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The Moral Argument For God's Existence

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Essorant
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25 posted 04-08-2011 01:52 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

"Acquire knowledge. It enableth its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lighteth the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless; it guideth us to happiness; it sustaineth us in misery; it is an ornament among friends, and an armour against enemies." 

- Muhammad (SAW)
Stephanos
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26 posted 04-09-2011 11:15 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

I'll try and answer soon ... I've been way too busy to do it justice.  

Stephen
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27 posted 04-11-2011 11:45 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,


Here is how the humanistic view of morals fails ... It explains morals ever in amoral terms, ie survival strategies.  But immoral behavior has not been eliminated or culled by evolution, which invariably means that survival value and morality have not been shown to correlate.  Therefore it is reasonable to look elsewhere for an explanation.  The Divine source of moral law, explains why people feel the way they do about moral issues, while the humanistic view only explains away how people feel about them, which leads to a kind of dehumanizing factor.  According to the materialist view of morals, we can come to understand what morals really are (surivial strategies in disquise).  It seems to me, according to this view, we should either correct our thinking on morals, or keep traditional morality as an irrational trait that we aquired either socially or genetically.  


The dehumanizing factor is similar in the tendency to equate the human “soul” with the physical brain.  While the argument for the soul can be accused of “god of the gaps”, the argument that humans are only machines or algorithms is reductionist.  It doesn’t explain much of what we have been certain of, in art, religion, philosophy, and theology.  Even in the coarsest love poetry, we are too sure to express in words that our beloved is more than a particular combination of hair, electricity, and hormones.  It is the conviction that we are more than the sum of our parts.  There are a million unquantifiable things that are ignored in such an atrocious philosophy.  Of course, this can be taken to mean that any philosophy that includes them is another “gaps” argument.  But the belief that all things can be quantified (and especially the belief that we can eventually know all things in this way, via technology), is itself unempirically derived, and unquantifiable.  


So the claim that “all evidence” supports that the brain and the human soul (or self) are the same thing, is a reductionistic claim because of everything it leaves out.  It also has problems of its own, since the relationship between selfhood and brain function has not been established.  Is the self a series of cerebral events?  If so, then which event unites them, and why would that event not be merely one more in a series.  The unifying factor is a mystery.  You may have “faith” that the mystery is about to be solved, but that is not evidence or science.  You may say these difficulties I raise are more “god of the gaps”, since I am critiquing what is not known.  But from my view, certainty is not always connected to quantity or empirical demonstration, nor should we have ever expected it to be.  


Lastly, I have more in common with you than you might think.  I make an argument for the Christian view of humans, not a Platonic “immortality of the soul”.  The Christian, believing in bodily resurrection, also believes that the spirit is incomplete without the body (that doesn't mean of course that there is no "intermediate state" or that the brain is the sole means of consciousness).  But the Christian conception of soul, goes a bit deeper than the problems you’ve raised about the brain, calling attention to the unifying factor that gives rise to self, and the divine will which gives rise to human beings and their brains to begin with.  Brains, in this view, are the modus operandi of conscious life on earth, integral but never primary.  


Stephen
Stephanos
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Bob:
quote:
Beyond that, however, you are trying to define something by using the thing itself as a referrent, and I don't believe this will do.  It is a tautology.  It is a circularity.  It eats its own tail.  It does not work as a piece of definition or as a piece of logic.


No.  I’m not defining morality by referring to morality.  I am saying that certain things about how all cultures perceive morality, are a clue about God.  As long as effects can be used to explore causes, and causes to explore effects, your charge of circular reasoning fails to invalidate what I’m saying.  


quote:
The notion of Universal moral principles is also a bit dodgy.  You have snuck in that concept without demonstration, and I am not certain it is supportable.


But Bob, your notion that all knowledge must be ‘demonstrable’ is itself not demonstrable.  I of course assume you mean by ‘demonstrable’ something like hard science or mathematics.  However, observation has been made and documented about the similarities of various moral codes throughout history.  I’m not dodging anything.  I’d be happy to post some of this information if you wish.  I’m also aware that such comparisons are not objectively conclusive, only highly suggestive.  I’m only presenting the moral argument as a salient clue that we all have some level of awareness of a moral reality that transcends ourselves, and presents us with very real “oughts” and “ought nots”, that biological reductionism doesn’t account for.  


quote:
I cannot say if your conclusion is right or wrong here.  You may in fact be correct, Stephanos, but I don't believe you can actually establish that as a fact in this way.


Bob, I don’t think the shared moral principles among cultures is doubted sufficiently to require such a study as you describe to establish it, though historical comparisons have been done.  Materialists simply have another explanation than a spiritual one to account for it, ie , shared ancestry and shared genes.  My argument has been to underscore the similarities, yes, but mainly to point out that one account is more consistent with how we view moral issues.

quote:
However imperfect is a big caviat.  That's another way of talking about inter-rater reliability, and at some point in a scientific examination of a data set, there is enough variation in the inter-rater reliability to mean that the conclusion is junk.  The way you're phrasing it here suggests that when you look at moral reasoning, there are no junk conclusions — "however imperfect" is that big a fudge factor.


Do you deny that human beings violate their own moral insights?  Do you feel that cultures can be more morally right or wrong than others?  If these common assumptions, which I daresay you believe based upon your own soapboxes from time to time, are plausible or reasonable, then much of this variance is explained.  Remember my argument has never been moral unanimity.  

