Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

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Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby sayak » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:14 pm

Rip Van Winkle in "Leaving the faith" thread discussed about some of the problem he/she faced regarding the proper grounding of values and morality in an atheistic worldview.
I am quoting him to start this discussion.
As I said, I believed the same. I didn't stop analyzing my belief when I was happy with my belief, though. Most days I wish i had.

Being an atheist means coming to terms with the fact that we are nothing more than a collection of random molecules. You could dig up any patch of sod and it would be (intrinsically) the same as any person: your parents or spouse or child, my parents or spouse or child. This means that all of us, you and your loved ones, me and my loved ones has every bit (and only as much) value as any clump of dirt. By the way, this realization wasn't enough to deter me from atheism. Being an atheist means that any morals (principals, or ethics if you prefer) were invented by us and apply only to us, said inventors of those 'morals'. You might as well convict an avalanche of murder when destroys the rocks it lands upon.

Consequently, it also means that we are (honestly) nothing more than just one life form among many. More intellectually developed, true, but still just one life among trillions upon trillions. No life form has any claim to moral superiority over another. All have the same right (and incentive) to survive by any means at their disposal. We're nothing special. If the avalanche example is too abstract, here's another one: you might as well convict the house cat of murder when it guts the rabbit. The house cat is well fed, it doesn't need to hunt. The cat kills the rabbit for no other reason than it finds pleasure in the act, instinct or otherwise.

Does the rabbit argue with the cat? Does it tell the cat "you have no right"? No. It runs, or it dies; sometimes both. The cat does what it does because it can, the rabbit escapes because it can (otherwise it dies). All life forms have the right to do whatever is in their power to do, absent of objective morality.

This works among (so called) civilized humans, as well. The Nazi's, for example. How many people do you think tried, with laughable result, to moralize with the Nazi's. Millions, I'm sure. Did said moralizing do anything to stop their murderous global rampage? No. What did stop them? Not moral arguments. It was only when they were forced into submission by a greater force. Otherwise we'd all be speaking German today. Unless you're Jewish, in which case you'd be dead.

Also, consider this: concepts such as slavery, homophobia, prejudice are considered immoral for no other reason than because we DECIDED they're immoral. As soon as we decide that they're moral, they will be (without recourse) since we invent morality for ourselves. Or, standards and ethics (if you prefer those terms). This isn't an abstract idea, or untested. All these things have been considered moral, sometimes for thousands of years, among varied human cultures. We are such an infant society, and ego driven, we tend to forget how the world worked before us. We didn't create human society in the last few hundred years, nor did we invent, in the past few hundred years, what the majority of humans have perceived as moral (through the vast ages). Like all adolescents we like to believe "we know it all". We don't. It's all been done before us.

Absent of any objective morality I must recognize the Nazi's right to impose their will as they please, just like any other animal (or collective of animals). I might as well call one ant hill that invades another ant hill evil for doing so. Like I said, absent of a Creator we invent our own terms (and definition) of morality.

Leading to the next point. If we, as an individual or as a species, get to decide what is moral we get to decide what is immoral. Both mean that we get to change those definitions whenever it suits us. This is what's known as subjective morality (vs. objective).

I can't argue with the atheist doctrine. For all i know, it may be true. Maybe there isn't a God. I can't prove there is a God. What i do know, however, is that without a God (of some kind) any action, any act of what we now define as evil can plausibly be justified. I refuse to believe this. Again...refuse. I admit my belief in a Creator is completely faith based (since I have no verifiable evidence). The alternative, however, is worse for me (worse for all of us, I believe).


The statements made here are instructive as it shows that there is significant gap between accepting the idea that a god does not exist and in switching to a worldview that remains both justifiable and coherent within such an idea. I will point that this is not simply a conundrum in theism/atheism. For example an huge amount of work had to be done and is still going on in order to conceptualize coherently the ideas of quantum mechanics, which are also true, but very difficult to make sense of. I will address some ways of thinking about the problems RipVanWinkle raised in my successive posts, and others can chime in with their own problems and solutions.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby sayak » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:56 pm

Being an atheist means coming to terms with the fact that we are nothing more than a collection of random molecules.


This seems to a misleading statement. We seem to be a highly non-random structures made of very specific molecules (organic molecules like amino acids and DNA and proteins).

You could dig up any patch of sod and it would be (intrinsically) the same as any person: your parents or spouse or child, my parents or spouse or child.


What does intrinsic mean here? Why is it relevant to question of value/uniqueness that you are asking. It is not what things are made of, but how the things are arranged within that makes them distinct, interesting, complex, functional/valuable. A microchip and a pile of sand is made of the same ingredients, but the functionality and uniqueness of a microchip stems from the structural arrangement within it.

