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Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« on: 2002-03-07 03:34:37 »
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Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics.

URL: http://virus.lucifer.com/bbs/index.php?board=32&action=display&threadid=11557

Authors: Hermit

Revision: 1.1B (Full mark-up)

Author’s notes for revision: 1.1
Minor corrections made. Paragraphs correctly numbered.

Status
This is an introductory version of this document, and very much a work in progress, part of the Virian Ethics series on ethics and morality, provided in order to stimulate discussion on this topic with a view to further development of a Virian ethic. Comments and corrections are requested.

Abbreviated Copyright Notice
Copyright (C) The Church of Virus, 2002. All rights reserved. Unlimited distribution permitted in accordance with the terms of the Full copyright notice below.

Abstract
In this series, the invalidity of a religious basis of morality is demonstrated, and the argument is made that belief in gods is dependent on ethical - or at least "moral" considerations. Arguments are suggested to make this point to believers.

Table of Contents
    Title
    Authors
    Revision
    Author’s notes for revision
    Status
    Abbreviated Copyright Notice
    Abstract
    Table of Contents

      1 What Is (Introduction)
      2 The invalidity of arguments from the gods or the cathedral
      3 Is “Willed by the Gods” a “fundamental moral criterion”?
      4 Is “To avoid punishment by the gods” a “fundamental moral criterion”
      5 Is “the gods are good” a “fundamental moral criterion”
      6 Is “the gods are good” a substantive claim?
      7 Is “the gods are good” a statement of identity?
      8 Is “the gods are good” an analytic statement?
      9 The independence of morality and gods
      10 The believer’s response
      11 Circularity
      12 Weaseling
      13 The Tau in search of god
      14 Conclusion

    Full copyright notice
    Acknowledgements
    Bibliography
    References
    Authors’ addresses


Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics


1 What Is? (Introduction)

Every atheist has heard influential (and not so influential) Jewish, Islamic and Christian theologians and politicians declaim that the only genuine basis for “morality” is in religion. And not just any old religion. The religion of “Our Fathers.” Of course, the fact that they all have different fathers who believed very different things makes it a little tricky to decide which, if any, is correct. But, on the whole, these believers assert that the only truly adequate foundation for “moral belief” is a religion that acknowledges the absolute sovereignty of their particular “Lord” as found in their particular brand of prophetic religion. If we listen to even the most apparently reasonable believers closely as they speak on this topic, they are effectively indistinguishable from someone like Osoma bin Laden in their fervid “rhetoric of morality”. While these theologians may grant what is plainly true, namely, that as a matter of fact many non-religious people behave “morally,” they contend that without a “belief” in “God” and “His Laws” there is no ground or reason for being “moral” and then typically, take a nosedive into slippery slope territory, and assert that the behaviour of the non-religious is unpredictable and unreliable, which explains why they are not to be trusted.

Frequently we hear assertions that the moral relativism, scepticism and nihilism which they perceive not only as “Evil”, but rampant, is due in large measure to the general weakening of religious “belief” in an age of science. This horrifies such people. From their pulpits and soapboxes they roar that without “God” there can be no objective foundation for our “moral beliefs”. As Brunner put it, “The believer alone clearly perceives that the Good, as it is recognized in faith, is the sole Good, and all that is otherwise called good cannot lay claim to this title, at least in the ultimate sense of the word… The Good consists in always doing what God wills at any particular moment.” [“The Divine Imperative”, Brunner, Emil (1947), translated by Olive Wyon, London: Lutterworth Press, chapter IX.]. Moreover, this “moral Good” can only be attained by our “unconditional obedience” to “God”, the “ground of our being.” “Without God,” he asserts, “life would have no point and ‘morality’ would have no basis”. Without “religious belief”, without the “Living God”, there could be no adequate answer to the persistently gnawing questions, “What ought we to do?” and “How ought I to live?”

The atheist might stare at this, jaw agape, and ask herself what she is doing reading such tripe, decorated by as pretty a random assortment of capitalization as ever flagged faulty reasoning and logic. Yet most people will readily assent that these are widely held opinions and perhaps account, in large measure, for the negative opinion held by believers of atheists, at least in the more religious nations. In fact, it is not particularly difficult to identify various glaring weaknesses in the above, and which many atheists, especially those with a little exposure to debate, would immediately cite:

1.1 Argument:

    Unless a god or gods, existed outside of the minds of their believers, and made their will know to all men, the entire central basis of “religious” or “absolute morality” asserted by the “believers” is unfair and thus invalid.
    To the best of atheist knowledge, such gods or god, and they exist, have never made their will known to “all” men. They can undoubtedly assert this, as it has never been made to them.
    Given that the primary supporting premise fails, the claim to the validity of a “religious morality” or “absolute morality” must fail.

By this argument, “religious morality” is apparently shown to be a rudderless barque [a not very navigable sailing cargo ship] of frailty [whores were often called “barques of frailty” in late Victorian London], and atheists abandon this worthless, drifting vessel and define various alternative “moral systems.” A few go the extra step, abandoning “morality” and relying on a system of ethics (some much better than others), and naturally conclude that any ethical system is superior to a supposedly absolute system which has no foundations.

Unfortunately, the “true believer” is highly unlikely to accept this argument – seeing it as a slap in the face of all believers, resting exclusively on the rejection of his god or gods – and the only grounds upon which he can imagine “morality” being based. Having rejected the reasoning of Argument 1.1, due to his reliance on gods, the believer despises the atheist as “immoral” or at best, amoral, clutches ever more tightly to his “beliefs” and opposes all atheists everywhere, to the full extent possible.  This means that, believers are never going to have an opportunity to examine or develop a better platform. This is an unfortunate, but inescapable consequence of the advocacy of this argument irrespective of its validity or otherwise.

The atheist quite certain, from Argument 1.1 and not infrequently from bitter experience, is quite certain that the typical believer has all the ethics of a shark at feeding time, at least when it comes to dealing with atheists. And may well be right. Absolute morality having been nullified, relativism is left as the default platform, and many atheists, it seems, base their relationships with other men on that platform. Thus Christian, Jew and Muslim (at least) call atheists names for being godless heathens – and undoubtedly mean by this, that atheists are not to be trusted. And perhaps they are sometimes right too. While we would suggest that any system of ethics designed to optimize interpersonal and group relationships is more valid than an assortment of vague moral principles carefully designed to allow a believer to screw the opposition without blanching, on the grounds that their gods condone it, still, not a few atheists, particularly those well versed in philosophy, find relativism difficult to swallow on the grounds that there are more than a few difficulties involved in applying it effectively (this too will be covered later in this series).

Not a very good position for either side – and likely to become worse before it gets better as the numbers of “non-religious” people continue to rise and some very angry and threatened believers attempt to resist this progression. Meanwhile, atheists being attacked by believers attempt to fight back, and currently still being fewer in number, get badly bruised for their pains.

In our opinion, there are better ways, both of arguing and of building systems of ethics.

This series on ethics is intended to explore this area, and will hopefully point the interested atheist in an appropriate direction to formulate a rigorous and defensible system of ethics. One which does not pretend to impractical absolutes, untrammeled relativism, or is too vague to be of use as a guide - yet one which still remains simple enough to implement on a daily basis.

Simultaneously, most atheists have experienced, or attempted to comfort other atheists who have experienced, being bruised by having gods thrust into their noses – or worse. This particular article should provide the “battered atheist”, at least those with enough sense to realize that this issue is not going to be resolved by shouting “God is dead”, a means to one-up the idiots promoting the idea of the “immoral atheist” and provide an argument which will expose the invalidity of such criticism. It is our intention to make it entirely clear that the believers taking this position are standing not on a foundation, but on the crust over a quagmire. To achieve both of the above aims, without assaulting anyone’s beliefs but attempting to engage reason, we will advocate an alternative refutation to that proposed in Argument 1.1, which should be less abrasive to the believer and possibly more useful to the average atheist. However this series is particularly intended for the above-average atheist, a Virian or “Über-atheist” (to coin a phrase). The Über-atheist has gone beyond the need to define herself in terms of what she does not believe and is rationally seeking to redefine herself in terms of positive qualities, in other words, in terms of what she holds to be true, and what she deems important. After all, how many bald men describe their self as being without dark, fair, auburn, long, short or indeed any other kind of hair on their heads? Why should an “atheist” define herself in terms of unbelief? It is really only important on occasions when it becomes relevant – i.e. very seldom.

