Friday, November 04, 2005

Is God Moral?

It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand. --Mark Twain

Assumptions

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the God of the Bible does exist. How can we determine whether it's moral to obey Him?

If one defines "moral" as "whatever God says," then it's tautological that we must obey. So let's assume that "moral" means something else, something that most of us basically agree on even if we can't articulate. Something based fundamentally on human empathy for each other and, to a lesser extent, for other animals.

If "moral" isn't defined as "whatever God says," but we know that God is all-good and all-knowing then we must obey Him nevertheless. However, if we know that god is not all-good or that He is not all-knowing, then we must question whether obeying Him is moral. It's possible, after all, that God is evil, that He created us in order to amuse himself with earthquakes and war.

Let's stipulate that He is all-knowing, or at least that He knows more than we do, since this would be true of any reasonable definition of God.

The Question

The only question remaining is, is God all-good? Since we're working from the assumption that the word "moral" is not synonymous with "whatever God says," we must use some criteria for deciding whether God is moral, and judge Him by His words and actions.

The Evidence

Since the God we are discussing is the God of the Bible, then we have his words, and if we believe that God created the Universe, we have his actions. Can we prove that God is all-Good from either of these two sources? I don't think so -- each provides material which at least raises doubts. In the Bible, God commands animal sacrifice, he kills every person and animal on Earth except those allowed into Noah's Ark, orders the killing of anyone who violates the Sabbath, orders the killing of blasphemers, orders the killing of the Midianite women and children and "taking" of their virgins, the killing of worshipers of other Gods, the killing of non-virginal brides, etc. (Find these and more at the Skeptic's Annotated Bible.)

Similarly, the world, which He created, is full of suffering -- rape, murder, sickness, natural disasters.

Conclusion

It might be possible to justify the actions and orders found in the Bible and the horrible circumstances found in the world, but we must acknowledge that we cannot simply assume that God is all-good based on His Book or on the universe. Nor does any amount of goodness in the Bible or in the world exonerate God of his questionable words and actions -- a doctor who saves thousands of lives but cruelly murders his wife cannot be said to be all-good. It may be -- however unlikely it seems to me -- that God has some divine plan that makes everything that appears bad to us part of a larger good, but we cannot make this assumption without assuming what we are trying to prove -- that God is all-good.

What are we left with? We cannot know for sure that God is all-good, so we cannot know for sure if following his commandments is moral. We must decide on a case-by-case basis what we shall follow and what we shall disobey.

In the absense of evidence of God's morality, I maintain that it is moral to disobey commandments which we deem immoral. If God spoke directly to me and told me to murder an innocent child, I would be forced to disobey. Similarly, I could not support Biblical laws which I believe immoral -- even assuming I believed in both God and the divinity of the Bible.


(Hat tip to Sadie Lou for suggesting this topic.)

59 comments:

Sadie Lou said...

eh.
I've grown a little weary of defending God to people who will never believe He even exists.
*sigh*
However, I just thought I'd throw out there that in light of everything you accuse God of doing wrong, you have failed to mention that most Christians believe we are in a fallen state and that sin and evil is man's cup of tea, not God's. The Father of lies and deceit is Satan and he has dominion over man and the earth--for now.
*sidenote
Satan does not have dominion over me--as my faith in God and my daily repentance gives me the power over sin. I still sin (hence the daily repentance) but at least I'm not a slave to it.

Okay: Time for the demeaning comments against my faith and beliefs--lay it on me!
:)

CyberKitten said...

Question 1:

OK - It's a Classic... but worth trotting out....

How come Satan has dominion over the Earth? Why did God do that?

OK - that's two questions... but they are related.

Waits for stock answer - :)

Jewish Atheist said...

However, I just thought I'd throw out there that in light of everything you accuse God of doing wrong, you have failed to mention that most Christians believe we are in a fallen state and that sin and evil is man's cup of tea, not God's.

Sadie Lou, this doesn't solve the problem. How do you know that God is moral, seeing that he created a world with evil in it? It's not enough to hypothesize that all evil is man's fault -- you have to show that God is all-good in order to demonstrate that we should obey him. I said that each of evils I mentioned might be justified, but the point is, there is more than enough reasonable doubt that God is all-good from both the Bible and the universe. So I ask you: How do you know that God is all-good?

Okay: Time for the demeaning comments against my faith and beliefs--lay it on me!

What makes them demeaning? You were the one who asked for this post! :)

Sadie Lou said...

Sadie Lou, this doesn't solve the problem. How do you know that God is moral, seeing that he created a world with evil in it?

He didn't. He allowed it, that's different. He didn't make the snake (satan) deceive Eve and He didn't make Eve be deceived. He allowed it. We're not puppets.

cyberkitten--
instead of waiting for the stock answer--why don't you tell me what the stock answer is and I'll tell you if you have it right. (according to me)??? *wink*

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou:

You're still trying to justify why specific examples aren't examples of God being evil. Even if you succeeded (which you haven't -- God created both the snake and the forbidden fruit and placed them in the garden with Eve) that's not enough. You have to justify why you believe that God is all-good. Otherwise, you can't know that it is moral to obey Him.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: cyberkitten--
instead of waiting for the stock answer--why don't you tell me what the stock answer is and I'll tell you if you have it right. (according to me)??? *wink*

I thought that as it's such a Classic Question - and you being well versed on the Bible etc... that you would have said 'Stock Answer' at your fingertips...

I was also replying in the same vain of your original posting (or so I had hoped) - the "Okay: Time for the demeaning comments against my faith and beliefs--lay it on me!
:)" comment in particular...

Do you get the feeling of Daniel in the Lions den?

asher said...

The arguement is that there are some things that most of us feel are so reprehensible that we would all agree they are immoral. Raping your daughter might come to mind, or torturing someone with a handicapp. However, why do find these things repugnant? Is there a little of God within us all that makes us think this way? Surely it can't come from our evolution from apes who have no morality, surely it can't come from socialization since we can all think for ourselves.

Thank you C.S. Lewis


By the way....good topic

Sadie Lou said...

I thought that as it's such a Classic Question - and you being well versed on the Bible etc... that you would have said 'Stock Answer' at your fingertips...

I get tired of taking the time to write something only to have it thrown back at me as a "stock answer". Christians don't have a book of "stock answers" that we can just copy and paste from--it takes time to think this stuff out and put words to it.

God created both the snake and the forbidden fruit and placed them in the garden with Eve

Wha??
are you saying God forced Eve to eat of the fruit he commanded not to be eaten? You are correct, the God you know isn't a "good" God.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: I get tired of taking the time to write something only to have it thrown back at me as a "stock answer". Christians don't have a book of "stock answers" that we can just copy and paste from--it takes time to think this stuff out and put words to it.

That's OK. I wasn't expecting an immediate answer or anything... Take your time. It's just that I thought the question must have come up and been discussed by yourself and others before this.

Sadie Lou said...

We totally have communication problems cyberkitten. :)
Of course I have the answer. I'm trying to tell you that I don't feel like writing it down just so that YOU can say it's stock answer. Do you get me now?
It has come up before this and I have the answer right here in my noggin, I was just hoping you'd save me the trouble of writing it.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: We totally have communication problems cyberkitten. :)

Don't we just!

