Monday, May 3, 2010

Do we need God, now that we have science?



British based Premier Christian Radio hosts a weekly program entitled Unbelievable? which features engaging discussions and debates on various topics between Christians and non-believers. The most recent episode squared off atheist philosopher/author Stephen Law (pictured left) and Christian biologist Denis Alexander (pictured above). The question raised was Do we need God, now that we have science?

I was far from an impartial listener but I felt Law stole the show from both Alexander and the equally biased Christian moderator Justin Brierley. In fact, I didn't hear Alexander raise a single point that would support belief in his chosen deity. He agreed with Law on several points and, on the few points where he departed from Law, he was the victim of an intellectual reaming. Law raised several stumbling blocks which stand in the way of the traditional conception of the Judeo-Christian god, including the following:

1. The conception of an active agent standing outside our space and time makes no more sense than a mountain existing without space and time;

2. If once conceives of an intelligent designer, why is the Judeo-Christian god any more likely than the inhabitants of another universe using "super-duper alien technology"?

3. Hundreds of millions of years of seemingly pointless suffering of sentient animals provides excellent evidence there is no all-powerful, all-good God. In the same way, immense amounts of seemingly pointless good is excellent evidence there's no evil God either. Law concludes that it is perfectly obvious to all of us that there is no all-evil God and asked Alexander why it wasn't equally obvious that there was no all-good God. This is a verbatim transcript of Alexander's incomprehensible response:

We're in a pretty poor position, uh really ... not being God, to weigh up .. you know ... the pros and cons of, let's say the level of suffering or pain and so forth and, I mean there is, there are of course various, as I'm sure Stephen well knows, there are very standard responses to this, I mean one is we, we simply are not in a position to measure those kind of things, we can measure certain things in science and so forth but we all know also of examples where you know suffering actually can be good for people or can be there for a particular purpose that we, the person, the individual doesn't know about but which they find out later on or they don't find out later on so I think the Christian argument can take several approaches here but I think one is, of course, that it may be that the only way in which thinking freely, choosing beings, intelligent beings, can come into being is through carbon based life and certainly the evolutionary account would suggest that, you know, people playing with silicone based life and so forth, but in terms of the sort of life that we know about, that can be intelligent life, that can appreciate the universe, that can have consciousness, that can choose between good and evil and so forth, that seems to be carbon based life, and there are good biochemical reasons actually for thinking that's probably the only kind of life we're going to find anywhere in the universe, I mean the universe is uniformly the same from the point of view of its chemistry and biochemistry and we can see a very long way into the universe so biochemically it's looking pretty uniform so it seems quite likely that carbon based life is the only kind of life that is possible. Now if that is the case, it might turn out to be the case and this is what we don't know, that really if you want beings who can freely respond to god's love or not who have free choice then this is the kind of universe that you're going to have to have and, also, it's a universe with costs, it's a universe with particular costs, and of course if it's the only universe, then it will be very hard to mount any kind of defence against Stephen's critique but, you know, the Christian will obviously want to say that we're looking forward to new heavens and a new earth where things won't be the case so there are certain goods that will be achieved and a certain price in achieving those goods.

You can listen to the entire program described above at Premier Christian Radio's website at this link: http://www.premierradio.org.uk/shows/saturday/unbelievable.aspx but I recommend that you subscribe to Unbelievable? on iTunes. If you enjoy the show as much as I did, please email the show at unbelievable@premier.org.uk and request a return engagement for Professor Law.

49 comments:

  1. To Tam re point number 3 as an atheist please define good and evil and ask Stephen Law the same question, and i dont mean give examples eg
    murder is bad, helping old ladies across the road is good I mean define good and evil.

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  2. Wow, that really is a completely incoherent reply. Judging by the spelling of Mr. Alexander's first name and the manner of speaking quoted above, is it possible that his first language is not English? Perhaps he should be given some latitude if that is the case. It is extremely difficult to debate in a language that is not one's mother tongue.

    On points 2 and 3, Law and other atheists will not get anywhere with these questions. They are easy pickings for Bibleists. On point number 2, science bears the burden of proving the existence of such an alien controlling hand. Absent that, God is at least an equally plausible explanation. On point number 3, all Bibleists do not argue that God intervenes in daily life to extinguish the wicked and reward the good. Rather, smarter theists say He does not, thus, the fact that animals have suffered for centuries, or that amputees still exist, or that children die of cancer, are all irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.

