Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Atheist and the Acorn

 

This starts with a joke. Not a particularly good one, but perhaps the novelty will save the humor. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard it told.

An atheist is arguing with a priest as they walk through a grove of trees. “How can you believe in a God who created such a disordered universe? Look at these mighty oak trees. See the tiny acorns they produce. And yet the massive pumpkin grows on a feeble vine. If I had designed the world that situation would be corrected, let me tell you.”

Just then an acorn falls from the oak and taps the atheist on his noggin. “Imagine” drawls his companion “if that had been a pumpkin.”

The humor here (and I hope you’ll pardon my analyzing the joke. Perhaps with a better one I’d worry about squandering it) the humor lies in the atheist who is so confident that he knows how the universe ought to be ordered. He has a clear aesthetic view that fails to take into account some practical implications.

The Argument For and Against the Existence of God by Design

I doubt that particular conversation ever actually took place but I have seen similar arguments made. The blood vessels in the eye go in front of the retina where they inevitably block some percentage of the light. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to run the blood vessels along the back of the retina so you don’t get the “down in front!” effect? Maybe; maybe not. The system really is a wonder for oxygenating the eye, and it blocks only a small percentage of the incident photons. (I speak only from second-hand knowledge, mind you; I’ve never given the matter much study myself.)

The general form of the argument seems to be: “Nature works in this way. It would work better if instead, it worked this other way. Therefore a rational God did not design this.” And a general counter-argument. “Nature actually works better the way it does because of this reason you have failed to consider.” Either way, I don’t find it very convincing; you can swap the argument and counter-argument to the opposite positions as well. Both the atheist and the theist, in making their arguments, are assuming that they know all functions a given thing has and can deduce all reasons that the Lord might have constructed that thing that way.

I bring it up to illustrate two closely-related principles that one must keep in mind when reasoning about the Almighty:

  • God is smarter than I am.
  • God is also wiser than I am.

The Good Lord who stretched out the giraffe’s neck presumably had a good reason for doing so. Possibly it was for some overriding engineering concern. I think it more likely that He did so because he takes joy in the delight children get from seeing such an absurd animal. Not a value that many of us science types generally worry about, but that’s that second principle for you. The Good Lord has his own purposes that are better than the ones that you and I hold. In the end, that sort of design objective is hardly a thing that could be proven, at least on this side of the grave.

Arguing With the Almighty Himself

If one were to argue design with God, however, the general argument would take on a different form. “Nature works this way. It would work better if instead, it worked this other way.” (Therefore…? What exactly would one hope to gain by gainsaying the Almighty?) God would respond “No, this is the best configuration because…” and there would follow a series of reasons and counterarguments that would settle the matter. A God who knows the end from the beginning will have weighed every competing concern and derived the optimal solution. That is, He’d respond if He felt the need to justify His reasons to you in the first place. Job got several chapters of “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?”.

That lack of an answer is deeply unsatisfying to us as readers. You let the man’s kids die; the least you can do is explain why to him. Job though, Job takes it as a complete answer. He doesn’t argue; he apologizes for demanding an answer in the first place.

I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.

Why? The answer to that question comes from the first chapter of the book, but not from the story, from something that Job said after he had lost everything.

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.

Everything — the money, Job’s health, his children — everything was given to him by the Lord. None of it was immutably his; he enjoyed all the gifts at the pleasure of the Lord. There’s no higher court, no standard of justice, no celestial insurance company to make him whole after the Lord removes those gifts. It’s easy to assume that His justice reflects our own ideas of justice when we’re talking among ourselves, but the holiness of God allows no quibbling. Job here reverts to the usual reaction of man when confronted with the reality of the Living God; stark, raving terror. All our sophistries fade away like snowflakes in a rainstorm when we’re forced to acknowledge the actual, living presence of God.

The Implications of Infinity

If one is going to consider the nature of God, then it’s probably best to consider God on God’s own terms. If God is infinite, then reasoning about a god that is not infinite won’t actually tell you about the Lord. If you start with the assumption that God is confined by the Laws of Physics then you’ll never understand anything about a God who isn’t. I touched on the point briefly when discoursing on my opium dreams.

