Ethics by Discussion or by Fiat

According to a commenter on Blogging Theology, violence is the fault of Godlessness. It’s a frequent comment and it pervades for two reasons: establishing crime statistics, motives and demographics is not easy, and the accusation seems to stick. The accusation probably sticks because it seems obvious. But obvious is not the same as true. This post is another shared comment, but it’s worth looking at briefly.

… the majority of the people who do [school shootings] in the west are atheist

I can’t seem to find any evidence this is true. In fact, to the contrary, an article on Patheos based on a Freedom of Information request finds the number of (self-identifying) atheists in prison is 0.07% of prison inmates [1]. That is a massively under-represented demographic, compared to the number of atheists in the general American public (~20%)[2].

Let’s look at school shootings in a bit more detail, shall we? If atheism is the cause of school shootings (or, positively correlates with school shootings) we should expect America to have fewer school shootings than other, more secular, Western countries. America has had 159 school shootings since 2000 [3]. (That’s 0.49 school shootings per million people). The UK around 40% of people are atheist [4]. But, with the doubling of the atheist population, do we see a doubling in rates of school shootings? No. If we lower the bar, to talk only of “attacks” (to compensate for British gun laws) we see there have been 5 attacks since 2000 [5, 6, 7]. That’s 0.08 per million, a lot lower. And the story is similar across Scandinavian countries. So, there’s no discernable relationship between atheism and school shootings (except, perhaps, a negative correlation). That’s true even if all the US school shooters were atheist (which, as I said, I can’t seem to find evidence for).

“… perhaps you should read more on what [21st Century Western Tyrants] considered ethical such as eugenics, nihilism and more.”

I’ve done reading on some of the tyrants of the Western world in the 21st Century, so perhaps you can direct me to exactly what you’re reading. Reading will elucidate that each of them, even if they are atheists, has an ideology that underpins what they did; it’s not because of atheism. My point is that there is no link between the fact these people are atheist and what they did. The only line you can actually draw is between their extreme, dogmatic beliefs and what they did. But, good luck drawing a line between what they actually believed and their atheism.

I think you’ve missed my point about ethics as a human discussion and evaluative process. What I’m saying is there is no reason to prefer ethics by fiat from a God over ethics by reasonable and pragmatic discussion from humanity. Even if you find the latter completely vacuous, that doesn’t lend any credibility to the former. Perhaps more importantly for deist or agnostic readers, but relevant to all religious, is how you would deal with a God that says murder is fine as an objective moral standard. Relying on God as a moral standard is a very pretty and reassuring argument when you think God agrees with you, but if you’re open to doubt you perhaps are also open to idea that a God doesn’t agree with you. If you think it’s impossible for a God to think that murder is ethically fine, or otherwise disagree with you, I put it to you that you are using something other than a God to define morality in the first place and then making a “God” conform.

Think properly about what you would think about a God who you disagree with.

“… you can’t come to conclusions about a group of people based on your experiences with some… I have Buddhist friends who do things for the interests of others rather than themselves, and Buddhists don’t believe in an afterlife so yeah I sense a hint of bitterness towards a concept of God you’ve grown up with, most probably one of the Abrahamic Gods”

Okay, there’s actually a lot here but it wasn’t easy to pull them all apart. But it’s worth keeping together because it shows something really interesting. I recommend reading the actual comment thread instead of just taking my word for this. It’s a common debating technique but I don’t think it’s intentional. This in no way relates to the content of the conversation we were having, doesn’t map onto what I was saying, and is wrong. Buddhists to believe in an afterlife. I’m not discussing self-interest or Abrahamic religion. I’m not making generalised conclusion based on a small sample, but the commenter is; just look at what they have to say about Buddhists. The comment is a mix of accusations and red herrings.

