Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Absolute morality,and other fairy tales.

I have been hearing a lot of the word absolute lately, to the point that when I hear the word and it does not refer to Vodka I assume the person is trying to sell me some snake oil. The first is when someone says absolute truth, I know they are setting up something, recently that something is some variation on the transcendental argument. However this is pure nonsense. Absolute is an invalid premise regarding truth in a discussion of logic, because it implies that there are degrees of truth which is in violation of the law of the excluded middle. Another proof that absolute is a fallacious qualifier would be as follows. Define a proposition as P that proposition is true if P=T if P is not equal to T then the proposition is false. If we add the qualifier absolute to the value of true we end up with P=T+A since P is only true if it equals T then for P to be true the value of A must be zero. So a proposition can only be absolutely true if the qualifier absolutely has no value in which case it is unnecessary. If on the other hand the qualifier absolute has meaning then A has a value greater than zero and P=T+A is false because P does not equal T. So an Absolute truth is either simply true or it is false.

The one I am currently debunking is absolute morality. I find this to be the worst offender because it is always a wind up for some apologetics where anyone who doesn't believe in whatever god is being peddled must rape and eat children. The problem again is the concept of absolute but also the description of morality as laws. Morality is no such thing, there is no one transcendental morality, what there are are systems or codes. There is also no absolute right or wrong. These are fine for a casual discussion and we all know what is in general meant, but for the purposes of logical proof the correct terminology would be consistent or inconsistent.

The moralists argument would go something like this, Do you believe in absolute moral laws. If you say yes they go on to make a case that some magical sky fairy or another has to be responsible for them. If you say no and that morals are subjective they will say something to the effect of "so if society decided that it were acceptable to rape and eat children then it would be right to do that?" some get more personal and say "since you don't believe in absolute moral laws then if you wanted to rape and eat children then there would be nothing wrong with that." Most people will try to explain that morality is a survival based system and that society does not in general condone that, and most try to explain that even if society said it was acceptable they would still find it wrong. However the apologist will start hammering away about "what absolute standard do you use to say it is wrong?" and such.

This is clearly skewed and dishonest but also hard to refute. It can be done with patience and a cool head but it is quite tough. The problem is that the apologist has framed the discussion by setting prejudicial terms. In an appropriate discussion one would say that they subscribe to a moral system or code(from here on I will say code) and that they are also bound by the moral system of their society(I will use system for societal morals). I could say that raping and eating children is inconsistent with both my moral code and the moral system of my society. If the question were asked "if society said that it was OK to rape and eat children then why would that be wrong" it would be a simple matter to state that in that case raping and eating children would be consistent with the moral system of society but still inconsistent with my personal moral code and I would not engage in it. It would also be perfectly acceptable to state that since my personal moral code takes precedence over the system of my society I would be compelled to oppose such behavior even at risk to myself. I would then ask if such behavior would become consistent with their moral code if it were sanctioned by society. They may respond, if they are clever, with "if your personal moral code takes precedence over societies system then why would you follow societies system at all." Since we have terms defined accurately it is easy to say, If my actions are inconsistent with societies moral system then there will be social consequences for violating those standards also depending on the actions there may be legal punishments as well, therefore the moral system of society enforces itself and I will only violate it if my personal code requires it to a degree that I am willing to accept the consequences. Also since the moral system of society is enforced through social pressure it reflects a consensus among the the personal codes of the members of that society, making situations where society condones an action that the majority find immoral to be uncommon. The moral system of a society typically reflects the moral codes of its members. Obviously there are exceptions, it is not uncommon for political or religious powers to be strong enough to enforce a system which does not reflect the moral codes of the citizenry. This is why it is important to first look to ones personal moral code, because the personal codes are what foster resistance and change, when enough people stand up for their personal codes then the system of society will change to reflect that either through accommodation, politics or revolution.

Regardless of what many people would wish morality is relative, it does change and adapt, and it is a human creation. There are certainly some constants, since we have evolved as social animals our instincts will lead us to favor behaviors which facilitate group survival. These behavioral preferences are reflected in our codes of morality. However these codes and systems still take a wide variety of forms. Those who argue against "moral relativism" are arguing against human nature. They may be able to make a case that it would be better if there were an absolute standard of morality, but they can not make a case that such a standard exists. Saying that we should believe in a deity because it would be better if one existed is in no way an argument as to whether it actually does exist or not.

