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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 11: Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:03 pm
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Haven wrote:

Debate question: [i]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?




I'm not logician. But Craig seems wrong to me now as always with what he says.

1) If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.

How would one prove that?

If I were to say that "If God did not exist then gravity would not exist" would you accept this as true? Theists will usually tell you that the laws of physics exist because God chose them. I'm going to assume that you don't see this as a necessity. The laws of physics may exist because it is inherent that energy/matter will behave in certain ways, maybe even required that it behave as it does in this Universe. As an atheist, I have no problem not believing in Gods even though I couldn't begin to tell you how gravity came about.

There is no evidence for gods. There is evidence for gravity. Everything else we couldn't explain has so far turned out to be perfectly natural. I can't guarantee that gravity is, but I have no reason to conclude it isn't natural as well.

I'm an avid moral relativist. But I'm not going to go into all the reasons why it makes sense to me. Moral relativism is hard to get when you are used to thinking and talking in objectivist terms. (Please don't take that as an insult, it just is. I'm not saying you can't understand, just that I know I can't express myself well enough to make moral relativism click for you in one post.) So let's say that you continue to believe that there are objective standards of morality.

If we take objective morality as true, then it's origin can be unexplained just as the origin of gravity is. It would not require a god to set the standards, maybe the objective standards are as part of the nature of existence as gravity.

Then there is the litany of problems with the god solution. I'm sure you are familiar with them. If I say that morality is subjective you would say that's bull, there is no way that taking a blowtorch to a baby's face because the momentary warmth burning baby fat gives you is mildly pleasurable is morally acceptable. So is you can't reconcile this with moral relativism, how do you reconcile it with a god did it system? If the gods had determined that that's morally ok, would it have made it morally ok? May I assume you answered in the negative? So if the standards exist independent from the gods' opinions, saying that the gods determined moral truth isn't accurate.

The God did it answer seems to settle any question. But it raises so many more unanswerable questions such as what gods are and how they did it and when they did it and such not. So although it seems to be an answer, it isn't.

Certainty is comfortable. So an offer that seems to offer it is attractive. But choosing to believe something because it offers an answer misses the step of demonstrating the answer's correct. Many a fine, elegant solution has been ruined by that step.

Atheism, as you know, is just the lack of belief in any gods. There are atheists who believe in moral relativism and those who believe in moral absolutes. You don't have to accept moral relativism just because that's what so many atheists accept. I hope you come to accept it because it seems to be the better explanation.

But if you remain a moral absolutist you should be able to at least come to live with not knowing absolutely how those absolutes came to be. To finally get to the answer to one of your questions: No. Atheism cannot provide a good moral framework. Atheism is just the lack of belief in any gods. It offers nothing to take their place. You can remain fully an atheist while still struggling to figure out what philosophical outlook best satisfies you in explaining morality. Not being a football fan provides you with nothing to fill the time on sundays you would have spent watching the games. But it does leave you free to find out for yourself what best fills that time.
Pardon the rambling.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 12: Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:05 pm
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Hello haven,

I'm a theist but I don't have an incentive to make you into either a theist or atheist. We know that instinct is prevalent in all (or at least many) lifeforms. It's more noticeable in the animal kingdom but humans also have instinct. Depending on what nature movies you have seen you probably know that instinct can provide very complex instructions within the animal kingdom. Isn't is possible that right and wrong could be part of instinct?

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 13: Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:12 pm
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In the several hundred years the decline of scholastic natural law thoery, and setting aside biblicist stuff about God as lawgiver, a modern jewish or christian existentialist narrative neo-pragmatic grammatical constructivist ethicist (such as myself) would likely overlap with much of what IAMALLIAM wrote.

