Class Warfare Blog

July 4, 2020

The Good and the Perfect

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:15 am
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I am reading a survey of the roots of western civilization and am at the ancient Greek stage.

Socrates focused on living a life of virtue and based it upon a search for the meaning of “good.” What is good? is the question he asked . . . and tried to answer. He felt that any man who didn’t have the exactly correct definition of virtue, would be mislead and make mistakes leading to a life that is not virtuous, at least in some aspects.

And, of course, thousands of years of philosophy have resulted in the following definition of “is good” . . . <cricket, cricket, . . .>.

Plato followed up the idea by extending it to all things, not just “the good.” He felt that it was obvious that there is a realm in which perfect examples, called Forms, of everything existed. Not just chairs and swords and Quiche Lorraines but abstracts like Beauty, Virtue, and Bravery.

This is somewhat understandable as one can imagine a craftsman building some device, a chair perhaps, and if they took their time and worked carefully and kept on improving that chair, either there would be an end to that process, a perfect chair, or there would not be. Plato was, like Socrates, enamored of perfect states, even though no such thing exists in nature. This was swept under the rug by declaring that all real things were but imperfect copies of the perfect Forms available in that other place.

Obviously, some people have too much imagination for their own good.

This ideas of perfect states feeds into the ideas of dichotomies, e.g. good and evil, dog lovers and cat lovers, Republicans and Democrats. The idea was that the other have of the pair is needed to define the first part and without that other part being in existence then we would not feel the first part. This is utter nonsense of course. (And dangerous. We think Repubs and Dems are opposites because they oppose one another when, in reality, you can’t tell which is which from their appearances or behaviors. They are not opposites, they are both defenders of the status quo.)

I have written on the dichotomy of good and evil and the claim that without evil, then good wouldn’t exist. This lame argument is, I suspect, a weaselly argument in defense of the argument from evil, basically “if God is all-good, why does evil exist?”

Good and evil, to start, aren’t opposites. The real opposites are good and bad. I have a rather extensive vocabulary and couldn’t come up with the opposite of evil. Here’s two lists I found:
Antonyms goodness, good, redeeming(a), beneficent, virtuous, redemptive, goody-goody, beatific, sainted, white, saving(a), saintlike, angelic, saintly, angelical. Synonyms malevolent, vicious, malefic, malign.
The antonyms are wishy-washy and the synonyms are vicious. There is no good antonym for “evil,” one that depicts the extreme nature of that word.

And, the silly argument that one part of the dichotomy is needed to define the other is easily disproved, even a baby can do it. Offer a baby (of suitable age) their first lick of an ice cream cone. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, said baby will express pleasure and want more. It will act out the thought, “Hey, that shit is goood . . . gimme, gimme, gimme.” Now does that baby know a definition of evil, does it know evil at all? Is it necessary that it have an innate understanding of “bad” or “evil” to appreciate the goodness of ice cream? Or is it the case that that baby has programmed into it a number of behaviors that lead to its success? Of course, religious apologists will say that the baby has an innate morality as a gift from their god, but that doesn’t explain anything, that is just another baseless claim to add to the stacks of the other baseless claims they have made.

The philosophical “problem of evil” is often explained away that man can do evil because we have free will, otherwise we would just be slaves to Yahweh’s will. And what do they say in other areas? They say, “Be a slave to Yahweh’s will, it will make you happy! And you will end up in Heaven and not Hell.” So, being a slave to Yahweh’s will is a bad thing if it is involuntary but a very good thing if it is voluntary. I think being a slave to Yahweh’s will is . . . being a slave to Yahweh’s will.

Plus, as I have pointed out often enough, the tradeoff is not “evil for free will” it is “evil for the free will to do evil.” Yahweh could have made us lacking in the free will to do evil things but with free will in everything else. Is that a tradeoff you would be in favor of? Hell, even Donald Trump would take that deal . . . well, maybe not.

Dichotomies, like perfect states are stages of thinking, I think, that we had to go through, just like the phases your parent’s talked about when you were young, e.g. “Oh, it is just a phase she is going through.” This was a universal excuse used by parents for inexplicable behavior of their children when I was young. (Is this still the case?)

