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PostPosted: Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:04 pm  I am seriously questioning my atheism Reply with quote

Disclaimer: This post may be out of place on the Christianity and Apologetics forum (even though it does have some relation to Christianity), if it is, I apologize and ask that it be moved to a more appropriate place on the forum. However, I do intend this thread to be a discussion, if not a debate, so I felt this was the best place for it.

As many of you know, I am an ex-evangelical Christian and a current atheist. By "atheist," I mean I lack belief in god(s) of any kind, although I do not assert that there are definitely no gods. Since departing from Christianity, everything has made so much more sense: an eternal Universe (defined as the totality of natural existence) explained existence, evolution explained the diversity of life on earth, the absence of god(s) explained the problems of evil, inconsistent revelation, and so on.

However, there is one thing that I have been unable to account for under atheism: morality. Atheists almost invariably state that moral values and duties are not objective facts, but are simply subjective statements of preference and have no ontological value. That is, of course, until we are presented with cases of true evil, such as the Holocaust, the atrocities of Pol Pot, or the horrible psychopathic serial killings of individuals like Jeffery Dahmer. Then we as atheists tacitly appeal to objective moral values and duties, saying that individuals who commit should be severely punished (even executed) for doing "evil," saying that they "knew right from wrong." But if right and wrong are simply statements of subjective opinion, then how can we say that others knew "right from wrong" and are accountable for their actions? If relativism is true, they simply had differing opinions from the majority of human beings. However, it seems obvious to me (and to the vast majority of others, theist and atheist alike) that this is absurd -- the monsters who carried out the aforementioned acts really, objectively did evil.

Given this, the only reasonable conclusion is that moral facts and imperatives exist.

However, atheism appears to offer no framework for moral facts. Because of this, a few weeks ago, I started up a discussion on Wielenbergian moral realism, which states that objective moral values are simply "brute facts" that exist without any explanation. However, others rightly pointed out that the existence of "brute facts" is ontologically problematic and that the best explanation (on atheism) is that morality is simply subjective. Additionally, even if atheistic moral facts existed, the Humeian problem of deriving an "ought" from an "is" would preclude them from acting as moral imperatives; commands which human beings are obligated to follow.

In light of these airtight logical objections to atheistic moral realism, I was forced to abandon my position on moral facts and tentatively adopt moral relativism. However, relativism still seems problematic. After all, if morality is subjective, no one person can accuse another of failing to recognize the difference between "right and wrong," however, it is obvious to me (and, I would suspect, to other atheists as well) that right or wrong really objectively (not subjectively) exist.

The only rational conclusion I can seem to come up with is that there is a (are) transcendent moral lawgiver(s) who both grounds moral facts and issues binding moral commands on all humanity; i.e., God(s). This echoes evangelical Christian philosopher William Lane Craig's moral argument, which syllogism reads:

WLC wrote:
Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists


Premises 1 and 2 seem bulletproof -- (1) was demonstrated earlier in this post, leaving (2) as the only premise to attack. However, (2) seems to be as obvious as a hand in front of my face. The conclusion necessarily follows from (1) and (2), so is there any rational reason for me to reject the conclusion of the argument?

Remember, I am no believer of any kind. I am a staunch, educated, informed atheist, and I am well aware of the philosophical arguments against God(s), such as the problem of evil, the dysteleological argument, the problem of omniscience, etc. I'm also well aware of the plentiful empirical evidence against the existence of God(s), for instance, evolution, mind-body physicalism, etc. These are the reasons I reconverted from Christianity in the first place. However, I don't see way around this problem other than to accept either that our apparently obvious sense of moral facts is somehow mistaken, or that (a) theistic being(s) exist.

Debate question: Are my issues with atheism legitimate? Can atheism provide a coherent moral framework other than nihilism, relativism, or subjectivism? Do these problems really present evidence for theism? Is William Lane Craig right? Is this a real problem for atheism, or are my (our) emotions simply overriding my (our) rationality?

Feel free to present evidence for or against atheism, Christianity, or any religious or nonreligious perspective in this thread.
Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 241: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:19 pm
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I'm also coming late and did not take the time to read all, but from what I read (please tell if I missed something) the debate seems to have focused on a comparison between 2 views: Christian theism vs naturalism ; and whether any of them can make any objective sense of morality. And even though the existence of other possible views outside these two has been mentioned, I did not see one significanty developed here yet.