SL also said: Of course I have the answer. I'm trying to tell you that I don't feel like writing it down just so that YOU can say it's stock answer. Do you get me now?

I KNEW you'd have the answer all ready... Thing is though... IS it the 'Stock Answer'...? ;)

..and Yes. I do undetstand your hesitation.

Random said...

"How do you know that God is moral, seeing that he created a world with evil in it?"

God created a world with freedom of choice in it. Was that a moral act? And is freedom of choice meaningful if there are no meaningful options to choose from? I would venture to suggest that the answer to both those questions is "yes" and "no" respectively.

Evil needs to be in the world to allow us to demonstrate morality by rejecting it - God has given us the freedom to choose, how we exercise that choice is up to us. God could have created a world were we had no choice but to worship him and to live according to his commandments - would that have been moral? surely not. God loves us enough to allow us the freedom to live our own lives and make our own mistakes. That surely is the truly moral course?

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou, Random, asher, none of you is answering the question: a) is God all-good? b) how do you know?

My posts take a lot of effort -- I'd appreciate it if your comments tried to respond.

CyberKitten said...

You're basically talking about the Problem of Evil - right?

Either God does Evil - in which case He cannot be all good...

Or God allows Evil to exist (and prosper in numerous cases) - in which case His goodness is at least questionable....

Random said...

JA,

Rather thought I was. It seemed to me that you were citing the existence of suffering and evil in the world as evidence against the idea of a moral deity, as per the question I quoted. I then went on to show that what you see as evidence against morality is actually an inescapable consequence of it. Sorry if my argument didn't reach the level you expected, but accusing me of ignoring you point is a bit harsh.

But to answer your question in simple words - yes, I believe God is good (though indifferent may also be true) and I believe this because I believe the universe would be a very different place if the prime mover of it was evil.

asher said...

Alright..
Is God good? No, He created Satan.

Why is there evil in the world?
God created man and knows all of his proclivities. Therefore, God created humans to carry out their evil intentions.

Now, please explain human goodness? It's got to come from the same place. Motherhood, love, marriage, altruism, charity, kindness, and doing the "right thing".

Sadie Lou said...

Part of all of this resistance to believe God is all good is because of man's skewed version of what "good" is.
Is God all good? Yes.
Can I prove that he's all good to please JAs definition of all good? Probably not.
Can I answer the question as to why God is all good but allows sin?
random touched on it lightly but none of you will accept the answer because you guys have a predisposition that causes you to question everything we say God is because you think humans made him up--therefore--since man isn't perfect/God isn't perfect.

But just for the hell of it:
Moral Attributes of God: (Wayne Grudem)
Goodness
Love
Mercy
Holiness
Peace
Righteousness
Wrath

How do you demonstrate Goodness if there is no--'badness'
How do you demonstrate Mercy if there is no Crime?
Holiness if there is no sin?
Peace if there is no chaos?
Righteousness if there is no unrighteousness?
Wrath if there isn't rebellion?

God allows us to please our human desires so he can demonstrate is moral attributes. If this were a utopian planet earth--God would be just like us--perfect. Why would we worship something so easy to achieve?
Please answer all these questions.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: Why would we worship something so easy to achieve?

Why should we worship Him (or indeed anything/anyone) at all?

Sadie Lou said...

cyberkitten: answering a question with a question--how predictable.
*wink*

I'm sorry, do you have anything to say about my answer to God's morality? Just step outside your box for minute and look at what I said about how God demonstrates His moral attributes and answer the question on how you would visably demonstrate them without the opposite of each attribute existing?

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: Just step outside your box for minute and look at what I said about how God demonstrates His moral attributes and answer the question on how you would visably demonstrate them without the opposite of each attribute existing?

(Step outside of box - admires view)

Of course the problem I have about "how God demonstrates His moral attributes" is that I don't believe He has any moral attributes because I dispute His existence... However...

I don't think it is a tenable argument that an attribute can only be defined in relationship to its opposite. Is it possible to recognise Light without ever knowing the Darkness? - Yes it is. Is it possible to recognise Love without knowing Hate? - Yes it is. Can we recognise Peace without experiencing War? - of course.

Part of the problem with us coming to anything approaching a consensus of this question is the the 'side' professing belief in God are asking 'God-type' questions & those professing a non-belief in God are replying with 'Non-God type' answers.

Maybe we need to find some common ground - if such a thing exists..

Sadie Lou said...

Of course the problem I have about "how God demonstrates His moral attributes" is that I don't believe He has any moral attributes because I dispute His existence... However...

That's called stepping outside the box. Congrats.

Is it possible to recognise Light without ever knowing the Darkness? - Yes it is. Is it possible to recognise Love without knowing Hate? - Yes it is. Can we recognise Peace without experiencing War? - of course.

I'm sorry. You're wrong. If we were born into a world where everything was dark all the time how would we know what light was? If all the sudden our dark world experienced light, only then would we know.

Jewish Atheist said...

You all are still explaining how evil can exist in a world created by an Omnibenevolent God. It still seems to me that you are beginning with the assumption that God is Omnibenevolent and then justifying the existence of evil from there.

You are NOT explaining how you decided or discovered that God is Omnibenevolent in the first place -- you are continuing to argue that the evidence doesn't rule out an Omnibenevolent God, which is not what my post argued. I argued merely that there is reasonable doubt that God is Omnibenevolent.

I don't think we can find common ground here because it seems like you are going to believe what you believe regardless of the evidence. If you were raised Muslim, you'd believe in Islam, and if you were raised Hindu you'd believe in Hinduism. It reminds me of another Twain quote: "You can't reason someone out of something they weren't reasoned into."

Sadie Lou said...

I was born agnostic. I became a Christian at 22. I'm 29.

Jewish Atheist said...

Why did you become a christian?

Sadie Lou said...

"If God exists, he is omnibenevolent.
If God exists, he is omnipotent.
An omnibenevolent God would not permit evil to exist.
An omnipotent God would have the power to prevent evil's existence.
Therefore, if God exists, evil does not exist.
Evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist.

the problem in my mind is with step 3 -- there is no proof for this, and it is not intuitive. Besides, if we can allow step 3 to stand, we simply refuse to stipulate to step 1 -- there is no proof for step 1 either, except in Scripture. But for the atheist to insist on step 1 and step 3, he must either equivocate or demand authority over God. This is because the Bible teaches that the omnibenevolent God permits evil to exist. All the atheist has done is prove that no god exists who fits his or her definition of omnibenevolence. But this is hardly a sound argument. The fact that the god they define does not exist does not imply that the God the Bible defines does not exist. One cannot reasonably accept the Bible's argument that God is omnibenevolent, and then try to disprove God's existence on the basis of an anti-biblical definition of omnibenevolence."--an apologetics website for arguing with atheists.

What do you think about this? Do you agree with the statements in bold?

Sadie Lou said...

Why did you become a christian?

