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  1. Ultimately, all deductive logic comes down to a set of unprovable assumptions. You can't prove you aren't a disembodied head in a jar having a dream. You can't prove the universe wasn't created ex nihilo an instant ago and that our memory and our record of this conversation wasn't created in that instant. Ultimately, all foundations are unprovable quicksand. But arguing that there are "no facts, only interpretations," is a self-defeating proposition. After all, if that statement were factually true, then that statement wouldn't be factually true, it would merely be a subjective interpretation that couldn't be objectively superior than any other subjective interpretation. If somebody wants to play these mind games in the philosophy department then that's great. Have fun. But they quickly bore me. In the real world, there needs to be a practical system of ethics, and according to any reasonable criteria I can think of, the ethical system of humanists such as Peter Singer, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker is the best there is. Yes, there are details humanists might disagree on and yes, the real world is complicated and things get fuzzy around the edges. Yet the fact remains that the humanist framework has few assumptions and the assumptions that it makes are easy to accept. That is why, for example, the Deseret News Editorial Board uses a humanist frame of reference when it makes arguments on issues that touch on morality. That is where I'm coming from. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and have a great weekend.
  2. To be sure I understand where you're coming from, when you say, "nothing objective" in this context, are you referring to philosophy in general, or only the subset of philosophy that doesn't believe in God?
  3. Regarding ethics, we are at an impasse. Regarding whether free will can (and does) exist in a deterministic universe, there are two empirical things we need to deal with: 1- Everything in physics and biology tells us that within the domain of applicability of the human brain, the universe is in fact deterministic. There is no evidence of a ghost with a ghostly property called "free will" behind the scenes pulling the strings. Not only is this something that hasn't been observed, it's something we have positive evidence for not existing--ghosts existing and pulling the strings in a way that would be detectible to the human brain contradicts the theory and empirical evidence supporting quantum mechanics. This is why virtually everybody in the field of cognitive neuroscience doesn't believe there is a ghost in the machine. It really isn't a controversial point. 2- Free will exists. We aren't as free as we think--we often set on a course of action and its only after we start acting that we consciously "decide" to do what we already started doing. The perception that we decided first is an illusion. That said, in other situations we really do think about things and make decisions that for all intents and purposes really are free. Michael Gazzaniga is an eminent neuroscientist and believes this paradox has a solution. He thinks living in a deterministic universe doesn't preclude the existence of free will. He explains how in his book, Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. I don't have the time or inclination to summarize his arguments, but if anybody happens to be interested, I'd recommend that book.
  4. To clarify, are you claiming that happiness is in fact better then misery? Or is this just an arbitrary subjective whim on your part? But is happiness better than misery? Objectively, why would you think that? Are you claiming that being happy is better than being completely miserable and depressed? Or are these just arbitrary words that don't objectively mean anything? If happiness isn't better than misery, what would be wrong with the the Maasai and billionaires trading places so that they are all superlatively miserable? What would be wrong with that? What makes you think suffering is bad? My point with all of this is that in trying to refute the concept of objective morality, you are implicitly agreeing with it. Sam Harris's book is called "The Moral Landscape" as a metaphor where there are multiple peaks and valleys across a landscape--just as a physical landscape has multiple peaks, the moral landscape has multiple good lives. He would argue that to the extent the Jarawa are happy and healthy, they are leading the good life. In the context of his point, "trust" doesn't mean naively trusting in crooks. It means being a trustworthy person in a trustworthy society--i.e. a "celestial society" as you put it. But anyway, if you'd like to dismiss what these philosophers think without first going to the effort to understand why they think what they do, that is your prerogative.
  5. Every argument needs premises. The strength of this particular premise was already addressed earlier. Requoting Dan Harris: Here's the thing. Steven Pinker is an eminent professor at Harvard University. Peter Singer is an eminent professor of ethics at Princeton University. These are very intelligent scholars and in the world of ethics, they are mainstream. We can disagree about whether or not they are right, but it's beyond dispute that their positions on ethics are deeply considered. Your confusion here is evidence that you haven't thought about these issues very carefully. It isn't evidence they are wrong. If you'd like to understand why they believe what they do, you need to invest some time in a book or two. These are fair questions that humanists do in fact ask. What does Christianity authoritatively say about how animals ought to be treated? I'm not sure there is much in the Bible about it. In contrast, humanism provides a framework to address these questions in a rational manner. For example, the humanist Yuval Noah Harari has thought about these issues deeply and has come to more nuanced and morally insightful conclusions than the vast majority of theists. You really ought to read the full book to put this into context, but here is a flavor:
  6. Exactly. My position here really isn’t that controversial. The text book Practical Ethics by Peter Singer, published by Cambridge University Press has been in print since 1979 and is widely considered the an authoritative introductory text book on ethics. In the introduction, Dr. Singer says in the introduction:
  7. If you are really interested in this topic, at some point you are going to have to pay attention to what humanists say on the matter. Please carefully read the following quote.
