« The Best Question to Ask When Starting a Conversation About God | Main | Enjoy This Fourth of July Week »

July 01, 2013

Comments

Good response, Greg. Thanks.

There is a crucial, inescapable difference between providing children with the means to think critically, and presenting them with an unquestionable, unalterable set of "right answers."

The deeper value of knowledge is the value it acquires when it withstands rigorous examination, when we confirm the consistency of its logic, the stability of its correspondence to reality, the freedom it has from errors of misperception, misinterpretation, inadequate observation, and confirmation bias.

We have a rapidly expanding realm of knowledge that holds up to that sort of examination, and we might readily be tempted to pass our conclusions along to our children as unquestionable, unalterable "right answers." But to pass it along in this way, without demonstrating to them the specific tests that this knowledge has passed, would be both a dangerous deficiency in our practice of sustaining our civilization, and serious disservice - indeed an injurious form of disrespect - inflicted on our children.

You hold that it's essential to teach morals - and you'll get no argument from me on that. But you're flat out wrong if you assert that "morality" can be taught as an unquestionable, unalterable "right answer." At the very least, we must first teach respect for others, and to do so we must show respect for others. That includes understanding freedom of choice when it comes to accepting or not accepting any particular religious belief.

Things like nutrition, healthful sleep patterns, cleanliness, treatment of neighbors, etc, are all practical concerns that can be explained clearly in the context of any chosen religion, or no religion at all. That's because these issues can and should be treated as evidence-based conclusions: it's better to behave this way rather than that way, because it produces palpable, undeniable advantages for all concerned. (Of course, children can be stubborn, and the parent may have no alternative but to immediately enforce some obvious disadvantage on them when they have chosen actions contrary to their better interest.)

If you want to say that your "instruction" of your children is based purely on religious grounds, you are entitled to hold that opinion. To the extent that the particular, practical values you convey to your children as a Christian happen to be consistent with the values that other people teach their own children, regardless of the fact that they are not Christians themselves, well, that's all good - we can still agree on what the "right answers" are, because in fact it's not that hard to reach a consensus on such issues, even though I arrive at those answers on the basis of evidence, and you claim to have those answers regardless of evidence.

On the other hand, if your "instruction" includes details like "biblical inerrancy", there's an epistemological problem with that, which runs afoul of critical thinking and rigorous examination. And that would be indoctrination.

An interesting point of view, which I note is entirely lacking in Biblical citation.

Sorry, that comment was addressed to Otto Tellick. :-)

@Otto,

I'm struggling to see how an evidence-based morality can produce reliable normative instruction ('what ought to be', as opposed to simply 'what is'). I think of a Nazi parent instructing his child: "It is right for you to mistreat your Jewish friends because it produces palpable, undeniable advantages for all concerned". If the Nazis had won the war, conquered the whole world and brainwashed every survivor, would the flourishing of such society be a good indicator that their actions were right? Based on this (counterfactual) evidence, it would seem so.

Believers,

"See to it that no one takes you captive
through hollow and deceptive philosophy,
which depends on human tradition and the
basic principles of this world rather than
on Christ." Col 2:8

"Where is the wise man? Where is the
scholar? Where is the philosopher of this
age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom
of the world?" 1Cor 1:20

There is a crucial, inescapable difference between providing children with the means to think critically, and presenting them with an unquestionable, unalterable set of "right answers."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't most research on child-learning show that children don't even have the cognitive ability to think critically until much later in their childhood, thus necessitating a presentation of "right answers" as you put it?

That's why it's totally appropriate and even a terrific technique to, for example, catechize your child to instruct him or her in the way of the Lord.

By the way, your assertion that biblical inerrancy "runs afoul of critical thinking and rigorous examination" isn't entirely the truth, is it? Separate topic so won't address it more here, but perhaps Greg and the STR staff can address this topic (again) in another post? Seems people like to take potshots at this one quite regularly...

Children will eventually age and become adults. They learn to think critically. They can embrace Christianity or spit it out. Would one object to a parent telling their children that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest of all presidents? Or that Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart are the three greatest composers? I would suspect one wouldn’t, even though many people would disagree with those assessments. There is, after all, no “right answer” to those questions.

