Saturday, June 9, 2012

What Does It Mean to Be Good?

I've recently had a few discussion about morality (some on Grundy's blog, some elsewhere) and it got me thinking. As atheists, we are often told that is impossible to be moral without God. If I point out that Atheists are often good people, a common answer I get is that without God you can do good things, but you can't be good. I would like to know what it means to be good if it is something other than doing good things.

If someone can do all of the things that (they think) God wants everyone to do, they why does it matter if they don't worship God? If you can have the same effect, why does it matter if the source is God or just your own personal morality? I think that Christians just think this is impossible. They are so brainwashed into thinking that we are all evil and deserve hell they they blind themselves to the reality that atheists can be just as good as anyone else. The more I write and the more I think about this, the more I find that particular bit of dogma disgusting.

105 comments:

  1. The problem that morality poses for atheistic materialism is that the former does not have room for the existence of the objective moral values that we perceive in our everyday life because they cannot be accounted for in terms of physical categories (i.e. the laws of physics will never recover our moral intuitions). Atheistic materialism is so hopelessly sparse at the level of metaphysics that it's refuted by the evidence of everyday life!

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    1. But aren't you assuming in the first place that there are objective moral values? It feels like you are without justifying why moral values aren't subjective. You have your idea of what moral values are. A conservative Muslim has his idea of what obvious objective moral values are. I don't think the Bible has much to say about what we call "human rights." I've already focused on slavery, but there is also the point of religious freedom. No where in the Bible does it talk about religious freedom. And I know you are going to say "well, different times, different culture" and that is my point exactly.

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    2. JKerber,

      My thinking on this subject is fleshed out in excruciating detail for Hausdorff below.

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  2. Whoops, I meant to write, "...is that the latter does not have..."

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  3. It's simple, anon; moral values aren't objective, they're subjective. That's pretty obvious.

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    1. Brian,

      Lol, no it isn't. If it's so obvious then why do we perceive them as being objective? Try again.

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    2. Okay. If morality is objective, why do Christians pick and chose stuff from the Bible they feel is okay, and stuff they feel isn't? Wouldn't that mean that they already had a built in sense of their morals?

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    3. Anon,

      Is it true that we perceive them as being objective? As far as I can tell morals are subjective. I see no evidence that morality is objective at all.

      Also, when you say

      "Atheistic materialism is so hopelessly sparse at the level of metaphysics that it's refuted by the evidence of everyday life!"

      What evidence are you talking about exactly? I don't understand why metaphysics is necessary. Can you be more explicit?

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    4. I kinda wish I named my kid Anonymous.

      Thanks for the mention, Haus.

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  4. Hausdorff,

    "Is it true that we perceive them as being objective?"

    Yes it is true. In particular, we perceive the same basic collection of moral values as being generally valid across cultures and independent of context, hence our belief in the correctness of such things as "human rights."

    "What evidence are you talking about exactly?"

    The fact that we perceive the existence of objective moral values, hence also a locus for their existence. However, such a locus cannot lie in physical theory for the reason that our physics will never be able to recover our moral intuitions, hence the locus must be non-physical. But in that case atheistic materialism stands refuted as we have then demonstrated the existence of at least one thing that is not material (i.e. the locus of the objective moral values that we perceive).

    The project of metaphysics is necessary in order to philosophically account for all the things that don't belong to the purview of physics but are nevertheless a part of reality (e.g. moral values, mathematical truths, aesthetic judgments, the phenomenal reality of consciousness, and so on).

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    1. "such a locus cannot lie in physical theory for the reason that our physics will never be able to recover our moral intuitions, hence the locus must be non-physical."

      This is probably the funniest thing you've said so far. That is like saying where do the properties of water come from? It's not the hydrogen molecules or the oxygen molecule. You need some metaphysical force.

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    2. JKerber,

      No it's not. I'm afraid that my thoughts are a little too abstract for you.

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    3. You still never really answered my earlier point. If there is an objective morality, why is it different in the old testament and the new testament, and much more different today? Clearly we don't stone women to death who have sex outside of marriage, nor do we have bans on things like shellfish or mixing fabrics.

      And please explain how it is different? The neurological process is something that we do not fully understand, yes, but that does not mean "god." This same kind of reasoning was used for centuries to explain stuff like diseases. We don't understand it, therefore "God."

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    4. JKerber,

      "If there is an objective morality, why is it different in the old testament and the new testament, and much more different today?"

      It's actually not that much different in all three.

      "Clearly we don't stone women to death who have sex outside of marriage, nor do we have bans on things like shellfish or mixing fabrics."

      Many of the laws and regulations in the OT for governing the nation of Israel three thousand years ago would seem a lot less ridiculous and arbitrary if viewed from their ancient context (much of which is lost and admittedly unrecoverable) and not from our anachronistic 21st century context. In any event, the covenant in which those laws were stipulated was annulled according to Christian theology so it's not as if these are rules and regulations that modern day Christians are supposed to follow but don't.

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    5. "Many of the laws and regulations in the OT for governing the nation of Israel three thousand years ago would seem a lot less ridiculous and arbitrary if viewed from their ancient context (much of which is lost and admittedly unrecoverable) and not from our anachronistic 21st century context."

      I think you just proved my point. Those laws were okay then, back in those cultures, but not okay today.

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    6. JKerber,

      "I think you just proved my point. Those laws were okay then, back in those cultures, but not okay today."

      Many of the laws that existed to govern 18th century life are no longer appropriate to our own but that doesn't mean that moral values have changed all that much since that time.

