02 March 2011

Open letter to Chris Stedman

by Frank Turk

Dear Chris --

We would have never crossed paths if it weren't for Derek Webb, so for all the noise about him at the beginning of the year, there are some personally-gratifying things that were accomplished. I don't know if it's right to call us "friends", but we're friends on Facebook and in the Tweetcloud, so that's a start.

Someone tweeted this yesterday, and it caught my attention:



Now: so what? Before I get to the so-what, I want to introduce you to the readers of this blog because I think, in 10 years, you are going to either be a middle-class guy in a sea of similar post-academic middle class guys, or you're going to be the next Deepak Chopra.

Your bio at HuffPo (now a cog in the AOL Rube Goldberg machine) says this:
Chris Stedman is the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new initiative at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Chris received an MA in Religion from Meadville Lombard Theological School at the University of Chicago, for which he was awarded the Billings Prize for Most Outstanding Scholastic Achievement. A graduate of Augsburg College with a summa cum laude B.A. in Religion, Chris is the founder and author of the blog NonProphet Status. He is a panelist for The Washington Post On Faith, and his writing has also appeared in venues such as Tikkun Daily, The New Humanism, and more. Previously a Content Developer and Adjunct Trainer for the Interfaith Youth Core, Chris is a secular humanist working to foster positive and productive dialogue between faith communities and the nonreligious. He is currently writing a book on this for Beacon Press and speaks on it regularly both by invitation and as a member of the Secular Student Alliance Speakers Bureau. Chris also serves on the Leadership Team of the Common Ground Campaign, a coalition of young people standing up in response to
And then "below the fold" of the read-more link its continues:
the recent wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence in America. Portland, Oregon's GLBT newspaper Just Out called his work "brilliant" and labeled him an "emerging... vibrant and youthful queer voice for the secular humanist movement."
Funny how that works out -- but I admire you for making your bio about your work and not your personal life.

OK -- back to that tweet.

The link in that tweet takes us to your home court, apparently: HuffPo. That has got to be a sweet gig as they seem to let you post whatever you like whenever you like.

But that said, what do you think about your tweet-follower's grand vision for what you are doing? Do you think he has the scope and scale right?

I mean: what I took away from the HuffPo piece was that you think there's a common cultural context that people with and without religion can sort of participate in, and that they can cooperate with each other to achieve some kind of socio-political good together. Is that really "reshaping" anything?

I think it can reshape the atheist evangel, to be sure -- it will move the popular atheist stereotype out of the ghetto of cage-stage positivism and adolescent nihilism/hedonism into a plump, congenial middle-age. This kind of thinking is frankly understood as the norm in Europe, and to say and do otherwise there is shocking. But American atheism has been a lot like American fundamentalism at least from the days of the vile Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and its ability to seek converts through fear and intimidation has probably been a very powerful factor in keeping it a marginal ideology. So kudos to you for being a stand-up guy for humanism rather than something and someone less concerned about a so-called path forward in a multicultural world.

Now, with all that said, I have a couple of notes for you which I hope you'll consider. Because we've chatted before I'm sure none of it will offend you because you're not a thin-skinned fellow. But I think it'll do some good to put these things out there for public consideration:

1. For a couple of months now I've been trying to understand how you establish your ethical basis of reasoning. My friend Doug Wilson would say you're just kidding yourself to think that you can have a values system that holds any meaningful and transferrable weight to the next person in line unless the values are external to both of you and not subjective in nature. For example, to have a reasonable discussion rather than a fist-fight is preferable if you don't like a bloody nose (a subjective measure), but if you have nothing to lose, why do one and not the other?

I know, I know: lots of ways to achieve a non-theistic ethical system. But all of those miss the point: it is not that you might choose to be in accordance with system "X" -- I concede you might. It is that you have no basis to convince me that system "X" is necessary for me. So for example, it's not necessary for me to abide by the bounderies of the relationships of other people, is it? I mean: the definition of marriage is a hot topic in the interfaith community right now, and the view which is prevailing there is that marriage is ill-defined today. Many want to redefine it -- and forget that it has a definition which is tested by millennia as the most socio-politically stable and beneficial for a culture. That evidence, and the moral reasoning behind it, is now not really part of the discussion you're seeking to lead -- it's by definition an outmoded way to go. You say.

What if I think "you say" is not compelling? How do we discuss it and get to "productive dialog"?

2. I like it that atheism is trying to go the seeker-friendly route. I already know the outcome of the seeker-friendly route, and I hope it does not leave you disillusioned, or worse: jaded and protective of the duchy you will have established by the end of the next decade. I'm assuming your book will be a hit and your "chaplaincy" will lead to bigger and better things in spite of your body piercings and ink. My hope is that unlike the evangelical seeker-friends you won't trade your integrity for prestige.

3. In spite of your bio, your definition of your self is principled by one defining characteristic, and that characteristic has lead you to leave the Christian faith. That story is told a hundred times an hour by all kinds of people: "I could't leave my intellect, so I left my faith;" "I could't leave my self-respect, so I left my faith;" "I could't leave my business, so I left my faith;" "I couldn't leave my lover, so I left my faith." I think you know this already -- and you accept that you are not alone in your decision. It helps you justify the choice to see that other people are driven by their conscience to reject the idea that Christ died for sin, including the sin which you or I might be most closely related -- though they might be particularly different for each of us.

The problem with that conclusion, I think, is that you know the world is broken. You know that people choose every day to do what is wrong -- because look at you: you have set out to right it. You know there's something wrong that needs to be changed. But you have invested in the ones who are, from beginning to end, the problem and not the solution.

The world is not a broken place because of what "they" do, but because of what we do, Chris. And we don't do these things because we don't know better, or for the lack of a compelling moral compass: we do them because they are what we want to do. That's not going to change after a productive dialog.

That kind of damage, that kind of deep-well instinct to err, doesn't need another book to diagnose it. It needs a savior -- someone who isn't trying to mark up his body with ink and poke-holes to satisfy his need to be recognized. It needs a savior who will really save, and who will pay the price for even the worst of these, like you and me.

His name is Jesus, Chris, and he's not looking for a dialog. He is the Word. Let me reintroduce you to Him, and let's listen to Him and obey what He has said -- because He's worthy to be heard, and then honored, and then praised.

Good luck on your service trip, and on your work writing your book.






106 comments:

Thomas Louw said...

Chris Stedman who?
For the first few seconds, while waiting for the blog to open. I thought you were writing to Oprah’s Stedman pleading with him to get married already and to get his woman inline.

Then the blog opened. No clue as to who he is but, surely I know what he is.

He is a man in need of prayer and a solid dose of scripture.

I think we all should be warned we can just as easily be “frog panned” and let faith go the way side and trade it in for some worldly dream.

I enjoyed the lovingly way you approached this letter.

Earl said...

Do you guys just scour the internet to find your next target for "loving correction"? It's getting old.

Thomas Louw said...

Chris says this:
'Atheism' focuses on what I do not believe, but says nothing as to what is important to me ... it's time to start shifting my attention from my differences to my similarities with other religious identities and using these similarities to bring about positive change."

Maybe it’s only me but he is the first atheist who admits atheism is a religion, or am I misunderstanding the Kings English?

Thomas Louw said...

Chris says this:
'Atheism' focuses on what I do not believe, but says nothing as to what is important to me ... it's time to start shifting my attention from my differences to my similarities with other religious identities and using these similarities to bring about positive change."

Another observation, Atheism focuses on what he doesn’t believe but he regards it a religious identity.
So Atheism is a belief in what he does not believe.

Frank you’re the guy with the MA in English, what’s going on here?

Tom Chantry said...

And Earl is first out of the box today in the “comment-on-the-general-sense-of-the-post-without-accounting-for-its-specific-content” race.

His comment doesn’t account for this: We would have never crossed paths if it weren't for Derek Webb, so for all the noise about him at the beginning of the year, there are some personally-gratifying things that were accomplished. I don't know if it's right to call us "friends", but we're friends on Facebook and in the Tweetcloud, so that's a start.

Nor this: Because we've chatted before I'm sure none of it will offend you because you're not a thin-skinned fellow.

You’re out to a good lead, Earl, but you’re going to have to run hard if you want to keep ahead of the crowd.

donsands said...

You are a fine writer. Very nice letter. Good subject for us in our day to confront. And I pray for this young man to hear Christ's call to come unto Him.

Robert said...