The real reason why some (like Otto) don’t say, “Let the children decide on presidents and composers,” is because they think those choices are harmless (and that perhaps those choices are defensible). Atheists like Otto actually agree with Christians. They know that the belief in Christianity isn’t like preferring presidents, or composers, or ice cream…they know it matters.

Ultimately, they think the belief in God is wrong. That is why they think parents shouldn’t teach their children about Him. Many atheists are honest about it though (unlike Otto). They just come out and say it. They don’t dance around the subject and present themselves like they’re tolerant of how parents choose to parent. They don’t need to talk of “critical thinking”, or the “deeper value of knowledge”, or about letting children decide, and on and on.

They just say God doesn’t exist – therefore parents should just shut up about it.

A corollary to the point Greg made so well is when parents, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and elders say (or more-likely implicitly believe) that apologetics is not important enough to be made a part (I suggest the foundation) of the Sunday School curriculum. They all bemoan the loss of young people after they graduate from High School, but don't realize that they contributed to the problem by not providing grade-appropriate apologetics-based instruction to arm their young people against the forces of evil that are all too ready (and well-trained) to destroy their faith.

The Goat Head asks Carolyn,

What are you trying to say with those Bible verses you posted?

Goat Head 5

The Goat Head agrees with z:

I would like to see "inerrancy" addressed in a post. It means many things to many people and is often used as a club to beat people with.

Goat Head 5

From what I hear, all Christians doubt Christianity - including the OP.

So why is the question 'annoying' and 'frustrating'. And why is letting others decide about Christianity displaying 'a troublesome attitude'?

Supposedly, the answer is: Letting others decide is relativistic.

Is it?

Certainly a person with relativistic views could let their own kids decide 'their own preference' or 'what club they want to join'.

But letting your kids decide about Christianity is not necessarily relativistic: You can think there is a fact to the matter and still not demand that your kids practice Christianity or profess Christian belief. In that case, you would be letting them decide what they think are the facts of the matter - not 'what club to join'. (By the way, this makes a lot of sense if you happen to have your own doubts.) In this case, there is no indoctrination into relativism or pluralism. The message in this case is simply: Evaluate the evidence and decide.s

WRT the word indoctrinate. The OP seems quite stung by the use of this word and says it's a 'negative term' and wants to know what's wrong with saying 'instruction' or 'teaching'.

Well, to some extent, one man's teaching is another man's indoctrination (when this negative sense* is being used). But there are recognized differences. Indoctrination connotes coercion and the transmission of one-sided, uncritical views of controversial subjects. Teaching doesn't.

Also, when a teacher has doubts about the facts of the matter, she is comfortable expressing them as part of the teaching. The indoctrinator isn't. For the indoctrinator, the 'teaching' is done as if there were no doubts.

It's expected then for one who is doing indoctrination (in the negative sense) to want to call it teaching. To self-identify as an indoctrinator in this sense is self-defeating.

RonH

* Military training is called indoctrination. Sometimes catechism is referred to as indoctrination.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't most research on child-learning show that children don't even have the cognitive ability to think critically until much later in their childhood, thus necessitating a presentation of "right answers" as you put it?

You have to present the right answer (assuming you know it) about when it is safe to cross the street.

If you have doubts about the truth of Christianity, then you CAN'T present the right answer. You can only pretend.

Can you see the objection to such pretending?

RonH

I think of a Nazi parent instructing his child: "It is right for you to mistreat your Jewish friends because it produces palpable, undeniable advantages for all concerned"

Or Martin Luther...

So does Greg agree that the Muslim instructing his children in Sharia law is not indoctrinating his child either? He's teaching his child in the way that he perceives Allah wants him to.

The difference between instructing your children to eat their vegetables and instructing them in religious teachings is that there is indisputable empirical evidence that eating their vegetables is good for them. There is no empirical evidence that Christianity or Islam or Judaism is true. In fact, almost all people bring up their children is the religion that is part of their heritage and culture. If you're born in Alabama, you'll probably be raised Christian. If you're born in Saudi Arabia, you'll probably by raised Muslim. Neither of them is more demonstrably true than the other so there is no reason to teach one more than the other except for familial and cultural pressures.

Indoctrination connotes coercion and the transmission of one-sided, uncritical views of controversial subjects. Teaching doesn't.