You yourself have certainly concluded a naturalist explanation of morals, and yet I doubt you would attempt to argue that every moral action is related to survival value.  Is the conclusion junk?  You see, I am not timid to concede that survival is partially related to moral behavior  (another relation in favor of teleology).  I only insist that it is not always so, else ‘doing the right thing, for the sake of doing the right thing‘ could not be known.    


quote:
So, which are the moral Principles?


Non-malifience, Beneficence, Autonomy, Devotion to community, Justice, Fidelity, Honesty, Privacy ... to name a few.  

And, for your consideration, Illustrations of The Tao by Lewis

quote:
What defines them as moral principles as opposed to laws of physical science, such as gravity, or colors or other catagories?


Moral law always presents us with an "ought" which makes it quite distinct from laws of physical science, which are coercive. Moral law, on the other hand, invariably has to do with our will.  Could you name any physical "law" which works in this way?


quote:
And how can you be certain that that you justify the use of all capital letters in the word ALL?


Indeed "All" is a bit strong Bob, since there may be cultures we've never discovered or don't know about.  But let me pose you this question:  Can you give me an example of any cultural with a moral code that is utterly foreign to our own moral principles, or that is based upon something other than a moral value that we too know and understand?  I'm not for stoning anyone, but I understand the degradation of infidelity, and I understand justice and retribution even if they are greatly limited in my society, and in my own awareness of personal sin.


Stephen
Bob K
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quote:

Stephanos:
No.  I’m not defining morality by referring to morality.  I am saying that certain things about how all cultures perceive morality, are a clue about God.  As long as effects can be used to explore causes, and causes to explore effects, your charge of circular reasoning fails to invalidate what I’m saying.




     What is it about how all cultures perceive morality are a clue about God?  This begs the question on at least two points.  The first is that what you call morality is not simply a power struggle between two people or camps about rulership.  The winner of that struggle is the person or camp who has the power to set and enforce the rules, and is a political struggle.  The second example of begging the question is that you seek to establish a point of faith as an undisputed point of fact, and is an example of the first.  That is, that there has, in fact, been established amongst everybody here the reality of a God about whom clues may be found.  This is not the case.

     You have not sufficiently defined morality from power to establish it as distinct from power and the exercise of power by force or other means of suasion.  In my opinion, your reasoning remains circular.  You are in a hurry to talk about God.  I can understand this and even sympathize with it; it’s a fascinating subject.  But if your plan is to use morality as a springboard to that subject, I think you need to establish that there is morality of something like it first as a starting point.

quote:


But Bob, your notion that all knowledge must be ‘demonstrable’ is itself not demonstrable.



     If it is not demonstrable, how is it knowledge?  Indeed, why would you even title something “The Moral argument for God’s existence” if you were not attempting a reasonable and convincing demonstration of exactly that?  If you were planning to present “a half-hearted an illogical demonstration of something that only appears to address important points about how morality offers clues to the existence of God,” I would come with a different set of expectations.

     Hard science or mathematics I doubt I could follow.  I suspect that you might be better at it than I am.  But with some effort I can at least try to follow some simple logic, and I can often follow some simple trains of reasoning.  That’s really all I need.

     I have some familiarity with neoplatonic archetypal thinking.  I am a fan of Jung’s archetypal thinking, and I understand how a lot of basic thinking forms tend to crop up cross culturally.  If you have other interesting reference for me to check out, I’m always interested in that sort of thinking.  Anything you can teach me is wonderful.  Nor do I think you’re dodging anything.  I’ve always had a lot of respect for your honesty and the sincerity of your religious thought and experience.  I don’t require conclusive.  Conclusive is for much further down the line and certainly not at all for where the state of the discussion is right now.

     I am unhappy with any sort of reductionism.  I don’t like Freudian reductionism, I don’t like biological reductionism, and I don’t like religious reductionism.  To the extent that I understand God, God is extraordinarily patient on a scale that may not be humanly understandable.  Now I’ve got myself making theological generalizations.  Sometimes you are very bad for me and very good for me, Stephen, both.

     I will probably need to return to the discussion when I’m not giving away my lunch money, and when I’m not keeping Elaine awake with my typing.

     Affectionately yours to you, your wife and your children,

     Bob Kaven  
Brad
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quote:
It explains morals ever in amoral terms, ie survival strategies.


Not exactly.  It just can't be contrary to survival.  

I have time for two points right now:

1. The only people I've heard who talk about Naturalism the way you do are Christian apologists.  Nobody else talks like that.  Nobody equates morality with survival strategies or the brain with the mind.  It's a strawman.  You have to include the conceptual in any discussion like this.

Okay, maybe not "nobody" but I don't see it in what I read.


2.  Why would reframing an explanation of morality in terms of amorality be dehumanizing?  It's simply another way of looking at the same thing.  I don't feel any less human or less in love if someone explains to me what's happening biochemically inside my brain when I'm in love.  In the same way, I don't feel immoral if I accept an amoral description of my morality.  This proposed innate sense of right and wrong (signified by guilt) does not disappear if someone has a decent scientific description of it.  

It's just a different description.  