Earl,

So you just decided that you didn't want to be edified by reading the text of the letter then? Because that is part of what this series is about...edifying everybody who reads it. I find this to be a very compelling read because if this is going to bring about a new wave of atheism here in the US, I want to be prepared for what is to come. I've had plenty of experience with the atheists that are full of venom for Christianity and all that they do is scream and call us loons and that we believe in fairy tales. This, however, is a bit different.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

"Oprah's Steadman:" Oprah who? Oh never mind. : )

"He is a man in need of prayer and a solid dose of scripture." (sigh) Aren't we all? I could always use prayer and a solid dose of scripture!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Earl does have a point. The internet is getting old, and does need a good scouring. I'm glad that Frank is willing to get his shirt a little dirty by choosing to pick some of the bigger jobs to get us started.

Frank Turk said...

Hi Earl --

First, thanks to the loyalists defending me so far int he comments. The "shark tank" hasn't opened up yet, but I'm sure if we wait long enough it'll come. Let's settle up before the less-savory elements have 10 minutes at lunch to improve the conversation.

Could you indicate for me anything about this letter which is specifically "unloving"? Here's my concern: I see Chris Stedman as a guy a lot younger than me, but really just like me -- except for faith (and becuase we are who are we, becuase of grace). And his approach to the world is now faith-free, which is not actually anti-faith. He sees faith as just a kind of ornament which he doesn't need -- but if you have faith, that's your trip.

That sort of agnosticism toward the value of faith is something you, the reader, should get familiar with because it is the next wave of society. It may be the actual wave of society we are in right now as a post-Christian culture.

If my approach to that is not useful, I'm open to see what approach is.

DJP said...

I think people who contribute nothing, create nothing, build nothing, and have nothing contentful to say, and do nothing except carp emptily about others' efforts — I think that's "getting old."

But maybe that's just me.

dac said...

The world is not a broken place because of what they do, but because of what we do, And we don't do these things because we don't know better, or for the lack of a compelling moral compass: we do them because they are what we want to do.

I swore off posting here, but that is the finest summation of who we are and what we do I have read in such a few words

Robert Kunda said...

Thanks, Frank.

Josh said...

Another great post, Frank!

However, I have just one qualm... the picture of the eye.
You see, by showing that picture of a persons flesh without showing any clothing, we'd all have to assume that they are naked. Now why would you tempt other believers with such filth like that? I suggest you cover up that picture...


:)

philness said...

Frank, There is nothing unloving at all in what you wrote.

An approach I might offer would be to define the Christianeese word faith. Faith is trust. I would like to know what exactly is the fear in trusting. I think the fear for people is ultimately a lack of understanding the how in trusting and the how to obey.

If they can only understand that the how to obey comes magicly by first the trusting.....

We seem to portray to the world that doing Christianity is of our own volition and mechanical ability.

So Chris is just loudly exlemplifing he can't do Christianity. Who can outside trusting the Logos for help and power? Non of us.

ANiMaL said...

Thanks Frank.

That gave me some sound advice on how to address people with whom I deal with in love and respect while confronting what is false.

James Joyce said...

What's wrong with getting old?

"The glory of young men is their strength,but the splendor of old men is their gray hair."

aislin said...

Actually, Chris doesn't say:

'Atheism' focuses on what I do not believe, but says nothing as to what is important to me ... it's time to start shifting my attention from my differences to my similarities with other religious identities and using these similarities to bring about positive change.

Because I said that. Hi, I'm Aislin Bright, as it says in the HuffPo article. And yes, I do consider "atheism" my religious identity.

Mike Westfall said...

This letter is just brilliant, Frank.
Thanks again for posting these.

Robert said...

Frank,

Since nobody else has mentioned it...what is with your tone? :*\ You said you like that atheism has gone the seeker sensitive route. Then you couple Christians with atheists in saying we are the problem. And then you sum it all up with wishing him good luck? That's just so wrong, man...why do you have to be going after people in such a harsh fashion? This must be what people are taling about when they write their rants about you in their comments here and their own blogs.

/sarcasm

Just thought I'd get that out there preemptively...although Earl did have that type of flavor to his comment.

brparys said...

Hi, Everyone. I've avoided saying anything for fear of being devoured by one camp or another, but what I have to say is on a steering, not content level:

Frank put time into his letter, whether or not you disagree with it. It should be obvious then that responses be given the same courtesy. I know Frank's expecting the Shark Tank: but, what if that never happened? What if instead of chum, comments could be actual food for thought?

Just b/c Frank has beef with someone, it doesn't give everyone free reign to piggy-back on that sentiment as an excuse for vitriol. I don't share Frank's view concerning Chris, but I know that my opinions are not ready for publication. If yours aren't either, please wait on it.

I consider myself an eternal being. I therefore choose not to be caught in the moment.

Frank Turk said...

Aislin:

Welcome to the shark tank. Please make sure ou stay in the cage at all times, and do not chum the waters.

;-)

How much flack do you take for calling atheism your religious identity? I'd agree with you, btw, but I have been savaged by a lot of atheists for mention it. Why do you take a different route there?

Bverysharp said...

Dear Frank, I know that you don't need any affirmation from me on your letter to Chris.
I thought it was done well and covered everything that it appears Chris needs to hear. But... ( I know you knew that was coming ) I was sad at the end of the letter you decided to be too warm with this statement, "Good luck on your service trip, and on your work writing your book."
I think this is close to "God speed" to Chris' work.
I understand you don't like my comments but you do write the open letters and have a forum for commenting, please consider this comment worthy to give it a thought without jumping to thinking I'm just hunting a negative.

Frank Turk said...

Wishing prosperity on others is not anti-Christian or anti-Gospel.

Zachary Bos said...

<<It is that you have no basis to convince me that system "X" is necessary for me.>>

And in view of the prevailing absence of the divine, neither does a Christian have any basis to compel belief that his system is preferable or more essential than than non-Christians. What Christians, and indeed any ideologues of any stripe (read this in the non-antagonistic sense, meaning "those adhering to a creed"), have is not access to an external foundation for their ethics. They simply wield the blunt object, of a claim to such a foundation. As liberal people, though, the answer is easy: we must seek to persuade, and not overwhelm, if we want to advance an ethical view.

I'm an atheist, and I don't have any trouble seeing how to proceed, as a person of conscience, in a world where my ethics must be invented -- and must be persuasive, and coherent, and flexible, and principled, and open to access, among other characteristics -- since the world itself doesn't provide ethics (divine or otherwise).

I should note, that I believe your letter to be genuinely well intentioned, though I disagree in substance with a number of the points you're making. I think it is important both to emphasize that you are showing good faith, as much as it is to observe that we are in essential disagreement.

DJP said...

Even assuming your foundational assumption to be true, you're still wrong, Zachary.

Christians can validly claim to have a transcendent standard.

You cannot.

Bverysharp said...

Frank, seems we disagree.
If I wished prosperity from false teaching proceeds and work on others am I really being 'Christian' or am I just looking like the stereotype 'christian' the world wants to see and here from?
If I wish prosperity to Hugh Hefner from his pornography buisness am I being "Christian" as defined by scripture or by the typical 'nice guy christian' the world desires to hear from?

Zachary Bos said...

DJP: As every argument I've encountered for the existence of the Christian god fails, my reasoned position is that those who claim to ground their ethical values in the "transcendent standard" provided by their divinity, are mistaken in thinking that divinity exists. Therefore, their claim to a transcendent standard is invalid. I'm game to discuss this, but perhaps better not to hijack this thread. You can find me on the Boston Atheists blog, or the American Atheists website, or on Facebook, if you'd like to undertake a forum discussion about the relative strength of arguments favoring atheism or theism.

DJP said...

Why would someone go somewhere else with you when you're not dealing with what I am saying here and now?

I'm just asking for some basic candor, that's all.

You cannot appeal to a transcendent, objective, absolute standard that should bind everyone's conscience.

I can.

Now, you can say that my standard is unreal if you like. But the point is that I believe it isn't, and I can appeal to it. It is 100% consistent with my worldview.

Nothing in your worldview gives you such a standard.

Zachary Bos said...

According to my worldview, DJP, you cannot appeal to a transcendent, objective, absolute standard that should bind everyone's conscience -- for the reason that there is no such standard. If you posit such a standard, I'm within my epistemological rights to ask you to justify that claim. Since I have yet to encounter any compelling defense to that claim, I am therefore warranted in viewing our situation as unaffected: we, though possessing different beliefs on the subject of the existence of the divine, are both in the same universe, in which there are no gods. In other words, we must share one reality.

