Balkinization  

Monday, August 13, 2007

Are the Moral Beliefs of Religious Believers Sturdier Than The Moral Beliefs of Atheists? (A Response to Michael Perry On Religion and Human Rights)

Brian Tamanaha

A recent Time magazine poll asked likely voters whether the religious beliefs of candidates would negatively influence their support. Only atheists were singled out for disfavor by more than a majority of those polled, with 59% responding that it would negatively affect their support if a candidate was an atheist. Muslims (49%), Mormons (30%), and Fundamentalist Christians (29%) had the next highest negative ratings.

Atheists have been distrusted for centuries. Locke’s classic liberal essay advocating the separation between church and state and the toleration of different religions, A Letter Concerning Toleration, emphasized one exception:

Lastly, those are not to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all...

Are atheists less moral than religious believers? Is their morality suspect in some way that does not apply to religious believers? If almost two-thirds of the voters would not vote for (or would be less supportive of) a candidate simply because that candidate is an atheist, that is a significant factor in our polity.

Recently, the rap on the morality of atheists has been extended to the human rights context. Although he is careful to acknowledge that many atheists live moral lives and many religious believers behave immorally, legal philosopher Michael Perry—who I have the utmost respect for—has argued at length that human rights can only be grounded in religious beliefs, and he suggests that human rights might not survive “the death (or deconstruction) of God.” [the quotes herein come from Perry, 54 Emory L.J. 97].

Perry is not persuaded by the fact that the citizens of Western Europe, who are far less religious than Americans, are not evidently less moral than Americans and appear to be more committed to the protection of human rights (even aside from our recent infatuation with torture). Perry is not impressed by the increasing body of evidence that, owing to evolutionary factors, humans have a genetically ingrained moral sense, which presumably means that adherence to moral norms would not disappear if everyone stopped believing in God. He acknowledges that morality of some kind will exist, but not belief in the inherent dignity of humans.

Perry’s argument traces out in a few basic steps: Human rights require belief in the inherent dignity of humans. The only stable foundation for this belief, he argues, is religion: Belief in God specifies the “source of normativity—the source of the should in the claim that no one should violate any human being.” “Every human being is sacred…because every human being is a beloved child of God and sister or brother to every other human being.”

Perry argues at length that there is (and can be) no non-religious foundation for belief in the inherent dignity of humans, and thus there can be no non-religious foundation for human rights. The non-religious (atheist) world view is a chilling vision of a metaphysically empty, meaningless existence with no inherent good or right built into the nature of the universe. He quotes approvingly R.H. Tawney (and others to the same effect): “The essence of [our] morality is this: to believe that every human being is of infinite importance, and therefore that no consideration of expediency can justify the oppression of one by another. But to believe this it is necessary to believe in God.”

Perry uses a Nazi interlocutor to test, and dismiss, attempts at providing a non-religious foundation for inherent human dignity (in this example Dworkin’s):

Imagine someone saying to a Nazi: “This Jew, too, no less than you, is a creative masterpiece, and we attach great value to her. No one, therefore, should violate her.” The Nazi can reply: “Who is this ‘we’? You attach great value to the Jew. We, however, do not: we attach no value to her. Even if we assume, for the sake of discussion, that the Jew, too, is a creative masterpiece—a creative masterpiece in the sense and for the reason you have mentioned—we would still attach no value to her. Indeed, given what else we believe about Jews, we would still disvalue her.” The obvious problem with Dworkin’s specification of the source of normativity—and, therefore, with his nonreligious ground—is that Dworkin assumes a consensus among human agents that has never existed: Many people do not attach much or even any value to every human being.

Let’s assume Perry is correct that there can be no non-religious grounding for human rights. Some argue, as Richard Rorty does (also taken up by Perry), that human rights can continue without such a grounding. Liberal societies include support for human rights as an important cultural belief, and this is sufficient to keep them robust.

My response to Perry’s argument is different. Taken on its own terms, it seems evident that, in the end, his religious believer is in the same position as a non-believer. Consider again the Nazi interlocutor. Perry’s Christian will resist the Nazi by asserting that the Jew is equally one of God’s children and possesses inherent human dignity. The Nazi can respond: “Your religion is a false religion. My religion, the true religion, disvalues Jews." Or the completely skeptical Nazi can say: “God is a fiction, so your religious beliefs are empty.”

At this juncture, Perry’s religious believer in human rights is indistinguishable from a non-religious person committed to human rights: both are confronted by someone who rejects entirely their particular (religious or non-religious) belief system. Perry admits this openly: the “religious position” “is vulnerable to disbelief by the Nazi….What position isn’t?”

But if that’s the case, then why do religious beliefs provide a superior foundation for human rights?

The obvious answer is that religion provides the better foundation because God in fact exists, and, therefore, humans possess inherent dignity regardless of whether the Nazi agrees. If God exists, and if inherent human dignity comports with God’s will, then the foundation for human rights lies entirely in the fact of God’s existence, not in religion or beliefs of any kind.

Despite the power of this argument, it is not the answer given by Perry. Perry does not pin his claim of the superior religious foundation for human rights on the existence of God. He argues that religion provides a superior foundation even if the believer “is deluded about all this.” The believer’s view is superior because the “religious position is embedded in—and it has whatever plausibility or implausibility it has because of its embeddedness in—a broader family of religious claims, especially the claims that (a) every human being is a beloved child of God and a sister or brother to one’s self and (b) human beings are created by God to love one another.”

In response, I will argue (again) that believers and non-believers are ultimately in the same position. By contrast to Perry, I must emphasize, my argument is not that an atheist's position is superior, but that both positions are equally tenuous.

It bears pointing out at the outset that, although Perry is correct that the religious position in support of inherent human dignity is embedded in a broader family of religious claims, it seems evident that non-religious believers committed to human rights also make their commitment within a broader complex of beliefs (all beliefs, for that matter, are similarly embedded). The fact of embeddedness alone, therefore, does not carry the day, as Perry knows. His point is rather that the belief in inherent human dignity is more internally coherent within this complex of religious beliefs than without it.

To identify the flaw in Perry’s argument for superiority, one must ask this crucial question of the religious believer (which Perry does not pose): “Does your moral belief system still make sense if it turns out that God does not in fact exist?” Perry the philosopher appears to presume that the religious moral system remains internally coherent even if belief in God is a delusion, so, "yes," it would still “make sense.”

That is not, I assert, the answer a religious person would give when asked this question (which is another way of saying that Perry’s argument about coherence subtly shifts the focus away from what really matters). The religious person would understand the inquiry as a question about something foundational to the belief system. That foundation, of course, is the existence of God. God’s existence—not mere belief in God’s existence—is a critical aspect of the internal coherence of the religion-based moral system. So if God does not exist, then, “no”, the religious moral system does not “make sense,” because the religious moral system is fundamentally (at every point) and inseparably premised upon the existence of God. Happily for the religious believer, God exists, so the religious moral system is sound. Note, however, that the believer thinks the moral system is sound not owing to her mere belief in God’s existence, but owing to the fact of God’s existence. Take away God, and the coherence of the religious moral system collapses.