So I'll try to fill that gap by presenting my view as a candidate solution to the main problems and requirements that were presented in this debate: to account for the existence of an objective morality while avoiding the flaws of the Christian god-model.

Trying to sum up my view: very roughly I can express it as agreeing with atheists on a majority of issues, namely almost all practical issues, but not on metaphysics where I'd find myself closer to some form of theism or pantheism. Globally, the whole position is roughly a form of Deism - but I must define it more precisely. I did it in short here, and with long details on metaphysics there. I'll try to explain that again independently in this thread, to be roughly understandable, not too long and not just repeat what I wrote there, but it will still be a bit long.
Quote:
Since departing from Christianity, everything has made so much more sense: an eternal Universe (defined as the totality of natural existence) explained existence,

Sorry but I disagree. Well this disagreement is not easy to explain but I'll try to sum it up. You mentioned that "atheism appears to offer no framework for moral facts". I agree with the latter so much that I think its problem is much worse than this : atheism (naturalism) finally offers no framework for any fact at all except the mathematical "facts". Because the reduction of all things to material objects described and ruled by mathematically expressible laws, somehow reduce them to mathematical entities. Thus it leaves to framework to make any sense of claimed "facts" or "existence" except the mathematical ones. The argument could be made in abstract generality, but it appears even clearer as expressed by the paradoxes of quantum physics, which I analyzed here in another thread. Namely, quantum theory, which is the best scientific description of the nature of "material reality" at our disposal, faces an internal conflict between 2 forms or interpretations:
- The "pure" theoretical form (Everett's parallel universes) where each measurement somehow splits the universe into as many copies as there are possible results of the measurement, and thus shares the "quality of being real" of the initial universe, between all of possible final universes with each its own weight, just like a quantity is divided into a sum of smaller quantities. This process is purely deterministic, while these "measurements" do not really happen, but are mere emergent processes only defined by the fact that the different components of the abstract division of the final state into "possible results", happen to no more interfere in the future.
- The "effective" form (Copehagen interpretation), according to which only one of these possibilities becomes real, while these "weights" are said to define the respective probabilities for each measurement result to receive this quality of being real. However, the "wavefunction collapse", that is the actual "switching" from the unobserved final state (Everett's interpretation with merely potential probabilities) to the selection of only one possible result (actual probabilities) escapes all description by the theory itself (it is a "non-event" on a physical level).

Now the problem with the naturalistic view, is not only "how does the collapse happen", but it is "how can it make any objective sense to claim that the collapse actually happens". Indeed, it can be argued that the claim of the reality of this collapse only makes a relative sense: the disappearance of any interference between the respective future evolutions starting from each "possible final state", results in the separation of the different possible perceptions of a material "observer" inside the universe, himself divided between the different copies, and each copy of the observer has the subjective impression that only his own observed result turned out to be factually real, while other possible results, which he can no more observe are not real; however they would each be real as viewed by the evolving observers in the respective parallel universes.

So here is the problem: can it make any meaningful, objective, absolute sense, to say that only one of the possible measurement results (and the resulting universe) becomes factually real, while others aren't real ? If yes, how, and how can this be articulated with the heavily problematic nature of locating the "collapsing process" in physical space-time (especially with the necessary violation by this collapse, of the relativistic invariance otherwise preserved by all the rest of physics) ? If no, how can the "quality of being real" be divided, like a positive real number may be arbitrarily divided into a sum of positive real numbers, with possibly irrational ratios, given by the quantum theoretical calculations of "probabilities" ?

This problem is one of the possible expressions of my reasons to reject naturalism as unable to offer the necessary framework for conceiving facts or existence at all.

Instead of that, I consider that the physical universe receives its "factual reality" from another realm, that is the realm of conciousness. The reality of the physical universe consists in happening to be observed by this conciousness (while it would otherwise only have a mathematical existence as one possible universe among uncalculable numbers of alternative possible universes that equally exist in a mathematical sense).

