Lying to children

I recently criticised some creationists for misrepresenting scientific knowledge and lying about evolutionary science to children (see “Biblically correct” child abuse?). This upset a few commenters. I know people have all sorts of issues over the term “child abuse” but found one of the commenters justifications disconcerting.

Referring to teaching 6 day creationism to children he says: “Let’s say that I taught my children a lie. But that lie gave them hope and joy and purpose to their dying day. What have I done wrong?”

Now, I think there are several issues here:

  • The assumption that “6 day creationism” will somehow give “hope and joy and purpose to their dying day.”
  • The assumption that a real understanding of our world, and humanity’s endeavours to understand it somehow doesn’t give hope joy and purpose. My observation and experience is exactly the opposite.
  • Alongside these lies about science go lies about fellow humans. Scientists are presented as delusioned, if not outright evil atheists. Great thinkers like Charles Darwin are presented as responsible for the evils of Nazism. Scientists are presented as suppressing the truth – as in videos like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This creates a dangerous “Them and Us” situation for children (unfortunately not uncommon with religious traditions).
  • How will children judge such parents? It’s one thing to recognise that a parent was honestly prejudiced, misinformed or blind on scientific issues. It’s another to realise that one’s parents were dishonest and actively set out to deny you access to science, to an understanding of reality, as a child.
  • The belief that children remain children, and therefore gullible to believing fairy stories, for the rest of their lives is silly. Our children do, in fact, grow up to become completely autonomous human beings. They think for themselves. Parental beliefs and prejudices are only one amongst many inputs to the opinion-forming processes of individuals.

You know, one’s children may even grow up to accept scientific knowledge, while at the same time preserving the better parts of the religious tradition. They may even value the creation mythology of that tradition.

But I can’t help feeling that they will resent parents who attempted to use that tradition and its myths to deny them access to the great wealth of humanity’s scientific knowledge. They might even feel that they have been a little but abused.

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97 responses to “Lying to children

  1. You’re presuming that macroevolution is true.

    Macroevolution is beyond our ability to observe, mostly because it allegely takes place on a prohibitively long timescale. To get past this problem, Theodosius Dobzhansky to launch the neo-darwin synthesis suggested that Darwinists put a sign of equality between macroevolution and observable microevolution within established kinds of animals.

    If I taught my children that macroevolution were true, I would then truly be teaching my children a lie.

    –Sirius Knott

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  2. I doubt that many scientists would say ‘macroevolution is true’; science doesn’t work like that (as has been explained a number of times on other threads here). But it is our best available explanation for an extremely large body of data from a number of different fields (convergence of evidence), allowing us to make predictions about relationships and yes, even develop means of testing – & potentially rejecting – those predictions.

    ‘Macroevolution’ & ‘microevolution’ are two ends of a continuum – they both operate under the same evolutionary processes & the only real difference between them is in their perceived rate. Many biologists don’t use the terms & speak simply of ‘evolution’.

    ‘Macroevolution’ seems to be equated in many people’s minds with speciation. It isn’t correct to say that speciation/macroevolution always takes place on a very long timescale. Speciation in plants as a result of polyploidy is both relatively fast (in the order of years) and very well documented eg Spartina & Evening primrose. Similarly, the process of speciation as a result of behavioural shifts (indigobirds) or ecological change (guppies) is well supported &, in the case of the guppies, easily examined by experiment.

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  3. I would add that it’s impossible to be sure that teaching this belief will lead to happiness and there are many ways this can go wrong –

    if the child keeps believing it, and it’s right, then you’re OK. But there’s no way of knowing that.

    If the child keeps believing it, and it’s wrong, then you may have told them something which might have led them to refuse to accept, or to stifle research that might lead to, medical treatments that might have postponed that dying day…

    And if the child stops believing it, I think the pain of having a comforting illusion shattered is much worse than never having had a comforting illusion in the first place. Reminds me of the person who got very cross when someone told a child that santa claus didn’t exist, because it was upsetting them. Which I feel misses the point in the same way as the view you quote.

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  4. “Macro” evolution has been observed in real time. Failing to teach it as accurate science would be similar to failing to teach that fire is hot, that gravity makes objects fall down, that water runs downhill, etc.

    See The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time, by Jonathan Weiner. It won a Pulitzer — it’s a great read, and accurate science.

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  5. theshippingnews

    Aside from the accuracy of evolutionary theories, there are other issues that concern me in the response that one of Ken’s readers made to his post.

    I’m astounded by the choices parents make for their children, particularly when it comes to being honest with their children.

    I understand that Muslim parents offered their children to clear minefields following the Iran-Iraq war. What do you suppose those parents told their children:

    “You can either walk into those fields and risk never seeing another day for what I believe will be admission to paradise – or you can stay here with me and wake up warm and safe in your bed tomorrow.”

    I doubt that any such discussions took place. Children should never be pawns of their parents’ faith – not under any circumstances.

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  6. Ed Darrel said…”…that gravity makes objects fall down”

    Ah yes, but what is gravity? How does time dilation figure into this? There’s so much that we don’t understand. Perhaps we should all just reserve judgement?

    (…shakes head to clear it…)

    Sorry people. I’ve just finished re-reading some of James’s previous missives. It still makes for horrible reading.

    On the subject of gravity, however, how can we be sure that it’s true? After all, it’s only a theory….

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/39512

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  7. ah yes, intelligent falling. It all sounds so much more reasonable, somehow. (/snark)

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  8. Ah yes, but what is gravity? How does time dilation figure into this? There’s so much that we don’t understand. Perhaps we should all just reserve judgement?

    (…shakes head to clear it…)

    Sorry people. I’ve just finished re-reading some of James’s previous missives. It still makes for horrible reading.

    On the subject of gravity, however, how can we be sure that it’s true? After all, it’s only a theory….

    Yes, that’s right — we know a lot more about evolution and how it works than we know about gravity. We’ve known for 60 years at least that evolution is carried on genes, and we’ve known pretty well for the past 40 years how DNA affects it. We’re now able to manipulate evolution at the molecular level.

    Contrast that with gravity: We’ve known about gravitons for — what? — ten years max. No one has ever been able to measure gravity directly (measuring falling things is indirect measurement), and while there are massive projects to detect gravity waves, no luck so far. No one has a clue how to manipulate gravitons. We can’t manipulate gravity at any level.

    So much about gravity we don’t understand, so much more we know about evolution.

    And yet, if you told someone you thought “intelligent grappling” was a better, alternative, God-friendly hypothesis about gravity, your friends might call the mental health authorities.

    Isn’t it wonderful how we tolerate the craziness of creationists? We don’t have to let them try to make our kids similarly ill, however.

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  9. Hello Ken,

    Yes children could reject the parent’s belief. It happens all the time. Would the children resent the parents – I don’t know, I didn’t resent my parents for teaching me about Santa.

    But my question was deeper Ken. In a godless universe what moral obligation do I have to “truth?” If my children did believe the story to their dying day, and that story brought them hope, purpose and joy – what harm have I done?

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  10. As a Shrink, I’ve seen what actual child abuse is. Teaching children about six-day creation does not fall into that category. Nice try though. If that’s the worst abuse they ever get in this life, then I think they are doing pretty good.

    But Jesus said, ” [Matt 18:3; Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17; 1 Cor 14:20; 1 Pet 2:2] Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for [Matt 5:3] the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

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  11. Leaving aside quibbles over what should or should not constitute child abuse, teaching your children a literal six day creation is setting a dangerous example. What are the odds that a kid raised to believe such nonsense is going to have any sort of appreciation for genuine science or academic persuit? More likely they’ll turn into a (hopefully) less famous version of Ken Ham.