I do not myself subscribe to the notion that a belief consistent with one's worldview is somehow stronger than a belief consonant with the evidence of the universally accessible physical world. That would amount in my view to a kind of ontological relativism, whereby you'd be living in one universe (inhabited by deities) and I'd be in a different one (marked by an absence of deities).

It is a good start that a Christian could ground his ethical view in his theistic worldview; however, what's in question for me is not whether these are related to each other consistently, but whether the grounds given for the latter belief are sufficient FOR that belief. Since they are not so sufficient, very well -- we are left where we began, comparing ethical perspectives, neither one of which has claim on a foundation in transcendent anything.

I hope this suffices to show I don't believe that I'm somehow ducking the question?

As I wrote earlier, if you'd like to have a more protracted exchange about the arguments for and against the nonexistence of gods, we might do so elsewhere. Or here, sure, if our Blog Host doesn't object to the digression.

DJP said...

Yes, you're still ducking, as has every atheist I've tried to engage in dialogue.

I'll try a slightly different approach, and Frank can ask me to stop whenever he likes and I will.

Within the context of my worldview, period, do I have justification to appeal to a transcendent, objective standard?

Hint: the answer is simple, obvious, and can be given in one word.

Frank Turk said...

Zach --

One thing you may not know about me is that I am an ex-atheist (something like an ex-parrot, if you are up on your classical british TV). So that said:

1. Of course, if there is no god, there's no basis for the Christian ethical system -- no objective reason to follow it. The problem is that this makes aping that system -- by anyone -- no more or less absurd.

2. The question is still not "might I choose that system" but in fact "must I choose that system?" I think everyone gets why the proscription against murder is a good idea for me -- I don't want anyone to murder me. There's a purely-subjective basis to choose that ethical approach, and it gets us to a "must" action. But what about (for example) being greedy? What if you believe that being greedy is a bad idea, and I think it's a fine way to live well. There's no way to bridge the gap between your view or my view, and there's probably nothing compelling the anti-greed person can say to the greed person to cause him to take a moral double-take.

What to do? In the universe sans a creator, there is no method to cause moral imperative -- only ways to cause ethical disagreements that cannot be resolved (except by force).

3. That said, in your view the idea of 'weilding as a blunt object' is a bad idea -- morally, ethically, intellectually not the best (prolly not even good). But why? Like greed, the use of force doesn't lend itself well to a subjective concensus. All your objections have to be "becuase I don't like it".

I don't like salmon; that doesn't make it not good for me.

3. You want to leverage the hypothetical state that God does not exist into the concrete affirmation 'therefore I don't have to listen to him.'

If we concede that for the sake of avoiding spiralling into conversational oblivion, the fact that God does not exist does not require that you must not listen to "him". Listening to a non-existent being is ... what? Bad? You say so -- the track record of the non-existant God is actually a lot better than atheistic moral codes, so your claim is dubious. In some sense, because the evidence is that the moral code of the God you deny has been more successful in (for example) preventing murder, it may actually be better to listen to this non-existent person based on his batting average.

If God does not exist, you may not want to listen to Him. the question is only then, "but what happens when I don't?" That's the subjective measure, and using it may surprise you.

5. Having said all that, I reached the conclusion you have reasched myself, back in the day: the world is a poor guide for ethics, so I need to invent my own. The problem was that after about 10 years of this activity, I had a problem: my decisions about what is useful for me vs. what is not useful for me made me into a person I couldn't justify. I found out that the problem with the world was not the rules of a non-existent God: what was wrong with the world was that I wanted to do things which were so subjective that no one else could find them either useful or credible -- and that it was true for anyone doing the same thing I was. The problem was not God: it was me.

You will find the same thing if you live long enough -- because you are just like me. The question then will only be what solution you can find to the problem of "me".

I know that solution now. I thank God for Him.

Frank Turk said...

BVerySharp:

Somebody once said, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them."

He teacher once said, "I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

They were not watchbloggers, and I admire them both greatly. I hope you do, too.

Zachary Bos said...

<<... you're still ducking, as has every atheist I've tried to engage in dialogue.>>
I wonder if you might consider your standards for what "ducking" means. I'm attempting to answer this question in a straightforward manner.

<>
To answer briefly: no. (And neither do I.)

To elaborate: You don't have such justification, if that foundational belief (in the reality of that transcendent, objective standard) itself can't be justified. Along these lines, consider the argument made by William Clifford in "The Ethics of Belief," or more recently, the work done by philosophers of epistemology to incorporate empirical results from psychology -- e.g., the illusion of explanatory depth.

Put short, it is unwarranted to draw a line in our chain of reasoning, above which is "the ethical claim being evaluated" and below which is "the foundational belief which may not be evaluated." If these epistemes are necessarily related, then they can't be said to be separate claims -- just components of a single epistemic system.

This is especially true when you and I are comparing ethics across apparently incommensurate worldviews.

Bverysharp said...

Frank, I don't suspect to be allowed to submit another comment or another unanswered question to you without it dissapearing.. but I will try.
Frank, when was the last time you were wrong about something you wrote or said that others might agree that you were wrong and now the important part, when did you admit that without silence but confession and without removal of the question from the thread?

joel said...

Beverysharp,
Are you using Firefox? Firefox dumped one of my comments from a thread yesterday too. Either that or blogger is experiencing technical difficulties.

Zachary Bos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bverysharp said...

Joel,
No I use Internet Explorer. Frank does remove comments ( not mine so far today ).

Zachary Bos said...

The problem is that this makes aping that system -- by anyone -- no more or less absurd.
I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. Is someone "aping" Christian ethics?

What to do? In the universe sans a creator, there is no method to cause moral imperative...
We agree.

... only ways to cause ethical disagreements that cannot be resolved (except by force).
I must be an optimistic, in believing that though coercion is easier (e.g., the threat of eternal damnation!) than persuasion, we must nonetheless keep trying to persuade others, and not to overwhelm them. Though I must also be a realist -- I believe there are circumstances where I am warranted in using force for the sake of morally desirable outcomes.

That, to my mind, is just the kind of situation we might find in a godless universe.

All your objections have to be "becuase I don't like it".
I'm afraid I don't agree with this characterization of my position.

... 'therefore I don't have to listen to him.'
A more accurate corollary to the fact of the nonexistence of gods might be, "... and therefore we don't have to take seriously ethical arguments grounded in the assumption of God's existence."

Listening to a non-existent being is ... what? Bad?
At minimum, it is bad; if it were considered normal to find the dictates of nonexistent beings compulsory, imagine the fractious consequences! Of course, in many sectors, such a view *is* normal. And indeed, we do such such consequences.

You say so -- the track record of the non-existant God is actually a lot better than atheistic moral codes, so your claim is dubious.
Well, the claim that you present as mine is dubious. As the claim you present does not resemble mine, I believe you cannot use this chain of reasoning to find *my* position dubious.

... the world is a poor guide for ethics, so I need to invent my own.
Actually, I depend heavily on observations on the world as a source of input for my own ethics; and wish other people would, as well. A related point is, I wish people would *not* turn to the notion of gods as a source of input for their ethics -- for the reason that while the world is real (and reliably present, and objectively available), gods aren't. If we're going to have to persuade (and not overwhelm), one of the ways to make our job easier is to eliminate necessarily incommensurate sources of reasoning, such as "beliefs which derive from the idea that gods exist."

Mike Westfall said...

Z. B. clearly admits that he has no objective, transcendent standard to which he (or anybody) can appeal in support of a system of ethics that is binding upon anyone other than himself.

That's cool. A long as he realizes that's what his worldview implies. I would be bothered by the philosophical implications of such a worldview, and playing the tu quoque game wouldn't ease my discomfort all.

Robert said...

I'm sorry..."empirical results from psychology"? Truly, you believe there is such a thing?

Aaron Snell said...

Bverysharp,

It's interesting to me that you didn't deal with Frank's reasoned defense of his own words.

Zachary Bos said...

Sure, I admit that there is no objective, transcendent standard to which anybody can appeal in support of their proposed ethics. That's the hand the universe has played us; whether you consider this an advantage or a disadvantage, a privilege or a responsibility, depends on temperament.

I do choose to advocate that we all come to terms with this reality, rather than be lured by the apparent benefits of a nonreal metaphysics -- one in which the divine mandate is durable enough to be called objective. I don't have to wonder if that would be nice or not; since my predisposition is to deal with the reality of world as it is, not with how I might like it to be. (By the world, I mean the organization and nature of the material world, physics; not the ordering and nature of the social or aesthetical or ethical worlds, which convergently are parts of human experience.)