I've found that the difference is often that the religionist might be a little less instrumentalist about the whole thing, less "me"-ish, a little warmer, a little less stumbling or awkward, and might place ultimate relationship in the god concept (like Buber, Augustine, and Kierkegaard did), at least for edifying effect. When you put aside traditional superstitions, religionists speak ethics pretty fluently. I've always been drawn to that ease, that fluency, and what it manifests, vs. its alternative, if only as a place to hang out.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 14: Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:15 pm
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Thanks for the responses Smile.

On atheism, moral relativism isn't just the best (most coherent) option, it's the only rational option. There is no way objective moral values and duties can exist on atheism because:

(1) The problem of moral facts. While humans can construct moral values based on evolutionary adaptations such as empathy and rationality, there is no way that such values can serve as facts. They are simply opinions. Theoretically, moral facts could exist, but there would be no [known] explanation for such facts, leaving them in a precarious ontological position. It would be more parsimonious to assume that such facts do not exist and that moral relativism is true.

(2) The is-ought problem (Hume's guillotine). It is logically impossible to derive normative statements (statements of what one should do) from statements of fact (what actually exist). Even if objective moral facts existed, there would still be no imperative for people to conduct their lives in accordance with those facts. This would, once again, lead to relativism.

I think this video explains why the atheist has no options other than moral relativism, moral subjectivism, or moral nihilism:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exiCcOcjbBY

Side note: (If you notice the video's comments, yes, haven10709 is me).

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 15: Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:38 pm
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Haven wrote:

On atheism, moral relativism isn't just the best (most coherent) option, it's the only rational option.


Yes, that is the of repeated claim by many theists.

Haven wrote:

There is no way objective moral values and duties can exist on atheism because:

(1) The problem of moral facts. While humans can construct moral values based on evolutionary adaptations such as empathy and rationality, there is no way that such values can serve as facts. They are simply opinions. Theoretically, moral facts could exist, but there would be no [known] explanation for such facts, leaving them in a precarious ontological position. It would be more parsimonious to assume that such facts do not exist and that moral relativism is true.


Facts are facts. If you can at all define ethics and morality, I personally do not see how you need a deity for moral facts to exist. 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.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 16: Wed Feb 29, 2012 9:49 pm
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Haven wrote:
Thanks for the responses Smile.

On atheism, moral relativism isn't just the best (most coherent) option, it's the only rational option. There is no way objective moral values and duties can exist on atheism because:

(1) The problem of moral facts. While humans can construct moral values based on evolutionary adaptations such as empathy and rationality, there is no way that such values can serve as facts. They are simply opinions. Theoretically, moral facts could exist, but there would be no [known] explanation for such facts, leaving them in a precarious ontological position. It would be more parsimonious to assume that such facts do not exist and that moral relativism is true.

(2) The is-ought problem (Hume's guillotine). It is logically impossible to derive normative statements (statements of what one should do) from statements of fact (what actually exist). Even if objective moral facts existed, there would still be no imperative for people to conduct their lives in accordance with those facts. This would, once again, lead to relativism.

I think this video explains why the atheist has no options other than moral relativism, moral subjectivism, or moral nihilism:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exiCcOcjbBY

Side note: (If you notice the video's comments, yes, haven10709 is me).


An atheist is someone who answers the question "Do you believe a god exist?" with a no. That is all that makes you an atheist and that is the complete moral philosophy of atheism. Your moral position has nothing really to do with this at all and because of this you can easily take any position you want. You can say that morality is objective, for example slavery is not just wrong now but it has always been wrong and always will be wrong. When slavery was commonplace and practiced by the most moral people of the time it was still an immoral act, we just did not realize it yet at the time. If the earth blows up and there is no other intelligent life form in the universe the morality of slavery becomes moot, but as soon as new species start taking over somewhere again and they engage in slavery it is again equally immoral. Why do you need to add the word God to such a statement? In my opinion it stands on its own just fine.

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"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?? "


Ask yourself if you can establish a coherent moral framework from your disbelief in the existence of fairies. If you cannot do this then why would you assume you can establish such a framework from your disbelief in a god? Atheism is not a moral philosophy or any moral position, it is merely a single answer to a single question. Secular humanism is a more of a moral position for example.


