The Raving Theist

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January 11, 2009 | 150 Comments

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150 Responses to “Daily Headline”

  1. jolly atheist
    January 11th, 2009 @ 5:39 am

    Do you see how atheists have brought humor to the world?  For centuries, the religious either ignored the existence of atheists or preached that they were pessimistic, on the verge of suicide or hedonistic. Humor is what the world needs along with acting by reason and concern for others and that’s what the atheists provided.

  2. Carla
    January 11th, 2009 @ 7:46 am

    Do you see how Christ followers have brought humor to the world? For centuries it has been preached that we were whacked out fundies on the verge of judgment and condemnation.

  3. Carla
    January 11th, 2009 @ 7:47 am

    Whoops. I forgot right wing extremists. My bad.

  4. mk
    January 11th, 2009 @ 8:10 am

    Jolly Atheist,

    Then I guess you better hope that Christians stay around for a long, long time.  Otherwise, you’ll cease to be funny, because your “source” will have dried up.  You realize, don’t you, that you’re only funny when humiliating Christians…

  5. jolly atheist
    January 11th, 2009 @ 8:42 am

    Carla and mk : But you’re forgetting that God is not in the monopoly of Christians,  so the source of fun is neither Christians nor Christianity. The only link  with Christianity is that the ad started as a reaction to  a threat of the Christ followers by hell – how humorous! 

  6. skeptimal
    January 11th, 2009 @ 8:54 am

    I sincerely appreciate the humor that RT injects with the graphics he or someone has been posting.   It’s not a bad approach to a topic that people like to argue about.

    What I’m about to say is not intended to be a buzzkill, but I’d like to ask again that he talk about how he moved from atheist to Christian.  Here’s the thing.  As an atheist, it appears that he talked about the importance of reason.  I’d really like to know what made him change his mind about that.  I can’t imagine I’m the only one who’s curious what his thinking was.

    My guess would be that if anyone responds to this post, they’ll say “he didn’t abandon reason; he embraced reason by abandoning ‘the wisdom of this world.'”  Fair enough.  Explain how someone who put reason above all else decided that the most logical place to be was Christianity.  This is a simple request that any reasonable person would be able to understand.  If you’re confident enough to come back and start posting here again, RT, then you should have enough confidence in your newfound reasoning to explain it.

    And please: no excuses about how it took you years to think through your atheism but you’ve only had a few months to be a Christian.  Respectfully, that’s an admission that you had no logical reason to convert.   *You’re* the one who pointed out your role in “The God Who Wasn’t There.” You spent years explaining how Christianity doesn’t make any sense, and *you’re* the one who made the decision to start posting again.  *You’re* the one who’s decided to insert himself back in the debate in a public way, but for the faith-based community. It isn’t reasonable to shift gears like that and not explain logically how you got from point a to point b. 

    Again: If you don’t have logical reasons, just say so.  Just call it a revelation and admit that you can’t become a Christian through logic.

  7. Helen
    January 11th, 2009 @ 9:38 am

    Dear Skeptimal,
    Haven’t you ever known what you were thinking, but had a hard time putting it into words?  I gather that as RA he was quite eloquent, so this seems an impossibility.   But as he said, he was eloquent about something he had thought about for years.  He also admitted that he had thought he was just going to wrap this blog up, but that our comments (atheist and theist both) are leading him to think that now is not the time.  
    Dear Jolly Atheist,
    I am not prepared to discuss the nature of humour.  I am only prepared to say that I am glad for RT”s site, because it is good seeing that even in our differences, there are things we all share, a sense of humour being one of them.

  8. Lily
    January 11th, 2009 @ 10:18 am

    Good grief. Best. Daily. Headline. Ever.

    OK. OK.  Best Daily Headline so far. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next  to top this one, RT.

  9. skeptimal
    January 11th, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    Helen,

    I appreciate the gentle tone of your response. It would be easy to read a lot of hostility into my post. Believe it or not, if he’ll acknowledge that non-theism is a reasonable position, I might be able to respect RA/RT’s decision to publicly admit that he’s faith-based now. If he’s going to suggest that only Christianity is logical, though, he needs to explain why that is the case.

    Haven’t you ever known what you were thinking, but had a hard time putting it into words?  

    Yes, and when that’s the case, I usually keep quiet until I’ve thought it through. I don’t know RA/RT, and I’m not intimately familiar with his reasoning, but it appears that for years he took the position that beliefs need to be backed up by evidence and logic. He has now taken a position that he used to say was not logical. If you spend your life reasoning things through and pointing out the logical flaws in someone else’s position, and you then adopt that position, it isn’t credible to think that you wouldn’t be able to explain why.

    It is popular for Christians to claim to have converted for logical reasons. If RT is going to claim that, he needs to put his money where is mouth is and explain his reasoning. Otherwise, he should admit that he’s had what we’ll call charitably “a revelation.”

    If he wasn’t ready to face these questions, given the semi-public position he took before and takes now, he should have kept quiet. Without an explanation, his credibility is at issue. It may not be fair, but as I’ve said before, it’s reality that new converts of every stripe lack credibility for a while and have to earn it back.

  10. skeptimal
    January 11th, 2009 @ 10:32 am

    Helpful hint to those that cut and paste from MS Word.  Don’t do it. You’ll end up with all the MS Word style and formatting spelled out at the top of your post, like just happened to me.

    Sorry, folks.

  11. Craig
    January 11th, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    @skeptimal

    I understand where you are coming from in wanting to know how the RA became the RT.  I’m interested in it too, but at the same time I know how hard it can be to explain these things.  I think an analogy (maybe not the greatest one) would be like asking someone when they stopped being a child/teen/young adult.  Asking someone when they finally grew up.  For me, I can’t answer that with anything definitive, but I know others that can tell a moment in time when they made the conscience decision that they would grow up.  I feel conversions are like that.  Some people have an enlightening moment, for others it’s a process that is very difficult to explain.  

    Personally, I don’t see how using reason you can honestly deny the existence of a God.  And I’m not even arguing for the Christian God.  I am arguing specifically for a God.  If you want rational arguments for the existence of God, just look at many of the hundreds of converts from Atheism to Christianity.  Why pick out just one person to harass when many others have provided the same information.  (Chesterton and Lewis are two of the most popular converts). 

    If that doesn’t suffice, check out “Fundamentals of Faith” by Peter Kreeft.  The first 5 Chapters discuss the five major rationalities for believing in a God.

  12. skeptimal
    January 11th, 2009 @ 11:56 am

    Craig,

    You said: Why pick out just one person to harass when many others have provided the same information.”

    My intent is certainly not to harass anyone.  On the other hand, I don’t consider a little persistence to be harassment as long as I’m not getting unnecessarily personal.  I do think someone needs to point out the reasonable expectation a non-theist would have that RT explain his position.  He made a point of bragging about his involvement in a documentary on this subject in the same post that he, rather melodramatically, professed his faith.

    “I think an analogy (maybe not the greatest one) would …asking someone when they finally grew up. ”

    I understand your point here, but let me explain myself a little, so you’ll understand why I don’t accept it.  There are a number of ways in which a person shifts their world view.

    I believe that, like growing up, any *reasoned* shift in world view usually begins long before we are consciously aware of it.   It seems to me that we often shunt new thoughts through the self-conscious and chew on them there for a while before they become conscious doubts.  We usually have a lot of reasons for believing as we do, and so a doubt in one area does not change our whole point of view.  Sometimes, a cascade of doubts will lead to our examining the world view more closely, and a process begins by which our understanding might significantly shift.  AT the very point that our view shifts, we may not be aware of all of the subconscious thoughts behind the change.  We only know that a preponderance of ‘evidence’ now convinces us that things were different than we used to think. 

    A world view might also shift based on someone’s views about themselves or their feelings about the world.  That happens both ways: into and out of religions.

    In all these cases, there is going to be a gray period of testing assumptions, as well as a time of flipping back and forth across the line between the old and new positions.  I think that’s the way we’re put together.  In that way, I can understand the point you’re trying to make.

    Things are different in this situation, however.  If RT is still in the gray area, he shouldn’t have reactivated the blog.  He’s not a child growing into an adult; he is someone who moved from a stated certainty that there were no gods to being being certain about a distinct set of beliefs about one particular god.   Further, he chose a method of stating his new beliefs that can best be described as nauseatingly trite.   His “coming out” post may get him a book deal and a spot on “the 700 Club,” but it comes off as the kind of simplistic melodrama we’d expect from someone imagining his life as a movie of the week.

    If you’re going to come back for that kind of drama, you should know that your credibility is going to depend on having a good reason and stating it.  RT chose to come back into the semi-limelight, and if he wants credibility with non-theists, I believe he’s going to have to explain himself.

  13. Joanne
    January 11th, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

    Hm. Quite honestly, most atheists do not impress me as being full to capacity of cheer and good will, in fact, it’s expressly the opposite, but I won’t go down that road – because the humor of this thread just transports me.

  14. Vince R
    January 11th, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

    This is nothing.  Want to know about atheist advertising? Billboards? Buses? It is all happening in the UK. There is a £143,000 (and growing) atheist campaign underway right now! And there is plenty of humour! check it out http://adoptanatheist.blogspot.com/

  15. Irreligious
    January 11th, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

    That’s how I feel about a lot of Christians, Joanne. Not all of them, mind you. But I’ve met a lot mean Christians. Of course, they don’t see themselves that way.  

  16. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 11th, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    I thought the humanist message, which, for those of you not following the story reads “There Probably is No God, so Relax and Enjoy Your Live,” was disappointingly benign.

    But I can’t wait til the trail!  Our very own Scopes Trials.

  17. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 11th, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    “Your Life”, sorry.

    If only God would give TRT some tech support help, like he gives to Friendly Atheist…then we could edit our comments.

  18. Melissa
    January 11th, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

    1 Peter 3:15 says: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” We all know RT to be a person of intelligence and one who takes great care in explaining things thoroughly, good timing  (and also in good humor!). :) It’s quite possible that he is preparing a timely and thorough answer to the questions so many have and will do so appropriately at the direction of the Holy Spirit.

    In the meantime, we must be considerate and patient as we wait for the details of his testimony. At the very least, we should encourage him and applaud him for being bold and unashamed in identifying with Christ as 1 Peter 4:16 says: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” He’s already been slammed, bullied, and put down by plenty and I give him kudos for being a new believer and having the courage and strength to withstand it. Not everyone holds onto their faith permanently after being tested so much so fast. 

    I’m sure RT knows that he’ll only get more of the same the more he speaks.  So, as is his character, he’s being cautious and contemplative in choosing his words wisely and carefully – as well as the timing of those words. 