41 comments:

rhiggs said...

Great post Ryk.

Not to mention the fact that even if morality did have divine origins, it would still be arbitrary. Those who claim goodness is a reflection of God's character are simply defining what is 'good' based on the arbitrary character of their God. A different God could have a different character, thus resulting in a different definition of 'goodness'. So the problem for the divine moralist comes back to proving that their particular God is the only one, which of course they cannot do. They are moral relativists too, they just don't know it...

...or should I say they are *ahem* denying it in *cough* unrighteousness...

JD Curtis said...

There is also no absolute right or wrong.

OK. Let us examine 2 topics....

#1. Forcible rape. Under what circumstances could this be permitted?

#2. The Holocaust. Is there anyway possible that one could ever conceivably put a positive spin on that?

Ryk said...

@JD

I would say that both forcible rape and genocide are against both my moral code and the moral system of my society. However forcible rape was clearly consistent with the moral system of Moses and the ancient Israelites as was genocide.

That is what I meant in the article there is no absolute standard. The things that you and I find abhorent are completely acceptable in other cultures. As I said I give precedence to my personal code therefore I would not need to participate in such activities even if they were consistent with the system of my culture.

JD Curtis said...

However forcible rape was clearly consistent with the moral system of Moses and the ancient Israelites as was genocide.

Exactly how was forcible rape consistent in the moral system of Moses? Insofar as genocide is concerned, I think you are confusing a "warrant" to go and wipe out the Amalekites with the viewpoints of those who would go out and commit ethnic cleansing whenever it suits their fancy. As one writer put it, "Christians are
not bound by the Old Testament “warrants” he (Hitchens) cites because we’re not Mosaic-era Jews living in Canaan".

Ryk said...

So if god gives a warrant to wipe out a people then genocide is then morally justified.

And if god says that after murdering all of the adults and male children and infants you can keep the little girls to use for yourself then forcible rape is morally justified.

You have answered your own question. One case where forcible rape and genocide are consistent with the moral system of a people is when those people believe they have been given permission to do so by a god.

I believe we have already been through this with the scriptures so I will choose another example.

Rape and genocide are inconsistent with my personal moral code and the system of my society however it was completely consistent with the morality of the Hutsu forces in Rawanda.

It is the exact same argument and makes the same point. There are no absolute moral laws to which humanity is bound. There are only personal codes and systems in societies and these are variable even to the point of condoning those things that we find reprehensible.

JD Curtis said...

So if god gives a warrant to wipe out a people then genocide is then morally justified.

Morally justified? It might not seem to be the right thing to do to a guy named "Ryk" and, I'm sure, certain others that might be reading this. But really, when was the last time in human history has a warrant of this type been given? It all comes down to how people define what is good or bad. Nowhere in the Holy Bible is there a claim of "omnibenevolence" made by God. What often happens in these types of discussions Ryk, is that "human suffering" somehow gets equated with "evil" when logically speaking, God is good and can do no wrong. When someone who is of less intelligence (like all of us) and doesnt get to see the long-term effects of carrying out such a warrant, do we run into disagreements over whether God is "good" or not.

if god says that after murdering all of the adults and male children and infants you can keep the little girls to use for yourself then forcible rape is morally justified.

Again we are back to the "child rape" issue that I have yet to see a good arguement for. I believe I addressed this on a previous thread, however I don't believe that you provided a rebuttal. let's make sure we are talking about the same things and please provide your best arguement that God is "pro child rape" and we'll take it from there.

Rape and genocide are inconsistent with my personal moral code and the system of my society however it was completely consistent with the morality of the Hutsu forces in Rawanda.

How many people have been wiped out in the last 6 months in Rwanda? It would appear to be a sad moment in time from the decade of the 90's rather than than systemic and ongoing today. Moreover, what percentage of the population actually engaged in committing said atrocities and by what standard is this judged to be something bad? Where do we get the idea that this is behaviour that is to be shunned?

There are no absolute moral laws to which humanity is bound. There are only personal codes and systems in societies and these are variable even to the point of condoning those things that we find reprehensible.

2 things. It is untrue to say that for a large part of our history, Western Civilization was not bound to a moral code that held to moral absolutes. It would appear that the US is going the way of Europe and becoming post-Christian but this is a relatively recent developement on the timeline of history.