Atheist parents often use coercion and present one-sided, uncritical views of atheism. Yes, everyone knows that. I’ve seen atheist parents in agony simply knowing their children are exploring various religions. Why? Because they want their children to believe as they do. Why? Because they think they’re right - and they think this belief is significant in one’s life.

I appreciate the atheists that come right out and say Christian parents shouldn’t teach their kids about God because there is no good evidence. It’s honest. It's the real reason. But atheists don’t stop at children. Atheists don’t think any Christian should teach anyone about God.

I addressed Otto (an atheist) previously, who tried to sugarcoat it. Now we have RonH and AJG chiming in. It’s really unremarkable that atheists think Christians ought to keep their mouths shut as it relates to their beliefs and their children.

If a Christian, however, thinks that parents ought to remain silent, well that deserves some pondering and ultimately needs addressing.

KWM,

I was talking about a distinction between 2 words and not implying that indoctrination only happens on one side of any particular issue while teaching only happens on the other.

Do you understand?

RonH

It’s really unremarkable that atheists think Christians ought to keep their mouths shut as it relates to their beliefs and their children.

I don't think that. A child will naturally gravitate towards the beliefs (or unbelief) of their parents. The problem is when parents do not allow the child to think critically about the issues as they grow older and when the child fears ostracism if he rejects the beliefs of his parents. That goes for atheists and theists alike.

I see little reason to convince Christians to throw away their belief system if it helps them to live a happier life. As an atheist, I understand that people only get 80 years on this earth (if they're lucky) and I feel people should do whatever maximizes their happiness in this life while granting the same right to others. It's the second part of that that Christians seems to have a problem with.

Uh, Yes, Ron. I wanted to underscore that atheists like to get their children involved in the enterprise early on as well. I hope you understand that. Christianity seems to take it one the chin more in this area. By the way, your word distinction needs work, but it’s not really important or related to the post.

or I should say related to my post. My apologies.

Christianity seems to take it one the chin more in this area

That's because people have to be taught the lunacy that is Christianity (Original sin, the Trinity, PSA, etc.). Hardly any thinking people would ever come to these conclusions on their own without having them drilled into their heads at an early age.

Atheism, on the other hand, is the default position for every person at birth. No one believes in a god until they are introduced to that god by another true believer.

AJG,

I don't think that.

Could’a fooled me.

Teach your child whatever fantasy you want when they are young, but give them the freedom to reject it for reality when they are older. Tell them this is what you choose to believe, but you have no idea whether it is true or not. Be honest with them. Few Christians are willing to do that because Christianity, like all religions, is primarily motivated by fear. Fear of Satan. Fear of death. Fear of hell. Fear that you will be separated from your loved ones for all eternity. And so on.

As an atheist, if my child chose to become a Christian later in life I would be totally comfortable with that. The only problem I would have is that he would constantly be worrying himself about my immortal soul because Christianity is primarily motivated by fear. That would sadden me for his sake, but I would be happy for him if he chose to pusue that which brought him peace.

That's because people have to be taught the lunacy that is Christianity

That’s the hostility to the teaching of Christianity that typically comes from atheists that I was referring to in my previous post. And I repeat, it’s unremarkable. You couldn’t even hide it. You tried with all the “happier life” nonsense. But it's hard to hide, isn't it?

Teach your child whatever fantasy you want when they are young, but give them the freedom to reject it for reality when they are older. Tell them this is what you choose to believe, but you have no idea whether it is true or not. Be honest with them.

Because Christian parents are just fooling themselves and deceiving their children to teach them about God. So, Christian parents should tell their children (say a 5 year old) about Jesus, but they should also tell them that “they have no idea whether it is true or not”. Please. How silly.

Now, if a Christian here happens to agree, that Christian parents ought not teach Christianity, then we have something. Something to debate.

Hardly any thinking people would ever come to these conclusions on their own without having them drilled into their heads at an early age

You need to get out more.

KWM,

...atheists like to...

What do you do when people generalize negatively about Christians?

Christians do this. Christians do that.

I raised 2 children. I didn't do anything like what you talk about.

I know lots of atheists who've raised kids without indoctrinating them to be atheists. Personally, I don't know any who did/do.

That said, lots of Christians also steer clear of indoctrination also.

Oh, but that was the OP's complaint, wasn't it?

