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Theism/atheism debates

Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby zender » 15 Feb 2016, 23:38

finley wrote: . . . There have been, and still are, plenty of men who think that the worst possible misery for everyone is bloody awesome. Or at least is neither here nor there as long as they, personally, are having a good time. . . .

If anyone is having a good time, then it's not the worst possible misery for everyone.
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby Tempo Gain » 16 Feb 2016, 02:36

I'm not sure that I agree with the evolutionary portion of his argument either, but it's very minor and not necessary for the argument as a whole to be valid. He makes some very cogent points I feel, to summarize:

An ancient book full of all sorts of nonsense is not a reasonable basis for a moral system.

Belief in God is unnecessary for a moral system, and in fact can create problems.

Misery is objectively bad and people understand this. Conversely, well-being is objectively good.

Morality and human values can be understood through science. Science itself is underpinned by values that are similar to moral values.

A system of morality can be grounded in axiomatic assumptions, like other fields of science.

We can speak objectively about subjective facts. It is possible for people to value the wrong things.

Honest inquiry is all that is needed to understand moral concepts.

Finley often notes that amoral, "evil" people exist in abundance, but I don't see how this affects either the atheist or theistic arguments. Moral judgments which we achieve by consensus don't require everyone to agree or everyone to buy in, the same as moral judgments from a book. Moral values don't seem to me to be either an evolutionary imperative or something which has been imprinted upon us by a benevolent deity.

We differ from other animals in our ability to make assessments about reality and the results of our actions. Our consciousness gives us the ability to make objective moral judgments based on what we experience in reality. Your average person can discern how his actions will potentially achieve good or harm others. That's all it takes to reach a moral system based on consensus. There will always be people who are more or less moral than the average--people aren't robots.
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby triceratopses » 16 Feb 2016, 03:39

Tempo Gain wrote:Misery is objectively bad and people understand this. Conversely, well-being is objectively good.


Nope, if mind is an illusion then misery is just an illusion, just a meaningless false appearance, in the end completely meaningless.

It merely appears to you that well-being produces further human flourishing. But this is false. What is actually happening is biological processes are functioning in a particular sequence giving those series of appearances.

So, in the end, what any half-sophisticated christian etc means by "religion gives us morality" is not the words written on the pages but rather the assertion that persons are more than just flesh. Well-being is not just a false appearance it is a functioning thing of its right
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby Tempo Gain » 16 Feb 2016, 03:54

If mind is an illusion? What do you mean by that?

I am arguing that well-being is a desirable state. For example, is it better to live or to die? I didn't say it necessarily produces "human flourishing" (not that it would seem to hurt.) I don't see the relevance of any biological processes functioning in any sequence.

You'd have to demonstrate to me why you believe that people are "more than just flesh." The mind is far more complex than our muscles, but consciousness is purely a product of the mind.
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby triceratopses » 16 Feb 2016, 05:30

Tempo Gain wrote:If mind is an illusion? What do you mean by that?


As I said mind (subject awareness) is just a false appearance. It seems to exist, but it doesn't actually. What actually exists is just moving particles. The same way that a stick with one end on fire exists, but a circle of fire does not it is just a stick with one end on fire being spun very quickly.

As such all mental states, including the qualia of well-being and the qualia of suffering, are false appearances. They do not actually exist, they do not actually function, they're just a fire circle. "Well-being" is just a name for a sequence of moving particles (can be examined from physics pov, biological pov, etc)

Therefore there is ZERO distinction between well-being, ripping all the skin off the faces of young children for fun, and living and dying, outside of pointing to each and saying "in this case the particles are moving this way, and in this case the particles are moving that way". There's no morality present, there's no goodness or badness about movements and arrangements of particles.

Harris always appeals to the common notion that we know one is bad and one is good, but these notions are illusions.
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby finley » 16 Feb 2016, 10:38

zender wrote:If anyone is having a good time, then it's not the worst possible misery for everyone.

Mathematically speaking, in the limit where misery tends to infinity, that's close enough. Alternatively, we could take the North Korean definition of "everyone", ie., 99% of the population.

it's very minor and not necessary for the argument as a whole to be valid.

I picked on that bit because it's the only statement that can be subjected to scientific inquiry. And it's not 'minor', because he wants us to accept a 'natural morality' on that basis.

An ancient book full of all sorts of nonsense is not a reasonable basis for a moral system.

It is if it produces results that a lot of people agree upon as desirable.

Belief in God is unnecessary for a moral system, and in fact can create problems.