If there are only, as you say, "personal codes and systems in societies and these are variable" is this a good thing or a bad thing? I would argue that having a set of fixed morals is a better situation in that it eliminates second-guessing as to whose set of morals are better than others.

JD Curtis said...

BTW, pardon me for not continuing with the last thread. I was out of town for a week and had limited conectivity

Ryk said...

JD

I was not claiming that the fact that morals are relative is a good thing, just that it is the truth. As I said in my post you probably could make an excellent case that it would be best if there were an absolute moral system, you could even make a case that some religion or another could provide that if everyone followed, you could also make a case that this would be a much better world. I don't necessarily agree but I wouldn't try to dispute you definitively. However none of that makes it true. Desireable and accurate are completely different concepts.

My moral compass is very rigid. There are things I feel are absolutely wrong, some of these your moral compass may find acceptable, I also approve of many things that you may find to be beyond the pale. That is what I mean about moral relativism. Minimizing the Rawandan Genocide or claiming the biblical genocide was a long time ago don't change the fact that these people considered genocide to be a moral imperative. In fact since your god once gave warrants for genocide and supposedly doesn't any longer even biblical morality is mutable.

Also there are a number of fanatics, clinic bombers and shooters and other cultists that would disagree with you about god giving warrants to kill.

Ryk said...

JD

I understand about the travel. I am out of town nearly every week and WiFi is a hit and miss proposition. We usually stay in nice hotels but sometimes we get a super eight or motel 6 which can be terrible for connectivity.

JD Curtis said...

there are a number of fanatics, clinic bombers and shooters and other cultists that would disagree with you about god giving warrants to kill.

Such people are FAR outside the mainstream and such actions should be condemned. A blogger recently asked what the left would do if the Phelps church did not exist. (Probably invent one to serve as strawmen to advance their purposes)

There are things I feel are absolutely wrong

And we might find that we have some agreement on these (list them if you like, along with the others that you think I might find objectionable). But it all comes down to, Ryk, How do we know that these things are just plain WRONG?

Ryk said...

JD

As I said right and wrong are fine conversational terms because we, despite our differences, share certain commonalities, we basically know what is meant. However I don't claim there is anything that is universally considered wrong. There are a few things like lying, and theft which are considered wrong by most but not all cultures. Murder is to some degree considered wrong in most cultures but they all define it differently. Rape is also usually considered wrong but the severity of it varies widely, it is also variable what is defined as rape. Slavery is frequently considered wrong but that is a very recent development. So no there is no universal wrong only codes and systems.

Ryk said...

As to the things I consider absolute wrongs.

Rape or any other violence towards women unless it is absolutely necessary in order to preserve life and then only the absolute minimum that would be effective.

Slavery or any other restriction on individual liberty that is not required to protect the health, property, or liberty of another.

Murder, defined as killing a person, unless that person is engaged in acts of violence against another, and there is no alternative that would be equally or more effective in stopping the violent acts.

Theft defined as taking anything of any value that I have not been freely given or earned in compensation for goods, services, or labor.

Lying as in saying anything that I know to be false or making claims that I have been informed are false without making a good faith effort to verify my position.

On a more abstract level, such as evil ideas or doctrines.

Superiority, the idea that any human has more intrinsic worth than any other.

Preference, the idea that any qualities about a person entitle them to special treatment or that they be given anything they have not earned or warranted.

Prejudice, the idea that any qualities of a person merit that person being given harm or unfair treatment.

Salvation through grace, (this is the only Christian doctrine on my list, there are other aspects of the faith that I don't care for but this is the only one I call evil) The veneration of the idea that a divinity has created a place of eternal torment as punishment for "sins" which the deity has made impossible to avoid, many of which are arbitrary from which the only escape is through worshiping that being, such punishment is disproportionate to any possible wrongs and is administered without regard to the nature of the offenses or amount thereof only whether or not the person has fulfilled a particular act of worship.

Collectivism, the idea that the good of society allows for the freedom of the individual to be violated in ways not directly related to preventing direct harm or loss of liberty to others.

Narcicism, the idea that the self and that selfs desires are important enough to allow the violation of the person, property or liberty of another. This concept can also apply to groups who believe that the goals and desires of the group are of such importance that they allow violating the persons, properties, and liberties of thos outside the group.

Ryk said...