Unfortunately way too many moderns are still stuck in these archaic, simplistic modes of thinking. Believing in imaginary things and perfections are rife in our culture.

How different things would be if we, as the new age gurus encourage, were to “focus on the journey and not the destination.” If a piece of software had to be perfect before it was sold, we wouldn’t have any software. If a car had to be perfect before it was sold, we would have to cars. If loaves of bread had to be perfect, the shelves of our supermarkets (the “bread aisle) would have empty shelves.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.

June 8, 2020

The “Biblical” Source of Our Western Traditions, Part 2 of 2

I ran out of gas on this response to a claim I read. Here is the second half of my response (after the repeat of the lead in). Steve

* * *

I have been reading another William G. Dever book “What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They know It?” The title sounds like a Watergate catch phrase but the book was written in 2001, so. . . ?

Near the end of the book the author is commenting on the value of the Bible in our civilization/culture and he stated the following as being derived from the Bible:

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    3. The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    6. The power of mind to dominate nature and grasp truth of higher order (science)
    7. Government as ordained (the rule of law and order)
    8. The importance of tradition and meaning (religious and cultural values)
    9. History as purposeful (progress)
    10. Universalism as the ultimate goal (triumphalism).

Of these Dever states that we take “for granted the following notions and cultural values, nearly all of them derived from one or another interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. . . .” (Emphasis added.

Interestingly, I have owned dozens of Bibles and I must not have got the one he is drawing from.)

Finishing, Finishing

  1. The power of mind to dominate nature and grasp truth of higher order (science)
    So, human beings would never have figured this out had it not been for the Bible? really? What did humans do for the 200,000 years before the Bible was written? Apparently not dominating nature and not grasping truths of higher order. So, the evidence that over ten thousand years ago, American native peoples didn’t use fire as a means of controlling the forage available to their prey animals. And they didn’t stampede prey animals into cul-de-sacs to slaughter them. Nor did any of those people have any religious thoughts at all, despite the burial process we have uncovered, and ritual spaces that were built? I am gob-smacked at this claim. Even after the Bible was written New World peoples used extensive irrigation systems to grow crops, built massive public works, cleared square miles of jungle to plant crops, established mail systems, etc, And they did it all without the guidance of the Bible . . . it’s a miracle!
  2. Government as ordained (the rule of law and order)
    Let’s see . . . to ordain means “order or decree (something) officially” so you cannot even have anything ordained until you have something like a government (theocratic or not) to do the deed. I presume this is a reference to a secular government being ordained by a religious government, as when the Israelites begged Yahweh to give them a king. Basically this seems to be the ability of religions to form governments. This doesn’t sound like the “rule of law and order,” this sounds like a thing guise of oppression. In other words, “we get to do to you want we want because God has ordained us to be able to do that.” This is the source of the divine rights of kings and, gee, I just don’t know how we would have gotten to our western civ without those wastrel, vicious kings.
  3. The importance of tradition and meaning (religious and cultural values)
    What? People didn’t transmit their culture, by indoctrinating their children until the Bible told them to or okayed the process? All of those rites of passage of prehistoric people were, what, unauthorized at best? People didn’t think traditions were important before the Bible? People didn’t imply meaning all over the place before the Bible? You know, hijacking is now a crime.
  4. History as purposeful (progress)
    Wow, I just don’t know how we get on in our day-to-day lives without knowing that our history was purposeful. In the US alone, all of those “settlers” (a disgusting euphemism for “conquerors”) were motivated by bring the word of god to the heathens. Greed for land and natural resources had nothing to do with it. History is not written by the victors then, it is simply the way that Biblical purposes play out. We are all just pawns to history writ large. What a crock of baloney. History is purposeful . . . what a concept! I guess those who claimed that “Progress was their most important product” were right in that they were just making it up . . . as a product . . . which we now call propaganda.
  5. Universalism as the ultimate goal (triumphalism). So, Genghis Khan’s desire to conquer the world was Biblical? Alexander the Great . . . him, too? So, our ultimate goal as participants in “Western Civilization” is to bring every other country into the fold? Is that true? The Bible’s stated goal of having the Jews rule the entire world is quite apparent. (This is what Yahweh promises.) The Catholic Church also that that particular goal, as does Islam. Gosh, don’t you think we would all be better off if that goal didn’t exist at all? This is hardly a good thing, you know.

