Is ‘Street Epistemology’ methodologically disingenuous?

If you have been following along in my series on Street Epistemology [1] you will already know that the conclusion of Peter Boghossian, and any who follow him, is that Christianity is a delusion which has a “virus” of faith at its core.

faithVirusDiagnosisPatternNotice the disingenuous approach of this Street Epistemologist (although it’s hard to blame him personally as he is simply following the handbook as written by Boghossian).

The Street Epistemologist claims, at the beginning of the conversation (while creating a rapport with the couple as Boghossian advises), to be open minded to what the Christian couple have to share with him. He makes it sound like he could be convinced to believe what they do.

He says:

“Like I said before, I’m a skeptic and I’m really trying to believe as many things that are true and discard as many things that are false in my life.” [1:11-1:18]

@13:55 following Anthony says:

“I’m a skeptic – my mind is open… You folks might be the ones who convince me that your God exists…”

This is where the chap off camera takes issue with Anthony. This chap has clearly interacted with him before and heard what he has to say and he knows his agenda. When things get heated Anthony throws out the claim that there are no historical records for Jesus except for the Bible [2] because he’s already researched it and Anthony tells the other chap that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!

Now, is it just me, or does this not sound very open-minded?

You can find the video at his Twitter account here.

ScreenHunter_351 Feb. 19 23.02

So I think the question is: Why does Street Epistemology begin with an outright lie? I mean, Peter Boghossian has said many, many times that authenticity and honesty are really important ingredients of the Street Epistemology programme and yet Street Epistemologists themselves are being required to hide what they really think about Christianity to those they talk to. Instead of telling them that they think Christianity is a delusion and that they are suffering from a virus the Street Epistemologist  (Atheist Apologist) actually pretends to be open to catching what they consider to be a virus!

You will notice the Street Epistemologist, in his Tweet to Peter Boghossian (who ‘retweeted’ the video), wonders why the man mostly off camera is getting annoyed with him. But the man explains. It’s not because Anthony (the Street Epistemologist) is an atheist – it’s because he’s not been up front and honest about where he’s coming from.

The methodology of Street Epistemology has been found out even by people on the streets who have not even read Boghossian’s book!

I would like to add this is not a personal attack on Anthony. In fact, I have offered to have a conversation with Anthony about Street Epistemology here on my blog and I hope he will still take me up on that offer because it is a genuine one.

Since writing this, Anthony has told me that he is genuinely open to evidence regarding Christianity. That would appear to be pretty tough to square with Boghossian’s book though. The whole attempt is to talk to people as an “intervention” – that’s even what it’s called. You don’t dialogue with infected people – you treat them.

Anyway – I think this raises some very important concerns regarding the methodology of Street Epistemology.

——————————

[1] If not then you’re very naughty and should immediately catch up by going here.

[2] Do I even need to suggest links to materials which demonstrate how misplaced this criticism is?

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About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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41 Responses to Is ‘Street Epistemology’ methodologically disingenuous?

  1. I tend to watch my own videos several times, and noticed right away that I flubbed my line regarding the historocity/authorship of the Bible to Street Preacher Troy. I intended (and I will be more careful in the future) to say:

    “Nothing in the Bible was written by Jesus Himself. The Gospels were written by anonymous authors and even those books are not first-hand accounts – that is, the authors of the Gospels were written decades after Jesus supposedly died. Paul and Luke specifically mention that they never met Jesus. Additionally, all extra-Biblical, secular mentions of Jesus were also not first-hand accounts – those authors (including fraudulent attributions like Josephus) were simply reporting heresay accounts from the Christians of their day, and were written decades, and in some cases, centuries after thensupposed death of Jesus.”

    Ahh…It is so much easier to take the time and write that out, as opposed to having to quickly blurt it out to a hostile preacher jumping from topic to topic and as increasingly-uncomfortable couple!

    I will be more careful with my words, particularly now that it appears my videos are garnering more atttention. I have also updated the section of this video description [called ‘Mistakes’] to reflect my correction, as I am always looking for ways to improve.

    Best regards,

    Anthony Magnabosco
    Twitter: @magnabosco

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks for leaving a message Anthony.

      In response to your point about what Jesus didn’t write I would just like to ask how that matters in the slightest? Could you please cite some professional historians claiming that it is necessary for an individual to have written documents themselves before we can take them, or their teachings, historically seriously. I’m not asking for a different historical approach to be applied to Jesus than anyone else in the ancient world but I am concerned that’s what you’re doing here.

      I would also be very interested in where you discovered that all the gospels are not first hand accounts (at least one doesn’t even claim to be) and that they are anonymous? Would you say you know this or you believe it? If you know it the evidence will have to be pretty darn convincing so I would really like to see it.

      Could you please tell me where exactly Paul and Luke “specifically mention” that they never met Jesus? Paul and Luke do specifically mention that they interviewed and talked with first-hand witnesses. I wonder why you think secondary witnesses cannot be trusted in such a setting? Again – I would be interested to hear from professional historians who claim that secondary witnesses who investigate the matter and interview primary witnesses simply cannot be trusted.

      Yes I think it’s much easier to have a dialogue this way. I don’t think it helps to have a camera there either. It seems to put all the pressure on them while you’re behind the camera. I would not like that approach. I doubt you are thinking this way but it screams ‘set up’.

      If I might ask you a question?

      Do you think that the definition Boghossian gives for ‘faith’ is appropriate when aimed at Christianity as a religion? Why / why not?

      Kind regards,
      Epi

      • Tim Zebo says:

        Epi,
        If by your last question you’d claim that there’s “evidence” to support Christian belief, and therefore Boghossian’s use of “pretending to know” is inappropriate, I’d strongly disagree. Conflating faith as “unevidenced belief” with faith as “justified confidence” is a word trick used by folks like Dr. John Lennox to buttress religion. It’s explored in much more detail here: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/11/faith_in_science_and_religion_truth_authority_and_the_orderliness_of_nature.html

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Hello Tim,

          Thanks for commenting.

          I think the problem you will have trying to make that view stand is the fact (and it is a fact) that Christians have been writing for over 2000 years about the reasons they believe and why others ought to believe as well. When Christians have talked about faith they have not meant a blind belief. Blind belief has never been a virtue in mainstream Christian thought. History is against this revisionist idea of Boghossians. Therefore, when Lennox defines faith as ‘justified confidence/trust’ he is within the mainstream Christian view. Ironically the people playing the word games here are the atheists like Boghossian. I have explained why (and given evidence of this) in my two articles on ‘Street Epistemology’ (3.1 and 3.2).

          I take it you are trying to make me laugh by linking me to a piece by Jerry Coyne? Coyne is not an authority on religion or philosophy and his piece demonstrates he’s nothing more than an ignorant layman. His four examples he gives commit the fallacy of equivocation for starters. ‘Faith’ can be used as a noun for ‘religion’. In another example it clearly means trust. The science quote could mean lots of things – including ‘blind faith’ (notice how we need an adjective to get to that meaning?). After all, the person saying that might have very bad reasons for taking penicillin. They may not even know what it is but only that a, usually, unreliable source told her to take it. Thus she might be right to take it but her beliefs are unjustified in this situation and her ‘belief’ is a blind one.

          At least Coyne notes that he cannot justify using reason without employing reason but this is viciously circular and therefore he misses the point that science only procedes on the basis of many philosophical assumptions which cannot be put to scientific test. He cannot give us any scientific reason for thinking that truth exists and that reason can lead us to it. In fact, he admits he can only state it ‘works’. But pragmatism is not evidence of something being true or right. That is just a test for what appears to be beneficial. Ironically, Coyne would not think his views on religion are just helpful – he thinks they are right but to have this theory of truth he must be making philosophical assumptions.

          What Coyne needs to read about is the amount of logicians who have been theists. Does it not bother him in the slightest that people like Kripke and Godel are/were avid theists? Will he have trouble admitting that some of the finest scientists were also theists? I would encourage people who are reading Coyne to go and read some introductory epistemology because the situation is far black and white as Coyne would have people believe (through blind faith).

          • Tim Zebo says:

            Epi,
            Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’ve read your 3.1 & 3.2 posts, and very much appreciate your writing style. With regret due to lack of time, I’ll cut to the quick here with three thoughts…
            1. Buried deep within the text in 3.1, as you point out in beautifully clear language, “surely the concepts behind the words are the more important issue at hand.” To which I’d heartily agree!!! Unfortunately, the *content* of your above reply and 3.1 & 3.2 posts instead place great importance on what are the best and/or most historically correct definition(s) for various words (esp. “faith”). It reminds me of the debates pro and con for “constitutional originalism” in the U.S. Supreme Court. They’re likely useful for deciding an effective way to support a judgement from the Bench, but in religious debates, as you quite rightly point out, they distract us from what’s important.
            Specifically, IF your claim is that the faith of many Christians is based on evidence, and not on “pretending to know” that’s fine. However, instead of agonizing over the many sequences of letters humans use, and have used, to describe a concept (e.g, “f-a-i-t-h”), you’d better serve your cause by offering concrete examples of what you believe with the supporting evidence.
            For example, I don’t know how the universe began, nor do I know how the first life began. No one does. If your claim is “God did it!” then present your evidence. If it consists of Book of Genesis excerpts and the exegesis of same, does the debate over whether Boghossian or Lennox have the best definition for the letter sequence, “faith” , or whether “Coyne is not an authority on religion or philosophy”, matter one whit???
            2. More importantly, since it seems your beliefs go beyond Deism, to the “reality” of Christianity, IF you decide your claims are:
            a. Every Homo sapiens is born with Original Sin, and that’s because
            b. The first Homo sapiens female, created from the rib of the first Homo sapiens male, was persuaded by a talking snake to eat an apple, and
            c. Some years later My God decided to impregnate a virgin Homo sapiens female with Himself so that He could be born as a Homo sapiens male, and
            d. Once alive as an adult, My God also enabled other Homo sapiens to torture and kill Himself as a sacrifice to save all other Homo sapiens instantiations from the Original Sin that He condemned us to be born with,
            then presenting your evidence for claims a, b, c, and d, will serve you far better than the complaint that “Boghossian’s misrepresented Migliore.”
            3. Lastly, IF your evidence for the above claims consists solely of both Biblical excerpts and 2000-years worth of exegesis written down decades after His death, by “uneducated” desert peoples (i.e., those having no experience with modern scientific methods, where those stories often bear a striking resemblance to numerous stories from other older cultures (curious, right?), and since even today, the 2000-years worth of stories and exegesis can be interpreted in so many different ways that there are now more than 9,000 Christian denominations (http://www.worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/), perhaps you’ll forgive us for being a tad skeptical until we see your evidence, right?
            Gotta run for now.
            Thanks again, and best wishes in all you’re doing.
            Tim

          • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

            Thanks Tim,

            First off I think most of your problems regarding Christianity would appear to be about evolution and therefore only apply to fundamentalist versions of Christianity which I also have a problem with. I am a theistic evolutionist like most Christians in Great Britain. It’s nowhere near being the issue over here that it appears to be in the US. So if I begin there hopefully that will explain why I’m not going to disagree with you on evolution.

