February 10, 2003

'TWIXT CAESAR AND GOD:

Christian community in the shadow of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Fukuyama (Peter Sellick, 2/10/03, Online Opinion)
John Locke, in his essay Second Treatise of Civil Government [1690] derived the idea of rights, not from the traditions of Israel and of the church but from natural theology. Natural theology relies on a theology of creation that has God create the physical world. Being God's creation, the physical world demonstrates his handiwork and his laws. Thus we arrive at the idea of natural law. Human rights are thence derived from this law as self evident and needing no other warrant. Human beings are created free and possess inalienable rights by the fact of their creation. This idea has become so widespread that it is impossible to discuss issues of justice without it.

Paradoxically, although the idea of human rights is based on theism it is profoundly atheistic in that it denies God's demand for justice. Instead of understanding the wellbeing of human beings as vested in God, the language of human rights makes it a property of the individual.

If we do not accept the premises of natural theology and the existence of self-evident natural law, then human rights have no basis other than ideology. Secular people, who have no faith or belief in God, continue to chant the mantra of human rights with no understanding of their origin. Indeed, the language of human rights has crippled ethical discussion because the warrant for them is hidden: they rely on simple assertion to carry the day. These assertions have grown from the original three, of liberty, fraternity and the right to property, to include anything that seems like a good thing in the councils of the United Nations. The assertion of rights produces not community and cooperation but a jostling for precedence among overlapping and conflicting claims. As Walker Percy has pointed out, such language easily leads to convoluted ethical outcomes as when the unborn or the old are killed because they have a right not to live lives of senseless suffering.

Human rights also breed a dependent mentality. This has happened because the original Judeo/Christian tradition about freedom has become ideology, in theological terms it has become an idol and idols never produce freedom and life but suffocation and death. [...]

So there is a way that we can see liberal democracy as a fruit of the gospel, but it is not the gospel itself. As such it is not any kind of end or telos. History or geography may still sweep Western culture away, even end the species. We would be mistaken to identify our cozy position in life with the kingdom. Such a conclusion would pre-empt the kingdom and close the future. It would also strengthen the hubris of the West. The establishment of liberal democracy does not end our waiting. For as John says in his first letter:

"Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)

This is the arrow of history, this waiting and not knowing, this leaning into an unknown history to reveal what we already know in part that we will know in full.


These are two of the central points of Robert Kraynak, in his Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (2001), that absent God and Man being Created, there is no intellectual basis for the claim of human rights, only bald assertion; and that liberal democracy and freedom can not be ends in themselves, but merely means (and not necessarily the best means) to create a better world. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2003 8:28 AM
Comments

The notion that human rights come from God is also a "bald assertion." There is no intellectual basis for this assertion - there is only faith, and so many monotheists mistake faith for objective proof. These arguments go nowhere. The point is that freedom is something to strive for, whether one is devoutly Christian or not. Morality, ethics and the longing for freedom are not
inextricably entwined with Christianity.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 10, 2003 10:28 AM

Ann:



Why? Why are morality, ethics, and freedom important? Why shouldn't the strong take from the weak?



The point is that there's no possible rationalist basis for these things--there's only faith.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 11:42 AM

Ann - Religious believers do not mistake faith for proof -- rather, faith is an assumption which is to be tested by its fruits, just as assumptions in scientific theories are. Jesus made this very point, pointing to a fig tree and saying, "By its fruit you will know it" -- so it is by its fruit that we judge the truth of our faith. If the teachings of faith actually leads to justice, prosperity, and general goodness, then they stand empirically confirmed; if they lead to death and misery, as e.g. the faith of the Taliban did, then they are empirically refuted.



Christian faith has proven its fruitfulness -- it has given us such concepts as the right to life, liberty, and property, as well as the self-sacrificial, cooperative, forgiving culture that makes democracy possible. The burden is now on atheists to develop an attractive alternative.



Your position seems to be that we should take freedom as an axiom or assumption. But why is this less dubious or objectionable than taking the Judeo-Christian God as an assumption?

Posted by: pj at February 10, 2003 11:52 AM

I'm probably pretty ignorant on this area, but I don't know of many successful moral/ethical systems which didn't use religion/faith as a basis of authority.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at February 10, 2003 1:24 PM

You guys raise a lot of points and I'm going to try to answer them all - forgive me if I miss something -



Christian faith has proven its fruitfulness -- it has given us such concepts as the right to life, liberty, and property, as well as the self-sacrificial, cooperative, forgiving culture that makes democracy possible. The burden is now on atheists to develop an attractive alternative.