By now you no doubt want to know when I plan to stop waffling and how do we go about this process? The answer is now, and as carefully as a pair of porcupines attempting to mate.

Before we attempt to define a basis for morality which excludes a need for the approval of the “gods” or indeed any form of “transcendental approval” I would like to introduce the reason why this perceived need for approval is completely invalid, and will do so on a basis which shows why these arguments are unnecessary, invalid, and indeed harmful, even for a died in the wool fundamentalist. This will be done without ever needing to invalidate the existence of “gods” or any “higher powers” or even nőésis [one of Plato’s little horrors – it means that some things can purportedly be discovered through “internal revelation” without the benefit of discursive reasoning] in order to avoid the extreme dissonance caused by the presumption that the lack of gods invalidates a “moral system” as reflected in Argument 1.1 above.

For starters, we have to accept that the argument presented in Argument 1.1 above is not a very good one. Not only because it raises antagonism, but also because, as we shall show, it is not particularly sound. We know that if we ask anyone where they obtained their moral beliefs, they should, believer or not, to be realistic, answer that they got them from their parents, parent surrogates, teachers, etc. [“Morality: Religious and Secular”, Nowell-Smith, P. H. (1966), in Ramsey, Ian (ed), Christian Ethics and Contemporary Philosophy, London: SCM Press]. Moral beliefs, remembering that beliefs are those things held to be true on insufficient evidence or in the face of contrary evidence, are like all beliefs, simply things the holder has been conditioned to accept as true. But the validity or soundness of a moral system is independent of its origin. Whether somebody has a “moral system” they got from a bible or off the back of a packet of cornflakes, or learnt it in a church or a crack-den, we cannot judge their moral system on its origin. It is perfectly possible (albeit unlikely) that despite the fallacious attribution of authority, that the moral system held by a particular believer is in fact both ethical and good.

A rather more pertinent a question for a believer might be:

1.2 Question On what authority do you hold your “moral beliefs”?

If the believer seeks credibility, the answer should be that moral beliefs are not contingent on authority, as no moral beliefs can be reliant on authority. If we do what we do, simply because it has been authorized, we cannot be reasoning and acting as moral agents; for to respond as a moral agent, one's moral principle must be something which is subscribed to by one’s own deliberate commitment, and it must be something for which one is prepared to give reasons. If the believer replies that certain beliefs are held because his god or gods says that he should, the matter can – and will be – addressed in the fashion explained below, with the intention of proving that authority – even the supposed authority of a god or gods is insufficient to validate a moral system. Once that hurdle is overcome, return to 1.3.

Only once the believer has realized that authority cannot dictate a moral belief, is he ready for the question in 1.3.

1.3 Question: What good reasons or justification do you have for your “moral beliefs”?

If the answer is, “because I hold the following to be effective (or even good)” these reasons and the morality they imply can be discussed, and shown to be essentially indistinguishable from those held by an atheist. We would suggest that topics to cover should include the differences between ethics and morality, along with what validates an ethical and moral system and shall attempt to introduce these concepts latter in this series.

Unfortunately, most believers will take a long while to reach this point. The arguments in the following chapters are designed to accelerate this process.


2 The invalidity of arguments from the gods or the cathedral

For a believer to establish that they their morality is absolute and “willed by the gods” and to provide grounds that the belief is justified, they would have to show that “the gods will this” is a “fundamental criterion” or perhaps the “only possible criterion” or perhaps even “an adequate criterion” to that which “the gods’ will” being “morally good”, or even just “obligatory”.

Perhaps we should make this explicit in a series of related questions for the believer:

2.1 Question:

    Is “being willed by the gods” a fundamental criterion for that which is so willed being morally good or for its being something that ought to be done?

2.2 Question:

    Is “being willed by the gods” the only criterion for that which is so willed being morally good or for its being something that ought to be done?

2.3 Question:

    Is “being willed by the gods” the only adequate criterion for that which is so willed being morally good or being something that ought to be done?

When we speak of the criterion for the goodness of an action or attitude we speak of some measure or test by virtue of which we may decide which actions or attitudes are good or desirable, or, at least, are perhaps, the least undesirable of the alternate actions or attitudes open to us (As in the “First, do no harm” of the Hippocratic oath).

A “moral criterion” is a measure used to determine the value or worth of an action, principle, rule or attitude. If we were to find some generally relevant objective considerations by which we may decide whether something is whatever it is said to be, we would have such a measure or test. [In reality, there probably is no single fundamental criterion, although there are fundamental criteria]. A “fundamental moral criterion” is thus a test or measure used to judge the legitimacy of moral rules and/or acts or attitudes, and the measure that one would give up last if one were reasoning morally.


3 Is “Willed by the Gods” a “fundamental moral criterion”?

Many theologians and other somewhat more honest believers, claim that “ethical principles” are automatically “justified” only when they are the decrees of their particular gods, but as A.C. Ewing points out, if “being obligatory” just means “willed by God”, it becomes unintelligible to ask why “God” wills one thing rather than another [“The Autonomy of Ethics”, Ewing, A. C. (1961), in Ramsey, Ian (ed), “Prospect for Metaphysics”, London: Allen and Unwin]. In fact, there can be no reason for the gods to will one thing rather than another, for their willing it so, nolens volens and eo ipso [willy nilly and from the self] makes whatever it is the gods will “good, right or obligatory.”

In other words, speaking logically, “the gods will it because it ought to be done” becomes “the gods will it because the gods will it.” Even in the hands of an ardent believer, the former is not a tautology, tries it ever so hard to pretend to be one. “If it were said in reply that God’s commands determine what we ought to do but that these commands are only issued because it was good that they should be, or because obedience to them did good, this would still make judgements about the good at least, independent of the will of God, and we should not have given a definition of all fundamental ethical concepts in terms of God or made ethics dependent on God.” [ibid., P 39]. Furthermore, it becomes senseless to say what the believer very much wants to say, namely, “I ought always to do what my gods will” if “what I ought to do” and “what my gods will” means the same thing. An additional problem, which is sometimes introduced, is that a believer sometimes makes the claim, “I ought to do what the gods will because I love the gods.” This is confused because it combines the independent assumptions that “I ought to love the gods” and that “I ought to do what the gods will if I love them”, but as we shall see, this too is no justification for a “moral system.”


4 Is “To avoid punishment by the gods” a “fundamental moral criterion”

Suppose we say instead, that we ought to do what the gods will because the gods will punish us if we do not obey them. This may indeed be a cogently self-interested or prudential reason for doing what the gods command, but it is hardly a morally good reason for doing what they commands, since such considerations of self-interest cannot be an adequate basis for morality. A powerful being, even an “omnipotent” and “omniscient” being - speaking out of a burning bush or hiding in a whirlwind, cannot, by his mere command, create an obligation any more than an ordinary schoolyard bully can. As A.C. Ewing put it, “Without a prior conception of God as good or his commands as right, God would have no more claim on our obedience than Hitler or Stalin except that he would have more power than even they had to make things uncomfortable for those who disobey him” [ibid., p 40] Unless we assume that “God” is “morally perfect”, unless we assume the “perfect goodness of God”, there can be no necessary “relation between being commanded or willed by God and being obligatory or good”. [ibid., p 41]


5 Is “the gods are good” a “fundamental moral criterion”

To this it is perfectly consistent for a believer to assert that we must believe that “God” is “wholly and completely good”, the “most perfect of all conceivable beings” [“Metaphysical Schemes and Moral Principles”, Rees, D. A. (1961), in “Prospect for Metaphysics”, op. cit., p 23]. It is not open for a Jew, Muslim or a Christian to question the “goodness of his gods”. He must start with that assumption. By definition, any man who seriously questions his gods’ goodness or asks why he should obey his gods’ commands shows by this very response that he is not a Jew, Muslim or a Christian. Believers must claim that the gods are “wholly and utterly good” and that what they will or command is of necessity good, though this does not entail that the believer is claiming that the necessity here is a logical necessity. For a believer, the gods are “all good”; they are indeed, the “perfect good”. This being so, it would seem that the believer is justified in saying that he and we, if his claims concerning his gods are correct, ought to do what the gods will and that our morality is after all grounded in a belief in the gods. But this claim is clearly dependent on the assumption that the gods are “good”. Yet, even if the gods are “good”, indeed, even if the gods are the “perfect good”, it does not follow that morality can be based on religion, and that we can know what we ought to do simply by knowing what the gods wish us to do.