This is a universal fact coming from mathematics itself. Till now, the best way to think of mathematics is general is through set theory, and the complex rich structure of mathematics does not depend very much what elements are present in each set, but what the relational structure between the sets are. So the first (tongue-in-cheek) axiom of an atheistic worldview may be put as:-
1) Everything interesting, unique, complex or valuable resides not in the intrinsic nature of things but how those things relate and interact with other things.

Indeed, there is considerable doubt if there is any intrinsic nature to things at all. So I would say that if you are looking for value in the essence of things (as Plato did), I would say you are looking at the wrong place.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby mitchellmckain » Sat Feb 28, 2015 4:21 pm

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:Absent of a Creator there is no such thing as objective morality.

I am a Christian and even I know there is something fundamentally wrong with this statement.
1. The existence of a creator logically does not have any impact whatsoever on the question of whether an "objective morality" exists.
2. Atheists have no more difficulty in obtaining a moral code than theists. I know because I wasn't raised as a theist and I had no difficulty.
3. A morality founded on dictation by any authority whether it is a book or person is inadequate for the moral needs of mature rational adults. From this it is easy to conclude that the only thing that can make a morality objective in any way are reasons WHY some things are right and other things are wrong.
4. It is quite true that there is no perfectly objective basis for morality. But to even look for such a thing is to indulge in the delusion that one can ever live ones life at all on a perfectly objective basis. Life is not objective observation but unavoidably requires subjective participation where what you want matters!
5. The best basis we have for calling anything (about the real world) objective is the scientific methodology. But that methodology is not founded on a perfectly objective basis. It requires premises and assumptions that are accepted on faith. Not even mathematics can avoid this fact. And with Godel's proof all attempts to hoist math and science on its own petard fails miserably.
6. So instead of chasing after delusions, it is only rational that we pursue morality in the same way as we pursue other things, which is on the basis of a few basic premises and assumptions. They are of course somewhat different that those we make for mathematics and science, but they are nevertheless reasonable assumptions. These are assumptions about basic things that human beings want and need. From this it is possible derive basic criterion that make some human communities better for its citizens than others and I put it to you that this is as objective as most other things in life.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote: I pulled every trick in the book to avoid this fact. Fact it is, though. Since this thread is about 'leaving the faith" I won't go into all the multitude of "wordiness" about subjective vs. objective morality. In fact, there's not enough room in any 1,000 posts to cover this topic (much less one). 'Long story short: I was eventually forced into either (logically) accepting the fact that there is no such thing as absolute morality, or admitting that there is a Creator.

I would suggest that what your discovery is really about is the fundamentally subjective nature of life itself and that all knowledge is ultimately founded on faith for logic can only take you from premises to conclusions and that is all.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:Believe me, I never wanted to believe in any "God". I still don't want do. As much as I despise the belief in a Creator, I despise the idea that there is no absolute morality more.

I believe there is creator. But I denounce the moral argument as fundamentally flawed as both logically and pragmatically bad to its core.
There is no purely absolute morality for there is no denying that a very large portion of morality is culturally relative. Very often it is more important to have a rule than what the rule is -- for example what side of the street you drive on. But this does not mean there is no absolute elements to morality that are not objectively observable and testable. For one example, you can see the thread concerning the evolutionary basis for altruism as an example. But the simple fact is that we can compare the health and well being of members of different communities with different standards of behavior and measure a difference so your claim is demonstrably wrong.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:Absolute morality = objective (without change regardless and in spite of individual, or collective, perspective). Anyway, morality is never "subject" to the opinion of any individual, or collective of individuals (no matter how large the collective). Objective vs. subjective. This is a 'very' brief explanation without being too "wordy".

incorrect these are totally different adjectives
Absolute is opposed to relative -- this is about whether something depends on some external parameter (not necessarily numerical)
objective is opposed to subjective - this is about whether something is demonstrable and thus you have a reasonable expectation for others to accept it.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:So...Upon honest reflection...that's the key word: honest...I was forced into a true "moral dilemma". i could continue with the belief that I was raised with, what I loved (and still do) and embrace pure anarchy in order to preserve intellectual integrity or I could adopt a belief in a Creator, which would then (honestly) allow me to preserve moral principles I'd been taught as more than just "principles".

I certainly think there are excellent reasons to believe in a creator, but the moral argument is not one of them. Here are some of mine

As a scientist I am well acquainted with scientific methodology just as I am fully cognizant about how rare are the cases when proof and objective evidence are actually available for the conclusions that people make all the time. Rhetoric frankly has a much bigger role in everyday life than scientific methodology - it is the tool of trade for lawyers, preachers, politicians, philosophers and used car salesmen. Subjective participation is the essence of life and thus imagining that one can restrict life to the objective observation of scientific inquiry is nothing less than delusional. So I don't adopt such idiotic pretense and know full well that science is one thing and life is something else entirely.