Perry insists that non-religious beliefs in human rights are fatally flawed because they cannot be grounded. Religious believers do not suffer from this flaw, and therefore possess a superior foundation for human rights, he argues, because belief in God supplies the necessary foundation. But if my argument is correct, the foundation for the religious moral system is not belief in God, but the actual fact of God’s existence. Since the fact of God’s existence has never been established—and remains the impenetrable uncertainty of our existence—religious moral systems likewise operate without a grounding, for they cannot establish their foundational assumption.

This brings me to my assertion that religious believers and non-believers are, with respect to morality, ultimately in the same position. Setting aside the argument that the overwhelming bulk of our moral beliefs—for religious and non-religious people alike—are held owing to the nature/nurture combination of genetic predisposition and socialization (culture and family upbringing), in those rare moments when we consciously question the ground or integrity of our moral belief system, religious folks and non-religious folks come, in the end, to the same moment, upon which all else depends: they make a commitment. Religious folks commit to their belief in God (and their religious moral system follows); non-religious folks embrace (commit to) their moral beliefs because they think they are right.

Aha, a religious person might say, that is precisely why atheists cannot be trusted on morality. Atheists can change their moral views at any moment, so there is no built in stability to those views. But a religious person can likewise at any moment reconsider her belief in God, and decide it’s all a fiction. No difference there.

Nonetheless, religious believers seem unable to shake their suspicion that atheists have a dubious morality. Perhaps a simple thought experiment can help. Imagine that your longstanding belief in God is destroyed owing to some precipitating event (say, an inexplicable, arbitrary, unjust, tragedy happens to a family member). In the dark of the night, you come to the conclusion that you no longer believe in God. The next day, when you venture into the world, will you suddenly feel tempted to freeload off your friends, cheat strangers, stop taking care of your children, or steal from, rob, rape, or kill someone? Of course not. You considered all of these things immoral the day before, and you will still see them as such. You may well experience the throes of an existential crisis (asking yourself what matters in life), but that will not of itself penetrate or dissolve your routine moral beliefs.

These comments take us far afield of Perry’s argument to confront more general suspicions religious believers have about the morality of atheists. Perry did not explicitly raise these suspicions, although his argument can easily be extended in that direction. To avoid misunderstanding, I must emphasize that nothing I have written in this post challenges the integrity of the moral beliefs of religious believers. I am not echoing the recent, unfortunate spate of polemical books by atheists attacking religion.

Rather, I am merely defending the integrity of the moral views of atheists from attacks by religious folks. With respect to Perry in particular, I cannot understand why he would press his argument that only religion provides a stable foundation for human rights. Lots of non-religious people are strong supporters of human rights (again see Western Europe), as he knows, so what is the point of making the argument?

Perry can say that he is merely making an important philosophical point. But if that is his justification, one must wonder about the morality of the argument itself. After all, if Perry persuades readers of the soundness of his argument, has he increased the likelihood that they will give up their support for human rights? Fortunately, his argument won’t likely diminish the commitment to human rights by non-believers, in my view, because their commitment runs deeper than the logic of Perry’s argument. Like belief in God, to embrace human rights is not a matter of logic, but of faith and commitment.

Religious and non-religious supporters of human rights are allies in the global struggle against injustice. Nothing can be gained in this struggle by attacking the coherence of the beliefs of non-religious people committed to human rights. Both paths to human rights have their own strengths (and weaknesses). The best approach in this context, and in connection with moral views more generally, is to accord more respect and toleration for the integrity of one another’s moral views—Locke redux, but this time extending the toleration to atheists.

All well-minded people trying to do right by morality, believers and non-believers, are swimming in the same existential sea, fighting the same struggles.

Comments:

Well done.

Just an FYI, the link to Michael Perry's article seems to be broken. Rather than taking the reader to the paper's abstract, it directs one to the SSRN search screen.
 

Sorry about the link to Perry's article that this post responds to. For unknown reasons, I can't get the link to work. It can be found on Perry's SSRN page: "The Morality of Human Rights: A Nonreligious Ground?" 54 Emory L.J. 97 (2005). Perry presses the same basic argument in his recent book on the subject, as indicated in the linked review.

Brian
 

Indeed, but this is hardly the only problem with Perry's argument. For one thing, it, like all arguments grounded in Divine Command theories of morality, falls flat on the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma.

It's hard to analyze Perry's claims any further without understanding precisely which aspect of religion Perry claims is necessary to provide a stable grounding for human rights. "God", after all, is hardly an uncontested concept. Is it good enough if God is merely good, rather than all-good, or powerful, rather than all-powerful? Is the purely metaphorical God of liberal Christian theologians like John Shelby Spong good enough? Are polytheistic religions like Hinduism or Wicca sufficient? What about nontheistic religions like Buddhism or Unitarian Universalism? Does Perry clarify any of this in his book?
 

At first glance, atheists and believers are on the same moral playing field because God has granted us free will.

However, God has also provided us a remarkably similar set of moral laws through a variety of religions. Thus, atheists can only be on the same moral field as believers if they too choose to follow God's law, but will be unguided if they ignore God's law and will be acting immorally if they rebel against God's law.

Unfortunately, I would note that those who are most prone to follow moral relativism are also the least likely to believe in God and follow His laws.

After the utter evil of the secular fascist and communist mass murder movements in Europe, I find it amusing that Europe is being offered as a potentially more moral place than America. Nor do I find modern secular Europe's willingness to tolerate evil around them and not do a thing to stop it to be particularly moral.
 

Bart - religious moralities can only be called "remarkably similar" if you deliberately ignore all the enormous differences. Religions have differed, and still differ, wildly in whether they condemn or accept, say, polygyny, the subordination of women, slavery, the slaughter of infidels and heretics, or abortion. These are top-of-the-line Serious Moral Issues, not trivia.
 

elliot:

I think you will find that many of the things to which you refer were later imposed by humans misinterpreting God's law for their own reasons. The Bible and the Quran often refer to this rebellion. Indeed, the Quran is supposed to be the direct word of God to correct all the previous errors made by the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) in their scriptures.
 

I am hardly a religious expert but... Has it occured to anyone that the Nazi persecutor of Jews was (in all likelihood) a regular Sunday go to meeting Christian (Catholic or Protestant)?

I fail to see the immutable "moral superiority" granted to him.

In the history of mankind, most crimes against humanity (Stalin is an exception) have been perpetrated by "God Fearing" people.
 