This is a problem because you're coming from the assumption that Christian faith - alone, if I understand you correctly - gave us these things. I would argue the ideas that formed the basis of American-style freedom come from many sources which "fermented" in a Christian atmosphere. We are the result of the Enlightenment, which acknowledged the possibilities beyond Christianity, and of reinterpretation of ancient Greek ideals, among other things. We are not a nation based solely on the New Testament. We are truly a melting pot of ideas as well as nationalities.



A purely Christian nation, a theocracy, wouldn't necessarily enjoy all our freedoms; and there are quite a few people who view socialism as the ultimate expression of Christianity. Therefore "justice, prosperity, and general goodness" cannot be empirically confirmed as the inevitable result of the teachings of Christian faith. These things are the result of an unprecedented exchange of ideas from many sources.



As for atheists developing an alternative: why demand that atheists do so - why not accept that atheists (and other non-Christians) live in this country as well, and have as much right to a voice in their government, the public schooling of their children, and how women take care of their bodies, as Christians do?



oj wrote: The point is that there's no possible rationalist basis for these things--there's only faith.




Agreed. Is it not then better to leave religious beliefs entirely to the individual instead of striving to legislate based on the tenets of one religion?



Respectfully

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 10, 2003 1:50 PM

Actually, atheists are some of the most moral and ethical people you will ever meet. As I've pointed out on this blog before, the jails of the United States aren't filled with atheists; they're filled with people who claim Christianity.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 10, 2003 1:56 PM

pj;



What an excellent summation of Objectivist political theory!

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at February 10, 2003 2:23 PM

Ann:



I don't really see where we disagree that much. All legislation is an expression of morality. The only basis of morality is in Man's Creation by a Supreme Being. It's perfectly acceptable for atheists to freeload on Christian morality. No one's suggesting that any one religious view be Established--as you say we draw upon Judeo-Christianity, the Greeks, etc..



However, you then seem to be saying we could discard religion, though by your own admission that would entail discarding morality. It seems your argument is with yourself.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 2:55 PM

Ann - You assert that a purely Christian nation would be a theocracy, but this is not so. Christianity teaches the need for religious liberty, so that everyone can come to God of his own will. (See, e.g., Vatican II.) Likewise you ask "why not accept that atheists etc.", but we do accept that and it is not at issue.



I agree about the many "sources" or perhaps "clues" is a better word that led humanity toward freedom. Re "melting pot of ideas," yes -- but I would only point out that for ideas remain unmixed and diverse is not good; it is, rather, desirable to discover the truth and for all men to come to know it.



Thus the question at issue is not so much "how did humanity come to discover that freedom is a good thing?" as "now that we have learned it, what do we now know? Which theories of the universe stand confirmed and which rejected?"



The success of freedom is evidence that tends to confirm Christian ethical teachings and the general Christian understanding of Creation.



For example, because God is not malicious, he must have constructed the laws of economics so that those laws and acts which are most perfectly ethical also lead to the greatest possible prosperity. If this were not so, if ethical behavior led to poverty and immoral behavior to wealth, then the whole Christian vision would stand refuted.



This is the contradiction the Islamic radicals are facing -- why does Iran under the ayatollahs become poor while America under the infidels becomes rich? This experience refutes the ayatollahs, for it shows that if Allah exists he favors us infidels.



But Christianity is supported, because its core principles argue for freedom (e.g. "do not kill"=right to life, "do not steal"=right to property, inclusion of "princes" and kings under these rules refutes the exceptionalism of government), and freedom seems to create the greatest prosperity.



The burden that is now on atheists is an intellectual and moral burden -- provide a theory of ethics and of Creation that can guide humanity toward successful life.

Posted by: pj at February 10, 2003 2:59 PM

*smile* Well, we certainly disagree on this: "The only basis of morality is in Man's Creation by a Supreme Being." This is an expression of faith on your part. My own (secular) faith tells me that man is responsible for himself, and that morality is defined via culture. (It can be argued that religion is such an integral part of culture that the distinction is irrelevant; but in the United States there are so many religions that the only thing that holds us together is the very secular Constitution.) That's not to say we can't condemn the morality of some (such as the Taliban) as unacceptable in our day and time.



