Do Dogs Have Morality?

A Good Dog or a Moral Dog?

The idea that morality has its foundations in biology is enjoying considerable current popularity, although the idea is not a new one. However, the current research is certainly something to be welcomed, if only because it might give us a better understanding of our fellow animals.

Being a philosopher and a long-time pet owner, I have sometimes wondered whether my pets (and other animals) have morality. This matter was easily settled in the case of cats: they have a morality, but they are evil.  My best cats have been paragons of destruction, gladly throwing the claw into lesser beings and sweeping breakable items to the floor with feline glee. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I really like cats—in part because they are so very evil in their own special ways. The matter of dogs and morality is rather more controversial. Given that all of ethics is controversial; this should hardly be a shock.

Being social animals that have been shaped and trained by humans for thousands of years, it would hardly be surprising that dogs exhibit behaviors that humans would regard as moral in nature. However, it is well known that people anthropomorphize their dogs and attribute to them qualities that they might not, in fact, possess. As such, this matter must be approached with due caution. To be fair, we also anthropomorphize each other and there is the classic philosophical problem of other minds—so it might be the case that neither dogs nor other people have morality because they lack minds. For the sake of the discussion I will set aside the extreme version of the problem of other minds and accept a lesser challenge. To be specific, I will attempt to make a plausible case for the notion that dogs have the faculties to possess morality.

While I will not commit to a specific morality here, I will note that for a creature to have morality it would seem to need certain mental faculties. These would seem to include cognitive abilities adequate for making moral choices and perhaps also emotional capabilities (if morality is more a matter of feeling than thinking).

While dogs are not as intelligent as humans (on average) and they do not use true language, they clearly have a fairly high degree of intelligence. This is perhaps most evident in the fact that they can be trained in very complex tasks and even in professions (such as serving as guide or police dogs). They also exhibit an exceptional understanding of human emotions and while they do not have language, they certainly can learn to understand verbal and gesture commands given by humans. Dogs also have an understanding of tokens and types. To be specific, they are quite good at recognizing individuals and also good at recognizing types of things. For example, a dog can distinguish its owner while also distinguishing humans from cats. As another example, my dogs have always been able to recognize any sort of automobile and seem to understand what they do—they are generally eager to jump aboard whether it is my pickup truck or someone else’s car. On the face of it, dogs seem to have the mental horsepower needed to engage in basic decision making.

When it comes to emotions, we have almost as much reason to believe that dogs feel and understand them as we do for humans having that ability. The main difference is that humans can talk (and lie) about how they feel; dogs can only observe and express emotions. Dogs clearly express anger, joy, fear and other emotions and seem to understand those emotions in other animals. This is shown by how dogs react to expression of emotion. For example, dogs seem to recognize when their owners are sad or angry and react accordingly. Thus, while dogs might lack all the emotional nuances of humans and the capacity to talk about them, they do seem to have the basic emotional capabilities that might be necessary for ethics.

Of course, showing that dogs have intelligence and emotions would not be enough to show that dogs have morality. What is needed is some reason to think that dogs use these capabilities to make moral decisions and engage in moral behavior.

Dogs are famous for possessing traits that are analogous to (or the same as) virtues such as loyalty, compassion and courage.  Of course, Kant recognized these traits but still claimed that dogs could not make moral judgments. As he saw it, dogs are not rational beings and do not act in accord with the law. But, roughly put, they seem to have an ersatz sort of ethics in that they can act in ways analogous to human virtue. While Kant does make an interesting case, there do seem to be some reasons to accept that dogs can engage in basic moral judgments. Naturally, since dogs do not write treatises on moral philosophy, I can only speculate on what is occurring in their minds (or brains). As noted above, there is always the risk of projecting human qualities onto dogs and, of course, they make this very easy to do.

One area that seems to have potential for showing that dogs have morality is the matter of property. While some might think that dogs regard whatever they can grab (be it food or toys) as their property, this is not always the case. While it seems true that some dogs are Hobbesian, this is also true of humans. Dogs, based on my decades of experience with them, seem to be capable of clearly grasping property. For example, my husky Isis has a large collection of toys that are her possessions. She reliably distinguishes between her toys and very similar items (such as shoes, clothing, sporting goods and so on) that do not belong to her. While I do not know for sure what happens in her mind, I do know that when I give her a toy and go through the “toy ritual” she gets it and seems to recognize that the toy is her property now. Items that are not given to her are apparently recognized as being someone else’s property and are not chewed upon or dragged outside. In the case of Isis, this extends (amazingly enough) even to food—anything handed to her or in her bowl is her food, anything else is not. Naturally, she will ask for donations, even when she could easily take the food. While other dogs have varying degrees of understanding of property and territory, they certainly seem to grasp this. Since the distinction between mine and not mine seems rather important in ethics, this suggests that dogs have some form of basic morality—at least enough to be capitalists.

Dogs, like many other animals, also have the capacity to express a willingness to trust and will engage in reprisals against other dogs that break trust. I often refer to this as “dog park justice” to other folks who are dog people.

When dogs get together in a dog park (or other setting) they will typically want to play with each other. Being social animals, dogs have various ways of signaling intent. In the case of play, they typically engage in “bows” (slapping their front paws on the ground and lowering their front while making distinctive sounds). Since dogs cannot talk, they have to “negotiate” in this manner, but the result seems similar to how humans make agreements to interact peacefully.

Interestingly, when a dog violates the rules of play (by engaging in actual violence against a playing dog) other dogs recognize this violation of trust—just as humans recognize someone who violates trust. Dogs will typically recognize a “bad dog” when it returns to the park and will avoid it, although dogs seem to be willing to forgive after a period of good behavior. An understanding of agreements and reprisals for violating them seems to show that dogs have at least a basic system of morality.

As a final point, dogs also engage in altruistic behavior—helping out other dogs, humans and even other animals. Stories of dogs risking their lives to save others from danger are common in the media and this suggests that dogs can make decisions that put themselves at risk for the well-being of others. This clearly suggests a basic canine morality and one that makes such dogs better than ethical egoists. This is why when I am asked whether I would chose to save my dog or a stranger, I would chose my dog: I know my dog is good, but statistically speaking a random stranger has probably done some bad things. Fortunately, my dog would save the stranger.

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  1. The article states that dogs have intelligence, but it does not define the term. The human mind is structured like the scientific method. At the lowest level are observations, which requires paying attention. The next level is the level of inquiry, where humans ask questions about what they observe. This level requires intelligence. The third level is that of reflective judgment, which requires being rational. The fourth level is deciding what to do with our bodies, which requires being responsible.

    When dogs have nothing to do they go to sleep. Only humans ask questions about what they observe. Only humans are intelligent.

  2. If dogs dream (and personal observation indicates that to be true) that would seem to be an indication of reflection upon conscious thought.

    Wild dogs as social, or pack, animals do maintain a social order.

  3. David Roemer January 5

    “When dogs have nothing to do they go to sleep. Only humans ask questions about what they observe. Only humans are intelligent.”

    You frequently make the comment that when animals have nothing to do they go to sleep. It seems to me that the same counts for humans when we have run out of ideas for the day we go to bed, and sometimes we decide to sleep because we feel unwell. My observations of cats and dogs is that a dog will sit quietly for ages with one eye on its master/mistress. My cat will sit watching the rain for long periods at a time or will sit with me in my study where she has come for a visit remaining awake and watchful not actually doing anything as is the dog who remains inactive but well awake. My observations are that dogs cats and humans can remain awake but physically inactive. What are their thoughts at such times? So far as dogs are concerned they are pack animals which I don’t think has been mentioned so far. As such they have a dependence on their Human leader and accordingly are fairly easy to train. My son has a dog and three cats. When I visit the dog sits awake and all the time expectant if I look at her our eyes meet and I observe this huge expectancy emanating from the animal, which actually I find somewhat irritating, The cats are different I have generally to make the first move and they are very responsive they will sit on my lap but only if they decide so to do but generally they are very sociable, and the cats, as is my own cat, are very amusing there does seem to be within them what we call a sense of comedy. When they have had enough of human contact cats carry on with their own private lives exploration and observation, which I admire. It occurs to me that Humans have trait within them which consists in a substantial desire to, for want of a better expression ‘show off’. Thus we have actors, sports-people, entertainers. Animals, well cats and dogs that is, do not seem to have that drive certainly they can be trained do do tricks but that is not quite the same thing. I am inclined to think if they did have such a drive we might be amazed at their natural talents many of which would leave humans standing. Recently I bought some large pot plants which I left clustered together on the patio. My cat was intrigued and spent a large part of the day snooping around the plants having imaginary battles with the overhanging leaves all of this was a joy to watch. A hose was turned on later and this added to her joy of rain and water, which she loves Later in the day I was aware of a black streak rushing past me the cat in full flight yelling at the top of her voice and ending half way up a very high Eucalyptus tree just for the hell of it, she is nineteen years of age too. So I don’t see animals only concerned with the five Fs Fleeing, Fighting, Feeding, and Copulation after which sleep overwhelms them.
    I could expound at some length on intelligence, and its manifestation in animals but I do not have the time to look up and quote old and new sources and assemble something in the form of a dissertation or thesis, which in any case I don’t think this site expects, from its contributors.

  4. David,

    Here’s your argument:

    1) If an animal asks questions about what they observe then they are intelligent.

    2) Only humans ask questions about what they observe

    3) Therefore, only humans are intelligent

    Can you see what’s wrong with it?

  5. Mike,

    The Scientific American carried a piece called ‘The Ethical Dog’ a year or two back that seems pertinent.

    Its author, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology, claims “altruism, tolerance, forgiveness, reciprocity and fairness” can be seen in canines generally not just domestic dogs. He says, plausibly enough, that Canids “follow a strict code of conduct when they play, which teaches pups the rules of social engagement that allow their societies to succeed… [and]… builds trusting relationships among pack members, which enables divisions of labor, dominance hierarchies and cooperation in hunting, raising young, and defending food and territory.” The author suggests that as the social organization of Canids closely resembles that (supposed) of early humans “studying Canid play may offer a glimpse of the moral code that allowed our ancestral societies to grow and flourish”.

    The title of your post poses a good question.

    A happy new year to you and your dog. 😛

  6. Mike LaBossiere,
    Well, it’s your lucky day. Really. You’ve picked a topic for which two heavyweights are on standby to back you up: Homer and Plato.

    Plato relies on Homer’s dog in both the Phaedo and Republic. So I kinda figure the old Bard for top dog in the field. Plato wants his Guardian to have a dog-like disposition: gentle to some, fierce attacker of others, loyal, listens to orders, etc. And his knockdown argument for making (some few) women the equal of (some few) men is that in other domesticated species we use male and female animals equally. All I can say is that on this topic philosophy started on the right foot.

    Some animals are much better at some jobs than any man (or woman). The canine sense of smell is accurate to a level that exceeds even the most advanced technological ‘sniffers’. Hence dogs are used to detect ‘imperceptible’ leaks in buried pipelines. (Notice the causal implications of ‘perceptible to animals of a different species’ by the way.)

    The US Navy, nasty clever men that they are, found that animals could be used to precisely deliver bombs to the right address; but the program was abandoned for fear of bad PR. The religious radicals in some parts of the world would not want to use that type of program, though, because it would deprive some children and women of an early off-ramp to heaven.

  7. Mike,

    This whole post is entirely on its head. The question should not be, do animals have morality that is something like that of humans, but do humans lack the morality they think they have. The similarities between humans and other animals suggest that human morality is based on our animal biological behaviour that has developed in different species in different ways but which has some common elements especially among similar species – so, all mammals, of various species of mammals such as apes.

    “They also exhibit an exceptional understanding of human emotions…”

    This should be expected. The many physical cues that mammals exhibit to show their internal emotions are pre-language. It’s all we had available to communicate complex feelings when taking part in social interaction. That a dog can read some human emotions is no more surprising than we would expect of two distinct mammals that interact occasionally in the wild – say wolves and bears; any of the big cats. In the wild many mammals share space and prey while not having a direct predator/prey relation themselves.

    “…and while they do not have language, they certainly can learn to understand verbal and gesture commands given by humans.”

    The first part ‘they do not have language’ gives away the fact that these communications are simple learned observations of the relationship between our behaviour and what we expect of the dog, and the dog being a pack animal already knows how to learn commands. There is no greater meaning to the dog in our commands outside this behavioural relationship. My cat will give me a high-five for a treat. Kids that see this are amazed, thinking my cat is really giving me a high-five. My cat doesn’t see it that way, but has merely learned that raising a paw to mine gets a treat.

    Historically, in humans, the biological behaviours have been developed socially into our moral systems. The mistake, historically, has been to elevate morals into something more fundamental than this, so that we have learned to think that morality is some special set of codes that are out there in the universe or are God given and that they are there to be discovered, and that there are particular rights and wrongs. There is zero evidence that this is the case, so that the only reasonable explanation available for human morality is the social development of biological drives. Simplistically, the behaviours we would not like applied to ourselves, our loved ones, and our wider group, are considered immoral, or evil; but the ones we like, where people do things we like, or even risk themselves in doing something helpful to us, we label as good. And there are many complex shades and varieties in between.

    The human moral perspective is one that has developed to such a high degree that we see it as whole complex philosophy in its own right. But this is no different from many other human social constructs that really have no meaning whatsoever in the context of the physical universe.

    Take art as a comparison. An artist can produce a simplistic child-like representation of a subject that is far from photographically representative, and yet can intend so much complex meaning, such as commentary of political and social themes, as well as a means of deconstructing and re-presenting the subject. The art is more than the literal appearance of the piece. And yet a young child’s painting can look equally a distortion of reality; though in this case the child is trying to produce a realistic representation of what’s in mind, but is failing to do so for lack of skill and perceptual experience.

    The ‘moral’ dog is no more than the child artist, dealing with the world simplistically, behaviourally, literally. And just as the child’s art lacks the social complexity of a developed artist’s work, so the dog’s ‘morality’ contains nothing of complex human morality. Analysing a dog’s moral behaviour is no better than comparing a child’s painting of his family with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

    “When it comes to emotions, we have almost as much reason to believe that dogs feel and understand them as we do for humans having that ability.”

    Well emotions predate conscious behaviour. Emotions are nothing more than internal biological stimuli and responses, the mechanics of what makes an organism work, the interaction of its various systems. In animals with brains as central control systems the emotions provide information to the brain about the rest of the organism. Human language has enabled us to construct ‘feelings’, the emotions, into another complex system. And so we have the complexities of love. We have made basic emotions more complex by using language to discriminate between finer degrees of emotion, and to build separate theories of emotion around the same feelings in different social contexts.

    So, whether its morality, arts, emotions, humans make it complex with language and the discrimination of detail in a variety of contexts. And though other animals may also have a complex range of emotions and social contexts for them, they have not had the language to add the discrimination necessary to build complete and complex abstract systems around them.

    “Dogs are famous for possessing traits that are analogous to (or the same as) virtues such as loyalty, compassion and courage.”

    These can all be reduced to pack related behaviour. There is not a jot of morality as we have constructed it.

    “they seem to have an ersatz sort of ethics in that they can act in ways analogous to human virtue”

    But this is our interpretation of their basic behaviour. This is no better than attributing anger to a car when it makes a growling sound. You are doing the ‘ersatz’ substitution.

    “there do seem to be some reasons to accept that dogs can engage in basic moral judgments.”

    What reasons?

    “I can only speculate on what is occurring in their minds (or brains).”

    This seems entirely speculative.

    “As noted above, there is always the risk of projecting human qualities onto dogs and, of course, they make this very easy to do.”

    But despite acknowledging this danger you go ahead and do it.

    Dogs will ‘grasp property’. It’s natural pack behaviour. The dominant dog gets first dibs on the food. It’s his. Property is already an observable feature of mammal brain behaviour. There are no implications whatsoever regarding human morality. You are imposing your human moral interpretations on the dog’s natural behaviour.

    “She reliably distinguishes between her toys and very similar items”

    If this adaptability to different objects were not possible then what would happen in the wild if one type of prey dried up and the animal could not recognise something similar as potential prey? The mammal brain is not so fixed that it is hard wired for one type of prey. The toys introduced to dogs are just more stuff, some of which it can have and some of which it can’t, according to your pack rules. You are reading way too much into natural behaviour.

    “Since the distinction between mine and not mine seems rather important in ethics, this suggests that dogs have some form of basic morality-at least enough to be capitalists.”

    No, no, no! It’s the other way round. This is natural mammalian behaviour regarding property, control, pack position, etc. It is we humans that have had similar behaviours in our distant past and have developed this into complex social rules, particularly with the use of language to express our emotions, our dominance, our possession, our ‘rights’. The only implications for morality are one-way – from non-moral pre-language social behaviour to language based social constructs and the development of moral systems by us.

    “Dogs, like many other animals, also have the capacity to express a willingness to trust and will engage in reprisals against other dogs that break trust.”

    Trust is merely learned behaviour too. This is something theists regularly misunderstand about science when they say science is like a religion, thinking scientific trust as the same as their faith. Trust is tentative, learned, and conditional. It’s a convenient behavioural short-cut. It saves you having to re-learn the same things on each occasion the same situation arises. It’s what makes packs work. It’s what avoids fights to the death for food. You can learn to accept dominance, because you can trust that you will survive – you learn that you don’t need fight for your place at every meal. But, because it’s contingent trust can be lost, new lessons can be learned. This is the adaptability of mammalian brains.

    Your last three paragraphs describe more simple mammalian pack behaviour. This came first, evolutionarily. There is not a hint of dogs having anything like human moral behaviour, except in as much that it is similar to the precursors of our moral behaviour. Out abstract moral systems sit on top of our biological behaviour and are made more sophisticated by our social and language development.

    There are a number of interesting investigations we humans need to continue with:

    – How did humans come to take their biological behavioural interactions and with social and language development come to construct the complex moral systems we have now?

    – How did this natural development sneak past us to fool us into thinking there are moral codes out there to be discovered, or that some higher being might be calling the moral shots?

    – If, as it appears, there are no morals ‘out there’, how do we proceed in order to build and maintain moral systems that are useful; how do we choose which morals we want? (note that it doesn’t make sense to ask “What morals should we have?” as this requires presupposed morals in order to determine our morals.)

    – How do we tackle the moral relativism that we observe is being practiced by various human cultures, when there is no absolute guide to rely on?

    – How do we revisit the many moral codes that we tend to agree should hold, when we realise that there is no absolute reason to hold to them?

    – Why should you not kill? Try coming up with answers that specifically do not refer to any past moral reason, do not appeal to being obvious, do not appeal to God, or any past philosophical notions of what it is to be good or bad. Refer only to what we know about human biology, psychology, sociology.

    – … and so on.

    What is entirely irrelevant, uninteresting, bogus, contrived, inappropriate is to ask:

    – Do dogs have morality?

    A dog can be taught to behave as a loving pet or as a killer. Biologically humans have bred dogs so much that the breeding can contribute to the character of the dog and so make training as pet or killer easier or more difficult. The ‘moral’ behaviour we see in a dog is entirely an anthropomorphised screen we have erected.

    What we have learned from the biology of dog breeding should make it obvious that biology influences behaviour, and in humans that often conflicts with our moral intentions. Our conscious desires cannot always overcome our biological ones. And the mix is complex, so it is difficult to determine the extent to which conscious and unconscious influences are predominant in some behaviour. There is clear evidence from experiment that humans can be unconsciously induced to perform some act and will then rationalise it into a conscious decision after the fact.

    Biology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, etc., should be informing our view on morality. Isn’t it time we stopped the starting of conversations with morality as some magical presupposition that we then try to impart on the world? And on dogs? Please.

  8. Ron Murphy,

    Language is not learned behavior. It is an instinct the children of humans are born with. It is well known that children teach adults to speak in grammatical language! I’m thinking of the development of Creole from pigeon because the pigeon-speaking adults were taking care of orphans. Also, the ability of deaf children to speak more grammatically in sign language than their hearing parents is evidence of the “Language Instinct,” to quote the title of Steven Pinker’s book.

  9. David,

    I do have to wonder what level of discourse pigeon-speaking people might be able to get into. 😛

    More seriously, with regard to my earlier question about your argument for the claim that ”only humans are intelligent” – it’s a matter of the conclusion not following from anything you said. Regardless of whether the premises and conclusion are true, you can’t derive the latter from the former.

  10. Conversations like this are not helped by the use of the word “morality.”

    By all appearances, dogs exhibit the same behavioral traits that humans do with regard to behavioral norms. They can be taught to behave a particular way. When tempted, they will sometimes act in contradiction to their training. The processes by which these interactions play out involve emotional states like pride, shame, and empathic response.

    What’s left?

  11. jim p houston,

    Humans are intelligent because they ask questions about what they observe. Humans want to know the cause of things, the relationship between things, and the unity between things. Animals don’t ask questions.

  12. Humans are more intelligent than dogs, but this does not entail they are not intelligent.

    When I have nothing else to do, I usually sleep. 🙂

    I’ve spent many an hour sitting with dogs, watching the world spin. My husky will sit outside for hours, looking at the sky and the woods-very much like a human doing the same thing.

  13. Jim p Houston,

    It would make sense that social creatures would have a system of ethics-it would be needed to allow them to maintain their social network.

  14. Boreas,

    Every day is my lucky day.

  15. Interestingly, the same arguments used to show that animals are simply behavioral machines can also be applied to humans. The behaviorists did just that.

    While animals probably do not grasp the abstract ideas, the complexity of canine behavior indicates some serious mental capabilities. Aside from language, I have as much reason to believe that my husky is intelligent as I do for humans.

  16. David Roemer,

    Animals, such as dogs and cats, are very curious and will endeavor to figure out how things work. While they do not make verbal inquiries, they do investigate. As such, they do have questions of a sort.

  17. “Humans are intelligent because they ask questions about what they observe”


    You don’t think it’s more plausible to say that:

    “Because humans are intelligent they ask questions about what they observe” ??

    Surely the intelligence causes the questioning rather than it being the case that the questioning causes the intelligence? The questioning process may make humans more intelligent but the questioning can’t get started without some intelligence being there in the first place.

  18. If animals don’t verbally ask questions, how do you know they ask questions? What evidence is there that they ask questions? What questions do they ask?

    Also, do animals have the conscious knowledge of humans? Animals have only sense knowledge. We can define sense knowledge because it is what distinguishes plants from animals. But how do we define the conscious knowledge of humans? What evidence is there that animals have this conscious knowledge?

  19. Mike,

    Humans are behavioural machines. There is no evidence of them being anything else. But they are far from being ‘simple’ behavioural machines. And nor are dogs’simple’. The problem with behaviorism isn’t its general thesis but that trying to understand complex behaviour by observing only external behaviour isn’t sufficient, because much of the informative behaviour is going on inside, in the brain. Many different brain states can result in similar behaviour and many similar brain states can result in very different behaviours. The problem is just too complex for external observation of body behaviour and that’s why neuroscience is teaching us so much more.

    Dogs have complex brains too, so I’m not disputing their intelligence, as a means of helping the organism cope with its environment, which includes navigating relationships with others, other dogs or non-dogs. You say “aside from language”. That’s a pretty big aside. All of moral philosophy is conveyed entirely through language. Without it even humans with greater intelligence would be reduced to the behavioural precursors of our moral systems: the behaviour of group animals such as the apes. We don’t know how pre-language brains developed language or the extent to which developing language fed back to cause greater brain development.

    But my objection remains. You are applying complex human moral constructs that rely on language for their development and refinement to animals that don’t have those tools. This is pure anthropomorphism that at best is an affectionate projection by loving owners of pets.

  20. Methinks that a basic requirement of the usual critical thinking model is to answer the question. The question here is not ‘Are dogs intelligent?’ Only someone using the basic model would say ‘No’, by the way.

    To get on with it: ‘morality’ derives from Cicero’s attempt to translate the Greek ethikos (Online Etymology Dictionary). So, morality is a set of social habits. Given the definition, we may say that ants and bees have their species morality; since they live in their respective societies, and each living being therein takes a role in the society. Canine groups too; some of which have human member(s).

    Does a morality need to be infused with intentions? Okay, sure. So, ants and bees have intentions to do what is required of their social role. Call this ‘Ludwig’s belonging behavior”.

  21. Boreas,

    If you define morality as a set of social habits, then fine, any animal engaged in social habits is by that definition acting morally. But this seems trivially useless as a definition that misses many of the nuances that philosophers and theologians have been claiming are an essential distinction between humans and other animals.

    We cannot say that animals know whether any specific social habit is good or bad in the complex abstract sense that humans use those terms with regard to morals. We can say that some animal may like or dislike certain behaviours of other animals towards itself, but except for the more advanced mammals, particularly the apes, it’s not at all clear that they have any views on interactions between third parties that can be considered moral opinion. Apes are known to exhibit empathy and fairness of some sort akin to ours, and pack animals can act in unison against an individual that isn’t conforming. But these inherited and learned habits are the probable precursors of human morality, and are not the complex morality we construct. There is no indication that animals other than humans, and possibly some apes, contemplate moral good and bad. They simply behave. For many social animals, such as ants, I don’t know there is any sense in which ant C will side with good ant A against bad ant B – or that this sort of relationship has any meaning in that context.