    I'm crossing over...keep the faith.

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  3. I like his "carbon-based lifeforms can imagine any number of gods, we're suited to it, therefore Christian God" argument. So laughable.

    Look! I'm really a biologist! I understand carbon! This is perverted.

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  4. martin, I can't speak for Law but, as an atheist, I define "good" in the moral sense as that quality which a subjective observer finds desirable and I define "bad" in the moral sense as that quality which a subjective observer finds undesirable. I don't like the term "evil" because it suggests a supernatural component - my conception of evil is simply an act, state or outcome which is really bad. Good and bad do not exist (or, more accurately, cannot be discerned) without a subjective observer.

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  5. TAM - let me pre-emptively strike at his response that you cannot have a moral compass as an atheist, a notion we both know is preposterous.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxdgCxK4VUA&feature=player_embedded

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  6. Tam please explain to the lonley atheist that you can lay claim to a moral compass but you cannot define an undeniable one it just comes down to each individual decision to what they deem good or bad but mood, circumstance, age,
    culture, etc can change your perspective and moral compass.

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  7. Yes that's right Martin. Without an ultimate arbiter ie. God it's up to individuals and society to figure it out. And just when we think we've got things figured out - it goes bad. And when things are going badly suddenly the light of day shines through. Life is messy. But the morality displayed by the god of the bible is obviously reflective of the time, culture, and circumstance of the people it represented and so also cannot be defined as an undeniable one.

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  8. Referring to the Dawkins video. He says that we can design a society with the sort of morality that we want. Didn't Hitler and Stalin do this? He also tells us to look at the morality accepted by modern people. These include things like abortion, genocide, oppression of women, slavery(yes, that still exists), nuclear weapons, and capital punishment. Furthermore, all of these things are considered perfectly justified and legal in certain(present day) societies. Dawkins also uses the language of "belief" when referring to slavery and inequality. He does this because he is basing his argument solely off his personal opinion. Additionally, his unprovable beliefs inflict judgement, condemnation, and persecution upon anybody who does not share them, anybody who hasn't taken the same leap of faith he has. Dawkins has a real talent for spewing mindless and unfounded garbage out of his mouth.

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  9. Yes Paul, Hitler and Stalin decided that genocide was acceptable. We can too ... or we can apply reason, empathy and humanist principles to decide that is not the kind of society we want to live in. My Canadian society does not permit the oppession of women, slavery, capital punishment and favors the abolition of nuclear weapons. We permit abortions but we certainly don't promote them. These decisions are not made based on unprovable beliefs - they are made based on the (admittedly imperfect) application of reason in the best tradition of the Enlightenment.

    Do you need god to tell you genocide is "wrong"? If yes, why?

    Is genocide "right" when it is the result of god's judgment in the Bible?

    You shouldn't waste your time criticizing Dawkins who has never claimed to be a moral philosopher. I suggest you read Susan Neiman's Moral Clarity. She is a moral philosopher who was more intelligence in her little pinkie than you and me put together. Or you can stick to Thomas Aquinas which is probably a better idea when your moral code is based on the Bible.

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  10. To Tam if i believe abortion is the killing of babies who gets to make the final decision in what is right or wrong ? society , medical science , the baby who.

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  11. "These decisions are not made based on unprovable beliefs - they are made based on the (admittedly imperfect) application of reason in the best tradition of the Enlightenment." Based on the application of reason. German, Russian, and Rwandan believed that genocide was reasonable. All US presidents since WWII believed nukes to be reasonable. The US and dozens of other countries believe capital punishment to be reasonable. Most of the "civilized" world believes abortion to be reasonable. And the list goes on.
    All men have the ability to reason, but that doesn't keep us from doing horrible things. Our reason, morality, and "decency" have evolved all right, we went from the Roman gladiators to hacking 800,000 Rwandans to death.
    Dawkins may not be a moral philosopher, but he did claim that slavery and inequality amongst the sexes are bad thing. By claiming that and expecting other people to hold to his "leap of faith" he is uttering hypocrisy.

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  12. Paul, as a matter of fact, the percentage of people who die as the result of violence is at an all time low, and has been decreasing for pretty much ever. So yes, progress, on a grand scale, is really working.

    I don't see why you feel the need for a universal standard of morality to condemn genocide. I don't believe in it, and I condemn genocide based on my personal standard.

