Monday, September 24, 2012

Quote of the week - Ludwig Feuerbach on knowing God

A being without qualities is one which cannot become an object to the mind; and such a being is virtually non-existent. Where man deprives God of all qualities, God is no longer anything more to him than a negative being. To the truly religious man, God is not a being without qualities, because to him he is a positive, real being. The theory that God cannot be defined, and consequently cannot be known by man, is therefore the offspring of recent times, a product of modern unbelief. . . . On the ground that God is unknowable, man excuses himself to what is yet remaining of his religious conscience for his forgetfulness of God, his absorption in the world: he denies God practically by his conduct, – the world has possession of all his thoughts and inclinations, – but he does not deny him theoretically, he does not attack his existence; he lets that rest. But this existence does not affect or incommode him; it is a merely negative existence, an existence without existence, a self-contradictory existence, – a state of being, which, as to its effects, is not distinguishable from non-being. . . . The alleged religious horror of limiting God by positive predicates is only the irreligious wish to know nothing more of God, to banish God from the mind

- Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 1841

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Conversion to Atheism

Blogger Ichtus77 blogged on her personal story. Here is an excerpt:

"Before I became an atheist, I had grown up in church, a preacher’s kid who prayed to receive Christ when I was four. I never matured beyond the Sunday school understanding of avoiding the punishment of hell and gaining the reward of heaven.  There were lots of questions my parents did their best to answer, but many questions lingered after I got married and moved away from home.

When we bought a computer, I used it to witness in chat rooms and message boards, even met a few times in person with one of the people to whom I was witnessing.  In the process I discovered people have a lot of doubts about Christianity, and I added those doubts to my own.

I remember the night when the scales tipped and my doubts outweighed my faith – I had a nightmare that I rode in the passenger seat of a car speeding through a hilly stretch of road and could not make the driver slow down. I woke up terrified as the car launched off a cliff into the blackness of night.  The grounding of my faith gave way to an abyss of nothing.  It didn’t kill me, but it didn’t make me stronger, either.  The abyss provides no ground for meaningful strength." 

I like that she wrote, "The abyss provides no ground for meaningful strength." This reminded me of something Sartre wrote in Being and Nothingness: "Life has no meaning a priori … It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose." 1 There is no ground, no objective meaning for your life; there's only an illusion you build for yourself called value. 

You can read Ichtus77's full story here: The day I converted from atheism is approaching... 

If you want, check out the post Is Life Absurd Without God? 

1. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 1943

Monday, September 17, 2012

Quote of the Week - Nietzsche on Morality Without God

When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God has truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.

When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt. For the English, morality is not yet a problem.

- Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 515–16

Friday, September 14, 2012

Do objective moral values just exist?

Do objective moral values just exist? Are they just "out there" existing with no foundation? Is there a moral realm full of objective values? Is rape wrong because it just is? Is loyalty good because it just is? These are questions I intend to answer in this blog post. This is something I've been throwing around in my mind the past few weeks.

Philosophers have been doing moral philosophy for a long time, a very long time, without appealing to God or gods for the foundation. I understand Plato to have grounded his moral philosophy in what he called "forms" or "ideas." Plato thought our observable world to be a defect of the real thing, a flawed image of a most beautiful painting. He thought we can observe beautiful things here in our world, like a painting, and call it "beauty," but it's not true beauty. This is the crux of Plato's philosophy: how he distinguishes between observable beauty (continuing with the beauty example) and what beauty really is (the form or idea that is "out there") which is how the observable objects receive the quality of beauty. It's very interesting. So that's one way of grounding morality without appealing to God. What are some others? Well, there's the moral philosophy of the greatest outcome for the greatest number of people. There's another grounded in human flourishing, and another that says there is no ground that morality differs from person to person so it's all relative. The most interesting one is the thought that objective moral values are "just there." The philosopher or person who says that mercy is good because it just is or rape is wrong because it just is. I've never heard of or read a solid name for it, maybe atheistic moral realism would be a solid label for it, anyway the idea is in the previous sentence that these moral values are objective because they just are. How nice. 

What do we make of this? Does it make sense that objective moral values just exist? Let's go ahead and cede to that for the moment. Okay. Objective moral values just exist. What does that mean for me as an individual? I'm an advanced primate. I'm experiencing the world around me. Do I encounter patience? Do I encounter justice? What tool do I use to mine for these values? Do I sense an oughtness or shouldness to follow these values if I do encounter them? I don't think so. On naturalism, if objective moral values exist it would be non-natural, that is abstract, and I have no reason to believe that we could know of them or should know them, i.e. that we would have an oughtness to know them as we do today. On naturalism I find it hard to believe that these unexplainable objective moral values existed unchanging during the whole process of evolution, not dependent on anything for their survival and somehow man became aware of these moral values and found out what they are? If naturalistic evolution is true and objective moral values do indeed "just exist" I find it very hard to believe that man would evolve in that perfect way as to be able to know what those moral values are. Given that scenario, it's as if the moral realm "knew" that just such a man was coming. It's as if man was rigged to know the moral realm, care about it, and follow its values; like there was a design or something. Strange. Of course, a non-natural moral realm cannot be personal because it's impersonal. In order for man to know about such abstract objects, it would have be personal. The theist is in a fine position to say that if God exists, then as a personal being He could choose to let man know of His existence by divine revelation and/or by letting his existence be known via reason, those human beings who are functioning properly. God is personal therefore knowable, whereas non-natural moral values/a moral realm is impersonal therefore unknowable.