If you really wish to characterize non-Christian morality as Christian whether non-Christians know it or not, then OK, I've certainly run into that belief before and it's a given I'll run into it again.



However, you then seem to be saying we could discard religion, though by your own admission that would entail discarding morality.




I must really not be expressing myself very well if you actually got this from anything I've written. I simply believe that moral and ethical systems can and do stand apart from religious systems. I suppose a person could
give up morality along with their religion, but it doesn't automatically follow that this would happen.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 10, 2003 3:26 PM

Ann - You assert that a purely Christian nation would be a theocracy, but this is not so. Christianity teaches the need for religious liberty, so that everyone can come to God of his own will. (See, e.g., Vatican II.)




Wait - which Christianity are we talking about here? Gospel-based, straight-from-Jesus Christianity would certainly go that way, I would think, but isn't forcing
people to at least superficially live "Godly" lives by more and more in vogue among among the faithful (or at least their leadership and certain vocal minorities) these days? "Dominion" doctrine, the CDA, the lopsided Faith-Based Initiatives initiative, crusades against various victimless crimes, all that? Seems to me that if the most prominent American "Christians" on the current scene (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, them) got the chance, the "Christian nation" they would create would be quite the theocracy indeed... I don't think a nation run by today's "Christians" would be very Christian at all.



...Of course, even just sticking to the New Testament, the moral message is far from clear - how do Christians reconcile the glaring inconsistencies between Jesus's stances and Paul's? (forgive me for not providing examples - I'm at work and don't have a Bible handy at the moment)

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 10, 2003 4:14 PM

Ann:



Let's go back to square one, which is where atheism/rationalism/Darwinism/materialism/whateverism falls apart: if A has something I want, why shouldn't I kill A and take it?

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 4:45 PM

Let's go back to square one, which is where atheism/rationalism/Darwinism/materialism/whateverism falls apart: if A has something I want, why shouldn't I kill A and take it?




Forgive me for jumping in again, but what about the plain-and-simple consequences of one's actions? If you kill A and take his stuff, the other letters of the alphabet are going to be leery of dealing with you. They might even come and string you up - you'd have to flee the country or do the whole Saddam Hussein thing just to stay alive.



Or even if you and A are the only people in this hypothetical world - you'll lose his company, you'll have to dispose of his body or deal with the stench, he won't be around to help you lift heavy things and fight off large animals, you'll miss out on other things he might have had later and might have been willing to give to you in trade for something else, and so on. Or even if you don't kill him, but just take his stuff: he simply won't want
to help you or trade with you My stance is that simple cause and effect (in a context of plain old, religion-independent human nature) wind up being enough morality for anyone - but then, I'm young yet... ^_^

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 10, 2003 5:01 PM

Orrin -

I want to first make clear that I am not coming from an atheist's perspective. I am a very religious person. That said, I view the development of the concept of morality as part of the evolution of our species. The development of complex moral and ethical systems appropriate to culture happened paralell to the development of social structures. We became complex creatures with complex needs, and therefore we evolved complex responses.



Even though moral systems are most often found within the context of religion, they are a function of psychology. They are not dependant on religion.



I guess I see the world in much more complex terms than "morals come from God." I see that our morals come from a million years of trial and error, and show that mankind has an infinite capacity to grow in response to the ever-changing demands of this world.



So, "If A has something I want, why shouldn't I kill A and take it?" then the answer is, "A million years of general experience of my forebears, along with a lifetime of exercising my own powers of observation regarding what is considered right and wrong in my culture, leads me to the understanding that killing in this circumstance is wrong."



Of course, the question is a simplistic one to begin with, but I understand your point ...

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 10, 2003 5:05 PM

Ann:



If the only answer is culture then don't you have to accept that the culture derives from belief in God, right down to the explicit grounding in the Declaration: All Men are Created Equal, endowed by their Creator...?



I actually don't think the initial question is simplistic. The attempt to answer it without God is much of the project of modern philosophy and as even philosophers will admit they've failed.



I'm not particularly religious. I've never had a personal experience of God. But a world without morality would be intolerable to me and so I believe there must be a God.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 6:10 PM

If the only answer is culture then don't you have to accept that the culture derives from belief in God, right down to the explicit grounding in the Declaration: All Men are Created Equal, endowed by their Creator...?




Oh, please
- culture was around long before Christianity and it'll be around long after it.



I actually don't think the initial question is simplistic. The attempt to answer it without God is much of the project of modern philosophy and as even philosophers will admit they've failed.