By the way, your word distinction needs work...
Do tell me about it.
...but it’s not really important or related to the post.

Actually the distinction was first raised in the video. Did you watch it?

RonH

Ron,

What do you do when people generalize negatively about Christians?

I try to correct them if I feel it necessary. Some criticisms are warranted. Some are not. Same is true of atheists. This should go without saying. If you want to play victim here, I’m fine with it. It’s up to you, but it’s bit childish.

I raised 2 children. I didn't do anything like what you talk about. I know lots of atheists who've raised kids without indoctrinating them to be atheists. Personally, I don't know any who did/do.

Did I ever say all atheists indoctrinate or teach their children to reject God? No, I didn’t. Does it happen? Yes, it does. Does it happen behind closed doors? Yes, I know it does. Many atheists like to pride themselves on not being taught anything. In my experience, Christians are much more likely to acknowledge and be thankful for the Christian teaching they received when they were young if they received any at all.

Many atheists, on the other hand, typically don’t feel this way. Even if they did receive some teaching when they were young. Similarly, some (maybe a bit less) don’t say they’re thankful they weren’t taught about God. They’re much more likely to say that atheism is just the logical view, no matter what teaching they received, and they most likely would have arrived there anyway. In other words, even if they had been taught about God, they still end up atheist. The atheists I know would probably reluctantly agree. I would hate to generalize though, Ron. You most likely had a totally different experience.

That said, lots of Christians also steer clear of indoctrination also. Oh, but that was the OP's complaint, wasn't it?

Right. Which is why I said that’s where the real debate lies. Now for the third time.

Actually the distinction was first raised in the video. Did you watch it?

Yes, I watched. And I quickly followed my post up with clarification that I was referring to my post. I assume you read it.

I’ll conclude by saying, some Christian parents indoctrinate. Some Christian parents teach. The same applies for atheists. No one should be surprised by this. However, I will say, just because one is indoctrinated, it doesn’t mean they’ve been indoctrinated with falsehood.

Just to add: Some atheists, I’m sure, are thankful that they were taught at an early age that God doesn’t exist. Likewise, some atheists, I’m sure, are thankful that they were not taught about God at an early age.

That’s for you, Ron. Just to steer clear of generalities.

That’s the hostility to the teaching of Christianity that typically comes from atheists that I was referring to in my previous post.

I'm not hostile. I'm just realistic. Christianity is crazy, and I say that as a former evangelical Christian myself. Take the whole notion of PSA, for example. God hates sin so much that he requires death to atone for it so he becomes a man and kills himself to satisfy his own wrath against himself? You're trying to tell me that that actually makes sense to you? And the notion that we are guilty because of something a mythical ancestor did thousands of years ago is ludicrous. God is omniscient and saw that man would sin, but put him in position to carry out that sin and still holds him guilty for sinning? It's the ultimate set-up. In order to explain this, Christians have to play the "mystery" card because no sensible or moral person would ever act the way god does in this story.

KWM,

Yes, I watched. And I quickly followed my post up with clarification that I was referring to my post. I assume you read it.

Ah, yes your post. Got it. I read it but didn't understand. I probably could have worked it out - had I spent the time. I wouldn't have needed to - had you made your clarification clearer or called your comment 'my comment' instead of 'the post'. Anyway, I propose we call it a genuine misunderstanding, share the blame roughly equally, and say no more about it.

Did I ever say all atheists indoctrinate or teach their children to reject God? No, I didn’t.
You said
I wanted to underscore that atheists like to get their children involved in the enterprise early on as well.
This sounds like it has an implied 'all' but you have made it clear that you renounce such generalizations. So: peace (on that).

You mention 'teaching about God' and 'teaching about Jesus'. That sounds neutral. There are little kids - not even teens - out there 'giving their lives to Jesus' because they have been 'taught about him'. These kids have no idea what they are doing.

Wow - a very lively discussion... All I can do at the moment is get back to the early response from Andrew Torres:

I'm struggling to see how an evidence-based morality can produce reliable normative instruction ('what ought to be', as opposed to simply 'what is').

No cause for surprise or dismay on that point - it's a complex issue that requires quite a lot of effort, along with an acknowledgment that we must sometimes choose our actions on the basis of incomplete and insufficient knowledge as to which of the alternatives we're aware of will yield the better overall outcome in the broadest possible sense.

