Using philosophy

I seem to have upset someone with my comment  “bugger the ‘philosophy’” in a recent discussion. Of course I wasn’t trying to deny the value and role of philosophy – just the way it is sometimes used. My comment was meant in the same way that a previous Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jim Bolger, commented “bugger the polsters” on election night 1993. He did so to underline that the pre-election polls were wrong – and this was shown by the election itself.

I am amazed at how often people will use ‘philosophical’ arguments to support unscientific positions, such as creationism/intelligent design. ‘Philosophical’ arguments also seem to play a central role in theology.

Philosophical and logical arguments have their place. In many ways mathematics can be seen as arguments by logic. The danger lies in using them as a substitute for real experience. Such arguments easily become divorced from reality and can then be used to justify conclusions which conflict with reality. In particular they give free reign to subjective opinions, personal prejudices and emotional commitment to conclusions.

I guess that is why some people prefer ‘philosophical’ and ‘logical’ arguments to consideration of emprirical evidence.

Being subjective

Of course, everyone is prone to subjectivism. But objective reality is what keeps science honest. Ideas, hypotheses, theories and speculations are expected to be tested and validated by mapping against reality.

Philosophy and logic are used dishonestly when the discussion is just a game and participants grab at arguments to justify their preconceived positions, or to ‘shoot down’ opponents arguments. ‘You can’t even prove that you exist’ or ‘you can’t prove that you are not a brain in a vat’ arguments are just ways of avoiding the real evidence.

And there is always the way that words are used. Philosophical categories are usually not defined and very often participants will understand them differently. Consider words like ‘matter’, ‘materialism’, ‘natural’, ‘supernatural’ and ‘naturalism.’ I often find that the meaning I would give to these words is different to what some others do. Without common meanings discussion becomes a bit irrelevant so I prefer to avoid such terms.

For example, we used to consider ‘matter’ in a mechanical way. As something with physical substance. That may have been useful a few hundred years ago but is not adequate for our current scientific knowledge. Consequently ‘matter’ today has a deeper meaning and use of the term in philosophical debate needs to accommodate this. But it very often doesn’t.

How often do we hear science being criticised as ‘materialist’ where ‘matter’ is assumed to be only something with physical substance. It’s a silly criticism because it is using these words in a very archaic way – matter’ today has a deeper meaning. When this deeper meaning is understood the ‘materialist’ criticism is not relevant to modern science as any simple consideration of the history of science will show.

Substituting logic for reality

Logical arguments are also often used in ways which don’t take into account modern knowledge. Consequently such arguments which may be true in their abstraction are used to justify conclusions about reality which may be completely wrong. For example conservation laws today are applied in a very different way to 150 years ago when nuclear transformations and the equivalence of mass and energy were not known. Similarly we often hear the 2nd law of thermodynamics being used inappropriately to ‘disprove’ evolution.

Evedn where ‘logical’ arguments are used honestly mistakes can be made by applying abstract principles to real life situations. Without empirical checking it is easy to draw the wrong conclusion. The abstract logic cannot be used as a ‘proof.’

I think Monty Python conveyed the problem of a philosophy divorced from reality in their video of the International Philosophers football game. It’s an old clip but an excellent one.

Philosophers’ football (3 min 47 sec)

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227 responses to “Using philosophy

  1. I listened to a history-based podcast recently on the Music of the Spheres. For those unfamiliar with the concept it’s an old idea that tries to explain the cosmos and the orbits of the planets.

    I don’t like to bash our ancestors for trying to find explanations for how things work. It sounds a laughable concept now but they really had very little to go on. We wouldn’t have fared any better given the circumstances.

    The thing that I find interesting about this example is that philosophers could spend all day arguing about various logical “truths” within what was, in effect, a totally defunct proposition but had absolutely no ability to discern that it was the proposition itself that was wrong. What finally showed the concept of the Music of the Spheres to be an incorrect explanation for the orbits of the planets was further observational evidence and an entirely new hypothesis.

    Can anyone think of an example where philosophy was actually able to add anything new to a problem? What power does philosophy really have?

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  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Can anyone think of an example where philosophy was actually able to add anything new to a problem? What power does philosophy really have?

    Not to sound snarky, but does the scientific method count?

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  3. Not to sound snarky, but does the scientific method count?

    I’m not sure what you mean Bnonn. Are you saying that the scientific method is a subset of philosophy or that philosophy gave us the scientific method or something else?

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  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Well, in a sense I mean both. Primarily I meant that philosophy gave us the scientific method. By extension, though, the scientific method is itself certainly philosophical. I wouldn’t call it a subset of philosophy; but the philosophy of science, which includes in large part the philosophy of the scientific method, is certainly a major subset of philosophy in toto.

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  5. I see what you mean. Perhaps my criticism is of philosophy that ignores observational evidence. In the example of the Music of the Spheres people used the scientific method to bring new evidence to the table but many philosophers were so wrapped up in their convictions about various aspects of the purity of the music etc etc that they were unwilling to entertain the fact that the whole thing was an invalid explanation for the mechanics of the solar system.

    I see this as very much analogous to how you treat the evidence for an old earth and a common ancestry of all species. New observational evidence is on the table but some “philosophers” like yourself are still arguing about the word “yom” and whether it means a literal day. Do you see where I’m coming from?

    Can you think of an example where “philosophy” (a good definition is probably needed here) is able to add anything new in the absence of the scientific method?

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  6. I can’t help but think of my philosophy of science professor who introduced the course by saying the subject is “as useful to a scientist as ornithology is to a bird”. Which seems about right, it was an interesting course and I learned a great deal from but I seldom think of Kuhn or Feyerabend when setting up experiments or interpreting their results…

    I think the philosophical approach to anti-science you describe is really just another version of the sophistry that AiG and others serve up to anyone that doesn’t want their world-view impinged upon by the world as it really is. Perhaps the difference is when AiG starts talking about adding ‘information’ to the genome we can go out and get the evidence that will convince any reasonable person they are wrong – can philosophical arguments be held the same standard?

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  7. Love the cartoon :-)

    Sometimes I wish I had that luxury…

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  8. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hi Damian, I certainly see where you’re coming from. I’d say a couple of things:

    1. With regard to the examples of music of the spheres and of young-earth creationism, there is a distinction to be drawn between the former and the latter in terms of cohesiveness within a larger worldview. I don’t know much about the music of the spheres idea, but young-earth creationism exists within the larger framework of a revelation-based worldview; a holistic system of thinking that places revelation at the epistemic center, with other means of knowledge-acquisition being subservient to that. It’s also important to note that, with YEC, in principle we should be looking at general revelation, noting that it appears not to line up with special revelation, and then investigate how to resolve the apparent discrepancy. I say “in principle” because I think in this case it’s a job for scientists who believe in the Bible; it’s not a job for theologians or philosophers such as myself.

    2. More generally, I don’t think it’s fair to talk about “philosophy that ignores observational evidence”. Most philosophy has a complex relationship to observational evidence. And the nature and meaning of “observational evidence” itself is a philosophical question. Philosophy is, broadly speaking, about trying to discover the truth about things. In large part, this must of necessity focus on epistemic questions, because vital to the question “what is truth?” is the sub-question “how can we know truth?” Ken may belittle epistemic questions as much as he wants, but it doesn’t change the question-begging nature of his assumptions about empirical inquiry. And frankly that’s just embarrassing for him, even if he doesn’t realize it or acknowledge it. These epistemic questions precede empirical study. We need to have some kind of philosophy of knowledge and philosophy of reality to have a philosophy of science; and what philosophy of knowledge and reality you hold to will strongly influence that philosophy of science. For any scientific “fact” it is possible to identify a number of key presuppositions which, if false, would change the nature of said “fact”. So if you have no rational grounds for your presuppositions, as I’ve tried to show Ken he does not, all the talk of “facts” is meaningless. We need to first establish that what he assumes about reality is in fact true—and that requires philosophy.

    For example, he’s consistently avoided answering my question about his ontology of abstracta. I suspect that’s because he just doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about. But for someone who claims that we have to map our knowledge against reality, and who strongly affirms that the scientific method is the only way of doing this, that is just an embarrassingly naive position to be in. There isn’t any way to discover an ontology of abstracta using science; yet it’s a fundamental question in one’s worldview. But any argument I would forward would just be dismissed as trying to “justify” my own position. It’s as if Ken doesn’t believe that logic has anything to do with reality (as evidenced by his heading in this article, ‘Substituting logic for reality’); as if true conclusions don’t follow necessarily from true premises given valid inference. He only accepts empirical facts; which of course, as I mentioned, don’t actually exist. Honestly, his attitude is bizarre—not to mention frustrating.

    I’m also intensely curious about his view of matter. He keeps hinting that “matter” has a deeper meaning than the physical, mechanistic definition which every materialist I’ve met holds to. I’d say it sounds mystical, but then he’d accuse me of misrepresenting him and putting words in his mouth. Honestly, he’s such a baby q;

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  9. Bnonn, I think I see what you are saying regarding the philosophical approach to finding truth. (I must admit that most of your reply seemed targeted at Ken but I was able to get an idea for what you are saying.)

    Would you be so kind as to describe what your methodology is for finding truth? Perhaps with the following scenarios:
    1. the distance to that star over there
    2. where your grandparents were born
    3. did OJ Simpson kill his wife
    4. did Muhammad split the moon in two

    You probably have a fairly good idea of how I’d go about these tasks; I’d start by looking at the various evidences and I’d require stronger evidence depending on what I perceive as the likelihood of the claim. My end result would be more probability-based and would always be open to further evidence.

    I’d like to get an idea for how you would go about the same tasks.

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  10. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Damian, since these are all empirical questions, which don’t pertain directly to Christianity, I’d go about them in pretty much the same way as you.

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  11. So why do you treat questions relating to Christianity differently? There are Muslims out there who would treat the Muhammad question differently for much the same reason I suspect. What’s wrong with their methodology?

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  12. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Since I presuppose the truth of Christianity (because I presuppose the truth of the Bible) questions relating to it need to be evaluated against the biblical witness. For example, an historical question which relates to some biblical character or event must be answered in a way which comports with the biblical witness about that character or event. Muslims would no doubt have the same approach in terms of reference to revelation—if the Qur’an claimed that Mohammad had split the moon in two, they would evaluate the current evidence that the moon is not split in two in light of that claim. The difference for the Muslim is that his worldview is wrong.

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  13. The difference for the Muslim is that his worldview is wrong.

    How so?

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  14. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I think that’s a bit off-topic. Very briefly, Islam claims that Christianity is false, yet the Qur’an affirms that the Bible is a standard of truth against which Islam should be tested. And Christianity falsifies Islam.

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  15. Bit off-topic perhaps, but has anyone read Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
    by Daniel C. Dennett? Might be one for James or BDT, etc., to read?

    Some of the reviews of this book on Amazon.com that review other reviews of this book (!) were interesting, too.

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  16. (comment from the side)

    I hope DBT’s rather careful and specific points/comments in #8 (which have a large degree of continuity with various points of engagement I’ve had with Ken for quite a while) are discussed carefully and specifically…

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  17. Bnonn, I thought it was very topical. Your methodology appears to me to be the same as that of the Muslim (presupposition immune from falsification) and both shy away from observational evidence when it contradicts those presuppositions. But you are both quite happy with the scientific method otherwise. How is this not circular and how would one who uses this methodology ever find out if they were on the wrong path?

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  18. Dale, I know you and Bnonn overlap to a large degree in your beliefs but how is it that you accept the evidence for a common ancestry and an old earth whereas he doesn’t. You both seem fairly sure you are right but it would seem that at least one of you has to be wrong. Where do you believe Bnonn is going wrong? And, Bnonn, where do you believe Dale has erred?

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  19. As for where Bnonn and I, yes, we differ as to whether or not certain well-supported scientific theories/observations are in tension with certain biblical passages – and if so, what kind of tension, etc. It appears (feel free to correct me, Bnonn?) that his understanding of the Bible requires him to see old-earth geology and evolutionary biology as not only in tension with, but contradictory to ‘the truth of Christianity’ as discerned (interpreted?) by him. I would see these things as no contradictory at all, and only a matter of tension (a tension resolved rather easily by an appreciation of literary genres within Scripture).

    But as this is a post about ‘using philosophy’, I think detailed interaction with Bnonn’s points in #8 would be most appropriate, and I hope it doesn’t get lost in any (otherwise useful) tangents.

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  20. Ken I think you fail to see the importance of philosophy. For instance the law of non-contradiction is a philosophical/logical contsruct. And with out it all science would fail. Two opposite conclusions could be equally true if this law did not hold. So philosophy must come before and grounds all empirical observation.

    And since we are speaking of Monty Python, check out John Cleese’s video “The Scientist.” It is deeper than one might think on first glance.

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  21. @20: Re-read Ken’s post. Make sure you are reading the meaning Ken is writing, not what you would like Ken to have written. You appear to “read meaning into” an awful lot of what you read. Ken didn’t dismiss philosophy as your post 20 makes out: he objected to use of it of it in a game to make true what preconceived positions you’d like to make true. (Like the cartoon illustrates, for that matter.)

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  22. @20: Re-read Ken’s post. Make sure you are reading the meaning Ken is writing, not what you would like Ken to have written. You appear to “read meaning into” an awful lot of what you read. Ken didn’t dismiss philosophy as your post 20 makes out: he objected to use of it of it in a game to make true what preconceived positions you’d like to make true.

    My only point Heraclides is that philosophical/logical contsructs come before empirical science. And that all of science depends on them. So empirical science depends totally on non empirical assumptions. That is just a fact.

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  23. Dale, yes, this post is about using philosophy and Bnonn and I have been discussing how philosophy is used to discover truth about the world in which we find ourselves. Some systems of philosophy lead people to believe that empirical evidence regarding the movement of the planets doesn’t count (i.e. heliocentrism) and we can all agree that there must be something fundamentally wrong with the way they do philosophy. Similarly, there is strong empirical evidence that (to you and me, at least) would indicate that Bnonn’s way of doing philosophy has flaws.

    We’d just got to the point where we can see that the Muslim ignores evidence with regard to the splitting of the moon and that they are using the same type of methodology as Bnonn is when questioned on the age of the earth or a common ancestry.

    I’d like to carry on down that path as I think it sheds light on what Bnonn might be doing wrong (especially if he can define what it is that he believes is wrong with the Muslim’s methodology). And I fear that between you and James you will derail what was becoming an enlightening conversation.

    You clearly are capable of reading parts of the Bible in a non-literal way and I’d imagine that it’s the strong evidence that has encouraged you to do so. I’d like to learn why Bnonn feels the need to be influenced by evidence in some areas (heliocentrism, etc) but not in others. I think I know why. I feel that your perspective on what to take literally contrasted to his is important to discovering how philosophy can be impotent when it disregards evidence.

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  24. @22 Ouch. I would place philosophical constructs precisely the other way around from empirical science in terms of priority. I would like to think that a very high percentage of the population would also (excluding some small minority in academia perhaps). As for science depending on philosophy for its existence, I think not in the way you imply. Logic is a slightly different story, but even there evidence trumps all. Just look at the approach that scientists have chosen when it comes down to Quantum weirdness. As I read it, the orthodoxy have almost even given up with ever having a mental model of how things work, but are instead happy enough to have a mathematical model that works. And in anticipation of your next objection James, if the mathematical model started disagreeing with the observations, then that is out the window also. If reality shows that 2+2=5, then so be it.

    Knowing that you are such a fan of subjectivity James; When people start refusing to check their beliefs or thoughts against reality, how can they really take themselves seriously. i.e what makes what anybody thinks/says have any meaning to others without some sort of objectivity, at least enough to communicate it. In other words, (as above) refusing to believe that 2+2=5 if the evidence shows that it does. 2+2=4 is actually an observation based fact.

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  25. @23 Sounds like a good conciliatory approach Damian. I hope my comments here don’t derail what you are aiming for.

    @24 The more I think about this subject, the more I am thinking, hold on a minute. Weren’t philosophy and science essentially the same thing way back when. And as far as I understand it, that thing was very much observationally based. These two beans plus these other 2 beans gives me four beans. Mmmmm, I wonder if this doubling concept holds true for other objects, yes, it seems to do that, lets call that a rule and remember it. Sounds like checking against reality to me.

    I think where things get a bit fuzzy is with excursions down dead ends in subjective reality and post modernist claptrap. I hold this opinion because I think when people go down these avenues, they cease trying to clarify, illuminate or explain reality, but instead to build more and more complicated castles in the sky. When you deny the concept of an objective reality, you cease being able to offer much back to objective reality.

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  26. Hello again Nick

    @22 Ouch. I would place philosophical constructs precisely the other way around from empirical science in terms of priority. I would like to think that a very high percentage of the population would also (excluding some small minority in academia perhaps). As for science depending on philosophy for its existence, I think not in the way you imply. Logic is a slightly different story, but even there evidence trumps all. Just look at the approach that scientists have chosen when it comes down to Quantum weirdness. As I read it, the orthodoxy have almost even given up with ever having a mental model of how things work, but are instead happy enough to have a mathematical model that works. And in anticipation of your next objection James, if the mathematical model started disagreeing with the observations, then that is out the window also. If reality shows that 2+2=5, then so be it.

    What would happen Nick if the law of non-contradiction did not hold. All science would fail – again completely opposite conclusions could be equally true: The evidence proves a 15 billion year old world, the evidence proves a 6 thousand year old world – both could be true. The law of non-contradiction must first be assumed before you could even do science (even if you don’t understand it, you use it). And 2+2=5? Perhaps 6 thousand equals 15 billion.

    Knowing that you are such a fan of subjectivity James; When people start refusing to check their beliefs or thoughts against reality, how can they really take themselves seriously. i.e what makes what anybody thinks/says have any meaning to others without some sort of objectivity, at least enough to communicate it. In other words, (as above) refusing to believe that 2+2=5 if the evidence shows that it does. 2+2=4 is actually an observation based fact.

    The fact is Nick, if the law of non-contradiction is not both universal and immutable then we know nothing. This law is the core of Aristotelian logic and all knowledge acquisition depends on it. As does all of science. You can not do science without first assuming this law, explicitly or implicitly.

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  27. You are the one that has argued against the law of non-contradiction James, not me. Your subjectivity reality arguments are just that, a universe where nothing has connection, let alone non-contradiction.

    From a pragmatists point of view, most of us deal with contradictions all the time. The usual approach is to make an exception to the contradicting arguments for the case that has the contradiction. As I have mentioned before, I think that there are some areas of current science that this is the case. I have heard it said that the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum theories has a fundamental contradiction in that it relies on a special role for the observer, but what about the universe that the observer lives in, or the observer of the observer. As I mentioned in my last post, even such problems as this don’t really matter when the calculations are still agreeing with reality. They still give predictions, they still work, and they are still useful.

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  28. @26 And in the tradition of quote mining and the throwing around of lofty sounding concepts, perhaps you might find some contradiction tolerant forms of logic useful ;-) Have a read about paraconsistent logic below:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraconsistent_logic

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  29. @26 Oops, how rude of me. Hallo again James, although as I am back to work tomorrow, I will probably only be briefly chewing the fat.

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  30. You are the one that has argued against the law of non-contradiction James, not me. Your subjectivity reality arguments are just that, a universe where nothing has connection, let alone non-contradiction.

    That is simply false Nick. As a theist I believe that the LOC is both universal and immutable. Since it is grounded in the immutable nature of God. It is you that is questioning it, you said: As for science depending on philosophy for its existence, I think not in the way you imply. Logic is a slightly different story, but even there evidence trumps all.

    So “evidence” trumps the LOC. That is frankly impossible Nick. If it seemed that evidence trumped the LOC then your evidence must be wrong. If not, then all science fails.

    And I understand paraconsistent, the liars sentence for instance – but again, if that is the nature of reality then again: two completely opposite conclusions could be equally true: The evidence proves a 15 billion year old world, the evidence proves a 6 thousand year old world.

    Do you really want to go down that road Nick?

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  31. You are the one that has argued against the law of non-contradiction James, not me. Your subjectivity reality arguments are just that, a universe where nothing has connection, let alone non-contradiction.

    That is simply false Nick. As a theist I believe that the LOC is both universal and immutable. Since it is grounded in the immutable nature of God. It is you that is questioning it, you said: As for science depending on philosophy for its existence, I think not in the way you imply. Logic is a slightly different story, but even there evidence trumps all.

    So “evidence” trumps the LOC. That is frankly impossible Nick. If it seemed that evidence trumped the LOC then your evidence must be wrong. If not, then all science fails.

    And I understand paraconsistent, the liars sentence for instance – but again, if that is the nature of reality then again: two completely opposite conclusions could be equally true: The evidence proves a 15 billion year old world, the evidence proves a 6 thousand year old world.

    Do you really want to go down that road Nick?