  

    
Essorant
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The difference is not that morals are not, at their roots, instincts, inherited from other animals before us and with things in common with other animals, but that our higher intelligence allows us to respond in a much more complicated way.   We have the basic instinct to live and do what helps living, and our higher intelligence takes this further by building a shelter of civilization to try to make sure we can live individually and collectively in a life-benefitting way.   Indeed, it is a survival strategy, because surviving is what life at its root is about.  It makes sense for life to live.   If it doesn't live, it can't be life.   Doing what preserves life is the common morality of all lifeforms, beginning at individual survival and then extending to further relationships, with some lifeforms being able enough to build complex communities to live together and divide the work and play more effectively among themselves.   Nature is not perfect though and our intelligence and civilization are not perfect either, therefore both nature and civilization may do things that contradict themselves, but this doesn't remove the general direction or morality of doing what helps serve and ensure life/survival.
 

[This message has been edited by Essorant (04-12-2011 12:56 PM).]

Stephanos
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Bob:
quote:
The first [example of question begging] is that what you call morality is not simply a power struggle between two people or camps about rulership.  The winner of that struggle is the person or camp who has the power to set and enforce the rules, and is a political struggle.


Not if I have shown than there are examples of morality that won't fit into that parochial post-modern conception (that comes from recent western industrialized cultures).  I've already mentioned altruism, which in one form or another shows up repeatedly in diverse communities as a moral value.  How does that fit your "will to power" theory of morals?  And I've also pointed out that a political struggle for power, as the basis of morals, fails if morals exist in communities without political power ... Or if there is any moral critique of political power itself.  It seems that the whole question of obtaining power is subject to moral critique.  And if it stands beneath moral realities (such as the universal recognition that there are both good and bad examples of control), then it fails to explain.  So, while you continue to demand quantitative data, for a question that is not that sort at all, you haven't commented on my answers.  


quote:
The second example of begging the question is that you seek to establish a point of faith as an undisputed point of fact, and is an example of the first.  That is, that there has, in fact, been established amongst everybody here the reality of a God about whom clues may be found.  This is not the case.


I know this will be offensive to you, and some others.  But the question is not so easily settled.  The majority of humanity has indeed conceived of deity, in one way or another.  If we are to take what Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead", we could deduce that it is more basic to believe in gods or (a God) than to not.    

In addition to this, we know that in human psychology there are examples of suppression and denial, especially when a belief might cause mental duress, or when shame or culpability is involved.  Self deception is possible, especially when something is bound up with the subjective as well as the objective.  From the Christian perspective, belief in God was never meant to be so obvious that will and devotion are excluded.  On the other hand, it is not so obscure that it could be called complete fideism, or that accountability and public knowledge is impossible.  I agree with St. Paul when said that "since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse".  Not that this doctrine isn't qualified by the recognition of honest doubts and some ambiguity.  It does however, speak of final conclusions.  In short my belief is that the knowledge of God is in some sense public.  I'm just not sure that it can be humanly proven to be, or not to be.  I'm only arguing that it is reasonable to think so.  

And lastly Bob, for the life of me, I can't imagine how something would have to be "established among everybody" in order for clues to be found.  Is there anything of certainty that you know that is "established among everybody"?

quote:
But if your plan is to use morality as a springboard to that subject, I think you need to establish that there is morality of something like it first as a starting point.


But you haven't even commented on the observations I've given about the immense commonality between moral codes.  You've only responded in two ways ... 1) By insisting on circularity, which can be found in anyone's thinking as long as there are presuppositions (for example, don't you presuppose that a rigorous scientific study be conducted in order for something to be considered certain? And yet this belief of yours was in no way derived itself derived by scientific rigor- it is a presupposition of yours).  The question is, which circle best describes what is observed and experienced?  Or 2) Continuing to insist on formal research, which you've presupposed works for this kind of sociological anthropological philosophical theological and historical question.  


I just want you to begin to comment on what I've already brought forth.


quote:
If it is not demonstrable, how is it knowledge?  Indeed, why would you even title something “The Moral argument for God’s existence” if you were not attempting a reasonable and convincing demonstration of exactly that?


It seems you're muddling things now.  At first you alluded to the necessity of rigorous study, and now you change "demonstrable" to mean something more like "reasonable".  I have argued in a reasonable, but not unassailable, manner, though I haven't conducted rigorous research (which I doubt even applies to the nature of such a question as this).  At any rate, your definition of demonstrable is evolving in the course of this discussion.


quote:
But with some effort I can at least try to follow some simple logic, and I can often follow some simple trains of reasoning.  That’s really all I need.


But you haven't argued or explained how my argument is unreasonable.  I assure you it is reasonable.  How you responded is evidence that it is.  You didn't initially respond by saying it was illogical or unreasonable.  Rather, you questioned my premises and insisted on scientific verification.  Now you're switching tracks.  But I'm going to assume that had my argument been illogical, you would have caught that right off.  

quote:
I am unhappy with any sort of reductionism.  I don’t like Freudian reductionism, I don’t like biological reductionism, and I don’t like religious reductionism.


Fair enough.  I would only add that with a personal God, slavish reductionism isn't necessary.  God has given us much freedom, and many ethical facets to explore that have to do with our relationships with each other as well.

quote:
To the extent that I understand God, God is extraordinarily patient on a scale that may not be humanly understandable.


A point of unadulterated and unqualified agreement.

quote:
I’ve always had a lot of respect for your honesty and the sincerity of your religious thought and experience.


Likewise, I have a lot of respect for you Bob.  Sometimes I debate in a way that makes others think I'm being disrespectful, but I hope you don't take it that way.  Blessings to you and your family.     


Stephen
        
Bob K
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quote:

Bob's comment:
But if your plan is to use morality as a springboard to that subject, I think you need to establish that there is morality of something like it first as a starting point.