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    7. Here is an example of what I mean. Slavery wasn't against the law, even in our own country at one point. People even used to Bible to justify it. It was considered moral at the time, but now we realize that it is immoral to own a human being and have laws against it. What were considered objective morals back then are not considered objective by today's standards. Society changes and so do our values.

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    8. How about this? Name something that if hypothetically God ordered it, it would be considered immoral.

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    9. JKerber,

      Slavery in the OT more closely resembled the indentured servitude of the British empire than the slavery that used to exist in the American South and in any case wasn't considered ideal. Once again, this sort of thing becomes a lot of less objectionable relative to the realities of life three thousand years ago.

      "How about this? Name something that if hypothetically God ordered it, it would be considered immoral."

      Ah, the old Euthyphro dilemma, "Do the gods decree it because it is good or is it good because the gods decree it?" The classical theist position to this false dilemma is that God's moral decrees are a consequence of his divine nature so that the moral truths reflected in his decrees are statements about his divine nature.

      But this is all far off-topic from the subject of objective moral values. I don't comment on this blog to answer every question you may have about Christian theology. That could go on forever.

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    10. "Slavery in the OT more closely resembled the indentured servitude of the British empire than the slavery that used to exist in the American South and in any case wasn't considered ideal. Once again, this sort of thing becomes a lot of less objectionable relative to the realities of life three thousand years ago."

      In other words, it's okay to own another human being, as long as you treat them well? That is sick! My point is that what we view as being right has changed over time.

      I guess I was under the assumption that your hypothesis of objective moral values indicates that there must be a "law giver" or God.

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    11. JKerber,

      "In other words, it's okay to own another human being, as long as you treat them well? That is sick!"

      And how is 21st century America all that different again? Or is it alright so long as its corporations and institutions that own human beings?

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    12. Are you really comparing slavery in the bible to "debt slavery" in the modern world? (I assume that is what you are talking about, if you are referring to something else let me know)

      And suppose you are correct, doesn't that just mean it is really fucked up in both situations?

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    13. While I think the two are a bit different, it wouldn't make either of them right.

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    14. Hausdorff and JKerber,

      The point is that at least some people in today's world are for all intents and purposes owned by their respective corporations and institutions. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation in the context of our world but neither was slavery for the ancient Hebrews and if we don't rise up in moral outrage against the functional slavery in our midst then why should be surprised that the ancient Hebrews also tolerated the rough equivalent in theirs.

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    15. But you make it sound like that it is still okay because of the "context."

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  5. Anon,

    "we perceive the same basic collection of moral values as being generally valid across cultures and independent of context" (my emphasis added)

    Couldn't this also mean that our subjective moralities line up on certain things. Isn't it reasonable to think that things like "do not murder" are going to find themselves pretty entrenched in any social beings? And what about the people for whom those values don't fall in line? Does that disprove that there is objective morals?

    and with respect to the metaphysics, I don't see why any of that stuff needs metaphysics. Moral values could be subjective, I don't see what metaphysics adds to mathematical truths, consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of our brains, aesthetics is a result of our brains.

    Honestly, I guess part of the problem is that I don't even really understand what metaphysics is. I scanned through the Wikipedia article, and it wasn't really that helpful. It doesn't even seem to have a good definition except that it is "beyond physics". What does that mean? The image I get when I hear the word metaphysics is an ethereal world that is sort of, in the background of our world. Or something, it is a bit fuzzy and confused. It seems completely unnecessary to me. What does the word "metaphysics" mean to you? Why do you think such a thing is necessary?

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    1. Hausdorff,

      "Isn't it reasonable to think that things like 'do not murder' are going to find themselves pretty entrenched in any social beings?"

      No, the animal kingdom is full of counterexamples.

      "And what about the people for whom those values don't fall in line? Does that disprove that there is objective morals?"

      First of all, although there are certainly difference across cultures it has long been observed by anthropologists that all human cultures do have in common a basic set of moral values.

      Secondly, the answer to your question in any event is no. For example, suppose there existed some culture in which child rape and mass murder were condoned as being morally acceptable, my perception in that case would then be that this culture is morally deficient in an objective sense and not simply relative to my own culture. In other words, the existence of such a culture would not call into question the fact that I perceive such things as child rape and mass murder as being objectively wrong but that something sick and twisted happened to this other culture to make it condone such behavior.

      "and with respect to the metaphysics, I don't see why any of that stuff needs metaphysics."

      If you were to reason on the basis of your everyday moral perceptions that objective moral values do exist then you would have to figure out how they exist, which is not a question appropriate for physics but metaphysics. The same goes for the reality of mathematical truths if you were to come to the conclusion that their existence is somehow objective and independent of our thinking about them.

      "Why do you think such a thing is necessary?"

      Because empirical science can't answer the big questions of life. We need philosophy and its subbranch of metaphysics for that.

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    2. The animal kingdom is different in that animals can't communicate with each other nearly as well as humans because we have language. Even so, social animals don't murder for no reason. They may kill to protect themselves, but that's really a deterrent against murder and proving the atheist point. I can provide examples of morality in animals. Is their morality also God given in some holy book? Do they have afterlives? Why or why not?

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    3. Grundy,

      "Even so, social animals don't murder for no reason."

      I've seen many instances of animals (even social ones) killing each other for seemingly no reason. I'm not saying that this sort of animal activity is morally wrong but it does refute Hausdorff's original hypothesis.

      "Is their morality also God given in some holy book?"

      Lol, obviously not!