Are you trying to insinuate that philosophy has completely and finally failed to come of with a non-Christian-based explanation for morality, and admitted as much? That assertion is also plainly false.



I'm not particularly religious. I've never had a personal experience of God. But a world without morality would be intolerable to me and so I believe there must be a God.




And that's
just a textbook is-ought fallacy. Wishing doesn't make it so. Personally, I wouldn't mind at all if Yahweh buzzed off and took his personality problems with him, but I'm not going to go counting on that, much less trying to reason forward from it as a premise.



Religion may have been a contributing factor in how our extant morality developed, but it has not yet been proven in this discussion that it was/is a necessary
factor, to say nothing of being the prime
factor.





...if I sound nasty, I really
don't mean it - I only go after ideas/statements, not people. ^_^

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 10, 2003 7:02 PM

Certainly the founding of America occurred within a Christian cultural context. But the Founders were highly progressive Christians - so much so that they left Christianity entirely out of the Constitution. Pretty radical stuff at a time when the concept of the divine right of kings wasn't entirely discredited.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 10, 2003 7:02 PM

Slight correction: you said, "...derives from belief in God
," not "Christianity." Same thing there - culture may not predate Yahweh's existence, but (unless you're a literal creationist) it predates human belief in him and will outlive it as well - same basic assertion. ^_^

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 10, 2003 7:07 PM

Ann - It was hardly radical to leave specific religious ideas out of the Constitution. After the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, virtually all 18th century thinkers sought a universalist logic that could bring together people of diverse religious views. This is why devout Christians like John Locke did not draw upon Revelation in their philosophical writings, though they believed in it.

Posted by: pj at February 10, 2003 7:11 PM

Alex - human culture can hardly predate God -- and if man was made "in the image of God," and Christianity accurately describes the nature of God, then Christianity teaches us things about human nature which are prior to all human culture.

Posted by: pj at February 10, 2003 7:15 PM

Alex:



(1) But non-Judeo-Christian cultures never secured rights outside of the political sphere.



(2) Actually, it's not even a controversial statement, that I'm aware of.



(3) I'll try again: I'm starving, you have food which you refuse to share, why shouldn't I kill you and take it?

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 9:21 PM

Ann:



I think you're missing the point--they transferred divine rights from the king to themselves:



[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.

--George Washington (First Inaugural Address, New York, NY, April 30, 1789)

http://www.homeofheroes.com/presidents/inaugural/1_wash_1.html

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 9:33 PM

Alex:



Monotheism, specifically Judaism, of course predated Christianity.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 9:42 PM

Orrin:

No, I'm not missing the point. I know George Washington was a Christian, and I know Thomas Jefferson was a Christian, and I know that America was founded in a Christian cultural context. Where I disagree with you guys is this:



1. No matter the religion of the Founders or even what they said in speeches, they didn't build any kind of preference for Christianity into the law of the land. I think this is important; you fellows seem to think it isn't.



2. I don't believe ethics and morality come from the Christian God. If you wanted to take this in a different direction, I could follow a line of thought that said ethics and morality are divinely inspired. But for me "divinely inspired" does not mean "inspired by the Christian god" so we'd probably not find much agreement on that either.



3. pj notes that 18th century thinkers sought a universalist solution. That is what I've been saying all along. The Founders were the first to put this line of thought into action in the form of the government of a new kind of state. Knowing this, I cannot understand the continuing insistance on America as a "Christian" country. Founded within a Christian context, certainly; dominated by Christians, certainly. Dependent on Christianity? No.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 10, 2003 9:56 PM

Alex - human culture can hardly predate God -- and if man was made "in the image of God," and Christianity accurately describes the nature of God, then Christianity teaches us things about human nature which are prior to all human culture.




Well, that's
a cop-out - if God created everything, and morals are part of "everything", then of course
he created morals. Hell, "cause and effect" (my posited basis for morals) are part of "everything" too!



Hell, I'll give you that morals could
have come directly from God, but it makes at least
as much sense from, as Ann put it, a few million years of cause and effect and people noticing the patterns therein.



Did morals grow naturally out of cause and effect, or did God make a system of morals that happens to match what would have grown naturally out of cause and effect? Can't be proven either way. You choose to have faith that God created them, I choose Occam's Razor, we're equally correct for all intents and purposes, and everybody's happy.