Stephen's comment:
But you haven't even commented on the observations I've given about the immense commonality between moral codes.  You've only responded in two ways ... 1) By insisting on circularity, which can be found in anyone's thinking as long as there are presuppositions (for example, don't you presuppose that a rigorous scientific study be conducted in order for something to be considered certain? And yet this belief of yours was in no way derived itself derived by scientific rigor- it is a presupposition of yours).  The question is, which circle best describes what is observed and experienced?  Or 2) Continuing to insist on formal research, which you've presupposed works for this kind of sociological anthropological philosophical theological and historical question.  



     No, I've looked at the presuppositions you've made in constructing your proposition, which is the starting point of the discussion.  I use some of the language of science, but I'm less of a scientist than you are in many ways.  Nor have I advocated formal research, though I have used some of the language of research because it gives a more operational way of looking at some of the abstractions folks are apt to use in discussions such as this.  Inter-rater reliability, for example, gives us a way of looking at the ways people judge that "moral systems" are similar across a variety of cultures instead of just eyeballing it in.

    "The immense commonality between moral codes" is a nonsense assertion unless it can be operationalized because it may be immense to you beyond all shadow of a doubt and meaningless to Joe Atheist in the other corner with an equal passionate sincerity.  Unless the two of you have some language to use in addressing each other, all you can hear is the truth that each of you espouses and not the truth the other espouses.  Neither of you has a method of understanding or resolving your differences and is relegated to a sort of blank incomprehension about the other.  Worst of all, you lose each other as people, and are inclined to suspect that the other may not be there in any real sense as a person.

     My insistence is on careful language use and actual engagement between those discussing the question.  I am trying to keep the logic straight as I can.  I am doing my best to use whatever tools I have to do this.

     I am interested in" the immense commonality between moral codes" as I've said before, if only because they reflect some of my fascination with Jungian Psychology and its neo-platonic basis.  I love that stuff.  I had ten years of Jungian analysis.  I have Archetypal dreams.   The problem here is that we haven't gotten to them yet.

     As near as I can tell, you haven't established a working definition of what morality actually is yet, you are in such a hurry to get to dessert:  trying to prove God's existence.  Now you are trying to tell me to hurry up, for some reason, , and talk with you about the commonality of moral systems when you haven't to my satisfaction, established that there's a difference between coercion and morals and power and morals, and where that distinction lies, if there is a distinction at all.

     For some people, it seems fairly clear, there is not.  They do things because the are afraid of punishment, and they avoid doing things for fear of punishment.  They go through life that way.
Stephanos
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Bob:
quote:
The problem here is that we haven't gotten to them yet.


Bob let's start with Lewis' "Illustrations of the Tao".  Did you read it?

quote:
As near as I can tell, you haven't established a working definition of what morality actually is yet


How precise of a definition must we have prior to discussing something?  But then again, I'm not sure you've adequately defined definition enough for us to venture into that subject matter.  


Admittedly I was presuming a basic understanding of what morality is prior to the discussion, and I still do.  And before you say that's evasive on my part, it's at least notable that you're the only one that ever objects on those terms (though you never require a precise definition of politics prior to your political talk in the Alley).  I'm aware that wheels have been used for many different things in different cultures, I'm really not interested in a long dialogue with me ever having to reinvent it, and you ever deconstructing it.    

quote:
For some people, it seems fairly clear, there is not.  They do things because the are afraid of punishment, and they avoid doing things for fear of punishment.  They go through life that way.


But what about moral behavior that recognizes propriety, honor, and dedication to the lives of other people?  If this too exists in cultures, then it would seem that "morality as power" is a deficient explanation.  From an apple we can conceive of both a rotten apple and a good one.  But we can't conceive a good one from a rotten one.  Do you really think the basic acts of kindness and courtesy you appreciate from those you love, are power moves?      


Stephen

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (04-12-2011 11:03 PM).]

Bob K
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     No, I haven't read Lewis' lessons on the Tao, though I am familiar with the Tao te Ching and have been doing a form of taoist meditation, the microcosmic orbit, for about twenty years.  Perhaps you might off me a reference or a description to help put me on track?

     The alley is often infuriating, of course, but there seems a fair amount of difficulty with definitions there as well, in case you hadn't noticed.  You might try considering the current discussions about the budget in which the Republican side  wishes to deal with budget problems by cutting, mostly cutting money to help people who are suffering in one way or another, and where the democrats are trying to point out that cutting doesn't help very much when you give away massive amounts of revenues from the budget to begin with, and then borrow the money to pay for those give aways in the second place and put them on a high interest credit card in the third.

     There you have it in the alley, Stephen, a definition problem with how to solve the budget problem.  And that's simply in one single instance.  Oh, and I hear tell that the Republicans are about to unveil another interesting tax cut proposal, this one to cut 29% off the taxes of those who earn a million bucks or more per year, thus lowering their tax rate to the lowest rate that it's been since 1931.  Guess who's supposed to make up the difference?

     How does this fit with your moral arguments that such a significant portion of the population is actually trying to throw the rest of the population under the bus?  This isn't simply a few outriders?  These are folks who try to present themselves as the most moral of the most moral of people.

     And no, I don't believe we have established a working example of what morality is yet.  These folks argue that they are moral, even as they try to eliminate health care for millions of the least empowered women in the country.  Do you agree with them?  Does that make you moral or not moral?  What is the definition that you use.