I don't want to write much, because this deals with the argument you deliberately set to the side, but this comment from Judge Posner seems to be a propos. I don't see why anyone familiar with empirical studies in psychology, or people who have ever met a fellow human, would suppose that our actions and beliefs are all derived of careful, consistent moral reflection. Anyway, Posner:
Dworkin asks us to imagine that there are many people who, though not philosophers or even intellectuals, have "a yearning for ethical and moral integrity" or "want a vision of how to live." Such people, he claims, "might well ask themselves, for example, whether their views about abortion presuppose some more general position about the connection between sentience and interests or rights." The picture is of people standing around waiting to connect with Dworkin, who speaks in just those lofty terms. I don't think there are many people like that; very few people outside the academy talk in the highfalutin' style of academic moralism or can understand arguments couched in that style; how many even know what "sentience" means?
 

tom:

All humans are imperfect and sinners - believers and non believers alike.

My only point was that believers have a head start in living a moral life because they are given the law to follow and that secularists are often at a significant disadvantage because they moral relativists who either ignore or are in open rebellion against God's law.

Sure, there are plenty of people who claim to believe in God and refuse to follow His law. That does not undermine the point I was making above.
 

one difference i see between believers and atheists is that, while both involve faith, believers have a positive faith and atheists are presumably fully certain, as a matter of faith, that there is no god. so while there are many different stripes of believers, believing different things, they all take on faith some basic conceptual idea of a higher power. atheists, as far as i know, are all pretty much in agreement that there is no god, period. affirming the negative in this context is in many ways more absolutist, since it forecloses the question of the possible nature of the higher power, and many others.

in terms of an intellectual or moral guiding principle, and basic building block when human beings were primitive, it seems intuitively correct to me that the faithful position is much more useful. it engenders humility in the powerful and hope in the weak, whereas an atheist position (assuming a less intellectually wealthy society where this belief/rejection dichotomy is the main moral guiding principle) seems more likely to engender cruelty in the powerful and fear and hopelessness in the weak.

religion in a social context is a call get together and contemplate the deepest questions, and while other institutions now make that call, religion was likely the first and most basic. if atheism were to be an analagous social call, what would it be calling us to contemplate? it is a philosophical non-starter, a contrarian conceit.

people in western europe, while currently rejecting religious dogma, are not possessed of worldviews that grow from an atheistic tradition. whether a movement to atheism in a more intellectually mature culture will cause a backslide philosophically and morally, however, is uncertain and probably not even likely at least in the short term.
 

The typical Judeo-Christian theology relies on Divine Command Theory, which say what's right is right simply because God says it is, and that isn't so great, in my view.

Abraham is often thought to be good because he was about to go through with God's command to kill his own son!!

So a God that can change its mind about what's good isn't to great either, and that's what you have with divine command type morality.

Of course, some Hindu and Mormon texts (and maybe others, I don't know) see the possibility of a creator God who isn't capable of changing what's right or wrong, because right and wrong is beyond any personality.

Buddhism has a kind of morality that doesn't rely on a god.

I think these mostly Eastern views on morality are probably the best defenses of the normativity of morality, while Evolutionary Psychology concerns itself with explaining why we do have moral sentiments.

That being said, I don't think any of this has any bearing on how moral people actually are, and I base that on personal experience.

I wouldn't have a problem voting for an atheist, but I would be very hesitant if they were the Richard Dawkins-type bitter atheist.
 

My only point was that believers have a head start in living a moral life

While they might like to think they have a head start, they appear to be no more moral, and sometimes even less so, than non-believers. If you think believers are more moral than others, how do you explain the high divorce rates in the "Bible Belt"?
 

one difference i see between believers and atheists is that, while both involve faith, believers have a positive faith and atheists are presumably fully certain, as a matter of faith, that there is no god.

I doubt any atheist would agree with this characterization. The usual assertion is that the burden of proof rests with those who believe in God, that they've failed to carry their burden, therefore there's no reason to believe. Similarly, the burden of proof rests on those who believe in leprechauns, they've failed to carry their burden, etc.
 

Bartbuster - the high divorce rates of the Bible Belt are due to many factors, most notably poverty. Also, there are many people in the Bible Belt, many of whom are not religious. And of course if the divorce rate is calculated per woman, rather than per marriage, a higher marriage rate can easily produce a higher divorce rate even if the divorces/marriage rate is lower. I don't know whether the divorces/marriage rate in the Bible Belt is actually lower, and I don't know what the divorce rate among evangelical Protestants in the Bible Belt, but it is not good statistics to attribute characteristics of a broader population to a subpopulation.

Neil - do you know anything about atheism? As an atheist, I do not purport to know with absolute certainty that there is no God or other such being. Nor have I ever met anyone who does. I believe in the nonexistence of God in more or less (though not quite) the same way I believe in the nonexistence of witches--I see no credible evidence (or other reason to believe) that any such thing exists, and no reason to posit that one might in the absence of such a reason. I could be wrong, just as I could be wrong about witches, but I don't see it as a matter about which I am "not sure": this is how I differ from an agnostic.

I presume you disagree with me, which of course you are entitled to do. But I would never claim to be certain there is no God, or that my belief that there is no such being arises as a matter of faith. Nor, to my knowledge, is there any atheist who would.
 

Bartbuster - the high divorce rates of the Bible Belt are due to many factors, most notably poverty.

So what? What happened to "for richer or POORER"? These are people who think of the themselves as very faithful. If faith is tossed out the window when the money runs low, what is the point?
 

mark

i did mis characterize atheism according to a quick search. it really isnt much different than agnosticism, except that it treats theistic claims the same as empirical claims.

elliot

no i apparently dont know anything about atheism. i assumed it was a lot stronger. also i do not consider myself a person of faith, but i do disagree with your position, and lean toward agnostic but dont see that as tenable in the long term.

i am not sure that religion historically was (or should today be) in the business of making factual claims of the type that some believers make - e.g. the earth was created in seven days - and that atheists reject. when religion made claims like that originally it was in a much different intellectual context.

faith is supposed to be irrational and transformative, not literal and factual. so when atheists reject faith because it fails a burden of proof test, they may be missing the point (or they may be consciously rejecting their capacity for faith, or they may not possess a capacity for faith).

irrational and transformative belief need not be specifically religious, that is just a conveniently broad concept to be faithful to. the narrower and more fact bound the concept to which one gives that kind of devotion, the more chauvinistic one risks becoming.

perhaps what these philosophers fear is losing the capacity for any kind of faith because of exclusive reliance on fact and reason.
 

I am an avowed atheist, avowed. I am definitely convinced that NO god exists.

However, I apply the moral philosophy, practically religiously, of Jesus Christ to my everyday doings. That is the basis of my morality.

Does my atheism make me less saintly?
 

Atheists are actually in a better position with respect to guarding human rights than theists. Theists can more easily dehumanize others, who are incapable of "seeing the truth" that they have. Atheists merely refuse to believe in an imaginary friend who may or may not take an active interest in our affairs, although the weight of history says that our imaginary friend takes no more interest in our affairs than we take in the affairs of one celled organisms. But the foundation of all human rights is the ability to see all other humans as having the same inalienable rights as yourself and respecting those rights. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you requires no imaginary friend. And having an imaginary friend, especially a wrathful and vengeful one like the old testament one, only gives people an excuse to not respect others rights. Atheists, on the other hand, have the unique perspective that we are all in the same row boat and if we don't all work together we will all drown together. And there are no imaginary friends to absolve us when we do wrong, we have to seek forgiveness within ourselves. A tough row to hoe, but only real men can be atheists.
 