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67 thoughts on “Ethics by Discussion or by Fiat”

    1. You would have to look at the precepts of that religion. If the religion stated that murder was not allowed, then a mass murderer would not be a “true” whatever, by definition. If the religion states that it is not only ok, but required, to kill anyone not of that religion, then the mass murderer WOULD be a true whatever…

      1. Not necessarily, EC. You forget the whole ‘correct’ interpretation element where ‘up’ is really another version of ‘down’ and ‘white’ can only be properly understood in context of ‘black’. Nuance leads to sophistication, and that sophistication is something critics of religious belief always fail to grasp… which is why they criticize, you see. This is how your Karen Armstrongs and Glen Greenwalds and Riza Aslans of the world can declare that religions are always and forever benign and peace-loving and would never, ever, be a root cause for violence done in its name.

        1. No, I don’t forget that; I reject it. If God says to do/not do something, and you don’t/do do it, you are in violation and need to take whatever the required steps are to “fix it”. When the Christians and Catholics went at it in the UK, certainly the Christians and probably the Catholics were in violation. This was not a case where some crazies were going berserk and using religion as an excuse; this was the religion as the instigator of the violence, in contradiction of their own scriptures. When a follower of Islam goes berserk, at least it is not in violation of their scriptures.

        2. Really?

          Kill People Who Don’t Listen to Priests: Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

          Kill Witches: You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)

          Kill Homosexuals: “If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives.” (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)

          Kill Fortunetellers: A man or a woman who acts as a medium or fortuneteller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death. (Leviticus 20:27 NAB)

          Death for Hitting Dad: Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)

          Death for Cursing Parents: 1) If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will go out at the coming of darkness. (Proverbs 20:20 NAB)
          2) All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)

          Death for Adultery: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)

          Death for Fornication
          A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)

          Death to Followers of Other Religions: Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

          Kill Nonbelievers: They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

          Kill False Prophets: If a man still prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall say to him, “You shall not live, because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord.” When he prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall thrust him through. (Zechariah 13:3 NAB)

          Kill the Entire Town if One Person Worships Another God: Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. “The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)

          Kill Women Who Are Not Virgins On Their Wedding Night: But if this charge is true (that she wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night), and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB)

          Kill Followers of Other Religions: 1) If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

          2) Suppose a man or woman among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, has done evil in the sight of the LORD your God and has violated the covenant by serving other gods or by worshiping the sun, the moon, or any of the forces of heaven, which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then that man or woman must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 17:2-5 NLT)

          Death for Blasphemy: One day a man who had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father got into a fight with one of the Israelite men. During the fight, this son of an Israelite woman blasphemed the LORD’s name. So the man was brought to Moses for judgment. His mother’s name was Shelomith. She was the daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan. They put the man in custody until the LORD’s will in the matter should become clear. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and tell all those who heard him to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death. Say to the people of Israel: Those who blaspheme God will suffer the consequences of their guilt and be punished. Anyone who blasphemes the LORD’s name must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. Any Israelite or foreigner among you who blasphemes the LORD’s name will surely die. (Leviticus 24:10-16 NLT)

        3. Yes, before Jesus, the Israelites were commanded to kill those which God specified to be intolerable. But once Jesus came, that paradigm was replaced, and killing in the name of Jesus or for any reason except possibly self defense was no longer allowed. Unfortunately, not everyone who claims to follow Jesus is bound by that restriction.

        4. No longer allowed, by who’s command? Jesus’? He never said anything. In fact, he said the complete opposite. I think you’ve gotten your theology all confused… for convenience sake.

          here, this is a theologian explaining that Christians are not excused from the laws of Moses.

          http://appliedfaith.org/2015/10/06/can-christians-carry-concealed-weapons/

          What Christians most often forget is how to read the whole Bible as the complete Word of God. For some, there is a misunderstanding that the Old Testament no longer applies to Christians. That would be a mistaken understanding because Jesus came to fulfill the “Law and the Prophets” (the Old Testament), but not to change a “jot or tittle” of it. Jesus did change some of the incorrect ways that the Jews were practicing the Law, but did not change the Law itself.
          His disciples were instructed on studying and preaching the Law and the Prophets in proper context, which is also what we need to do in 2015. For our question today, we need to ask ourselves how to have a holistic understanding of dealing with violence in context with both, the Old and New Testaments.