    It seems entirely wrong headed to be trying to elevate other animals into an abstract morality that they cannot understand let alone participate in. Some apes have sufficiently complex social interactions that it may be possible to infer some basic moral emotions, but nothing as meaningfully complex as human morality. It may have been interesting had other hominids survived along side us so that we could understand better the links between degrees of intellectual capacity, language, and more abstract constructs like morality and aesthetics.

    If anything the examples of animals are showing that what philosophers and theologians have thought of as high moral ideals based on some moral universals is misunderstanding our basic animal nature. Morals are abstract human constructs built on top of our animal behaviour. They are our invention, the beginning of which is lost in time to some extent, structured by organised societies, and religions, and encoded into moral principles. But still, basically it is all about the behaviour of interaction.

  22. David Roemer,

    Animals are inquisitive and learn, which suggests they make inquiries albeit without asking formal questions.

  23. While we talk about ethics, language does not seem to be a necessary condition for morality.

    For example, suppose virtue theory is true. With the exception of talking virtues, a creature without language could have virtues. A dog could be courageous, loyal, temperate and so on-all without being able to talk about how good she is.

  24. Boreas,

    One can’t give the etymology of the word ‘moral’ and validly infer from that alone that ‘morality is a set of social habits’ – that’s a well-recognized fallacy in critical thinking.

  25. Ron Murphy,

    Well said. All I can add is some evidence that might explain why people attribute human mental functions to animals. As I’v said before, a human is an observant (conscious knowledge), intelligent (asks questions), rational (decides what is true), and responsible (free will) animal. People who attribute conscious knowledge, intelligence, and rationality to animals, frequently do not say animals have free will. They deny that humans have free will too.

    What is so special about free will? Free will means deciding what to do with our bodies, and rationality means deciding what is true.

  26. Mike,

    “suppose virtue theory is true”

    Why would I suppose it is? It seems like one more abstract imaginative system. No more grounded in evidence than any theology. It seems in history various philosophers and theologians have speculated about some idea or other, constructed some theory around it, and then go on to act as if the whole construct is true in some sense.

    A dog could be called courageous if you define some of its behaviours as being courageous. But you are simply defining courage by example of some behaviour. Alternatively you can construct an abstract theory of virtues, that apply initially to humans, provide examples of virtuous behaviour that, by definition, you choose to be included in your system of virtues; and then you can identify similar behaviours in animals and make the leap that they must be virtuous too.

    But this is just making stuff up. Which of course is what virtue theory is. I’m not convinced there is anything of value in virtue theory for humans, and because of the less complex brain, language, social capacities of dogs I’m even less inclined to think such a system applies to them.

    I’ve yet to hear of any good reason to suppose dogs are moral.

  27. Virtues are excellences which we admire in others or in ourselves.

    Some dogs are especially courageous, as are some human beings, and why not call those dogs virtuous?

    That does not mean that the virtues are inscribed in heaven or in some Platonic realm of Forms.

    Virtues are a facet of human culture (although some probably have a biological basis) and since our culture includes interactions with dogs, I don’t see why dogs cannot be described as “courageous”.

    Courage is a trait which most of us admire in others (and in ourselves) and which we consider to be an excellence (or virtue).

    It’s not difficult to see why we admire courage from a biological point of view, since a courageous person is a better hunter and more able to protect their family and close human group.

    Note: I’m not claiming that dogs consider themselves or other dogs as virtuous, simply that dogs can be considered virtuous by human beings insofar they are members of our community.

  28. Interesting concept. But I say no.

    It is true that we are both of the animal genus, but our species puts in in a different position, on the hierarchy of life.

    Your dog can feel pain, have senses, and appear to have something comparable to simple emotions.

    Humans, on the other hand, have hands to makle tools, language to express complex ideas, and have self awareness.

    A dog would have no need of morality, since in reality, dogs never do anything wrong, they are always in a “dogginess” state. Since nature always fits us with an appropriate use, a dog has no use for morality, which they could not use. We humans, come home, see the dog has peed on the floor, roll up a newspaper, and smack him in the nose announcing he is a bad dog. The dog has no idea why he is being hit, he simply did what any dog does, when their bladder is full. It was only wrong to us who have to clean up.

    I, being a dog owner, suspect there are times when the dog is happy. A dog would make a natural choice based on instinct, the natural impetus to make a choice that brings happiness to one. There is no virtue, therefore a dog would not be outfitted with virtue.

    Dogs act out of survival (food, flight, or fight), a sex drive, or to have fun. Consequently, because you don’t have to teach virtue to a dog, they are infinitely easier to raise (my mother used to tell us kids this all the time when we gave her too much grief).

  29. swallerstein,

    There may indeed be differences between dogs, where one seems less in fear than another and so might prefer fight to flight. But attributing courage to the dog as a noble characteristic, as a human virtue, is entirely anthropomorphic. Why not call them virtuous? Well, if you are being romantic, poetic, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that sentimentality. But it’s not philosophy. It’s a fake truth. Like theology. It’s a desired truth, a wishful thinking. It lacks all critical thinking and rational analysis. And it bears no resemblance to the science of what animals are and what distinguishes various species, and in this case what makes humans capable of constructing abstractions and animals not.

    Yes, virtues are a facet of human culture, abstract constructed facets that have no correspondence in physical reality other than the states of the brains that hold them as concepts. Our culture does indeed include dogs. And fleas, and mites – so are you proposing we attribute virtues to these? Is this Toad of Toad Hall fantasy land where we embellish all animal behaviour with human personality?

    “I’m not claiming that dogs consider themselves or other dogs as virtuous, simply that dogs can be considered virtuous by human beings insofar they are members of our community.”

    Glad to hear that. But it’s still a false attribution that comforts humans. A bit like religion really. As with free-will and other human illusions I too fall for this same trick. I talk to my cats regularly. I attribute to them characteristics that are entirely my fantasy interpretation of their animal behaviour. They like me. They show affection. And I respond in kind. But I still know that they are not conveying anything of the meaning I am attributing to them at the time I’m enjoying the interaction.

    Young children talk to their dolls and teddy bears too – and I remember telling my woes to my teddy bear as a child, because he understood me more than my parents ever could. Or so I fantasised. Are these toys moral beings?

    We can invent complete fictions. We can absorb ourselves into novels and movies. And we can pretend our dogs understand us more than they do. But when doing science, and I would hope when doing philosophy, we should be a little more level headed.

  30. Tim Ford,

    I’d go further with your point. I’d say that humans never do anything intrinsically wrong. We merely label as wrong, or evil, acts that we don’t like; and label good those acts that we do like. And it’s all about human interaction.

    There is no arbiter of human wrong doing other than other self-chosen humans. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with stepping on an ant. Many people would rather kill spiders than leave them be. We chop down weeds in gardens with abandon. We reserve our respect for life for those animals most like ourselves in social behaviour. We recoil at the way a preying mantis eats its mate, or the way a parasitic larvae eat their hosts. We might see nobility in a lion, but not in a hyena. Take away all this social cohesion and the empathy that seems to be embedded in our brain behaviour and what is left? Killing is easy and unproblematic, except that it hurts emotionally, in some relation to how we relate to the victim. Some humans lack this empathy for other humans. Our morals are contingent upon our biology, but in other respect are arbitrary.

    Virtues such as courage are mere social norms that we have developed. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being a coward. That many of us might find cowardice distasteful may have a biological basis. But so does an itch. We can’t really help how we feel about how other humans behave; though we might learn to encourage those feelings socially, so that we not only biologically cringe when witnessing cowardice we might also learn to stigmatise it, to loathe it.

    Perhaps if we tried harder to come to terms with our animal nature, how much like other animals we are, and how we differ, then perhaps we can move away from the romanticism that allowed thousands of men to march off to war happily rather than reluctantly. Perhaps politicians like Tony Blair and George W Bush might think again if not swayed by their romantic religious fantasies about good and evil. Both religion and philosophy have led us astray in the development of ideas about virtues. Much of it is invented nonsense.

  31. Ron Murphy:

    We’ve been through this discussion previously.

    You seem to want to reduce our working vocabulary to its minimal expression.

    You feel like the scientific description of reality is the only licit one, while I think that there are diverse descriptions of reality, which as long as they do not contradict science,
    may enrich my view of the world and of others.

    Taken to its extreme, your approach would lead us to describe Beethoven’s 9th symphony as a series of noises.

    Now, I am well aware that describing a dog as virtuous is not a scientific approach to the study of canines.

    What I fail to see is the reason behind your passion to erase all alternative descriptions of the world that do not fit your scientific worldview.

    At times you seem to believe that you are lecturing a kindergarten class.

  32. Mike,

    Animals will hunt for food and stop when they find it. Is this what you mean by “inquisitive”? In any case, “inquisitiveness” may raise the possibility that animals ask questions. But what evidence is there that they do ask questions?

    What about free will? Do animals have free will?

  33. You should see/read Sylvia. It’s a great play that attributes human qualities to a dog.

  34. That’s not too surprising, since I know several men who are so base that we call them “dogs,” since they have no sense of propriety, virtue, or morality.

    Hey, maybe that has another meaning…..

  35. @ David Roemer: I’m not even sure it has been scientifically established that human beings have free will. If our brains function through series of chemical reactions then its hard to argue that there is any such thing as free will.

    In any event true free will is not a prerequisite to moral agency. I may nonetheless possess the ability to morally consider the interests of others despite that fact that I lack free will.

    The real question is therefore whether dogs morally consider the interests of others. One does not require language in order to make moral considerations but a certain degree of intelligence is required. A severely mentally impaired human being is not a moral agent even if they qualify as moral patients. Dogs are certainly moral patients and from what I’ve observed they may also be moral agents.

  36. swallerstein,

    My point here is not to say we should not use these more poetic descriptions, or that we should not engage in fantasy, fiction, stories and all other pursuits that enrich our lives. I’ve said explicitly that I talk to my cats. You are misrepresenting me, missing the point.

    “You seem to want to reduce our working vocabulary to its minimal expression.”

    Only when appropriate. Is this a philosophy blog, or a poetry blog? Is it philosophy or theology? Where’s the critical thinking? Where’s the precision that makes clear and consistent use of terms? Where’s the acknowledgement of what science does show, and the avoidance of fantasy and wishful thinking. All I see in the OP is a warning to beware of anthropomorphising, and then a casting aside of that warning.

    “We’ve been through this discussion previously.” – And you missed the point then…

    Here’s what you said in an earlier post: “…normal people, placed in certain exceptional circumstances, do horrid things that most of us, although not you apparently, would call evil”.

    And you said this after I wrote: “Of course I consider Stalin evil, in the sense that I’m a human animal that has inherited a biological response to dislike certain people because of their behaviour, and have been programmed to have a social response that persuades me to ‘feel’ that Stalin is ‘evil’.”

    So, clearly I would call Stalin evil; and I do talk to my cat as if it understands me. But in the context of what I think is supposed to be a serious philosophy blog, and in the way these topics of evil and dog morality have been discussed in the two OP’s I think the more emotive and poetic perspective is out of place, to the extent that it is wrong.

    There is no basis for seriously considering the morality of dogs because there is no evidence that dogs contemplate morality. If you want to discuss how humans project their human moral perspectives onto dogs then that is a psychology discussion and the post title should be something along the lines of “Why do humans feel dogs are moral?” It’s about humans, human behaviour and human psychology, not about dogs specifically.

    Again I offer an alternative. A post titled “Do Teddy Bears Have Morality?”, which then went on to discuss how children feel they have a real relationship with their teddy bears and how their teddy bears might be sympathising would seem as ridiculous as this post seems to me. But a post titled “Why Do Children Anthropomorphise Their Teddy Bears?” would seem to be far more reasonable. The former would be taking a fiction and discussing it as if real, while the latter would be a discussion about how some humans use fictions in their lives.

    Without any evidence to support it the notion that dogs have morality is a fiction. That dog behaviour, like much mammalian behaviour, might be the precursor of human abstract morality is far more reasonable and considers the human perspective without suggesting that we project our moral concepts onto the behaviour of dogs.

  37. Dan,
    You are correct in saying it is not scientifically established that we have free will. We know we have free will, not through our senses, but from our ability to make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. The idea that free will is an illusion is just a theory to answer the question: What is the relationship between myself and my body?

    In my considered judgment, it is clear we are responsible for our actions when we do something that is easy not to do, like sticking to a low calorie diet. There is no answer to the above question. It is a mystery and humans are embodied spirits.

  38. Ron Murphy:

    We have very different concepts of what philosophy is about.

    When Nietzsche in book 1 of Zarathustra says that the spirit must first become a camel and then a lion before becoming a child, he is doing philosophy.

    Nietzsche, who read widely in the science of his day and who certainly is not a theologian, is aware that the spirit (in which he does not literally believe) does not literally become a camel and a lion.

    You apparently want to ban metaphors from philosophy and you see poetry as “not philosophy”.

    I don’t see that sharp line between poetry and philosophy. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. In my way of seeing things, there is much good philosophy in Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot, to name a few great poetic philosophers.

    However, let’s go to the case in point.

    You say that “there is no evidence that dogs contemplate morality”.

    Agreed. In fact, I explicitly said above that “I’m not claiming that dogs consider themselves or other dogs as virtuous”.

    The argument is not over whether dogs contemplate morality or poetry, but whether we can legitimately consider dogs as virtuous.

    You say no; I say yes.

    First of all, we can consider children as courageous, I believe, yet small children probably do not see themselves as courageous nor do they see courage as a virtue.

    Courage in small children is a character trait, of which they may be unconscious, just as a small child is probably unconscious that they are prudent or just or compassionate. They are too young to form such concepts.

    Now, virtue ethics is different than consequentialism or Kantian ethics in that even an adult may be virtuous without knowing the name of their virtue and while being consciously “motivated” by other factors than those specified by the virtue.

    For example, the person who acts courageously may often not be motivated by the desire to act courageously, but by diverse motives such as
    defending their country or friends, doing their duty as a soldier, etc.

    I put “motivated” between quotation marks because the question of free will has nothing to do with our discussion. In fact, Aristotle never uses the term “free will”: he distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary actions, which is very different than speaking of free will.

    Free will is a Christian invention.

    Anyway, it seems that the criteria for being courageous or for having other virtues is much broader than that of following rules in a Kantian system: children can be courageous; people who have never heard the word “courage” can be courageous and I don’t see why dogs cannot be courageous too.

  39. swallerstein,

    Using poetry, or science fiction, or art, to express philosophical ideas through stories, metaphor, myths, isn’t the problem here. The problem here is that a specific claim is being made: that dogs act morally. Or, at least the possibility is being seriously considered. But there is no evidence that this is the case. All the evidence there is points to a limited inference in the other direction: that animal behaviour may be the precursor of the complex abstract moral ideas constructed by humans.

    So very clearly I do not want to ban metaphors. You continue to misread what I’m writing. The OP was not metaphorical. It contains a serious literal contention that dogs might be moral.

    “We have very different concepts of what philosophy is about.”

    I know what I think philosophy should be about: critical thinking used to investigate ideas at the edge of our understanding; challenging our intuitive understanding of the world, challenging what appears obvious. Philosophy has been a great help in developing how we think. But the danger is that it’s easy to go off in flights of fancy; to build speculation on speculation and to delude oneself into thinking, because a system of thought forms some internally consistent whole, that it must therefore have some bearing on reality. It need not. Many of the philosophical musings about good, bad, evil, virtues, etc., were developed when there was a very limited understanding of the human mind, in times when the brain appeared to be no more than grey mush of no specific significance. This type of philosophy is too much like theology in its methods, in what it finds acceptable discourse.

    “I don’t see that sharp line between poetry and philosophy.”

    I do. Note again that there is a difference between using poetry or metaphor to make a philosophical point and actually making the poetry the philosophy itself.

    “In my way of seeing things, there is much good philosophy in Aeschylus…”

    You are merely expressing your approval of various ways of expressing philosophical ideas. I agree. But that is quite different to the OP and my objection to it.

    Had the OP expressed something like, “We can view dog behaviour using anthropomorphic terms in order to project our morals onto dogs as if dogs were moral beings, even though we know they are not.” then this would be the human psychological projection for the purpose of metaphor. But the OP is seriously suggesting that dogs are actually moral.

    “Agreed. In fact, I explicitly said above that “I’m not claiming that dogs consider themselves or other dogs as virtuous”.”

    Then we agree on my main objection to the OP? The OP doesn’t make the claim that dogs consider themselves or other dogs as virtuous, but this is what is implied if we take the OP seriously in claiming dogs are moral. To be moral is to be aware of morality, to make moral judgements, to be able to decide what is virtuous and what is not (within a particular system of virtues). I don’t see dogs being able to do this.

    “The argument is not over whether dogs contemplate morality or poetry, but whether we can legitimately consider dogs as virtuous.”

    On what grounds? In what way? If you are saying, “Because the dog behaviour that looks something like what in humans would be considered courageous I am going to label as courageous such dog behaviour”, then I would disagree. A ventriloquist can make his dummy look courageous; so is it? Outward behaviour is not a sign of what’s going on inside – in the case of the dummy nothing, in the case of the dog much more, but not human morality.

    “First of all, we can consider children as courageous…”

    This is a fine line that depends on the stage of development. They are of course young humans, and their emotional and language development depends on their age and education. If you take a clearer case of young babies, then they are very clearly not virtuous but totally selfish. As the brain develops in a social environment children learn to be less selfish, more considerate, more moral. But they first have to acquire concepts of self and others. They become moral beings. This is complicated by the fact that we don’t really know to what extent these developing characteristics are dependent on inherited brain traits as opposed to learned behaviour. The indication is that the behaviour is learned, but only when the brain reaches a stage of development that allows that learning. In extremes, as with sociopaths, there do seem to be brain traits that predispose them to behaviours that lack empathy – i.e. we the beholders then label them as amoral, immoral, or evil, depending on how we respond to what they do. Virtue is very much a beholder’s business, a judgemental issue – even when it involves us judging ourselves.

    “… a character trait, of which they may be unconscious …”

    If it’s unconscious then it is hardly what we consider moral, or virtuous. We might label their behaviour courageous, metaphorically because the behaviour is similar to what a truly courageous person might do. But if it’s unconscious then there is no knowing courage in the face of adversity, no intent to act despite what might appear a certain failure. It is just the natural behaviour of that person (child). Similarly a scared child that recoils in the face of adversity is just doing what comes natural, just behaving. There is no measure of virtue in any of this. There are serious philosophical discussions about whether a scared man acting against his instinct to perform a ‘brave’ act is more courageous than a man who has no fear and simply performs the act as an un-feared rational act: say diving into dangerous waters to save someone. The inherent natural ‘courage’ you are attributing to children is closer to the ‘foolhardy’ reckless behaviour of the unafraid man.

    “Now, virtue ethics …”

    And this is where it all becomes messy and loses touch with any empirical data about what is going on in brains. Virtue ethics is a hypothetical construction about virtues made up in terms of some system of ethics. Suicide bombers can be considered virtuous in their particular system of ethics. We may disagree, and we may call on many arguments to explain why they are wrong. But we are picking and choosing our ethics to fit our own moral codes that we already have. With enough contemplation of ethics we might adjust our thinking to some extent, but generally we build our ethics around what we feel they should be. To many Catholics it has been virtuous to demonise the use of condoms in spite of the pragmatic issues of AIDS increasing without them; though this is now changing so that the church sees condom use as a lesser evil. Virtue ethics does not take good account of the variety of human nature over all humans, or its variability in time and context in an individual, or the developing social trends about what is acceptable behaviour.

    “For example, the person who acts courageously may often not be motivated by the desire to act courageously…”

    This is why morality is a far more pragmatic issue than theories about virtue ethics allow for.

    “he distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary actions, which is very different than speaking of free will.”

    But without real free-will all actions are involuntary ultimately. Some actions are conscious and have a greater conscious component to the decision process than purely unconscious ones. Priming can make a person act in a way they otherwise would not, and they then rationalise consciously about why they acted. It is not at all clear that many of the morally virtuous acts we perform are really virtuous. It’s a complex problem of understanding how brains work.

    There are some scenarios that do seem to be more clear cut. When a normally scared person who doesn’t often do brave things, who avoids danger, nevertheless dives into a raging sea in order to save a drowning man, even when there are no onlookers to see his act or to cause him to act for fear of the guilt of not acting, and when he would appear justified in not risking his own life, then this seems to be unequivocally brave. But even then it’s difficult to know the turmoil going on in his brain. Our current science lacks the capacity to be able to monitor and understand what’s really happening, live, as it happens. We are often left to ask the brave person to introspectively explain how they came to do it, how they mustered the courage – and often they are unable to explain themselves.

    The human brain is complex, and its behaviour under stress, when there are stark conflicting interests to oneself and others, is difficult to fathom. Our abstract construction of virtues has been about the best we can do to fathom what’s going on, to come up with principles about how we ought to act. But let’s not kid ourselves that virtue ethics amounts to a real understanding of how humans work. Virtue ethics is a veneer of abstraction over a messy reality of human brain-body behaviour.

    “people who have never heard the word “courage” can be courageous and I don’t see why dogs cannot be courageous too.”

    You can label them as such if you wish. But that’s not much more useful than my child self thinking my teddy bear was a really good listener when I’d been scolded and sent to bed in tears.

  40. Finally… a materialist poet. I’m inspired madly.

    “You can label dogs courageous
    if you wish
    but that’s not more useful
    than my childhood self thinking to myself
    ‘My teddy bear is a really really good listener
    when I’m been scolded and am in tears’;

    ‘Or Socrates that silly old fool
    who tricked the even more foolish
    Athenians who gave him
    his death-wish to evade
    the indignities of dying in poverty
    in a radical democracy of the wannabe rich
    in Syracuse or Attica.’

    Enuff of that. Let’s dig some dirt: Why don’t the materialists and Twitish Empireists just admit the obvious. A living being has something more than moving meat and bone with warm blood. A great many animals — ants, bees, dogs, persons even cats — are social animals. It is in their life-force, their psyche, to live in groups and to do things that persist their own group. And all such groups have morality: individuals whose behavior is predictable whether the individuals know it or not. In a snapshot: an ant’s gotta do what an ant’s gotta do.

    Not all of us, though. Some of us have a really hard time getting along with any nest of singing or singing antiphon birdies.

    What doggerel, eh?

  41. Mike,

    “Good dog or a moral dog?” – Both.

    My question is, does a creature have to have the ability to be immoral in order to have the ability to be moral?

    I do think there are times when dogs are, or at least appear to be acting in morally significant ways, but I have a harder time concluding that a dog could act in an evil way.

    There does seem to be a disconnect between our reaction to a dog acting in a seemingly virtuous way and our reaction to a dog acting in a seemingly evil way. We tend to be very impressed when a dog does something heroic. When a dog acts in a negative way, we have a variety of explanations. Either, the dog was not trained well enough, the dog is wild, the dog’s instincts kicked it, etc.

    If we do hold a dog, or any other animal, to be capable of moral significance, which I do, we must hold them also responsible for any negative, or evil, acts they commit. Just like we would for humans. Clearly we don’t, which is something that needs to be addressed.

  42. Ron Murphy:

    What a long and thoughtful answer!

    I lack your ability to compose a coherent comment
    so rapidly, which, it seems to me, is one of your virtues.

    So I will single out one of your affirmations to comment on. I hope that my comments can open a fruitful conversation, which interests you and any possible readers.

    You make the striking claim that “many of the philosophical musings about good, bad, evil, virtues, etc. were developed when there was a very limited understanding of the human mind…This type of philosophy is too much like theology in its methods, in what it finds acceptable discourse”.

    As you imagine, I do not agree. By the way, I am atheist and have been one for about 50 years, so I have little interest in theology.

    In order to understand or strive to understand what is a good life, I consult many sources, some of them contemporary, some of them ancient.

    Without the contributions of Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, the Buddha, Montaigne, Spinoza, Nietzsche, all of whom lived before the development of contemporary brain science, my search for what is a good life would be poorer and flatter.

    Yes, I know that the ancients supported slavery and had reactionary views about women’s rights, but on so many other issues, they seem to me to be more enlightened than most contemporary thinkers: for example, on their views on friendship, on leisure, on seeing sexuality without puritanism (or the reverse puritanism of political correctness), on their understanding of the concept of measure and hubris.

    You seem to believe that thinkers before contemporary brain or cognitive science lacked an understanding of the human mind.

    Obviously, we now understand the scientific mechanisms of the human mind/brain with a precision that previous eras lacked completely.

    Nonetheless, understanding the human mind involves far more than understanding the scientific mechanisms.

    Has science explained what goes on in the mind of an ambitious and weak man with an even more ambitious, seemingly stronger, but actually not so strong wife as well as Shakespeare does in Macbeth?

    Has science explained the cognitive biases of a jealous man as well as Shakespeare does in Othello?

    Has any scientist explained political psychology with the detailed realism of Machiavelli?

    Have any scientists laid bare their selves as honestly and realistically as Montaigne and Nietzsche do?

    Perhaps science will one day describe the mind of an adulteress woman with more honesty and precision than Tolstoy does in Anna Karenina or that of a killer with more realism than Dostoyevsky does in Crime and Punishment, but until that day, I’m going to consult the wisdom of the past as well as contemporary science in my search for understanding who we are and what a good life is.