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I define morality as the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize overall human well-being. There is no reason that moral facts could not be derived from this definition, sans God.

Such "facts" come here as relative to the given definition, which faces competition with other possible definitions. For example, what about the following non-exhaustive list of possible alternative definitions for morality:

1) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize the overall well-being of Roman citizens (in the context of the Roman Empire), or of American citizens (as the effects of global warming on the rest of the world do not seem to exist in the moral values of Americans).
2) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize the overall well-being of male humans
3) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize the overall well-being of humans and animals
4) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize the overall well-being of humans, animals and robots
5) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize the overall well-being of the present but also the future generations of humans (that may inherit the debt of our current public deficits, as well as a planet spoiled by the global warming and other environmental destructions we are causing, but which many people's morality seems to be ignoring)
6) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize the overall human present and post-mortem well-being (salvation)
7) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize God's glory
8) the social norms and individual behaviors which maximize the overall well-being of humans, animals and gods (or angels)

Now, if we want morality to be considered as an objective fact, then it should not be relative to a choice of arbitrary definition among such a list of possible variants. It must be considered that only one of such alternative "definitions" can be the objective truth, excluding all variants. But this requires to first answer the question: whose well-being should be considered objectively real ? If a robot was programmed to behave like a human, would its well-being be qualified to be counted as a component of the sum of moral facts ?
My position is that humans and animals have a material soul which makes them fundamentally different from robots, and makes them behave fundamentally differently (non-algorithmically), so that robots don't have any "well-being" qualified to enter the morality calculations.

I'll continue writing later as it will be quite long to complete what I wanted to explain....

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 242: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:21 pm
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Slopeshoulder wrote:
Too bad it's not 2011 when I had more time. Then I'd make destroying Knight, from a christian perspective, my ministry for the year! A worthy oppenent, who must be...um...destroyed! Laughing Presuupositional apologetics rears its self validating circular head! In thge sevice of deathdealing nonsense. Lord, spare us.


Exactly! Presuppositional apologetics is based entirely on the logical fallacy of begging the question. It's unassailable because the presuppositionalist won't accept any evidence that contradicts her presuppositional axioms, i.e., the Bible.

Quote:
As a catholic-of-sorts, I think humans will the good, albeit in a morally finite (aka fallen) way.
As someone who takes facts seriously, I'd affirm that we have empathy in our nature. and sexuality too. At least in my nature. Damn.


This is true. Empathy is part of our makeup because it was favored during the evolutionary process. All humans (except those who suffer from antisocial personality disorder) possess empathy, and it appears to be the basis for moral feelings.

Quote:
If there is anything more odious than a modern committed calvinist or wahhabist, I haven't found it.


Calvinism basically says that God is a sadistic monster that creates human beings for the express purpose of torturing them for all eternity. The Calvinist god makes Hitler look like a saint.

Quote:
OK carry on... Angel I gotta spend the weekend in a recording studio. Anyone know anything about how to build a good faraday cage? PM me! Smile


Have fun! Smile

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 243: Sat Mar 03, 2012 6:19 pm
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I continue:
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evolution explained the diversity of life on earth, the absence of god(s) explained the problems of evil, inconsistent revelation, and so on.
The observation of evolution with no trace of intelligent design, the problem evil and inconsistent revelations, show that there is no worthy intervention or inspiration by any decent God or any specially wise concious being on this planet (but this still does not speak for the rest of the universe). I agree that this is a troubling claim as compared with my previous statements posing conciousness as the ultimate nature of everything. I don't have the solution to this paradox. I just consider that I must accept both series of claims as contrasted aspects of reality, each dominating its own range of questions (with yet unclear separating limit between them), because I see no way to dismiss either of them.

Still I will take inspiration from this paradoxical situation, to shape the way by which I will express a definition of "God", a way that tries to display the best plausible compatibility with all facts we can easily observe.

I will describe it by an analogy with how things go in the physical universe.