    The world does not need a generation of anti-intellectuals who think that Universities were all founded by Satan himself and that scientists are members of a grandiose conspiracy to undermine their religion.

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  12. I think “child abuse” is a bit harsh. People and parents bullshit children all the time, I wouldn’t call them “abusers”. “Bullshitters” does just fine.

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  13. I think there is a difference, though, between people who merely bullshit their kids (‘Santa Claus is real’) and people who indoctrinate them with ideas that they may find it very difficult to escape from when their adults (any cult, which Creationism or Biblical literalism can look disturbingly similar to at times – they’re not the same, obviously, but it’s a similar principle at work).

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  14. In Psychological and religious abuse of children I discuss Dawkins’ interview of Jill Mytton. She specialises in victims of religious abuse – specifically children who have been victims of cults.

    It may be a stretch to describe the specific teaching of 6 day creationism as abuse – but often this goes with other situations which, I think, do cause psychological abuse. I think that child abuse is very real and is recognised by many people working in the area.

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  15. Ken you keep avoiding my question:

    In a godless universe what moral obligation do I have to “truth?” If my children did believe the story to their dying day, and that story brought them hope, purpose and joy – what harm have I done?

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  16. If you don’t value truth, and believe that a happy lie is better than reality, you’ve done nothing wrong. If you do value truth (and I’m assuming that you do), you’ve knowlingly led your children to believe something that you are aware is false. Worse, you’ve indoctrinated them sufficiently that they will continue to be deceived ‘to their dying day’. Do you value the truth?

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  17. If you don’t value truth, and believe that a happy lie is better than reality, you’ve done nothing wrong. If you do value truth (and I’m assuming that you do), you’ve knowlingly led your children to believe something that you are aware is false. Worse, you’ve indoctrinated them sufficiently that they will continue to be deceived ‘to their dying day’. Do you value the truth?

    Of course as a Christian I value truth. As Christ said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” God can not lie, and we are told that lying is sin.

    But my question was – in a godless universe what moral obligation would I have to truth? Especially if passing on a lie cause my children’s quality of life to be much better? If a falsehood helped them survive better then what was the harm? Especially after we are all dead and gone?

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  18. But my question was – in a godless universe what moral obligation would I have to truth?

    What moral obligation does a Christian have to the truth? None, in scripture, beyond the taboo on false witness, right?

    Creationists have few compunctions against telling whopping prevarications, and most creationists are Christian.

    So, what’s the point of your question, James?

    What moral duty does any person have to tell the truth to others? It’s greater than the moral duty creationists practice, and no less than any other. Surely you are not going to claim that you tell the truth only because you fear hellfire — that makes the atheist truthteller naturally on a higher moral plane, don’t you think?

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  19. What moral obligation does a Christian have to the truth? None, in scripture, beyond the taboo on false witness, right?

    Creationists have few compunctions against telling whopping prevarications, and most creationists are Christian.

    So, what’s the point of your question, James?

    What moral duty does any person have to tell the truth to others? It’s greater than the moral duty creationists practice, and no less than any other. Surely you are not going to claim that you tell the truth only because you fear hellfire — that makes the atheist truthteller naturally on a higher moral plane, don’t you think?

    Well Ed, I don’t know what your experience with Creationists was, but Christian scripture certainly does forbid lying. It is an objective wrong and outside the character of God. Second, I serve and obey God because I love God. Third, how is there a higher moral plane in a godless universe? Be specific please. And again, if a falsehood helped my children to survive better, then what was the harm? What moral obligation did I have to the truth?

    The biblical view of lying:

    http://www.studylight.org/dic/bed/view.cgi?number=T435

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  20. @ James:

    Are you implying that one has to be a Christian to value truth?

    I actually thing valuing truth is part of being human – theist and non-theist. If you have problems with that why don’t you consider the evidence. Then adjust your ideas according to what you see.

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  21. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I think James is suggesting that one has to be a Christian to have rational grounds for valuing truth. Manifestly, most people value truth. Manifestly, most people do not actually have any good, non-arbitrary and non-self-refuting reasons for doing so.

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  22. @ Dominic Bnonn Tennant:

    “one has to be a Christian to have rational grounds for valuing truth.”

    Give us your evidence for this. It certainly conflicts with my lifetime experience.

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  23. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Can you explain what you mean by “evidence” here Ken? I presume you don’t mean empirical evidence, because truth and value are not empirical things—but I just want to be sure.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  24. So, you have no evidence and wish to avoid the issue?
    Either you have evidence for you claim or not. Just give us what you have and stop trying to divert me.

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  25. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Ken, please, I’m not trying to avoid the issue. I am trying to ensure that we will understand each other when we engage the issue. I’m sure you’ll agree that there has been a fair amount of people talking past each other here, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. I just want to be sure that what I offer as evidence will be considered as such in your view. I can offer arguments as evidence; but I cannot offer empirical facts as evidence except inasmuch as they pertain to my arguments, because truth and value are not themselves empirical things. Do you agree that arguments can constitute evidence?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  26. Sounds like the old ‘inference’ argument again. You know what my attitude is on that.

    You have made an assertion “one has to be a Christian to have rational grounds for valuing truth” which is rather derogatory to non-Christians – and certainly contradicts my experience. I am asking you to back it up.

    Just get on with your “evidence/argument” – I am quite capable of judging how valid it is. Don’t ask me to approve it beforehand.

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  27. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Well, I’m not sure how experience factors into this. I’m in no way denying that people act as if they have rational grounds for valuing truth. The question is whether they really do.

    I think there’s an obvious difficulty under the evolutionary view as regards the grounds for valuing truth. Firstly, as James has said, it is trivial to imagine cases where propagating falsehood conveys a survival advantage. I have seen a number of atheists argue that this is why religion is so successful. But if our valuing something is just an evolutionary mechanism, then it appears to select for falsehood just as much as for truth. In this case, the notion that we should teach our children the truth rather than falsehood is undermined. There isn’t anything intrinsically valuable about truth or falsehood; merely survival. Whichever is better for the survival of the species is what we should value.

    More importantly, though, the notion of value itself has no place in an evolutionary worldview. If, in the final analysis, all events are physical events and all things are physical things, then “value” is really just a complex chemical reaction. To say that we “value” the truth really means that we feel some kind of obligation to the truth; that is, we feel a duty to discover and teach the truth, rather than falsehood. But duty is manifestly something which has no relevance or compulsive power in the final analysis of an evolutionary worldview. We don’t feel obliged to chemical processes. Impersonal and non-rational forces don’t have anything to do with duty. Duty is something personal; it’s a moral obligation of some kind, to a personal authority of some kind. In an evolutionary worldview, persons are chemical processes; in which case, duty does not ultimately exist.

    Thus, whatever grounds you think you have for valuing truth are really just chemical processes in your brain fooling you into believing illusory things. Truth, in an evolutionary worldview, doesn’t have any intrinsic value. You might think that it does, because that’s what evolution has selected for, and you’re just a product of your conditioning. But if you only believe that truth has value because of non-rational physical forces having selected for it, and there are no actual rational grounds for your belief, then how many other beliefs do you have which are like this? How can you know that anything you believe—even the most basic beliefs, like that your sense perception correlates accurately to an external world—are true? Under an evolutionary framework, you not only have no rational grounds for valuing truth; but you have no rational grounds for truth itself.

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  28. @ Dominic Bnonn Tennant:

    It seems that you are proposing ‘rational grounds’ for non-one to value truth! After all, we are all members of a species that has evolved. You haven’t actually advanced any reason why only Christians can have rational grounds.