    The search for a good life is not one with a final definitive answer. As I said above, there is no Good Life written in a Platonic realm of Forms.

    It seems clear that in seeking a good life we cannot reach conclusions that contradict scientific evidence, but I think that we need consult far more than science.

  43. swallerstein,

    My comparison to theology is in the method of building speculation on speculation and being so lost in the complexity of the constructed system that it is forgotten that the first speculations were mere speculations and not facts. The comparison is not about the specific content. You don’t have to believe in God to argue like a theologian.

    That is my problem with much of the older philosophy. Not the tremendous insight that many philosophers had, given the limitations of what they had to work with. And you are right about the current limitations of science. But that should be telling us to be more wary of what we conclude about humans and that we must treat all philosophical speculations as suspect. Philosophy is only speculation after all, in the face of lack of evidence, lack of the ability to find out empirically. What is metaphysics if not an attempt to speculate rationally about how the world is? What is epistemology if not an attempt to speculate rationally about how we might know stuff? Even though much of it might turn out to be insightful, with hindsight, especially when we do have more concrete evidence to back up philosophical speculations. But then much of it turns out to be bunk. As does Descartes location of the mind body interaction in the pineal gland. After millennia of philosophy and centuries of science there is no evidence of a freely acting mind, and all the limited evidence there is suggests we are indeed complex lumps of behaving matter.

    There is no need to lose our humanity in this perspective. We are still behaviourally significantly different from other animals to be interesting. We do not collapse into some pre-human savage state just because we learn to acknowledge how close we are to our animal cousins and the extent to which many of our animal instincts still drive us. Try this: Though there are some minor disagreements you will see in the discussion that you can still be a materialist physicalist that sees only dynamic matter in action in humans, but that the complexity of the human brain is where all the interesting social interactivity emerges. Our humanity depends only on us being human animals, and not of additional fictional essences.

    The video also addresses morality to some extent, in that there is general agreement that though there may be animal precursors to our morality there is no significant abstract morality in most other animals. Only the apes, our nearest cousins come close. This should be expected when we understand that complex behaviours that allow us to construct abstract ideas like morality increase with increasing brain complexity that results in increasing intelligence.

    So, while I agree with you that much old philosophy is interesting I disagree that it is necessarily relevant. And none of it that is much older than a century or so addresses the physical nature of the human brain. They simply didn’t have the evidence we have now. The one simple example I gave, while not refuting the existence of free-will in itself does mean that even if we had free-will we can’t know when we are using it: priming causing a person to perform an act they did not consciously choose to perform but which they later rationalise to convince themselves it was their personal conscious freely willed choice. And this in a lab setting when we know that the subject was primed. How many of our daily supposedly free-willed acts are primed by untold number of unconscious influences? We cannot know.

    There is nothing to support the notion of free-will except the personal psychological introspective feeling that we have it. And we know such feelings are not reliable. Without free-will the whole concept of morality falls apart because it depends on humans freely choosing to do virtuous or evil acts. Without free-will we are just behaving systems responding to our environment, even if much of the central control decision making goes on locally in our brains so that we are autonomous systems to some extent. The behavioural consequence is that we still perform acts that the system, the brain-body, the individual, has ‘decided’ to perform with some degree of independence in time and space, but not by a disconnected free-will.

    The imaginative abstraction of morality that we construct is built on top of this physical system with all its biological emotional drives. Dogs don’t have the mental capacity to form such abstractions so when we think of dog behaviour in terms of human morality we are projecting.

  44. Ron Murphy says,

    “There is nothing to support the notion of free-will except the personal psychological introspective feeling that we have it. And we know such feelings are not reliable.”

    Ron Murphy is contrasting “feelings” with “sense observations.” He is quite correct because they are two different sources of knowledge. We know the sky is blue from our senses, but we know we know the sky is blue from our transcendence, or our ability to make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge, or, as Ron puts it “our feelings.”

    But why is this kind of knowledge unreliable?

  45. “A problem is a mental investigation undertaken with respect to an object. A problem bears on something completely outside the investigator. Man becomes an observer before a problem, scrutinizing the object from all sides. And there exists a complete answer to the problem which, given enough time and developing enough know-how, man will eventually obtain. Objectified thought solves problems. But man as a person, as a subject, is not involved in the solution or make-up of a problem. Scientific knowledge embodies, par excellence, the problematic approach to things, to objects.

    However, when man is dealing with realities which cannot be objectified, he cannot effectively use the problematic approach to these realities if he would grow in a valid understanding of them. Why? Because such realities do not exist solely outside the knower; such realities necessarily include and involve the knower as a subject.” (Gods of Atheism, Micelli, 1973).

    It is why psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc., etc., do not treat members of their families.

    That’s one possible explanation….

  46. Ron Murphy:

    Thank you for the link.

    It is a balanced discussion where various interesting points of view are expressed.

  47. Re Tim Ford

    “A problem is a mental investigation undertaken with respect to an object. “

    There are many mathematical problems which do not deal with an object. States of affairs are not commonly called objects but we still investigate then mentally. I think there may be an argument that even Quantum Theory does not deal with objects as we commonly understand them. The calculations are correct but it is difficult to imagine objects which behave as the calculations suggest. Maybe you are defining objects differently from me.

  48. I do agree, and I do not agree. In Frosh Philosophy, we did learn in logic the definition you presented. However, I recall at the time thinking that objects have more than physical expression, and after doing some research, I cam across a philosopher that I greatly admire, Jacques Maritain. He is a Thomist, but his his treatment of objects was pretty interesting., page 67 and 68, appear to me to make more sense, in defining objects, etc.

    Etienne Gilson is also another philosopher with excellent explanations.

    It seems to me that in simplifying the definition of objects, we leave large gaps, and we lose precision. On the other hand, not to simplify the definition, is to create obstacles that are difficult to deal with.

    As to whether mathematics are not direct objects themselves, but I, wonder if it is correct they have no place as an object, but not as a material object.

    I am not too sure about Quantum Mechanics, as an old astronomer, the phenomena seemed to be very physical. In this case, I think the Q Theory has a direct application–I truly do not know. Maybe the same as mathematics?

    I am saying 2 things
    P1. You are possibly right.
    P2. I may not be right.

    The one thing I have noticed about modern philosophy is that one day something is in vogue, the next day, it is challenged and discarded. I think they call it the Dialectical Method.

  49. Tim,

    “The one thing I have noticed about modern philosophy is that one day something is in vogue, the next day, it is challenged and discarded. I think they call it the Dialectical Method.”

    When in philosophy it’s not evidence based I call it making stuff up.

  50. Tim
    I am sure all this is due to that bugbear of Philosophy Verbal disputes. This demands that we clearly define our terms before setting forth an argument. In this case I was setting out a position that engaged objects as solid matter in the world. But of course the word Object has other meanings as when we talk of the Object of an exercise, which was not what I had in mind. There is probably as a consequence, nothing much to argue about once we are clear on what we are talking about.

  51. Yes, I agree. When I learned the Socratic Method, I learned the brilliance in doing do, define the problem, issue, resolve communication issues, and then see where everything goes.

    It is ok not to agree, philosophy is about questions, not necessarily the answers. Every encounter for me is a learning experience.

    If I am really confused, which is more often than not, I just grab a single malt scotch and listen to jazz, for awhile. It is amazing, how if I shut up, wait, reflect, the answer seems to come together for me

  52. Tim.
    Philosophically it may be a bad stance, but I am always more comfortable when I am in agreement with somebody concerning an issue. I feel there is then more chance of making some progress rather than perpetually engaging in a one-upmanship discussion which will eventually go nowhere. If I think someone is plainly wrong then I will say so but try to take steps to continue the dialogue concerning aspects where we may agree. I will agree to differ, but prefer to find grounds for constructive discussion, on perhaps another aspect of the problem.

  53. Don,

    Agreeing to agree is why I think theology fails so easily. They are more interested in affirmation of what the want to believe, and doubt, scepticism and questioning are rather shallow.

    Disagreeing is generally helpful and informative. Even if it reveals only the strength of feeling of opposing views and doesn’t change minds. Dogmatic assertion and failure to entertain opposing views may be a personal barrier to personal new knowledge. But I don’t see point scoring as a motivation particularly problematic, since it need not be coincident with unmoving dogmatism. That a point scorer might get personal satisfaction from being right, or being able to persuade others that he is right, says nothing about the strength of his actual arguments.

    Personally, if I agree with a post or comment I tend not to respond – except perhaps to add to the points. It seems far more important to me to express disagreements. This will hopefully either correct errors I see in what I’m commenting on, or will draw out further explanation that shows where I’m going wrong. Isn’t that the meat of discourse?

  54. well as someone with experience in death,
    i have seen numerous cases where cat eats the face or other parts of their deceased owners while dog lies down and usually dies out of hunger.
    sometimes even from sadness. just stops eating and withers.

    now if there is any proof of morality, its when animal loves you enough to beat its biggest instict–hunger.

  55. The definition of morality that seems most accurate is
    “Morality – Morality is antecedent to ethics: it denotes those concrete activities of which ethics is the science. It may be defined as human conduct in so far as it is freely subordinated to the ideal of what is right and fitting.”

    Seems to exclude animals such as g-dogs, cats, one celled animals, plants and rocks.

    Perhaps you could explain to me what you define as morality, which would help me understand more what you are saying.


  56. Timford,

    Well said. But your definition needs more defining because you don’t explain what a human being is. The indefinability of a human being is what troubles a lot of people, so they are prone to attributing to animals every human property that they can. The one exception is free will. They never say that animals have free will.

  57. I agree, I learned on this site that many people have differing ideas, but no commonality of terms.

    I believe if we use the Socratic Method, we can avoid most misunderstandings.

    As for defining man, I have at LEAST 6 definitions of man, but one of the best follows.

    “According to the common definition of the School, Man is a rational animal. This signifies no more than that, in the system of classification and definition shown in the Arbor Porphyriana, man is a substance, corporeal, living, sentient, and rational. It is a logical definition, having reference to a metaphysical entity. It has been said that man’s animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though they are inseparably joined, during life, in one common personality. “Animality” is an abstraction as is “rationality”. As such, neither has any substantial existence of its own. To be exact we should have to write: “Man’s animality is rational”; for his “rationality” is certainly not something superadded to his “animality”. Man is one in essence.”

    Part of the problem is that people seem to regard definitions as secondary, yet in philosophy, they are of extreme importance. I am always willing to look at what people mean by their terms before they present their ideas.

  58. My favorite definition is a human is an indefinability that becomes conscious of its own existence. Or, a human is an observant, intelligent, rational, and responsible animal. How about, a human is an embodied spirit?

  59. I think it is too ambiguous. What is an embodied spirit. Is a man composed of 2 natures? Animal and Rational?

    If you cannot define it, than you cannot tell what it is, and if it is undefinable, no one else can. Yet we know that the great majority of philosophers and non-philosophers have a definition of man.

    Your sincerity is evident, but I cannot tell if your comment is based on philosophy, or something else.

    I think you keep looking. I have definitions, and I know I will. A speculative philosopher would do this, since he/she loves the study of philosophy for its own sake.

  60. That humans are embodied spirits is part of a method of inquiry called metaphysics. It is not philosophy. Metaphysics stands alongside science. What it means is that the human mind is a mystery.

    To me, philosophy is something above science, metaphysics, history, and mathematics that sheds light on these methods of inquiry.

  61. Agreeing to agree is why I think theology fails so easily.

    I must not have a life.

    I understand what you are saying, but think you should amend your statement above. In the field of secular philosophy, theology fails, because philosophy is limited in its ability for a number of reasons. It limits what it accepts as proof, which is interesting to me since we know the human intellect is fallible. I believe that the majority of Christians find belief and theology to be of great use in their lives. Some time ago, using the internet, my estimated number of degrees held by Catholics worldwide in philosophy was at least 700,000.

    About a year and a half ago, one of my six sons who studied Philosophy at NMSU, told me he was interested in atheism,. that faith plays no part in philosophy. As a Christian, I didn’t panic or express surprise, or thump the Bible. Faith or theology tells us how to live and focuses on truth, to us it goes hand in hand with philosophy. It is true that revelation is a part of this process, which we find acceptable. Is dogma a bad thing? We have laws in courts, they are legal dogma, they tell us how to live. In business ethics, the dogma we practice tells us what conduct is acceptable. Medicine has dogma, it purports to direct behavior of doctors.

    I began reading as much as I could, Dawkins and Hitchens, and anyone else I could find. I ended up enjoying the interaction with a local philosophy group. There were several very vocal secular humanists and atheists. We got along surprisingly well.

    2 people stand out as of great interest to me, Mortimer Adler, the Jew-Pagan-Christian-Catholic philosopher, University of Chicago, author of 37 books on philosophy had a very interesting journey from non-believer, to believer.

    More recent was Kevin Vost, MENSA Reviewer, who became Catholic after 20 years of atheism. His book addressed philosophical and psychological reasons for his 20 year journey as an atheist.

    I am not trying to convert you, just saying that making blanket statements, such as theology fails, doesn’t hold water for philosophers who are Catholic, probably also for Orthodox, and for Protestants. I did not find any philosophers numbered for Islam.

    My definition of metaphysics is slightly different. “Metaphysics – That portion of philosophy which treats of the most general and fundamental principles underlying all reality and all knowledge.”

    But we are close.

    Remember, these are ideas for informational and comparative activities only. I agree it is ok to disagree, it makes me think….

  62. Bonobo,

    It’s not proof of morality. Maybe it’s evidence that dogs bond to humans to an extent they associate as the same species, as part of the human/dog pack to which they belong. A cat doesn’t have that bond, or any bond is weak and easy to break. Cats then scavenge when starving. Just one of many possible interpretations that need not be related to the more complex social human morality.

  63. TimFord,

    Philosophy limits proof to deductive arguments only. They must be valid. And to be sound they require true premises. Humans are not in a position to prove, in turn, the premises in the chain of deductions. Every aspect of human knowledge is contingent. Science is limited too, and so never provides truth, only evidence that when exceptionally abundant and persuasive is taken to be proof, truth; but of course it isn’t strict proof.

    Theology fails because there is no evidence to support its claims, and there’s certainly no truth. All theology stands or falls on the truth of the presupposition (its one required but unsupported premise) that there is a God to do the magic that is then supposed to support the religious belief. There is no good reason to accept the presupposition of God. I would challenge any theist to provide any evidence or supposed proof that does not rely on presupposing God in the first place. Personal revelation presupposes a God is doing the revealing, rather than the experience being a natural psychological quirk. The Bible requires revelation, or else it is pure myth that self-affirms. Faith in God is no more credible than faith in santa claus. Theology is this self-affirming system.

    That religion has utility for some humans is irelevant to the truth of what is believed. So we have conflicting faiths whereby adherents of each see utility in their belief. Children see utility in belief in santa. The numbers that belive is irrelevant. As a Christian how do you respond to Muslims when they claim Jesus is just one more mortal prophet?

    You might choose to call medical practices dogma, but that’s simplistic. Medicine relies on trust as opposed to faith. Trust is accepting current ‘dogma’ based on utility, a trust which can be lost, for both rational and irrational reasons. Rational when new evidence changes medicine, irrational when fears prevent use of medicine, such as for vacines. Religious faith is used to specifically overcome doubt with the express purpose of affirming the belief even in the face of counter evidence, or lack of evidence. Praxis is the practice of acting as if the religious belief is true even if unconvinced, so that belief will come eventually -and this is a known psychological effect whereby humans can come to believe untruths. The truths focused on in religion are presumed or desired truths that fath and praxis are intended to affirm in spite of reasons not to believe.

  64. Tim Ford,
    We know that God exists because we have free will, which means that you exist and I exist but I am not you and you are not me. We are finite beings. An infinite being exists because a finite being needs a cause. If all beings in the universe were finite, the universe would not be intelligible. In the West, we call the infinite being God.

  65. Re:-Ron Murphy January 12, 2013 at 8:16 am
    Yes I understand what you are saying here. Philosophical issues so often have different viewpoints. Sometimes two people both can be wrong, and sometimes both can be right, and again one can be right and the other wrong. The problem here is some people when opposed or presented with a differing viewpoint will become more and more adamant as to their own beliefs, with no attempt to consider on what grounds you may have arrived at a conclusion. It seems to me in such cases, and I may well be wrong here, that a state of mind, glimmers beneath what they proclaim, it comes through as some sort of sophisticated arrogance that is enshrined in a kind of I “Have spoken attitude what you are saying is of no account”. It seems to emanate from their lifestyle, which also peeps through their comments and how they display them.
    I suppose what I am objecting to is not, basically not agreeing, but being disagreeable, set in one’s own ways not prepared to stand back and consider in depth a point of view which is different from or challenging to theirs. I agree with what you say in your final paragraph of course if nothing else it is pure common sense. Looking at what I have just written I am filled with trepidation that it is quite likely ineffectual rubbish should I post it? Here goes, I am in this Philosophy business to try to learn something, even if this amounts to my own ineptitude.

  66. There is a style of expressing philosophical ideas which consists of hesitating, being a bit unsure of oneself, of putting “perhaps” or “maybe” before some of one’s sentences, of evincing a general skepticism, not so much in one’s ideas as in one’s presentation of one’s self.

    I like that style and find it attractive and convincing.

    I am aware that some facets of that style are rhetorical devices, that sometimes one puts “maybe” before an affirmation, believing that one is right.

    On the other hand, those who are very sure of themselves turn me off.

    I am well aware that science and religion are very very different, but those who are very sure of their scientific point of view remind me of those who are very sure of their religious point of view.

    Once again, I am well aware that there is evidence for science and no evidence for religion, but perhaps I was so exposed to
    religious, political and ethical dogmatism in my youth that for the rest of my life excessive sureness about ideas, even when it comes in a scientific form, will cause a negative reaction in me.

    So if some people with a scientific worldview were willing to use “perhaps” and “maybe” more frequently, I would be more willing to concede that they are essentially right.

    That’s my personal hangup of course, but from what I’ve observed online, there are lots of people with the same hangup.

  67. Swallerstein,

    No evidence for religion? The evidence for God’s existences is free will and the hope that the universe is intelligible. The evidence for life after death is the historical event called the Resurrection of Jesus. The followers of Jesus, who went on to found the Catholic Church and Western Civilization, swore up and down that Jesus appeared to them after he died.

  68. David,

    If your evidence for God is free will and there is no evidence for free will then there is still no evidence for God. And free will would still not be evidence for God. God and free will are independent. Only religions that include notions of sin require free will. There can be notions of God that do not require free will.

    There is no evidence for the resurrection, and so no evidence for the afterlife. Even if the resurrection were true it would only be evidence for an afterlife for divine beings like Jesus.

    And criminals swear they are innocent, and dictators swear they will care for their people, and all religious believers swear their religion is true and that their messiah is the real deal. Your simplistic assertions aren’t convincing.

  69. Re:- David Roemer January 13, 2013 at 11:17 am
    I cannot see how having free will and hoping that the universe is intelligible amounts to sound evidence that a Supernatural being has existence. I am not denying that such a being could exist, but just that I have never encountered anything, which remotely suggests this be the case.
    “The followers of Jesus swore up and down that he had appeared to them after he died”. Well they would wouldn’t they? Did he appear to anybody who could confirm the same, without partiality?

  70. @Don Bird,
    There’s a problem with your insistence on independent witnesses: they get turned. For example,

    “But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, [2] and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. [3] As he traveled, it happened that he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. [4] He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” [5] He said, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [6] But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” [7] The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. [8] Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. [9] He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank. Acts IX.

  71. Re Boreas Jan 13th
    Just a quick reply here as I am short of time

  72. Free will means we possess a center of action that makes us unified with respect to ourselves and different from other persons. This means that humans are finite beings. But a finite being needs a cause. If all beings in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, an infinite being exists. This is called the cosmological argument for God’s existence.

  73. David,

    I gather that, in his younger days, the current pope (amongst others) argued for what could be called ‘The Argument from Intelligibility’. Other Catholic theologians seem to present essentially the same argument but term it ‘The Argument from Consciousness’. These arguments depend on the claim that the universe *is* intelligible – not that we hope it is.

    If you were to make some effort to get clear on what ‘your’ ‘intelligibility’ argument is and what your preferred version of the Cosmological argument amounts to (and to get clear on the distinction between the two) and to present both in a clear and valid form, then it’s possible you could have a fruitful discussion with those who are interested in philosophy.

    I’ve yet to see any evidence that you are willing to make any such efforts or have any inclination to aim for such an end though.

  74. Re:- David Roemer January 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm
    All beings in the universe were not spontaneously created. Were that the case perhaps things would be unintelligible. However evolutionary principles indicate that spontaneous creation was not the case. Life evolved on a gradual process from very elementary organic molecules. Depending on the environment and the nature of the organism those survived who were most fitted so to do. If I remember rightly there has been five partial extinctions of life on this planet and so far it seems sufficient living organisms survived, and we now find ourselves, in our opinion, the most sophisticated of all. Were there a total extinction, life may still evolve again depending on the environment and the nature of any organic molecules which may have survived. Basically it is genes that matter, and the life they create, is merely in the nature of a vehicle, for their propagation and continuance. Confer Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” here.

  75. The cosmological argument includes both intelligibility and consciousness. Since the conscious knowledge of humans, as opposed to the sense knowledge of animals, can’t be defined, humans are embodied spirits and finite beings. From the success of the scientific method, we can assume or hope that the universe can be understood. We assume that a being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause. We also assume that a finite being needs a cause. That is, a finite being can’t be the reason for its own existence. This means an infinite being exists. In the West, we call the infinite being God.

  76. David:

    Even if we accept that an infinite self-caused being exists and even if we call that being “God”, as did Spinoza, we have only “proved” (by word-play) that Spinoza’s God, that is, an infinite self-caused universe exists.

    Spinoza’s God has none of the personality traits of the Christian God and in fact, Spinoza says that God is Nature.

    So all we’ve shown is that nature or reality is infinite and self-caused.

  77. @Don Bird:
    Yes, we’re all here for just a short time. I’ve had a look at the evidence you mention. I notice that it is in the nature of confirming a hypothesis, and not incontrovertible proof.

    There is not one-to-one correspondence between a condition and a symptom: one type of condition can exude different symptoms, and one type of symptom can arise from more than one condition. To say Saul had epileptic symptoms is not to prove epilepsy. Indeed not; that symptom, as Socrates points out in the Meno, might well be a gift of a divine being.

    Philosophically speaking, just another case of the one and the many, the many and the one and the many all many. Don’t you think?

  78. David,

    Even if we accept that a infinite self-caused being exists and even if we call that being “God”, as did Spinoza, all we’ve proved (by word-play) is that Spinoza’s God exists.

    Spinoza’s God is infinite and self-caused, but has none of the personality traits of the Christian Deity and in fact, Spinoza identifies God with nature.

  79. swallerstein,

    We can infer that the infinite being has knowledge by analogy. I exist and I have knowledge, worms exist and worms have knowledge. By analogy, God exists and God has knowledge. We can’t comprehend what that knowledge is, but we can suppose God has it and that God is a person.

    Whether or not God has communicated himself or herself to mankind and revealed that there is life after death is another question. I don’t think Spinoza identified God with nature because that implies that God is not a real being.

  80. David:

    It seems that you have not read Spinoza, so it hardly matters what you think he said.

    Yes, Spinoza, whom I have read, identifies God with nature.

    Remember that Spinoza lived in the 17th century back when your religious friends used to burn those with naturalist ideas and so Spinoza may well have been taking out a life insurance policy when he called the self-created infinite universe

    If Spinoza had not called the self-created infinite universe “God”, his short life might have been even shorter.

    In any case, Spinoza was cautious enough not to publish the Ethics (the work where he explains what I describe above) during his life-time.

    God for Spinoza is not a person and Spinoza’s God is rather Being, than a Being.

    However, as I said above, it is plausible that the universe is self-created and
    infinite (as Spinoza says) and we can, for various reasons (including fear of the Inquisition) call the universe “God” or “Ralph” or
    “Mariana” (to be non-sexist).

    The universe (according to Spinoza) is still the universe or nature or reality or Being as science describes it.

    From that naturalistic view of things to a supernaturalistic one is one big step or even leap that given the sorry state of my thin and elderly legs, I cannot accompany you on.

  81. swallerstein,

    It is true that I have not read Spinoza. But, I distinctly recall either Karl Rahner or Hans Kung saying that Spinoza’s concept of God was consistent with Catholic doctrine. The idea that the universe is “self-created” is consistent with the Catholic concept of God if the universe includes the infinite being that is God. If by the “universe” you only mean the universe of finite beings, then the universe is certainly not an infinite being.

    I am aware of the fact that many people think of Spinoza as a pantheist. I’d have to see the exact quotes from Spinoza that prove he was a pantheist.

  82. David Roemer,

    The cosmological argument is hopeless. It tells us nothing. It argues that there must be a first cause, but gives no reason why that should be the case. It relies on some presumed obvious chain of causes that must have a beginning. The religious then conveniently label that first cause God. The trouble is, even if we accept the need for a first cause, which I do not, you are unable to tell us anything about the first cause, about whether it is intelligent in any sense that has resonance with human intelligence. You simply take human intelligence and suppose that it is some property that must also be possessed by your guessed at first cause.