    So, keep encouraging him everyone!! :) The more he realizes just how beneficial and essential his testimony is for the Kingdom of God, the more boldness he’ll have to keep taking the next steps in his walk with God and sharing his faith! 

  19. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 11th, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

    It’s quite possible that he is preparing a timely and thorough answer

    Like a good stripper, you mean.

  20. Lily
    January 11th, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

    Skeptimal: You have certainly conducted yourself here with courtesy and good humor and I believe that you would respond to anything RT writes with the same courtesy and humor. Unfortunately, that has rarely been the case with the atheists who used to find a home here. If RT writes of his conversion, they will respond, as they did in the “coming out” thread, with scatalogical, pornographic and simply vicious, dismissive remarks. I know this from long acquaintance with them; it is no guess. Nothing RT says will satisfy them. While I am quite sure that he can take it, I doubt that I can.

    I should say, however, that I can’t agree that he owes anyone an explanation. Those of us who are already Christians understand; those who aren’t will understand only slowly, if they ever do, as they deal with life, death, hope, joy, despair and all the other things that go along with being human. There is an intensely private aspect to conversion and belief– something that dwells at the very core of our being and belongs strictly to us and God. It can’t be shared and, if you try, the attempt fails just as trying to paste your child’s first soap bubble in a scrapbook must.

    Beyond that, it is his story to tell, when and if he pleases. I, myself, am looking forward to the film version– I have someone like Kevin KcKidd in mind for the lead…

  21. jolly atheist
    January 11th, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    Atheists’ remarks are not vicious but, yes, they might be dismissive. Here is why: When I start discussing with a religious person – not necessarily a Christian – I want to argue on basis of science and philosophy. The religious start quoting from the sacred texts and try to reach me emotionally. That makes me impatient because the sacred text has no value in a philosophical discussion. God is not the ‘subject’, but the ‘problem’ of philosophy. And I dismiss the argument. On the other hand, I am not a person who doesn’t feel, but I prefer to keep my feelings in my private area and definitely out of the debate. I agree with you that RT has no obligation to explain anything, but then nobody can claim it’s a conversion based on reason. No belief has ever been satisfactorily explained by reason, or it wouldn’t be called belief. All the arguments Craig mentions above (Aquinas’ proofs,arguments from perfection, design and complexity) have been refuted. RT’s conversion, if he is honest, is obviously a revelation – whether he wishes to admit it or not.

  22. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 11th, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

    I agree with you that RT has no obligation to explain anything…

    Your both horribly wrong.

    TRT has much to atone for and I think he should start by holding a contest for his new homies that parallels the blasphemy cartoon contest.

    Perhaps it could be a theist response bus slogan contest, or best Godly intervention testimonial contest, or a ‘How I think RT found God’ creative writing contest, or a poetry prayer contest, or a things I think TRT should apologize to Jesus for contest.

    Words are cheap, so let’s produce lots and lots of them.

  23. Beelzebub
    January 11th, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

    The series of cartoon puns are slightly amusing, but a great opportunity for lively polemic is being missed here, which I think is too bad. Kind of like missing an eclipse.

  24. Paula R. Robinson, M.D.
    January 11th, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

    St Thomas Aquinas continues to illuminate the reasonable mind’s access to knowledge of an unmoved Mover. Infinite regress of causation in the absence of a First Cause posits an uncaused schema of infinite regress, which itself demands an account of its provenance. Is this not the most irrational conclusion one may draw from the direct personal experience of a functioning, orderly and instructive universe?

  25. Irreligious
    January 11th, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

    I think it’s quite rational to conclude that “we don’t know” what gave cause to it all. It’s an unsatisfactory answer for many, but are there not an abundance of questions in which the answer still is “we don’t know?”

    And, if you don’t really know, aren’t you just indulging in speculation?

  26. jolly atheist
    January 11th, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

    The idea of an unmoved mover goes back to Aristotle. In his work, the unmoved movers are more than One (Russel states about 30-35, if I’m not mistaken), and the whole idea involves a complete circle of the spirit/soul/intellect. It’s completely different from the Christian and Islamic thought. Later, Avicenna turned this Unmoved Mover into his islamic God and the Islamic version suiting Christian thought, Aquinas used it in his proofs. This idea of God, in its best can only lead us to a deist God of philosophy, which has nothing to do with prayers, sins, heaven and hell etc. On the other hand, when you state that every effect has a cause, how do you know that the unmoved mover does not have a cause? Its the same with complexity; you say something is irreducibly complex, so there has to be a creator. Well, the creator is as complex. Then who created the creator? The argument from degree, stops again at a point (God) with no plausable reason whatsoever to stop at that very point. I agree with Irrelegious that when we come to the end of our knowledge, rather than speculating, we should be able to say: I don’t know any further. If we place God at that point, then its what they call the God of Gaps. Finally, as is obvious from what I have stated before, Aquinas’ proofs can lead us to polytheism as well. How can you prove that One God and not a Council of Gods was the Creator?

  27. Lily
    January 11th, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

    Jolly Atheist, I am afraid that you have mixed a few things up. God is not complex. That is one of Dawkins’ many howlers. I don’t know if you got it directly from him or someone else. It is a very odd notion. If he knew *anything* about philosophy or theology he would know that God is simple.

    The existence of the supernatural is an inference, not an a priori assumption. There are various arguments that can be made to support this inference. The objection that you have made here is a frequent one but it is quite faulty. God is postulated as an uncaused cause. This is necessary since an infinite regress of causes is impossible or nothing would exist. We now know that the universe was not uncaused, since it had a beginning. Only something with no beginning can be uncaused.

    You’ve got some ‘splain’ to do, Lucy, if you think Aquinas’ proofs can lead to polytheism. That is a new one on me.

  28. Joanne
    January 11th, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

    Not being argumentative here, but it seems to me that atheists are saying more than, “We don’t know,” vis-a-vis the origins of creation. (And it’s important to note that no one KNOWS, that is what faith is all about.) But if you don’t believe in a Creator, don’t you have to believe then that all the energy in the universe created itself somehow? And don’t the laws of science tell us that is impossible? I thought that energy could neither be created nor destroyed. If so, then you’re saying more than, “We don’t know.” You’re saying that something must have happened that actually transgresses the laws of science. Or are you? How do you reconcile this?

  29. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 11th, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

    We don’t. I’ve always thought that part of what separates atheists from theists is a high degree of comfort with ambiguity.

    For instance you’ve gone from, “I can’t measure this” to “I can’t measure this so it must be an omnipresent omnipotent omnibenevolent entity.” From my perspective that’s quite a leap.

  30. Joanne
    January 11th, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

    Whether or not something is measurable has nothing to do with how it was created, though, so that is actually not the same thing. This seems to me to be – “something has happened that contravenes the laws of science.” I guess what I was looking for is how atheists, either individually or more in terms of a generally prevailing theory, tend to explain/reconcile this.

  31. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 11th, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

    We don’t, and won’t until it can be measured (and tested, and retested), which will very likely be never.

  32. michael williams
    January 12th, 2009 @ 12:08 am

    Jolly Atheist, you are right, god cannot be defined by our ignorance. And UVJane, we cannot test and retest the idea of a perfect circle, but does that mean the idea does not exist? Not knowing will always be part of the human condition. But not ‘trying to know’ is a sin, and apathy or abject resignation to ignorance is unholy…that is, if Truth itself is God, as the Alaydians say.

  33. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 12th, 2009 @ 10:31 am

    #32 michael – clearly the “idea” of God is present in most homo sapiens in some form, but that still isn’t an answer. Taking speculations as truths is the antithesis of trying to know….and I agree that is very undesirable.

    As the Buddhists say, perfect attention is perfect prayer.

  34. Joanne
    January 12th, 2009 @ 10:52 am

    “We don’t, and won’t until it can be measured (and tested, and retested), which will very likely be never.”

    I guess then to be honest this seems like a greater leap of faith to me than what I believe. Thank you for your response.

  35. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 12th, 2009 @ 11:02 am

    #34 I don’t understand what you mean, Joanne. How is conceding ignorance a leap of faith?

  36. jolly atheist
    January 12th, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    Lily: 1. “If Dawkins knew anything about philosophy or theology, he would know that God is simple” How do you know God is simple? He manages from Big Bang to the ‘harem’ quarrels of the kings and prophets. How can you attribute any quality to God? Except by your faith! Theology has no place in philosophy and science. And when you infer through the compexity of life that there should be a Creator, what would you expect other than a very very complex Being? And this refutes all the arguments. Who created God? A perfectly sound question! 2. “Only something with no beginning can be uncaused” That’s exactly what I’m saying. The unmoved mover of Aristotle was pure actuality in the understanding that matter is eternal – uncaused – always there. It is not created. Later Avicenna and Aquinas tried to adapt this view to their religions as a (Creator)First Cause. That’s why it stinks. That’s why the proofs don’t explain anything; they are based on the belief that God created the universe. You will say that now Big Bang proves that the universe is created. How do we know that there was only one Big Bang and not 50 others? And that Big Bang won’t be falsified some day? If this happens, you will need a new adaptation for God to science, and in that case, as they say ‘religion will evolve with science’ again. 3. Politheism is an obvious inference. So long as we can’t know what kind of a thing is God, it is very reasonable to conclude that there may be more than one God. How can you claim that it’s only One?

  37. Joanne
    January 12th, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

    “I don’t understand what you mean, Joanne. How is conceding ignorance a leap of faith?”

    Because, again, it seems to me that you are doing more than simply conceding ignorance, which we all do about certain things. It seems to me that you are saying, “I believe that what must have happened when the world “created itself” (from your perspective) actually transgresses a law that we KNOW to be true,” ie: energy can be neither created nor destroyed.

    It *seems* to me, and again, maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that someone who does not believe in a Creator must necessarily believe that the impossible had to have happened in order for the world to have created itself.

  38. Irreligious
    January 12th, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    Joanne, UVJ did not say the world created itself. That’s just speculation. “We don’t know” means exactly what it means: “We don’t know.” We don’t. How can we?

  39. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    In response to Skeptimal at #6:

    I can’t speak for RT, but I reasoned myself into the Church. I had been raised Catholic, but hadn’t been practicing for years. My religious views were agnostic (not convinced there was a God but not ready to positively state that there wasn’t), but I did have a fairly positive view of religion. I thought of religion akin to fables or myths only on a larger scale. The stories that religions told weren’t necessarily true but they did a good job of teaching morals and life lessons.

    That being my perspective on religion, I assumed I’d eventually become Presbyterian for the sake of our future children since that was what my then fiance was. But I had this nagging thought in my head that I had never given the Catholic Church a fair test of it’s teachings. I knew that the Church claimed to teach the truth, but I had never bothered to learn why it teaches all the crazy things it does. So I started reading about the Church. I was looking for one contradiction in it’s teachings which would demonstrate that the Church didn’t actually teach the truth and allow me to put it behind me with a clear conscience. Then, assured in my belief that religions were just fables I could settle into one that felt cozy while we were raising kids (and the PCUSA is pretty cozy).