To come to understand the grounds for this last claim, we must consider the logical status of the statement, “the gods are good”. Is it a non-analytic and in some way substantive claim, or is it analytic? Or can we say that it is neither? No matter what we say, we get into difficulties.


6 Is “the gods are good” a substantive claim?

Let us first try to claim that it is non-analytic, that it is in some way a substantive statement. So understood, the “gods” cannot then be, by definition, “good”. Indeed, if the statement is synthetic and substantive, its denial cannot be self-contradictory; that is, it cannot be self-contradictory to assert “X is God” but “X is not good”. It would in fact always be wrong to assert this, for the believer asserts “the gods are the perfect good”, but the denial of this claim is not self-contradictory, it is just false or in some way mistaken. The “is” in “God is the perfect good” is not the “is” of an identity; perfect goodness is being predicated of “God” in some logically contingent way. It is the religious experience of the believer and his interpretation of the events recorded in the babble or what he has been told about his gods, that leads the believer to the steadfast conviction that his “God” or “Gods” have a purpose or vocation for him which he can fulfill only by completely submitting to the will of the gods. His gods have to lead him and guide him in minute detail, in every thought, word and deed. Otherwise he will be like a man shipwrecked, lost in a vast and indifferent Universe. Perhaps, through lack of attention to the babble or other source of “god knowledge”, he comes to understand that his gods are wholly good beings, who always deal faithfully with their “chosen people”. That is, that his gods are not by definition “perfectly good” or even “just good”, but in reality (though not of logical necessity), they never fall short of perfection.

Assuming that the gods are “good” is not a truth of language, how then do we know that the gods are “good”? Do we know, or have good grounds for accepting that the remarks made at the end of the above paragraph are so? The believer may perhaps make such a claim, but how do we or indeed he know that this is so? What grounds have we for believing that the gods are “good”? Naive people, recalling how “God” spoke to Job out of the whirlwind [Job 38:1] may say that “God” is good because he is “omnipotent” and “omniscient”. But this clearly will not do, for, as Hepburn points out, there is nothing logically improper about saying “X is omnipotent and omniscient and morally wicked.”[“Christianity and Paradox”, Hepburn, Ronald (1958), London, C. A. Watts, p 132]. Surely in the world as we know it, there is no logical connection between being powerful and knowledgeable and being good. As far as we can see, all that “God” proved to Job when he supposedly spoke to him from out of the whirlwind was that “God” was an immeasurably powerful being. He certainly did not prove his moral superiority to Job and he did nothing at all to exhibit moral goodness. Even a devout follower of this God might agree that it would be quite reasonable to go so far as to say that this tale shows “God” exhibiting moral wickedness – at least if it were not his “God”. There is no logical necessity to assume that omnipotence and omniscience bring with them goodness or even wisdom any more than this is true of ordinary power or knowledge.

What other reasons could there be for claiming, the gods are “good”? We might say that the gods are “good” because they supposedly tell us to “do good”, in thought, word and deed and to love one another. In short, it might be suggest that in their lives and precepts the gods exhibits their goodness and love for us. While an “evil atheist” might argue that paediatric oncology wards and concentration camps show that such a claim is false, let us assume that the gods do, after all, in some mysterious way, exhibit their goodness to man.

Let us temporarily shun reason and assume that if we examine the alleged “works of the gods” we cannot but affirm that the gods are good (and this would be quite an extraordinary assumption). Let us, through belief (in this case, in the face of contrary evidence) come to understand that the gods are not cruel, callous or indifferent. But in order to make such judgements or to gain such an understanding we must use our own logically independent moral criteria. In taking the goodness of the gods as not being true by definition, or as being some kind of conceptual truth, we have, in asserting that the “gods are good,” of necessity made a moral judgement, a moral appraisal, using a criterion that cannot be based on the supposed knowledge that the gods exist or that they issue commands. We may call the gods good, because we have experienced the goodness of their acts, but in order to do this, in order to know that they are good or to have any grounds for accepting that they are good, we must have an independent moral criterion, which we can use in making this predication of the gods. So if  “the gods are good” is taken to be synthetic and substantive, then morality simply cannot be based on a belief in the gods. We must of logical necessity have some criterion of goodness that is not derived from any statement asserting that there is a deity.


7 Is “the gods are good” a statement of identity?

Let us alternatively, and perhaps more plausibly, take “the gods are good” to be a truth of language. Now some truths of language (i.e. analytic statements) are statements of identity, such as “a kitten is a young cat”, or “a bitch is a she dog.” Such statements are definitions and the “is”, indicates identity. But “the gods are good” is clearly not such a statement of identity, for the fact is that “gods” does not have the same meaning as “good”. This can trivially demonstrated, e.g. we would not say “That was a god thing to do” meaning “that was a good thing to do.” And when we say “conscientiousness is good” we do not mean to say “conscientiousness is God.” To say, as a believer might, that “God is good” is not to say that “good is God” or even “God is God”. This clearly indicates that the word “God” does not have the same meaning as the word “good”. When we are talking about “God” we are not talking simply about morality.

“God is the perfect good” is somewhat closer to “a bitch is a she dog”, but even here “God” and “the perfect good” are not identical in meaning. “God is the perfect good” in some important respects is like “a square is a quadrilateral.” Though something is a square only if it is a quadrilateral, the reverse is not implied, “square” and “quadrilateral” do not have the same meaning. It may be true that something is “God” if, and only if, that something is the “perfect good”, but it does not follow that “God” and “the perfect good” mean the same thing. When we speak of gods we may wish to say other things about them as well, though indeed what is true of “the gods” may also be true of the “perfect good”. Yet what is true of the evening star will also be true of the morning star, since they both refer to the same object, namely Venus, but, as Gottlob Frege ( http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Frege.html ) proved, it does not follow that two terms have the same meaning if they have the same referent.

Even if it could be made out that “God is the perfect good” is in some way a statement of identity, it would not make “God is good” a statement of identity, and we could know that X is the perfect good only if we already knew how to decide that X is good. So even the assertion that “God is the perfect good” is somehow a statement of identity leaves us grasping for an independent way of deciding whether something is good. In other words, we must have an independent criterion for goodness to be able to make this statement with validity and thus, the statement appears to be analytic.


8 Is “the gods are good” an analytic statement?

Surely this is more plausible than the alternative possibilities. That “the gods are good” appears to be analytic in the way that “kittens are young”, “a square is a geometric figure” or “unjustified killing is wrong” are analytic. These statements are not statements of identity; they are not definitions, though they all follow from definitions, and to deny any of them is self-contradictory. In short, it seems correct to maintain that that the assertion, “the gods are good”, like the assertions that “kittens are young” and “squares are quadrilaterals” are all truths of language; the predicates partially define their subjects. That is to say, to adopt for a moment a Platonic sounding idiom (shudder), goodness is partially definitive of godhood, as youngness is partially definitive of kittenhood and as four-sidedness is partially definitive of squaredom. To accept this, however provisionally, is not at all to claim that we can have no understanding of good without an understanding of “God.”