    Even the simplest example can provide an alternative to the God first cause. If you cannot provide evidence or proof of your one first cause why not suppose many? Why can’t there be an eternal number of conflicting gods, which could even explain the many human conflicts that go on inside of each of us and between us.

    Why must a first cause be intelligent at all? Why not a natural non-agency first cause? Why not something from nothing? All your intuitions here are based on your intuitions about humans. You make God in your own image, as some fictional supreme and perfect instance of a human; a human without the flaws and the finiteness of material existence.

    And still, why must there be a first cause? What is it about our simple and finite existence and our flawed human intelligence that convinces you we know the first thing about what it takes to create a universe like ours, or how many universes there might be, or how many unseen dimensions there might be. All the genuine speculative cosmological hypotheses entertained by cosmologists are based on science and maths, but because they are hard to verify they remain speculations. It is of the highest arrogance that theists think they have a window on cosmology that gives them knowledge of their own invention, their personal God.

    Most of your comments here amount to assertions about your faith and nothing more. This is why your claims have no more merit than those about fairies, or Santa Claus, or pan-universe alien creators of our universe, or brains in vats, or a pure singular solipsist mind. The basics of theology are at best invented hypotheses; a shaky foundation upon which mountains of theology are heaped. Every one of the theisms has to presuppose a God in order to explain a God. It’s the height of human imagination taken for reality. All theistic arguments, including the cosmological argument, has to presuppose a God.

    The only honest approach is to say we don’t know. Your trouble is you say we don’t know, you claim mystery, and then still say you do know – you know of God. All honest scientific approaches to cosmology are offered as speculations, theories without evidence, or theories that might explain the evidence, that are consistent with evidence but not conclusively so.

    Religion is dishonest. But that isn’t to say the religious are dishonest. Someone with blind sight will honestly report that they cannot see, and yet if asked to guess at what is before them will be right. Factually they can see, but they are honest in that they are not consciously aware that they can see. Those with Anton-Babinski syndrome report honestly that they can see, and yet they cannot. Their brains construct visual awareness experience, but they really cannot see the external world. Honesty is about the belief in what you claim, but need have no bearing on the truth of the matter. Anosognosia might leave a patient with conflicting views: a stroke causes partial paralysis and yet the patient insists they are not paralysed. In one case a woman could not close one eye, and when asked to close both eyes closed only one; and yet she insisted she had closed both eyes. Even looking in a mirror she could see her reflection through her open eye and reported that she could and yet still insisted she had closed both eyes. Even when we do not have these specific conditions to highlight our mental deficiencies we still exhibit them and somehow talk our way around them. Experiments of priming will result in the subjects fabricating explanations for their actions, explanations that are patently false to observers but which the subjects believe. Every time I find my keys are not where I left them I am convinced someone has moved them; until I actually find them where I really left them.

    So, it is not surprise that you are so adamant about your beliefs without having a jot of evidence to support them.

    “We can infer that the infinite being has knowledge by analogy”

    We cannot even infer that there is an infinite being, much less infer anything about it.

    “By analogy”

    By analogy is not proof or evidence. Analogies only offer a comparative perspective, an alternative point of view, an analogue, from which to consider some other subject. It is not a support for the truth of the analogue.

    “We can’t comprehend what that knowledge is, but we can suppose God has it and that God is a person.”


    “Whether or not God has communicated himself or herself to mankind and revealed that there is life after death is another question.”

    It’s another unanswered question, as is the the question of is there a God to do any revealing or communicating. Fabrication.

  83. swallerstein,

    The idea that God is the “First Cause” is incorrect because it implies that God is at the beginning of a chain of causality. God is an infinite being. Such a being exists because finite beings exist. God exists outside of any chain of causality based on time and gives the entire chain its existence.

    Which of the following propositions don’t you agree with?
    1) Human beings have free will.
    2) Humans are embodied spirits.
    3) Humans are finite beings.
    4) Finite beings need a cause.
    5) A being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause.
    6) An infinite being can be the reason for its own existence.

  84. David Roemer,

    You addressed swallerstein, but if you don’t mind I’d like to offer my thoughts on your list too.

    You have no knowledge one way or another about whether God is a first cause or an infinite being. I don’t know that humans have any real understanding of the infinite. It’s just a vague concept that is used to label the appearence to us of unbounded nature of some abstract ideas. We have know experience of the infinite. And, on top of that you have nothing to offer that is persuasive that would imply your specific God is this infinite being, or some first cause.

    You also don’t account for the notion that the first cause and an infinite being is one and the same. The first cause is an uncaused cause because it is infinite. But still that doesn’t address the other problems.

    There is also the problem that is sometimes raised about God being outside time, so that the terms infinite (past or future) have no meaning. There is never any explanation in turn for this supposed explanation for the trickiness of a first cause or an infinite being. It is simply asserted.

    1) Human beings have free will. No evidence for it.

    2) Humans are embodied spirits. No evidence for spirits. You simply assert them.

    3) Humans are finite beings. All the evidence implies this.

    4) Finite beings need a cause. Only in the context in which we assume we understand causality. We have a useful understanding for it within a finite material universe; though that is challenged somewhat by quantum physics. The problem is we also don’t really understand randomness. Random events either have a cause or they don’t, if we insist on our understanding of causality. If they don’t then they are uncaused causes. If they do we need to figure out how to explain their causes when currently we can’t.

    5) A being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause. It appears so, within our understanding of causality.

    6) An infinite being can be the reason for its own existence. I’ve no idea, because I have no experience of an infinite being, and have difficulty defining such or comprehending the detail and the consequences of what that means. Neither have you as far as I’m aware. If you have then you continue merely to assert it rather than offer any reason or evidence to support it.

  85. David:

    Ron Murphy, who is much more rapid and eloquent than I am, answered your questions.

    I agree with all his answers, besides number one, that on free will.

    I don’t find the concept of free will to be especially useful, and I agree with Daniel Dennett and others that the idea of morally competent volition could be substituted for it.

    That makes me a compatibilist.

  86. “The cosmological argument includes both intelligibility and consciousness.”

    No David, it doesn’t. And none of what you have to (repeatedly and unhelpfully) say about us being ‘embodied spirits’ is part of the cosmological argument either – what you mean (or should mean) by such talk is a separate part of Thomist philosophy now accepted as Catholic doctrine and one that can be better explained without talk of “embodied spirits” (Aquinas’ account of that comes after his Five Ways).

    By ‘the cosmological argument’ you seem to mean the second of Aquinas’ Five Ways – the Argument from Efficient Causes. The idea that God is the “First Cause” is not incorrect “because it implies that God is at the beginning of a chain of causality” – it implies no such thing but it is a common misunderstanding on the part of many theists an atheists alike that Aquinas’ ‘first cause’ is first in time. Exposition of The Argument from Efficient Causes doesn’t need and isn’t helped by you bringing in talk of God being ‘infinite’ – this claim isn’t in that argument and, again, is argued for in Aquinas’ theology *after* he offers the Five Ways).

    There are another two cosmological arguments in Aquinas’ Five Ways – the ’Unmoved Mover’ Argument from Motion (or Change) and the ‘Necessary Being’ Argument from Contingency. And none of these cosmological arguments argue from the intelligibility of the world to the existence of God any more than the ‘first cause’ argument does. Such an argument wouldn’t be a cosmological argument at all but a teleological one (as Aquinas’ Fifth Way is).

    You seem to have encountered various theological arguments and doctrinal claims and managed to muddle them all together.

    I rarely find reason to quote Ed Feser, but as he says:

    “Most people who comment on the cosmological argument demonstrably do not know what they are talking about.”

    You’re amongst them

  87. It is true that there is no scientific evidence for free will. We know we have free will because we can make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. It is especially clear we are responsible for our actions when we do something that takes a lot of will power, like staying on a low calorie diet.

    A finite being is a composition of essence and existence. Existence is the principle that makes a being exist. Essence is the principle that limits a being’s existence and thereby makes it the particular being that it is.

    A human is an embodied spirit because free will is a mystery. We can’t answer the question: What is the relationship between myself and my body.

  88. David Roemer,

    A database system that contains meta data about its own structure knows itself in that it contains information about itself. But it doesn’t have free will by any sense in which use the term.

    Responsibility is independent of free will. Autonomous systems are the most immediate focus of the actions of the system so there is a pragmatic sense in which the system is responsible for its actions. If a bird craps on my head it is responsible for doing so. Does it have free will? A deadly virus may be responsible for a death but it does not have free will. Only when we want to link causal responsibility to religious sin and blame do we need to demand free will in order to attribute blame and identify sin. A sociopath is still responsible, as the immediate focus of his actions, even if we think he is not responsible for the state of his brain.

    But I think you’ve had similar responses before to you assertions. You don’t come back with serious counters but instead continue to make the same assertions.

    I don’t think free will is a mystery, but rather an illusion caused by the brain’s conscious function’s inability to detect its physical nature through introspection.

    I am both myself and my body. There. I’ve answered it in the same simplistic terms you use in your assertions.

    There’s a lot of effort trying to address your simplistic assertions, but you don’t really respond with argument but just more assertions. Do feel you are getting anywhere?

  89. Boreas January 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm
    Yes I understand your point about the possibility of St Paul being an epileptic and I really do not know the truth of the account concerning this event. However if he did fall down, and saw a light, heard a voice, suffered temporary blindness, these are known symptoms of epileptic seizures. So I need, as a person of scientific inclination, and in view of all the data before me, and I would not exclude religious evidence, to consider, what is the best explanation of this event, assuming it occurred at all. I am not seeking truth or falsity just what is the best explanation of what happened to St Paul? I accordingly arrive at the explanation that he was probably undergoing an epileptic seizure. This of course is tentative but all science proceeds on the understanding that what is the best explanation today may well be modified or even rejected in the light of new knowledge or discovery.
    Again I would not stake my life that the theory of evolution is irrevocably true it is just the best explanation so far, and is very robust when attacked. When considering any explanation from say merely a verified hypothesis through the whole scientific scene up to what is called a Law of Nature we generally have to regard it from several viewpoints 1/ Does it have predictability? That is for example if P then Q. 2/ Does it have Simplicity? That is, is it seemingly the most simple explanation or is it overladen with irrelevances or embracing too large a field. 3/ Is it testable? Can we somehow test its efficacy maybe by experiment? 4/ Is it compatible with what we already hold to be the case? If not why? 5/ Is it relevant or is it no more than a side issue, to what we are trying to ascertain?
    By comparison when we come to religious studies our task is very different. All we have to consider is in the main Stories and accounts emanating virtually unchanged, from those who uttered them in ancient and less enlightened times. And what can be done with stories either believe or disbelieve them? A certain amount of archaeological work has been done but apparently there is to date no revelation there from which lends firm scientific support to these stories. For me at least this is a serious problem concerning religious belief. If you are to speak of Faith then I prefer to put my faith in the progress of science rather than Stories.

  90. Ron Murphy,
    We certainly are getting somewhere. We are making different judgments about whether humans have free will. In my considered judgment, the evidence supports the proposition that humans have free will. In your considered judgment, it does not.

    While humans will admit they are not intelligent and have bad memory, no one likes to admit they have bad judgment.But there is a solution: Suppose more people agree with me than with you. Will that prove my judgment is better than yours?

  91. David,

    You haven’t provided any evidence for free will. Making ourselves subject of our own knowledge isn’t sufficient because there are examples of self knowledge without free will. And over this and other posts I have given several pieces of evidence that the only way we think we have free will, by introspection, is unreliable. You have not come back with any counter to my points. You merely reassert your own.

    Plenty of people know their judgement is suspect. That’s the point of many features of science: overcoming and compensating for individual human errors in personal judgement by repeated rigorous experiment across time, space, context, persons, supplemented by instrumentation.

    We can go in a lab and repeat well known experimental results. Millions of students do this in high schools and universities every day. Observational results can be repeated throughout a year to demonstrate that astronomical predictions are correct. Repeated statistical observations in sociology and psychology can tease out regular results from populations. And yet observations of prayers never show confirming results above chance. And no religious claim is ever confirmed.

    As to numbers of people making claims it depends on who they are. If you think a few million people supporting your religious belief count then you need to explain the great variety in belief, even in the same religious sect, and you need to account for the clear bias that comes from faith which is specifically aimed at maintaining belief in the face of any opposing evidence or argument. The numbers you might appeal to melt away when you question the detail. This is quite unlike disagreement in science where two or more explanations are consistent with current data, because as soon as the data becomes clearer scientific opinion changes – there was great opposition to tectonic plate theory until the evidence became too persuasive. There is no evidence for religious claims so all the persuasiveness relies on rhetoric, ignoring cognitive dissonance, and commitment through faith.

  92. Not all religions posit free will.

    Eastern religions don’t.

    Ancient Greek religion didn’t either, as far as I know.

    Free will is a very special Christian invention.

  93. Why is introspection unreliable? We know we exist by introspection: I think, therefore, I am. We can imagine that the world we see with our senses in an illusion. But we can’t imagine that we don’t exist. Our own existence is more certain than anything else.

    As you say, free will may be an illusion. But what is the evidence that free will is an illusion? Why do you think this?

  94. David Roemer,

    The cogito is evidence only that we think, consciously. It tells us nothing about the mechanism by which we think, and it tells us nothing about the subconscious thinking that we do, or anything about the physical influences on our thinking. The cogito alone doesn’t provide evidence of free will or its absence. The cogito is consistent with a physicalist account of the physical brain, and with various idealist and solipsist notions, and even with a brain in a vat. I can’t see how you would conclude anything else from the cogito other than you are a thinking thing, as vague as that notion is.

    Introspection and subjective experience makes us feel as though we have a rich immediate perception of the world, but there is lots of evidence that we do not. The evidence suggests that our second by second sense experience is quite sparse and that our brain makes up much of what we perceive predictively and that conscious awareness gets involved in long term planning, and when automatic predictive subconscious control hits an anomoly. Early in riding a bike we need lots of conscious interaction until it becomes a subconscious learned skill, and then the consciousness takes over for long term goals, such as where you are going, and immediate anomolies such as unexpected obstacles. When you raise your arm you are completely unaware of the many individual motor nerve impulses causing the action, or the extent to which the action is controlled by parts of the brain that are down in your spine that bypass the conscious activity in the main part of the brain that resides in your head. Driving can be so unconscious that your conscious self can forget significant parts of your journey, especialy if is engaged in other thoughts; and your subconscious self can be engaged in other tasks while driving: scratching an itch, drinking a coffee – various concurrent motor activities, many of which the conscious self is unaware – most of you actions throughout your life are not freely willed or even consciously directed but are automatic. The indications are that the brain consists of many concurrent activities that amount to multiple automatic zombie systems, with only the consciousness being aware of outcomes. Often these systems are in conflict. I gave examples above of blind sight and Anton-Babinski syndrome as the more obvious examples of conflict between the conscious and unconscious operation of the brain – obvious because examples of brains going wrong highlight aspects of brain conflicts that we would normally be unaware of. Various examples of priming dispute the fabricated claim to free will action. How about alien hand syndrome and other examples of split brains exhibiting multiple conflicting systems. What is happening in brains that are conflicted, where you want to lose weight but can’t overcome immediate drives for food – there are different parts of the brain influencing your actions concurrently.

    There is only the introspective subjective experience that makes us feel we have free will at all. Nothing else. But it is demonstably mistaken about free will decisions so often that the feeling is therefore demonstrated to be unreliable. And the reason we actually feel that our decisions are free of physical causes in the brain is that we cannot detect introspectively the physical activity of the brain and we cannot detect the coming into consciousness of unconscious decisions that the conscious self thinks has just popped into existence. The brain can be primed to make a decision and when it subsequently makes the decision the conscious self rationalises that ‘it’, the conscious self, made the decision, and fabricates explanations for why it made the decision.

    Note that I have given you these examples and others over many comments on different posts and you have never questioned them, asked for refrences, given counter examples. You only seem to continue to assert your own simplistic statements. By all means look up these cases and many others. Many theists and philosophers are completely ignorant of all these indications that we are not some single and consistent self but a multitude of interacting zombie subsystems, and ignorant of the evidence that shows so many of our assumed freely willed actions to be nothing of the sort. And still no positive evidence is ever offered to show we have free will. When examples are given that show introspection is useless the counter is nearly always an appeal to introspection: “Look, I can choose to move my arm and it moves!” The point is entirely missed, and the evidence offered simply ignored.

    It seems you personally are unconsciously committed to continue to post unreasoned unevidenced simplistic assertions as if they must be taken as true. You certainly exhibit no evidence of engaging in rational debate to the extent that you seriously consider the objections people post, and nor do you offer any rational counter objections outside adding a few outdated philosophical and theological assertions, much of which several commenters have pointed out to be wrong anyway. A lot of people are being very patient with you in responding to the same inane assertions, that you post over and over, in the hope you will engage rationally. You seem to be ubable to engage in debate. I haven’t met you, and I would be unqualified to examine you and test you, and internet comments constitute only a narrow channel of communication, so I continue to assume there is a rational person at the other and of this conversation and not some religious cackpot intent merely on evangelical proslytsing. Can you engage in a way that confirms my assumption rather than appearences?

  95. Ron Murphy says, “The cogito alone doesn’t provide evidence of free will or its absence.” This is positivism. According to positivism, only statements which can be backed by evidence are true. But what evidence is there that positivism is true? There is no evidence, hence positivism is just a rule. But why should I follow this rule?

    Free will means humans are embodied spirits and God exists. Since God exists, we have to decide whether or not to believe in life after death. If we make the wrong decision, we may end up howling.

  96. David,

    But there are atheists who believe in free will, for example, Jean Paul Sartre.

    Jean Paul Sartre did not conclude that we are embodied spirits either.

    Therefore, the possible existence of free will does not convince everyone that God exists.

  97. David,

    I’m not appealing to positivism. I am not claiming that only evidenced ideas are true. There are clearly many ideas that will turn out to be true that we as yet know nothing about. Was it untrue that the world was round when humans thought it was flat? I’m not even claiming certainty of truth, as if that can be attained.

    I am merely saying that humans, being flawed knowledge acquisition systems, can only build degrees of confidence in our knowledge by virtue of the extent to which we can, in multiple ways, show consistency between our ideas and our experiences. And this is where science and evidence come in. Science is the most rigorous way we have of compensating for our flawed personal subjective perspective on reality. This is why it works. This is why we know that perpetual motions machines will not work, because of the evidence from science about the laws of nature that prevent them working. Even though perpetual motions machines seem like a good idea we cannot make them real by imagination alone – that’s a hint to your theology. Whenever work is done we have to put in more work than we get out, somewhere along the line.

    Science is like waking knowledge in a human brain. We invent ideas, build perceptions, make predictions, and through the senses home in on what is really happening, to confirm or refute our internal constructions. Theology is like dreaming where the brain invents all sorts of weird and fanciful ideas but where sensory reality checks have been turned off for the night.

    “Free will means humans are embodied spirits and God exists.”

    No it does not; even if you were able to demonstrate free will. I can quite easily conceive of a free will dualist mind without any religious implications whatsoever. But being able to conceive of fantasies doesn’t make them true.

    “Since God exists”

    he does not, as far as anyone can tell. You merely assert it

    “we have to decide whether or not to believe in life after death.”

    How can you decide without the information. Lacking all information and evidence why bother supposing there is an afterlife?

    “If we make the wrong decision, we may end up howling.”

    Or we might not, since even if there were an afterlife you have no way of knowing of it, or anything about it. It might be bliss for everyone, or we all might end up howling. You are simply inventing God, then inventing an afterlife, and inventing your further knowledge about these things. You have nothing to offer in support of them.

    How about responding now to some of the reasons I gave for not thinking we have free will?

  98. I have a quote from Jean Paul Sartre where he says the concept of God is contradictory. This is not the same as saying God does not exist. The concept of God is not contradictory, but there is a mystery in saying an infinite being created the universe of finite being: What would motivate an infinite being to do such a thing. Sartre just doesn’t believe that God communicated himself to mankind. He doesn’t say that God does not exist. If I am wrong about this, I would like to see the quote from Sartre saying God does not exist.

    Likewise, there is a mystery about free will: What is the relationship between myself and my body. This is why atheists say that free will is an illusion.

  99. If the concept of x is (self) contradictory then x can’t exist.

    Not only does the claim that the concept of God is self-contradictory entail that God doesn’t exist, it entails that it is logically impossible that He could.



    Read this and you’ll see that Sartre refers to himself as an atheist.

  101. Sartre:

    Alors j’ai perdu la foi completement vers onze ans…..pour me distraire je me suis dit: Tienes, Dieu n’existe pas.

    C’est tombé comme ca, et ce n’est jamais revenu.
    Et c’était en fait une prise de conscience de ce que j’avais concu auparavant.

    No, David, I’m not going to translate it for you. If you don’t read French, try Google translator.

  102. What is the reference? There must be an English translation somewhere, and I want to see the entire context. Maybe Sarte was being interviewed? Did he publish this? When I get home, I’ll post the quote in English with a reference which proves that Sarte never said, “God does not exist.”

  103. Sartre par lui-meme (title)

    Editions Gallimard 1977

    It’s the sound track of a long interview done in 1972.

  104. .David I earnestly beseech you to listen, and take note of what Ron Murphy says. He knows very well what he is talking about he puts it clearly and so far as my own knowledge goes, he is accurate and gives an excellent account, including references, which I suggest you pursue. He for instance immediately shot you down concerning Descartes’ Cogito out of which all that can really be claimed is that “there is some thinking going on” To put it plainly he is almost certainly right and you are almost certainly wrong. Your CV on the Net suggests an intelligent person. I can only think that your religious indoctrination and beliefs are severely undermining whatever natural talent and abilities you have. You do not nesessarily have to set religion aside, in order to think scientifically.

  105. As I suspected, the quote from Sartre was not something he wrote. He may have been drunk or high from drugs when he gave the interview. This is the real Sartre:

    “Thus the passion of man is the reverse of that of Christ, for man loses himself as man in order that God may be born. But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain. Man is a useless passion.”(Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, New York: Washington Square Press, p. 784)

    In other words, when you don’t believe in God, life is meaningless.

  106. David,

    First of all, please read the Existentialism is a Humanism talk, where Sartre explicitly refers to himself as an “existential atheist”.

    Second, your quote is taken out of context. Sartre’s idea is that man wants to become God, that is, the in-itself for itself, which is contradictory and impossible.

    That man strives to become God hardly means that God exists or that Sartre believes that God exists.

    I don’t think that Sartre believes that life necessarily is meaningless (see Existentialism is a Humanism), but that life has no intrinsic meaning and any meaning that my life or your life may have is up to me or you.

    By the way, I genuinely resent you constantly questioning my sources or my intellectual background. I have patiently answered your often pestering questions (as have Ron, Don and Jim) with good faith, engaging in a polemic with you that, unlike, say, my polemics with Ron or Don or Jim, does not contribute the slightest thing to my intellectual development.

    It seems that your participation in this forum lacks that very Christian principle, charity, since you doubt the sources and intellectual background of people who try to converse with you.

    I don’t want to be cruel and although I often feel that I’m not up to the standards of this Forum, when you try to argue with Ron, Don and Jim, you’re punching way above your weight.

    I hope that I’ve satisfied your curiosity about Sartre’s atheism, which is as much common knowledge of all educated people as is, say,
    Martin Luther’s Christianity and as you can imagine, I’m bowing out of this conversation.

  107. David – I’m afraid I’m not comfortable with the way you participate at Talking Philosophy. I’ve asked you before not to proselytize here. In my judgment this is what you’re doing (albeit it’s often quite subtle).

    This is a final warning. This is a philosophy site, and while I have no problem with discussions moving into the realm of the social sciences and humanities, religious apologetics is not okay here.

  108. David,

    You have been given a quote in which Satre specifically says he thinks there is no God.

    The quote you provided does not show he thinks there is. It seems a clear declaration that he finds belief in God a pointless concern of man.

    “Thus the passion of man is the reverse of that of Christ” – man’s passion, for God in this case, is idoletrous and the antithesis of the Christian professed character of Christ, and therein, in part, lies some of the contradictory nature of belief in God, or at least the Christian God.

    “for man loses himself as man in order that God may be born” – man’s invention of God is a self destructive act.

    “But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain.” – The contradictory idea of God (as Satre sees it) makes it a pointless persuit.

    “Man is a useless passion.” – man gets carried away with his passions, in this case for God, and as such man’s passions dominate him though they are useless passions, in this regard.

    And yet your interprtation is this: “In other words, when you don’t believe in God, life is meaningless.”

    When really it means that belief in God is meaningless. Satre may also think that there no meaning to life, in the sense that the religious assert that meaning comes from God.

    All meaning that is brought to life is what individual humans bring to their own lives, and is entirely contextual in that it depends on their inherited and socially developed character. Meaning may also change as a result of changes to one’s understanding. I can see, as a psychological phenomenon, and hence a biological, phyisological, phyisical brain phenomenon, that for a Christian who has built up these false passions the prospect of there being no God must seem daunting. And I can see how some atheists find the nihilism unbearable, so that characters like Neitzche, who may be unstable already, appear to suffer both from the nausia that the threat of submission to a god must induce, and from the apparent bleakness of atheism. Some atheist can’t bear the loneliness, or the lack of certain answers, and turn to faith in desperation.