    Instead of finding contradiction, I found the cohesion. The Catholic Church’s teachings all support one another; the more I learned the stronger the argument became. I began to see how if one thing changed it would create contradictions in several other areas. Somehow the Catholic Church avoided all these possible pitfalls.

    My faith in God is founded in reason, based on my conclusion that the Catholic Church teaches the truth. At the time I personally disagreed with the Church on just about all of the controversial issues of our day, but I came to accept the Church’s teaching because I couldn’t find a rational objection to them. Yes, there are times when I have non-rational or emotional experiences of my faith, but they’re not nearly great enough to support belief by themselves. In fact most of the time I’m turned off by emotionalism in religion – I only find any validity in emotional arguments if they’re built on top of sound reason.

    I know my reasoning may be wrong; I could have made a misstep in my logic somewhere. But that’s true of any reasoned conclusion. If I find a flaw in the Catholic Church’s teachings I will reject all of them – I must, the Church can’t logically both claim to teach the truth and be wrong about something concerning faith and morals.

  40. Irreligious
    January 12th, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

    Brian, I am not a Catholic, so I may get this wrong as to what the church teaches but:

    Does not your church teach that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is allegorical and not literally true?

    If I got that right, from whence comes the idea of an actual “original sin?” If the Adam and Eve allegory is not literally true– which means it didn’t happen– from where did original since come? Who or what perpetrated it?

    If there was no original sinner, it sounds like a contradiction to hold humanity accountable for something that didn’t happen.

    Of course, there are several inconsistencies that could be pointed out if one alleges that the story is literally true.

  41. Irreligious
    January 12th, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    That should read: “from where did original sin come?”

  42. jolly atheist
    January 12th, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    “Church can’t logically both claim to teach the truth and be wrong about something concerning faith and morals”

    I guess the creation myth can be included in the faith part. Why does the church need to apologize (Galileo/Darwin) every now and then?

  43. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 12th, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

    Joanne, imagine that there is plastic cup filled with mini marshmallows sitting on a table, and a woman opens a window near the table. A truck passing by outside generates a gust of wind that tips over the marshmallows, which roll all over the table.

    Because of their shapes, their original position in the cup, the grain of the wood, the force of the gust they fall and roll collide in a certain way…a way that could be predicted if the whole thing were modeled by a large enough computer.

    There is no magical reason for the marshmallow spill. And the marshmallows – unable to detect the woman and the window, let alone the truck, can never know why they are scattering on the table.

    We are the mini marshmallows. That is how I see the Universe/World/Us.

  44. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

    Irreligious,

    You’ve got it sort of right. The way I understand it is, Catholics are free to believe that the creation stories are literal or allegorical (to an extent) – I don’t think the Church has ruled officially on a single interpretation (contrary to what many people think, the Catholic Church has issued very few definitive interpretations of Scripture). I think most Catholics don’t believe that the world was literally created in six days. But as far as I know, Catholics must believe that there actually was a first man and a first woman created in God’s image who we are descended from and that they committed the first sin causing mankind to lose its glorified nature. If I’ve got something wrong I’m sure someone will correct me.

    So, for example, a Catholic could believe that physically man-like creatures evolved naturally and at some point in history God imparted a human soul to two of these creatures to make the first man and woman. I agree that if the creation stories were purely allegorical original sin wouldn’t make sense.

  45. Irreligious
    January 12th, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    Allegorical to what extent?

    And are you saying that the Catholic church does not take a position one way or the other as to the veracity of the Adam and Eve story?

    That’s probably not what you are saying, because that sounds like the church is saying: “We don’t know.”

    Does that Catholic church or any other faith institution ever take a position like that?

  46. jolly atheist
    January 12th, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    B.Walden: “A catholic could believe that physically man-like creatures evolved and at some point in history God imparted a human soul to two of these creatures to make the first man and woman..” This is called: “Religion evolves with science”

    I am not sure, but I think it was Dostoyevski: “If Christ and Truth stood side by side, I would take my place by Christ.” That explains about everything, doesn’t it?

  47. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    Jolly Atheist,

    As far as I’m concerned Galileo was a bit of an ass. Both sides in that debacle acted wrongly. The Church was right to apologize for it’s part, but Galileo brought on a lot of the trouble himself.

    I don’t think Darwin had trouble with the Catholic Church – wasn’t it the Church of England who recently issued an apology to Darwin.

  48. jolly atheist
    January 12th, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

    B.Walden: That’s exactly what I’m saying. When science brings about a new discovery conflicting with the sacred book, first they (church or any other religious institution) resist. When it is no more possible to resist, they accept and apologize and adjust religion accordingly. Doesn’t this discourage you as a believer? Where is the ultimate truth they are preaching? If science leads the way, why need religion at all? I can find emotional depth in art and nature as well.

  49. Irreligious
    January 12th, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    Wow. That is a sincerely fascinating assertion about Galileo. It’s fascinating to me because I’ve never heard it before.

    What assy behavior did Galileo indulge? I’m not doubting that he could have been an ass, because he was human.

    If it would take too much space to explain it, could you provide a link to a site on the Internet that provides the details, or some other source that led you to the conclusion that Galileo brought his troubles with the Roman Catholic church upon himself? Thanks in advance.

  50. Joanne
    January 12th, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    “UVJ did not say the world created itself.”

    It seems to me that either one believes the world was created, or that it created itself. Seriously, not being snarky, but is there a third option?

    UVJ: Thank you again for trying to illustrate your answer. I understand that “you don’t know,” I get that part of it, but you’re still not really answering what I’m asking. To respond to what you wrote, it’s true that the mm’s don’t know why things happen – just like us humans – but that doesn’t speak to how they came to exist in the first place. They didn’t materialize out of nothing, and I guess until someone can prove to me, or even come up with a convincing theory, that there is some way WE could have materialized out of nothing, I’ll have to believe we had a Creator.

    Thank you both for your responses!

  51. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 12th, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    He wrote this long play – a dialogue between himself and the Pope in which the Pope is a buffoon.

    Today we wouldn’t imprison someone for snark – well I guess Bush would – but talk about grabbing the tiger’s tail.

  52. jolly atheist
    January 12th, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

    Joanne one last remark: WE DON’T KNOW! And atheists can live with that, just as they can live without a heaven. That’s what atheism is all about, in case you didn’t know.

  53. Irreligious
    January 12th, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    Yes, Joanne, there is a third option, which you don’t accept as valid, apparently: We don’t know.

    That’s the answer I opt for when it comes to the big question of what gave rise to it all. It is sincere and honest from my perspective: I don’t know.

    I am not at all certain that the answer to that question is knowable.

  54. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

    Irreligious,

    The Catholic Church does take a position on the theology of the Adam and Eve Story – that’s the part above that Catholics must believe. It doesn’t take a position on the physics or the history of the creation of the world – that’s the job of scientists and researchers. A Catholic can believe that stars are made out of silly putty, that 2+2=5 and that the United States was founded in 1902 and still be a Catholic in good standing (but not a very smart one). So yes in a sense the Catholic Church’s answer to questions of science, history, etc. which fall outside of faith and morals is “we don’t know” (or at least “we defer to the leading authorities in those fields”).

    There are even theological matters where the Catholic Church admits it doesn’t know the answer. One example I can think of off the top of my head is the question of what happens to babies who die without being baptized. For a long time the prevailing theory was limbo, a state that’s not quite heaven and not quite hell. Now Catholics are more openly encouraged to hope in God’s mercy that they will be in heaven, but the Church makes no dogmatic claims on what happens to such babies – it doesn’t know.

  55. Joanne
    January 12th, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

    Hi, JA:

    I have been very polite throughout this discussion. Is there some reason that you could not respond in kind?

    Hi, Ir:

    I stated above that no one KNOWS, that is what faith is all about. And what I don’t accept as valid is the notion that there some other way for a thing to come into being, outside of being created or creating itself.

    But again, I thank you all for the discussion ~ take care.

  56. jolly atheist
    January 12th, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

    Joanne: My reply wasn’t unkind; just factual.

  57. Lily
    January 12th, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    Galileo was a famously abrasive sort and had a lot of enemies among his fellow scientists. He was a friend of the Pope who went out of his way to help him. G fell afoul of the Inquisition when he refused to stick to the mathematics of his discoveries and began to draw faulty theological conclusions from them.

    Some sources:
    http://galileo.rice.edu/bio/narrative_7.html (sketchy but accurate, as far as I know–not being an expert on Galileo)

    http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/starry/galileo.html(fuller about the rivalries involved, slightly wrong about his last years– Cambridge UK)

    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosopy does a great job of addressing the scientific/philosophical issues involved

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/galileo/#Rel

  58. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

    Jolly Athiest,

    For Catholics there is no contradiction between religion and science. Empirical truths are the realm of science and non-empirical truths are the realm of philosophy and religion. Religion evolves with science in the sense that better understanding the physical world helps to better understand religion. For example the Galileo affair helped to emphasize the fact that using the Bible as a science textbook is an abuse of Scripture. Realizing this fact made it easier to see the spiritual truths in scripture. To use Irreligious’ example, it helps us to see that the primary purpose of the creation stories in Genesis is to tell us who God is and who man is rather than explain the process by which the world was made.

    But I wouldn’t say that religion evolves with science in the sense that religious truth changes. Truth is Truth, if it changes it wasn’t truth to begin with.

    I don’t really get your Dostoyevski quote, I guess I’d have to see it in context. To a Catholic Christ and Truth can’t stand side by side, Christ is Truth. To me if it could actually be proven that Truth contradicts Christ, then (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis) I’d have to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was either a madman or a liar.

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. When science brings about a new discovery conflicting with the sacred book, first they (church or any other religious institution) resist. When it is no more possible to resist, they accept and apologize and adjust religion accordingly.

    Let’s look at this with a little perspective. At the time of Galileo most scientists were Polemicists rather than Copernicans. It can be argued that the scientific community originally provided just as much resistance to Galileo – they, however, lacked the civil authority to do punish him. Just as the commonly held scientific interpretation of the motion of celestial bodies was wrong, the commonly held interpretation that Scripture intended to describe the actual motion of celestial bodies was wrong. Scripture itself wasn’t wrong and the observations of celestial bodies people had been making for thousands of years weren’t wrong either – just the interpretation of each. Even though most people thought the earth was the center of the universe, it hadn’t been declared a scientific law that it was so. The same with the thinking that biblical references to the motion of the sun were literal; it was what most people believed but it was never an official teaching of the Catholic Church.