(When you add to that the realization that there are usually other alternatives we aren't aware of and fail to imagine, it can become truly daunting. Only through collaboration - the sharing and integration of our varied individual potentials for creative thinking - is there any hope for optimism.)

Of course, quite a lot of the "morality" choices we make are fairly straightforward - we readily understand the difference between being helpful and being hurtful, and we easily recognize that it's in the general best interests, both our own and others', to be helpful.

I think of a Nazi parent instructing his child: "It is right for you to mistreat your Jewish friends because it produces palpable, undeniable advantages for all concerned". If the Nazis had won the war, conquered the whole world and brainwashed every survivor, would the flourishing of such society be a good indicator that their actions were right?

A fairly minimal amount of honest consideration, requiring just a few basic rules of logic, some empathy, and readily observable evidence, will demonstrate unambiguously that "mistreating your Jewish friends" absolutely does NOT produce palpable, undeniable advantages for all concerned, because your Jewish friends are obviously disadvantaged as a result of being mistreated. I certainly hope this doesn't confuse you - it mainly depends on the concept of "respect for others" that I mentioned. Logic, compassion and evidence converge to expose the fallacy of the Nazi "system of values."

Even if the Nazis had somehow succeeded in a military defeat of Britain and America, their regime would still have crumbled before fully conquering the populations of those countries, because Nazi policies were too hateful to be sustainable - they were literally self-defeating because they were explicitly contrary to the basic rules of collaborative social behavior.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), it didn't really help that the majority of Germans in the 1930's and 40's, who put Hitler into power and went along with his dictates, were Christians. (For your own sake, don't play the Nazi card when arguing apologetics.)

With the silence of the "expensive seat" crowd, Goat Head must lob one from the cheap seats:

Otto, you don't want to play the government card when spouting your atheist apologetics. Stalin and Mao's aggressively atheistic regimes killed over 100 million, and that is a very conservative figure. You really don't want to go there, Otto.

AJG, you are arguing against a small subset of Christian belief that started with Augustine. The vast majority of Christians, both today and in the past, don't hold to Penal Substitution as their way of characterizing the atonement. I would probably be an Atheist too if PSA was the only way to look at Christ's death.

And, "Atheism, on the other hand, is the default position for every person at birth". I don't think babies hold to the active belief that there is no God. This kind of statement is nonsense. Atheism is not just some kind of void. It is an active belief system, a world view.

Goat Head 5

@Otto, thank you for your reply.

If I understand your view correctly, you say we ought to behave in a way that "yields the better overall outcome" or "[is for] the general best interests" and so on... But the question is why should we? I understand that failing to do so will ultimately hinder the flourishing of our species, but on what grounds do we base the norm that "one ought not to hinder the flourishing of one's species"? In a naturalistic universe, such description of morality makes it very difficult to explain why someone ought not to commit certain acts without ending up smuggling some form of moral appeal with the answer. Perhaps you just say that that's simply what advanced herd animals do "by nature". But "doing" so is quite different from "ought to do" so!

What you're saying seems to fit better in an universe that is designed with certain patterns that make possible the flourishing of its inhabitants, one of these being the fact that hurting someone has bad consequences for the common well-being. And I have argued that such state of affairs, though a necessary condition for morality, is not sufficient.

Here's why the OP reacts so strongly to the idea that a Christian would refrain from indoctrinating her kids.

A child is a relatively easy evangelistic target.

In 2004, Barna surveyed age of 'salvation':

< 13 years: 43%
< 18 years: 66%
< 21 years: 79%

Barna doesn't break the numbers down below 13.

I'm not sure I'd want to look at those numbers, although I got a taste by googling "children's ministry".

Of those who joined the club as teens, Barna says, half were lead by their parents (all of whom had doubts).

RonH


@Goat Head 5:

The Biblical verses mentioned were a reminder to Believers in response to the self-expressed "Philosophy of Otto Tellick"--one who clearly considers himself "wiser" than God and more informed, also.

@Carolyn:

With all due respect, I do not assert that I am wiser than the God that Christians postulate. Rather, I would say that their postulation of such a God is faulty (inconsistent and incoherent, among other things), and because I do not postulate such a God, I have reason to believe that I have a better grasp of reality than Christians do. I also have reason to believe that a good understanding of reality is a necessary (but not sufficient) part of wisdom.

