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.

September 4, 2019

The Meaning of Life and the Problem of Evil

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:45 am
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It is not a rare occurrence that when theists are chatting with atheists, the theists claim that “without their god, life has no meaning.” This atheist answers, yes, that is the case. I wish to expand upon this a bit and then address another, separate topic.

I suggest that “meaning” doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks “But what does it all mean?” they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel “better.” To support this opinion, I suggest that if you ask people from various walks of life, “what is the meaning of XYZ,” you will get answers quite different from one another, answers that tell you more about the people supplying them than the events themselves. Here in the U.S. you don’t have to wait very long for there to be a mass shooting. Ask a staunch supporter of the NRA what one of those means and they may shrug and say that “it is cost of having freedom.” Ask a soccer mom, and she might say “It means our gun laws are too lax and people with mental instabilities find it too easy to acquire massive firepower.” That different people see different meanings in the same events indicates that those meanings are not embedded in the events themselves. And, if they were impressed from without by some deity, why would people receive different messages?

Life does not impress meanings from without, either spontaneously or being force fed by a supernatural entity. Meanings are human constructs . . . period. If we ever meet an alien species and are able to communicate, they may find the concept bizarre, or have their own meanings, quite different from ours.

Regarding the Problem of Evil (see below), this is an argument against the existence of a benevolent god or gods (for those of you still claiming there are no arguments for the nonexistence of gods, viola), and the main thrust of the theistic response is that the ability to do evil comes from the existence of free will. If our “creator” were to have created us without free will, then we would just be robots, just doing the creators will because we had no choice. Since we have free will, then we have to accept that a small fractions of the free choices will be to do evil.

I have mentioned this before but this is a false dichotomy. If you put “the existence of evil” on one side of a balance, you don’t put “free will” on the other. (We are talking about human initiated evil, not natural evil here, that is another topic.) This is a standard apologetics approach equivalent to throwing out the baby with the bath water. I do not want to get into a protracted discussion about free will. Many people think of it as “the ability to do otherwise,” which suffices for now. If the creator god created us with the ability to do otherwise, except to do evil, we would find our lives virtually unchanged. We would be able to choose vanilla or chocolate at the ice cream store, choose this person or that to consider as a potential mate, choose a baseball team to follow, choose to buy a Chevy rather than a Ford, choose which occupation to follow, etc. The only choice we could not make is to do evil. We would just not want to do that. So, for example, we are really, really mad, so we go down to the gun store and buy an AR-15 and a bunch of ammo, but we don’t feel like gunning down a bunch of school kids, so we go to a local gun range and blaze away for an hour or so. Ta da!

We would not be giving up “Free Will” in totality were we to have been created without the will to do evil, we would just be giving up the will to do evil, which for the vast majority of human beings, is not a hard sell.

So, the Problem of Evil is quite free from the false dichotomy of the Free Will Defense (another zombie idea propped up by theistic apologists). And, there has not been an other successful refutation of this problem. (Much mealy-mouthed mumbling, but no successful logical refutation.)

The Problem of Evil
(Being an argument that gods do not exist.)

Originating with Greek philosopher Epicurus, the logical argument from evil is as follows:
1. If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
2. There is evil in the world.
3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

August 13, 2019

Free Will and the Problem of Evil

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:49 am
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If you are unfamiliar with the “Problem of Evil” the earliest record we have of it is from the philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE) and it goes like this:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence comes evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Among all of the arguments for the existence of a god or gods, this is the most powerful one against the existence of a god or gods, so this is a favorite of atheists.

The apologists have many answers (many) but the first and foremost was the defense of Free Will, which goes like this:

God gave mankind free will and if one human wants to harm another God can only prevent that by taking a way his free will, something of greater value, so He does not do that.

Basically people doing evil is a tradeoff for free will. Many atheists take the approach to grant that this is a good argument, but then point out that this only addresses evil created by humans, not by other animals or Nature (earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, etc.)

This is a mistake, actually several mistakes. The Free Will Defense is bogus. The comment is usually made that without free will, we would all be a bunch of robots, acting only as god wants us to. WTF? Making a jump from not having a desire to do evil to being a mindless robot is ridiculous, in the extreme. The idiocy is the claim that all free will is being taken away, not just the will to do evil.

Most people alive today choose not to do evil. Heck, I go further and try not to suck! But think about this. If you were to go up to a neighbor and suggest they help you kidnap neighborhood children to torture and kill them, what response do you think you would get? At a bare minimum it would be a visit from the police. Most people have no desire to do evil. Now, if “God,” the “Creator,” created us without the will to do evil, how would we know? How would we differentiate between that dislike and say a dislike of pizza with pineapple on it, or a dislike of the New York Yankees or any other distaste we possess? How would we come to the conclusion that we were nefariously programmed not to do evil, but having an intense dislike of poetry or sports is “normal?” Would scientists immediately start work on how to remove this ridiculous restriction of our autonomy?