    I don’t know that anyone is seriously suggesting that there is a gene for truth or that natural selection operates at the level of honesty (although much of evolutionary psychology is speculative and I am sure all sorts of wild and wonderful claims are made in its name, and by those attacking it). However, whatever role evolution has in this (and it probably does at more basic levels related to origins of intuitions and feelings which can underpin many of our moral judgements) it will have operated in the same way for the ancestors of Christians and non-Christians alike.

    Perhaps you are on shaky ground advancing evolutionary arguments when you actually reject evolutionary science – and perhaps don’t really understand it and/or appreciate its subtleties. Anyway, concentrating on imagined weakness of evolution as you have is exactly parallel to the tactics proponents of ID use to avoid advancing their own hypotheses.

    Maybe it is just a simple fact that we all get our morality from the same source – and maybe we don’t always (or probably very rarely) understand this source. After all, so much of what underlies our automatic reaction to things is not really accessible to the individual.

    However we can all advance ‘rational grounds’ for our values. We can all explain away why we did what we did or why we value what we do.

    Now, ideology may be used in our ‘explaining away’. Some Chrsitians (not all by any means) may use their god in this argument – but it is only an argument – a intellectualised argument after the event to justify specific actions or values (which may be driven completely by unconsciousness intuitions and feelings [including guilt and duty] an unconscious moral grammar).

    So yes – a Christian can advance ‘rational grounds’ for valuing truth (or for telling lies as James is advancing), but so can a Hindu, Muslim or other theist, and a Buddhist, atheist, agnostic or other non-theist. And it happens all the time with politicians. Sometimes these ‘rational ground’ may be very similar. I suspect that only fundamentalist religionists would actually make the extreme claim of difference that you do.

    Sure – the stories that we tell ourselves in our justifications may not correspond well with the actual process that go on. They are, after all, justifications.

    But if we want to go further and understand what is actually happening, rather than just accepting the ‘rational grounds’ or stories, then we have to study this scientifically. It’s a difficult area (most are) but progress is being made in the scientific understanding of the sources of our morals and values. That does require empirical evidence, hypotheses, testing and mapping against reality. And the people making these studies are (and will be) people with a range of religious beliefs.

    This is the most reliable way we have of understanding reality. It works. ‘Revelation’ doesn’t.

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  29. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Ken, I’m not sure, but it seems as if you’re rejecting my critique on the basis of the fact that it would mean, if evolution is true, that no one has rational grounds for valuing truth. But that, of course, was my argument. If we evolved (non-theistically), then value and duty are meaningless terms, having no actual real-world referents. Since this manifestly isn’t the case, we did not evolve. On the contrary, the existence of value and duty imply that (i) they are properly basic in an ontological sense, which in turn implies (ii) the existence of something ultimately valuable to which we have a real duty, which in turn implies (iii) a personal God.

    Perhaps you are on shaky ground advancing evolutionary arguments when you actually reject evolutionary science – and perhaps don’t really understand it and/or appreciate its subtleties. Anyway, concentrating on imagined weakness of evolution as you have is exactly parallel to the tactics proponents of ID use to avoid advancing their own hypotheses.

    In what way have I misunderstood the evolutionary worldview? I am speaking specifically of the materialistic evolutionary worldview, obviously; a theistic evolutionary view may be immune from the criticism I have forwarded. But that seems to go without saying; you aren’t a theist, so naturally I am arguing against a non-theistic evolutionary view. Under that view, there are no non-physical things—like value or duty or intentionality—in the final analysis. I don’t see how I have misrepresented your view.

    However we can all advance ‘rational grounds’ for our values. We can all explain away why we did what we did or why we value what we do.

    I think you’re confusing the words “rationalize” and “rational”. When I talk about having rational grounds for some belief, I don’t mean that you can explain it away. I mean that you have consistent, non-arbitrary reasons for it which are explicable in terms of your larger worldview, and which underwrite it with a coherent and comprehensible explanation of the reality on which it is based. This being the case, the rest of your comment seems rather inapplicable…

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  30. “Under that view, there are no non-physical things—like value or duty or intentionality—in the final analysis. I don’t see how I have misrepresented your view.”

    Well, actually that does misrepresent my view. Of course there are non-physical things (I have pointed this out to you before).

    It’s much safer to keep away from putting words in others mouths and instead advance the logic/evidence for you own position.

    And you don’t appear to have read the last 3 paras of my comment.

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  31. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I did read the last three paragraphs; it’s just that they were irrelevant since they seemed to be talking about “rationalizing” rather than having “rational grounds”.

    My apologies if I misrepresented your view; I thought you were a thoroughgoing materialist. Since you say you do accept the existence of non-physical things such as value and intentionality, I assume that you similarly accept the existence of the non-physical substances of which they are properties; namely minds? The one does logically entail the other.

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  32. “I thought you were a thoroughgoing materialist.” – This should indicate to you the problem of making assumptions about people. You are imposing your pre-conceived ideas on reality instead of relying on evidence to build a picture of that reality. You need to stop and ‘count the teeth.’

    I have never given you cause for that assumption – quite the opposite.

    In fact I avoid use of such terms because they mean different things to different people – they can convey a very false picture of reality.(I have a post on Monday dealing with this problem when people rely on ‘philosophical’ and ‘logical’ arguments, rather than evidence).

    Specifically, many who use this term actually have a very archaic mechanistic concept of ‘matter’ and ‘materialism’. If they would only stop and think, and objectively look at current scientific knowledge and the huge changes of thinking around such issues over the last 150 years they might see how silly such charge are.

    Perhaps you should forget about me and just present the evidence for you own claim about the ‘special insights’ Christians have.

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  33. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Well Ken, if you accept the existence of souls and the like, it would appear that we have more in common than I thought. The argument I forwarded before was really directed toward a thoroughgoing naturalism; it doesn’t apply as forcefully if you accept some kind of dualism.

    I would say at this point that dualism is only really sensible within a Christian theistic framework, because non-Christian frameworks don’t provide adequate foundations for various abstracta. Duty is an obvious example: if it is properly basic, then it is not contingent on human existence. Indeed, a little consideration will reveal that our sense of moral duty implies a superior law-giver. Such a law-giver could only be a personal God of the kind revealed in the Bible; it could not be an impersonal force, nor a contingent entity of some kind.

    What I’m bemused about, though, is if you are not a thoroughgoing naturalist then why do you bash non-scientific approaches so often? You frequently advocate methodological naturalism to the point of affirming philosophical naturalism. This seems rather at odds with what you now say you believe about non-physical entities, which are by definition beyond the bounds of methodological naturalism, and the existence of which contradicts philosophical naturalism. Your approach to knowledge-acquisition seems somewhat confused.

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  34. Bnonn, you’re insisting that a moral has to be “granted” by a “giver”, who furthermore has to be “superior”. How about considering that morals can arise from custom, or from consensus? Or possibly imposed by a (harsh!) leadership and accepted over time (I’m thinking of moral that others might not agree with, here).

    Or, indeed, in cases, ultimately have their seeds in animal behaviour and thus outside the sphere of Homo sapiens, never mind Christianity. (And prior to Homo sapiens if you toss evolution into the mix.)

    There is no need to invoke philosophy to cover up where you want your morals to spring from.

    (To my thinking, using philosophy doesn’t help in another way: used one way, similar to what you are doing, it can carry a premise of human thought, i.e. another form of homo-centric thinking.)