    Furthermore, the existence of a biblical standard of morality has not prevented genocide etc. in the past. Sure, you say, but violation of it has. So? That's true of any moral standard that condemns genocide. The bible, as far as I can tell, has no particularly great stopping power.

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  13. Teh,
    I would love to see the statistic concerning deaths by violence. Furthermore, just because we may be killing a fewer percentage does not mean we are killing less people. Additionally, I'm sure that statistic does not include abortion, which I believe needs to be factored in.

    I get rather disheartened when somebody tells me that they won't say that the intentional slaughter of millions of people is objectively wrong. If right and wrong are merely subjective to one's whims then "morality" becomes whatever the people in charge want it to be.

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  14. Furthermore, your "personal standards," opinions, beliefs, whatever you want to call it, has no jurisdiction over anyone besides yourself if it is merely subjective.

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  15. martin, the individual makes the final decision of whether they consider abortion to be right or wrong.

    Paul writes: I get rather disheartened when somebody tells me that they won't say that the intentional slaughter of millions of people is objectively wrong. If right and wrong are merely subjective to one's whims then "morality" becomes whatever the people in charge want it to be.

    You abhor the intentional slaughter of millions of people [i.e. fetuses] while you condone the slaughter of millions of sentient animals that I consider to have just as much, if not more, moral worth. Lines have to be drawn. Individuals are capable of drawing those lines and, cumulatively, individuals draw those lines as societies. You would prefer that the lines be drawn based on a book which I consider to be morally indefensible. I really don't care where or how you draw the line as long as the majority of individuals in my country don't try to impose your chosen book's rules on me.

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  16. Except that these "lines" are arbitrary to the point of nonexistence. Your subjective opinions, beliefs, considerations, etc. have absolutely zero value outside of your own person. The majority opinion might agree that something is right or wrong, but what about the minority opinion? Furthermore, it isn't the majority that deems morality, it's whomever is in power, consequently making anything that is legal morally good. This would make Hitler completely justified in his systematic execution of Jews, Catholics, people with homosexual attractions, non-arians, Gypsies, and anyone who looked at him wrong. Do you seriously believe that a majority mob or powerful dictator has the authority to construct morality according to their whims?

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  17. Do I seriously believe that a majority mob or powerful dictator has the authority to construct morality according to their whims? Not for others. If a mob or dictator decides that it's "right" to lynch someone, do you think that is going to affect your or my moral view of the situation?

    Hitler felt he was morally justified in exterminating Jews. Countless brave Germans risked their lives to save Jewish lives in WWII. I assure you that they weren't all Christians.

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  18. I'm not making the claim that all moral people are Christian. I'm making the claim that without an objective moral order morality cannot exist because a man's subjective opinion has no jurisdiction outside of his person. Additionally, I'm making the claim that the argument Dawkins presented in the previously posted video is a bunch of bologna poorly strung together by his charming vocabulary.

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  19. Paul, what do you mean by an objective moral order? and how does it explain why those ignorant of god and those who reject belief in god act can (and often do) act in an ethically upstanding manner? By "ethically upstanding", I mean preferring the interests of others to one's own interests without any expectation of a benefit in return.

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  20. To Tam- but if abortion is murder and I could show it was murder, the unlawful killing of the innocent then is it still for the individual to decide. If the nazi were taking jewish women and removing their tonsils people may be shocked and annoyed at such strange behavior, but if they took the same women and aborted all their children would the reaction be the same, as they are only removing a collection of cells just like your tonsils.
    And try and tell any women who has been trying for years to have a child , if she miscarries that it was not a baby she lost just a bunch of cells and see what reaction you get.
    Abortion is just a convient way to get rid of unwanted children who might interfere with our precious, selfish, comfortable, lives
    but once again is it right or wrong.

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  21. martin, each individual decides whether abortion is right or wrong just like they decide whether killing their neighbour or eating a steak is right or wrong. A majority of individuals combine into a society which enacts their cumulative preferred morality into a legal system. In my country, that results in laws which permit abortion, permit eating steak and outlaw killing your neighbour. It sounds like you would prefer to live in a society where abortions are outlawed. However, if abortions are legal, individuals will still decide that they are immoral and choose not to have them. Similarly, if abortions are illegal, individuals will still decide that it is ethically permissible to go ahead and undergo that procedure. Either way, the individual ultimately decides their own personal morality.