Based on what I listed as wrong, I am sure you can deduce that there are many things you as a Christian would consider wrong that I would not. Most private sexual and recreational practices. Freedom to form any sort of marital relationship one desires provided that no ones liberty is violated. (I do support consent laws, and reasonable age of consent restrictions as set by the society) The freedom to not marry and to suffer no loss of legal protection or advantage for such choice. (essentially I think there should be no legal standing for marriage outside of recognition and enforcement of the contract.) Freedom from legal coercion against private behavior either through criminal laws or trade restrictions. Many others.

From the last list you might get the wrong idea about me. I don't engage in most of the behaviors I would condone in others. I am a faithfully married heterosexual. I don't use drugs, smoke or drink excessively. I have no interest in porn and don't engage regularly in any vices that are currently restricted or discouraged. However I say this is my choice and I have no right to impose my personal lifestyle on anyone else.

Ryk said...

Also about the fanatics I was not using them to indict your faith I was using them to demonstrate that there are those who believe that god justifies acts that you consider immoral. That is what I have been pointing out even among those who believe in the same god have relative morals and can justify their behaviors with scriptures from the same bible

Not to mention the mirriad other faiths who claim their gods justify their actions. Even if you claim your god no longer sanctions genocide. A Muslim or Hindu or Satanist can claim their god does. Other Christians even in recent times have claimed divine sanction for their killings. The troubles in Ireland involved two groups of Christians claiming the same god sanctioned them killing each other.

The evidence of moral relativism being a fact is overwhelming. Again you may make a case that it is a bad thing but you have no case that it isn't true.

rhiggs said...

JD said: "A blogger recently asked what the left would do if the Phelps church did not exist. (Probably invent one to serve as strawmen to advance their purposes)"

I think it's grossly unfair to castigate a branch of society for what they might invent in the absence of something that already exists. Imaginary scenarios are irrelevant - deal with reality.

All you have done is attempted to evade addressing the fact that both you and Phelps interpret the same bible and come up with different moral codes. I imagine Phelps is as sure about his interpretation as you are.

Ryk said...

I agree Rhiggs, Phelps is sure about his moral code, so was Adolph Hitler, The Hutsus, Bin Lauden, and most of the rest of histories villains. Their actions are or were totally justified by their moral codes and in many cases the moral systems of their society. The fact that our moral codes are completely oppoed to such things makes my point nicely.

JD Curtis said...

I think it's grossly unfair to castigate a branch of society for what they might invent in the absence of something that already exists. Imaginary scenarios are irrelevant - deal with reality.

All you have done is attempted to evade addressing the fact that both you and Phelps interpret the same bible and come up with different moral codes. I imagine Phelps is as sure about his interpretation as you are.


What? 50-60 members of a cult-like wierdo-farm? Puh-leeeez Rhiggs. Next, you would have me believe that James Von Brunn wasnt a co-religionist of yours and a model citizen to boot. I hope to have more time to comment on Sat. God bless in the meantime.

JD Curtis said...

Phelps is sure about his moral code, so was Adolph Hitler, The Hutsus, Bin Lauden, and most of the rest of histories villains. Their actions are or were totally justified by their moral codes and in many cases the moral systems of their society.

Sure, these aforementioned individuals all seem "sure" of their personal "moral codes", however, would anyone like to present a case whereras any one of them is correct in their worldview? (hypothetically speaking, of course)

rhiggs said...

"Sure, these aforementioned individuals all seem "sure" of their personal "moral codes", however, would anyone like to present a case whereras any one of them is correct in their worldview? (hypothetically speaking, of course)"

By asking that question, it appears that you don't understand the concept of moral relativism. The fact that me, you or Ryk disagree with Phelps' moral code has no bearing on whether it is actually 'correct'. Phelps thinks it is correct, I do not. So it's 'correctness' is relative to the individual.

Is capital punishment ever correct? Is it correct to kill an enemy soldier during a war? Is it correct to kill someone who is about to kill you? If yes, then morals are clearly relative to individuals or situations...not absolute...

Ryk said...

Exactly JD you say it yourself when you toss about the term worldview. There are many things that could never be acceptable in my worldview, because they are inconsistent with my moral code. They are however acceptable in the worldview or moral code of others. You and Phelps both find thing acceptable that I find reprehensible, likewise I find things acceptable the Phelps and possibly you find terribly immoral. That is the entire point.