It should be apparent that if “the gods are good” is a “truth of language”, then we could not understand the full religious sense of what is meant by “gods” without knowing that whatever is denoted by this term is said to be good; but, just as “young” or “four-sided” are understood without reference to kittens or squares (though the converse is not true), so “good” may also understood quite independently of any reference to gods. We can intelligibly say, “I have a four-sided figure here, that is most certainly not a square” and “lambs are young, but they are not kittens.” If we had no understanding of the word young, and if we did not know the criteria for deciding whether a cat was young, we could not know how correctly to apply the word kitten. Without such a prior understanding of what it is to be young, we could not understand the phrase “kittens are young.” Similarly, if we had no understanding of the use of the word good, and if we did not know the criteria for deciding whether a being (or if you will, a force or power) was good, we could not know how to apply the word “gods”. Without such a prior understanding of goodness, we could not understand the sentence “the gods are good.” Along the same lines, we can say “conscientiousness, under most circumstances at least, is good, even in a world without gods.” Such an utterance is clearly intelligible, to believer and non-believer alike. It is a well-formed English sentence with a use in the language. Here we use the word good without either asserting or assuming the reality of “gods”. Such linguistic evidence shows that good is a concept which can be understood quite independently of any reference to gods, that morality without religion and without theism, is quite possible. In fact, just the reverse is the case. Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other theistic religions of that sort could not exist if people did not have a moral understanding that was, logically speaking, quite independent of such religions. We could have no understanding of the truth of “the gods are good” or of the concept “gods” unless we had an independent understanding of goodness.


9 The independence of morality and gods

The above shows that our understanding of morality and knowledge of goodness are independent of any knowledge that we may or may not have of the divine. Indeed, without a prior and logically independent understanding of good and without some non-religious criterion for judging something to be good, the religious person could have no knowledge of “gods”, for he could not know whether those powerful beings who supposedly spoke out of the whirlwind and laid the foundations of the earth were in fact worthy of worship and perfectly good.

From this argument we should conclude that we cannot decide whether something is good or whether it ought to be done simply from finding out (assuming that we can find out) that the “gods” commanded it, willed it or enjoined it. Furthermore, whether “the gods are good” is synthetic (substantive) or analytic (a truth of language), the concept of good must be understood as something distinct from the concept of “gods”; that is to say, a man could know how to use “good” properly and still not know how to use “gods”. Conversely, a man could not know how to use “gods” correctly unless he already understood how to use “good”. An understanding of goodness is logically prior to, and is independent of, any understanding or acknowledgement of “gods.”


10 The believer’s response


In attempting to counter the above arguments for the necessary independence of morality, from any beliefs about the existence or powers of a deity, the religious moralist, in an attempt to defend the central facet of religious morality, might begin by conceding that:

    there are secular moralities that are logically independent of religion, and
    that we must understand the meanings of moral terms independently of understanding what it means to speak of “gods”.


The religious moralist might even follow this logic far enough to grant that only a man who understood what good and bad were could come to believe in gods. “Good”, he might grant, does not mean “willed by the gods” or anything like that; and perhaps, if more rational than most, he might even acknowledge that “Even if there are no gods, human happiness would nonetheless be good” is indeed a perfectly intelligible moral utterance.

Yet even if he were to grant all of the above, he will still likely insist that Jew, Muslim or Christian must, on pain of ceasing to be Jew, Muslim or Christian, take “God’s will” as their final court of appeal, in the making of moral appraisals or judgements. After all, the believer must reject any rule, act or attitude that conflicts with what he sincerely believes to be the “will of God”. “It is indeed true”, he might say, “that in making moral judgements the Jew, Muslim or Christian does not always use God’s will as a criterion for what is good or what ought to be done”. He might acknowledge that when he says, “fluoridation is a good thing” or “the resumption of nuclear testing is a crime”, he need not be using “God’s will” as a criterion for his moral judgement, but will still attempt to insist that where any moral judgement or any other moral criterion conflicts with “God’s” ordinances, or with what the person making the judgement honestly takes to be “God’s” ordinances, he must accept those ordinances, or he is no longer a Jew, Muslim or a Christian. To the believer, this acceptance is a crucial test of his faith. In this way, “God’s will” remains his fundamental moral criterion.


11 Circularity

It is clear that when the orthodox Jew, Muslim or Christian reasons in this way, though he says that “God’s will” is his fundamental criterion, it is still plain that he has a yet more fundamental criterion, which he must use in order to employ “God’s will” as a moral criterion. Such religious moralists must believe and thus be prepared to make the moral claim that there exists a being or beings whom he deems to be perfectly good or worthy of worship and whose will should always be obeyed. But to do this, he must have a moral criterion (a standard for what is morally good) that is independent of “God’s will” or what people believe to be “God’s will”. In fact, the believer's moral criterion, “because it is willed by God”, is in logical dependence on some distinct criterion in virtue of which the believer judges that something is perfectly good, is worthy of worship. And in making this very crucial judgement he cannot appeal to “God’s will” as a criterion, for, that there is a being worthy of the appellation “God” depends in part on the above prior moral claim. Only if it is correct, can he justifiably say that there is a “God”.

It is crucial to keep in mind that “a wholly good being exists who is worthy of worship” is not analytic, is not a truth of language, even though “God is wholly good” might be. The former is rather a substantive moral statement (expressing a moral judgement) and a very fundamental one indeed, for the believer's whole faith rests on it. Drop this and everything goes.


12 Weaseling

It may be tempting to the believer to attempt to respond, “It is blasphemy to judge God; so no argument, no matter how logical its structure, can be correct if it says that the believer must judge that God is good.” Here we must beware of verbal magic and attend very carefully to precisely what it is that is being said. We did not, and on pain of contradiction could not say that “God” must be judged worthy of worship, “perfectly good”; for “God” by the believer’s definition is “worthy of worship” and “perfectly good”. We said something quite different, namely that believer and non-believer alike must decide whether there exists or could conceivably exist a force, a being, that is worthy of worship or perfectly good; and further that in deciding this, one makes a moral judgement that can in no way be logically dependent on the will of the gods. Rather, the moral standard, “because it is willed by God” is dependent for its validity on the acceptance of the claim that there is a being worthy of worship. And as our little word “worthy” indicates, this is unequivocally and unarguably a moral judgement for believer and non-believer alike.

Nothing could count as the Judeo-Christian “God” unless that reality is worthy of worship and it is our own moral insight that must tell us if anything at all is or ever possibly could be worthy of worship or whether there is a being who possesses perfect goodness. Thus, rather than morality being based on religion, it can be seen that religion in a very fundamental sense must be based on morality, no matter how offensive the believer finds this to be.

The counter-argument that such a conclusion is premature because the judgement that something is worthy of worship is not a moral judgement but an evaluative judgement or even a “religious evaluation” rather than a moral judgement may be disproved as follows. If the judgement involved is were not a moral judgement, then demonolatry (the worship of “evil spirits”), would be quite justifiable. Most Christians, Jews and Muslims regard demonolatry as morally and religiously perverse. Hence their argument must be mistaken, some aspect of the judgement that there is a being worthy of worship involves a moral evaluation.

In addition, there are people who engage in demonolatry. By definition, these people cannot be Jews, Muslims or Christians, as they show by their linguistic behaviour that they do not believe in the Judeo-Christian “Gods” who, by their follower’s definition, is “perfectly good”. Jews, Muslims and Christians assert that believers in demonolatry do not believe in God but in evil spirits they judge worthy of worship. From this it follows that the Jews, Muslims and Christians and the demonolater make different moral judgements of a very fundamental sort reflecting different views of the world. If the believer persists in arguing that “if a thing is worthy of worship, then that thing is good”, they are also arguing that the things which demonologists worship are good. When they condemn such worship, they affirm the fact that they are making a moral judgement when deciding to worship their gods. Naturally, the demonologist may take up the opposite position, and assert that the actions of Jews, Muslims and Christians, and alleged actions of their gods, does not show the Judeo-Christian “Gods” to be either “good” or worthy of worship. They have made an alternative moral judgement and concluded that what the Judeo-Christians believe to be evil spirits are worthy of worship. If the ability to make this judgement is dependent on the gods, then surely the Jew, Christian or Muslim condemning them is in error?