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  22. If I can turn this discussion on its head a moment...

    Martin, how do YOU define good and evil? Same stipulations as you applied.

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  23. By "objective moral order" I mean just what it says. An objective moral ordering, law, or whatever you want to call it, a natural law so to speak. My argument is not that an individual who does not believe in God cannot act ethically or morally. My argument is that if morality is nothing more than the individual's opinion then morality does not exist. I have absolutely no reason to expect anybody to adhere to my mere opinion because logically my subjective opinion has no jurisdiction outside of my own person.
    If morality is nothing more than "personal" then we have no right to punish anybody for anything because their subjective opinion and "evolved sense of decency" are just as legitimate and binding as anyone else's.
    "A majority of individuals combine into a society which enacts their cumulative preferred morality into a legal system." How is this not the majority mob rule dictating morality? Additionally, since pure democracy rarely exists and power is unevenly distributed to an elite group of people, it is whomever is in charge that defines right and wrong. If this is the case then whatever is legal is morally good, is this what you believe?

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  24. To Kaz I follow the teachings of the new testament as my moral code and guide , and believe its a God given code for the individual and society as a whole .

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  25. Martin-

    In that case you might want to read up on the teachings of the NT. I've written extensively on these issues...

    The Imperfect and Immoral Teachings of Christ:

    http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2009/11/imperfect-and-immoral-teachings-of.html

    God is Love or Jesus is Divine--But NOT Both:

    http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/02/god-is-love-or-jesus-is-divine-but-not.html

    Can Morality Exist Without God?

    http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/01/can-morality-exist-without-god.html

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  26. To Tristan I had a quick read of your blog
    you have a problem with loving your enemies
    like most english speaking people you dont know there are 3 words in the new testament
    for love i will explain this all later when i have some time.

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  27. Martin, that's not an answer to the question I (and you, yourself) asked.

    I did not ask what moral code you live by. I asked you how you define good and evil.

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  28. This discussion has, inevitably, come down to whether or not one thinks that there are "universal goods" and "universal evils". Since morality, in the usual sense in which it is discussed, does not exist in the absence of at least two individuals, it should be obvious that it deals with relationships between people. Our concepts of accepted morality/immorality are entirely culturally (or religiously) generated in repsonse to the need for people to agree as to how they will interact, first with their parents, later with their tribes/cities/states/countries/etc. As such, one can argue that we are born with no "moral sense"; we learn "morality", of necessity, in order to continue to be accepted/supported by the many groups we find ourselves dependent upon for survival. In its usual sense with regard to large, unrelated groups, this "morality" gets codified into laws that tell us the limits upon our personal behaviors beyond which our fellows will not accept/tolerate our continued presence in the group. In short, any behavior that is acceptable to the group, in that it neither threatens the well-being of the group nor of other individuals is acceptable. All other "moral" decisions are entirely up to the individual in question. In this sense, it seems to me, all "morality" is, in fact, up to the individual, whether he/she chooses to use Scriture as a guideline or not.

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  29. Harvey,
    No.
    "In short, any behavior that is acceptable to the group, in that it neither threatens the well-being of the group nor of other individuals is acceptable." What about legalized genocide(i.e. Germany, Russia, Rwanda)? What about abortion? These were/are acceptable to the group, however, they also threatened the well-being of the group. So, were they good or bad? Like TAM, you are equating what is acceptable to the society(i.e. what is legal) to what is good, that whomever makes the laws gets to dictate morality. Socially constructed morality leads to socially acceptable genocide. Is that really what you believe?

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  30. Martin-

    I'm not sure what my language has to do with applying critical thinking and holding the Gospels up to scrutiny here?

    I do happen to speak more than one language.

    I live in a non-English speaking Asian country too. Have for the past 6 years.

    But other than giving me a new/different perspective on the world, I don't see how being multi-lingual applies to thinking more critically.

    Critical thinking is a skill anybody can develop.

    Did you mean the original Greek of the NT maybe?

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  31. Paul, yes, socially constructed morality can lead to socially acceptable genocide just like it can lead to social abhorrence of genocide. What's your point? If it is (as noted above), that "if morality is nothing more than the individual's opinion then morality does not exist", you might well be on to something. However, the pot shouldn't be calling the kettle black. As Harvey noted above, morality remains in the purview of the individual, even if they decide to be guided by Scripture or some other canon. Do you disagree with this proposition and, if so, why?