    Doesn’t this discourage you as a believer? Where is the ultimate truth they are preaching? If science leads the way, why need religion at all? I can find emotional depth in art and nature as well.

    You’re correct that religion follows science when it comes to the physical workings of the heavens. I guess we differ because you assume religious believers should think religion leads science on empirical subjects and I don’t. To answer why we need religion at all, what can science tell us about morals? What can science tell us about our purpose or how to live or lives? Nothing. Those questions are outside the realm which it studies. I’m sorry, but I don’t immediately see how the comment about emotional depth pertains to this discussion.

  59. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 12th, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    By “Truths” do you mean parables that are useful in interpreting your life? Like JA, I need clarification on your definition.

    I’m of the opinion that truth is always a product of perspective. That is to say…there is no “ultimate truth.”

  60. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    Irreligious,

    About Galileo. When I was in college we studied the whole Galileo affair for part of a course. At the time I was pretty much agnostic in my beliefs and our professor was a radical feminist with no love for the Catholic Church. Even so, consensus of the class was that the Church was wrong in punishing Galileo, but he was basically begging for it.

    Galileo got himself into trouble by crossing over from pure science into teaching about the theology ramifications of his theories even though he had no theological training. He taught his scientific theories as if they were fact even though they could not be proven in his day. Pope Urban VII had actually encouraged Galileo to write his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, but Galileo used it to personally insult the Pope and again propose his ideas as fact rather than theory. The irony of the whole situation is that Galileo was right in a sense about the theology – that every bit of Scripture should not be taken literally (which wasn’t a new idea) – and the Church authorities who tried him were right in a sense about the science – his theories could not be proven at the time, and were later found to be wrong (albeit a big step forward).

    Unfortunately I don’t remember the sources we used in the class. In a quick google search I found this article by the Catholic League, which is admittedly a biased source: http://www.catholicleague.org/research/galileo.html. But it gives a good overview of the “Galileo was a bit of an ass” argument and you can follow the citations for more sources.

  61. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    By “Truths” do you mean parables that are useful in interpreting your life? Like JA, I need clarification on your definition.

    By truths I mean that man has spiritual laws he must follow just as he has physical laws he must follow. A parable can be useful in explaining an idea to some people, but a parable is the means of conveying a message – it’s not the truth itself. The same truth can be conveyed by a different message.

    I’m of the opinion that truth is always a product of perspective. That is to say…there is no “ultimate truth.”

    Isn’t that a logical contradiction. If it’s true that there’s no ultimate truth, then the statement that there is no ultimate truth is an ultimate truth and would be false.

    But I think that highlights a difference between us. I used to think that all philosophies and religions somehow lead to the same end – they were all different paths up one mountain so to say. I thought I was a relativist, but really I was a crappy relativist. A real relativist would think as you do that there is no one truth, that each person’s truth is a path up his own mountain. When I figured this out I didn’t stop thinking that there was one truth somewhere out there, instead I determined that I was fooling myself by thinking that all belief systems led to it. I was an absolutist in relativists clothing. So I went out searching for the one truth and I believe I’ve found it. I could certainly be wrong, but to get back to Skeptimal’s original question, as far as I can tell I reasoned my way (rightly or wrongly) to where I am today.

  62. jolly atheist
    January 12th, 2009 @ 7:01 pm

    BW/UVJ Shall we say, “there’s probably! no ultimate truth , but products of perspective?”

    BW Thank you for your inclusive response. Having just lost with one button a page of very carefully thought counter argument, I am exhausted. Just a note: Morality does not depend on religion and I mentioned emotional depths, just because I knew a question would come up like: “what can science tell us about our purpose?”

  63. Brian Walden
    January 12th, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

    Jolly Atheist,

    I’m sorry about the lost post. I agree with you that morality does not depend on religion – at least in the sense that it’s possible to know morality through reason alone. I don’t believe it’s possible to know morality through empirical evidence alone. Maybe I should have made that more clear instead of using the generic word “science.”

  64. jolly atheist
    January 13th, 2009 @ 11:14 am

    BW: Here’s the counter-argument I had lost.

    “..using the Bible as a science textbook is an abuse of Scripture”

    You don’t want to accept the fact that the texts were indeed science texbooks of their time. It was only later, when science, philosophy and religion parted (and this is quite recent), when scientific explanations refuted scripture (like the age of the universe being 6000 years) that people started interpreting and giving new meaning to older texts. The Hitite, Egyptian or Sumerian tablets were all important scientific/morals/law/administration textbooks just as the Old Testament or Koran.

    About the Dostoyevski quote, I had mentioned that I wasn’t sure about it. I checked and could find the following quote which is not exactly the same, but has a similar implication: “Man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions, that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally; he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic.”

    “Even though most people thought the earth was the center of the universe, it hadn’t been declared a scientific law that it was so.”

    But it had been declared by Ptolemy in three of his famous astronimical treatises and maps. (Almagest for one) These textbooks were based on the geocentric model. They were kept in Arabic manuscripts, which were later, in the Middle Ages translated into Latin. The church and every religious institution with a claim to ultimate truth lived with these facts until Copernicus.

    Morals depend neither on religion nor science, but on the values a society acquires through ages of living together, say, in a certain geographic area, with a certain climate or cultural development. The Spartans did daily exercise nude and that was perfectly moral.

    Let me post this now, before I lose it again.

  65. Lily
    January 13th, 2009 @ 11:51 am

    This description of yours, JA, is virtually completely wrong. I don’t have time to refute it all and in detail but I will point to a couple of things:

    “Scientific explanations” do not refute scripture. No where in the Bible is any attempt made to date the earth. The idea that the earth is 6000 years old is a 17th century idea, serious in its attempt to account for the age of the earth but arrived at in an amusing way that depended on an idiosyncratic reading of the OT. It is not supported by scripture.

    Ineed, the ancients knew better. They knew that the earth was very old. St. Augustine (4th century) wrote that the days in Genesis were “God-divided days, not sun divided” St. Jerome (b. 331) spoke of Genesis as being written “after the manner of a poet”, i.e. not to be taken literally. I could multiply such examples.

    It simply makes no sense to talk about ancient religious texts being “science books”; they are not. That is completely anachronistic. While they reflect the beliefs of their creators, of course, they were not written to provide naturalistic descriptions of the physical world. It does make sense to realize that in the absence of other data, of course the first scientists (who were, virtually to a man Churchmen and theologians) would look to see what data they could glean from scripture. Engaging with it, testing the hypotheses being drawn from it, as well as from observation of the natural world, is what led to the whole scientific enterprise that has brought us to this day.

  66. Brian Walden
    January 13th, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    Jolly Athiest, I agree with much of your sentiment but not your conclusions – mostly, I think, because you prove too much. If the churchmen of the past are guilty so are the scientists. When it comes to explaining the natural world I see religion as one tool man used to understand the world around him. The scientific method is a better tool for understanding how the natural world works and has been adopted as such (I still don’t believe it can explain the why, but that may be a different discussion).

    I get the impression that you see religion as a force working against scientific advancement. I agree that there is often objection to good science in the name of religion, but from my perspective this is bad theology. Just as bad science doesn’t discredit good science, I don’t believe that bad theology discredits good theology. In the West the Church was hugely important in preserving the writings of ancient philosophers, founding the university system, and laying down the roots of the scientific method. I don’t think the Church can be painted as some monolithic force working against scientific advancement.

    About Dostoyevski’s quote: “Man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions, that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally; he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic.” I agree. We’re human, we abuse reason all the time. And yet we possess it and consider it good. For example we use reason to trust in the accuracy of the scientific method – and to formulate hypotheses to test. The quote is true in many instances, but it’s not always true – the faults of humans don’t negate virtue of reason.

    The church and every religious institution with a claim to ultimate truth lived with these facts until Copernicus.

    So did just about all the people of the time (BTW, wasn’t Copernicus a priest?). Look at, for example, the way our model of the atom and our understanding of atomic physics is constantly changing. Is science discredited by the fact that many of its greatest minds believed in flawed models and theories about the atom? We know so much more about the natural world than we have in the past – that’s true regardless of whether someone is religious or not.

    I can’t speak for other religious groups, but the Catholic Church only claims to be inerrant in faith and morals. The fact that most Christians believed things about the natural world that are scientifically untrue poses no contradiction. Even most atheists alive today have had ideas which were commonly accepted in their lifetime be proven scientifically untrue.

    Morals depend neither on religion nor science, but on the values a society acquires through ages of living together, say, in a certain geographic area, with a certain climate or cultural development. The Spartans did daily exercise nude and that was perfectly moral.

    I’m afraid we disagree over the fundamental definition of morals. My understanding is that morals are by definition absolute. I see nothing morally wrong with the Spartans exercising nude. I think what you’re describing is modesty, which I agree is a relative value dependent on the factors you mentioned. If something is a moral, it’s true in every culture in every time whether it’s recognized by that society or not.

    Even though we disagree, Jolly Athiest, I’ve enjoyed our discussion thus far.

  67. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 13th, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    My understanding is that morals are by definition absolute.

    Absolute over time? Or absolute over the course of person’s life.

    BW, I don’t know how ANY Christian who has read Leviticus could claim that morality is fixed. The entire book is defunct.

    Further, you and I could come up with a scenario in which every one of the ten commandments was a bad idea.

    What moral do you think is fixed?

  68. Lily
    January 13th, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

    UVJ– could you please test that idea? I mean, come up with a scenario that shows how one of the commandments is a bad idea?

  69. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 13th, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    Sure,

    Honor thy parents
    Should the child that was pimped out by their parents as a prostitute honor their parents?

    Thou shalt not kill
    Should you kill Stalin if you meet him?

    You shall not steal.
    But if you’re starving?

    You shall not lie
    Everyone already knows the Jews in the basement question

  70. Lily
    January 13th, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

    LOL! Not by a long shot! I am writing on the fly so I will deal with the ones that take more than a sentence to deal with later, if you like.

    There is no “question” with Jews in the basement. It is not lying to refuse to tell people what they have no right to know. No one ever has the right to commit evil or to be complicit in evil.

  71. Brian Walden
    January 13th, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    BW, I don’t know how ANY Christian who has read Leviticus could claim that morality is fixed. The entire book is defunct.

    Jane, historical Christianity has always defined morality as fixed. The 600-something laws of Leviticus contain many elements of the moral code but are not the code in and of themselves. The Apostles ruled at the Council of Jerusalem that gentiles were not required to follow the Mosaic laws. Paul, who was a Pharisee and so probably had greater knowledge of the Pentateuch than all the Apostles was the greatest supporter of this decision.

    The severe punishments prescribed in Leviticus may also be a source of confusion. The punishments themselves are not morals. So for example killing adulterers is not a moral law, but the prohibition against adultery is.