@Andrew Torres: In answer to your question:

... But the question is why should we? I understand that failing to do so will ultimately hinder the flourishing of our species, but on what grounds do we base the norm that "one ought not to hinder the flourishing of one's species"?

I've seen this sort of question from others, and it always astonishes me to see it being asked. Do you really need someone to give you some reason why you should act in a way that supports and enhances life, beyond the simple fact that it supports and enhances life? Is it really essential to your motivation that it be some sort of dictate imposed on you by some unseeable super-entity who will either pet you gently for compliance or torture you eternally for disobedience?

If I understand correctly, your worldview is founded on the proposition that all mankind possesses, as a universal inheritance from Adam, a filthy, sinful nature, and that if left purely to our own devices, without the divine guidance from God and Christ "as fully revealed in the bible" (yeah, right), we'd all just be raping and murdering each other, and loving every minute of it. Or something to that effect. I actually hope that's a misrepresentation, because it is absurd.

I guess what I can't understand is your apparent rejection of idea that the supporting and enhancing of life can be an end in itself. Bald assertions by scripture writers and their apologists notwithstanding, we don't know why the universe was created, and we don't know what purpose our existence in it is "meant" to serve. All we can do is speculate, and argue pointlessly over the differences in our various speculations.

But we do have some fairly clear indications about how different the Earth is now from what it was like 3 billion years ago, 100 million years ago, 100,000 years ago, and 10,000 years ago. We also have increasingly detailed knowledge about how the planet in general, and mankind in particular, have changed over the course of our own recorded history. We know how the types and density of life have fluctuated, we can tell how diversity as waxed and waned, we see the overall trend of populations (for an increasingly broad range of species as well as for mankind).

It's striking that so many more people are alive at one time today than have been alive at any one time in the past. Maybe population growth has gone to far, and there will be a drastic and tragic "correction" that brings us back down to sustainable numbers. Or many we can figure out what needs to be done to sustain a global population of this size while reducing suffering and aggression. Or maybe mankind will depart the scene entirely, like the giant dinosaurs did 65 million years ago.

If we can overcome our habits of superstitious thinking, we might have it in our power to avert an extreme tragedy or total annihilation. Do you need me to state a good reason why we should pursue our continued survival and promote thriving? I have no reason, beyond the fact that if we don't, there is likely to be extreme tragedy or total annihilation in our (possibly near) future.

If you want to pursue the same goals that I'm pursuing, but you'll only do it because you think there's a divine "creator entity" that requires this of us, well, okay - that'll still work. But there might be a problem if you want to insist that there's just this one book, written a couple thousand years ago, and your chosen interpretation of it must be accepted as undeniable truth. That's going to raise some unnecessary (and potentially damaging) hurdles.

Sorry about the typos in that lengthy response to Andrew Torres... In case it helps, I meant to say:

(4th paragraph) ... we can tell how diversity has waxed and waned ...

(5th paragraph) ... Or maybe we can figure out what needs to be done...

Otto - "why we should pursue our continued survival and promote thriving? I have no reason, beyond the fact that if we don't, there is likely to be extreme tragedy or total annihilation in our (possibly near) future."

In your worldview why should I care? What is my concern for "we"? You are just another bag of molecules and my bag matters more than yours.

Robert

Robert,

What is my concern for "we"?

It's part of your nature.

In your worldview why should I care?
Regardless of 'worldview' and regardless of 'should', you do care.

The fact that we have a moral nature - that we're so ready to take others into account - is the thing that needs explaining.

That we should is can be offered as an explanation for the fact that we do, but it's not the only explanation available.

That you do care is undeniable; that you should care is more of a supposition.

Gotta love that deep atheistic explanation huh Robert?

Don't ask why, don't consider the wider implications of objective morality....just go with it baby!