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  32. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Damian,

    Bnonn, I thought it was very topical. Your methodology appears to me to be the same as that of the Muslim (presupposition immune from falsification) and both shy away from observational evidence when it contradicts those presuppositions

    I can’t speak for the Muslim, but you’ve definitely misunderstood me. I don’t shy away from observational evidence when it contradicts some presupposition; I assume that either my understanding of that presupposition, or of the observational evidence (or possibly of both) is faulty. I certainly hold to the traditional Christian view that special revelation (Scripture) and general revelation (creation) are both God’s revelation, and therefore are consistent with one another. They should match up; and if they prima facie do not, then we should investigate why not and resolve the apparent contradiction.

    However, because Scripture is my epistemological linchpin, and because of the philosophy of science to which I hold, I naturally weight the Bible over science. Therefore, in any situation where science and Scripture seem to contradict each other, I will favor Scripture as the more accurate, perspicuous, and incorrigible witness. This isn’t to say that it’s inconceivable that my understanding of Scripture could be corrected against scientific inquiry; merely that it would require rigorous and Christian scientific inquiry before I was convinced. Given my own study of Scripture, I believe that Genesis is best interpreted as a literal history, and that yom is best interpreted as referring to 24-hour days. I think most Christians will tend to agree with me—probably even Dale. Now, often we give up what is prima facie the “best” interpretation because it doesn’t square with some other more certain fact. Dale no doubt considers the age of the earth to be more certain than my interpretation of Genesis. Well, that’s okay; but I don’t. I’ll favor my interpretation over secular science because secular science is naturally biased toward non-theism, and works from numerous false presuppositions—these color its findings. However, if the work of young-earth creationist scientists ultimately fails, and they can find no way to plausibly reconcile general revelation with the YEC interpretation of God’s special revelation, then I’m certainly open to the possibility that I have wrongly understood Scripture.

    In short, in terms of certainty of belief, I weight the best possible exegesis of Scripture very much above the best current secular scientific theory, and it would take a lot of work to finally shift that weight across the center of the scales.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  33. Thank Bnonn and I appreciate your civility in what can often be a very confrontational topic.

    I guess from what you are saying here the only thing I can hope for if you are to see the world in the same way that I see it would be for you to spend some considerable time investigating the various evidences that contradict your YEC view. I’ve spent the last two or three years looking into it and I’m convinced that the evidence is strong and that the science used is thorough.

    I know you have little desire to look further into these claims and I can understand why the average person would find such investigation tedious. But I suspect that you may have an additional motivation to avoid investigation and that’s that it possibly opens a whole can of worms that would require some serious adjustment of your philosophy (i.e. original sin, what is read literally, human origins, our relationship to animals, etc). This is not a taunt, just an observation.

    I would encourage you to take some time to even-handedly look at the evidence and draw your own conclusions. And until you do, you’ll have to accept that people like myself are going to find it difficult to swallow your philosophy especially when it doesn’t take this evidence into account.

    Cheers
    Damian

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  34. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hi Damian. You’re right in that adopting an old earth view would certainly have ramifications for certain aspects of my theology. Naturally I’d rather not rework all that, so that does offer a sort of additional defeater to the old earth view. However, I think it’s important to recognize that many Christians who are more interested in science than I am have worked out these ramifications and integrated them into their theology, and they have not necessarily been unfaithful to Scripture in doing so. I would still consider their worldviews to be thoroughly Christian. So even if you and others believe that I am being very weak by refusing to concede ground on young earth creationism, and find my particular worldview unacceptable on that basis, I should remind you that my personal failing (if indeed it is a failing) doesn’t provide any grounds for you to reject the Christian worldview in toto. You may reject the YEC distinctive, but you can’t generalize that into a wholesale rejection of Christianity. The other numerous arguments I’ve forwarded in favor of Christian theism should be evaluated on their own terms.

    Just so we’re clear (:

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  35. Damian, Bnonn (and others),

    Bnonn, (I just picked up #34) a good example, I think, is distant stars (stars [much] more than 6,000 light-years away, to be more specific). Either they appeared 6,000 years ago with light already in transit, or the universe is older than 6,000 years – much older. Now, it is possible to believe that God created a young universe (i.e. 6,000) in such a way that empirical observation would lead us to a belief that it was NOT young (in other words – here’s a young universe, but just to confuse people, I’ll make it look really old), but I’m not sure that’s God’s style… :)

    Damian,
    Fair enough on wanting to pursue your points further. Perhaps Ken, yourself and others can try and remember to pick-up Bnonn’s discussion-worthy comments in comment #8 after this one has winded down? (perhaps it’s already winding down to a nice place?)

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  36. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hi Dale, I think it should be noted for the record that I, and many young-earth creationists, do not consider belief in a young earth to necessitate belief in a young universe. Russell Humphreys has done some good work based on general relativity, showing that a young earth could exist in an ancient universe. This is why when people ask me when the “world” was created, I will say “somewhere over six thousand years ago, earth-relative“.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  37. Bnonn, Damian (and others),
    Oh yes, I meant to add another point…

    I think the tension (for example) between 6,000 and millions/billions years is only found when the Bible is insisted to be ‘true’ in (for example) a cosmological/geological sense. There are different layers (or ‘strata’) of truth and knowledge. The Bible is not a cosmological/geological textbook any more than it is a computer programming text book. The primary nature of the ‘evidence’ of Genesis 1 is theological, not cosmological. Now, theists will (obviously) value this ‘theological evidence’ more than atheists (who will value ‘empirical evidence’ more). But neither theists not atheists should be guilty of the failure to distinguish between these two kinds of ‘evidence’.

    Empirical evidence helps us (in increasing detail) to understand things about the nature and workings of empirically observable aspects of reality [reminder: whether or not there are 'other' aspects of reality which cannot be empirically observed need not devalue empiricism, per se], but ‘empirical evidence’ cannot provide any basis for values, ethical/moral guidance or wisdom. Now, atheists may well argue that ‘theological evidence’ doesn’t provide this either, but that’s another conversation.

    (I would, however, want to say that all of us – with or without belief in a Theos (God) – have a (broadly speaking) ‘theological’ framework from which we work-out our values, morals and ethics)

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  38. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Dale, I wouldn’t tend to draw the distinction that you’re drawing. Much of the Bible is literal historical narrative—and historical criticism is certainly a largely empirical discipline. I agree that the purpose of Genesis is not to provide a scientific account of creation, but rather a theological one; but that doesn’t mean that this theological account is not conveyed using actual empirical facts. I would argue that although the parts of Genesis which bear directly on science are, in some ways, incidental to its purpose, they are nonetheless true.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  39. Cheers DBT,
    Whilst much of the Bible is indeed inteneded to convey real things that really happened, etc., some of it is communicating things which are ‘more than historical’ (if I may put it like that). For example, the story about the man and woman eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is screamingly – and beautifully – metaphorical. The truth of this story has nothing at all to do with the rather bizarre notion of whether or not an historical man or woman historically ate an historical ‘knowledge fruit’ (a tree that grows ‘knowledge’… hmmm… I smell metaphor here – and not ‘just’ a metaphor as if metaphors are less significant than ‘raw data’). It has to do (in context) with humans marred relationship to the Creator (and creation) – which is supposed to be under the Creator, and over creation.

    So, I would argue that we must do the difficult (literary) work of discerning how these texts are intended to be read, and the (revelatory) role they have – which leaves plenty of room for growth of understanding concerning things like biology and cosmology.

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  40. sorry – need to say this as well, BBT,

    So… (and I mean this with utmost respect – no joke) when a person like you (with obvious logical/philosophical skill and prowess) push the YEC and anti-evolution wagon in this context (this blog, etc.) it has the effect of under-mining some of the brilliant points you make about knowing reality, etc. My advice is to hold your YEC and anti-evolution views more lightly (if I can say it like that). And again, I mean that in the best kind of way.

    Cheers,

    -d-

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  41. Russell Humphreys’ work is apparently even rejected by other creationists, never mind the scientific community.

    @35: Another problem is that trying to make the stars younger to avoid this contradiction would involved changing the spectrum of light they emit in a way that isn’t observed.

    Its a bit like Ken was saying about using philosophy without considering reality. You can do maths that way too, but if you don’t look at reality it can end up pointless hand waving.

    Its fairly straight-forward to realise that the earth is at least 2 billion-odd years old. (This isn’t the age of the earth, but what direct measurements can put a lower bound to.) To make it younger than that, you have to do to the evidence what the guy in the cartoon does to the dishes (and to his partner).

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  42. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Dale, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. A couple of things though:

    Whilst much of the Bible is indeed inteneded to convey real things that really happened, etc., some of it is communicating things which are ‘more than historical’ (if I may put it like that).

    I agree; but if they are more than historical then, a fortiori, they are certainly not less than historical. Scripture elsewhere seems to treat Genesis 1–3 as literal history; yet even if it is metaphorical, it still requires an actual historical referent if it’s to be a coherent theological account of our situation before God.

    So… (and I mean this with utmost respect – no joke) when a person like you (with obvious logical/philosophical skill and prowess) push the YEC and anti-evolution wagon in this context (this blog, etc.) it has the effect of under-mining some of the brilliant points you make about knowing reality, etc. My advice is to hold your YEC and anti-evolution views more lightly (if I can say it like that).

    I’m not sure where I’ve pushed the YEC or anti-evolution bandwagons; I certainly try not to get involved in those debates. If they do come up, I also try to emphasize the reasons that I hold to YEC, and how I don’t consider my position incorrigible. I think perhaps I have been represented by others as pushing these bandwagons despite all my own efforts to the contrary. I know you follow the discussion here a bit, so you’ll probably agree that Heraclides and the rest of the posse are openly abusive toward me for holding the position I do. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that they cynically manipulate the discussion to center around YEC, regardless of the issues which are actually important to the truth of Christianity (which they consistently cannot answer, though again they try to manipulate the discussion to hide this).

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  43. Bnonn: re “openly abusive”: ascribing words or actions on others they haven’t done is poor form, to be polite. Speaking for myself, I will pick up on the sort of thing you are doing in writing that, but I think rightly so.

    It seems to me that you are writing this is an attempt to “suck up” to Dale: that’s your business. But doing it by smearing others only reinforces the impression that you’d prefer to argue in an “us v. them” fashion than present things “for” your case. Ironically, that runs counter to the very thing Dale was being gracious to you for.

    Dale: I’m increasingly of the opinion that Bnonn (and James) don’t really study the wider subject of philosophy, but only “work” from the “findings” of Christian apologetics. I might explain this more fully some other time (I have to go).

    The book I suggested is by a well-known philosopher, by the way. Since they value (or at least claim to value) philosophy, they should value what he has to say on a subject that interests them-?

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  44. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that they cynically manipulate the discussion…

    I can only speak for myself here but the reason I raised the topic of YEC is because we got to talking about methods of finding truth and the YEC/common ancestry issue seemed an obvious example to use as a test case. If someone else piped up here who had a philosophy that led them to believe (among other things) that dogs have five legs then before we even get onto the particulars of their philosophy I’m going to deal with the elephant in the room (or, in this case, the five-legged dog or a 6000 year old planet).

    There’s no cynical manipulation on my part.

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  45. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hi Damian, I wasn’t thinking of you. Unlike Heraclides, you don’t constantly poison the well by “speculating” about people’s intentions and abilities. In fact, you are very polite and I enjoy talking with you.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  46. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Heraclides, re Breaking the Spell: I’d like to, and intend to, read Dennett in full. However, at the moment the state of my current self-study necessitates that I familiarize myself with his arguments through the critiques of Christian philosophers. There is an enormous amount of literature on both sides of the fence, even in the very specific disciplines which interest me—and none of it tends to be light reading. Naturally I prioritize works by prominent Christian philosophers over works by prominent non-Christian ones.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  47. Cheers DBT,
    a few things…

    Scripture elsewhere seems to treat Genesis 1–3 as literal history; yet even if it is metaphorical, it still requires an actual historical referent if it’s to be a coherent theological account of our situation before God.

    So… what would the ‘actual historical referent’ be for, say Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge? What was the shape, size, colour and consistency of that ‘fruit’? One thing I like (among several that I don’t) from Rob Bell how he refers to this story: the point is not that it ‘happened’, but that it ‘happens’ – in other words, our (theological) situation before God can still be fallen and in need of redemption even without the specific (historical) eating of ‘knowledge fruit’.

    And yes, I apologise for the way I put it about you ‘pushing’ YEC, etc. You don’t. But, because your YEC-ism is a known thing, it makes you an easy target for such kinds of (admittedly repetitive) criticism. If I held YEC views (which I don’t) I’d spend zero time defending them here.

    (I also agree that your stronger points about philosophy and knowing reality are consistently avoided – hence my repeated suggestion to discuss your comment #8, if/when this one winds down…)

    Damian,
    Yes, YEC does make for a good ‘elephant’-type test-case. I don’t blame you at all for choosing it. Hopefully, in the interest of discussion about Bnonn’s comments in #8, he can admit to (to coin a phrase) ‘selective epistemology’ regarding his YEC-ism, and we can move on to the far more interesting (and far more relevant to various on-going conversations here) topic of epistemology in general, etc.

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  48. @46,
    A general note, I think it’s important to expose yourself to both sides of an issue – and try to do so with an open mind (or at least being aware of how you’ve been influenced). This should go for a theist or a materialist.

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  49. @ Dominic Bnonn Tennant:

    ““speculating” about people’s intentions and abilities” - pots and kettles. But something to aim for.

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  50. @ Heraclides:

    I enjoyed ‘Breaking the Spell’. Some good points there such as ‘belief in belief’ and the fact that even members of the same ocngregation do not have the same understanding of their ‘god’ or their ‘dogma’ – which raises important psychological reasons for belief.

    If you haven’t read Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained try to get a copy. I found it fadscinating – not just because of what it says about the origins of relgious beliefs/practices/traditions but also for its evolutionary description of morals and ethics.

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  51. @ Dale Campbell:

    “This should go for a theist or a materialist” – I guess I am excluded then as I refuse to recognise labels!!

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  52. Yep, Ken – I specifically meant to exclude you… :D

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  53. @DBT Interesting, could I coin a phrase here? Perhaps we could characterise your position, as a “science of the gaps”. The gaps being what lies outside your interpretation of the bible.

    @37 I have no problem with people who believe in a “god of the gaps”, or even who believe in some sort of “supernatural” unobservable reality (as long as they deign to accept actual observable reality that is), but I disagree with you about science having no input into ethics/moral guidance or wisdom. This is why I have a problem with DBT’s “science of the gaps” approach in that it is ignoring whole areas of science that can conceivably contribute to our understanding of the big “why” questions of human nature physical and ethical/moral.

    As I have posted in another thread, we are evolved beings, and as such, understanding the history of our evolution should provide illumination into “the human condition” in the present. I think that this could be pretty critical to our ongoing survival as a species, as I think that our living environment has very rapidly diverged from the environment that we have been historically evolved to fit.

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  54. Nick, I’ll quote your version of my words first, then my actual words – then highlight the difference…

    …I disagree with you about science having no input into ethics/moral guidance or wisdom.

    but I said…

    …‘empirical evidence’ cannot provide any basis for values, ethical/moral guidance or wisdom.

    For input into morals/ethics, I do not for a moment deny the value of knowledge of the empirical/scientific kind. What I was saying was that knowledge of the empirical/scientific kind cannot provide any basis for morals/ethics. The difference here is huge.

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  55. @53:

    I like your post :-)

    I agree with the points you’re making and I find the first amusing when looked at one way. (No offence to anyone intended; its the particular phrasing that I like.)

    I agree with your comment about the evolutionary aspects. I tried to include this myself earlier, admittedly only in a vague way. Cognitive science, social science (some would say “science”), behavioural studies, evolution, etc. all have elements for us to take note of I think.

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  56. Dales said

    Bnonn, (I just picked up #34) a good example, I think, is distant stars (stars [much] more than 6,000 light-years away, to be more specific). Either they appeared 6,000 years ago with light already in transit, or the universe is older than 6,000 years – much older. Now, it is possible to believe that God created a young universe (i.e. 6,000) in such a way that empirical observation would lead us to a belief that it was NOT young (in other words – here’s a young universe, but just to confuse people, I’ll make it look really old), but I’m not sure that’s God’s style…

    Dale, perhaps the process necessarily gave the apperance of age. In other words – if you got to investigate a cup of wine from the miracle at Cana you would find the apperance of age. It had all the markers of a good aged wine. The same with miracle of the loaves and fish. All of these would have had the apperance of age, but in reality be only hours old. The apperance of age was necessary for the desired result – it was not meant to deceive.

    And with the creation of the universe we have other problems. Was the speed of light constant during this process? How does the relativity of time play into all this, etc,etc,etc…I mean if superstring theory is true and other dimensions do exist, this would change our understanding of everything. Space and Time included.

    The “evidence” seems to point to an old universe, but our understanding is very limited. There are probably a thousand pieces of the puzzle that we are presently ignorant of. There are Paradigm shifts in science.

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  57. Nick said

    I have no problem with people who believe in a “god of the gaps”, or even who believe in some sort of “supernatural” unobservable reality (as long as they deign to accept actual observable reality that is), but I disagree with you about science having no input into ethics/moral guidance or wisdom. This is why I have a problem with DBT’s “science of the gaps” approach in that it is ignoring whole areas of science that can conceivably contribute to our understanding of the big “why” questions of human nature physical and ethical/moral.

    Like I have been harping on Nick. How do you know what you are observing is not “supernatural?” And how does science teach us morals? It can tell us what is, but not what ought to be. It can tell us that man murders, but it can’t tell us whether we should murder or not murder.

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  58. James,
    I appreciate the possibility of an old-looking-but-actually-young creation, but hopefully you’ll also be able to appreciate the possibility of an old-looking-and-actually-old creation… There was both new and old wine at that wedding feast, wasn’t there? ;)

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  59. Oh yes, and James – some picky blogging stuff…

    Is there a reason why your quoting of others’ is always/often a) in bold and b) large amounts?

    I can appreciate quoting more with a view to avoid mis-quoting, and maybe you choose bold because it takes less space than the ‘blockquote’ option? Just wondering…

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  60. Hey Dale, yes it could very well be a old universe. The evidence as it stands seems to point that way. I keep an open mind. A young universe would not surprise me. And yes I do like to have the other person’s quote in my post. So there is no confusion about what they said and what I am responding to and so you don’t have to keep going back and forth to check. And using the bold tags is just easier – I get lazy. ; )

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  61. @54 The terminology of “any input into” vs “any base” does not really change my point. I think that empirical based science can provide some base for human ethics/morals.

    For ethical/moral values that have remained relatively historically constant across cultures, I would look to some evolutionary adaptions as either direct causative factors, or perhaps less directly, the values are by products of combinations of evolutionary adaptions. Perhaps this is where evolutionary psychology can have some input.

    For ethical/moral values that differ across cultures or have shown historical changes (faster than an evolutionary timescale), then I would be looking more towards the influence of culture/society and/or external environment. Perhaps this is where traditional sociology can be of use to explore.

    This of course, is not simple, but what I don’t see, is a need for supernatural explanations as a base for moral values. In fact, I agree with Ken here about the actual term “supernatural” lacking meaning here. Unknown or unexplained I can handle, but is this your definition of supernatural? In which case, why don’t we just call it unknown.

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  62. @54 The terminology of “any input into” vs “any base” does not really change my point. I think that empirical based science can provide some base for human ethics/morals.

    For ethical/moral values that have remained relatively historically constant across cultures, I would look to some evolutionary adaptions as either direct causative factors, or perhaps less directly, the values are by products of combinations of evolutionary adaptions. Perhaps this is where evolutionary psychology can have some input.

    For ethical/moral values that differ across cultures or have shown historical changes (faster than an evolutionary timescale), then I would be looking more towards the influence of culture/society and/or external environment. Perhaps this is where traditional sociology can be of use to explore.

    Nick, you are still trying to get ought from is. Science can tell us what is, but not what ought to be. It may tell us that man murders, but not whether man ought to murder, or not.

    This of course, is not simple, but what I don’t see, is a need for supernatural explanations as a base for moral values.

    If there is no God then there is no objective basis for ethics. A mother Teresa is no better or worse than a Hitler. The amoral, blind evolutionary process produced both.

    In fact, I agree with Ken here about the actual term “supernatural” lacking meaning here. Unknown or unexplained I can handle, but is this your definition of supernatural? In which case, why don’t we just call it unknown.

    I don’t know about Dale, but I keep asking – whuy do you think we live in a “natural” universe. What is natural?

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  63. @62 I think you have missed my point. There is no ought. The objective basis for ethics/morals depends on the context. From the context of the entire universe, I would be surprised if human ethical or moral values factor in at all. From the context of the human race, then they become supremely important, but only objective so far as the human race, I suspect pig or plant morals would look a bit different.

    I don’t have any handy absolutes here for you, but I am trying to point out that there is no need for them anyway. Choose your context, and then define objectivity in relation to that.