As a physicist I have to ask myself as other physicist have asked themselves whether life as we experience really can be summed up in the mathematical equations of physics. My necessarily subjective conclusion the same as many others, is that the very idea is absurd. Science puts our experience through the filter of mathematical glasses and to be sure this methodology has proven marvelously successful at not only explaining many things but discovering new things about the world that we never expected. But this is just looking at life in one particular way and I think it is quite foolish confuse this way of looking at things with the reality itself.

Thus the point is that I have already decided that reality extends beyond what objective evidence can show. And this includes the God that I believe in. He is a spiritual being and that means that He has no part in the mathematical relationships of time and space that are the physical universe and which make objective evidence a possibility. Thus in my case, there never could be any expectation of objective evidence for the existence of God. Indeed from my point of view that is kind of the whole point of a belief in God at all. I believe that there is a reality beyond what can be measured, tested, manipulated and controlled. The human body and mind may be physical things subject to coincidental external forces that may distort or destroy them at any time, but the human spirit is a matter of our own personal choices and untouchable by things external to it. Thus I reject your unprovable assumptions about the limits of reality and assert that God and the human spirit are quite real, even if they are not quite what many religions claim them to be.


I don't think a discussion of why Christianity is even meaningful until we address more basic issues of why believe in a spiritual aspect to existence, why religion, why theism etc...

1. The idea that life as we experience really can be summed up in the mathematical equations of physics seems absurd to me (explanation in quote above).

2. Through existentialism that I made a connection gave some meaning to the word "God" for me (explanation in quote below).

3. The cognitive dissonance for scientists in quantum physics was resolved for me by the idea that God has a back door through which to interact with the world (explanation in quote below).

4. I have considerable sympathy with the sentiments of the eastern mystics that logic is stultifying trap for human thought and consciousness. The result is that even if I found no other reasons to believe in a God or a spiritual side to reality and human existence I would very much see the need to fabricate them for the sake of our own liberty of thought. We need a belief in something transcendent in order for us transcend the limitations of logic and mundane (or material) reasons to give our uniquely human ability for abstraction more substance and life.

5. I feel there are profound pragmatic reasons to reject the idea that reality is exclusively objective because it immediately takes any conviction about reality to a conclusion that the people who disagree with you are detached from reality and delusional or in some other way defective, I don't believe that this is at all conducive to the values and ideals of a free society. The plain fact is that our direct contact with reality is wholly subjective and it is the objective which is the abstraction that has to be fabricated. Now I certainly think there is very good evidence that there is an objective aspect to reality but I see nothing to support taking this to the extreme of presuming that reality is exclusively objective.



Let me relate to you a couple answers that I would give to the typical sort of questions that Christians and pseudo-christians would ask me when I was growing up.
1. When they asked if I believed God existed, I responded that it seemed to me that the important question was not whether God exists but what is God. I had no clear concept of God growing up and I really puzzled over what the word could mean after starting my studies of physics at university.
2. When they asked me what I thought of the Bible, I responded that I thought it was as good as some of the other fantasy novels that I liked to read. I did have a Bible and read parts of it. I certainly liked a lot of the things that Jesus said.

For me the search for truth started with science first. But high school served to ignite my interest in philosophy as well. And it was particularly existentialism and the writings of Camus that had a big impact on me. Though I also read an historical novel of the story surrounding the Buddha which got me thinking in that direction as well. So I did pursued these two interests a little at university in addition to my classes in mathematics and physics, with class on existentialism and a class on the religions of china and japan.

It was through existentialism that I made a connection that gave some meaning to the word "God" for me. I had come to the conclusion that the most fundamental existentialist faith was the faith that life was worth living. I also concluded that for theists their faith in God played the same role for them in their lives, suggesting that the two kinds of faith were really the same thing in different words. That equivalence basically became my working definition for "God", and from there it was a matter of judging what understanding of God best served that purpose.

Meanwhile, in the studies of my major, physics, we got to the punch line in our examination of quantum mechanics, hearing some of the smarter students stand up and cry in outrage - "but... that doesn't make any sense!" For in quantum physics we find that the physical evidence forces to accept some basic facts that seem to contradict the logical premises of physics and scientific inquiry itself. Its discovery was such a shock to many great scientists that they resisted the ideas and tried to find a way around it to no avail. The evidence was conclusive. Physical causality is not a closed system and we had to accept that there were certain events which have no cause within scientific world view.