If morals were not subjective then everyone would consider the same things to be immoral. They may still do immoral things they may even love to do immoral things but they would know it is immoral. This is not the case, Phelps considers it immoral to be gay but moral to picket soldiers funerals and scream obscenities at grieving widows and children. You find the doctrine of salvation through grace to be the height of morality(at least I assume so, if your brand of Christianity is different then I apologize) I find it a completely wicked idea. Hitler found it perfectly moral to commit genocide against the Jews. I am a little unsure on how Jews feel about Genocide. They did a lot of it in Biblical times and there are Palestinians who would argue that they still enjoy it, however I am not anti-Israel so I will imagine that they didn't approve of the idea at the time. I myself find genocide to be completely inconsistent with my moral code.

That is really proof enough of moral relativism. As I said you can make a case that an absolute moral standard would be a good thing. That in no way means one exists. I agree that it would be good if there were. I presented a moral code that I wish were absolute and universal, but it isn't it is just mine. I can encourage people to adopt it, just as you can yours, but it like all other moral codes and systems is just something people made up.

JD Curtis said...

Would I really be going out on a limb if I stated that the Phelps church, forcible rape and the Holocaust are all widely condemned by the vast majority of people? And why would that be? If it's all relative, then you would think that there would be a lack of consensus on any of these topics. One subject that interests me is Natural Law. When Thomas Jefferson wrote "We hold these truths to be self-evident" was he incorrect? If not, why are they "self-evident"?

Rhiggs, I really liked your song Radar Rider, however, after that you just kind of fizzled out and turned out to be just a one trick pony. :-)

Ryk said...

TJ though a hero of mine was both wrong and hypocritical when he penned those lines. The idea that all men are created equal is not self evident in fact it was bold and revolutionary, (no pun intended) in fact Jefferson may have been saying self evident not literally but as hyperbole to denigrate those who felt differently. At any rate while it is a noble sentiment, and I embrace it as core to my philosophy it is in no way self evident that all men are created equal or that they are endowed by a creator or otherwise with any sort of rights.

Not to mention if TJ and the rest of our founders really meant that there would have been no slaves or Indian wars. The declaration meant all white men. Now as I said I am one of Jeffersons greatest admirers and I am not making politically correct revisionism. At that time it would not have been possible to proclaim slaves and natives as equals. Some of the initial coallition would not have accepted it at all and even those who may have were at the time slave owners.

I don't point it out to play the old white men game. I point it out to once again make my point about moral relativism. Even a great hero like Thomas Jefferson regarded slavery as morally acceptable while we call it morally reprehensible. Relativism at its most obvious.

Also I disagree when you say Rape is so widely condemned. Most people claim they are against it, yet there are many countries where rape laws are poorly enforced if at all. Where the sexual slavery of women and children is tolerated and even encouraged. There are places where women are considered responsible for being raped and punished for it. In these places the people may claim rape is bad but talk is cheap. They don't really condemn it at all.

Also it is easy to claim that the Holocaust is bad, however ask around the middle east. Outside of Israel name a country where the majority would agree. Also those who would condemn Hitlers genocide still stood by in Bosnia and Rawanda and Darfur. In Darfur the genocide continues today, sure the UN and the US say it is wrong but do we do anything about it. Should we? However you answer your answer is subjective and you will find people with perfectly good reasons to disagree with you. Because their moral code weighs the values involved differently than you do. So do people really universaly or widely condemn genocide? Again talk is cheap, morals are about action and action has only demonstrated that moral relativism is a fact.

rhiggs said...

JD said: "Would I really be going out on a limb if I stated that the Phelps church, forcible rape and the Holocaust are all widely condemned by the vast majority of people? And why would that be?"

It doesn't matter if the vast majority condemn those things. The fact that some people or even one person finds it acceptable, and they clearly do, means that morals are not absolute but relative to the individual or situation.

I assume you are against murder, right? And I also presume you believe this to be due to the absolute moral law of 'thou shalt not kill' handed down by God. Are you then for or against the death penalty? Are you for or against killing an enemy soldier during war? Are you for or against killing someone in self defence? If you are for any of these things you have momentarily changed your moral code as it relates to a new situation, making you a moral relativist.


"Rhiggs, I really liked your song Radar Rider, however, after that you just kind of fizzled out and turned out to be just a one trick pony. :-)"

LOL, never heard of him/her/them. Wrong spelling anyway! ;)

JD Curtis said...

"I assume you are against murder, right? And I also presume you believe this to be due to the absolute moral law of 'thou shalt not kill' handed down by God.

