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March 28, 2012

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May I play devil's advocate for a minute, here?

You state...

There is no sense in which we’re all equal if there’s no shared, intrinsically valuable human nature; and there’s no sense in which we have unalienable rights if the state grants all rights and there is no one higher than the state.

I'd have to wonder why this is necessarily so.

1. Why couldn't a non-theist believe in the dignity of human nature as self-evident?

2. Why couldn't a non-theist agree with Jefferson, et al, that some truths are self-evident, that all people are created equal and with certain human rights? Do you suspect that Jefferson, et al, were wrong and these truths are not self-evident? From a Christian point of view, do you think these Truths are not written upon the heart of humanity (ie, intuitive)?

3. If one views that the dignity of humanity is self-evident, then wouldn't humanity hold a higher role than a mere human invention like the state?

I believe this is what the non-theists will reply and I don't see where they'd be mistaken, from their point of view.

>> "If, for instance, you do not believe in God, you are likely to conclude that man is a temporal being meant to serve the state, an eternal institution."

i do not believe in God.

i'm a card carrying libertarian.

if anything, because i have so precious little time, i'd like to keep as much of it to myself as possible. not give it to government workers.

ayn rand was wrong about a lot of things. but on that point she was correct.

also, the state is not "eternal." it will all burn when the sun heats up in a few million years.

I don’t think that Christianity is nonsensical. However, if I were arguing that it isn’t nonsensical, I wouldn’t argue as follows:

(i) The Christian worldview has provided fertile ground for good cultural and political practices.
(ii) Atheism has provided fertile ground for bad cultural and political practices.
(iii) Therefore, the Christian worldview is not nonsensical.

First, the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

Second, Christianity, especially of a conservative evangelical variety, consists in numerous dogmas, many of which bear no intelligible connection to good cultural practices (e.g., the view that there was once a talking snake in an ancient garden paradise; or if you don’t like that one, the view that once upon a time a man had a conversation with a donkey). These views are irrelevant to our cultural practices and so clearly their reasonableness cannot be vindicated by pointing out good features of our cultural practices.

The third point may not be completely independent of the first two, so perhaps it shouldn’t be counted as a third point. Anyway, there is a huge difference between saying The view that humans have intrinsic worth, which is part of the Christian worldview, is not nonsensical and saying The Christian worldview is not nonsensical. The former can be true even though the latter is not. For example, I suspect that Mormons also believe that humans have intrinsic worth. Since the view that humans have intrinsic worth is not nonsensical, we may say the following:

(iv) The view that humans have intrinsic worth, which is part of the Mormon worldview, is not nonsensical.

But should we infer from (iv) that the following is true?

(v) The Mormon worldview is not nonsensical.

Remember, it is part of the Mormon worldview that God lives on planet Kolob (before you laugh too hard, ask yourself where Jesus, who allegedly remains embodied and so is spatial, is located; what was the flight plan governing the ascension?), that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, that Native Americans are related to a lost tribe of Israel, and that dark skin originates from a divine curse visited upon a group of people for their disobedience. Clearly, therefore, there is plenty of nonsense floating around in Mormonism.

So, as with Mormonism, we may not infer that Christianity is not nonsensical merely from the fact that one of its constituent doctrines is reasonable and has provided fertile ground for good cultural and political practices.

How is it self-evident?

Is not the atheist position that we should only believe things with empirical proof? Is stating something is self-evident the same as providing empirical proof?

As to this...

Is not the atheist position that we should only believe things with empirical proof?

I guess you'd have to ask an atheist. My suspicion would be that, as with all groups, atheism is not a monolith. There may well be "hard-core" atheists who think thusly. I suspect there are many who would take the notion of "some truths being self-evident" as valid.

Do you agree with Jefferson, et al, that there ARE some truths that are self-evident? That we don't need empirical evidence to demonstrate that there is dignity of human nature, it just is inherently a part of human nature? That is, by virtue of being a rational, self-determining human being, we are worthy of respect amongst ourselves and given to basic human rights?

Trent...

Is stating something is self-evident the same as providing empirical proof?

I don't know. It's a good question. What do you think?

I think there should be reasonable grounds for holding that a view is more likely that the opposite, but if you just say something is self-evident how is that different that saying God did it.

Self-evidence of the gaps?

Trent...

Is stating something is self-evident the same as providing empirical proof?

By definition, it would seem to be.

Self-evident (Merriam Webster): evident without proof or reasoning

Trent...

if you just say something is self-evident how is that different that saying God did it.

Because something that is self-evident (obvious to all people by observation alone) is not dependent upon or suggestive of "God doing it."