So hearing all the reports of shock and incredulity among the physicists that this should be so, it occurred to me, that there was something that would make sense of it to me. If the universe was the creation of a deity who wanted keep his fingers in events then these facts of quantum physics would be a back door in the laws of nature through which He could do so. I am not saying that any such conclusion is necessitated by the scientific facts; only that on this subjective level where quantum physics created such cognitive dissonance for so many physicists, that this idea would make sense of it -- to me.

That was only the beginning of long road, because I certainly didn't jump from there to embracing Christianity and the Bible. The writings of Scott Peck played an important role on that road with his psychological approach to spirituality. Also the study of the history of philosophy gave me some tools to build up my own ideas about the nature of reality, particularly in the ideas of Aristotle. I also found in the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Pierce, some insight into the questions of epistemology that were helpful.

However, even fifteen years later I had some serious obstacles in various theological ideas like atonement, assurance, the Trinity and the resurrection. I worked through these primarily during discussions on the internet. And on several of these I didn't accept the more popular western positions on these subjects but saw in the Bible reasons to take a slightly different approach. It amazes me that I still came out with a fairly orthodox stand on them though I do admit that my refusal to parrot the usual rhetoric does send the more black and white, intolerant Christians into rants about heresy. So if you want to know what sort of Christian I should be called. I am in the liberal end of the evangelical spectrum and neither fundamentalist or Calvinist, though I lean more towards Eastern Orthodoxy on a couple of theological questions rejecting the typical western approach as a bit too irrational for my taste. Also, like some other scientists that have become Christian, I am an open theist (you can look up the writings of John Polkinghorne for example).
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby Rip_Van_Winkle » Sat Feb 28, 2015 4:44 pm

This seems to a misleading statement. We seem to be a highly non-random structures made of very specific molecules (organic molecules like amino acids and DNA and proteins).

Sayak, do you realize what you just wrote? "We seem to be a highly non-random structure..."

I wasn't even considering the observation from that perspective, but you did. Non random not only implies, but demands some kind of Creator.

Your second observation: yes. I agree. This is part of my point (or dilemma). How ever you choose to look at it. If we aren't created, then there is no purpose. We live until we die, so do our children, and theirs, and theirs...etc. To the point when all energy in the universe is exhausted and all life (inevitably) ceases, no matter how advanced. All matter, all particles, all sub atomic particles (even light photons) cease.

There is no history. No one to chronicle it. There is no learning. all life, all energy is "dead'. No culture or future. No life at all. It will be as though all the past never happened. This will be so even if you believe in (unobserved) dark matter that adds the extra mass "umph" required for the universe to collapse upon itself into another "big bang".

Even then, I'm still not convinced of the whole 'time running backwards' thing which is, evidently necessary to make the 'big bang' happen. We're conjecturing. We're projecting our hopes (absent of real testing) to validate an idea we prefer. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea. i always did. I just can't accept it as empirical without verifiable tests.

Yes, I understand the same can be said of any religion. The difference is that religion openly admits its basis is untested (or faith).
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby Rip_Van_Winkle » Sat Feb 28, 2015 5:10 pm

Mitchellmckain. Did you actually read my post? I know you "picked" it. Not the same thing.

incorrect these are totally different adjectives
Absolute is opposed to relative -- this is about whether something depends on some external parameter (not necessarily numerical)
objective is opposed to subjective - this is about whether something is demonstrable and thus you have a reasonable expectation for others to accept it.

If you had read the post you would have seen my point was that objective is not relative. I said that I'm not a good communicator. Maybe it's my fault you misunderstood. If so, I apologize.If you read it carefully, you will find that I was making the case for objective being in opposition to subjective.

I said that the reason a Creator 'must' exist is because that is the only (intellectually honest) reason for objective morality. Otherwise, all individual perspectives are equally valid, or subjective (relative if you prefer).

Just in case you didn't catch it the second time: Absent of a Creator all perspectives are equally valid, or subjective (again, relative, if you prefer). Either way, thanks for restating my point.

We're (unnecessarily) talking at cross purposes. Unnecessary, because we're saying the same thing.

You should know that i was raised as an atheist. I never wanted to believe in a God of any kind. Why do i believe in one now? See above...or just look at my original post where I said that a Creator is the only option for an objective morality (otherwise it's subjective). For the third time.

Also, as a scientist you know that there can never be any proof of God, numerically or otherwise. Now you can thank me for restating your point.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby Particles » Sat Feb 28, 2015 5:19 pm

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:This seems to a misleading statement. We seem to be a highly non-random structures made of very specific molecules (organic molecules like amino acids and DNA and proteins).

Sayak, do you realize what you just wrote? "We seem to be a highly non-random structure..."