    Honor thy parents
    Should the child that was pimped out by their parents as a prostitute honor their parents?

    Yes. She has every right to to get herself out of the abusive household and to seek prosecution against her parents. She doesn’t need to like her parents (I don’t know how anyone could in such a situation), but she must give them the basic respect they deserve as her parents.

    An easier example to grasp might be the President of our nation. He deserves basic respect as the rightful authority of our nation even if we think he’s a crappy president. The respect deserved isn’t based on any value that the person merits but on the role that they fill.

    Thou shalt not kill
    Should you kill Stalin if you meet him?

    First, for a clarification, I think the historical Christian interpretation is murder rather than kill. After all, as we noted in Leviticus God commanded the Jews to issue the death penalty for certain crimes. Obviously this is a hypothetical question, so I’m assuming you see Stalin minding his own business not Stalin hiding behind the shower curtain with a meat cleaver.

    The answer is no, you can’t kill Stalin if you saw him walking down the street but you can certainly turn him over to the authorities. You and I don’t have the authority to judge him worthy of death. He could have been morally tried by the USSR or an international body while he was alive and sentenced to death. Or assuming that as head of the USSR he was also head of the military, I think soldiers from a country he was at war with could have morally killed him.

    The again, if you really saw Stalin walking down the street I think killing zombies might qualify as a morally good act.

    You shall not steal.
    But if you’re starving?

    Even if you’re starving, someone else’s food isn’t yours. The hunger may make you less culpable but it’s still objectively sinful. Of course if someone who is obviously starving asks someone who has an extra loaf of bread for it and they give them no assistance, the person with the extra loaf is sinning.

    You shall not lie
    Everyone already knows the Jews in the basement question

    This might be the most complicated of your questions. As she pointed out the SS have no right to know the answer to that question. At the same time lying is an abuse of our gift of speech. I think just about everyone would agree that it’s always appropriate to use legitimate deception in such an instance. For example, if asked if there’s anyone hiding in your house you could answer that your spouse and children are in the back room. It’s not the direct answer to the question, but neither is it a lie. If you have a moral option such as that, I think it’s best to use it if you have your wits about you (I certainly don’t know if I’d be able to come up with an answer like that in split second). If the SS, knowing that you’re a scrupulous Catholic, force you to give a yes or no answer I think outright lying is acceptable in such a situation. At that point you’ve been compelled into a situation where you must choose between the lesser of two evils. When there’s no way to do both, saving the lives of others is infinitely more important than not lying.

  72. nkb
    January 13th, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

    So, what you’re saying is that Jane has come up with scenarios that show that the commandments aren’t absolute.
    .
    I would say, Mission Accomplished.

  73. Brian Walden
    January 13th, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

    That’s not what I’m saying. If you don’t mind me pulling out a little Catholic theology (i’ll do my best to use colloquial terms), the three requirements of being personally guilty of mortal sin are that the action must be objectively wrong, you must know (or should have known) it’s wrong, and you must freely consent to it.

    Take the example of the 1940’s German hiding Jews in his basement who lies to the SS. In either case lying and participating in the murder of the people he’s housing are objectively wrong. The man knows they are wrong. He doesn’t, however, freely consent to his decision. He’s forced into choosing between two sins. His lie is objectively wrong but he incurs no personal guilt.

    At least that’s my understanding. Maybe someone with a deeper knowledge of moral theology can explain it better or correct any mistakes I’ve made.

  74. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 13th, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

    Brian, While it’s true that the punishments described in Leviticus are for the sin – they tell us quite a bit about how the gravity of the sin was regarded. You could not possible argue that the wrongness of adultery was taken more seriously RELATIVE to how it is viewed now, by everyone, including Catholics

    Likewise the term “honor” has morphed – at least from what you are telling me here – from fealty to little more than saying Sir and M’am. A RELATIVELY large change.

    And of course the commandments don’t cover the many new morals that we have developed since that time – I’m sure you would rank avoiding cannibalism, incest, pedophilia, and enslavement as greater virtues than avoiding a lie. Since those aren’t mentioned, I can only guess that the taboos are RELATIVELY new.

    Redefining words so that the text has a new meaning RELATIVE to it’s old meaning is disingenuous at best. We are all moral relativists. It is a skill critical to our survival as it allows us to adapt to and thus gain belonging in a new group.

  75. nkb
    January 13th, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is not what the bible says. You’re basing your argument on what a bunch of theologians came up with to give themselves wiggle room on these “absolute” morals.
    .
    To come back to the Nazi scenario, these people were technically breaking the law by hiding the Jews, and giving false statements to the authorities.
    .
    So, does it mean that I can go ahead and lie, as long as I can come up with the justification for it? Sounds awfully flexible to me.

  76. Lily
    January 13th, 2009 @ 11:28 pm

    Brian– that is a very interesting way of explaining the “Jews in the basement” scenario. I am going to have to go back and think about it for awhile because I don’t agree that what happens in this scenario is actually lying. We know that genocide is objectively evil. We know that murder is objectively evil. We cannot, under any circumstances, be complicit in evil. Ergo, we cannot facilitate an evil action. It seems to me that to say that what happens in this scenario is “lying” is simply stretching the word beyond what it actually covers. But, like I say, I have to go back and think about it.

    Jane– you said: “Brian, While it’s true that the punishments described in Leviticus are for the sin – they tell us quite a bit about how the gravity of the sin was regarded. You could not possible argue that the wrongness of adultery was taken more seriously RELATIVE to how it is viewed now, by everyone, including Catholics”

    Uh, what do you mean? Adultery is mortal sin and anyone who commits it or any other sin and doesn’t repent will go straight to hell. We had better take it seriously. Christianity internalized the law; that is, Jesus said he would write it on our hearts. We don’t avoid these sins for fear of our neighbors discovering and punishing us. We avoid these sins because we love God and want to obey him.

    You said: “Likewise the term “honor” has morphed – at least from what you are telling me here – from fealty to little more than saying Sir and M’am. A RELATIVELY large change.”

    The concept of honor has certainly been culturally conditioned through the ages– yet it is never completely foreign to us in the main. However, anyone who believes that it is little more than a polite address is someone I don’t want to trust with my money, my safety, my children, pets or anything else I value.

    Hmmm. come to think of it, I suppose you are refering specifically to the commandment to honor your parents. In that case, I don’t think its meaning has changed much at all. It still means, at a minimum, to be grateful that they gave you life. Christianity sees life as a positive good– one of many reasons it doesn’t countenance abortion and never has. When parents are good parents, they deserve much more. When they are lousy, they still deserve that basic gratitude, albeit from a distance.

    What on earth does this mean? “And of course the commandments don’t cover the many new morals that we have developed since that time – I’m sure you would rank avoiding cannibalism, incest, pedophilia, and enslavement as greater virtues than avoiding a lie. Since those aren’t mentioned, I can only guess that the taboos are RELATIVELY new.”

    Oh, Jane. You can’t be serious. Kicking the dog is mentioned in the Bible either but it is still wrong and is not a new “moral” or virtue. Cannibalism is covered under the prohibition against murder, incest, pedophilia are all covered under the prohibitions placed on sexual conduct. Slavery has been the norm in human society from the beginning– at least as far back as we know. It is only Christianity with its teaching that Christ had abolished all differences based on gender, race, and status that allowed a positive case to be made for abolishing slavery. We humans are, however, very slow to learn, especially when it suits us, so it took longer than it should have.

    No. We are not all moral relativists. Morality is rock hard and unchanging. We humans are weak and very good at finding excuses to do what we want to do. We don’t redefine words; we test our understanding in the crucible of experience, reason and scripture and discover, not always happily, that we have not lived up to our calling. God gave us the the commandments. It is up to us to apply them rightly.

    You might really find C S Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man” useful. He is not much of a philosopher but this book is a pretty good attempt to convey to a popular audience some idea of the universality of the moral law.

  77. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:40 am

    Jane, hypothetically speaking let’s say that maybe adultery is evil or maybe it’s good, nobody knows. My claim is that whatever it actually is it’s just as good/evil today is it was in any time in history. If someone claims that X is always true nomatter how it’s perceived by different societies, an argument that it has been perceived differently by different societies doesn’t refute it.

    If the opposite were true, why should we act morally? If the morals of my society says adultery is evil but I think it’s good, why shouldn’t I place my bet that in a few generations my society will come to think as I do and commit all the adultery I can. Then in the future I’ll be viewed as a hero of virtue who was ahead of his time.

    You’re so hung up on a book. If the Bible is such a stumbling block for you, ignore it for now. I don’t know who hit you over the head with a Bible, but I’m sorry for whatever pain they caused you. The Bible is not a handbook on morally. The 10 Commandments are good summary of morality, but they are not the entirety of morality. Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all can’t even agree on the numbering of the 10 Commandments. Morality comes from understanding the purpose of man, when man acts against his purpose or denies existence of this purpose in his fellow man he sins.

    There’s nothing new about cannibalism, incest, pedophilia, or slavery nor the morals that govern them. Taboos != morality. I think your proposal that, “We are all moral relativists. It is a skill critical to our survival as it allows us to adapt to and thus gain belonging in a new group.” is a reasonable one (although obviously I disagree with it). I’m not particularly looking to get into a debate whether morals are absolute or relative right now. At this point I’d be happy with both positions being accepted as reasonable conclusions given the evidence we have (the reason I started commenting on this thread in the first place was to try to support the case that theism can be based on reason).

  78. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:50 am

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is not what the bible says. You’re basing your argument on what a bunch of theologians came up with to give themselves wiggle room on these “absolute” morals.

    Oh those sneaky Christians! First they get a bunch of men together to make up a book so they can tell everyone what they can and can’t do. Then they get a bunch of theologians together to give everybody wiggle room on what they can and can’t do.

    Technically my argument is based on the ordinary magisterium, not a bunch of theologians. Your argument is based on what one guy interprets the bible to say – who died and made you Pope?

    To come back to the Nazi scenario, these people were technically breaking the law by hiding the Jews, and giving false statements to the authorities. So, does it mean that I can go ahead and lie, as long as I can come up with the justification for it? Sounds awfully flexible to me.

    Let’s put it this way: you can lie if you truly have justification, not if you come up with justification.

  79. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:55 am

    Lily, I could very well have gotten it wrong when it comes to lying when other party has no right to the information they’re asking for. If you or someone else looks into it, I’ll happily defer to more authoritative sources.

  80. Irreligious
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:59 am

    Many considered it immoral for a woman to bare her naked knees in public in the U.S. 150 years ago. Today, most people in the country don’t seem to think it is immoral.

  81. Louise
    January 14th, 2009 @ 2:32 am

    Here’s the thing. As an atheist, it appears that he talked about the importance of reason. I’d really like to know what made him change his mind about that.