True enough. All I'm suggesting here is that it's one possible way to get to a moral system. Belief in God is your starting axiom, the premise from which a moral system descends, not the moral system itself. A religion, in contrast, may include a fully-formed moral system constructed in that manner.

Religious people are not more or less rational than anyone else: it's just that the axioms from which they start their reasoning are different from (say) the atheist or agnostic. If I view God as the Christian God, who is illustrated as a God who loves his creation, wants us to be happy, and look after each other, there's only one way I could create a nightmarish morality from that: I ignore the axiom, or I deploy flawed logic. This absolutely does happen - witness the Inquisition - but I would suggest that's the less likely outcome.

Misery is objectively bad and people understand this. Conversely, well-being is objectively good.

Absolutely and demonstrably not true, which is why I keep banging on about it. Misery is subjectively bad - it's something that nice well-adjusted people like Sam Harris find to be "obviously" good, and which people in the world's backward shitholes either take as "obviously" normal or as something inflicted on others for entertainment. Your definition of "people" is "people who share my views".

If you want to claim an objective reality, you must be able to point to some feature of the physical universe that defines human (or animal) misery as bad. Harris realizes this, and the best that he can come up with is a hand-waving argument about evolution, which is easily dismissed by evidence.

Come to think of it, there are plenty of nice, well-adjusted people who don't think animal misery is bad, and they'll give you a whole load of convoluted "logic" to explain why. Whether you fall into the "animal misery is bad" or the "animal misery is of no consequence" camp depends only on your prejudices. If that were not so, everyone would think the same way.

Triceratopes said more-or-less the same thing just there.

A system of morality can be grounded in axiomatic assumptions, like other fields of science.

Not can be. Must be. The point is that you can pick your axioms at random. You can decide that God is a vengeful psychopath who wants everyone to be miserable (bits of the Muslim world seem to believe this). You can decide that God wants to minimize misery (a fairly common conception). Or you can decide that there is no God at all and make up absolutely any rules you like; there are no meta-rules to guide your selection of rules, which is where it all turns to crap for the secular moralist.

That's all it takes to reach a moral system based on consensus.

That works only if people start from the view (as Harris does) that a system of morality should be based on maximizing the common good. You misunderstand my point about evil people. I'm not talking about 'less moral' people, or statistical outliers. I'm talking about entire communities of outright evil people: people who worship the four horsemen, whose moral system is constructed around the assumption that evil is good. I can't tell if you simply haven't encountered this phenomenon or if you're denying that it exists.
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby Tempo Gain » 16 Feb 2016, 16:08

triceratopses wrote:As I said mind (subject awareness) is just a false appearance. It seems to exist, but it doesn't actually. What actually exists is just moving particles. The same way that a stick with one end on fire exists, but a circle of fire does not it is just a stick with one end on fire being spun very quickly.

As such all mental states, including the qualia of well-being and the qualia of suffering, are false appearances. They do not actually exist, they do not actually function, they're just a fire circle. "Well-being" is just a name for a sequence of moving particles (can be examined from physics pov, biological pov, etc)


I find that entirely irrelevant. What matters is the awareness in itself. Sure, it's just a factor of chemical reactions in our brain. So what? My mind works--it's done so time and time again in testable and predictable ways--and the same can be said for people in general. You're taking something very simple--people have minds that work--and making it unnecessarily complicated for reasons that I won't pretend to understand.

Therefore there is ZERO distinction between well-being, ripping all the skin off the faces of young children for fun, and living and dying, outside of pointing to each and saying "in this case the particles are moving this way, and in this case the particles are moving that way". There's no morality present, there's no goodness or badness about movements and arrangements of particles.

Harris always appeals to the common notion that we know one is bad and one is good, but these notions are illusions.


I'll stick with Harris. I don't think for a second that thought is an illusion, but I don't care if it is. If my pain is an illusion, do I still not feel pain? Is death an illusion? I asked you a question but you did not answer: is it better to live or to die?
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby BrentGolf » 16 Feb 2016, 16:14

finley wrote:No, I said that claiming there is no God is an act of faith.


I don't know why you're having so much trouble with this. An atheist is a person who doesn't believe in God or gods. It is not a claim there is no God, that is an entirely separate issue with different words attached to it. Atheism is quite simply just a rejection of a god claim.

If you tell me that you have an invisible baby fire breathing dragon in your hand, I will likely reject that claim based on bad evidence. I will not believe you until you could provide adequate proof. Would you then be tempted to say that it's my FAITH that I'm anti invisible baby fire breathing dragon because I rejected your claim?