      "Do they have afterlives?"

      I think so.

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    4. Can you provide examples?

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    5. Just turn on Animal Planet and they'll show up soon enough. In fact, there was a show called "When Animals Attack!" you may find some examples there as well.

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    6. Humans attack animals all the time.. Grundy is talking about social animals and their behavior toward each other I am assuming. Monkeys, wolves etc.

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    7. JKerber,

      You're a stubborn old cuss aren't you.

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    8. I still think its a real big leap to say that this is evidence of an afterlife. My middle brother literally drowned in our grandfather's pond years back. I was too young to remember. My parents still have the article clipping from the news paper. He was declared dead in the hospital, but he is very much alive today. Possibly the doctors must have missed something. No one declared that he was magically "raised form the dead." Just because we don't understand everything about the human anatomy and brain function doesn't point to a deity or an afterlife.

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    9. JKerber,

      My response to this is given below.

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  6. Anon,

    You seem to be making contradictory claims. Let me put them side by side so you can see what I am seeing. First you said

    "Yes it is true. In particular, we perceive the same basic collection of moral values as being generally valid across cultures and independent of context, hence our belief in the correctness of such things as "human rights." "

    It seemed to me that the purpose of this statement from you was to provide evidence of objective morality. To paraphrase, morals are similar everywhere which is evidence of objective morals.

    Then you said

    "For example, suppose there existed some culture in which child rape and mass murder were condoned as being morally acceptable, my perception in that case would then be that this culture is morally deficient in an objective sense and not simply relative to my own culture."

    Here you seem to be saying that if there is a culture with different morals it doesn't show there is no objective morals, but that the culture in question is deficient.

    So which is it? You can use uniform morals to show objective morality but then when something falls outside of that framework you just call it immoral.

    I don't want to put words in your mouth, so if I am misrepresenting you or misunderstanding please let me know, but it really looks to me like you are trying to have it both ways here.

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    1. Hausdorff,

      That we speak about moral values in universal terms (e.g. our language of universal human rights) is evidence that we perceive moral values as being objectively true. This is an argument that tries to identify what we perceive to be true about moral values by examining how we talk about moral values.

      On the other hand, the reality of another culture whose moral values are perhaps radically different from our own would not necessarily change the fact that we perceive moral values as being objectively true so that this line of evidence for objective moral values (i.e. that we perceive their existence) is preserved in spite of the existence of such cultures.

      There's no contradiction here but things are getting a bit complicated and subtle.

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    2. The fact that we speak in universal terms? Doesn't that just show that we have developed common language? And as to your example of universal human rights, how does that apply to societies that have slaves? I'm guessing you would just say those societies are immoral.

      So it still seems to me like you are just saying when we agree it is evidence of objective morals and when we disagree they are immoral. What are you saying that I am not understanding?

      "On the other hand, the reality of another culture whose moral values are perhaps radically different from our own would not necessarily change the fact that we perceive moral values as being objectively true"

      How would this not be evidence that morals are subjective?

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  7. Hausdorff,

    "The fact that we speak in universal terms? Doesn't that just show that we have developed common language?"

    Don't be a philistine, how we speak about stuff reveals what we think about stuff. For example, someone named Steve might say "I think Joe is a great guy!" when Joe is around but anytime Joe is not around Steve is mocking Joe in front of his colleagues so that what he really believes about Joe is manifest in the way he normally speaks about him when he's not around.

    "So it still seems to me like you are just saying when we agree it is evidence of objective morals and when we disagree they are immoral. What are you saying that I am not understanding?"

    What you're not understanding is that the primary evidence for the existence of objective moral values is the fact that we perceive the existence of objective moral values in our everyday lives. You challenged the fact that we perceive moral values in this way and I showed that we do as evidenced by how we talk about moral values (i.e. my reference to how we talk about universal human rights).

    Another separate line of evidence that we perceive the existence of objective moral values comes from the anthropological fact that all human cultures share a basic set of moral values, if we perceived moral values as only being subjectively true and relative to our culture then this would seem to be an unlikely anthropological finding; however, I then argued that even if this anthropological fact were falsified by the presence of a particular culture whose moral values were vastly different from our own that would still not necessarily contravene the fact that we perceive the existence of objective moral values in the first place.

    So, it's gotten a bit complicated in here but nothing I've said is contradictory, yet.

    "How would this not be evidence that morals are subjective?"

    Because maybe something happened to that culture to hamper its ability to perceive objective moral values. For example, suppose a particular culture ritually injured the brains of their offspring as part of some cultic rite of initiation that unknowingly to them turned the brains of their offspring into that of an amoral psychopath. However, because of this culture's inability to perceive objective moral values they have to order their society according to a set of arbitrary rules that would be interpreted as "moral values" to them if we were to talk to them about what their moral values were.

    As I said, my first reaction to the discovery of a culture that condoned mass murder and child rape would be that something sick and twisted happened to them and not that my perception of objective moral values is faulty in some way.

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    1. I meant to say that "that would still not necessarily contravene the fact that we correctly perceive the existence of objective moral values in the first place."

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    2. Hausdorff,

      "And as to your example of universal human rights, how does that apply to societies that have slaves? I'm guessing you would just say those societies are immoral."

      Not necessarily, I'm personally willing to be someone's slave if they promise to respectfully take good care of me and my family.

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    3. "we perceive the existence of objective moral values in our everyday lives."

