Plagued by Certainty

Other — By on March 20, 2008 at 12:07 am

Although I don’t often write confessional posts, there is an issue that has been weighing on my heart. Certain discussions throughout the evangelical wing of the blogosphere have led me to finally speak up about an issue that I’ve tended to keep to myself. The problem concerns my faith: I am plagued by certainty.
It’s no secret that I have a high opinion of my own opinion; a confidence in their correctness that borders on the obnoxious. Like Ivan Turgenev, “I share no man’s opinions; I have my own.” But while I may embrace and defend my opinions with firmness, it is a humble form of certitude in which I have to acknowledge that there is a statistical likelihood — whether trivial or significant — that I could be wrong.
Not so, however, when it comes to matters of faith.
I don’t doubt that God exists or that the Bible is his Word. I don’t doubt that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he died and was buried, or that he rose again after three days in the tomb. I don’t doubt that he died for me, a truly wretched sinner, or that I will spend eternity in His presence. I would find it easier to doubt my own existence than to doubt the Nicene Creed. Maybe I’m delusional (though I doubt that) but I have few doubts about my faith.
My certitude is admittedly personal. I believe I have justification and warrant for my beliefs and that if pressed, I could attempt to provide proof and evidence for these claims. The level of “proof” I could give, though, would not provide the same level of certitude for you that I find sufficient for me. Proof is rather limited in that regard. I couldn’t prove that Joe Carter exists much less prove that he likes the color blue, that he kissed Christie Cozart in the 7th grade, or that he hates referring to himself in the third person.
While I can’t prove those things beyond a shadow of a doubt, I don’t doubt them at all. Similarly, my certainty in my faith isn’t based on what I can prove to other people or even, for that matter, what I can prove to myself.


Perhaps I was born too late, for prior to the 1630′s my view wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. But the Catholic philosopher Rene Descartes changed everything when he set out on his inner quest to find certitude. He realized that the one thing he could be certain about was the fact of his doubting. Doubting is a form of thinking and thinking requires a thinker. The existence of the “I” that was doing the doubting, therefore, could not itself be doubted. Descartes declared Cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am–but what he should have said was Dubito ergo sum –I doubt, therefore I am.
However, for many people today doubt not only confirms existence, it confirms humility. To lack doubt is to be pretentious, perhaps even un-Christian. I’ve heard some people claim that doubt is necessary catalyst for faith! In the Gospels, though, the word ‘doubt’ consistently carries a negative connotation since Jesus character and abilities are almost always the object of doubt (see: Matt. 12:38-42, 14:31; Luke 24:38; John 20:27). James even calls the doubting man “double-minded” and compares him to a person who “is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” Yet while Scripture may have a low regard for it, many Christians consider anyone lacking in doubt to be pretentious, arrogant, or dishonest.
Lest you think I’m being facetious, let me assure you that I’m quite serious about the matter. This inability to express doubt has even caused tensions in my marriage. My wife used to suffer debilitating panic attacks brought on by a still, small voice that whispers, “You’re going to die someday.” Although she’s a believer, the thought of dying traumatizes her both physically and emotionally. Seeing her in such a state is heartbreaking.
She would often asks me why I don’t have a fear of dying. I want desperately to empathize and say that I do, but I cannot bring myself to tell that lie. Instead I explain that I believe in eternal life. I tell here that eternal life is not something that begins in the future but something has already begun. My “life”–my entry into eternal life– began the day I surrendered to Christ and will continue, though with some considerable changes, forever.
I might as well be speaking in Swahili, though, for she finds my words incomprehensible. For her this life–the in-the-flesh, day-to-day existence–is certain, while the future glorified existence can be–doubted. The fact that I can’t comprehend such a distinction divides us and prevents us from communicating.
As Jude exhorts, “be merciful to those who doubt” and I truly do try to be compassionate and understanding, recognizing that my sense of certainty is a gift from God. Without it I’d probably allow doubts about my faith to become an excuse for even greater depths of navel-gazing. An extra dose of certitude is probably needed just to bring me up to a level of basic normality.
Yet while I recognize that theological certainty does not make me a special brand of saint, it also doesn’t make me some perverse freak of faith. I shouldn’t feel a need to hang my head in shame because I don’t question the existence of God. I shouldn’t be asked to dismiss the experiences I’ve had with the Lord as if there is a possibility that they are not real. I shouldn’t have to lie and say that “I understand” when people say that are not sure that there is a God or that life continues after death.
I also don’t expect you to be ashamed if you feel differently. I won’t dismiss your questions or your hesitations. I won’t ask you to say you understand my faith if you don’t. I’ll respect your doubts and in return all I ask is that you be merciful to those of us who are certain.


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  • ex-preacher

    What would you say to a Muslim or Mormon (or atheist) who has the same total certainty in their religious views that you do in yours?

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    What would you say to a Muslim or Mormon (or atheist) who has the same total certainty in their religious views that you do in yours?
    That he’s certain they’re wrong, and that much more wrong for being certain about their wrongness.
    Are you sure that’s a problem?

  • Loki

    “While I can’t prove those things beyond a shadow of a doubt, I don’t doubt them at all.”
    If you admit you can’t prove something to be absolutely certain, why would you act as if it was absolutely certain?

  • phasespace

    Are you sure that’s a problem?

    Well, it becomes a problem very quickly when you realize that many religions are mutually exclusive from each other, are unable to show that one is that much better than another from a moral standpoint, and finally, they make claims about the world we live in that are demonstrably false.

    That should put a pretty strong limitation on anyone’s degree of certainty in their religion, if they are truly being intellectually honest with themselves about their beliefs.

    Joe sees certainty as a virtue, and that’s fine by me. The problem though, is that his degree of certainty has outstripped his ability to support it at such a high level. In other words, Joe seems to be often blinded by his faith (see his periodic postings about the “superior” moral foundation of Christianity as an example). Generally, I’m willing to let such things slide except for when they lead to conclusions that clearly contradict things that we know to a much higher degree of certainty than Joe can really claim for his faith. At that point, it’s time to concede to logic and reason, after all, those traits are in fact God given gifts as well…

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Joe and I are (spiritually) identical twins! I’m certain of it!
    Seriously, I have blessed assurance. And I’m thankful to God for that blessing. It seems that in today’s society, and even within the Church, that that is an unwanted blessing. If folks don’t want the blessing of assurance, that’s their choice.
    But for me, yaaaaaaHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Thank you Lord!!!

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ex-preacher,
    What would you say to a Muslim or Mormon (or atheist) who has the same total certainty in their religious views that you do in yours?
    No need to get all hypothetical; I’m a certain atheist. I have no doubt that there is no God or that our natural life in the here and now is all that we get.
    I’m willing to entertain other possibilities in theory. But I’ve seen evidence for those possibilities time and time again, and it’s always come up short. And the evidence for my belief seems (to me) close to irrefutable.
    I think that’s why I like Joe and appreciate him. I think we’re theological soulmates who landed on opposite sides of the fence. The only material difference between us when it comes to faith is that I like to entertain doubt and opposing points of view as much as possible, whereas Joe seems to get personally offended by doubt when it is applied to his faith.
    I can always entertain the possibility, at least hypothetically, that I’m wrong about atheism and theism. But theism and Christianity seem so fantastic to me that emotionally I regard it as a species of impossible science fiction or fantasy.
    That is not to say that I find religious belief to be ridiculous or irrational. I was raised a Christian, so I understand Joe’s faith and respect it to a large extent. I know where Joe is coming from.
    But I’ve explored that view of the cosmos and of life, to the best of my abilities, and I have rejected it as firmly as I can reject anything.
    I don’t think it is a bad thing to be “plagued” by certainty. But it is wise to realize that people are often most certain about things they are totally wrong about. There’s something about human psychology that seems to repress doubt and contrary evidence when it comes to our most cherished beliefs.
    It’s something I’ve noticed in myself and in others, this defensive certainty. One of the biggest challenges in life is to recognize when you’re flat-out wrong about something important, and revise your beliefs accordingly.
    When a belief becomes part of your personality or part of your identity, it is very hard, sometimes even impossible, to let it go. When evidence lands outside one’s comfort zone, it can be easier to ignore it or rationalize it and rearrange reality according to one’s beliefs, rather than rearrange one’s beliefs according to reality. It seems to be part of human nature, including my own.

  • ucfengr

    If you admit you can’t prove something to be absolutely certain, why would you act as if it was absolutely certain?
    I can prove something to myself much easier than I can prove something to you. For example, right now I can prove to myself that I am thinking about having another cup of coffee, but how would I go about proving it with absolute certainty to you?

  • KEITH PAVLISCHEK

    Mathew says:
    “No need to get all hypothetical; I’m a certain atheist. I have no doubt that there is no God or that our natural life in the here and now is all that we get….”
    And then later adds:
    “But it is wise to realize that people are often most certain about things they are totally wrong about. There’s something about human psychology that seems to repress doubt and contrary evidence when it comes to our most cherished beliefs.”
    OK, but wouldn’t that suggest that a wise person should conclude that that Matthew is “totally wrong” about his atheism? And that his own expression of certitude about God’s non-existence is reflective of his own tendency to “repress doubt and contrary evidence” when it comes to his “cherished” atheistic beliefs!
    Sorta like, “suppressing the truth” (See Rom. 1)?

  • Nick

    OK, but wouldn’t that suggest that a wise person should conclude that that Matthew is “totally wrong” about his atheism? And that his own expression of certitude about God’s non-existence is reflective of his own tendency to “repress doubt and contrary evidence” when it comes to his “cherished” atheistic beliefs!
    But then a “wise” person could use precisely the same reasoning to conclude that Joe is completely wrong too. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly fruitful line of reasoning.

  • Loki

    ucfengr:
    But that has to do with something completely internal to you and therefore subjective. For external things, everything from whether there is a couch in your living room or whether God exists, wouldn’t the standard of proof be the same for everyone?

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    What would you say to a Muslim or Mormon (or atheist) who has the same total certainty in their religious views that you do in yours?
    Great question. I would tell them that one of us is wrong. ; )
    Seriously, the law of non-contradiction (another thing that I’m fairly certain about) hold that we both can’t be right about the claims we make. But that does not believe that we can’t believe that we have sufficient warrant for our beliefs. If I had a brain malfunction that caused me to see red items as blue, I have internal justification for my belief even though I am wrong. (In other words, I have a justified belief, but not a “justified true belief.”)
    Loki If you admit you can’t prove something to be absolutely certain, why would you act as if it was absolutely certain?
    The beliefs I have certainty about can be tested, though not necessarily without paying a high cost. I can’t prove, with absolute certainty, that if I step out in front of a speeding bus that it won’t pass right through me. But I have enough certainty in my knowledge of physics to think that is a possibility in which I should act as if I am certain.
    phasespace Generally, I’m willing to let such things slide except for when they lead to conclusions that clearly contradict things that we know to a much higher degree of certainty than Joe can really claim for his faith. At that point, it’s time to concede to logic and reason, after all, those traits are in fact God given gifts as well…
    That’s an interesting point. Can you give me an example of what you mean? What things do you think I believe that are contradicted by other things for which we have a higher certainty?

  • ucfengr

    But that has to do with something completely internal to you and therefore subjective. For external things, everything from whether there is a couch in your living room or whether God exists, wouldn’t the standard of proof be the same for everyone?
    Obviously not or we would never have “hung juries”.

  • Keith Pavlischek

    NICK said:
    “But then a “wise” person could use precisely the same reasoning to conclude that Joe is completely wrong too. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly fruitful line of reasoning.”
    I’ll let Joe speak for himself. And, I have no idea whether this is a “fruitful line of reasoning” or not. But there does seem to be a rather blatant contradiction in Matthew’s claim to certainty (a person such as God does not exist) and his simultaneous claim that those who claim certainty are likely to be deceived. And thus, there is something odd about his normative claim that people OUGHT NOT be so certain. He seems to be implicitly indicting HIMSELF for his own certainty. Or am I missing something here?

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com/ Collin Brendemuehl

    I was certain that removing a couple of statements would fix your layout problem. So I tested it locally and got a working but wrong result. The reliability was high and I was justified in my belief, but I was still wrong.
    So I did more analysis and it appears that your web server is generating the DIVs improperly. If you outline a web page you’ll see how it is failing. I’m certain of it. Almost.
    Hire me and I’ll fix it. ;-)

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:4)
    Amen!

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Keith,
    … there does seem to be a rather blatant contradiction in Matthew’s claim to certainty (a person such as God does not exist) and his simultaneous claim that those who claim certainty are likely to be deceived.
    I don’t think that certainty always leads to falsehood. I’m not even sure that certainty leads to falsehood most of the time. But I do think that certainty raises a red flag.
    When one is certain, one is more susceptible to fooling oneself. Certainty is a signal that one should be treading carefully and compensating for the biases that certainty is known to foster in our minds.
    My exact words were:
    But it is wise to realize that people are often most certain about things they are totally wrong about. There’s something about human psychology that seems to repress doubt and contrary evidence when it comes to our most cherished beliefs.
    So if you would like to apply that to me, then for sure, that would imply that there is a good possibility that I am fooling myself about atheism. But since I am aware of my capability for self-delusion, I do go to great lengths to test the beliefs that I have the most faith in, or at least I try to.
    For example, when it comes to atheism, I have, as I said above, explored my beliefs from every angle I know of. Of course, I still know that I could be wrong, but at least my wrong-headedness has a very solid basis :)
    And I can imagine various scenarios where I could be partially or totally wrong about things. I don’t think those scenarios are actually possible, but not because I have faith or certainty, but rather because those scenarios are very highly implausible based upon everything I have learned to be true about reality. My faith is not based upon the stipulations of an outside authority or revelation, but upon a hard-earned accumulation of knowledge over four decades.
    Even so, I like to think that if I were presented with evidence that I am wrong, I would be honest and strong enough to look at it uncritically and change my mind if it were warranted.

  • Ray

    Proof of a historical event is built on testamony. There is more evidence about Jesus Death and Resurrection, then any other event of its time. If you are deluded by the view that the Gospels can not be correct because of there supernatural nature, of course you will try to find inaccurate reasons to refute them. C.S. Lewis said men that can not even understand him, their contempary, try to write off The Gospels in a vain attempt to refute the obvious. If you are a secular non believer you have insulated yourself from the good GOD that loves you. all you need to do is forget the argument and ask Him.

  • Barbara

    “But it is wise to realize that people are often most certain about things they are totally wrong about.” Why is this wise? This is an assertion and is most likely verifiable. I just don’t buy it. Those things about which I am certain (the love of my husband, the love of God to me) are verifiable to me and to those who seek to know me. I can make an argument for God’s love toward me and others, but at the end of the day, having evaluated the evidence, it is when I believe that I see. Yes it is mystical, and beyond science and logical, watertight proofs, but it is the realm of the heart and the soul, not the laboratory. It is the certainty of hope and certainty is one attitude that is today very much out of style. In the culture of 2008, skeptics reign. You can be sure of only the fact that you do not know, nothing more.
    I am not a skeptic about God, I am sure. Go Joe!

  • phasespace

    That’s an interesting point. Can you give me an example of what you mean?

    Well, let’s take the evolution “debate,” for example. Now, I don’t believe that you have come out in favor of one position or the other in this case, but you have certainly voiced skepticism on this issue. There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical, but can you say that your skepticism is well placed on this subject? Is your mistrust of the scientists that say that the evidence for evolution is air tight well founded? (Note: I admit I’m making an assumption of mistrust here, but I think it’s justified based on your admitted skepticism on the subject.)

  • phasespace

    Barbara:

    My question to you: Why do think the skeptics reign in 2008? I think may I disagree with you on this point depending on exactly what you mean.