        5. Actually, the “Law” was to EDUCATE the people of Israel about sin according to the God of Israel, not prevent such sin; nothing can. The Law only applied to the Jew, not the Gentile. Nowadays, if a person wants to follow it and tries to follow it, they will find it is not possible to follow it completely; parts of it are illegal, parts make no sense in this day and age, and a key part of it has been impossible since 73AD.

          The theologians I’ve discussed this with admit that no, a Christian does not “need” to follow the Law. If they CHOOSE to follow it, that is their choice.

        6. Ah, optional, I see. That’s convenient. Good to know your particular Middle Eastern god is flexible when it comes to killing. No ambiguity there.

        7. Funny that someone like equippedcat who ‘rejects’ interpretations of scripture then rejects the literal scripture in favour of their interpretation! What a surprise (not).

        8. Matthew 5:17-20

          “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

        9. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus satisfies the complete PURPOSE of the Law.

          “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” It is not clear what “All” is referring to. At the very least, all the prophesies about Jesus being killed and resurrected. “Until heaven and earth pass away” cannot be mean “all time”, since in 73AD the Temple was destroyed, a “passing” of a significant part of the Law and we don’t accept that Jesus would lie or not know the future.

          “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” This refers only to the relative rank of those in the Kingdom; it does not say that those who relax or teach relaxation are rejected from the Kingdom.

          But even if a case could be made that what is left of the Law must still be followed by all Jewish people, go ahead and find anywhere where it is a requirement for a Gentile to follow it.

        10. The point it that Jesus ‘upheld’ the brutal and immoral laws clearly laid out in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Exodus. Your ‘nice’ interpretation – that you supposedly don’t believe in – doesn’t alter these literal scripture injunctions. Your earlier defense was that these don’t really pertain to Jesus’ supposedly central message about love. Well, Jesus supposedly says they do. So it’s your interpretation that alters this Jesus-approved message away from the literal and into your preferred realm of puppy dogs and kittens interpretation.

        11. Brutal? Immoral? From YOUR point of view, ok. One of my cats probably thinks that me taking her to the vet and having all her teats removed was brutal, but since she had breast cancer, it seems to have saved her life or at least extended and improved the quality of it. And if, as claimed, God defines a morality, then how can what He specifies be “immoral”? If it differs from the morality you have incorporated, that is fine; you follow that which resonates with you. And you certainly have the right to object to someone else pushing their morality on you. What say you don’t push yours on others?

        12. Brutal and immoral for very good and sound reasons. What you’re doing for this god is accepting Divine Command Theory (it is justified because it is commanded by a divine authority) which is identical in principle as it is in practice to the submission to authority used as a defense by SS soldiers tasked to commit genocide. This justification does not mitigate the brutality and immorality advocated by the authority. Your taking-the-cat-to-the-vet analogy does not work because you admit there are good reasons for it independent of the pain and suffering surgery causes. You just presume there is an equivalent result – an over-reaching good that is achieved by submitting to the commands of a Dear Leader. The vet can show you the result. Your god seems singularly incapable of doing the same.

        13. We are not capable of comprehending the reasons, or determining whether they are “good” or “bad”, “sound” or “unsound”. From OUR point of view they are; it is not for us to judge God’s point of view (it is outside of our comprehension). Now if we could prove that God did NOT specify them, then we MIGHT be able to gain sufficient insight into the culture and condition of the times to judge the people who defined and implemented them claiming they were from God.

        14. Look at the assumptions you have to make and hold in greater esteem than the evidence right that would convict beyond a reasonable doubt any person committing the same brutal and immoral acts! You simply gran to this god you believe in carte blanche and then believe atrocities that are both brutal and immoral in <effect are somehow and magically different because of the assigned virtues you grant to their supposed cause! Don;t you see this is exactly how members of ISIS commit their atrocities against real people in real life to real harm and then exempt themselves as merely benign agents for carry out the wishes of their divine Dear Leader? In the same way that their thinking takes them out of the sphere of reasonable and rational and morally justifiable actions and into the realm of becoming moral automatons incapable or responsible actions, so too does your reasoning when polluted to such a degree by religious privilege make you less and not more moral by reducing your own moral autonomy?