My husband got "saved" a year before I did. He would come home from church and want to tell me all about God and I resented it. I hated the thought of Christianity.
I kept asking my husband really difficult questions that he couldn't really answer to my satisfaction (him being a brand new Christian and all). Finally he just told me to go to church and ask questions there. Not being one to run from a challenge, I went with him every Sunday.
The Christians at the church he went to were kinda dorky and not people I would choose to hang out with. Plus, I didn't like the worship songs. Not to mention people kept coming up to me saying they would pray for me. I found it to be very cheesy and annoying--the whole thing.
I can't really explain it but everytime the pastor would give an altar call, I felt sweaty, nervous, anxious. I almost stopped going just because I hated the way I felt. One Sunday. I decided that if I went up there and got "saved" the feelings and pressure would go away and I could prove that the whole Christian thing was a joke anyways because I was sure once I got "saved" I would feel any different.
I went up there in front of the whole church (dragging my husband behind me) and said I wasnted to receive Christ. The pastor started telling me about Christ and the gospel and I started crying. I was embarrassed at first and confused about my reaction--it totally caught me off gaurd.
I prayed for the first time with the pastor and then sat down.
The whole "emotional" response to that event died down after awhile and I totally went back to my old ways. I wasn't reading the Bible or enjoying church. I felt like an imposter whenever I was in church because it wasn't "real" to me.

I rededicated my life back to the Lord just a couple of years ago and I've been serious about it since then. I read the word and pray and love our new church but for awhile there--I was just going through the motions, which I think a lot people do.
Anyways...

Jewish Atheist said...

"1 If God exists, he is omnibenevolent.
2 If God exists, he is omnipotent.
3 An omnibenevolent God would not permit evil to exist.
4 An omnipotent God would have the power to prevent evil's existence.
5 Therefore, if God exists, evil does not exist.
6 Evil exists.
7 Therefore, God does not exist."


I don't agree that 1 must be true. That's what this whole post was about. 2 is probably true enough -- if God isn't omnipotent, he's pretty damn close, since he created the Universe and all. 3 is true assuming omnipotence. 4 is true by definition. 5 is true if omnipotence and omnibenevolence are true. 6 is true. 7 is true if 5 is true.

All the atheist has done is prove that no god exists who fits his or her definition of omnibenevolence.

I can't see any reasonable definition of omnibenevolence that permits child molestation or earthquakes that kill innocent people. How would you define omnibenevolent?

Jewish Atheist said...

I rededicated my life back to the Lord just a couple of years ago and I've been serious about it since then.

So it sounds more like something you decided to do rather than something you were reasoned (or reasoned yourself) into.

Sadie Lou said...

I can't see any reasonable definition of omnibenevolence that permits child molestation or earthquakes that kill innocent people.

I don't understand. Here's how it works, for me:
God has a plan. A will.
Man has a will. Man's will is to be happy. To be happy is to fulfill one's desires. Man's desires are sinful.
God does not make us sin--we are responsible for sin.
Sin=child molestation, rape, murder...
God uses our sin to glorify himself.
There are other methods God uses to glorify Himself--He does good things through people.
Some people who do good things, glorify themselves
Some people who do good things glorify God
When God excersises His wrath against a thankless people; God is glorified.
how do you demonstrate Goodness if there is no--'badness'
How do you demonstrate Mercy if there is no Crime?
Holiness if there is no sin?
Peace if there is no chaos?
Righteousness if there is no unrighteousness?
Wrath if there isn't rebellion?


am I getting any closer to helping you understand where I'm coming from?

So it sounds more like something you decided to do rather than something you were reasoned (or reasoned yourself) into.

You could say that. I had gotten myself in a lot of trouble while I was professing to be a Christian. My marriage was failing, I was failing my kids as a mother, I was selfish, destructive, and thoughtless. I was more interested in pleasing myself than anyone else.
I ran into a Christian guru in a bar one night and I'd have to say that my life changing turn around started there--in that bar. It was a gradual change back to the Lord.

asher said...

I must do the Woody Allen version of the sylogism:

1. All men are mortal
2. Aristotle is a man
Therefore, all men are Aristotle

Works for me

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou,

You make a bunch of assertions with no evidence.

1) How do you know God has a plan?
2) How do you know he's benevolent?
3) How can he let people rape little girls? That's beyond free will -- God is letting girls be born into hell on Earth.
4) How does killing 2000 people with a flood (Katrina) glorify God? That seems pretty twisted.

am I getting any closer to helping you understand where I'm coming from?

No, but I do appreciate your trying. :)

You could say that. I had gotten myself in a lot of trouble while I was professing to be a Christian. My marriage was failing, I was failing my kids as a mother, I was selfish, destructive, and thoughtless. I was more interested in pleasing myself than anyone else.

You do understand that there are a lot of us who aren't selfish, destructive, or thoughtless without being Christians, right? Just like there are non-alcoholics who haven't found Jesus.

Random said...

"3 is true assuming omnipotence"

Woah there JA - that's a big leap. Care to explain how you got there? Sadie and the rest of us have spent several posts now explaining why it is a necessary part of a benevolent God's plan to allow evil to exist - basically, as he gave us free will, in order to make the gift meaningful he also gives us options to choose from. As far as I can tell, you've simply ignored this point and instead continue to insist a priori that if God exists and is benevolent he has no choice but to suppress evil. This is an interesting concept - an omnipotent deity with a whole list of things he is required to do by fiat of the atheists!

As for the specific examples you cite (victims of earthquakes, abuse, etc.) these are only meaningful arguments if you believe this is the only world that exists, and the life we have is the only one we have. To those who believe in God, this life, whether it is short or long, happy or sad, is only a preparation for the life eternal that is to follow when all wounds are healed and all sins honestly repented of are forgiven. I fully understand that as an atheist you do not accept any of this, but it's a part of the package which you really can't separate out. To adopt the position you seem to have adopted - basically, "for the sake of argument let's assume God exists, but lets demonstrate his immorality by focussing only on this world and continuing to reject the next one that would also exist if he does too" - is fatally flawed logically.

Sadie Lou said...

You do understand that there are a lot of us who aren't selfish, destructive, or thoughtless without being Christians, right? Just like there are non-alcoholics who haven't found Jesus.
I was making a point that I did that stuff while I was a Christian. You missed it.
and don't kid yourself--when you say "us" are you claiming you are not any of those things--ever?

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie and the rest of us have spent several posts now explaining why it is a necessary part of a benevolent God's plan to allow evil to exist - basically, as he gave us free will, in order to make the gift meaningful he also gives us options to choose from.

An Omnipotent God could create a universe with free will in which little girls aren't raped every day of their lives. And even if that little girl someday goes to Heaven, it doesn't make God all-good, it makes Him partly good.

and don't kid yourself--when you say "us" are you claiming you are not any of those things--ever?

Well of course, sometimes. But not any more so than your average Christian.

Jewish Atheist said...

Random: that's a good thought experiment, and very much to the point.

Of course my instinct would be to go with (b), since (b) is more in line with everything else I've seen evidence for. It's a known fact that "magicians" use illusions, but it's unproven that prayer works, so (b) seems more likely to be the case than (a). However, if the people were able to repeat the experiment in circumstances in which I could be reasonably sure it wasn't an illusion (or a magnetic field, etc.) I would be forced to go with (a). Similarly, if God appeared to me tomorrow, and I were reasonably sure I wasn't hallucinating or being deceived, I would have to start believing.