     I have one set of definitions around abortion, for example, and you have another.  Are you telling me that both of us, each of us feeling that we are acting with some moral justification, are correct and are operating from the same moral principles?  I can live with that, Stephen, but I don't know that you can, and you are glossing over exactly this discussion, just using a single example, but using large words to cover over gaps that we have have major disagreements about before.

     These disagreements haven't left town because it's convenient for your proof of God this time to say they've left town, Stephen.  And I'm not being a spoilsport because I actually remember them and think they need to be accounted for in the context of this discussion.

     I can't be somebody who's partly responsible for the murder of millions of innocent children in one breath and a moral and responsible human being who shares your values on the next.  You have to account for the difference, if in fact most moral systems are the same at heart.  You need to find some way to make my moral point of view legitimate, valid, and sane and in basic agreement with yours if you are going to make statements like you've been trying to make and actually have a leg to stand on.

     You certainly can dismiss my point of view and tell me that we're thinking the same way if you want, but you will have a hard time convincing me and most people that you've similarly dismissed out of hand as being deluded, immoral or plain wrong that we have the same basic moral sense that you do here.

     And that, Stephen, is why I am asking you to define what you're talking about.  Because if we're talking about the same basic thing, you ought to be able to do exactly that, and you shouldn't need to attempt to bully me into agreement with you.

quote:


Admittedly I was presuming a basic understanding of what morality is prior to the discussion, and I still do.  And before you say that's evasive on my part, it's at least notable that you're the only one that ever objects on those terms (though you never require a precise definition of politics prior to your political talk in the Alley).  I'm aware that wheels have been used for many different things in different cultures, I'm really not interested in a long dialogue with me ever having to reinvent it, and you ever deconstructing it.    



     For what it's worth, the closest thing I've ever found to a decent discussion of morality is Lawrence Kohlberg's work on Moral Development, which is a stage theory.  It's not simple, but it does account for some of the things we've been talking about.  It's been a while, but some of the people at Harvard divinity school did some work with the theory of moral development and developed a theory of faith development that's extremely interesting as well, and might be helpful to you in some of your personal searching.  Or it might not.  I know that you do enjoy thought with your faith, and this stuff certainly has it.
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36 posted 04-13-2011 04:49 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

For me, morality is easily defined. It's how I feel about what I do.

It's not about power or coercion, Bob, because it has nothing to do with what you feel about what I do, or even with what I feel about what you do. That's why morality can never be successfully legislated.

Definitions are still important, but only further down the road.

For example, we probably both feel that killing is immoral. Everyone feels killing is immoral. It's one of those universally common points of morality that Stephen talks about.

How we personally define killing, however, isn't so universal. Some people feel it's immoral to kill animals, especially when done cruelly. Some people feel it's immoral to kill the unborn, with extremes ranging from contraception right up to delivery. Some people feel it's immoral to kill convicted murderers. Some people feel it's immoral to kill in war, even when their own lives are endangered. The list of differences goes on and on.

The differences, however, don't invalidate the similarities. When push comes to shove, the feelings we experience when we do something we believe is wrong are remarkably similar.


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37 posted 04-13-2011 08:12 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Stephen,

I pretty much stumbled on this debate a couple of weeks ago, I'd like to hear your take on it:

Shelly versus Craig

Shelly Kagan covers a lot of stuff that I think is right.  The terminology is different:

When he says reflection I would probably say being able to think about what we think.

His is the better word.

I honestly don't know if you agree with Craig or not but it does seem like both were genuinely interested in the views of the other.

Something you don't see very often.  

Okay, the link doesn't take you to the specific video I wanted you to see.  You mentioned before that you're short on time these days (I know the feeling) so push the five-minute video of the two of them sitting together.  I think that "summary" covers a lot.

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38 posted 04-13-2011 09:04 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Here's a direct link to the Overview video I "think" Brad was directing us to.

I wish I had a faster Internet connection; this sounds like an interesting discussion, but it takes me about five minutes for each one minute of download and the discussion appears to be as loooong as it is interesting. From the five minutes I did watch, I'm not sure I agree with either participant?
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39 posted 04-13-2011 12:03 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

I ended up watching the whole 90 minutes after all.

I was right; I don't agree with either side entirely. On the other hand, I don't disagree with either side entirely either.


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40 posted 04-13-2011 02:04 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



     Thank you, Ron, for weighing in.  I'm afraid sometimes when I get involved in these discussions, it's simply a one on one with myself and somebody else with nobody else listening to let a little fresh air in.

     What you're talking about makes some sense to me at some points in a discussion about morality, but not at others.  I mentioned Kohlberg's stages of moral development above.  I'm not sure I agree entirely with his thinking, or any thinking about morality simply because I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this particular aspect of it.  But Kohlberg does talk about how — if I've got this down correctly — morality seems to develop from the outside inward.  I'm sorry about the spatial metaphor; I simply haven't figured how to get around it.  

     I think that may be why a lot of the most basic descriptions of morality seem to talk in the beginning at least about the fear of God or the fear of punishment, and why you sometimes hear so much about "God-fearing men."  Whatever.

     Your comments about the sense of internal feeling for what is right and what is wrong make a good deal of sense to me as well, especially in the sense that the make a powerful appeal to the notion of the sense of a common community with the sense of what is right and proper.  I have a sense of what is right and proper, certainly.