Right?

I'm not sure what your question "Self evident of the gaps" means.

Do you think independently observable reality is reasonable grounds for holding a view?

Then you are there are no people at any time that didn't see that things that are currently seen as self-evident we're evident?

If they didn't how can they be self evident?

Trent...

Then you are there are no people at any time that didn't see that things that are currently seen as self-evident we're evident?

If they didn't how can they be self evident?

I'm sorry, Trent, I'm still not sure where you're coming from.

Do you reject the notion of self-evident truths?

If so, I'm not holding a value judgment on that rejection, I'm just trying to understand your starting point.

Also, I noted (in respone to a question from you): something that is self-evident (obvious to all people by observation alone) is not dependent upon or suggestive of "God doing it."

Do you agree or disagree with that statement?

I also asked, "Do you think independently observable reality is reasonable grounds for holding a view?"

It would help the conversation go two ways and communicate more effectively and clearly if you'd answer my questions before asking others. It would help me, at least, understand better.

Fair enough?

For what it's worth (and getting to your question above), here is somebody's thesis about why human rights are self-evident with some rather sound reasoning behind it, it seems to me. It's from a source called "Project Muse" which is out of Johns Hopkins University.

From their website, "Project MUSE is a leading provider of digital humanities and social science content for the scholarly community."

To just add a little something to the conversation...

My question is if the types of human rights we say are self evident are actually self evident, how could we have large stretches of history and entire cultures that didn't recognize them.

If they were self evident, they should have recognized that they were so.

Dan,
In response to your questions (to the best of my limited ability)
2.Why couldn't a non-theist believe in the dignity of human nature as self-evident?

A non-theist could believe in the dignity of human nature as self-evident, but wouldn’t that presuppose a collective consciousness of worth or value to establish dignity? Our self- regard must be balanced against a scale to assume that same measure is even correct. Without a base measure, God created for….etc. (a theists view), one could say, self-evident dignity becomes bravado.

2. (A) Why couldn't a non-theist agree with Jefferson, et al, that some truths are self-evident, that all people are created equal and with certain human rights? (B)Do you suspect that Jefferson, et al, were wrong and these truths are not self-evident?(C) From a Christian point of view, do you think these Truths are not written upon the heart of humanity (ie, intuitive)?

A. A non-theist could agree with Jefferson that some truths are self-evident, that all people are created equal and with certain human rights. But first, to admit this you’d have to cite the source. That is the 1st chapter of the book of Romans. And before the Bible watchdogs of this site cry hermeneutics, Thomas Jefferson himself cited this source (especially verse 20). To say that anything is self-evident you would have to admit that someone or something made it evident wouldn’t you? Nothing reveals itself. Ideas are thought up and communicated.
B. I personally don’t suspect that Jefferson was wrong; I believe that these truths were made evident by other sources, chiefly the Bible, and communicated. Is it wrong to say or believe that we can know the truth and not act upon it? For example, I can know (truth) that every human being on the planet has the same value (dignity) as me, but not treat them as such. The book of Romans has a lot to say about that subject as well.
C. Yes I believe that these truths are written on the heart of humanity, but the heart is above all deceitful. If intuition is our only guide we will all fail. Reason has to be part of the equation. I believe that the Christian point of view (and that’s a broad and slippery definition these days) is that all people have value, not for their purpose, not for their station, not because a theist or a non-theist said they did, not because a collective consciousness acknowledged it as self-evident, but because God says we do, to Him, that’s the truth written on the Christians heart whether he acknowledges it or not.

3. If one views that the dignity of humanity is self-evident, then wouldn't humanity hold a higher role than a mere human invention like the state?

So would our view of self-importance (dignity of humanity) trump our responsible for ordered society? At what point does dignity of humanity become pride? I believe that if we recognize our self-evident dignity we owe it to each other to order society. Our self-evident dignity as truth doesn’t stop some of us from being more self-evident than others. Human dignity doesn’t go far enough. We’re leaving out part of the equation hear. To establish worth we have to establish currency, it’s the nature of man. Self-evident Human dignity doesn’t go far enough. God did indeed create us as equals, but humanity sees very quickly to tipping that scale, thus the state. Winston Churchhill said; “If men were angels there would be no government.”

Dan,
This is where one must bring in Plantinga's argument of warrant. A belief is properly basic if it is self-evident and is incorrigible. However, note the definition itself is neither self-evident nor incorrigible.