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  35. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Heraclides, I’m not talking about some specific moral theory; I am talking about the category of duty itself. Please don’t confuse the category with the specific contents people assign to it. My argument is that, in a worldview without a personal and transcendent moral authority such as God, there can be no such thing as duty at all in the final analysis.

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  36. You referred to duty as an example, meaning that its one of a larger set of things that you were referring to, and went on to write “moral duty implies a superior law-giver”, i.e. that you argue that “duty” to behave in a particular fashion implies “a superior law-giver”. Your argument would, in turn, imply that the morals to “be adhered to” themselves would be those of, or issued by, “a superior law-giver”, which I pointed out isn’t (necessarily) the case.

    Of course, you would want to restrict moral duty to subservience (to a G-d in your case), and morals to those presented by a G-d. I pointed out that morals don’t have to be subservient to a “superior being” (and hence that moral duty doesn’t have to be either).

    I’m certainly not confusing “the category with the specific contents people assign to it”. If you are going to write to me in that vein, I could fairly suggest in reply that you are arrogantly trying to “write me off” with your “Please don’t…”

    I’ve seen plenty of (overly) religious people treat anyone who posts something “solid” like that, presumably because their only options are either to say that they are right, or to write poster off to evade admitting that they have a point, so I’d have plenty of reason to think that.

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  37. forknowledge,

    “I think there is a difference, though, between people who merely bullshit their kids (’Santa Claus is real’) and people who indoctrinate them with ideas that they may find it very difficult to escape from when their adults”

    The difference is mainly in the amount of bullshit. Obviously, too much bullshit is bad for you, but you know, bullshit is all around us. It’s just sad that children aren’t equipped to detect and remove bullshit at a very young age, with serendipitous exclusions.

    I still wouldn’t call it “abuse”, but I’d definitely call it “bad parenting”. Bad parents don’t have to literally abuse their children to ensure that they will grow into pig-ignorant bible thumping idiots. They could grow to be very healthy idiots. But they’re still idiots, and not because they’re not intelligent, but because they were spoonfed religious BS from childhood.

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  38. Ken said:

    Are you implying that one has to be a Christian to value truth?

    I actually think valuing truth is part of being human – theist and non-theist. If you have problems with that why don’t you consider the evidence. Then adjust your ideas according to what you see.

    1. Ken, obviously lying is also part of being human – we all do it enough.

    2. I did not suggest that you don’t value truth.

    3. I wish you guys would stay on subject, I asked a simple question: if a falsehood helped my children to survive better, then what was the harm? What moral obligation did I have to the truth?

    Thus far no one has answered…

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  39. Ken said

    But if we want to go further and understand what is actually happening, rather than just accepting the ‘rational grounds’ or stories, then we have to study this scientifically. It’s a difficult area (most are) but progress is being made in the scientific understanding of the sources of our morals and values. That does require empirical evidence, hypotheses, testing and mapping against reality. And the people making these studies are (and will be) people with a range of religious beliefs.

    Then Ken said:

    Well, actually that does misrepresent my view. Of course there are non-physical things (I have pointed this out to you before).

    Ken, how can these non-physical things be “mapped” by science? Empirically tested? This seems like a logical disconnect in your worldview.

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  40. Well Ed, I don’t know what your experience with Creationists was, but Christian scripture certainly does forbid lying. It is an objective wrong and outside the character of God.

    Then I’d invite you to consider the morality of creationism, which cannot survive without telling whoppers about science and scientists, and whether anything that produces such fruits is godly, or noble in any way.

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  41. Then I’d invite you to consider the morality of creationism, which cannot survive without telling whoppers about science and scientists, and whether anything that produces such fruits is godly, or noble in any way.

    Well I’m a creationist and I don’t lie or tell woppers. Yet I do question some scientific conclusions – and why shouldn’t I?

    Anyway – no one yet has my question: in a godless universe if a falsehood helped my children to survive better, then what was the harm? What moral obligation did I have to the truth?

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  42. “Anyway – no one yet has my question: in a godless universe if a falsehood helped my children to survive better, then what was the harm? What moral obligation did I have to the truth?”

    That’s a BIG if, James.

    Creationists can be and sometimes are good scientists, but in biology, being a creationist is a problem: in HIV, a lot of research doesn’t make sense without evolution, the same works for microbiological research, as well. There’s implications from long-term evolutionary relations on medical research which might prevent millions of to-be scientists from ever contributing to the field.

    It’s such a shame.

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  43. Anyway – no one yet has my question: in a godless universe if a falsehood helped my children to survive better, then what was the harm? What moral obligation did I have to the truth?

    They have answered your question – repeatedly. This tactic by theists of acting painfully obtuse and pretending that no satisfactory justification for atheistic morality exists is irritating in the extreme, and I’m not going to entertain it further. Since you can put a sentence together, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you did understand the answers you were given and the implications of them.

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  44. Creationists can be and sometimes are good scientists, but in biology, being a creationist is a problem: in HIV, a lot of research doesn’t make sense without evolution, the same works for microbiological research, as well. There’s implications from long-term evolutionary relations on medical research which might prevent millions of to-be scientists from ever contributing to the field.

    That is just silly. I don’t know any “creationist” that does believe in variation within a species. Or that random mutation do not happen, and can (though very,very seldom) be of benefit, or harmful.

    So really, my original point has not been answered. There really is no moral obligation to truth in godless universe. Especially if a lie helped our survival.

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  45. They have answered your question – repeatedly. This tactic by theists of acting painfully obtuse and pretending that no satisfactory justification for atheistic morality exists is irritating in the extreme, and I’m not going to entertain it further. Since you can put a sentence together, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you did understand the answers you were given and the implications of them.

    Ok, give me the number or numbers of the posts that do answer. I just went over them and I see no rational, or logical reason presented.

    Forknowledge, they can assert anything they want, but they have to offer actual reasons.

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  46. As I said, I’m not playing this game any more. You’re not going to accept anything other than ‘morality backed by Scripture’ is pointless, so we’re done here.

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  47. As I said, I’m not playing this game any more. You’re not going to accept anything other than ‘morality backed by Scripture’ is pointless, so we’re done here.

    Actually Forknowledge, you were the only one that even tried to give a rational answer:

    If you don’t value truth, and believe that a happy lie is better than reality, you’ve done nothing wrong.

    Cudos…

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  48. “That is just silly. I don’t know any “creationist” that does believe in variation within a species. Or that random mutation do not happen, and can (though very,very seldom) be of benefit, or harmful.”

    Huh? That’s it? “This is just silly”? That’s it?

    Did you even read what I wrote? Bah.

    “So really, my original point has not been answered. There really is no moral obligation to truth in godless universe. Especially if a lie helped our survival.”

    If you had actually addressed my claims about medical research and HIV instead of just calling them “silly” and mumbling non-sequiturs, perhaps you’d realize how immoral it can be perpetuate this particular lie.

    I’m not talking about God, I’m talking about lying about reality. You can shoehorn God anywhere in reality because God’s outside of it. He’s supposed to be outside of science, too. Which is what makes shoving him into science classrooms so moronic in the first place.

    The theory of evolution, or any other scientific explanation, should not prevent anyone from having a personal belief in an unseen, unknowable God.

    It’s when you start making silly arguments about the real world in relation to this God when science gets in the way.

    Maybe that’s what scares literalists so much. It shouldn’t. No atheist in the world could make your God impossible. Your God lives inside of you. He just happens to live in a universe that’s ancient with animals that are probably related.

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  49. If you had actually addressed my claims about medical research and HIV instead of just calling them “silly” and mumbling non-sequiturs, perhaps you’d realize how immoral it can be perpetuate this particular lie.