    So, I can see why you interpret this in the biased indoctrinated way you do. You can’t help it. You do not have free will and are unable to consider rational alternatives that might be better explanations. You go only where your brain leads you. Your passions are ruling your rationality just as Satre describes. You are prime evidence that supports Satre’s point.

    But that’s just my reading of the Satre quote you provide and your interpretation of it.

  109. Ron Murphy,

    The statements that “God is meaningless” and “God is contradictory” is consistent with the concept of an infinite being in metaphysics (God). An infinite being is a pure act of existence without any limiting essence.

    This is another way of expressing the concept of God: You exist and I exist and I am not you and you are not me is also a basic proposition in metaphysics. God is a real being that is not like this: totally other.

    What difference does it make if God is a real being or just a mental being? The decision that has to be made is whether or not God has communicated himself to mankind? Why would a rational and knowledgable person argue about the existence of God.

    As for your interpretation of the statment, “Man is a useless passion,” I think you are dreaming.

  110. David,

    They are also consistent with there being no God, multiple gods or Santa Claus. The point isn’t what you can make them compatible with but what is a rational interpretation given what you know about the character using those terms.

    “God is a real being that is not like this: totally other.”

    So you assert, but I reject.

    “What difference does it make if God is a real being or just a mental being?”

    Ontology? Metaphysics? Reality? Imagination? Right? Wrong? Bollocks? Take your pick.

    “The decision that has to be made is whether or not God has communicated himself to mankind?”

    Well, if you think he has, and he is only a mental construct then you are merely talking to yourself; which is what has been thought about conversations with God for some time, by atheists and by some atheistic-theologians.

    “As for your interpretation of the statement, “Man is a useless passion,” I think you are dreaming.”

    No you don’t. You just don’t realise that you don’t. Your intuitive indoctrinated religious self is dominating your rational self to make you come up with statements like that. More evidence that you don’t have free will, for why would you freely choose to be irrational?

    See, it’s easy to come up with tripe to counter your tripe.

  111. David: God is totally other from finite beings.

    Ron: So you assert, but I reject.

    It is reasonable to reject this if the question is whether or not God has inspired the Western prophets and Eastern mystics. However, it is unreasonable to reject this in the context of a discussion about metaphysics. Metaphysics is a method of inquiry that stands alongside science. According to metaphysics, an infinite being exists. It is like knowing Newton’s laws of motion.

    In physics, how intelligent a person is only affects how long it takes them to grasp Newton’s laws. Metaphysics, however, is related to religion, and religion causes conflict between people. Conflict produces anxiety, and inhibition is a defense mechanism for anxiety. In metaphysics, people are inhibited from thinking intelligently and rationally. They have blind spots and are biased. The main blind spot atheists have is over free will. They literally can’t grasp the idea that a human being is a mystery. The only concepts they grasp are materialism and dualism.

  112. David,

    I was being facetious; merely simply asserting that I reject it, without explanation, in response to your simplistic assertions.

    In the context of metaphysics it remains a claim, one way or another, whether God exists or not. The many alternative explanations about reality beyond the edges of our knowledge all compete as metaphysical speculations without evidence. They may be interesting as entertaining speculations, or even philosophical possibilities, but are pointless as belief systems. Anything you think you know about God is invented in your own mind or inspired by the inventions of other minds.

    “In metaphysics, people are inhibited from thinking intelligently and rationally. ”

    No they are not. You can rationally construct ideas, imaginative possibilities, about metaphysics. It only becomes irrational when you choose one of them as a belief system that guides your whole life. Religion is metaphysical speculation gone mad.

    “The main blind spot atheists have is over free will.”

    The main blind spot theists have is over free will.

    These assertions are easy. I’ve given you plenty of examples that imply we don’t have free will, and you have given nothing to show we have.

    “They literally can’t grasp the idea that a human being is a mystery.”

    I can. Mystery is a fairly simple concept. I merely disagree with you that a human being is the mystery you think it is. Have you missed the last few centuries of biological progress, evolution, medicine, neuroscience and their more recent explosive expansion of understanding? Are you making a God of the gaps claim, or an argument from incredulity? Are you saying that because we don’t know all there is to know we therefore know nothing? Being a ‘mystery’, when stated so simply, seems to imply total mystery; but that is obviously far from being the case. That there remain some unknowns, some specific mysteries, is not at all the same as using the term ‘mystery’ in such an equivocating way.

  113. David: They literally can’t grasp the idea that a human being is a mystery.

    Ron: I can. Mystery is a fairly simple concept. I merely disagree with you that a human being is the mystery you think it is.

    Between you and me it is a disagreement. But with other people there is an intelligence failure. The following quote is from a biology textbook used by 65% of biology majors in the U.S.:

    “And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive.” (Campbell, Biology, 4th edition, p. 776 )

  114. It’s like watching a dog fight.

    Believers and non-believers have different sets or standards as to what they will accept as proof, and in fact, do share some standards.

    I think iot boils down to choice, one chooses to believe, while another does not.

    Define mystery, that might help. Is man a mystery? I am pretty sure, I know my wife of 43 years is. Sometimes you go with the flow.

    I saw FOX News was having a neurologist on the other day, who finally decided there had to be a God, but to be honest, I didn’t watch it, I already see what Aquinas wrote, and agreed with him. For me, it was sufficient reasoning.

    I just finished an article on morality on the American Catholic Philosophic Association website on morality, Husserl was quoted repeatedly.

  115. TimFord,

    There are some pretty clear and common standards:

    Humans cannot know anything with certainty. All proofs are part of a closed system. In maths the closed sytem has assumed axioms. In philosophical arguments, and general logical arguments, there are assumptions. Science can use both. But always there are questionable assumptions. And if you want certainty in an argument or proof you must justify those assumptions. This then begs futher proof of the assumptions, and so on.

    Instead of asking for certainty we can look for degrees of support, evidence.

    We can use both methods, but typically logical proof is used to organise our ideas and lead from one step to the next. And evidence is used to support assumptions that cannot be proved. Otherwise the assumptions are no better than guesses.

    All this is pretty standard in science and philosophy, though of course there’s no guarantee these guidelines are followed.

    And they are discarded intentionally in theology.

    It’s not that theology does not use proof. It often does. The problem always lies with the assumptions. The most common is the presupposition of God. All theology requires that you accept this presupposition before you can even get started with any theology. The methodology is as follows. First presuppose, without any evidence, God. Then add further claims about God’s nature and his intentions, which typically focus on us humans. Next write holy books and other documents, or in the early stages rely on spoken stories, in order to spread the ideas. If the holy books aren’t enough develop much contortionist logic to make it look like all this is an obvious certainty – proofs are handy here but notvessential. Finally, offer these fictional documents and theological theories as evidence for the presupposed God. This is all done with such a romantic flurish, and with much vague and equivocating language that bamboozles anyone who isn’t prepared to call out this fakery. It may be circular but the bigger the cicle the better as there is more chance the follower won’t notice they’ve passed the same point many times.

    I f it looks like the theolgy is being seriously challenged try the following.

    1) Invoke the offence defence, and shout it out. A current favourite in Islam.

    2) Question the morality of your critics, suggesting that their very disbelief is evidence of their immorality.

    3) Claim untouchable, unobservable, immaterial powers, such as sensus divinitatis, or maybe simple unfalsifiable personal revelation.

    4) Appeal to God’s ineffability and hope no one notices that you know an awful lot about an ineffable being.

    5) If things look really bleak start to define your God into a virtual non-existance. This is a tricky move, since you are in danger flipping from an atheistic theist into an actual atheist without you actually noticing, while your critics spot it easily. Embarrassing, unless you fein, or actually believe, you know what you’re talking about. A cassoc, white beard and bushy eyebrows can help pull off the gravitas for this – The ABC loved this tecnique. But be warned, you are only fooling yourself and other believers – but maybe that’s all that matters. Being right might not be as important as being believed by the right people.

    6) If you’re not too confident with logic simply make bold unevidenced and irrational assertions. The more often you make them and the more irratiobal the more you can maintain your own belief. It doesn’t matter if you look a total fool. You won’t notice and your lack of logic will protect from reasoned explanations of your faults. If you’re lucky your opponent will be so dismayed at the mountain of irrationality they mus surmount there’s a chance they’ll walk away and you can claim victory and truth. Literalism helps as an excuse for inane claims – Young Eart Creationists have this sorted.

    7) Declare it as an issue of faith. It does not matter that this amounts to making unevidenced unreasoned presuppositions since that’s how you started with your presupposition of God. It didn’t matter then so why should it now.

    8) If it all becomes too much simply agree to disagree, even though this is a one sided agreement. Alternatively appeal to work pressures, death of you pet hamster or any other reason for excusing yourself from further discussion. Go into retreat for a few days, forget all the sceptical arguments and come out refreshed and fighting as if none of the above ever happened. Even if you’ve crossed swords with the same person on some previous post, or even earlier on a long list of comments, act as if it’s all fresh.

    Of course all this is what you should not do in serious science and philosophy. But that’s not a problem for the theist because youbwork to different standards. When does it become apprent that theological standards for belief are abysmally poor?

  116. My, that seems extreme, a little/

    Of course, we have fallible and undeveloped intellects, that are strongly affected by emotion.

    Secular logic has application in metaphysics and theology, yet not always, because we are looking at what is infinite, described by the finite. Our senses are limited, and in those cases when God is experienced, it is almost impossible to describe using the limitations of our language.

    Science isn’t the answer, for each “discovery” has around a 4 to 7 year acceptance. Yet, we in philosophy, have let the sciences reduce us to word manipulations, and they have pushed us aside.

    I belong to several sites for philosophers, they are quite different in their interaction.

    It is not a lack of verifiable phenomena or evidence for me, I have what my expectations require. I also do not fear atheism, which provides me with much enjoyable reading.

    But I am a man of practicability, if a line of philosophical thought does not explain the questions of life, then I discard it as games playing. Take Kant, I have read much of his writings, and found him to have made a few good points, but not many.

    Philosophy seems not to be a discussion of where we meet have have commonality, but rather as points of arguments. This does nothing for philosophy.

    Science can only give us partial knowledge and understanding of the universe, while philosophy can go so much deeper. Science can also not give us understanding of the good life and a good society. Science can give us no intelligible objects of thought, as can philosophy, and philosophy can wire all the intellectual disciplines together. This is what I believe philosophy should do.

    Would I trade my beliefs and Christian philosophy for your beliefs and thoughts? No, not for all the tea in China nor for all the gold in Mike Tyson’s mouth. I have never found that the standards for theology were abysmally poor, but rather rich. Most of us Christian philosophers share that idea. We know about your objections, but find them to be lacking.

    Is it any wonder (to many of us) that philosophy is in such a poor regarded state? Not on my other sites.

    I had a scholarship at the university for philosophy, that I walked away from, the program was a joke, I know two other department chairs, and they both told me that philosophy there was a disaster. I found it to be true.

    My experience is positive now, you may assign to me whatever pejorative explanations that are usually uttered by those who vehemently oppose what we know as truth. I think you have a strong opinion about theology, which is fine, but but at least I read and studied Kant before I criticized him.

    I could be stupid, but I did pass the MENSA exam years ago (never joined), have 2 degrees, qualified for a third, and am working on another Master’s in Philosophy. Wisdom is more than the accumulation of facts, But I am often wrong. My assumption is that youi think I am wrong now.

    Its ok.

  117. TimFord,

    Though I didn’t make it explicit my comments don’t all apply to individual theists. They were offered ad a range of methods I’ve seen used. Intelligence is no bar to being wrong, for theists, philosophers or scientists. But the point of science is to compensate for our flaws. Theology is more interested in affirmation of what is already believed, and faith is the pinnacle of this flawed methodology.

    Your point about the duration of scientific knowledge is nearly right. Most ideas do not get refuted and discarded but changed and enhanced. What else would be expected from progress. And progress actually requires change.

    “Science can only give us partial knowledge and understanding of the universe, while philosophy can go so much deeper.” – I could not disagree more. Philosophy can be used to raise questions, but by what methodology does it discover anything? It can propose possibilities, but cannot confirm or falsify them.

    Science over the last century has presented us with so much that has been unexpected and pretty much unimaginable. No philosophy or theology has come close the the weirdness or the detail or the complexity of observed nature. How far from the simple Greek atoms are actual atoms and all their quantum strangeness? How much more interesting and multifaceted is the human brain compared to the soul, or even the mind? Could Descartes have imagined neurons, action potentials, neurotransmitters, and all the physical biology that makes our character?

    Human brains are pretty imaginative, but we seem only able to imagine things that are at least something like our experience. So God is like some super natural person, with the flawed material mortal body removed? And created existence, like all human artefacts, must be created from something? Philosphy and theology are far more limited by what human minds can imagine than what we actually observe in nature.

    Secular logic is just logic. Available to all. As is science. Reason and experience are what humans do. We can do it naturally well or naturally badly, or we can enhance it with methodologies and instruments that demonstrate their own improvement over bare individual intellect, by results. There is not the slightest contest between the productivity of science compared to that of philosophy or theology.

    “Yet, we in philosophy, have let the sciences reduce us to word manipulations, and they have pushed us aside.” – and philosophy isn’t that good with words. I’ve far more useful and interesting information from the linguistics, psychology and cognitive science of Steven Pinker that the verbal gymnastics of Wittgenstein.

    ” Would I trade my beliefs and Christian philosophy for your beliefs and thoughts? No…”

    Why? What grips you to it? As someone being as committed as you are I’d genuinely like to know what your response is to my complaint that theology stands completely on the presupposition of God with no reason to make the presupposition. For example, many theists see the very existence of the world and ourselves as direct evidence for God, but you really do have to presuppose a God to do all the magical creation. There is no reason to presuppose God over any of the countless possible explanations of what we observe. We don’t know the first thing about universe creation, so why commit to that one rather anthropomorphic concept?

    ” … by those who vehemently oppose what we know as truth”

    How do you know that what you know is the truth?

    ” Wisdom is more than the accumulation of facts”

    I would agree. I would think wisdom is using our faculties in the best way we can that compensates for the flaws we know we have, so that the facts we do accumulate are the best we can do at the time. That’s the intent of science. Theology seems intent on using the very faculties we know are flawed in precisely the ways in which we know they are fallible. What possibly comends faith? It seems not to matter how much evidence for religious belief is lacking, or how much evidence opposes theological ideas, faith ensures belief persists in spite of it.

  118. “Why? What grips you to it? As someone being as committed as you are I’d genuinely like to know what your response is to my complaint that theology stands completely on the presupposition of God with no reason to make the presupposition. For example, many theists see the very existence of the world and ourselves as direct evidence for God, but you really do have to presuppose a God to do all the magical creation. There is no reason to presuppose God over any of the countless possible explanations of what we observe. We don’t know the first thing about universe creation, so why commit to that one rather anthropomorphic concept?”

    Because I have seen and heard. I know I am the only one who can judge these things, not Hegel, not Spinoza, R%and, or anyone is qualified to tell me what. In fact, on the opposite end, that’s not the reason I think you should believe.

    I don’t thump Bibles, memorize verses, but I have learned that what is in your heart, there your treasure is.

    Who are the heroes of atheism or non-believers? Do they have someone equal to Aquinas, Francis, Basil, or thousands and thousands of others. who have believed, some were simple folk, others were quite educated, yet they lived and died for this Christ. That is the real final test of belief, is it not?

    What are you willing to die for? I can name a few, children, wife, country, but most of all, faith. I might even die to save a neighbor, or someone I didn’t know, because there is no higher act. Even Socrates took the poison rather than be exiled.

    Does your wisdom ask and answer the pressing question of mankind? Mine do.

    And I am not too fond of Wittgenstein, but do not remember why I formed that opinion. Philosophy seems to draw extremists, and crackpots. Maybe seeing truth drives them mad.

    Justa few thoughts….

    An old crackpot.

  119. TimFord,

    ” That is the real final test of belief, is it not?”

    It is a test of belief, but not of the truth of the content of belief. Evidence that they are distinct is the variety of belief that has equal committment. Jesus is divine to Christians but a mere mortal prophet to Muslims, with equal commitment.

    ” I have learned that what is in your heart, there your treasure is.”

    The cryptic language does aid clarity. What does this actually mean? It sounds merely that what feel is true is of most value to you. But that would not make it true, orvevidenced.

    In Aquinus I see an itellect that is committed by faith and that uses the intellect to affirm the faith not challenge it. Of course theology and old philosophy has had millennia in which to progress, but has moved us on little – and that’s why Greek philosophy is still so important now, in philosophical circles. But science is still relatively young and includes many greats like Newton who still didn’t have enough to challenge persuasive theology had he wanted to. Not until Darwin did we start to come upon science that challenged the divine specialness of man. In Hume’s time atheism had only atheistic philosophy to oppose theological philosophy.

    In rhetoric Hithchens could make mincemeat of all theological arguments. There are many scientists that get on with the science and bypass all theism as pointless and see no need to or merit in giving it credit of attention. But if you want a pragmatic source that chokes all theological notions of mind and soul I would strongly recomend “Incognito – the secret lives of the brain”, by David Eagleman. It isn’t completely original, but it is a most compact explanation of the evidence that challenges theological and philosophical notions of mind, self, free will, culpability. Where it is most original is in Eagleman’s challenge to our current views on justice, blame and criminality. Knowing what we do about the brain it makes a mockery of the inadequacy of traditional views of morality.

    Don’t let the pragmatic and direct nature of scientific prose fool you. The value of the directness, the avoidence of vagueness and equivocation (as in ” I have learned that what is in your heart, there your treasure is”) is that it is intended to be understood and not intended to invoke the emotively persuasive but uninformative mystery common in religous language.

    ” What are you willing to die for?…”

    I don’t see that this paragraph tells us anything about belief. It is all about character, neurobiology. I really do suggest you try Eagleman’s book because it explains a lot of this. It’s not just that the science provides positive evidence for a fresh approach to viewing the mind, but there is the complete absence of counter evidence.

    ” Maybe seeing truth drives them mad.”

    Maybe their madness (see Eagleman for a better appreciation of the inadequacy of such terms) or rather their neural nature prevents them seeing the truth, or as much truth that evidence can muster. Committment to theological or philosophical dogma seems to be a natural neurological condition – and I mean condition as to not imply illness or abnormality. The natural brain variety can explain all sorts of conditions that are traditionally thought to be freely willed bad behaviour.

  120. I read Hitchens, and thought (with a minimum of human respect) they were sophomoric.

    Also, I think that a willingness to die is more than just for faith. In combat, soldiers are known to throw themselves on grenades, not because they believed in God. I think it is about belief, occasionally about character that is stimulated by belief, that brings men to such great sacrifice.

    We will just have to agree to disagree, so many people came out of Christianity, to achieve greatness, it is hard to compare any other religion with the same record.

    I will be offline for 2 days, working on a paper on Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, and then introducing Aristotle as the basis on which Thomas Aquinas based his philosophy and theology.

    Pax tecum….

  121. TimFord,

    The implication from your view that Hitchens is sophomoric seems typical of a religious view that sees greater depth and sophistication in the vaguer poetic imprecise equivocating language of theology. But still with the presupposition that there is something divine worth being poetic and vague about and never any reason given why that presupposition should be taken seriously.

    “I think it is about belief, occasionally about character that is stimulated by belief”

    But the evidence is that belief is stimulated by neurons that we are not in control of. The evidence is very clear on that. There is no evidence, beyond the introspective feeling, that we are a single unified self and plenty of evidence that we are multiple brain parts interacting, only part of which is the subjective conscious part that we think is making decisions. It’s the deeper brain that stimulates belief that the conscious brain thinks it is coming to of its own accord, and in some makes them do brave acts and in others doesn’t. There are some brains that cannot believe and some that are driven to, and it’s all brain biology at work with all the influences that drive it. Not a hint of free will decisions. But brains are plastic and are changeable. This not only results in believers losing their faith and atheists becoming believers, depending on influences, but also results in criminals doing what they do. The neuroscience on all this is leaving philosophy and theology behind. You seem to sense this in some of your critiques of philosophy but seem oblivious to the criticisms of theology.

    “so many people came out of Christianity, to achieve greatness, it is hard to compare any other religion with the same record.”

    This is an unbelievably colloquial Western European perspective. There’s a whole history of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and many earlier cultures that have achieved greatness in spite of the fact that they had so little to work with. They existed in times with much smaller populations where an even smaller proportion where able to educate themselves to the extent that even the humblest poorest person can do now. They lacked the better communication that grew with larger populations, the rise of books to spread ideas that were in place in Europe as Christianity took hold. Europeans were lucky enough to come out the Dark Ages of heightened superstition and religious quackery thanks to the continued progress in early science maths and philosophy of the Muslim world, which then went into its own dark ages and has yet to cast of the stifling hold of religion that Europe started to achieve as the Renaissance and then the Enlightenment started to drive religion from its dominance of human lives. That many great men were religious was coincidental on the times they lived in and the domination of the church.

    Most achievements that have advanced our culture have been in direct opposition to religious doctrine, or at least consistent with it to the extent that theists can pass religion off as being consistent with science. But always it’s the theism that is retreating, and it has never challenged scientific discoveries. The only challenge to science is always better science. It’s a one way street. Theists now are telling us nothing that wasn’t known to the likes of Aquinas. His greatness in religious opinion comes from the static nature of religion that still sees his ideas as one of the pinnacles of religious thought; but his theological ideas are hopeless in the eyes of those that can see through the underlying unsupported presuppositions that he relies on. There is a more literal sense in which theology is sophomoric, in that it remains the thought that is based on unsupported naive presuppositions of the requirement of the supernatural to explain what we cannot explain in science. It remains God of the gaps theology, and as science closes more of the gaps so theology retreats to a wonderland of nebulous language abuse that can’t be deciphered by clear and critical thought. I would still like to know the literal meaning of “I have learned that what is in your heart, there your treasure is.”

    The earliest challenges to the fakery of theology had to be careful in their approach because of the domination and stifling oppression of religion. You only have to look at the many examples of the oppressiveness of the Catholic church and its institutions, from the mental and often physical abuse of unmarried mothers, even to the simple pleasure of Catholic nuns in schools abusing their charges with punishments for imagined sins. The record between different Christian sects isn’t at all pretty. The superstition of the Catholic church is still evident: it’s easy declaration of miracles, it’s failure to debunk the nonsense that is Jesus on slices of toast, or in the effects of light on church windows, or on weeping Madonnas – this is Christianity today. Or is it the inane atheistic Christianity of Pete Rollins? Or the work of Spong? Or the Evangelical Americans? Or the Mormons? Or the Scientologists? There is so much utter conflict of ideas in the Christian world alone I simply can’t see how you can make the point you do about Christianity as if it is one glorious monumental whole. There’s just as much division between branches of Christianity as there is between Christianity and other religions. It’s a mess scientifically, philosophically and even theologically. The religious highs aren’t that high because it’s a very low bar of achievement; and the lows are despicably low. I’d still like to know on what grounds the very notion of faith is not an abysmally poor idea from the perspective of critical thinking.

    My question about the presupposition of God went unanswered and still stands. You quoted my question but all I could see as a specific response was “Because I have seen and heard. I know I am the only one who can judge these things” which seems a declaration that you have made your mind up and its unchangeable no matter what evidence or argument is presented. This doesn’t sound particularly philosophically inquisitive. You may have valid criticism of philosophy in academia, but I wonder to what extent they are driven also by your own pre-convictions to what you already believe. To what extent is it philosophy’s failure to agree with your belief that is the problem? Your position, from your words, seems final and intransigently fixed by prior belief.

    I suppose you might think the same of me. But I ask the question about the presupposition of God in all sincerity. I am open to reason and evidence. But I ask for it and all I get is religious platitudes. Is it not the case that God must be presupposed to provide a foundation for all religious belief? If it is then why is God presupposed? If not can you give me any reason or evidence that would support a belief in God that is not already built on the presupposition of God.

    The Bible, as one example, is built from the selected writings from early Christianity. It seems clear that it is the work of men. It cannot therefore be used as evidence for God. Unless of course it the various writings were actually inspired by God or acts of God. One then has to question why only some sources were selected for inclusion; how it was decided which bits were divinely inspired and which were not – decisions made by men. Where these men divinely inspired to make the right choices? Whatever the divine inspiration that is claimed to have occurred of course needs there to be a God to do the divine inspiring. And of course any claim within the Bible that it is the word of God is such clear and obvious fakery that manages to fool so many people the Muslims thought it was a good idea to use the same trick in the Quran. Why does a holy book that declares its own holiness persuade the gullible so easily? Or, more to the point, why are humans so gullible?

    The answers to that are quite well understood by the brain sciences, which conveniently theists tend to ignore as they clutch the ancient ideas of self and free will and soul that don’t stand up with even a cursory consideration of the complexity of the brain and its behaviour. Our biases, our addictions, our inner conflicts, are all accounted for with clear evidence. What religion sees as inner demons turns out to be on the right track, though not for the theological magic of the immaterial and supernatural, but because the brain is a collection of interacting parts that often conflict. The conscious introspective self is the subjective bit that we most obviously experience, but that’s only a small apart of the story, and is not the source of anywhere near as much as we would like to believe – and this can be demonstrated.