    I don’t see why you’d assume that reason has necessarily dropped out of the equation.

    The belief in the existence of God and the non-existence of God can both be supported by reason and neither can be disproved by it (scientifically).

    I don’t know where atheists got the idea that religious beliefs have nothing to do with reason, or that irreligious beliefs always to do with reason.

    The existence of God is a philosophical question. The fact of his existence or non-existence is a fact, but one which cannot be scientifically proven.

  82. Louise
    January 14th, 2009 @ 2:35 am

    Many considered it immoral for a woman to bare her naked knees in public in the U.S. 150 years ago. Today, most people in the country don’t seem to think it is immoral.

    Sure. Although killing or not killing your neighbour is a more important question and therefore, we see less change in society on such issues.

  83. Louise
    January 14th, 2009 @ 2:38 am

    We are all moral relativists. It is a skill critical to our survival as it allows us to adapt to and thus gain belonging in a new group.

    Oh excellent! So, I’ll just go back to calling black people “niggers.”

    Perhaps I can start pushing for the lynching of atheists too. Brilliant.

  84. Louise
    January 14th, 2009 @ 2:39 am

    And maybe I’ll start bashing baby seals with baseball bats. And sea-kittens.

  85. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 9:12 am

    #77 Brian, so if I am understanding you correctly, your belief is 1.There is an ultimate truth. 2. No one knows what it is 3. It’s not in the Bible.

    So what makes you think there is an ultimate truth?

    #83 Excellent Louise, you find the morality of yesteryear shocking….now if we could just get you to think that through a little. Here is a tip. It isn’t only the people in your parent’s yearbook that have weird hair.

  86. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    Jane, 1 agree with 1) There is ultimate truth wholeheartedly. 2) I was using the proposal that we don’t know the truth hypothetically for the sake of argument. Personally, I think my claim that we can know truth is more difficult to defend than my claim that truth is absolute. But you were challenging the existence of absolute truth so I used an example that focused only on that.

    3) It’s not in the Bible, is the one that requires the most nuanced answer. I believe that the message of the Bible is true and sufficient for salvation, but it’s not the entirety of the truth. The Bible is hard, it’s purpose is not to be an instruction manual on Christianity. It takes a lot of context and background knowledge to really understand it. So really if the Bible is what trips you up, go find truth elsewhere – there’s plenty of it out there. If absolute truth exists and it is found in Christianity, you’ll eventually come back around to it.

    So what makes you think there is an ultimate truth?

    Well I think I’ve always been disposed to the idea. In the time before I reverted to Catholicism I was trying out different hobbies. I was looking for something I could do that would set me apart, so my friends would know me as the guy who did X. I realize now that I was looking for something deeper – a purpose. So I think I was in a mindset to be open to the idea.

    Then I had an experience that helped me to see that I’m not as smart as I like to think I am (which is probably already obvious to the readers on this board). So realizing I didn’t know much, I started trying to learn. I guess I ended up truly being convinced of absolute truth when I found it (or at least thought I did). If I later learn that what I believe to be true is in fact false, I may also abandon the idea of absolute truth. Then again, my desire for purpose may lead me looking for it again.

    If we’re just talking about the question of whether or not absolute exists, I think it comes down to whether you think all of existence has a purpose or not. If you believe it does it’s very easy to reason that absolute truth exists, if not it’s very easy to believe that it doesn’t. I think the natural evidence we have can reasonably be used to support either conclusion.

  87. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

    Give me one absolute truth (PS. If you say “the one truth is that there is an absolute truth”, then I will have to kill you)

  88. Margaret Catherine
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    Can we agree that if the bus is in motion, there is a Bus Driver – and if not, we’re in trouble? :)

  89. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    No. Is that your only absolute truth? That there is a God? Have any of you read Hitchhiker’s Guide?

  90. jesuslives
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    there are many things our minds can not comprehend to be true…. but that does not disprove the truth, it only instills doubt in the mind of a thinker.

  91. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

    One testable truth, you guys. I’m only asking for one.

  92. jolly atheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

    I think ‘absolute truth’ needs a definition. BW says, ‘there is ultimate truth wholeheartedly’ ‘desire for purpose led me looking for it.’ And it seems BW has found ‘absolute truth’ UVJ says: “give me one absolute truth”. BW – and others who also claim having found absolute truth – can you try to explain to us, please, what kind of a thing is this absolute truth? Is it a feeling? Is it some sort of enlightment, as some say? Just what are you talking about?

  93. Margaret Catherine
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

    UVJ – Any/all of the statements in the creed RT posted back in his announcement are absolute truths. If you want a list, there it is – or better, look at the Nicene Creed as the “expanded version”.

    Alternatively, it is an absolute truth that elevators, when not permitted to go sideways, go sulk in the basement.

  94. Margaret Catherine
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    Absolute truth – something that is true in and of itself and not dependent on time, place, or people’s knowledge of/belief in it. That would be my two-bit, off-the-cuff definition.

  95. jesuslives
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    God is the absolute truth, we can never know it, until we meet our god and it is revealed to us… that is why we have faith, if the absolute truth were attainable we would not need faith.

  96. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

    OK, so until you know God there are no moral absolutes, in which case all of us here are moral relativists. Thank you jesuslives, for your honest answer.

  97. Irreligious
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    Louise wrote:
    “Oh excellent! So, I’ll just go back to calling black people “niggers.”

    Did you used to do that? Why did you stop?

    Was it because it is no longer socially acceptable in many places and you would have to deal with others’ harsh judgements had you continued?

    Or was it because you sincerely no longer think of black people as niggers?

    Are both reasons equally acceptable moral positions, do you think?

  98. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    Margaret, I agree with your definition. Perhaps the only truths are the truth we can tell about our own perceptions, which are untestable.

  99. jolly atheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    You say that it is not dependent on knowledge, we can never know it. Then how can you believe in something you don’t know?

  100. jesuslives
    January 14th, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    Jolly atheist and others

    Faith- is the beleif of something you cannot see.
    Thats why I said if the absolute truth were attainable we would not need faith… God is all knowing… Ask him yourself,, who knows maybe he will answer you.

    I beleive in god because it is written in the ancient texts that there is a creator… It was also written in ancient texts of kings and scholars, discoverers, inventors, I did not know them either, but I beleive it to be true, because it was written.

  101. Margaret Catherine
    January 14th, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

    Jolly – It’s not dependent on our knowledge of it, in that it would continue to be true even if we did not know it; it’s not that we can’t know it. Crude analogy: Sound still exists in a school for the deaf, even if no one there perceives it. (And trees still make noise when they fall in forests, cats in boxes are still either alive or dead but not both, etc…)

  102. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

    Either way, if you can’t definitively know it until you are dead, then it has no bearing in your life.

  103. Lily
    January 14th, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

    You can’t be serious, Jane. You just can’t be. Truth about our human nature; truth about what is real and what isn’t; truth about the nature of good and evil, and all else that goes into “Truth” has no bearing on your life?

    Yikes!

  104. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    Lily, where is my one truth beyond God is real. Just one.

  105. Lily
    January 14th, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

    ?? What does that mean– one truth beyond God is real?

  106. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    Some people here seem to think that there are absolute truths, a statement that I do not agree with. I asked for one truth. So far the only one I have received is “God Exists.” which of course is not testable.

    In your statement you are implying that there are others. GREAT! Give me a truth.

  107. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

    Jane, I appreciate your sense of humor. You and Jolly Athiest asked for some examples of absolute truths which are provable:

    2+2=4
    If a=b and b=c, then a=c
    The circumference of a circle divided by it’s diameter is pi.

    Everyone agrees that the physical world is governed by such truths. The absolutist believes that man is also governed by spiritual truths, only unlike the physical world where we cannot choose whether or not to follow the laws we possess free will. We can use it to choose to follow the spiritual laws, or we can abuse it.

    If I had to sum up all these spiritual truths in one sentence I supposed I might say something like: The nature of man is to be the image and likeness of God. (nature in this sense means purpose or goal not like walk in the park nature)

    Of course not, everyone believes in God. I’m of the belief we can still know these spiritual truths without knowing God. For example as a base assumption we could say: The nature of man is to live. From that I can conclude that I have a responsibility to preserve and defend my own life. And also a prohibition from taking someone elses life. And it’s not a far jump to concluded from those two statements that I have a responsibility to preserve and defend the lives of those around me.

    Will this stand up to a logical proof like a transitive relation will? No. But neither (I think) will the case for relativism. If man has a nature and we can conclude that killing an innocent man was against that nature yesterday, then it must also be against that nature today and tomorrow because man’s nature doesn’t change. I think that’s a basic argument for absolutism. Revelation from God can be used as a shortcut to get the rules without necessarily understanding man’s nature, but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to reach an understanding (which is why there are atheists who are absolutists).

    For me personally, the Church’s teachings on sexual morality were what made me bite on the idea of absolute truth. When I started taking a serious look into them I disagreed with most of them and I still fail at practicing them. But I came to see in them a profound understanding of who man is. I saw that all the “thou shalt nots” don’t restrict man – they make man who he’s meant to be just as the laws of geometry don’t hinder a circle but rather make it a true circle and prevent it from warping into some non-circular loop.

    Either way, if you can’t definitively know it until you are dead, then it has no bearing in your life.

    Of course this isn’t true. We make countless decisions every day of our life based on things we don’t know. You don’t know scientifically that God doesn’t exist and yet your best guess from the evidence you have has bearing on your life. Why else would you be defending Atheism on the internet? We couldn’t function in the world if we were completely agnostic about things which we didn’t know without a doubt.

  108. Irreligious
    January 14th, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

    Brian Walden, the problem with your contention that killing an innocent man is absolutely wrong is your assumption that there is (or has ever been) absolute agreement among human beings on what constitutes an “innocent” man in all circumstances.

    One hundred and fifty years ago in the U.S., a slave owner might have felt morally justified in killing a slave who was a perpetual runaway. The law, in many places, supported the slave owner’s contention. Of course, that kind of morality does not fly today.

    In wars, innocent people are killed all the time. Even if it’s not intentional, people (even religious people), excuse it as collateral damage and do not necessarily perceive such killings as immoral.

    The state is generally not held liable for executing a man who was later found to be innocent based on a preponderance of new evidence that could have exonerated him. Some people might think of it as an unfortunate mistake, but it is not necessarily their perception that the execution was an immoral killing, even though the new evidence shows the dead man was likely innocent of the crime for which he was executed.

    In short, there are all kinds of rationalizations still in play today for killing people who are objectively innocent of the crime or act that led to them to be killed in the first place.