        15. I prefer to say they appear to us to be brutal and immoral, but there is a possibility they had good and reasonable justification back in those times. As opposed to saying they ARE brutal and immoral and there is no possibility they ever had good or reasonable basis. And then saying because they ARE brutal and immoral, that either God is brutal and immoral, or that God does not exist because he is described as “loving” and “holy”, so cannot be brutal or immoral.

          I would have to agree that those aspects of the Law are likely brutal and immoral (and illegal many places) TODAY.

        16. Of course not, ethics is “a” set of moral principles. They do change over time and each culture or even subset of a culture has their own set. Often a set of ethics is based on the circumstances.

        17. Equippedcat said I would have to agree that those aspects of the Law are likely brutal and immoral (and illegal many places) TODAY.

          Good. Now how can this be if you receive your current morality from the same immutable source?

        18. I developed my basic morality before having any known exposure to God. Modifications resulting from coming to know Jesus were minimal, and based on what it appears Jesus (or possibly Paul 🙂 ) speaks to me. Could it be that God is “immoral and brutal”, and those commands and behaviors which we abhor today were just as unsupportable then as now? Or that God is “immutable” and they are still required of His followers today? Sure, it’s possible, but I can’t/won’t accept that God. Sorry, I would prefer to be righteous in God’s eyes, but I have to be able to live with myself.

        19. Yes, the ISIS atrocities are committed in large part by people who have been convinced that Allah commands it, so it is not only ok, but required. I developed my morality before accepting Jesus, and the morality He seems to encourage resonated fairly well with that I developed. The morality encouraged by Allah is completely at odds with my own, which is why I never had any inclination to follow Islam.

        20. Morality always precedes religious indoctrination.

          Always.

          Waving away the Law as it pertains to believers today – as if Yahweh and his message were set only in the times in which these stories were put to parchment but no longer as authoritative today… except, of course, in areas of personal agreement where today’s believer’s choose to use selected bits and pieces of scripture as an immutable divine authority – is rather and remarkably convenient for someone who insists they don’t ‘believe’ in scriptural interpretation!

          And as John pointed out, Christianity – those denominations based on biblical authority – is as bloody as the Pentateuch, and the Pentateuch is as bloody as the Koran. Of course, this is not in the least surprising when both Islam and all vestiges of Christianity evolved from the root work of the Pentateuch (and its various stories that Pentateuch scholars readily admit are fiction but Christian biblical (pseudo-) scholars are incredibly slow to agree…. invested as heavily they are in Christian apologetics that tries but utterly fails to present its myths as if reasonable historical events by the similar dismissive wave of the intellectual hand of scientific evidence to the contrary).

        21. It is, isn’t it… if you figure out to zoom in and scroll about. It’s amusing to think of ColorStorm looking at the exact placement he currently occupies and declaring that it somehow ‘written’ in the bible that it’s the ‘correct’ one!

        22. What if Islam is correct? After all, you’ve stated that we are unable to assess what morality looks like, thus you accepting an entire religion based on your assessment of the ethical discussion it has is nonsensical.
          Also, if you picked the religion based on your assessment of the ethics of that religion, you should be able to give a better defence of the ethics than ‘I dunno, could be moral from another perspective, I suppose’.

        23. As little solid evidence there is that Christianity is correct, there is rather less supporting Islam. But if that situation suddenly reversed, I still would reject Islam; it’s requirements are intolerable to me.

        24. So, even in a world where the paradigm of Islam were intellectually more defensible, you would chose an ethical system you knew to not be God-given?