13 The Tau in search of god
Were the believer to continue to attempt to argue, it would be natural to reply: “Still, you could not even call this being God unless you thought it to be good. You believe that your “God”, whatever else he may or may not be, is a fitting or proper object of worship.” This really is a material mode statement about the use of the word “God”; that is to say, you could not call “Tau” God unless that “Tau” was a fitting or proper object of worship or a being that ought to be worshipped. And if you say “Tau is a fitting object of worship" or “Tau ought to be worshipped” you must also be prepared to say “Tau is good”. “Tau” could not be one without being the other; and if “Tau” is a fitting object of worship, “Tau” is necessarily a being we would call “God”. Thus, if “Tau” is called “God”, then “Tau” must also of necessity be called good, since in Judeo-Christian contexts what ought to be worshipped must also be good. [This is a logical and appropriate remark about the use of the phrase “ought to be worshipped” in Judeo-Christian contexts.] God, by their definition, is good. Though the word God is not equivalent to the word good, we would not call a being or power “God” unless that being was thought to be good. As such, the believer has not derived a moral claim from a non-moral religious one. Rather, he has only indicated that the word God, like the words Saint, Santa Claus, Hunky, Nigger, Mick or Kike, is not a purely descriptive term. “God”, like “Saint”, etc., has an evaluative force; it expresses a pro-attitude on the part of the believer and does not just designate or even describe a necessary being or transcendent power or immanent force. Such a believer - unlike Schopenhauer - means by “God” something toward which he has an appropriate pro-attitude; employing this word with its usual evaluative force, he could not say, “God commands it but it is really evil to do it.” If, on the other hand, we simply think of what is purportedly designated or described by the word God - the descriptive force of the word - we can say, for example, without paradox, “an objective power commands it but it is evil to do it.” By simply considering the reality allegedly denoted by the word “God”, we cannot discover whether this “reality” is good. If we simply let “Tau” stand for this reality, we can always ask, “Is Tau good?” This is never a self-answering question in the way it is if we ask, “Is murder evil?” Take away the evaluative force of the word “God” and you have no ground for claiming that it must be the case that “God is good”; to make this claim, with our admittedly fallible moral understanding, we must decide if this “Tau” is good.

They may attempt to counter that we have missed the significance of the very point we made. That “God” is not just a descriptive word and “God-sentences” are not by any means used with a purely descriptive aim. That “God” normally has an evaluative use and “God-sentences” have a directive force. That we cannot begin to understand “God” or “God-sentences” if we do not take this into consideration. That we cannot just consider what “Tau” designates or purports to designate. Our reply to this is that we can and must if we are going to attain clarity in these matters. Certain crucial and basic sentences like “God created the Heavens and the earth” and “God is in Christ”, are by no means just moral or practical utterances and they would not have the evaluative force they do if it were not thought that in some strange way they described a mysterious objective power.

After all, the religious quest is a quest to find a “Tau” such that “Tau” is worthy of worship. This being the case, the evaluative force of the words and of the utterance is dependent on the descriptive force. How else but by their own moral judgement that “Tau” is a being worthy to be worshipped are they enabled to call this “Tau” “my Lord and my God”? Theists assert that there exists a “Tau” such that that “Tau” should be worshipped. Non-believers deny this or remain sceptical. Findlay, for example, points out that his atheism is in part moral because he does not believe that there can possibly be a “Tau” such that “Tau” is a worthy object of worship [“Can God’s Existence be Disproved?”, J. N. Findlay, “New Essays in Philosophical Theology”, Antony Flew and Alasdair Macintyre (eds), New York: Macmillan Company, 1955, pp 47-56]. Father Copleston, on the other hand, says there is a “Tau” such that “Tau” ought to be worshipped. This “Tau”, Father Copleston claims, is a “necessary being” whose non-existence is in some important sense inconceivable [“The Existence of God: A Debate”, Bertrand Russell and F. C. Copleston, “Why I am not a Christian”, Bertrand Russell, London: Allen and Unwin, 1957, pp 145-7]. But both Findlay and Copleston are using their own moral understanding in making their respective moral judgements. Neither is deriving or deducing his moral judgement from the statement “there is a Tau” or from noticing or adverting to the fact - if it is a fact - that “Tau” is “being-itself”, “a reality whose non-existence is unthinkable”, “the ground of being” or the like.

We have seen that morality cannot be based on religion. As we have seen, if anything, the opposite is partly true, for nothing can be God unless he or it is an object worthy of worship and it is our own moral insight that must tell us if anything at all could possibly be worthy of worship.

It is true that if some “Tau” is “God”, then, by definition, “Tau” is an object worthy of worship. But this does not entail there is such a “Tau”; that there is such a “Tau” would depend both on what is the case and on what we, as individuals, judge to be worthy of worship. “God is worthy of worship” is - for most uses of “God” - analytic. To understand this sentence requires no insight at all, but only a knowledge of English; put that there is or can be a “Tau” such that “Tau” is worthy of worship depends, in part at least, on the moral insight - or lack thereof – of men.


14 Conclusion

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Acknowledgements
Discussions with Joe Dees and other members of the CoV.

Bibliography
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 2002-02-04

References:

Authors’ addresses: hermit@lucifer.com
« Last Edit: 2010-01-07 04:56:39 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #1 on: 2002-03-15 15:20:10 »
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Hermit, My emphasis throughout
I suggest that this article tends to confirm the assertions made in Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics, and emphasizes why it is important to counter them.


TRB FROM WASHINGTON,
Bad Faith, by Peter Beinart


TRB FROM WASHINGTON - Bad Faith
by Peter Beinart

Post date 03.14.02 | Issue date 03.25.02

A month or so ago, in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters' annual convention, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the following: "Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator. Governments may guard freedom. Governments don't grant freedom. All people are called to the defense of the Grantor of freedom, and the framework of freedom He created." And with those words, Ashcroft encapsulated everything that is admirable, and everything that is awful, about the Bush administration's understanding of religion in the United States.

Conservatives seemed genuinely puzzled by the outcry over Ashcroft's words. "I think General Ashcroft was quite inclusive," said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council. "He made reference to Christians, Jews, and Muslims all recognizing the Creator as the origin of freedom." And in a sense, Connor was right. Not long ago a conservative cabinet member from a conservative administration, speaking before a conservative Christian audience, might not have mentioned Jews and almost certainly wouldn't have mentioned Muslims. Ashcroft was being ecumenical in a way that, say, Ed Meese probably wouldn't have been.

One reason is that the United States is more religiously diverse than it was two decades ago--Muslims, for instance, played a role in George W. Bush's electoral considerations in 2000 in a way they never did for Ronald Reagan. Another reason, of course, is September 11. Respect for American Muslims is now a critical component of American foreign policy.

But I don't think Ashcroft's ecumenicism is purely instrumental; I think he genuinely believes it. As TNR's Gregg Easterbrook and others have noted, conflict between religious denominations has declined in recent years as traditionalists from various faiths have joined in solidarity against what they perceive as a growing secular threat. Conservative Catholics and Southern Baptists have put aside their theological hostility to make common cause against abortion. Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews have come together to push for government support of religious education. And the affinity isn't only political; it's cultural as well. Writing in TNR last January, my friend Tevi Troy, an Orthodox Jew and former Ashcroft aide, noted that Ashcroft probably employed more Orthodox Jewish staffers than any other senator. "[A]s a devout person," Troy wrote, Ashcroft "feels an affinity to other believers."