      This is not evidence, this is just an assertion. I disagree with this assertion and you have provided no evidence. Your are basically just saying "this is obvious"

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    4. Hausdorff,

      "This is not evidence, this is just an assertion. I disagree with this assertion and you have provided no evidence. Your are basically just saying 'this is obvious'"

      Once again, don't be a philistine.

      Suppose someone were to say to me that this world is an illusion and that really we are living in a simulation run by machines who are farming us for energy in the distant future. I would say, "That's highly unlikely, the evidence of my everyday perceptions tells me that I am not living in a simulation, much less one that is run by energy hungry machines in the distant future. You would need to be give independent evidence of this fact before I will conclude that the evidence of my everyday perceptions is wrong and that my perceptions are illusory in this way."

      Without the evidence of our perceptions we wouldn't be to rule out a lot of nutty ideas. It is always the case that independent evidence needs to be given in order to suggest that what we perceive to be the case is in fact false.

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    5. If someone claimed we are in the matrix I would require evidence before I believed it. If the only evidence he had was that it is obvious to him, I would hope he wouldn't expect me to believe it just based on that.

      You are starting with the assumption that we perceive objective morality. That might be what you see, but I don't. You have no evidence.

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    6. Hausdorff,

      No, I am starting with the assumption that we perceive moral values and then argue that we perceive these moral values as being objectively true via the two different lines of evidence given above. Do you disagree with the assumption that we perceive moral values?

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    7. Hausdorff,

      The point of the above example is that whether our world is a simulation of some kind or whether it is not a simulation some kind, both hypotheses can explain the same sensory data of our everyday lives. The reason why we reject former and believe the latter is that we perceive the latter to be true, which is to say that the latter has more evidence going for it than the former. The former has no evidence going for it which is why you would need additional evidence before you could believe it.

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    8. " Do you disagree with the assumption that we perceive moral values?"

      I perceive that individuals have moral values. And that generally, people who live in the same society agree on the big ones (although not always, look at any divisive issue like abortion). I see no reason to think morals exist outside of the brains of individuals. What are your 2 lines of reasoning?

      1. It's obvious

      2. Societies generally agree on morals, except when they don't it doesn't count.

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    9. Hausdorff,

      "perceive that individuals have moral values."

      Obviously, individuals putatively have moral values, but do you think that we (as in normal people like you and I) perceive moral values? Simple question, really.

      "1. It's obvious"

      No, we perceive moral values and we know that we perceive them as being objectively true because of how we talk about them (e.g. our language of universal human rights), hence we perceive objective moral values according to this line of evidence.

      Now, the fact that we perceive objective moral values is evidence that objective moral values exist, kind of like the fact that we perceive that the world we are living in is not a simulation is evidence for the fact that the world we are living in is not a simulation.

      "2. Societies generally agree on morals, except when they don't it doesn't count."

      No, societies of human beings that perceive moral values all happen to perceive the same basic set of moral values, hence if the moral values they perceived were only perceived as being subjectively true and relative to their individual societies then this would almost certainly not be the case. Hence, societies of human beings almost certainly perceive moral values as being objectively true and we have a separate line of evidence for believing that we perceive the existence of objective moral values, which is also evidence for the claim that objective moral values exist as argued above.

      The whole argument only falls apart if you disagree with my assumption that we perceive moral values. Of course, if you do that you'll sound like a fool to most people, atheistic materialism does that to people though.

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    10. Hausdorff,

      I wish I didn't have to spell all this out for you in such excruciating detail. These conversations would be a lot shorter if you put on a theistic hat once in a while and tried to imagine how such an argument would be developed.

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    11. Hausdorff,

      "I see no reason to think morals exist outside of the brains of individuals."

      If my argument for the existence of objective moral values is a good one then that suggests that there is a locus for their existence, but it seems absurd to suggest that the locus of objective moral values is a matter of particles, quantum fields, and other physical substances. Hence such a locus is almost certainly non-physical in nature and must exist outside our physical brains. Moreover, if you define God as the locus of objective moral values, like most theists do, then we have another argument for God's existence.

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    12. Details are what matter. I like working in 'excruciating' detail and figuring out exactly what point we disagree.

      Now, when you ask me if I agree that "we perceive moral values", perhaps I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean in the abstract? Like if no people existed they would still be there? I don't perceive that at all. (I don't know how you would) I see that individuals have ideas and values which we call morality. I don't see a bigger thing that I would call "Morality".

      If I'm seeing things correctly, this is the heart of our disconnect. I see morality as some kind of brain state within each person. You see...well, I'm not quite sure, I guess a series of rules that were there before humans came along and humans had to adopt those rules...or something.

      Am I in the ballpark? How would you describe "Morality" and how could you tell the difference between that and a brain state?

      You asked me if I perceive moral values, and depending on what that means, I might answer that I do not.

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    13. Hausdorff,

      The correct answer is that we obviously perceive abstract moral values as evidenced by the fact that we codify them as abstract laws that we then impose on our societies.

      To speed up the conversation a bit, leading atheist philosophers do not deny that we perceive the existence of abstract objective moral values (you were barking up the wrong tree when argued with me there), nevertheless they contend that these objective moral values don't exist. In other words, although we perceive that they exist, and that this in fact a form of evidence for their existence, our perceptions are nevertheless mistaken about this and illusory (kind of like the person who contends that our perception of the world as not being a simulation is illusory).

      Now, as of yet there is no justification for believing that the evidence of our everyday perceptions concerning the existence of objective moral values is wrong and illusory. However, atheist philosophers are pinning their hopes on the discovery of some kind of future biological explanation that will account for why we perceive objective moral values other than the hypothesis that we perceive them because they exist. As of yet, no such explanation has been found and although many different hypotheses have been advanced none of them has been demonstrated. That's the state of the conversation right now.