Joey Phillips said...

Bverysharp,

You do realize Frank has responded to your comment, and given biblical reasons why your concern is ill founded?

Mike Westfall said...

Z.B. Responds to frank:
>>All your objections have to be
>>"becuase I don't like it".
> I'm afraid I don't agree with this
> characterization of my position.

...and then,
> Actually, I depend heavily on
> observations on the world as a
> source of input for my own
> ethics; and wish other people
> would, as well.

Hmmm.

By the way, I'm sure Stalin approached ethics in much the same way.

Zachary Bos said...

How this, Robert: "empirical results, such as they are." I'm happy to examine the merits of any particular conclusion-from-data, if you like.

Are you familiar with the illusion of explanatory depth? I don't mean personally; I mean, as a description of a common cognitive or epistemic fallacy.

joel said...

BVerySharp:

I don't believe that Frank or anyone else on pyro deletes comments without a trace. Besides it was on one of DJP's posts that mine disappeared without a trace.

Robert said...

Zach,

What would you say to the pedophile? Many of them would say that they are following their loving desires to show love and affection for young people.

What would you say to Hitler? He believed that he was getting rid of those who were weak so that the world could be stronger and people would not be held back by the weak.

What about Margaret Sanger? She was pretty much working along the same lines as Hitler, but through the method of pushing birth control.

How would you be able to provide a firm basis for saying you are right and they are wrong? Without some sort of objective, external truth, this is what you have to deal with. Either you impose your morals/ethics on them, or there is some external set of morals/ethics that we must all abide by.

Zachary Bos said...

@Mike. I should say that, in view of the civil tone used by other participants in this conversation, your loose implication that my ethics are somehow equivalent to those of Stalin, seems entirely out of context.

To respond to the question I'd like to believe you were asking, 'how are one atheist's ethics different from another's,' I'll invite you to consider two points. First, Stalin and I both wore pants. That doesn't make me a totalitarian dictator? The comparison you were setting up has the same form, and I think you can see that in the pants formulation, the conclusion fails. Second, Stalin's ethics operated according to goals and principles, just as mine do; but our goals and principles differed (cf. Matthew 7:16). By their fruits you shall see the difference, mind you; not by the fruits shall you know my methods. That I don't go about organizing mass killings, is a symptom of my different (ethically superior) reasoning, not the proof of it.

Bverysharp said...

Frank, loving and praying for a person's enemies doesn't apply to this. Chris isn't your or my enemy.
He opposes Christ in his actions and teachings and associations with those who do. He doesn't need any affirmation of his work nor any financial gain from it.
We work to make others rich in Christ ( as you did in the body of the letter ) We don't praise or edify thier lost works because it only confuses them.
But I have stated this already.
If a Morman is working his 'gospel' and passes my way, I would exhort him to truth as you did Chris and leave it at that, not in parting wish him 'Luck' at his work or 'service'.

DJP said...

But the thing is, Zachary, is that you are either so afraid of or so infuriated by the fact that the Biblical worldview does provide such a standard that you cannot even admit as much. Christians can; Christians are free. They're not afraid. They can theoretically step into your circle and check it out. You are so terrified to leave yours, even theoretically, that you can't do it.

You have that in common with every atheist I've engaged in dialogue. Big bluster papering over big fear.

Zachary Bos said...

Robert -- What more need I say to child rapists or genocidal dictators, except that I am not persuaded by their reasoning? This justification does not demonstrate how acting on their desires avoids harm to young people, in the first case, or to civilization and ethic minorities, in the second.

If you'll specify which act of Margaret Sanger's you find morally transgressive, I'll be glad to respond with my own views about it.

Without some sort of objective, external truth, this is what you have to deal with.
We agree on this.

Since there is no objective standard for all people to follow (and who's to say they would follow it if there were?), we have to resort, as you say, to force. The force of law, and incarceration, and social censure, and chemical castration, in the first case; and the force of war, in the second.

Zachary Bos said...

But the thing is, Zachary, is that you are either so afraid of or so infuriated by the fact that the Biblical worldview does provide such a standard that you cannot even admit as much.

The Christian worldview means to provide foundation for such a standard, but it fails to. I can see that you disagree; but I hope you can see that I am not merely being obstinate. I believe Christians are mistaken in believing in such a standard; I would not deny that they actually do believe in it.

I am, in any case, not much possessed either by fear or fury. People who know me I think would say I'm a calm guy -- downright reasonable, they might even say.

Big bluster papering over big fear.
I make it my habit to take pains to explain what I mean, and to ask for clarification where I do not understand what the other means. This, I hope you can agree, is not generally considered bluster or obtuseness or evasion.

Mike Westfall said...

I guess you missed the point.

I didn't write that your ethics were similar to Stalin's. I wrote that your approach to ethics was similar.

The fact that both you and Stalin wear pants is irrelevant to the formation of ethics. How one approaches forming a system of ethics is not so irrelevant.

The point being, how can you trust the approach to ethics that you use to actually produce "morally desirable outcomes" (as you called them in a previous comment), since it failed in certain infamous people that most would now say were evil? And what do you mean by "morally desirable?" Is this a consensus thing? Because we have experience with the outcome of morality by consensus, and it's not so pretty sometimes.

DJP said...

Except that I asked "Within the context of my worldview, period, do I have justification to appeal to a transcendent, objective standard?"

And you answered "No, because I don't believe in your worldview."

Which wasn't in any sense the question. Explicitly wasn't the question, in fact.

Did you want to try again?

Tom Chantry said...

Bverysharp,

Listen, I know this is going to sound harsh, and I don't mean it that way. Email me if it makes you mad; I will not discuss it with you here; but your profile provides no contact.

Do you have the remotest idea what is going on at this blog today? Any? At all? Please read the whole thread (all of it; not the parts addressed to you) before you post again.

Mr. Fosi said...

Zachary: I have read that you hold that the Christian is not justified in believing in a not merely objective but absolute moral standard.

I find this claim regarding the epistemology of Christian (or it seems any) belief interesting and wonder if you wouldn't mind defining "justification" as it applies here? It seems to follow that you would hold the Christian is also not warranted in such a belief so I wonder if you would approach it from that angle as well.

Thanks for taking the time to post here. :)

Zachary Bos said...

I wrote that your approach to ethics was similar.
At that level of comparison, his and mine are similar to yours: we all three of us operate according to goals (the moral outcomes we seek to bring about) and principles (which guide our choice of potential courses of action). Further comparison beyond this, however, fails; the convergent differences are really quite great.

The point being, how can you trust the approach to ethics that you use to actually produce "morally desirable outcomes" (as you called them in a previous comment), since it failed in certain infamous people that most would now say were evil? And what do you mean by "morally desirable?"
I think I've stated in the sentence above, how I think this comparison fails. Stalin did not use the same ethical reasoning as I would; his goals and principles were different. He was applying a different heuristic, you might say. It is important to keep in mind that we know little about a person's ethics just be knowing his position on the existence of gods or other transcendent entities. I know many Christians, for example, who are scrupulous in their moral reasoning; and I know others who are doctrinaire and reactionary.

Is this a consensus thing? Because we have experience with the outcome of morality by consensus, and it's not so pretty sometimes.
This would be a good example of the illusion of explanatory depth. You've gone in one comment from the fact that Stalin and I are both atheists, to the apparent conclusion that since some historical incidents were motivated by persons professing consensus-based ethics, then all ethics based on consensus must be doomed to failure. This is, if you don't mind my being frank, coarse and unpersuasive: in other words, mere rhetoric.

Robert said...

Zach,

I went and read up on the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. I would say that is nothing new...Plato used to infuriate people by showing them how little they really knew about what they thought they knew. The thing is, you can't just run out and apply that label to everybody regarding their beliefs. Sure, there is much that I don't know, but I have a very firm foundation for what I do know. And there is nothing illusory about it.

I would say that there is a huge problem with this today because people are too lazy to read and learn about what they claim to believe in. This is the same reason that I tell my children that it doesn't matter if they tell me they believe in God, but it matters what they believe in their hearts. And the only way to really get a firm belief is to know exactly what it is you believe in.

I guess to get at the root of things, I'd be asking a question that would totally derail this meta. I already have problems with doing so in many instances, and I feel I have already hijacked the converstaion beween you and Frank. My apologies.

Aaron Snell said...

Zachary,

"That I don't go about organizing mass killings, is a symptom of my different (ethically superior) reasoning, not the proof of it."