In my humble opinion, claims of moral authority - based on religion and other matters - are the bane of human existence. They have led to most of history's despicable acts. Although I am not picking on you Bart, I completely fail to understand how you square your beliefs about how to treat terrorists with your professed religious ideology. I suppose God led us to adopt the "learned helplessness" approach to interrogation outlined in the New Yorker article that destroys the mind of the innocent and guilty alike? It is permissibile to treat another "believer" in this way because they are misguided? You'll have to help me out here.

On a lighter note, I feel compelled to mention the three indisputable rules of religion:

(1) Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

(2) Protestants don't recognize the Pope as divine.

(3) Baptists don't recognize each other in the liquor store.

(P.S. My apologies to any offended. Having been raised in a strict Baptist church - but now more of an Agnostic - I feel comfortable sharing this joke.)

-- The Casual Oberver
 

Majun,

I concur to an extent. Agnostics are also capable of recognizing the humanity of all people regardless of religious belief.

All - apologize for the typos in the previous post.
 

Bartbuster said...

how do you explain the high divorce rates in the "Bible Belt"?

Easy. The non Bible belt metro areas have much higher concentrations of women who never get married in the first instance, so they cannot get divorced despite having multiple partners.
 

Bart: "My only point was that believers have a head start in living a moral life because they are given the law to follow and that secularists are often at a significant disadvantage because they moral relativists who either ignore or are in open rebellion against God's law.

Sure, there are plenty of people who claim to believe in God and refuse to follow His law. That does not undermine the point I was making above."

To put it another way, when you look at only the morally upstanding religious people and ignore the not-so-morally-upstanding, it's clear that religion gives a head start towards leading a moral life.

Talk about cheating in your logic!
 

the casual wrote:
I concur to an extent. Agnostics are also capable of recognizing the humanity of all people regardless of religious belief.

religious people are also capable of recognizing the humanity of all people, regardless of religious belief, e.g. nelson mandela, martin luther king. atheists are similarly capable of not doing so, someone mentioned stalin earlier.

i think it is simplistic to say that religion has led to most of humanity's despicable acts. for an idea so powerful and so old, coupled with the violent history of humanity, for it not to have association with violence would be amazing. religion's entanglement with politics, and thus with violence, was inevitable. that association cant really denigrate religion as a whole. after all, having opposable thumbs has led has led to all of humanity's despicable acts.

while those episodes certainly are worthy of censure. do you think that if there had never been any religion, humanity would not have a violent history? and if we wouldnt have, without religion what else wouldnt we have had?
 

im also sorry about all the typos above

casual, i see you said claims of moral authority and not religion led to all the despicable acts.

i still question the causation there, surely rightful claims of moral authority have led to many great human triumphs, and some of those claimes have been expressed religiously. similarly wrongful claims of moral authority, religious and non-religious, have led to many despicable episodes.

i cannot dispute that many despicable acts of humanity have been accompanied with claims of moral superiority, and that many times that claim has been expressed in religious language. i can only say that the moral superiority was falsely asserted and that religious language was used to do so.
 

The ten commandments is an early set of laws for mankind to live by.
If you believe in god, you think god wrote them.
If you don't believe in god, you think man wrote them.

If man wrote them, that implies man has an innate desire to behave a certain way.

If you believe god wrote them, you believe we need the fear of god to behave.

So it is no wonder that those who believe that god wrote them also believe that atheists are less moral.
 

A Louisville country band has a lyric I have always been fond of: "There's nothing more pure than the kindness of an atheist."

After reading over the book review, and the post, I was disappointed that I didn't learn more about what Perry considers worthy religion, or what Perry considers religion to be. I don't know much about religions in general, but I would imagine that they are highly diverse and divergent. I'm pretty sure, at least, that some belief systems are called religions without having a belief in a god, or even many gods. Clearly, as Tamanaha points out, it is not essential to any belief system that we call religion that the believers think all humans have inherent dignity.

I think it would be useful to understand what Perry means by "religion" and "god" in order to understand better what he is arguing.

I am sympathetic to Tamanaha's post, because I agree with the main point, and because, if the polls accurately reflect public sentiment, atheists need defending. However, it seems to me that (reasonable) dialog with Perry is impossible until he is clear about exactly what he means by "god" and "religion". Does anyone know if Perry has clearly said what he means by religion and god? I humbly admit that I'm not willing to read the book (review to which was linked) to find out.

(To let folks know where I'm coming from, I happily call myself an atheist for the purposes of brevity. However, it is much more accurate to say that I don't believe in the existence of various conceptions and ideas that have been presented to me, and are sometimes called "god".)
 

I would think an athiest viewpoint would place a much higher value on life, as a scarcity. Those who believe in the immortality of the soul for instance have less scarcity (of life), so then may actually have a lower value of life.

Morality is a reflection of the economic environment. Abortion is evil where there is a lower investment in women in terms of education, inheritance, economic advantage. Where women have a higher financial value, in industrializing nations(as a labor force), greater sums of financial cost are invested in educating, training, or University, abortion is a lesser evil and viewed as moral in terms of saving the woman's life.

Morality expressed as an extension of faith changes every generation, often in sync with changes of economic development. True altruism (and this is not proven to exist yet, although I believe strongly it DOES exist) can have plenty of origins, but faith itself is less likely to be a factor than empathy. Empathy does not need to be learned. Pre-verbal babies empathize with other babies. The bonds between people may or may not be rooted in religion, a band of good drinking buddies or co-workers may have an unspoken "code" from which they derive their morality, as do the military, civic associations, and golf clubs. Any group of people gathered for any reason will generally agree to behave in a common way through unspoken or spoken concensus.
 

Hello Everybody,

So . . . I did a very quick read through of Perry's 2005 paper. I missed a lot of stuff. However, as far as I can tell Perry is only talking about vague christianity, that is, Perry's argument relies pretty heavily on western christian notions. (However, Perry notes that the same sort of arguments could be constructed from the Muslim faith also. As I understand it the Muslim faith and the Christian faith are roughly the same.)

Also, Perry doesn't say what he means by "god". This makes it very difficult to evaluate what he is saying because the various things people mean when they use the term "god" are highly divergent. I wasn't ever sure what Perry meant by this term.

At one point he writes that "Sarah believes that because God is who God is, because the universe is what it is, and because we are who we are, and not because of anything commanded by God as supreme legislator, the most fitting way of life for us human beings - the most deeply satisfying way of life of which we are capable - is one in which we children of God, we sisters and brothers, "love one another just as I have loved you." n61"

This tells us nothing and makes no sense. Tautologies like those above are meaningless.