If God is in fact infinite, then you’ve got to reason about Him as if He’s infinite in order to get anywhere. If he’s infinitely intelligent then it’s not enough to just say that you’re likely to lose any sort of game of cosmic riddles. You’re measuring your finite IQ against his infinite IQ, and any finite quantity is less than an infinite quantity. But once you start talking about God as if he’s infinite there are whole debates that just sort of melt away.

For instance, evolution. If the Lord spoke the Earth into existence literally as it’s described in Genesis chapter 1 then He could have done it precisely that way. Any amount of clever biologists discoursing on fossils and DNA doesn’t change that. An infinite God can speak whatever he likes into the fossil record just as easily as He could have spoken its absence in. Alternately, perhaps he ran evolution like a computer simulation to see if you could get whales back out of land mammals, or maybe he just let the Earth run for an epoch and said ‘Let there be ponies now.” If God is infinitely powerful and infinitely intelligent then we have to acknowledge the possibility that He did things any old way He pleases and never mind what we’d have chosen.

We’ve established a means, do we have a motive? Why not? God, judging from the Bible, values the salvation of people rather highly. Suppose he set up the whole pageant of evolution in order to reach a single biology grad student in North Carolina. Seems like an awful lot of work, doesn’t it? Again, we’re thinking about infinity here. It’s just as easy for Him to do it that way as any other. If I have infinite money on hand, I can pay the national debt just as easily as if I can pay for an ice-cream cone. Infinity dollars minus 20 trillion works out to the same thing as infinity minus two bits; it’s still infinity.

As such I’m never much bothered by questions of atheists and acorns. From either side of the question, it’s nothing but a plausibility argument. We can play our games with wisdom and logic but we ought to do so with a certain amount of humility. One may argue with the Almighty, one would be foolish to expect to prevail. There’s no possible example, experiment, theoretical, hypothesis, what have you that can prove God exists unless God allows it. The question always — always — always resolves to the one Christ offered to Peter:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.”

In the end, that’s the question that matters.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    The biggest bone I’m gonna pick over when I meet my Maker, (hopefully rather than Mr Satan,) is to ask why in the name of all that is holy, did He make my toenails such that I need a chain saw to trim them, while as far as my teeth, I only need to look at a single tortilla chip to have another tooth break in two.

    He is indeed infinite, but I have a very finite number of teeth. Could He not have considered that?

    • #1
    • June 17, 2020, at 10:00 PM PDT
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  2. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Also, the Catholic nuns who schooled me on such things stated that there was no reason why God could not be the Earth’s Creator as well as Someone who designed it so that it developed inside a vast geological time scale, such that first you have a planet spinning lifelessly inside an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide, with little or no oxygen. (There’d also be smaller proportions of water vapor, ammonia and methane.) As the Earth cooled down, most of the water vapour condensed and formed the oceans.

    Eventually there would be the land masses, as well as both marine and land-bound microscopic life and then plants and animals, fish and people too.

    It seems silly to think that the Earth can’t be entitled to its fossil records, and geological eras. After all, you or I might need a surgeon to repair a heart valve that is dithering about rather than working the way the Good Lord intended. No one states that the need for heart surgery denies the existence of God. So why do so many people get their panties in a knot over the idea that God might have chosen to have the planet come about through an organic biological method that took billions of years? He of all people had the time to ordain it that way, right?

    • #2
    • June 17, 2020, at 10:12 PM PDT
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  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hank’s posts are always thought provoking, but this one is actually quite beautiful.

    When I was in high school, our diocese used to make Enrico Fermi awards recognizing scientific talent among believers. Hank’s on the other side of the Tiber, theologically speaking, but among our Separated Brethren there ought to be something equivalent for writers who prove “The really smart people believe in God”. 

    • #3
    • June 18, 2020, at 12:58 AM PDT
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  4. Randy Webster Member

    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito: I think it more likely that He did so because he takes joy in the delight children get from seeing such an absurd animal.

    You probably shouldn’t say absurd. I’ve seen a video of a giraffe kicking a lion to death.