* * *

I happen to like this author’s works (I have only read two) but this list is beyond the pale. These are the defining characteristics of Western Civilization . . . and they all come from the Bible? If that is the case, why is it that the longer a country is part of the Big WC, the less religious it becomes? That doesn’t seem to be a Biblically sourced idea, now does it?

 

 

June 7, 2020

The “Biblical” Source of Our Western Traditions

I have been reading another William G. Dever book “What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They know It?” The title sounds like a Watergate catch phrase but the book was written in 2001, so. . . ?

Near the end of the book the author is commenting on the value of the Bible in our civilization/culture and he stated the following as being derived from the Bible:

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    3. The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    6. The power of mind to dominate nature and grasp truth of higher order (science)
    7. Government as ordained (the rule of law and order)
    8. The importance of tradition and meaning (religious and cultural values)
    9. History as purposeful (progress)
    10. Universalism as the ultimate goal (triumphalism).

Of these Dever states that we take “for granted the following notions and cultural values, nearly all of them derived from one or another interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. . . .”

Interestingly, I have owned dozens of Bibles and I must not have got the one he is drawing from.

Where to Start, Where to Start?
I guess I should just take these in order.

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    I guess he wasn’t referring to children, or women, or slaves, or non-Hebrews, or . . . The Hebrew Bible is all about obedience, obedience to Yahweh and his representatives upon Earth. The worth of individual Hebrews is found in the encoded laws and commandments and whatnot. Even trivial infractions of scriptures result in penalties of death, with no particular due process to be followed . . . take the bride not a virgin to the city gate and stone her to death, stone to death a cheeky teenager who speaks disrespectfully to his parents, etc. And as to value, prices are put on people’s lives, in silver or cattle, that tell exactly what value the Bible places on individual human lives, aka not much.
  2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    This is ludicrous. Nowhere in the Bible is democracy even mentioned, let alone condoned or recommended. The entire Biblical system is set up to be ruled by authoritarians. The father in the family. The military leaders in the armies. The priests and kings and whatnot in the public sphere. There is no voting, no solicitation of public sentiments, no agora where politics is debated, etc. Taxes are collected by tax farmers, aka thugs. The rule of law was determined by who was ruling at the time. Authority determined which rules were enforced and which were disregarded. (Is not the Bible full of excoriations of Hebrews who failed to exercise the law and their responsibilities . . . over and over and over.)
  3.  The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    The immutable authority of Yahweh is what one finds but morality varies, depending upon Yahweh and who happens to be his representative on earth at the moment. When David disobeys Yahweh (confusingly as David and anyone reading the book cannot find out where he was disobedient), Yahweh punishes him by killing tens of thousands of his followers. What ever happened to “Thou shalt not murder?” I guess the absolute worth of the individual is as a marker for Yahweh’s ire. There is no abstract morality that all swear to follow. Yahweh issues commandments, not suggestions, not “if you love me, you will’s” . . . commandments and the implication is obey or else. How is that even a moral system?
  4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    WTF? Politics? What politics? There is no polity, no elected officials, no elections. There is no place in which “citizens” have a say in anything. In fact there are no “citizens.” There are Hebrews, who are related through religion. Liberty? Justice? Possibly these concepts existed but, if your ass was needed in the army, you were in the army. Liberty? Self-determination? As long as you obeyed, well, I guess they existed somewhere else.
  5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    This is stated as if the Bible created these things. The idea of a market was created by the people, not by the Bible. The rules of the market were determined by the people participating, not by the Bible. As usual, religion comes along and co-opts these things but I think the Bible played a role in Biblical era markets about as much as it plays a role in the N.Y. Stock Exchange, which means not at all. According to the Bible you are free to act in a market, free to be a slave, free to starve, free to die of disease. free, free, free. And while you are dying, you can be an entrepreneur, too.

* * *

I am too emotionally drained to continue. I will do the other five tomorrow or the next day.