Quote:

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


I personally agree with Premise 2, so my comment is on premise 1. Premise 1 is an if A then B situation, which means there are more likely 4 options instead of the two that are assumed here.
1) God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2) God exists, objective moral values and duties do exist
But of course there are also 2 more options:
3) God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do exist
4) God does exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

3) He left this option out of the argument, which is the one option almost every Atheist I know picks. Why can objective morality not exist if god is not there? Even if this is indeed the case this first would need to be demonstrated.

4) The fact that a God exists would not necessarily mean that objective morality also exists. The same subjectivity that applies to humans applies to a god as well. You might say for example that basing your morality on humanity makes it subjective, since if humans die out so would our morality. However basing your morality on a god does not get rid of the problem. A god is just another person, perhaps wiser, perhaps more capable, but another individual with a subjective view nonetheless. For this argument to fly you would first need to demonstrate that a god exists and then that because of his existence morality is objective. I'm willing to bet William Lane Craig does not provide the evidence for either.

To me this seems like a really lame argument because what it really boils down to is the following:
Do you agree morality is objective? Yes. Good then God exists because if God doesn't exist morality cannot be objective.

Ask yourself the following question: Is something moral just because God says it is? Or does God say something is moral/immoral because it is and he is just telling us about it?.
If it is the first case then morality is based on the opinion of God and his state of mind, meaning that morality is very subjective. If the second case then morality is objective, but also not dependent on God. We can find morality without the aid of God by ourselves. Even if a God exists it is not clear whether or not morality is subjective or objective anymore than when you assume a God doesn't exist.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 17: Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:14 am
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Why should a man not murder, rape, defraud, lie, or steal, if he feels it benefits him and he has the ability to get away with it without a trace?

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 18: Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:20 am
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It seems to me that "morality" is being used ambiguously in this thread. Does "morality" refer to the set of that which is good or the [alleged] fact that men ought to do that which is good? As a theist, I would argue that there is a distinction between "goodness" and "oughtness," although the concepts overlap.

To illustrate this distinction, I would ask the secularists (irreligious) in this thread who favor "objective morality" to define the nature of good. Then:

(1) If the answer is some list of choices, actions or consequences, why anyone ought to follow such a list? Even if, for the sake of argument, one were to grant the definition of good, there is not, within the definition, any intrinsic justification of the authoritativeness which a command to follow such a list would presuppose. Example: ignoring other obvious problems with Utilitarianism, defining good as “that which causes the greatest pleasure to the most people” does not, without further ado, explain why one should endeavor to do what is good – in this case, cause the greatest pleasure to the most people. Here, the distinction between the what-question (“good”) and the why-question (“ought”) is clear.

(2) I imagine, however, that a secularist could define good as “that which one ought to do.” But in this case, what is the "that"? It is only necessary to reverse the above process: instead of asking why one ought to follow a list of what is good, as in point (1), ask what is the list of choices which fall under the purview of what is "good" and how one knows such. How does one know that, say, Utilitarianism is "good" (i.e. that which one ought to do)?

(3) Kant’s categorical imperative provides, as a final example, how the secularist may provide an answer to the question of the nature of good which, at first glance, may appear not to fall under either of the above categories. The categorical imperative reads as follows: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” In actuality, this answer is, in disguised form, one of the above possible answers: (1) or (2). The question is how to discern which it is. If one should encounter such a definition of good which at once seems to include both a list of choices and an ought-statement (“[one ought to] act only according to that maxim…”), he should ask, in a manner similar to the following, whether the secularist thinks:

(a) “Choosing that which would not lead to self-contradiction if universalized” itself comprises the list of that which is "good," in which case see point (1), or

(b) “Choosing that which would not lead to self-contradiction if universalized” is subsumed under the good ("that which ought [not] to be done), in which case see point (2).