    I wrote: "A majority of individuals combine into a society which enacts their cumulative preferred morality into a legal system." You asked: How is this not the majority mob rule dictating morality? Well, I suppose you could always call a majority a mob if you don't like their decisions. As far as not liking the fact that majorities dictate societal morality (at least in democracies), I'm not sure how to respond other than to say you are stating the obvious.

    You then state/ask: Additionally, since pure democracy rarely exists and power is unevenly distributed to an elite group of people, it is whomever is in charge that defines right and wrong. If this is the case then whatever is legal is morally good, is this what you believe? No. Whomever is in charge gets to determine what is legal (i.e. morally "right") and that may or may not conform to what the individual believes to be right.

    Due to the fact that I know you and Martin often like to refer to abortion in your moral arguments, I thought you might be interested in a recent article by philosopher Jeff Mitchell entitled "IF CONTRACEPTION IS ETHICALLY PERMISSIBLE, THEN SO IS EARLY-TERM ABORTION" Think, Volume 9, Issue 25, June 2010. Here is the abstract: In the essay I argue that the routine use of contraception is morally tantamount to early-term abortion because it produces the same result: namely, it prevents the creation of a human life that would have otherwise probably taken place. Because it can be shown that contraception is ethically acceptable, it follows that early-term abortion is as well. Of course, Roman Catholics disagree with the suggestion that contraception is ethically permissible (i.e. "every sperm is sacred ...") but I would be interested to hear whether Martin agres with that view.

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  32. BTW, Paul, how do you define good and evil?

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  33. For Paul or Martin,

    You both have numerous problems with the concept of being moral without God, the Christian God to be specific and cite examples of how societies fail to act morally as they move away from strict adherence to biblical code. If we look at examples today of societies that have strict adherence to religious law ie. Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, we see they are not shining examples of morality. And if we look to history in any given century Christian Europe committed barbaric acts in the name of their god. So my question to you two is what do you look to as examples of morally superior societies in history or present day that are or were based on biblical or religious law? Obviously you're perfectly welcome to look to the bible for moral certainty on a personal level but applying it at a modern societal level I think is a doomed exercise and should be avoided AT ALL COSTS. Some Islamic fundamentalist have attempted to introduce Sharia law in Canada and this I see as very troubling.

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  34. TAM,
    I'm saying that morality exists outside of individuals. Individuals have the ability to recognize and discern morality, but we do not create it. If morality is not objective then things like genocide can become morally right. Whereas I make the claim that genocide is always morally wrong, even if it is legal.
    The majority of Catholic moral thought comes from an understand of natural law. The quick and dirty on this is that God created everything, and he created everything for a purpose. We as rational beings with a intellect and will have the ability to discern the purpose of an action by study, observation, and reason. Catholic teaching in regards to sexual morality arises from the recognition that the essence and purpose of sexual intercourse is procreation and union. Therefore, we believe that contraception is wrong because it violates the procreative aspect. We believe premarital sex is wrong because sex so greatly bonds two people together on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level that it is disrespectful to the human person to engage in the act outside of a lifelong committed relationship. Concerning life issues, we believe that all humans are made in the image and likeness of God, therefore we have inherent dignity. Abortion, murder, genocide, slavery, euthanasia, all of these things disrespect inherent human dignity.
    In a Saturday morning nutshell, that is how I define good and evil.

    Grant,
    My first historical appeal to the immorality of a Godless nation is Soviet Russia under the leader of the Atheist Comrade Stalin.

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  35. Paul, you write as if you have been indoctrinated without ever questioning what you are being asked to believe. Think for yourself man!

    You write: morality exists outside of individuals. See the comment by Harvey above. What do we need morality for unless we have at least two individuals?

    You write: I make the claim that genocide is always morally wrong. What if we discovered a race of sociopathic devil spawn living on another planet whose stated aim was the destruction of earth. In your view, why would exterminating that race (as painlessly as possible) be morally wrong?

    You write: [we believe] God created everything, and he created everything for a purpose. But why did he create so much unnecessary suffering? See Isaiah 45:7 (KJV): I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

    You write My first historical appeal to the immorality of a Godless nation is Soviet Russia. But see the comment by Grant above. What is your historical appeal to the morality of a "Godful" nation or is the suggestion just pie in the sky?