    I think you are suffering a bit from a failure of imagination here in that you seem to demand absolutes for everything, and if you are not given them, then “nothing has meaning”. This reminds me very much of the difficulties you seem to experience regarding different levels of uncertainty when it comes to evaluating evidence for different scientific hypotheses or theories.

    Maybe this is really the fundamental issue here. Perhaps the lack of absolutes is scary? As a comfort, science has, and is demonstrating with some pretty high levels of certainty, some aspects of objective reality. I find this pretty impressive and reassuring myself.

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  64. There is no ought.

    Then science has nothing to say about “ought.” And ought is the only thing that really matters when it comes to ethics.

    I think you are suffering a bit from a failure of imagination here in that you seem to demand absolutes for everything, and if you are not given them, then “nothing has meaning”.

    Nick, if all humanity was destroyed in the next second would anything we did or thought be meaningful? How so?

    Maybe this is really the fundamental issue here. Perhaps the lack of absolutes is scary?

    And perhaps the idea of a sovereign, moral God is rather scary…

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  65. @64 If humanity was destroyed in the next second, then I would think that would matter rather a lot to humanity. In the context of the entire universe, I would guess (but don’t know) , that it would matter not one little jot.

    I have long since gotten over not being the centre of the universe, have you James?

    Sovereign moral god scary, not at all. If I thought such a thing existed, I would just become a Catholic and repent all. Problem solved!

    This touches on another little problem your arguments suffer from. You have been holding up the bible and Christian belief as some sort of objective source of absolute moral values. How then do you explain the fact that there is no consensus amongst even Christians over moral values. When is it ok to murder James? Doesn’t seem very objective and absolute to me.

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  66. If humanity was destroyed in the next second, then I would think that would matter rather a lot to humanity. In the context of the entire universe, I would guess (but don’t know) , that it would matter not one little jot.

    Well since humanity would not be around at that point then I guess all we did or thought would be meaningless.

    I have long since gotten over not being the centre of the universe, have you James?

    God, not I, is the center or the universe. I have long gotten over my own importance – how about you? Besides if the mechanical evolutionary theory is correct, then I have no choice in what I believe.

    Sovereign moral god scary, not at all. If I thought such a thing existed, I would just become a Catholic and repent all. Problem solved!

    Ok, and if God didn’t exist that would not be scary for me. Most of my adult life I was a unbeliever.

    This touches on another little problem your arguments suffer from. You have been holding up the bible and Christian belief as some sort of objective source of absolute moral values. How then do you explain the fact that there is no consensus amongst even Christians over moral values. When is it ok to murder James? Doesn’t seem very objective and absolute to me.

    I would be happy to debate any christian about specific moral points, and let scripture speak for its self. And it is never right to murder. Also, I don’t like to use the word absolute, objective is better. Though it is always absolutely wrong to disobey God and absolutely right to obey God.

    But back to my point. Science can never tell us about “ought.” And “ought” is really the only thing that matters ethically Nick.

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  67. @66 Unfortunately, a lot of people that call themselves christians disagree about it never being right to murder. There have been quite a few holy wars in the past, and (sorry for lowering the tone) I seem to remember a certain well known world leader saying somtehing about god telling him to go to war….

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  68. Unfortunately, a lot of people that call themselves christians disagree about it never being right to murder. There have been quite a few holy wars in the past, and (sorry for lowering the tone) I seem to remember a certain well known world leader saying somtehing about god telling him to go to war….

    Well defining murder is a different story. Killing in self defense would not be considered murder. I hold to the just war theory which I believe is biblically grounded. The point is Nick, if there is no God, no judgement, no transcendent moral truth, then nothing, no behavior, is objectively worse or better than the next.

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  69. @68 You are pretty nicely reinforcing my point about absolutes or nothing James. I have just pointed out the relativity of even christian moral values. One mans killing in self defense is another mans murder, morality of birth control etc… etc… , but there you go again again saying that if there is no absolute moral authority then morality means nothing. Which Christian should I believe when it comes to moral values? You are not just against atheists like me, but against all the theists (including christians) who don’t believe in the same flavour, or interpret the sacred writings differently. Perhaps this illustrates why I find no answers in the bible etc…

    My point, is that even without absolutes, given a defined context, such as human morality, it should be possible to derive some shared (objective amongst humans) moral values, regardless of belief systems. In this case, having an understanding of human nature (as it has evolved) is/will be critical to truly understanding/refining these values.

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  70. @69 oops, slipped on the bold tag there, I meant to only have the My point bit in bold.

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  71. so… let me get this logic straight…

    if a) Christians disagree on things,
    then b) the Christian God can in no way be anything close to a grounding for morality and ethics…

    Hmm… so that’s zero allowance for human error… Hmmm…

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  72. Getting it over and done with in one long (& rushed!) post… Bad form I know.

    @45: I’m not perfect, I try avoid cheap shots smearing others like you just posted. I have every reason to try think about why someone is writing what they do. (Do you take politicians words at face value? Or do you think about why they are saying them?) A lot of you and others have posted are very clearly not your primary motivation. You’re only getting my thinking about your motivations because of you won’t write directly: I’m just trying to cut through to the essence. Don’t complain to me about that.

    @46: You see, this is part of the problem. This statement can be read as an excuse to never “get around” to reading anything other that your apologists lines. I note though, that you have in effect admitted that is all you read. To me, that means you aren’t serious in finding the “truth”: you only read one side. And likewise that you aren’t serious about philosophy: you actual reading is Christian apologetics. So, with all respect, you are re-enforcing my suspicions.

    Food for thought: in testing my own research ideas, I spend more time trying to disprove my ideas that prove them. If after I’ve tried all reason efforts to punch holes in my argument and it still seems sound, then I have something worth showing others.

    From my view, you shouldn’t be able to say much until you’ve read all the oppositions arguments and deal with them. Surely?

    @50: I’ve read one or two of the cognitive science papers I suspect he refers to. It would be interesting to see an anthropologists view, though.

    @51 – :-)

    @54:

    re “…‘empirical evidence’ cannot provide any basis for values, ethical/moral guidance or wisdom.”

    I disagree. I think I gave an example previously of genetics illustrating the fallacy of ‘races’. (Ken might have also written this, its a while back so my memory is a little vague! It certainly was brought up though.) There is a lot you can pull in from other disciplines that helps provide a sound basis for racial morals, too.

    Likewise, it seems to me that some morals/ethics have longer roots that precede “modern” man and lie outside of more recent “man made” notions (which pure philosophy seems best applied to). I would like to think its the reason Nick referred to evolution and the reason I referred to cognitive science, etc.

    I can’t see why there should be a difference between input and basis. Both are pre-existing information you use to build “decision trees”, etc., on.

    (My previous post crossed with post 54.)

    @55:

    I pointed out earlier one reason why having the stars as younger wouldn’t work.

    But since you claim this “appearance of age” thing, would you like to demonstrate the truth of your claims?

    Your “what ifs” say nothing if you can’t back them with evidence ;-)

    @56:

    Science can help you see the difference between out perceptions, our “instincts” and our morals and “what is” (as you put), and hence suggest that our morals are out-dated and need to be revised. Racism wasn’t always considered the way it now is, for example. Nor our views on the mentally unwell. Or other types of illnesses (lepers come to mind). Some of the ways we have treated others would be consider quite immoral today. Science had a part in those morals changing. (And these are only more recent things; the deeper understanding of the origins of some of our “morals” and their roots, go a long way back, as I and Nick referred to.)

    @57: PZ Myers has a recent article on ‘supernatural’, which I linked yesterday (I think) elsewhere on this blog.

    @60: It’d literally be just as easy to use the italics some of us do (exactly the same number of keystrokes). Are you sure you don’t choose bold for another reason? ;-) Italics is more conventional, for what its worth.

    @61: Ditto, what I said above, too.

    @62: re: “Science can tell us what is, but not what ought to be.”, see above.

    The whole ‘supernatural’ v. ‘natural’ thing is a best a red herring, as has already been done to death in my opinion…!

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  73. Excuse the odd typo. ‘at best’, not ‘a best’, etc.

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  74. I’m not interested either in playing the nature/supernature game.

    But I do think there is a difference between the ‘input’ that science provides to moral/ethical discussions, and what I see as the inability of empirical/scientific knowledge to provide a ‘basis’ or ‘grounding’ (or even ‘framework’) for morals/ethics.

    Annoying and repetitive as it may be, James’ distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ is a helpful one (no offense, James). Empiricism is a powerful tool which deepens out knowledge of the workings of (empirically observed) nature. It does not offer any guidance (insert tangent about ‘authority’) as to whether this or that choice (insert tangent about ‘free will’) is good or bad (insert tangent about the existence of good/evil).

    Whatever different ones may think about the subjectivity, hopelessness or worth (or lack thereof) of philosophical or spiritual knowledge (or traditions, or conversations, or values, etc.), we each make our moral/ethical choices based on a philosophically derived framework of understanding concerning ‘reality’ (a.k.a. – ‘worldview’).

    In other words, science informs our worldview, but does not form it.

    In other words, we’re all philosophers. It’s naive to think ones self to be philosophically ‘neutral’.

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  75. @ Dale:

    Of course “we’re all philosophers” – but only when we see ‘philosophy’ in its widest and most abstract sense.

    The problem is that some people here are using their philosophy in a very inappropriate way – to impose a preconceived concept on reality, rather than deriving our knowledge from reality. As a substitute for scientific investigation – the real source of our knowledge.

    I have the utmost respect for philosophy as knowledge in its most abstract form. It has guided me at times in evaluating possible ideas/approaches in research. But one thing active research has taught me is that philosophical abstraction is not a substitute for knowledge derived from reality and validated by mapping against reality. When used that way it actually inhibits real investigation.

    Usually what happens is that the new scientific knowledge appears to violate a dearly held philosophical abstraction. But philosophical contemplation reveals that the specific abstraction must be made even more abstract. Philosophy has actually gained from interaction with reality – by the scientific process.

    I have discussed this with you regarding the philosophical category of ‘matter’. Scientific investigation seems to continually enforce this to be understood in a more abstract way. Scientific research has forced us to throw away the old mechanical concept of matter as something physical with substance. Unfortunately the ‘science-bashers’ want to continue with the old version. That’s a good reason to avoid labels like ‘materialist’ as they, at best, just lead to talking past each other. At worst they are just a form of attack – highly political in the case of the Wedge strategists.

    It’s best to avoid such unclear and motivated terms and just discuss the evidence.

    Well that’s my view as someone with a ‘reality-based’ world view.

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  76. Ken,
    You know how much I value empirical knowledge, but I hope you can appreciate the problem with your useage of words like ‘real’ and ‘reality’

    some people here are using their philosophy … to impose a preconceived concept on reality, rather than deriving our knowledge from reality. As a substitute for scientific investigation – the real source of our knowledge.

    …philosophical abstraction is not a substitute for knowledge derived from reality and validated by mapping against reality. When used that way it actually inhibits real investigation.

    (bolding mine)
    What definition of ‘reality’ and ‘real’ are you assuming here? Do you mean ‘empirically observed’ reality? Is empiricism the only tool we have to know ‘reality’?

    But aside from defining ‘real’ or ‘reality’, you haven’t dealt with the issue of the distinction between ‘kinds’ of knowledge (i.e. ‘empirically derived’ and ‘philosophically derived’ – both real, I suggest), and their relationship to ethics/morals.

    In order to discuss this best, I suggest we a) avoid terms like ‘reality’, and b) clarify which kind of knowledge we are talking about (i.e. ‘empirical’ or ‘philosophical’).

    Empirical knowledge is the kind of knowledge we talk about when we say we know how something works, or we know details about an object’s make-up. This kind of knowledge aids us in many areas: medicine, engineering, environmental, and yes moral/ethical discussions. The WAY that empirical knowledge relates to morals/ethics is by informing.

    Philosophical knowledge is (among other things) the kind of knowledge we talk about when we know what is good/bad, or we know that we should act in a certain way. This kind of knowledge is seen in and through every kind of moral/ethical decision we make. The WAY that philosophical knowledge relates to morals/ethics is by forming.

    lunch time… :) (my day-off work, by the way)

    -d-

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  77. @ Dale:

    Reality is that which exists – observed or not, capable of being observed or not. Seems clear to me!! So, no I won’t avoid the term and actually think those who argue to avoid it are actually pushing a particular example of imposing a pre-conceived ‘philosophy’ or ideology on reality. They push a ‘philosophy’ which attempts to avoid reality – which is never a good way of reaching a true understanding of that reality.

    My point, of course, is that philosophy should be recognised for what it is. That means it must ‘give way’ to new scientifically derived knowledge – it must be rethought, re-abstracted to include the new knowledge. Otherwise the ‘philosophy’ becomes reactionary – ends up attempting to push reality into a preconceived straight jacket.

    You may wish to include moral/ethical consideration in ‘philosophy’. I think this has the disadvantage of ‘philosophy’ being used to promote a particular brand of morality. And seems to also have the trap of being a one-way process of pushing/justifying that specific morality (how does that philosophical knowledge develop?). Also, I think that our morality/ethic seems to come first. It may then be legitimised or justified by rational philosophical arguments. But we don’t derive them that way. Most people wouldn’t know a philosophical stance or argument if they tripped over it – but despite this they do take up moral/ethical positions.

    Just back from my lunch – included a nice bottle of Mystery Creek Riesling so hope I haven’t slurred my argument too much!

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  78. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Ken, a couple of things.

    Firstly, you didn’t really answer Dale’s question:

    Is empiricism the only tool we have to know ‘reality’?

    I really hope you’ll finally give a straight answer on this one way or the other, so we can get down to brass tacks.

    Secondly, philosophy is generally broken into three basic disciplines: epistemology (“what do we know and how do we know that we know it?”), metaphysics (“what is the nature of reality?”) and ethics (“what is the nature of moral duty?”).

    For the record, scientific inquiry presupposes some kind of epistemology, and some kind of metaphysic. A term like “scientific knowledge of reality” implicitly assumes some notion of what knowledge is, and some idea of what reality is like. Those are philosophical notions. Every time you talk about “mapping against reality”, for example, you are smuggling in a lot of non-scientific, non-empirical philosophical beliefs. You can refuse to talk about them; you can deny their importance; you can think they are so obviously true that they don’t need to be justified—but, for the record, the one thing you may not honestly do is pretend they don’t exist. Your worldview, like every worldview, is based on philosophy. As Dale has tried to point out, worldviews are grounded in beliefs which are properly the purview of philosophy.

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  79. (My wife and I are both quite parial to a good Riesling – though not her lately, with the growing little-one and all…) :)

    Contrary to what you just wrote, my suggestion to avoid the term ‘reality’ was not to give preference to one ‘philosophy’ or another, but to push everyone involved to be more specific. It is precisely because our knowledge of ‘reality’ (both empirical and philosophical) is incomplete that our notions (whatever they are) need to be held more loosely. That’s not devaluing anything (science or theology) – that’s just a recognition that there’s still a lot left for us to learn (and that is not depressing, but exciting).

    I feel we took a step backward there, so I’ll restate my simple point:
    Empirical observations (and the knowledge resulting from it) about reality (however defined), is valuable (even INvaluable) for knowing about things, but (because empirically-derived knowledge is non-moral in nature or ‘substance’/character) it cannot form (though it certainly can and does inform!) our moral framework for choice-making and or value-judgments about objective(other) things or subjective(self) things.

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  80. Every time you talk about “mapping against reality”, for example, you are smuggling in a lot of non-scientific, non-empirical philosophical beliefs.

    Well said, DBT.

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  81. @ Dale Campbell:

    Maybe it’s the Riesling, Dale, but I can’t see how you see my use of “mapping etc” equates with “smuggling, etc.”

    Can you explain what you mean by this? I see it as completely the opposite – maybe there is a confusion of terms.

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  82. @71 No Dale, that is not my point. My point is a reaction to James’s claim for objective absolute morals existing only in Christian teachings. If that was the case, why the great variety of interpretations? How is it possible to reconcile the different interpretations. To me it seems that moral values are human values that come either from an instinctual base (directly or as by products of evolutionary adaptations) or through the actions of culture or society (of which different religions and philosophies rightly play a role). But please note the ordering of these points here, it is intentional.

    I think that some of your thinking on philosophy is a bit chicken and egg. I think that philosophy is anchored in attempts to understand reality. Some areas do seem to get quite speculative, as do some areas of the physical sciences (read string theory etc… here), but I think the trouble starts once the speculation gets out of control and starts being taken for fact. Without seeing some level of evidence for philosophical ideas then what are these ideas worth, they can just be clever word games. Is it not arrogant to start thinking that these clever constructs are actually more important than reality itself.

    I really like what Ken said @75 on this issue. As with any other logical constructs, there can be problems and contradictions with philosophical ideas, how else to resolve them but again referring back to reality (objective at least to the level of other human beings).

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  83. (Skipping posts 79, onwards, for a moment.)

    Dale:

    But I do think there is a difference between the ‘input’ that science provides to moral/ethical discussions, and what I see as the inability of empirical/scientific knowledge to provide a ‘basis’ or ‘grounding’ (or even ‘framework’) for morals/ethics.

    Both science and bible are sources of information, ideas. (Saying nothing about which is better or “right”.) As sources of information/ideas, you could base morals on either of these if you chose to.

    It seems to me that morals have been based on all sorts of things. Some centre around historical events/circumstances, some seem a consequence of particular leaders (good or bad in our view today), others to evolutionary/behavioural aspects that have come through, and so on. History doesn’t show any exclusivity to one source of information as being the basis of morals as far as I can see.

    With that in mind, my reading of your reply is that you want only the bible to have some kind of exclusively, possibly because that serves a personal need. That may serve your personal needs/wants, but that doesn’t exclude others from basing morals on other things/people/etc.

    I’d prefer morals based on as much information as we can get: the more information, the better, and the more information based on reality in a way that can be verified, the better.

    In particular, restricting morals to those based on “taking on faith” words from a particular book or person (not necessarily religious in nature) strikes me as limiting and potentially dangerous.

    I’m not saying that the fables, etc., in the bible are completely useless. I’m saying that taking them on their own is at best missing opportunities to do better and at worst blinding in a way that can be dangerous. Read the fables in context of the age and culture they were written (i.e. include history), bring in what we have learnt of cognitive science, behavioural science, etc. And don’t limit yourself to what’s in the bible (or whatever) if good stuff exists elsewhere.

    I suspect this approach leaves the “G-d did it” line as only real way of making the bible exclusive with regard to morals, but that’s just how the pieces fit together from what I’m looking at.

    Ken:

    Just back from my lunch – included a nice bottle of Mystery Creek Riesling so hope I haven’t slurred my argument too much!

    This is what retirement does, eh? :-)

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  84. @83 I am of a similar mind, and I think that you have stated that much more explicitly and clearly than I.

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  85. Ken (#81), it was actually DBT who said it, and not only that, but he said it much how I would say it, so I’ll let you a) read his comment (#78) closely and slowly again and/or b) clarify it with him. It’s a very key point – cheers.

    Nick (#82), I completely agree that philosophical knowledge is enhanced, enriched, corrected and strengthened, etc. by empirical knowledge. Complete agreement. But I still think it stands that empirical knowledge (non-moral as it is in nature/character) does not and cannot provide a value-basis, framework, or foundation which give any guidance whatsoever as to which actions are harmful or hurtful (i.e. ‘good’ or ‘evil’, etc.).

    Heraclides (#83),

    …my reading of your reply is that you want only the bible to have some kind of exclusively, possibly because that serves a personal need.

    Sorry, but I’ve said nothing about the Bible. You’ve read that into my statement. I am happy to talk about the Bible, but for the moment it is peripheral to the point I (and maybe James if I read him correctly?) am making. I’ll say it to be clear – I think truth is found in all kinds of places other than the Bible. Truth can be found in many cultures, writings, traditions, etc.

    The point we’ve been discussing is that empirical observations, understandings and do not a) provide us with value-judgments (i.e. judgments about ‘worth’), or b) any guidance whatsoever as to how to discern in any context/scenario what is the ‘right’, ‘good’, ‘helpful’ or otherwise ‘moral’ thing to do.

    I’ve tried consistently to affirm the immense value of empirical knowledge for informing, strengthening, correcting, sharpening and strengthening our philosophical knowledge, while at the same time maintaining that we don’t get (to use James’ words again) ‘ought’ from ‘is’ (or ‘how’). This is – I think – relatively straightforward.

    No one has said anything about ‘taking things on blind, un-informed, faith’, etc. or basing one’s life/moralitiy on woodenly literalistic interpretations of stories from any religious book. What we have talked about is that we all DO philosophy. We all have a philosophically-derived value-system that forms and founds our ethical/moral decision-patterns. Surely we can admit this.

    Cheers all.