            I’m glad you agree that the concepts are important. What you find to be “unfortunate” about 3.1/3.2 were, I think, the most vital aspects of them. You see, I’m answering not you but one very specific atheist charge (viz. the charge that ‘faith’ must mean something other than how theists have used it historically). It was very important, therefore, to demonstrate that Boghossian is badly mistaken in trying to force some linguistic hegemony on his interlocutors. I showed that his sources are not very good ones and where they are he’s misrepresented them. I then showed that his account of the Greek in the book of Hebrews is very badly mistaken and decontextualized. This is all very damaging for Boghossian’s case and any other atheist who would attempt to play the same game. So I’m afraid I cannot agree they were not important pieces. I think they are critical. Sorry.

            I don’t think it’s good enough for an atheist to say they don’t know how the universe came into existence. An agnostic might get away with that but not an atheist. The atheist thinks they are justified in doubting God exists which means they ought to have a more compelling case for the non-existence of God than the case for him. Unless the atheist lives on a desert island they must know there are various arguments for the existence of God. Therefore they have an intellectual duty to know these arguments and be able to weigh them against non-theistic arguments.

            Those who believe God created the universe, like myself, do think such a case has been made and we find it very persuasive. If you look up my most recent post it is called ‘Evidence for Christianity’ where I have placed some of my favourite theistic arguments and replies to criticisms. It’s probably about 20 hours of viewing but I think that’s about the minimum amount of time it would take to make a reasonably well documented cumulative case for the Christian God.

            Any atheist who wishes to convince me that my theism is irrational or less likely than their atheism will need to be able to explain these arguments and refute them or render them highly improbable. They will also need to make a case against God which outweighs the case for him. I will admit up front that I have read virtually all atheists who publish in philosophy and religion and I’m yet to read one who has managed to persuade me. What I often find disappointing is that many atheists have not bothered to read or listen to their theist counterparts. Maybe you have, but often I find they simply haven’t bothered.

            The way you word things toward the end of your email I wonder if you have? For example, most professional historians think that writing history a few decades after an event is a REALLY GOOD time to writing history. Some of the best histories of the second world war were written between the 1970s and today! Historians don’t criticize people who write histories of the second world war today but according to you they ought to be! That’s just really bad history to think that way. The Gospels are some of the best attested ancient documents we have. Histories of Alexander the Great begin at 300+ years after his death but historians don’t doubt we know lots about Alexander. Yet people seem to think they can arbitrarily apply a different historical methodology on the NT documents and hold them to a higher historical standard. I could say a LOT more on that but if you are interested in the case for the historical Christ and the reliability of the NT documents I would point you here:

            http://www.jesusoftestimony.com/watch/

            Sorry my reply ended up being so long. All the best.

  2. labreuer says:

    The most revealing thing, here is what a person actually thinks about the other guy. I don’t particularly care whether it’s what the theist thinks of the atheist/skeptic or what the atheist/skeptic thinks about the theist. The question is whether there is respect for the other person’s belief structure—that is, maybe they have good reasons to believe as they do, given how they grew up—or whether the other person is just an unreflective buffoon who routinely ignores the evidence in front of his face in order to serve his preconceived notions. Obviously these are extremes and there are shades of grey, but I think the deep question is whether you can actually walk a mile in the other person’s shoes: can you truly empathize? If the answer is “no”, problems potentially multiply.

  3. apologianick says:

    Anthony: Nothing in the Bible was written by Jesus Himself.

    Reply: In the ancient world, most teachers didn’t write. They left that to their students. They feared books would be misunderstood apart from their present tutelage. Know how many rabbis wrote down their teaching? None. Their students were expected to do that. Furthermore, why should Jesus write? Oral tradition was a much better medium.

    Anthony: The Gospels were written by anonymous authors

    Reply: So were the lives of Plutarch. Do you have a methodology whereby you can examine a claim of authorship and find out who wrote a book or at least make a probable case? Note also the Pastorals are not anonymous and they’re not seen by most liberals as Pauline so what difference does having a name on them make?

    Anthony: and even those books are not first-hand accounts –

    Reply: This needs to be demonstrated. Even if they weren’t firsthand, they had access to firsthand information. Have you interacted at all with Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”

    Anthony: that is, the authors of the Gospels were written decades after Jesus supposedly died.

    Reply: First off, there is no “supposedly” about it. John Dominic Crossan says Jesus’s death by crucifixion is as sure a fact as any. Also, decades later? So what? In the ancient world that’s a blip. The crossing of the Rubicon was written about historians at least 100 years later.

    Anthony: Paul and Luke specifically mention that they never met Jesus.

    Reply: Amuse me and show me where.

    Anthony: Additionally, all extra-Biblical, secular mentions of Jesus were also not first-hand accounts –

    Reply: Why should they be? Why would others care? Jesus was not worth talking about.

    Anthony: those authors (including fraudulent attributions like Josephus)

    Reply: Most scholars will actually tell you much of Josephus is genuine. We can recognize the interpolation.

    Anthony: were simply reporting heresay accounts from the Christians of their day, and were written decades, and in some cases, centuries after thensupposed death of Jesus.

    Reply: Baloney. Consider the reference in the Annals. Christians would not speak of Jesus that way. In fact, Tacitus specifically says he’s not using hearsay.

    “My object in mentioning and refuting this story is, by a conspicuous example, to put down hearsay, and to request that all those into whose hands my work shall come not to catch eagerly at wild and improbable rumours in preference to genuine history.”
    (Tacitus, Annals, IV.11)

    Really, do yourself a favor and read some serious scholarship.

  4. Tim Zebo says:

    Epi,
    I don’t see a way to reply to your last comment, so I’ll leave my comments here. None of my last post had anything to do with evolution (just to be clear my comment, “nor do I know how the first life began” is about life’s origins, NOT life’s evolution), and based on your blog posts, I assumed you’re O.K. with evolution as well. In a few days, I’ll spend some time reading your ‘Evidence for Christianity’, but in the meantime, could you tell me which of the following claims you agree with?:
    a. Every Homo sapiens is born with Original Sin.
    b. The first Homo sapiens female, created from the rib of the first Homo sapiens male, was persuaded by a talking snake to eat an apple.
    c. Some years later My God decided to impregnate a virgin Homo sapiens female with Himself so that He could be born as a Homo sapiens male.
    d. Once alive as an adult, My God also enabled other Homo sapiens to torture and kill Himself as a sacrifice to save all other Homo sapiens instantiations from the Original Sin that He condemned us to be born with.
    Thanks,
    Tim

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Okay. Thanks for clearing it up. Although some of the questions do seem to presuppose literalist readings still.
      a) Yes. However, now I’ve read ‘d’ please notice God does not condemn humans fatalistically with anything humans do not freely seek. To know the difference between good and evil and to choose between good and evil is a choice all make. That is, in fact, the primary message of the Adam and Eve story in its ancient near eastern historical and literary context.
      b) No. Eve was no more literally created from a rib than Adam was literally created out of dust. It’s an ancient device for talking about the compatibility and closeness of both Adam and Eve / the first homo sapiens. This is where fundamentalism is guilty of asking modern scientific questions back into an ancient text which was not answering them or even attempting to. The Biologos website has tons of good stuff on these matters if you’re interested.
      c) You’re not being careful enough with your language. As you ought to know, in Christianity the Father is not the Son. They are two persons. So God the Father does not cause Mary to become pregnant with himself – that’s a misrepresentation of the Christian view. Instead, the view is the Father causes her to become pregnant and it is the Son she will eventually give birth to.
      d) See my comments in ‘c’ to resolve this supposed problem.

      I hope that clears things up? You’ve been reading too much New Atheism I fear! But I’m glad you’ve checked and I hope you’re open to correction?

      Thanks.