I am against the taking of innocent human life. Is that a clear enough answer?

Are you then for or against the death penalty?

Personally? 100% for. Although we do get into some sticky issues in that some Christians (Catholics in particular) are opposed to the death penalty and state that all human life is precious. In my above statement I inferred that I can distinguish between a seven and a half month old fetus who can be delivered via c-section and have a reasonable chance at living and scum like this.

Are you for or against killing an enemy soldier during war?

During wartime, this is a type of killing that is carried out by the state. Murder on the other hand is carried out by private individuals.

Comment on this if you like. Will try to address some of the other things brought up by you and Ryk later.

JD Curtis said...

BTW, just so we can agree on definitions here, From (KLV) Exodus 20:13, "Thou shalt not kill". From Wesley's notes "Thou shalt not kill - Thou shalt not do any thing hurtful to the health, or life of thy own body, or any other's. This doth not forbid our own necessary defence, or the magistrates putting offenders to death; but it forbids all malice and hatred to any, for he that hateth his brother is a murderer, and all revenge arising therefrom; likewise anger and hurt said or done, or aimed to be done in a passion; of this our Saviour expounds this commandment"

Likewise, from Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary "The sixth commandment requires that we regard the life and the safety of others as we do our own. Magistrates and their officers, and witnesses testifying the truth, do not break this command. Self-defence is lawful;....Furious passions, stirred up by anger or by drunkenness, are no excuse: more guilty is murder in duels, which is a horrible effect of a haughty, revengeful spirit...The destruction of our own lives is here forbidden.

JD Curtis said...

Ooops, forgot to include this one. From Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary "The sixth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour's life (v. 13): "Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not do any thing hurtful or injurious to the health, ease, and life, of thy own body, or any other person's unjustly." This is one of the laws of nature, and was strongly enforced by the precepts given to Noah and his sons, Gen. 9:5, 6. IT DOES NOT FORBID KILLING IN LAWFUL WAR, or in our own necessary defence, nor the magistrate's putting offenders to death, for those things tend to the preserving of life; but it forbids all malice and hatred to the person of any (for he that hateth his brother is a murderer), and all personal revenge arising therefrom; also all rash anger upon sudden provocations, and hurt said or done, or aimed to be done, in passion: of this our Saviour expounds this commandment, Mt. 5:22. And, as that which is worst of all, it forbids persecution, laying wait for the blood of the innocent and excellent ones of the earth. (Emphasis mine)

rhiggs said...

JD,

In all of your examples you stated certain exceptions to the rule. This simply shows that you alter your moral code relative to a situation. If killing was absolutely wrong, then it would be wrong under all circumstances. According to you, killing other people is, quite clearly, not absolutely wrong.

eg

"During wartime, this is a type of killing that is carried out by the state. Murder on the other hand is carried out by private individuals."

So when a city full of evil enemy soldiers is carpet bombed by the state, and civilians are killed, is that ok? Why does the state get free reign? The decisions made by the state are ultimately made by private individuals.


You bible quotes just back up the same point. They are essentially saying:

Killing is wrong, except for here, here, here and here

So it's ok in some situations. Nothing absolute about that.

Who is to say that your God got it right anyway? Is killing wrong because your God says so or did your God say it is wrong because it is wrong?

JD Curtis said...

I hope to post more tomorrow, however, in the meantime, this weeks trivia question from jerrynewcombe.com is somewhat on topic.

What document says that our rights come from God, and it is the duty of the state not to interfere with that?
A. The Declaration of Independence
B. The Article of Confederation
C. The Mayflower Compact
D. The Constitution


Click here for the answer.

rhiggs said...

JD,

I'm from Ireland. It is a country in a continent called Europe. Europe is part of a larger subset you may be familiar with called 'the rest of the world'. This subset is much larger than the USA and has many more people. Oh and this subset doesn't give two hoots about what a text written by fallible humans says about the origins of the rights of US citizens.

In conclusion, that question is not on topic...

Ryk said...

Also JD, as much as I admire our founding Fathers notably Jefferson (I am American) that does not mean that I have to share their superstitions. I admire a number of historical theists without believing in their various deities.

Besides it is just as likely that the "creator" who supposedly endowed those rights was Jeffersons Deistic "Natures God". Not that I believe in that either but it is presumptuous of you to assume that it refers primarily, much less exclusively to the Christian mythos.

JD Curtis said...