Blame It On the Greeks?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:41 am
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The Greeks came up with some rather odd ideas. One was eventually codified into Platonism. This is a view that Ideal Forms and Ideal Ideas existed. This is not such a radical idea but they insisted that these Forms and Ideas existed in reality . . . in another realm (maybe beyond space and time?).

Socrates wanted to know all of the attributes of virtue so as to be able to guide the careers and lives of virtuous men (women didn’t count yet, #free_women). So, the Greeks also invented formal categories.

I don’t think that such concepts would exist at all, or exist in much detail, if it were not for philosophers, philosophers who were . . . what? They seemed to be people who wanted to sit around bullshitting and getting paid for it, kind of like the people on sports talk radio and TV are now.

So, think about a man at a bazaar looking to buy a knife. He picks one up, feels its balance and overall size, observes the workmanship, and then talks to the vendor, possibly haggling over the price. Does the category of “knives” even enter his thinking anywhere? I should think not. Now, later, sitting around a campfire the buyer of that knife might show off his new knife to his companions and they might comment as to whether it is a good knife, or a good deal, or whether it is preferable to another style of knife. (Think of Conan and Otli arguing over whose god was better around a campfire in the first Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movie.) Do you think the “category” of knives would come up in that discussion? I don’t think so.

So, what were these philosophers up to (other than no good—ask your mother if it would be okay to hang out with a bunch of old men who do not have jobs)?

Clearly, looking around it is easy enough to see that nothing observable was perfect. Everything has flaws of some kind. The most beautiful young man you might fall in love with turns out to be as dull as a sack of hammers, your mirror has small specks in its polished surface, the vase you arrange flowers in has a base that isn’t quite flat, and so on. So, I can see playing a game of “What if he were perfect, what would he be like? Or what would a perfect knife be like? Or a perfect vase, or . . . or. . . . but to pontificate that the perfect versions of these things exist somewhere and the things we have are only bad copies is beyond bizarre. A sane man would speculate that the process of perfecting a creation could never be ended, and so perfect objects do not, and cannot exist. Ta da! Done! Consider that new knife designs are still being created. Is there a limit to the number of possible designs? What the heck could be the perfect avatar of “knives” when so many knives are different? Is there an “Absolute” for each design? And if you find that daunting, tackle “beauty” . . . they did!

What has the idea of perfect exemplars of every form and idea given us? The answer is . . . misery. This is where thoughts like “Jesus is perfect, man is flawed” come from. And where does Jesus reside? In another realm, along with all of the other perfect things, including a mansion with many rooms and you may get to live in it. Wow, I wonder if they have servants in that mansion?

Now that would be an interesting version of eternal torment. Those who fail to get into Heaven end up being servants in the Heavenly Mansion, living in meager servant’s quarters, eating leftovers, wearing hand-me-down garments, and no days off. All the time they are exposed to the wealthy mansion that all of the right acting and right thinking god-fearers get to enjoy. Now that would be everlasting torment, being forever exposed to all you lost out on. But no, those assholes had to dream up a Lake of Fire and demons! Why did God create demons? Only a dick would deliberately create demons or beings that could transform into demons.

I see imagination as a mental ability that we developed that helped us greatly to stay alive. Through imagination we could detect agency, that it we could imagine that rustling in the tall grass was a predator sneaking up on us and take actions to elude the stalking animal. But, of course, we have to take everything to extremes, especially when given leisure time (aka time not having to work to gather food, make shelters, make clothing, etc.) so we invent effing philosophers to do what? Imagine up all kinds of stuff, none of which has the possibility of benefiting the ordinary people, but much of which can be used by the elites to control the masses so they can siphon off our “surplus labor.”

* * *

Now I can see the value of categories. My academic subject field, chemistry, would be much more difficult without them. By assigning a chemical substance to a category, you can then characterize that substance with the general attributes of the category (e.g. metals are good conductors of electricity, and are malleable and ductile, etc.).