     It is unfortunate that this seems to be a sense that I seem to share with everybody else that I know about — which speaks to Stephen's point, I suppose, and your own — but those people don't always include the folks that I consider moral folks, nor do the folks who have that internal sense of right and wrong necessarily share values.  The Great southern senator from (was it?) South Carolina, Calhoun, previously secretary of war, Vice president of The United States and I believe Secretary of State, was pro-slavery and helped lead the South into The Civil War in Defense of that institution, which he defended stoutly.  On Biblical grounds, as I recall, which he took very seriously indeed.

     So the question that I ask remains a real question, because that feeling of rightness and wrongness based on that internal feeling, which Senator Calhoun certainly had in spades, is not what appears to be a trustworthy guide here, much as I would like it to be, and much as I would like to believe that I have some sort of direct connection to the moral principles that beat at the heart of the universe.  If anybody had earned through principled action and upright committment to stern religious values the right to say that he had an understanding of what was moral and what was not moral, I would have said that in a just world, that man would really have had to have been Senator Calhoun.  He tried very hard to be the best Christian he could possibly have been, with utmost sincerity, in the same way that some of the great Republican Abolitionists of that period tried as well, and I think he was a righteous man, but terribly and tragically wrong.  

     And that there was some sort of problem that allowed him to define what he was thinking and doing as being moral, though I think he meant well.

     And I think that there was something about what he was doing that was different from what the anti-slavery people were doing, not simply in style but in kind

     I won't say that I can put my finger on it, because I can't at this point, though I really wish I could, but I do believe it has something to do with the lengths to which the man was willing to go to exert power to win his argument about who had the right to control the rights and lives of others.  Calhoun thought that winning the argument for his side was worth the subjugation of other people or even their deaths.

     I can't say that the union side was all that different, but they were against treating people as property, or at least a significant number of them were.

     I can say that's enough for me to want to be more clear about what we mean by moral behavior.  I want to be able to distinguish my feeling for rightness, if at all possible, from Stalin's or Himmler's or Lenin's or Mao's, all of whom, I'm reasonably certain thought they were morally certain as well.  I suspect those are not the shared values that Stephen or Ron suggest humanity holds in common, though I suspect they are as heartfelt as the values that Ron and Stephen and perhaps even I would like to say we all hold.

     While I'm fairly serious about Do not Murder, I'm not by any means certain of it being a universal value.  I still think we need to try to define what's moral and how do we determine that, and I applaud Ron for his shot at it.  I can say for sure that he's done better at it than I have, by far.
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41 posted 04-13-2011 09:14 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad, I will get to that vid in few days perhaps.  Hate to make you wait that long for a response, but, yep work schedule has thickened as of late.  

I'm pleased with the earnest discussion that's going on, from all.  

I also, like Bob, am glad someone else chimed in.

I've had many thoughts about what you've all said, and about what I want to share too, when time permits.


Goodnight, and "see" you soon.

Stephen
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42 posted 04-15-2011 12:37 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Bob:
quote:
No, I haven't read Lewis' lessons on the Tao, though I am familiar with the Tao te Ching and have been doing a form of taoist meditation, the microcosmic orbit, for about twenty years.  Perhaps you might off me a reference or a description to help put me on track?


Lewis’ use of the word “Tao” refers to the concept that there is a ‘rightness’ in nature, which was a part of Taoist thought.  I thought you would have caught the link I put in my post earlier.  Here it is again

Illustrations of The Tao

quote:
The alley is often infuriating, of course, but there seems a fair amount of difficulty with definitions there as well, in case you hadn't noticed.


Of course I’ve noticed Bob.  But my point, again, wasn’t that homogeneity of opinion is true, but that you all tend to agree on a general definition of something, or else you couldn't even disagree about particulars.  There's not even a precise definition of government either, and yet the discussion proceeds.  (Well yeah, I guess since its the alley, we should attempt to define 'proceed' ... lol)

quote:
There you have it in the alley, Stephen, a definition problem with how to solve the budget problem. ...     How does this fit with your moral arguments that such a significant portion of the population is actually trying to throw the rest of the population under the bus?  This isn't simply a few outriders?  These are folks who try to present themselves as the most moral of the most moral of people.


But if they rationalize their actions in moral language, what does this illustrate more than what I’ve already said? ... namely that people all share a remarkably similar set of moral principles.  What is in question with politicians, is not their moral assumptions, but their actual moral behavior (of those who are dishonest) or the outcome of their actions (of those who are honestly mistaken about the implications of their programs).   The proof of common moral ground is in the fact that politicians make moral appeals to things already agreed upon.  It is an example of the use, and/or abuse of a common morality, for personal ends.  Remember Bob, you’re the one who equates morality with power, which means that though your framework should explain both the “good” and “bad” examples, it really only explains the bad.  My view, recognizing morality as something more than an arbitrary human construct, explains both good and bad examples.  

In other words, this view can accommodate the shady Republican (or Democrat), but can yours accommodate the altruist, or the one who is primarily thinking of the good of others?  If so, you haven’t explained it.  

  
quote:
 These folks argue that they are moral, even as they try to eliminate health care for millions of the least empowered women in the country.  Do you agree with them?  Does that make you moral or not moral?  What is the definition that you use.