    -d-

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  86. ‘scuse the typos – bedtime… :)

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  87. Heraclides said:

    I’m not saying that the fables, etc., in the bible are completely useless. I’m saying that taking them on their own is at best missing opportunities to do better and at worst blinding in a way that can be dangerous.

    Interesting Heraclides, can you prove that the biblical account of the resurrection is a “fable?”

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  88. @ Dale Campbell:

    “it was actually DBT who said it, and not only that, but he said it much how I would say it, – that (the bold) is why I asked you. DBT doesn’t make his charge clear in his comment. However, it obviously clicks with you.

    This post and comment #75 makes clear (I think) my philosophical attitude. And I think this, together with reference to my ‘reality-based’ world view, should make clear that charges of smuggling are unwarranted. We have come to expect a certain amount of dogma and personal attack from DBT, which makes clarification unlikely from that source. I think your reasons for approving that charge might be clearer.

    Specifically the ‘smuggling’ charge is obviously just personal spleen given what I have described in this post and subsequent comments (although if you do agree with that could you clarify). But what is meant by ‘a lot of non-scientific, non-empirical philosophical beliefs’? (Depending on what that means I might actually agree with it!)

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  89. @ Dale Campbell:

    “The point we’ve been discussing is that empirical observations, understandings and do not a) provide us with value-judgments (i.e. judgments about ‘worth’), or b) any guidance whatsoever as to how to discern in any context/scenario what is the ‘right’, ‘good’, ‘helpful’ or otherwise ‘moral’ thing to do.”

    I agree with a) (who doesn’t?) but I suspect you have overstated b). (After all society does make moral judgements about, for example fertility control, based on scientific knowledge. Or whether injuring or killing another person is morally acceptable based on evidence of the situation). I think you make point a) again (and negate your point b) in you comment #79: “but (because empirically-derived knowledge is non-moral in nature or ’substance’/character) it cannot form (though it certainly can and does inform!) our moral framework for choice-making and or value-judgments

    But – regarding a). Why bring it up? I don’t think anyone here disagrees. And can you specifically reference anyone who actually claims otherwise?

    Unfortunately this straw man is continually presented. It is inappropriate for 2 reasons:

    1: It is a straw man – supporters of science are not claiming such rights to make value judgements;
    2: It is usually a way of ‘smuggling’ in a claim (‘this is the role of religions – or philosophy’). ‘Smuggling’ because it isn’t honest. It’s presented as a default position (‘prove science can’t do it so religion must’) and specifically it does not present any positive argument for religion/philosophy appropriating this role.

    When it comes to making value judgements we all do it (and possibly, underneath all the justification we may do it in the same way) whatever our declared religion/philosophy or our involvement in science.

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  90. @85:

    You refer to the bible in your other posts, so its hardly surprising that I will infer the “other than science” implied in your posts on this topic to be the bible in you case.

    “Truth can be found in many cultures, writings, traditions, etc.” followed by “empirical observations, understandings and do not a) provide us with value-judgments (i.e. judgments about ‘worth’), or b) any guidance whatsoever as to how to discern in any context/scenario what is the ‘right’, ‘good’, ‘helpful’ or otherwise ‘moral’ thing to do.” doesn’t make sense. You claim to agree with me that you can use information of essentially any kind, but then want to exclude information one kind because its empirically based.

    (In passing, I notice you left out evolutionary, behaviourial, etc., as a source of morals.)

    To humour you: you say you can’t get ‘ought’ from empirical information. How can you get it from non-empirical information, then? Either you get it from both, as I was saying, or you reject all sources of information and get morals from a “special source”, which you include by some source of arbitrary “special clause”.

    I see it like this. Either you accept you can use information from all sources, as I wrote. This seems obviously the case to me, as its what we have done in the past. To deny this seems to me to deny history, not just science. Or you try claim you cannot “base” morals on any “information”, in which case you must evoke “g-d-did-it”, as I wrote. (Substitute “g-d” and the bible as appropriate for parallels situations involving other things.) Get me now? You can’t have some information used, but not others. You either have it all, or none and in the latter case you have to arbitrarily ascribe on source as “special” and “exception” for it to be the source of morals. It’ll tend to be an exclusive source of morals, because you’ve ruled out everything, but only allowed in your “special case” by an arbitrary (hollow) “its special” type of argument.

    (In my previous paragraph, I wrote “base”: I used double inverted quotes as while I’m borrowing your word, in the hope that you helps you “get” what I’m saying, I don’t believe in your use of this word is correct, in that you try make a difference between ‘basis’ and ‘input’ that seems sleigh-of-hand to suit your argument. But if it helps you understand, let it stand.)

    I hope you now understand my last sentence to you better (“I suspect this approach…”).

    I gave an example earlier of empirical information being a “basis” for (inter)racial mores. Genetics shows that other races are no more different to our race, in fact some evidence suggests there is more genetic difference within races than between. From this I can conclude that we ought to treat people of other races as the same as those of our own. In the past a lot of people, “good Christians” included, didn’t. It would seem that their religion-based morals weren’t able to make the case. I can look at the reality shown through science and make the case clear.

    Non-religious people treat others of other races the same, as they know that they are… from science. Certainly there is a contribution from culture that lingers on, but if ask these people “why”, in my experience most will say because they are the same (i.e. as demonstrated empirical observation), not “because in the past the bible said so and my country once was predominantly Christian”, etc. Their racial mores are based on empirical observation.

    @87: Irrelevant, as ever, and asking things of others, as ever. Troll :-)

    @84: Thanks for the kind words, but I think you are a lot more concise than me and I think that’s a good thing! :-)

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  91. Post 90 crossed post 89.

    ‘some source of ‘ should read ‘some sort of’. Sorry.

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  92. OK,
    (cracks knuckles and sighs)

    James (#87),
    I don’t think it best to complicate things at the moment by pressing on the ‘fables’ comment – it’s an utterly silly remark which ignores (or more likely is ignorant of) the various literary genres in the Bible, but it’s best to keep focused I think (same goes for evolution/creation/YEC/old-young earth stuff…) I suggest we keep it to epistemology for the moment…

    Ken (#88),
    Sorry I just hadn’t seen any evidence that you had tried to understand his comment. At any rate, I probably won’t need to re-hrase him, because hopefully it will come out in my continued responses below…

    Ken (#89),

    …society does make moral judgements about, for example fertility control, based on scientific knowledge. Or whether injuring or killing another person is morally acceptable based on evidence of the situation.

    The moral judgments are informed by scientific knowledge, not ‘based on’ them. In this case, the scientific/empirically-derived knowledge helps us to know in detail how fertilisation, fetal development (events) happen/work and what medical/surgical practices (actions) could bring about this or that result, etc. What this scientific/empirical knowledge does NOT do is provide us with any guidance at all as to what medical/surgical practices (actions) should be done (i.e. abortion, genetic modification, etc.).

    As for your killing scenario, what kind of ‘evidence’ actually helps us discern whether the killing should be done, I suggest not empirical data. (though clearly empirical data can and should inform the decision.)

    You then say that I’m continually presenting a ‘straw man’ and accuse me of trying to ‘smuggle’ in a place for religions/philosophy “(’prove science can’t do it so religion must’)”.
    I can see how you’d think that, and I make no pretense about my Christianity nor try to hide it. But I don’t think I’ve invoked any specific religion or philosophy here. The main point of difference I’m trying to demonstrate is the difference between scientific/empirically-derived knowledge ‘forming’ our worldview-framework out of which we make ethical/moral choices (which it does not), and it ‘informing’ our worldview (which we’re both happy to say it does).

    When it comes to making value judgements we all do it (and possibly, underneath all the justification we may do it in the same way) whatever our declared religion/philosophy or our involvement in science.

    This gets much closer to what I’m getting at! The only slight difference is that I’m suggusting that the ‘same way’ we all making value-judgments is not irrespective of our philosophy, but rather this ‘same way’ is the use of philosophy.

    [By the way, (and I know, I know, you'll absolutely hate this suggestion) in that last quote (and elsewhere) you pair (even equate?) "religion/philosophy". I think this is part of the reason you (a self-professed 'non-religious' person) don't seem to want to agree that your ethical/moral decisions are worked out via philosophy.]

    Heraclides (#90),

    You claim to agree with me that you can use information of essentially any kind, but then want to exclude information one kind because its empirically based.

    First, I’m not ‘excluding’ any kind(s) of infomation. I’m saying not only that there are different kinds of information, but also that we use them in different ways.
    One kind of knowledge which I include is empirical in nature/character and I use it in certain ways.
    Another kind of knowledge which I include is philosophical in nature/character and I use it in other ways.

    To humour you: you say you can’t get ‘ought’ from empirical information. How can you get it from non-empirical information, then? Either you get it from both, as I was saying, or you reject all sources of information and get morals from a “special source”, which you include by some source of arbitrary “special clause”.

    That is a non sequitur. Just because empirical info does not get us to ‘ought’, doesn’t mean a) that other information automatically can’t, or b) that we are forced to “reject all sources of information and get morals from a “special source””.
    I certainly hope that we all acknowledge that humans each have personal responsibility (‘ought’), so if empirical info doesn’t get us there (which I think we all agree it doesn’t?), then we do get it from somewhere.
    I’m actually not interested just at the moment at trying to argue the precise/specific place/person(s)/source where we get if from… What I’ve been trying to do, however, is suggest/clarify that ‘ought’ questions arise because of philosophical suppositions which we all have.

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  93. @ Dale Campbell:

    “I’m suggesting that the ’same way’ we all making value-judgments is not irrespective of our philosophy, but rather this ’same way’ is the use of philosophy.” I agree – if we interpret philosophy in its broadest sense. And if we are doing this in the same way, perhaps our philosophical approach is broadly the same.

    Perhaps, after all, we are all philosophically ‘reality-based’ when we make these value judgements. After all, if a large proportion of the population actually took a ‘revelation-based’ philosophical approach I would expect there to be much bigger differences in society’s values. While some people may actually advocate stoning of female adulterers or killing apostates, and they do so using ‘revelation-based’ arguments, I suspect that even those recognise that such actions are morally ‘wrong’. And that recognition comes from a ‘reality-based’ approach.

    This commonality would be consistent for my argument that much of our morality/ethics has an objective basis.

    Regarding your second point. I don’t actually equate ‘religion’ with ‘philosophy’. But I am aware that some of those commenting here seem to do so. I feel that they often use ‘philosophy’ as a surrogate for ‘religion.’ I have also seen this with people who claim that can prove the existence of their god with ‘philosophical’ arguments when really they are ‘religious’ arguments.

    The trouble is the ‘philosophy’ is a very general word – covering a multitude of sins, as it were. Consequently I think when people argue that ‘philosophy is such and such’ they are often pretending there is one philosophy (and one intertwined with their religious views) – when we all know that there are different philosophical ‘schools’.

    It would be better if those people actually named their philosophy (and they are usually so dogmatic that I am sure they could name it) and attributed their claims to that specific philosophical school of thought – not philosophy in general.

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  94. @ Dale Campbell:

    Almost forgot (it was a Mission Reserve Chardonnay for lunch today)- I am not actually accusing you, specifically, of using straw men. I am just referring to this common argument about the ‘limits of science’, its inability to making value judgements.

    No scientist (I know) actually makes that claim so it is a straw man argument. And it almost always seems to be used to then lead on to a role for religion in this – without actually justifying that later claim.

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  95. Ken (#93),

    I agree – if we interpret philosophy in its broadest sense. And if we are doing this in the same way, perhaps our philosophical approach is broadly the same.

    Can I take this as you agreeing that your value-judgments are (yes, broadly speaking) philosophically-derived?

    Now, concerning your subsequent contrast between ‘revelation’-based and ‘reality’-based philosophical approaches…
    For clarification, I’d like to ask you (if you will) to explain or give an example of making value-judgments from what you call a ‘reality’-based philosophical approach. In other words, how do we/you/anyone get ‘responsibility’ or ‘ought’ using a ‘reality’-based approach. Also, how can a person know that their philosophical approach is ‘reality’-based?

    Your response will intrigue me.

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  96. @ Dale Campbell:

    “Can I take this as you agreeing that your value-judgments are (yes, broadly speaking) philosophically-derived? “Yes – if we are referring to the approach, the process. But No – not from a philosophy. That would be more like a ‘revelation’ approach.

    I have, in effect, referred to a ‘reality-based’ approach in my comment on Damian’s post (Permanent Link: What’s So Great About Objective Morality?) – “our abstract moral concepts (or at least some of them) have an objective basis in the objective fact that we exist as separate, sentient, intelligent and conscious living beings.”

    I think this enables us to draw conclusions about human rights – and possibly (for at least some people) to draw these conclusions even though the prevalent values in society may conflict with these. For example, many people were able to find slavery immoral even when it was legal and promoted by the so-called moral leaders in society. The same goes for colonialism and the oppression of women.

    I might add that the ‘revelation-based’ approach to morality actually supported immoral positions on these issues (and racism for example in the USA and South Africa)

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  97. An interesting discussion. To further clarify my position here;

    I think that there is definitely room for beliefs when it comes to moral values, as for one thing, human beings (some more than others) must take moral stands and make decisions in areas that for a multitude of reasons there is no clear evidence based right or wrong (note that I still think it is possible to define a right and wrong based on evidence. I.e. is a particular action good or bad when looked at in the context of the outcomes for a particular family, society or species.) This passes outside moral issues also into political and everyday issues. I am definitely not a subscriber to the “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” Harvard business school load of bollocks, and have a (dear I say it) strong level of faith in human intuition as practiced by people with a deep knowledge & experience of particular areas.

    Where I perhaps differ though is how much of an individuals moral values are sourced from an instinctual base (evolved, and a product of society/culture) vs a more philosophical, considered or adopted (as in, these other people say this is what I should believe). However, It is difficult to separate all of these influences. Perhaps a concrete example would help;

    On the subject of crime and punishment (retributive vs rehabilitative justice), I have long held a preference for rehabilitative justice. I have at least some of the time internally justified this view with a deterministic philosophy. Seeing people as a product of their nature & nurture, has for me, left little room (or necessity) for blame, and retribution often seems to smack of hollow revenge.

    What is not clear to me, is how much of this view comes instinctually as perhaps a by product of an (some would say wrongly placed) empathetic sense for others (which I think we could definitely lay at the door of some kin selection style evolutionary adaptations), vs how much of this view comes from my considered philosophical position re: determinism.

    What I find really interesting, is that some of the things I have learnt about evolution is leading me to a bit of evolution myself (of my moral values). In this case, some of the game theoretical models of reciprocal altruism, in particular; tit for tat strategies in iterative prisoners dilemma situations, has underlined the possible importance of blame in maintaining a functioning co-operative altruistic society. I wouldn’t say that I have swung totally towards retributive forms of justice (I can still see, from an outcomes basis that this can be self defeating), but I am definitely more inclined to accept the concept of retribution as being important.

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  98. Ken (#96),

    our abstract moral concepts (or at least some of them) have an objective basis in the objective fact that we exist as separate, sentient, intelligent and conscious living beings.”

    So, (and this is both a repetition and a key specification of the question I asked) how do these observations lead to value-judgments – like the one you mention (‘rights’)? How do we move from these things to ‘ought’? What about non-sentient, unintelligent, unconscious life? What value-judgments can we make from observing these? What ‘rights’ do they have? I’m not seeing the connection with how these observations lead to value-judgments. Please don’t find this frustrating (hopefully you won’t – hard to tell), it’s an honest clarification. Cheers

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  99. Nick (#97),
    Very interesting stuff about rehabilitative v. retributive. I agree there is a (practical, not to mention statistical) tension between the approaches. Futher complicating it is the reality (as far as I’m concerned) that the same approach doesn’t ‘fit’ each individual or case. On one hand, I’m convinced that lessening or relieving people of their sense of responsibility is destructive (talk to social workers and police!), but the other extreme is just as destructive in that trying to be everyone’s ‘nanny’ (to put it like that) provokes reaction and creates a volitile culture of ‘hiding’ from the ‘nanny’ (so to speak).

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  100. Here is a further example that I have been thinking of (when I should have been sleeping :-():

    This is one of the things that occurred to me when/after watching the Richard Dawkins interview with David Buss (evolutionary psychologist). Please excuse me for any errors or misrepresentations here, as I do not yet know much about this field.

    In that interview Buss suggested that there was some pretty strong evidence for the emotion of male sexual jealousy being an evolutionary adaption selected for by the historical uncertainty of paternity. This being; The female has always had certainty of her being the parent of her children, whereas the male never has had that. Given this, there was a selective advantage to male possessiveness driven by jealousy in reducing the likelihood of a man wasting his limited resources caring for the genetic offspring of others. I haven’t found a good link for this in the quick search I did, but I think that there have been quite a lot of studies into this area, so there should be some papers on the subject available.

    Now: I don’t think that I am drawing too long a bow to suggest that with the above finding, we may have found some pretty clear basis for some of the moral values in the areas of adultery and promiscuity.

    Going out on a limb, I would further suggest that this knowledge is very useful in a number of ways; For example, refining our philosophical models with relation to value judgments (the oughts of) adultery/promiscuity in a world with ready access to reliable birth control; perhaps even reducing incidence of domestic violence. I could imagine a book entitled “where do our feelings come from” being required reading for kids, and perhaps free or (a bit more controversially) mandatory paternity tests for every kid.

    Hopefully, this small example demonstrates a bit of where I am coming from, and why I have a big problem with evolutionary nay sayers. It seems as though it is only relatively recently that the insights of Darwin’s theories of natural selection can be applied to human beings themselves (perhaps not so recently in terms of physiology, but definitely so in terms of psychology and sociology). I wonder how much of this near on 150 year delay is due to the efforts of overt anti evolutionists (whatever their inspiration), and I wonder how much this delay in coming to grips with our origin as a species will cost us (as a species) in the next 150 years.

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  101. Interesting stuff, Nick,
    I’ll refrain from following you out on those limbs, though, as I’m quite keen to remain concentrated on the relationship Ken and I are discussing between facts observed about things, and how the step is made to get to value-judgments or ‘ought’.

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  102. @92:

    “One kind of knowledge which I include is empirical in nature/character and I use it in certain ways.
    Another kind of knowledge which I include is philosophical in nature/character and I use it in other ways.”

    You excluded empirical information as a basis for morals, but wanted to include non-empirical sources. You said that, not me. You even gave examples. Now you say you didn’t. Now you say its “ways”, that matter. Smells like bait-and-switch? You don’t say what the “ways” are either…

    Your “non sequitur” line to me suggests you’re not thinking through what I wrote or are grasping on opportunities to dismiss it. I wrote earlier that there appears nothing about empirical information that means it should be excluded from being a basis for morals because its empirical rather than non-empirical: “Both science and bible are sources of information, ideas. (Saying nothing about which is better or “right”.) As sources of information/ideas, you could base morals on either of these if you chose to.” (Replace ‘bible’ with other non-empirical sources if that suits.) Without this, its out of context. (In fact, I feel as if I’m being quote mined!)

    Of course, it does have an assertion prior to it: that the “empirical” aspect isn’t relevant. But that’s because of what you were writing. You kept saying that EMPIRICAL knowledge cannot be a basis for morals. I tried to point out information is information. Period.

    Given “empirical” is not relevant, if you try reject “empirical information” as basis for morals, you have to strip the “empirical” bit off and reject all information as basis for morals: in this case you absolutely need some sort of “special clause” to include your chosen basis for morals. Its not hard for me to see why you’d like that argument, but it requires (a) empirical information is somehow magically different in the context of morals to non-empirical information or (b) that you have a “get out of jail” clause that allows your favoured moral basis to be allowed.

    Alternatively, you could just accept all kinds of information can be the basis for morals. History shows this is what has happened in the past.

    If you’re going to rule out “empirical” information only, you need to show us why, and how you could use non-empirical information in a way that you couldn’t use empirical information. But instead we get a side-step to “ways”.

    Writing “so if empirical info doesn’t get us there (which I think we all agree it doesn’t?)” is… whatever. Aside from other things, here you are trying to push “we all agree” on people, some of who told you that explicitly that they don’t. I’d rather speak for myself, thank you.

    In going on to say, “then we do get it from somewhere”, which infers “else”, you are back to asserting empirical information can’t be a basis of morals without showing why, and asserting we’ll get it from “somewhere else”. And then you go on to try to excuse yourself from naming what such a “somewhere else” might be! Ridiculous.

    You ignored my example, why?

    You didn’t answer my question how you can get morals from non-empirical information. The reason I asked this is that it should illustrate to you that its not the empirical or not that matters.

    By the way, philosophy isn’t knowledge, its the study of knowledge. I realise that some religious people view it as “guiding principles for behaviour” or the like, but that’s not “knowledge” in the sense of facts, either. I can’t help but wonder if your crossing these two over is part of the trouble you’re having. But, I’m not interested “lets play word definition”.