But one has to look carefully at what one is doing. In Plato’s case he said things like “A wind is pleasantly cool for one person but uncomfortably cold for another. A wine is sweet to a person who is well but sour to the same person when ill.” but then goes on by implying that human knowledge needs absolutes. Take that wine, for instance, is it sweet or is it sour, it can’t be both, no? Yes, it can. When I moved to the Midwest of the US from California I ended up with people who claimed a dish we were eating was “very spicy” but I thought was bland. (The offending spice was black pepper.) What I conclude is that perceptions depend upon context and aren’t absolutes. So, the wine is sweet when the person was well and sour when he was ill (but not at the same time), that is his sense of taste was affected by his illness. There does not need to be an idealized absolute “Sweet Wine” in the Realm of Absolutes so we can tell the sick person that they are wrong, the wine isn’t sour, so they can’t be tasting that. (My cartoon mind has the voice of Crocodile Dundee playing in the background saying “That’s not a sweet wine . . . this is a sweet wine.”)

These are the ideas of people who are too smart for their own good . .  our own good.

May 28, 2020

If Reality Were a Simulation, Could It Be Possible to Alter the Past of the Simulation?

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:47 am
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I answered the question in the title of this post on Quora and I wanted to share it with you to see how you might respond to my final question (If you were an all-powerful deity, what would you do first?).

Here’s my answer to the question (slightly edited).

* * *

Sure, the simulation is stored as files and those files can be edited or overwritten. You could even retroactively change the rules involved.

Basically, if you believe in an all-powerful deity, what we have is the equivalent of a simulation. Such a deity could have created our reality 15 minutes ago, providing each of us with false memories leading us to believe what we believe now. Would we know any better?

If I were such a deity in our current reality, here are the first things I would do. First I would uncreate Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, etc and wipe the memories of these entities and their domains from human memory. Then I would adjust human free will, leaving 99+% of it intact but removing the Will to do Evil. Nobody would be inclined to do anything evil from that point onward but we would be free to prefer vanilla over chocolate, choose Toyota over Chevy, even so far as to freely choose to put pineapple on a pizza.

There are many, many things such an all-powerful deity could do … but hasn’t, at least to our knowledge.

If you had such power, what would you do first?

May 21, 2020

The Purpose of Your Life

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 9:52 am
Tags:
You probably already know what I think about discussions of the purpose of life, the generic question, but what about the purpose of an individual’s life?

This topic was prompted by something I read, namely “The job I hope for, what I consider the most important part of what I see as my purpose, helping people, is to become a teacher.”

The adopted purpose of “helping people” or “helping others” comes off of the tongue quite easily as a stated purpose for one’s life. It even fell off of my tongue at one point in my life. It is still part of my pantheon of purposes but is stated quite differently now . . . “I enjoy helping people.”

The whole “my purpose in life is to help others” is bogus . . . sorry. The reason it is can be found in one simple question: “If your purpose in life is helping others, then why do the others exist?”

May 16, 2020

Oh, Boy, I Never Thought of This Before

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
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Like many of you I have been binge watching things available on cable TV services. I ran across a British series, Quark Science, on Amazon Prime that I have been enjoying, and even learned a thing or two. The episode I watched last night was on entropy and chaos theory and as they went into explaining chaos theory, I had quite a string of revelations.

For those of you who haven’t considered chaos theory it basically describes systems with multiple parts that contain feedback, which is basically all natural systems, and that such systems are inherently chaotic in that they cannot be predicted. The reason being is that they are very sensitive to the “initial conditions” and minor variations in those initial conditions affect substantially the final outcome. This is where the “Butterfly Effect” inherent in the question “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” comes from (and all of its other variants over the years).

In any case, I had a number of revelations from this excursion through science for the people.

#1 Chaos theory explains why determinism isn’t a possibility. In the centuries long free will debates there is often a road block in the form of the question as to whether we live in a deterministic universe, or not. If we actually live in a “clockwork universe” are all of our choices determine by stimuli and responses that are perfectly predictable? If we do live in a deterministic universe, then free will is an illusion. We are just robots responding to the stimuli we receive. Well, chaos theory shows us that we cannot live in a deterministic universe, because minor variations in any system can produced vastly different outcomes.

#2 Predicting the future is not possible. Since determinism isn’t possible, there is no basis, no cause-effect chain, that allows predicting of the future. As ancient people, we were obsessed with predicting the future. The reason was if you could predict what was going to happen, you could protect yourself from adverse changes and take advantage of the others. The Romans, for example, were very interested in Judaism because of their written records of prophecies (and their claims of accuracy). Chaos theory explains why weather prediction is about as good as it will get right now.