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    • June 18, 2020, at 2:44 AM PDT
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  5. Skyler Coolidge

    Z

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    • June 18, 2020, at 3:38 AM PDT
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  6. J Climacus Member

     If I have infinite money on hand, I can pay the national debt just as easily as if I can pay for an ice-cream cone. Infinity dollars minus 20 trillion works out to the same thing as infinity minus two bits; it’s still infinity.

    I see you’ve discovered the Federal Reserve, which creates money ex nihilo the way God created the universe. A $26 trillion debt? Who cares? A few keystrokes for the Almighty Fed. 

    The Fed is the closest thing to God our secular culture recognizes. Like God, the Fed’s works are marvels to which the only proper response is submission. The Fed causes some people to become rich and others poor according to its own inscrutable wisdom, but in faith we know the Fed is always working for the best.

    Sorry for going off topic but I couldn’t resist.

     

    • #6
    • June 18, 2020, at 4:34 AM PDT
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  7. HeavyWater Coolidge

    This post reminds me of Antony Flew’s updated parable of the invisible gardener.

    Let us begin with a parable. It is a parable developed from a tale told by John Wisdom in his haunting and revelatory article ‘Gods’. Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, ‘some gardener must tend this plot.’ The other disagrees, ‘there is no gardener.’ So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. ‘But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.’ So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells’s ‘Invisible Man’ could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. ‘But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.’ At last the Sceptic despairs, ‘But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?’

    Often God is defined as a omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent being. Does it puzzle you that God allows babies to be born with cerebral palsy, familial hypercholesterolemia, hemophilia and all sorts of other diseases? Take familial hypercholesterolemia. A child born homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia has a liver that does not properly metabolize low density lipoproteins (LDL, the so-called “bad cholesterol”) and this leads to children having heart attacks before they reach adulthood.

    Why did God design humans so that about one in a million children would be born with such a terrible disease? God works in mysterious ways. This can lead to skeptical theism, the belief that God exists but that we should be skeptical of our ability to discern God’s reasons for acting or not acting.

    And so human beings pick up where God left off. Scientists discovered how human beings normally metabolize cholesterol and created drugs to provide patients with familial hypercholesterolemia the ability to avoid having a heart attack at age 12. We can thank God for these scientific advancements or we can thank those scientists who participated in those breakthroughs or perhaps we can thank both.

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    • June 18, 2020, at 4:45 AM PDT
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  8. Roderic Coolidge

    It’s a mistake to argue with non-believers about the existence of God using their own secular reasoning. God reveals Himself to us and gives us faith, and that personal experience, shared by billions, is all the proof we need. It’s proof that’s available to everyone who is open to it. We are called on to testify to our experience with God and let others respond as they will.

    • #8
    • June 18, 2020, at 5:15 AM PDT
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  9. Stad Thatcher

    Great sermon!

    • #9
    • June 18, 2020, at 5:28 AM PDT
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  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Empiricists are so cute when they wander outside of their sandbox.

    Remember, out in the wide world, you’ll need a meter or a set of equations for every abstract concept that you feel the need to employ, “Good” and “bad,” for instance. Can’t measure it? Can’t have it.

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    • June 18, 2020, at 6:01 AM PDT
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  11. HeavyWater Coolidge

    As I see it, God either explains nothing or can provide rationalizations for everything. I do not believe in God.

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    • June 18, 2020, at 6:08 AM PDT
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  12. Jim Beck Member

    SMorning Hank,

    As a lapsed absurdist, speaking for the atheists, what is it all about Alfie? Molecules bounce, that’s it. So what does one’s feeling of joy, or grief mean, nothing, and the feelings of joy or grief of your children, nothing, George Floyd, nothing, Holocaust, nothing. And what about our morality, atheists often talk of their personal morality, again nothing, it means nothing, just molecules bouncing around, it means nothing. Atheism is a hard mistress, of course it is easier when you say to yourself that you mean something, and you define that meaning, that means nothing as well. All of it life, death, the universe, nothing, let’s drink to that “three quarks for Master Mark”.