  122. Congratulations Ron Murphy – Nice piece! You’ve produced a powerful and, in places, an (excusably) emotional essay that nails the key points. Probably neither of us is holding our breath in anticipation of a coherent riposte.

    In such discussions, I find I return to the argument that ‘exceptional claims require exceptional proof’. That is a demand (self evidently) never met by the religionists. And the critical part of exceptional proof is getting the religionists to accept that mere testimony is simply not adequate given what they’re claiming. The ‘between the ears’ aspects of the ‘reasons’ for faith are one thing (I come from a research bioscience background and take the relevant neuroscience, genetics, developmental biology, psychology, endocrinology and toxicology as ‘read’). But the religionists persist in claiming material world ‘proofs’ of their faith, the whole rag bag of phenomena interpreted as divine interventions in the physical world, miraculous cures, militarily or personally convenient storms, or ends of storms, water-wine conjuring tricks, dead men walking, near death experiences and the like. So where is the equally real-world, witness independent evidence? Why are we so short of what (for shorthand we might call) ‘video’ evidence? Why have the once compelling zap-pow burning bushes and Red Sea partings fallen away precisely when near-universal gullibility was itself falling to emerging rationality? In short, why haven’t any of the several Almighties on offer up their game and given a decent, Hollywood-shaming ‘display’.

    And why are the divine intervention claims of ‘other’ religions discounted so that the one that was indoctrinated in childhood (P>0.999) allegedly trumps all? As you remarked, Ron, the religions of (eg) Rome, Greece, China, Japan, Egypt, India were (and are) cultural baggage for societies that each, nevertheless, have contributed hugely to the sum of real human knowledge and wisdom. They can’t all the be ‘right’ (as they each claim of themselves, theologically). The only reasonable conclusion, as Herman Bondi argued, is that they’re all wrong.

    PS Dogs are clearly agents, but not moral agents. (But there was that story of the elephant being hanged for murder on the western side of the ‘pond’ … and not so long ago! …)

  123. Tim
    I wonder if you are familiar with Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA)
    cf Wikipedia It is an interesting viewpoint. I am not suggesting it as a solution to our problems and it has come in for severe criticism at times. At best it is a thought provoking concept which so far as I am concerned to some extent supports my feeling that Religion and Science has little, if any. common ground for a fruitful discussion as to how things are, or might be.

  124. DrCaffeine,

    Thanks for dragging this back to the OP – dog morality. I suppose my main objection to dog morality is driven by the extent to which we don’t fully understand the biological drivers of human morality, so trying to identify dog morality when it’s suspect in humans and when dogs have little of the social and cultural mental experience of humans seems a non-starter.

    I would refer again to the Eagleman book (“Incognito – the secret lives of the brain”, by David Eagleman) and all the examples it contains that knock old philosophical ideas about the self out of the ring. I can’t see any evidence for human moral notions like evil that are not mere linguistic social constructs that we use to label and categorise behaviours, badly. Eagleman goes on toward the end of the book to look at the prospects for changing the way the justice system works in the light of all this evidence. Contra to many complaints about neuroscience and justice from some philosophers and theologians it does not include appealing to brain science to get killers off the hook, and does not propose to stop locking up various types of offenders. But it does make us take a fresh look at dealing with the great variety of brains that make humans as varied as they are. We are too quick to identify sin and to look for retribution.

    There remain the social and political issues of who gets to decide what is acceptable behaviour. This is not the point of the book. But it does help us understand what is going on in brains so that we can better stop criminals reoffending and provide better institutions for changing the brains of criminals, once we have decided that some act is criminal. The phrase ‘changing the brains of criminals’ sounds a little too much like eugenics or brain washing for some people. But we change the brains of everyone we meet by interacting with them. The book gives a very clear picture of how our brains change quite naturally from all sorts of influences, and there is little room for the simplistic notion of their being a singular free willed self.

    There are plenty of books by neuroscientists that refer to many of the same examples that demonstrate how unsatisfactory traditional notions of the self are. But this one is particular well joined up and does deal with morality, or at least how we might deal with culpability. I would be interested to hear from philosophers that have read it. Do they think it does challenge traditional philosophical and theological ideas or not? Given that philosophers use their brains to think philosophical thoughts, does the book give them any insight that might change their opinions on what neuroscience can tell us about the self, compared to what philosophy has been telling us, and even more, about how to think?

    I’m aware that my opinions are biased towards the science, but I genuinely can’t see what philosophy offers when talking about the brain and the self that isn’t better considered from a better understanding of the brain.

    In this context Dog morality seems to be naïve and irrelevant.

  125. “PS Dogs are clearly agents, but not moral agents.”

    Another alternative is that we are aiming our sights too high in regards to our expectations of what a moral agent is. Mike gives a number of examples of dogs having, at least some version, of pack morality. Maybe that’s just it. There are different levels of morality and depending on what your capabilities are, that determines how moral you could possibly be.

    It seems likely that dogs are incapable of our level of self awareness and intelligence. But it is very clear, though, that there is some level of these things. Those curb your expectations accordingly.

    A toddler has little concept of justice, or right and wrong. We don’t expect them to act as morally as an adult might. However, we will applaud a toddler who willingly shares her toys with a mate. Conversely, if our toddler does not share her toys, we certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call the child immoral.

    My point being, maybe morality looks slightly different for different beings.

  126. I looked at the site, you are joking? We know science has discoveries that last only a few years.

    To me it is like exchanging the infinite God for the image of a cow that eats grass.

    Maybe it works for some.

    Incidentally, I while looking at this concept, I came across the famous psychologist Paul Vitz, who addresses where atheists usually come from psychologically.

    That was interesting.

    Still think that morality requires more than dogs have.

  127. TimFord,

    What infinite God? It seems like exchanging a totally imaginary friend for an uncertain changing but perspective on reality that actually makes progress. Was it prayer that solved the smallpox problem or science? When flying in a plane would you contemplate telling the safety engineers not to bother checking the plane because you have faith it will get to its destination safely? How many dead passengers in fatal plane crashes prayed on the way down? Newton’s laws got man to the moon, not Newton’s prayers.

    Again, why presuppose there is a God?

    Well of course atheists come from somewhere psychologically. It’s not as if I’m claiming the evidence from neuroscience is only about the brain damaged and the religious – though they are (… never mind). The whole point is all of us have our behaviour determined by our brains and how they interact with the body and wider environment. Science compensates for that personal problem by methodologies that are publicly verifiable and susceptible to criticisms and improvement. What you seem to perceive as the limitations of science apply to us all. There is no free pass to enlightenment for the religious that obviates the need to do the work to understand reality.

    Of all the philosophical departments you had a problem with did any of them propose that just believing stuff without either evidence or proof is a good idea? Did any of them promote faith as a good methodology? Was critical thinking off the agenda altogether because you can come to a better understanding through the heart?

  128. Tim,

    “We know science has discoveries that last only a few years…To me it is like exchanging the infinite God for the image of a cow that eats grass.”

    What floors me is the lack of reverence that some religious types have for progress. For a reason I cannot understand, people sometimes think that the fact that scientific findings change, alter, or become outdated is reason to discredit science as a field. Ron mentions this as well, but that is a ridiculous notion. Science’s strength is that it is adaptable, that is what makes it work. That’s why it succeeds.

    Longevity is not necessarily a virtue of knowledge. It sometimes is, but more often is not.

  129. Ah, the sacred cows of science!

    Having worked in the scientific field for 42 years, I am not so impressed with science, which is just getting started.

    The problem with science is that it cannot give answers about the good life. So much of what has been discovered ends up, if possible, as part of the military industrial complex.

    I have been to animal testing centers that work to alleviate human pain and suffering.

    Science can give some answer to observable phenomena, as far as we can tell, but science cannot give us the answers that are most pressing.

    Steak, anyone?

  130. TimFord,

    The sacred cows of science, not to be confused with the sacred cows, and all the other idols of religion. Your metaphor comes out of a literal meaning that does religion no credit.

    “The problem with science is that it cannot give answers about the good life. ”

    Nor can religion. Maybe that’s because ‘the good life’ is just one more of those nebulous but meangless concepts favoured by religion and philosophy. It’s non-specific and could mean anything to anyone. To a glutten eating youself to death might be considered a good life. Your presumption that ‘the good life’ is sufficiently meangfull to have any ‘answer’ isn’t convincing.

    “So much of what has been discovered ends up, if possible, as part of the military industrial complex.”

    If it does then that’s an issue for the politicians. Remember that Bush and Blair and many of the conservative right were very keen to impose their God given righteousness on the world, while make money from arms for their friends. The religious are just as much involved in the mikitary industrial complex as anyone. If anything there is a correlation that exist whereby the liberal left is more generally anti-military and non-religious, though of course their are plenty of gentle left wing religious peacenicks too. The use and abuse of science is not directly related to the difference between theological versus scientific methodologies for determining knowledge. But Blair simply ‘believed’ he was doing the right thing, and Bush was known to consult his gut. To be fair to Bush the gut does contain another autonomous nervous system, though based on observations of Bush there is no clue to its intelligence.

    “I have been to animal testing centers that work to alleviate human pain and suffering.” – The point being?

    “Science can give some answer to observable phenomena, as far as we can tell, but science cannot give us the answers that are most pressing.”

    What was more pressing than smallpox? What pressing questions of health has penecilin answered? And the whole getm theory? And the identification of and contribution to genetic disorder questions? What pressing answers has religion not provided, because the questions have been pressing fo millennia? I think you are appealing to your own romantic view of religion and failing to acknowledge how science has changed our very short and precarious lives into relatively long and healthy ones.

    It’s not all falure for religion. Hostels for unmarried mothers, even if the latter do attract abusive priests, have provided some respite, though ironically from persecution from religion in the first place, while waiting for science to provide real answers, like contraception, which again suffers from persecution from religion. Even in the good religion does there’s a sting in the tail.

  131. Tim,

    Science also wont tell me what my favorite movie is. Math wont give me any answers regarding why the sky is blue. Certain methods and areas of study only give us certain sorts of answers. So your argument that science doesn’t provide an answer to what the good life is, is unconvincing. Religion cannot give answers as to how a bone heals, or why the earth quakes. Science can. And does.

    No one said science would tell us what “the good life” is. Rather, that science can provide a much more reliable explanation for the world around us than religion can.

  132. To Ben and Ron

    I am amazed, because since I used the phrase, it is used in the manner I intended, which was tongue-in-cheek.

    What amazes me most about atheists, is their desire to destroy what give meaning. Perhaps the great atheist, Marx, in ridding his country of believers was more noble and moral than I give him credit for. Perhaps the great atheist Hitler was correct in saying it was ok to kill a Jewish man, woman, or child, for any reason.

    Yet my theism teaches love and forgiveness.

    I have no need or desire to destroy the sacred cows of atheism. The question was decided and continues to be decided by men of deep thought and conviction.

    I just finished a book on Dawkins’ the God Delusion review. It was observed that the book, in 400 pages, demonstrated that Dawkins was ignorant of what he was attacking.

    Now, I don’t care, atheism, to me, is a vicious belief system chosen by its adherents, who exist to attack what they fear.

    Now, I could be wrong, but honestly, I don’t care what atheism teaches, I cannot take such a angry and offensive belief system seriously. I enjoy reading it for a respite, because I find it light reading, and dare I say, humorous? OK, I am not perfect!

    I do not mean to be offensive, but your comments mean nothing to me. I would rather concentrate on Aquinas, Maritain, Gilson, Augustine, Bede, and modern Catholic or other modern Christian philosophers.

    Honestly, tell me, who really cares about atheism?

    I belong to other sites which show great learning and achievement. Science is fallible, and daily we learn new things, but they give only a few answers.

    Is it necessary to have religion teach us how a bone heals? No, Truth is, people just want it healed, they usually do not want the details. Only orthopedic surgeons are concerned with understanding how a bone heals, that’s why they make the money they do.

    One of my good friends is a scientist at Sandia Labs, a member of Opus Dei. Talk about a brilliant scientist, yet he does not ascribe to science what does not belong to science. He is a man who keeps everything in perspective, and doesn’t go running off to make an announcement to the world, that they have made a new observation.

  133. TimFord,

    “… most about atheists, is their desire to destroy what give meaning”

    That seems like quite a negative view when what most are trying to get at is how the world works, including how brains work – and atheists and theists alike have brains. The challenged posed by atheists to theists is to explain how and why they believe what they do when if all seems so arbitrary, unevidenced. The intent isn’t to destroy meaning at all but to establish what the religious mean by their words, which includes trying to pin them down on what they mean.

    If I see no evidence for a God, and no explanation why one should presuppose one, and plenty of evidence that contradicts much about what the religious claim, then isn’t it reasonable, in a philosophical discussion, to try to be as thorough as possible, present what evidence there is and explain how I see it contradicting religious claims? Isn’t this what philosophy is about? Surely it’s got nothing to do with going out of one’s way to avoid asking question in case they offend.

    Now it may turn out that after much discourse on many occasions one sees a pattern of what seem like irrational rebuttals and refusals to engage further. So what is wrong with pointing out those problems? Straight answers are never forthcoming. What is commendable about faith as a means of inquiry? Why presuppose God? How do you know what you claim to know about God and his works? What faculties are you using that other humans don’t seem to have? If you claim some other faculty how to you verify it’s telling you what you think it is?

    When you’ve made these enquiries many times and have been given no answers but only platitudes then it seems reasonable to ask more assertively and directly because the evasive answers seem meaningless. It’s hard to destroy meaning when you find none. Perhaps it’s the religious perception that sees these attempts to get to the bottom of what is believed and why it is believed as destructive. Well if it is then it is. Scientists are having their ideas challenged all the time. Philosophers put a lot of effort into critical thinking in order to avoid errors. Theologians seem intent on ignoring these hard earned methodologies of testing and reasoning and want only to affirm their belief. It may be more comforting to bury your head in your religion, but don’t you see that as problematic to the business of inquiry?

    Theism may teach love and forgiveness, but there’s plenty of evidence of the religious not practicing what they preach. The intention might be well placed, but less so the practice.

    As for the Dawkins review, which one was it? There have been a few. The trouble is that there is so much variety in religious belief that most religious people don’t know the details of all the variations. So, no matter what Dawkins says to criticise religion there will be plenty of theists to which some of his specific points don’t apply. The trouble is that there’s a tendency for theists to think theirs is the one true religion, so that if a little bit of what they don’t believe is criticised by Dawkins then he doesn’t understand religion. That’s the usual bogus approach.

    “atheism, to me, is a vicious belief system chosen by its adherents”

    Here’s a case in point of how I can easily make the same sort of charge of not understanding. This is not my atheism. For me it’s not particularly a belief system. There are several strands to my world view. One is my consideration of philosophy and science in an attempt to understand the world. This is pure inquiry and discovery. I go with what I find to be the case with no dogmatic commitment or faith, so if I learn something new I can change tack quite comfortably. One of the consequences of what I’ve learned is that religious claims about God and all the other stuff are entirely unevidenced, irrational and dogmatic. My atheism is a working conclusion and not a belief system. I’d change my mind as soon as a good explanation was provided as to why it is worth believing. It is you that is interpreting that lack of the persuasiveness of religion and the pointing out of that as a vicious attack on what you value.

    “who exist to attack what they fear”

    Wrong again. It is true that some aspects of religion are to be feared, because they are evidentially vicious. You dragged up Hitler and Marx as supposed atheists that we might admire. Should I list the paedophile priest, the vicious nuns, the hand slicing and decapitating Islamists and claim that you aspire to be like them?

    ” I don’t care what atheism teaches”

    That’s apparent.

    “such a angry and offensive belief system seriously”

    Really, have you considered that it might be your perception of it? I don’t recall being angry or offensive throughout any of this. A little sarcastic perhaps, in the face of evasive rhetoric and a refusal to answer specific questions, or in response to David Roemer’s simplistic assertions.

    “I do not mean to be offensive”

    No offence is taken, at least on my part, and I’ve not seen it in others. The religious are the ones that usually take offence in debates, though some theists are very serine and patient. It’s a mixed bag on both sides I would expect, as determined by the individual brains, as I’ve been explaining at length.

    “I would rather concentrate…”

    That’s fine, if all you want is affirmation and encouragement. But I’d rather find answers. I’d rather ask theists directly what they think and why they think it. I’m unlikely to find the answers in the writings of theists from a long time ago.

    “Honestly, tell me, who really cares about atheism?”

    Atheists. And all the religious reviewers of The God delusion apparently. And all the strident theists that make heck of a lot of noise about strident atheists. And all the bible bashers who think atheists are devils. And all the religious American’s who would not vote for an atheist politician. Theists always care about atheism.

    “I belong to other sites which show great learning and achievement” – Could you list some.

    “Science is fallible”

    I agree and have said so. It’s fallible because it is performed by fallible human beings. What the religious forget is that those fallibilities apply to them too and their simplistic reliance on faith and revelation and equivocation in language are not a good way of finding out anything. Those theistic methods might well be comforting. They seem like a paper bag that you breath into to reduce oxygen intake to overcome the panic of real life. Calming, but stupefying if overdone.

    “No, Truth is, people just want it healed, they usually do not want the details.”

    Ignorance is bliss for many I agree. But the orthopaedic surgeon still has to know his science. And the neuroscientist has to know his; but in this case it seems as though many theists and some philosophers are content to remain ignorant.

    ” he does not ascribe to science what does not belong to science”

    There is nothing that does not belong to science, because science is only human inquiry. This non-overlapping magisteria nonsense is unfounded. We all have the same faculties. Science is merely a means of using them more effectively. It is the opposite of religious contentment with what one already believes to be true.

    If you would like to respond to the question about why you must presuppose God, or why you think faith a good means of inquiry rather than a hindrance to it, I’d be interested.

  134. I think you have the ability to find everything I have online.

    I don’t think voluntarily giving you a forum to verbalize the atheistic rhetoric in an exchange of ideas is practical.

    I understand the concept of God and man, but apparently you either do not, or choose not. That is your choice. There are many more us us who do, and regard your commentary as irrelevant.

    Your philosophy is so limited in scope, I wonder how anyone sees anything in it. I study many philosophers, but the emptiest and darkest is the limiting atheism.

    If you think the mini-gods of atheism are great, Dawkins and Hitchens, then I suggest reading carefully their writings, and see what limited scope they express.

    You can find all the books I read by using established book sellers, I am big on Nook.

    In my 65 years, I have seen many kinds of people, the sorriest are those who refuse to see the truth, whether philosophical or otherwise. The year before I retired, I had to let 2 employees go because of behavior and poor
    performance (others had to take up their unfinished work). They remind me of atheists. Incomplete.

  135. Tim Ford:

    This is getting a bit weird, isn’t it?

    Ron Murphy has spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince you of certain ideas.

    Apparently, he has not succeeded, but that is no reason to trash atheists in general and fairly explicitly, Ron Murphy in particular.

    By the way, Marx was a writer and philosopher who spent his life analyzing capitalism. He never harmed anyone.

    He is no more (and no less) responsible for the crimes of Stalin and Mao than Jesus is for the Crusades, the Inquisition, the bloody forced conversions of Native-American peoples and the Salem Witch Trials.

  136. HI,

    you need a history lesson, I find parts of your philosophy well done.

    Atheists have no soul, they are so fixated on what the rest of the world accepts as true. We have what proof we need and accept. But atheists cannot just enjoy their own falsehoods, they are like drunks in a party, upon finding someone not drinking, they try to convince that person to drink.

    You are all fools if you think you should fear us, we have a doctrine and dogma that lets us live in peace, abeit uneasily. Its when the Moslems move in, you will have a major issue. Islam punishes, among other things, atheism, with beheading.

    There can be only basic communication between us, because we do not speak the same language and have the same values.

    I don’t dislike Ron, or anyone else, but I would be lying to say I agreed with what, as a Christian, consider to be drivel.

    I say take you beliefs to Saudi Arabia, and get reported.

    Weird–not really, but it is time to get real.

  137. Tim – You need to tone down the rhetoric.

    This sort of thing:

    “I say take you beliefs to Saudi Arabia, and get reported.”

    is not okay here.

    Nor is talk of “drivel”, “fools”, etc.


  138. TimFord,

    No offence taken and none intended. So just to be clear on my interaction with you here…

    In the context of the OP I contend that dogs are not moral animals in the complex social, cultural and intellectual sense that humans are, though their behaviour can be considered as being like the precursor behaviour of early humans of pre-humans. But current brain science seems to contradict even our classical philosophical notions of the self and mind upon which we have constructed these more intellectual descriptions of morals and virtues.

    So, I have given descriptions of some of the examples that I think support my criticism of the classical views. In the face of what seems to me like strong evidence I then question what it is about philosophy that seems to cause some philosophers to either ignore or dismiss this evidence, and that in turn brings into question for me the current state of philosophy. This scepticism about the fruitfulness of current philosophy in the way it seems to cling to classical ideas of the self and mind leads me to question whether the professed good methodologies of philosophy are being adhered to.

    As another example post that I feel exhibits this problem, that I haven’t yet commented on, I would refer you to Russell Blackford’s recent two posts on Free Will. There Russell makes a point of saying the argument is valid; but I think that is the minimum standard one would expect of an argument on a philosophical blog (we all make mistakes in complex arguments so I’m not implying perfection is expected). It all seems to boil down to the assumptions, the premises; and I find these are often loaded with presuppositions that seem to be taken as obviously true, as if everyone already agrees on their truth. (To be fair Russell does question the premises, but doesn’t go far enough for me, and does not bring into the discussion anything like the evidence that I think destroys the classical dualist view of free will, and even the compatibilist view.)

    I have always thought that the obvious was precisely what philosophy was meant to challenge, that our intuitions are already known to be suspect, as expressed so clearly in the dialogues of Socrates. If there’s anything useful to take from classical philosophy it’s this. I would think the main task of any philosophical discourse would be to tear apart the presuppositions ruthlessly to get at the deeper truth or falsehood that is lying behind them. I genuinely feel this doesn’t happen enough.

    In this instance of dog morality I feel the whole OP is loaded with unsubstantiated presuppositions about morality, and that there is sufficient evidence to challenge them.

    Now it seemed to me that you might be of a similar view. You made several points about your negative experiences with philosophy, but I didn’t find you were specific in what you found wrong. As our conversation moved on and you expressed your theistic views, perhaps in response to my including of theology in with my criticisms of philosophy as I engaged with David Roemer, then I wanted to know where you stood with regard to theistic inquiry in opposition to what I feel is a better scientific method of inquiry, which in itself is grounded in basic human faculties of inquiry: reason and the senses.

    That brought me to the specific questions I posed:

    Why presuppose God?

    If God isn’t a presupposition then what is the evidence and reasoning that leads you to conclude there is a God?

    Do you think we have other faculties beyond sense and reason that might explain how theists know their claimed truths?

    Since faith seems diametrically opposed to philosophical and scientific inquiry on what basis do you think it is a good methodology for belief?

    I simply don’t as yet understand how those scientists and philosophers that are of a religious persuasion manage to entertain both these opposing methodologies, so I continue to ask wherever I come across it. To pre-empt the unhelpful direction some of these discussion go I gave a list of problems I find with theistic discourse, which includes vague and equivocal language. I don’t see how anything but direct language is helpful. And I do think this is relevant both generally and to the OP.

    I can’t compel you to give direct answers; and maybe I am on a fool’s errand thinking that you can or would. But while there’s a chance that you might answer I continue to hope you will. If my direct criticisms of theistic discourse and my contempt for the way some religious people (e.g. paedophile and abusive priest) practice their religion has offended you then I apologise because it wasn’t aimed at you. I provide them only as examples of how religious methodologies are no safeguard to a virtuous and good life. I don’t know you, except through our interaction here, so I can only comment on what you write. And for the record I know many very nice religious people, some being much nicer than me in their expression of love for everyone, if we are accepting that as a virtue; though I remain confounded by their inability or refusal to answer the same questions. My experience is that many if not most religious people are good people, and aren’t as bad as the worst examples that are often given; but religion seems not to be the route to virtue you imply in some of your comments, and nor is atheism as bad as you present it.

    To be clear, my beef isn’t with religious people generally, but is with the religious methods of acquiring truth.

    So, if you are inclined to answer the qustions I would appreciate it. If not then fine.

  139. Ron,

    Well said.

    Presuppositions are only useful insofar as they advance arguments or inquiry, as you point out. However, once they have done that, they must be thrown out. In the OP, Mike does make a number of them regarding dogs’ capabilities, but I think they were made on the basis of advancing suggested ideas. Once those ideas are analyzed, the suppositions must be thrown out because they are, after all, only tools to advance ideas. If the argument disintegrates without the presuppositions, then we must decide what, if any, merit the ideas had in the first place.

    I wonder if the reason that some scientists can be religious is because they realize the difference between religions and science. Religion being “belief” or “faith” based is fine, but that is not the same as presenting it as ineffable fact or truth, or somehow a science replacement. They are two distinct things. If you can keep them separate, then no real conflict arises. It’s when the religious attempt to justify their beliefs with logical arguments and suggest they are the same, or better than, scientific methods, then their case falls apart.