(4) I would argue that God’s precepts demarcate what is “good.” This follows the distinction set in point (1). Yet unlike Utilitarianism and other secular ethical systems, while this by itself does not precisely explain why one ought to do good - i.e. why doing that which is good is a "moral duty" - I am able to explain to do so. God, as the creator of all things, made things to be as they are. God created men with the intention that they be responsible to obey His precepts, and so men are (Romans 9:19-21); that God sovereignly made men for His own ends and glory functions as the very means by which Paul substantiates his claim that men are responsible. In the absence of a Creator-creation distinction, moral dogmatism is irrational. A dictator may desire to enforce his ideas, but only a sovereign Creator can universalize His moral precepts to those whom He has created for that purpose.

As a side note, someone mentioned Euthyphro's dilemma. I would suspect that a reason Socrates superficially dismissed the possibility that the set of things referred to as "good" are such because they are said to be so by God is because he lived in a polytheistic culture in which the gods quarrelled about this very issue:

Plato wrote:
Soc. And the quarrels of the gods, noble Euthyphro, when they occur, are of a like nature?

Euth. Certainly they are.

Soc. They have differences of opinion, as you say, about good and evil, just and unjust, honourable and dishonourable: there would have been no quarrels among them, if there had been no such differences-would there now?

Euth. You are quite right.

Soc. Does not every man love that which he deems noble and just and good, and hate the opposite of them?

Euth. Very true.

Soc. But, as you say, people regard the same things, some as just and others as unjust,-about these they dispute; and so there arise wars and fightings among them.

Euth. Very true.

Soc. Then the same things are hated by the gods and loved by the gods, and are both hateful and dear to them?

Euth. True.

Soc. And upon this view the same things, Euthyphro, will be pious and also impious?

Euth. So I should suppose.

Soc. Then, my friend, I remark with surprise that you have not answered the question which I asked. For I certainly did not ask you to tell me what action is both pious and impious: but now it would seem that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them. And therefore, Euthyphro, in thus chastising your father you may very likely be doing what is agreeable to Zeus but disagreeable to Cronos or Uranus, and what is acceptable to Hephaestus but unacceptable to Here, and there may be other gods who have similar differences of opinion.


But this is not the case on monotheism. And if one should ask why God has defined good as He has and commanded it as He has, the answer is because such is grounded in and reflected by His own nature. It is non-arbitrary.

Perhaps one might say that this makes "morality" subjective. But what does this mean? We can certainly each have subjective opinions as to how to define "good." Perhaps God's own definition of good would be subjective. "Good" and "morality" are not mind-independent, so if that is what is meant by "objective," then "good" and "morality" are subjective. But is this relevant? I can use any symbol, not just the four letter word "good," to tag the set of God's precepts. The real question seems to be whether or not one ought to follow this set, in which case I think the [mono]theist has a good answer (at least, Christians do) whereas secularists don't.

I would also point out that ethics cannot be divorced from epistemology. If one doesn't have a sound epistemic system, he cannot have a sound ethical system. Secularists have enough trouble with the former. If it is the case that only an epistemic system in which language is derived from God can be true, then this thread is largely irrelevant. It would presuppose God just to talk about these things. The point is that no one should consider the argument from morality to be the only argument against secularism.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 19: Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:30 am
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Shermana wrote:
Why should a man not murder, rape, defraud, lie, or steal, if he feels it benefits him and he has the ability to get away with it without a trace?


People never get away with anything. Everyone dies. And sadly, in the end, reality isn't going to care one way or another. Just as reality isn't going to care when our star starts burning more helium than hydrogen and vaporizes every living thing on this planet... But what's interesting is that you give your GOD this license... After all, was it righteous to commit mass genocide and infanticide of every living thing of the face of the earth just because your GOD was sorry for ever creating it??? Can mothers now follow example and kill their children just because they are sorry for ever having them?.... What kind of logic are you using here? The problem is that your own religion and GOD is morally bankrupt in absolute hypocrisy..