    There is a problem, if you are following a herd (you pick the example) and every minute of your life requires vigilance and luck, you could die tomorrow, it is likely you will die before you are forty, and there are good odds that your wife or your sister will die in child birth, and it is very likely that one or more of your children will die ( happens in every family), then thinking that life is meaningless molecular activity won’t get you out of bed, won’t cause you to make sacrifices it will take to try to keep the tribe going. So atheism is a luxury afforded to those who have no tribe to defend, no life of sacrifice and obligation.

    • #12
    • June 18, 2020, at 7:25 AM PDT
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  13. HeavyWater Coolidge

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    SMorning Hank,

    As a lapsed absurdist, speaking for the atheists, what is it all about Alfie? Molecules bounce, that’s it. So what does one’s feeling of joy, or grief mean, nothing, and the feelings of joy or grief of your children, nothing, George Floyd, nothing, Holocaust, nothing.

    If we view the universe in its most reduced form, down to the level of eletrons, protons and neutrons (or even lower than that, at the level of quarks), life sure does seem to be meaningless.

    But at the level of biology, sociology, politics, economics and psychology, life has meaning and morality is as real as the sun rising at dawn.

    So, one need not believe in God to believe that, say, slavery is wrong. One can derive moral values from non-supernatural sources.

     

     

     

    • #13
    • June 18, 2020, at 7:30 AM PDT
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  14. J Climacus Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    But at the level of biology, sociology, politics, economics and psychology, life has meaning and morality is as real as the sun rising at dawn.

    So, one need not believe in God to believe that, say, slavery is wrong. One can derive moral values from non-supernatural sources.

    What are those sources? Surely not biology, sociology, politics, economics or psychology. These are descriptive, not prescriptive sciences. They can tell us what is happening and perhaps why it is happening, but not whether anything ought to have happened.

     

     

     

     

    • #14
    • June 18, 2020, at 7:59 AM PDT
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  15. Jim Beck Member

    Morning Hank,

    What you mention are inventions of man, not “truths” Slavery was not thought to be immoral until the last 200 years of man’s at least 50,000 years of existence. The moral the truths of a given culture should be for the atheist who is not fooling himself, as their beliefs in a supreme being, that is they are nothing, just molecules got complex and bounced in a pattern.

    Let us consider. Marcus Aurelius:

    ”Consider everyone you have known; how many things you have witnessed, which have already changed and how many people who have ceased to be. Observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus, tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes.

    Be not troubled, for all things are according to nature and in a little while you will be no one and nowhere.”

    Hank, I am and Evangelical now, but I was an atheist for a long enough time to know that at the bottom line, life for an atheist must be meaningless. But that is so hard that folks can’t take it, so they then invent meaning, or claim they observe it in biology (shall we ask the virus or amoeba of its meaning). We are both older Hoosiers and in time we will be nothing and nowhere as was noted nearly 2000 years ago. We are a vapor, molecules.

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    • June 18, 2020, at 8:00 AM PDT
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  16. Skyler Coolidge

    Does anyone ever come to this website and talk about how the Jews killed Jesus?

    Does anyone ever come to this website to say that protestants are not real christians?

    Does anyone ever come to this website to complain that mormons are a cult?

    I never see any of that.

    Yet, it’s perfectly fine to insult atheists. Strange.

    • #16
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:00 AM PDT
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  17. Jim Beck Member

    Morning Skyler,

    I did not think I was insulting atheists. The biggest sinner (or messed up person, if you prefer) I know, is me, I need grace more than any other person I know. My critique of atheism, focused on the lack of follow through (except for Camus), and how humans would not be here if tribes (humans for most of the 50,000+) were atheist.

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    • June 18, 2020, at 8:08 AM PDT
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  18. J Climacus Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

     

    And so human beings pick up where God left off. Scientists discovered how human beings normally metabolize cholesterol and created drugs to provide patients with familial hypercholesterolemia the ability to avoid having a heart attack at age 12. We can thank God for these scientific advancements or we can thank those scientists who participated in those breakthroughs or perhaps we can thank both.