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  36. Paul,

    The question I asked was what do you look to as examples of morally superior societies in history or present day that are or were based on biblical or religious law? And I should add strictly based which is what you are proposing. Surely after 2000 years of Christianity dominating the religious landscape you can find one that stands out.

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  37. TAM,
    As a human being I can violate my own dignity without involving anybody else(i.e. self mutilation). In going along with natural law an individual is created with an essence and a purpose and that individual can go against his essence/purpose.

    Are these alien sociopathic devil spawn human? Do they have the ability to reason and will their lives using an intellect? Because you are using completely imaginary creatures I cannot answer the question.

    Evil is the absence of a due good. God created rational humans with wills and intellects. We have the gift of freewill. God does not create suffering, we generate suffering by choosing not to do good. Additionally, proof texting is, and always has been, very bad theology.
    Aquinas did very extensive work on the relationship between God and evil. I do not have the citations handy, however, it is probably searchable online.

    Grant and TAM,
    You are making "religious laws" and o"bjective morality" synonymous with each other. Religious laws are things like bowing before receiving communion and candles present next to the tabernacle, not objective moral order. Furthermore, when did you hear me advocating for a theocracy?

    I am saying that morality does not exist if it is only based on the opinions of every individual. If morality is not objective then nobody has the authority to say that any given action, in any given situation, is right or wrong.

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  38. So Paul, in your opinion, self-mutilation is immoral but not self-flagellation by John Paul II if the aim is to get closer to god?

    Yes, the alien devil spawn are human in the sense that our species could reproduce with theirs. However, they are all sociopathic and committed to the destruction of earth. Would it be immoral for us to commit genocide against them by destroying their planet first?

    I asked you to define good and evil and your answer is Evil is the absence of due good. C'mon, give me a break. You can't define terms with the terms. I gave you my best definition in the 4th comment in this thread. Is "good" whatever your god decides to be good? If there is no evil in heaven, how can you enjoy the good? (i.e. you can't quench your thirst if you don't have a thirst). Do you ever ponder these questions in the absence of Catholic dogma? Perhaps you should try.

    You state: morality does not exist if it is only based on the opinions of every individual. If morality is not objective then nobody has the authority to say that any given action, in any given situation, is right or wrong. Let's use the example of killing children for pleasure. Every organized society that I am aware of currently prohibits the killing of children for pleasure. Undoubtedly, there are sociopathic individuals who would enjoy indiscriminate killing. What do you mean by suggesting "nobody has the authority" to tell a sociopath that indiscriminate killing is wrong? Through the application of reason (not because a certain holy book says so), society has arrived at the determination that indiscriminate killing is wrong. It really doesn't matter whether the sociopath agrees or not. If they go ahead and do it, they'll be locked up. Do you need god to tell you that indiscriminate killing is wrong? If so, why? [and Thor help your neighbours].

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  39. As far as I know the Church does not encourage self-flagellation, and it is not a necessary activity. My personal opinion is still up in the air on this issue. It is not something I would do, and not something I would encourage anybody else to do. However, I am hesitant to call it immoral. I have not yet taken the time to research the historical and theological aspects of this practice.

    Again, because you are using completely imaginary creatures I cannot comment. There are psychopathic individuals that do exist, and I would not agree to their extermination. However, if a whole race of humans are psychopathic would they be able to advance themselves enough to the point of being capable of destroying earth? Your analogy is not grounded enough.

    God created everything for a purpose, therefore, something is good when it is fulfilling its purpose in the capacity that it is able.
    You said, "If there is no evil in heaven, how can you enjoy the good?" First of all, one experiences good and evil on earth, therefore, we will be able to recognize the good in heaven as well as recognizing the absence of evil. Secondly, one does not have to experience evil to know that something is good. Does one have to get lost before they know they are driving on the right road?

    You said, "Through the application of reason (not because a certain holy book says so), society has arrived at the determination that indiscriminate killing is wrong." How does society reach this conclusion? You can say that society has an "evolved sense of decency." However, how does this explain the fact that the past century has seen more arbitrary killing of people then the rest of human history combined(i.e. Nazi Germany, USSR, Rwanda)? Additionally, that number does not include abortion, which, unless somebody can prove otherwise, should be put on that list. In addition, what if a society feels that the killing of children for pleasure is not bad and encourages its citizens to participate, is this act immoral in that instance?