An atheist may say that the intrinsic value of human beings is self-evident but they have not warrant to hold such a belief within the atheistic system. An atheist cannot state:
a) All creation was a product of random processes.
b) Animals and humans are the products of such processes.
c) Human beings are intrinsically valuable.
d) Human beings are more valuable than other animals.

The above assertions don't add up. And why should all men be considered equal when with respect to properties (height, weight, appearance, etc.) and capabilities (intellectual, artistic, atheletic) they are most definitely different. Survival of the fittest doesn't lend itself to equality of men.

Steve...

A non-theist could believe in the dignity of human nature as self-evident, but wouldn’t that presuppose a collective consciousness of worth or value to establish dignity?

Would it presuppose a collective consciousness of worth? Do you mean, would it pre-suppose that we could all agree in the notion of human dignity? If so, I'd say yes, that seems relatively reasonable to me. On the other hand, a lack of universal agreement would not preclude the "truthiness" of human dignity.

That is, I suspect that the vast majority of humanity recognize human worth, human dignity. But every once in a while, you can have someone (a dictator, a sociopath, a thug) who might say, "I don't believe in or give a dang about human dignity. People are just tools for me to use..."

The lack of universal agreement with the notion of human dignity does not demonstrate that there it is not generally recognized as self-evident.

Agreed?

Steve...

Our self- regard must be balanced against a scale to assume that same measure is even correct.

I'm not sure that this is necessarily true. Could you expand on this to clarify your meaning?

Steve...

A. A non-theist could agree with Jefferson that some truths are self-evident, that all people are created equal and with certain human rights. But first, to admit this you’d have to cite the source.

I'm uncertain of your meaning here. The "source..."? The source, Jefferson was saying, is that these truths are self-evident. They are obviously true on the face of it. That's my understanding of self-evident (and, in fact, the dictionary definition).

Steve...

To say that anything is self-evident you would have to admit that someone or something made it evident wouldn’t you? Nothing reveals itself. Ideas are thought up and communicated.

The notion of "self-evident" means simply "obviously and independently observable." Or, as MW states, "evident WITHOUT PROOF or reasoning..."

Are you suggesting that Jefferson meant something OTHER than the standard English definition of "self-evident..."?

Steve, I'll stop there to allow for time to digest and for you to respond, so we don't get overwhelmed by answers and cross-answers. Thank you very much, sir, for the thoughts. I think this is a fascinating topic, worthy of consideration.

Trent, I'll be glad to try to address your question when you begin to try to address mine, just for clarity's sake and to keep this conversation on a respectful and mutual basis. Fair enough?

Thanks, too, kpolo, for the thoughts. Now, again, as a Christian, I'm offering opinions as an outsider, but only in an effort at fairness and considering all ramifications of what we're saying to best think these things through. So, where you say...

An atheist cannot state:
a) All creation was a product of random processes.
b) Animals and humans are the products of such processes.
c) Human beings are intrinsically valuable.
d) Human beings are more valuable than other animals.

The above assertions don't add up.

I'm not sure that this would be the sum total of a non-theist's argument. I'd prefer to hear from an atheist rather than presume that would be their argument. I would say that IF someone were making the argument, "a. All Creation, including humanity, is random, b. but humanity is unique in that they alone are intrinsically valuable..." that THAT argument is not very convincing, by itself. But again, I'm not sure that anyone is making that argument.

kpolo...

why should all men be considered equal when with respect to properties (height, weight, appearance, etc.) and capabilities (intellectual, artistic, atheletic) they are most definitely different. Survival of the fittest doesn't lend itself to equality of men.

Interestingly (and as a side note) most of the people I meet who advocate a "survival of the fittest" approach to interacting with humanity have tended to be conservative people of faith. Maybe that's just my experience, though.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful

The Romans don't appear to have seen it self evident that people had any inalienable rights. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? They didn't seem to have seen much self evident in the first two at least, and they were reasonable intelligent people.

Throughout history the right to freedom does not look to be self evident. The sun moving around the earth, did seem self evident.

As for your question, I don't think self evident is the same as proof. I see it is a shared decision to accept based on what seems to be true or we've decided to accept as true. independent observable reality is a bit of a reach because it still has to be interpreted through some framework, and the framework may be flawed or incomplete.

I have several open questions, Trent, that if you could address, it would help me better understand your starting position and better address your questions. Plus, it would be a two way conversation, then.

Win/win.

Thanks.