  5. Tim Zebo says:

    Epi,
    Thanks for clarifying my language. I’ve made another attempt and this time have tried for extreme clarity. I hope this is a more concise way to state Christianity’s claims, but you’ll be the best judge of that. Can you confirm (a) which of the following claims you believe, and (b) which, if any, important claims are missing?
    Best regards,
    Tim
    1. Our species, Homo sapiens, evolved via natural selection from an earlier species.
    2. Each male or female Homo sapiens is composed of two parts: (a) a scientifically-measurable physical part herein called a “body”, and (b) a non-scientifically-measurable part herein called a “soul.”
    3. The first female Homo sapiens convinced the first male Homo sapiens to violate a rule given to them by God the Father (herein called “Father God”).
    4. In response, Father God causes each new baby Homo sapiens’ soul to include “Original Sin.”
    5. The soul part of each new baby Homo sapiens’ will spend the rest of eternity in the presence of Father God, IF AND ONLY IF that baby’s body dies BEFORE he or she is capable of “consciously choosing GOOD” (viz., behaving so that Father God’s most important rules ARE NOT violated) or “consciously choosing EVIL” (viz., behaving so that one or more of Father God’s most important rules ARE violated),
    6. If each new Homo sapiens’ body dies AFTER he or she is capable of consciously choosing good or evil, AND he or she consistently chose GOOD while their body was alive, his or her soul will spend the rest of eternity in the PRESENCE of Father God.
    7. If each new Homo sapiens’ body dies AFTER he or she is capable of consciously choosing good or evil, AND he or she consistently chose EVIL while their body was alive, his or her soul will spend the rest of eternity in the ABSENCE of Father God.
    8. Father God knows BEFORE birth whether each new baby Homo sapiens’ body will die, (a) BEFORE or (b) AFTER, he or she is capable of consciously choosing good or evil, AND that he or she WILL consistently CHOOSE evil while their body will be alive.
    9. Father God loves both the body and the soul of every member of the species Homo sapiens.
    10. Father God impregnated a virgin female Homo sapiens who then gave birth to a baby who was composed of two parts: (a) a male Homo sapiens body part named Jesus, and (b) a God part named the Son of God the Father (herein called “Son God”).
    11. Father God and Son God enabled other Homo sapiens to torture and kill the Jesus Homo sapiens body.
    12. The Jesus Homo sapiens’ body rose from the dead.
    13. The Father God’s and Son God’s enabling the killing of the Jesus Homo sapiens’ body gives all other Homo sapiens, even though born with the Original Sin the Father God caused them to be born with, the opportunity to consistently choose good while their body is alive, so that his or her soul could potentially spend the rest of eternity in the PRESENCE of Father God.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      1 and 2 yes. 3 is more tricky because whether they were the first homo sapiens or not is up for debate. They were, in my opinion, the first homo sapiens with the image of God given to them but I don’t think the first, in the sense of being species originators, because even the Bible makes it clear there were other homo sapiens around at the same time. But I could be wrong on this. It’s also possible the story is not about two literal people but about a personification (which their names might suggest) and therefore the story is more epic in the sense that it’s telling us something about what the first humans did with their freedom. 4. Original sin, as Augustine teaches it, is not a primary doctrine of the church so I think the broader point is that, by nature, human beings do as they wish. They have chosen autonomy over obedience and that’s what all humans would have done in that situation. That’s the more important point about ‘original sin’. 5. No. I don’t know since it’s not clearly revealed but what is clear is that bodily resurrection is the future hope not a soul state. 6. To be honest with you the language is getting tortuous at this stage. It feels like there is something else you’re trying to get at but you’re not getting to it. If you’re asking – do good people get to heaven the answer is I don’t agree with that – no. 7. No. 8. See the thief on the cross. 9. Yes – although ‘love’ may need further clarification. 10. No. Mary was with child by a miracle but Jesus is not ‘a god’ as if there is more than one. That would be tri-theism or polytheism and Christianity rejects that. 11. “Enabled” needs serious qualification. There is, of course, the general sense in which everything that happens happens because God created the entire universe but the people involved in that are doing what they want to do. They are not coerced against their will to do so. The source of their decision to crucify Jesus is themselves. But God, knowing what they will freely choose to do, permits it to happen and uses it for good. 12. Absolutely. 13. See comment 11. Again there are issues with your use of the word ’cause’. You must be more careful. God does not cause the sinful nature. The sinful nature is what humans desire. It’s what they want. God permits this.

      There is a good book on most of these issues which you might like to read. Hopefully the link will work: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creation-Evolution-Do-Have-Choose/dp/1854247468/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1393438793&sr=8-1

      And I’d recommend this documentary:

      Thanks.

      • timzebo says:

        Epi,
        Thanks!
        I watched the video, but since I agree with the premise that neither Darwin nor
        ultra-Darwinism killed God, most of the time I was cringing at the constant recourse to an authority figure on this or that. As highlighted in the video, even Genesis says
        “humans are fallible” (as if we didn’t know that:-). So an authority’s informed opinion is just that – not something the author can use to conclude, “Francis Collins said it, I believe it,
        case closed.”

        Some of your answers above puzzled me at first, but then I had a spark of recognition.
        Is the following be a better way to express these claims? Some items below are also
        questions rather than a redo. Thanks again for your patience with my questions.
        I’m asking because I’d like to understand in detail exactly what you believe.

        5-redo.
        If a new baby Homo sapiens’ body dies BEFORE he or she is capable of choosing to acknowledge Jesus is the Son and integral part of Father God, it is unknown what immediately happens to the soul of that baby, however, it is clear that at some future
        time his or her soul WITH body will spend the rest of eternity in the PRESENCE of
        Father God.

        6 & 7 redo (now combined into one claim)
        If each new Homo sapiens’ body dies AFTER he or she is capable of consciously choosing good or evil, AND regardless of whether he or she consistently chose good OR evil
        while their body was still alive, IF he or she chooses to acknowledge that Jesus
        is the Son and integral part of Father God, his or her soul will
        (a) spend some (as yet undefined) time in the PRESENCE of Father God until the
        (b) eventual recombination of their soul with their body at the age their body died,
        and then,
        (c) his or her body WITH soul will spend the rest of eternity in the PRESENCE of
        Father God.

        8. Since the thief on the cross was an adult, I don’t understand how your answer
        applies to the case where a Homo sapiens baby dies BEFORE he or she is capable of choosing to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son and integral part of Father God.

        9. How would you “clarify” God’s love for the Homo sapiens: (a) babies and (b) adults?

        10-redo.
        Father God impregnated a virgin female Homo sapiens who then gave birth to a baby who was composed of two parts: (a) a male Homo sapiens body part named Jesus, and
        (b) a God part which was an integral part of Father God, and named the Son of God.

        11. Could you explain more about how God used the torture and death of Jesus
        “for good”?

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Hi Tim,

          Thanks for coming back. I would also like to know some of your answers on these questions rather than this being one-sided so we can have a dialogue and I can get to know your views a bit more. I’ll put some down after my reply.

          I’m not very clear what you’re saying about the video. It’s certainly not that because Francis Collins says something that makes it true but I think the purpose of the documentary is to show that there has been an over-emphasis on the two more extreme positions in this debate (see Nye vs Ham recently for yet more polarization) rather than a recognition that there are many who don’t fit well into these categories. What the documentary points out nicely is that the main traditions in Christianity reject both creationism and intelligent design (as a scientific hypothesis).

          5. I don’t know. Some Christians have said very firmly the answer is yes because, in the Bible David affirms such a belief, but the passage comes in a narrative and David says lots of silly things in narratives which we don’t make doctrines out of. So my answer is that we simply do not know. What we do know is the God is not only good but also just and he will do right.

          6&7. This is still linguistically tortuous I’m afraid Tim. I know you are trying to be clear but it’s making is harder to understand what you actually mean. Why don’t you just say ‘person’ instead? If you are asking: ‘What happens to a person’s soul between death and the resurrection?’ (If that is what you are asking?) Their soul goes, in some sense, to be with God as they await the resurrection. The Bible says very little on this matter but this it does say.

          There’s a typo in my last message and what was actually a part of the answer to 7 was labelled 8. Hopefully that clarifies?

          8. I think I’ve just answered that in 5.

          9. I don’t know what you’re asking for here. God’s love is his desire for their ultimate well-being. God does not discriminate on the issue of age. It is the same no matter what the age of the person is.

          10. No. This is a very clumsy expression of the Christian view on this. Mary is not giving birth to a ‘god’. Jesus simply is and always was God. That is an eternal aspect of who he is. But he lays that aside in becoming a man. He lays aside his divinity and becomes fully human. Philippians 2 explains this.

          11. Certainly. The are many different aspects to view the cross of Christ from though. One is the triumph of good over evil. Another is the expression of God’s love in his sacrifice for sinners. Another is God’s payment on behalf of our crimes. This is the idea C.S. Lewis tried communicating though the Aslan analogy. God the Son fulfills the requirements of the moral law and pays the price required for sin. John Stott has a wonderful book on this topic called ‘The Cross of Christ’ if you really wish to understand what Christians understand this event to be about.

          I’ve answered quite a lot of questions so I wonder if you’d reciprocate?

          1. What are your three biggest objections to Christian theism?
          2. If your three biggest objections to Christianity could be answered would you concede that it’s possible that any other objections could also be answered?
          3. What is it you positively believe? That is to say, no-one is ever just an atheist. They all have things they believe in their worldview which are important to them. I mean, you could be a philosophical materialist, a secular humanist, a communist, a naturalist, a Buddhist, a new ager etc. I have no idea who I’m talking to so it would be interesting to hear how you would define your worldview.

          That way we both know where the other is coming from a little better.

          All the best,

          • timzebo says:

            Epi,
            Thanks again for your comments!

            Chapter One: Answers to your questions about me…

            Epi-Q1. What are your three biggest objections to Christian theism?
            [Foreword, the objections below are NOT unique to Christian theism, and apply to most if not all religions]

            Tim-Q1 Answers (“A1” means “Answer 1” etc):
            A1. Key Features of the Christian God Hypothesis Do More Harm than Good

            A1.1. Unprovable Christian Claims Divide Us and Cause Needless Suffering
            Christian claims that cannot be disproved (e.g., “The Christian God the Father created the universe”, “Jesus is God”, “Jesus loves you”, “Humans consist of two parts: (a) body and (b) soul”, “The soul continues to live after the body dies”, “Nothing works like prayer”, etc.), act to DIVIDE US into two tribes: Believers in the Christian God and Non-Believers in the Christian God. Historically, in the worst cases, these two tribes have often gone to war over their differences leading to many needless deaths and much suffering.

            A1.2. Christian Myths Lead to Great Suffering from Unwanted Children
            More importantly (since the past is dead), looking to the future, those many Christians who believe that: (a) “Birth control of any kind is against God’s will”, and (b) “Every fertilized human egg is a precious gift from God of immeasurable worth and significance”, currently are and will be a huge obstacle to our attempt to stabilize Earth’s human population.

            A1.3. Christianity has a Tradition of Oppressing Women
            1st Timothy 2-12 says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” 1st Corinthians 14:34 says, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” Deuteronomy 22:21 says, “If the girl is not found a virgin, the men of her town shall stone her to death.” Christianity has thus helped shape a culture where major institutions like the Catholic Church, S. Baptist Congregation, Mormon Church, etc., etc., exclude women from their leadership hierarchies and rituals, inevitably leading to the implication that females are inferior to males. This harms human society in well-known ways too numerous to mention here.

            A2. Both God the Father and Jesus are Lousy Role Models for Humans
            Christians teach their children that God the Father did nothing to prevent humans from torturing and murdering Jesus because the first Homo sapiens male and female violated a moral law requiring that the souls of all their descendants suffer horrible pain for eternity, unless Jesus’ sacrifice was made to atone to God the Father for that violation of moral law.

            Thus, God the Father is a lousy role model because either (a) He is all-powerful and did nothing to prevent the suffering of Jesus when he could have just as easily decided that good people should not be UNJUSTLY punished because their ancient ancestors violated a law, or (b) He is NOT all-powerful because he is subject to a moral law that requires descendants to be unjustly punished for their ancestors’ violations. Jesus is a lousy role model for humans because instead of fighting to eliminate a law that requires descendants to be unjustly punished for their ancestors’ violations, He agreed with it.