#3 Emergent properties make a lot more sense now. Emergent properties are properties that break any and all causal relationships established before then emerged. Chaos theory makes these more understandable.

#4 Chaos theory explains why the universe is the way it is. The laws of physics describe a transition during the Big Expansion of the universe, aka “The Big Bang,” from its initial almost all energy state to the formation of particles and then atoms. Those laws indicate that there should have been equal amounts of matter and anti-matter created. But our universe is almost all matter . . . where is all the antimatter? Why the asymmetry between the creation of matter and antimatter? The scenario goes like this: as the particles formed, there would be equal amounts of matter and anti-matter which would self-annihilate and produce light and so the universe would become an expanding sphere of light, The End. But the data show that a part per billion excess of matter over anti-matter would yield the universe we know now. In that scenario, the particles would form and the matter and anti-matter particles would annihilate, producing an immense flask of light (later to become the Cosmic Background Radiation) but a part per billion concentration of matter would be left over, enough to create all of the stars, planets and galaxies in the universe.

But where could a 1 ppb difference between the two forms of matter come from? Well, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and chaos theory almost guarantee these two forms would not be created in exactly equal amounts, and voila! (Note To grasp the size of a part per billion, take quite a large swimming pool and fill it with pinto beans. Then throw in one black bean. Stir. The concentration of black beans in the mixture is roughly 1 ppb.)

Interestingly, we don’t really know which form of matter survived. We call the one that survived matter and the one that did not anti-matter, but since their properties are opposites of one another, we just really know they are opposites, not which one we have.

There is much, much more that the chaos theory helps clarify, such as the self-organization of matter and so on. All of these things fly, splat!, into the face of our limited thinking. Most of us, me included, are still immersed in the “clockwork universe” thinking we inherited from Victorians. We still think of the world around us as being mechanisms, complex mechanism for sure, but much like the gears and levers in a mechanical device. Scientists have passed beyond that previous view and moved on but many of the rest of us, me included, haven’t followed because thinking about such things is hard! Really hard.

But programs, or rather programmes, like Quark Science make them much, much easier to understand. I recommend the series to you.

And, since I am in speculation mode, I suspect that my clinging to the clockwork universe paradigm is an artifact of my education. As scientists we are taught classical sciences before we are taught “modern sciences.” Our early thinking patterns are determined by the paradigms of classical science. This is why we find the transition to modern science difficult. And, if one goes on to study ancient science, it is hard to learn also because they were thinking quite differently from how we think now.

May 10, 2020

The Biological Basis of Morality

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:40 am
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I was reading, from the recommendation of Professor Taboo, an article in The Atlantic written by Edward O. Wilson in 1998 entitled “The Biological Basis of Morality.” I am only part way through part 1 but a statement appeared that gave rise to a comment. Here is that statement:

I am an empiricist. On religion I lean toward deism, but consider its proof largely a problem in astrophysics. The existence of a God who created the universe (as envisioned by deism) is possible, and the question may eventually be settled, perhaps by forms of material evidence not yet imagined.

And my comment, is I believe a corollary to Clarke’s Third Law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.), asks if a deistic creator of the universe can be distinguished from an alien with access to very advanced technology? Remember that a deistic creator, launches his creation and then withdraws form the sandbox. So, any fingerprints it might have left behind are 13.8 billion years old at this point.

I argue that the two are not distinguishable (making my corollary: a deistic creator god is indistinguishable from an alien with very advanced technology), so referring to one or the other as closer to the truth is disingenuous.

* * *

And as is always the case in any morality discussion my mind ferments.

In most of these discussions, including those on free will, there seems to be little attention paid to emergence. Emergent properties of a system have interesting properties. They are usually unpredictable and they certainly break all causal chains and thus argue against a deterministic universe. This, of course, requires an example.

When the automobile was invented, did anyone predict traffic as congested and chaotic as we have it today? And, could anyone upon the basic of, say traffic congestion alone, predict the design of the automobiles causing it? There is clearly a good causal chain, or rather chains, involved in any kind of automobile. (You push the pedal down and the music goes round and round, etc.) Automotive engineers are hired who understand every cause-effect link in the chain, down to tire squirm. But is there anything in the design of those automobiles that allows us to predict the kinds and effects of traffic congestion? I say the answer is “no” as traffic congestion is an emergent property of cars and roads.