The point of the original thought experiment was that nobody expects prayer to work in a situation that is testable, yet so many believe in prayer regardless. The author is just pointing out that we atheists assume that the world behaves essentially the same when it's not being tested than when it is, while religious people believe that it behaves differently when it's not testable.

Sadie Lou said...

Well of course, sometimes. But not any more so than your average Christian.

I'm sorry if I made it sound otherwise.
In other words, "duh".
*wink*

Jack's Shack said...

God created a world with freedom of choice in it. Was that a moral act? And is freedom of choice meaningful if there are no meaningful options to choose from? I would venture to suggest that the answer to both those questions is "yes" and "no" respectively.

Evil needs to be in the world to allow us to demonstrate morality by rejecting it - God has given us the freedom to choose, how we exercise that choice is up to us. God could have created a world were we had no choice but to worship him and to live according to his commandments - would that have been moral? surely not. God loves us enough to allow us the freedom to live our own lives and make our own mistakes. That surely is the truly moral course?


That is pretty close to my thought process regarding this. I believe that we are all born with a clean slate, we are innocent of sin and what we do during our lives is what we do. We can choose to behave in a good and ethical manner or we can do otherwise. Of course there is a middle ground in which we try to do well and fall short or always try to do ill and sometimes do good.

The Akedah always makes me think of this question, is G-d good blah, blah.

It is a worthwhile question and something that I really think needs to be addressed. If you have free will then you have the ability to make choices and sometimes those choices are going to be outside the pale. That doesn't mean that G-d is evil or immoral.

I am kind of thinking outloud here, but you could make the argument that G-d serves a parental role and if he/she/it did everything for the children they would never grow up. In other words, we are given the tools to try and fix or harm the world and it is entirely up to us to make that decision.

Isitmoraltopostanonymously said...

After reading with interest all of the comments, I would like to pose a question to JA and all others: what is your definition of "good" or "moral"? IMHO, that definition is the unspoken assumption that underlies this entire discussion.

JA seems to define good or moral as that which we agree is good or moral. Such a definition is untenable. Why? Because if morality is a system for evaluating behavior (or belief perhaps) then any moral system must come from a source external to that behavior.

Case in point: a school teacher assigns a true-false test to evaluate his students' mastery of American history. In order to grade the test, he first looks at the answers. 90 percent of the students marked Q1 "true" so he makes the answer to Q1 "true". 80 percent marked "false" to Q2, so he marks "F" on the key.

Absurd? Of course. But that's what you're doing when you draft your list of moral or immoral behavior based solely on what we agree is moral or immoral. Another example: In ancient Athens, one of the most celebrated intimate relationships was between a grown man and a young boy; today we lock men up for this. If you and I were born and raised in Nazi Germany, we'd likely have been members of Hitler's Youth; if we'd been born and raised in a Taliban camp, we'd think that it is moral to blow people up.

If you agree that our social agreement is enough to make an action moral or immoral, then you are giving license to the Taliban to fly airplanes into buildings (after all, it's right for them...")

Just like the schoolteacher grading the exam, any measure of behavior must originate in a source external to the behavior.

If you agree with my point then I'll tell you what I think is an intellectually rigorous definition of moral, but I'd rather hear yours first.

AS

Random said...

JA,

" Random: that's a good thought experiment"

I think you posted in the wrong comment thread by mistake:-) For anybody wqondering what's going on here, this is actually an answer to a post of mine to "on scientific naturalism".

To answer the more general point (and at the risk of drifting away from the subject here - happy to take it back there if you wish), but I think the author of the original is confusing prayer with miracle working, rather like the man trapped in the flood in the story*. Believers use prayer for the most part not to ask for miracles but for consolation, support, and also to seek understanding of the will of God so they can better follow His purpose. "Fiat voluntas tua" (your will be done) is right up there at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer for a reason, after all.

*Okay, for those who haven't heard it. A river bursts it's banks and the floodwaters start rising, trapping a man in his house. Rescue workers in a boat come by, and offer to take him safety. "No thanks," said the man. I trust and believe in God. he'll keep me safe."

A few hours later, the waters have risen further, flooding the ground floor of the man's house and forcing him onto the roof, when another boat comes by and offers to carry him off. "No thanks," said the man. I trust and believe in God. he'll keep me safe."

A few hours after that, the waters have risen even further, forcing the man onto the roof of his house when a helicopter comes by and tries to take him off. He gives the same reply as the last two times.

Eventually of course he drowns. Because however he lived a good life he goes to Heaven and is brought before the Throne of God, where he speaks out - "What happened, God? I trusted in you! Why did you leave me to die?"

"What are you talking about?" said God. "I sent you two boats and a helicopter!"

The moral I trust is obvious - don't expect miracles even if you do pray. God has other ways of working.

Jewish Atheist said...

After reading with interest all of the comments, I would like to pose a question to JA and all others: what is your definition of "good" or "moral"?

That's a whole other discussion. However, the short version is "don't hurt other people." However, I also believe in the right to self-defense and defense of others, so it's okay to put a murderer in jail so he won't kill others, and it's okay to kill a would-be murderer if there's no other way to stop him. By this very simple definition, the Nazis are immoral, and the Romans who have sex with young boys are immoral. (I'm presuming both that the sex was harmful to the boys and that they are unable to give consent due to their age. I'm okay with adult homosexual relationships, etc.)

Of course, the short-short version is: "Love thy neighbor as thyself," where "love" is read metaphorically.

Believers use prayer for the most part not to ask for miracles but for consolation, support, and also to seek understanding of the will of God so they can better follow His purpose.

I have no problem with the idea that prayer affects the person praying, rather like meditation. However, some of the other commentators argue that prayer can affect, for example, someone else's cancer.

Isitmoraltopostanonymously said...

I hope you'll forgive my playing "Devil's advocate", because I really want to flush this out. Based on your definition, it would appear that the following choices are moral:

a) walking by someone who is drowning without attempting to help (I'm not actually hurting him, he was drowning before I got there)
b) killing a person who is suffering unbearable and uncurable pain
c) helping a person commit suicide who has made a rational and reasoned decision to cease living
d) helping someone go to heaven by killing him (if my belief system is that dying for this cause sends you straight to heaven, and that heaven is a good place to be)(assuming that I'm killing myself simultaneously, thus proving that I'm not merely paying lip-service to the belief but truly believe it.
e) having an affair with another man's wife if she wants it and there is absolutely no way he will ever find out about it.
f) intentionally under-reporting my income by $1.00 (you'd be hard-pressed to show anyone hurt by so small a discrepancy)

Do you agree that any of these are moral actions? If not, why not?

Jewish Atheist said...

I'll take them one at a time.

a) Peter Singer talks about this kind of thing a lot. He argues that it's no worse to passively allow evil to happen than to do evil, which leads to all sorts of unpleasant conclusions like we must donate every penny we can possibly afford to people who need it more. I'm not sure I agree, but I'm not sure I can prove him wrong, either.