    @94:

    No scientist (I know) actually makes that claim so it is a straw man argument. And it almost always seems to be used to then lead on to a role for religion in this – without actually justifying that later claim.

    I agree. Its why I’m inclined to try think about why someone is writing what they are.

    @95:

    “In other words, how do we/you/anyone get ‘responsibility’ or ‘ought’ using a ‘reality’-based approach.” I know you are asking Ken, but I’d like to remind you that I gave an example of just this thing that you didn’t respond to.

    @97:

    I’d have thought revenge could also be considered instinctive, too. One difference might be what “side” you place the person on with respect to you or you “clan”: a threat to your “tribe”, or one of your “tribe” that may still have value? On a vaguely related note, I’ve seen an interesting comment that soldiers don’t fight for loyality, they fight for revenge.

    @98: Seems plainly obvious from both my and Ken’s examples to me. (Since there is evidently no difference, there is no basis for discrimination, therefore you ought not to discriminate.)

    @100:

    Wrote all the above (!), then caught your post. Good example, I think. I think that part of the delay might be that several fields needed to see what the others were doing! Its one of the problems of science being such a large endeavour. PET scans, MRIs, etc., have helped us see a physical basis underlies emotions, etc., and these probably also contributes.

    @101:

    Surely this is another example, as you asked for? He showed how we could use the information to form an “ought” decision in judicial decisions.

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  103. An interesting discussion. Pity I have little time, so quickly my two cents:

    In a strictly philosophical sense, a moral system can not be “based” on a set of observational data, since the former is prescriptive, the latter descriptive. This insight was first formulated by Hume and remains widely accepted in the philosophical world to this day, although attempts were made to refute his argument. Therefore, the first and overarching principle of any normative moral system must first be agreed upon, e.g. the greatest good for the greatest number of people (utilitarianism) or the maximizing of pleasure and minimizing of pain (hedonism).

    Once this overarching principle is in place, we can try and build “bridging mechanisms” that use observational, empirical data to inform us about the rationally and practically best way to bring about our moral goal. Post no. 100 gives a good example of this.

    This should not be confused, however, with the notion that research in the fields of evolutionary psychology or neurology would in and of itself provide a basis for morality. Knowing that and why human beings have certain emotions, instinctual urges etc. and frequently make similar moral decisions does not mean that said emotions, urges and decisions are per se morally “correct” or not.

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  104. @Heraclides (#102),
    I genuinely don’t mean to insult you, but I’m not going to bother responding. I’ve seen (and mentioned to you) how you comment for a while now, and (again, genuinely not meaning to tick you off) they are often – to choose the most appropriate phrase – ‘not too constructive’. Others (Ken? Damian? Bnonn? Cedric?… heck, even James? :) ) can correct me if I’m way off here, but I’m not feeling it would be worth it. :D

    @Iapetus (#103),
    MANY, MANY thanks for articulating what I’ve been trying to say! Very well put. Your distinction between ‘descriptive’ (‘is’) and ‘prescriptive’ (‘ought’) is very appropriate, as is the attention drawn to the need for an “overarching principle” (i.e. utilitarianism, hedonism).

    Once this overarching principle is in place, we can try and build “bridging mechanisms” that use observational, empirical data to inform us about the rationally and practically best way to bring about our moral goal. [bolding mine]

    …and cheers for another proper use of ‘inform’. This says it well.

    Post no. 100 gives a good example of this.

    Yes, 100 is a good example of “bridging”. Of course, the strength of both the ‘overarching principle’ and the ‘moral goal’ are always disputable – but that’s morality for ya!

    Knowing that and why human beings have certain emotions, instinctual urges etc. and frequently make similar moral decisions does not mean that said emotions, urges and decisions are per se morally “correct” or not.

    Couldn’t have said it better (and won’t – for now! – try).

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  105. @104:

    I don’t appreciate some of the personal slights directed at me from a number of the Christians on this blog :-/ They’re frustrating, rude and on a bad day they feel like an attempt to bully me off the blog! Cedric’s, or James’, posts are easily as directed “at” the other person as anything I write. In my opinion, more so: I just can’t emulate the sort of teasing lines Cedric does! Many of James’ posts are clearly not intended to be especially constructive While he might deny it in jest, I have a feeling he’d happily admit to it if he weren’t so busy kidding around! (On that note, you might want to look at Iapetus’ latest correspondence with to James as a reference point, see “Let’s count teeth”.)

    I think you should really consider that your posts are at least part of the fault. Your posts were clear as mud to me, full of contradictions as far as I could see, and to be perfectly honest, still seem that way to me. I’m not perfect, but I feel as if I’m being hit on for your lack of clarity! I hope you can how I see it as just a little ironic that you thank Iapetus for clarifying your words in the same post ;-)

    I believe that the origin of DBT’s strawman remarks directed at me, which I sense you are following the lead of a little, aren’t from this thread but are a continuation of his response to me posting as simple a summary as I could of what he was saying in another thread. I got several short posts from him in reply consisting of ad hominem arguments. All I honestly did was to try put a summary to him; my impression was that he had no response to my summary and resorted to objecting about me instead! I was quite startled by it, and I think I might have said as much to him at the time. I have tried to explain, admittedly rather badly, why I look to the reasons why people post earlier. (Ken refers to something similar in post 94.)

    I thought my post 83 was a fair attempt, but you appeared to dismiss it because I referred to the bible, then tried to insist that I “had” to limit the discussion to philosophy. Not surprisingly, that’s annoying and, really, unfair. You wanted to “talk philosophy”, sure, but why should I have to?

    Writing the likes of “the point we’ve been discussing is that…” can appear as to “disallow” others’ approaches if they come from a slightly different angle or background. In particular, I still can’t see why examples should be put aside. Examples are useful things to work with. Among other things, they can stop it all getting too abstract (a point Ken mentioned earlier in a more general context). Used properly, they should been useful to you to illustrate your point by providing concrete things to talk about.

    Taking nothing from Iapetus’ post (I think its a fine post) but, as he wrote, his account of how the two are disjoint is limited to “a strictly philosophical sense”. From my references to history, evolution, etc., it should be clear I wasn’t limiting myself to this.

    I’m wary of using only philosophy as it seems, as far as I can tell, to want to deny some things that are quite real. Some evolutionarily adaptive behaviours seem to me to obviously be related to current-day morals. The origins of these behaviours aren’t rational in the sense of thought, but rational in a sense of survival (and then, variously survival of species or individuals). (You could try relate this last point to the two overarching principles, although I worry that’s retrospective and could be “sleigh-of-hand”.) These instincts relate to the way early man lived, not our present society. Any number of people are pointing out that our biology is being outstripped by our changes in lifestyle in a number of ways. It seems to me that a lot of morals are effectively coded versions “instinctive” behaviours that evolved for a different situation than we now have. Thus, as a purely pragmatic matter, I dislike dressing up morals in (pure) philosophy, or least overdoing this. I can’t but help think that many, if not most, morals are ultimately founded on instincts in one way or other if you keep looking at the origins of them back to the source, and that given that these are likely to be at odds with present society (some obviously are), approaching moral decisions with a basis including understanding instincts, cognitive limitations, behavioural limitations and typical responses, etc., are a better basis.

    I’m not objecting to Iapetus’ post, its just the context that is different. As a I wrote earlier, I wasn’t limiting myself to philosophy.

    Here’s a final loose thought: why can’t it be science that defines through study the best “overarching principles” to use in each situation to ensure our survival, especially given that our instincts may be at odds with our present society? (And from that, that morals be defined on the basis of knowledge, from ground up?)

    You still have to define the best “overarching principles”, but what stops knowledge from defining that? It also comes with a “super” overarching principle of survival, but then so did the instincts in the first place. Evolutionary pressure once forced the “survival” principle on us, perhaps now, having escaped most of evolutionary pressure in the short/medium term, we need to impose that on ourselves through empirical means as best as we can?

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  106. You still have to define the best “overarching principles”, but what stops knowledge from defining that? It also comes with a “super” overarching principle of survival, but then so did the instincts in the first place. Evolutionary pressure once forced the “survival” principle on us, perhaps now, having escaped most of evolutionary pressure in the short/medium term, we need to impose that on ourselves through empirical means as best as we can?

    Heraclides, how can you possibly rise above evolutionary pressure? We still need to survive, and the way this world is going right now we may experience even more pressure, very soon. And there is a second problem. You and others speak like we have free will. But that is logically impossible in materialistic universe (like my link to Dawkins stated). We are just cogs in the machine, no choice. Where ever this blind process leads we will follow, necessarily. I suspect we are heading for a world war that will make the last one look mild… But that’s our nature…

    Actually I envy you guy in New Zealand, at least you are physically removed from large population centers.

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  107. @ Dale Campbell:

    “how do these observations lead to value-judgments” – broadly by application of logic (I think). We are after all an intelligent species capable of logic. Our mirror neurons must help to and these probably resulted from natural selection during the evolution of social animals. So concepts like the ‘Golden Rule’ and being able to place ourselves in the position of others arise.

    The fact that there is such an amazing degree of consensus on human rights (much greater than for the IPCC climate change assessment for example) does indicate an objective basis. The Universal Declaration and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are supported by most countries and by people from practically the whole spectrum of religious, ethical and political belief. This has produced human rights legislation in NZ and most other countries. Very few people would disagree with these legal documents.

    Of course there are always people who will deny objective information and human logic (just look at the creationist/ID people). For example Islamic states and OIC are busy trying to eliminate freedom of expression from international agreements viae their ‘defamation of religion’ proposals.

    And, of course, for individuals and many organisations logic is applied selectively. That’s why it is possible to ‘justify’ slavery, colonialism, denial of human rights to women, treating other races and nationalities as inferior, etc. But, at the same time (and within the cultures where these distortions are accepted and promoted) there will be individuals and organisations who are able to overcome the prevailing views and present a more objective picture. They have in the past played a leading role in eliminating such inhumane behaviour.

    I am trying to assert that there is a component to our humanity which is not just the result of evolution. However, it would be one sided to ignore evolution. Not only because this resulted in the fact of our existence as an intelligent species (able to use this logic even though we are not instinctively logical) but also because it resulted in the fact that we are also a species driven by a lot of unconscious (non-logical) intuitions and feelings. Some of these support our logical conclusions about human rights. Some of the oppose them.

    The question of ‘ought’, ‘guilt’ and ‘duty’ is interesting. I understand them as part of the unconscious intuitions and feelings referred to above. By their nature they become part of our conscience. They can often appear to us as arising externally (don’t we all identify with the picture of our conscience as a little man sitting on our shoulder whispering in our ear.) I can actually see why some people might externalise that even further to a sort of demon or god. However, I think the ‘external’ appearance of such concepts may actually be an inevitable result of the fact that out morality/ethics have an objective basis.

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  108. @106: I said in the short/medium term! I didn’t say “forever” as your paraphrasing of what I wrote implies! ;-) I really should also add “in terms of survival” (i.e. not in terms of change). It’d take a long essay to explain it all, but the essence is that man can, to a large degree, create his (her!) own environment, including “evolve” our own food sources. The latter is important, as many of our food sources have not been wild for thousands of years now, but bred under our control: we control the “evolution” of our food and from that, much of your short/medium-term evolutionary pressure. Rather than eating then responding to how they adapt in turn, we control this process by planting what we want and breeding them how we want them to be. Obviously some things are out of our control, but most of those are longer-term. Hopefully…

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  109. @Ken (#107),

    how do these observations lead to value-judgments” – broadly by application of logic (I think). We are after all an intelligent species capable of logic.

    I agree that we all connect observations (‘empirical facts’, per se) to value-judgments by way of logic. But how do we know how to use this logic? Or -to put it another way- how do we know that connecting observations (data) to judgment (values) is best when it’s done ‘logically’?
    As you (rightly, I think) often point out, when we see things that contradict ‘logic’ (i.e. sub-atomic behaviour, black-holes, etc.) then we must hold our ‘logic’ more loosely and accept what we are objectively observing. Could it not be (in principle) that sometimes an ‘illogical’ connection between ‘data’ and ‘value’ may lead to a better moral outcome?
    (again, this is an honest clarification, not meant to inflame – I’m genuinely trying to follow and work-out what you’re saying.)

    Indeed, we find ourselves (humans) with the ability to be logical(rational), and -as you say- also with the ability to be illogical(irrational, feelings, etc.). How do we know which ability leads to the most moral outcome at any given time?

    ******* ******* *******

    What I hear you saying is that our morality is grounded in an objective logical process. Our ability to be logical (as it were) ‘under-writes’ our ability to ‘work-out’ morality rationally and logically. But -here’s the rub- why would morality have to be ‘logical’? Why wouldn’t our ability to be illogical also ‘under-write’ our ability to ‘stumble-upon’ morality?

    (for clarification, I’m not trying to ‘sneak’ religion in anywhere – i’m honestly trying to follow statements where they lead, by way of considering the opposite of what’s said, etc.)

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  110. @ Dale Campbell:

    “how do we know that connecting observations (data) to judgment (values) is best when it’s done ‘logically’?” – I guess, like everything, the test is practice, interaction with reality. If our logic continually produces the wrong answers then it is faulty.

    “Could it not be (in principle) that sometimes an ‘illogical’ connection between ‘data’ and ‘value’ may lead to a better moral outcome?” - I guess that can sometimes be true. After all we develop extremely strong feelings for our offspring – much stronger than might arise from logical reasoning. I’m sure that has an evolutionary history and certainly plays a strong role in our survival.

    “How do we know which ability leads to the most moral outcome at any given time?” – I suspect we go with the feelings when they are the strongest. And, if needed, we use our own subjective logic to justify our decisions.

    Mind you – ‘moral’ may mean different things to different people. Often we have to choose between what a group or nation might consider moral and what an individual or family would. While an individual may choose their own morality based on strong feelings/intuitions I think the opposite also occurs. An individual can take a moral stance for what they have logically determined as ‘right’ even when they live in a society where the prevailing culture and morality conflicts with this. They may have strong feelings of fear as a result.

    I don’t think the ordinary person tries to analyse moral/ethics like this. They get on with life. They may be running on intuitions/feelings much of the time. They may often use a logical/objective approach much of the time. I am sure that when they get asked, or question their own decisions, they resort to justifications which are probably very often subjective.

    We seem to get by, and ‘do good’, with this approach. Students of ethics may try to dig deeper. But I sometimes wonder at the motives of people who insist on continually analysing the issue. Clearly there are some who use their own subjective analysis to attack people with a different philosophy (non-theists seem to be continually bombarded with such subjective argument on internet blogs). And that is just silly because there is no evidence that the people being attacked have a deficient morality in any real way.

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  111. I appreciate the thoughts, Ken. Very pleased you weren’t frustrated with my multiple questions.

    If I can summarise where we’ve got to here (let me know if/how I misrepresent you), is it fair to say that because we really don’t/can’t know whether using logic or emotion is going to be ‘best’ for any given scenario, and because there are so many durn understandings of ‘best'; in the end, morality is fully subjective? If I many put another question like this, what good is having a ‘reality’-based view if morality is so subjective?

    (…in choosing the wording for that question, I realised how impossible it is to ask a question about morality without using a word like ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ or ‘best’ or ‘advantageous’ – all words which would mean different things to people with different value-systems!… ) :)

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  112. You have misrepresented me completely. I do NOT THINK ‘in the end, morality is fully subjective’. Completely the opposite. Surely that is obvious from what I have said – or has all this been a waste of my time and effort?

    I think this just shows how people are subjective in the interpretation and that the only way of overcoming this is to validate against reality. Reality is what keeps us honest. In this case the reality is what I have actually said – not a preconceived view of what my position might be.

    Of course a ‘reality-based’ point of view has value as it helps prevent subjective interpretation and actually dealing with reality. The alternative ‘revelation-based’ or ‘non-reality-based’ point of view will be hopeless in dealing with the real problems we face. (Just remember it wasn’t me who introduce ‘revelation-based’ viewpoints – but I think it is a useful way of differentiating world views). And history shows that. And that is true whether or not morality is subjective.

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  113. sorry Ken, it’s just that much of your post (110) had a ‘we do the best we can do’ kind of feel to it. And perhaps I should have summarised that ‘in the end our outworking of morality is fully subjective’… would that have been better?

    I’m off to a camp now till Sunday – will try to catch up then! cheers,
    -d-

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  114. Of course a ‘reality-based’ point of view has value as it helps prevent subjective interpretation and actually dealing with reality. The alternative ‘revelation-based’ or ‘non-reality-based’ point of view will be hopeless in dealing with the real problems we face. (Just remember it wasn’t me who introduce ‘revelation-based’ viewpoints – but I think it is a useful way of differentiating world views). And history shows that. And that is true whether or not morality is subjective.

    Ken, I’m sorry, I still don’t get this “reality-based” view of ethics. What, that human beings are selfish, that many lust for power and wealth. And that they will use any ideal, whether religious, racial, secular, social or political to give voice to those selfish ambitions? That we war, murder and rape to meet those selfish ends? Or that we are just highly evolved pond scum with no more inherent worth than a common house fly? That there is no God, therefore no controlling legal authority in the universe – a Hitler and a Mother Teresa meet the same end? That mankind is slated for extinction in a universal heat death (if not before that), therefore nothing we did finally matters?

    Ken, what is man?

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  115. @ Dale Campbell:

    ‘we do the best we can do’ – doesn’t mean that there is not an objective basis for some of our morality/ethics any more than our doing the best we can in the current financial turmoil (because we don’t understand it) mean there is no objective reality to that turmoil.

    Maybe you have reacted to my “I think”, “I suspect” “I guess”. But I am only being tentative in an area which I have not investigated fully but still have come to some provisional conclusions about (conclusions which I would like others to consider and critique positively). The alternative approach would have been dishonest and dogmatic.

    But to respond to your point – No, I don’t think “that ‘in the end our outworking of morality is fully subjective.’” Maybe for some (I don’t know). To some extent most of us probably have an awareness of an objective basis because we have an awareness of basic human rights. And then there will be people who we recognise as moral/ethical leaders who have thought about this deeply, have been able to get beyond the subjective feelings and reactions natural to living in a society with certain prevailing moral/ethical attitudes. They have been able to stand up for human rights despite, in many cases, being imprisoned for this.

    Perhaps, rather than try to summarise my attitude in a simple sentence we should agree that it is too complex for that. (And it’s still developing – that is why I would appreciate constructive comments on my concept of the objective basis for morality).

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  116. @ James:

    You obviously don’t have a concept of personal morality/ethics which you can assert and defend. If you did you wouldn’t confine yourself to misrepresenting others and knocking down pathetic straw men.

    Such behaviour doesn’t deserve a response.

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  117. @112:

    This sort of thing that frustrates me, too. Many religious people I’ve meet, not just Christians, seem to often read their own meanings into what is written or said. I guess they filter everything through their own “worldview”, or whatever I should properly call it.

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  118. I am not sure about the meaning of the concept of objectivity when it comes to moral values. I suppose I am looking at this from an outcomes basis, given a context (or overarching principle as stated by Iapetus), and thus for me, what is objective depends on that context. For example human rights could be justified on an outcomes basis from the context of the individual human, or perhaps even the human race, but perhaps has less justification from the context of a domestic food animal such as a chicken. Perhaps fowlian rights objectively exist for chickens. The philosophical basis of vegetarianism could be an interesting avenue to go down here ?

    But what I really wanted to say is this;

    I still struggle a bit with the concept of morality being based largely on philosophical ideas. While I would like to think that there is considerable capacity for people to base their moral viewpoint on rational (and hopefully even evidence based) grounds, I worry that a lot of this comes down to after the fact rationalisation of instinctive or emotional responses. I think also, that often these rationalisations, or philosophies fail when truly tested and are of perhaps less actual substance than proclaimed.

    In particular, take human rights. I admit to being a bit dismayed at how ready and willing the “civilised” western world, with it’s highly developed appreciation of human rights, seems to be to accept large amounts of “collateral damage” in other societies to avoid the risk of “collateral damage” to our own societies. To me, this reeks of instinctual fear of others (non kin) based morality in action rather than sophisticated reasoned philosophy. Perhaps this example is a bit political though? Or perhaps there is a very sophisticated morality in action here that I have not yet been able to comprehend. Or perhaps this is just a shrinking of the context (or overarching principle) of the objective human rights concept below the level of the human race to us, not them.

    Perhaps one of the problems here is similar in nature to that which has plagued the study of economics in recent times. That being; Perhaps philosophers have become a bit blinded by the rationality of their ponderings to the fact that very few people actually seem to live by rational, (self) considered philosophies in the same way as the only people who tend to behave as rational economic beings are economists. This of course does not mean that either activity is useless, just that we should not get too far away from testing back to reality with our fancy logical constructs no matter the apparent simplicity/beauty (or complexity/beauty) of those constructs.

    On the other hand, there does seem to be precedence for amazingly moral actions based on the power of an idea (or is that a personality) by groups in the past. Perhaps there are better examples, but Gandhi springs to mind.