In daily life, the physical universe appears in the form of a set of distinct objects configured and moving in space. On the one hand there are objects with each their own processes that seem to happen independently of other objects. On the other hand there is a fixed "empty" geometrical space, that does not evolve, but inside which the different objects can change their shape, communicate with each other, meet each other, combine and split.
However, if we enter into the subtle details of how things work, what are the exact laws of behavior and interactions of objects, we discover that the distinction between space and matter is blurred. The empty space between objects appears to communicate the electromagnetic field that behaves in comparable ways with material objects: it contains energy, momentum, forces. It can even be seen as made of particles.
The space also turns out to be curved (gravitational properties), with its curvature playing the role of a field in its own right in interaction with other material fields. But it is no more a field propagating inside a fixed space. Rather, in general relativity, the space and its curvature are aspects of the same entity.
In quantum field theory, even the emptiest space turns out to be full of virtual particles when looked at more closely. Distant objects do not have any absolutely independent existence from each other, as appears in the EPR paradox.

We can start explaining physics by saying "All matter is made of atoms". Yes but dark matter and neutron stars are forms of matter not made of atoms. Light, magnetic fields and gravitational fields are not made of atoms either, though all these things coexist and interact in the same physical universe, following laws expressed in the same framework of quantum physics, have some deep similarities, and are made of elementary substances with both behaviors of fields and particles. Especially, space definitely does not look like a physical object. So they don't seem to be material things like other material things. In good practical approximation, they appear completely different from matter.

We can say that the physical space, together with the laws of physics, constitute the framework of all physical existence that lets the different physical objects "exist somewhere", coexist, behave and interact in the same universe.

Now here is my definition of God.
    God = the framework of all concious existence, by which all individual minds coexist and interact in the same universe.
According to this definition, God is not one more individual mind with special qualities. He is not shaped like an individual in any way close to the way we usually consider individuals. He does not have his own will like individuals have wills.
He is merely, in good approximation from our viewpoint, the fact that different individual minds coexist in the same universe with their respective feelings and wills, and can interact (especially through this physical universe, but not only) even if it is possible that in different contexts (in the afterlife) where the currently working approximations do not apply, all these distinctions between individual minds, their possible coexistences and their interactions, may become blurred and take different forms in ways that we are not able to properly conceive from the viewpoint of our ordinary human condition.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 244: Sat Mar 03, 2012 11:12 pm
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Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
We know that we think, and in fact it's the only thing we can be truly certain of. Why we think is a secondary question, as you mentioned earlier in response to my theory on why we have empathy or act 'morally.' However the question which you are persistant in asking is not why, but if we 'ought' to act in any particular fashion. Unlike thinking, we don't know if we ought to seek/follow the will of some deity, if we're 'responsible' to him, so it's a flawed analogy.

To know that you think, you have to know who "you" are. I wouldn't be so dismissive of such a difficult problem.

Either way, my question as to "why we think" is not analogous to "why we have moral beliefs" (although it could be) but "why we are obligated or ought to do X." Asking "why" we ought to do X is just to ask for the reason we ought to do X, just as asking why we think is just to ask for the reason we think. The reason is the same: God has created us that way. They are aspects of our ontological makeup. This isn't circular.

The correct comparison for your argument would be "Do we think?" or "On what basis can we know whether or not we think?" In asking "Why we ought to do X" you are assuming that we ought to do X. That is circular.


Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
(1) Do you disagree that the manner in which God created us is an expression of his will?
(2) Do you disagree that responsibility to God means we ought to seek/follow his will?
(3) Do you disagree that we ought to seek/follow God's will because it's God's will that we do so?

(1) seems self-evident. You equated 'ought to' with responsibility in post 148, hence point (2) - unless I've misunderstood or you've changed your mind? So (3) follows logically; if we're responsible to God because he made us responsible, then we ought to seek/follow God's will because it's God's will that we do so.

This is either circular, or an incoherent concept of 'ought to' and responsibility.

You are equivocating on the nature of God's will. Post-apostolic Christians have for a long time recognized a distinction between God's sovereign will (what will occur due to God's determination or ultimate causation of such) and what God commands us to do. Why can what God commands conflict with what He has determined we will do? Because what God commands reflects what men are obligated to do, not what God is obligated to do. God is responsible to Himself (Hebrews 6:13). God ought to uphold His glory as must we. If these conflict, it will be man rather than God who will fail to uphold God's glory, as God will not determine a course of action inconsistent with the fulfillment of His obligation. So I reject either point 2 or 3 or both, depending on which you mean to equate with God's sovereign will.