I wasn't even considering the observation from that perspective, but you did. Non random not only implies, but demands some kind of Creator.


The laws of nature aren't random. That the universe isn't a homogoneous blob is because physical laws don't operate randomly. Oxygen reacts differently with hydrogen than with carbon, etc. That's why we end up with galaxies and planets and life.

Your second observation: yes. I agree. This is part of my point (or dilemma). How ever you choose to look at it. If we aren't created, then there is no purpose. We live until we die, so do our children, and theirs, and theirs...etc. To the point when all energy in the universe is exhausted and all life (inevitably) ceases, no matter how advanced. All matter, all particles, all sub atomic particles (even light photons) cease.


We have whatever purpose we want. Having or not having a creator doesn't change that.

There is no history. No one to chronicle it. There is no learning. all life, all energy is "dead'. No culture or future. No life at all. It will be as though all the past never happened. This will be so even if you believe in (unobserved) dark matter that adds the extra mass "umph" required for the universe to collapse upon itself into another "big bang".


Why are you smuggling in "eternal" with your definition of purpose?

I said that the reason a Creator 'must' exist is because that is the only (intellectually honest) reason for objective morality. Otherwise, all individual perspectives are equally valid, or subjective (relative if you prefer).


Why can't there be objective morality without a creator, and how does having a creator make morality objective? Why wouldn't it just be the creator's subjective morality? Are you familiar with the Euthyphro dilemma? Can you solve it?

Also, as a scientist you know that there can never be any proof of God, numerically or otherwise.


That God hasn't been proven doesn't mean it's unprovable in principle.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby mitchellmckain » Sat Feb 28, 2015 5:42 pm

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:I said that the reason a Creator 'must' exist is because that is the only (intellectually honest) reason for objective morality. Otherwise, all individual perspectives are equally valid, or subjective (relative if you prefer).

This simply isn't true. It is not the only intellectual honest reason for objective or absolute morality. All perspectives are not equally valid because there are things which are scientifically demonstrable. Yes we have to accept that there is an element of relativity in morality because some of it really is culturally relative -- particularly the details of where we draw the lines.

The existence of a creator doesn't change anything. Let me remind you of the Gnostics, who believed the world was created by an evil being called the Demiurge. Or consider every book that has ever been written: is not the author of the book the creator? How is the existence of God any different and how does their existence make a reason for objective or absolute morality?

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:Just in case you didn't catch it the second time: Absent of a Creator all perspectives are equally valid, or subjective (again, relative, if you prefer). Either way, thanks for restating my point.

No, they are not ALL equal. Different moral standards make a demonstrable measurable difference in the well being of people.

Yes many perspective ARE equal. And that is why we require religious freedom.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:We're (unnecessarily) talking at cross purposes. Unnecessary, because we're saying the same thing.

I don't think so. Just because we agree that God exists doesn't mean we agree on other things. You seem to think morality is a good reason to believe that God exists. I think morality is bad reason to believe God exists.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:You should know that i was raised as an atheist. I never wanted to believe in a God of any kind. Why do i believe in one now? See above...or just look at my original post where I said that a Creator is the only option for an objective morality (otherwise it's subjective). For the third time.

I was raised by non-theists. My father was Deistic-agnostic, which means he only considered the Deist type God possible, but found this God to irrelevant to the living of our lives and thus neither knew or cared whether such a thing existed. He was also a Maoist communist for many years.

The problem with the moral argument is that authoritative dictation is a horrible basis for morality. Indeed I think it is divine relativism and not any kind of objective or absolute morality at all. The morality of mature rational adults requires there to be REASONS why some things are good and some things are bad. The most that a theist can add to this is to say that God knows what these reasons are. But if the reasons exist then the reasons by themselves are sufficient for morality and I don't see how the existence of God adds one little thing to that.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby Rip_Van_Winkle » Sat Feb 28, 2015 8:00 pm

Reasons? Really? You're seriously claiming, as fact, that we can "empirically test" the Creator's will in some fashion. You must be claiming this. As a scientist, I hope you're claiming this and very much want to see said tests. As a rational being I hope I'm misunderstanding you, though. I say this sincerely, with the hope that you're also rational and realize that you can't test God, or the will of the Creator. Again, I'd love to see the tests that prove what God's will is, what he had in mind for us when he "wound the big clock" and let us go. Oh, shucks, that would necessarily prove God. impossible.

So, if you claim some 'inside knowledge' as to the reasons for life and/or morality, you're actually claiming an insight into the mind of God. Big ego? Naw. also, see above. I'd love to see you prove these things with ANY kind of test. You claim to be a scientist, right?