Also, I think that a lot of Perry's discussion stems from his opinion that speaking of the inherent dignity of man without using christian terminology dose not have "the simple power of the religious ways of speaking."

I disagree. Personally, I find the first few paragraphs of Rawls most famous work extremely compelling, much more so than jesus' various speeches in the New Testament. Nonetheless, I hardly think much is to be made of my personal preference; and I am surprised that Perry finds significance in his preference for christian rhetoric.

Perry's article is confused and unconvincing.

Pete L.
 

Landmine territory here, for sure.

I think that part of the reason for disagreement is not morality itself, but what has been attached to morality over the aeons of human experience.

One can easily argue (and it has been, endlessly) that one of the social functions of religion is to codify a society's moral behavior and give it the additional patina of permanence and authority by backing it with the word of divinity. Stating this does not deny the existence of divinity, but allows that divine statements can be used to support the society which worships that divine power. Unfortunately, what is considered moral can and has changed over the millenia. Adding to that confusion are incessantly frequent instances of religious authority acting in an immoral manner (even according to its own moral code). Can one believe in religion as a sole source of morality when its followers do not follow its teachings?

Going back to the rational side, on what basis do you come up with a moral code without religion? On the value of an individual human life or of our species? On quality of life or quantity? On the choice of individuals or the needs of a society?

How many ways have these questions been answered? If someone is slain in a society using weregild as a basis, the value of a human life could be, say, that of 5 years of their labor. A killer of someone who could pay that amount could be legally absolved of the death. How does that differ from modern corporations doing a risk analysis to determine the likelihood of death or harm caused by their product and the expected legal fees and settlements such damage would cause, versus development costs and profits for selling that product. There is a morality there, in that the value of human life is accounted for, albiet with a price tag as opposed to less tangible assets.

Or lets take slavery. Many historic societies espoused moral reasons for slavery, and in a pre-industrial age (say ancient Sumeria to avoid nearer questions) these may have been accepted as valid moral points. I would never state that the status of a slave was a positive one, but being enslaved as opposed to killed, and in some cases being able to obtain later freedom and/or power (e.g. Mamluks) would be a more positive outcome. However, even religious moral arguments advised that slaves must not be mistreated (IIRC the Bible).

So, murder could be moral if you pay for it, and enslavement could be a more moral act than its alternatives. Neither of these statements is part of a modern, religious morality, or even a secular or athiestic mode of thought to the best of my knowledge.

Personally, I believe that protecting life and freedom are moral acts, although I am comically tempted by George Carlin's admonition towards the intolerant. I also appreciate the story of A Case of Conscience by James Blish, where a complete moral and ethical code evolved without religion, and religion's response to that event.

In the end, I concur with the previous poster that Morality is less based on religion or its lack and more on empathy with others.
 

If you define morality as "making choices based upon a sense of right and wrong regardless of self-interest" as I think you must, then a belief system based upon control through promises of Heaven to the compliant and Hell for the transgressive is an appeal to self-interest, and is at best orthogonal to morality.

If, on the other hand, you define morality as "the answer to the question of whether your behavior conforms to the rules I derive from my holy book," you are perfectly happy to condemn billions of humans to eternal hellfire for the "sin" of being born in the wrong place. And, by extension, you are happy to have others condemn you for the same reason.
 

Hmmm.

I almost agree with the last commenter, I read before typing this

but I wonder? They sort of leave themselves open to tamanaha's first paragraph: a survey of those great unwashed.

Perry's whole purpose considers law and, I think, "the morality of law"

(I know nothing of law and am starting law school ((non-elite)) next week, I may know zero, fine)

I think the 'sovereignty" or "morality" of law must needs be based on something solid, or law itself becomes as liquid or gaseous. (?)

In contrast to Perry's fear, deconstructionism's Derri"da" says we should look at texts.

The polls might lead us to the Belief that Some texts have had more influence than others. I don't doubt that.

How does Locke's literalism affect atheism, literally?

Does fidelity to some older texts trump the atheists' latter?

Democracy? Texts?

As an atheist and damned deconstructionist damnit I wonder where I might find a non-religious "morality of human rights law," more or less legitimate.

A book should be written if someone can. If already done I'd be indebted to know. Thanks.
 

I don't know why attorneys ask such inane questions. In our axiological systems, morality differs from ethics differs from cost-benefit analysis differs from emotional values, etc.

You can be forgiven for conflating ethics with morality; alas, it is done by many philosophers. While rules for human conduct have ethical and moral factors, ethics concerns a virtuous way of life by teleological prescriptions. It's central principle is to act according to a mean (virtue) between the extremes of excess and deficiency (vice), according to a rational excellence, to achieve human flourishing.

Morality is a different beast. Morality is deontological and proscriptive. The Decalogue, Categorical Imperative, Utilitarian Calculus, and Law are various moral schemes. Utilitarians still exist, despite its utter folly, and incalculable consequences. Peter Singer is one of the last holdouts advocating the "greatest good for the greatest number" mantra.

But axiologists, primatologists, biologists, ethologists, and most philosophers concede only ONE moral law is truly a universifiable duty across all cultures: DO NO HARM. J. S. Mill echoed Aristotle and Epicurus in reciting the "Harm Principle" on the way to his reiteration of Bentham's Calculus, but he went too far. Hitler's Germany, Stalin's USSR, and Mao's China could succeed morally by the Utilitarian Calculus, and such consequences negate its benefits. But NOT if "Do No Harm" had been the moral law.

Now to YOUR question, perhaps you can identify the "moral beliefs of religious believers" and then identify the "moral beliefs of atheists" as if two monolithic axiological differences exist? Frankly, you CANNOT so identify. Thus the inanity of your question.

Two, perhaps three, of the Decalogue's commands may be moral, but none of the others are. The Golden Rule simply iterates the moral SENTIMENT of empathy, which is axiologically primitive, but could be ethical or moral or neither. Adam Smith's "analogous emotion," or what biologists call "empathy," certainly plays a role cites the Golden Rule as one example of how empathy leads to moral evaluations, and no one seriously questions his thesis. But empathy is the groundwork, altruism is merely an extension, but neither are ethical or moral. Trivers and Williams confirm our biological disposition to empathy and to altruism, but as they, Harry Frankfurt, Samuel Scheffler, et alia, have made absolutely clear, kin, tribal, sexual relations priortize a hierarchy of altruistic concerns. E.g., I have a moral, ethical, empathetic, and altruistic interest in my Beloved that is unequal to an interest of some peasant in a rural third world country. That is not to say I lack concern for the latter, but only that in my sphere of action, the former takes significantly more importance than the latter (other examples than third world peasants could have been used, but it makes a stark contrast).

Finally, you do not identify "human rights" either. Are you specifying "positive human rights," "negative human rights," or "civil rights?" Do you even acknowledge a difference? If you're including positive rights, what are your criteria for them? What "level" on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs would you draw the line? If civil rights, how about the absence of "sexual orientation" from the prohibited discriminations?