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 10, 2003 10:05 PM

(1) But non-Judeo-Christian cultures never secured rights outside of the political sphere.




Don't quite understand - can you give an example of what you mean?



(2) Actually, it's not even a controversial statement, that I'm aware of.




Again, I don't quite understand what you mean - certainly, individual philosophers ("quitters" ^_^ ) may have given up the chase, but philosophy as a whole is certainly still at it - I'm
still at it, and I
style myself a philosopher...



(3) I'll try again: I'm starving, you have food which you refuse to share, why shouldn't I kill you and take it?




Because, in general, people killing people for food tends not to be good for a society. If we're the only two people in the world, the only way killing me for food rather than just asking for it works out better for you (see the disadvantages of losing a friend and gaining a dead body in my previous comment) is if I wouldn't have given it to you anyway, in which case I
was slowly killing you
, and since one of us or the other was going to die anyway, it doesn't make much difference which of us does - might as well be the guy who doesn't
deliberately deny starving people food, but whatever.

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 10, 2003 10:25 PM

Alex/Ann:



I'll try one more time:



You've both claimed that rationalism is sufficient to yield up morality, that we need have no recourse to God (Ann: I don't know where you're getting that He's the Christian God--any monotheistic deity serves). My question is simple:



If I'm starving to death and you have food, why shouldn't I kill you and take it? Recall that you have to answer from pure reason.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 10:36 PM

Alex:



If you're going to be a philosopher you might want to brush up on Occam's Razor. Given a choice between the Creator created morality or it's this elaborate cause and effect deal that I can't adequately explain nor can any philosopher so far, Occam chooses the former.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 10:44 PM

The moral validity of our human rights has nothing to do with God or religion. If the phrase "Endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights ... " has any factual meaning, then one has to wonder really hard why it took so many bloody centuries to come to that conclusion, and why religion had to play such a bloody role in the process.



I believe you can trace our sense of human rights back to Jefferson's immortal phrase, which has to be the most elegant formulation of the Golden Rule ever put to paper.



The Golden Rule, of course, is completely secular.



Why does our sense of human rights exist? Because it works far better than any other approach yet tried.



Regarding morality, I believe Ms. Gray has the better of the argument. Try this as a thought experiment: You are the engineer on a runaway train in a switching yard. If force a switch to take you to the left, you will kill one workman who hasn't seen you coming. Take it to the right, you kill four.



Alternate scenario. You are a doctor, four of your patients could be saved by heart, liver, kidney, and lung transplants respectively. You have a healthy patient in your waiting room who could save them all.



The moral dilemmas in both scenarios are precisely the same. When faced with these scenarios, the decisions people make are utterly independent of religious belief or lack thereof.



We have evolved to recognize the advantages of mutual dependency and the need for reciprocity.



And before I end this dashed off, rambling reply, I am somewhat amazed that, given organized religions' savage, tyrannical history, anyone could say that our society happened because, not in spite of, religion.



Respectfully,

Jeff Guinn

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 10, 2003 10:58 PM

Jeff:



If you seriously believe in evolution then the answer in both examples must be that you'll save yourself--no one else matters. What are four or one to you unless you've already adopted a value stystem

which trumps evolution--in your case the Golden Rule, implicit in which is a rulemaker of some kind.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 11:38 PM

Orrin:

I answered your question from my own standpoint, which is all I can do. I have no other answer. You don't have to like or accept the substance of the answer, but an answer it is.



Your comments to Jeff reveal a very black-and-white, absolutist view of the world. Psychological development is a part of of evolution. Take it on faith that without a God's guidance, we are slobbering idiots sliming around in the mud; but I'll continue to use my powers of observation and reason alongside my faith.



This has been an enjoyable debate for me, BTW ... I really do like your blog. It's always thought-provoking. Sometime we'll have to argue monotheism vs. polytheism. ;)

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 11, 2003 7:56 AM

If you seriously believe in evolution then the answer in both examples must be that you'll save yourself--no one else matters. What are four or one to you unless you've already adopted a value stystem
which trumps evolution--in your case the Golden Rule, implicit in which is a rulemaker of some kind.





Ok, calm down, let's not get all Objectivist here. ^_^

I guess the trouble is that God-independent morals don't build in a mechanism to immediately slap people on the hand the instant they do wrong. The consequences of your actions will
bite you, and society, in the ass eventually. Funny that you should toss in the word "evolution" though, as the morality I'm advocating really did come about through natural selection - it's simply a matter of observing what happens as a result of particular actions and making generalizations about which actions should and shouldn't be taken, assuming the goal of perpetuating civilized human society.