It seems to me that the atheist who says moral values are illusory is in a much better position given naturalism because such a moral philosophy makes sense in a purely naturalistic world. I don't understand at all how non-natural moral values can exist in a purely naturalistic world. The atheistic moral realist may say, "Okay, fine. I can understand that point. If we must go further in attempting to ground these objective moral values then let's do so. What if we say we (human beings) are the lawgivers and that these moral values are what perfectly rational human beings would agree on behind a veil of ignorance?" This meta-ethic philosophy is a sketch of John Rawls' theory of justice. The perfectly rational human being is behind a veil of ignorance (this is so he is blinded to any self-serving ideas that would only help himself and not others) and all of these men agree on the objective moral values we know today. It's a charming argument, but I think it fails on many points. One, why would I think that all of these perfectly rational human beings behind a veil of ignorance wouldn't agree on moral nihilism as their moral philosophy for the world? You can't say, "Well, they're behind a veil of ignorance" because moral nihilism isn't self-serving or a selfish quest. In fact, if God does not exist, then moral nihilism is a rational position to take. Man is looking at the abyss and he can go no further. Yes, Nietzsche said that only the weak give in to the abyss/nihilism, but it's not irrational, it's only weak. What about moral egoism? This is a rational moral position to take as well. I find it hard to believe that such a committee of persons would all agree on what our moral obligations are because there isn't just one atheistic rational moral philosophy, there are quite a few. Problem two, if the committee grounded morality in the decisions of human beings then objective moral values wouldn't exist anyway because the values would be dependent on human beings, which goes against moral objectivity which is that these moral values are valid and binding independent of whether human beings believe in them or not. 

There are, from my understanding, problems with atheistic moral realism that make it difficult for me to think that morality can be objective on atheism/naturalism: the existence of moral values/abstract objects on naturalism and finding the inherent wrongness or rightness of moral values on naturalism. Ethical theory and applied ethics can be explained quite nicely in many moral philosophies (Aristotle's ethics comes to mind as well as Kant), some even that are atheistic, but the inherent wrongness or rightness of moral values isn't in ethical theory or applied ethics, it's in meta-ethics and I think that's the problem with atheistic moral realism; it focuses on the two areas that don't tell me why something is wrong or right in and of itself which is why I haven't been convinced of atheism/naturalism. Actually, the debates I listened to on "Is God necessary for morality" and things like that convinced me of theism then other arguments took me to Christian theism. I think it's a strong point for the theist, but I'm not close minded to good arguments from the other side of the aisle.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Last Men: Are we those men?

Nietzsche wrote the following in Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Lo! I show you the Last Man.

"What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?" -- so asks the Last Man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.

"We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.

One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

"Formerly all the world was insane," -- say the subtlest of them, and they blink.

They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled -- otherwise it upsets their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

"We have discovered happiness," -- say the Last Men, and they blink.1 

Do you think we, the current gen of people, are the Last Men? It seems like it. We don't want to be bothered with high achievements, ultimate issues, or even local issues; we just want everyone to get along and equal in every respect (instead of equal opportunity) and just kind of float along in a "don't stir the pot because someone might get his feelings hurt" kind of life. Meaningless? This is my mood today. Bleh.

1. Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, Zarathustra's Prologue 5

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stanley Fish's interview with D'Souza on 2016

 An excerpt from the interview: 

S.F.: Some posters were dismissive of the idea of “American exceptionalism.” They wondered what the phrase meant and suspected that it was a rhetorical device enabling the United States to justify actions it would condemn if they were performed by other nations. What, in your view, is so exceptional about America?

D.D.: My definition of American exceptionalism is one of identifying the ways in which America is unique in the world. First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table. Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.” America is a creation of thought. A second aspect of American exceptionalism is that while in other countries citizenship is a function of birth and blood, you become an American by assimilating to a certain way of life, a certain aspiration. And third, America has been a kinder, gentler superpower than traditional empires have been. What does the doctrine of American exceptionalism empower the United States to do? Nothing more than to act better than traditional empires — committed to looting and conquest — have done. So that’s American exceptionalism, an exceptionalism based on noble ideas, ideas that it holds itself to even when it falls short of them.