Thinking back upon how we became societal, I think the first bands of humans were family bands. We were designed (by evolution, of course) to be social animals, so we had built into us the idea that collectively we had a better chance of surviving than if we all tried to stand alone. So a band of Homo sapiens sapiens started out as a male and female and their children. But as time wore on this little band grew naturally, either through more children or children growing up and having children, or from accepting strays (survivors of the destruction of other families, or finding mates in other groups, etc.). There seems to be a natural upper limit on the size of such groups with evidence indicating that when a family group gets to be of a certain size it splits into two groups. (One of those limitations is how rapidly such a group can exhaust any locales resources. Splitting the group allows time for recovery of any locale between visits of the two bands, each of which harvests less from those locales. And since there was plenty of room, the two bands could follow quite different paths and not share any particular locale, although evidence indicates that these groups set up somewhat regular “meets” to exchange goods and family members.)

Once physical bounty becomes available, such as occurred naturally in river terrains, the upper limit on the size of a quasi-family group (everyone being kind-sorta relatives) went up and agriculture and civilization began their little dance.

Even when the bands were quite small, societal rules evolved naturally as emergent properties of the group. If the same problem came up over and over, say children fighting over who got what food, a structure might have been set up to reduce the tension these created (e.g. “We will take turns.”). Group cohesion was considered a general good as “in numbers lies strength.” So, a hunter who goes out and kills a deer comes back to the group and distributed pierces of meat to the members of the group. This deals with the lack of an ability to store meat (it rots fairly fast in warm climates, and also draws predators, so the safest place to store it is in the bellies of the tribe members). It also creates a nascent altruism.

As these groups got larger, managing a wide range of behaviors became problematic. When the patriarch/matriarch were unavailable to settle problems or weren’t strong enough, men’s and women’s circles were invented to teach the members of those groups and to resolve disputes.

All of these things are natural, emergent, outgrowths of a social species, especially one that learns to communicate significantly (which facilitates learning and dispute resolution).

I assume Dr. Wilson will make these points as I continue reading, but I consider these things inevitable. A highly communicative social species, should end up with general rules of behavior to keep the group viable and on an even keel emotionally. And voila, morals are born.

Note We are now learning that Neanderthals may have had some form of speech available to them (their DNA suggests this). If we hadn’t bumped them off of their perch, they might still be around today, having all of the basics to form complex societies. (They still had differences/limitations to deal with, such as a shoulder joint unable to perform an overhand throw, such as of a spear, so they probably wouldn’t have invented baseball, but they might have invented softball.)

 

 

 

 

May 9, 2020

Can Atheists Be Moral?

Note A Sunday-ish post … early! Steve

Being an empiricist, my answer is “of course” as it has been demonstrated over and over that atheists are no less moral than non atheists. But allow me to step away from that and approach the issue differently.

A main approach is that a morality not given by a god is declared to be subjective rather than objective, even worse it is declared to be relative! And I say . . . so?

The declaration of a god-driven morality to be objective is a bit specious in that gods change their minds all of the time, so how is that “objective?” (For people who just gasped regarding my claim that gods change their minds, consider Yahweh’s decision to kill off all of the humans he created by flooding. He basically states that he regretted making us. If that isn’t a change of mind, what the hell is it?)

And subjective and relative are not necessarily bad things. Many of the people who argue in favor of objective morality, that is god-given, politically argue for “local control” of various governmental functions (education, how to run elections, etc.). Local control of things means that local people get to negotiate for what they want to happen. But this would be disastrous when it comes to morality, no?

No.

We are social animals, we negotiate social behaviors on the fly and we are quite good at it. Remember back to when ATMs were introduced? There were no protocols or procedures as to their use, other than the bank’s instructions as to how to operate the machines. But shortly after their introduction, we adopted the general principle that if a line forms, a largish gap was created between the current user and the next user. In this fashion, the current user didn’t have to worry about anyone prying into their business with the bank or swiping their PIN or . . . you know. And who created this process? Who implemented it? Who enforced it? Basically, we did, with absolutely no fuss or muss . . . because we are good at establishing social norms. We have been doing it for millennia and are well practiced at this task.