I'm sure you have a following. I'm sure some of them will understand what I'm saying, some won't. Either way they'll follow. Sadly. No matter what, I'm sure you understand what I'm saying. But you won't recognize it.

I hope that you'll come clean and admit that your belief in God is untestable, therefore unprovable, therefore faith based, therefore any claim you make toward the Creator's intent, and/or nature is also based on faith. Just like every one else. Logic 101. Of course, this is only true unless you have some special link to God, like a magic "Book", or some indescribable "feeling". In that case...it's still faith...

It doesn't matter how we we're trained as children, or how we label ourselves as adults, it does nothing to distinguish the will of the Creator.

*sigh* Ok. Before this gets anymore out of hand.

I believe in a Creator. you claim to. Common ground? Fair enough? Can we agree on that, at least? According to what we've both already said, that's a moot point.
-Assuming neither of us are liars we can agree that -

1) There is a Creator

-Can we also agree that -

2) The existence of a Creator is not empirically provable by Its creations, nor is the Creator's will (empirically provable, that is)

3) Therefore, whatever we believe about the Creator, or Its nature, is based wholly on faith.

Oh, what's the use. I tried twice already to find common ground, on a topic we "should" agree with no less. I don't have the time to write books on - line, or read them.
Any "reason" for living (or existence, if you prefer) is purely subjective, or relative, to individual preference absent of a direct command from the Creator. To say that there is a Creator, therefore there is(logically) an objective standard, but said Creator doesn't impose that standard on us, leaving us free to pursue relative standards...is insane; literally. That's what you're saying, or trying very hard to say without being understood. Because you know that when it's brought to light it's obviously ridiculous. I get it, I really do. most people won't be able able to wrap their minds around the concept much less the doublethink necessary to employ it. Sad. I truly hope I'm wrong about you. I truly do. This is one of those times I'd skip for joy at being wrong. But, unfortunately I'm not. Others may not realize what I'm saying, but you do.

I saw, several posts ago, that you ignored the most pertinent parts of my original post, wrote a book on the least important parts, and even accused me of writing things I didn't. This isn't a pissing contest. I can see that there's no hope of logical discussion

I'm sorry we couldn't find common ground. I tried to reach out to you in an IM, well before this. Numbers and logic aren't necessarily equatable. They aren't here. Morality isn't quantifiable, neither is God. Not that you even tried. You should know the Creator can't be quantified, nor can Its will. I think you know this; I hope you do.

I apologize for any harsh words and I forgive you for any you make. I'm leaving the last words to you.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby sayak » Sat Feb 28, 2015 8:20 pm

To RipVan,
Sayak, do you realize what you just wrote? "We seem to be a highly non-random structure..."

I wasn't even considering the observation from that perspective, but you did. Non random not only implies, but demands some kind of Creator.


No it does not. I am not even sure how you made that conclusion. A simple example is the crystalline structure of things like diamonds http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_structure, highly structured and non-random and following from the laws of quantum chemistry (more accurately what is called the Density Functional Theory) through various optimization procedures. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_structure . The point is the physical laws of quantum mechanics etc. when acting on matter-energy will often create highly complex non-random structures with interesting group properties. You are mistaking lack of purpose with randomness. They are not the same things.

Your second observation: yes. I agree. This is part of my point (or dilemma). How ever you choose to look at it. If we aren't created, then there is no purpose. We live until we die, so do our children, and theirs, and theirs...etc. To the point when all energy in the universe is exhausted and all life (inevitably) ceases, no matter how advanced. All matter, all particles, all sub atomic particles (even light photons) cease.

There is no history. No one to chronicle it. There is no learning. all life, all energy is "dead'. No culture or future. No life at all. It will be as though all the past never happened. This will be so even if you believe in (unobserved) dark matter that adds the extra mass "umph" required for the universe to collapse upon itself into another "big bang".


I am not entirely sure how this relates to my response about why one should look for interesting things and uniqueness in structures, not what makes those structures. For your current point, I would simply note for now that I do not consider having a purpose fundamental to leading a meaningful life. My locus of meaning lies in the quality of the life as experienced, and the sense of eudaimonia in the life as lived in the extended present. There is scope for having future goals as being used instrumentally to create a well-lived future experience of living, but the key source of meaning lies in the quality of the finite set of conscious experiences that I live through.

Let me now go back to your original post,

Being an atheist means that any morals (principals, or ethics if you prefer) were invented by us and apply only to us, said inventors of those 'morals'. You might as well convict an avalanche of murder when destroys the rocks it lands upon....Consequently, it also means that we are (honestly) nothing more than just one life form among many. More intellectually developed, true, but still just one life among trillions upon trillions. No life form has any claim to moral superiority over another. All have the same right (and incentive) to survive by any means at their disposal. We're nothing special. If the avalanche example is too abstract, here's another one: you might as well convict the house cat of murder when it guts the rabbit. The house cat is well fed, it doesn't need to hunt. The cat kills the rabbit for no other reason than it finds pleasure in the act, instinct or otherwise.