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    14. Hausdorff,

      The theists have had the upper hand in this debate for a long time but things can always change as new evidence comes in.

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    15. Hausdorff,

      To be frank, even if there is a biological explanation for why we perceive objective moral values in my capacity as a scientist-mathematician I highly doubt that we'll ever find it and demonstrate that it's true. But I could be wrong.

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    16. Hausdorff,

      Wait a minute, if I could convince you that people who experience NDEs are actually having OBEs then we can discern from their accounts that our consciousness can perceive objective moral values from a purely non-physical context (people who experience NDEs describe such things), hence there cannot possibly be a physical biological explanation for why our consciousness perceives the existence of objective moral values.

      Never mind, the evidence atheist philosophers are looking for will never come in because the people who experience NDEs are actually having OBEs by the fact that they've reported information that their clinically dead brains could not have obtained that has also been verified as part of numerous prospective studies into the phenomenon.

      Atheistic philosophy is in a worse state than I thought a moment ago.

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    17. Hausdorff,

      You really need to give up your atheism, it's just not true. If you're not comfortable with organized religion you could always be a deist I suppose.

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    18. "You really need to give up your atheism, it's just not true."

      well I'm convinced, where do I sign up?

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    19. Hausdorff,

      "well I'm convinced, where do I sign up?"

      Lol, there I go acting like a poe again. I can't help it sometimes, I've been thinking about these issues for so long I just don't doubt this anymore. Wherever I go, there He is, I've given up mentally resisting it.

      One the other hand, making sense of the Bible is a far more difficult change for me.

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    20. Hausdorff,

      "well I'm convinced, where do I sign up?"

      Obviously, as a Christian I would call you to repent of your sins and come to faith in Jesus Christ. I don't expect you to do this anytime soon though.

      However, as a Christian Universalist (the true teaching of the NT by the way) I expect all people to be "saved" and live with Jesus Christ in his kingdom eventually. It's only a matter of time before God reels you in on my theology.

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    21. I meant to write, "making sense of the Bible is a far more difficult challenge for me."

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    22. Hausdorff,

      Full disclosure, I'm an algebraic geometer who thinks about string theory sometimes, in that sense I'm a "scientist-mathematician." All the topologies I think about are not Hausdorff by the way.

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    23. Hausdorff,

      I also comment under the name "residentoftartarus" when I have to log in to my wordpress account to comment on blogs. I was the guy who recommended Chris Carter's books to you at Diglot's blog, that's why I commented on your extended mind post.

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    24. Perceiving objective moral values.. You say that it can't be in the brain, but what about people that change when they have brain injuries, or people born without this sense, like sociopaths?

      NDE's/OBE's. People have these when the brain chemistry messes up. Some people claim that they were abducted by aliens. So what? These experiences are well documented in centrifuge trainings when the G's get too high. Why should we trust the accounts of people whose brain function goes on the "fritz." What about people who do drugs?

      Also, I don't think I've ever met a Christian of any denomination that didn't think that his was the "right" one.

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    25. JKerber,

      Brain chemistry can't explain NDEs because not everyone experiences NDEs under the same biochemical conditions. In fact, there is no lowest common biochemical denominator with respect to NDEs. Pilots have described elements of an OBE while training in a centrifuge but these experiences don't correspond very well at all to what people who have NDEs describe. No dice there either. These hypotheses and more are all convincingly refuted in Carter's book, "Science and the Near-Death Experience." It's must reading for anyone curious about the phenomenon as he summarizes the current state of things rather well.

      In a well-known case, Pam Reynolds had an NDE after her body was lowered to 60 degrees, her heartbeat and breathing stopped, her brain waves flattened, and the blood drained from her head. During the operation while her soul was putatively "floating" around in the operating room under these medical conditions she was able to relay to her doctors some of their conversation as well as give a description of the unique medical instruments they were being used on her head and what those instruments sounded like. But of course, she didn't stay in the operating room but was caught up to a spiritual realm in which she met loved ones who had previously died (why not also loved ones who were still living if this is all a figment of her bloodless brain?) while standing in the "breath of God." Good luck trying to explain that sort of thing!

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    26. So, basically, "we don't understand it completely, therefore, God"?

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    27. JKerber,

      Carter's book is a little bit longer than that sentence, and he only argues for the existence of the afterlife not the existence of God. But, yeah...

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    28. JKerber,

      "So, basically, 'we don't understand it completely, therefore, God'?"

      The point is that it's easy for me to argue that Pam's experience cannot explained by her physical brain. In particular, her NDE experience involved rich audio-visual as well as emotional content and therefore required a functioning cortex according to standard Medical science if indeed it was her brain that was producing the experience; however, Pam did not have a functioning cortex, in fact she was totally brain dead. Therefore, her brain did not produce this experience according to standard Medical science. This isn't a God-of-the-gaps type argument as you imply.

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    29. JKerber,

      I hope you don't mind if I put your response to me here.

      "My middle brother literally drowned in our grandfather's pond years back. I was too young to remember. My parents still have the article clipping from the news paper. He was declared dead in the hospital, but he is very much alive today."

      The difference is that medical science has models for explaining how someone can drown and then subsequently be resuscitated. In contrast, there is no such model for the exceptional case of Pam Reynolds and many others besides. How can someone possibly know the things she knew under the extreme medical conditions of the operation? It's almost akin to a pile of frozen meat at the grocery store having a conscious experience. The obvious explanation is that her OBE was genuine that there's a part of us that is non-physical.