Hitler was a Catholic, Stalin and Mao were atheists, Bush is an Evangelical, Zionists are Jews, and I cannot arbitrate any of these folk as "moral, ethical, or empathetic." Conversely, Bonhoffer and Lee Harvey Oswald were both Lutherans, and Martin Luther's Von die Juden und Ihren Lügen (On Jews and Their Lies) was more widely-read than Hitler's Mein Kampf. But not as widely-read as the atheist Jew Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. Why are Jews still permitted male genital mutilation (i.e., circumcision), while Arabs are decried their female genital mutilation too? Was evicting Palestinians by the "Law of Return" moral? Not by my values. Look at the harms that act has caused.

Religion/Atheism, ergo, is irrelevant as a measure of any group's morals, ethics, axiology, or empathy. Those values come from reason, not from gods or the lack of them. Neither Aristotle nor Epicurus, both extremely ethical individuals, were not religious. Nor was Kant, Bentham, Hume, Smith, or Mill. Yet each contributes to our understanding of axiology, whereas religion simply controls the masses through power, fear, and submission. On this contrast, I'd go with the philosophers, of which each name cited was (and far better philosophers than your Rorty apotheosis).
 

Matthew Tievsky said...

To put it another way, when you look at only the morally upstanding religious people and ignore the not-so-morally-upstanding, it's clear that religion gives a head start towards leading a moral life.

Talk about cheating in your logic!


Perhaps I am not making myself clear.

I do not rely upon other people for my moral guidance, "morally upstanding" or not, because ALL people are fallible. Rather, I look to God's instruction.

The point I have been trying to make is NOT that people who believe in God have any inherent moral superiority over non-beleivers. They do not. But rather that believers have the benefit of God's instruction while non believers are left to their own fallible human resources.
 

I think it's more likely that morality(and tribalism) precedes religion.Religion is the local expression of those other more inherently biological imperatives.
It's also ironic that one of the more vigorous defenders of the religious foundation of morality in the comments is one of the more rabid defenders of the torture used as an example in the original post.
 

"believers have the benefit of God's instruction while non believers are left to their own fallible human resources"?

I'm no believer but I do read the same sources from time to time and take them (if not only them) as good sense regarding behavior; something that evidently is beyond the purview of many believers.

With regard to "the benefit of God's instruction," one might as well make the claim that since morality requires deliberate thought, and religious belief may be had with only unthinking conformity, whereas atheism, being an outsider's choice in our society, requires deliberate thought, then atheists are more likely to be morally conscious than the religious.
 

But rather that believers have the benefit of God's instruction while non believers are left to their own fallible human resources.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 8:22 AM


So your moral base is the result of God's direct instruction? Did God say it was ok for you to torture and kill helpless prisoners, or was that something you came up with on your own?
 

Against the idea that virtue can be taught, here's a link to a study on the question whether ethics books are stolen more often than other philosophy books.

http://chronicle.com/blogs/footnoted/index.php?id=384

Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica made the list. The most important factor appears to be the age of a work.

I hope this injects no more perplexity than this perplexing subject merits.
 

Larry Koenigsberg said...

BD: "believers have the benefit of God's instruction while non believers are left to their own fallible human resources"

pfvtI'm no believer but I do read the same sources from time to time and take them (if not only them) as good sense regarding behavior...


That is how this atheist became a believer. Keep searching for the truth.

With regard to "the benefit of God's instruction," one might as well make the claim that since morality requires deliberate thought, and religious belief may be had with only unthinking conformity, whereas atheism, being an outsider's choice in our society, requires deliberate thought, then atheists are more likely to be morally conscious than the religious.

God gave man the gifts of reason and free will for a purpose. I came to my faith from atheism of my own free will by using my reason, not out of "unthinking conformity." Indeed, I would suggest that the only way you can come to true belief is by using your reason to make an affirmative commitment out of your own free will.
 

I came to my faith from atheism of my own free will by using my reason

I'm curious to know how you used reason to come to believe in an entity that defies reason.
 

Bart Wrote:
because God has granted us free will.


Which god, pray tell?
 

bb:

My path to faith is complex. However, what clinched the proof for me was an ordered universe.

It is simply impossible for random chance to create an ordered universe in all its glorious complexity.

Indeed, it is simply impossible for random chance to create the DNA necessary for the life of the simplest organism.

Order of this complexity requires an intelligence far superior to any living thing.

I believe this to be a reasoned deduction based on available evidence. Consequently, belief is not entirely a matter of faith.
 

Hi Everybody,

I am being a little bit repetitious here, but I'm curious know what others think about the following small point. Perry, in the 2005 article, doesn't adequately say what he means by "god" and "religion". The problem, thus, I find with the article is that I have no way of evaluating his argument. I think that Tamanaha is too generous in granting that Perry really makes sense, in the first place.

I think Perry's argument stems simply from his highly personal preference for religious metaphors and ways of speaking. Early in the paper he makes it clear that it seems to him these ways of speaking , for example, appeal to the "sacred" are more powerful than non-religious ways of talking about human rights and human dignity. He also cites another (atheist, according to Perry) philosopher who says similar things. But all of this is without argument. I find using religious terms highly inadequate to talk about human dignity, but this is probably just because I don't like religious ways of talking.

I sort of agree with Tamanaha's main point. However, it is also hard to evaluate because the group of religious supporters of human rights is so broad and diverse.

Also, I think Tamanaha's final thought experiment will always fail "procedurally". A person who has true faith in something cannot (by definition) admit that he could ever NOT have faith in that something.

The meaning of the term "faith," as used in American culture, is pretty broad. Yet, I am sure that one unifying aspect of its use is that faith always describes a mode of thinking in which the person goes AGAINST his best judgment to maintain belief or act in ways that seem wrong or immoral to him personally.

Let me provide a well know example. When the god of the (King James) Old Testament tells Abraham to kill his son, Abraham shows he has faith by trying to go through with it, even though he thinks it is wrong and cruel. If Abraham defied the god and said that he wouldn't murder, we would all agree that he didn't have faith in the god. Notice that it is a crucial part of having faith, to be willing to do and believe things that are immoral or irrational.

Consider another thought experiment (relating to the effectiveness of Tamanaha's). Suppose that John believes in the god of the New Testament. Then one day someone provides John compelling (to John. specifically) evidence that this god does not exist; and at this point John stops believing in this god. Other's can comment . . . I don't think that John had faith. He's basically taking the same position as any scientist who stops believing in something after being presented compelling evidence that it doesn't exist.

Thus, a faithful religious person cannot contemplate Tamanaha's without giving up his faith.

Pete L.
 

It is simply impossible for random chance to create an ordered universe in all its glorious complexity.

Indeed, it is simply impossible for random chance to create the DNA necessary for the life of the simplest organism.


That's not reason, that's ignorance. The diversity and complexity of life on this planet was the result of a combination of random mutations and natural selection, not just random chance.
 