In this case, being an apathetic murderer will earn you the rage of your neighbors in the short term, and set an example that'll have your society's population trending sharply downward in the long term.

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 11, 2003 7:59 AM

If you're going to be a philosopher you might want to brush up on Occam's Razor. Given a choice between the Creator created morality or it's this elaborate cause and effect deal that I can't adequately explain nor can any philosopher so far, Occam chooses the former.




That's an aesthetic judgement based on what seems
simpler to your or my particular point of view. Occam's Razor is more specific than that. I went back back and refreshed my memory of William of Ockham's exact words, and had to stifle a laugh:

"One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything."




What I've been setting forth requires no
"entities" except oneself. Newton's Second Law, plain and simple - you do something, it has consequences. Since this is a big world that cares nothing for our schedules, it may take a while, and individuals may be able to escape the consequences of their actions (by dying, say), but in the aggregate, it never fails. Bad stuff begets bad stuff, no God required.

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 11, 2003 8:08 AM

In any case, Occam's Razor is completely value-neutral. It doesn't choose
anything; it simply tells you what to test first.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 11, 2003 8:14 AM

Alex:



So the Holocaust which left Germany one of the wealthiest nations on Earth just made good evolutionary sense right? Or the American slaughter of Indians and use of slavery? Etc.



Isn't that a bit panglossian? Everything has "worked" for any species that isn't extinct.

Posted by: oj at February 11, 2003 9:44 AM

Ann:



I believe for us laymen it is used to mean always select the simplest plausible explanation.

Posted by: oj at February 11, 2003 9:46 AM

Just a few cents worth:



Re Jeff Feb 10 11:58 pm:



(1) You have misapprended the main problem. It has been apparent since Abraham's time to many persons that freedom is justice. The trouble has been to implement it successfully. In modern times until c. 1950, this was achieved successfully only in a few religious Christian societies. The important issue is not that these Christian nations lost some blood on the way to freedom (although the paths of the U.S. and England were unusually bloodless and un-savage), but that other nations had even more bloody and savage paths that NEVER led to freedom. It is not the bloodiness that distinguishes nations, it is the freedom and the Christianity.



(2) Your two examples are not at all equivalent. If you think they are, you have already assumed a consequentialist morality, which most people would reject. The correct answers are (a) steer the train toward the one victim; (b) let the four people die if the one doesn't volunteer to die for them.



Re Alex Feb 11 8:59 am, Feb 10 11:25 pm & 11:05 pm:



You ask "Did morals naturally grow out of cause and effect"? But how can this happen? You seem to be assuming that once people can accurately predict the effects of action, they will agree on which action should be performed. But this is not so. There's an "is-ought" issue here. Any process of learning about causes-and-effects will only teach people the consequences of their actions . . . it will not lead them to prefer one set of consequences to another. Saddam Hussein may know that the consequences of his actions are disastrous for the people of Iraq, America, and other nations, but this may not deter him -- may in fact encourage him to redouble his efforts.



You seem to believe that people will care about the fate of society, rather than about their own personal fates. If people are completely selfish, why would they ever adopt a course of action that is harmful to themselves but good for society? Why would a Marine ever go to the Middle East to fight Saddam, knowing that this increases his chance of death?



The fact is that people's preferences can be perverse, and no amount of knowledge can make a crooked heart straight.

Posted by: pj at February 11, 2003 3:03 PM

pj:



We never got thjem that far, but I was going to point out that the "Freedom = Justice" formulation is not derivable by Reason either.



Note how Alex uses things like "wrong", "work out", "should", "shouldn't", etc.--all of them based on value judgments that he's not laid any groundwork for as yet. If you start from the premise we shouldn't kill one another then obviously a culture where we tend not to has "worked out" and we know what we "shouldn't" do. But you've never answered the question of why not kill one another when we feel like it.

Posted by: oj at February 11, 2003 5:12 PM

Who (besides pj) says God isn't malicious?



As Lileks once said of the OT, "whole lot of smitin' goin' on."



I vote with the Grays.

Posted by: Harry at February 11, 2003 5:19 PM

Harry - so you don't believe that the God of the OT exists, but you do believe that the OT is accurately attributing malicious acts to Him?