  8. It depends. Does that Judeo-Christian belief also entail the belief that the Jews should drive the non-Jews out of the promised land because God promised it to the Jews? No, that would be less accurate. Historically, "Christian ethics" contained all sorts of false and unethical beliefs. The point is that humanistic rationality is what determines what's really good and what's really evil. Appeals to Christian scriptures and Christian traditions does not. Everybody is free to engage in the debate about the morality of anything, including the actions and teachings of God in the scriptures. It's been established how reason can be applied to issues of ethics and morality. Everyone is invited to partake.
  9. No, that isn't what I did. My point all along is that in the modern world, Christian ethics are, for the most part, de facto humanist ethics. I don't have to worry about you burning witches at the stake or chopping off the head of drunks because an angel told you to, etc. You use reason to figure out which parts of the scriptures you ought to focus on, and which ones you ought to ignore. For the most part, we really are on the same page. Just because two people don't agree doesn't mean one isn't right. Claiming philosophy can't agree on anything is dodging the question. The very pious monotheist Osama bin Laden had an ethical code that he received from his religious tradition. Yes, I think my ethics are better than his. The world would be a better place if more people thought like me and fewer people thought like him. If you'd like to denigrate me as being ethnocentric because I believe my morals are in fact better than his, then so be it.
  10. Yes, what you said is a lie. Humanists are not the self-proclaimed chosen ones. They do not place themselves above those who disagree with them or don't subscribe to their views. They do not believe that their chosen status makes them the worthy inhabitants of this land, nay, all lands. They do not have the self-righteous goal of abolishing all religious people and people who view things differently. Humanism is not just another form of religion and ethnocentrism with the goal of whitewashing all other beliefs from the earth. Humanism does have guardrails on its level of tolerance--to the extent your views are inhumane, you are the enemy of humanists. Suicidal bombers fighting a Jihad in the name of God won't find refuge with us. But to the extent your religious-based morality doesn't contradict humanism's values, you have no problem with us. With the foundation of reason, they know they are right. You don't have to a stalemate with Muslims regarding whether the elephant wants the Jews or the Muslims to inhabit the holy land. You can use reason and our common humanity to come to a win-win compromise. It isn't about being lower and it isn't about judging others. Humanists believe what they do because of reason. You asked for an example of humanist morality that didn't come from religion. Asked and answered. That's like asking why aerodynamics gets to dictate how airplanes fly. Humanists simply try to understand what is right through reason. No. I'm intolerant of evil behavior. I'm in favor of truth and I'm in favor of reason. That doesn't mean I'm intolerant of religion.
  11. That is a malicious, slanderous lie. According to the Humanist Manifesto III: Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature's integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner. It is unbecoming, unproductive, and dishonest to tell other groups they believe hideous things that are the opposite of what they believe. Humanism and Its Aspirations: Humanist Manifesto III, a Successor to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 - American Humanist Association
  12. Great question. As one important example, consider the Judeo-Christian tradition that teaches us that God “chooses” some people above others, and that He gives land to His people. Further, consider how the Christian scriptures teach that God commands His people to go to war and to commit genocide to remove the gentiles from the promised land. This teaching led directly to the acts of genocide committed by the Israelites against the Canaanites as described in the Bible. It led directly to millions of people dying in the crusades. It led to the ill-founded idea that Mormons should gather in Jackson County Missouri and to the 1838 Mormon war. And it led to ongoing conflict in the Middle East where there is an impasse among monotheists about who are God’s real chosen people and thus who really is entitled to Israel. The way Christian nations insisted the existing Palestinians should be expelled from their homes to make way for the Jews puts the Christians on the immoral side of the conflict; that is the root cause for the millions of lives that have been lost, for the unending toil among the Palestinians who are living as refugees under the barrel of a gun, and for the trillions of dollars wasted by America in a war against terror. The evil Judeo-Christian teaching about chosen people and promised lands is the primary root cause of this. This leads one to wonder: if God is the real source of morality, why is it that pious theists can’t agree about who is really entitled to the chosen land? Let me know if you'd really like me to tell you how humanists know this is evil and why we think our morality is better. Smac said that earlier. If one really believes that, then it's easy to rationalize the evil things the Bible teaches such as slavery and genocide. But your point on the matter is exactly what Steven Pinker was responding to when he said, "O-kay. But now let’s just say—irrationally, whimsically, mulishly, for no good reason—that we prefer good things to happen to ourselves over bad things. Let’s make a second wild and crazy assumption: that we are social animals who live with other people, rather than Robinson Crusoe on a desert island, so our well-being depends on what others do, like helping us when we are in need and not harming us for no good reason." If we whimsically take those two irrational beliefs as axioms and apply reason, we can come up with a system of morality that is better than what is taught in the Bible.