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    30. JKerber,

      Let's be honest for a moment, the only reason you're resisting the natural explanation of what happened to Pam Reynolds is the same reason that many Christians can't accept the obvious fact that there are contradiction in the Bible. You have presuppositions that rule out what's obviously true, hence you're straining to imagine possibilities and/or reasons in which her very thoroughly clinically dead self could have produced this sort of experience. If you admit the obvious, the cognitive dissonance you're experiencing will go away, promise.

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    31. Why must it necessarily be non physical? I think you might be missing my point. Let me try to explain again. This happened about 25 years ago. Brain scanning and neuro science has come a long way since then. Maybe if it happened today, doctors might have been able to see that he still had brain function or something. Just because we don't understand everything about how the brain works or why she experienced these things, does not indicate that she was "completely dead." When people do certain drugs like ayahausca (sp?) say that they experience a "spiritual" realm. Does that mean that they travel to some "other plane of existence" or is it more probable that the stuff is messing with their brain function? Many cultures still consider this to be verification for their belief in their religions.

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    32. "You have presuppositions that rule out what's obviously true"

      The difference between us here, is that I'm not pretending to understand the "experience" or whats happening. You are the one declaring that you "know."

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    33. JKerber,

      We don't understand everything about the brain but we know that rich audio-visual and emotional content requires a functioning cortex. Pam Reynolds did not have a functioning cortex. Therefore, Pam Reynolds' NDE with its rich audio-visual and emotional content cannot be attributed to her brain. We don't have to know everything about the brain to figure this out.

      By the way, a Harvard neurosurgeon by the name of Dr Eben Alexander recently had an NDE after he was put in a coma by an extreme case of acute bacterial meningitis that completely shut down his cortex. Following the experience he came to realize that there is no possible model that medical science can provide in which to explain his experience and he now accepts the reality of a non-physical soul, which he didn't accept before he had his NDE.

      Once again, admit the obvious and the cognitive dissonance goes away, promise.

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    34. JKerber,

      "The difference between us here, is that I'm not pretending to understand the 'experience' or whats happening. You are the one declaring that you 'know.'"

      Of course I know, the testimony of those who have these experiences is far and away the best explanation of them. Denying this sort of thing is the atheist materialist equivalent of young earth creationism. The data is in, your side lost, sorry.

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    35. Someone could have made the same argument about disease a few centuries back. "We don't understand the experience of being sick or subsequently getting better or worse, therefore divine intervention."

      We can't pretend to understand everything about the body or the human experience. When you start to do so, it's just plain arrogant. One would think you need most of your organs and heart lungs etc to stay alive, but I'm sure you've seen the soviet experiments with dog heads. Back then, it probably would have been "obvious" that without a body, a head could not live.

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    36. "Of course I know, the testimony of those who have these experiences is far and away the best explanation of them. Denying this sort of thing is the atheist materialist equivalent of young earth creationism. The data is in, your side lost, sorry."

      That is just sheer arrogance. I trust shamans of south american tribes and their experiences in the spirit world. Therefore, your side lost. The sad thing is that you will deny that and not see the difference.

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    37. JKerber,

      "We can't pretend to understand everything about the body or the human experience."

      But we know that people can't have these experiences without a functioning cortex according to standard medical science. You are ignoring a well-known scientific finding about how the brain works in order to sustain your presuppositions. By the way, the young creationists have a similar approach to science as yourself.

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    38. "But we know that people can't have these experiences without a functioning cortex according to standard medical science."

      In science, it's never said that they "know." There are things were pretty damn sure of. There are things that we are damn confident in, but new evidence can always come along and change our model. At one point, people thought that if your heart stopped working, you were dead. That's it. We later learned that it's a bit more complicated than that.

      I'm not saying that I have some complete knowledge of neurology. I'm not saying I have a complete understanding of the biological functions of a person, only an arrogant person would. I'm just saying that the experience isn't necessarily proof of an afterlife. Her experience, while strange, is still subjective based on the lack of functions of the body, as we currently know them.

      People who wake up feeling paralyzed and unable to see that claim to be abducted by UFO's, does not indicate that they were abducted by UFO's. They might truly feel like they were, and be damn convinced, but I doubt you would use that as evidence. Or people that have used DMT that have claimed to go to "the world beyond." They still feel like they'be been there, but their brains weren't ceasing to function. Would this not be evidence also? They did experience it.

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    39. residentoftartarusJune 12, 2012 at 11:11 AM

      JKerber,

      You're impossible, even when I have you cornered with a standard scientific result you come back with "In science, it's never said that they 'know'..." Whatever, there are a lot of things in science that for all intents and purposes we know, even if there are many other areas in which the state of our knowledge is much more provisional. Still, the idea that a functioning cortex is needed to produce a conscious experience with rich audio-visual and emotional content is not going away, kind of like gravity and other well-known phenomena.

      Delete
  8. Hausdorff,

    "Your are basically just saying 'this is obvious'"

    Exactly! It's just obvious that atheistic materialism is false. I think you're now beginning to see what I mean.

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    1. Although, I suppose it's not obvious why it should be obvious, lol.

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    2. What is that?

      Delete
    3. A poe is an atheist pretending to be a Christian to screw with other atheists.

      Poe's Law

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    4. Hausdorff,

      Lol, I see what you mean. No, I'm not a poe as I'm not an atheist but I did have my tongue firmly in cheek with the above comment.