Does the rabbit argue with the cat? Does it tell the cat "you have no right"? No. It runs, or it dies; sometimes both. The cat does what it does because it can, the rabbit escapes because it can (otherwise it dies). All life forms have the right to do whatever is in their power to do, absent of objective morality.

This works among (so called) civilized humans, as well. The Nazi's, for example. How many people do you think tried, with laughable result, to moralize with the Nazi's. Millions, I'm sure. Did said moralizing do anything to stop their murderous global rampage? No. What did stop them? Not moral arguments. It was only when they were forced into submission by a greater force. Otherwise we'd all be speaking German today. Unless you're Jewish, in which case you'd be dead.

Also, consider this: concepts such as slavery, homophobia, prejudice are considered immoral for no other reason than because we DECIDED they're immoral. As soon as we decide that they're moral, they will be (without recourse) since we invent morality for ourselves. Or, standards and ethics (if you prefer those terms). This isn't an abstract idea, or untested. All these things have been considered moral, sometimes for thousands of years, among varied human cultures. We are such an infant society, and ego driven, we tend to forget how the world worked before us. We didn't create human society in the last few hundred years, nor did we invent, in the past few hundred years, what the majority of humans have perceived as moral (through the vast ages). Like all adolescents we like to believe "we know it all". We don't. It's all been done before us.

Absent of any objective morality I must recognize the Nazi's right to impose their will as they please, just like any other animal (or collective of animals). I might as well call one ant hill that invades another ant hill evil for doing so. Like I said, absent of a Creator we invent our own terms (and definition) of morality.


This section reminds me of the discussion I had with T2008. Here's an excerpt
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Second, morality was developed to ensure the success of societies, which are necessary for human survival and thriving. Like the rules of a board game, morality is contrived to bring us together for productivity and happiness. If this were true, there is nothing to which we can appeal when we find the behavior of other societies repugnant and reprehensible. Because morality is the construct of a social group it cannot extend farther than a society’s borders nor endure longer than a society’s existence.



Consider this paragraph and just replace morality with the word technology. Does that last sentence make any sense now? Morality is a social technology and its development and dissipation in the world needs to be treated just like technology is treated. The only criteria for saying a steel bridge is better than a wooden bridge is because its performs better and lasts longer. Morality is the mortar that connects the individualized bricks of human persons, how robust is the connection to external stress and how much load it can carry matters in how sophisticated a civilization can get.
Moreover societies today are no longer isolated. They interact, and a completely different society is invariably a threat..as societies are expansionist in nature. Societies compete for resources, slices of global commerce, influence in world affairs etc. Two very different social systems cannot coexist (or never has so far)...there is either convergence in which case they are no longer very different from each other (eg. the Germanic and Roman societies converged with time) or they are at war (Central Asian nomads vs the Han Chinese....and many other modern examples). Whichever social system establishes superiority in terms of prosperity, technological prowess, long-term stability (consider Soviet Russia that flared only to fade away) are the ones that become influential and begin to shape the ethics of the network they are connected to (like the Hellenistic age after the long Greco-Persian war that ended in a decisive victory for the Greeks; or the enormous influece China has wielded in shaping ethical and social norms throughout East Asia for centuries.)

Slave societies have proven less prosperous than emancipated societies. The legacy survives to this day (the Caribbean, Southern states, the Spanish America etc.) There are economic reasons, but also more fundamentally a rights based system of participatory government cannot long survive the existence of slavery that goes against the grain of its construction within the same society. And this system of government has proven to be the best way to go about it in the industrial age that is the modern world today.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby mitchellmckain » Sat Feb 28, 2015 9:02 pm

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:Reasons? Really?

Yes, mature rational adults need reasons why some things are good and some things are bad, because the the world is changing very fast and presents new situations people never faced before. Thus they have to decide what is right and wrong in new situations where a list of rules just won't cut it.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:You're seriously claiming, as fact, that we can "empirically test" the Creator's will in some fashion.

Absolutely not! What I am claiming is that a Creator's will has absolutely NOTHING to do with an objective or absolute morality. So what if a creator exist? So what if this creator has a will for something? That doesn't mean that what he wants is good. That a creator says so and that a creator wants something is NOT a adequate basis for the morality of mature rational adults. Like I explained before, the Gnostics believe the creator to be evil, so it does not follow that if the creator wants something, then it must be good.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote: You must be claiming this. As a scientist, I hope you're claiming this and very much want to see said tests.