Now you're saying that God 'ought to' uphold his glory and is responsible to himself. Why is that? I maintain that you're advocating an incoherent concept - a notion of 'oughtness' or responsibility as a property of God (and subsequently humans), rather than as a relational concept with something external to himself which is the actual meaning of the words. Furthermore, in the absense of free will the distinction between God's requirements for the behaviour of the universe and our natures (what you call his 'sovereign will') and God's requirements for the behaviour of the human parts of the universe (what you call his commands) is at best a distinction only of our perspective as humans, or at worst arbitrary. So my original point that your view is either circular or, as is now apparent, incoherent stands.


Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
There's differences between the two views, certainly, though in general terms I believe that central element of empathy as expressed in the Golden Rule is common to all moral systems.

How would you want to be treated if you were a criminal?

. . . . But in general criminals presumably want to be treated well, just like the rest of us. . . .

Would not a criminal like to be treated with mercy? As a sinner, that is my preference.

...I'm not sure what either your preference regarding the treatment of your 'sin' or some criminals' preference regarding the treatment of their crime has to do with the discussion though. . . .

Because you advocate the golden rule, do you not? That has implications as to how the justice system works. I'm trying to see if you're consistent. . . .

Ah, I see what you're getting at. But you might want to re-read that original statement. They overlap to the extent that they're both regulators of human behaviour, but moral systems aren't the same as legal systems. And in fact even most moral systems acknowledge exceptions to "do unto others..." for example in the case of self-defence...

Exceptions? On what grounds? It seems that whatever you would answer would be your actual ultimate moral principle. It's not really the golden rule after all.

Yet again, you might want to re-read the original comment, which I was kind enough to provide and put in bold font for you in my last post. This time I'll help you out even further by breaking it down a little:
in general terms - that means that I'm making a generalisation about moral systems
I believe that central element of empathy - that means that I believe empathy is a central element of these systems
as expressed in the Golden Rule - that means I believe the Golden Rule is an expression or formal statement of the feeling of empathy
is common to all moral systems - that means I believe, in general terms, all moral systems share this central feature

I did not say anything about my morals, and certainly nothing about any 'ultimate' moral principle, whatever that's supposed to mean. I specifically said that it was a generalisation about a central element of moral systems. Do you know what 'central element' means? It means a core or fundamental aspect which will necessarily be surrounded by other, peripheral elements. So do you dispute this statement of mine, or are you just taking random potshots in the hopes of eventually hitting a weak spot in 'my' moral theory?


Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
Rest assured that there are many Christians who don't understand the difference between the laws which a state makes and enforces, and their own morals.

I don't see how this is relevant.

In light of the above, I wouldn't expect you to. The point is that many Christians through their faith adopt a stance of moral absolutism (for example, that it is always 'wrong' to take a human life under every circumstance) and as such have difficulty grasping the nuances of a system (the laws and regulations of a state, in this case) which by their nature have to deal with the possible contingencies and consequences of complex situations, rather than simple ideas. Thus we run into unfortunate situations, for example, of moral absolutists condemning as evil a rape victim who chose not to keep the child of her mentally ill attacker - and worse, trying to enforce those absolutes through secular law! This comes back to my point in post 146 that theistic moral systems run the very real risk of treating consideration for the well-being of our fellow humans as a secondary concern to our pursuit of 'God's will.'


Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
That's pretty much my view of human behaviour, both 'good' and 'bad.' Of course creating living, thinking beings for the express purpose of destruction would almost universally be considered 'bad' by those who aren't Calvinists. And since those vessels of wrath have no choice - for "who can resist His will" when He wants to harden them? - they also are acting necessarily in accordance with their own (enforced) nature.

A correction: to determine one's course of action is not to say that the person cannot choose. He cannot choose a different course of action, but that's not relevant to the fact he can and does still choose the determined course of action. To "choose" is just to exercise one's will. If one's will can be determined by his desires, God can determine the will by determining his desires. This isn't a free will, but it is a will. It is choice.