Atheism is simply, AND ONLY a lack of belief in God or gods.


finley wrote:Religious people are not more or less rational than anyone else


On the aggregate when balancing all subjects and the totality of a persons life, of course they aren't. There's plenty of religious people who in many other areas of their life are very rational and intelligent.

On the specific subject of God, absolutely they are less rational. A belief in God requires rationality to be set aside. It requires a person to suspend all normal levels of acceptance of evidence that they use in all other walks of life.


finley wrote:If I view God as the Christian God, who is illustrated as a God who loves his creation, wants us to be happy, and look after each other, there's only one way I could create a nightmarish morality from that: I ignore the axiom, or I deploy flawed logic. This absolutely does happen - witness the Inquisition - but I would suggest that's the less likely outcome.


Of course you could create a nightmarish morality from it. All that's required for that is to read the book as it's written and follow it. Read it, absorb it, follow it. In the case of Christianity and Islam, that would necessarily lead to human misery and suffering which I would think qualifies as nightmarish morality. You make it sound like there was no scriptural basis for the inquisition.


finley wrote:Absolutely and demonstrably not true, which is why I keep banging on about it. Misery is subjectively bad - it's something that nice well-adjusted people like Sam Harris find to be "obviously" good, and which people in the world's backward shitholes either take as "obviously" normal or as something inflicted on others for entertainment. Your definition of "people" is "people who share my views".


A smashed and non functional brain is worse than a perfectly functional one, just like a smashed and broken computer is at a lower functional state than a brand new one. So bashing someones head in with a bat is "bad." It is not subjective to say that it's immoral to smash someones brain to pieces with a bat, and it doesn't require people to share my views on that. If they don't share them, they are immoral, objectively.
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby Tempo Gain » 16 Feb 2016, 16:33

I picked on that bit because it's the only statement that can be subjected to scientific inquiry. And it's not 'minor', because he wants us to accept a 'natural morality' on that basis.


I don't think so. The far greater part of his argument is entirely independent of any consideration of evolution.

It is if it produces results that a lot of people agree upon as desirable.

How does it produce those results though? Who decides what's good in it?

Belief in God is unnecessary for a moral system, and in fact can create problems.

True enough. All I'm suggesting here is that it's one possible way to get to a moral system. Belief in God is your starting axiom, the premise from which a moral system descends, not the moral system itself. A religion, in contrast, may include a fully-formed moral system constructed in that manner.

Religious people are not more or less rational than anyone else: it's just that the axioms from which they start their reasoning are different from (say) the atheist or agnostic. If I view God as the Christian God, who is illustrated as a God who loves his creation, wants us to be happy, and look after each other, there's only one way I could create a nightmarish morality from that: I ignore the axiom, or I deploy flawed logic. This absolutely does happen - witness the Inquisition - but I would suggest that's the less likely outcome.


That's another question, but I wonder. I have no problem with a system based on positive ideas, but who decides what's positive? Such conceptions change over time for one thing. Humanity has input into decisions about moral values, independent of anything any god might have said 2000 years ago.

Absolutely and demonstrably not true, which is why I keep banging on about it. Misery is subjectively bad - it's something that nice well-adjusted people like Sam Harris find to be "obviously" good, and which people in the world's backward shitholes either take as "obviously" normal or as something inflicted on others for entertainment. Your definition of "people" is "people who share my views".


I believe that we can make objective determinations about such questions based on our subjective view of reality. Certainly different societies have different standards based on different conditions, but what does that say? Which shithole do people want to suffer in. If people live in a society where suffering is a more of a daily reality than in our more fortunate societies, then they will become inured to it, with deleterious moral effects. But they still know the difference between suffering and well-being. Go up to someone in one of those places and offer them a piece of fruit, or smack them in the face, and see the reaction you get. I see this as part an parcel of the human condition, which has been constantly changing over the history of humanity. When survival is at a premium, other considerations start to take second place. Yet, enough people live in fortunate circumstances in our day that we have made moral progress.

If you want to claim an objective reality, you must be able to point to some feature of the physical universe that defines human (or animal) misery as bad. Harris realizes this, and the best that he can come up with is a hand-waving argument about evolution, which is easily dismissed by evidence.


I'm not saying it's an objective reality. I'm saying that we can make objective judgments about concepts with regards to their effect on human misery or well-being.

Come to think of it, there are plenty of nice, well-adjusted people who don't think animal misery is bad, and they'll give you a whole load of convoluted "logic" to explain why. Whether you fall into the "animal misery is bad" or the "animal misery is of no consequence" camp depends only on your prejudices. If that were not so, everyone would think the same way.


This is more of a complicated question from the point of view of our species.

A system of morality can be grounded in axiomatic assumptions, like other fields of science.