        25. Here is your argument: This brutality is moral because [incomprehensible], yours sincerely, God.
          Now, if you want evidence God didn’t author them, I give you the conversation you are all having right here. You can argue anything you like using the bible a content. That is a sign of an imperfect author (or a collection of imperfect authors). There are contradictions, mutually exclusive imperatives, imperfect and changing morals (suggesting non-universal ethics).
          I’ve been rather kind and played devil’s advocate by giving you the evidence and explanation; we all here know that the default position doesn’t necessitate an argument that “God did not specify them” and that no reasonable discussion outside mathematics asks for proof. Instead, it is on you to reasonably demonstrate that God did specify them. The absence of such an argument is part of the problem of taking ethics by fiat; absence of good reasons to believe in the infallibility of the author means one runs the risk of putting absolute certainty into less than perfect ideas.
          I find it interesting that Christians are often in complete agreement with the moral message they have interpreted from the bible, even though they have taken a different interpretation from their neighbour. This is why I asked the question about what you would do if you disagreed with God: what would you do if morality really did necessitate stoning dissenting children, adulterers, and homosexuals to death?

        26. If I “disagreed with God” about doing something which to my mind was reprehensible, I’d first insist on real proof it was God demanding it, and even then I don’t think that I could do it.

        27. Both have weaknesses. Discussion may work as long as the application is limited to those involved in the discussion, but often important considerations are overlooked. Where things really can go to pot is when the discussion group attempts to apply the results outside of the group. I’m not certain that an Italian automaker is really a reliable source of morals 🙂 Actually, anything by fiat depends on the competence and honor of the person issuing the fiat.

        28. Where did Jesus say there’s a “new covenant”?

          Nowhere.

          I believe you’re referring to Paul, and I think we can dismiss him out of hand as a simple charlatan…. Or are you suggesting that in his three year ministry Jesus simply forgot to mention perhaps the most important instruction he had to deliver to his followers? Please. To even suggest that is patently absurd.

        29. You are right. the new covenant does not specifically reject killing. However, it does require one to “love others as you love yourself”, and the “sane” tend to love themselves enough not to commit suicide.

          You are welcome to consider Paul a charlatan; I would require some significant evidence in order to do so.

        30. They called him a liar.

          So, you agree, then, that your statement, “this was the religion as the instigator of the violence, in contradiction of their own scriptures. When a follower of Islam goes berserk, at least it is not in violation of their scriptures is thoroughly incorrect.

        31. When Paul was Saul, he persecuted Christians which would cause fear and even though they were not supposed to, possibly hate. When, after he (and God) showed that he had converted, did they call him a liar?

          The statement may not be stated the best possible, but what part is “thoroughly incorrect”?

        32. Since I do not follow the Law of Moses, nor do I find any place where I, a Gentile, am required to follow the Law, I don’t know of a single person or group that I am required or even allowed to kill. And since it is not possible to completely follow the Law, starting in 73AD, then in my opinion, even a Jewish person who desired to follow the Law could not do those killings which the Law specifies.

        33. No, I don’t think I am. Jesus Himself reduced the Law to “Love your God with all your heart and soul” and “Love others as you love yourself”. Nowhere in the Old or New Testament can I find where a Gentile must or should want to follow the Law, and if there were, it would show that the Law is not valid, since it IS NOT POSSIBLE to follow it today.

        34. Did Jesus speak of gentiles and Jews? No. Again, you are demonstrating that you are a Paulanite, not a Christian. And Jesus did not ever reduce the Law to anything. In fact, you are flatly contradicting what Jesus said. The Law, in its entirety, stands until heaven and earth pass away.

        35. Ok, you could be right. I guess I’m doomed then, cause I’m not stoning anyone for any reason, and not killing any animals just because I didn’t stone someone who “deserved” it. And I’m not giving up ham or shrimp either. I don’t repent any of THOSE sins; there’s going to be an awful lot of us who are going to be surprised when we die and find out we’re just as screwed as those who didn’t put any faith in Jesus.