Incorrect - I am claiming no such thing. God has no place in science, because God is not a valid scientific hypothesis. This is because of the criterion of falsifiability. Science only works on things that we can manipulate. If we could manipulate something someone calls "God" then I would deny that such a thing is God.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote: As a rational being I hope I'm misunderstanding you, though. I say this sincerely, with the hope that you're also rational and realize that you can't test God, or the will of the Creator.

correct.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote: Again, I'd love to see the tests that prove what God's will is, what he had in mind for us when he "wound the big clock" and let us go.

I am a theist not a Deist. I don't believe in a Deist idea of a God that "wound the big clock" and let us go. I believe in a God that is intimately involved in our lives.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:So, if you claim some 'inside knowledge' as to the reasons for life and/or morality, you're actually claiming an insight into the mind of God.

Incorrect - it does not follow. Science has a different means of determining the truth about things without claiming any magical insight into the mind of God. Though IF the universe was created then it is only reasonable that the nature of what was created tells us something of the intention of the creator. For example, it would by highly irrational to think that the creator of a guitar intended it to be used for hammering nails into wood, because it is not suited for such a purpose.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:You claim to be a scientist, right?

Masters degree in physics and my name on a couple of research papers.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:I hope that you'll come clean and admit that your belief in God is untestable, therefore unprovable, therefore faith based, therefore any claim you make toward the Creator's intent, and/or nature is also based on faith.

Absolutely, I have never claimed otherwise. What I have claimed in this thread has absolutely NOTHING to do with God. We were talking about MORALITY!!! The claim I made is that there are demonstrable means of determining some moral absolutes, by measuring the impact that different social standards of human behavior have on the mental and physical health of people who live in that society.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:1) There is a Creator

2) The existence of a Creator is not empirically provable by Its creations, nor is the Creator's will (empirically provable, that is)

3) Therefore, whatever we believe about the Creator, or Its nature, is based wholly on faith.

Yes we agree on these three things.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:Any "reason" for living (or existence, if you prefer) is purely subjective, or relative, to individual preference absent of a direct command from the Creator.

A reason for living is subjective - PERIOD. Tools are created for a purpose, as a means to an end. But for tools, life serves no purpose. It would be flaw. There is no rational reason why you would want tools with free will. There is only one rational moral reason to create living things and that is to love them -- because life and free will means they should be an end in themselves rather than a means to an end. To give choice and then take choice away is wrong.

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote: To say that there is a Creator, therefore there is(logically) an objective standard, but said Creator doesn't impose that standard on us, leaving us free to pursue relative standards...is insane; literally.

Only if you are obsessed with power and control. In that case it is impossible to imagine why someone would throw away control by giving anything free will. But if you instead value love and the freedom which love requires, then you might set aside power and control and even to become a helpless human infant for the sake of love.

I wrote this before I saw your PM. I will read that now.
Last edited by mitchellmckain on Fri Mar 06, 2015 12:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby humanguy » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:32 pm

Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:If we aren't created, then there is no purpose. We live until we die, so do our children, and theirs, and theirs...etc.


Yes. So?
Most of us, just about all of us, have the capacity to be rock and rolled by a feeling of pure ecstatic raw joy. You do, don't you? We should respect each other for that.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby Particles » Thu Mar 05, 2015 12:32 pm

Still no response from Rip to all our brilliant comments. I guess he decided to sleep on it.

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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby sayak » Thu Mar 05, 2015 4:39 pm

People can be busy Particles. Its something we do at leisure after all.
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby Aaron » Thu Mar 05, 2015 9:10 pm

Particles wrote:Still no response from Rip to all our brilliant comments. I guess he decided to sleep on it.

Image


sayak wrote:People can be busy Particles. Its something we do at leisure after all.


There was a least one time Particles did take a bit to respond to a post I wrote (though he did respond quite well eventually).
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Re: Values and the Question of Objective Morality in Atheism

Postby spongebob » Sun Mar 08, 2015 6:44 am

humanguy wrote:
Rip_Van_Winkle wrote:If we aren't created, then there is no purpose. We live until we die, so do our children, and theirs, and theirs...etc.


Yes. So?


For whatever reason, some people just aren't comfortable with the realization that there is no inherent purpose in life. To them, having a purpose given to them is more acceptable than having to find one for yourself. I think this actually extends far beyond religious ideas because lots of people follow in the steps of their parents while others deviate even when it would be much easier to just let that momentum carry them. I think this misconception is actually hidden in many aspects of human activity, where people assume the most obvious things as a purpose when in fact they may be far off the mark.
Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
~Bertrand Russell

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