  109. jolly atheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

    BW “The nature of man is to live. From that I can conclude that I have a responsibility to preserve and defend my own life. And also a prohibition from taking someone elses life…I have a responsibility to preserve and defend the lives of those around me”

    But your nature to live also includes killing of other species for food. If this absolutism makes you defend your own species only, and not the others, then is it not relative?

  110. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

    Brian Walden, the problem with your contention that killing an innocent man is absolutely wrong is your assumption that there is (or has ever been) absolute agreement among human beings on what constitutes an “innocent” man in all circumstances.

    Irreligious, I think the problem with your rebuttal is your assumption that truth requires consensus. The whole argument for absolute truth is that it doesn’t matter what people think, if everyone wakes up tomorrow thinking that 2+2=5 it doesn’t change the fact that 2+2=4.

    One hundred and fifty years ago in the U.S., a slave owner might have felt morally justified in killing a slave who was a perpetual runaway. The law, in many places, supported the slave owner’s contention. Of course, that kind of morality does not fly today.

    Ok, so let me get this straight. In 1859, a slaveowner in the South was morally right. In 2009 a slaveowner in the South is morally wrong. My question is: On January 14, 2009 was the dead Southern slaveowner from 1859 right or wrong?

  111. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

    Dearest Antitheist,

    Determinism simply means that every decision you make is a product of your make up, your history, and your environment…all the measurable components that make you what you are. Free will – thought that springs spontaneously from beyond these components – necessitates some “out of the system” tickler. A “soul” if you will (quit looking at your feet).

    Otherwise, from whence does this free will come?

    I’m sorry, but such irrational and egotistical flights of fancy necessitate the atheist iron maiden. That’s right! I’m talking about Christian Rock.

  112. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

    Brian, Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I need to mull on it for a bit before responding.

  113. jolly atheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

    Here is a morality problem of Socrates to think about: A man has given you his knife to keep. You know that he is insane. After some time, he wants his knife back. Should you give it back to him or not?

  114. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

    Do you need the knife? (just kidding man)

  115. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    “But your nature to live also includes killing of other species for food. If this absolutism makes you defend your own species only, and not the others, then is it not relative?”

    I think there is a little confusion over the term nature, but still your overall point is I think valid. I think in this quote you were using nature in the sense of the way people tend to act, where I was using it in the sense of the way people are intended to act. I don’t know that strictly speaking killing animals for food is one of our reasons for existing, but we’re free to and most of us do so.

    And yet the nature of animals is also to live. I’m pretty sure there is an answer that has something to do with man’s immortal nature and animal’s mortal nature, but I realize such an argument will not hold much water here. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to research it now to give you a good answer.

    About whether it is a relative rule or an absolute one, it’s relative in a sense. Most actions do are not inherently moral or immoral, I think many depend on the circumstances and the intent of the person performing the act. The idea behind absolute morality isn’t that a certain action is always right or wrong 100 percent of the time. Even something with something like killing, we can’t say it’s always wrong. As you pointed out, killing animals is acceptable if done with the proper intent. So we narrow it down to killing other people. Sometimes lethal force is required as legitimate self defense. So we make the distinction between this type of self defense murder.

    I think we can say that to murder someone, to kill them with malicious intent is inherently wrong. An absolutists’ claim is that once you’ve determined something is inherently wrong it must always be wrong in all times and places. So an absolutist might say “Maliciously killing a man is always wrong, but killing in legitimate self defense is not. And the same holds true even in a wild west outpost with no laws.” But an absolutist wouldn’t say “Maliciously killing a man is always wrong, but killing in legitimate self defense is not. But in a wild west outpost with no laws murder might be acceptable if it could be done without upsetting the other members of the outpost.”

    I was just thinking. Absolute morality is not inherent to theism. There are atheists who believe in absolute moral standards. I wonder if there are any who visit this board.

  116. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    Jane, I can’t immediately find the thread with Antitheist about free will, but in case he didn’t catch it I thought your “Prove free will, it is your destiny” comment was hilarious.

  117. Louise
    January 14th, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    Excellent Louise, you find the morality of yesteryear shocking….now if we could just get you to think that through a little. Here is a tip. It isn’t only the people in your parent’s yearbook that have weird hair.

    OMG!I have been out-logicked! Egads! What shall I do?

    It occurs to me, Jane, that you *actually* believe that society progresses. OMG! LOL!

    Tip: “Morality of yesteryear” was the giveaway.

    I’m just wondering when we’re all going to start to believe that it’s okay to stick your baby in the dryer (and turn it on), because you want to watch your TV show.

  118. jolly atheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

    BW I have some info about the Aristotelian usage of ‘nature'(the way people are intended to act/slave example) and ‘purpose’. I was thinking you meant that when I replied.

  119. jolly atheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

    UVJ. Yeaah, I need the knife. The absolute purpose of an insane man may be to kill himself and everybody around him!

  120. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

    Well, We’re kind of already a skank for accepting the knife. Is our goal to elevate ourselves to a higher moral plane. I guess I would toss the knife – lie claiming I had lost it and offer an elegant and more expensive spoon as a replacement.

  121. jolly atheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

    Well done Jane. Sometimes I have difficulty following your humorous comments – English is my second language and ‘skank’ is not in the dictionary.

  122. Antitheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

    You want the truth?
    You can’t handle the truth!
    The truth is:

    You were born, and you will die!
    What happens in between those events is up to you.
    Will you spend the entirety of it looking for an invisible friend. Or, will you get a life and go do something that makes you happy. Because, what if you go through this life preparing for the next, only to realize after you die, that it is all over! Please don’t waste this one!

    That’s the truth! ;)

  123. Antitheist
    January 14th, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

    Has anyone thought that RT is still RA and is pulling an “Ed Current” from YouTube, just to hear your reactions?

    You can catch Ed’s humor at this link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqJpZOljjG8

  124. Louise
    January 14th, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

    You were born, and you will die!
    Certainly.

    What happens in between those events is up to you. I agree, with qualifiers.

    Will you spend the entirety of it looking for an invisible friend.

    Nup. Found Him.

    Or, will you get a life and go do something that makes you happy.

    Married with five kids. Done.

    Because, what if you go through this life preparing for the next, only to realize after you die, that it is all over!

    Except I won’t “realise” anything, will I? I’ll be dead.

    Please don’t waste this one!

    I haven’t. Thanks.

    Next objection?

  125. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 14th, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

    Here’s a moral mess

    Alaska holds a first of it’s kind lottery to help victims of sex offenders (A big problem in Alaska apparently)

    Sex Offender wins the lottery

    Vigilante group beats winner with an iron pipe.

    So, Jolly Atheist and Brian (and anyone else who wants to play), should they have given him the money?

  126. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 9:57 pm

    Here is a morality problem of Socrates to think about: A man has given you his knife to keep. You know that he is insane. After some time, he wants his knife back. Should you give it back to him or not?

    Jolly Atheist, first I apologize if my nature explanation came of as a slight. I wrongly assumed, and made an ass of myself.

    I’m going to guess that in the question “to keep” means to hold or protect, rather than to own. And I also guess that the insane man is a danger to himself or others. If that’s the case I wouldn’t give him the knife back.

    I personally think that absolute morality might be implied in the question. Wouldn’t this be impossible for a relativist to answer without knowing the society it takes place in?

  127. Brian Walden
    January 14th, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

    Good Story, Jane. Assuming he obeyed all the rules of the lottery, of course they should have given him the money.

    The iron pipe was an interesting choice of blunt object, it’s like straight out of Clue.

  128. jolly atheist
    January 15th, 2009 @ 8:24 am

    UVJ: Well, I guess we must give him the money. The lottery agency should have declared reservation for such a case. But who would imagine such a coincidence? (or is this destiny?) Beat him? Of course not; but rational thinking seems so dull sometimes..

  129. Brian Walden
    January 15th, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    Ok, so let me get this straight. In 1859, a slaveowner in the South was morally right. In 2009 a slaveowner in the South is morally wrong. My question is: On January 14, 2009 was the dead Southern slaveowner from 1859 right or wrong?

    Any takers on the above question? I’m interested in how moral relativism works.

  130. nkb
    January 15th, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    Not to crap on the analogy, but aren’t felons generally excluded from playing lotteries?

  131. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 15th, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

    #129 It’s moot Brian. He’s dead. All morality is triage. The Socrates example exemplifies that.

    #130 I guess they didn’t make a provision for that. He was – the real deal. A two time rapist of teenage girls.

  132. nkb
    January 15th, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    I’ll take a stab at it, Brian.
    .
    In 1859, the slaveholder was not morally right, despite the laws being in his favor. Infringing on another human’s rights is not moral, in my book.
    But, that’s my personal opinion, which I bet some people to this day don’t share with me.
    .
    By the same token, I bet there were rich white people in 1859 that didn’t keep slaves, for a similar reason.

  133. nkb
    January 15th, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

    Oh, I didn’t realize that it was an actual situation (I just realized that you provided links).
    .
    Yes, if there were no rules prohibiting him from playing, there is nothing to do but give him the money.

  134. jolly atheist
    January 15th, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

    BW: In 2009, the slave-owner in 1859 was wrong because we can only judge by present morals and that’s why we have changed laws. Remember that the intended nature of Aristo’s slave was being a slave. It was right then, but not now.

  135. Brian Walden
    January 15th, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

    It’s moot Brian. He’s dead. All morality is triage.

    Jane, that’s either wonderfully liberating or horribly depressing.

    In 1859, the slaveholder was not morally right, despite the laws being in his favor.

    NKB, I take it you’re a moral absolutist?

    BW: In 2009, the slave-owner in 1859 was wrong because we can only judge by present morals and that’s why we have changed laws. Remember that the intended nature of Aristo’s slave was being a slave. It was right then, but not now.

    Jolly Atheist, that’s a very interesting answer. Does that mean that in 1859 an abolitionist Virginia was morally wrong for working to keep their fellow citizens from the perfectly legitimate business of owning slaves? Was General Lee morally right about slavery when he left Chancellorsville in the spring of 1863, but morally wrong when he crossed the Mason-Dixie line on the march toward Gettysburg?

  136. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 15th, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

    Brian, I think the problem is with HOW you are defining moral absolutism. Obviously each of us is indoctrinated and has convictions about right and wrong.

    A moral relativist isn’t someone without moral convictions. It is a person who understands that morality is dependent upon perspective.

    From our perspective 14 year old marriage is wrong, and when it does occur, the man asks. Some African tribes feel that 14 is the right age to marry and that the chick does the choosing. Who is good and who is bad?

    A moral relativist has morals, but does not feel those morals are cosmically superior. For one thing all of us have morals that are very speciest.

    Human death is good thing from the point of view of certain bacteria. Although I have a strong emotional attachment to the value of human life, I don’t consider it Universally Superior.