    I suppose that this takes me back to the point of the original topic posted by Ken. There seems to be the possibility of being able to understand the basis for some of our relevant (moralswise) instincts and emotions through the application of some fields like evolutionary psychology. I think that while philosophy can assist in this process, it is pretty obscene when it is used to try and hinder it.

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  119. You obviously don’t have a concept of personal morality/ethics which you can assert and defend. If you did you wouldn’t confine yourself to misrepresenting others and knocking down pathetic straw men.

    Really Ken? What is man? Does man have inheret worth? Any more inheret worth that a common house fly? If so why?

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  120. @119 What is inherent worth? What is the inherent worth of a house fly? Why is this as it is? Oh me oh my, there are so many unanswered questions in this world of ours. Sorry for the sarcasm mate, but your argumentation has taken on the shape of a house fly, missing half a wing, trying to get out of a closed window. Stick to a topic, context or at least engage a point and perhaps people will have a bit more respect eh?

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  121. @ James:

    OK – you are going around in circles with you questions. I certainly feel that my attitude has been well presented here.
    Now what about you. Are you interested in these subjects? If so, please give us your own position on these questions. What is the source of your own morality? Is there such a thing as objective morality? If so, what is it based on?

    Come on. What about putting up?

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  122. @118:

    “I worry that a lot of this comes down to after the fact rationalisation of instinctive or emotional responses. I think also, that often these rationalisations, or philosophies fail when truly tested and are of perhaps less actual substance than proclaimed.”

    Have to admit I agree. Well put, too. If you had time, I’d try hunting around to see what testing has been done using so-called subliminal images, its an interesting trick to “expose” subconscious biases, etc. (I can remember a funny account of how the ability of males to make rational decisions tended to be somewhat amiss after being exposed to subliminal images of naked women… I’d be surprised if there aren’t similar studies with skin colour, etc.)

    “To me, this reeks of instinctual fear of others (non kin) based morality in action rather than sophisticated reasoned philosophy.”

    We’re thinking along similar lines, I think. I like the message of your last paragraph, too.

    I’ve travelled a little and now when I read/hear some of the various political statements about other countries and so on, you can just “see” the politico’s playing on some of these instincts (or perhaps ignorance).

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  123. What is inherent worth? What is the inherent worth of a house fly? Why is this as it is? Oh me oh my, there are so many unanswered questions in this world of ours. Sorry for the sarcasm mate, but your argumentation has taken on the shape of a house fly, missing half a wing, trying to get out of a closed window. Stick to a topic, context or at least engage a point and perhaps people will have a bit more respect eh?

    Nick, my question bears directly on this subject. Do human beings have more inherent worth than a housefly. If so why?

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  124. OK – you are going around in circles with you questions. I certainly feel that my attitude has been well presented here.
    Now what about you. Are you interested in these subjects? If so, please give us your own position on these questions. What is the source of your own morality? Is there such a thing as objective morality? If so, what is it based on?

    Ken, a man as well studied as you should understand basic christian doctrine. There you will find the answers. It’s no wonder you tried to turn this question around, but let me, in vain hope, try again: What is man? Does man have inheret worth? Any more inheret worth that a common house fly? If so why?

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  125. @ James:

    So I guess your answer is that you have a Christian doctrine? That covers a multitude of sins, doesn’t it.

    I am genuinely interested in your answers to those questions. Do you, or your ‘Christian doctrine’ have an answer? Or are you avoiding answering because you don’t have one?

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  126. @Ken (#115),

    And then there will be people who we recognise as moral/ethical leaders who have thought about this deeply, have been able to get beyond the subjective feelings and reactions natural to living in a society with certain prevailing moral/ethical attitudes. They have been able to stand up for human rights despite, in many cases, being imprisoned for this.

    What, you mean the Apostle Paul? :D

    Not that this will break anyone’s heart, but I’m going to stop watching this post, and focus on Ken’s newer one (the archbishop’s strawman). cheers, -d-

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  127. So I guess your answer is that you have a Christian doctrine? That covers a multitude of sins, doesn’t it.

    I am genuinely interested in your answers to those questions. Do you, or your ‘Christian doctrine’ have an answer? Or are you avoiding answering because you don’t have one?

    Ken, it is obvious that you are avoiding the question. Perhaps you have no answer, no objective grounding for human worth?

    From the Westminister Confession:

    After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female,with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of God written in their hearts,and power to fulfil it.

    And objective grounding for the worth of man. Your turn Ken.

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  128. @ James:

    Come on – “avoiding the question”??? Have a look at Where do our morals come from?

    But thanks for for your answer: You believe that the ‘objective grounding for human worth’ is that your god wrote moral laws in our hearts???’

    Well, that doesn’t satisfy me (I actually think my approach is clearer despite its lack of development). But to continue with that model (so that I can clarify) – How do you go about determining what those laws are?? Do you have to actually look at a human heart (are the laws actually written there in English or some other language)? Or are you speaking metaphorically?

    Just how do we determine what those ‘god-given’ moral laws are?? How do we determine (in this model) what is right and wrong??

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  129. Ken said:

    Come on – “avoiding the question”??? Have a look at Where do our morals come from?

    But thanks for for your answer: You believe that the ‘objective grounding for human worth’ is that your god wrote moral laws in our hearts???’

    Well, that doesn’t satisfy me (I actually think my approach is clearer despite its lack of development). But to continue with that model (so that I can clarify) – How do you go about determining what those laws are?? Do you have to actually look at a human heart (are the laws actually written there in English or some other language)? Or are you speaking metaphorically?

    Just how do we determine what those ‘god-given’ moral laws are?? How do we determine (in this model) what is right and wrong??

    Ken, my quote included a reference to our moral sense. But that is not what we are arguing for now, even though it is an important part of being human. We are speaking of human worth. Human worth in the Christian worldview in grounded objectively in God, and we have ontological status in that we are His image bearers. So humans have objective and ontological grounding for inherent worth.

    Back to you Ken: What is man? Does man have inheret worth? Any more inheret worth that a common house fly? If so why?

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  130. @129 – You mean grounded subjectively in G-d and conditional upon your presupposition that “the bible says so”, etc., is sound grounds for all of that, etc.

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  131. You mean grounded subjectively in G-d and conditional upon your presupposition that “the bible says so”, etc., is sound grounds for all of that, etc.

    Well of course. But it is objective/independent to us. And it does offer objective and ontological grounding for inherent human worth.

    But Heraclides feel free to answer the question:What is man? Does man have inheret worth? Any more inheret worth that a common house fly? If so why?

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  132. May I answer James? (from my own perspective of course, others may differ).

    ‘Inherent’ is defined as “existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute”.

    I believe that humans to themselves are inherently worth more than a house fly. And that to itself a housefly is worth more than a human. Houseflys are barely valuing creatures though so a better example might be that a tiger values itself over a human.

    But I think that perhaps the context with which you use the word “inherent” suggests that you mean “worth more by some external measure”? If this is the case you’ve used the wrong word but I get what you mean. I don’t believe that humans have any external worth other than can be measured by another being capable of valuing worth. I don’t believe there is evidence to suggest that there is a God and so I don’t believe there is an ultimate “valuer” out there.

    We are valuable to ourselves and anything else that depends on us in some way. But I think that’s all there is to it.

    Does that answer the question you were asking?

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  133. May I answer James? (from my own perspective of course, others may differ).

    ‘Inherent’ is defined as “existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute”.

    I believe that humans to themselves are inherently worth more than a house fly. And that to itself a housefly is worth more than a human. Houseflys are barely valuing creatures though so a better example might be that a tiger values itself over a human.

    But I think that perhaps the context with which you use the word “inherent” suggests that you mean “worth more by some external measure”? If this is the case you’ve used the wrong word but I get what you mean. I don’t believe that humans have any external worth other than can be measured by another being capable of valuing worth. I don’t believe there is evidence to suggest that there is a God and so I don’t believe there is an ultimate “valuer” out there.

    We are valuable to ourselves and anything else that depends on us in some way. But I think that’s all there is to it.

    Does that answer the question you were asking?

    Very good Damian. But you do see the flaws. When I say inherent I mean what we are/have by nature. If my worldview is correct then this worth is intrinsic to our nature (God’s image bearers) and objectively confirmed, in/by God. If you are correct then worth is person subjective. I may consider my life worthy, but not yours, or visa versa. Of course this has been the sad history of man. Ontologically we would have no more worth than any other biological life form.

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  134. I may consider my life worthy, but not yours, or visa versa.

    And do you think that the fact that we more often that not do value the lives of others points to a kind of external worth (and, hence, God)? Surely the fact that we depend on each other for survival and comfort is enough to explain why social animals such as ourselves don’t go around killing each other randomly? It’s in my best interests (and in my nature) to value your life. This doesn’t require an external “valuer”.

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  135. And do you think that the fact that we more often that not do value the lives of others points to a kind of external worth (and, hence, God)? Surely the fact that we depend on each other for survival and comfort is enough to explain why social animals such as ourselves don’t go around killing each other randomly? It’s in my best interests (and in my nature) to value your life. This doesn’t require an external “valuer”.

    Yet, we do go around killing each other. Often. I mean we just went through probably the bloodiest century in human history, and this one is starting out no better. So when Hitler murders millions what has he murdered? What are we Damian? Who are we? Mother Teresa and Stalin have the same end – where is the ultimate difference?

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  136. There is no ultimate difference in my opinion other than what others subjectively experience. I don’t believe that when the universe finally winds down (if that is what happens) and all life forms are long gone, that there will be anyone bemoaning the fact that Stalin wasn’t punished for his crimes. I’d like there to be an almighty God setting things right but I lack the evidence to turn this wishful thinking into belief.

    We are social animals and we’ve found that we are better off living in a society where we are not murdered. We’ve set up rules that punish murderers. If you want to live in our society you are actually acting in you own interests if you don’t murder others.

    The many, many millions of people murdered in WWII no longer care. But there are relatives and loved ones who are still alive who suffer because of the actions of Hitler, Stalin, Britain, the US and the rest of the world. They all subjectively suffer and still subjectively value those lost.

    I can understand that you worry that not having a concept of an all-powerful ‘valuer’ will lead to total chaos but if you take a look at how morality really plays out on the ground it’s society and the fact that be mutually benefit from living in one that keeps things in order.

    If there is a God and if that God values humans then I believe that there is a basis for a kind of objective worth (what you term ‘inherent’) but perhaps even this would be considered as only subjective to God. I don’t know. But I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest the existence of such a being and things seem to work well in the absence of such an explanation. I’m open to evidence though.

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  137. There is no ultimate difference in my opinion other than what others subjectively experience. I don’t believe that when the universe finally winds down (if that is what happens) and all life forms are long gone, that there will be anyone bemoaning the fact that Stalin wasn’t punished for his crimes.

    Right, a quote from Macbeth would fit well here:

    To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
    creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
    to the last syllable of recorded time;
    and all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
    that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
    and then is heard no more. It is a tale
    told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    signifying nothing.

    If there is a God and if that God values humans then I believe that there is a basis for a kind of objective worth (what you term ‘inherent’) but perhaps even this would be considered as only subjective to God. I don’t know. But I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest the existence of such a being and things seem to work well in the absence of such an explanation. I’m open to evidence though.

    Well saying that things work well without an explaination and that they would work well apart from God are two different things. Christian doctrine states that God is sovereign, Creator and present sustainer of the universe. Nothing could or would happen apart from His upholding all things.

    And Damian, this may seem borrish to some, but I have to ask, again – what is “evidence?”

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  138. Nice Macbeth quote! And I’d agree that on the face of it life can seem like that at times. But thankfully we do also subjectively experience laughter and happiness while we live.

    Well saying that things work well without an explaination and that they would work well apart from God are two different things.

    I said “…absence of such an explanation…”, referring to the explanation that invokes a god.

    Christian doctrine states that God is sovereign, Creator and present sustainer of the universe. Nothing could or would happen apart from His upholding all things.

    That’s nice.

    …what is “evidence?”

    It seems we’ve moved on from the topic of ‘inherent worth’ now. I can understand how when you presuppose there to be an all-powerful God that you would believe that there is more to ‘worth’ than what we living creatures experience. I find it an unsatisfactory explanation though because it appears to me to invoke an unnecessary agent and I have nothing that leads me to believe that this agent exists. Do you now see how the my view of our feelings of ‘worth’ makes sense to me? (if not, we should probably clear that up before delving back into how we both arrive at our conclusions for the existence or non-existence of a god.)

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  139. Bnonn, if you are still reading this thread, I came across this comment from Dale but couldn’t find a follow-up and would be interested to see your response:

    Bnonn said,

    Scripture elsewhere seems to treat Genesis 1–3 as literal history; yet even if it is metaphorical, it still requires an actual historical referent if it’s to be a coherent theological account of our situation before God.

    Dale asked,

    So… what would the ‘actual historical referent’ be for, say Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge? What was the shape, size, colour and consistency of that ‘fruit’?

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  140. @131:

    In other words, you agree that your position is a contradiction in terms and essentially claiming that something that is subjective is objective in order to make assertions? Well said, in that case.

    You mean grounded subjectively in G-d and conditional upon your presupposition that “the bible says so”, etc., is sound grounds for all of that, etc.

    Well of course. But it is objective/independent to us. And it does offer objective and ontological grounding for inherent human worth.

    “Well of course”: you agree with my (emphasised) subjective, as opposed to the ‘objective’ you originally wrote.

    “But it is objective/independent to us”, so its both subjective and objective. Right… So you’re saying that you claim that something subjective is objective, presumably to satisfy your need to make particular assertions.

    “And it does offer objective…”, it cannot if its subjective, which you agreed is the case. Which brings us back to what I wrote in post 130.

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  141. @ James:

    Why avoid the question, James. I would think you would be keen to communicate your understanding of this issue.

    I repeat: in your model how do you determine what those ‘god-given’ moral laws are?? How do we determine what is right and wrong??

    Is it any different to the method I use?? If so, how?

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  142. Ken, if you’re going to (rightly) press James to answer your questions of him, then I reckon you in turn could answer his question to you as well (i.e. human worth, etc.)…

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  143. I suspect Iapetus would point out strictly in the context of philosophy that you need some “overarching principles” before you can assign the “worth” of anything. Which would be to say that in philosophy “worth” would never be inherent, but only derived in the context of some set of principles that prescribe worth. I am correct here? (This seems intuitively obvious as far as I can see.)

    I’d also note, that Western religions prescribe a homocentric version of worth, something a lot of ecologists, animal lovers, etc., object to. I think, too, that’s where James’ question and his statements about humans having inherent worth are a bit misleading: they gives the illusion of “one more than the other”.

    In that respect, if you compare various religions, you’d find that different religions ascribe worth differently, which is another way to illustrate that its not inherent and that it needs some overarching “principles” for worth to be derived from (philosophically).

    I would add that this does not mean that non-religious people have no means of ascribing worth, just that they don’t use particular gods or “holy books” to prescribe it.

    To re-cap an important point: all this is strictly in the context of philosophy.

    @134:

    This takes things back instincts and evolutionary psychology, as Nick and I were mentioning. Here we can imagine a form of worth being ascribed without philosophy, as it were. This, in turn, brings back a point that I tried (badly) to bring up earlier: that evolution/survival in a sense could be considered to be the “overarching principle” for some of these things in their original form. A human is worth more to humans, because that favours the survival of the species. Its obviously not a philosophical principle, but one arising from evolutionary biology. The later philosophical version is abstract. Ironically, to me anyway, this leaves the biological version “inherent” and the philosophical and religious, etc., based approaches not. Food for thought either way.

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  144. I should add that this brings back Nick’s point in post 118: “I worry that a lot of this comes down to after the fact rationalisation of instinctive or emotional responses.”

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  145. Damian said:

    It seems we’ve moved on from the topic of ‘inherent worth’ now. I can understand how when you presuppose there to be an all-powerful God that you would believe that there is more to ‘worth’ than what we living creatures experience. I find it an unsatisfactory explanation though because it appears to me to invoke an unnecessary agent and I have nothing that leads me to believe that this agent exists. Do you now see how the my view of our feelings of ‘worth’ makes sense to me? (if not, we should probably clear that up before delving back into how we both arrive at our conclusions for the existence or non-existence of a god.)

    Well Damian, first, I brought up “evidence” because you did. And in what sense, if the Christian God did exist, would He be unnecessary? He would be the most necessary Being in all of reality. And yes, I have no doubt that you have subjective feelings of personal worth, but that feeling may not be shared by a spree killer who takes your life just for the fun of it. So whose opinion of your worth is correct?

    Ok, back to evidence. You say you see no evidence for God, so how do you define “evidence” – in a non-arbitrary way? For instance, is your personal experience of some event evidence for that event?

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  146. Why avoid the question, James. I would think you would be keen to communicate your understanding of this issue.

    I repeat: in your model how do you determine what those ‘god-given’ moral laws are?? How do we determine what is right and wrong??

    Is it any different to the method I use?? If so, how?

    Ken, our discussion was not about morals, it was about human worth. We will get to morals. I showed how I grounded human worth objectively and ontologically (what we are by nature).

    So once again: What is man? Does man have inheret worth? Any more inheret worth that a common house fly? If so why?

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  147. “Well of course”: you agree with my (emphasised) subjective, as opposed to the ‘objective’ you originally wrote.

    “But it is objective/independent to us”, so its both subjective and objective. Right… So you’re saying that you claim that something subjective is objective, presumably to satisfy your need to make particular assertions.

    God is objective to humankind, independent of humankind. Even if what He thinks is subjective to Him.

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  148. @147:

    So it seems it comes to this: in the end, you can only make flat assertions, backed by nothing, of a “G-d did it” kind. That your assertion is “just right”.

    You should be aware that in writing that, that you are fully backing my earlier point that your argument is grounded subjectively in G-d and conditional upon your presupposition that “the bible says so”, etc., is sound grounds for all of that, etc.

    You should also be aware this confirms that all the other stuff was just self-justifications (i.e. to justify it to yourself what you want to assert as “true”).

    Anyway, the point is that you’ve effectively conceded the argument to my point in writing that.

    I’m realistic enough to know that you’ll deny that!

    By the way ‘inherent’ is spelt with two ‘n’s.

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  149. You should be aware that in writing that, that you are fully backing my earlier point that your argument is grounded subjectively in G-d and conditional upon your presupposition that “the bible says so”, etc., is sound grounds for all of that, etc.

    I’m not sure how you are using terms here. If God communicated to man, then that communication would be both objective (to man) and true. Yes, our belief of those truths would be subjective, as are all our beliefs.

    You should also be aware this confirms that all the other stuff was just self-justifications (i.e. to justify it to yourself what you want to assert as “true”).

    Nonsense, I could just as well say that everything you say are self-justifications… I gave an objective, ontologically grounding for human worth. You on the other hand have offered nothing…

    By the way ‘inherent’ is spelt with two ‘n’s.

    I spelled it correctly in other posts, like 133. Should I start doing public spell checks on your posts Heraclides?

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  150. @149:

    1. There’s no deep analysis needed. Its subjective because you make the assumption, as you do again this reply. (Hint: “subject to…”)

    2. Since your conclusion is a flat assertion with no backing, whatever “backing” you provided earlier isn’t. You did not give objective grounding for human worth at all, I’ve already made that clear. As for the last sentence, silly taunts aren’t worth replying to.

    3. I’m just pointing it out for goodness sake. You have repeated posted it wrongly and I’d have thought you would have picked up on it by now if you realised.

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  151. @ Dale Campbell:

    I am quite happy to look at those aspects, Dale, but suspect that comparison of what I have said in this post with what answer James gives to my questions:

    ‘in your model how do you determine what those ‘god-given’ moral laws are?? How do we determine what is right and wrong??’

    may actually provide that answer.

    I aren’t actually interested in ‘debating’ these points. I am actually trying to find out how James, and any other Christian, answers the question. The comments from others here have been quite enlightening for me and I have welcomed the opportunity to consider these questions.

    Currently I think Christians and non-Christians determine their ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ in basically the same way. I am trying to check that out (mapping against reality as someone said).

    I am just a little surprised that James has not welcomed the opportunity to clarify things for me.

    Of course, I would welcome such clarification from any other Christian (or non-non-theist) reading this.

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  152. Since your conclusion is a flat assertion with no backing, whatever “backing” you provided earlier isn’t. You did not give objective grounding for human worth at all, I’ve already made that clear. As for the last sentence, silly taunts aren’t worth replying to.

    Again, it is a assertion, like most of what you claim or believe. I’m surprised we have to go through this again. So yes, I have offered an objective grounding for human worth. And you have offered nothing. The point being, if these is no God, there is no inherent human worth.

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  153. @ James:

    “if these is no God, there is no inherent human worth.”