Whether I agree or not, is irrelevant to this thread, and would only launch it into politics.  But I do want to remind you that party disagreements such as this center around disputing proposed outcomes of their respective plans, not disputing the moral good of beneficence, which both claim.  Of course either group may be wrong, or dishonest, or have a mixture of motives.  But that they both appeal to the common moral principle of beneficence, is evidence of a shared awareness of transcendent moral law.  

quote:
I have one set of definitions around abortion, for example, and you have another.  Are you telling me that both of us, each of us feeling that we are acting with some moral justification, are correct and are operating from the same moral principles?


No, I’m not telling you that both of us are correct and are operating from the same moral principles.  But I am telling you that we are operating from the same moral principles.  Again, in the abortion debate, both sides appeal to beneficence, and claim that human life is worthy of protection.  They disagree about when human life begins.  

All of this has a caveat.  Great moral evil may be done, even while assuming (or claiming) the same morality.  There is the possibility of simply being wrong about the question of when human life begins, with good motives.   I don’t think anyone would argue that the Nazi regime would have been altogether wrong if their science really did prove that Jews were not human beings at all.  But there is also the possibility of self deception,  and other distorting motives.  And I think most feel sure that something like this was happening with the leaders of the Third Reich, who made appeals to faulty science rather that to construct a "new morality".


quote:
These disagreements haven't left town because it's convenient for your proof of God this time to say they've left town, Stephen.  And I'm not being a spoilsport because I actually remember them and think they need to be accounted for in the context of this discussion.


Indeed they haven’t left town.  But I do think I’ve accounted for them.  Moral disagreement and confusion do fit within the framework I’ve presented.  And what I’m saying is in no way a reductionistic attempt to tidy up all moral questions like this.  I concede that other disciplines must be brought to bear on issues of applied ethics.  My claim though, is that the universal similarity of moral appeal among people is evidence of a God given, transcendent law, that we sinful human beings both cling to, invariably appeal to, and chaff against.  It is a signpost, certainly not a destination.  To think of it as a destination, or a means to tie up all issues, would be to confuse theology with moralism.  


quote:
And that, Stephen, is why I am asking you to define what you're talking about.  Because if we're talking about the same basic thing, you ought to be able to do exactly that, and you shouldn't need to attempt to bully me into agreement with you.


I’m sorry Bob, but I just love to bully you.   I’ll never accuse you of bullying me, as you’ve done me.  But I will point out, for your own consideration, that an obscurantist method can be just as unyielding (even dogmatic) as a pedantic one.  It’s at least as easy for you to say “You haven’t explained enough” when someone has explained a good deal, as it is for someone to say “I have explained” when they actually haven’t at all.  So it’s better to drop any stones that are likely to hit both our houses.  


quote:
For what it's worth, the closest thing I've ever found to a decent discussion of morality is Lawrence Kohlberg's work on Moral Development, which is a stage theory.  It's not simple, but it does account for some of the things we've been talking about.  It's been a while, but some of the people at Harvard divinity school did some work with the theory of moral development and developed a theory of faith development that's extremely interesting as well, and might be helpful to you in some of your personal searching.  Or it might not.  I know that you do enjoy thought with your faith, and this stuff certainly has it.


Thanks Bob, I’ll take a look when I can.  After Brad’s video at some point?  Why can’t I get paid for doing this??  lol.

Stephen
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43 posted 04-15-2011 09:07 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Bob,

What is your definition of morality?

Ron,

What do you agree with?

What do you disagree with?

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44 posted 04-16-2011 06:58 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad:
quote:
The only people I've heard who talk about Naturalism the way you do are Christian apologists.  Nobody else talks like that.  Nobody equates morality with survival strategies or the brain with the mind.  It's a strawman.  You have to include the conceptual in any discussion like this.


Questioning morals in a secular viewpoint goes back to David Hume at least.  And ever since Darwin there's been a steady of flow of discussion about the topic.  It is talked of by Spencer and Huxley.  And Moore's naturalistic fallacy addresses it.  Francis Crick made explicit statements of the kind you say are usually limited to Christian apologists.   In more recent times there is Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Michael Ruse, and others who have written about it.  It's at least safe to say that many of our greatest thinkers thought the justification of morals as necessary.  


But, if some aren't talking about it, I wonder if it's not simply a resignation to the irrationality (in a secular sense) of morality ... and a willingness to take our conditioning toward moral thought simply as that, a conditioning.


quote:
Why would reframing an explanation of morality in terms of amorality be dehumanizing?  It's simply another way of looking at the same thing.  I don't feel any less human or less in love if someone explains to me what's happening biochemically inside my brain when I'm in love.  In the same way, I don't feel immoral if I accept an amoral description of my morality.  This proposed innate sense of right and wrong (signified by guilt) does not disappear if someone has a decent scientific description of it.  

It's just a different description.


You say that I conflate identity and origin.  At the same time, you may be conflating description and explanation.  You mention "feeling" in love, in spite of the chemical analysis a neuro-scientist might give.  But it is interesting that you use the word "feeling".  We all know feeling may be wrong.  At least for many, whenever such description has been offered as explanation, there is a subversion of our feelings about the matter.  In other words, I am free to question whether the "feelings" associated with love are supported by the explanations I've been given.  Origin, in many cases, does indeed matter.  We can describe a love letter in exclusively physical terms.  But it does matter who wrote it.  In the realities of love and morality, there is a kind of handwriting involved.  