            A3. Christianity Distract Us from Seeing the Ultimate Source of Moral Truths
            Christian theologians teach that any universe lacking God as a moral law-giver is a place where “anything goes.” Those theologians, much like Hume (“You can’t get an ought from an is”) and Gould (“science and religion are non-overlapping magesteria”) are simply mistaken, and they distract us from seeing the ultimate source of moral truths.

            As Sam Harris so skillfully points out in “The Moral Landscape”, moral truths are always about “protecting conscious creatures from harm”, and “what leads those creatures to feel better or worse.” Harris argues (and I agree), that science CAN measure the best and worst possible lives by MEASURING FACTS about (a) the brain states of conscious creatures, (b) the world, and (c) human behavior. Thus, values DO derive from facts: illegal DVD copies result in measurable harm; keeping women in cloth bags greatly diminishes human flourishing. By distracting us from this method of discerning pleasure and pain, Christianity keeps us from discerning moral judgments based on evidence rather than dogma, tradition or authority figures. This in turn results in unprovable Christian claims that divide us and cause needless suffering (see also A1.1 above).

            Epi-Q2.
            If your three biggest objections to Christianity could be answered would you concede that it’s possible that any other objections could also be answered?

            Tim-Q2.Answer:
            Of course!

            Epi-Q3.
            What is it you positively believe? That is to say, no-one is ever just an atheist. They all have things they believe in their worldview which are important to them. I mean, you could be a philosophical materialist, a secular humanist, a communist, a naturalist, a Buddhist, a new ager etc. I have no idea who I’m talking to so it would be interesting to hear how you would define your worldview.

            Tim-Q3 Answer:
            I’m a Secular Humanist which is “a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” More is here: http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_III

            Chapter Two
            Last but not least, here are a few final questions I’d appreciate your answers for…

            6&7 Redo
            Sorry for the tortuous language. I have two basic questions here…

            Q1: If an adult person acknowledges that Jesus is the Son and integral part of Father God, and EVEN IF he or she consistently chose evil while their body was still alive, then do you believe that his or her body WITH soul will eventually spend the rest of eternity in the PRESENCE of Father God?

            Q2: Does this diagram explain what happens to the two parts of each adult person’s:
            (a) body and
            (b) soul
            during three time periods:
            (c) from body death to resurrection of body,
            (d) from resurrection of body to start of eternity and
            (e) from start of eternity to ever after?
            =>assume time on X-axis
            Body Resurrection Eternity
            Dies (of body) Starts
            |………………………|……………………|…………………………
            Body’s location:
            |…..in Grave………..|……on Land……..|……with God………….
            Soul’s location:
            |…..with God……….|……in Body………|……in Body with God….

            9-redo
            My question about clarifying God’s love is a follow-up to your previous comment, where you said: “Yes – God loves both the body and the soul of every member of the species Homo sapiens, although ‘love’ may need further clarification.”
            Here I’m asking: What did you mean by your comment, “[God’s] love may need further clarification”?

            10-redo
            There’s a contradiction in your comments here. Mary gives birth to Jesus, but then you say:
            (a) Mary is NOT giving birth to a god, and
            (b) Jesus simply is and always was God.
            Philippians 2 says “Jesus, being in very nature God made himself nothing by taking the nature of a servant”. Based on this, do you agree with this rewrite of 10?:
            10-redo#2
            Father God impregnated a virgin female Homo sapiens who then gave birth to a baby who was composed of two parts: (a) a male Homo sapiens body part named Jesus, and (b) a soul part which was an integral part of Father God.

            11-redo
            Are you saying God is subject to a moral law? Wouldn’t you then have to say God is NOT all powerful, since He must obey the moral law?

          • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

            Hi Tim,

            I think we’re going to have to narrow the discussion massively otherwise both of us will be writing full on essays by the end of the week – well, either that or one of us will just stop altogether. So what I would like to suggest is that we try to focus on one matter or two at the most. Maybe one of your choosing and one of my choosing? How does that sound? I see you actually put down five objections and not three. That’s fine. I think I could have a jolly good go at answering all of them if that doesn’t sound too proud but I’ll leave them for now (despite being desperate to comment on Sam Harris!). So if you pick one of those five and I will tell you one I would like to focus on at the end of this reply.

            For now I don’t want to leave those questions unanswered so I’ll answer those:

            6&7
            Q.1 No. The NT says “by their fruits you will know them” and most take this to mean by their actions. Someone persisting in willful sinning is someone who is clearly not genuine about following Jesus. It’s even a matter for which one can get dismissed from the church in the NT.

            Q.2 I’m afraid the chart did not come out clearly and neither did some of the titles (like “Dies (of body) Starts”). So that made things more unclear. The basic position is really quite a simple one. The traditional Christian position is that a person is composed of a body and a soul/spirit. Now where it gets more complicated is when Christian philosophers write about it beyond what the Bible says. Here you get monism, dual-aspect-monism and dualism (and everything in between). The soul only endures temporarily. The final goal is for the body and soul to coexist at the general resurrection.

            9. Just wanted to caveat that I don’t mean the gushy, feeling based ‘lurve’ people often talk about these days. Rather it is a far more profound kind of love. Deeper and far more perfect than expressed in any human relationship.
            10. I don’t think so – just an important clarification about how it’s worded. Jesus never becomes a ‘god’. Mary is not giving birth to a god. Jesus was, is and always will be eternally God. Jesus becomes a man. That’s what I’m clarifying.
            11. No. He merely acts consistently with his perfect nature.

            ————————–

            You identify yourself as a humanist which is helpful as that gives me some insight into some of the things you affirm and not just some of the things you reject. There’s a lot in the Humanist Manifesto which resounds with a Christian worldview (some might say it’s borrowed a few things but anyway…).

            There’s a good number of problems I have with humanism but I will restrict myself to just one thing.

            Humanists affirm the importance of recognizing diversity but they also affirm that there are objective moral values. So I wonder how they reconcile those two commitments? I mean, not all human cultures value the same things American culture does. In such a case how does one decide? More importantly, what is the grounding for objective morals? You’ve cited Harris already but the first problem is not all humanists think Harris has solved the problem. In fact, the problem is that most atheists disagree with Harris – especially the atheist philosophers (and philosophy is the specialism required to do ethics). Harris has, really, just pinched John Stuart Mill and changed the language slightly to make it sound more scientific. He equates the ‘good’ with well-being but people have vastly different meanings for well-being. Let me give you an example. I think it is in the well-being of religious people not to have to put up with the silly stereotypes some atheists make of them. I think their well-being is better served than to have some humanists (and I know the British Humanist Association quite well) attempt to campaign to say their children cannot go to a religious school which preserves the ethos of their religion and culture. So, unless a non-controversial definition of “well-being” can be given Harris has come nowhere near to answering the problem. In addition (and this is what has caused some atheist philosophers to mock Harris) he gives no reason why one OUGHT to seek the well-being of others. Many philosophers have pointed out Harris has come nowhere near to answering the is/ought problem as posed by Hume. Now I know (because I’ve read Harris) what Harris does at this stage. He attempts to simply dismiss this problem. But that is not good enough. Most of his atheist peers remain unconvinced he’s even come close to offering a solution despite his obvious hubris. Harris just takes for granted that well-being is a universal category and he assumes people ought to seek it. He has therefore dodged doing any serious metaethics.

            So, in short, my problem with secular humanism is that, while their list of moral concerns sound very noble, they also sound very much like western middle-class concerns (culture bound) and they don’t appear to be grounded on anything which suggests there is any real ‘ought’ about them. So, how does a secular humanist get to objective moral values?

            Sorry this one was so long. Hopefully we can make them a bit shorter now?

            Thanks.

  6. timzebo says:

    I had some extra time earlier this week, but not much now, so my posts will get much shorter. Here’s the objection I’d select:
    1. Both God the Father and Jesus are terrible role models for humans because they agree with the following immoral actions:
    a. Innocent descendents should be punished for the mistakes of their ancestors, and
    b. The torture and death of an innocent Homo sapiens can make amends for mistakes made by the first Homo sapiens several 100,000 years earlier.

    As for Harris not being the darling of traditional philosophers, that’s to be expected since he’s proposing a change in thinking that’s been static for hundreds of years. Harris’ measurement of “well-being” in theory could easily solve your “children learning religion & culture” problem. Imagine being able to measure fear in a child on a scale of 1-10. Then imagine 10,000 children in a Humanist school being taught that when they die that’s the end; and we’d measure an avg. fear factor=4. Then also imagine 10,000 children in a Christian school being taught that when they die they could roast in Hell forever, and we’d measure an avg fear factor=9.9. If you were a gov’t education official trying to raise more kids to be like the Bill Gates’, Steven Spielberg’s, Steve Jobs’ or (pick your favorite risk taker) of the world, which school would you prefer? QED;-)

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Tim,

      Okay. I think I would reply by asking where specifically you think they affirm such a thing. I don’t find anything like that when I read the Bible. On the contrary, Christianity actually affirms that people are punished for their own sins and that God is long-suffering and gracious. Where have you got this idea that people get punished for other people’s “mistakes”?

      “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)

      And when you say “The torture and death of an innocent Homo sapiens…” – do you mean Jesus? Can you just affirm that? It’s actually confusing that you don’t specifically name who you’re talking about (if you’re talking about Jesus at all – I don’t actually know). And, on what basis, would the time between the sins and the sacrifice have a bearing on its validity? And if you mean Jesus you cannot describe him merely as a “homo sapien” since that’s not all Jesus is. Jesus has a status no homo sapien has or ever will have.

      As for Harris I think the problem stands. It’s not just that he’s not the darling of philosophers but rather that he’s been shown to be trivial by philosophers that is the most damaging thing. Harris has not demonstrated how his moral theory answers the deep metaethical questions which philosophers all agree need answering. That is: If one holds to objective moral truths, what is the basis for doing so?

      [As an analogy: If I cited a person with a degree in physics who has a popular book out on why the entire field of physics has got the big questions of physics wrong and yet virtually all physicists think he’s a joke and he cannot even get his theories peer reviewed but he’s put his theory on the internet and offered a cash reward if anyone can debunk his theory (although he gets to judge the competition) – are you telling me I should take such a person seriously?]

      Now I know you would probably agree that an argument based on emotion is probably not a good thing, but your analogy sure sounds like it’s flirting with that fallacy. The fear one feels when one is taught something has nothing to do whatsoever with how true that proposition is or even how likely to be true it is. At the school I teach in children are taught that global warming is something they and their children will have to face. The fear level for that is probably higher than telling them our eco-system is absolutely fine. But the fear-factor is not a good reason for choosing which one to teach. The one which should be taught is the one which has the best evidence.