    As someone that is well versed in the sciences, skepticism is in my nature, but my skepticism is not absolute. I do think that we know a lot of things from both a factual and moral stand point that are indeed “certain.” Meaning that the likelihood of this knowledge being wrong is too small to be worth sweating over. But this is also why I must reject your mysticism.

    Richard Feynman (amoung others) have said that science is way of trying not to fool yourself. Mysticism is diametrically opposed to that kind of thinking. How do you know you have a soul? How do you know that God loves you? How do you know that God even exists? I have no doubt that you are certain of your answers, but how can you be sure that you are not fooling yourself when drawing those conclusions? How can you be certain that the conclusions that you have come to are not just culturally derived? Or wishful thinking? Or something else entirely? Mysticism does not provide a satisfying answer to these questions.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ray and Barbara,
    I was not bearing witness to the certitude of my atheism because I wish to convert you or undermine your faith. I am trying to make the case for humility, and for respect for those whose beliefs contradict one’s own.
    Hold on to the supernatural and hold on to God’s love, proclaim it from the rooftops, by all means, and make the world a better place. But please try to understand as well that worthy people have disagreed and will continue to disagree with you. People can live with, respect, and love each other even if they seem to believe in mutually exclusive certitudes.
    Truth is not subjective, but that doesn’t mean we need to ex-communicate each other when we disagree. If God exists, then he has given us freedom of thought and conscience. If God allows us to be skeptics and heretics and atheists, then we should abide by his will and his commandment to love even those who don’t attend church with us.
    I’m sure you do that anyway, without my telling you to. But sometimes the urge to label people as the “other” can start to displace our intention to deal with each other as equal brothers and sisters.
    And if I have been guilty of that in this comment thread, please accept my apology: Sorry!
    Cheers,
    Matthew

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Phasespace,
    How do you know you have a soul? How do you know that God loves you? How do you know that God even exists?
    I think that these are important questions, and it sounds like we have similar answers to them.
    But I don’t think these are the most important questions. I think the most important questions are: How should you treat other people? How do you treat other people? How should you treat yourself?
    Of course, my questions are related to and entangled in your questions; but it makes a difference which questions you make a priority.
    Mysticism is unreliable. Mysticism can lead to wildly divergent faith experiences and beliefs. Mysticism is not very amenable to experimental methods and logic. But mysticism does exist, and it would be a mistake to ignore it and discount it out of hand.
    Richard Feynman was right about science, but science is not the best tool for answering every question. Science has a restricted domain in that sense. I wholeheartedly agree with you that mysticism does not always, or even consistently, provide satisfying answers. But perhaps mysticism offers clues in domains where science can be a bit of a stretch.

  • Barbara

    Regarding skepticism, my assertion that it is in style in 2008 is based on the anecdotal evidence that to be unsure is to be wise. To not be certain is to be humble. I would have to say that this is my observation, but I think it is accurate. Scientific skepticism is indeed a part of the process of discovery and invention and I have no issue with it, nor with an honest skepticism that leads to discovery of answers or progress toward and answer. However, skepticism as an attitude or posture only leads to uncertainty. We can ask questions and voice doubt all day long, but need to be willing to hear answers and be open to certainty when we discover it. That does not seem to be the aim of the cultural skeptics of today.
    To Matthew, I respect your views and your God given right (I believe)to hold them. You are right to say that we can believe differently and still communicate and care for one another; the Christian is called to this. I only think that certainty of belief is not necessarily pride or arrogance. It may just be certainty. However, as I said before, the attitude of the day seems to be skepticism and that is seen to be the position of humility. I am certain of my beliefs, but that does not make me a proud person, it makes me a person with certainty. I think that many people today do not know how to react to a person who is sure of their beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be. Certainty tends to offend and intimidate people.

  • smmtheory

    Well, let’s take the evolution “debate,” for example.

    What exactly is the evolution “debate” anyway? What kind of scientist is going to say that evidence for evolution is air tight? That’s such a vague statement that it hardly says anything. It certainly doesn’t contribute anything to a debate. How many scientists have actually witnessed and documented one genus branching from another as it happened in real time?

  • phasespace

    smmtheory:

    You are missing the point of my post, and I’m not going to respond to your lame baiting. I am asking about the justification for (and wisdom of) selectively rejecting the scientific view whenever it suits your purpose. The specifics of the case are irrelevant because biology is only one example of many where certain religious folks proactively reject science, and some are even making disbelief in science and reason into some kind of perverted test of faith. Joe’s claims about certainty are definitely relevant here. Your post does not address that topic, and I have no desire to go down the road your are trying tread. If you want to discuss that issue, go consult talk.origins.

    My apologies if you think I’m being short with you, however posts such as yours are explicitly not what I’m interested in addressing at the moment. Your post just muddies the water with a lot of irrelevant baggage, and I want to avoid that.

  • Keith Pavlischek

    Michael said:
    “I don’t think that certainty always leads to falsehood. I’m not even sure that certainty leads to falsehood most of the time. But I do think that certainty raises a red flag.”
    Ok, then that would mean that your own certainty about your atheism (about which you have claimed certainty) should raise a “red flag.” Does it raise a red flag for you? And if I tell you, “your certainty about your atheism raises a ‘red flag’ for me,” does this mean that you have to admit that I am right to be skeptical of YOUR certainty?

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Barbara,
    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I would like to explain how I see these things too.
    Certainty allows action where too much doubt inhibits action. So when certainty is justified, doubt can be a genuine, highly consequential problem.
    The problem with certainty, however, is what I pointed out in my first comment: certainty has a perverse way, sometimes, of psychologically reinforcing beliefs that are incorrect. And even though we hope that our certainty does not result in pride or arrogance, I am certain that you have observed that sinful condition in others.
    To avoid pride, we must adopt genuine humility and forbearance. But how does one avoid error?
    A religious person might respond by telling us to seek out the right scripture or scriptures. Then God will give us some of his insight. I would respond by insisting that we must look at how we know things to be true, and hold our beliefs to the highest standards of evidence. A posture of skepticism is indispensible if we choose to examine our beliefs in this way.
    The skepticism, however, is not the goal. It is only a tool to reach the goal, which is the best approximation we can discover of the truth. To adopt skepticism as a permanent attitude is to unnecessarily disarm oneself of all the virtues of certainty in a misguided attempt to avoid the pitfalls.
    Phasespace,
    Three religious objections to evolution:
    1) How did souls evolve? Do chimps and orangutans have souls? Do bacteria and moss have souls? Where along the line do souls kick in, and how?
    2) Jesus was fully human and fully divine. So how could evolution lead to Mary’s giving birth to God the Son? Something else was going on here, at least this one time.
    3) A question that makes sense from a materialistic viewpoint as well: how did conscious beings such as you and I evolve? How can purely physical matter evolve into sentient, aware matter?
    Now here’s a question about science:
    Is science a good guide for morality?
    Richard Feynman’s first science gig out of school was to assist with the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. He helped create the atom bomb. His work was perhaps even more important in developing the hydrogen bomb.
    If the world ends up getting destroyed in a general nuclear holocaust (say, precipitated when Iran nukes Israel or Pakistan nukes India), would that be evidence that science was a force that people weren’t able to handle? Would that indicate that science was somehow immoral or amoral?

  • Mike O

    I’m with you Joe. I have absolute certainty about my faith. It comes as a result of having made such a mess of my life that my only hope was to call on God. He came and though I didn’t see Him physically (not surprising as He’s a spirit), I was able to perceive His arrival and His power. I feel like I belong somewhere between Thomas who Jesus told blessed are you to have seen and believed and the people who were blessed for believing and not seeing that He mentioned next. I know that God has spoken to me through the bible and I have had answered prayer that I could see His hand on and I think to some degree true of all Christians. Sadly, though I can tell you many incidents in great detail, the experience doesn’t transfer with the information. So, may all the unbelievers reading this fall into circumstances so dire and hopeless that only God could deal with them.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Barbara,
    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I would like to explain how I see these things too.
    Certainty allows action where too much doubt inhibits action. So when certainty is justified, doubt can be a genuine, highly consequential problem.
    The problem with certainty, however, is what I pointed out in my first comment: certainty has a perverse way, sometimes, of psychologically reinforcing beliefs that are incorrect. And even though we hope that our certainty does not result in pride or arrogance, I am certain that you have observed that sinful condition in others.
    To avoid pride, we must adopt genuine humility and forbearance. But how does one avoid error?
    A religious person might respond by telling us to seek out the right scripture or scriptures. Then God will give us some of his insight. I would respond by insisting that we must look at how we know things to be true, and hold our beliefs to the highest standards of evidence. A posture of skepticism is indispensible if we choose to examine our beliefs in this way.
    The skepticism, however, is not the goal. It is only a tool to reach the goal, which is the best approximation we can discover of the truth. To adopt skepticism as a permanent attitude is to unnecessarily disarm oneself of all the virtues of certainty in a misguided attempt to avoid the pitfalls.
    Phasespace,
    Three religious objections to evolution:
    1) How did souls evolve? Do chimps and orangutans have souls? Do bacteria and moss have souls? Where along the line do souls kick in, and how?
    2) Jesus was fully human and fully divine. So how could evolution lead to Mary’s giving birth to God the Son? Something else was going on here, at least this one time.
    3) A question that makes sense from a materialistic viewpoint as well: how did conscious beings such as you and I evolve? How can purely physical matter evolve into sentient, aware matter?
    Now here’s a question about science:
    Is science a good guide for morality?
    Richard Feynman’s first science gig out of school was to assist with the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. He helped create the atom bomb. His work was perhaps even more important in developing the hydrogen bomb.
    If the world ends up getting destroyed in a general nuclear holocaust (say, precipitated when Iran nukes Israel or Pakistan nukes India), would that be evidence that science was a force that people weren’t able to handle? Would that indicate that science was somehow immoral or amoral?
    Keith,
    … your own certainty about your atheism (about which you have claimed certainty) should raise a “red flag.”
    Yes, it should.
    Does it raise a red flag for you?
    Yes, it does.
    And if I tell you, “your certainty about your atheism raises a ‘red flag’ for me,” does this mean that you have to admit that I am right to be skeptical of YOUR certainty?
    Of course.
    And what does a red flag mean, in practice?
    It means to approach a proposition with very healthy skepticism, and be on a sharp lookout for sneaky errors which can creep into even the most careful analysis. It means getting a lot of input from people and things which contradict you, and never to dismiss something as false without giving it the best consideration possible.
    Naturally, such strenuous investigation and back and forth can only be seriously applied to the most important propositions. We don’t need to spend a lot of time answering questions such as whether or not to have breakfast today, or picking which route to take to work, even if we are certain about what we are going to do.

  • Rob

    “So, may all the unbelievers reading this fall into circumstances so dire and hopeless that only God could deal with them.”
    I know that you think this would be a blessing in disguise, but, speaking as an unbeliever, it sounds like a curse to me.

  • Mike O

    It would certainly turn out to be a curse if in such circumstances a person stubbornly refused to turn to God. Still, if things are so hopeless that it takes God we become willing to see if He just might be there and by the time you have reached the age of the commentators on this site it will take a good shock to get their attention. For you Rob, I’ll ammend my request to only those in who God could nurture a tiny bit of faith that they might call on him.

  • http://thedoubtingchristian.com Jadie

    So, I debated whether or not I would comment on this this morning. After all, you’re the guy who is certain. But you’re also the guy with the wife who is having anxiety attacks because of “that voice”.
    And I’ve also heard that voice. And I’m also having anxiety attacks.
    I finally decided not to write. I don’t know why. I didn’t feel like sharing, perhaps?
    Anyway. Tonight I went to Bible study. And what was the topic? Doubts.
    Figures.
    I didn’t share then, either. Not everything, anyway. I shared some questions I had, but I mostly stayed silent. The last thing I wanted to do was drag the other people in the group down.
    But on the way home, I decided I’d write and let you know that I appreciate this post. Because No one in my personal life knows the doubts I have. And, quite frankly, I don’t know of anyone who has been/ professes to be a Christian who has them. And I’m very glad I’m not alone.

  • smmtheory

    Three religious objections to evolution:
    1) How did souls evolve? Do chimps and orangutans have souls? Do bacteria and moss have souls? Where along the line do souls kick in, and how?
    2) Jesus was fully human and fully divine. So how could evolution lead to Mary’s giving birth to God the Son? Something else was going on here, at least this one time.

    Matthew,
    That is part of the reason why I do not argue about evolution from a religious perspective. It is too easy for non-believers to scoff at religious notions of souls, and divinity. I’d much rather talk about what evidence is supposedly incontrovertable that it overwhelmingly favors evolution. Even though I don’t reject the theory of evolution, I don’t believe that it can be accepted with the certitude that some people do without a leap of faith similar to the leap of faith required to believe in God. So I get people like phasespace accusing me of baiting them.
    Of course, you and I have already had a lengthy discussion about whether evolution methodology is natural vs. super-natural selection, haven’t we?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    My thesis is that being certain is considered offensive in a pluralistic society that holds to relative truth, moreso if Christians are certain, and espouse their certainty in the Public Square.
    Because when Christians are certain, then it simply follows that they believe in Absolute Objective Truth, and the simple corollary is that other faith-traditions must, by logical necessity, be utterly wrong. According to the value grid of the false idol called Political Correctness, claiming exclusive Absolute Objective Truth is the sin against society that must be shouted down, dismissed, scorned, name-called, and hissed at.
    The certainty possessed by many Christians is then translated as backwards fundamentalistic dogma by the popular media and culture. Thus, for many Christians, usually the nominal ones, they prefer not to express their faith as being Absolute Truth, much less being certain of Absolute Truth, and very much less in speaking in public about their certainty in Absolute Truth. I wish Christians were more bold in proclaiming their Lord and Savior. The privatizing of faith is not a good thing.
    Going back to how certainty by Christians is offensive in polite secular pluralistic society. It now clarifies for me why secular liberals are joined at the hip with Islamic fundamentalists. Secular liberals and Islamic fundamentalists have a common enemy… Christians! Secular liberals dislike Christians because Christians believe in Absolute Truth and that this Truth will judge them. Plus Absolute Truth declares that secular liberals are sinners! Islamicists dislike Christians for all the usual reasons.
    Then you have the old saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And since secular libs and Islamic fundamentalists regard Christians as the enemy, they then become allies against Christians and their certainty in Jesus Christ.

  • Rob

    “It now clarifies for me why secular liberals are joined at the hip with Islamic fundamentalists.”
    What an asinine and unsupportable statement! I am a secular liberal, and I am certainly not “joined at the hip” with Islamic fundamentalists. I don’t know of a single secular liberal who is. Christians are not my enemies, although my politics often are at odds with theirs. I would never ally myself with Islamic fundamentalists against Christians, and I don’t think any secular liberal would. Why would I prefer their brand of fundamentalism to the less rabid fundamentalism of Christians?
    Why is it that some can justify false witness if they think it advances their political views? Whom would Jesus defame?
    You should be ashamed of your dishonesty.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left by David Horowitz
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/089526076X/?tag=evangeoutpos-20
    Rob, I’m glad that you’re a secular liberal who’s not aligned with Islamic fundamentalists.

  • JohnW

    “Truth Unites… and Divides” or “Falsehoods Divide and Unites (the religious right)”?
    David Horowitz? There’s no need to even read that article.
    I think “Truth Unites… and Divides” is not really a believer, but someone who is having some fun writing over the top imflamatory stuff as a way of mocking people of faith. I could be wrong though. Did you learn this stuff at “the truth project” seminar?

  • phasespace

    Mathew, I don’t really consider the first two questions valid objections to evolution, even on religious grounds. Note to smmtheory, I’m not scoffing at these questions, I just don’t think they are scientifically addressable.