    Yes, reason tells me that the indiscriminate killing of children is wrong. Therefore, I believe that abortion is wrong, and you do not. Who is more reasonable? What about Stalin? I am pretty sure that he found the deliberate slaughter of millions to be reasonable, are his actions then justified?

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  40. Paul, thank-you for conceding that you don't need god to tell you that indiscriminate killing of children is wrong. Your neighbours are now resting a bit easier.

    Please read Genesis 18 and employ your sense of reason to tell me who has a preferable sense of right and wrong - Abraham or your lord? I bet you don't spend too much time on this passage in Bible school. That's too bad because it is probably one of the most moving examples of heroism contained in the Bible.

    As is your habit (forgive the pun), you inevitably come back to Stalin and abortion. Yes, Stalin probably thought that his deliberate slaughter of millions was reasonable in much the same way as your conscience is not affected by the slaughter of sentient animals that you consume, likely on a daily basis. Were the actions of Stalin evil? Undoubtedly, at least from my subjective perspective, your subjective perspective and the subjective perspective of his victims. However, from the perspective of the last pig or cow you consumed, you are the devil incarnate.

    I'm sorry to notify you of the fact that most man-made evils are incredibly banal (see Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem). In fact, given the right (or wrong) circumstances, each of us is capable of committing evil in much the same way as we are capable of doing good.

    Please don't misquote me by suggesting that I do not believe that abortion is wrong. That's oversimplifying my position a hundredfold. Nobody "supports abortion". I don't believe that society has the right to tell a woman what she can and can't do with her body until a fetus is viable. I support a woman's right to have any early term abortion and I rely on medical professionals (not theologians) to define what constitutes "early term". BTW, where does the Bible prohibit abortion? I've read it a couple times and I must have missed that part.

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  41. I'm sorry I gave you the impression that my faith goes against reason, my apologies.

    The story contained in Genesis 18 is there to show the ultimate justice of God and the faithfulness of Abraham. However, this story was written down hundreds(if not thousands) of years after the event happened(if it happened) in a culture where it was customary to completely annihilate one's enemy in wartime conditions. God's relationship with His people change, cultures change, stories change through history, and while Scripture is Divine Revelation it is not a history book. The Bible is a theology book, not a textbook for history or science.

    As is your habit, you inevitably argue in circles. You condemn Stalin's actions as evil, yet you have nothing empirical to base that belief on. You have your "evolved sense of decency," however, so did Stalin. Are you more evolved than Stalin? What gives you the right to call Stalin's actions evil? What gives a society the right to condemn child killers? Is it that fact that the majority of society believes that killing children is wrong? Then what about a lynch mob? The majority of individuals in that society believe that hanging the "colored" man was justified. Nobody, not you, not a society, not a government has the authority to reasonably and logically condemn any man for any action in any situation if morality is nothing more then a subjective opinion.

    "Nobody 'supports abortion'." The people making the money off abortions do.

    "I don't believe that society has the right to tell a woman what she can and can't do with her body until a fetus is viable." So a human fetus becomes a human being the instant it is viable? Fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks(and possibly earlier), yet it is not viable until after that. So is it the experience of pain that makes a human worthy of life, or is it viability? What about adults who live off machines provided and paid for by other people, are they viable? Are they worthy of life? What makes a human being worthy of life. Viability? Feeling pain/pleasure? Autonomy? Or is it just when you or a society says so?

    "BTW, where does the Bible prohibit abortion? I've read it a couple times and I must have missed that part." The Bible also does not strictly prohibit dropping a nuclear bomb on innocent civilians. Like I said earlier, human beings, being made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27), have inherent value and dignity. That is why abortion, and nuclear bombings, are wrong.

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  42. Paul, you say: "What gives a society the right to condemn child killers?"

    Society does, by definition. A society defines the rules and regulations of its citizens. Without such, it is not a society.

    Other societies may have different rules and regulations. For example, in Mauritania, a woman who is raped and as a consequence falls pregnant is then guilty of adultery and imprisoned.

    Societies often butt heads on issues such as this, because a subjective good in one area (in Mauritania, the imprisonment is derived from their interpretation of Sharia, the word and laws of Allah, and is thus inherently good), is a subjective evil in another (in Western society, such a law is seen as barbaric and oppressive and thus inherently evil).

    That's because good and evil are always subjective and change as societies change, as you *yourself* say ("God's relationship with His people change, cultures change, stories change through history").