Posted by: pj at February 11, 2003 6:00 PM

In modern times until c. 1950, this was achieved successfully only in a few religious Christian societies.




A wholly free society does not care who is religious and Christian, only that it citizens are law-abiding.



The important issue is not that these Christian nations lost some blood on the way to freedom (although the paths of the U.S. and England were unusually bloodless and un-savage),




Oh dear. I've got some Native American acquaintances that would take serious issue with that statement. And I'm not sure how you reconcile the obvious long-term death-count that was the result of the British plantations of Scottish Protestants in Catholic Ulster, either.



You seem to believe that people will care about the fate of society, rather than about their own personal fates. If people are completely selfish, why would they ever adopt a course of action that is harmful to themselves but good for society? Why would a Marine ever go to the Middle East to fight Saddam, knowing that this increases his chance of death?

The fact is that people's preferences can be perverse, and no amount of knowledge can make a crooked heart straight.





This is true with or without religion.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 11, 2003 6:13 PM

Ann:



Why would a wholly free society have laws and who would make them on what basis?

Posted by: oj at February 11, 2003 8:20 PM

Man, based on the practical experience of his forebears.

Posted by: Ann Northcutt Gray at February 11, 2003 9:12 PM

Look, we're way
off the subject here. The question, as I recall, is whether morals can grow from anything else besides what you guys understand as "God". I think I've shown pretty clearly that they can - anyone who is interested in seeing human society thrive and not suck (and greanted, not everybody will be, under any system, to answer P's question) can look at people's actions and their consequences over a period of time (the longer the period the better, of course) and notice some patterns. Based on those patterns, an interested person can formulate some rules for how to smooth the sailing on a fairly consistent basis as far as having a healthy, lasting society goes, and I'm arguing that the conclusions he would come to line up well enough with what we've gotten through the whole rigamarole of Christianity for me to feel pretty confident in saying that neither Christianity nor God nor any other of your monotheistic BS is necessary for a system of morals to be developed by the people who want one.



And note to O: I may not have stated it explicitly, but my standard for measuring "good," "right," etc. is the perpetuation of human society, which I referenced at least indirectly in a few of my previous comments - that, after all, is the imperative that natural selection selects for. And no, "everything" doesn't work for species that live on - most species tell the difference between things that work and things that don't by whether a given action makes them DIE or not. We humans have the great advantage of being able to observe lots of actions and consequences (both short-term and long-term) over a period of time and make judgements based thereupon about what one should do and what one shouldn't if one wants to perpetuate one's species. We don't need "God" to tell us what's good for us and what ain't - we can just look at what makes people DIE (or be miserable, or get attacked by angry neighbors) and draw conclusions ourselves.



I think this thread has just about reached the end of its shelf life... :-6

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 11, 2003 9:27 PM

(2) Your two examples are not at all equivalent. If you think they are, you have already assumed a consequentialist morality, which most people would reject. The correct answers are (a) steer the train toward the one victim; (b) let the four people die if the one doesn't volunteer to die for them.




My point exactly. Nobody in either example volunteers to die. The same number of people are allowed to live in each case. In terms of the conservation of misery, both dilemmas are precisely the same.



But--absent the odd psychopath--ask anyone, anywhere, of any culture or religious belief, and they will all answer the same way, despite the logical equivalence of the situations.



Similarly, children have inborn notions of what constitutes fairplay. All of us are sensitive to reciprocity.



A sociobiologist would say that in order for humans (with our abilities to anticipate the future and balance cost vs. benefit) to exist as social animals we would have to evolve some sort of ethical sense.



I am also with Ms. Gray on the quality of this blog. I am continually amazed at how well thought out the postings are, as well as the complete absence of flamers.



Sincerely,

Jeff Guinn

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 11, 2003 9:31 PM

I have to play the hand I'm dealt, pj. Like James Dean said of rebellion, "Whadddya got?"

Posted by: Harry at February 11, 2003 10:16 PM

Ann:



And there's the point: there is no ultimate basis to differentiate between the Soviet Union's code of laws and our constitution. Whatever Man decides is by definition good.



Alex:



Ditto. China is, by your own definition, the model human society.



And with that, you are right, this is exhausted. You've arrived at the point of the exercise.

Posted by: oj at February 11, 2003 10:39 PM

Ditto. China is, by your own definition, the model human society.




Oh, please.

Posted by: Alex Gray at February 11, 2003 11:17 PM
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