    Regarding souls. Before science could even begin to address this question, we would need evidence that souls exist in the first place. Then, and only then, could we begin to address what creatures have souls, and what do not. Until such time as that happens, it is strictly a question for theologians, and it really has nothing to do with science in general or evolution in particular.

    The divinity of Jesus also doesn’t seem to be addressable either, nor is the virgin birth (and what’s more, there does seem to be some legitimate controversy even over that but that’s beside the point). If God stepped in at this point for whatever reason, then he did it. I don’t see how this can be used as an objection to evolution, even on on theological grounds. From a religious standpoint, a miracle is still a miracle regardless of any scientific theory.

    Regarding the evolution of self awareness… Now that is good scientific question, and the answer is…. We don’t know. We have some plausible ideas for how it *might* happen, but they are pretty much nothing more than speculation. We don’t know, and we may never know for sure. I suppose that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and it goes right back Joe’s issue of certainty vs. uncertainty.

    The truth is, we live in a world of uncertainty. As much as we know, and as much as we have learned, we still can not say for certain what will happen tomorrow, and I think this is the biggest appeal that religion has. It provides certainty in an uncertain world….and as I said before, I have no problem with that until that certainty causes people to draw false conclusions. The difference between Joe and myself is that I am comfortable with that uncertainty, or at least I’ve made peace with it. I probably wouldn’t be a scientist if I was truly comfortable with it. I realize and understand that there are things both big and small that I will never know. Facing that truth, I have only two options, create an illusion of certainty around myself (which works for some, but as Joe has experienced with his wife, it doesn’t work for everyone), or I can accept that there are just things that I don’t know, and never will. I chose the latter option because I think it is the more intellectually honest position.

    As for your last question… I made a statement in passing that alluded to a distinction between facts and morality, and that distinction applies here. I don’t think that science can be used to determine morality. I do think that science (or at least reason and rationality if not formal science) can potentially tell us why we think certain acts are moral and others are not. I also think that science informs our morality (in that we definitely make moral decisions based on what science tells us), however I do not think that science by itself determines our morality. So Feynman shouldn’t be faulted for his involvement in the Manhattan project any more than Smith and Wesson should be faulted for manufacturing firearms.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Hi Smm,
    It is too easy for non-believers to scoff at religious notions of souls, and divinity.
    The comment you quoted is a list of religious objections to evolution. Phasespace wanted to understand Joe’s ambivalence towards evolution, so that is why I made the list.
    If your reaction to the list is that you think I am scoffing at the ideas of souls and divinity, then it seems to me that you are being defensive. Why should an unbeliever talking about religion be considered scoffing?
    A Christian should be happy that two unbelievers are respectfully discussing and probing religious ideas, but that seems to be something you’re a little hostile towards.
    Even though I don’t reject the theory of evolution, I don’t believe that it can be accepted with the certitude that some people do without a leap of faith similar to the leap of faith required to believe in God.
    But this is exactly what Phasespace has been talking about. The evidence for evolution is no less compelling or any more controversial than it is for a thousand other scientific facts/theories. Yet Joe and yourself hold back from accepting it as part of reality.
    Phasespace was just asking Joe why that it is.
    How do we know evolution is true? Because if you look through the geological record of fossils, the plants and animals around today are different from the plants and animals around in the past. It’s true that God could have created, or personally modified, a series of different species over the aeons, but that doesn’t deny evolution, it’s just a possible explanation for how it happened.
    To a scientist, rejecting evolution is like reading a newspaper that says Gov. Spitzer of New York resigned and saying, “No, that’s not true!” Now it’s true that the newspaper could be false. For example, God could be playing tricks with us and trying to make us believe Gov. Spitzer resigned when he really didn’t. You are free to believe that if you have reasons for doing so. But Phasespace and I are going to be curious to know how that could be the case.
    The above will probably sound like scoffing to you again. But it’s absolutely not, I’m just trying to explain my side of the conversation to you in very clear terms. Please accept it in that spirit if you can.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    John W writes: “David Horowitz? There’s no need to even read that article.”
    This is a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy. Thanks for demonstrating it so well John W.
    Incidentally, it’s not an article. It’s a book.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “Conservatives seem baffled by the animosity held by liberals towards Christians and Jews. Christianity requires the believer submit to authority, accept the rule of government, be charitable to his fellow; in short, be a model citizen. Ditto the Jews, who held these requirements even longer than the Christians. Why are liberals so hostile to both? For that matter, why do liberals seem so smitten with that 7th century holdover known as Islam? Why do those on the Left seem less than eager to defend our freedom and way of life from the ravages of Islamic Jihad?
    To understand this, it is necessary to examine the intellectual underpinnings of modern Liberal thought.”
    Continue reading at:
    http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/01/paradise_lost_why_the_left_lov.html

  • http://www.ivchristiancenter.com Greg Marquez

    Joe:
    I think you may be mistaking hubris for faith. Humility is the quality not of doubt but of teachability. That you know so much as to not be teachable is not faith but hubris.
    Faith is only evident, is only proved upon testing. As my style of Christianity likes to say, faith only comes into play when it’s possible to doubt. Most Christians “faith” is limited to their post death destination and as a result their faith is usually only tested when death is imminent. The same can be said for the atheists faith. There’s a reason for the expression, there are no atheists in fox holes.
    With respect to your not fearing death, I’m not afraid of being mugged in Central Park either. This may have something to do with the fact that I live 3000 miles away from Central Park. All soldiers are full of courage on the parade ground but it is only enemy fire that reveals their courage. All Christians are full of faith while singing hymns in church, while the certainty of death seems anything but. Only the real possibility of death reveals their faith.
    If your wife’s fear is a serious problem I suggest that she spend some time each morning and evening meditating on scriptures which promise us eternal life. She should read them out loud to herself. Murrmurring them as she thinks about their meaning. Scriptures like these (2 Corinthians 5:1-8, John 14:1-3, Philippians 1:21-26, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
    Greg Marquez
    goyomarquez@earthlink.net

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Phasespace,
    Miracles are not a challenge to scientific theories because if God creates a miracle, then he just does it, and the framework of the scientific theory is not affected one way or another.
    So the divine birth of Jesus and the existence of souls are not really relevant to evolution.
    And why is that? Because there is no evidence, no scientific evidence, for either souls or the divinity of Jesus, so these are strictly matters of theology as opposed to science.
    Well, that works for me, but only because I reject the notions of souls and a divine Jesus. I don’t think that is going to be very satisfactory, however, to someone who does believe in souls and a divine Jesus.
    If a Christian feels that evolution is a challenge to the idea of souls or to the idea of a divine Jesus, he or she is going to want to reject that evolution is the only way things happen in this world. Just affirming that science and theology deal with different topics doesn’t seem to me like any kind of resolution to the conflict.
    Regarding the evolution of self awareness… Now that is good scientific question, and the answer is…. We don’t know.
    Now if we don’t know how self-awareness has evolved, and if you even think it unlikely that we could ever know, then isn’t that evidence for the existence of souls? Isn’t that scientific evidence for the existence of souls, where “scientific” here would refer to the universal and reproducible nature of the phenomenon?
    It’s true that we don’t normally think of self-awareness in those terms, but there is no a priori reason not to.
    As for your last question… I made a statement in passing that alluded to a distinction between facts and morality, and that distinction applies here. I don’t think that science can be used to determine morality.
    If science cannot be used to determine morality, then what can we use to determine morality? And what should we use to determine morality?
    I think that these are much more important questions than whether or not we have souls or whether or not God exists. What say you, sir?
    As for the good Professor Feynman, consider this.
    In the aftermath of World War II, many people who worked to develop and manufacture the poison gas in the gas chambers were prosecuted and tried, and several were convicted of high crimes against humanity.
    I would say that doing basic research in nuclear physics is qualitatively different from developing chemical weapons for an evil dictator. And yet… do we want absolve every scientist for all responsibility for the likely uses of the tremendous powers that they put at our disposal? Does a researcher working on a bomb today in Iran bear no responsibility for the nuking of Israel tomorrow? I believe he does bear responsibility.
    Richard Feynman was a really smart cookie and he was a mensch to boot. Do you think it may have bothered him that he helped usher in an unprecedented arms race that could have led to a devastating nuclear confrontation during the Cold War? It strikes me as a heavy burden to bear.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Greg,
    I very much like your definition of “hubris”: a state of non-teachability. That’s a pithy way of explaining what I was trying to explain about certainty sometimes leading to error.
    I have a question about the relationship between faith and doubt. If true faith can only be tested in doubtful situations, then can certainty ever be justified? If yes, than how can certainty be justified?

  • http://dawgonthelawn.blogspot.com WayneDawg

    Happy Substitutionary Atonement day folks!!
    Looking forward to Resurrection Day here in North Georgia on Sunday.
    God bless you all!!

  • http://dawgonthelawn.blogspot.com/ WayneDawg

    Happy Substitutionary Atonement day folks!!
    Looking forward to Resurrection Day here in North Georgia on Sunday.
    God bless you all!!

  • http://www.ivchristiancenter.com Greg Marquez

    Matthew:
    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by the “justified” part of, can certainty be justified. I guess you mean, should we ever act as though we are certain.
    Maybe this will answer your question.
    By faith I don’t mean something that you are reasoned into, though your reason may have to be placated for you to experience faith. By faith I mean something more like sight or touch or taste or smell, or hearing. A sensory organ of the spirit that senses spiritual things. A sense that the Bible refers to as the heart, or spirit and whose perception is called illumination or revelation or knowledge. Faith as the Bible uses it is the combination of that knowledge in your heart and action based on that knowledge. The carnal man receiveth not the the things of the spirit of God for they are spiritually discerned. We walk by faith not by sight, Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen. etc.
    Sometimes people will say something like I won’t believe it unless I can see it. Where spiritual things are concerned that’s a bit like saying I don’t believe in sour because I can’t see it. Or I won’t believe in the scent of orange blossoms because I can’t see them. Faith, as I am using it, is the sensory perception of spiritual things. When I was born again I heard a preacher quote John 3:3 and I knew somewhere in my heart that I needed to be born again and then I acted on it. That is faith.
    So that is how I approach your question about justifying certainty. I can be as certain about what I percieve spirituallly as about things I perceive visually. Emphasis on the “can”, because just as you can have bad physical eyesight you can also have bad spiritual “eyesight.”
    If you have really bad eyesight you can be very uncertain about some things. I have a friend, a missionary to the palestinian people in Israel, who is legally blind. He can see some things. In fact he travels all over the world by himself working as a missionary. But you have to read a restuaraunt menu to him. His vision is not certain enough to allow him to safely cross a street. Most Christians have really bad spiritual eyesight and are therefore not justified in their spiritual certainty any more than my friend is justified in his visual certainty when crossing a busy street.
    Now my friend could stand at curbside and conduct a philosophical exercise to determine whether or not it was safe to cross the street. He could come to some philosophical certainty with respect to the safeness of crossing the street but that is not the same as seeing that it is safe to cross the street. Most Christians are substituting philosophical certainty for actual spiritual insight. Most Christians are subsituting mental agreement for revelation.
    Just as you can do excercises to improve your vision (I saw an ad yesterday for a Nintendo DS game that does just that.) you can also do exercises to improve your spiritual vision. Bible reading, praying, meditating in the Word, hearing Bible teaching and preaching are the exercises we do to improve our spiritual eyesight. The word of God is that which lets us know if our spiritual insight is good or bad. If what you perceive in you heart contradicts the word of God then your spiritual eyesight is bad.
    So can certainty be justified? Only to the extent that certainty with respect to what you perceive with your physical senses can be justified.
    I hope that doesn’t sound too new agey because I certainly didn’t mean it to sound that way.
    Greg Marquez
    goyomarquez@earthlink.net

  • smmtheory

    If your reaction to the list is that you think I am scoffing at the ideas of souls and divinity, then it seems to me that you are being defensive. Why should an unbeliever talking about religion be considered scoffing?
    A Christian should be happy that two unbelievers are respectfully discussing and probing religious ideas, but that seems to be something you’re a little hostile towards.

    Matthew,
    If what I said led you to believe that I was thinking that you were scoffing then I’m not the one being defensive, and I’m certainly not being hostile. A person who specifically rejects the existence of the supernatural (of which souls and divinity and God are part and parcel) trying to compose reasoning as if they understand the mindset of a believer? You can attempt to argue from a religious perspective as a non-believer if you want, I just think it’s not going to sound very convincing, even to a believer.
    But what I was getting at was that when arguing about evolution with a non-religious person who rejects the supernatural, it is too easy for a rebuttal to sound mocking and condescending. So let’s talk about physical evidence. Are you (or any other person arguing pro-evolution with an ounce of certitude) saying that of every type and species of creature to ever exist on the face of the earth, all or nearly all of them have been captured in fossilized form? Is it really wise to assume that because we don’t currently have a fossilized record of every current species that exists that no fossilized forms of them exists? Perhaps they do, but nobody has found them yet? Perhaps they existed but have been destroyed by the onslaught of civilization?
    Those are only just a handful of questions that raise doubts about evolution within my curious mind… and yet, I’m accused of rejecting evolution because it conflicts with my beliefs about the supernatural.

  • Rob

    “Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left by David Horowitz”
    Good grief! You cite Horowitz’s book as evidence of its own assertions? Horowitz is a right-wing ideologue just on the sane side of Ann Coulter.
    Let’s make this easy: name one secular liberal who is joined at the hip with Islamic fundamentalists. Remember, “joined at the hip” implies more than having in common a dispute with fundamentalist Christians.
    If you can’t back up your vile, reprehensible statement you should withdraw it. Your failure to acknowledge your sweeping slander of millions of Americans is appalling.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Hello again, Smm,
    If what I said led you to believe that I was thinking that you were scoffing then I’m not the one being defensive, and I’m certainly not being hostile.
    I had the impression that you thought that I was scoffing because that it what you said in comment 33:
    [Matthew said:] “Three religious objections to evolution:”
    “1) How did souls evolve? Do chimps and orangutans have souls? Do bacteria and moss have souls? Where along the line do souls kick in, and how?”
    “2) Jesus was fully human and fully divine. So how could evolution lead to Mary’s giving birth to God the Son? Something else was going on here, at least this one time.”
    [Smmtheory replies:] Matthew,
    That is part of the reason why I do not argue about evolution from a religious perspective. It is too easy for non-believers to scoff at religious notions of souls, and divinity.