I'm from Ireland.

Saw that in the profile Rhiggs. If you can figure out the sister-city of Ballina, you would know my hometown. I guess what I was trying to get at was if our "rights" are from God, then maybe our moral code is as well.

Even a great hero like Thomas Jefferson regarded slavery as morally acceptable while we call it morally reprehensible.

I'm usually working my way through 2 or 3 books at a time, reading a little of each as the spirit moves me. In reference to the above statement Ryk, I wanted to bring this up. One of the boooks I'm leafing through now is In Pursuit of Reason, The Life of Thomas Jefferson by Noble Cunningham Jr. On page 62 we find, "The Notes on Virginia included an impassioned condemnation of slavery, which Jefferson described as a system destroying the morals of society. "The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and the degrading submissions the other". As to what God he believed in, on the same page we read, "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis , a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be voilated by his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever". To me anyway, this doesnt sound like a force of nature or anything like that.

In the preamble of the Virginia (state) constitution that he wrote we read (re: George III) "By prompting our negroes to rise in arms among us, those very negroes whom, by an inhuman use of his negative, he hath refused us permission to exclude by law:..the government of this country, as formerly exercised under the crown of Great Britain, IS TOTALLY DISSOLVED."

According to Noble's book (pg 45)"Jefferson also drafted a provision to prohibit the importation of slaves into Virginia-a proposal that the convention (VA) did not accept, though Jefferson's condemnation of George III for allowing the slave trade to continue was retained in the preamble."

Insofar as the (US) Declaration of Independence (pg 47) "The most significant alteration came when Congress struck from Jefferson's text his condemnation of George III for allowing the slave trade to continue-a strongly worded passage in which Jefferson had denounced the slave trade as a "cruel war against human nature itself". Jefferson said that the change was mde in compliance with the wishes of South Carolina and Georgia..."

JD Curtis said...

Found this one over at William Lane Craig's blog if anyone is so interested. WARNING: Contains the quote "Most people don’t for a minute think that there are no objective standards of truth, rationality, and logic. As I said in the article, a post-modern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. Nobody is a post-modernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. (If you’ve got a headache, you better believe that texts have objective meaning!) The idea that we live in a post-modern culture is, I fear, a myth perpetuated in our churches by misguided youth ministers."

Ryk said...

@JD

Funny that we both see the postmodernism in todays Christianity and that we both regard post modernism as a bad thing. Common ground can be found most places it seems. I had heard Jeffersons views on slavery, however as a slave owner that is a bit of hypocrisy. I have heard speculation that he kept slaves only because he thought they would be worse off if free. However there is no real evidence supporting this, and even if true such attitude is still considered immoral by modern society. Also he had sex with at least one of his slaves which by modern standards is as bad if not worse than rape, yet he was apparently OK with it. So still even if he believed in the wrongness of slavery despite practising it, he still stands as an example of subjective morality. Also even if he is a poor example on the slavery issue, which I am unsure of, it doesn't change that a large majority of people found it to be a moral practice. Just as "gods people" did in biblical times.

As to Jeffersons God, you are confusing Deism with Pantheism. It is Pantheists like Einstein and Stephen Hawkings who see "God" as a force of nature or more accurately as nature. Deists believe in an actual God. Just not the Christian one. They see god as the creator of the universe, who set it all in motion, many also believe that this god has a plan and has provided conscience as a guide to behavior and will render judgement at the end. However they see this god as not intervening or giving any revelations beyond conscience and the evidence of creation. So the deistic god is actually more likely as the proposed author of our rights. Why? Because freedom of speech and religion are inconsistent with Christianity so such rights could not come from the Christian god. After all freedom of religion permits idolatry and freedom of speech permits heresy. However since the desire for such things is very common among humans it could be considered proper from the deistic god who is revealed through creation.

JD Curtis said...

I had heard Jeffersons views on slavery, however as a slave owner that is a bit of hypocrisy.

Noble's book touches on that, will post tomorrow if possible.

Also he had sex with at least one of his slaves which by modern standards is as bad if not worse than rape, yet he was apparently OK with it.

Ditto

As to Jeffersons God, you are confusing Deism with Pantheism. It is Pantheists like Einstein and Stephen Hawkings who see "God" as a force of nature or more accurately as nature.

Really? It is my understanding that Einstein could best be described as a Deist who thought that God could not be personally known and Hawkings? Basically an agnostic if not a borderline atheist. I would be interested in examining the matter further though.