Consider such subversive statements as these:


"You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambition, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules" (Francis Crick- 'The Astonishing Hypothesis')


"Free Will is nothing more than the organized interplay of shifts of atoms ... as chance first endows them with energy to explore and then traps them in new arrangements as their energy leaps naturally and randomly away" (Peter Atkins- 'The Creation')


"We may have choice about whether to do right or wrong, but we have no choice about right and wrong themselves. If morality did not have this air of externality or objectivity, it would not be morality and (from a biological perspective) would fail to do what it is intended to do...In a sense, therefore, morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes." (Michael Ruse- 'Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics: Are They in Harmony')


Stephen

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Brad,

     The definitition of morality, when you're using a stage theory of moral development such as the one I was talking about above, changes with each level of your own development.  Kohlbreg's has six, which grown progressively more interactive and then independant as the person grows in his or her ability to reflect on the notion of self and other.  In the early stages, there is virtually no ability to understand the notion of other at all and the only way of mediating moral behavior is through force and obligation, as in, I do this because if I don't do this I will be punished if I am caught, and I don't want to experience pain, and I am not to blame for anything, other people force me to do things.

     A murderer at this stage once told me of the teeth that he had extracted from a woman he had killed, "She was my friend; she gave them to me."  He was not lying, he meant this quite literally.  This was how he constructed the situation.  He felt no moral responsibility for his own actions, even for extracting her teeth after she had died.  He ascribed volition to her even after her death because he could not cognitively hold in his head a construction where he held moral awareness of responsibility for his actions.

     Yet this is where we all start.

     Moral constructions become more complex from that point on, paralleling evolution in ego development.  See Jane Loevinger for that material, as you would want to see Lawrence Kohlberg for the moral development material.

     I'm a bit behind the curve here, but that's the basic stuff.
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46 posted 04-21-2011 05:43 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Thanks, Bob.

I am somewhat, very somewhat, acquainted with stage theory and knew that first stage.  The whole thing sounds interesting and I may pursue that in a few months.

But my question was what was your definition of morality?

In other words, do you buy it?
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47 posted 04-21-2011 09:32 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K


     Yeah, I do buy the Kohlberg Stage theory of moral development, and the Loevinger theory of Ego Development.  I find them flexible and reasonably understandable, and I find them a good explanation for why people who mean well can't make hide nor hair out of more complex levels of either cognitive or moral thinking.  These stage theorists are quick to tell us that we shouldn't take the stages as "more advanced," but simply as more complex, but then none of them, you'll notice, like to think of themselves as any of the less complex folks.  And all of them are very careful to say that they NOT level Six folks like, and then they mention a laundry list of dazzling folks that they'd clearly drool all over themselves to be.

     It's like getting a chance to ask Martin Luther, "Yeah, tell me again why you think you know better than the Pope what the real message that Jesus had to offer was?   It wouldn't be because you might have, on some level, IDENTIFIED WITH HIM, would it?"  Church lady voice here, of course.

     But the truth is, if you aren't cognitively complex enough to follow the thinking of somebody half a stage more complex than you are, then the moral complexity, the moral reasoning of somebody doing the same thing is simply going to seem like word soup to you.  You can't contain it in your head.  It makes no sense.

     Be prepared for that when you look at some of the Kohlberg material.

     He offers a series moral situations and then asks what you would do, and how you frame them, how you think about them, and what's the correct set of actions in relation to them?  You'll probably be able to find some of the questions on the net someplace, and you'll be able to see how difficult they are to grapple with, and you'll get some idea of exactly how much use logic is in grappling with them, and in explaining your reasoning to other people.

     Here is a link to one of the frequently used stories used to help sort out levels of moral development in the Kohlberg schema, clearly presented and even scored in straightforward fashion by the folks at wiki.  The Folks at Wiki do not emphasize strongly enough that there are no wrong answers, so I will have to do that for them.

     There are no wrong answers.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz_dilemma

    
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48 posted 05-23-2011 03:45 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

This is an amazing video:

lion, crocodile, and the herd of buffalo
Brad
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49 posted 06-09-2011 06:42 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I've been reading a bit about free will these days (again).  Sam Harris has come out against it and many agree, disagree.

I think Harris is wrong but it the difference is in what we mean by free will. I'll try to get back to this.

quote:
"You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambition, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules" (Francis Crick- 'The Astonishing Hypothesis')


My response:  So what?


quote:
"Free Will is nothing more than the organized interplay of shifts of atoms ... as chance first endows them with energy to explore and then traps them in new arrangements as their energy leaps naturally and randomly away" (Peter Atkins- 'The Creation')


This is a mistake.  Free will is not the organized interplay of shifts of atoms.  Free will has to do with intent.  Intent is an emergent property of the organized interplay of shifts in atoms but they are not the same thing.


quote:
"We may have choice about whether to do right or wrong, but we have no choice about right and wrong themselves. If morality did not have this air of externality or objectivity, it would not be morality and (from a biological perspective) would fail to do what it is intended to do...In a sense, therefore, morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes." (Michael Ruse- 'Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics: Are They in Harmony')


Yes, but why call it an illusion?  Morality is objective because it is defined so, it does not mean that morality is external to humanity.  

Does it work?  

Does it allow us to live our lives more easily?  

If the answer is yes, then it is not an illusion.  If the answer is no, then it is.

Illusion:

quote:

1.something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.

2.the state or condition of being deceived; misapprehension.

3.an instance of being deceived.


I do not see how these definitions apply to morality. Morality is external to the individual but it is not external to relationships that that individual participates in.  As a result, it is internalized as one participates.

I'll try to get some links up for the Harris article and some of the debates about it in a bit.
 
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