    Then you have to be more specific. How does being a creationist stop one from doing good medicine? You can’t just assert – be specific.

    How does being a creationist prevent one from finding a cure for HIV?

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  50. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Heraclides,

    You referred to duty as an example, meaning that its one of a larger set of things that you were referring to, and went on to write “moral duty implies a superior law-giver”, i.e. that you argue that “duty” to behave in a particular fashion implies “a superior law-giver”. Your argument would, in turn, imply that the morals to “be adhered to” themselves would be those of, or issued by, “a superior law-giver”, which I pointed out isn’t (necessarily) the case.

    You didn’t “point out” anything; you asserted without argument that “morals could arise from custom, or from consensus”. This plainly and totally misses the point of my original argument, which was that morals (ie specific moral theories or notions) presuppose duty, and that duty is something properly basic. In other words, consensus or custom both presuppose duty; they would be unintelligible if duty did not already exist as something real on which to base them. So suggesting that specific moral theories or notions may arise from consensus or custom may be perfectly reasonable; and no doubt they do—but it’s also perfectly irrelevant to my case since it doesn’t engage with the underlying and prerequisite existence of duty. Whatever you think you have proved, and however well you think you’ve engaged with my argument, you’re mistaken.

    Duty is one thing out of many which is properly basic to human experience and cannot be reduced to physical processes. I used it as an example to show that there are many things which are both real—in the sense of having ontological grounds or referents—and also non-materialistic. Duty is an easy example, since it’s trivial to show that it implies a non-materialistic ontological ground (because most people, being sane, find reductionism unacceptable). And since duty is always to some personal authority, and since it must be grounded in something non-contingent, this implies that its ontological ground is a non-contingent and non-physical person (ie, God).

    Of course, this doesn’t imply that all morals whatsoever are issued by God, or even that God’s “issuing” morals is a sensible concept. We’re not even necessarily talking about moral duty; you’re jumping the gun. All I’ve shown is that a worldview without a personal God cannot provide any rational grounds for the existence of duty whatsoever, in the final analysis. Therefore, an adherent to such a worldview would be inconsistent and self-contradictory if he used any “ought” statements. Yet atheists use ought-statements a lot.

    Notice that I am not arguing that an atheist cannot make ought-statements, or believe that he has duties. Nor am I arguing that no grounds exist whatsoever for these statements and beliefs. I am arguing that a non-theistic worldview does not provide those grounds, and that only theism does. A non-theist is actually implicitly and unconsciously borrowing from theism whenever he makes a statement involving duty.

    Now, admittedly I haven’t gone so far as to prove that the Christian God is necessary to underwrite duty. I think at least one good and direct argument does exist, and there are certainly lots of indirect ones which prove the indefensibility of Allah or the Jewish conception of YHVH. But that’s icing on the cake compared to the primary argument, which is to (i) refute thoroughgoing materialism by proving (ii) the necessity of a personal God to underwrite duty statements.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  51. (I predict Ken will write between 1-4 posts complaining about the use of the word ‘duty’)

    😀

    -d-

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  52. “Then you have to be more specific. How does being a creationist stop one from doing good medicine? You can’t just assert – be specific.

    How does being a creationist prevent one from finding a cure for HIV?”

    Are you being purposefully blind? I gave you two specific examples – biomedical research regarding HIV (on the HIV level) and medical research relevant to phylogenetics. Any more than that would be tardy, and you can spend years debating only one of them.

    I didn’t “just assert”, what YOU did was just assert that what I wrote was “silly”.

    Let me break it up to you:

    not understanding something doesn’t make it silly, or, perhaps, ignoring something doesn’t make it silly.

    Let me give you just one example of how creationism can prevent you from being a useful medical researcher – a creationist would never assume relatedness between species, let alone genera and classes – that’s why a creationist would never come up with phylogenetic distance as a marker for the usability of inter-species tissue transplant, or for that matter, even animal testing! It would make absolutely no sense if species weren’t related.

    Regardless, using the pretty impressive mathematical tools used in evolutionary science today, you can create phylogenetic trees in amazing detail, allowing you to target particular traits in endosymbionts, endoparasites, and more, and in more pertinent cases, track down epidemics. Understanding the evolution of a pathogen can allow you to better control its spread, prevention, and ultimately, cure.

    Oh, and Please, spare me all of that “creationism doesn’t stop you from doing all of these” – this stuff is basic evolutionary science. Being a creationist who uses evolutionary science doesn’t prove creationism doesn’t disturb science, it just proves that creationist being a hypocrite. If you really believed in special creation, you wouldn’t believe (and wouldn’t bother using) the evolutionary science you used.

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  53. Dominic Bronn Tennant:

    In what sense must duty be grounded in something non-contingent? Saying that atheists are ‘borrowing’ duty from theists is one form of pre-suppositional apologetics I’ve not encountered yet.

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  54. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Forknowledge,

    Duty is something which binds or obliges us in an authoritative sense which is common to all people. It transcends or supersedes any authority of our own; in fact, the notion of our having authority at all derives its meaning from the prior existence of duty to some other authority, and our awareness of it. The power of any contingent authority is predicated on our duty to some higher authority than it. To avoid infinite regress or arbitrariness, contingent authority must then be predicated on our duty to a non-contingent authority.

    More simply, careful consideration of the very nature of duty demonstrates that, like other rational laws, it is something which self-evidently must be grounded in a non-contingent and personal authority.

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  55. Are you saying that, in order for a person or institution to have any authority (and thus, for others to feel a sense of duty towards them), there must exist a higher form of authority that gives that authority its authority – and to avoid an infinite regress, the ultimate authority must be non-contingent. Is that correct?

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  56. @50 Bnonn,

    “you asserted without argument that “morals could arise from custom, or from consensus”.”

    There you go misconstruing me again! Leaving aside that writing “asserted” followed by quoting a phrase including “could” doesn’t quite fit together (!), I didn’t assert (as you claim) nor present an argument because I wrote inviting you to consider the alternatives:

    How about considering that morals can arise from custom, or from consensus? Or possibly imposed by a (harsh!) leadership and accepted over time (I’m thinking of moral that others might not agree with, here).

    Funny how you left out “considering” in your quote. Quote mining me, are we? 🙂

    (I have to note you assert things out of hand an awful lot for someone who levels that very thing as an accusation on others!)

    You don’t have to make it complex, that’s just obfuscation. Its simple: you want to make morals, duty, whatever, “about G-d” as a justification for “G-d”, but morals (or duty) don’t have to be.

    “We’re not even necessarily talking about moral duty; you’re jumping the gun.

    Really? You wrote:

    “Indeed, a little consideration will reveal that our sense of moral duty implies a superior law-giver.”

    and I replied to that. Jumping your own gun? 😉

    “A non-theist is actually implicitly and unconsciously borrowing from theism whenever he makes a statement involving duty.”

    Self-serving circular argument. You’ve dismissed other reasons for morals, “inferred” (aka asserted without argument) that it has theistic origins, then concluded what you asserted. Note how you jump from “arguing that a non-theistic worldview does not provide those grounds, and that only theism does.” to asserting “A non-theist is actually implicitly and unconsciously borrowing from theism whenever he makes a statement involving duty.” (Your words, my emphasis.)

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  57. @51 :-))

    (Big grin!) I’d bet on it, but the odds must be horribly short!

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  58. In a godless universe what moral obligation do I have to “truth?” If my children did believe the story to their dying day, and that story brought them hope, purpose and joy – what harm have I done?

    What moral obligation does anyone have to tell the truth, ever?