      Delete
  9. Anon (or residentoftartarus I guess),


    "I can't help it sometimes, I've been thinking about these issues for so long I just don't doubt this anymore."

    I know, I feel the same way. It's actually one of the most interesting parts of doing the blog to me. The two of us have each spent a great deal of time thinking about these topics and have come to vastly different conclusions. Exploring why that is can be fascinating.

    "Christian Universalist (the true teaching of the NT by the way)"

    I can't help myself, wouldn't every Christian church make such a claim?

    "All the topologies I think about are not Hausdorff by the way."

    Our disagreements all makes sense now :)

    "I also comment under the name "residentoftartarus" when I have to log in to my wordpress account to comment on blogs."

    Oh yeah, that was a good conversation. I'm glad you dropped in here. If you decide to keep posting you should be able to post with that name without logging in if you wish. You just have to use the name/url option. I'm guessing you posted as anon because having a million password all over the place is a pain.

    With respect to the NDE/OBE stuff. I'm fairly ignorant on the topic, but what little I have seen about it doesn't seem to be impossible to explain with mundane brain processes. The case you mention, of Pam Reynolds, sound interesting and something worth looking into. But if I'm being honest, it doesn't quite interest me enough and I could imagine never getting to it. (I find stuff I want to look in to at a faster rate than I can actually do it)

    The fact that she didn't have a functioning cortex is interesting though. Is it possible that she had her NDE as the temperature was going down or coming back up. Like, this was the phenomenon of her brain shutting down or "booting up". We have all had the experience of falling asleep for just a few moments and having a dream that felt like a much longer time. Perhaps it is a similar thing where it felt like she was out of body for the whole operation but really it was just a few seconds that played games with her memory.

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    1. residentoftartarusJune 12, 2012 at 11:05 AM

      Hausdorff,

      "The two of us have each spent a great deal of time thinking about these topics and have come to vastly different conclusions."

      For your consideration, I'm perfectly willing to concede that the theology prevalent in the churches doesn't stand up to scrutiny in many places, but I would contend that the true theology of the Bible can stand up scrutiny.

      "I can't help myself, wouldn't every Christian church make such a claim?"

      You'll commonly find a generic brand of universalism taught in the mainline Protestant denominations, but this isn't Christian universalism so much as it is the idea that all people go to heaven (if they even believe in heaven) because God is love or some such. On the other hand, the more numerous conservative Protestant and Catholic churches usually teach that many people will be permanently separated from God in a state of torment, which isn't universalism as these people are left unreconciled to God. As you can see, very few churches would affirm Christian universalism.

      "With respect to the NDE/OBE stuff. I'm fairly ignorant on the topic, but what little I have seen about it doesn't seem to be impossible to explain with mundane brain processes."

      The interesting thing is that many of the people who have NDEs describe having a very rich "more real than real" (as they would put it) experience while their bodies were clinically dead, which is to say in a condition in which they should not be able to have these experiences according to standard medical science. Many different wild theories have been proposed as to how a clinically dead body could produce these rich experiences but none of them can withstand scrutiny. By all accounts, these people are having the sort of the experience that we should expect ourselves to have after we die, and that's certainly interesting. Evidently, we go on.

      "Is it possible that she had her NDE as the temperature was going down or coming back up."

      No, her NDE took place in the middle of her operation. She didn't describe popping out of her body until the doctors started drilling/sawing into her skull and she described being pushed back into body by a deceased relative (like "jumping into a pool of cold water") as the doctors were taking her out of the state they put her in.

      Delete
    2. "You're impossible, even when I have you cornered with a standard scientific result you come back with "In science, it's never said that they 'know'..." Whatever, there are a lot of things in science that for all intents and purposes we know, even if there are many other areas in which the state of our knowledge is much more provisional. Still, the idea that a functioning cortex is needed to produce a conscious experience with rich audio-visual and emotional content is not going away, kind of like gravity and other well-known phenomena."

      Our model of gravity changed from the Newtonian model when Einstein came along, and will probably become more refined as time goes by. To say you know anything is outright arrogant. It is possible to live with a damaged cerebral cortex. Depending on the damage, it will affect the person in different ways. Drugs can also hinder certain brain functions changing the way you think. You also use the term "clinically dead." My point earlier was that what used to be considered clinically dead has even changed.

      I will willingly admit, that I am extremely skeptical of supernatural claims, based on history. Theists, seem to jump from "evidence" to "evidence" as time goes by and more stuff is learned. The difference is that science makes falsifiable claims. There really is no way to falsify or really verify that this claim that she "went to the afterlife."

      Getting back to the actual conversation at hand, let's say that this meant that there was an afterlife. How would that be proof that there are "objective" morals.

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    3. I was wondering if you could send me a link with more information.. The more I think about it, the more it sounds odd that they would be tracking cerebral cortex activity during surgery. Did they perform this surgery after injecting radioactive dye and then put her into the best PET scanner we have while performing the surgery? If they were relying however on an EEG, it is well known that an EEG can go flat when the brain activity is simply low (such as when under anesthesia). A quick google search came up with this: "This is used along with other testing to help make decisions on continuing or discontinuing the artificial life functions. If there is no more activity registering on the EEG other than the internal background noise level, it can be used as neurologic criteria, in conjunction with other testing and examination, to confirm death. Although confirmatory in the U.S., the EEG alone is insufficient to pronounce death." It was from a forum, but if you send me more information, it would be interesting to investigate.