"If, for instance, you do not believe in God, you are likely to conclude that man is a temporal being meant to serve the state, an eternal institution. This is the view of the communist world. Sacrificing a few million people for the sake of building socialist paradise was always deemed an acceptable price to pay. "

Do you suppose that sacrificing the native American tribes was deemed an acceptable price to pay for filling the pockets of the white settlers? Why is it that people who live in glass houses like throwing stones? Should I also point out that this country was built on the back of slavery and mass murder of native Americans followed by theft of the said land and its resources? I think that the sins of the American forefathers are just as crimson and in need of washing as white as snow.

But let's just all cumbaya around the pretense that this is actually a land of opportunity, why don't we? Or is that just another sales pitch I'm hearing.

I will make my stance quite clear and I hope atheists are paying attention. If we get rid of freedom to practice religion in accordance to the dictates of an individual conscience, there is no point in calling this country any better than the worse country that ever existed in my lifetime. That is the only thing worth bragging about and the only thing that gives it any true worth at least in my eyes. And I will remind you that I lived under communism. At least there I never went hungry. I can't say that about your LAND OF OPPORTUNITY. The only opportunity I am grateful for in this land is to hear the gospel, and even then, I had to rely on a German national for that.

Louis,

Why do you address your concerns about the "freedom to practice religion" to atheists?

We are only interested in keeping the gov't from practicing religion, not you.

Example of gov't practicing religion: a teacher in a public school leads a prayer.

Example of you practicing: you pray in school - on your own or with others.

I am listening.

RonH

Dan, I said:

There is no sense in which we’re all equal if there’s no shared, intrinsically valuable human nature

It’s against an intrinsically valuable human nature that ethicists are now arguing. I would point you to the article promoting after-birth abortions (i.e., infanticide) in the Journal of Medical Ethics as the latest version of this. Newborns are not equal to us because they lack the same instrumental value we have, and there is no such thing as an equally shared, intrinsically valuable human nature.

Can an atheist believe in an intrinsically valuable human nature? Sure! But it will be in line with a Christian worldview, not an atheist one. The view of human value that follows from naturalist reasoning is the view that leads to after-birth abortions.

You said: If one views that the dignity of humanity is self-evident, then wouldn't humanity hold a higher role than a mere human invention like the state?

The state is made up of humans. If humans are the highest authority, then the humans in the state have no one to answer to.

I don’t think that Christianity is nonsensical. However, if I were arguing that it isn’t nonsensical, I wouldn’t argue as follows:

Malebranche, this is in the context of my last post, as I mentioned above. When I say "nonsensical silliness," the emphasis is on “silliness,” not on “nonsensical.” The silliness of the Christianity they know is nonsensical to them, but it’s the silliness charge I’m addressing. The point of my last post was that when atheists paint Christianity as being dumb and silly, they’re ignoring the depth and weight of it. Even if they think it’s false, it has more weight to it than they’re giving it credit. Again, this is continuing on the previous post, and the argument you stated is not the argument I was making.

depth and weight

Kinda like the tax code!

It's the product of evolutionary forces.

RonH

Ron,

So what are evolutionary forces the product of?

Dan,
This is great! Thank you very much. Adult conversation restores my faith in the collective consciousness of our dignity. (I refrained from a smiley face there) You said. Would it presuppose a collective consciousness of worth? Do you mean, would it pre-suppose that we could all agree in the notion of human dignity? If so, I'd say yes, that seems relatively reasonable to me. On the other hand, a lack of universal agreement would not preclude the "truthiness" of human dignity.
But on what basis can the non-theist claim human dignity as objective truth? As a theist, I can claim that all of humanity has intrinsic value because it was fearfully and wonderfully made by God for a purpose, thus dignity or in your words “truthiness”, I like that. But for the non-theist they have to borrow from what objective truth to claim the same dignity? To the non-theist human dignity becomes a subjective truth. The real question becomes; is dignity relative? And if it is, then relative to what? To the naturalist relativity is an absurd question. To answer your question, no I don’t believe we (as in humanity) could all agree on the notion of human dignity or worth. But the Bible tells us what we were worth. John 3:16 And 17
Our self- regard must be balanced against a scale to assume that same measure is even correct.
Sorry that’s a broad brush stroke isn’t it?
I believe that in human dignity you get into murky waters sometimes. Human dignity has bought us some of the greatest atrocities of all time. What is worth, worth Dan? This question haunts me. Again I go back to is human dignity relative?

I'm uncertain of your meaning here. The "source..."? The source, Jefferson was saying, is that these truths are self-evident. They are obviously true on the face of it. That's my understanding of self-evident (and, in fact, the dictionary definition).
I believe Jefferson’s source in this was Romans 1:19-20(King James for time period only)
19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen , being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Notice the definition of self-evident lurking in there?
Dan thanks again for the great conversation.

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