      I think that Christianity has the better evidence for its hypothesis over humanism. That’s one reason I brought up the moral argument. Christianity has a basis for objective morality but humanism is still struggling to find one.

      Thanks for the conversation. I appreciate your time and hope you have a great weekend.

  7. timzebo says:

    Epi,
    I think we’ll save time if we switch to uncovering each other’s beliefs via questions. Here are mine with comments. I’d further propose we take up the Harris debate separately, since if we can’t agree that God’s and Jesus’ actions are immoral, I doubt if we’ll make any headway on “the basis for an objective morality.”

    Q1. Does every Homo sapiens baby born today have his or her soul-part born with “Original Sin”?
    If yes, that’s what I meant with my 1a claim above that God the Father is immoral for punishing innocent descendents for the mistakes of their ancestors.
    If not, why not?

    Q2. Was the torture and death of an innocent Homo sapiens named Jesus to make amends for mistakes made by the first Homo sapiens several 100,000 years earlier?
    If yes, that’s what I meant with my 1b claim above that BOTH God the Father AND Jesus are immoral for agreeing to punish an innocent Homo sapiens named Jesus for the mistakes of other Homo sapiens.
    If not, why not?
    BTW, I didn’t explicitly use the name “Jesus” in 1b above because of the conflicting words you’ve used to describe Him. I didn’t know whether to refer to Him as an “innocent Homo sapiens” or an “innocent God”. We’d surely agree that God the Father impregnated a virgin female Homo sapiens named Mary who then gave birth to a male Homo sapiens baby and named Him Jesus, right?
    But then in your Mar. 4, #10 reply above, you claim:
    “Mary is not giving birth to a god. Jesus was, is and always will be eternally God.”
    Huh???

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      I have to disagree with that approach. You see, it’s foundational to your critique of Christianity that there are objective morals. If it can be shown that the model of objective morality you’ve chosen does not manage to be even a plausible explanation of such phenomenon then the basis for your criticisms of other people’s beliefs is completely undermined. I really think that it’s key that if you’re going to argue that humanism is more reasonable than Christianity that you need to defend some of the beliefs humanists make. So I think you should comment on the problem of objectivity in ethics your worldview faces.

      1. Thanks for clarifying on the punishment issue. The doctrine of original sin in Christianity is not a doctrine which states that “innocent” people are being blamed for the sins of two people / or the first homo sapiens. Rather the teaching is that this is what all human beings choose to do with their free will. In Christian theology God can and does know what all humans will do with this gift and that’s how the first humans are good representatives for everyone else. God knows that everyone would do what the first humans did. We are not blamed for what they chose but what we choose. Look around you – find me one single human being either alive today or from history past who was absolutely perfect in their behaviour. There is only one to my knowledge so this is empirical evidence of the claim that everyone (apart from God) chooses to sin at some point in their life. So God does not judge us based on what other people do but only based on what we do and all of us sin.

      2. What Christians believe is that since no human being can fulfill the standard of perfection God requires while in a state of free will he will meet the standard. So since sin requires a punishment, because God is holy and just, he provides this. So the Son of God bears the punishment for sin on their behalf. God did not have to do this but it demonstrates his desire to save humanity that he did so.

      I don’t understand why you say “homo sapien” instead of ‘person’? I feel like it’s leading to unnecessary confusion. The point I was making is that Mary is not giving birth to a god in the polytheistic or henotheistic sense of that god coming into being from a state of not existing. Jesus already existed. What happens at his birth is that he lays his divinity to one side and truly becomes a man (baby). I don’t understand why this is causing such an issue for you?

  8. timzebo says:

    Thanks for the speedy update. I assure you if we can get past the point of God’s and Jesus’ immorality (which I doubt) we’ll get to “objective morality” in time.
    Special thanks for your comments; they helped my understanding a lot. Here’s my follow-up questions:
    Q3. Did God the Father, and Jesus as Son of God the Father, know in advance that the entire species of Homo sapiens that God the Father created would freely and independently choose to not meet God the Father’s moral standards, and therefore would require punishment by God the Father, and therefore would require Jesus, as Son of God the Father, to suffer and die?
    Q4. How do you know “sin requires punishment”?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      That’s why I insisted that there should be a contention which both of us defend Tim. You must admit you’re now making it look like you’re insisting I have to defend my contention while you get a free pass on yours. That’s not a dialogue. On that point you even make it clear you don’t think we’ll be able to get past this sticking point. So, in other words, you’re basically saying we’ll never get to a point where you’ll have to defend your contentions. How convenient for you! Maybe that’s an excuse for people who aren’t contending anything but you are and so I think you ought to reply to my concerns if you wish for me to reply to yours. What if I took that approach with you? What if I insisted that until you have laid out a fully rational secular ethic I don’t need to answer any of your questions about Christianity? I’m sure you’d see that as ducking.

      So please step up to the plate on objective morality. That is, after all, what you’re assuming in your critique of Christianity so it is rather important you show you can answer the problems faced by humanists on this issue. If humanism cannot account for objective morality any moral critique of Christianity is seriously damaged as a result.

      3. Yes. (You know that ‘people’ is a less convoluted way of saying homo sapien right?)
      4. I believe that sin requires punishment on the basis of two things. One is the revelation of Scripture. Secondly from what can be rationally deduced from thinking about morality and justice. For people to be responsible moral agents they must realize that all actions have consequences. The consequence of any sin, in Christian theology, results in separation from God (since he is holy). A just judge (God) must hold that sin to account in order to be just. But such a belief cannot be proven to someone skeptical of such a thing. I happen to think it is a more reasonable position regarding justice than its denial.

  9. timzebo says:

    Q5. If you had a daughter born with the epilepsy brain defect, and she had a seizure once a month, and if her mom acted to punish the child after every seizure, would you judge the mom’s actions to be immoral?
    If yes, why?
    If not, why not?

    I’m fine with debating “objective morality”, but I first need to know how you define it, and of course what questions you have for me about it.

    As always, thanks for helping each of us to clarify our respective beliefs and why we hold them.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Tim,

      No offense but you need to be more plain in this conversation (because that’s what it is – I’m not viewing it as a debate).

      You keep asking questions in the clear hope of trying to trip me up. Come on Tim, I may be a theist but I’m not that stupid! Just be plain and straight with your questions and points. I think that would help.

      The problem is the analogy of the seizure is quite obviously disanalogous to what Christians see as our responsibility with regard to sin. When we sin it’s what we choose to do. We do not get diminished responsibility because it’s somehow out of our control. A seizure is a morally neutral occurrence as well as being totally beyond a person’s physical control so they are obviously not analogous.

      If you look back a few comments you will see that I raised several points with regard to Harris’s position. Please respond to the criticisms I offered there as a start.

      I am using the term ‘objective morality’ in exactly the same way it’s used by moral philosophers. Objective moral truths refer to moral truths which are factual. They are right or wrong in the same way one can be right or wrong about a mathematical calculation.

      • timzebo says:

        If you won’t answer my questions, how can we have a conversation? The point of Q5 was NEVER about YOUR responsibility but your God’s. His design for a Homo sapiens included the “free will” brain defect, which by your answer to Q3, and analogous to us knowing that the child with the epileptic brain defect would have a seizure once a month, your God knew before you were born what choice you’d make, and for that reason my claim is your God acts immorally.

        How do we objectively decide which actions are immoral? Measure the suffering of conscious creatures the action will produce. Those actions which increase the suffering are immoral. As a specific example, consider an all-powerful God who allows creatures to be born who, because of a poor design will freely choose to violate said God’s moral laws. It’s as disingenuous to blame the poorly designed creature as it is to blame the epileptic child. It’s the designer who’s acted immorally not His creatures!

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          I don’t know what you mean when you say “If you won’t answer my questions, how can we have a conversation?” Not only have I answered all your questions, I am the one insisting you make an effort to answer mine. Most curious.

          Now you call free will a “brain defect” but you have made no case for any such thing. Free will, in Christian thought, is the gift which makes it possible for us to be morally responsible creatures in the first place. Without such a gift we could neither be good or choose to reject God. Then you say that because God knew people would use their freedom to reject him and do evil that makes God immoral. But that’s just an assertion. You have not put together any proper argument to establish the immorality of God. Many Christian philosophers have explained, at length, how God sees this imperfect world as being a very good world and even greater than one where there was no such moral freedom and responsibility. As Hitch said, what can be asserted without evidence can be rejected without evidence.

          The first problem for this definition of something evil or wrong is – how can you even measure suffering? We don’t even understand consciousness properly yet and much suffering (some people think all suffering) takes place there. If you ask the person to gauge their suffering on a scale of 1-100 their interpretation of that scale will be subjective. They cannot experience another person’s pain and then rate theirs accordingly. The experience of suffering and pain is a profoundly subjective one and some suffer in very different ways and to differing degrees for the very same event. If you cannot make an objective measurement of pain you cannot make an objective measurement of the bad (even if, philosophically, you could connect the two).

          Another problem is that Harris clearly does not think all suffering is necessarily bad or evil even when we can, at the very least, say the person is suffering horribly. Harris talks about the necessity of “collateral damage” in war. He talks about the necessity to torture people in some situations. He talks about limiting the civil rights and free speech of some groups for the benefit of the whole. So it’s clear that even for Harris what is painful =/= the bad and pleasure =/= the good.

          As I said earlier, when I raised the problem of using Harris for one’s metaethic, the problem of the foundations for objective morality will not be answered if you use him since philosophers agree he has not bothered answering that question and yet it’s the most important question for the validity of an ethical theory.

          As for your comment on the design of human beings a Christian would simply disagree on your evaluation. Like I said before, the analogy of the epileptic is disanalogous. If it were a true analogy then we wouldn’t punish people and put them in jail for their crimes now would we? Why is it we put people in prison for immoral actions and not for having an epileptic fit? I think the answer is very obvious and it shows the frailty of your point here.

  10. timzebo says:

    Thanks! Email is a very difficult medium for these kinds of conversations. I’ve yet to properly convey support for my claim that the Christian God is immoral, but I’ll try again now.