The same goes for Ashcroft's boss, President Bush. After September 11, any American president would have insisted that most American Muslims do not support terrorism. But Bush, as TNR's Franklin Foer has noted, made a particular point of absolving Islam itself. Influenced by conservative intellectuals who argue that nothing truly religious can be evil, Bush quoted the Koran and declared that "Islam is peace." Last November, Bush hosted the first-ever White House dinner marking the start of Ramadan. Muslim dignitaries were invited to pray in the East Reception Room before listening to Bush tell the assembled that "America seeks peace with people of all faiths."

And with that line, Bush exhibited the same moral blindness as his attorney general. Of course the United States seeks peace with people of all faiths. But what about people of no faith at all? In fact, the Bush administration never mentions nonbelievers; it never suggests that they, too, possess a moral sense that leads them to abhor terrorism and defend freedom. To the contrary, Bush has said, "The true strength of America lies in the fact that we are a faithful America by and large." He has described the job of political leaders as "call[ing] upon the love that exists not because of government, that exists because of a gracious and loving God." As Vice President Cheney put it last year, "Every great and meaningful achievement in this life requires the active involvement of the One who placed us here for a reason."

Don't get me wrong. It's perfectly fine for Bush, Ashcroft, and Cheney to declare their faith. It's even fine for them to speak about the good they believe religion does in the world. But Tony Blair has done that as well, and yet he's also said, "This atrocity is an attack on us all, on people of all faiths and on people of none." As far as I can tell (and the website beliefnet.com chronicles George W.'s statements on religion), President Bush has never uttered a similar thought. And when he and his top advisers, in hundreds and hundreds of statements, never miss an opportunity to exclude nonbelievers, it's hard to believe the exclusion is purely accidental. Consider, again, Ashcroft's speech last month: "Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator.... All people are called to the defense of the Grantor of freedom...." Are individuals who don't see "the Creator" as "the source of freedom and human dignity" uncivilized? And how can "all people" be "called to the defense of the Grantor of freedom" if some people do not believe the Grantor exists? In lauding the attorney general's ecumenicism, conservatives ducked the real issue: that for this administration, celebrating the dignity of all believers has become a way to impugn the dignity of those who believe in no religion at all.

Politically, there are reasons for the Bush administration's behavior. While as many as 14 percent of Americans profess no faith, they are so unpopular among the population at large that affirming their decency is far more politically perilous than affirming the decency of Jews or Muslims. An April 2001 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life revealed that 66 percent of Americans viewed atheists unfavorably--almost twice the percentage that held a negative view of Muslims. And a survey that same year by the Kaiser Foundation, The Washington Post, and Harvard University found that 69 percent of Americans would be bothered by a close family member marrying an atheist.

There are ideological reasons as well. Many cultural conservatives equate secularism with relativism, and they genuinely believe that religion is the only source of morality. I think that's theoretically simplistic and empirically absurd--I doubt atheists and agnostics lie, cheat, steal, or fly airplanes into skyscrapers any more than anyone else. But if Bush and Ashcroft really think that, then they should have the courage to say it, and open up their arguments to scrutiny and rebuttal. What they are doing instead is worse: implicitly writing atheists and agnostics out of America's moral community. When they describe the country they love, they describe a place where people of different faiths live in harmony and equality, and where people who follow no faith simply do not exist.

Speaking last month in Beijing, President Bush declared: "Freedom of religion is not something to be feared; it's to be welcomed, because faith gives us a moral core." No, freedom of religion is to be welcomed because it allows some people to practice their faith--and, through it, to find a moral core. And it allows others to find a moral core far from churches and synagogues and mosques--secure in the knowledge that their government considers them just as civilized, and just as American, as anyone else.

Peter Beinart is the editor of The New Republic.

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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #2 on: 2002-03-20 06:02:10 »
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Apposite quotation:

I understand then why the doctrines that explain everything to me also debilitate me at the same time. They relieve me of the weight of my own life, and yet I must carry it alone.

From Camus, The Myth Of Sisyphus
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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #3 on: 2002-05-10 11:06:37 »
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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #4 on: 2006-07-07 21:13:31 »
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Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'

[Hermit: The following brief article describes a study by Gregory S. Paul, Baltimore, Maryland, the source for which is mysteriously omitted from the article, but which can be found at the Journal of Religion and Society*. The conclusion of the study is particularly worth reading. Most relevent to the CoV is possibly this statement from the "Discussion" section: "Conversely, evolution will probably not enjoy strong majority support in the U.S. until religiosity declines markedly."]

*Abstract at: http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11abs.html) and print version at http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/pdf/2005-11.pdf[pdf].

Source: The Times
Authors: Ruth Gledhill (Religion Correspondent)
Dated: 2005-09-27

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.

He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.

“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”
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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #5 on: 2006-09-18 22:09:33 »
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This is very interesting work Hermit, yet I was just curious about some of my own personal views which I have expressed to others in the past and how they would/could relate to what you say here (if at all). Although I do use the concepts of free-will and determinism in my examples and how they may apply.

Someone once asked (name bygone without recall):


Quote:
Do you think there are ethical truths? How can they exist without God or someone determining what is good and evil if we are nothing more than some really smart animals scampering around? I don't see the things animals do as evil, even when male moose fight one another for women and egos... It's seen as evil when humans do it... but not when moose do it.

And I replied to them with this:

A good thing to remember, which I would suggest here, is that you cannot apply ethical truths to such concepts as "good" and "evil". Good and Evil are moral concepts, not ethical ones. As far as ethics are concerned we have, in place of good and evil, "ethically rational" and "ethically irrational" natural concepts of our decisions since humans have no real control over their deterministic nature; this does not mean that they cannot overcome their nature just that they cannot control it directly. Faith in God for instance would not be a natural or rational concept in reality since such acts would go against our nature and thus all logical and rational thought and conclusion that we have and interpret in our known world. The acts of Jesus are an example here. Such acts of faith are irrational and illogical only as far as the reality we can perceive.

Ethics would not include "good" and "evil" since these are nondeterministic concepts (to include good or evil Free-Will would become requisite to the equation) instead ethics are based on rationale; there is no rationale where good and evil are included, this then means that there is no good and evil within nature, just that which we would consider ethically rational or ethically irrational.

Apropos, since ethics have no relation with God in the ways you describe, they can exist apart from or without said God.

So the awnser to your question becomes: its not "Evil" when humans do it, just natural.

-----------------------------------------

Another question which was asked was (I forget their name):


Quote:
Why is it that things deemed morally good (kindness to others) bring inner peace while things that are bad (hating people) bring inner turmoil? 

To which I responded with:

These "morals" you suggest are better refered to as "selfish genes". These selfish genes would be naturally inherited which have and continue to shape our evolution. Why do you do good things? where such selfish genes are concerned it is to get something in return. Why do we do bad things? again, where such selfish genes are concerned it is to obtain something that we want. These "morals" are inherited which we hold only dear to ourselves, in this way we can redefine them as "selfish genes". In calling these intents "morals" one but only guises ones true deterministic nature.

If there is such a thing which could be called or even described as "moral" by definition (i.e principles of virtue or divine law such as chastity, selflessness, charity, humility, self-denial, abstinency, altruism and perhaps even faith), we have either not yet discovered such a thing, or it is very rare occurring, usually because to be "truely moral" by definition is to go against ones nature and with it ones evolution where such selfishness is concerned and rationally applied. I guess one could argue or even use Jesus (again) as an example here and call him a "moral man" who was "selfless"; the reality of this world would be selfish down to the genetic core, as far as our own deterministic nature allows us to perceive such a reality, and with this both unfair and crule, all based on such niceties as "survival of the fittest"; more, we ourselves are evolutionary children of this world and so are inheriently selfish with it, to be truely "moral" goes against the very foundations of our genetic nature (which is to survive, and evolve with this and survvial is understandably, even reasonably selfish), but I would not say that such a thing as "true morality" is impossible, just unlikely, the weight of the world as they say is just to heavy to bear for most in such ways, and so most will succumb to the world. This can be easily demonstrated in many ways.