No, not superior, just different. Unless by "superior" you mean "preferable to me."

Zachary Bos said...

Except that I asked "Within the context of my worldview, period, do I have justification to appeal to a transcendent, objective standard?" And you answered "No, because I don't believe in your worldview."
If we're being explicit, I should point out that you're replaced my response with a paraphrase meaning something quite different from my point.

Which wasn't in any sense the question. Explicitly wasn't the question, in fact. Did you want to try again?
I'll try again: it is logically arbitrary to set a limit at "the context of your worldview."

You propose an ethics;
A. you believe this ethics is warranted by the existence of a transcendent, objective standard;
B. you believe this standard as a consequence of your theistic worldview.

Since your Claim is warranted by your belief (A) which is warranted by your belief (B), it is logically valid to observed that Claim C depends not on (A) alone, but on (A+B). Since (B) is unwarranted, therefore (A+B) is unwarranted. Since (A+B) is unwarranted, therefore the Claim is invalid. This is straightforward propositional logic.

I can only see the effort to constrain this chain of reasoning by "the context of the Christian worldview" as an effort to make the case by special pleading.

Aaron Snell said...

"I can only see the effort to constrain this chain of reasoning by "the context of the Christian worldview" as an effort to make the case by special pleading.

No, it's conceding for the sake of argument.

Zachary Bos said...

Fosi, to reply to your question, I find this claim regarding the epistemology of belief interesting and wonder if you wouldn't mind defining "justification" as it applies here? It seems to follow that you would hold the Christian is also not warranted in such a belief so I wonder if you would approach it from that angle as well....

For all intents and purposes I'm using 'warrant' and 'justification' interchangeably. I think its accurate to describe my understand of warrant as being essentially the same as Susan Haack's "foundherentism".

Matt Gumm said...

Zach: what do you make of the empirical argument for the resurrection that the Apostle Paul makes in 1 Cor. 15:1-6, where he points out that there were more than 500 eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus?

DJP said...

So to your mind a sufficient response would be:

You propose concerning my ethics;
A. you believe this ethics is not warranted by the existence of a transcendent, objective standard;
B. you believe this standard is not a consequence of my theistic worldview.

So since your claim is warranted by your belief (A) which is warranted by your belief (B), it is logically valid to observed that Claim C depends not on (A) alone, but on (A+B).

Since (B) is unwarranted (i.e. my ethics are in fact warrented by the existence of God), therefore your (A+B) is unwarranted. Since (A+B) is unwarranted, therefore your claim is invalid.

This is straightforward propositional logic?

Or is it just argument by bald assertion? "Assuming that what you say is untrue, what you say is untrue."

I just tried to pry your fingers from their deathgrip on your narrow, blind assumption for a second. So far, you can't do it.

I can! All Christians can. Observe:

On your assumption that there is no such God as the Bible reveals, you are correct to assert that the morality of the Bible is no superior to any other morality.

Pulse rate didn't even blip.

See?

Now you.

Zachary Bos said...

... you can't just run out and apply that label to everybody regarding their beliefs.
True enough! And a valuable tenet of civil society, in any case.

... but I have a very firm foundation for what I do know. And there is nothing illusory about it.
I imagine that is true; but in the example I cited above, your reasoning was impressionistic and rhetorical, while adopting the form of logical reasoning. That is a minor, but I think good, example of illusory explanatory depth.

I already have problems with doing so in many instances, and I feel I have already hijacked the conversation between you and Frank. My apologies.
Not at all; I think the moderators here are happy to permit the discussion (at least, they have been so far). As I'm trying to establish in my exchange with Daniel, I don't think there is much that IS clearly out of bounds. One's ethics and one's theology aren't just related; they're extensions of the same system of beliefs.

Zachary Bos said...

Aaron Snell -- I would actually be comfortable labeling my ethics superior to Stalin's. Whether he would agree concerns me less than whether I could get most people to agree with me. It is the consensus of rational human beings that strengthens my warrant, not my resemblance or difference to the ethics of a megalomaniac. Of course, the 'absolute' statement of my ethical "superiority" compared to Stalin, only goes as far as it goes: which is to say, as far as people care to compare, and ask whether they are persuaded by each chain in my ethical reasoning. But then, that's as "objective" as any belief of value (ethical, aesthetical, etc.) can be, without being tied inflexibly (read: dogmatically) to some external standard. Is this painting good or bad? Well, this one is better than that one; but you are unpersuaded by the reasoning behind my preference. I might then go to an objective standard -- "this one IS better, since it is more figural, and therefore, more honest" -- but there then I've replaced statements of description with statements of proscription; Hume's old problem of is/ought.

Where my ethics are grounded, is in my willingness to go deep into my reasoning, with other reasonable people, as we attempt to build consensus. That's how we learn to get along, isn't it?

Robert said...

Well...here goes (and this knowing that I won't be able to see a response until a few hours from now)...Frank, feel free to delete this if you feel it is too far off-topic...

Zach,

What is the origin of man? I ask this because I believe this is where we have to get back to in order to determine where we get our ethics/authority from.

Robert said...

Zach,

What if the consensus changes? So then does the truth change as well? If you look back over the course of history, the majority view clearly changes as time goes on...and it doesn't change in only one direction...

Robert said...

Wow...that was poor wording...I meant to say that I wouldn't be offended if you decided to delete that post Frank. Sorry to sound so presumptive (I read it to myself).

Zachary Bos said...

Matt, you asked, what do you make of the empirical argument for the resurrection that the Apostle Paul makes in 1 Cor. 15:1-6, where he points out that there were more than 500 eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus?

The value of the claim,

1. "There was a historical Jesus who rose miraculously from the dead,"

in this case depends upon

A. The Christian's belief that Paul is a reliable source for
B1. the claim that 500 people were witness to the risen Jesus,

which depends upon

B2. Paul's belief that the 500 people who attests were witness to the risen Jesus, are warranted in their testimony.

Since I don't find (A) warranted, I don't find (A+B) warranted; therefore I don't find the Claim (1) warranted. This would be an objection on the grounds that I don't believe the writings attributed to Paul are a reliable source of historical evidence.

I might find Paul's writings a reliable source of historical evidence; but I'd still find the Claim (1) unwarranted. This is because I find the claim (B1) unwarranted, since I am not aware of what warrant Paul had for (B2). Even today, with modern methods and technology, we find testimony from different eyewitnesses in direct contradiction. This would be ab objection on the grounds that I don't believe Paul (even if a real person, whose writings were preserved accurately in the extant Bible) would have had warrant to believe that 500 people had warrant to claim they had been witnesses to the risen Jesus. This later claim is, after all, only hearsay multiples 500 times.

DJP said...

Once again, atheism and selective historical nihilism go hand-in-hand.

Zachary Bos said...

Continuing my exchange with DJP...

"Assuming that what you say is untrue, what you say is untrue."

My belief that your belief is unwarranted, is based on the crude assumption that you justify your belief in the Christian god by one or more of the standard lines of reasoning. I readily admit that assumption.

But that assumption (that your theism is a typical theism) is not the assumption that what you say is untrue. Indeed, my belief that your belief in the Christian god is warranted by my familiarity with those standard lines of reasoning. It is a concluded position, not an assumed one.

It seems you have assumed that I assumed other than what I was assuming! Amusing assembly of assumptions.

*

On your assumption that there is no such God as the Bible reveals, you are correct to assert that the morality of the Bible is no superior to any other morality.

I would rephrase this, and take ownership of it, as, "My conclusion that the god of the Bible is nonexistent, based on consideration of the available evidence, entails that Biblical morality is not grounded in an absolute or transcendent standard; and because of this, any claim that Biblical morality is superior to non-Biblical morality which depends upon its being grounded in such a standard, is by the cause shown invalid."

DJP said...

So I approximated your view as you would state it.

But you find yourself unable to return the favor.

Zachary Bos said...

Robert, I understand the origin of man as being one of descent from the ancestors we have in common with other primates. This process of evolution was preceded by the historical appearance of self-sustaining , metabolizing, life, from "non-living" precursors. The system in which this abiogenesis occurred, that is, the environment of the early Earth, was a product of the evolution of the solar system -- the coalescence of gas clouds, the heating and separation of the matter into the bodies of the solar system, and so on. Like my conclusions about ethics ("there ain't no laws, and there ain't no lawgiver"), this is a position which I think is coherently in accord with the available evidence, and the prevailing scientific consensus.

Matt Gumm said...