Again, this is misuse of the language - an incoherent concept of 'choice.' Choice is a decision between alternatives; if there's no alternatives, there's no choice. As I said, there can be an illusion or, if you will, the experience of having made a decision. But if your actions are determined by prior circumstances and desires without any alternative possibility, to call it choosing is to render the word meaningless.


Knight wrote:
Mithrae wrote:
In other words, it seems as though your view of God is a being constrained by his nature to keep creating new members of a species born with a morally corrupt nature, including murderers and rapists who are constrained by their nature? And this is your source of moral inspiration!?

Is this an argument from incredulity?

As far as I can tell we've established that the basis for your moral system - your notion of 'responsibility' to God - is meaningless (or, possibly, circular). Recognition that by the standards of virtually any alternative moral system it is also abhorrent, or at best morally bankrupt, seems worthwhile also. On examination it seems that the Calvinist moral system you have presented fails both as truth and as values.

---

The rest of our discussion is about whether empathy is 'part of our nature.' You claim that we have a fundamentally corrupt nature. You suggest that at least four exceptions to this (Adam, Eve, Melchizedek and Jesus) do not invalidate it as 'part of our nature.' However without defining your criteria for doing so, you argue that in other cases some very few exceptions do invalidate traits as part of our nature. For example, you say that arms and sexuality are not part of our nature, and communication only may be.

As far as empirical evidence goes, I pointed out the fact that even in most stable and loving non-Christian households children begin to show more understanding and concern for others as they grow to adulthood. You claim this is not valid evidence for the natural development of empathy, but can just as validly be viewed as God restraining the 'corrupt nature' of children as they grow.


Let me know if I've missed anything important there, or misrepresented your views. But to be honest I don't think that's a topic worth pursuing further. You have your view of human nature, I have mine, and for now at least it seems there's no possibility of a useful exchange of views about them Wink

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 245: Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:03 am
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JoeyKnothead wrote:
From Post 199:

spayne wrote:

That's an acceptable proposition. But I also think that the beauty of God is that he is extremely personal, and so he speaks to us in terms we will understand. So when he says slow he means slow.

I'm unaware of any god speaking to anyone.

spayne wrote:

A God who is only loving but who will not or can not uphold justice and firmly establish control over evil is insincere and ineffectual, don't you think?
JoeyKnothead wrote:

Ask the starving, the prayerful, the lacking.

Yes, I'm sure it's no coincidence that the starving, the prayerful and the lacking understand the goodness of God.

This, I contend, is an example of the god concept in action. Notice the change of meaning employed to continue the notion of a "good" God.

Where there are starving folks, in the millions, I contend this is not indicative of a "good" God, but of a God that prefers folks suffer over lifting a finger to help.


And I would contend that it is the result of a brutal world that has rejected God.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 246: Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:35 am
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spayne wrote:

This, I contend, is an example of the god concept in action. Notice the change of meaning employed to continue the notion of a "good" God.

Where there are starving folks, in the millions, I contend this is not indicative of a "good" God, but of a God that prefers folks suffer over lifting a finger to help.


And I would contend that it is the result of a brutal world that has rejected God.[/quote]

Then, prey tell, why are some of the countries that have the lowest levels of poverty the most secular and atheistic in the general populations, and the countries that are the poorest, and have the greatest amounts of suffering have the highest amounts of religiousness?

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 247: Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:51 am
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Re: I am seriously questioning my atheism

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Haven wrote:
Disclaimer: This post may be out of place on the Christianity and Apologetics forum (even though it does have some relation to Christianity), if it is, I apologize and ask that it be moved to a more appropriate place on the forum. However, I do intend this thread to be a discussion, if not a debate, so I felt this was the best place for it.

As many of you know, I am an ex-evangelical Christian and a current atheist. By "atheist," I mean I lack belief in god(s) of any kind, although I do not assert that there are definitely no gods. Since departing from Christianity, everything has made so much more sense: an eternal Universe (defined as the totality of natural existence) explained existence, evolution explained the diversity of life on earth, the absence of god(s) explained the problems of evil, inconsistent revelation, and so on.