    Or we can thank those scientific Christians – Newton, Pascal, Leibniz, even Galileo among others – who invented modern science under the inspiration that they were reading the “Book of Nature” created by just that omniscient and omnipotent God you have no use for. They had faith that their investigations would bear fruit because a rational God would create a rational universe penetrable by the human mind – not an ultimately dumb universe for which rational investigation was a waste of time (as most other cultures believed).

    Does it puzzle you that the Christian West, and only the Christian West, developed modern science?

     

    • #18
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:10 AM PDT
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  19. HeavyWater Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    But at the level of biology, sociology, politics, economics and psychology, life has meaning and morality is as real as the sun rising at dawn.

    So, one need not believe in God to believe that, say, slavery is wrong. One can derive moral values from non-supernatural sources.

    What are those sources? Surely not biology, sociology, politics, economics or psychology. These are descriptive, not prescriptive sciences. They can tell us what is happening and perhaps why it is happening, but not whether anything ought to have happened.

    So, are you asking about where morality comes from in a non-theistic worldview?

    • #19
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:11 AM PDT
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  20. J Climacus Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Does anyone ever come to this website and talk about how the Jews killed Jesus?

    Does anyone ever come to this website to say that protestants are not real christians?

    Does anyone ever come to this website to complain that mormons are a cult?

    I never see any of that.

    Yet, it’s perfectly fine to insult atheists. Strange.

    Where is the insult? I have no problem with atheists writing posts that say Christianity is bunk, if done respectfully. And I’ve argued with Protestants on this forum that the Catholic Church is the true church. It’s all good.

    • #20
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:15 AM PDT
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  21. HeavyWater Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):.

    Or we can thank those scientific Christians – Newton, Pascal, Leibniz, even Galileo among others – who invented modern science under the inspiration that they were reading the “Book of Nature” created by just that omniscient and omnipotent God you have no use for. They had faith that their investigations would bear fruit because a rational God would create a rational universe penetrable by the human mind – not an ultimately dumb universe for which rational investigation was a waste of time (as most other cultures believed).

    Does it puzzle you that the Christian West, and only the Christian West, developed modern science?

    Puzzling? No. Interesting? Yes.

     

     

    • #21
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:15 AM PDT
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  22. Skyler Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    What are those sources?

    Why must there be a source? Can we understand what right and wrong are? Can’t we agree what right and wrong are? Isn’t that the role of civilization, to come to an agreement as to what is right and wrong? Isn’t right and wrong at a fundamental level almost always the same in every society since recorded time?

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    • June 18, 2020, at 8:15 AM PDT
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  23. J Climacus Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    But at the level of biology, sociology, politics, economics and psychology, life has meaning and morality is as real as the sun rising at dawn.

    So, one need not believe in God to believe that, say, slavery is wrong. One can derive moral values from non-supernatural sources.

    What are those sources? Surely not biology, sociology, politics, economics or psychology. These are descriptive, not prescriptive sciences. They can tell us what is happening and perhaps why it is happening, but not whether anything ought to have happened.

    So, are you asking about where morality comes from?

    Yes. But not descriptions of how people behave or descriptions about the inclinations they have, which are sometimes confused for morality.

     

    • #23
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:17 AM PDT
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  24. HeavyWater Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Does anyone ever come to this website and talk about how the Jews killed Jesus?

    Does anyone ever come to this website to say that protestants are not real christians?

    Does anyone ever come to this website to complain that mormons are a cult?

    I never see any of that.

    Yet, it’s perfectly fine to insult atheists. Strange.

    Where is the insult? I have no problem with atheists writing posts that say Christianity is bunk, if done respectfully. And I’ve argued with Protestants on this forum that the Catholic Church is the true church. It’s all good.

    As someone who has serious doubts as to the existence of God or gods, I do not think my life is meaningless. There are some former atheists who are currently Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Mormon who will say that to not believe in God implies that life is meaningless.

    To this I say that I can not prove to someone else that my life has meaning regardless of whether God exists or not, regardless of whether Jesus rose from the dead or not. But I believe that my life has meaning and I believe that even the life of my cats have meaning.

     

    • #24
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:18 AM PDT
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  25. HeavyWater Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    But at the level of biology, sociology, politics, economics and psychology, life has meaning and morality is as real as the sun rising at dawn.