Because freedom of speech and religion are inconsistent with Christianity so such rights could not come from the Christian god.

I read recently that the form of government of the US was basically a "Presbyterian" model. I'll try to find the reference though.

Ryk said...

@JD

Pantheism is not theistic, it is a symbolic consideration that equates the universe with the divine, it is functionally indistinguishable from atheism or agnosticism except for symbolic references to a god and a general sense of awe at the universe. I believe that defines Einstein and Hawkings quite well. I have not heard of Einstein being a Deist but I could be wrong. If he were that wouldn't be inconsistent with his statements but as I said I have heard no evidence of that.

JD Curtis said...

"Taken as a whole, it appears Einstein rejected the literal stories of God's personal involvement with the Hebrews, but he did believe in the existence of a higher power."

Some quotes,

From an interview with Time magazine I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws." Link

JD Curtis said...

Re: Jefferson and slavery, from Noble's book (pg 62)
Ahead of his time in his stance on emancipation, jefferson was much the product of his age in his views on race. The views that he expressed in his "Notes on Virginia", written in the early 1780's in the full tide of his revolutionary fervor, stopped short of accepting the equality of blacks, though he recognized the blacks as equal in a "moral sense".....It may be argued that Jefferson's suspicion of black inferiority was the only means by which he could deal psychologically with his own sense of guilt in owning slaves"

Ryk said...

Thanks for both the Einstein and Jefferson quotes. The Einstien quote is interesting as it contradicts some others and adds a bit of interest to an interesting guy. However his sentiment even if not pantheist is not properly deist either. I would not know what to call it. Clearly not Christian or Jewish is about the most that can be said.

I would like to read the source material but your link doesn't seem to work.

The quotes from the paper about Jefferson don't prove very much about anything really. A bit of speculation, possible revisionism, etc. However even if we concede that he felt guilt about owning slaves, and I don't say I do, the simple fact that he believed in the inferiority of blacks is once again proof of relativism. The fact that even if Jefferson himself favored emancipation, most of the nation approved the practice and many Christians used the Bible to defend the practice, is further proof that morality is subjective.

Could you own another human being without shame or guilt? I could not, therefore if you answered yes then it shows that we have subjective morality regarding slavery. If you like most of our society, answered no, then it shows that those societies who approved and even embraced slavery, even enshrining it in their religions, had a subjective moral view of slavery very different than that which is found commonly in modern society.

Do you support genocide under any circumstance? Do you see it as acceptable to wipe out an entire society including women, children, and infants. If you answered yes then you and I have subjective moral values regarding genocide. If like most of our society you answered no then the ancient Hebrews and Hitlers Nazi party had subjective moral views of genocide very different from those found commonly in civilized nations today.

Do you support gay people having the right to live, and be equal, and be married. If you answered no to any of these then you and I have very different subjective moral values regarding homosexuality. If like many people you answered no then we both have different subjective beliefs from the ancient Hebrews who executed homosexuals, and the government of the United States during the mid 20th century who criminalized homosexual acts, and the modern fundamentalist religious movement who fights to keep gay people from being married.

How about women being educated? Women working? Girls having their clitoris removed? Sale of sex toys? Use of tobbacco? Drugs? However you answer you will find that you have different subjective moral values than many other people.

That has been my point all along. There is no absolute morality, only codes and systems that are created and followed by humans.

JD Curtis said...

Sorry the link didnt function. I'll try again. Click HERE for the article.

Ryk said...

@JD

Interesting article, I will have to do a bit of reading. Albert appears somewhat disconnected regarding religion, claiming to not be a pantheist but then claiming belief in "Spinozas God" claiming Deism but not in any particularly motivated way. Not surprising but a bit different from other biographical references.

In any event neither Deism or Pantheism conflict with science in the wat that Christianity does. I particularly like his sudden rejection of the Bible as soon as he started reading science. That is not at all surprising, some people are capable of the cognitative dissonance required to believe in Christianity and understand science, but this proves impossible for many.

Anyway thank you. it has been many years since I did any reading about Einstein and now I am motivated to do so.

JD Curtis said...

Ryk, don't be afraid to shoot me an email if you like. In the end it really doesnt matter to me what you believe. I consider myself a small government conservative and I think that you can practice whatever belief (or non-belief) system that you want. philaegle at netzero dot net.