        36. Which raises the question, again, of the universality of this God prescribed religion. Because if all God really did we give us some talking points with no actual precepts or imperatives, and some relative ideas like distinguishing between the gentiles and Jews, then I put it to you that is entirely ethics by discussion (and rather in keeping with my post called ‘what is a God?’).

        37. As for that argument, it will take a while to get through it. I am tempted to discard it because of the emotional perspective implies that the person is arguing from passion rather than reason, but I don’t like appearance to guide my actions.

  1. Godlessness causes violence? More violence? Somebody actually counted the numbers of people (making reasonable estimates in places) that Yahweh killed or ordered to be killed in the Bible. The total got up over 3,000,000. And this did not include the killing of all but eight human beings (and all of the land-based animals) during the great flood. (What was the world population ca. roughly 4000 BCE? Add that to the 3,000,000+ for a final total. I came up with 10+ million as a total of killings.)

    How is it that religious people come up with these bizarre ideas about atheists? The two words God and peace do not belong in the same sentence, especially in that this very same god condemns all nonbelievers (currently a minimum of 75% of the world’s population) to an afterlife of the antithesis of peace.

  2. The determinants of violence are generally grubbier than the celestial forces of good and evil referenced in theological arguments. However, it helps to think otherwise, because it feels better to believe that the victims of violence are martyrs rather than hapless bystanders. And, it helps to distance the speaker from the source of violence (can’t think of the last time I saw Satan or Richard Dawkins walking around my neighborhood tapping folks on the shoulder with their murder-wands).
    I think you are right; if you say moral valuations are tautologies, and God is the source, you end up with divine command theory.

    1. Yes, starting with the quotation. Lewis had a peculiar talent which allowed him to step outside the universe and discover all sorts of amazing things about it by remote observation. This power seems to have survived his conversion to Christianity.
      My brother had the same ability. He used to say, “I can think whatever I want.”
      However, when he thought whatever he wanted, it always looked exactly the same as if he’d wanted whatever he thought.

      1. Hence the need to disconnect reality from arbitrating the differences between thinking whatever we want and knowledge about reality. Disallowing reality this role is necessary to establish the accuracy of apologetic ‘remote observation’ about it.

        1. But then you have the troubles of verification to contend with. When you find a black swan you can simply say that you miscategorized, but then you can always say that. When you’ve said it enough, you’ve made the tacit admission that you were wrong about “A is A” as a truth, rather than as a useful convention.
          My problem with Lewis’ statement, and other’s he made like it, is that it makes an unjustified – and unjustifiable – claim about knowledge. It is the claim that to know good and evil, one must know good and evil. But good and evil must supervene upon something. The claim to have some knowledge of the actual thing Evil or the actual thing Good, is absurd.
          If these qualities supervene upon things in the world, then they are dependent upon their supervenience base. The nature of that relationship weighs down all claims of transcendent knowledge, as the mechanics of that relationship at least describe how we come to know things

        2. Yes, you have troubles of verification, but that’s why good science is hard. If we’re going to make claims of knowledge about reality and everything it contains, then we should have the courtesy of allowing reality to arbitrate them. And that’s what good science does: demonstrates the connection, the necessary link, between a selected effect encountered here in reality and the supposed cause for it. To avoid this trouble, theists and faitheists wave away reality’s role and presume the conclusion, that there is some transcendent causal agency called ‘god’ that produces creative events… without any means at their disposal of demonstrating the connection between these two aspects. Nothing. Simply presumption that it must be so because one believes it must be so. This is what Lewis is doing,

          It’s a diversion to suggest that what is being described, the ‘something’ that is being “supervened upon”, is outside of reality’s purview because it’s not a materialist thing in reality. Again, this is the tactic of the apologist to misrepresent what ‘it’ is that is being considered to exempt it from reality’s arbitration and make room for woo.