      Delete
  10. residentoftartarusJune 12, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    JKerber,

    "Getting back to the actual conversation at hand, let's say that this meant that there was an afterlife. How would that be proof that there are 'objective' morals."

    If we can trust the validity of the OBEs that the people who have NDEs describe then it follows that our perception of objective moral values cannot be physically accounted for seeing as how disembodied minds can perceive objective moral values. Therefore, it then follows that our primary evidence that objective moral values exist, which is that we perceive that they exist, will not be explained away by future advances in our biological understanding (e.g. we will not find a "moral" gene that will explain why we perceive objective moral values in the first place).

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    1. But why does this morality have to come from the "super natural"? I assume you postulate that it comes from God. If it did, who is to know which God(s) it comes from. Why could it not come learned behavior and natural selection? Surely social animals who must rely on each other would not survive in the wild if they turned on each other, right?

      My other question, still yet to be answered, is what about people with messed up brains like sociopaths? Or people whose personalities change due to brain injuries?

      I think we should step back a bit and define morality. How do you define morality?

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  11. I would love to throw in my two cents, but you guys lost me somewhere in the first eighty comments.

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    1. I think most of the comments were about whether there is an afterlife, based on a woman whose cerebral cortex went out during durgery. She reported that she saw and heard some stuff, while clinically dead on the operating table, and then was resuscitated. Thus, evidence for an afterlife. Tartarus is making his point on objective morality based on this idea and its summarized in his last comment.

      Correct me here Tartarus if I have misrepresented anything you've claimed.

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    2. residentoftartarusJune 12, 2012 at 6:32 PM

      JKerber,

      A good chunk of the comments have been devoted to me walking Hausdorff through the fact that we perceive objective moral values and that this is evidence that objective moral values exist.

      "But why does this morality have to come from the 'super natural'?"

      If objective moral values exist then where do they come from if not from a non-physical source? If objective moral value exist then surely their existence cannot be explained in terms of particles, quantum fields, and other physical substances.

      "Surely social animals who must rely on each other would not survive in the wild if they turned on each other, right?"

      It is possible that our perception of objective moral values is an illusion brought about by our evolutionary past; however, there is no evidence for this fact and until there is such evidence we are more justified in saying that the best explanation for our perception of objective moral values is that they exist and not that our perception of them is an illusion.

      "Or people whose personalities change due to brain injuries?"

      In my opinion, there is a two-way feedback mechanism between our non-physical mind and our physical brain and that our physical brain is a transmission device through which the consciousness of our mind is filtered. This helps to explain why people who have OBEs describe experiencing an expanded level of consciousness that is "more real than real" as it is no longer filtered through their physical brains. It also follows that damage to the physical brain will affect this two-way feedback mechanism and impair the brain's ability to filter consciousness (kind of like if you damage a television set you distort the programming that comes through it on the screen). Hence, I would say that something like this is the best explanation for why some people are mentally impaired following a brain injury, it's not the brain as producer of consciousness that's been damaged but the brain as a receiver and filter of consciousness that's been damaged.

      "How do you define morality?"

      God.

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    3. "A good chunk of the comments have been devoted to me walking Hausdorff through the fact that we perceive objective moral values and that this is evidence that objective moral values exist."

      Is that really how you view this interaction as having gone? I saw it as largely me trying to get you to clarify statements and properly define your terms. I also rejected your supposed evidence several times, and stated my reasons several times. Since it seemed to me that we had each made our core points more than once, so I stopped commenting on it. I hope you didn't take that as evidence that you had convinced me.

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    4. I don't perceive moral values. I form my moral values. So...not sure if this objectivity applies to me.

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    5. He was trying to argue for objective morality, you know, independent of people. Like it was here before we got here and it will be here long after we are all dead.

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  12. And isn't Tartarus pagan? What specific faith are you, Anon?

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    1. residentoftartarusJune 12, 2012 at 6:19 PM

      I was commenting under Anonymous but now I'm commenting under residentoftartarus. My faith is that of a Protestant Christian.

      Delete
  13. I also want to go back the the Euthyphro dilemma. You said that, "The classical theist position to this false dilemma is that God's moral decrees are a consequence of his divine nature so that the moral truths reflected in his decrees are statements about his divine nature."

    This doesn't really address the problem at all in my eyes. I will rephrase the question then. "Is God's character the way it is because it is good or is God's character good simply because it is God's character?"

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    1. JKerber,

      The position is that what we call "goodness" and what we call "God's moral character" are actually the same thing and not two different things.

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    2. So, when God orders stuff, it is good then? Like, God can not commit to something that's not moral you are saying?

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    3. Also, "the fact that we perceive objective moral values and that this is evidence that objective moral values exist."

      You've admitted that times were different in the Bible and what they saw as being okay, like slavery, was. But now, we do not see it that way. If you asked someone who lived in the OT times what their views of object morality were, they would probably base it on the Bible's OT. (Presuming of course they were in that culture). Is this change in views not the very definition of subjective morality?

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  14. ...And calling you out on your bullshit.. Before you "corner me" with your "ill refutable science" and get all cocky, you'd better check your crap first. You sir, have been had.

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/HNDEs.

    As you would probably state. "Try again."

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  15. For those who haven't read the article, the woman in question did have an "out of body experience", but it was not while her cerebral cortex was not functioning. She was still on the anesthesia and her body temperature had not yet been lowered, as per her testimony.

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    1. Interesting. Thanks for looking into that deeper JKerber

      Delete

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