Now does this mean people should go off and murder, steal, and lie? I don't think so. Life isn't fair, and sometimes bad people get away with doing bad things. I guess it just makes you feel better about it by believing an imaginary being judges everyone, and that bad people get sent to a burning ever lasting torture.. Never mind the fact that all bad people can be seen as having various psychological and mental disorders. It could be just how their brains are wired to where they just are bad people via consequence of how their brains process information and react to it... It's like how in some countries they boil cats alive for food. To them cats are just food. To some cat lover they are evil and satanic.. Morality is naturally relative unfortunately..

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 20: Thu Mar 01, 2012 2:27 am
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Quote:
People never get away with anything.


Depends on how you determine that.

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2010/may/24/cold-case-chronicles-most-murders-go-...


Quote:
Everyone dies.

You're not agreeing with the idea of Karma...are you?

Quote:

And sadly, in the end, reality isn't going to care one way or another. Just as reality isn't going to care when our star starts burning more helium than hydrogen and vaporizes every living thing on this planet... But what's interesting is that you give your GOD this license...


The idea is that our god is the administrator of justice, whether or not we agree with this justice, and as I said which you called "Sadistic", I believe in reincarnation, but that's another story.


Quote:
After all, was it righteous to commit mass genocide and infanticide of every living thing of the face of the earth just because your GOD was sorry for ever creating it??? Can mothers now follow example and kill their children just because they are sorry for ever having them?.... What kind of logic are you using here? The problem is that your own religion and GOD is morally bankrupt in absolute hypocrisy..


I don't care to get into the 1000th discussion on Biblical morality, you are basically trying to change the subject. I don't see how any Atheist who doesn't believe in Objective morality has any ability to call someone else's beliefs "morally bankrupt", that's just silly. How do you justify tht? As for killing children they don't want, that's a very common canard, the idea is that they are grown men who drink all day and waste their family's sources, and I doubt very many died for it. I am not here to defend the conquest of Canaanites or execution for Biblical Capital crimes, I am here to ask a question which you ultimately dodged.....

Quote:
Now does this mean people should go off and murder, steal, and lie? I don't think so.


If you were offered by the government $10,000,000 to go kill a random person with a guaranteed get away (guaranteed), would you do it? Would you lie or steal in a way which would earn you $10,000,000 if you were guaranteed to not get caught but it cost someone else their life?

Quote:
Life isn't fair, and sometimes bad people get away with doing bad things.


Right, and the question is, why should they stop themselves if they can get away with it?

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I guess it just makes you feel better about it by believing an imaginary being judges everyone, and that bad people get sent to a burning ever lasting torture..


But that's not really the question here, which you are dodging.

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Never mind the fact that all bad people can be seen as having various psychological and mental disorders.


One of my main gripes with my psychology classes was an attempt to label criminally insane people as merely having psychological and mental disorders instead of saying that they were just evil. What exactly is a psychological and mental disorder exactly? Even PH.D.s in psychology argue about that. Does a chemical imbalance justify a person's atrocious acts and violations of another's sanctity?


I
Quote:
t could be just how their brains are wired to where they just are bad people via consequence of how their brains process information and react to it...


This is hotly debated, and while I agree there may be chemical and "wiring" differences with the criminally-hearted, I don't think this somehow explains that they are just "meant to do it", I think there's indeed a cognitive process going on. So are you saying that they shouldn't be held to the same standard?
Quote:

It's like how in some countries they boil cats alive for food. To them cats are just food. To some cat lover they are evil and satanic.. Morality is naturally relative unfortunately..[


So once again, what is to stop a person from murdering, rape, stealing, defrauding, and such if they feel they can get away with it? Why should they feel any restraint if they can get away with it like so many experienced criminals do?

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