    If I am wrong, and you didn’t think I was scoffing, then you didn’t write what you meant to say.
    But what I was getting at was that when arguing about evolution with a non-religious person who rejects the supernatural, it is too easy for a rebuttal to sound mocking and condescending.
    I agree. It’s therefore important to write consistently in good faith, and that’s why we both usually make an effort to do that.
    Are you (or any other person arguing pro-evolution with an ounce of certitude) saying that of every type and species of creature to ever exist on the face of the earth, all or nearly all of them have been captured in fossilized form?
    No, absolutely not. Not even close to a complete record.
    Is it really wise to assume that because we don’t currently have a fossilized record of every current species that exists that no fossilized forms of them exists?
    Fossil-hunters don’t assume anything when they go looking for fossils. A paleontologist would kill to find a fossil that would upset some consensual timeline of species-branching.
    But scientific theories are based on the evidence we have, not on the evidence we might have if the evidence were different. That’s not a question of wisdom versus foolishness. It’s simply the only possible way of dealing with evidence.
    Perhaps [fossils of current species] do [exist], but nobody has found them yet? Perhaps they existed but have been destroyed by the onslaught of civilization?
    And perhaps God has edited my newspaper to trick me into thinking that Gov. Spitzer has resigned when he actually hasn’t resigned. But I won’t believe that unless someone tells me how he knows it. And you shouldn’t expect me to believe your hypothetical about fossils unless there is some reason to believe it.
    Those are only just a handful of questions that raise doubts about evolution within my curious mind… and yet, I’m accused of rejecting evolution because it conflicts with my beliefs about the supernatural.
    Well, I wouldn’t necessarily use the word “accuse”, but you are, in fact, rejecting evolution because it conflicts with your beliefs about the supernatural.
    And I’m not sure why you want to deny it. If evolution wasn’t in conflict with your beliefs, you would say, “Yeah, sure, evolution” and not give it a second thought. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or stubborn, you’re just unwilling to accept something at face value that seems inconsistent with what you already believe.
    It means your brain is awake and functioning, so you noticed that evolution raises some questions, and you, in turn, want to raise some questions about evolution. There’s nothing wrong with that.
    Greg,
    Thank you very much for your response.
    Although you weren’t sure what I meant by asking if certainty could be justified, you were able to answer my question anyway.
    I have heard your definition of faith elsewhere, but it is not the most common one, and I don’t know if Joe would use it himself. If Joe is still paying attention to this comment thread, I would invite him to comment on your way of experiencing faith.
    I think your notion of faith is very similar to the distinction Phasespace makes between the realms of science and theology. So maybe I was wrong when I said to Phasespace that his distinction didn’t seem to resolve anything.
    I cannot personally accept your faculty of faith for myself, because it is too intimately bound to the revelation of God, and I do not accept that revelation. But thank you again for explaining what faith means and how it can lead to certainty.
    Cheers,
    Matthew

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    A heads-up:
    I just submitted a response to Greg and Smmtheory, but it is being held for moderation by Joe’s spam filter.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “Now secular liberals and culturally conservative Muslims are united in their intense opposition to Bush’s policies at home and abroad, especially in the Middle East.”
    From: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1558227,00.html
    ————–
    “The issue is why the left is so passive, reluctant, and even oppositional in its stance in the American war on terrorism. My answer is that the cultural left opposes the war against the radical Muslims because it wants them to succeed in defeating President Bush in particular and American foreign policy in general. Far from seeking to destroy the movement that Bin Laden and the Islamic radicals represent, the amazing fact is that the American left is secretly allied with that [Islamic] movement to undermine the Bush administration and American foreign policy. The left would like nothing better than to see America in general, and President Bush in particular, forced out of Iraq. Although such an outcome would plunge Iraq into further chaos and represent a catastrophic loss for American foreign policy, it would represent a huge win for the cultural left, in fact the left’s greatest foreign policy victory since the Vietnam War.
    The notion that the American left seeks victory for Islamic radicals in Iraq may at first glance seem implausible. One person who does not think so, however, is Bin Laden. In his October 30, 2004 videotaped message, apparently timed to precede the presidential election, Bin Laden drew liberally from themes in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 to condemn the Bush administration. Bin Laden denounced Bush for election-rigging in Florida, for going to war to enrich oil companies and defense contracts like Halliburton, for curtailing civil liberties under the Patriot Act, and for reading stories to school-children while the World Trade Center burned. Apart from the rhetorical flourishes of “Praise be to Allah,” Bin Laden sounds exactly like Michael Moore. And why not? In opposing President Bush and American foreign policy, they are both on the same side.
    Moreover, several leading figures on the left are very candid about what they are fighting for. Moore writes, “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘the enemy.’ They are the Revolution, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.” Author James Carroll commends the insurgents for exemplifying “the simple stubbornness of human beings who refuse to be told what to think and feel.” Writing in salon.com, Joe Conason calls on Bush to enter into a “negotiated settlement” with the Iraqi insurgents, an outcome Conason concedes would be a “defeat for the United States and a perceived victory for Al Qaeda and its allies.” Gwyne Dyer states in a recent book, “The United States needs to lose the war in Iraq as soon as possible. Even more urgently, the whole world needs the United States to lose the war in Iraq.” Activist Arundhati Roy declares on behalf of the left, “We must consider ourselves at war.” What she means is that the left is fighting a political battle not against Al Qaeda or Islamic fundamentalism but rather against the Bush administration.
    From: http://dineshdsouza.com/books/enemy-intro.html

  • phasespace

    Well, that works for me, but only because I reject the notions of souls and a divine Jesus. I don’t think that is going to be very satisfactory, however, to someone who does believe in souls and a divine Jesus.

    True, but isn’t that where faith is supposed to come in to play for a theist? In this case, it would seem to me, at least, that either theology doesn’t understand the nature of faith, or churches aren’t teaching their followers enough about faith and what it really means to have it. I’ve seen examples of both of these cases.

    If a Christian feels that evolution is a challenge to the idea of souls or to the idea of a divine Jesus, he or she is going to want to reject that evolution is the only way things happen in this world. Just affirming that science and theology deal with different topics doesn’t seem to me like any kind of resolution to the conflict.

    Yes, but that’s not our problem… ;) Well, it is our problem because theists are making it our problem, but they shouldn’t be. Some theists are looking in the wrong place for the answer. I know that within theology there are two schools of thought on the provability of the existence of God. One says that the existence of God is provable in some fashion, the other says that this is a matter of faith (this is something of an oversimplification, but it gets the point across). The former group often, but not always, goes after evolution and unwittingly science in general, while the latter generally does not. So the real controversy is within theology itself and needs to be addressed there before it is ever considered outside that realm. A theistic attack on evolution would hold more weight if the underlying theology was at least consistent.

    Now if we don’t know how self-awareness has evolved, and if you even think it unlikely that we could ever know, then isn’t that evidence for the existence of souls? Isn’t that scientific evidence for the existence of souls, where “scientific” here would refer to the universal and reproducible nature of the phenomenon?

    I wouldn’t accept that as evidence because we do have a plausible, but unsubstantiated explanation. To accept a lack of an explanation of one thing as evidence for the existence of something else that may be entirely unrelated is a violation of parsimony. Something else required in addition to this.

    If science cannot be used to determine morality, then what can we use to determine morality? And what should we use to determine morality?

    Well, honestly, I think you already know my answer to this question. I’m going to say some form of utilitarianism (imperfect though that may be). This subject is indeed important, but, it really has been done to death on this blog previously and I think the subject is played out and there isn’t anything to say on the subject now that hasn’t already been said in previous threads. So for the sake of brevity, I don’t want to take the morality tangent any further. I’m kind of tired of it to be honest.

  • phasespace

    So let’s talk about physical evidence.

    Let’s not talk about the physical evidence, because the physical evidence is irrelevant to you, and you know it. The objections that you are listing have been refuted and rebutted repeatedly on numerous occasions.

    ucfenger made a post a while back that I didn’t get around to responding to where he said that the religious don’t reject science out of hand. What they reject (and I would say what they are really afraid of) is materialism. I would agree with that assessment. However, that also means that all the frustration with science in general and evolution in particular is sorely misplaced. Christians are using science as a scapegoat because it’s an easier and much more visible target than materialism itself. Indeed, tackling materialism has a number of uncomfortable implications that I don’t think theologians want to deal with, like what is the connection between the material and spiritual, and how does God interact materially? Just to name two off the top of my head.

    The issue is not about the science, the issue is about some Christian’s inability to reconcile their theology with the findings of science. Nothing more, and nothing less. These objections are the intellectual equivalent of grabbing at straws under the pretense that such objections give this brand of theology a measure of protection from dealing with the harder questions. They don’t. Yeah, I’m getting snarky, but I think its justified.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Phasespace,
    … isn’t that where faith is supposed to come in to play for a theist?
    Yes, quite right, that is why I said to Greg in comment 50:
    I think your notion of faith is very similar to the distinction Phasespace makes between the realms of science and theology. So maybe I was wrong when I said to Phasespace that his distinction didn’t seem to resolve anything.
    Yet, if someone does believe that God can be proven to exist, or that the Bible is true because there is solid materialistic evidence that it it true, then that person is not going to have the kind of theology which is going to be satisfied with a neat separation from the realm of science.
    Since that kind of theology is where the attacks on evolution (or heliocentrism, or vaccinations, or what have you) are going to come from, it seems that you are asking us to resign ourselves to agree to disagree. From a practical point of view, maybe that is the best that can be hoped for, but I like to think that people shouldn’t feel forced to give up on science because their religious beliefs seem to be contrary to it.
    I wouldn’t accept [self-awareness] as evidence [for souls] because we do have a plausible, but unsubstantiated explanation.
    I agree.
    To accept a lack of an explanation of one thing as evidence for the existence of something else that may be entirely unrelated is a violation of parsimony.
    Hmmm… are you saying that self-awareness is entirely unrelated to souls?
    Of course, that is tautologically true if we assume that souls don’t exist. But if we don’t assume the non-existence of souls, then that is a strange thing to assert. What could be more relevant to souls than self-awareness? We would look nowhere else for souls, other than somewhere where we find self-awareness.
    And if we don’t already have an explanation for self-awareness, then parsimony cannot be violated, because parsimony is a relative concept. One explanation (souls) cannot be less parsimonious than no explanation.
    Until science produces an explicit explanation for self-awareness, it cannot claim to have a better explanation than religion.
    Something else is required in addition to this.
    Something else is required besides self-awareness to prove that souls exist, yes, I agree. But it is still a very intriguing mystery, and we cannot fault religious folks for being skeptical of reductionist materialism, can we?
    Or, if Joe raises the biblical flag of Christ on his blog, perhaps the atheistic scientists can show some respect and humility. We can even acknowledge that his certainty has a genuine rationale for it beyond superstition and ignorance.
    [The] subject [of morality] is indeed important, but, it really has been done to death on this blog previously and I think the subject is played out and there isn’t anything to say on the subject now that hasn’t already been said in previous threads. So for the sake of brevity, I don’t want to take the morality tangent any further. I’m kind of tired of it to be honest.
    I appreciate your morality-fatigue, it can be a most exhausting subject. Previous comment threads have indeed been awesomely long and occasionally very frustrating.
    I would like to point out, though, that conversing in a comment thread is a very moral act, in the sense that it is an act which, naturally, falls under the purview of morality. Far from being a tangent, morality permeates everything we read and write on this or any other blog.
    Comment threads about certainty, faith, skepticism, God, and so on are all well and good, but the bottom line, as I see it, is what is right and what is wrong. If we try to discuss something without keeping track of the morality angle, we are not missing a tangent, we are missing the headline event.
    This comment thread is about certainty. Why do we care about certainty? Because we all want to know what is true and disavow what is false.
    And why do we want knowledge of the truth? Partly to satisfy our curiousity, but just as importantly, to know and act upon what is right and what is wrong. Everything else, God, religion, materialism, Christianity, liberalism and conservatism, is just a matter of filling in the details.
    The issue is not about the science, the issue is about some Christians’ inability to reconcile their theology with the findings of science. Nothing more, and nothing less.
    Science is a body of knowledge. It is also a very, very powerful tool. You seem to be assuming that a Christian is somehow dropping the ball if he is unable to reconcile his beliefs with science.
    But when two apparent truths come into conflict, both propositions should be weighed on the merits. Science should not be assumed to be automatically correct. Science is not infallible, after all, and great religions represent an accumulated wisdom of many centuries of tradition.
    These objections are the intellectual equivalent of grabbing at straws under the pretense that such objections give this brand of theology a measure of protection from dealing with the harder questions. They don’t.
    Maybe the objections represent grasping at straws, maybe they don’t. But that is usually irrevelant. What is revelant is whether the objections have any merit.
    If grabbing at straws happens to lead to a strand of truth, that strand of truth could just be the tip of a great iceberg. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the discovery of radioactivity led to a total revision of the scientific theory of matter. And that annoying, messy little problem of blackbody radiation led directly to the invention of quantum physics, which was more like a revolution in science than a revision.
    A little humility sometimes goes a long way in science.
    Yeah, I’m getting snarky, but I think its justified.
    I think your snarkiness is justified if Smmtheory is being disingenuous. But I think he isn’t being disingenuous, so I would say your snark might not be justified.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Rank your #1 choice for your Final Appeal to Authority among these 3 selections:
    (1) Human Reason (eg. Science)
    (2) Human Experience (eg. Feelings, emotions, intuition)
    (3) The Bible (66 books – Canon of the Reformers)
    ———-
    FWIW, I put the Divinely Inspired Word of God as #1.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Truth,
    Rank your #1 choice for your Final Appeal to Authority among these 3 selections:
    (1) Human Reason (eg. Science)
    (2) Human Experience (eg. Feelings, emotions, intuition)
    (3) The Bible (66 books – Canon of the Reformers)
    What a great question!
    I’d say that each of the three authorities can be very, very dangerous.
    Human reason: dangerous, because it is so powerful, and can be used for either good or evil.
    Human experience: dangerous, because it can lead to delusional certainty, which can lead to self-destruction, or worse.
    The Bible: dangerous, because biblical religion is alive and well, including biblical fundamentalism (by which I mean belief in the literal truth of the Bible); and since biblical religion often has several important errors in doctrine or dogma (which vary from denomination to denomination), it too, at least historically, has occasioned great evil and destruction.
    I’d also say that each of the three authorities is a source of great truth and wisdom. The best way to offset the dangers inherent in each authority is to be open to multiple sources. It is especially important to be open to the perspectives of a variety of people with differing points of view.
    So here is how I would answer your question:
    Best authority: a weighted amalgam of all available authorities.
    Second best: science.
    Third best: human experience (intuition) from multiple sources.
    Fourth best: the Bible.
    Fifth best: human experience (intuition) of one individual.
    This is a very partial list. For example, I would put the U.S. Constitution and associated jurisprudence on the list below human experience and above the Bible.

  • smmtheory

    The objections that you are listing have been refuted and rebutted repeatedly on numerous occasions.

    phasespace,
    Objections? Questions I say, and perhaps they have already been refuted and rebutted repeatedly on numerous occasions, but I haven’t had a lot of time to read every little bit there is that might have. So when I ask these questions, all I get is snark. That leads me to believe that maybe they haven’t been refuted and rebutted well enough, they just make you uncomfortable because you don’t have the answers. Then when you get uncomfortable, you blame me and become condescending. And you say things like physical evidence is irrelevant to me. But I’m a doubting Thomas with respect to science theory. Physical evidence is relevant and important to me. I don’t have it in front of me. I don’t have a good explanation of it in front of me either, so here I am having somebody tell me I should just accept it because he believes it.

    Well, I wouldn’t necessarily use the word “accuse”, but you are, in fact, rejecting evolution because it conflicts with your beliefs about the supernatural.
    And I’m not sure why you want to deny it. If evolution wasn’t in conflict with your beliefs, you would say, “Yeah, sure, evolution” and not give it a second thought. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or stubborn, you’re just unwilling to accept something at face value that seems inconsistent with what you already believe.

    No, I am not rejecting evolution because it conflicts with my beliefs about the supernatural. What I am rejecting is the certitude that it is not just a theory. I’ve already told you how I’ve reconciled my beliefs of the supernatural and evolution. As I’ve said before, evolution may indeed be the tool God used to create us, but until I can say for sure that is true… evolution is JUST a theory. Why is that such a big deal to people that they have to tell me that I’m denying or rejecting evolution?

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    Joe,
    Isn’t it time to repent?
    Isn’t it?
    http://conwebwatch.tripod.com/stories/2008/wndhomeschool.html
    You used to work for Wingnut Daily. (I don’t actually follow you that much, maybe you still do.)
    But your “certainty,” like theirs, perhaps leads them to publish things without fact checking them.
    Like when you said it was highly likely that Obama didn’t write his speech.
    Despite what the facts said.
    Isn’t it time to come clean?
    And not be thought of as a scurrilous liar?
    The same as the worst kind of abortionist, according to your religion?
    Isn’t it time to repent?