    There is nothing wrong with religious belief. Obviously. As long as you accept it for what it is: Not science based, and not explainable. i.e. faith in your beliefs. The same can clearly be said for extreme Atheists. They often make claims about knowing how the world is when there are cases where they just aren’t there yet. Dawkins uses science to do experiments that he thinks are going to shed light on the universe or god. In some cases, he does, in others, he doesn’t. Again, though, they are sometimes made based on presuppositions. So their merits must be evaluated after they are removed.

    Yes, I am agnostic. Let the berating begin.

  140. I can only regard myself as a threshold Atheist. I find militant and adamant atheists who perpetually voice their views as tiresome as religious people who do the same. In fact it seems to me that atheism is no more than just another just another religion. I note that Tim has recently read Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I wonder if he noticed therein Dawkins’ statement “That God almost certainly does not exist” I cannot remember if he maintains that viewpoint throughout the book but what I am driving at here, is the fact like all good Scientists he leaves the door very slightly ajar. Science deals very largely in Probabilities although often verging on Certainty. To slam the door on any project as certain finished and done with is unscientific, for the simple reason that science is a tentative ongoing process always likely to be revised in the light of further discovery and knowledge. Compare that with religion, which relies on stories from the past, which have never been substantiated.
    That said it does appear that God almost certainly does not exist and I think scientifically we should not waste too much time trying to prove a negative. The onus is really on the religious to prove that almost certainly God does exist. For this reason I can not understand why Dawkins spends so much time on his atheist projects surely there is some more good solid scientific work he can engage in. I do not believe in Fairies either they almost certainly do not exist but I do not spend time disillusioning children concerning this matter. On the other hand I suppose a belief in God has led, and continues to lead, to much misery, violence, and unhappiness in the world. People like Creationists, Intelligent designers and Scientologists do pose a threat, especially when they form themselves into powerful groups. A threat to learning, education, and scientific and philosophical attempts to try to understand such ontological and epistemological problems as, what is there, and how can I know it? Fairies seem by comparison pretty innocent and we can let them rest.
    So perhaps on reflection we should encourage the likes of Dawkins the atheist. It is a scientific question, what is best to do, and how might we do it? Certainly, or should I say almost certainly, if religion wins through, we as a race will be finished.

  141. Don,

    True, there is more damage to be by the religious extremists than the Atheist extremists. Over and above the damage to each others’ views. One could argue that removing all religion from schools and the public can have adverse effects on people’s morality or goodness or charity, but there has been plenty of evidence that the lack of religion does not cause such an effect.

    Something to note, however, is that the campaign to enforce the separation of church and state in schools is not intended teach kids that god does not exist. Rather, that lessons be science or fact, as far as we know it, based. That need not exclude the existence of god. Just that it should be taught in schools.

    If you want to learn about god, that sort of
    lesson needs to be taught at home or in a church.
    Don’t buy a linguistics textbook and then be upset because it doesn’t talk about math enough.

  142. Ben: Yes I agree with what you say. Religion is a serious and fascinating aspect of the Human psyche and children should be made aware of it but not such that God exists in the sense that Matter exists in the world. The child should be left to, in due course, make up his/her mind as to whether God does in fact have some sort of existence or whether it is no more than a human construct to comfort us when life is cruel or when we fear what is to come after death. The latter explanation is of course my viewpoint.

  143. I ask myself why in the face of all the evidence provided by Ron does Tim remain unmoved. It seems to me that Ron has certain beliefs, and beliefs can be true and false and so far as I am concerned what Ron says I believe is true, Not so the case with Tim where religion is concerned he does not do beliefs which can be true or false, he deals in Faith where such and such is the case. There is no testing or doubting what is irrevocably the case, a state of affairs which is impregnable to all assault. Enshrouded in such robust armour plating, Ron’s bullets of penetrating truth merely bounce off, and Tim remains secure in his faith. Neither side can win here there is no common ground on which to pitch an exchange of ideas. Earlier on I wrote of my tendency to prefer agreement rather than disagreement and it was a situation like this which I had in mind.

  144. Don:

    I have beliefs and I have beliefs.

    If you try to convince me that my belief that Levis are the best jeans is mistaken and that Wranglers are actually superior, you might convince me with evidence: that they last longer, fit better, are sewn with more care, etc.

    You might equally convince me that Dennett’s theory of consciousness is superior to that of Owen Flanagan or vice versa.

    However, I have core beliefs that form part of my sense of identity which I might not even give up under torture because giving them up would involve giving up who I am, would destroy my sense of identity to the point that I would be destroyed.

    I suspect that everyone has core beliefs of that type.

    Some are conscious of them and some not.

    However, almost everyone will resist yielding about their core beliefs just as they would resist yielding what is most dear to them: their families, their friends, their lovers, whatever, their “self”.

    For lots of people, religion is a primary core belief. People die for their religion as they die for their country right or wrong or for political ideals such as freedom or socialism.

    Tell me what a man’s core beliefs are and I’ll know his weak points, so I’m not about to tell you mine nor will I ask you to tell me yours.

  145. Don,

    I am not sure I see philosophy different from faith, where the two appear not to coincide, I attribute to a lack of understanding by the philosopher, or theologian. It is true they are separate, but they are so intertwined. Truth to me is always true, or it must be false by definition. We have such limited intellects and are so fickle, that sometimes understanding is like giving birth, with alot of pushing, shoving, and grunting, then an ugly truth pops into life, and this must be cleaned up, carefully studied for many years.

    Or not.

    I am carefully considering how to frame my opposition to atheism, but I am in the process of grunting, shoving, pushing, and breathing heavily, so I can put out accurately my observations.

    I harbor no ill will, and find no one here to be of ill will, I am not personally impressed with politically correctness, and I am serious when I say that anyone can say to me whatever they want, however they want.

    I don’t care too much for censorship without good reason, like the common good being affected. It is ideas that gets my blood churning, not personal comments or attacks.

    I think atheism is dangerous, and will explain my position, after I push out what I want……

  146. Don,

    Arguing may bring change, learning, progress. Arguing in the face of varying degrees of intransigence might no bring change, learning or progress. Not arguing avoids change, learning and progress.

    And escape isn’t that easy. Reading books and blogs and contemplating the arguments in them is just a more passive and private form of arguing with the author, in the readers own head, without the author’s reply. So a theist might read an atheist book or atheist comments on a blog and become irate and more committed in his mind of his prior beliefs. Of course an atheist might do the same with theist books and blogs. I suppose we’re all guilty.

  147. Re Swallerstein Jan 18th
    What you say here had also occurred to me when writing about Faith and the belief in God. If one having such views is to change them, or eventually oppose them, then it entails a very serious change in what that person essentially is. His/her core beliefs are threatened. It is like a shift into another mind set, like living in a foreign land and having to learn new customs. I am not sure I would like to feel responsible for by means of argument, and reason to, convince a person to those new ways and beliefs especially were he harmless and happy in his previous way of life. In any case as you suggest it may verge on the impossible to change a person thus.

  148. Re Tim.
    “I am serious when I say that anyone can say to me whatever they want, however they want.”
    Yes that’s fine Tim, but you do not say what your response would be. Your back ground as you have described it does suggest you are far from a pushover. I note your reference to Political Correctness. This is one of the very few things which infuriates me, I find it hard to tolerate. How ever did it come to be?

  149. Don Bird:

    I agree with you about not trying to convince people who are “happy and harmless” in their way of life, especially adults.

    I recall reading that most people (in contemporary society) form their basic beliefs before age 21 and so it might be ok to try to
    change someone’s basic or core beliefs at age 18 or so, especially because those basic or core beliefs are not likely to be “their own”, but those of their parents.

  150. I think you leave the children alone, most people are concerned with creature comforts, and, as you say, reflect the teachings they grew up with.

    I once gave a Moslem a year to convert me, in 1977. We covered the Koran cover to cover, but while he found it inspired, I did not. We are still friends. But I tell you, they have NO problem with violence in conversions.

    Bad things have been done by men in all names of religion, including atheism, which between Germany and Russia amounted to countless millions. I think we can talk about anything, but being honest, we all should feel free to speak what we see as the truth. Arguing is part of discussion, although generally it is better to explore similarities than differences. My relatives in the Ukraine have nothing good to say about their experience with atheistic communism. My grandfather was fortunate to leave 2 months before the revolution.

    We all have core beliefs, even atheists–later,

  151. Tim,

    What do all these different religious and atheist and fascists and communists and other people have in common? A human brain. Why can one christian bahave lovingly and another be a raving bible basher? A human brain. Why can one atheist not give a jot about religion while another hates it vehemently? A human brain. Why can a facist be a loving farther one moment and send young children into a gas chamber the next. A human brain. Why can a man have a normal sexul appetite for most his life, become a paedophile for many months, then normal for some time, then have his inappropriate feelings return, and then be normal again? Because of the appearance of a tumor, its removal, its return and its final removal – in his human brain. Why can a person be driven to perform an act that they did not choose, and then rationalise that they made a freely willed choice? Because they have a human brain. Why do some people, even philosophers, succumb to the anthropomorphic recognition behaviour that makes them perceive biological dog behaviour as if it were complex human cultural and social behaviour? Because they have a human brain.

    Why is this message not getting through: that what has been learned over the last century is piling up evidence so clear that we are driven by our biology to such an extent that the classical notions of a singular freely willed mind has bcome unsupportable? Because we have a human brain, the biology of which has a tendency to make up stories that some times become such core beliefs that are heavily programmed into the neuronal networks that the plasticity of the same human brain has a hard time adapting to the evidence that is piled against it.

    Why is it that scientist humans continually accumulate new evidence that has made many brains adapt to have some correspondence to what seems to be out there in the real world instead of being unquestionably convinced by thoughts that occur in the brain but go unevidenced? Because they have plastic brains that conform to the senses more than to the internal programs to such an extent that they collectively develop methodologies that compensate for all the internal biased core belief programs to the greatest extent.

    Why are the religious individuals so consistent in their adherence to specific beliefs despite the variety of religious beliefs out there? Because they have brains that have been programmed to use the methodologies of their faith to affirm the held belief and dismiss any contradictory evidence.

    Is there a significant difference between the way a religious mind builds and adheres to and becomes fixated on its core beliefs and the way a science favouring atheist mind adheres to and becomes fixated on its core beliefs. Not that much, but enough for the science brain to be more ameanable to adaptation to evidence. There is much in common between all human brains and the way they come to form and hold core beliefs; but there are also some differences between brains. And the extent to which brains are similar and differ, and the extent to which they are influenced by genetics, phyiological neuronal networks, brain chemistry, or by bodily interaction, or by the brains of other humans, is all the subject matter of the brain sciences.

    Theology, and even philosophy, cannot contribute in principle because they specifically ignore the brain sciences and concentrate on the misguided classical models of the mind.

    Some individual theologians and philosophers do engage with the brain sciences.

    It’s a struggle for theologians because much of their theology conflicts so starkly with the science. But some are adapting their theology, though they can’t let go completely. Try Rob Bell, or Pete Rollins. They seem to be focusing on the social and emotional and communal traditions of their religion, and in that respect they do very well. They are really nice people. But their use of language as they try to get a square peg into a round hole requires much fluff and equivocation. Listen to them on Youtube. You will nod along at their fables, because they are based on very good observations of human behaviour. In a way they are very good at psychology. They know how to tell a good story and persuade. Great performers. But anyone who is not religiously persuaded will get sudden jolts of dissonance as Bell and Rollins interject religious references here and there. It’s a matter of thinking, hang on, where did that religious assertion come from, because it doesn’t seem to have any relation to the very practical human story that was unfolding.

    Some philosophers see that not being able to refute idealism or solipsism with a locked down logically sound argument, and not being able to prove materialism with the same, is no more than a classical mind game. The persistent nagging of the material world on their material brains and bodies is enough for them to say that they are convinced that solid sound proof isn’t what humans can do. We are not the all rational free floating minds we thought we were. Such philosophers pay attention to the brain sciences that are telling them why their physical mushy organic brains aren’t up to the infallible logic stuff. Experimental philosophers are going out there and doing science. Armchair philosophers are keeping up with the science. There’s enough cross discipline work to make sure their scientist colleagues are paying attention to the philosophical finery of their arguments.

    It’s all about physical electrochemical biological messy human brains and how they interact with their bodies and their wider environment. They are components of the bodies and environment. They are their own internal environment. They are multiple partly autonomous subsystems interactingto give the impression of a singular self of a free floating mind. The classical models are inadequate.

  152. Existence as I understand it is all about my brain that is all there is, billions of action potentials and chemical transmitters all involved in a massive interaction. Extinguish my brain and what is left nothing just oblivion, the oblivion that was there before my brain assembled itself. It seems to me, but only by analogy, there are other brains, as I seem to acquire information, but I cannot get into them, experience them, for me they are just Kantian things in themselves. All I contemplate are my own ideas. I am in a sense locked in, with the key turned on my uncertainty In fact it seems I am trapped within the confines of my brain and that is all there is.
    A solipsistic attitude of this kind does not seem to engender much in the way of survival value for my species but nevertheless we do survive. The evolutionary process seems to have inculcated into humans that they are in fact in direct communication with all that is outside of them. They are real and a part of reality. They really are as they feel and their experiences really are what the world is about. We really feel that we have free will too. For those of a Scientific and /or philosophical nature there is evidence that such is not the case. The sky is blue as we experience it, but all we receive is electromagnetic waves a small part of this spectrum which generates in us the phenomenon of visibility. When a tree falls in a deserted forest there is no sound merely compressions and rarefactions of the air. As A N Whitehead suggested Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless, merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly. Bodies are perceived as with qualities which in reality do not belong to them. Qualities which are purely the offspring of the mind, one can slot God in here too. We should engage in self congratulation on the excellency of the human mind, which is seems tricks us into thinking our lives are meaningful, beautiful, and worth staying her for, and most importantly, reproducing ourselves. All down to Dawkins’ Selfish gene I think.

  153. I am crippled (agent orange), but can move out of my electric chair. I have been called a behemoth, a living wall, I am 6′ 6″, weight 350 plus. When I go to the doctors, they must use a leg cuff on my arm for a blood pressure. Genetics fitted me for violence and warfare. There may have been a time when you would have avoided me. I was not solely a brute, although in combat, you might have feared me. I have 9 children, married for 43 years. I have learned to be a man of peace, when I was younger, a backhand from me was much worse that anyone else’s punch! Learning that violence is rarely the answer, except in self-preservation scenarios, are pretty useless, and tend to polarize, and not unify, was a tough lesson for me.

    I also read poetry, great books, economics, like plays, etc., and the arts. I have multiple degrees.

    My true button is not words, but getting physically getting in my face and threatening me. I seem to have one hell of a survival factor.

    Words are just words. If a personal attack is initiated by others, it is ok, because it means I have made a point they cannot answer. I can always learn something from a personal attack.

    When Ideas irritate me because I think they are illogical or lacking in good thought, I am constrained to research and find out why. I promise you that with the two posts I plan for today, I will not take offense with anyone, NO MATTER what is said.

    Success for a democracy is contingent upon honesty from the government, so we can support what is good. Success for me in philosophy may require me being taken to the proverbial philosophical woodshed, from time to time. I am OK with that.

    Get those hickory sticks ready boys and girls (symbolically speaking=, of course).

  154. Tim’s Evaluation of Atheism

    I have given several days to consider how I would explain my opposition to atheism. I, as a Christian, will not use what I consider to be the greatest book of wisdom of all time, the Bible, which instructs men how to live, nor will I just repeat what others have written. You may look at my words, and see why I personally see it as bad for man.

    Where is Wisdom Found

    The first thing I want to note is that wisdom does not come from philosophy, alone. If it did, we would have a world of dummies and retarded folks running around. You may become wise through the study of history, literature, poetry, economics, etc., or you may even have a natural bent for being able to see the truth of things. One of the most brilliant men I knew, never finished grade school, yet he was so observant, his ability to observe and reduce to the most common terms was almost unnerving.

    What Kind of People Usually Become Atheists.

    I have spent two days re-reading the historical developments of atheism, and ignoring what psychiatry and psychology say about the types of people drawn to atheism, it is my experience that atheism is always either parasitic or symbiotic in nature. It is incomplete as a philosophy and must always be paired with another thought. Doctors have noted that there appears to be a certain kind of individual who is drawn to atheism. It is not my intent to go into these classifications.

    Atheism Never Frees Man, Always Subjugates and Enslaves Him

    Atheism attaches itself to certain thought systems, such as Nazism , communism, and socialism. Why? Because it cannot stand alone in the community of man. It (atheism) must be installed in the community by force, to stop the freedom of mankind, to enslave man, make him subject to the state. Atheism removes religious behavior and unfortunately though promising a replacement behavior, it never happens. Under atheism, people are enslaved, families are destroyed, and freedom stops. You only have the freedom to do what atheism allows, because atheism cannot ever succeed in a free society. It is why it flourishes temporarily in closed and rigidly controlled societies.
    I believe this because ultimately atheism must replace what it destroys, and when confronted with this difficulty, it becomes a religion.
    I find all forms of philosophy, even natural ones, like the Navajo philosophy founded on something positive. It is atheism that admittedly is founded on negative thought. It is anti in its existence.

    Historical Atheism

    Atheism claims that the brain is the source of God-behavior. (Feurbach, Hegel, Marx, and Nietsche, etc., etc.). My thought is that the answers do not come from within, the questions do. The answers come from without generally. Our minds are so week, limited, and we are so deeply flawed (sinful?), I would certainly see how impossible it is for something great like morals and moral behavior to come from us. The truth seems to me, that the GREATER DOES NOT COME FROM THE LESSER.

    Modern Atheist Icon

    Richard Dawkins noted for the following quotations
    1. Religious belief is a virus that infects inferior genes.
    2. Religion is not only a form of infantile regression—it’s an especially pernicious form of insanity.
    3. Dyed in the wool faith heads are immune to argument.
    4. Teaching religion to your children is a form of child abuse.

    When Bertrand Russell’s disciple was trained as an atheist, Antony Flew, then trained his disciple Dawkins, as an atheist. When Flew became a Christian, Dawkins resorted to attacking him, viciously, by press standards. This is the standard bearer for atheism nowadays.

    Is Atheism Good for the Populace and all Men?

    When socialism, Nazism, and communism failed where they have (they had to and will continue to do so), proof of the value of atheism is evident. Even though the totalitarianism disappeared, religion immediately returns. Look at Germany and Russia. The people could have rejected their totalitarian leaders, and while retaining atheism, but they did not, they never do. Even the leaders, like Putin, return to the Orthodox Church, although I question the sincerity of his return, I see no old leaders calling for a return to Godless atheism.
    Atheism, other than an extreme position for some, has no real input into the life of man.

    Future of Atheism

    I see atheism attempting to align itself with liberalism, in a counter-move to conservatism. Conservatism, by adhering to the thought that the Declaration of Independence is about business, and not people, has been irreparably harmed. Likewise, liberalism will also fail, because apparently it cannot wait to do to itself what conservatism has done to itself.
    Atheism will never go away, but neither will it succeed.
    My trust is that I have not intended to offend anyone, here, I am speaking about a deeply flawed philosophy, no person. These are just some thoughts designed to generate commentary. I, as I said above, left out why I chose Catholicism over atheism, which is another topic.

  155. Tim,

    Total platitude, opinion, anecdote and assertion and not a jot of argument or evidence.

    On your first oaragraph you started with your Christianity. Wouldn’t that have been the opportune point to explain why you think you shoukd presuppose the God that is necessary for Christianity to actually mean anything? Or why you think faith in this religion is wise, anticipating your next paragraph? I’ve asked many times but you seem to be employing more of the tactics of evasion I listed earlier.

    Wisdom paragraph: contributes nothing that I can tell, to the OP or any part of the debate in comments upon which views on the OP might depend.

    Becoming an atheist: Why ignore the brain sciences? They seem most relevant these days. In what way is atheism parasitic? You assert it but don’t explain.

    Atheism never frees man…: Well it frees him from religious servitude to an entity for which there is no evidence. There is no enslavement – anyone is free to becone a theist. What about Islam proscibing aposty on pain of death, or the Inquisition’s nasty work? And the religious communities in America where those who lose belief are ostracised? The whole secular movement for separation of religion and state has freedom of belief as a policy. You are inventing your own distorted perspective.

    “Because it (atheism) cannot stand alone in the community of man”- This is too vague to be informative at all. This is a typical meaningless religious or mystic statement pretending to be profound. In the most charitably meaningful interpretation I can come up with I’d say atheism does stand alone because there is only one a-theism, as the singular lack of belief in any gods. Theism on the other hand does not stand alone – there are clearly many distinct and incompatible theisms.

    “Under atheism, people are enslaved, families are destroyed, and freedom stops.” This statement being in the same paragraph as comments on communism you are equating atheism with communism? If so this is a gross distortion of the meaning of atheism. I do acknowledge that families sometimes break up when a member becomes an atheist, but that is because they are ostracised by the religious family, showing the nastier side of the religion. It is the religious that inhibit freedoms with their overt attempts to apply their morals coercively to members of the religion and even to those that don’t share their beliefs. Atheists generally support freedom to such an extent they would lobby hard for the right of the religious to believe any old crazy stuff they like; and yet so many religious Americans would oppose an atheist president on principle.

    “I find all forms of philosophy, even natural ones, like the Navajo philosophy founded on something positive.” Well not all forms. Don’t forget those scools of philosophy you rejected. You had plenty of negative opinion on them.

    “It is atheism that admittedly is founded on negative thought.” This is simply confused. Maybe because of the label, a-theism, the negative alternative to positively being a theist. But you equivocate on the terms ‘negative’ and ‘positive’. Atheism is a consequence of the positive and virtuous persuit of knowledge through evidence and reason and the positive rejection of poor methodologies such as the presuppostion of unevidenced entities, or the use of faith. Atheism is a positive noble antidote to the superstition of religious belief. Atheism cannot be anti, since it is only a declation of ones own lack of belief in deities and not the opposition of belief. Though some a-theists may also be anti-theist these are distinct.

    “My thought is that the answers do not come from within” I’ve been saying all along that introspection is the wrong tool. The brain sciences are the right tool and they do provide evidence that religious belief, like all beliefs, are determined by states of brains.

    “Our minds are so week, limited, and we are so deeply flawed (sinful?),” I would agree with all but the sinful bit. The sinful bit relies on a presupposition of God, the explanation of which you continue to evade. Thevrest is the very reason why the methodologies of science are such an improvement and the best approach available to humans. One of the flaws is thinking faith is a goid idea. Another point evaded.

    There is sone question over Flew’s state of mind when he converted late in life. Maybe the brain sciences you neglect might have told us more. And maybe the perspective on how viscous Dawkins was depends on whether one is overly sensitive to having religous belief criticised. Can you give evidence that the criticism was viscious ‘by press standards’?

    “I see atheism …” Given the clear errors elsewhere I don’t hold much hope for the objectivity of your perception of atheism. I disagree with you perception as presented.

    “left out why I chose Catholicism over atheism…”

    That would be far more interesting, as long as it included the reasons why you would presuppose a God and why you think faith is a good idea.

  156. Tim

    Anthony Flew became deist in his old age – that much is beyond dispute – but he never became a Christian. This isn’t even a common misconception amongst those Christians who have made the most of his change of mind. A small point but I think we should get the facts straight.

    As you say, prior to your last comment, your concern is to show why you personally see atheism as bad for man. But to be clear, whilst the psychological/sociological reasons why people become atheists or theists, and the social benefits/harms of atheism/religion may be interesting topics, neither speaks to the question of whether God exists. And that, it seems to me, is the real question.

    The only comment that seems to touch on that question is this:

    “Our minds are so week, limited, and we are so deeply flawed (sinful?), I would certainly see how impossible it is for something great like morals and moral behavior to come from us. The truth seems to me, that the GREATER DOES NOT COME FROM THE LESSER.”

    You would have to get clear on what you mean but people have tried to make moral arguments for God’s existence, why not give it a proper go?

  157. I had heard of the rumors, but the vehemence with which Dawkins responded, lead me to believe his anger was based on frustration. If Flew was senile, he would not have been able to make such a choice morally, BUT, it is up to those making sounds that he was senile, to prove it.

    I could have done something on Christianity, but, this was about the failed atheism, a continually rejected form of philosophy.

    I have zero problem with philosophers or common people choosing it, and some certainly do, but if you want to tell me how good and logical it is, then I ask for the successes. It has had less than stellar interaction in society, and shows no real potential as a viable (among the population) belief system.

    I also have an objection to this use of “astrology-science” or pseudo-proofs with atheism, the positing of maybe there are inferior genes, maybe everything comes from the mind, etc.,
    etc. Dawkins is now a respected geneticist?

    This writing was to be solely on atheism, which many reasonable people have attributed to the horrific and innumerable deaths in such places in Auschwitz, and the gulags. I look at what it accomplished, and the results of interaction with man must be judged.

  158. Tim,

    I appreciate that your intent was to write on your perception of the societal impact of atheism, but what you’ve been pressed for repeatedly – and what you seemed to claim you had found in Aquinas – is some rational justification for believing “God exists” is true that doesn’t depend on revelation.

    You don’t seem to be very forthcoming in that regard.