    So, one need not believe in God to believe that, say, slavery is wrong. One can derive moral values from non-supernatural sources.

    What are those sources? Surely not biology, sociology, politics, economics or psychology. These are descriptive, not prescriptive sciences. They can tell us what is happening and perhaps why it is happening, but not whether anything ought to have happened.

    So, are you asking about where morality comes from?

    Yes. But not descriptions of how people behave or descriptions about the inclinations they have, which are sometimes confused for morality.

    A few months ago I read Dr. Russ Shafer-Landau’s book, “Moral Realism: A Defense.” Here is an excerpt.:

    An ethical relativism of the sort embraced by Harman (1975) or Wong (1984) claims that what moral reality there is is fixed entirely by certain social agreements. The reality—what really is right and wrong, for instance—is constructed from the content of these agreements. Realists, by contrast, will claim that what really is right and wrong is conceptually and existentially independent of any such agreements. Indeed, for realists, moral reality is conceptually prior to and existentially independent of the moral truths we can construct even from the responses of an ideal observer. It maybe, given a precise enough characterization of an ideal observer, that his judgements are inerrant. The realist could allow, in other words, that there is a strong conceptual connection between the responses of a suitably characterized ideal observer and the content of moral reality. But, for the realist, that would be because the ideal observer would never fail to see what was right and wrong anyway. The responses of an idealized observer would not be constitutive of moral truth, but merely bear a very close (perhaps perfect) correlation with a set of truths whose conditions may be fixed without any reference to such an observer.

    So, moral facts are properly basic. Sort of like how in the theistic worldview, God is properly basic. One can ask a theist “Who created God?” The answer would be that no one created God because God is uncreated.

    Similarly, moral realists believe that moral facts are uncreated.

     

     

    • #25
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:23 AM PDT
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  26. J Climacus Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    As someone who has serious doubts as to the existence of God or gods, I do not think my life is meaningless. There are some former atheists who are currently Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Mormon who will say that to not believe in God implies that life is meaningless.

    To this I say that I can not prove to someone else that my life has meaning regardless of whether God exists or not, regardless of whether Jesus rose from the dead or not. But I believe that my life has meaning and I believe that even the life of my cats have meaning.

    I wouldn’t try to convince you otherwise. I (sincerely) admire your faith here. I would agree that our lives necessarily have meaning, whether we believe in God or not. I guess the question is, what is that meaning? Is it something we decide ourselves and apply to our lives?

     

    • #26
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:36 AM PDT
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  27. HeavyWater Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    As someone who has serious doubts as to the existence of God or gods, I do not think my life is meaningless. There are some former atheists who are currently Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Mormon who will say that to not believe in God implies that life is meaningless.

    To this I say that I can not prove to someone else that my life has meaning regardless of whether God exists or not, regardless of whether Jesus rose from the dead or not. But I believe that my life has meaning and I believe that even the life of my cats have meaning.

    I wouldn’t try to convince you otherwise. I (sincerely) admire your faith here. I would agree that our lives necessarily have meaning, whether we believe in God or not. I guess the question is, what is that meaning? Is it something we decide ourselves and apply to our lives?

    As I see it, I determine the meanning of my own life in the sense that I determine what my purpose in life will be. Do I decide to commit my life to simply making as much money as possible? Adopting as many children as possible? Feeding as many hungry children as possible? That is something that I determine for myself.

    But taking a wider view, the life of a human being I have never met and never will meet has value. Why does it have value? To that I say that it is a moral fact that human beings have value and that moral fact is properly basic. There is no further explanation. That moral fact, the value of human life, just is.

     

     

    • #27
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:42 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. J Climacus Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    So, moral facts are properly basic. Sort of like how in the theistic worldview, God is properly basic. One can ask a theist “Who created God?” The answer would be that no one created God because God is uncreated.

    Similarly, moral realists believe that moral facts are uncreated.

    Are all facts uncreated? I assume not. We properly asks of facts why they are facts. What is it about moral facts that makes them uncreated, i.e. why does it make no sense to ask why they are facts?