    What if your story destroys your children’s ability to enervate and achieve their hopes? What moral obligation do you have to lie to them then? Cancer cures and treatments for diabetes are based on applied evolution theory. What makes you think you help your kids when you lie to them about where medical advances come from? Does it improve the chance your kid can become a great researcher if you deny them the truth? (And what in the world makes you think it’s Christian to be creationist? Most Christians are not, and surely you don’t condemn them . . . Mother Teresa, for example.)

    What makes you think any moral obligation extends from religion? Christianity adopted most of the moral obligation stuff from Greek philosophers, many of whom were apostate in their polytheism. What makes you think you have a right to demand a philosophical answer to a question of some depth, when you have been too lazy yourself to look to see what philosophers and scientists said about it?

    Why do you disregard the moral obligation to the species that Charles Darwin argued is instinctual, in Descent of Man? What makes you think moral obligation can only be religious, when the simple fact of the matter is most atheists lead lives that saints would envy?

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  59. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    You don’t have to make it complex, that’s just obfuscation. Its simple: you want to make morals, duty, whatever, “about G-d” as a justification for “G-d”, but morals (or duty) don’t have to be.

    Heraclides, as usual, when you can actually recognize and articulate the argument I’m making, I’ll respond.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  60. @ Dale Campbell:

    I have already mentioned duty (alongside guilt) – so that’s one out of four down! Although I wasn’t complaining. Why should I? These seem to be natural intuitions or feelings which have evolved as part of us being a social species.

    However, I do complain about two things in this discussion:

    1: The flippant regard for a person’s position. Eg. my point about the archaic understanding of ‘materialism’ and ‘material’ used by science-bashers becomes me “accepting the existence of souls and the like”. Similarly my comment “Well, actually that does misrepresent my view. Of course there are non-physical things (I have pointed this out to you before)” gets used by James to imply a disagreement with modern scientific method.

    (Actually Dale, we have discussed these definitions before so you will be aware how my concepts of matter differ from that used by DBT).

    I guess misrepresentation is inevitable in discussion with people who are pushing a strongly held ideological barrow. It really does make the discussion pointless. However, I do have the advantage that I can clarify things in a more authoritative way by a separate post or article.

    I have posted an article for Monday AM dealing with the way philosophy is misused by people wishing to discredit scientific knowledge.

    2: DBT and James have been presenting their position only via negative argument. The same as those creationist/ID proponents who talk only about real and imagined ‘gaps’ in scientific knowledge of evolution – and do nothing to present a scientific ID hypothesis or theory.

    Similarly DBT’s claim that “one has to be a Christian to have rational grounds for valuing truth” is not only derogatory to most of the human species – it’s also unsupported. His response to a request for supporting evidence was to attack an ‘evolutionary’ or ‘atheist’ straw man. He has avoided presentation of positive argument/evidence for his claim.

    My impression is that in the debates going on here the positive arguments/evidence being presented are those supporting evolutionary science and science in general. Those attacking science have presented only negative arguments despite having declared a specific religious ideological position. They have not argued for their own ideological position.

    I would have thought that they would present positive arguments/evidence for their position rather than attacking scientific knowledge. If they had taken this approach they would not be diverting their energy into see everyone else as ‘atheists’ and setting up straw men.

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  61. @59: Now, that’s a cop-out 🙂

    I pointed out that you misquoted me, that you stated I wrote things I didn’t, that you took a logic leap and argued in circular fashion, and backed these statements by quoting your own words to make them clear. And in reply we get this. I suspect you’ve run out of alternatives 😉

    If anything I suspect your want to make it complex to build up a argument to convince yourself that’s complex enough that you can’t see its flaws. (By making it complex enough, the logic leaps, etc., aren’t as obvious.) But in your latest posts some of the flaws have been clear enough for me to quote verbatim.

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  62. @57 & 60: Hmm. Maybe the odds weren’t so short! ;-/

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  63. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    1: The flippant regard for a person’s position. Eg. my point about the archaic understanding of ‘materialism’ and ‘material’ used by science-bashers becomes me “accepting the existence of souls and the like”.

    Ken, you can’t really have it both ways. If you want to deny thoroughgoing materialism and affirm the existence of non-physical things, then affirming the existence of a non-physical mind is the logical entailment of this. You don’t have to call it a soul, but I am not being “flippant” with your view; I am drawing out the logical consequences of what you say you believe. It’s also unfair of you to characterize me as trying to misrepresent you when I have asked you a couple of times what your general view on abstracta is (nominalist, platonist, or conceptualist), and you have not given an answer. Since this discussion is immediately concerned with this question, I am interpreting your comments as charitably as I can. If I am misinterpreting them, then perhaps you need to be less ambiguous. I dare say that familiarizing yourself with the basics of the view which you are logically (if not knowingly) committing yourself to would be helpful.

    2: DBT and James have been presenting their position only via negative argument.

    I don’t speak for James, but you can see for yourself that I have presented a positive argument in this thread. An internal critique functions as both a negative and a positive argument. Furthermore, even if I had not presented any positive argument for my own position, it remains that I have shown that a non-theistic worldview is unable to provide rational grounds for duty, and therefore is self-contradictory and inconsistent inasmuch as it affirms the meaningfulness of ought-statements. This is nothing to do with gaps—I haven’t shown that you just can’t currently explain duty under a non-theistic worldview. That isn’t my argument. My argument is that a non-theistic worldview could never explain duty, because it lacks the basic components required to provide account for it. A non-theistic worldview, by definition, cannot provide any rational grounds for duty, ever.

    Similarly DBT’s claim that “one has to be a Christian to have rational grounds for valuing truth” is not only derogatory to most of the human species – it’s also unsupported. His response to a request for supporting evidence was to attack an ‘evolutionary’ or ‘atheist’ straw man. He has avoided presentation of positive argument/evidence for his claim.

    Ken, I can’t see that you have actually understood anything I’ve said; and that’s truly sad. No one with the slightest philosophical aptitude would read what I have said in this thread and agree that my claim is unsupported, that I have attacked a strawman, or that I have avoided presenting a positive argument. The argument I’m forwarding is a variant on ones formulated by the likes of Plantinga and Reppert; it isn’t as if it has no pedigree, let alone no existence. If you are unable to even see it, let alone understand it, I really don’t know how to respond. I guess I’ll have to go away and have a think about what arguments are simplistic enough that you will at least recognize their existence, since the most rigorous and convincing ones just fly right over your head.

    And Heraclides, just for the record, I could not hold your trolling in lower regard; I hope no one is taken in by your disingenuous comments just because I seldom respond to them. I just don’t see the point, since if I sink to your level you’ll only beat me with experience.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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  64. @ Dominic Bnonn Tennant:

    You really are demonstrating the problems of using undefined terminology and applying philosophical and logical arguments inappropriately. That’s why I say “bugger philosophy” – it just becomes a way of avoiding the real evidence and attempting to fit reality into a pre-conceived ideological straitjacket.

    Your concept of ‘materialism‘ is 150 years out of date. The revolution in our understanding of matter which occurred at the turn of the century (19th to 20th) gave heart to many ‘anti-materialists’ but also resulted in new understanding of matter and ‘materialism’. We investigate many ‘non-physical’ phenomena today and would not have got where we are today by ignoring such phenomena and remaining with your archaic mechanistic definition of ‘materialism.’ It’s best just to avoid using such terms and deal with real issues.

    These terms just don’t get used in the day-to-day investigation of objectively existing reality. But then again we are trying to understand that reality, not fit it into a straitjacket.

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  65. Bnonn,

    More attempts to “dismiss” me out of hand…! 🙂 I wasn’t trolling, and I’m certainly not being disingenuous. You’re resorting to pure ad hominems.