    Epileptic Brain Defect Example
    1. If a person is born with the epileptic brain defect, they will have seizures which are disruptive and harmful to themselves and society.
    2. Assertion: It is immoral to punish a person born with the epileptic brain defect for their seizures because they are due to an improperly functioning brain.
    3. Father God enables people to be born with the epileptic brain defect. Being all-knowing He sees how this defect will impact their life even before they are born. Being all-powerful, He could repair this brain defect before birth, however, He choose not to.
    4. Father God is immoral because He chooses not to repair the epileptic brain defect before birth which is disruptive and harmful to the epileptic and society.
    Q.E.D.

    Free Will Brain Defect:
    1. If a person is born with the free will brain defect, they will choose to violate Father God’s laws which is disruptive and harmful to themselves and society.
    2. Assertion: It is immoral to punish a person born with the free will brain defect for their violations of Father God’s laws because they are due to an improperly functioning brain.
    3. Father God enables people to be born with the free will brain defect. Being all-knowing He sees how this defect will impact their life even before they are born. Being all-powerful, He could repair this brain defect before birth, however, He choose not to.
    4. Father God is immoral because He chooses not to repair the free will brain defect before birth which is disruptive and harmful to the person and society.
    Q.E.D.

    An important note about the above examples…
    Obviously we do NOT punish epileptics for their seizures because we now know (THANKS TO SCIENCE!) the seizures are due to a brain defect, AND we are (as yet) unable to repair that defect. Equally obvious, we DO punish people with the free will brain defect who violate HUMAN LAWS because we are (as yet) unable to repair that defect, and it would would be immoral to enable an individual human to increase pain and suffering for another individual or a group.
    MOST IMPORTANTLY, UNLIKE HUMANS since the Christian God IS both all-knowing and all-powerful, and since He chooses NOT to repair brain defects before birth which are disruptive and harmful to individuals and society, He is acting immorally.

    Comments on objective morality.
    1. Physicists knew 100 years ago that the spin rate of a golf ball has a major influence on the height and distance of a shot. 20 years ago we were unable to measure it; today we do it routinely: http://mytrackman.com/explore/trackman-data/trackman-ball-data/spin-rate .
    Assertion: Since human and animal pain and suffering is a set of electrochemical brain processes, there is no known reason why it will not eventually be measurable.
    2. What can be measured can be compared and frequently can also be minimized or maximized.
    3. It follows that we’ll be able to quantify the pain and suffering that results from an Action A, or an Action B, and decide quantitatively whether A or B produces the least pain and suffering in one person or animal, or, on average, across a group of people or animals.
    4. Since human brains and life experience, and animal brains and life experience, vary a lot for different individuals, if Action A is performed on a group of humans or animals, the amount of pain and suffering in individuals in the group will vary a lot.
    5. It follows that if Action A is performed on a group of humans or animals there will be one or more individuals with pain and suffering experienced as a (a) minimum or (b) maximum or (c) average or (d) median, etc. for the group.
    6. While for an ISOLATED individual the Action, A, which minimizes pain and suffering is the most moral of actions, this may NOT be true when the individual is PART OF A GROUP. As a simple example, let a golfer’s Action “A” be to swing her club producing a 500-yard drive as compared with an Action “B” to swing her club producing a 300-yard drive. Further, assume FOR THIS SPECIFIC INDIVIDUAL, “A” results in less pain and suffering (or alternately “more happiness” but there’s a caveat here I’ll skip for now) than “B”. Then it also follows that, If there’s a group of spectators standing at 500 yards, even though she’d minimize her personal suffering by performing “A”, it would be more moral for her to perform “B”, since that would decrease the likelihood of injuries to the group.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Tim,

      Epileptic Brain Defect Example:

      This argument fails because it assumes that suffering in such a way cannot lead to either greater goods or the opportunity to flourish in one’s relationship to God. As you yourself said, God sees how this will impact the person and their environment and everyone they come into contact with and he only permits such suffering with the intention that it will lead to greater goods. Therefore the argument does not, in the slightest, even begin to show that God is immoral. In order to do that you would need to have proven that all such suffering is completely meaningless and you have not done anything even remotely close to that. Since you’ve not done that you most certainly have not proven that God is immoral.

      Free Will Brain Defect:

      As I already pointed out, you would need to demonstrate that free will is a defect and not a gift and you have not done so. You have merely assumed the very thing you wish to conclude and therefore the argument is an extremely weak one. Some of the consequences of free will may involve violating God’s desires and purpose for that person but it is good in the sense that this person is able to do that which he/she wishes. It is a good thing that people can choose whether or not to love God. [1] also commits a straw man fallacy because Christianity does not think that all human beings always choose against the will of God. Christianity teaches that actually a lot of people do choose the will of God and do choose the good. The fact that they choose it is, of course, what makes it all the more virtuous for being made to do something good is not as virtuous as choosing it and being able to do otherwise. It is this ability to do other than one chooses is what makes such goods greater than a world in which they are part of the ‘firmware updating process’ programmed by Godinc.!

      ——————-

      Now on your own version of Harris’s argument you are starting off with an argument based on a gap in science. This is a morality of the gaps theory. Unfortunately, since you cannot measure the very thing you need to measure to tell what is good or bad that means you currently cannot know what is good or bad. It means all your arguments to judging God to be immoral, by your standards, are vacuous because you have no frame of reference on your own moral theory.

      Let us then assume, for the sake of the argument, that pain and pleasure could be measured accurately in the future – the question still remains – WHY should we take pain and pleasure to be the gauge for what is right or wrong? It’s no surprise to me you assume we ought to do this because Harris also assumes the very same thing (“…science is based on values that must be presupposed…” is how he puts it) and it’s why he gets the criticisms he does from professional philosophers. So Harris asserts that we ought to seek the well-being others but there is no scientific reason one ought to do that. And who are the others? People in my immediate location or the entire global village? How is one going to sit down and quantify the global implications of specific moral choices and on what basis are they going to do it? How is one going to resolve cultural clashes unless one is being permitted to assume a subjective definition of well-being which many other people on the planet won’t subscribe to. Many cultures, for example, do not see the pursuit of western middle-class living as something to aspire to. The famous ethicist Peter Singer has pointed this out to Harris already.

      Let us also think about this scientific eutopia some more. Perhaps it is possible that female x feels 96 units of pain being raped and a further 43 units of pain projected due to the memory of it in years to come. But let us suppose that the male y feels 104 units of pleasure from performing the rape and 44 units of pleasure projected in the future in his memory of what he has done. This means, at least in principle, that the pain/pleasure criterion for what determines morality means that almost anything could be determined to be a good moral action in the future. This is an extreme example but Harris is famous for attempting to justify torture and the killing of innocent people as a result of wars.

      The problems associated with this moral theory are very well documented since Harris is merely pinching all his ideas from Jeremy Bentham and even utilitarians consider Bentham’s version of utilitarianism to be a failure.

      So, while it’s nice that you honestly admit you currently have no way of measuring such things, it leaves you with dozens of huge metaethical dilemmas. You do not currently know what right and wrong actions are and you cannot give an objective reason for grounding any view that there are objective rights or wrongs. And even if the future brings all the scientific advances you hope for you still lack the scientific data which affirms there are such things as ‘oughts’.

      These are a few reasons why I think Christian theism is far more rational than your version of secular humanism.

  11. timzebo says:

    Hi Epi,
    Nice try, but here are the problems I have with your reply.

    Epileptic Brain Defect:
    Problem 1. By your DEFINITION, there’s no way your God could be shown to be acting immorally. Our conversation so far is:
    Tim’s Claim: “Because your God knows this baby is about to be born with the epileptic brain defect that will cause her great suffering, and your God chooses NOT to cure the brain defect, and NOT to prevent the birth, then your God increases the suffering of a conscious creature, and therefore your God acts immorally.”
    Epi’s Reply: “No, He isn’t acting immorally because by definition whatever my God does, He ALWAYS and ONLY does good.”

    This leads to my first question:
    Q1: How do you know that whatever your God does, He ALWAYS and ONLY does good?

    Free Will Brain Defect:
    Problem 2: Christian theism itself shows that free will IS a brain defect because Christian theism teaches that free will is the CAUSE of a person violating God’s laws.
    When thinking about how to explain this more clearly, I’d now call it the “free will addiction” brain defect.
    To show why I’ve added the word, “addiction”, I’ll try using an analogy….
    From our evolutionary history, some humans are born with a “sweet tooth” brain defect. Given the choice between a healthy neutral food and a less-healthy sweet food, these humans become addicted to less-healthy sweet foods. This results in them becoming diabetic with great suffering such as blindness, loss of toes, heart disease, etc.

    It’s important here to distinguish between an addiction and a habit:
    —Addiction: a person WITH the “sweet tooth” brain defect is unable to control their need for less-healthy sweet food. This person is NOT able to choose the healthy neutral food.
    —Habit: a person WITHOUT the “sweet tooth” brain defect could develop a sweet tooth HABIT which they could then subsequently choose to stop successfully if they want to. This person IS able to choose the healthy neutral food.

    Here’s how this is related to the “free will addiction” brain defect.
    —Addiction: a person WITH the “free will addiction” brain defect is unable to control their need for disobey the Christian God. This person is simply NOT able to obey the Christian God. Of course, according to Christian theism, we KNOW these people existed because the earliest examples of the Homo sapiens with the “free will addiction” brain defect were “Adam” and “Eve”.
    —Habit: a person WITHOUT the “free will addiction” brain defect could develop a HABIT of choosing to disobey the Father God, but they could subsequently stop being disobedient if they want to. This person IS able to obey the Father God.

    Tim’s Claim: “Because the Christian God knows a baby is about to be born with the free will addiction defect that will cause him or her great suffering, and the Christian God chooses NOT to cure the free will addiction brain defect, and NOT to prevent the birth, therefore the Christian God increases the suffering of a conscious creature, and therefore the Christian God acts immorally.”

    ————
    To be clear, my claim is: “A moral action is an action which seeks to minimize the suffering of conscious creatures.” If I gave you the impression it was also about maximizing pleasure that was not my intention. I’m also unclear at the moment if this is identical to Harris’ claim, or Bentham’s for that matter, but I don’t really care if I’m in complete agreement with them.

    If you don’t see why the minimization of suffering is of value, I don’t know how to convince you of it. In any case, I think this clarification fixes the problem you mention in your rape example, and negates your claim that, “What determines morality means that almost anything could be determined to be a good moral action”. As I mentioned earlier, since human and animal suffering is a set of electrochemical brain processes, there is no known reason why it will not eventually be measurable.