    That's why we debate issues such as abortion to decide whether society deems the act more or less evil than forcing a woman to carry a child to term.

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  43. Kaz,
    In the case of a lynch mob, the majority of individuals in that society believe that hanging a man(innocent or not) from a tree is completely okay. Is lynching morally acceptable in that circumstance?

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  44. Paul, the lynching is just fine from the perspective of the mob and utterly evil from the perspective of the lynchee (unless, I suppose, the person being hanged is guilty of some heinous crime and feels that they deserve it). The longer this discussion continues, the more obvious it becomes that good and evil are subjective concepts. I don't even see you putting forward an argument to rebut the proposition - instead you seem to be barking at the moon about the implications of this reality. Your retort always seems to be something along the lines of, "well, that means [pick any act you believe is reprehensible] is ok because so and so decides it's ok". Yes, that's exactly the point. It's all relative, it's all subjective.

    Pick any nasty act you want. Would you commit one of those acts to prevent a million others from occurring? It's an interesting question because that it precisely the logic that fuels the killing of abortion doctors.

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  45. That is the point. If it is all relative then one individual has no reasonable or logical authority to condemn another individual for their actions no matter how horrible. God help your neighbors.

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  46. Furthermore, what gives you the right to judge another person because of their actions? And how are your personal moral beliefs any more reasonable than my religious beliefs?

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  47. what gives you the right to judge another person because of their actions? I generally don't judge people because I don't believe in the concept of free will. However, might in numbers makes right when it comes to society's judgment as to whether behavior is right (i.e. permissible) or wrong (i.e. illegal).

    how are your personal moral beliefs any more reasonable than my religious beliefs? Based on my subjective opinion, mine are more reasonable because they are based on reality (as I perceive it) and reason. Yours are loosely based on the Bible and belief in a supernatural deity. Surprisingly, we share plenty of the same moral judgments about whether specific actions are right and wrong. I just don't need anybody to make moral judgments for me.

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  48. Believing that it is perfectly moral for a lynch mob to hang their victim does not seem very reasonable to be.

    Speaking of reason, you never answered my questions concerning abortion.

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  49. You have misquoted me. I never said I considered the lynch mob to be acting morally, just that they did. However, I have no problem whatsoever with capital punishment for mass murderers or repeat child sex offenders.

    As far as abortion is concerned, my view is that a sentient nonhuman animal has more moral worth than an early stage fetus. I accept that both nonhuman animals and fetuses can be considered "persons". If I had my way, there would be no abortions but I would not support outlawing abortions any more than I would support outlawing your right to eat a steak.

    Perhaps the best way to describe my moral view of abortion is to say that I agree with philosopher Peter Singer's take on the subject which has been described as follows:

    Consistent with his general ethical theory, Singer holds that the right to life is intrinsically tied to a being's capacity to hold preferences, which in turn is intrinsically tied to a being's capacity to feel pain and pleasure. In his view, the central argument against abortion is equivalent to the following logical syllogism:

    First premise: It is wrong to take innocent human life.

    Second premise: From conception onwards, the embryo or fetus is innocent, human and alive.

    Conclusion: It is wrong to take the life of the embryo or fetus.

    In his book Rethinking Life and Death, Singer asserts that, if we take the premises at face value, the argument is deductively valid. Singer comments that those who do not generally think abortion is wrong attack the second premise, suggesting that the fetus becomes a "human" or "alive" at some point after conception; however, Singer argues that human development is a gradual process, that it is nearly impossible to mark a particular moment in time as the moment at which human life begins.

    Singer's argument for abortion differs from many other proponents of abortion; rather than attacking the second premise of the anti-abortion argument, Singer attacks the first premise, denying that it is wrong to take innocent human life:

    [The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being's life.

    Singer states that arguments for or against abortion should be based on utilitarian calculation which weighs the preferences of a mother against the preferences of the fetus. In his view a preference is anything sought to be obtained or avoided; all forms of benefit or harm caused to a being correspond directly with the satisfaction or frustration of one or more of its preferences. Since a capacity to experience the sensations of suffering or satisfaction is a prerequisite to having any preferences at all, and a fetus, at least up to around eighteen weeks, says Singer, has no capacity to suffer or feel satisfaction, it is not possible for such a fetus to hold any preferences at all. In a utilitarian calculation, there is nothing to weigh against a mother's preferences to have an abortion, therefore abortion is morally permissible.

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