  159. Tim,

    What you are failing to acknowledge is that atheism itself is really nothing more than the consequential lack of belief that comes from an appreciation of philosophy, science and a general use of reason and evidence.

    I’m not anti-religion because I’m an atheist.

    I’m not pro-science because I’m an atheist.

    I’m not a communist because I’m an atheist.

    I’m not a fascist because I’m an atheist.

    These are all looking at the issue the wrong way round.

    I’m an atheist because I can’t see reason or evidence for God and I find the presupposition of God and the use of faith to be unbelievably flawed methods of discovery, methods specifically treated as invalid methods in philosophy and science – you don’t start out believing and then committing to affirming your belief and ignoring evidence against it; you treat your belief as a hypothesis and then look to both confirm it and challenge it, and in science specifically you look for evidence. In this sense religious belief is anti-science in its methodologies.

    I am anti-religious only to the extent that the religious delusion imposes itself on my life by political interference and special pleading, in the judgemental moralising, and in the hypocritically bad behaviour of many religious people. And this isn’t an atheistic issue. Many good religious people are also anti those characteristics of religion, and yet simply don’t understand that the religious methodologies enable that behaviour. Appealing to an unevidenced deity for explanations makes bad religious behaviour as explainable and as excusable in religious terms as good religious behaviour.

    Despite being an atheist I’m not a communist or a fascist. They are quite independent ideas. It is quite feasible to be a religious communist since the core principles of communism are about property and ownership. And it’s quite feasible to be a religious fascist. Your mistake is like calling an apple a bad orange because they are both fruits. Political systems and religious belief are both examples of human ideas, but they are quite different ideas and they are not mutually exclusive. And even if they were it is not beyond the human brain to hold to mutually exclusive ideas.

    The fascists of WWII didn’t gas Jews because the fascists were atheists and the Jews were religious. They did so because of the political and economic power and scheming that they attributed to the Jews. And more generally it was about Arian purity, because they applied the same principles to whole peoples with no regard to their religion or atheism, which made the murders more palatable. And all those ideas were trumped up ideological tools used to motivate a nation that had been devastated by its recent history, a nation looking to rise from being the defeated criminals of Europe into a powerful empire that might out-do the empires it had seen flourish in the past. That it tried, failed and became the criminal of Europe again and murdered millions in the process has absolutely nothing to do with atheism. It is such a despicable connection you are making.

    And whatever Stalin did had little to do with communism or atheism. Soviet and Chinese and most if not all attempts to implement communism failed because they did not implement communism but their own perverse authoritarianism disguised as communism. Communism is in theory a principle intended to set the masses free, and yet when implemented seems just as good a means of enslaving them as any dictatorship, monarchy or religion. I don’t know of any attempt to implement communism in its purest form, so I can’t say whether it could succeed or not. The main problem for communism seems to be that most people still value the idea of private property and ownership, often in some proportion to how rich one is. This might be an ingrained psychological issue that the communist ideal cannot overcome, and so you will find many atheists opposed to communism in principle.

    Atheism itself is only one possible outcome from having the freedom to inquire and to believe. Atheism is not a political system in itself and has nothing to say about what everyone should believe. And there is nothing in it that is remotely like a religion. It is only about one specific thing that some people find unbelievable: theism. There are no atrocities committed in the name of atheism that I know of. Many of the atrocious political systems that have atheism as a core principle do so mainly as a direct opposition to religious power, and in the far East an opposition to colonial Western power and its Christian association. May Western Christians are uncomfortable with Muslims entering the West with the possible intention of conversion, and yet this coercive proselytising was common practice in Christianity.

    Most atheists are supporters of freedom of belief, even when intellectually they think it’s a dumb idea with dangerous and damaging political implications – and it is this latter aspect of religion that people like Dawkins oppose. Do you think Dawkins would give religion the time of day if it was just about religious believers getting on with their own private belief? Many atheists have in the past dismissed religions as the quaint irrational beliefs of the uneducated and a few rather weird intellectual theologians. There is a distinct difference between an atheist’s intellectual disagreement with the principles of religious belief which are still easy to tolerate, and an atheist’s opposition to the control and oppression of some religious practices. You confuse the two.

    The comic character of the local vicar and the bible bashing bishop have been the subject of fun in British comedy for ages. But, as Dawkins has expressed, 9/11 changed that. The political drivers that made Islam more intransigently obnoxious are not really disputed – the secular Western domination of the Middle East played its part; but the seeds were there in that belief system anyway, with its commitment to the infallibility of the Quran and its controlling of its own adherents. Islam dictates that nations that accept Islam should have an Islamic government. It is particularly discriminatory towards non-Muslims when it comes to public office. And 9/11 was a spark that ignited the Western Christian backlash. I think it is hard to dispute with hindsight the way Bush and Blair were religiously persuaded to some degree about what is right – though with Blair his religious convictions were intentionally and dishonestly hidden from the more secular British public.

    Of course there were other factors, not least the economic domination of the West and the control of oil. And I don’t think we can deny the political lobbying by the military industrial complex that thrives on conflict – an issue you raised yourself. So I’m not saying all humanities ills are the result of religion.

    But religion on the other hand presents us with many examples in history and the present where it is used specifically as the means to control and oppress. There is no disputing that many atrocities are committed in the very name of God. You might not like this yourself, as a believer, and may point out how peaceful you and many other believers are; but what you like and what you are like is irrelevant to whether religion is an enabler for control and oppression and atrocities.

    You don’t seem to be able to grasp the relationships between these different ideas, and conflate several distinct issues. This failure of logic and reason though is quite compatible with possessing a human brain that is biased by religious commitment. So your words that express your belief in how atheism is anti-freedom and oppressive and how you equate communism and fascism with atheism are plain wrong. And given your apparent capacity to think it wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude they are oppressive lies perpetrated by a religious believer, because it wouldn’t be the first time religious believers have lied for their beliefs. But, giving you the benefit of doubt I presume you are simply mistaken because of your religious commitment.

    I originally presented criticism of religion because of the failed methodologies that together with a commitment to classical ideas in philosophy both religion and philosophy were on the wrong track regarding morality, which in the OP resulted in the contemplation of dog morality. Though your views on atheism are enlightening (about how the religious can get the wrong idea) they aren’t really addressing the OP or any criticism of religious belief in that regard.

    So still my questions about belief and its easy acceptance of unevidenced presuppositions and commitment to faith and the ignoring of evidence from the brain sciences are specifically relevant to understanding morality with regard to dogs and humans. Can you address those specific points? I can’t see for the life of me how atheism has anything to do with the OP.

  160. Thanks, but I thought I was clear that this was not to be a Catholic representation, rather, I felt that using the knowledge of the world was more appropriate. It wasn’t about whether God exists, but was about a failed philosophy that was intricately associated with millions of deaths in a most horrible way.

    My next logical question, given the accuracy of what was documented historically with atheism and totalitarianism, is, “Why would a philosopher align themselves with this failed philosophy?” If this is truly wisdom, then say so.

    I am NOT saying the philosophers who support this evil are evil in themselves, just that it appears to be a horrible choice for them to make

    How many of the founding fathers of atheists were misanthropes? And I do find Dawkins’ quotes fascinating and amusing. I do not feel threatened by them.

    Since atheism, in and of itself, is a persistent yet pernicious danger to society, and taking into considerations, that it makes some reasonable assertions, I think it wise to look to psychology for additional answer as to why educated men would align themselves with this that has such a history of involvement with evil.

    Now if you feel I am not forthcoming, please explain why, as I apparently am looking at something different than you. And that’s ok, if you can demonstrate it to me, I will admit another failing, and answer it.


  161. So this is a justification of aligning yourself with what has recently caused the deaths of so many innocent men, women, and children?

    There is a book, written by Viktor Frankl, a Psychiatrist who went through the death camps. It is short, but intense. That is the face of atheism. That is your chosen belief, since beliefs are a matter of choice.

  162. Tim,

    I acknowledged that you were explicit in what you intended to do.

    If you don’t want to argue that x (something you hold to be true and think can be demonstrated by reason) is in fact true and instead want to make assertions about the very bad things that supposedly happen if the general populace believes ‘not x’ that’s up to you.

    It has little to do with philosophy but you can write about what you please.

  163. Tim,

    “a failed philosophy that was intricately associated with millions of deaths in a most horrible way”

    It was not associated intricately with atheism at all. In communism atheism was coincidental on the opposition to religious oppression. Perhaps if there had been a popular benign faith that dominate religious belief and also opposed capitalist and aristocratic oppression then maybe Marx would have been less concerned with religion and might even have found support in it. The trouble is that it is difficult for theistic religions to be that liberal because they are inherently authoritative systems, having God as the authority and the priests as his line managers. We see in the Church of England the conflict between are more liberal church and its more catholic dogma.

    “atheism, in and of itself, is a persistent yet pernicious danger to society”

    Your assertions in this are demonstrably false. I say again that nobody has done anything atrocious in the name of atheism. Atrocious acts are performed by systems that may coincidentally be atheistic. Why do you persist with these falsehoods? Your dialogue takes on more and more the nature of assertions that seem more an more like David Roemer’s.

    Why did many surviving victims of the death camps become atheists? It wasn’t because they saw the pernicious work of atheism in the camps but because they saw a distinct absence of God.

    “So this is a justification of aligning yourself with what has recently caused the deaths of so many innocent men, women, and children?”

    How do you justify your aligning yourself with paedophile priests? Do you see the irrationality of your questions and your assertions when put back to you in the same form?

    The difference is that the priests are specifically supposed to be doing God’s work, whereas Stalin and Hitler were doing their own work. There was no atheist principle to appeal to in communism or fascism. In Marx’s communism religion was included because it was seen to conspire with the capitalist power base to enslave the masses – just one more oppression.

    You continue to distort the facts.

  164. Hi,

    it has everything to do with philosophy, but to understand what the philosophy does, you cannot separate it from its parasitic and symbiotic dimension. It goes really well with the loss of human rights and state control.

    What are the successes of atheism? I can see successes in other forms of philosophies, but not this. This is an individual choice, that appears to be based on either intentional rebellion, or an attitude of “I don’t care what atheism has done to mankind.” Of course, psychology has some things to say about this, but I must leave this to them.

    I have yet to find atheism fitting with John Stewart Mill, or any other philosophy. What it fits with, is evident, but why it fits should be asked.

    We have misanthropes in all life, in Christianity, atheism, Buddhism, Sikh, etc., etc. But the most extreme of all people resort to atheism, while the common man never does. Does that not say something?

  165. I am not sure your understanding of communism matches mine, for I did study it for years, in fact, I read Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book,” while still in the military.
    I was always a bit of a free thinker, my military commander was dismayed to find I was reading that book. I always felt that you cannot SUPPORT OR OPPOSE WHAT YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

    I look at atheism, continue to read different philosophers who support it, in an effort to understand it, and in doing so, I can guage the danger or benefit to mankind. This is a poor philosophy, to me. (Admittedly).

    I guess a billion Chinese atheists can’t be wrong about the true nature of atheism. Or maybe it has failed there, also, since they have turned to capitalism.

    I am absolutely convinced of your sincerity and devotion to atheism. You do make some salient observations, but there are two things I would like to avoid, since I started this.

    The first, is to change the focus of the conversation, by adding new concepts as Christianity, because that obscures the original discussion.

    The second observation is to keep it focused, so it doesn’t get too sidetracked.

    Other approaches should be separate entries on another topic.

    Give me a reason to look at this differently, and I am willing to concede that speculative atheism is different than practical atheism, which has repeatedly been enforced upon human rights. The proof I am looking for, is not the games with linguistics, but how it affects the population. You cannot argue results, although maybe how you got to those results.

    I want to keep this focused on atheism, to determine how it can be useful to society. What use is a tool that doesn’t do anything? What contributes to human misery, is not a choice as philosophers we should easily make.

  166. Religious people kill as do atheists.

    If power-crazed people want to kill, they’ll find a pretext, be it religion or some atheist doctrine as Marxism.

    If Stalin and Mao were atheists (I’m not sure about Hitler: didn’t he worship the Nordic gods?), Francisco Franco, Pinochet, Somoza, Videla and Trujillo were all devout Catholics.

    How many Africans were massacred in the Belgian Congo in the name of Christianity?

    How many Native-Americans were exterminated by the Spanish and the English in the name of the cross?

  167. Tim,

    The connections are coincidental.

    Religion professes to be about God and the goodness of God and makes moral claims and looks to identify virtuous behaviour. There aren’t that many religious systems that claim to support an evil God, though a case can be made very simply to show that the Abrahamic God could be an evil God.

    When you have political systems and political personalities and leaders that have no regard for other humans and are prepared to torture and kill them without concern then as a general rule you would not expect them to have particularly well adjusted social and moral behaviours and so would expect them not to be interested in religion, except in as much as they can use religion as a tool of power, as many monarchies have. So by default you are labelling these people as atheists as if this is a positive choice on their part that has anything to do with Humanist atheism.

    In Humanism the atheism is coincidental on the lack of religious belief. You are ignoring this point completely. Atheism is not a system of belief, unlike a religion, and it is not a political system, or a social system.

    Your assertion that atheism equates with Stalinism, communism or fascism is just as daft as equating Christianity with Islam with regard to their perspective on Jesus. Both Islam and Christianity are based on the Abrahamic God, but they are distinct in their views on Jesus. Both Stalinism and Humanism may be atheistic in their lack of belief in God, but they are quite distinct in their regard for their fellow humans.

    “What are the successes of atheism?”

    The only possible measure of the success of atheism could be people losing their faith. Since it means nothing else there could be nothing else behind it. Here are a few successes: But even then the success for atheism is rather shallow because the real success is about the extent to which reason and evidence has succeeded in the face of dogmatism and indoctrination and the extent to which individuals have been freed from the oppressive side of religion. Here are some more:, where priests who have lost their faith are helped to come to terms with their change of career and the ostracism they experience in their communities.

    What are the successes of secularism? The only possible measure of the success of secularism could be people agreeing to not to allow religious or non-religious privilege into public affairs and public office and to not be antagonistic towards any belief system that complies with the law.

    What are the successes of Humanism?

    Can you not see that there are completely separate issues here with regard to atheism?

    As several commenters have pointed out, people can do bad things whether they are atheists or theists. The difference is that a lots of the bad things done by theists are done in the name of God, or in direct opposition to the very good moral prescriptions and proscriptions that the religious promote. Many Catholic oppressive controls are dictated by theological values, direct from Rome, and are not merely coincidental on belief. The Catholic priests that abuse children do so in direct opposition to their professed care for children. The hypocrisy is evidential.

    “I want to keep this focused on atheism.. ”

    No kidding. Anything but address the direct questions about the merits of the methodologies of belief.

  168. No devout Catholic could do this, it is a contradiction of terms. What do you mean by devout? Usually it refers to someone who follows the teaching of the Christ, and not one of personal power. Or were you just trying to make a comment? But others are individuals who offend human rights, not a philosophy that enables them to destroy human rights.

    Tell me what atheism has done for mankind. Let’s start there, since this is about atheism.

    You are re correct, whether Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, can kill at will. But it is an aberration to do this individually, while atheism is not concerned with all human rights. Otherwise those megalomaniacs would not use atheism so readily, except that the tenets of atheism lend itself so readily to these crimes against mankind. Atheism is a partner in these endeavors.

    You cannot separate the intricate relationship of atheism and totalitarianism, even though you might wish to, because the evidence shows otherwise.

  169. Tim,

    There’s an interestingly piece of evidence unfolding here, that is exhibited on many sites when the religious try to deflect challenges to their beliefs.

    The question is often raised about the historic accuracy of the gospels and the motivation of the authors of the gospels. It is often put that these might be the biased writings of committed individuals and might have nothing to do with the factual matter of what Jesus was like, whether he existed, or his divine nature. The implication is that the gospels in themselves are not good evidence.

    In response to this theologians often make such points as: Why would they lie? How can such independent and objective stories be so similar and wrong?

    And yet, in this age of much greater communication when facts are quite easy to find and when critical thinking reasoning and evidence have been accepted as good standards for judging the accuracy of data, still the religious continue to distort facts and make irrational claims and unsupported assertions about the goodness of their particular religion and the evils of others, and particularly of atheism. In the face of modern day evidence of such perverse religious apologetics theologians still think the gospels should be taken at face value as truths from honest and objective men.

    Only religious minds could continue with such bipolar opinions about the goodness of their faith and the evils of atheism.

  170. To get a degree in Texas, we had to study ITexas history.

    The Texas history course included admissions that the manner of dealing with the Indians was simply “The best Indian is a dead Indian.” This was obscene.

    What was equally obscene, was the way the Indians who were often at war with each other, treated each other when they captured each other.

  171. Tim,

    “Tell me what atheism has done for mankind…”

    Nothing. It isn’t supposed to. Atheism is a conclusion from evidence and reason that there is insufficient evidence and reason to believe in God, no more. Ask instead what reason and evidence has done for mankind.

    “Let’s start there, since this is about atheism.”

    Well actually no this isn’t about atheism. It’s about dog morality, and in response to that it is about the place of reason and evidence. The criticism of religion in this respect is its disregard for reason and evidence and as such isn’t competent to make statements about dog morality or human morality. It has absolutely nothing to do with atheism. You want to make it about atheism in order to deflect the criticism of religious methodologies for acquiring knowledge about morals generally and dog morality in particular. You are trying to divert the conversation. There are some honest and patient attempts to respond to your points, but you are still diverting nonetheless.

    “while atheism is not concerned with all human rights”

    Again, atheism has nothing to do with human rights. Can you not see this? Atheism is only about the lack of belief in gods. Reason and evidence may lead a humanist person to become an atheist Humanist, but the atheism is an intellectual conclusion. The coincidental opposition to religious belief is about the lack of credibility of religious methods of coming to their beliefs.

    “except that the tenets of atheism”

    What tenets of atheism? Please, list them and cite sources.

    “lend itself so readily to these crimes against mankind”

    But theism lends itself to crimes against mankind because the authority of God can be used to do just that.

    “You cannot separate the intricate relationship of atheism and totalitarianism”

    Totalitarianism: Of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life. Exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic.

    That seems to describe at least two religions.

    “What was equally obscene, was the way the Indians who were often at war with each other, treated each other when they captured each other.”

    And you don’t see that as a problem for religions?

  172. For some light reading, and to possibly correct some false ideas..


    Hitler was not an atheist, as this article points out.

    His religious beliefs were far from coherent and often confused, but he was a theist.

    All this discussion has shown so far that atheists and theists both commit crimes against humanity.

    Probably, the whole conversation exaggerates the role of ideas in history and in life in general.

    People are motivated by their biology, by their unconscious prejudices and hang-ups, by their habits, by economic interests. Religious and philosophical ideas, be they atheist ideas or theist ideas play a rather small role in

    Stalin, judging from an excellent biography I read about him, “In the Court of the Red Czar” cared little about Marxism or socialism and was merely another brutal and cruel Czar.

  174. I was actually aware of Hitler’s background, but perhaps a better site would be, which are excerpts from his writings/speeches.


  175. Actually, it is about religion and atheism. Way back, I made an observation that morality was for humans, and not animals, that animals were only responsible for animal behavior. Someone else brought in atheism, and I agreed to address it.

    You did answer my question, and tonight, I will try to summarize this. I will also as a courtesy, answer, to the best of my ability, any question you wish to put to me. Or say anything you wish–may Jeremy let you speak anything!

    You have made some good points, but I was determined not to turn from the issue at hand. But then, you already know that, don’t you?


  176. Forgot to add, Wikipedia is the WORST POSSIBLE reference to use for anything…….

  177. The Wikipedia article contains 122 footnotes, many of them with links which you can click on and read if you want to counter the claim of the article that Hitler was a theist.

  178. Some tenets of atheism

    That seems to describe at least two religions.
    And atheism, which is certainly like a religion.

    Incidentally, belief in many gods, is technically paganism, because they did not purport to help men’s behavior. The gods were extremely self-centered and used men for their own purposes. Greek gods, the same way, as well as Egyptian.

  179. That is true, but anyone can make entries, hence the caveat by Wikipedia.

    For example, as a Christian, I could, were I so devious, rewrite articles on Christianity, which is why NO self respecting University allows the use of Wikipedia as an authority.

    I find Wikipedia good for some things, but certainly NO SUBSTITUTE for a good search engine!

  180. Tim:

    We’re just conversing. This isn’t a university class room.

    Anyway, if what you’re saying about is that some atheist groups resemble religious groups in their structure, groupthink, dogmatism and need to proselytize, I agree.

    Likewise, I’ve run into theists who belong to no religious groups and accept no religious doctrines, but who simply follow their own path towards a Deity without ringing doorbells and trying to push their creed on others.

    I personally have never belonged to an atheist organization nor attended any atheist meeting nor ever attempted to convert anyone to atheism.

    It does not matter to me whether a person is a theist or an atheist. I had always thought that my woman companion of many years was an atheist, but one day I glanced at her Facebook page and I discovered that she identifies herself as an agnostic. I can assure that that discovery did not affect our relationship in any way and that we did not even bother to discuss the issue.

    I have been an atheist for about 50 years now and generally, it’s not a subject that I think about much. Somehow we got on the subject here and the discussion continued.

    In fact, I like diversity. I like a world with theists and atheists and agnostics and communists (not Stalin) and capitalists and feminists and anarchists and all the possible variety of human creativity.

    I feel uncomfortable with the more militant New Atheists, with their need to proselytze and convert the Heathen (for them, the Heathen are religious believers) and to stamp out Heresy (Heretics for them are atheists who don’t see themselves as enemies of religion) and the few times that I’ve been foolhardy enough to venture into their websites, I’ve not been well received, to say the least.

  181. We actually share sympathies on many things, and unfortunately, I started reading Antony Flew’s book, which is more engrossing than humorous. Dawkins and Hitchins are humorous. I do not think or know I agree with everything Flew says, but he is interesting, partly because he seems to be the linchpin of new atheism. Ron has made good points also, I want time to think about these things. It is true it will take more than this to change my mind, but I am always willing to look.

    After going to 7 different schools, I tend to adopt certain practices, like not quoting Wikipedia, but we can look at WP. I prefer to look at other sites, though.

  182. Tim,

    Seriously? Your evidence of source of atheist tenets is a an anti-atheist blog? Do you consult the Quran for your Christian beliefs? A car manual for cake recipes? Is there no end to the misrepresentation?

    If that’s where you get your information on atheism I’m not surprised you have such a distorted view.

    “The gods were extremely self-centered…”

    And you read the ten commandments and think your god is not self-centred? And the supposed self-proclamation of Jesus that he is the divine son of God is not a little egotistical?

    With every comment you incriminate your own religion. The nature of your expression of such biased views supports my contention that the methodologies of religious belief are inappropriate for telling us anything useful. The level of distortion is off the scale.

  183. Absolutely seriously for sure. Atheists have no problems making comments about what my Church teaches, and that doesn’t bother me. You did it a couple of times today.

    Now your definition of self-centered needs to be established. You have to tell me what you mean so I can respond.

    Maybe I have incriminated myself and my religion, but I was pretty clear I was not coming from a Christian position. If I had responded as a Christian, I would have done it different.

    You answered what I feared, that there is really no benefit to mankind of atheism, and the measure of success is whether we would leave our religion, which is both an announcement of destruction and taking away of my liberties.

    All other philosophies have purpose, and add to understanding, it is atheism alone that like nuclear weapons focus on destruction, focuses on destroying the faith of others. Atheism alone is focused on destruction, therefore it seems logical to assume that the loss of liberties and faith is a bad thing.

    It is why I see atheism as evil. Note, I am not saying you are evil, I think you are dead wrong, and perhaps your devotion blinds you.

    I think that all Christians and atheists learn of each other’s positions, we would likely be more tolerant of each other. In your case, may I ask if you have read Flew’s book, and if so, what did you think about it.

    In my faith, we are not allowed to hate the atheist, but atheism is totally unacceptable. I think that is a good place to start from.

  184. Okay, sorry Tim, but I’ve had enough of this.

    This sort of thing:

    In my faith, we are not allowed to hate the atheist, but atheism is totally unacceptable. I think that is a good place to start from.

    is both ridiculous and not acceptable here.

    This is a philosophy blog. You’re just proselytizing. I’ve already warned you once to tone down the rhetoric, but you’ve not taken any notice. So it stops now.

    Apologies to everybody else in this thread. But there are limits.

  185. Linkgebliebenes 13 « kult|prok - pingback on March 12, 2013 at 1:33 pm
  186. I don’t think cats are evil. Aren’t we anthropomorphizing them that way? Granted, some of the cats I’ve owned have been mean or some of the cats I pet sit for can be over the top but there are some who are gentle. My current cat is very gentle, calming, soothing and she enjoys the company of just about anyone. She doesn’t get on too well with certain other cats. I think that’s just because she is a loner when it comes to her own kind. She loves dogs and human however.

    I think animals, much like humans, it depends on their personality. Every being on the planet has a personality. It all stems from there what they are.

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  189. It is safe to conclude that: Dogs are intelligent, but not as intelligent as humans. For higher brain function, it was studied that a greater number of myelination constituted faster connection within the brain, and additionally, more glial cells present indicated greater brain function, outside of the brain to body size ratio.

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