However, there is one thing that I have been unable to account for under atheism: morality. Atheists almost invariably state that moral values and duties are not objective facts, but are simply subjective statements of preference and have no ontological value. That is, of course, until we are presented with cases of true evil, such as the Holocaust, the atrocities of Pol Pot, or the horrible psychopathic serial killings of individuals like Jeffery Dahmer. Then we as atheists tacitly appeal to objective moral values and duties, saying that individuals who commit should be severely punished (even executed) for doing "evil," saying that they "knew right from wrong." But if right and wrong are simply statements of subjective opinion, then how can we say that others knew "right from wrong" and are accountable for their actions? If relativism is true, they simply had differing opinions from the majority of human beings. However, it seems obvious to me (and to the vast majority of others, theist and atheist alike) that this is absurd -- the monsters who carried out the aforementioned acts really, objectively did evil.

Given this, the only reasonable conclusion is that moral facts and imperatives exist.

However, atheism appears to offer no framework for moral facts. Because of this, a few weeks ago, I started up a discussion on Wielenbergian moral realism, which states that objective moral values are simply "brute facts" that exist without any explanation. However, others rightly pointed out that the existence of "brute facts" is ontologically problematic and that the best explanation (on atheism) is that morality is simply subjective. Additionally, even if atheistic moral facts existed, the Humeian problem of deriving an "ought" from an "is" would preclude them from acting as moral imperatives; commands which human beings are obligated to follow.

In light of these airtight logical objections to atheistic moral realism, I was forced to abandon my position on moral facts and tentatively adopt moral relativism. However, relativism still seems problematic. After all, if morality is subjective, no one person can accuse another of failing to recognize the difference between "right and wrong," however, it is obvious to me (and, I would suspect, to other atheists as well) that right or wrong really objectively (not subjectively) exist.

The only rational conclusion I can seem to come up with is that there is a (are) transcendent moral lawgiver(s) who both grounds moral facts and issues binding moral commands on all humanity; i.e., God(s). This echoes evangelical Christian philosopher William Lane Craig's moral argument, which syllogism reads:

WLC wrote:
Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists


Premises 1 and 2 seem bulletproof -- (1) was demonstrated earlier in this post, leaving (2) as the only premise to attack. However, (2) seems to be as obvious as a hand in front of my face. The conclusion necessarily follows from (1) and (2), so is there any rational reason for me to reject the conclusion of the argument?

Remember, I am no believer of any kind. I am a staunch, educated, informed atheist, and I am well aware of the philosophical arguments against God(s), such as the problem of evil, the dysteleological argument, the problem of omniscience, etc. I'm also well aware of the plentiful empirical evidence against the existence of God(s), for instance, evolution, mind-body physicalism, etc. These are the reasons I reconverted from Christianity in the first place. However, I don't see way around this problem other than to accept either that our apparently obvious sense of moral facts is somehow mistaken, or that (a) theistic being(s) exist.

Debate question: Are my issues with atheism legitimate? Can atheism provide a coherent moral framework other than nihilism, relativism, or subjectivism? Do these problems really present evidence for theism? Is William Lane Craig right? Is this a real problem for atheism, or are my (our) emotions simply overriding my (our) rationality?

Feel free to present evidence for or against atheism, Christianity, or any religious or nonreligious perspective in this thread.

whats up Haven.

Im not gonna read for 25 pages of responses. I will just have to risk repeating someone else. I see that you are having problems with reconciling something that has long been under the demense of religious thought with an atheistic ontology. I want to answer your questions first.

Are your issues with athiesm relevant? sure. you pointed out rightly that some athiests will cling to what they percieve as an objective moral standing when put in positions of high emotion/high stakes. Its certainly true. However, the athiest is appealing (without knowing it) to purely a cultural phenomenon. Cerrtainly we here in the west would all agree that jeffrey dahmer is wrong, just from hearing of his crimes. A person from cultural china would likely want more details before passing judgement. Its a cultural phenomenon, not an all encompassing spiritual dictate. In fact, the differences in cultures, in relation to morality, prove morality's subjectiveness. But I digress.

an atheism provide a coherent moral framework other than nihilism, relativism, or subjectivism?

Im sure someone has pointed some things out by now to the tune of atheism cant provide a moral framework, because lack of belief in something shouldnt have that much of an impact in your life. hopefully.