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smmtheory,
    If I say, it’s possible that gravity is a universal inverse-square law between masses, but I’m not sure, then I could also say I’m not rejecting the fact of gravity, I just consider it an unproven theory.
    However, that doesn’t really make any sense from a scientist’s point of view. The law of gravity is a proven fact of nature, not just a theory. If I consider it to be an “unproven theory”, I’m just revealing my ignorance about what the law of gravity really is.
    Likewise with your dismissal of evolution as an unproven theory, as opposed to a fact.
    On the other hand, if you wanted to dismiss the theory of evolution through natural selection as unproven, you would be on firmer ground. A scientist would probably still think you’re hopelessly ignorant, but he wouldn’t necessarily think you’re confused about what a scientific theory, as opposed to a scientific fact, is.
    And the truth is, you’re skeptical about evolution because of your religious beliefs. If evolution had nothing to do with religion, you’d have no reason to bother thinking about it other than as in interesting fact about nature.
    The reason I’m stubborn about this point is because evolution is so well established, you might as well be arguing against gravity, or the evaporation of water, or the theory of electric currents. Sometimes it really is possible to be just plain wrong about something, and you’ve succeeded in doing so.
    Respectfully,
    Matthew

  • phasespace

    Alright, Smmtheory, I’m dubious about your honesty here, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. The questions that you are asking read like longstanding canards and as such it’s difficult not to treat them as such….

    Are you (or any other person arguing pro-evolution with an ounce of certitude) saying that of every type and species of creature to ever exist on the face of the earth, all or nearly all of them have been captured in fossilized form?

    Nope, and no paleontologist says this either, but we don’t need to see every fossil to be able to see a pattern of development. The pattern building works in a way similar to how we can interpolate between points on a graph by drawing a line through them. In fact, the tiktaalik fossil that was found within the last couple of years was found in exactly this way. Some paleontologists examined the fossil record and realized that they should see a species similar to tiktaalik within certain types of rocks of a certain age. They then organized a search in areas where these rocks were known to be and then started looking. In other words, they were able to use evolutionary theory to make a prediction, and then go out into the field to see if that prediction could be verified and it was.

    Is it really wise to assume that because we don’t currently have a fossilized record of every current species that exists that no fossilized forms of them exists? Perhaps they do, but nobody has found them yet? Perhaps they existed but have been destroyed by the onslaught of civilization?

    I don’t think your question is posed quite right, but I think I get the gist of what you are trying to get at. Essentially you’re saying that since we haven’t (and could not have) looked everywhere, there’s a chance that we could find modern fossils at a time when, say, evolution predicts that we should only see invertebrates. Does that capture what you’re trying to get at?

    The problem with this is that pattern of development that I mentioned above. If there are such breaks in the fossil record, chances are we would’ve seen them by now, and we would have abandoned evolutionary theory as a result, but we haven’t seen any such breaks. So, we have concluded that such fossils don’t exist for the same reason that after you hold up a ball and let it go several times, you can safely conclude that the next time you do the same thing, the ball is going to behave in the same way. In other words, it’s very unlikely that such a break in the fossil record actually exists. Even though there are many holes in the fossil record, the holes are in fact small enough that if there were strange breaks such as what you are alluding to, then it’s a practical certainty that we would have seen something of them by now. That doesn’t mean that there are no surprises still waiting to be found. In fact, I’m certain that there are, but its extremely unlikely that these surprises are going to stray outside the limitations set by evolutionary theory.

  • ucfengr

    Indeed, tackling materialism has a number of uncomfortable implications that I don’t think theologians want to deal with, like what is the connection between the material and spiritual, and how does God interact materially? Just to name two off the top of my head.
    Try as a I might, I just don’t see this as a problem for Christian theologians. I can’t speak for other religions, but the story of Christianity is how God interacts with Man. I really think this is a bigger problem for materialists, because materialists act is if there is an objective morality, but one can’t exist in a strictly material world.
    The issue is not about the science, the issue is about some Christian’s inability to reconcile their theology with the findings of science.
    I can’t speak for other Christians but my problem with materialism is not that I can’t reconcile the science, I have no problem with it. What I can’t reconcile is the existence of any sort of objective morality in a strictly material world.

  • http://Science Ray

    Science is the study of what is. If you say there is no God as a given. You destroy the Science you Worship. If you out of hand reject a molecular Biologist who poses some very good questions because his answers are drawing conclusions that may point to other than natural selection because of your faith in Natural Selection are you not acting like Theologians 150 years ago instead of Scientist. I see academics in huge numbers opposing hypothesis and theory on religious reasons. The only acceptable way to oppose natural selection for most is to present as Gould did an even more weird form of it. Darwin today in a hundred years will be just another form of flat earth theory.
    PS: Christians must value and love all People made in the Image of God. It is ridiculous and a cartoon sterotype that says christians think less or whant harm for those that disagree. As Paul points out clearly we are no better or worse. He was the chiefest of sinners.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ucfengr,
    I would like to address your objection to materialism on the grounds of a lack of objective morality.
    Unfortunately, I don’t have time this weekend to give a full response due, ironically, to the Easter holiday. (We celebrate pagan/atheistic versions of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and so on in our home. “Saint” Patrick’s Day we celebrate as a kind of Irish wake for the demise of traditional Celtic/Druidic folkways.)
    Very short answer: morality is the only logical way to deal with other people, and that is true due both to objective logic and objective facts about people and our world.
    Now logic will never be good enough for some people, so the logical moralists will need to enforce their morality on those who, for various reasons, decline to comply or participate, but that is not an insurmountable problem.
    Happy Easter, friend and sensei!

  • ucfengr

    Very short answer: morality is the only logical way to deal with other people, and that is true due both to objective logic and objective facts about people and our world.
    That really doesn’t address my objection.

  • phasespace

    Try as a I might, I just don’t see this as a problem for Christian theologians.

    Its a problem when they claim that God is materially provable. If you don’t hold to that, then this isn’t a problem for you, like I said, there are different camps on this issue, and I admitted that I oversimplified it for the sake of brevity. I realize there is a lot more nuance to this, than what can be but in a relatively short post.

    I can’t speak for other Christians but my problem with materialism is not that I can’t reconcile the science, I have no problem with it. What I can’t reconcile is the existence of any sort of objective morality in a strictly material world.

    Hey, that’s ok. We can agree to disagree on that point. But, for many Christians it goes further than that. They submit that God’s works be visible, and that they must be distinguishable from materialist observation (what the difference is between a materialist and non-materialist observation is lost me, but that seems to be the position that is held).

  • ucfengr

    Its a problem when they claim that God is materially provable.
    Who claims that?
    morality is the only logical way to deal with other people, and that is true due both to objective logic and objective facts about people and our world.
    Matthew, maybe I need to clarify what I mean by “objective morality” to explain why your response doesn’t address my question. I see “objective morality” as morality that appeals to an authority higher than man. Even atheists behave as if there is an “objective morality”; if you don’t believe me try cheating one in a game of poker, even if they claim not to believe in one.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ucfengr,
    Well, I’m not sure why it doesn’t address your objection. You’ll have to expand on that a little.
    But assuming you are correct, and that I have not addressed your objection, then it might be the case that materialism cannot supply an objective morality by your definition of objective morality.
    If that is the case, then the only way I know to reply to your objection is to assert the truth of materialism, and the falsity of non-materialism. Which means that any “objective morality” which is based on non-materialism is also false.
    And if that means, in your view, that no objective morality is possible, than so be it. We don’t get to create the world according to our preferences, we need to accept it as it is or live in denial.
    Of course, the other possibility is that I could be wrong about materialism, so of course feel free to pick that option :)
    All the best,
    Matthew

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ucfengr,
    Ah, you have pre-responded to my request! You mean an authority higher than man.
    Well, this is getting to the point where I don’t have time to respond as fully as I would like right now. But at least we have both staked out clear positions that each of us understands.
    Let me mull your objection over and get back to you.
    Later, sir.

  • phasespace

    Who claims that?

    Creationists do. That’s what the whole evolution/creationism debate is about. What’s more, when these folks are really being honest, they even admit that they think they can better spread their faith if they can get those pesky scientists out of the way that are trying to force them to follow the ground rules of science. The invention of ID is predicated on the idea that they can jimmy the rules in order to allow their brand of theology into the scientific process without any critical inquiry.

  • ex-preacher

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell

  • shadowmom1

    When I came to Christ, I had faith that He was who He said He was, and that the Bible was the inspired word of God. As I walked with Him, I became certain of those things. They no longer are just articles of faith, but I am certain of their truth.
    I, too, have no fear of death, as God says that things will be good in heaven, and I believe that whatever heaven holds for me will be more than enough. What I do sometimes fear, though, is the PROCESS of dying. But that is all in God’s hands. He will not give me more than He gives me the grace to handle.

  • http://centuri0n.blogspot.com Frank Turk

    Joe –
    I think you talked in a big circle here, but let me ask you a question which might be a jumping-off point for a broader discussion of certitude, faith, and doubt.
    I don’t think I’ve ever read this anyplace, but it occurs to me that Descartes “cogito ergo sum” is a subtle form of idolatry. That is, it places the finite “sum” above the eternal “ego eimi”, if we can contrast Latin and Greek that way. I don’t think he meant to do that, but I think ultimately he does, and it’s a legit criticism of “modernity” to say so.
    If Descartes’ view of things looked away from God settle the epistemological and/or ontological question of meaning is a root cause, what’s the remedy for this problem — which is, frankly, a Christian problem?

  • ucfengr

    Creationists do.
    You really need to be more specific.
    What’s more, when these folks are really being honest, they even admit that they think they can better spread their faith if they can get those pesky scientists out of the way that are trying to force them to follow the ground rules of science.
    How about naming some names here, maybe providing some quotes. I am not going to say these people don’t exist, but I have been a Christian for 20+ years and attended several different churches in several states and I have yet to meet anyone like this. In my experience this is one of those things more militant atheists like to believe because it allows them to more easily dismiss religious believers as nuts and cranks.

  • Rob

    “I see “objective morality” as morality that appeals to an authority higher than man.”
    Like the law?
    “Even atheists behave as if there is an “objective morality”; if you don’t believe me try cheating one in a game of poker, even if they claim not to believe in one.”
    How can you tell the difference between behaving as if there were an objective morality and behaving as if one was raised in a society with norms, rules, laws, etc.?

  • ucfengr

    How can you tell the difference between behaving as if there were an objective morality and behaving as if one was raised in a society with norms, rules, laws, etc.?
    All societies have norms, rules, and laws, but many don’t agree with yours. Not to pick on Muslims, but in Muslim societies, even ones in the West it is moral, and even legal to kill a daughter whose has brought “dishonor” on her family, by dating outside the religion, dating the wrong person, or leaving Islam. Do you have a problem with that? If you do, you must appeal to an authority other than man, because men created both standards.

  • Rob

    “All societies have norms, rules, and laws, but many don’t agree with yours.”
    All the more likely then that morals are subjective, not objective.
    “Do you have a problem with that? If you do, you must appeal to an authority other than man, because men created both standards.”
    I do have a problem with that, but I do not appeal to any authority higher than man. I simply prefer our morals to theirs.
    You haven’t answered my question, ucfengr.

  • http://www.crypto-fun.com Benjamin

    Certainty does not necessarily equal truth, but truth when believed will exhibit certainty

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Matthew Goggins: “The law of gravity is a proven fact of nature, not just a theory. … The reason I’m stubborn about this point is because evolution is so well established, you might as well be arguing against gravity, or the evaporation of water, or the theory of electric currents.”
    Your sincerity and certainty in evolution provokes the same response that an atheist has when s/he reads about the sincerity and certainty that a Christian has in Jesus’s resurrection.
    Incidentally, does your statement reflect a belief in neo-darwinian macro-evolution whereby a universe (eternal or with a beginning) with matter, energy, time, and chance produced a primordial goo … which eventually produced you?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Matthew Goggin: “Best authority: a weighted amalgam of all available authorities.

    For example, I would put the U.S. Constitution and associated jurisprudence on the list below human experience and above the Bible.”
    Matthew, thanks for responding in #57. Actually, your best authority is still human reasoning. You elevate your decision-making faculties, human reasoning, to the top in deciding which ultimate authority to use for final appeal.
    Also, I don’t mind where you put the Bible in your ranking list. I appreciate the honesty.
    I put the Bible #1. And if my reasoning or my experience contradicts Scripture, then I submit to Scripture.

  • ucfengr

    Rob, I don’t believe you. You may say you think morals are subjective, but the reality is you behave as if your morals are superior, in other words that you appeal to a higher authority than those whose morals you disagree with. Le6′s look at my Muslim example (there are others, but I am lazy and that was the easiest). If you knew a Muslim girl that it happened to, you would be horrified that anyone, let alone a father could do such a horrible act. The thought “different strokes, for different folks” would not be something that crossed your mind. It’s the outrage that is the tip off.
    You haven’t answered my question, ucfengr.
    I have, but if it is not to your liking, go ahead and type out an answer that you like and I will cut and paste it into a post.

  • jd

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell
    Russell went on to add that he was uncertain as to the truth of his statement but that it sounded good and would be useful in stilted arguments against “the stupid who believe all things said with a British accent.” He was reasonably certain of that last bit.

  • Rob

    “Rob, I don’t believe you.”
    I can only assure you that I am expressing myself honestly; the rest is up to you.
    “You may say you think morals are subjective, but the reality is you behave as if your morals are superior…”
    Why “but”? Where’s the conflict? Of course I think my morals are superior. So do you. So does every person. If we thought otherwise, we would change them.
    “…in other words that you appeal to a higher authority than those whose morals you disagree with.”
    No, for the second time, no! I do not, I need not appeal to a mythological “higher authority”. If I think my yard is prettier than yours, does that mean I think God thinks my yard is prettier than yours? No! It just means I think so. And my opinion is the one that matters most to me.
    “If you knew a Muslim girl that it happened to, you would be horrified that anyone, let alone a father could do such a horrible act.”
    Yes, I would.
    “The thought “different strokes, for different folks” would not be something that crossed your mind.”
    You are right. I would be thinking, “What a monster! What a horrible manifestation of narrow-mindedness!”
    “It’s the outrage that is the tip off.”
    Tip-off to what? That my opinion is very strong? That my moral indoctrination really took root? I can hold an opinion very strongly without believing that God or any other universal source of objectivity shares it. At least I have your answer now: if an opinion is strong enough, it must have an objective source.
    To you, strongly held morals apparently can only be explained by at least a subconscious belief in objective morality. If so, that is an insuperable barrier that will prevent your understanding folks like me who insist that morals are ultimately subjective.

  • Rob

    “It’s the outrage that is the tip off.”
    Let’s try another scenario: I awaken and walk to the crib of my infant daughter to find that my boa constrictor has escaped from his cage and crushed the child. He is now trying to get his jaws around her head. If you saw my response to this sight, you would swear it was moral outrage. If you saw me take the snake to the tub and cut it into little pieces, you would be certain I felt that the snake had done wrong. Of course that would not be the case. What you would be witnessing is my response to the horror of the situation. I would be angry at the snake, but my anger would be irrational and more properly directed at myself for not providing a safer environment for my infant daughter (don’t worry–I have neither snake nor baby these days).
    Outrage is not always moral outrage; it can be a reaction to horror.
    In the case of the Muslim honor killing, it would be both horror and moral outrage. When we are taught our morals, our parents don’t say “Some people think that killing one’s chaild is wrong.” They are presented to us as truths, like the existence of God or that Jesus died for our sins. I think it is understandable if people act as if that is the case even when they do not believe that to be the case.
    When I feel strongly that something is wrong, it is often hard for me to believe that another human being does not. I instinctively feel a high dgree of commonality in the human experience: we all laugh and cry at the same things, more or less.
    There is an objective component to morality, as Matthew occasionally points out with his usual grace and precision. Still, I feel that morality can only be seen as subjective, since I feel objectivity denotes something more than social evolution and shared values.
    Have a nice Easter, everyone; I’m off to see Mom and Dad.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “If so, that is an insuperable barrier that will prevent your understanding folks like me who insist that morals are ultimately subjective.”
    Actually, there’s no barrier, much less an insuperable one. I understand you to be a stubborn, unrepentant, and unredeemed sinner who refuses to personally trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
    I understand you quite well.

