something wrong with the world (do you think many people would agree?), and in order to make that observation I have in my mind some idea (perhaps even quite nebulus) of what the world 'should' be like. Maybe more personally I know that there is something wrong with me (I discover this again and again when my 15 month old daughter won't go to sleep at 3AM) - I do not think or act as I 'should'.

Human beings are moral creatures - and if it were a construct, I would have constructed it to suit me a bit more than it currently does. An independent morality outside of myself is not convenient at all. It does mean that I cannot do as I please. It is not fun owning up to having lied or stolen or betrayed someone. Yet I have a conscience that I know is right and I cannot avoid.

Adrian said: And if you cannot make a moral judgement then what basis does one have for doing anything about it?

But I *can* make judgements - as can you. Do you not judge the actions of others on a daily basis?

Of course. But I can have nothing to say if I am the reference point other than "it is my opinion and nothing more that, what you're doing is right/wrong." I can say rape is wrong, but it is only wrong to me. And I may change my mind tomorrow if I feel like it, if it suits me, if I am ultimately the reference for morality (or cultural consensus may say its ok in a couple of decades time) I really can have nothing to say to somebody else if I have given them the freedom to call good evil and evil good. Murder, rape, human trafficking, child pornography are wrong. And these are examples of not treating fellow human beings as we *ought* to.


As to 'doing anything about it' now that's a whole other issue!

Well, unless we are just throwing about idle ideas, action needs to follow belief - lifestyle and worldview should be consistent to some extent. Otherwise I would question whether the beliefs are real.
Adrian

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: But if your subjective moral framework is the only basis on which you are judging them, then it is superior by definition as you have rejected all moral references outside of yourself.

But I don't. I am part of the culture I was born into. I absorbed its morality (with my own take on it) as I grew up. Moral references are, by definition, outside of myself. If I had rejected them all I wouldn't *have* any morals!

Adrian said: There is something wrong with the world (do you think many people would agree?), and in order to make that observation I have in my mind some idea (perhaps even quite nebulus) of what the world 'should' be like.

There are indeed *lots* of things wrong with the world - but I'm confident that most people would disagree on just what those things are. We all have ideas of morality & ideal worlds - its just that consensus on them is.... unlikely don't you think?

Adrian said: And I may change my mind tomorrow if I feel like it, if it suits me, if I am ultimately the reference for morality (or cultural consensus may say its ok in a couple of decades time)

But morality isn't about 'changing your mind' is it? You could not more decide to have a completely different morality than you could change your sexual orientation on a whim. We don't make up our morality as we go along. We might 'invent' it on a cultural scale but we are born into it and grow up into it. We can modify it as we grow, we might even change it completely over the years but we don't change it every day like our socks. That's just silly.

Adrian said: Well, unless we are just throwing about idle ideas, action needs to follow belief - lifestyle and worldview should be consistent to some extent. Otherwise I would question whether the beliefs are real.

Why? If I think that equal treatment for everyone is a good idea - which I do - that doesn't mean that I would sanction or aid the invasion of another country to enable people living there to enjoy the same freedoms as I do. It has nothing to do with me what happens in other places. If they want to overthrow their government all well and good. I'm not going to force people to think, believe or behave like I do though. You get my point?

smithadri said...

Cyberkitten: Moral references are, by definition, outside of myself. If I had rejected them all I wouldn't *have* any morals!

ok I would agree. So how subjective is your morality then if based on external references? And if morality is totally subjective, in principle you (or anyone else) have the freedom to reject them.

Cyberkitten said: But morality isn't about 'changing your mind' is it? You could not more decide to have a completely different morality than you could change your sexual orientation on a whim.{..} We can modify it as we grow, we might even change it completely over the years but we don't change it every day like our socks. That's just silly.

I'm not so sure. You may see abortion as wrong until you become pregnant as a teenager. Murder may be wrong until you find your wife in bed with your best friend. Breaking the speed limit is wrong until you're late for a meeting. And we find ways of justifying these things when it suits us, when it is convenient so that we get what we want.

Cyberkitten said: We all have ideas of morality & ideal worlds - its just that consensus on them is.... unlikely don't you think?

On the basics I don't think so. Why is murder wrong in every country of the world?

Cyberkitten said: Why? If I think that equal treatment for everyone is a good idea - which I do - that doesn't mean that I would sanction or aid the invasion of another country to enable people living there to enjoy the same freedoms as I do. It has nothing to do with me what happens in other places. If they want to overthrow their government all well and good. I'm not going to force people to think, believe or behave like I do though. You get my point?

another country is a bit far away (but perhaps in principle the same if we see others as human beings like ourselves.) What about the other places/persons like your neighbour, or your friends or your family? Would you give them the same moral freedom?

If morality is then based on external references, whether or not you *can* discard these is one thing, whether or not in principle you are justified in doing so is another.

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

adrian said: So how subjective is your morality then if based on external references?

Completely on multiple levels. Since the core of my morality - that of my culture - is itself subjective to begin with.

adrian said: And if morality is totally subjective, in principle you (or anyone else) have the freedom to reject them.

Of course. People reject various types of morality all of the time.

adrian said: And we find ways of justifying these things when it suits us, when it is convenient so that we get what we want.

...and your point is? That we don't stick to our own rules even when we create them? Welcome to the real world.

adrian said: Why is murder wrong in every country of the world?

But murder isn't a moral issue its a legal one. Murder is simply unlawful killing. Under that definition all of the people Saddam killed was perfectly OK - within the boundaries of his own regime.

adrian said: What about the other places/persons like your neighbour, or your friends or your family? Would you give them the same moral freedom?

People should be able to do pretty much whatever they like as long as they're not harming anyone else and the people involved consent to whats going on.

adrian said: If morality is then based on external references, whether or not you *can* discard these is one thing, whether or not in principle you are justified in doing so is another.

Who decides if its ok for me to ditch a moral precept? The culture I live in, my family or.... me?

smithadri said...

Cyberkitten said: (People should be able to do pretty much whatever they like)
_as long as they're not harming anyone else and the people involved consent to whats going on_

why? on what basis? You've given them subjective morality and freedom to reject a moral framework that demands these constraints of them.

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

adrian said: why? on what basis? You've given them subjective morality and freedom to reject a moral framework that demands these constraints of them.

Erm... what 'constraints'? That people should be capable of being responsible for their own actions and be able to freely choose what they do? That people should take care not to inflict unessesary harm on each other without a reasonable level of provocation? That people should treat themselves and others - and expect themselves to be treated - as ends in themselves rather than means to other peoples ends? You think that such things are *constraints*?

smithadri said...

Cyberkitten said: what 'constraints'?

should, should, should... Why *should* they? Says who? You or me? This is imposing a constraint on their subjective and total moral freedom which you have allowed. If you are going to use the words should/ought, should not/ought not when talking about another person then you're imposing your opinion of right and wrong on them, something which you have said we must not do.

Adrian

CyberKitten said...

Adrian said: If you are going to use the words should/ought, should not/ought not when talking about another person then you're imposing your opinion of right and wrong on them, something which you have said we must not do.

I'm actually not *imposing* my opinion on anyway - I am merely stating my personal moral position.... and we can judge the actions (or inactions) of others - as long as we recognise that these judgements are themselves subjective.

Do you believe in *objective* moral standards then? If so, what are they and how do you justify their objectivity?