    With respect to God, we can ask why God is uncreated. God is uncreated because He is Being Itself, so it is His Nature to be uncreated. Everything else is created because, if you think about it, there can only be one existence that is Being Itself and so only one uncreated being. So the fact that God is uncreated and everything else is created isn’t just a brute, basic fact hanging out there, but is reflective of the nature of creation and existence. I’m not asking you to necessarily buy that explanation, just using it as an example for what I am looking for. Just saying “moral facts are properly basic” seems to me just an unsupported assertion without some explanation for why they are properly basic (and other facts aren’t).

     

     

    • #28
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:48 AM PDT
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  29. HeavyWater Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Are all facts uncreated? I assume not. We properly asks of facts why they are facts. What is it about moral facts that makes them uncreated, i.e. why does it make no sense to ask why they are facts?

    Let’s say I drop a coffee mug. The coffee mug hits the ground and shatters.

    That the coffee mug shattered is a fact. But this fact was created by my dropping the coffee mug from such a height that the acceleration due to gravity caused the coffee mug to break when it hit the ground, which was hard, not soft.

    Moral facts, in the eyes of a moral realist like Russ Shafer-Landau, are uncreated facts. Nothing caused these moral facts to exist nor did anything cause their content to be as they are. 

    With respect to God, we can ask why God is uncreated. God is uncreated because He is Being Itself, so it is His Nature to be uncreated. Everything else is created because, if you think about it, there can only be one existence that is Being Itself and so only one uncreated being. So the fact that God is uncreated and everything else is created isn’t just a brute, basic fact hanging out there, but is reflective of the nature of creation and existence. I’m not asking you to necessarily buy that explanation, just using it as an example for what I am looking for. Just saying “moral facts are properly basic” seems to me just an unsupported assertion without some explanation for why they are properly basic (and other facts aren’t).

    It seems that you believe that God is a brute, basic fact hanging out there and I think that moral facts are brute, basic facts hanging out there.

    Perhaps we can both admit that we can’t use telescopes or microscopes to find these brute, basic fact(s).

     

     

     

    • #29
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:57 AM PDT
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  30. Jim Beck Member

    Morning Skyler,

    So we used Darwin to toss God aside, evolution explained man’s origin, using the same logic we can explain morality. For most of our human lives, we have lived and become dominant in hunting and gathering tribes, or herding tribes. Those tribes that thrived had specific types of organizations where each member knew his role and the roles open to him. Each member knew his obligations to other tribe members and knew which other tribe members were obligated to him and his family. There were common structures of marriage, who was eligible to marry who. There were rites of passage which defined stages of life and obligations. There were structures of leadership. And in every tribe we have ever discovered or we only later discovered in the tribes ruins, believed in a god. One could make a logical argument that for tribes, a belief in god had a survival benefit. Of course one can make the same argument that the belief in free will has survival benefit. Just as tough to prove as God’s existence. So for tens of thousands of years humans have been selected to work in cooperative teams, to find pleasure in this the life of the team, to seek approval from teammates, to love their team and be willing to die for it, and kill for it. The teams that provided the most satisfaction and willingness to sacrifice for other tribe members thrived and became more numerous. From this tribal life we develop patterns of justice, certain people are treated certain ways and are owed certain things. Tribes can not exist without team work and a willingness to work to produce and raise children to totally internalize the culture of the tribe. It is only in modern times that a person could choose among may paths, even choose to go to a different tribe. So there is no foundational morality, no truths, there are structures of human organiztion which are successful and out populate other structures.

    Morning Heavy,

    Camus says that the daily choice a person must make is whether they will continue to exist; this is because existence in itself has no meaning. Few folks would look at their own life and say that their life is meaningless even if they think the all other existence is meaningless. This would be an example of cognitive dissonance, one does not invest time and effort in something and then say it means nothing, just human psychology, just molecules in a complex structure. When you talk of “reality, or morality, or facts” these are human inventions. These inventions may be more or less useful, just as knowing the formula for a triangle, but they have no more meaning than the speed of light, and they are much less universal or clear.

    • #30
    • June 18, 2020, at 8:59 AM PDT
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