I think that what it comes down to is, what cost must I bear in order to help others? In this example, must I put my life in danger to save someone else's? I would argue that it's obvious that if there's no risk to me, I must save him, and that if it's nearly certain that I'll die trying, I have no obligation to save him. In between, I don't know.

b) Assuming the person in question desires you to kill him, I'm essentially in favor of it. This assumes he is mentally capable of making such a decision. Superficially, it appears that I'm "harming" him, since I'd be killing him, but in some cases where a person wants to be killed, continued pain can be seen as a greater "harm" than death.

c) I'm not sure that a person can make a "rational and reasoned" decision to cease living, since most suicidal people are depressed and consequently irrational.

d) This gets into a whole question of "If I think I'm doing right, am I by definition doing right?" I think it's sort of a trick question. The answer is, I might believe that I'm doing right, but a more objective observer might see that I'm doing wrong.

e) Assuming she and he have an implicit or explicit agreement to exclusivity, I would argue that helping her break her agreement hurts him even if he doesn't know about it.

f) Morality isn't all-or-nothing. This would probably be very slightly immoral since you're causing very slight harm. Stealing a dollar and killing a person are both wrong, but they aren't equally wrong.

Isitmoraltopostanonymously said...

Peter Singer talks about this kind of thing a lot. He argues that it's no worse to passively allow evil to happen than to do evil, which leads to all sorts of unpleasant conclusions like we must donate every penny we can possibly afford to people who need it more. I'm not sure I agree, but I'm not sure I can prove him wrong, either.

I'm pretty sure that you cannot, given your definition of morality.

I think that what it comes down to is, what cost must I bear in order to help others? In this example, must I put my life in danger to save someone else's? I would argue that it's obvious that if there's no risk to me, I must save him, and that if it's nearly certain that I'll die trying, I have no obligation to save him. In between, I don't know.

What makes it obvious? I ask in all sincerity, because it isn't obvious to me.

b) Assuming the person in question desires you to kill him, I'm essentially in favor of it. This assumes he is mentally capable of making such a decision. Superficially, it appears that I'm "harming" him, since I'd be killing him, but in some cases where a person wants to be killed, continued pain can be seen as a greater "harm" than death.

The trap here is the words (your words) "can be seen" - i.e., continued pain can also be seen as better than death because life is better than death! If you come from a culture that puts a great premium on life, you will see it one way; if you come from a culture that puts less value on life, you will see it another way. Where is teh objectivity in your answer?

c) I'm not sure that a person can make a "rational and reasoned" decision to cease living, since most suicidal people are depressed and consequently irrational.

The key word is "most" - my question is regarding the minority for whom it is a rational decision.

d) This gets into a whole question of "If I think I'm doing right, am I by definition doing right?" I think it's sort of a trick question. The answer is, I might believe that I'm doing right, but a more objective observer might see that I'm doing wrong.

Your answer to (d) I think belies your position. My point is that there is no such objective observer. An "objective observer" also has a set of socially-constructed values. Yet some of us feel that our conscience is absolute, as in: human slavery is absolutely wrong! Is it? Can anyone prove it?

e) Assuming she and he have an implicit or explicit agreement to exclusivity, I would argue that helping her break her agreement hurts him even if he doesn't know about it.

How does it hurt him if he'll never find out? In fact, it has been reported that an illicit affair can increase a woman's libido - perhaps he'll even benefit! There's no way to prove your point because "harm" and "hurt" are subjective terms.

f) Morality isn't all-or-nothing. This would probably be very slightly immoral since you're causing very slight harm. Stealing a dollar and killing a person are both wrong, but they aren't equally wrong.

Are you saying that it's OK to behave "slightly" immorally? If so, then it sounds like a convenient way to justify immoral activity ("we were just playing"); if not, then what's the practical difference between a lesser and greater gradations?

Moreover, your theory leads to the following problem: let's say that we grade immorality on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is an minor action like using someone's pencil without permission. Every action has to fall somewhere on that scale - how do you decide where?? Where is the line drawn between those things that are OK to do under certain circumstances and those things that would be immoral under any circumstance? Or do you not believe that the latter exist?

Let's say, for instance, that you have to choose between saving the life of your only child who is an unemployed musician and pregnant or a scientist who happens to be on the verge of discovering a cure to AIDS? And it's a situation set up so that pushing the button to save one automatically kills the other, and inaction will kill both of them in 1 minute. Which button would you push? Do you have an objective standard of measuring morality that will persuade everyone to push the same button, or do you leave it to personal discretion? If the former, what is the standard or how can it be learned? If the latter, then aren't you defining morality based on subjective criteria?

Jewish Atheist said...

...I would argue that it's obvious that if there's no risk to me, I must save him...

What makes it obvious?


Well, if we're working from the assumption that morality stems from "don't hurt other people," I don't see why "hurt" should refer only to active actions and spare passivity. Not saving him hurts him.

If you come from a culture that puts a great premium on life, you will see it one way; if you come from a culture that puts less value on life, you will see it another way. Where is teh objectivity in your answer?

I haven't claimed objectivity. Not everybody will agree on what's moral in any situation. This is obvious.

I'm not sure that a person can make a "rational and reasoned" decision to cease living, since most suicidal people are depressed and consequently irrational.

The key word is "most" - my question is regarding the minority for whom it is a rational decision.


Well, hypothetically then, I'd be okay with it. But in the real world, I wouldn't because of the large risk that the person in question is not competent to make that decision.

My point is that there is no such objective observer. An "objective observer" also has a set of socially-constructed values. Yet some of us feel that our conscience is absolute, as in: human slavery is absolutely wrong! Is it? Can anyone prove it?

I agree that there is no true objectivity. However, starting from "don't hurt anyone," it's not hard to demonstrate that slavery is wrong.

There's no way to prove your point because "harm" and "hurt" are subjective terms.

True.

Are you saying that it's OK to behave "slightly" immorally? If so, then it sounds like a convenient way to justify immoral activity ("we were just playing"); if not, then what's the practical difference between a lesser and greater gradations?

I'm not saying it's ok. The practical difference? Maybe I won't bankrupt myself instead of stealing a pencil. Or if I have to decide between stealing a loaf of bread and letting a child die of hunger, I'd go with the lesser of two evils.

Where is the line drawn between those things that are OK to do under certain circumstances and those things that would be immoral under any circumstance? Or do you not believe that the latter exist?

Again, no objective line. We must constantly struggle to figure out what the right thing to do in difficult situations is. For example, killing someone is "hurting" them pretty much as much as possible. However, if that someone is about to kill 30 children, it's the lesser evil. Morality is necessarily based on circumstance.

Let's say, for instance, that you have to choose between saving the life of your only child who is an unemployed musician and pregnant or a scientist who happens to be on the verge of discovering a cure to AIDS? And it's a situation set up so that pushing the button to save one automatically kills the other, and inaction will kill both of them in 1 minute. Which button would you push?

It's subjective. I think either choice is understandable. As a parent, one has more responsibility towards protecting his child. However, saving billions of lives could easily outweigh that.

Remember: Just because you would prefer morality to be objective doesn't mean that it is.

Isitmoraltopostanonymously said...

I haven't claimed objectivity. Not everybody will agree on what's moral in any situation. This is obvious…I agree that there is no true objectivity. However, starting from "don't hurt anyone," it's not hard to demonstrate that slavery is wrong…..Remember: Just because you would prefer morality to be objective doesn't mean that it is.

On the contrary: such a proof (about slavery) is impossible without brining in to the argument several other subjective assumptions. And instead of discussing slavery specifically, let’s keep the discussion at the more general level of your definition: moral behavior is that which does not hurt another person.