Why do somethings bring us inner peace? To make us feel better, to shut us up, to "prove" that we're doing the "right" thing or on the "right" path, or perhaps even to tempt us into something.

Why do somethings bring us inner turmoil? To inspire us to take action against something which is hindering or disrupting our survival, and thus make it feel all better which inexorably leads to the above.

---------------------------------------------

I was just curious, in your own view and opinion, based on your works here, what you would think or make of my replies here, or how they would, or could apply to some of the things you say, if possible. My apologies if I have misinterpreted anything here in thinking this.

Just curious.

Regards,

Fox


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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #6 on: 2006-09-19 16:57:19 »
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I started to write a reply, but the subject is complex and takes more effort than I can afford right now.

A good place to start is, as is often becoming the case, at wikipedia. Pay particular attention to the links from that page, and, I would especially recommend, the works of John Stuart Mill and Lawrence Kohlberg.

For what it is worth, here is where I started my reply, followed by a brief contextualizing postscript:

"Good" and "evil" are value judgements. Both are relative measurements which can  always be applied to perceived intent (the perceived intent justifies the perceived effects), sometimes can be applied to perceived effects (the perceived effects justifies the means) and possibly, occasionally, to actions (the perceived means can be justified by the perceived effect). This suggests a wide but not  inexpressible range of interpretation of value (4 observers (intender, the actuator, the recipient and the observer ), of 3 classes of subject (intent, action, effect), each applying a balance of 4 measures (perspective, observation, history and stance) to a continuum from unmitigated evil to undiluted good) which accounts for how people can easily disagree over the perception of value. This however, accounts for only half the story. Our determination of "good" and "evil" is generally held, by the society in which many of us live, to rely upon "morality" which is another whole can of worms.

Even though the study of morality is a suitable subject for ethical research, an ethical stance is quite different from a moral stance. While "classical" ethics starts with meta-ethics, questions related to the issue of whether ethics exist - or have any reality at all, I typically suggest that we can begin by resolving this with the observation that as we are able to discuss ethics, that therefore we perceive them and thus that they exist in our Universe and are suitable for study. Whether they are "real" or "imaginary" does not affect their utility. The study of ethics can be divided into a number of areas, for our purposes in answering your questions, two are significant. One is normative ethics, what and how we see something as ethical (or not), the other is applied ethics, or how to use ethical knowledge. In my book, the principle differentiators for an ethical stance is that it is a considered stance, and I suggest that this is diametrically opposed to the instinctive or "moral" stance. In my view, consideration of normative ethics best begins with the adoption of an articulated point-of-view (perspective) of the subject of an action and the analysis of the effect of that action upon the subject or subjects as well as upon the initiator and other actors. So doing means that we can explicitly adopt the viewpoint of those affected by an action, and by so doing we eliminate at least some of the difficulties of determining an appropriate point-of-view and thus the question of the validity of imposition of a view.

It seems evident that morality cannot encompass more than what we have been taught to think about things (or at least, how we have been programmed to respond to things) and is not a constant even in a single person (unless they are incapable of learning). If this were not so, we could not easily establish perfectly moral concentration camp guards, cannibals or brutal, man, woman and child raping soldiers. Looking at it differently, the hypnotists have it wrong. Irrespective of background, it is always possible to reeducate people if they are capable of learning at all. Even the most brutish can be taught through fear. History teaches us that we can start with an adult and use well understood military training techniques to reprogram them, or more easily, we can start with children and train them appropriately to our requirements. We could even toss those we need trained into the middle of a situation - for example, a rather nasty civil war war-zone, and wait for them to retrain themselves.

Fighting isn't the only place where we have evidence that morality is eminently reprogrammable, right up to and including the infliction of permanent damage (e.g. neck and ear stretching rings, removal of foreskin, testicles, clitoris and other genital bits) nothing we do seems to have a particularly nasty effect on the participants so long as what they do appears to the participants as being needed or perceiving themselves as receiving the approbation of the social group in which they find themselves. Think of a "moral" issue and you will find societies that insist upon it as required for development or life itself - and those that reject the same thing as utterly repugnant and life threatening. Even what are assumed to be our deepest held taboos and compulsions can also be shown to be simply the result of stringent training - or "mere" programming. For example, the toilet taboo is so modern that at the start of the 1800s, many polite western people had "potty-chairs" in their dining rooms so that they didn't have to interrupt the conversation to heed nature's imperative. Yet studies have shown that people today find it difficult to wet their pants even restraint causes them great pain. In some societies, siblings had sex with one another - or with other close relatives - e.g. their parents and uncles - from what might seem to us an early age, generally  five or six, sometimes earlier. India's hansard from the 1930s contains strongly argued contentions that child sex and incest are both a necessary part of a proper upbringing. Mohammed's favorite wife was nine when he married her, Jefferson's Sally was 14 when she had her first miscarriage and the mythical Mary of the Christian's babble is traditionally portrayed as being no older than 14 when she gave birth to their equally mythical man-god. Masturbation is quite properly seen as a delight and a useful form of relief today, but has been portrayed, even quite recently, as sinful, sanity and life threatening requiring extreme measures to prevent (one reason that circumcision remains popular in the USA was that Kellogg - a eugenic nutcase - popularized it in the late 1800s as an effective means of reducing weak mindedness and dementia by reducing the incidence of masturbation).

My point is that you could pick any behaviour you have been programmed to think of as good, or evil, and reprogram for the opposite effect. The reprogrammed person would then suffer revulsion at the opposite point to that which you consider normal. The frightening part is that this is true even if the reprogrammed person were you. This, I think, disproves the "argument from the innate" as well, most likely, as the "argument from evolution." Is this possible. Perfectly so. Nazi camp guards in Checkoslovakia. Japanese soldiers in Burma. British, American and Free French Soldiers loading "White Russians" onto the trains to take them back to Stalin for disposal exemplify this. As does the perfectly normal way that the "deviant" sex described above has been seen as mandated rather than being taboo. Or in the way that monogamy vs polygamy was seen in Iowa in the 1800s (or why Smith and Co had to depart for Utah). Or the need for women to be manipulated to orgasm by their doctors in order to avoid "female hysteria" and fainting fits in Victorian times, even as twelve year old boys were taken by their fathers for their first fuck at a whorehouse - and likely to be infected with gonorrhea or syphilis - in order to reduce masturbation. The list of weird "moral beliefs" can be extended almost indefinitely.

This is morality. The idea that it is "fixed" - or can be "fixed", or even that it should be "fixed" is ludicrous, as it leads to ludicrous conclusions - that is, conclusions which cannot be sustained by observation and analysis of "moral behaviour" or even by close examination of assertions made about "moral behaviours".
...
I'd have continued by pointing out that you can't link "things deemed morally good" or even "kindness to others" to anything other than training, that one person's idea of "morally good" or "kindness" will vary from any one else's, and thus the idea that a behaviour might "bring inner peace" or "inner torment" must also be a part of, or a result of, the programming or the social response underlying the ability to be programmed (mentioned above).

And of course, my original article takes a lot of words to make the unanswerable argument that the ability to decide if a thing is a valid arbiter of "good" and "evil"  has to come before you can validly accept that thing as providing ethical values. So this ability must predate decisions about god thingies or the assertion that the god thingy makes this determination is also an assertion that the asserter has no valid ethical values. But empathy, as Kharin put it, the "quiet virtue", allows us and other reasonably intelligent animals, to perceive how something is perceived by others, and that together with reason and the vision to decide which perspective should be considered, permit us to make intentional ethical determinations.

I'm not sure that this reasoning was a part of David Lucifer's original motivation for selecting the particular Virian Virtues he did, or whether it was other grounds or something altogether more intuitive, but it certainly appears a very important justification for their fundamental role in the CoV, and a very compelling basis for asserting that the CoV is based on a much more solidly established ethical basis than any other religion with which I am familiar.