  • Rob

    TUD:
    No, you don’t. You have, on this thread, shown yourself to be unworthy of further response.

  • smmtheory

    You are right. I would be thinking, “What a monster! What a horrible manifestation of narrow-mindedness!”

    Narrow-mindedness? The narrow-mindedness, not the violent murder of another human being bothers you more?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Rob,
    Your response was expected and predictable.

  • ucfengr

    Of course I think my morals are superior. So do you. So does every person. If we thought otherwise, we would change them.
    Then you believe in an objective morality.
    No, for the second time, no! I do not, I need not appeal to a mythological “higher authority”.
    Then what makes your morals superior? Do you have purer blood? Are you smarter than everybody else? Are you one of those condescending white folks we believes that the white race has a burden to civilize the lower races. In other words, if you don’t appeal to an authority above man, on what basis do you assert moral superiority? Please enlighten me as to what makes you better then other men.
    You are right. I would be thinking, “What a monster! What a horrible manifestation of narrow-mindedness!”
    Yes, I agree, what a horrible manifestation of narrow-mindedness you are displaying. On what basis do you presume the authority to judge other cultures laws and traditions?
    Let’s try another scenario: I awaken and walk to the crib of my infant daughter to find that my boa constrictor has escaped from his cage and crushed the child. He is now trying to get his jaws around her head. If you saw my response to this sight, you would swear it was moral outrage.
    No, I wouldn’t. I would expect anger, but who other than an insane person would be morally outraged at the actions of an animal?

  • Rob

    “The narrow-mindedness, not the violent murder of another human being bothers you more?”
    Re-read my comment. The manifestation of narrow-mindedness, the murder, is what I call horrible. “Narrow-mindedness” is just an object of a preposition, not the subject.
    I hope you really missed that and aren’t trying to suggest that I am more horrified by narrow-mindedness than murder.

  • Rob

    “Then you believe in an objective morality.”
    No, I don’t. I have told you three times that I do not believe in an objective morality. I wish you would stop implying that I am either lying or too stupid to know what “objective” means, because I don’t see a third option. You are apparently never going to get it, for I feel as if you aren’t even trying now. I think I have been very patient in trying to explain my point of view, but it is difficult to remain so when instead of asking for clarification you insist on reasserting your original false conclusion in the teeth of my protestations to the contrary.
    “Then what makes your morals superior?”
    I didn’t say my morals were superior. I said, “Of course I think my morals are superior. So do you. So does every person. If we thought otherwise, we would change them.” See? The word “think” signals that I am expressing an OPINION. My opinion is based on my preferences. See the subjectivity? If morals were objective, I could state unequivocally that my morals were superior or lament the fact that they were not. Alas, I can do neither. I can only state a preference for my own.
    ucfengr, your last comment seems a little antagonistic, not so gentlemanly as before. If you are going to be unpleasant, I suppose we are finished here. If you care to return to the more respectful tone you started with, I’m willing to continue. In either case, enjoy your evening.

  • ucfengr

    I didn’t say my morals were superior. I said, “Of course I think my morals are superior. So do you. So does every person. If we thought otherwise, we would change them.” See? The word “think” signals that I am expressing an OPINION.
    So, if I understand you, you are admitting that you have no rational basis for your belief in your own moral superiority, which has been my argument all along. Atheists claim not to believe in an objective morality, but behave as if there is one. In other words, you appeal to an authority that you don’t believe in. You are like the the young bride who cut the end off the ham; doing things without understanding why.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Benjamin,
    Certainty does not necessarily equal truth…
    Yes, I agree. I have often been certain of false things.
    … but truth when believed will exhibit certainty.
    No, this is totally false.
    I have believed many, many true things, but the strength of my belief has varied all the way from close to zero to close to 100%.
    One’s feelings about one’s beliefs cannot, by themselves, be used as a guide to the truth of one’s beliefs. It just doesn’t work, one way or the other.
    Truth U.& D.,
    Your sincerity and certainty in evolution provokes the same response that an atheist has when s/he reads about the sincerity and certainty that a Christian has in Jesus’s resurrection.
    I understand that and I think that is a good thing. If you don’t believe in evolution, then you should be skeptical of it, for it is not an immediately obvious proposition.
    Incidentally, does your statement reflect a belief in neo-darwinian macro-evolution whereby a universe (eternal or with a beginning) with matter, energy, time, and chance produced a primordial goo … which eventually produced you?
    Yes. Although I readily acknowledge that this is a couple of orders of magnitude less obvious than the mere evolution of species.
    Matthew, thanks for responding in #57.
    You’re very welcome. Your question was an excellent question. It cuts to the chase on a couple of different levels.
    Actually, your best authority is still human reasoning. You elevate your decision-making faculties, human reasoning, to the top in deciding which ultimate authority to use for final appeal.
    Actually, I don’t elevate my own decision-making faculties, although I see why you could interpret my remarks that way.
    I have to make decisions according to my own decision-making faculties for the simple reason that there is no other way to make decisions. You could be a total anti-free-will determinist and that would still be the case.
    God himself could be telling you what to think and what to decide, but you still have to decide to listen to God.
    And if God were to personally take over your decision-making faculties, he would still be using your decision-making faculties to make your decisions. So technically speaking, even in that most extreme case, you are still making your decisions using your own decision-making faculties.
    And the reason I am not elevating human reason over divine revelation, even though I rate science much higher over the Bible, is because if the Bible is true, then science is the study of God’s creation writ large: the world as it is, reality. That (reality, or the cosmos) is the ultimate authority, even more than the Bible, even if the Bible is 100% correct down to the last comma and apostrophe (which of course if can’t be, since it is internally inconsistent, but that is a topic for a different comment thread).
    Also, I don’t mind where you put the Bible in your ranking list. I appreciate the honesty.
    I appreciate yours too. I like to discuss things with an honest person such as yourself.
    I put the Bible #1. And if my reasoning or my experience contradicts Scripture, then I submit to Scripture.
    As I said above, you can only submit your reasoning to scripture by an exercise of your reasoning, or at least through an exercise of your will. There’s no way to get around it.
    God has endowed us with brains and with consciences, he doesn’t program us to be Christians or to be good, pious believers as if we were mortal computers.
    I understand you [Rob] to be a stubborn, unrepentant, and unredeemed sinner who refuses to personally trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
    I understand you [Rob] quite well.
    Now, presumably, you consider everyone, yourself included, to be a hopeless sinner.
    Let’s assume that you are correct to assume that Rob, specifically, is a sinner. Well, how you do know that he is unrepentant?
    I would assume just the opposite. I would assume that whenever Rob sins, he would regret it and make whatever amends that would be appropriate under the circumstances. I think you are using rude language when you describe him as an “unrepentant sinner”, and you are not justified in doing so.
    Now I guess you could say that not believing in God is a sin against God, and Rob does not repent that particular sin. But in the context of the discussion, the inference you are making is much stronger than that.
    So if you did indeed just mean to say he is unrepentant in his unbelief, then you either being dishonest or sloppy in your choice of words. In either case, you are still being impolite.
    I think you would agree that Rob is a good guy and a worthy debater. He deserves better.
    Ucfengr,
    I wrote a response to you but I need to edit it heavily because I didn’t read your exchanges with Rob. So I’m going to have to beg off again for a while.
    Sorry! Later again, sir.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Another heads up:
    I’ve written another comment that is being held for moderation.

  • phasespace

    How about naming some names here, maybe providing some quotes. I am not going to say these people don’t exist, but I have been a Christian for 20+ years and attended several different churches in several states and I have yet to meet anyone like this. In my experience this is one of those things more militant atheists like to believe because it allows them to more easily dismiss religious believers as nuts and cranks.

    There’s a video interview with Duane Gish (one of the leaders of the old creation science movement) where he says things precisely to this effect. The video is old, probably from the late 80′s or early 90′s, and I’m not sure if it’s available online. I saw it back when it aired on one of the Sunday morning televangelist shows at the time.

    Phillip Johnson has written a whole book on the subject outlining this position where he pretty clearly states what I’ve said above, his book is Darwin on Trial.

    William Dembski’s Wedge Document, also expresses the sames views about changing the scientific process. Just to name a few.

    As for your comment about militant atheists…. actually, if you start really talking to these people about this subject, most of them will tell you that they think that rank and file Christians have no idea about the agenda and lies that are being fed to them from these charlatans, and that, in large part we don’t blame them for that lack of insight (we don’t expect that everyone has looked critically at this subject). We do get upset when we hear these folks repeat the same old talking points as if they understood the full extent what they were saying. it would seem that you are among these folks at some level. That’s not a slight against you, you just haven’t informed yourself about just what a bunch of liars these people really are.

  • ucfengr

    Phase, I don’t know who Duane Gish is; as to Dembski and Johnson, I think their influence among the Christian community is overstated. News outlets like to cover conflict and shows like “Crossfire” (is that show still on) and “Hannity and Colmes” thrive on exactly this type of conflict, so they probably get a lot more airplay than is representative of the actual impact they have. Those shows also like to provide strong contrasts, so while the real issues are probably more nuanced, you wouldn’t get that from watching them.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Matthew G: “God himself could be telling you what to think and what to decide, but you still have to decide to listen to God.”
    Yes, I think you have captured the essence of it. This is called obedience. As I said before, my Final Ultimate Authority is Scripture, God’s Special Revelation to humans.
    God instructs, people obey or don’t obey. Adam and Eve were given explicit instructions, they disobeyed His authority, and the rest is history.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Now, presumably, you consider everyone, yourself included, to be a hopeless sinner.
    True. The only distinction is whether one hopeless sinner is forgiven by repenting of his/her sins, accepting the shed blood of Jesus Christ and receiving Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior, while the other one has not.
    Let’s assume that you are correct to assume that Rob, specifically, is a sinner. Well, how you do know that he is unrepentant?
    Well, I would be quite happy to be wrong on that score. I hope he is repentant of his sins and has come to a saving faith and trust in Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
    I would assume just the opposite. I would assume that whenever Rob sins, he would regret it and make whatever amends that would be appropriate under the circumstances.
    I don’t know the basis you have for making that assumption. Let’s ask him. Rob, do you know what sin is according to the Bible? If so, do you admit that you’re a sinner according to the Bible? Do you regret your sins? Have you made amends for your sins that are appropriate for the circumstances?
    I think you are using rude language when you describe him as an “unrepentant sinner”, and you are not justified in doing so.
    I humbly disagree. If telling the truth is considered rude in today’s postmodern society, then so be it, I am a rude truth-teller.
    Now I guess you could say that not believing in God is a sin against God, and Rob does not repent [of] that particular sin. But in the context of the discussion, the inference you are making is much stronger than that.
    I’m unclear as to what you’re stating.
    So if you did indeed just mean to say he is unrepentant in his unbelief, then you either being dishonest or sloppy in your choice of words. In either case, you are still being impolite.
    False antithesis. I am honest and precise. Regardless of a subjective perception that I am being impolite, the objective truth remains.
    I think you would agree that Rob is a good guy and a worthy debater.
    Preliminary data shows otherwise.
    He deserves better.
    He deserves the Truth. The Living Truth loves him and desires that Rob and all others not currently following Him, to become disciples of His.

  • phasespace

    Ucfenger, while I can’t fault your charactization of this in the media, I’m not sure that you can down play their influence. Given the fact that these people can and do influence legislators and school board members, and in fact they have legislation pending in several states (so far this legislation has usually failed to pass, but the votes are often a lot closer than they should be), I think these people have a stronger influence than you think. Or to put it another way, there are many Christains that are sympathetic to the cause without realizing what it is they are supporting. They don’t question these supposed authority figures enought to realize what these people are pushing.

  • Marvin the Martian

    They don’t question these supposed authority figures enought to realize what these people are pushing.
    Your characterization of “these people” as liars, charlatans, and peddlers of misinformation without giving specific examples of these “lies” reeks of demagoguery.

  • ucfengr

    Given the fact that these people can and do influence legislators and school board members,
    Surely you wouldn’t deprive them of this right. Many of these people are parents of children in the school systems they influence; it is appropriate that they have some input into how and what their children are taught by a school system they support.
    They don’t question these supposed authority figures enought to realize what these people are pushing.
    And what exactly are these people pushing? You make them sound like “crack dealers”. I don’t think it is all that dangerous to teach children that there is a debate about evolution and this debate doesn’t just impact how we teach what is, in my opinion, a relatively unimportant portion of the science curriculum. In all honestly, I think we could stop teaching evolution in K-12, without science education suffering at all. I really don’t want to get started on this but how important is the theory of evolution to science? It is really much more important to philosophy than science. Are there any major scientific or even medical developments over the past century that would have been impossible with out the theory of evolution? Mendel was doing his experiments on genetics without knowledge of evolution and I doubt Pasteur’s work on the Germ theory was impacted by it. I go back to my assertion you cited earlier that the debate about evolution is less about science than it is about philosophy and the sooner both sides recognize this, the sooner we can resolve the “debate”.

  • ucfengr

    I wrote a response to you but I need to edit it heavily because I didn’t read your exchanges with Rob. So I’m going to have to beg off again for a while.
    Sorry! Later again, sir.
    Sorry to make you do double work, Matt.

  • ex-preacher

    We’ve had this discussion before, ucfengr, so I won’t go into tedious detail, but for the record: many atheists do believe in objective morality.
    I do and I know that Peter Singer does.
    For further reading:
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/rape.html

  • ex-preacher

    Other article on atheism and morality can be found here:
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/ground-morality.html
    Atheists and many philosophers in general are split on whether objective morality exists. Although I believe in objective morality, even those who claim that morality is subjective have convincing arguments regarding norms for ethical behavior in human society.
    Question for ucfengr: Is torture an objective moral wrong? How do you know?

  • ucfengr

    We’ve had this discussion before, ucfengr, so I won’t go into tedious detail, but for the record: many atheists do believe in objective morality.
    I know this and I am glad they do, but I think that objective human morality requires an appeal to an authority above man, so, in my opinion this belief is not rational.
    Is torture an objective moral wrong?
    Without context it is impossible to say. It is always wrong to hit somebody in the head with a club for the purpose of stealing his watch, but it is not wrong to hit somebody in the head with a club with the purpose of preventing him from hitting somebody over the head for the purpose of stealing his watch. Both cases involve hitting someone over the head with a club, but one case is morally wrong and one is morally defensible. This is not inconsistent with belief in an objective morality.

  • ucfengr

    Is torture an objective moral wrong? How do you know?
    I think you are confusing “moral absolutism” with “moral objectivism”. Moral objectivism allows for context, moral absolutism doesn’t, so a moral objectivist could allow for torture to be morally acceptable under certain circumstances (i.e. the ticking bomb scenario), while an absolutist would take a position that it is always wrong no matter what the circumstances.

  • ex-preacher

    Under what situations is torture (or causing pain with no resulting benefit to that person) acceptable? You seem to be saying that it is acceptable only when it prevents pain to others. Is that right?
    Is torturing (or causing pain with no resulting benefit to them) a baby ever right?