At the risk of sounding like my own offspring, "But why?" What has caused you to dismiss Paul's claim?

What (or who) would you find credible, amongst people who lived prior to the age of modern technology? Or are you like Bart Ehrman, skeptical of every bit of written history?

Zachary Bos said...

Robert, you asked, What if the consensus changes?
Oh, I can clarify this. My ethical views don't depend on consensus. Rather, I find myself needing to be prepared to expose my ethical reasoning to inquiry, in the course of conversation, as I attempt to help increase consensus. I'd be just as happy to be the sole proponent of any particular ethical view, in the face of majority disagreement, if my principles of reasoning brought me to that position.

So then does the truth change as well?
Not that I know. Ethical truth seems to be deductive, conclusions in order with starting principles and with the rules of reasoning. Whereas "truth" in the sense of how our statements of physical reality accord WITH reality, seems to be inductive. In other words, I don't want to confuse one type of truth with another.

Halcyon said...

Zachary Bos:

First, let me thank you for your candor and civility during this discussion. Such dual qualities are difficult to find in the blogosphere. Though everything in me vehemently disagrees with everything that you are saying, you are still on all counts a gentleman.

I'm gathering from the thread so far that you (1) have thought long and hard about your position, (2) have a firm grasp on it (including almost all of its extensions and consequences), (3) and are comfortable with its conclusions. As such, it seems to me that no one here will be able to shake you from your roost NOT because you won't listen, but because you are well aware and convinced of your own beliefs and thus they are effectively at your disposal in any discussion.

Because of this, I don't really have an argument to give you. Just a question, really, because I want to understand you better.

First, correct me if I'm wrong:

(A) You believe that all moralities are invented by the individual.

(B) Consequently, you believe that no two moralities are ethically superior to another.

(C) However, in order to maintain civil society and order, we ought to persuade others into an ethical consensus. If persuasion is exhausted, then we should use force (as a a last resort).

If I am correct about those three assertions, then allow for the following questions:

(1) Why should civil society be maintained?

(2) Why ought we persuade first and then force if necessary?

I ask these things because I am honestly confused. You talk about morality having no external standard and thus being purely subjective, and yet you use moral language and implications in asserting the preferability of society over (let's say) anarchy and persuasion of force.

How does that work?

Halcyon said...

"...persuasion over force."

My bad...grammar.

Zachary Bos said...

Daniel, you write, Once again, atheism and selective historical nihilism go hand-in-hand.
Do you mean mine? I'm certainly no nihilist. Am I wrong to expect not to be the target of unwarranted hostility?

So I approximated your view as you would state it. But you find yourself unable to return the favor.
Your approximation didn't just simplify; it also distorted. Therein the difference.

If you mean that I didn't approximate *your* view, I should say -- sure, I could have done that more clearly. I'll do so now:

You, DJP, subscribe to the belief that belief in the Christian god is warranted by one or more of the standard lines of reasoning.

If this is inaccurate, I'd be glad for you to clarify.

Zachary Bos said...

Matt, you asked, What has caused you to dismiss Paul's claim?
That's a hard question: at the risk of sounding like my mother, who might say "Because I said so," I will have to defer the question. It's just too unwieldy. May it suffice to say that what caused me to dismiss Paul's claim, is several years of study of the available evidence. These studies provided me with several lines of reasoning (theological, documentary, psychological, etc.) for discounting the validity of the writings attributed to Paul.

Or are you like Bart Ehrman, skeptical of every bit of written history?
My criterion for validity are not unsual: multiplicity of sources, reliable provenance, coherence among sources, and so on. And important to note that I hold some sources to be provisionally or partially reliable: it is not, this is a true source, and this is a false. In any case, I am not an Erhmanian skeptic.

joel said...

Zac:

'The system in which this abiogenesis occurred, that is, the environment of the early Earth, was a product of the evolution of the solar system'

Perhaps you could humor us by stating what reproducible scientific evidence has lead you to believe in abiogenisis?

Jugulum said...

Zachary,

I think the following is a valid paraphrase of Dan's question. Dan can correct me if it's not. "Assuming that the Christian worldview (as I understand it) is correct, do I have valid basis for appealing to a transcendent, objective standard?"

Which of the following best paraphrases your response?

1.) "No, because even if the Christian worldview is correct, your justification for believing the Christian worldview is inadequate. Therefore you wouldn't be justified in appealing to a transcendent standard, even if it actually exists."

2.) "No, because the Christian worldview is wrong."

3.) None of the above.


I think Dan is reading your response as #2, hence his impatience. (Rejecting the premise of a question doesn't justify answering "no" to the question. It's nonsensical--"Assuming X is true, no, because X is untrue.") That's how I've been reading your comments, too.

If you meant #1, then it's a more reasonable answer, on the face of it. But the Christian worldview includes the idea that the Bible is revelation, and is adequate grounds for believing the Christian worldview. So #1 turns out to be another form of #2.


I think Dan's point was: "If I'm right, I have an objective transcendent standard to appeal to. If you're right, you don't."

Zachary Bos said...

Halcyon, I in turn appreciate the candor and civility generally prevailing here. As I told the teenage roughs last night who were throwing trash onto the tracks while we waited for the train, instead of choosing to respect the public space: "I think we can all do better than that." And thus far in this discussion, we have been doing better! A pleasing thing.

I'm gathering from the thread so far that ... they are effectively at your disposal in any discussion.
That's a fair account of it, yes. To answer your questions:

You believe that all moralities are invented by the individual.
Actually, I'd call them a complex of received wisdom and considered revisions, akin to the way language is constructed. No one individual concocts her own lexicon and grammar...

Consequently, you believe that no two moralities are ethically superior to another.
I think relative value (superior as against inferior) like ethical value, is about what you can persuade others of. I'm comfortable stating that my ethics are superior to those of typical serial killer, because when I say "superior" I do actually mean, among other things, that a superior ethics much improve the condition and liberty of human life, and may not reduce any human life to an instrument of others' will or pleasure. If someone balks at my claim to having a superior ethics, I hope they'll ask, what do you mean by superior? And I shall tell them; and we will come to a consensus on the meaning of those relative values, or we will not. But if the person responds to my claim by saying, you are wrong, my ethics are superior, or, you are wrong, NO ethics are superior, etc., then we cannot reach consensus: de gustibus non disputandum est.

... in order to maintain civil society and order, we ought to persuade others into an ethical consensus. If persuasion is exhausted, then we should use force (as a a last resort).
Yes, this is accurate.

Why should civil society be maintained?
It tends, more than brutal forms of society, to bring about improvement in the condition and liberty of human life (etc.). Which is an example of my general point: my support of civil society against alternate forms of living, is itself an ethical decision, motivated by my design to bring about my ethical goals and to reason in accordance with my ethical principles.

Why ought we persuade first and then force if necessary?
Only because this is the definition (as I am using it) of a civil or liberal society.

How does that work?
As with all ethical questions, this is exactly the question we must start with. We bring to the table our respective goals; we strive to reach our goals without alienating others by overturning their own agendas; and in a messy way (though hopefully less messy over time), we move forward in a way.

Though of course, costs are borne: by the environment, by biodiversity, by depleting resources, by the increase in inequality. Ethics, economics, and ecology, in my way of thinking, are all extensions of a single system of beliefs and actions.

Zachary Bos said...

Jugulum, I think your view of things is right. I don't see any point to conceding what I am warranting in knowing is wrong, for the sake of conversation. However, if the Christian worldview was correct, I would still have recourse (pardon my vocabulary of combat!) to objection 1), namely that (via Clifford, Hume, and others) that the warrant for believing IN the Christian worldview is insufficient, though that worldview may be a correct one.

This would be akin to my observation that it is warranted for you to believe that the apple on my desk is red (even though it is), since you (being remote from me, and have no access to observe my desk) have no sufficient warrant for such belief.

As you say, if Christianity is right, Christians have an objective transcendent standard to appeal to. It is exactly this kind of predicative linkage (the conditioning of IF A --> THEN B) that allows me to consider the system as a whole, that is, as (A+B).

Zachary Bos said...

This has been quite an active conversation; I'm going to dinner now, but will return to it later. I wouldn't want my silence to be construed as a hostile withdrawal. As Halcyon and others have said, the civility and candor all around is something we should rightly appreciate.

Halcyon said...

Zachary Bos:

First, I hope that your dinner was delicious. 8^)

Second, thank you for your detailed yet concise response. I think I'm beginning to understand your position better.