Not can be. Must be. The point is that you can pick your axioms at random. You can decide that God is a vengeful psychopath who wants everyone to be miserable (bits of the Muslim world seem to believe this). You can decide that God wants to minimize misery (a fairly common conception). Or you can decide that there is no God at all and make up absolutely any rules you like; there are no meta-rules to guide your selection of rules, which is where it all turns to crap for the secular moralist.


Or you can work from simple ideas about human well-being. Why is that crap? And what are these "meta-rules" that apparently exist?

That works only if people start from the view (as Harris does) that a system of morality should be based on maximizing the common good. You misunderstand my point about evil people. I'm not talking about 'less moral' people, or statistical outliers. I'm talking about entire communities of outright evil people: people who worship the four horsemen, whose moral system is constructed around the assumption that evil is good. I can't tell if you simply haven't encountered this phenomenon or if you're denying that it exists.


I won't deny that people have to share ideas about moral concepts, if they are going to achieve such a system. Moral systems in human history have always been based on shared values. Where do you mean?
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Re: Theism/atheism debates

Postby finley » 16 Feb 2016, 17:13

If you tell me that you have an invisible baby fire breathing dragon in your hand, I will likely reject that claim based on bad evidence. I will not believe you until you could provide adequate proof. Would you then be tempted to say that it's my FAITH that I'm anti invisible baby fire breathing dragon because I rejected your claim?

No, because you do have pretty solid proof that I don't have a fire-eating dragon in my hand, viz., my hand hasn't been incinerated and you can't hear anything flapping around. Besides, while atheism does involve the rejection of a claim of God, it almost always involves the substitution of other beliefs - say, other explanations for observations about the existence of the universe and its properties. I don't know why you're having so much trouble with this.

Here's a more realistic example: dogs exhibit all the appearances of emotions - joy, pain, fear, etc - and I might tell you that, on the basis of my observations, I believe they experience emotions which are qualitatively similar to human ones. A fashionable atheist explanation is: oh, that's nothing but [instinctive reactions/conditioning/neurosomethingsomething].

Well, my hypothesis explains the observations just fine. In fact it explains them much better than the "nothing buttery" hypothesis, and is more theoretically sound (there isn't a huge difference between a dog's brain and genome, and a human's, so we would expect their biochemistry to be very similar). However, some people have a personal preference for the latter explanation. They often justify it as more 'rational' but it isn't, because its an inferior explanation for empirical facts and doesn't generate useful predictions. Their preference basically boils down to belief, or prejudice, or a need to justify some behaviour.

Note: I'm not suggesting all atheists are horrible to animals.

finley wrote:On the specific subject of God, absolutely they are less rational. A belief in God requires rationality to be set aside. It requires a person to suspend all normal levels of acceptance of evidence that they use in all other walks of life.

Of course it doesn't. You probably disagree with me on this, but the word 'rational' only applies to a chain of logic, not to the selection of predicates. If your conclusions - say, your personal moral rules - follow logically from your personal conception of God, then you are rational.

Of course you could create a nightmarish morality from it. All that's required for that is to read the book as it's written and follow it. Read it, absorb it, follow it. In the case of Christianity and Islam, that would necessarily lead to human misery and suffering which I would think qualifies as nightmarish morality. You make it sound like there was no scriptural basis for the inquisition.

Well, this is where it gets complicated, and why I try to maintain a distinction between 'belief in God' and 'religion'.

If you take any scriptural text, you can probably fish around and find justifications for bad behaviour. Or failing that, you can invent some. The theocrats who gave birth to the Inquisition got around the relative lack of violent exhortations in the New Testament by keeping the bible in a dead language, threatening people death and torture if they tried to read it for themselves or translated it, and kept the population in a state of fear, poverty and ignorance. This, I suggest, falls under the category of "ignoring your axioms" or "deploying faulty logic", since nowhere does Jesus suggest it's a good idea to burn people at the stake.

A personal belief in God need not have that outcome, although, as I said earlier, it depends who and what you conceive God to be. There absolutely are societies that believe God wants misery and suffering, and they set out - quite rationally - to make "his" wish come true.

So bashing someones head in with a bat is "bad." It is not subjective to say that it's immoral to smash someones brain to pieces with a bat, and it doesn't require people to share my views on that. If they don't share them, they are immoral, objectively.

Sez you, I'm afraid. Show me something about the universe - some evidence - that supports your view that smashing somebody's brain with a baseball bat is bad. Just because it results in a smashed brain doesn't make it bad, since that (one would assume) is the desired outcome, at least from the point of view of the bat-wielder.
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