S.F.: You say in an e-mail to me that you don’t think Obama is anti-American. You just think he wants to “downsize” America, take her down a notch. Isn’t that a distinction without a difference? You pose a choice between America’s dream and Obama’s dream; the subtitle of your new book is “Unmaking the American Dream”; you say that the most dangerous man in America lives in the White House, and that those who vote for Obama will be “voting for their own decline and impoverishment.” Aren’t you labeling him anti-American at least in the sense that he desires America’s demise as a super-power?

D.D.: O.K., if the desire to knock America off its pedestal, to redistribute American income to other countries, to shrink America’s footprint in the world, makes you anti-American, then Obama is in fact anti-American. I don’t use that label for Obama because he thinks it would be good for America to play a smaller role economically, politically, culturally and so on. Most everyone else agrees that America should be prosperous, should be strong, should be a force for liberty, should be No. 1 as long as possible. All I’m saying is that Obama stands outside that consensus. So he might be very happy if the world was dominated not by one, but by six countries. He’d be very happy if America, which has 5 percent of the world’s oil, but uses 25 percent, instead used 10 percent, allowing developing countries to use more. These are not inherently evil or un-American ideas — so the slogan of anti-Americanism is not helpful; but they are ideas and an ideology most Americans don’t agree with.

S.F.: The vast majority of readers objected to your main thesis — that Obama’s views are best explained by the anti-colonialist ideology of his father. Some readers scoffed at what they call pop-psychologizing and find your analysis implausible given that Obama spent so little time with his father. Others deemed the analysis unnecessary as an explanation of Obama’s policies, which are, they say, exactly what one would expect from a mainstream, slightly left-of-center Midwestern pragmatist, many of whose ideas are taken from the moderate Republicans no longer welcome in the party.

D.D.: Well, let’s take that second argument first. We have seen in America, within four years, a complete redefinition of the relationship of the citizen to the state. The federal government has made incursions into a whole series of industries that were previously in the private domain. Bill Clinton’s doctrine — that the era of big government is over — has been completely repudiated. So the federal government now has a very active hand in medicine, in hospitals, in insurance, in banking, in finance, in automobiles, in energy. I’m not saying that government has had no role in these institutions before, but the degree of involvement has changed substantively. As for Obama and his father, in the film we interview psychologist Paul Vitz, who identifies two models of paternal influence, the inner city model — my dad abandoned me, he’s a jerk, I want nothing to do with him — and the World War II model — my father’s away, but he’s a hero, a great man fighting for his country and I wish I could be worthy of him. Obama ultimately takes neither of these two models. Instead, he takes a middle route and divides his father into the good father and the bad father. He says, I will not try to be like my father as a man, but I do want to take my father’s dreams. That is the meaning of his book’s title: “Dreams From My Father.” What I’m doing is not pop-psychologizing, unless you want to call Obama a pop-psychologist of himself. I’m just taking Obama’s cue that his father had a decisive, shaping influence on him, and saying let’s take the dreams of the father and look at the actions of the son and see if the jigsaw fits.

I recommend reading the entire interview. Fish's readers ask questions like: isn't the King's College a stupid creationist college? Who funded the 2016 movie? Aren't you (D'Souza) just a dark-skinned immigrant cozying up to the white elite? Obama-rage?

Read the full interview here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Quote of the Week - Aquinas on faith and science

“The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.” 

― Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Requirements for Salvation

This is a very good post from the Calvinist Gadfly (I'm pasting the entire thing)

Were I to do a little righteous thing (and I have), it would not be significant. It would not earn the favour or invitation of God. (Titus 3:4-5)

Were I a morally untested foetus like Esau (and I was), it would not keep me from being hated. It would not attract the favour or invitation of God. (Romans 9:10-13)

Were I a whore and rebel against God (and I am), it would not keep me from being loved. It would not negate the favour or invitation of God. (Deuteronomy 9:5)

Were I dead in sin (and I most certainly was), it would not keep me from living with Christ through the ages to come. It would not have any impact whatsoever on the great love, rich mercy, and kindness of God towards me through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-5, 7-9)

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (Romans 9:16). You can't achieve it, you can't earn it, you can't deserve it, you can't default into it, and you can do nothing to disqualify yourself from receiving it. For by grace are you saved. How should you then live?

Check out the blog Calvinist Gadfly

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quote of the Week- Rousseau on the Gospels

"Shall we say that the gospel story is the work of the imagination? My friend, such things are not imagined; and the doings of Socrates, which no one doubts, are less well attested than those of Jesus Christ. At best, you only put the difficulty from you; it would be still more incredible that several persons should have agreed together to invent such a book, than that there was one man who supplied its subject matter. The tone and morality of this story are not those of any Jewish authors, and the gospel indeed contains characters so great, so striking, so entirely inimitable, that their invention would be more astonishing than their hero. With all this the same gospel is full of incredible things, things repugnant to reason, things which no natural man can understand or accept. What can you do among so many contradictions? You can be modest and wary, my child; respect in silence what you can neither reject nor understand, and humble yourself in the sight of the Divine Being who alone knows the truth."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile: Or, On Education, 1762