    I think this also answers your question about, “And who are the others? People in my immediate location or the entire global village?”, since once I can quantify suffering in an individual or group, I can tell you which society has the least suffering and therefore is the most moral. More importantly, if that’s a problem for me, I think it’s also one for you which leads to my second question:

    Q2. Since the 10 commandments don’t distinguish between, “People in my immediate location or the entire global village,” why doesn’t Christian theism have the same problem you claim I have?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      You’ve misunderstood me Tim. Let’s correct that bit first.

      Nowhere did I say that “…by definition whatever my God does, He ALWAYS and ONLY does good.” Think about it. If I did believe that then I would not have defended the charge that some suffering is without purpose and is meaningless. Yet I did defend Christian theism against that charge. I do not hold to theistic nominalism. In Christian theism God’s nature is what is good and his actions are seen as an outworking of that nature. His actions are not arbitrary and neither is ‘the good’ arbitrary. Regarding Q.1 I would say that it depends on how the verb ‘to know’ is being used. If it’s being used in a strong sense then I don’t. If it’s being used in a weaker sense then I would say I believe it on the basis of what the Bible says about God.

      Free will: You wrote: “Christian theism itself shows that free will IS a brain defect because Christian theism teaches that free will is the CAUSE of a person violating God’s laws.”

      That’s not true. If the Adam and Eve story teaches us anything it is that God saw them as being good prior to their first act of rebellion and yet they had a free will at that time. So the gift of free will is clearly something good in and of itself. However, it can also be the means by which bad things can take place. Notice, that even among those who hold to libertarian free will this does not mean they think we are completely free with regard to anything and everything. Clearly that’s not the case. No proponent of free will is held to that standard to defend free will. You claim there are people who are so lacking in their freedom that they could not choose to direct their lives toward God but you don’t offer me any evidence for that. Who are these people? I think such a thing is within our power to choose. Thus I think the “sweet tooth” analogy is, again flawed since that not the kind of freedom we’re talking about here. We do not tend to think some people are guiltless because they commit crimes. We tend to say that they could control whether they committed the crime or not. It’s this moral freedom that is the point at issue here.

      So again, your claim that God is somehow immoral for knowing that people are going to be born with a moral freedom and that they are going to exercise it does not hold. The reason it does not hold is because the teachings of Christianity are that one can, and millions of people do every day, turn that freedom into a choice for God. If God had made it so that no-one could possibly choose for him then there would be a charge but since the empirical data suggests that huge numbers of the world’s population can and do turn to God then this indicates that freedom is not a curse in itself but a good thing because we can decide to turn to God.

      Let me also say something about suffering since you tag it on to the free will statement you make. Allowing people to suffer in this lifetime does not have to be seen as a bad thing. All over the world right now people are having children born into the world. What all of these people know, for certain, is that their children are going to suffer. It’s inevitable that they will. But we don’t tend to think that all the parents of the world are evil people because they brought children into the world who were going to suffer. Why not? Because suffering is only one part of the human condition. We tend to think the good outweighs the suffering enough to consider brining other people into this world and we don’t charge their creators with crimes. Now, of course, God knows the future in a more perfect way than the human parents but even then what’s the problem? Since free will does not have to be viewed as a curse but as a blessing, since it’s the only way one can really love someone else, because we can be permitted to choose important things for ourselves.

      —————

      Thank you for clarifying on your moral opinions. Yes, your views are really quite different from both Bentham and Harris so I won’t see you as taking their view.

      Okay. So you say that moral actions are ones which seek to minimize the suffering of conscious creatures. In that case it would have been moral for me to have not sent my son into school today since they are doing cycling proficiency tests today and he could get hurt. (In fact, seeing him ride his bike yesterday I’d say there’s a very good chance he’s coming home from school with a cut knee!) In fact, I know that school is a place where children can and do often suffer and so if I wish to seek the minimizing of my son’s suffering I should withdraw him from school completely then? I also know that one of the worst experiences I ever had was having my heart broken and so I will avoid letting him get to know anyone else on the planet in case he falls in love with them and they break his heart. You’re right that it clears up the rape example but the problem now is you are advocating an ethic which would actually paralyze people from actually living life.

      I hope you see where this is going? It’s completely nonsensical to attempt to live by the maxim that what is moral is to seek out how to avoid the suffering of conscious creatures. If one really did that they would never leave the house. I seriously doubt you actually live life by that maxim yourself if you really think about it.

      Surely you would agree that there are also virtuous forms of seeking the suffering of others? Some judges went to work this morning knowing that their sentencing will lead to human suffering and yet that does not prevent them from going to work or even having a hearty breakfast before leaving the house! They spend their lives imposing suffering on people yet we don’t see judges as immoral people (and I doubt you do either). Another example would be coaches of athletes. They are spending their time today putting people through huge amounts of physical pain. They don’t seek to minimize the athletes suffering. If they did they wouldn’t be very good coaches. The list of people who do this kind of thing is endless.

      To be clear. An argument for the objectivity of ethics does not have to convince another person of it’s objectivity. What any objective theory of ethics must do is be able to explain why some moral actions are right and others are wrong in relation to some grounding which makes them wrong. The problem is classically proposed by David Hume who pointed out that you cannot get any ‘oughts’ from statements of fact. To say ‘x is suffering’ may be a statement of fact but to say ‘x ought not to be suffering’ cannot be derived from the first statement. So the problem your ethical theory has is WHY should anyone take the moral imperative ‘you should not cause x to suffer’ seriously? What’s it based on? On this matter, and to answer Q2 I have already written two pieces on these matters so have a look at:

      ‘Why I like the moral argument for God (and why Grayling gets it wrong)’ and
      ‘A Case for Moral Realism’

      Thanks for the continued conversation and for sharing your views.

  12. timzebo says:

    Epi,
    If I haven’t said so in the past, I’m VERY grateful for you continuing this conversation. Most people have little patience for getting to this level of detail, but through your questioning, I’m getting a better understanding of how to explain my beliefs and why I hold them, so thanks for that!

    I don’t fully understand your answer to Q1. Are you saying, for the “strong” sense of “to know”, that you “don’t know” if the Christian God ALWAYS and ONLY does good?

    About free will…my claim has nothing to do with whether free will is good or bad for humans; it is strictly about the Christian God’s morality. We can clear this up quickly if you evaluate the following two claims, and tell me if you agree or disagree with one or both and why:
    Claim 1: If, before He created them, Father God saw that Adam & Eve would be unable to obey Father God’s laws, then He performed an immoral act when He created them.
    Claim 2: If, before He created them, Father God was unable to see that Adam & Eve would be unable to obey Father God’s laws, then He is not omniscient.

    ——————-

    What’s been missing so far in this part of our conversation is the concept of time. Here’s how I’d fix that: “Given two actions, A and B, the most moral of the two actions will be that which minimizes the integration of total suffering over the lifetime of the conscious creatures who will be impacted by the action.”
    This addition makes red herrings of most your examples…
    If we ask, “What problems will your son face when he’s an adult and his parents are no longer able to support him, and what would minimize his suffering then (and over his entire life):
    Action A: He’s been sent to good schools and is educated and has learned how to use a bicycle? or
    Action B: He’s been kept away from school and bicycles and is not educated?
    Obviously, much data suggests that sending him to school even if he incurs a bicycle-scratched leg which would heal quickly would be better than keeping him home. Similar arguments hold for your judging and coaching examples – as the old saw advises: “Short-term pain (whether in prison which leads to rehab, or a short-term hamstring injury during track training); long-term gain.”

    Of course there’s a caveat here: since we’re not omniscient, we can NEVER GUARANTEE that our choice of actions will in fact minimize total suffering (e.g., Bill Gates dropped out of college, became a Billionaire, and is on target to cure malaria;-), but that’s not the issue we’re discussing.

    Thinking about your examples, however, did expose a major problem with my claim as follows:
    If an orphaned hermit living in a cave could be painlessly killed without him or her knowing in advance, and since that would eliminate his or her’s future suffering, why wouldn’t that be moral?
    For now, I don’t have an answer to that question, but I’m looking forward to pondering it, and to reading your two pieces.

    Thanks again.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Tim,

      I’ve moved your question about Swinburne to this thread. It makes it easier for me if we just stay on this thread if you don’t mind. Thanks.

      You asked:

      “This quote from Swinburne disproves your case:
      “Knowing that there was a God, men would know that their most secret thoughts and actions were known to God; and knowing that he was just, they would expect their bad actions and thoughts whatever punishment was just. In such a world men would have little temptation to do wrong.”

      If you disagree, how do you explain the following?:
      Claim 1: Even if men and women knew absolutely that there was a God, in such a world men and women would still do wrong.
      Evidence: Who better than Adam and Eve to know God, and yet they disobeyed Him.”

      I agree with Swinburne but I have no idea why you think it “disproves” my case. As for Adam and Eve, one ought to remember that they existed prior to God’s full self revelation and are, as such, described as innocent. They were not privy to the biblical theology we are and the concepts regarding God that Swinburne is assuming when he writes this. So I don’t see any problems with agreeing with Swinburne and holding the view I do.

      Yes, sorry, I should have said what I meant by ‘strong’ knowledge in this context. What I mean by that is knowledge which is demonstrable to others. So I would say that knowing God’s character is based on God’s revelation of himself through both Scripture and personal experience. In the way way that if someone asked me how I know my wife I could point to certain objective things about her but then there would be lots of experiences and memories which are also subjective to me and cannot be demonstrated to someone else.

      You say:

      “About free will…my claim has nothing to do with whether free will is good or bad for humans…”

      This I find to be somewhat confusing because up until now you have used very derogatory language for free will. You have specifically referred to it as a “brain defect”. That hardly makes it sound like it’s a good thing for humans to have. If one has a brain defect, no matter how severe, that cannot be a good thing for a human. So I’m afraid your use of language in regard to free will leaves me confused about what it is you’re actually trying to say.

      I think I’ve already said that I disagree with the conclusion of claim 1 and I’m not an open theist so the excuse in claim 2 is not an option for me.

      ——————

      You say:

      “Given two actions, A and B, the most moral of the two actions will be that which minimizes the integration of total suffering over the lifetime of the conscious creatures who will be impacted by the action.”

      This is a little bit frustrating Tim because it feels like your moral theory is evolving before my very eyes with each subsequent post. I criticize one form of your moral theory and it changes into a different moral theory! I think you can see how this is a different claim to saying (as you had previously):

      “A moral action is an action which seeks to minimize the suffering of conscious creatures.”