If we all had a severe eschewing of evil, how would that improve our lives? No Hitler. No Pol Pot. No autocrats at all. Put all of that (Think about it!) on one pan of a balance and on the other put “not having free will to do evil, but having free will in every other circumstance.” How does your balance move? Mine slams down under the weight of the immense amount of good created from the setting aside of an ability the vast majority of us do not want in the first place!

The Free Will Defense for the Problem of Evil is bogus, a piece of deepity that is ridiculous. (It sounds deep but is actually shallow.) If you were to survey a million people today with the question: “Should we universally give up the ability to do evil, to prevent all of the human caused evil in the world, with no side effects?” How many “no’s” do you think you would get?

So, dismiss the Free Will defense for what it is, then move on to address natural evils. (This is exactly how a world would be if there were no supernatural creator and we just had to live with it.)

July 28, 2016

The Problem of Evil … Solved!

Uh … well … no. Sorry.

Christian apologists have always been drawn from the pool of small caliber intellectuals and their arguments often show this. Recently a noted apologist by the name of Alvin Plantinga (of the same stature as William Lane Craig or as I prefer to call him “Bill”) authored a massive formal logical defense of the solution to the problem of evil that centers on the existence of free will. He “proves” that an all-good, omnibenevolent god is perfectly compatible with the existence of evil.

For those of you whose heads are spinning a bit, recall that the “Problem of Evil” is simply a contrast of the supposed existence of an “all-good, omnibenevolent” god who created this system with the fact that evil is all around us. That god is responsible for all of that evil, and therefore isn’t really “all-good,” no?

Now I do not want to get bogged down in the philosophical fine points. For example, some philosophers break “evil” down into types, even describing a “natural evil” in the form of earthquakes, forest fires, landslides, etc. I think this is sort of silly because I consider nature to be neutral. If you happen to die in a landslide, it may be sad but there was no intent on the part of nature to do you in, it just happened. So, gliding gracefully over trivial sticking points, I proceed. Let’s get to the core of the matter.

Plantinga and Craig and all of the others use school boy logic up to and including very refined philosophical logical systems to make their points. But they all, Plantinga included, make basic mistakes that are quite appalling. They state premises like “you can’t have good without evil.” Uh, really, says who? Such a premise is loaded and cannot be the basis of a sound conclusion.

Consider the parallel argument: you can’t have the rich without the poor. Well, there are countries in which poverty has been virtually eradicated (there are always a tiny minority of the poor which fall between the cracks but not a big enough cohort to supply the wherewithal to support a class of rich people). In these countries without significant poverty, have rich people disappeared? In fact, would this not be a way to deal with inappropriately powerful rich people? Get rid of poverty and their wealth would collapse. Yes, it is a ridiculous statement because it is a ridiculous premise for any discussion, as is “you can’t have good without evil.” Dichotomies of opposites were popular a couple of thousand years ago and still have a lingering power, but sheesh!

I am a science-fiction buff, so allow me a flight of fancy. Intrepid ’Merican space jockeys reach a number of alien planets and on one they discover a society in which there is no evil. Bad things happen all of the time but none of them have evil intent on the part of any alien. For example, a youth was swimming in a lake and got a cramp and drowned. An adult witnessed this but did not jump into the water to try to save the drowning youth. Surely that is evil. But, actually the adult could not swim herself and would have drowned, too, if she had jumped into the water to attempt a rescue. The adult frantically tried to find a flotation device, a rope, or a boat to effect a rescue, but none was available. This was a sad event. It was “not good.” You see “not good” is the opposite of “good,” not evil. You do not need the extreme contrast of evil to be able to identify “good,” there is plenty of contrast in the “not good,” the absence of good. It would have been good to be able to save that alien youth’s life, as it was it was not good; if you unsure, ask his mother.

On this planet, nobody ever has the thought to run into a church and blaze away with a gun, killing as many people as they can. None thinks to strap explosives to their bodies, then go into a crowded theater and detonate them. No one thinks that it would be a good idea to butcher their neighbors for meat to feed their dogs or kidnap young females and keep them as sex slaves in their basement. These thoughts just never occur to the aliens.