Regards

Hermit
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With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #7 on: 2006-09-20 02:41:59 »
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In my haste, I almost fumbled two balls here,
Quote from: White Fox on 2006-09-18 22:09:33   
...The acts of Jesus are an example here. Such acts of faith are irrational and illogical only as far as the reality we can perceive.... I guess one could argue or even use Jesus (again) as an example here and call him a "moral man" who was "selfless"...
.

The first "ball" being that the reality we can perceive (in one way or another) is all that is "real", and to suppose that there is any other "reality" which we cannot see is irrational and illogical.

The second "ball" is that I have found that it is largely people who are unfamiliar with the actual religious works in question who hold them up as examples of "highly moral works." One of my favorite examples of selfishness and bigotry can be found in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30. A competent analysis can be found at http://users2.ev1.net/~turton/GMark/GMark07.html#7.p.24.30.

For the sake of grammatical simplification I'll leave my hermeneutic issues on one side and look at this story as if it related to a real scene about a real "doctor" (i.e. one with the ability to heal), asking questions about it as I might of somebody asserting that "Jesus" was some fashion of god thingy.

It is important to note that the woman is a Canaanite - an anathema to the Jews - particularly to a Zealot (one who was "Zealous for the Law" - and that would be the Mosaic Law) as we have every reason to perceive the Jewish "Jesus" prototype. "Jesus, the Brother of James," "The Good Teacher" of the "Poor of Spirit" would, in all likelihood, have referred to a Canaanite, a cursed gentile, as a dog. This was fairly common practice, probably because, like the Islamics today, Judaism regards dogs as being unclean, so they were unwelcome in Jewish areas, while the gentiles most certainly did keep dogs (and both gentiles and dogs were regarded as being unclean in both senses).

As the pericope opens, Jesus F Christ is alone, taking a break and incognito. The tranquil setting is disturbed by a bothersome woman whining about her sick child. He calls her a bitch (and this combines her begging and the dog epithet in some clever word play), and tells her, very brutally, that it is not his job to deal with anyone but the Jews. It is only after the woman engages in some smart, but pointed repartee, flatters him excessively, and again begs him to treat her daughter that he snaps his fingers and the daughter is supposedly cured (and I'd be much more impressed if he had supposedly restored a missing leg than "drove out a demon" which was - and still is - standard fare for any wannabe faith healer).

I have to ask, if it was this easy, why didn't he cure her daughter before calling them names? And if he was an omniscient god, why didn't he solve the problem before his peace was murthered, rather than waiting for the disturbance and then exacerbating the situation by calling her names.

While modern Jews regard Palestinians in a similar way, and have even been known to refer to them as dogs and bitches, it is only fair to observe that in my experience, any Israeli hospital would fire a Jewish doctor who referred to a patient, even a Palestinian, like this, even more so if they refused to treat them on the grounds of their race. I suggest that this proves that contemporary Jewish doctors are, if not less bigoted, at least more polite and far more ethical than the Jesus portrayed in the babble. Which leaves me wondering why anyone bothers to use that caricature as an example to be admired - and why I can state categorically that my own ethical stance - and that of most of the atheists I know - are infinitely superior to those of the biblical Jesus character.

Regards

Hermit

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With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #8 on: 2007-09-04 19:43:17 »
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I was browsing through the threads today, learning lots of new things when I stumbled upon this rather interesting thread. I don't recall reading it before now, I might have, but I had alot of free time today.

Anyway something did catch my eye...

Quote from: Hermit on 2006-09-20 02:41:59   
One of my favorite examples of selfishness and bigotry can be found in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30. A competent analysis can be found at http://users2.ev1.net/~turton/GMark/GMark07.html#7.p.24.30.


Now I'm just curious Hermit, but why did you quote verses in the Bible to prove alot of bad stuff in favor of your opinion? It sounds alot like cherry picking to me. Why? Well, for instance, did you read the verse in the Bible about the Love of God to us?

John 3:16
"For God so loved the world (this means "us") that He gave His only begotten Son (Jesus Christ) that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"

I'm not supporting Christianity, but neither do I think that it's fair to be biased about it. The Bible isn't all bad - take the above quote as evidence (something which I know you love ). Actually, there are alot of christians I know who would use that quote as the epitome of what the Bible is all about, why they stand for it and why the whole idea means so much to them. The book is different from other books containing bad stuff.

Now I'm not pokeing at you, and I hope you don't interpret this as, in anyway, an attack. I may simply have misinterpreted (it wouldn't be the first time) but I was just generally curious, and raised my own concern towards it.

It's good to be fair, wouldn't you agree (to raise up bad points about something but also with the good)?

Regards,

Bass

PS By what law, philosophy, or system do we have the right to force others into accepting that our ways are correct?

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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #9 on: 2007-09-05 00:22:40 »
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Bass, aside from it being nonsense (consider that the god who supposedly made the rules, which according to the same book of twaddle involved lies from the god and lack of scienter on the part of its victim, meant that while subsequently edited to make the child sacrificed supposedly the same as the god that died, but also supposedly didn't actually die (and seeing death is the permanent cessation of function, according to the Christians definitely didn't die), yet untold millions of humans who did nothing wrong other than being humans did actually die and supposedly, according to these same idiots, now suffer eternal punishment for temporary transgressions), the verse you quoted refers to child sacrifice. Something the people of the Mediterranean did a lot of, but which is, when you think about it a pernicious practice.

Cherries? Hardly. Your verse is clearly a more disgusting example than my preferred one. I find it completely unnecessary to turd nip from the cesspool of bigotry, violence and hate that is the Christians' holy book, even less needful to do so in the Jewish portions (which is where the Jewish Jesus prototype, wanted to go of course, as he was a Zealot for the Law, and the Law was, of course, the horrendous laws of Moses).

Have fun

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With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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Re:Virian Ethics: The End of God Referenced Ethics
« Reply #10 on: 2007-09-05 15:41:34 »
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Quote from: Bass on 2007-09-05 12:57:12   
By what law, philosophy, or system do we have the right to force others into accepting that our ways are correct?

[Blunderov] I would say by the law of non contradiction. Proof of a contradiction is it's own force.

Science attempts to eliminate contradiction. This is reasonable, if perhaps quixotic. Religions simply pretend contradictions dont exist. This is why it is unreasonable to be religious. Of course one may wish to live unreasonably but it is not possible to support this idea without using reasoning so it is hard to know how anybody might come by such a notion at all.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/09/sophisticated_theological_argu.php

Sophisticated theological arguments are unanswerable
Category: Religion
Posted on: September 4, 2007 9:25 AM, by PZ Myers

The Rational Response Squad has a "competitor": a group calling itself the Righteous Response Squad. I think we can already see a problem—we can expect a dearth of originality and imagination from this new gang. And to fulfill that prediction, this collection of fundies decided to declare the Bible literally true and internally consistent, and issued a challenge: "Do you have bible contradictions? Do you think you can prove the bible false?"

This is easy. The only difficulty is that there are so many contradictions — biblical literalism is a fool's game, which is why there are so many fools adhering to it. Here's someone who took them up on the challenge, and he also did the eminently sensible thing of focusing finely on just one clear contradiction, in this case the two different lineages given for Joseph.

Now we learn why it's a waste of time to debate creationists and apparently Christians, as well. They stammered a bit, couldn't explain the contradiction (come on, the Bible gives Joseph two different fathers), and then … deleted the whole exchange from their site. Poof! Contradiction gone! I think this is an example of the sophisticated theology callow innocents like me and Richard Dawkins are supposed to address.

Call me naive, but I was a bit nettled by this. To issue a public challenge to a debate, to lose drastically and then to not only fail to adjust your world view accordingly, but to erase all evidence of the exchange from public view. Us godless blasphemers, we'd never do anything so shabby. It seems from the Rational Responders site that lots of people had been debating them, and their stuff got wiped as well.

Fortunately, the brief debate was stored elsewhere. I've got to remember this: always get copies of the exchange when arguing with liars.

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