    I’m starting to think that whenever I boil the argument to something simple, concise and straight-forward enough that you can’t throw a complex smokescreen over them, you resort to trying to “write me off” instead.

    Trust me, if I was trolling you’d be getting quite different sorts of posts than I what I am writing to you! I do persist when I see people avoiding ‘fessing up, as I think its dishonest for them to not do so.

    Reading the rest of your post, it seems I’m not the only person you try dismiss out of hand. A quick search indicates the people you refer to are Christian apologists. (Which is to say that have an intentional bias.) There also appear to be any number of articles objecting to the assumptions underlying their arguments, too. Interestingly, some the objections raised seem to run in very similar vein to what I have been pointing out to you… (These articles also go well beyond my points.) All I did was to reduce your missive to its essence as best as I could. So far your response has to been to try dismiss me out of hand.

    I’ll stand by my point that the complexity you try throw it around is not needed to get to the heart of what your are after, and this complexity appears to be mainly to construct and argument to confirm to yourself what you’d like to believe in a way that is complex enough that it acts like a wildly complex hall of mirrors.

    Ken: Consistent with your comment (post 150), one of the objections to their work I ran into was that at least one of these people had tendency to conveniently “overlook” recent developments in philosophy and science (incl. cognitive science) by completely ignoring them. I haven’t time to read these fully. These philosophers ramble on and on; besides, you’re the retired one around here! But I have a suspicion that BDT may just be slavishly reading these and other Xian apologists without bothering with the arguments against them. Given he dismisses others’ points out of hand here, its easy to imagine he does the same for those that raise objections to his favourite apologists “works” too. Might explain what’s going on?

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  66. Let me give you just one example of how creationism can prevent you from being a useful medical researcher – a creationist would never assume relatedness between species, let alone genera and classes – that’s why a creationist would never come up with phylogenetic distance as a marker for the usability of inter-species tissue transplant, or for that matter, even animal testing! It would make absolutely no sense if species weren’t related.

    Freidenker, why wouldn’t creationist assume relatedness between species? The same God using the same genetic stuff, perhaps just reorganizing a bit? And you know that phylogenetic trees as an investigation tools have some serious limitations.

    Although phylogenetic trees produced on the basis of sequenced genes or genomic data in different species can provide evolutionary insight, they have important limitations. They do not necessarily accurately represent the species evolutionary history. The data on which they are based is noisy; the analysis can be confounded by horizontal gene transfer[9], hybridisation between species that were not nearest neighbors on the tree before hybridisation takes place, convergent evolution, and conserved sequences. To avoid these limitations, one method of analysis, implemented in the program PhyloCode,[verification needed] does not assume a tree structure.

    Also, there are problems in basing the analysis on a single type of character, such as a single gene or protein or only on morphological analysis, because such trees constructed from another unrelated data source often differ from the first, and therefore great care is needed in inferring phylogenetic relationships among species. This is most true of genetic material that is subject to lateral gene transfer and recombination, where different haplotype blocks can have different histories. In general, the output tree of a phylogenetic analysis is an estimate of the character’s phylogeny (i.e. a gene tree) and not the phylogeny of the taxa (i.e. species tree) from which these characters were sampled, though ideally, both should be very close.

    When extinct species are included in a tree, they are terminal nodes, as it is unlikely that they are direct ancestors of any extant species. Scepticism must apply when extinct species are included in trees that are wholly or partly based on DNA sequence data, due to the fact that little useful “ancient DNA” is preserved for longer than 100,000 years, and except in the most unusual circumstances no DNA sequences long enough for use in phylogenetic analyses have yet been recovered from material over 1 million years old.

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  67. Ed said:

    What moral obligation does anyone have to tell the truth, ever?

    Well in a godless universe you don’t. If lying helps you to survive then what moral obligation is there? There may be times when truth helps you to survive better. And? The obligation is to survival – not truth or falsehood per-say.

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  68. Ken, Perhaps you missed this, you claimed to believe in non-physical things like values, then I asked:

    how can these non-physical things be “mapped” by science? Empirically tested? This seems like a logical disconnect in your worldview.

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  69. So it doesn’t get lost I will bold this post.

    I work in a small corporation and over the years I have seen many people lie and deceive to protect their position or gain advantage. People lie, some more than others. If the natural evolutionary model (i.e. no God) is correct, then it is obvious that lying can, at times, offer survival advantage.

    So the question remains, if lying helps us to survive, then how/why is it wrong?

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  70. I have just yesterday watched one of the Voices of Science interviews that Richard Dawkins has made in the last couple of years. This one was with David Buss mostly in relation to evolutionary psychology. I found it very interesting, and it raised with me what I think is a relavent point for this discussion. One thing that is dangerous about restricting peoples knowledge about subjects such as evolution is as follows:

    We humans are evolved beings. Unfortunately, we are predominantly evolved for a different world that we currently live in. This is dangerous as we are mentally and emotionally unadapted for the world in which we find ourselves. That is a world with 5 billion people, contraception, airplane travel etc…

    The application of evolutionary theory in the research into human psychology and physiology will hopefully allow us to consciously compensate for our shortcomings enough to survive our modern situation. It appears that there is great potential for the application of evolutionary theory in a number of fields.

    I think that it is irresponsible for people to be trying to suppress knowledge of and research into our evolutionary history largely as a sop to their own fragile sense of reality or belief.

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  71. I think that it is irresponsible for people to be trying to suppress knowledge of and research into our evolutionary history largely as a sop to their own fragile sense of reality or belief.

    Well that is an opinion Nick. But back to my point. If lying helps us to survive then how is it wrong?

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  72. @ Nick:

    Hi Nick.
    Did you watch this on DVD or is it available online?
    I have seen the interviews with Weinberg, Krauss and Myers but not Buss and would like to catch up with. (I know the DVD is available).

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  73. @66:

    You might as well have given a citation for your cut’n’paste, its ‘phylogenetics tree’ in wikipedia for those who would like to see the original in its original context. link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylogenetic_tree

    “Has limitations” does not equal “is no use”. It means: use, but understand the limitations.

    Most of what you have cut’n’pasted only applies for phylogenies based on a single gene. Most studies use a selection of genes partly for that reason, especially if the aim is a taxonomic phylogeny. People are well aware of these issues: they wouldn’t make it as far as wikipedia otherwise. Basically this wikipedia entry needs more work so that the context of this is clear to others. It happens.

    In any event, you’re getting a long way off topic seemingly for no particular reason other than randomly tossing out quoted material you think argues against science.

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  74. re: that lying can be useful. You seem to what everything to be absolutely one way or absolutely another.

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  75. I’ve just been reading Shashenka which deals with the ‘Stalin Terror’. This includes James’s dilemma. People did not talk to their children about what was happening – even when it was happening to them. Stalin was still the great leader and ‘father’. Even years afterwards people had great difficulty dealing with that period. Often the argument was to ignore it or even glorify it for the greater good. After all we didn’t want to spread disillusion with the history, the leaders or the political system.

    So it was always possible to justify lying on the basis of survival or for the common good. In order to give people “hope or joy .” The same blindness occurs in China today with respect to the so-called ‘Cultural revolution’ and the role of Mao.

    Now, we don’t look back and justify such blindness and lies.

    I put James’s willingness to lie to children on religious grounds in the same basket. In the long run truth is the better option. One just can’t honestly ensure “hope and joy and purpose to their dying day.” Truth will out.

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  76. @ James:

    Ever heard of gravity?