  13. That's not quite the whole dynamic, and it is a hypocritical view to boot. Humanism explicitly rejects many parts of Christianity that are manifestly false or plainly harmful. It evolved from Christianity, but it isn't Christianity--it is something different and better. It doesn't say Christianity is the most nourishing, delicious, and valuable fruit in the whole field. Rather, it starts with Christianity and does a lot of deliberate artificial selection and cultivation to increase the nutritional value, decrease the bitter seeds, and decrease the toxins. Regarding how hypocritical you are being here, remember that Christianity evolved out of Judaism and Roman paganism. In general, humanists are aware of the relationship between humanism and the general intellectual tradition of the west. In contrast, you are the one who denies the relationship between Christianity and its heritage, and instead claim that it came directly from God. Who is the one who is really disowning her mother? Regarding whether science has "precious little" to say on aspects of morality, Steve Pinker says the following in his new book Rationality:
  14. It's every mother's dream for her children to grow up and have a better life than she did. Humanism's mother should be proud.
  15. No, I’m not saying that at all. I am saying this: For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings were incredibly suspicious. They believed in huge pantheons of gods. In general, these gods didn’t care about ethics, but they would sometimes do you favors if you made the right sacrifices. It was like this for hundreds of thousands of years. Eventually a tribe of people on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean believed that one of these Gods chose them as His people, and promised them blessings if they worshiped Him and Him alone. This particular God gave the people a whole bunch of commandments in an ethical system that was, being charitable, primitive. But it was okay for the time, and the people prospered, relatively. This religion continued to evolve, and eventually a branch of it became a religion in its own right called Christianity. Christianity was successful in part because it had a better system of ethics (e.g. you no longer had to chop off a piece of your penis to please God!). This new religion slowly grew and eventually became the official religion of the Roman empire. Religion continued to slowly evolve as people changed it to fit what made sense to them and what benefited the powerful. Then a plague wiped out about 50% of the population of the entire continent. It killed sinners and saints with equal fury. This not only disrupted the social order—it also made people reconsider their religious convictions. This led directly to the Renaissance and the birth of modern humanism. The printing press. Christians rationally looking at their church and deciding that they’d be better off starting new ones that made more sense. Some Christians burnt each other at the stake. Others didn’t. The ones with more humanist values tended to prosper more than the ones that taught self-flagellation. The enlightenment. Spinoza. Christians began to analyze their religion and their ethics in purposeful ways. Some became deists and believed there was no revelation. The deists (e.g. Benjamin Franklin) tended to prosper the most. The ethics of the time spread around. Joseph Smith. Scientific methods and analysis got more systematic. People started looking at the truth claims of religion more carefully. Scientific knowledge about reality started growing exponentially. People continued to refine their ethics. Some were successes. Bertrand Russell. Sore were failures. Vladimir Lenin. Richard Dawkins. Steve Pinker. Sam Harris. Me. You. I may have left out a detail or two. My point is that just as human beings are all related, our ideas are all related, too. The same God who said, "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ***"? The same God who said, "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves"? The same God who instigated the cruel and unusual punishment of making working on Saturday a capital offense? This is a tiny set of examples taken from the article Some Reasons Why Humanists Reject The Bible. I challenge you to read that entire article and then come back and tell me how the God of the Bible is the basis for modern ethics.
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