  • ucfengr

    Under what situations is torture (or causing pain with no resulting benefit to that person) acceptable? You seem to be saying that it is acceptable only when it prevents pain to others. Is that right?
    I don’t know that I accept your definition of torture, the definition of pain is pretty broad and covers quite a lot. For example I would consider listening to an entire Helen Reddy CD quite painful;). Accepting your definition for the moment, I probably wouldn’t go that far, but I can see where it could be acceptable to save innocent lives, i.e. preventing a terrorist from carrying out an attack or attacks. I guess you could call me a “graded absolutist” in that I believe protecting innocent human life is the highest moral calling. So while I believe that torture is wrong in most cases, I have a moral obligation to use it if it were to come into conflict with the higher moral calling of protecting innocent life.

  • Rob

    “He deserves better.”
    I appreciate your efforts on my behalf, Matthew. However, I think they are in vain.

  • ex-preacher

    “I believe protecting innocent human life is the highest moral calling”
    So would you have obeyed Joshua’s command to kill with the sword all the men, women and children of a Canaanite village?

  • ucfengr

    So would you have obeyed Joshua’s command to kill with the sword all the men, women and children of a Canaanite village?
    It seems inconsistent with my understanding of God that he would order the death of innocent people. Do you have some knowledge about the Canannites that I am unaware of?

  • ex-preacher

    I know that infants and children (including unborn children) are usually considered innocent, even by Christians.

  • Rob

    “So, if I understand you, you are admitting that you have no rational basis for your belief in your own moral superiority, which has been my argument all along.”
    No, I am not admitting any such thing. “Rational” is not the same thing as “objective”. Do you mean to imply that opinions cannot have a rational basis?

  • ucfengr

    No, I am not admitting any such thing. “Rational” is not the same thing as “objective”. Do you mean to imply that opinions cannot have a rational basis?
    You haven’t given any indication that your’s do, Rob. You have made two main arguments regarding your morals, one is that you think your’s are superior because everybody thinks their’s are superior. That’s nice, but it isn’t really rational. Didn’t your mother caution you against jumping off a bridge, just because all your friends did? The second argument is that you have your morals because those are the morals that your society conditioned you to have. That doesn’t seem to indicate you have put any thoughts into your morals; you merely accept them because your parents (or your society, or your culture) told you to. Again, I refer you to the story of the lady and the ham. You are doing the same thing, following the morals of your ancestors without ever putting any thought into whether the situation still applies.
    I know that infants and children (including unborn children) are usually considered innocent, even by Christians.
    Yes, they usually are. So, given my understanding of the “nature of God”, I must assume that there is more to the story than what we read in Joshua. Why didn’t God see fit to include that in the story, you might ask? I don’t know.

  • ex-preacher

    More to the story? Like what? What about your understanding of the “nature of God” is at odds with Joshua’s command to butcher all the people and animals?

  • Ray

    This is for Believers. God is awesome. He makes correct judgments. It is his nature. IF he calls something bad it is. We don’t have that right. God who demonstrated his love through the incarnation and everything that follows is the only Judge of guilt. What happen in Canaan if decided by me would have been wrong. I don’t have enough of anything to make that decision. As the children in Narnia said he is not a tame Lion, but he is good. The nature of evil is so black that we can not comprehend its fruit, but Canaan had arrived at some awful place that judgment was the only plan for the whole culture.
    Unbelievers: Since the human heart is as the Bible says then these people forming their own conclusions about ethics are deceiving themselves and acting like there is no Judge. They best seek Mercy at the foot of the cross while they can with the rest of us.

  • smmtheory

    Some paleontologists examined the fossil record and realized that they should see a species similar to tiktaalik within certain types of rocks of a certain age. They then organized a search in areas where these rocks were known to be and then started looking. In other words, they were able to use evolutionary theory to make a prediction, and then go out into the field to see if that prediction could be verified and it was.

    Okay, they had a vague expectation of finding a transitional creature and they got lucky in finding one after 4 unsuccessful expeditions. I don’t know if I would call that proving a prediction, but I’ll let it slide.
    Here’s another one for you though. I believe it is safe to say that one of the conditions necessary for fossilization is near instant death and burial to prevent decay and allow the thousands of years necessary to turn the bone into stone… a rather cataclysmic event so to speak. Doesn’t that mean it is possible the creature that was buried might have been buried in material that was much much older than the age in which the creature actually lived? In the event of volcanic action, most of the material that comes up is quite a bit older than the surrounding environment in most cases is it not? Maybe the fossil record is not so much a pattern of development, but a pattern of extinction? Do paleontologists catalog even data that appears anomalous with expectations?

  • http://www.brianjones.com Brian Jones

    You blog was just recommended to me by a friend and I wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your posts. I look forward to diving into the conversation.
    While I’m not as “certain” about some aspects of my beliefs, and as a pastor believe it’s healthy to share those feelings with those I serve, I am encouraged by your perspective. Thanks for sharing.
    Brian Jones
    http://www.brianjones.com

  • Rob

    “You are doing the same thing, following the morals of your ancestors without ever putting any thought into whether the situation still applies.”
    You assume that is what I am doing; you haven’t bothered to ask up to this point. But that is understandable; we haven’t been talking about rational bases for my morals up to this point in the conversation, we have been discussing objective vs. subjective morals. I rather think that subjective morality requires more thought than objective morality. I think about morals quite a bit, and morals that I don’t feel have a rational basis are morals I quickly toss aside. For instance, I have no qualms about eating shellfish or about mowing my lawn on a Sunday. I adopt morals that make good sense to me.
    My morals are largely concerned with the effects of my behavior on other human beings and are strongly informed by what Christians call the Golden Rule. And, yes, my morals are strongly informed by my nominally Christian upbringing.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Truth U.& D.,
    Rob is someone you don’t know. You have described him as an unrepentant sinner. I brought this to your attention, and I mentioned that I thought this was both unfair and rude. Your response was to taunt Rob and challenge him again in even stronger terms.
    You said that the only way he can repent is through acknowledging Jesus as his Saviour, even though he denies that Jesus is God or that God even exists.
    I disagree very strongly with your insistence that he acknowledge Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
    Let’s say I meet you in a dark alley and I hold a gun to your head and say, “I love you, I am your Saviour, worship me or suffer the consequences.” What should your response be?
    I strongly hope that you would try to frustrate me by any means possible, and, naturally, I certainly expect that you would.
    If you didn’t do that – if instead you submitted to my will and started to worship me – then I would not say your biggest problem is that you are an unrepentant sinner who needs my redemption. I would say your biggest problem is that you are easily intimidated into going against your better judgement.
    However, if you want to relate to Jesus in that way, it’s not really any of my business. Just leave Rob out of it, please. He was just trying to engage you in a civil debate. If he offended you, then perhaps you could just agree to disagree and be done with it.
    Perhaps this is not the most diplomatic stand I could have about all this, but I don’t like the way you’ve treated Rob, and it’s not fair to him to pretend you didn’t disrespect him. And more to the point, by claiming you need Jesus’ saving grace to live a good life, it seems to me that you are disrespecting yourself.
    If the Bible and your church lend you valuable spiritual support, then more power to them and to you. But I hope you can find a way to make your religion work without demeaning yourself in the same way that you demeaned Rob. If Jesus saved you, it’s because you are worth saving, not because you are unworthy of it without him.
    At least, that’s how I see it. If you want to avoid sin and do good works, please try to understand that you have the strength and the character to do that. Because it is true, whether you realize it or not.
    Cheers,
    Matthew
    Smmtheory,
    You raise good questions about evolution and about the fossil record. If I had enough time, I would be inclined to answer them all in great detail and try to help you understand why evolution is true.
    Since I don’t have enough time, I will pass. If you are interested in the answers, however, you could do research on them yourself by surfing the internet for about an hour or so. Let me know what you find if you do.
    Ucfengr,
    As you point out, materialists experience outrage, and shame and guilt for that matter, as if they believed in a higher moral order.
    Rob points out that this is a psychological or reflexive response more than a thought-out intellectual stand. You point out that without some objective way to weigh rival moral claims, we have de facto moral anarchy and no way of honestly asserting the superiority of one claim over another.
    Outrage is an emotional response that says, “Pay attention to my moral claim, right now!” Guilt is an emotional response that says we have neglected the moral claim of another person or persons. And shame is an emotional response that mixes guilt with embarassment. None of these feelings are entirely rational, unless we have a way of judging one person’s moral claims against another’s.
    (Note: Christians themselves are often guilty of emotions that would appear to be somewhat irrational in a world ruled by an all-benevolent, omnipotent God. Two examples would be fear of death, or any kind of despair.)
    So, in a materialistic world, is there a way to adjudicate competing moral claims or beliefs?
    I would say, yes, very much so.
    Morals are based upon the objective facts of pleasure and happiness, and pain and suffering. The basic moral imperatives are to help people and to avoid hurting people.
    Perhaps not every person in the world would agree with me, but some people think the world is flat, and perhaps there are others who think 2 + 2 = 5. We don’t let those people define what geography and mathematics are about.
    Why is “help, and don’t harm” a moral imperative? Because in 99 out of 100 situations (more like 999,999 out of a million situations), that is exactly how a person would insist that other people treat him/herself. My moral imperatives don’t have the force of an edict from the almighty creator; but neither do they need such a divine warrant.
    If apples fall from trees, or if hot water evaporates and cold water freezes, that will be true whether God exists or not, whether the Bible is true, or just partially true, or the work of Satan himself.
    Now people are free to ignore moral imperatives if they choose. But once again, that is true whether we live in a materialistic universe or not.
    I concede that in a materialistic universe, good people do not go to heaven and bad people do not go to hell. If you can’t accept that, we will not be able to disagree, but I, as always, respect your disagreement and salute your strong moral sense.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Sorry for the typo in the second to last line:
    “we will not be able to disagree” should have read “we will not be able to agree”.

  • smmtheory

    (Note: Christians themselves are often guilty of emotions that would appear to be somewhat irrational in a world ruled by an all-benevolent, omnipotent God. Two examples would be fear of death, or any kind of despair.)

    Guilty of emotions? Never. All emotions are irrational, all of the time. Guilty of how we react to those emotions? Maybe. By extension, morals cannot be based on emotions or feelings like pleasure, happiness, displeasure or unhappiness, only on actions.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smm,
    I’m using the word “guilty” as a synonym for “equally liable to experience”. No moral content is implied; please excuse me if that wasn’t clear.
    … morals cannot be based on emotions or feelings like pleasure, happiness, displeasure or unhappiness, only on actions.
    Not exactly right. If my actions produce positive emotions or negative emotions, then that has a lot to do with whether or not my actions are right or wrong.
    For example, if I am feeling grouchy and I tell a joke for the sole purpose of annoying those around me, then that would be rude and, therefore, mildly immoral.
    If, on the other hand, I tell the exact same joke because I know those around me will like it and enjoy it, then that would be a good thing to do.
    Emotions are not the only consideration. Sometimes emotions can be totally misleading. Sometimes emotions are outweighed by more important factors. But emotions are, nonetheless, a very important part of one’s moral calculus.

  • smmtheory

    Not exactly right. If my actions produce positive emotions or negative emotions, then that has a lot to do with whether or not my actions are right or wrong.

    No, it does not. You are no more responsible for other peoples emotions than they are for yours. That is a terrible burden to try to lay on somebody else. Half the problems in all relationships would go away if people stopped trying to hold others responsible for their emotions.

    For example, if I am feeling grouchy and I tell a joke for the sole purpose of annoying those around me, then that would be rude and, therefore, mildly immoral.
    If, on the other hand, I tell the exact same joke because I know those around me will like it and enjoy it, then that would be a good thing to do.

    Your morality example falls apart when you remove the action, in this case telling the joke.

    Emotions are not the only consideration. Sometimes emotions can be totally misleading. Sometimes emotions are outweighed by more important factors. But emotions are, nonetheless, a very important part of one’s moral calculus.

    And the second sentence is the reason why. Emotions are not reliable. Even if you are trying to annoy somebody with a joke, there is no guarantee that it will annoy the other person.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smmtheory,
    You are no more responsible for other peoples emotions than they are for yours.
    I agree with you that under normal circumstances, we are each responsible for our own emotions.
    It’s important to qualify things with “under normal circumstances”, because obviously one person can directly produce and be responsible for negative emotions and/or suffering in another person, such as when one person tortures another. But, generally speaking, our emotions are subjective beasts that each of us has to deal with using our own inner resources.
    Your morality example falls apart when you remove the action, in this case telling the joke.
    Of course it does, that is my point. If someone’s action is intended to produce, and does produce, a specific consequence, then the person is responsible for that action and for that consequence. That is exactly what I am saying.
    Emotions are not reliable. Even if you are trying to annoy somebody with a joke, there is no guarantee that it will annoy the other person.
    But if you are trying to annoy someone, your action is still immoral, even if you don’t succeed. In such a case, the intention happens to be more important than the consequence, or lack thereof.

  • smmtheory

    Of course it does, that is my point. If someone’s action is intended to produce, and does produce, a specific consequence, then the person is responsible for that action and for that consequence.

    Now apply that line of reasoning to telling the joke to elicit a positive emotion. Either way, you are trying to manipulate somebody’s emotion, so if one (the intent to annoy) is supposedly immoral, then the other (the intent to cheer) is as well.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smm,
    All other things being equal,
    Making someone happy = good
    Making someone unhappy = bad
    Intending to make someone happy = right
    Intending to make someone unhappy = wrong
    Now in real life, all other things are not going to be equal.
    For example, the funny joke might reinforce some negative stereotype, or it might even be used to distract someone in a deceitful way. The annoying joke might instruct more than it annoys. The possibilities are endless.
    But the underlying principles, or what I have referred to as the “moral imperatives”, are constant and unchanging.

  • smmtheory

    Matthew,
    ‘Making someone happy = good’ and ‘Making someone unhappy = bad’ is useless as a base for moral calculus since by default some things such as disciplining children must always rely on exception consideration.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smmtheory,
    ‘Making someone happy = good’ and ‘Making someone unhappy = bad’ is useless as a base for moral calculus since by default some things such as disciplining children must always rely on exception consideration.
    Actually, that is not even the biggest problem.
    When disciplining children, the longer-term happiness or welfare of the child usually outweighs the immediate emotional response (although the immediate response is not irrelevent or insignificant; it is just outweighed in the balance of considerations). Long-term welfare clearly trumps short-term emotional appeasement as a general rule.
    A thornier problem is when two or more people have valid moral claims that come into conflict — how does one pick winners and losers in a satisfactory way, and how can the result be viewed as objective from the losers’ point of view?
    I believe there are ways to do that, but not everyone will be as satisfied as I am with the answers, to say the least.
    I have a couple of problems with your critique, however. You raise a perfectly valid question, or criticism. But your choice of words, “useless”, indicates that you believe a good response is impossible. Your skepticism meter seems like it might be stuck on the “reject” setting.
    More important than your possible negativity, though, is my failing to be clear about what the basis for morality is. It most definitely is not, “Making someone happy = good” and “Making someone unhappy = bad”.
    First of all, those two equations aren’t even true unless all other things are equal. What does that mean? It means, in this particular example, that the only moral variable involved is happiness versus unhappiness. If anything else of a moral nature is involved, such as teaching children rules or discipline, then the condition of all other things being equal no longer applies.
    Secondly, those two equations, even when they are true, are not the basis of morality. The basic moral imperatives are “Help people” and “Don’t hurt people”. That would include helping them to be happy, and it would include avoiding making them unhappy, but it also includes a multitude of other things as well.
    For example, if one is Christian, it would, perhaps, include tending to the care of someone’s immortal soul, even at the expense of his temporary unhappiness.

  • smmtheory

    First of all, those two equations aren’t even true unless all other things are equal. What does that mean? It means, in this particular example, that the only moral variable involved is happiness versus unhappiness.

    But what I am trying to explain in my clumsy way is that happiness and/or unhappiness is NOT a moral variable, because feelings are neither good nor bad.