I just have one more question/concern/obnoxious inquiry:

If ethics are merely a matter of "taste" (i.e., "de gustibus non disputandum est"), and there value is "relative" to how well you can "persuade" others to your position, then does that not destroy an ethic's power to persuade?

Let me rephrase that:

If one believes in an objective external standard for ethics (whether or not it actually exists), then they have (at least according to them) grounds to which they can appeal to by which they can prove the "superiority" of their position.

However, if ethics have no external grounds to back them up (to give them "value") and all they are left with is mere persuasion between individuals, is that not mere sophistry? Mere lexicographical trickery?

In short, what substance does your ethic (e.g., "improvement in the condition and liberty of human life") have other than your own words? If it has nothing else than that, then why should we listen to your ethic at all? Even if you effectively argued your ethical position, that does not mean that it is "true". It just makes it "persuasive".

I'm asking this because I'm not sure I want to live in a world were morality is fundamentally a matter of "taste". Many people have very bad "taste".

Or maybe I'm just being dense. 8^p

Zachary Bos said...

From the train: Halcyon, do you know about the Mythopoeic Society?

Frank Turk said...

Is someone aping Christian ethics?

Anyone who wants to utilize western values without at least noting that they are foundationally formed by Christian ethical reasoning (let alone the actual 10 commandments) is aping Christian ethics. That is: he is mimicking them, but not actually employing them. He wants all the fruit and none of the tree.

Zachary Bos said...

Ah, Halcyon, it would be sophistry if I were to put forth my reasoning, and then with a flourish at the end say: look, I have arrived at this truth. I don't do this. Instead I say, look, neighbors, fellow human entities: these are my goals. What are yours? These are my principles of reasoning, what are yous? And we approach greater consensus through the cultural process of discussion. I say "cultural process," for this doesn't happen often as a discrete exchange among rational people; rather the "discussion" is mediated through cultural norms, laws, mores, etc.).

The reason consensus occurs at all is because we for the most part hold a great many goals in common, and follow many of similar principles of reasoning. If all of our goals really were incommensurate... well, that's practically unimaginable. We wouldn't be a social animal, to be sure.

Jugulum said...

Zachary,

I think there was a typo in this sentence: "This would be akin to my observation that it is warranted for you to believe that the apple on my desk is red". You meant to say "unwarranted" there, right?

[QUOTE]"I don't see any point to conceding what I am warranting in knowing is wrong, for the sake of conversation."[/QUOTE]

The point is communication. Avoiding talking past each other. Coming to a mutual understanding, establishing that you understand the internal logic of the other person's view, even if you fault their assumptions or logic.

Another point is allowing the other person some leeway to make a point. Compare it to a judge temporarily allowing a line of questioning--"I'll allow it, but get to the point quickly."

Being unwilling to go with the other guy for a moment is sometimes equivalent to being unwilling to listen & find out where they're going with it.

Zachary Bos said...

Frank, I think you and I disagree as to why it is Humanist ethics (in the case of Chris Stedman) agree in such large proportion with Christian ethics; I'm content with the explanation that, since ethical systems are usually implemented by human beings in human conditions, it is the common features of human nature which account for the widespread agreement (across time and culture) among ethical systems.

Zachary Bos said...

Another point is allowing the other person some leeway to make a point. Compare it to a judge temporarily allowing a line of questioning--"I'll allow it, but get to the point quickly."

Fair enough. But I'll observe, that rather than simply making his point, Daniel chose repeatedly to response as if I'd been avoiding something. Instead, he might have chosen to simply state his argument as if I had conceded his point for the sake of conversation. For this reason and others, his line of attack (ahem) seemed more rhetorical than conversational. Correct me where I'm wrong, Daniel?

joel said...

Daniel? Did Dan's mother just arrive at the post.

joel said...

I believe that the bounds of civility have just been crossed.

Bverysharp said...

Tom Chantry,
I must have missed something. I would like if you have time to possibly answer any questions I have posed to Frank or update me with what I have missed here:

6beachbums@bellsouth.net

Thanks

Halcyon said...

Zachary Bos:

I hope that your dinner was good!

Thank you again for taking the time to answer me. Your following statement struck me:

"It would be sophistry if I were to put forth my reasoning, and then with a flourish at the end say: look, I have arrived at this truth."

That's sophistry? I thought that that was the whole point of reasoning: to arrive at truth, conclusions, or (to use your apt term) consensus. If our reasoning doesn't lead us anywhere, then what's the point?

And again, if you state to your fellow "human entities" what you believe, but have nothing to give it substance or value other than your own rhetoric, then what good are your beliefs? What power or weight do they have to convince or convict?

In short:

If it's not true, then why follow it?

If it's nothing but your opinion substanced by nothing but your words, then why be persuaded by it?

Since you have proven yourself to be a man who takes thinking seriously, I implore you to take some time to ponder these thoughts, as I must be off to dinner as well. Cheers.

Zachary Bos said...

I thought that that was the whole point of reasoning: to arrive at truth, conclusions, or (to use your apt term) consensus.
Some forms of deductive reasoning, yes. And good to keep in mind that while some forms of reasoning will lead to new knowledge, others merely reiterate that the knowledge present in our assumptions is present for valid reason in our conclusions. Then there are the forms of inductive reason which allow us to make informed leaps in judgment; if we didn't open our methods of reasoning to inquiry, we would not be able to avail ourselves of our neighbor's -- especially our dissenting neighbor's -- error-catching analysis.

If our reasoning doesn't lead us anywhere, then what's the point?
That reasoning can only lead to statements of limited scope and tentative grounds, does not mean it can't take us anywhere! It isn't all or nothing -- even a little increase in knowledge is a boon.

And again, if you state to your fellow "human entities" what you believe, but have nothing to give it substance or value other than your own rhetoric, then what good are your beliefs?
To answer in a limited way: By showing how their interests align with mine, and how my proposed actions are more than not likely to bring about commonly desired outcomes, I might attract a consensus of support.

If it's not true, then why follow it?
None of us has such powers of insight that we understand fully the causes and implications of a situation, on first regard. The process of reasoning allows us to sort out likely from unlikely outcomes, given such and such a turn of events. Reasoning isn't just used for identifying truth (though in pure maths, it does do that). It is also used to increase understanding of a set of circumstances -- both the nature of the matter, and the scope and limits of our knowledge of the matter.

If it's nothing but your opinion substanced by nothing but your words, then why be persuaded by it?
To clarify, I wouldn't say that the content of a reasoned discussion about the morally relevant features of a situation, would only be a comparison of respective opinions.

Robert said...

Zachary,

The evidence and the "consensus of experts" are not in accord with each other. Now, if people selectively choose what they will call evidence, then they might be able to work evolution out. The thing is, there is a vast amount of evidence that contradicts evolution. In fact, Darwin made his own statements about certain things that would invalidate his "theories" and we have come to said things in our day and age. Namely, we are able to see more complicated, detailed, smaller parts of organisms than he was able to observe...especially a human cell, which if you look at just one part of a cell you can see all of the detail design that is involved. And when one studies the complexities of the workings of the various organisms (from single-cell all the way up to humans), it becomes abundantly clear that evolution is but a myth.

Also, let me add this. The probability for the Earth to have wound up in the exact position it is in line with the rest of the planets and the sun, if it happened randomly, is one billionth of one billionth. I would recommend reading "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist", by Norman Geisler, for a more thorogh presentation of the evidence.

St.Lee said...

OK, time to fess up Frank. You brought in a "ringer" to show us all what its going to be like to deal with the new kinder, gentler atheist, didn't you?

Despite all the grandiose words used to mask the talking in circles, it all boils down to this: "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

And if I may paraphrase: In these days there is no God in men's lives, so every man does that which is right in his own eyes.

Zachary Bos said...

The evidence and the "consensus of experts" are not in accord with each other.
That is not accurate, as far as I know. I'll acknowledge that there are some people who hold Ph.Ds, who have advanced critiques of evolutionary theory. I don't find any of the criticisms that I've seen persuasive. I appreciate your frankness in bringing up this minority view.

Now, if people selectively choose what they will call evidence, then they might be able to work evolution out.
Do you care to share a cogent example of how some relevant body of evidence, which would seem not to support the conclusions of the present understanding of the evolution of species, has been selectively excluded?

The thing is, there is a vast amount of evidence that contradicts evolution.
I'm rather more familiar with the apologist and Creationist critiques of evolution than I am with many other subjects. I'm aware of the kinds of arguments which are mustered against evolutionary theory -- and the kinds of data they mean to implicate as contradicting that theory -- but, again, I don't know of any persuasive arguments along these lines. If there is some other kind of evidence, I'm glad to consider it with you. I've made rather a commitment in this comment thread to keeping up with the various threads of discussion, so, why stop now.