  137. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 15th, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

    Here is another one. In Tibet, if a family has money and multiple sons, it is considered “best” for the brothers to marry and share one wife. Property is thus kept in the family and male bloodlines preserved.

    Are Tibetans morally inferior?

  138. Louise
    January 15th, 2009 @ 8:23 pm

    A moral relativist has morals, but does not feel those morals are cosmically superior.

    Rubbish! Just read the combox!

  139. Lily
    January 15th, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

    I don’t think that any of the marriage customs you have described, Jane, fall into the category of immoral. Practices around the regulation of marriage vary from culture to culture but no society leaves sexual relations and child-bearing up to individuals or completely unregulated. I do think monogamy is superior to polygamy for various reasons but polygamy is not necessarily immoral.

    Likewise, there is nothing immoral about 14 year old brides. Puberty has traditionally been the age at which girls marry. It is only in our modern society with its emphasis on education, careers, et al. that delayed marriage and child-bearing is the norm. We are, not to put too fine a point on it, the weirdos.

    A free-for-all in which people had no responsibilities towards each other and the children they produce would be immoral. The very fact that every society regulates sexual expression in some way is testimony to an overarching unchanging morality that we all acknowledge, even when some individuals do not.

  140. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 15th, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

    Lily said “The very fact that every society regulates sexual expression in some was is testimony to overarching unchanging morality.”

    Actually, there was a study done at Harvard that suggested that all members of society are innately driven to control women of reproductive age…it was not just men, but a group effort.

    It was published in the HBR because the implications for working women. The end result of it was that women, even at the highest levels of management, and in the sciences meet a measure of hostility whenever they achieve any independent success, and so learn to hide it. After menopause the pressure disappears.

    How weird is that?

    So, I agree that it is universal, but I think it’s an instinct, not some command from on high. We’re just animals after all.

  141. Brian Walden
    January 15th, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

    Brian, I think the problem is with HOW you are defining moral absolutism. Obviously each of us is indoctrinated and has convictions about right and wrong.

    A moral relativist isn’t someone without moral convictions. It is a person who understands that morality is dependent upon perspective.

    I follow you so far. General Lee’s morals didn’t change when he crossed the Mason Dixon line, the morals of the society surrounding him changed.

    From our perspective 14 year old marriage is wrong, and when it does occur, the man asks. Some African tribes feel that 14 is the right age to marry and that the chick does the choosing. Who is good and who is bad?

    It sounds like you think neither is wrong. I agree. This, strictly speaking, is a matter of prudence. Our 14-year-olds are incredibly immature so we don’t allow them to marry. I imagine that the 14-year-olds in the tribe you describe have the maturity to make the decisions necessary for marriage. There is no “right” minimum age of marriage – it depends on many factors and can vary from place to place.

    When I became an absolutist, one of the things I began to realize was how many things aren’t morals. There are really very few things that are inherently wrong. An absolutist concedes that many things are relative, they’re a matter of deciding what’s the best course of action to take in a particular circumstance.

    A moral relativist has morals, but does not feel those morals are cosmically superior.

    Sticking with marriage, look at the debate over homosexual marriage on the other thread. Are there any relativists there? Does anyone feel it’s both right for the Netherlands to have it and Iran to outlaw it? Or do they feel that whichever country is right, the other must eventually conform to it?

    For one thing all of us have morals that are very speciest. Human death is good thing from the point of view of certain bacteria. Although I have a strong emotional attachment to the value of human life, I don’t consider it Universally Superior.

    I think most people who believe in morals would say that animals can’t sin, they lack the reason and the free will to do so. Out of curiosity, wherever you rank human life on the scale of all living things – do you think that standard should be applied everywhere? Or should Vatican City have it’s standard and the United States ours?

  142. UnspeakablyViolentJane
    January 16th, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    Brian, I still think you are failing to understand what I said about relative morality. Are you asking these questions to prove that my personal morality is fairly static. If so I’ve already addressed this.

    I think most people who believe in morals would say that animals can’t sin As we are speaking different languages, it’s fairly imperative for you to define “sin.”

  143. Brian Walden
    January 16th, 2009 @ 10:20 am

    Jane, I understand your morality is fairly static. So if you don’t mind me using the example of General Lee, its my contention that:

    If General Lee were an absolutist, he would maintain his moral position on slavery when crossing over into Union territory and think that the Union should conform to the Confederacy’s views on slavery.

    If General Lee were a relativist, he would maintain his moral position on slavery when crossing over into Union territory but think that the Union is right to keep one stance and Confederacy right to keep the other. (The Union wouldn’t be wrong for it’s moral position on slavery, but would be for forcing it’s beliefs on the Confederacy)

    If General Lee lived in a parallel universe of total relativism, he would think that the Union is right to keep one stance and Confederacy right to keep the other and change his moral position on slavery when crossing over into Union territory.

    And just so for the sake of fairness… If General Lee lived in a parallel universe of total absolutism, he would change his moral position on slavery when crossing over into Union territory and also think they were morally wrong for not eating grits for breakfast and speaking with an accent and everything else that was different from his way of life.

    Have I painted the relativist General Lee correctly?

    As we are speaking different languages, it’s fairly imperative for you to define “sin.”

    sin =~ to voluntarily choose to do what is morally wrong
    you can find more than you’ll ever want to know about sin here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14004b.htm

    If I’ve picked up on bits of other conversations right, you seem to believe that we don’t possess free will. That may mean we cannot sin if what we perceive to be a choice is nothing more than a reaction dependent on the variables put into the system.

  144. Lily
    January 16th, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    Jane– that Harvard study you reference interests me a lot. Do you have the citation handy? In any case, I have to say that it strikes me as reasonable that gender roles are “hard-wired” and that deviating from those roles would provoke reaction.

    Thinking about that and reflecting on the conversation that you and Brian have been having, it strikes me that morality is ultimately all about acting justly towards one another. We Christians believe that mankind was created in the image and likeness of God. This means that we share, in some measure, in his nature. We are creative, we can discern good from evil, we can love, etc.

    From that perspective, it would seem to follow that we are in a better position to make decisions about what is absolutely right and wrong. So in the case of the variations on marriage we were talking about, it seems to me that the regulation of marriage and sexual conduct follows on the need to make sure that the vulnerable and weak are protected and cared for. That may seem not so compelling to us modern westerners but for most of human history women and children without the protection of a husband and father were in a precarious position, indeed.

    What strikes me as amusing, bringing this back to the Harvard study you mentioned, is that it is atheists who are in a bind. If we are the products of blind evolution, then men are behaving as men must, when they “oppress” women. How can that be judged wrong? I mean, if nature designed women to bear children, then it is unnatural for them not to do so. AAACKK!! Biology is destiny, after all.

    Of course, since I am a Christian, I believe that women have received the same gifts from God that men have and that it is, therefore, right for women to develop them and to expect men (especially those who aren’t doing hard physical labor 12 hours a day, to bring home the boar for the womenfolk to cook) to take on some portion of the child care and home duties to make it possible for those women whose talents take them elsewhere to develop and practice them.

    How will atheists make the case?

  145. Irreligious
    January 16th, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    I never really liked the term “morality.” The connotations of it always seemed too reflexive as opposed to being deductive.

    On the other hand, there is a logical consistency to practicing sound “ethics.” I think one of the best ones from the Bible is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    It’s not some unconscious edict. It’s a principle that, with care, one can be applied across cultural boundaries.

    Probably, none of us here will ever convince a Wahabi from Saudi Arabia that there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral about a woman walking down the street in a simple, sleeveless A-line dress that falls just below the knee. But I don’t think he can have any “solid” argument against the principle of reciprocal behavior.

  146. Brian Walden
    January 16th, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    Stop the presses! I think I might have gotten something through my thick skull.

    I just realized that I’ve been viewing relativists through absolute-colored glasses. Thinking that they believed absolute ideas – they just thought those ideas had limited scope. So my picture of the relativist General Lee has him thinking the North should keep it’s ways and the south it’s because that’s what each of them think is “right.” The rightness is an absolute idea, but the idea only extends it reach to the limits of the society who believes it.

    Would the real relativist General Lee think that the South should keep its ideas about slavery because when you factor in all the variables it just “works” better that way and the North should keep it’s ideas not because they think they’re “right”, but because all things considered that’s what he thinks “works” best in the North. Or he might even think the North should change and allow slavery, but not because of any concept of “rightness” but because given conditions A through Z that’s what he thinks will “work” best for the entire nation.

    Is relativism pragmatism?

  147. Irreligious
    January 16th, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

    Do the slaves– who are also human beings in this scenario– get a say?

  148. Brian Walden
    January 16th, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    Do the slaves– who are also human beings in this scenario– get a say?

    Not in the Confederacy they don’t :)

    (I’d contend that no one gets a say, anyway)

    By the way, Irreligious, do you think they should get a say because things generally work out better when we give everyone a say. Or do you think they should get a say because of the fact that they’re human beings?

  149. jolly atheist
    January 16th, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

    Just a few notes:
    1. Darwin proposed a scientific theory; it can be falsified, but not judged. It is not a theory of ethics. This is a mistake commonly made. Accusing Darwin for what followed after his theory, is like accusing the discoverer of the computer/internet for causing our children to spend their days and nights in front of the machine.
    2.Right or Wrong is dependent on the right or wrong perception of a society. If I remember correctly, in the Old Testament, Abraham’s son offered his wife to the pharaoh of Egypt. This incident is wrong in 2009; I would have considered it right for that period phenomenologically, however OT is allegedly divine revelation and has a claim to be true all times; in which case, either the book is not divine but historical, or Abram’s son was immoral.
    3. That the right and wrong perceptions of different societies coincide on some fundamental matters is, in my opinion, due to the fact that we are a species among many with our appearances, emotions, behaviours, fears, hopes, etc. and it is only natural that a certain species should think and act similarly in defending itself and living as a member of a society as much as they reproduce similarly. And it is also natural that some differences should also occur due to hisorical time, geography, accumulation of culture, etc.

  150. Brian Walden
    January 16th, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

    Jolly Athiest,

    An absolutist would respond that moral laws are just as real and unchangeable as scientific laws. That societies (and individuals) propose theories about what the moral law is. Those theories might be correct or incorrect and they certainly change over time, but they have no bearing on the unchanging moral laws. Just as an object’s mass times it’s velocity always equaled it’s momentum even before Newton, so does the absolutist claim that the laws that govern morals always exist even before (and after society has abandoned) Moses.

    BTW, it’s even worse than you described. It was Abraham himself, the great father of faith, who allowed his wife to enter Pharoah’s harem. Everybody sins in the Bible. One of it’s themes is that God uses weak sinners to do his work rather than the people us mere mortals would expect Him to choose.

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