The problem with this definition is that even if you got every human being on the planet to agree (and they may indeed do so) it begs several questions:
a. What is a person? Is a black person a person? Is a Jew a person? Is a non-Moslem a person? Etc.
b. What is hurt? If I kill you in order to send you to heaven, have I hurt you or helped you?

Now, you can say that the answer is subjective, but the reality is not. In other words, either a suicide-bomber is going to heaven or he’s not going to heaven. Regardless of what you or I or he believe, either he went there or he did not. To reiterate, our beliefs are subjective, but reality is objective. The goal of science and reason is to bring my beliefs more in line with reality.

Therefore, I would like to propose a modification of your definition of morality..

Let’s start with the agreement – I hope you’ll agree – that whatever the criteria, any moral system is defined as a system for evaluating behavior (as good, bad, or somewhere in-between).

If you agree with that functional definition of morality, then we can clarify what are the features of an evaluative system. For example, when a teacher gives a test – let’s make it a true-false test – here’s what he does not do: “Let’s see, 90% of the students marked ‘true’ for question 1, so let’s make that answer true. 85% marked false for question 2, so let’s make that answer false….etc.” Why is this scenario absurd? Because his test is not evaluating their behavior (how well they studied); instead, this test is merely reflecting their behavior. By our current definition of a moral system, that doesn’t work. The standards of measurement – the moral code – must come from a source external to the behavior itself.

Historically, the fact that pedophilia used to be celebrated and is not criminal is a reflection of changing social conventions. But do we look back at those ancient pedophiles and say, “pedophilia used to be moral and now it isn’t” or do we say, “pedophilia is immoral and thankfully we’re more enlightened now about this matter.” If you choose the former, you are saying “moral” but meaning “conventional” (unless you want to tell me that it used to be non-harmful to the boys and now is harmful; but if you go down that path, you are opening up the very real possibility of pedophilia being legalized again. In fact, in today’s regulated society, it’s probably more likely to have a non-harmful pedophilia today than in the past, were it legalized and regulated.

So if you want to define “morality” as “that which conforms to current conventions of behavior”, that’s fine, but then you really have no good argument against Hitler or Bin Laden, who happen to live in a culture with conventions of behavior that we find repugnant, but “for them” their killing of other humans is moral.

If, on the other hand, you agree (as most people I’ve asked to agree) that certain behaviors are objectively, absolutely bad regardless of what some person or group of persons may believe – such as flying airplanes into buildings full of people – then you’ve agreed with the concept that there is an objective moral reality and our job must be to discover what that is.

Thus, your comment:
It's subjective. I think either choice is understandable. As a parent, one has more responsibility towards protecting his child. However, saving billions of lives could easily outweigh that.

...must be restated. You are correct that we use subjective criteria to make choices, but that is a weakness and perhaps not always even necessary, if we were more scientific about our search for the moral path. Sure, you can see both sides of the argument, but that doesn't make each one equally moral.

Obviously, with such mutually-exlusive moral stances (eg, when life and death are involved, such as in debates over abortion, euthanasia etc), it is vital that we work these questions out ASAP. Because – for instance – what if abortion really is murder? Then we millions of legal murders every year in this country. Wouldn’t we want to stop this? But if it is not murder, then we would want to know that, too.

Jewish Atheist said...

it begs several questions:
a. What is a person? Is a black person a person? Is a Jew a person? Is a non-Moslem a person? Etc.
b. What is hurt? If I kill you in order to send you to heaven, have I hurt you or helped you?


a. A person is a person. That's pretty simple. There are of course some border questions like fetuses, which I'll get into later and some, like Peter Singer, may not strongly differentiate between people and other animals.
b. This gets to the heart of the matter. I think one can make the argument that if I'm competent, you do not have the right to hurt me even if you believe that you are helping me.

Let’s start with the agreement – I hope you’ll agree – that whatever the criteria, any moral system is defined as a system for evaluating behavior (as good, bad, or somewhere in-between).

ok

, “pedophilia is immoral and thankfully we’re more enlightened now about this matter.”

This one. Perhaps we need to modify the definition of morality to include not doing something to someone against their will, with exceptions for parents doing what's best for their kids, etc. The fact is, pedophilia *is* harmful to kids. In the past, either they didn't know this or they didn't care, but that doesn't make it moral.

If, on the other hand, you agree (as most people I’ve asked to agree) that certain behaviors are objectively, absolutely bad regardless of what some person or group of persons may believe – such as flying airplanes into buildings full of people – then you’ve agreed with the concept that there is an objective moral reality and our job must be to discover what that is.

The only thing I'm agreeing is objective is reality. Therefore, if we begin with "don't hurt people" then it logically follows that "flying airplanes into buildings full of [civilians]" is bad. I don't claim that "hurting people is immoral" is objective, since it begs the question. "Immoral" is just a word. If Hitler believed it moral to kill Jews, by his definition of morality he's right, however he still fails to meet the standard of "don't hurt people," which is MY definition of morality. "Don't hurt people" is also a much more pragmatic definition for society as a whole to take than Hitler's, since he has no basis whatsoever to say that Jews (or gypsies or whoever) are less worthy of life.

I believe people who believe it's moral to kill indiscriminately are bad people, but I can't prove it *objectively* wrong without begging the question. In other words, Hitler *objectively* hurt people, which is something I (subjectively) and we as a society (subjectively) consider immoral.

Sure, you can see both sides of the argument, but that doesn't make each one equally moral.

Agreed. I didn't say they were equally moral -- I said they were each understandable.

Obviously, with such mutually-exlusive moral stances (eg, when life and death are involved, such as in debates over abortion, euthanasia etc), it is vital that we work these questions out ASAP.

There are fundamental, subjective disagreements about these questions which prevent a single answer from being worked out. For abortion, the status of a fetus is debated. Basically, is a fetus a person? There is no objective answer to this question, because "person" is just a word which may or may not include fetus depending on the dictionary or user. We can debate the criteria that should be used to determine personhood, but it's not objectively true that a few cells that will probably eventually be unanimously considered a person either is or isn't a "person." There is no right answer. That you wish it were different is fine, but don't let that desire trick you into believing that there is an objective answer to the question.

Isitmoraltopostanonymously said...

The only thing I'm agreeing is objective is reality. Therefore, if we begin with "don't hurt people" then it logically follows that "flying airplanes into buildings full of [civilians]" is bad. I don't claim that "hurting people is immoral" is objective, since it begs the question. "Immoral" is just a word. If Hitler believed it moral to kill Jews, by his definition of morality he's right, however he still fails to meet the standard of "don't hurt people," which is MY definition of morality. "Don't hurt people" is also a much more pragmatic definition for society as a whole to take than Hitler's, since he has no basis whatsoever to say that Jews (or gypsies or whoever) are less worthy of life.

Thats not true: he did have a basis...he defined Jews as "sub-human" and therefore less worthy of life than humans. And within your intellectual framework, you cannot prove him wrong, only beat him (or, God forbid) lose to him, in a total warfare, because in your system of "morality is just a word and not a reality", the winners write the dictionary and therefore might literally makes right. Since we won that war, we can conveniently think of our mores as "obviously" right but to the Nazis and Taliban, we're mistaken at best.