    Does this mean that if you one day woke up to discover there is no god, (either via evidence or belief), would you then feel no inhibition against randomly killing other humans in the same way you might kill a fly?

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  154. Ken,

    Do we all have moral sense? Do not all cultures, even ancient cultures, have laws against murder, rape, stealing, etc.. Is there any culture where cowardice is rewarded and courage condemned? Where cheating loved ones and friends is considered a moral good? Do not most peoples look down on gross selfishness? These are all part of our God given moral sense. General, but fairly universal. To be more specific we consult Scripture.

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  155. James

    A rave is not an answer.

    Again – if you saw no value in scripture, “if you one day woke up to discover there is no god, (either via evidence or belief), would you then feel no inhibition against randomly killing other humans in the same way you might kill a fly?”

    I am trying to understand how your morality works.

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  156. Ken,

    I gave you an answer. And no I may not kill randomly, but I may flaunt the law to gain wealth and power. Why wouldn’t I? Especially if I could benefit my family? What obligation would I have to society’s mores? Or to my own conscience for that matter, Yes Ken, I would live a very different life if I wasn’t a Christian. And I did the years I was a atheist.

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  157. @ James

    So, without a god you ‘might’ ‘flaunt the law to gain wealth and power’. (I have noticed quite a few pastors and priests [who presumably have a god] do this, nevertheless, lately).

    However you wouldn’t kill randomly. Interesting. Why wouldn’t you kill? What would hold you back?

    And why is it different for me. I wouldn’t do (haven’t done) any of those things and don’t believe I would if I did believe in a god. Why am I different to you on this?

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  158. @152:

    You have now made my point even more explicitly.

    You wrote that your view was objective, I pointed out that it can’t be if its based on an assertion and you have confirmed that it is. Great, except that you are saying this and repeat the original contradictory statement at the same time.

    “So yes, I have offered an objective grounding for human worth.” You say its based on an assertion. If its based on an assertion, particularly one with no backing, its subjective, “subject to” the assertion.

    “The point being, if these is no G-d, there is no inherent human worth.” For you, that’s clear. (I’m sure I point this out earlier.) You’re basing this on an assertion as you say (“there is a G-d”), making it subject to that assertion (without backing), i.e. subjective not objective.

    (Its also the reason I brought up the exercise of comparing religions with their different moral stances on the same issues: its another way to see the foundations of these morals must be subjective as the particular moral view is conditional upon the particular religious beliefs the person ascribes to.)

    I think Ken’s question in post 153 is very good. It takes you to the nub of this nicely and succinctly. If, when you remove the assertion, the moral fails, then the moral must be subject to the assertion.

    @154:

    “These are all part of our God given moral sense. General, but fairly universal. To be more specific we consult Scripture.” See post 130.

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  159. Do we all have moral sense? Do not all cultures, even ancient cultures, have laws against murder, rape, stealing, etc.. Is there any culture where cowardice is rewarded and courage condemned? Where cheating loved ones and friends is considered a moral good? Do not most peoples look down on gross selfishness? These are all part of our God given moral sense. General, but fairly universal. To be more specific we consult Scripture.

    erm, not necessarily. There are quite good evolutionary reasons why these characteristics might be widespread in human populations. Look at game theory. Cheating[substitute Bad Behaviour of your choice] will be ‘beneficial’ (in the sense that the cheating individual’s gains are maximised) only when cheating is rare. When cheating [whatever] becomes widespread then it’s actually more beneficial to be honest [Good Behaviour]. Eventually you end up with an equilibrium state.

    Plus there’s the whole concept of ‘do as you would be done by’…

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  160. There are quite good evolutionary reasons why these characteristics might be widespread in human populations. Look at game theory. Cheating[substitute Bad Behaviour of your choice] will be ‘beneficial’ (in the sense that the cheating individual’s gains are maximised) only when cheating is rare. When cheating [whatever] becomes widespread then it’s actually more beneficial to be honest [Good Behaviour]. Eventually you end up with an equilibrium state.

    Then rape, murder, cheating and stealing could be good things? Of course almost all cultures have said that these were not good things.

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  161. However you wouldn’t kill randomly. Interesting. Why wouldn’t you kill? What would hold you back?

    Fear of prison. Conscience.

    And why is it different for me. I wouldn’t do (haven’t done) any of those things and don’t believe I would if I did believe in a god. Why am I different to you on this?

    And why is Hitler different than you?

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  162. “The point being, if these is no G-d, there is no inherent human worth.” For you, that’s clear. (I’m sure I point this out earlier.) You’re basing this on an assertion as you say (”there is a G-d”), making it subject to that assertion (without backing), i.e. subjective not objective.

    But of course Heraclides, there is a God. And yes that is an assertion, just like your assertion that your subjective view of reality actually corresponds to reality (back to not a brain in a vat thing). You have no backing for that assumption. Of course I have backing for mine – creation proves a Creator.

    But once again Heraclides, you have failed to offer a answer. In a godless universe how does man have any more inherent worth than a house fly? Just admit that he doesn’t. And we can be done with it.

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  163. What I believe is irrelevant and is just avoiding what I wrote. Likewise, trying to “make” me answer an unrelated question does the same. So to bring it back to the issue at hand…

    If its based on an assumption, as you say it is, you have to say that’s its subjective: it cannot be objective. But instead you keep presenting a self-contradictory argument.

    “creation proves a Creator” – This is a bible story you have chosen to be read literally, its another assumption. I wrote earlier “and conditional upon your presupposition that “the bible says so”, etc., is sound grounds for all of that”. You’re re-affirming my point in post 130, again.

    Your latest posts:

    (a) Show that my earlier points holds by you stating my points yourself,
    (b) Despite this you repeatedly present a contradictory position, that a thing is both based on an assumption, and hence subjective, and that the same thing is objective.

    The catches lie with the assumptions you need to build your case on: Ken’s exercise in post 153 addresses this nicely. I might comment on that later, but I think I’ll let Ken run you through a bit further first.

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  164. What I believe is irrelevant and is just avoiding what I wrote. Likewise, trying to “make” me answer an unrelated question does the same. So to bring it back to the issue at hand…

    If its based on an assumption, as you say it is, you have to say that’s its subjective: it cannot be objective. But instead you keep presenting a self-contradictory argument.

    Heraclides, this really is not hard to follow. If God exists then that has a direct bearing on our ontological status (what, who we are by nature). If God doesn’t exist then that also has a direct beaing on our ontological status, and inherent worth, if any. It is not about proving God or whether you believe God exists or not. It is simply a logical conclusion.

    “creation proves a Creator” – This is a bible story you have chosen to be read literally, its another assumption. I wrote earlier “and conditional upon your presupposition that “the bible says so”, etc., is sound grounds for all of that”.

    Well first, Creation itself proves a Creator. And confirmed in the text of Scripture. So why don’t you know that? Why don’t you believe this is so?

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  165. “Likewise, trying to “make” me answer an unrelated question does the same.”

    He does that a lot.

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  166. @164 & @165 At times I have started to think that James is actually a reworked version of the ELIZA program cooked up by some evil creationist AI researcher and let loose on the blogosphere for fine tuning in an attempt to win the Loebner Turing test prize http://www.loebner.net/Prizef/loebner-prize.html.

    I know that if I was on the evaluation committee, it would not be a blanket pass :-)

    However, as the most likely avenue in this next to impossible task (humanlike AI) is some sort of evolutionarily grown software, its probably not too likely. On the contra, maybe this is every IDer’s nirvana, Proof of the viability of ID.

    Actually, maybe there are some lessons to be learnt on the whole ID angle from AI research. I haven’t really done anything in this field, but have had a passing interest in it from a professional basis: A particular problem that I see with this stye of software is the construction of the environment in which the software can live, mutate, reproduce and die in.

    It is relatively easy to construct some software with genetic systems, mutation and reproductive systems, but it is a whole different order of problem to construct a virtual environment to provide the selective pressures to really guide the evolutionary adaptions, particularly if the goal is some form of human AI . If on the other hand, the objective is something simpler, such as a fine tuned algorithm for a particular purpose, this is already widely done. I think one of the earlier Dawkins doco’s touched on this, even outside the software world this is/has been used.

    The lesson that I might take from the above is that from an AI perspective, the creation of the humans, life, all the things that the creationists focus on as being the pinnacle of creation and beyond/outside the descriptive powers of science, is actually the really simple side of it and simply by products of the nature of the universe itself. From a cosmological point of view, perhaps everything lifewise is a deterministic by product of the lumpy nature of the early inflationary period of the universe. Perhaps where the theists should start to look for god is in the essence of emergent phenomena. In my opinion, these are the most likely current candidates for unknowable unknowns. At least, it would make a change from the usual defensive obfuscation attempts, heaven forbid, it could even be constructive.

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  167. @ James:

    “Fear of prison. Conscience.”

    Interesting. I suggest that this supports my idea that the theist and non-theist come to their moral decisions in the same way. They may attempt to justify the conclusions (and religion may be used in this), after the event, but they arrive at the conclusion the same way. The justifications are really not well thought out by I think current research is giving us a better idea of what actually happens.

    Conscience is an important part of this. It involves a lot of unconscious intuitions, feelings, emotions and moral grammar – all part of our being human – a social animal. I think the evidence indicates that conscience is secular – it comes before any religious, or other, justification.

    I suggest that a more conscious elaboration of your moral choices would also be based on the sort of moral logic I have suggested this has an objective basis in our existence as individual, sentient, social beings.

    “And why is Hitler different than you?”

    A good question – one we should all face. I suspect that this is partly due to variability which exists within any species. There is no doubt that there is a lot of variation within Homo sapiens and I am sure some of this variation occurs in the brain and influences our sense of morality.

    I am sure we have all come across individuals that we think of as ‘evil’ and can understand how such individuals could end up being like Hitler given the appropriate conditions and opportunities.

    We certainly have to prevent such people from gaining political positions. But I also think we should recognise that people who we would consider ‘normal’ often do get caught up in social and political movements and organisations and end up committing acts we consider ‘evil.’ This was true of may ‘ordinary’ Germans influenced by Nazism. It was true of Americans in Vietnam (My Lai massacre), and in Iraq (Abu Ghraib prison atrocities) and now in the use of torture in the US global gulag. I think Phillip Zimbardo has some interesting ideas on all this and discusses it in his book (The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.

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  168. @164: I think all you’ve proven to everyone on earth who reads this is that you can’t tell a flat contradiction when its staring you in the face! :-)

    Paragraph one actually tries to side-step what I wrote: face what I wrote. Paragraph two, starts with asserting yet another flat contradiction, then asking me pointless questions.

    I’ll leave it at that…

    I think Ken’s approach is more workable given the nature of the beast that is “James”… :-/

    @166:

    @164 & @165 At times I have started to think that James is actually a reworked version of the ELIZA program cooked up by some evil creationist AI researcher and let loose on the blogosphere for fine tuning in an attempt to win the Loebner Turing test prize http://www.loebner.net/Prizef/loebner-prize.html.

    I agree!! I studied this years ago and its exactly like that. Robotic nonsense answers that follow strictly from some arbitrary logic. They do flow from some sort of logic, but you’re outside of that logic with a larger more sophisticated “worldview”, you see how inane the answers are.

    I’m aware of the AI-related methods from my own work too, but I’ve tended to avoid them for other reasons. Apart from time and opportunity, also because I prefer to view biological systems in physical terms, that is following from physical behaviour of molecules, etc. That’s in principle more-or-less workable at a molecular level, but probably not terribly practical at a higher level.

    I’ve love to tinker with GAs–they were all the rage when I was a student. I’m well out of date on this area, but a problem I have/had with GAs, NNs, etc. is that it seems to me (at least back when I looked into them more closely) that they can be horribly hard, if not impossible to “unpick” to figure out what variables and interactions of the variables, etc., really mattered in getting the results. That can leave them as a bit of black box that spits out answers, and its really the interactions of the variables, not the final result that matters to a biologist trying to understand a system.

    Besides we already have one black box spitting out answers here! :-)

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  169. Interesting. I suggest that this supports my idea that the theist and non-theist come to their moral decisions in the same way. They may attempt to justify the conclusions (and religion may be used in this), after the event, but they arrive at the conclusion the same way. The justifications are really not well thought out by I think current research is giving us a better idea of what actually happens.

    Conscience is an important part of this. It involves a lot of unconscious intuitions, feelings, emotions and moral grammar – all part of our being human – a social animal. I think the evidence indicates that conscience is secular – it comes before any religious, or other, justification.

    Ken, this does not negate my original point. That according to Christian theology all men are endowed with a moral sense. Whether they are “religious” or not. We re created in a image of a moral God, whether we acknowledge that or not.

    m sure we have all come across individuals that we think of as ‘evil’ and can understand how such individuals could end up being like Hitler given the appropriate conditions and opportunities.

    Of course actually evil does not exixt in your world. Just a mild difference of opinion. You like lobster, Hitler likes steak…

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  170. @ James – October 17, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    “That according to Christian theology all men are endowed with a moral sense. Whether they are “religious” or not. We re created in a image of a moral God, whether we acknowledge that or not.”

    You may wish to think that, James, and it might be satisfying to you. But I repeat: “They may attempt to justify the conclusions (and religion may be used in this), after the event, but they arrive at the conclusion the same way. The justifications are really not well thought out but I think current research is giving us a better idea of what actually happens.” As a scientist I like to go beyond personal assertions and check things against reality.

    I still think that ‘theists and non-theists come to their moral decisions in the same way.’ Nothing you have said provides opposing evidence.

    “Of course actually evil does not exixt in your world. Just a mild difference of opinion. You like lobster, Hitler likes steak…”
    Here you are just making the fundamental mistake of telling me what I think. See Defining oneself negatively. And, of course, you are completely wrong as should have been obvious from my last post. Read what I say – stop trying to attribute incorrect views to others.

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  171. @168 Agreed, these sort of things are perhaps less useful from a fundamental knowledge point of view. However, in other more prosaic fields like (dare I say it at the moment) finance… cough cough… where the main focus could be as simple as making a profit, then these could me much more useful.

    Finance, is however, a good example of what I was saying. Orthodox market economics has the concept of prices in a market containing all possible information about the current value (supply and demand) of whatever you are pricing. If you actually believed that, it would seem like the ideal field for evolving software to predict the market, as there are bountiful digital supplies of price information. You could construct your genetic system, mutation and reproduction devices and throw in a price feed to provide the selective pressure, in other words, select for predictive ability. Should be easy, you only need to be right a little bit more often than the indexs to make money (much research has shown that managed funds tend to fall in a normal distribution around the market indices as a whole, implying that nobody can predict anything).

    Unfortunately, I think that this scenario demonstrates some of the simplistic thinking in orthodox economics. As I see it, in the best case, a price represents an aggregate of the last trading decisions of a number of people (and these days also algorithms) at the level of buy, sell or hold. The buy, sell or hold decision is itself the result of a vast amount of information that has flooded into the people making the decisions since birth and also prone to the same rationality’s or unrationality’s as every other human decision. A large number of participants can average out some of these problems enough to make markets generally useful, but you wouldn’t want to bet the house on them ;-)

    Also, I suppose, to be fair, markets are also affected by external events, so predicting the future is a bit of a tall order.

    But back to the point, I think one of the main limitations in evolving some good forms of trading software, is that it is not good enough for your virtual environment to only use the price data for selection, but must instead use all the data that feeds into the buy,sell hold decisions. This rapidly grows to be the size of (probably) the entire earth, and probably for accuracy everything since the big bang. This might be the case for evolving anything of complexity.

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  172. You may wish to think that, James, and it might be satisfying to you. But I repeat: “They may attempt to justify the conclusions (and religion may be used in this), after the event, but they arrive at the conclusion the same way. The justifications are really not well thought out but I think current research is giving us a better idea of what actually happens.” As a scientist I like to go beyond personal assertions and check things against reality.

    What do you mean you have a “better” idea of what happened? Please prove that.

    I still think that ‘theists and non-theists come to their moral decisions in the same way.’ Nothing you have said provides opposing evidence.

    I never suggested otherwise. I would expect that since we are all God’s image bearers.

    Here you are just making the fundamental mistake of telling me what I think. See Defining oneself negatively. And, of course, you are completely wrong as should have been obvious from my last post. Read what I say – stop trying to attribute incorrect views to others.

    Then tell me Ken. Why is your moral opinion more correct or valid than Hitler’s?

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  173. @ James:

    “What do you mean you have a “better” idea of what happened? Please prove that.” Re-read what I wrote. I make no claim to my own ideas being better. Just that research is producing an understanding which, I think, is better than the subjective justifications (religious or otherwise) people give for their moral conclusions. (Actually scientific research produces understanding which are generally better on most matters than subjective justifications and conclusions).

    I am pleased you agree with my current belief that ‘theists and non-theists come to their moral decisions in the same way.’ But this agreement does make your constant questioning rather pointless. Such as “Why is your moral opinion more correct or valid than Hitler’s?” Surely you can answer that for yourself by considering your own moral opinion on these matters.

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  174. Just that research is producing an understanding which, I think, is better than the subjective justifications (religious or otherwise) people give for their moral conclusions. (Actually scientific research produces understanding which are generally better on most matters than subjective justifications and conclusions).

    But nothing we have learned excludes God as the moral law giver.

    Such as “Why is your moral opinion more correct or valid than Hitler’s?” Surely you can answer that for yourself by considering your own moral opinion on these matters.

    But Ken, you are just begging the question. We certainly would agree that Hitler was wrong, but why is our opinion more valid or correct that his?

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  175. @ James:

    “But nothing we have learned excludes God as the moral law giver.” – I think the point is, as in any other modern scientific investigation, nothing we have learned includes ‘God as the moral law giver.’

    ‘why is our opinion more valid or correct that his?’ - I repeat, surely you can answer that for yourself. Unless you genuinely have problems with that question I can’t see why I should waste my time responding to constant pointless questions.

    Are you only here to make pointless conversation? Perhaps you should get a life.

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  176. “Are you only here to make pointless conversation? Perhaps you should get a life.”

    Ah, but what exactly is life? Can you honestly define it?
    How would Hitler…

    (Cedric notices Ken’s dark stare.)

    I’ll just get my coat. (door slams)

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  177. I think the point is, as in any other modern scientific investigation, nothing we have learned includes ‘God as the moral law giver.’

    It neither includes or excludes.

    I repeat, surely you can answer that for yourself.

    Well actually no, in a godless universe I could not claim that our moral opinion was more correct or valid than Hitler’s. Just as, like I said, in a godless universe I could not objectively ground human worth. Hitler was just one bag of chemicals destroying other bags of chemicals.

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  178. “Well actually no, in a godless universe I could not claim that our moral opinion was more correct or valid than Hitler.”

    Yet people who don’t happen to believe in your brand-name god DON’T fling poo at strangers from trees.

    Why do they go around doing normal things like paying their taxes, raising children and watching TV and generally behaving in a mundane society-approved manner?
    How do you explain it?

    Or is it that you gawp in amazement every time you see somebody outside your church going quietly about their business?

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  179. @ James:

    “It neither includes or excludes” the spaghetti monster, Tor or fairies either.

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  180. “It neither includes or excludes” the spaghetti monster, Tor or fairies either.

    Then prove that we live in a “natural” universe. I will be waiting.

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  181. Yet people who don’t happen to believe in your brand-name god DON’T fling poo at strangers from trees.

    Why do they go around doing normal things like paying their taxes, raising children and watching TV and generally behaving in a mundane society-approved manner?
    How do you explain it?

    Or is it that you gawp in amazement every time you see somebody outside your church going quietly about their business?

    Cedric, all men, whether they acknowledge God or not, are created in His image and have a moral sense and conscience.

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  182. For any/all interested in some well-considered thoughts relevant to discussions here (noting that they represent only a taster to the thought that exists on these things), I give these two links:

    http://perennis.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/the-metaphysics-of-naturalism/

    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/notes-on-transcendence-species-naturalism-etc/

    I don’t intend to defend them (you can comment on these posts and interact with the authors if you wish), but only offer them as an example of just a slice of the diverse perspectives out there…

    Cheers,

    -d-

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  183. Why do they go around doing normal things like paying their taxes, raising children and watching TV and generally behaving in a mundane society-approved manner?

    No offense, but that’s a pretty positive (not to say narrow) assessment of general human behaviour (leaving their beliefs to one side). I suspect that list of behaviour isn’t even accurate for the (relatively) safe, affluent neighbourhoods you and I both (likely) live in. (I’m making an assumption because you – like me – are wealthy enough to have regular computer access) Even for our neighbourhoods (to continue with the assumption), we must also add to your list, domestic violence, divorce, over-spending, over-drinking, molestation, etc. And of course in other places, murder, theft, scamming the elderly, prostitution, drug-use, (those last two go together incredibly commonly – just ask police), etc. Heck, we haven’t even looked wider than Auckland city yet…

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  184. That’s admittedly an overly-negative picture, of course… my simple point was that the simple statement about what non-Christians do seemed a bit narrow/positive… And again, I’m well aware that Christians mess up too! However – this conversation isn’t about who messes up and who doesn’t, but rather it’s about what is ‘messing up’ and why are our ideas about ‘messing up’ so (nearly) universal/common etc.?