Bart said: "I do not rely upon other people for my moral guidance, "morally upstanding" or not, because ALL people are fallible. Rather, I look to God's instruction."

No religion has more than 50% of the world's population as followers. So person A can assert that according to the majority of the world that person B is wrong, if they disagree. This means that each religion's text is in dispute, so using it as a foundation probably isn't a good idea since most people think it's made up.

Your point also ignores the fact that many points in the various texts put forth as moral are considered, by today's societies in Europe and North America, to be immoral. There are very few orthodox members of the religions left. So it seems to me that even if morality isn't relative, its application is; and based on popular opinion.

Atheists aren't necessarily moral relativists. Like the religious they come in all shapes and flavors. The reason for that as I've observed is that church is not the primary method of communicating morality in a modern, industrialized society; media is. Television, radio, movies and now the Internet are the primary source for the translation of morality. Now most people will deny the impact the media has on them, but then again the vast majority of people will claim that commericials have no effect when in fact they have massive effect. It seems people aren't the best judge of their own vulnerability to mass media.

Simply looking at the numbers people spend far more time consuming media than doing religious activities.

This leads to the question: what is the source of morality for mass media. The answer seems to be that media finds its moral foundation from mass sentiment. It examines what the popular morality is, mixes it with what will sell and produces media with moral messages. Which means that children are indoctrinated with the popular morality very early on regardless their religious upbringing. Christians and Atheists will see the same television shows and watch the same children's movies and learn the same moral lessons. The foundation of a person's morality is based on where they were raised.

So it hasn't changed much in thousands of years.
 

[The following comment is off-topic and directed toward the discussion going on between Bartbuster, Bart DePalma, and a few others]

Before one can calculate the probability of some event it is necessary to be able to count the number of times that event occurs compared to the number of times it doesn't occur.

The problem that we run into, when we don't fully understand the conditions that lead to some event is that we don't have a way to calculate the likelihood of the event occurring.

Bart DePalma, I think you are confused about this. I'll provide an example I think might help you think this through. (You are free to consider any phenomena that interests you, however.) Consider a bunch of water droplets on a smooth flat surface. You will notice that each takes the same shape. What is the probability that this will happen as opposed to the droplets each taking a different shape (of the infinite variety of shapes each could take)? Well, if you don't know anything about physics, you could guess anything you like. The fact that you guess it is impossible for each droplet to take the same shape, doesn't imply anything at all about the reason for each shape. That is, it could be some sort of god or angel, or it could be because of the nature of gravity and chemical bonds, or anything else. You should find that you are having the same problem with any other phenomena of interest, DNA or otherwise.

Also, directed at Mr. DePalma, you need to come up with a clear metric for complexity. That is, even though you personally find something complex, no arguments will be convincing to others unless you can provide an objective definition and criteria for complexity. (If you are honest with yourself, your arguments shouldn't convince you either.) Notice that even with some criteria, the fact that complex things exist doesn't imply the existence of anything else.

If you are really thinking reasonably about these things, you'll find you don't have an objective measure of complexity, and you will also find that you simply have no idea of the probability of most natural phenomena happening as opposed to not.

Pete L.
 

"It is simply impossible for random chance to create an ordered universe in all its glorious complexity.

Indeed, it is simply impossible for random chance to create the DNA necessary for the life of the simplest organism.

Order of this complexity requires an intelligence far superior to any living thing."

People who are biologists are also least likely to believe in intelligent design or creationism. Why would the people most familiar with its complexity also be the ones least likely to believe that it was designed?

Experiments in evolution seem to show that complexity can come about from the process fairly easily. The process is what allows for this complexity rather rapidly.

Intelligent Design, as a theory is a fairly poor one. While the mathematical probabilities seem daunting, they're reasonable given the amount of time involved. I do think, however, that it's very difficult for a person to really comprehend billions of years given our lifespan of less than 100.

Bacteria on average reproduce every 20 minutes or 1/2 million times more quickly than people. That's 72 generations per day; and a very large number given the billions of years they've had.

It is almost certain that our understanding of evolution is faulty in places, but what is also just as certain is that the basic principles of evolution are correct.

What doesn't seem to enter into the conversations on Intelligent Design is that by challenging our understanding of basic biological processes, there's a lot more that gets challenged that's based on that work. Evolutionary processes are the foundation for many branches of science. It's been a fairly bedrock principle in the scientific community for a long time and much of our understanding of the universe comes from it. The thing is that it keeps proving itself time and again.

While some people may not understand the processes involved and they may seem strange and unlikely, that doesn't mean they're not true.
 

Peter said...

The problem that we run into, when we don't fully understand the conditions that lead to some event is that we don't have a way to calculate the likelihood of the event occurring.

Agreed. Calculating the likelihood an event will occur is even more difficult when there is no evidence that it has ever occurred and no one has the slightest idea how it could occur. There is no evidence of DNA ever being created spontaneously by a random chance and no one has postulated by what mechanism such an event is even possible.

Also, directed at Mr. DePalma, you need to come up with a clear metric for complexity. That is, even though you personally find something complex, no arguments will be convincing to others unless you can provide an objective definition and criteria for complexity.

Are you seriously saying that a single DNA is not complex, nevertheless the compilation of all the laws of nature which make up our universe?
 

Orion said...

BD: "It is simply impossible for random chance to create an ordered universe in all its glorious complexity. Indeed, it is simply impossible for random chance to create the DNA necessary for the life of the simplest organism. Order of this complexity requires an intelligence far superior to any living thing."

People who are biologists are also least likely to believe in intelligent design or creationism.


You need to distinguish between the creation of life and the later evolution of life.

While the scope of evolution is still open to some debate, the fact that life forms change and evolve over time has been essentially proven.

However, there is no evidence whatsoever that life itself can be created spontaneously by random chance. How exactly can DNA (nevertheless the living creature run by the DNA) be created by accident?
 

Not true. There is plenty of evidence to support abiogenesis. It is not conclusive, nor does it yet serve to strongly differentiate between alternative abiogenetic models, but the fact that the available evidence leaves many questions open does not in any way mean that there is no evidence to support abiogenesis.
 

[Directed at Mr. DePalma] I think DNA is extremely simple and elegant. And I find it fascinating that this simplicity leads to all the different forms of life that it does. But the point that you ignore, is that this is just my opinion. I don't have an objective criteria for simplicity, and even if I did, it wouldn't mean that I should believe in things, whether they be animal spirits in tubes, ether to propagate light or gravity.

If you find DNA complex, that is fine but you need to provide an objective criteria for saying so, at least, if you plan to argue from that point. I think the four acids that make up DNA constitute a very simple system. But I don't put any stock in that, because that's just my personal preference. Can we continue this conversation somewhere else? Maybe you could suggest another forum?

Best,

Pete L.
 

"However, there is no evidence whatsoever that life itself can be created spontaneously by random chance. How exactly can DNA (nevertheless the living creature run by the DNA) be created by accident?"