Our philosophers seem to think that evil is the cost of us having free will. That if we don’t have totally, completely, awesomely free wills, we would be diminished beyond repair. The aliens in my little fantasy have oodles of free will. They get to decide what they want to train for in the way of a job, which jobs to apply for, where to go on vacation, how many kids to have or whether to have kids at all, which church they want to belong to, which sports teams to root for, which car to buy … <pant, pant, pant>. Do you get the idea? They just don’t have the will to do evil things.

Are we better off having the part of our totally awesomely free will that causes us to commit evil acts or are we better off without it? Is the cost of not just free will, but the part of free will that enables us to do evil so precious that it is worth the price you see? The apologists think so. I suspect that normal people do not. They would prefer to live in a world without evil.

The Christian apologists are black and white absolutists. You can’t have good with out evil. You can’t have any restrictions on free will otherwise we are just robots, etc. Then they top it off and say things like their god loved us so much that He gave us free will including the evil part, you know, so we could have some good, too. They even indicate that He couldn’t have done it any other way, that a society without evil results in us being without free will and therefore being robots having no reason to live (in their minds the reason to live is to be able to freely, and without coercion, worship their god).

They say this while making the contradictory claim that their god has already done exactly that: He created a world in which evil doesn’t exist yet humans will enjoy immensely. He called it “Heaven.” The philosopher-apologists responded with “Well, Heaven isn’t really a world…,” yeah, right.

Let me make it simple. If I can imagine a world in which there is only good and not good, filled with happy people free to make myriad choices about how to live their lives (aliens are people, too), why couldn’t their god?

I’ve got to tell you, sometimes my people (intellectuals) embarrass me. To them, the truth is pretzel dough to be twisted into the shape desired for today’s eating.

June 8, 2016

The Problem of Evil and Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:34 am
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The topic of free will is being much discussed of late. Partially this is because of new scientific findings, but which is all to the good as it helps us understand who (or what) we are. However I am somewhat dismayed at the level of thinking employed. For example, one common use of the concept of free will is to provide room for “god” to wiggle out from under the Problem of Evil.

The Problem of Evil, if you are unaware, is this argument: if God is good (the Perfect Good), why does evil exist? It was given a strong voice by Epicurus as: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?

This argument is one of the strongest against the existence of a Judeo-Christian type god.

The wiggle room provided by religious apologists is that evil exists because their god wanted us to have free will. I will explore the motivation for that later, but currently the argument is: if we are not to be automatons, we must have free will and if we have the freedom to do good, then we must also have the freedom to do evil. (This is a variant of the “blame the victim” approach of many religions.)

This argument is quite bankrupt. Why, if their god was good and perfectly so, would he go out of his way to invent evil? Consider what the world would be like if the choice to do evil things were not available to us. Would we be deterministic puppets? Instead of us having myriad choices every day, half good and half evil, we would only have myriad good choices, no? Is this being a puppet? I would venture to say that you actually know some people like this. These are kind, gentle people who would not hurt a fly, are willing to help anyone in need, and never have an ill word to say about anybody. The idea of them making a choice that is evil is unthinkable. And they have the freedom to do anything that comes into their little minds, evil things not being among them.

Were the world to be so constructed, would we bemoan the lack of opportunities to do evil? I do not think so. There would still be any number of unfortunate happenings: forest fires, earthquakes, floods, landslides, shark attacks, dogs digging holes in your new lawn, etc. Misery and pain would not disappear. (Some apologists argue that pain has a biological function and if evil were not to exist, we would be imperiled because of the lack of pain as a guide. This is blazingly idiotic.) Compassion and generosity would still be choices we would need to make. Deliberate acts of humans to cause unnecessary pain and anguish, though, would not exist.

So, how would this diminish “God’s Plan”?

The inherent problem here is obscured by the apologists, partially because, I think, they find the missing part quite natural. The missing piece in the discussion is actually the unnatural part: according to them humans were created to worship their god, full stop, end of story. Some obscure this by saying, no we were created to “give God glory.” Of course, “glory” means “praise of a god or goddess.” In simple terms, we were created to be cheerleaders by a god with low self-esteem. We are needed to buck up the sagging ego of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural entity! And, we need to be able to choose to do that because if their god had created us to do that with no choice being involved on our part, well that would be too narcissistic! OMG!

My argument is simpler. we have free will (not limited to conscious decision making) because it is demonstrably one of our faculties. Why we have free will is kind of a silly question. Why can we think? Why can we fart with gusto? Why do Claussen Deli Style Hearty Garlic Dill Pickles taste so damned good? The unfortunate thing about philosophy is it is basically thinking about thinking (an inevitable consequence of sentience?). What we choose to think about is up to us. The fact that many cannot think their way of a wet paper bag is lamentable, though.

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