      As you begin to spot, when commenting on your newer definition of what is moral, the problem is how on earth one is going to calculate such a thing? How is one going to be able to calculate whether, for example, Russia’s recent actions are moral or immoral using your moral theory? Since there is no objective way of measuring suffering we have to start with subjective evaluations but things get no better as we then have to calculate all the potential suffering caused if Russia does what it wants vs being stopped by some other means. But international relations is a tough one for any moral theory I’ll grant you that so let’s take Tommy the car joy-rider. Tommy learns of your moral theory and so he asks himself, “Given two actions, stealing the car and joy-riding it and not stealing the car and not joy-riding it, the most moral of the two actions will be that which minimizes the integration of total suffering over the lifetime of the conscious creatures who will be impacted by the action.” On this moral theory, Tommy can quite easily decide to steal and joy ride. How so? Well, you see, Tommy has been arrested for stealing and joy-riding cars before. Last time he did it he got a telling off and a small fine. Mates of his who have been arrested many more times than he has have had little worse happen to them. So Tommy knows that, even if he gets caught, the consequences are not terribly bad and could barely even be called ‘suffering’. The person gets their car back, or if damaged, a new one due to their insurance. He might get a driving ban but that’s no problem since he’s too young to drive yet anyway! However, the pay-off, whether he gets caught or not, is massive because it will stop all his peers constantly calling him a coward for not doing anything illegal for the last three months. This, for him, is the worst kind of suffering you see. Stealing the car will get him back his kudos with his peers and get him the respect which is, in the long term, all he really wants.

      Now, I would suggest, on your moral theory, there’s very little that Tommy is doing here which is morally wrong. Obviously there are many other examples that can be given to make the point. Your version of utilitarianism suffers the same problems all version of it do. 1] It’s impossible to calculate. 2] It makes obviously immoral actions ‘moral’ and 3] It’s still lacking in any ethical grounding to support it being a good objective method.

      I want to point out that 3 is still the most serious. I’ve not mentioned it in this post because I’ve mentioned it before. But the biggest problem facing any non-theistic ethic which seeks to be normative is – on what basis? It cannot be done by majority vote (as Harris likes to suggest) so who gets to call it? You have your view on what’s moral but loads of other people (even your fellow humanists) disagree with you and believe in other ethical theories. In fact, it’s quite fashionable among atheists currently to suggest there are no such things as right or wrong since they are merely human constructs.

      You could also take your ‘orphaned hermit’ (AWWWW!) analogy further. Why not euthanize ANYONE AT ALL if it was done painlessly in their sleep? Why not whole groups of people? If the family would miss Bob then we just do the whole family.

      I’m joking around somewhat at the end here but morality is a very serious problem for everyone. It appears to me however that the case for objective morality is a more coherent proposition under theism than it is under non-theism.

      Thanks to you also. I’m grateful for your replies and your patience. These conversations are so much easier in person over several good cups of tea.

      All the best,

  13. timzebo says:

    Epi,
    Sorry for any confusion. I should have said that Adam & Eve’s actions DISPROVE the Swinburne hypothesis that, “Knowing they’d expect just punishment, in such a world men would have little temptation to do wrong.”

    You say, “Since Adam and Eve existed prior to God’s full self revelation they are innocent.”

    Really?!

    Then, how do you reconcile a just God punishing “innocents” so severely?

    You also say, Adam and Eve, who had direct experience of conversing with God, “were not privy to the biblical theology we are.”

    Really???!!!

    You believe deciphering the intent of a hidden God’s rules in a 2000 year-old book makes you more culpable (i.e., less “innocent”) than Adam and Eve who (a) had direct evidence of God through personal conversations with Him, and (b) heard His commands go from His “lips” to their ears?

    Really???!!!

    With apologies, this seems like a prime example of confirmation bias: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
    —————
    As for Tommy, give me any theism-based moral rule, and I too can imagine a situation that makes it seem silly. I can’t dwell on this because I’m out of time today, but so far we’ve been lax in considering all the many steps and data dimensions that go into making a decision about whether Tommy will choose to do Action A or B. This may help, but it would take a huge amount of time to discuss (see esp. the section on “Decision-making steps”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision-making

    With apologies, I’m about to start a new 3D printing project which will be all-consuming for a while. I wish you well, and hope in some future time we can continue this over that cup of tea you mentioned.

    Best regards,

    Tim

  14. timzebo says:

    Epi,
    I just came across this piece by accident, and realized it’s also been a missing from our conversation. It’s key to my claim that the Christian God is immoral for punishing Homo sapiens for a flaw He created them with:
    “If only 1% of people with a brain malfunction (or a history of being abused) commit violence, ordinary considerations about blame would still seem relevant. But if 99% of them do, you might start to wonder how responsible they really are.”
    (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/neuroscience-and-moral-responsibility.html).
    Best wishes,
    Tim

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Hi again Tim,

      Sorry to hear you will be too busy to to return for a while but I hope you will feel like returning when you do have more time. I definitely owe you a cup of tea by then.

      Thanks for the link to the article in the New York Times. I think the missing word which you took out in your quote is key – “hypothetically.” I also don’t believe I hold to, or even most Christian hold to the definition of “naïve dualism” the authors give. There is, for example, no orthodox Christian teaching on distinguishing between psychological and biological states and it would be anachronistic to read this dilemma back into any biblical texts. I am quite happy to go where the evidence leads on this one. Like the authors of the paper, and the vast majority of philosophers, I agree that people can, and should, in most usual circumstances be held responsible for their actions. But this is not to say that there are not dysfunctional brains just in the same way there are things which are dysfunctional about our bodies as a whole. The classic Christian position is that a fallen state has affected everything in life.

      On the Adam and Eve issue I still don’t see how this even causes Swinburne’s position the slightest problem (let alone being a “disproof”). Adam and Eve (the first human beings) are described as having been given a small amount of revelation by God. They are aware of God’s existence clearly but we are not told exactly how that manifested itself. Talk of God “walking” etc. is clearly anthropomorphic which is a common style in Hebrew literature when talking of God. The first humans are given a clear instruction however. They are told not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree. They are even told the consequences of this action if they do it. They have the libertarian free will to obey or disobey God and they choose the latter. Now I would say, and I think Swinburne would agree with me on this, that we have even more revelation about God and his character than Adam and Eve did due to God’s mercy and graciousness. But what Swinburne thinks would be adversarial to moral freedom would be God’s completely revelation of himself (viz. making his existence beyond question as being the God of the Bible). I really cannot even fathom where the bit about ‘confirmation bias’ came in on explaining that? Confirmation bias is something else entirely. Explaining the coherence of your own view on something and rallying arguments in support is not confirmation bias.

      I think my point with the Tommy story is that this won’t prove to be an isolated occurrence with the moral view you’re describing. I think it could be shown that your moral view could and would be able to justify all kinds of things which even you, yourself, would probably agree are immoral actions.

      But, as I said, it’s not just the internal consistency that is the problem facing it – the biggest one is answering the ‘is/ought’ dilemma. A few people have recently mentioned Harris to me in support of their moral views. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of just how bad the response has been to his book TML. If you have time maybe you could check out my forthcoming post on Harris. Since a few people have mentioned him to me recently I’m going to write a piece explaining why his moral theory has largely been ridiculed. I’m currently reading a book by a non-Christian philosopher who explains his errors very well so hopefully that article might help. Sorry but I don’t have the time to check out the wiki article on decision-making. No offense but I tend to find wiki articles overly simplistic when written about subjects I’ve studied so I don’t tend to regard it too highly.

      If you are interested in ethics and want to see Harris’s demise by a non-Christian philosopher I would recommend John Thomas Mumm’s ‘Why Science can’t determine moral values’ and from a Christian perspective Craig Hovey’s ‘What makes us moral? A Christian response to Sam Harris’. They are both very good books and both quite small but more importantly they are written by philosophers who specialize in metaethics. They both do a much better job of explaining the ‘grounding’ issue than I have.

      I wish you well with your project and hope to see you again some time. The kettle is always one here!

      Kind regards,
      Epi

  15. timzebo says:

    Hi Epi,
    Here’s a great video I came across today which talks about other components that impact a decision in addition to “least harm”. What’s missing from this video that Christian theism can add to these ideas? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tpL1K8ZqrU

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Nice to hear from you Tim. As it happens I am going to do four posts replying to these four BHA videos! Look out for them. First one should be tomorrow. As you can imagine – I’m not much impressed!

  16. So glad to know I am not the only one who sees this, thank you for this open and reasoned response to SE

  17. streetepistomology says:

    My question for you, aRemonstrant’sRamblings, comes from a comment you made above regarding the difference between ‘atheists’ and ‘agnostics.’ I don’t want to debate this. I only want to share what I have come to learn about how these words are used by those who are not believers and see what you think about it. Here goes…

    A quick summary is that ‘agnosticism’ & ‘gnosticism’ are about knowledge while ‘theism’ and ‘atheism’ are about whether one believes a god exists or not.

    Given this, an ‘Agnostic Atheist’ is one who doesn’t ‘know’ if god exists or doesn’t exist. They just don’t know. They would agree with the statement “No Belief In God” because they lack belief about god’s existence. They just ‘don’t know’ god exists (agnostic) and therefore have no reason to believe (atheist).

    A “Gnostic Atheist” thinks they have knowledge (gnostic) that god does not exist (atheist) so they have “Belief In No God.”

    Do you accept that many, if not most all vocal atheists, agree with these terms as I stated them? I’m not asking you if you use these definitions in this way, only that you understand that’s how atheists like Anthony, Dullahunty, etc., understand them. Thanks – Doug Dean

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Well Doug…

      I’m not too interested in answering your questions to be honest. After all this was my blog and you’ve made no effort, so far as I can see, to interact with what I’ve been talking about. I’ve asked very specific questions in this post regarding the fallacious methodology of ‘street epistemology’ and you’ve had nothing to say about that.

      In answer to your question however I would simply say I am less interested in the label one designates as opposed to what the person means by the label. The meaning is the key. Atheists do not share agreement among themselves on what the term atheist means so I would want to know what a person means when they use the term. I would approach the labels you mention in much the same way.

      However ‘gnostic atheist’ is not really a term in academic philosophy / theology. The reason is because there is already a very distinct philosophical school of thought called gnosticism and an atheist would unlikely want to be associated with that group.

      If you want to know what Anthony and Dillahunty (not sure who that is) mean by certain terms I would suggest you’re better off asking them than me. 😉

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