    Secondly, those two equations, even when they are true, are not the basis of morality. The basic moral imperatives are “Help people” and “Don’t hurt people”.

    Even those are not particularly solid as moral imperatives, not when you have to qualify them. The highest moral imperatives are as Jesus said, the first (which you obviously do not adhere to) is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second, which also does not need any qualification is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In this case, the word ‘love’ is being used as a verb.
    If it seems as if my skepticism meter is stuck on reject, it is because I am certain that I am right about this.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smm,
    … happiness and/or unhappiness is NOT a moral variable, because feelings are neither good nor bad.
    Well, let’s say you are right. Feelings just are, like an object sitting on one’s table, morally neutral. For example, if an orchestra playing a beautiful symphony inspires great emotion and pleasure in its audience, that’s all well and good, but it is not a moral action or service.
    Then I ask you, what does constitute a moral or immoral act? What is a good goal or a bad goal for someone to aspire to?
    “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
    That’s sounds nice, doesn’t it? From a religious perspective, what could be more noble?
    But what does it mean here on earth? What specifically, besides praying, does one do to love God?
    The second [moral imperative], which also does not need any qualification is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In this case, the word ‘love’ is being used as a verb.
    Ah, but that is what I have saying. When one loves someone, you are promoting his/her welfare. You are helping him, and you are refraining from hurting him. The Golden Rule is nothing more and nothing less than a re-wording of my two moral imperatives. Which, of course, is the same as saying that my two moral imperatives are merely a re-wording of the Golden Rule.
    Please understand that I am not trying to be cute about this at all. “Help, don’t hurt” really is the equivalent of “love your neighbor”. The only difference is that I am making explicit what “love” means in practice.
    … feelings are neither good nor bad.
    I think I understand what you mean by this.
    If a bear attacks a person in the woods, on one level it’s bad, it’s just about the worst thing that can happen.
    On the other hand, it would be ridiculous to claim that the bear is behaving badly. The bear is what it is, and does what it does, and morality just doesn’t enter the picture (unless it’s a momma bear protecting her cubs — then one could say she’s acting with good intentions that have gone awry).
    Similarly, emotions can be considered a fact of life. More often than not, they are little more than a reflex, with no conscious decision on our part to feel one way or another.
    If I feel awe and pleasure while contemplating a beautiful sunset, that is just a natural reaction on my part, not unlike a bear attacking an intruder.
    But what if I am working away in an office, and my wife calls me on the phone and tells me to look at the beautiful sunset? Is not her act a moral act? Not just moral, but thoughtful and loving to boot?
    Of course, when my wife calls, perhaps I am not in a proper mood to appreciate the sunset, or for some other reason I don’t happen to find it particularly inspiring. But my wife’s act, with the intention of making me happy, was still good and loving, even without the desired result.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    A few thoughts on the clumsy or arkward nature of the conversation…
    We are not used to thinking about morality in terms of analyzing a given situation and weighing all the factors. The only time we might normally approach things that way is when confronted with a genuine moral dilemma, and we have to focus more carefully about what is going on under the surface.
    The way we usually do morality is to recognize that there exist various moral truths and principles (which can vary a bit from culture to culture). These moral truths can seem absolute and intrinsic to reality, but our belief in them is actually the result of a combination of instinct, moral instruction during our youth, and the trial and error of personal experience.
    We can develop good character or bad character depending on how much we make a habit out of adhering or declining to adhere to these truths/principles. Then our actions and our decisions will tend to flow naturally from our character, without a whole lot of conscious dickering over what happens to be right or wrong or good and bad.
    What I am trying to do with my two moral imperatives (help people, and avoid hurting people), is to respond to Ucfengr’s objection that a non-divine morality is not objective, where “not objective” refers to the apparent fact that there is no way to resolve a moral conflict by appealing to a higher authority than one’s own personal preferences. I admit that my way of treating morality is not the most natural way of looking at things, but it does have several virtues.
    For one, I believe it corresponds to what actually happens in the real world, as opposed to what one might be taught in a catechism or a madrassa.
    It also does provide a reasonable way out of the problem of conflicting or competing moral claims. It does this by providing two basic moral principles that can be used to deconstruct, evaluate, and weigh any moral claims that might be under consideration.
    Finally, it is itself based upon the truly great wisdom of all the world’s major religions, the Golden Rule.
    So, however unnatural my perspective might seem to you or Ucfengr, or to anyone else, it does serve to provide a common ground that people who don’t share the same cultural traditions can relate and agree to. Even someone raised in a gangsta’ ghetto culture can admit the reasonableness of “help, don’t hurt”, and understand why people should agree to abide by it.

  • smmtheory

    But what if I am working away in an office, and my wife calls me on the phone and tells me to look at the beautiful sunset? Is not her act a moral act? Not just moral, but thoughtful and loving to boot?

    Now remove any emotional inflection/overtones what ever they may be. The action of calling to speak to you is the moral, the loving act; letting you know that you are worth a little while of her time. Do you sit and ponder what her true intention was? I don’t imagine that you do, but I’m just using that as an example.

    Ah, but that is what I have saying. When one loves someone, you are promoting his/her welfare. You are helping him, and you are refraining from hurting him.

    Which looks to me like you are limiting what love means in practice… sort of allowing yourself to exclude the ickier, more dicey things when it comes to loving neighbors if you can limit it to refraining from hurting them. By this you token you can claim to have loved them simply by avoiding any interaction with them. But I’m willing to entertain the notion that this might not be what you mean.

    Finally, it is itself based upon the truly great wisdom of all the world’s major religions, the Golden Rule.

    Unless you exclude Islam (and by extension all the religions that practiced some form of human sacrifice) from the classification of ‘all the world’s major religions’, I don’t think that the Golden Rule is a common denominator of all the world’s major religions.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smm,
    Now remove any emotional inflection/overtones what ever they may be. The action of calling to speak to you is the moral, the loving act; letting you know that you are worth a little while of her time. Do you sit and ponder what her true intention was? I don’t imagine that you do, but I’m just using that as an example.
    Two points:
    1) Her true intention does matter.
    She could have called on a morally neutral point of household business. She could have because she was angry about something and wanted to make me feel bad. Or she could have about something else with the intention to make me happy, or happier. Each intention puts a different moral value on the act of her calling me.
    2) If letting me know that I am worth a little of her time is what makes the act moral (and of course, that is part of it), isn’t that because it improves my mood, my emotion. After all, I know darn well that I am worth a little of her time. The reason the call makes me better is because it serves to remind me of something I already know and to thereby improve my mood.
    Which looks to me like you are limiting what love means in practice… sort of allowing yourself to exclude the ickier, more dicey things when it comes to loving neighbors if you can limit it to refraining from hurting them. By this you token you can claim to have loved them simply by avoiding any interaction with them.
    The two moral imperatives go together. One must help and one must avoid hurting people. One without the other does not cut it.
    Unless you exclude Islam (and by extension all the religions that practiced some form of human sacrifice) from the classification of ‘all the world’s major religions’, I don’t think that the Golden Rule is a common denominator of all the world’s major religions.
    Islam has it’s own form of the Golden Rule. And every religion that I’ve come across has some variant on it. Some religions and traditions’ version are very similar in wording to the Bible’s.
    If Islam and other religions leave the infidel out of the scope of their own some Golden Rule, then that is similar to what Christians used to believe until not so long ago.
    If Christians can learn to embrace a Golden Rule that includes everyone, including non-Christians, then that is a very good indication that fundamentalists in other religions could do the same.
    Do you have an answer to my question about loving God? In terms of one’s interactions with one’s fellow humans, is loving God covered by the Golden Rule, or is something else involved?
    And here’s another question: Do you really believe that an orchestra performing a beautiful symphony is not a deeply moral act? If it is a moral act, is it not because of the emotions and pleasure inspired in the audience?

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    A couple of typos above; here’s a correction for one of them:
    Where I said,
    If Islam and other religions leave the infidel out of the scope of their own some Golden Rule
    should read instead,
    If Islam and some other religions leave the infidel out of the scope of their own Golden Rule

  • smmtheory

    1) Her true intention does matter.
    She could have called on a morally neutral point of household business. She could have because she was angry about something and wanted to make me feel bad. Or she could have about something else with the intention to make me happy, or happier. Each intention puts a different moral value on the act of her calling me.

    Not really, because how you feel about her expressing her anger with you is an emotion, which is neither good nor bad, and you shouldn’t hold her responsible for your feelings. In calling you up and expressing her anger, or joy or other emotion with you she is making herself vulnerable to you. And that is an aspect that doesn’t fit into your version of the Golden Rule, but does fit into my version.

    But what does it mean here on earth? What specifically, besides praying, does one do to love God?

    I wasn’t sure if that was just rhetorical or not. I may have guessed incorrectly. Think of it like this… would you be loving your wife if all you did was talk at her in a one sided conversation? Of course, God is a bit more patient than your wife would ever be in that sort of situation, but that’s the gist of it. God is a real person, not just a radio receiver in the heavens. But at any rate, no, loving God is not fully covered by the Golden Rule… because loving your neighbor does not hold the requirement of ‘with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

    Do you really believe that an orchestra performing a beautiful symphony is not a deeply moral act? If it is a moral act, is it not because of the emotions and pleasure inspired in the audience?

    Nope, I can’t wrap my reasoning around it being a deeply moral act. And if I’m wrong, and it really is a deeply moral act, I’m certain it will not be on account of emotions elicited or inspired.

    If Islam and some other religions leave the infidel out of the scope of their own Golden Rule, then that is similar to what Christians used to believe until not so long ago.
    If Christians can learn to embrace a Golden Rule that includes everyone, including non-Christians, then that is a very good indication that fundamentalists in other religions could do the same.

    Not quite, Christians have never in theory excluded infidels from the Golden Rule the way the other religions have. The practice may have been hard to stick to, but the underlying scope of the meaning of neighbor even applied to unbelievers. Now if the stranger removes themself from the scope of being neighbor, well, the Christian can hardly be blamed for the stranger not allowing the theory to be practiced can they?

  • ucfengr

    Dang, sorry I missed all this. I may try to respond, but with so much and my generally lazy nature, I am not optimistic.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smm,
    Not really [her intention to make you feel bad doesn't matter], because how you feel about her expressing her anger with you is an emotion, which is neither good nor bad, and you shouldn’t hold her responsible for your feelings.
    I didn’t say she actually did make me feel bad. In fact, if she were genuinely angry and trying to make me feel bad, I might very well understand the anger and sympathize with it and not feel put upon at all.
    What I am saying is that if her intention is to make me feel bad, then no matter what my response is, then the moral value of her phone call is different (it is worse) than if she intended to make me feel good. You are dancing around this very simple point repeatedly. It is as if you have a blind spot that refuses to let you see or understand that emotions are real phenomenon that exist and are important.
    If I steal $100 from you, you would consider that to be an immoral act. But if I steal your peace of mind by stalking you and harassing you, how is that any less of an immoral act?
    True, you are responsible for your emotions, but you are also responsible for safeguarding your money.
    Nothing is instrinsically a moral phenomenon. If a stone is picked up by a gale and hurled through the air and breaks a window, then that is a morally neutral event. Yet if I pick up a stone and use it to break the same window, that is certainly a(n) (im)moral act.
    The same with emotions. If I am happy or unhappy, then that is morally neutral. But if someone acts in order to make me happy or unhappy, then the act has a moral aspect, positive or negative.
    In calling you up and expressing her anger, or joy or other emotion with you she is making herself vulnerable to you.
    Yes, that should be weighed against any intent to hurt my feelings. And almost all the time, I would probably give it much more weight than any bad intention. So on balance, the bad intention would be outweighed by the good intention of her sharing how she felt and addressing her own personal needs.
    But I was discounting that aspect of her phone call for the sake of the example. We could make up another example where the pure motive of someone’s phone call was simply malicious, was simply to cause hurt feelings. But in the example I did give, you are correct, normally such a phone call should be judged with a large dose of indulgence and understanding.
    And that is an aspect that doesn’t fit into your version of the Golden Rule, but does fit into my version.
    It does fit into my morality, as I explained above. I was just giving an over-simplified example in order to illustrate the underlying principle.
    Nope, I can’t wrap my reasoning around it being a deeply moral act. And if I’m wrong, and it really is a deeply moral act, I’m certain it will not be on account of emotions elicited or inspired.
    Maybe it would help you understand my point if we further stipulated that the orchestra was composed of volunteers who were not payed for their performances. They just came together and played for the primary purpose of giving pleasure to those who attended their concerts.
    If you are indeed certain that the morality of a concert will not be on account of the emotions generated in the audience, then you are deeply, deeply mistaken.
    Two comments about the importance of feelings or emotions:
    1) Emotions are an important part of morality. Not so much because of the emotions themselves (although the emotions themselves are important). But rather, because they are indicators of how people feel about things and how they evaluate the worth and importance of things.
    In that sense, emotions play an analogous role to prices in a free-market economy. They generate signals that tell us to produce more or to produce less of a certain action (and to “consume” more or less of a certain activity).
    Emotions are far from infallible or comprehensive, but neither are prices. Your inability to see the importance of emotions is similar in some ways to the way that communist dictatorships were very averse, for a long time, to understanding the importance of market-pricing mechanisms.
    2) Emotions are just a small part of morality. Other things are just as important, or much more important.
    For example, saving someone’s life is infinitely more important than guarding that person’s feelings while that person is in danger. But even here, one would expect that most people would be extremely happy and grateful to have their life saved, even if it was done in a rough way that was inconvenient, or troubling, or painful.
    And as I pointed out in a prior comment, if one believe’s in a Christian afterlife, then the care of one’s immortal soul might be considered more important than a variety of emotional considerations.
    In general, emotions will in fact be quite secondary to other, more pressing matters. But producing happiness and alleviating suffering are often the very goals of those other, more pressing matters, so things have a way of coming full circle when it comes to emotions.
    If you don’t see that, then it doesn’t make any difference how certain you are, you are still deeply mistaken.
    Not quite, Christians have never in theory excluded infidels from the Golden Rule the way the other religions have.
    This seems to me to be a tangent to the discussion. I’m willing to concede, for the sake of argument, that Christianity puts the Golden Rule in a more central place than other religions, and that, in theory at least, it has included infidels of every stripe within the scope of its applicability.
    On the other hand, until the late nineteenth century, it was a point of Roman Catholic doctrine, shared by many other denominations, that un-believers, folks who weren’t baptized, would be condemned to hell. Even pre-Christian pagans, like Plato and Socrates, who had never been preached the Gospels, would be consigned to hell, or at least limbo.
    In theory, that has almost nothing to do with the Golden Rule: a person’s salvation or damnation is a personal matter between that person and God. But in practice, how is a Christian supposed treat his dammed, unbelieving neighbor with the same love as he does himself, when the Christian knows that his unbelieving neighbor is going to hell? This is testing human psychology to the breaking point, and I strongly suspect that most Christians would have failed the test.
    Now if the stranger removes themself from the scope of being neighbor, well, the Christian can hardly be blamed for the stranger not allowing the theory to be practiced can they?
    There’s a lot I could say about this, because this is a very interesting aspect of morality. But I think we’ve already got a lot to chew on and digest.
    Ucfengr,
    … I may try to respond, but with so much and my generally lazy nature, I am not optimistic.
    Actually, you did just respond :)
    Don’t call yourself lazy. Perhaps you are indeed motivationally challenged, but I would guess it’s more likely you just know how to set priorities.
    If you call yourself lazy, you might hurt your feelings, and that would be bad ;)
    Good day to you and Smm,
    Matthew

  • Nancy Scott

    Way to go Joe…*: ) I join you in giving a shout out for the Holy Spirit!
    Signed, (A delusional Mary Poppins and happy to be such!)
    Godliness with Contentment is GREAT GAIN!!

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