I've read at least half a dozen models for the spontaneous creation of life. The problem isn't that they don't know how it can happen, but rather that they don't know how it happened here since there are no fossil records for life that early. Nor do we know exactly where life started on Earth. As Earth is the location for all known life the statement "we don't know how life began" is the same as "we don't know how life began here." We have plenty of models and have simulated the spontaneous creation of virii (and DNA) from its component parts.
 

Mark said...

Not true. There is plenty of evidence to support abiogenesis. It is not conclusive, nor does it yet serve to strongly differentiate between alternative abiogenetic models, but the fact that the available evidence leaves many questions open does not in any way mean that there is no evidence to support abiogenesis.

I would be very interested to see any objective evidence (not theory) you have of the creation of DNA through random chance.

Orion said...

I've read at least half a dozen models for the spontaneous creation of life. The problem isn't that they don't know how it can happen...

Models are not evidence, they are hypotheses which are only as good as the assumptions which underly them. For example, global warming models are largely garbage because the greatest influence on global temperature levels is atmospheric water vapor and the model makers enter "assumptions" (read wild ass guesses) for the formation of water vapor into the models because they have no real idea how to predict it.

However, I will also entertain wild ass guesses on how random chance can create DNA if you care to offer some.
 

Peter said...

If you find DNA complex, that is fine but you need to provide an objective criteria for saying so, at least, if you plan to argue from that point

OK, flipping a coin is simple. Random chance will give you heads or tails on a regular basis.

While DNA may be elegant in design, a long string of various combinations of nucleic acids with various connective elements which we are only beginning to understand and which runs a living organism is complex by most definitions. Random chance will not simply create a DNA strand.
 

There is no god and there are no god-given natural rights. However there are human rights based on a rule utilitarian foundation together with innate moral sentiments based on the reciprocal altruism developed over thousands of years of evolution in small kinship bands.

Rights are far less secure in the hands of Christians. Christians believe that they have an automatic get out of jail free card for all their sins. All they have to do is accept jesus into their heart and they are saved.

Whosae commitment is more secure? The atheist whose morality is heartfelt and not prepeackaged or the Christian mouthing pieties they don't really deeply believe and only accept because they were commanded to by an authority figure who they believe will excuse anything they do if only they mouth another piety?
 

I would be very interested to see any objective evidence (not theory) you have of the creation of DNA through random chance.

You've got the cart well ahead of the horse, Bart. DNA is the evolutionary result of pre-DNA biotic systems in current abiogenetic models. If you want to question the beginnings of life, then you'd best start at the beginning instead of somewhere long afterward.
 

Elliot:

Is it good enough if God is merely good, rather than all-good, or powerful, rather than all-powerful?

Doesn't matter. (S)he's God, you know. The rationale for following such a deity's dictates doesn't rely on any independent evaluation of the merits of the dictates.

Many moons ago, on UseNet's "alt.atheism" and such NGs, I asked a question or two of the proponents of divine laws:

"Are God's laws good because they're 'God's laws'? Or are they 'God's laws' because they're good?"

"If God told you to go out tomorrow and slay everyone with the first name Sam, would you do it?"

Only one person came back with an honest and straight forward answer to the second question. Most demurred, with one or two responses.

The first was that God hasn't asked such a thing. I insisted that it was my hypothetical, and asked what they would do if such came to pass. Silence (except for one).

The second was that God would never do such a thing, because God is good, and would never issue such a law (despite famous passages in the Bible with similar type 'commands' from God); it would ... nay, could ... never happen. My response to that was that then they had their own notion of what was good and bad, independent of God's laws, which hardly makes God's laws -- at the very least -- the only arbiter of morality or 'good'.

There was one person that said they would do as they were told. Can't remember if they said they'd insist on a registered letter with the dictate in writing first. At least some conviction. And seeing as it was a hypothetical, and there was no consequence for simply giving an answer to the hypothetical, this was a bit strange.

I am of the opinion that 'God's laws' are 'God's laws' because they are 'good'. They've stood the test of time, and most people see them that way, across the various religions. But then we do have an 'arbiter of goodness' (even if not as crystal-clear as some written work ... which in itself is subject to a lot of interpretation, judging from the Protestant reformation, and the various 'translations' of even the relatively recent "New Testament" and the proliferation of various faiths based on such).

Cheers,
 

BTW, a clarification of terminology:

Atheism (a- and -theos) is a lack of religious belief. There's generally considered to be two phyla in the taxonomy of atheists, "strong atheists" who have a positive belief there are no gods, and "weak atheists" who simply don't think about it (and presumably think that there's nothing worth their while to think about).

"Agnostic" is a word coined by Thomas Huxley, for those that think that the existence of god (or gods) is theoretically (or practically) unknowable; that no (full) knowledge of such "ultimate" truths is even possible.

Agnostics may be theist or atheist.

I'm a strong atheist, in the sense that I can say with reasonable assurance that the existence of the specific "gods" proposed by the various faiths have as much a chance of being true as does the sun of coming up in the west. For purposes of living my life, I see nothing useful to be gotten out of necessarily believing in any one of these gods or any others; if any gods of any kind do in fact exist, they have done a darn good job of making themselves irrelevant, based on the evidence. They add nothing to my understanding or the guidance of my life (if I was a wag, I'd say that holds true for others as well).

Cheers,
 

Mark said...

You've got the cart well ahead of the horse, Bart. DNA is the evolutionary result of pre-DNA biotic systems in current abiogenetic models.

What known living organism exists without DNA? None.

Consequently, your abiogenetic models are creating biological fiction in order to arrive at their preferred outcome.

Show me the evidence.
 

What known living organism exists without DNA?

RNA viruses. Some replicate by reverse transcription into DNA, and others by RNA replication. Prions have no nucleic acid.

FWIW, oligonucleotides have been found in abiogenesis experiments (there's more for enquiring mind there too). And many polymers form spontaneously.

Cheers,
 

Why are you all still arguing about the Argument From Design? What has that got to do with the original post?

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm hoping the original poster will give us more details about Perry's argument, because I'm not about to go read his book and the post/article are light on details. What particular attribute of God is supposed to make belief in God a stable foundation for human rights? (Or, to put it another way: what do you have to be like to qualify as "God" for the purposes of Perry's argument? Does Brahman count? What about Zeus?)
 

"What particular attribute of God is supposed to make belief in God a stable foundation for human rights?"

If you can't get an affirmative answer, get the answer from a negative proof.

Are there any attributes that would provide a superior foundation for human rights?
 

Show me the evidence.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 9:18 PM


You first. You think there is a god, and you think that believing in said god makes your moral beliefs sturdier (contrary to virtually everything I have ever seen you post, by the way...). Show me the evidence.
 

Can we continue this conversation somewhere else? Maybe you could suggest another forum?

I followed your lead, Peter, and posted later on the same thread in the Citizen Pamphleteer that you did. I encourage others to join us if they care to continue the squabble.
 

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