          This is why we find theology full of nebulous terminology and woo. Expert apologists and woo peddlers like Karen Armstrong and Deepak Chopra have made highly successful careers out of obfuscating what is the case and filling the confusion with assumed metaphysical and transcendent terminology and claims about woo… as if what is being described is beyond the ken of honest examination and actual causal connections…. but not quite so far removed as to hinder their miraculous ability to ‘know’ about this transcendental real and the causal agencies that emanate effect from it. This is inherently dishonest and transparently so.

          Imagine if we used the same method, say, for measurement of distance. The apologist argument would be that we know there is distance between objects but cannot possibly use reality to help us establish what that distance actually is because the metric of say a foot or a meter isn’t ‘transcendentally objective’ but subjective and not a thing of itself, not a material object, and therefore exempt from reality’s arbitration of its use.

          This is so stupid it boggles the mind that people go along with this same execrable method in theology and use it to claim knowledge about Oogity Boogity! as the cause for what we describe as ‘morality’ – the sense of reciprocity we feel – as if it is reasonable to believe this innate sense has been magically created somewhere out there and then delivered unto and into humans by the magical method of POOF!ism we call ‘creationism’… as if this were perfectly fine because it uses obfuscating terminology that supposedly means stuff ‘beyond’ or ‘outside’ of the material reality.

          This is how we can make a ‘foot’ or a ‘meter’ be any length we want it to mean and a way to get otherwise reasonable people to believe it should be this way, that we should undermine the confidence we quite reasonably have that some things are ‘farther’ from our relative and subjective location than others and that we can measure it quite accurately.

          Really?

          And the agnostic’s role to go along with this ridiculous line of reasoning that produces so much obfuscation and permission for magical thinking because we can’t know for certain how long a unit of measurement really is ‘objectively’ that any comparative claim about distance, about what is farther than something else, must be treated with equal respect and tolerance. This is a capitulation of reason and full blown apologetics. It is from both the theists and faitheists – most often agnostics – who then feel positioned to tell the atheist why they are wrong to not go along with this obfuscating charade as intolerant ‘militants’. This prevarication about the obfuscating method employed to make room for woo serves only to make equivalent the assumptive claims of the Karen Armstrongs and Deepak Chopras of this world… people who do not produce knowledge about reality but who insert pseudo-explanations disconnected from the reality we share to be equivalent to knowledge produced by those who do.

  3. Yahweh certainly was responsible for, or commanded, the deaths of large numbers of people who He needed to be killed (often those pushing other, completely antithetical gods or people pushing completely contrary ideals). Allah certainly seems to encourage killing of those opposed to Him. Jesus, however, rejects killing, even of those who are actively working against Him. I suspect that people tend to gravitate to the (view of) God which resonates with their deepest intrinsic morality. Or redefinea their God to so resonate. And the deepest morality of the human animal often includes a propensity for violence.

    It IS annoying that some theists claim that just because a non-believer “does not have God”, they are intrinsically “more violent”. Even if the theists always lived up to their own stated beliefs, it would not be a supportable argument, and since even theists often do not live up to their claimed beliefs, it is ludicrous.

    By the by, God does not condemn people to “an afterlife of the antithesis of peace”. It appears that there are two options, and He allows each person to choose where they will go.

  4. EC said…
    “Yahweh certainly was responsible for, or commanded, the deaths of large numbers of people who He needed to be killed ”

    why would a god ‘need’ to have people killed? and why would he not just do his own killing rather than telling unquestioning leaders, who in turn told their unquestioning followers? please answer why you think god ordering men to kill other men simply on his say so is ok.

    “thus saith the Lord God… really, trust me”

    sounds like a middle eastern tribal culture of killing an animal sacrifice rather than a god who created ad sustains the universe by the power of his word.

  5. and while you’re at is EC,
    please delineate the perceivable difference in THAT and the ISIS Muslims that you castigated earlier for killing in the name of their god because they think he told them to do the same as you think your god told the Israelites…
    extra credit question: If your god told you to kill another human being, only on His say so without being able to investigate if the person actually ‘needed killing’… would you do it? would you kill on nothing more than Divine Command?
    i’ll wait for your ‘honest’ answers.
    -KIA

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