But moral issues aren’t negotiable, you say. Think again. Some issues are obviously non-negotiable to most people. Just go online and make an argument that murder should not be considered immoral. Do you think you would get any “takers,” serious takers, for your new moral precept? I think not. I think you would get aghast responses from serious people and trolling responses from most of the rest.

And what about the “objective moral code” that said that pre-marital sex would send you straight to Hell? What about the “objective moral code” that said that divorce was an abomination? What happened to the moral code that forbade the mixing of wool and linen in a single cloth to make garments? (Yes, that was one of Yahweh’s 613 commandments.) What happened to the moral code that you should always marry within your faith? What happened to the moral code that you should marry within your race?

If these things are not negotiable, and hence not relative/subjective, how come they are constantly changing?

 

 

May 2, 2020

The Same Old, Lame Arguments

The question is often posited as to why religious apologists, especially Christian apologists, keep using old arguments that have been refuted centuries, if not millennia ago, arguments like Pascal’s Wager, or Anselm’s arguments, or Tertullian’s arguments.

I think I finally understand and it is from a “follow the money” style approach such as serves well in politics. There is a perception that the arguments proffered are designed to convince nonbelievers to become believers, and if any of this actually occurs, I suggest that that is incidental. I think the main audience for such apologetics is not unbelievers, but believers, to keep the faithful in their pews, as it were.

Offering an intellectual argument for why one’s faith is well-founded, even if there is little understanding of the argument by the hearer, lends credence to their faith in the form of “see, this college professor/philosopher/well-educated person believes and he has reasons, even if I do not understand them.”

The re-use of hoary old arguments is based upon some simple facts: one is that the arguments were convincing the first time they were offered (convincing to believers, that it) so if a modern believer hadn’t heard of that argument before, it is a revelation. Young believers on sites such as Quora ask naïve question referring to these arguments as if they were slam dunk conclusive . . . because the people offering them don’t offer a balance treatment when doing so, they only point out the “obvious.” (A balanced treatment would offer discussions of why the argument works at some level and fails at others, such as would be offered in a college philosophy classroom.)

A second reason is that apologists don’t get paid by atheists. They get paid to speak at religious conferences, they get paid because a religious publication accepts their offerings for publication (often professors must “publish or perish”), they get paid to be a guest speaker at a church, they get paid to debate atheists (normal in neutral or churchly settings).

The major admonition in public speaking is to “know your audience.” Most audiences can follow a short snappy argument, but not a long point by point dissection of that argument, for which they have little patience and possibly little understanding either.

Apologists do not often point out that nothing can be “proven” through a philosophical argument. If you have brute facts as premises and a bulletproof argument, then all you have is that “if the premises are true, so too is the conclusion.” In other words, the conclusion is inherent in the premises. If the premises are false or simply are not brute facts, then the conclusions will be also. So, a common method of tweaking an argument is to “tweak” the premises. Here is a common premise used in the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of a God or Gods: “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” If this “premise” is accepted, you will conclusively prove that a god created the universe because the only two options are “explanation/no explanation” and we all think there is an explanation. The reason for that conclusion is that the conclusion is buried in the premise. Another way to state that is; “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, the only explanation is God.” So, no other explanation, of the myriad possibilities, is allowed. Well, then, “God created the universe!”

But that premise is not a premise, it is a mere assertion, an assertion of faith in fact. To understand this consider these variations of that “premise?”
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Allah.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Yahweh.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Anubis.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Odin.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Can you honestly argue that any of these is “obviously true,” the normal criterion to be applied to premises in logical arguments?

In fact, one cannot put “God” or “gods” in a premise of a philosophic argument because those are matters of faith and not “brute facts,” that all would agree to. (Another form of religious persecution being directed at Christians, I am sure.)

So, Christian apologists and others, keep trotting out the same old, tired, lame arguments that have existed as zombie arguments for centuries because they have new audiences coming out of Sunday Schools around the country and well that’s what they get paid to do.

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