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  77. @ James:

    But you don’t think it is wrong. You argue that it is legitimate to lie to children about science so as to somehow improve their survival.

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  78. I have the DVD for this. This was Voices of Science 2 in two DVDs. As these also contain the interviews with Weinberg, Krauss and Myers, I would have thought that the Buss interview could also be found online somewhere.

    Let me know if you still can’t find it, I could post you the DVD perhaps.

    Also, can anybody recommend some good books on Evolutionary psychology? I was really impressed by Buss. He was pretty clearly articulating the clear potential for proper predictive science in this field, which can perhaps otherwise appear to be quite wishy washy.

    I also have Voices of Science 1 if you are interested. I found that not as good as #2 however. Mainly due to Kitchens I think. While some of his statements were interesting, his belligerent (increasing in proportion to the decrease in his whisky glass perhaps 😉 ) political views were rather less well thought out, interesting or appropriate for the discussion at hand. In my opinion, a man with a bee in the bonnet who regardless of his earlier respectful comments about the risks of hubris nevertheless gave off the smell of somebody with rather a high level of self regard.

    I found Dan Dennett interesting however. Has anybody read his book on free will and can recommend it? I am not sure of the title.

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  79. Ken said:

    Ever heard of gravity?

    Ken that is your argument for the objective existence of morals? Well as we discussed in another thread, morals only exist in minds. It would make perfect sense to say that morals exist objectively to humankind in the mind of God. It makes no sense to say that they exist independent of minds.

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  80. Ken said:

    But you don’t think it is wrong. You argue that it is legitimate to lie to children about science so as to somehow improve their survival.

    I never said that Ken.I said in a godless universe, I don’t believe we live in such a universe. So again – If lying helps us to survive then how is it wrong.

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  81. I thought this fit in nicely with our discussion

    By Richard Dawkins:

    But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment. Don’t judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

    http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_9.html

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  82. Scientism by John Cleese, it’s a hoot….

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  83. @81: & what does he go on to say?

    Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

    That is, people don’t act that way in reality – we don’t explain away evil acts as the result of antecedent conditions, & our concepts of what’s good & evil are the result of millennia of evolutionary change. At the very end of the complete article Dawkins makes it clear that even he is unlikely ever to follow that cold mechanistic view of the world (one which he has put forward as part of a rhetorical question).

    Quote-mining – you’re doing it wrong 🙂

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  84. Nice catch Alison.
    Shame on James for being a quote-miner.

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

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  85. No Alison

    I am not quote mining, Dawkins goes on: Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live.

    Our sense of right and wrong is a FICTION. And the more important point is that the faulty man is no more responsile than the faulty car. We have no control over our actions and thoughts. The evolutionist as well as the six day creationists can’t help what they believe. And this once again goes to my points on this thread – if Dawkins’ worldview is correct then why is lying wrong – especially if it offers a survival advantage, and since we can’t help ourselves?

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  86. @84:

    Still cut’n’pasting I see 😉

    Whether or not you’re quote-mining, you are misconstruing what Dawkins said.

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  87. Too many comments, and too little actual listening to each other around here for me to keep up or remain interested in commenting…

    But that aside, whatever level of ‘quote-mining’ dear James is guilty of, I think Dawkin’s meaning hasn’t been terribly (if at all?) perverted…

    It would be nice to see evidence that people commenting so much ’round here are actually interested in reaching agreements

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  88. Whether or not you’re quote-mining, you are misconstruing what Dawkins said.

    No I’m not Heraclides. We are in actuality no more responsible for our actions than is a faulty car. The concepts of blame and responsibility are FICTIONS. Show me where I was wrong – be specific.

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  89. @ Nick:

    Thanks for the offer, Nick, but I am sure I will find the interview (Dawkins seems keen to make sure these sorts of things are available online).

    Is the book you are thinking of Freedom Evolves be Daniel Dennett. I know Damian has this on his Reading List. I would like to read it too – but am sure it will be pretty deep and require a lot of attention. I hope Damian gives his opinion when he has read it.

    The Four Horsemen was interesting – as much for observing personalities as for what was said. I agree about the whisky. Classic example of transformation of ‘quantity into quality’ – although in this case the ‘quality’ part relates to the degree of obnoxiousness, speaking over others., etc.

    It is rather ironic that Dawkins is painted out as the ‘enemy’ when Hitchens would serve that purpose best. Personality-wise Dawkins presents a great example for both science and atheism.

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  90. Yes, I have Freedom Evolves waiting in the ranks on my bookshelf. I’m such a slow reader that it’ll probably be a month or two before I get onto it though. Nick, if you are in Auckland I’d be happy to lend it to you in the meantime.

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  91. @88: Hint: that’s only part of what he wrote 😉

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  92. @89. Yep, I suppose I also found it illuminating from the personalities perspective also.

    @90. Cheers Damian. I am in Germany at the moment, so can’t take you up on the kind offer, but thanks anyway. I think I will add it to my next Amazon order.

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  93. Heraclides

    Hint: that’s only part of what he wrote

    Here are the main points Heraclides. First we have no more control over our moral choices than a faulty car has over its choices. Because this is so, concepts of blame and responsibility are mere fictions. Where was I wrong?

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  94. Heraclides (and Alison and Cedric) – actually interact with James. You’ve implied (at least implicitly if not explicitly) that his quote misrepresents Dawkins. Give an argument. Show us.

    The idea that responsibility is a fiction is quite a large one, and I think a good point where Dawkins should stick to zoology/biology/etc. It seems somewhat naive to so staunchly present a ‘cold mechanistic view of the world’, and then hope (or worse, assume) people won’t live that way. Evolutionary theory is a splendid and powerful theory with seemingly growing explanatory power, but it need not be applied to ethics/morals as it is applied to biology.

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  95. Dale, part of teaching people is to get them to think for themselves. Giving a point-blank answer doesn’t usually do that. If he can’t think his way to the answer from the hint, that’s fine, but please don’t post “actually interact with James” to me. I don’t even have to post at all, after all. I’m trying to help him in a way that he’ll benefit more from than me spoon-feeding answers.

    Or maybe you’re just frustrated at not being able to figure it out?

    (Let me digress for a moment. Have you ever tried to get a kid who doesn’t see something to see it for themselves? For that matter, do you just teach scripture by rote and insistence that its right? I think its a good question, actually, given it’d be hard to teach something by getting others to see it for themselves if it could could not be demonstrated.)

    You (Dale) wrote: “responsibility is a fiction”

    Seems you’re joining James in misreading meanings as well! You might find it helpful to expand the word ‘responsibility’ in the relevant passage that Alison quoted to each full unique meaning the word has (there are several) and see which can be fitted without making the sentence a nonsense. If I am reading your words in the meaning that I believe you mean to convey by ‘responsibility’, your particular meaning of ‘responsibility’ does not fit what Dawkins wrote.

    @93: Try the same exercise as I’ve given to Dale. I think you’ll find that you’re mixing word meanings.

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  96. James, should add apply that exercise to your own posts 88 & 93, as well as the relevant passage Alison quoted in 83.

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  97. Seems you’re joining James in misreading meanings as well! You might find it helpful to expand the word ‘responsibility’ in the relevant passage that Alison quoted to each full unique meaning the word has (there are several) and see which can be fitted without making the sentence a nonsense. If I am reading your words in the meaning that I believe you mean to convey by ‘responsibility’, your particular meaning of ‘responsibility’ does not fit what Dawkins wrote.

    Tell me then Heraclides. How is a faulty car responsible for its condition in any sense of the word?

    And remember it was Dawkins who said: Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction.

    What is a fiction Heraclides?

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