I believe people who believe it's moral to kill indiscriminately are bad people, but I can't prove it *objectively* wrong without begging the question. In other words, Hitler *objectively* hurt people, which is something I (subjectively) and we as a society (subjectively) consider immoral.

In other words, you label "killing indiscriminately" as immoral or evil because such behavior is not consistent with your personal values, not because there is anything inherently wrong with indiscriminate killing. Would you agree to that summary of your position?

We can debate the criteria that should be used to determine personhood, but it's not objectively true that a few cells that will probably eventually be unanimously considered a person either is or isn't a "person." There is no right answer. That you wish it were different is fine, but don't let that desire trick you into believing that there is an objective answer to the question.

Your rejection of the objectivity of personhood is itself an objectivist postion: how come you can make an objective claim (that personhood is not objective) and I cannot (that personhood is objective)? This is not verbal leger-de-main. I might further put the ball back in your court like this: There is a right answer and we need to search for it together. that you wish it were different is fine, but don't let that desire trick you into believing that ther is no objective answer to the question.

Moreover, I would like to (respectfully) posit that your anti-objectivist position has more to gain from self-deception than the side I'm arguing from presently. Why? Because if I'm wrong, and there is no objective definition of personhood, then I have more freedom to define personhood however I feel. But if you're wrong and there is an objective definition for personhood, then your freedom may be potentially curtailed if that defintion turns out to be different from whatever definition you currently subscribe to. Thus, all things being equal, the relativist argument would appear more likely prone to self-deception than the objectivist one.

Jewish Atheist said...

Thats not true: he did have a basis...he defined Jews as "sub-human" and therefore less worthy of life than humans. And within your intellectual framework, you cannot prove him wrong...

His definition of Jews as "sub-human" had no basis in reason or fact. It's reasonable to debate whether embryos have the same moral status as complete human beings, but labelling people of a certain religion as "sub-human" has no basis in fact.

In other words, you label "killing indiscriminately" as immoral or evil because such behavior is not consistent with your personal values, not because there is anything inherently wrong with indiscriminate killing. Would you agree to that summary of your position?

"killing indiscriminately" is obviously immoral by the working definition "don't hurt people." I'm not sure if "inherently wrong" means anything, although I understand that you wish it did.

There is a right answer and we need to search for it together.

If you are claiming a right answer exists, I would argue that the burden of proof lies on you. My position is that "moral" is an abstract word, and consequently has no meaning outside of human beings. I believe there is an objective group of things that "person" CAN refer to, but the use of "person" in moral arguments can be used either to include or to exclude fetuses, since as human beings, we create language. This border problem is common in language. We know what a car is, but can we say that an SUV is *objectively* either a car or a not a car (i.e. a truck?) You can define the word however you want.

Thus, all things being equal, the relativist argument would appear more likely prone to self-deception than the objectivist one.

Eh. Maybe. Whether this is true or not doesn't affect the veracity of your claim. Besides, billions more people believe in the wrong objective truth (based on the fact that billions believe in mutually exclusive "objective truths") than believe in subjective morality, and that most of them believe that their particular people is the chosen people, etc., so I would argue that it's more likely that moral objectivists are deceiving themselves.

I see no evidence that there can be such a thing as objective morality but lots that people want to believe their own morality is objective.

Isitmoraltopostanonymously said...

I'm happy for you to define terms however you want, but then let Hitler do the same: if he wants to define personhood as "not-Jewish" (for a reason I'llmention below), however you may find it distateful, you may not understand his reasons, but why it a bit presumptious to sweep him aside with the declaration that he "has no basis in reason or fact"?

Your rejection of objective morality in favor of a functional definition is not useful for any religious question. Social questions can be decided with a vote, or a gun. But what I or you or anyone chooses to do religiously has radically different meaning depending on how much that religious behavior is based on an objective understanding of reality. Religious people make claims that would appear to be unverifiable and therefore we tend to ignore them; however, their claims are objectivist: eg, if you do not believe in Jesus you are condemned to eternal damnation. That's serious stuff. Now, perhaps you've examined the claim and the evidence and concluded that it falls below your threshold of probability and therefore rejected it as a guide for your own life. But such a conclusion would make you an agnostic vis-a-vis Christianity, not an atheist. "It may be true but I'm not convinced" is an agnostic position. To be an atheist, you have to be able to say "I've seen evidence to convince me that it is not true."

Back to Hitler: one reason (I believe the primary reason) he wrote that he hated Jews is because the Jewish people brought morality to the world, Jews gave the world a conscience. What he meant by that, I understand, is that Jews gave the world the idea that there are indeed absolutes - objective values of right and wrong: eg, it is objectively absolutely wrong to practice child sacrifice; etc. Hitler fought against that - he was in that sense not immoral but amoral - he wanted to destroy the "Jewish" concept of absolute morality. Thus, your position that morality is merely a label for behaviors that I don't like, is remarkbably similar to Hitler's philosophy of amorality and might makes right.

Similarly, like Hitler's, your amoral position is intellectually defensible. But like the objectivist view, yours comes down (as you stated) to an unprovable belief that the lack of evidence (or your failure to find that evidence) is itself evidence enough for pragmatic relativism. Of course I agree with you that the existence of people - even many people - who hold a certain belief has no bearing on the belief's veracity. However, that observation is often used as an excuse not to investigate the veracity of their claims. I'll put it this way: my personal quest for wisdom often puts me in front of someone who claims to have some sort of absolute truth. Now, what do I know - maybe they do have an absolute truth. You for example, claim to have an absolute truth that there is no absolute morality, a conclusion you've arrived at because you haven't seen any evidence for such morality. It sounds, though, like me you are interested in hearing any such evidence as there may be. Hence, if a Moslem says, there is absolute morality contained in the Koran, my first question to him is, How do you know that the Koran is what you or it claims to be? So too I posit to the Christian and to the Jew, the Hindu, the Buddhist, etc. The fact that most of them are definitely wrong (because they make mutually exclusve claims) does not exclude the possibility that one of them is right.

What I've discovered in this investigation is in fact that the Jewish people's claim is more intellectually tenable than the others (which is why I was attracted to your blog) but now I'm getting off the topic of this thread and maybe we've developed this theme as far as it's going to go. I wish you happy searching, if indeed you are searching. Thank you for a stimulating discussion.

Jewish Atheist said...

"It may be true but I'm not convinced" is an agnostic position. To be an atheist, you have to be able to say "I've seen evidence to convince me that it is not true."

I'm an atheist like I don't believe in unicorns. I'm convinced it's untrue, but admit the small possibility that I'm wrong. By your logic, the only way we could believe in anything is if we were in severe denial.

Thus, your position that morality is merely a label for behaviors that I don't like, is remarkbably similar to Hitler's philosophy of amorality and might makes right.

I believe neither in amorality nor in might makes right, so I don't see how it's similar. Moreover, you mischaracterised my position. I believe morality is a label (as ANY word is a label) for the concept of not hurting others. There is nothing which doesn't hurt others that I consider immoral except perhaps doing something to someone against their will.