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  185. @ James:

    Words like ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ are flung around without defining (I invite you to define ‘natural’ and consider if the spaghetti monster, Tor or fairies are part of it). Under the definition of natural in my dictionary (as that which is normal and/or known) – no we don’t live in a natural world because there is some much we don’t know.

    However, we do live in a ‘real’ universe. And science investigates reality.

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  186. @184:

    It’d be simpler to retract post 183 altogether. As it stands its a ridiculous characterisation of people with lower incomes, non-religious people, etc. A lot of lower-income people have regular access to computers, they just don’t buy the current models. Old PCs can be had very cheaply, etc. BTW, most scientists don’t earn that much: they’d hardly be considered higher-income. Certainly not the bottom, but certainly not “affluent” either. (Those who get up to Vice Chancellor or Deans, etc., excepted.)

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  187. @ Dale, October 19, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for the links – I’ll look at them.

    It’s interesting to me, though, that this seems to be an issue almost completely (note: I’m not saying completely) confined to those of a religious persuasion – and usually presented in terms of criticising (or ‘limiting’) science and scientific knowledge.

    It is never an issue within science. It does get used by people defending science against the Wedge-type attacks. It’s also used by those who advocate a sort of Gould-type NOMA science/religion separation (possibly to separate these two areas within their own belief systems). And yes I know it is used as a philosophical label to differentiate different philosophical trends.

    It strikes me that, like the ID/creationist controversy, this is an issue not within science but within religion – worth pursuing because of the logical outcomes (for religion and its effects on society) of the two positions. But, I find the whole thing (ID/creationism & ‘naturalism’/’supernaturalism’) tiresome and frustrating because my participation is as an outsider. It seems to me that there is a (perhaps natural) barrier such that ‘outsiders’ are prejudged and discounted – because they are not ‘insiders’.

    This sometimes produces a surrealistic situation where ideologically driven non-scientists are telling us scientists how we should be doing our job. And the ‘lessons’ are presented in a manner which usually just reveal the ignorance of those teachers about the whole nature of scientific investigation discovery and formulation of knowledge. Prime examples of this sort of ignorant approach are currently coming from Thinking Matters – eg. The Argument from Evolution. More pro-science Christians (as well as you, Dale) should really be pointing out to these people how ignorant they are on these subjects. I think that sort of science-bashing attitude represents only a minority of NZ Christians so wonder why more oppositions isn’t apparent.

    Or maybe I am (as an outsider) I misjudge the situation. Perhaps they are seen as only the ‘lunatic fringe’ which should just be ignored?

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  188. @ James:

    “all men, whether they acknowledge God or not, are created in His image and have a moral sense and conscience.”

    You are welcome to that belief, James. But it is only a belief. And your simply spouting your beliefs does nothing to convince me – quite the opposite. But perhaps it helps you deal with the doubts you have about that belief?

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  189. “Cedric, all men, whether they acknowledge God or not, are created in His image and have a moral sense and conscience.”

    What? No ponderously “deep” question?
    Just a simple answer?
    No references to Hitler or anything?

    (gasp)

    Could this be a change of pace from James? Has he decided to adopt a different, more interesting approach to his style of interaction? Please, please, let it be so.

    James said…”Cedric, all men, whether they acknowledge God or not, are created in His image and have a moral sense and conscience.”

    As Ken pointed out, this is your belief. You’re welcome to it.

    James, all men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.

    (shrug)

    ……………………………………………………

    Dale said…”No offense, but that’s a pretty positive (not to say narrow) assessment of general human behaviour…”

    No offence taken. You, at least, have not worn out your welcome with silly comparisons to Hitler every five minutes followed by “deep” questions that lead precisely nowhere except to a derailed thread.

    People commit crimes. Terrible crimes. Nobody’s denying that.

    Yet it’s not a universe of Genghis Khans and axe murderers out there. Life goes on. Societies function. Laws are made.
    People, more or less, get along.
    The vast majority of these people don’t happen to have anything to do with James’s special brand-name god.

    If you go up to these people and say “You’re just “feigning” your morality. You’re faking it. You don’t really have a moral code because you don’t believe in my god. I find it so amusing that you really believe that you have morals.” then most of those people would, quite rightly, tell you to get lost.

    (James would then dig himself deeper by asking an “innocent” question about Hitler and things would go downhill from there… )

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  190. You are welcome to that belief, James. But it is only a belief. And your simply spouting your beliefs does nothing to convince me – quite the opposite. But perhaps it helps you deal with the doubts you have about that belief?

    Sure Ken, are you are welcome to the beliefs that the universe created itself. Or that biological life sprang non-biological matter, or that non-conscious, non-rational forces created their opposite – conscious, rational beings. Or that the universe fine tuned itself – personally I do not have that much faith…

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  191. James, all men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.

    Do you know of anyone who actually believes in the FSM? Who have experienced him?

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  192. “Or that biological life sprang non-biological matter, or that non-conscious, non-rational forces created their opposite – conscious, rational beings. Or that the universe fine tuned itself – personally I do not have that much faith…”

    Nobody’s asking you to take it on faith.
    That’s not how science works.
    Please understand this.
    Science is not religion.
    Religion is not science.
    They’re, y’know, DIFFERENT!

    “Do you know of anyone who actually believes in the FSM? Who have experienced him?”

    Is it important?
    Is religion subject to a popularity contest?
    A Gallup Poll?
    Even if all of mankind strays from the one true path of the Italian Bistro, that changes nothing.
    All men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists and that has a direct bearing on our ontological status (what, who we are by nature). If the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t exist then that also has a direct bearing on our ontological status, and inherent worth, if any. It is not about proving His Meat Sauce or whether you believe Parmesan exists or not. It is simply a logical conclusion.
    As the short order chefs say…”Creation itself proves a Creator.” And this is confirmed in the text of Italian menus.

    Nothing we have learned excludes The Flying Spaghetti Monster as the moral law giver.

    That’s just the way it is.
    Ramen.

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  193. “Do you know of anyone who actually believes in the FSM? Who have experienced him?”

    Again Cedric, do you know anyone who believes in the FSM? Who claims to have experienced him/it?

    Nobody’s asking you to take it on faith.
    That’s not how science works.
    Please understand this.
    Science is not religion.
    Religion is not science.
    They’re, y’know, DIFFERENT!

    So you don’t know that “nature” did the things I mentioned. And you don’t know “if” nature could do the things I mentioned. That’s fine…

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  194. “Again Cedric, do you know anyone who believes in the FSM? Who claims to have experienced him/it?”

    Again, why is this important?

    “So you don’t know that “nature” did the things I mentioned. And you don’t know “if” nature could do the things I mentioned. That’s fine…”

    Huh?
    Science doesn’t rely upon faith.
    Nobody asks you to believe.
    Do you understand this?

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  195. Again, why is this important?

    Try answering the question: Again Cedric, do you know anyone who believes in the FSM? Who claims to have experienced him/it?

    “So you don’t know that “nature” did the things I mentioned. And you don’t know “if” nature could do the things I mentioned. That’s fine…”

    Huh?
    Science doesn’t rely upon faith.
    Nobody asks you to believe.
    Do you understand this?

    So you agree that science can not answer the questions I mentioned. Ok…

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  196. Huh?
    Science doesn’t rely upon faith.
    Nobody asks you to believe.
    Do you understand this?

    Well actually it does. For instance random mutations are the engine of biological change. But can science prove that ancient creatures experience random mutations? No, it can’t. You take that by faith…

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  197. @ James, October 20, 2008 at 7:49 am

    “random mutations are the engine of biological change. ” – Have a look at Weaving a web of lies where I point out that this is actually a lie.

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  198. Pingback: fruitful faith.net » moral things

  199. “random mutations are the engine of biological change. ” – Have a look at Weaving a web of lies where I point out that this is actually a lie.

    Ken, if random mutations do not create the new body parts and systems then what does?

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  200. @196:

    “But can science prove that ancient creatures experience random mutations? No, it can’t.”

    Actually it has. You’re “overlooking” ancient DNA studies, nevermind all of phylogenetics! You’ve also been told about the phylogenetics side of this before, too.

    (Strictly speaking “random mutation” is a catch-all general-purpose term, in reality the various mutation types have known non-randomness associated with the chemical and physical processes that they arise from, which gives you some idea of the level of detail that these things are known about.)

    “if random mutations do not create the new body parts and systems then what does?”

    We’ve done this before too. The way you are writing is like pretending you haven’t read something that you have… another form of lying as it were? – the subject matter of Ken’s latest blog article ;-)

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  201. “Try answering the question.”

    Try staying on topic.

    James, all men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.

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  202. “So you agree that science can not answer the questions I mentioned. Ok…”

    What questions? What are you talking about?

    “Random mutations are the engine of biological change. But can science prove that ancient creatures experience random mutations?”

    Science doesn’t deal in proof.
    You are exposing your ignorance here.

    “You take that by faith…”

    Rubbish. No faith is required.
    If you read any high school level text book on science or the scientific method, you’ll find the word faith conspicuous by it’s absence.
    Your desire to believe that science is faith is your problem, not mine.

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  203. Cedric, no offense intended, but if the Flying Spaghetti Monster (or orbiting tea-pot, etc.) is not a perfect example of straw-mannery, I don’t know what is. No doubt, we’re all capable of straw-mannery (or is it just that straw-mannery is such an easy whistle to blow?) of course…
    :)

    -d-

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  204. @203:

    That’s not a straw man argument! What Cedric is doing is giving James’ lines to back him, but replacing the subject and object, etc.:

    James in post 181: “Cedric, all men, whether they acknowledge God or not, are created in His image and have a moral sense and conscience.”

    Cedric in post 201: “James, all men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.”

    Flat assertions based on nothing tend to work in a meaningless tit-for-tat fashion, as Cedric’s post illustrates ;-)

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  205. Actually it has. You’re “overlooking” ancient DNA studies, nevermind all of phylogenetics! You’ve also been told about the phylogenetics side of this before, too.

    Nonsense, you can not observe RMs in ancient creatures. You can assume that mutations play into the relatedness of species, but you can’t show it empirically.

    We’ve done this before too. The way you are writing is like pretending you haven’t read something that you have… another form of lying as it were? – the subject matter of Ken’s latest blog article.

    Again nonsense Heraclides.If mutations did not create novelty (new parts and systems) then what did? Be specific please.

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  206. @205:

    You are misquoting me in paragraph two, unless you’ve screwed up and the second paragraph isn’t supposed to be in bold ;-) For your sake, I’ll assume that.

    You can observe that changes have occurred. No-one said anything about observing them as-they-occurred, and you don’t have to in order to know that changes have happened. If they are observed to have occurred, then of course they exist empirically. They’re real, observed things, not theoretical concepts.

    Your last paragraph doesn’t seem to refer to the quote above it, nor anything I’ve written. I’ve never said anything remotely along the lines of “if mutations did not create novelty”.

    You have had all this explained to you before as I was saying earlier.

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  207. “Again nonsense Heraclides.”

    Not at all. Read what he says again.

    “If mutations did not create novelty (new parts and systems) then what did? Be specific please.”

    Would it really kill you to do some reading on the subject?
    Why are you so intellectually lazy?

    ……………………………………………………

    Dale, you’re being unfair.

    The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern:

    1. Person A has position X.

    2. Person B ignores X and instead presents position Y.
    Y is a distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:

    Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position and then refuting it, thus giving the appearance that the opponent’s actual position has been refuted.
    Quoting an opponent’s words out of context — i.e., choosing quotations that are not representative of the opponent’s actual intentions (see contextomy and quote mining).
    Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender and then refuting that person’s arguments, thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has been defeated.
    Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticized, such that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
    Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking the simplified version.
    3. Person B attacks position Y.

    4. Person B draws a conclusion that X is false/incorrect/flawed.
    This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

    No need for creating a strawman.
    The steps are as follows…
    Take hand-waving bluster and assertion.
    Cut out brand name god reference.
    Insert FSM.
    Leave everything else perfectly intact, including context.
    NB: If you don’t leave everthing else intact, then it rather defeats the purpose of the exercise.

    (As the disclaimer goes: The movie you are about to watch is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
    ;)

    Like

  208. Would it really kill you to do some reading on the subject? Why are you so intellectually lazy?

    Actually I have, that is why I ask the question. So again, if mutations did not create the new body parts and systems then what did – be specific please.

    Like

  209. “Actually I have, that is why I ask the question.”

    If you’ve read up on the subject, then…why not provide an answer? Demonstrate your knowledge on the subject.
    Enough with the foreplay.

    Like

  210. Sorry, almost forgot..

    “James, all men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.”

    Cheers. :)

    Like

  211. If you’ve read up on the subject, then…why not provide an answer? Demonstrate your knowledge on the subject.
    Enough with the foreplay.

    No, it’s on you to show that anything else can create new body parts and systems. You said I presented a strawman – now prove it…

    And:

    Variation of traits is production of novelty, especially where there was no variation before. The accumulation of slight modifications is a BASIS of evolution.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB101_2.html

    And as you can see from the link, they are spaking of random mutations.

    Like

  212. “No, it’s on you to show that anything else can create new body parts and systems.”

    Why?

    “For instance random mutations are the engine of biological change. But can science prove that ancient creatures experience random mutations? No, it can’t. You take that by faith…”

    You said it. Not me.
    There is no faith needed. It’s not required.
    You have your basic understanding of science wrong.
    It’s been pointed out to you repeatedly and you just keep hitting the re-set button like the silly person you are.
    Here’s a heads-up for you…
    Ready?
    Sticking your fingers in your ears and saying… “SCIENCE IS JUST RELIGION. YOU RUN ON FAITH TOO! SO THERE” does not make it so.
    It just makes you sound ignorant.
    Do you understand this?

    “And as you can see from the link, they are spaking of random mutations.”

    Well done. Take a cookie. Did you notice the part where they explain that they arrived at their conclusions on faith?
    No?
    Well, guess what.

    (insert drum roll here)

    Nobody else did either.
    That’s because faith has got stuff all to do with it.
    Read MORE.
    (You really should, you know.)

    Like

  213. “James, all men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.”
    :)

    Like

  214. James, that site you linked to?
    TalkOrigins?
    It has every creationist “poser” you’ve ever thought of and probably a few more that you haven’t.
    It was made for special people like you.

    Here’s an example:“For instance random mutations are the engine of biological change. But can science prove that ancient creatures experience random mutations? No, it can’t. You take that by faith…”

    So that leads us to Claim CA612…

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA612.html

    Please do us all a favour and check with that site BEFORE you go exposing your ignorance again.
    Please.

    Like

  215. Well done. Take a cookie. Did you notice the part where they explain that they arrived at their conclusions on faith?
    No?

    That is fine, then just admit that you can not prove that random mutations were happening in ancient creatures. Since you can not prove it.

    Like

  216. “That is fine, then…”

    So you admit that they didn’t arrive at their conculsions by faith and that you just made it up?
    Good.
    ……………………………………………………….

    “James, all men, whether they acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster or not, are created in His Noodly image and have a moral sense and conscience.”

    Like

  217. So you admit that they didn’t arrive at their conculsions by faith and that you just made it up?

    Only if “they” don’t say that random mutations were active in ancient creatures. If they do say that then it is a statement of faith, since it can not be demostrated.

    Like

  218. @217: see 206.

    I’ve told you they have been observed. DNA from a number of different ancient species have been sequenced. Variation in the DNA sequences is observed between different individuals and also with respect to present-day species that are similar.

    Like

  219. I’ve told you they have been observed. DNA from a number of different ancient species have been sequenced. Variation in the DNA sequences is observed between different individuals and also with respect to present-day species that are similar.

    No kidding Heraclides, there is variation. But did RMs cause that varation? It is something you would have to actually observe in real time, to be certain of that claim.

    Like

  220. @219: Mutations are variation, and vice versa. Duh. Even a dictionary will tell you that. Or the very first line of the wikipedia definition… But of course you are so totally set on trying to shoot everything down that doesn’t suit you that it never occurs to you to actually learn what you are talking about first…

    Mutations are genetic variation, changes in the DNA sequence. Simple enough? ;-)

    Genetic variation is just a more generic term that covers all the possibilities. (So the for use I was writing, its more correct.) In molecular biology, a mutation can be used slightly more specifically to refer to variation that occurs rarely, and is thus more likely to be deleterious, with polymorphisms referring to variations that occur commonly. Physically they are the same thing: both are changes in the DNA sequence. Genetic variation captures both of these. All I was doing was making it simple for you.

    Polymorphisms have also been observed in ancient species, so not only are rare changes (mutations) seen, common ones (polymorphisms) are seen too. Or put another way, there is plenty of evidence that they occur in ancient species and that you are wrong, wrong, wrong :-) Got it? :-)

    (Polymorphism, etc., has a slightly different meaning outside of molecular biology, as in this context its not the DNA variation that is seen, but the result of DNA variations.)

    I could even start citing papers if you like, but that’d get really boring. Mammoth DNA studies in particular are a fun to explore.

    Like

  221. Heraclides, perhaps I have not made myself clear. Yes we see variation, but was this variation caused by a “random” event? What changed a nucleotide sequence for instance between one species and another? A random event? How can you demostrate this in ancient creatures?

    Like

  222. @221: No, you’re just making more excuses based on ignorance instead of learning. Go and do your own homework. And don’t complain like a little whinger. I’ve told you again and again that you don’t have to see something at the time it happens to know that it happened and the nature of the event. I’ve told you that the chemical processes are well understood. I’ve told you several times that these have been observed in ancient animals. I’ve even hinted a direction for you to look them up yourself. Now get off your fat arse and do some work of your own. Stop asking to be spoonfed every tiny detail. All it shows it that you have no honest intention of accepting what other people show you.

    Like

  223. “Only if “they” don’t say that random mutations were active in ancient creatures. If they do say that then it is a statement of faith, since it can not be demostrated.”

    Horse hockey.
    Science does not work on faith.

    Go out into your backyard and scream “It’s a statement of faith, it’s a statement of faith, IT’S A STATEMENT OF FAITH”.
    Still doesn’t change a thing.

    When scientists work, they write everything down.
    There’s a logical, rational process.
    Readily available for scrutiny.
    Faith has nothing to do with it.

    You don’t understand it? Then learn.

    “Now get off your fat arse and do some work of your own. Stop asking to be spoonfed every tiny detail. All it shows it that you have no honest intention of accepting what other people show you.”

    Ditto. Stop being a dolt. It’s embarrassing to honest Christians.

    Like

  224. I’ve told you that the chemical processes are well understood. I’ve told you several times that these have been observed in ancient animals.

    No you are incorrect. These ancient “random” events can not be observed. All you know is that there is varation, not that this varation was caused by “random” events. I began this discussion by questioning “random” mutations. You may understand certain chemical processes in certain creatures (we certainly have not tested or examined all creatures) but you can not observe these chemical processes happening in ancient creatures. And you can assume, but you can not demostrate, that said variation was cause by “random” events.

    And there certainly is no clear evidence that such “random” events could create new body parts and systems like hearts, eyes, lungs, spines, etc…

    Like

  225. “No you are incorrect. These ancient “random” events can not be observed.”

    Were you there? Were you there? Nyah, nyah, na uh hah!

    James, this schoolyard silliness must stop.
    Stop wasting everybody’s time.
    Please do us all a favour and check with that site BEFORE you go exposing your ignorance again.
    Please.

    Go to the TalkOrigins site. Now.
    (sheesh)

    CA221. Were you there?
    CA230. Interpreting evidence is not the same as observation.

    Like

  226. @224:

    The sentence before the ones you quoted reads: “I’ve told you again and again that you don’t have to see something at the time it happens to know that it happened and the nature of the event.”

    Left something out did we? Notice the last phrase in that sentence… Your reply tries to dismiss out-of-hand any working out of the nature of the events afterwards. Its done all the time. You do it too.

    I would go on and explain all this but why should I? You display complete ignorance of the subject matter you are trying to criticise, which in turn shows that you have made no honest to try learn the basics before criticising. Which brings out one of my favourite cliches of sorts: You can’t criticise what you don’t understand.

    If you don’t understand something, you’re in no position to make judgements about it. You simply don’t understand biology at all. You’d do far, far better to go off and learn some first. All this stuff is at the high school level. I’m sure Alison will say its in the current school curriculum. Why don’t you take a high school night class?

    (By the way, your post suggests that you don’t understand what is meant by ‘random mutation’. Theological sites routinely misrepresent it, but if you’re going to write criticisms using the term, you should try learn what scientists mean by the term first.)

    Like

  227. Pingback: Philosophical problems | Open Parachute

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