In fact, Darwin made his own statements about certain things that would invalidate his "theories" and we have come to said things in our day and age. Namely, we are able to see more complicated, detailed, smaller parts of organisms than he was able to observe...especially a human cell, which if you look at just one part of a cell you can see all of the detail design that is involved. And when one studies the complexities of the workings of the various organisms (from single-cell all the way up to humans), it becomes abundantly clear that evolution is but a myth.
I'm familiar with the concept of intelligent design from Behe and others, but don't find it persuasive. Just to nod at three more frequently used examples, I'm conversant with analyses of the arguments based on irreducible complexity or inherent design in the bacterial flagellum, the blood clotting system, and the eye, all of which have persuaded me that those arguments don't hold water.

I've entered into discussion about these topics before, and it has been most productive when both parties are familiar with the subject. If you care to discuss it more deeply, perhaps we could agree that if the other party supplies a primary source article, as a source of data supporting one interpretation or another, we might expect that the article be read before the conversation proceeds? No one gains in understanding if the parties to the conversation are simply exchanging sound bites and received 'wisdom' that whizzes past the other's ear (or through the other's head!).

Also, let me add this. The probability for the Earth to have wound up in the exact position it is in line with the rest of the planets and the sun, if it happened randomly, is one billionth of one billionth.
I don't know what you might mean here; the exact position given what origin? Alignment with what solar bodies, along with curve? I don't know what figures you may have been crunching in order to obtain this figure.

would recommend reading "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist", by Norman Geisler, for a more thorogh presentation of the evidence.
I've read it -- in view of the guideline I propose above, then, we can proceed with the conversation, trusting that we are both familiar with that book's contents. I should say that I didn't find Geisler's reasoning persuasive (perhaps this is not a surprise to you).

Zachary Bos said...

Lee, I'm not so nice or so gentle that I won't call you on your condescension. There's no king in the United States, either; but we have laws. Is that proof or disproof of your point?

I'm being civil, frank, and responsive. If I seem persistent here in this discussion, and everywhere else, online and in real life where I push these questions and issues, it's because I give a damn about what people believe and how that affects the way they act.

This idea that I only do what's right in my own eyes, is half right: at the end of the day, I'm accountable to my conscience, of course. But I don't have any delusions about it -- I also have to account for my actions in the eyes of the people around me. Everyone votes, and raises children, and influences the commonweal in a thousand other ways. So it's my business what they do, and I'm their business, like I'm yours, you're mine, everybody is everybody's. We're in it together.

Look, I don't think you're "a repulsive sinner" (in the terms you use on your blog, to describe people in general). So what is getting your ire up? Do I seem disrespectful, uninformed? Or is it the case that you don't like the attention I'm paying to the grounds for your beliefs? Before I say anything else, let me say this: don't worry about it. You've been getting along this far without any god -- your beliefs in that nonexistent god notwithstanding -- and we're all going to keep going on without one. If I knew you in the real world, you'd probably find me pleasant, and alright. I'd ask you about good new market panhead models (even though, yeah, I can't afford one), and talk about growing up around motorcycles. We'd grab a beer, or if you're clean and sober, a coke. If you couldn't take me on those terms, as a person -- like you seem unable to take me on the terms I'm offering here, honesty and good will -- then, man, back it up and check out. The adults are talking.

Frank Turk said...

St. Lee:

YOU READ MY POST!

AHA!

Frank Turk said...

Zach:

Since secular humanism which you inherit today, and which was greatly conceived of in the Renaissance, proceeds from a Christian context (you know: it's unfound in Chinese history; it's unfound in the history of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans; it's not an African continental movement), I suggest you have somehow missed the necessary causality. You have invented a history for it.

If there is no god, that's no big deal. You can adopt any historical story you want. If there is a God who created and sustains history, though, maybe what actually happened matters -- especially if you're borrowing from him without proper attribution.

Zachary Bos said...

Since secular humanism which you inherit today...
I am not a Humanist, Frank, though Chris Stedman is.

... and which was greatly conceived of in the Renaissance
Surely, the flowering of contemporary atheistic Humanism was in the Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters, quite a bit after the Renaissance?

As for myself, my own worldview quite resembles the secular stoicism I read of in histories of ancient Greece. This is a resemblance, but not a family one; it is not as if I read De Rerum Natura and found myself a converted Lucretiaist.

... proceeds from a Christian context
Well, in a chronological sense, I can agree the many of the ideological and culture features of The World after the appearance of Christianity, where partially shaped by the influence of Christianity. But I could say the same about Christianity itself, in which we can identify any number of features which follow from precursor religious and cultural practices. I'm not sure if the claim is that Christianity somehow popped into the flow of history without announcement... I like most reasonable people (I should think) acknowledge that Christianity is as much a cause and consequence of history as any other movement.

... (you know: it's unfound in Chinese history; it's unfound in the history of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans; it's not an African continental movement)...
I'm aware of historical texts, traditions, and teachings from all of these cultures which resemble in whole or part some of the practices in contemporary manifestations of secularism, atheism, and Humanism.

If I may ask; is it a common notion among Christians that "Western Civilization" is more a product of the Christianity of the ancient Levant, than of, say, medieval Europe feudalism, or civic and social models from the Near East, or the mercantile practices of early modern sea powers (and so on)?

I suggest you have somehow missed the necessary causality. You have invented a history for it.
I don't know what causality you explained; nor what history I've described. Without wanting to seem rancorous, I'd like to point out that such claims seem to suffer the weakness of illusory explanatory depth...

If there is no god, that's no big deal.
Quite a big deal, no? I certainly take the absence of supernatural powers in the world, as a serious call to take responsibility for our lives, and ownership of our actions.

You can adopt any historical story you want.
This may be someone else's point; it is not my position.

If there is a God who created and sustains history...
We don't have to be satisfied with "if," though. We are free to ask, "whether," and then consider the arguments. I've considered many, and not found them persuasive. Or rather, I've discovered that there are many good reasons to claim belief in a god or gods... however, I've found eventually that none of them are good enough to warrant belief.

... though, maybe what actually happened matters -- especially if you're borrowing from him without proper attribution.
I truly don't know what you might mean by this. If I've stated any moral or historical claims in this discussion thread, I can't imagine that any of them are not much earlier than, say, the Gospels were written.

Frank Turk said...

Zach:

1. If you are not a humanist, you are at least advocating for humanism. Let's not quibble, please.

2. One of the great humanists is Desiderius Erasmus, the man credited with assembling the Textus Receptus -- the Greek New Testament. He stands at the back end of the Renaissance, which spanned from the 14th to the 17th century. Humanism arose with the Renaissance, and caused the philosophical consequences we see as the Enlightenment. Again: this is history, not poetry. It is what it is unless a nice story is more important than the order of events.

3. I like it that you dismiss chronology as somehow related to causality. It points to your commitments.

4. It's not a common Christian notion: it's a well-established fact. If we accept the Feudal Europe ran from about the 8th century onward into the Renaissance, it was based on the law of Charlemagne -- and the political reasoning behind it was substantiated by the theological notion of the Great Chain of Being. They are not unrelated, and they are not somehow in separate containers. It is because of the influence of Christian cosmology and ethical reasoning that the west developed the political and social ethics we see.

5. It is quite a big deal philosophically if there is no god. But relative to what version of history you adopt, it is of no consequence that you adopt a false view of history if there is no god. Falsehood is a value judgment without any metaphysical consequence if things just happen and there is no use for them apart from subjective use. You could adopt a history in which you are the direct descendent of Kubla Khan if it made your life more enjoyable -- who could impress you to do otherwise?

6. The point is actually mine, and two-fold:
6a - you have a view of history which does not correlate with the facts.
6b - that view causes you to dismiss other facts as irrelevant.
If these don't matter to you (they should, but only because facts are the property of God), then please continue. If they do matter to you, you should think about why they matter.

7. There are no arguments substantiating you as a person, yet I'm willing to accept that you're on good faith. I'm willing to grant that you are not a function of the Google mainframes or an imaginary thing I have dreamed up. Given that Jesus was a real person, the least you can do is consider that his real life provides more to answer the question of God than most philosophy classes can attempt to discount.

And with that, I'm done for the night. Please email me at frank@iturk.com if you are interested in a further discussion.