Are emotions overriding your logic? I think so , yes. That brings me to my point. I believe (and there is evidence to this effect) that morality, and indeed emotions themselves are biological phenomenon created by , and influenced by natural selection. Long story short, those people ( I say some animals also) that had emotions gained, at least, a slight edge in some way above those that didnt. In the same way, as people began living in larger groups, those that behaved in a moral way gained some slight edge in some way above those that werent moral.

Why is this so? If you ask me, Its because a group of people with social tendencies that agree to be moral to one another are going to be alot more successfull than everyone else who is thinking 'everyman for himself'. There is also the tendency for the 'everyman' types to compete amongst each other, and even eliminate each other through less than moral behavior. Well, thats my 2 cents.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 248: Sun Mar 04, 2012 8:34 am
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From Post 245:

spayne wrote:

JoeyKnothead wrote:

Where there are starving folks, in the millions, I contend this is not indicative of a "good" God, but of a God that prefers folks suffer over lifting a finger to help.

And I would contend that it is the result of a brutal world that has rejected God.

Either way, my point stands.

Now, what we're really getting at here is that the folks in question may not worship the god you prefer to worship, so they're being left to their misery. How might'n we convince them of the worship worthiness of a god that we can't show exists? How might'n we convince them that you, spayne, have confirmed your favored god prefers folks to act or think in a certain fashion?

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 249: Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:07 am
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spayne wrote:

And I would contend that it is the result of a brutal world that has rejected God.

The "brutal world" is an absolute pussycat compared to the psychotic genocidal God of the Bible, who seemed to be always mad all the time, despite the fact that things never ever turned out one jot different from the way he always knew that they would.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 250: Sun Mar 04, 2012 11:42 am
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Haven wrote:
Using utilitarian ethics, the most moral thing to do would be to kill the healthy man and use his organs as transplants for your five dying patients, thereby saving five lives. However, doing so would be absolutely evil and morally abhorrent, and everyone knows it. You cannot take the life of an innocent person in order to save other lives -- that is wrong. However, under utilitarianism, it would be right. This entails a contradiction, and this makes utilitarian ethics false.

Would letting 4 people die while it could be avoided, be the right choice ?

Quote:
I cannot accept, as some utilitarian philosophers such as Peter Singer have said, that unborn babies and infants have no right to live, and that it is permissible to euthanize disabled people and those suffering from illnesses.
Quote:
Sacrificing individuals for their wealth, or on the count of their genetics, or for any other reason -- though done in the name of "the greater good" does in fact jeopardize the rights of all. In this sense, we can conclude that if people are to be respected as ends in and of themselves rather than means to an end, rights for all are accounted for.

These again are dilemmas, of choosing between an evil of type A and an evil of type B. The material necessity of choosing one of them, does not make the chosen one a "permissible evil". Any choice can easily be condemned as the wrong one, when not paying attention to how wrong the alternative may sometimes be. Different contexts might make either A worse than B, or B worse than A. While making a law forcing the choice to A as a matter of principle, may seem justified when we imagine cases where B would be clearly worse than A, it may be dangerous when leading to absurd applications to other cases when A would be clearly worse than B.

Autodidact wrote:
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
-Dalai Lama
This may work in some cases and also hopefully in the ultimate level of life review after death. However there are also many cases when both purposes do not match. Some ways of practicing compassion may only succeed to make oneself happy at the expense of others (see there the section "The spiritual ego, in practice"), while some of the best possible actions, such as developing something (a new technology, a piece of art...) that will benefit millions, fails to make oneself happy during this life to any proportional extent, for lack of personally knowing the beneficiaries of one's actions. Again, see also that big type of example, of how both purposes may diverge, so that not the same type of compassion would best help either purpose during this life.

Haven wrote:
If we assume there are no animals on the island, and no way for the person's actions to effect any other sentient beings, then no, there would be no need for morality.
I disagree. He would still have the moral duty to respect himself.

Knight wrote:
Does "morality" refer to the set of that which is good or the [alleged] fact that men ought to do that which is good?
Does the morality of the isolated man on the island, refer to the set of actions that he likes, or the alleged fact that he ought to do that which he likes ? Indeed, as some NDEs suggest, I think each one will be affected by the effects of one's actions on others after death.

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