But like the objectivist view, yours comes down (as you stated) to an unprovable belief that the lack of evidence (or your failure to find that evidence) is itself evidence enough for pragmatic relativism.

I never claimed to PROVE that pragmatic relativism is correct. It's simply the default until someone can prove an objectivity for which I have thus far seen no evidence.

You for example, claim to have an absolute truth that there is no absolute morality

I don't claim that at all. I *believe* there is no absolute morality and have never seen evidence to the contrary.

The fact that most of them are definitely wrong (because they make mutually exclusve claims) does not exclude the possibility that one of them is right.

True. But it doesn't give me any reason to believe they're right either.

What I've discovered in this investigation is in fact that the Jewish people's claim is more intellectually tenable than the others

Well, that would be a whole different discussion. However, until I'm convinced that a) an objective morality exists and b) that I know what it is, I have no choice but to continue with my pragmatism.

BaalteshuvaJew said...

However, until I'm convinced that a) an objective morality exists and b) that I know what it is, I have no choice but to continue with my pragmatism.

Question: what is your standard of evidence. I would like to posit the following challenge: you will never reach 100% certainty, just as one never has 100% certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow. You might be 99.9%, but not 100.

But what level of certainty is enough to act?

For instance, let's say a doctor tells her patient that a certain surgery is necessary to save her life, but there is only a 60% chance of success and a 40% chance of premature death. They get a second opinion and a third opinion and finally reach a consensus of doctors that there is a 75% chance of success of this surgery (and only 10% chance of survival without the surgery) so they decide to go forward with it. Now, does this mean that the surgeon will only make a 75% effort?

Obviously not.

Once a person decides that he has enough evidence that Moses received the Torah at Sinai (ie, absolute morality), then it behooves him to make a 100% effort to live up to that standard.

But if you do not define your required level of evidence before starting the investigation, you will NEVER be convinced. Because human nature is to err on the side of inertia. What standard of evidence do you need to conclude that Moses in all liklihood did receive the Torah at Sinai?

(bear in mind that the medical community, including the FDA, generally requires a level of certainty much lower than 100%, depending on the situation, to recommend drugs or treatments...) ... how certain do you need to be? If you say 100% that's effectively saying "no amount of evidence will ever convince me" because very few, if any, choices we make are based on anywhere near such a level. Reasonable people decide whom to marry, where to go to college, what job to take - major life choices - based on high probability of happiness/success/etc but no where near 100%. The unhappy ones are those who avoid making choices due to the fear of the improbable but possible negative outcome.

Jewish Atheist said...

Question: what is your standard of evidence. I would like to posit the following challenge: you will never reach 100% certainty, just as one never has 100% certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow. You might be 99.9%, but not 100.

That is the question, I agree.

But if you do not define your required level of evidence before starting the investigation, you will NEVER be convinced. Because human nature is to err on the side of inertia.

Remember, I used to be an Orthodox Jew, so my "inertia" was to stay that way.

What standard of evidence do you need to conclude that Moses in all liklihood did receive the Torah at Sinai?

Well, it needs to seem more likely than not. So more than 50% or so. At the present moment, though, I'm about 95% sure or greater it didn't happen, for many reasons, which I have spelled out in various posts here. I don't want to debate them here, but some reasons are:

1) The text seems to be written by people.
2) The Torah is very wrong about the history and nature of the Universe.
3) According to the Torah itself, Moses received the ten commandments from God, not the Torah.
4) I have no more reason to believe in Judaism than I do in Christianity, Islam, Paganism, or any other ancient mythology.
5) The problem of evil.

BaalteshuvaJew said...

Maybe your inertia was Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy, but it is now secularism.

For whatever reason, you seem to have received some misinformation about what Orthodox Judaism (and the Torah) actually claims, and therefore your arguments and judgments are against a straw-man.

Here is a free resource that should help you get to 51% (are you sure you want to?):

http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/Rabbi_Gottlieb_Tapes.html

Jewish Atheist said...

I've heard the arguments. They range from disingenous to unconvincing. I'm happy with my current worldview, but thanks for the suggestion.

Have you read Richard Dawkin's The Blind Watchmaker? That'll probably take you well below 51% if you give it a chance.

BaalteshuvaJew said...

I've heard the arguments. They range from disingenous to unconvincing. I'm happy with my current worldview, but thanks for the suggestion.

As I suspected.

Have you read Richard Dawkin's The Blind Watchmaker? That'll probably take you well below 51% if you give it a chance.

Yes, he's in the same boat as you (or vice-versa) - has no understanding of the Jewish claim and how it's fundamentally different from Xianity etc. He's essentially arguing against Christian theology, and I have no problem with that, has nothing to do with Jewish theology.

Jewish Atheist said...

Yes, he's in the same boat as you (or vice-versa) - has no understanding of the Jewish claim and how it's fundamentally different from Xianity etc.

Why do you keep saying this about me? Of course I have an understanding of a Jewish claim. I was an Orthodox Jew for 20-some years and have always been curious. I know the Jewish claim(s). Have you ever read my blog before?

BaalteshuvaJew said...

Yes, I've read much of your archives, which is what prompted me to comment. You seem to have received some misinformation about what Orthodox Judaism (and the Torah) actually claims (theologically). The fact that you were a practicing Orthodox Jew, even an educated one in a Jewish community, is irrelevant. Your blog, from your very first post to the last (although I admittedly did not read every single post!), reveals a profound misunderstanding of the Torah.

Just for the sake of an illustration, here's an example:

Eventually, I realized that if Rabbis could be wrong, perhaps the Torah could be wrong. After all, what made me believe it was the word of God other than the claims of Rabbis I knew to be fallible?

According to this, you think that the only basis for belief in Torah mi-Sinai is the claims of rabbis. Maybe I misunderstood you, but that is what you seem to be saying. Now, if I indeed understood you correctly, then you have a profound misunderstanding of Judaism, I'm sorry to say, despite your so-called Orthodox upbringing.

But since you are comfortable, as you say, in your lifestyle, I can understand why you're not interested this line of discussion, because more information might have personal implications...!

:-) be well...

BaalteshuvaJew said...

PS - when I wrote "so-called Orthodox" I did not mean to denigrate anyone, only to point out the irony of the term: "Orthodox" literally means "correct belief" and you evidently were inculcated with incorrect beliefs at a young age. There is a cultural group who are called "Orthodox", but membership in that group is generally defined by what synagoge you attend or whether or not you drive on the Sabbath ("orthoprax").

Jewish Atheist said...

BaalteshuvaJew, you are smug and arrogant. You keep believing that I simply believe what I do because I don't want to consider the alternative and that you know what the "correct beliefs" of Orthodoxy are while I don't.

Look at the top of my blog. It says, "Jewish Atheist." I do not believe in God. You may disagree with that conclusion, but you must admit that one can't be an Orthodox Jew if he does not believe in God. So if we can agree that, at a minimum, Orthodox Judaism requires a belief in God, then we may agree that, even with an imperfect understanding of Orthodoxy, I cannot believe it to be true. If there is no God, then God did not write the Torah. If there is no God, then the Torah sheb'al peh is just the collective wisdom of a bunch of smart men.

I'm not sure what you think the "correct beliefs" are, or how you came to believe in them, but I assure you, your criticism of me is unfounded.