No Ron, I actually don't. And honestly for folks like yourself who fight tooth and nail against God I say, "Have your own way with yourself. There is none of your dust on my sandals."
But I choose every day to do things that give care and concern to others; and it is work. It is not 'nature' for me.
Robert

Robert,

In my worldview, the only thing that compels you to have a concern for "we" is that you actually would not get very far entirely by yourself. Without parents, older siblings and other adults who willingly feed and protect you, it's doubtful that you would survive childhood. Without an extended and intricate social structure that organizes resources and effort to assure a year-around food supply and other consumables like clothing, heat in the winter, transportation, etc, your life would be hard at best, and probably short.

It does seem relatively more likely (in view of how things like child development and day-to-day trade operate) that individuals will tend to be collaborative and mutually supportive, choosing to behave in ways that promote bonding and cooperation, simply because that's an observably better (more valuable, favorable, enriching) way of raising children and conducting one's own life.

But this obviously doesn't entail that it's "in our nature." We all come with a propensity for selfishness, and most of our socialization (when it succeeds) is a matter of learning to work out which of one's selfish impulses are bound to cause harm to others, and how the consequences of that harm are bound to have some negative effect on oneself, sooner or later.

In cases where socialization doesn't succeed, and individuals indulge their personal selfish impulses at the expense of harming others, it has been established, through thousands of years of practice, that a reasonably effective remedy is to have a social structure that supports organized efforts to identify the people who have caused harm, and hold them accountable for it.

It's not a perfect system: some wrong doers never get caught, or manage to escape accountability. If it fails too often, the community may falter and disintegrate; leaving small remnant groups that need to rebuild from scratch. Even worse is when a system "succeeds" too well, in the sense of allowing one group to inflict harm on another group by an unjust "enforcement of rules" - we all know that this has happened and is still happening - it's hard to conceive how we can keep it from happening, no matter how much progress we make.

There are no guarantees and no absolutes. Each society is effectively on its own to setup and maintain a system that will sustain it, and it may fail. That's why it's vitally important to be able to study the matter impartially, with the careful procedures of evidence-based objectivity.

To assert that there is some supernatural source that bequeaths unalterable moral codes for us all is to miss the point entirely regarding how crucial and how complex it is to build and sustain a properly ethical system. Ethics must be derived on secular grounds, or else there's no basis for sustainable consensus, let alone informed consent.

Otto 3rd paragraph "We all come with a propensity for selfishness.....work out which of one's selfish impulses are bound to cause harm to others, and how the consequences of that harm are bound to have some negative effect on oneself."
OK, so we're all selfish and in order for "society" to work we have to figure out which of our selfish choices ultimately bite ourselves in the butt and not do them. Which means we choose based on the consequences to ourselves (which is basically looking out for our self...which is selfish).
That sounds perfect.
Robert

Robert,

It may well be that the collaborative members of any given society can be divided into two groups - and I fully expect that these two groups would cut across boundaries of religious affiliation and proclaimed beliefs:

One group comprises those who behave collaboratively because they want the sense of positive enrichment that they feel as a result of doing good for "its own sake." (Well, maybe they thrive on receiving expressions of gratitude, or maybe they're content with their own internal sense of wellbeing whether or not their supportive actions are acknowledged by others; but either way, they act without expectation of material benefit for themselves, beyond what accrues generally to all members of the community, as a direct result of their supportive actions.)

The other group comprises those who behave collaboratively as a concession, knowing that if they behaved non-collaboratively (to get what they would prefer to have for themselves alone), they would be squelched. (Well, they might reconcile their attitudes by deciding that they can be content with what they get via collaboration - they might initially want "all" but willingly accept "enough", because they know that going beyond a certain limit will bring a palpable risk of ending up with far less; in any case, it's purely a matter of self-interest.)

Actually, considering the overall complexity of societies, ethics, and personalities, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that individuals can be aligned with one group on some matters, and with the other group on other matters. It could be that the two attitudes exist in all of us, to some extent.

And as always, nothing is perfect. Really, nothing. (At least, that's what all the evidence indicates so far.)

Otto, you're just saying the same thing over and over with different words to describe it.
Now you've split to two groups, 1 - "behave collaboratively because they want the sense of positive enrichment that they feel as a result of doing good" - i.e. selfish desire of a 'good' feeling. And 2 - "behave collaboratively as a concession, knowing that if they behaved non-collaboratively (to get what they would prefer to have for themselves alone), they would be squelched - i.e. the cover your own butt group.

Now, for the Christian it is not that (as you put it before) "there is some supernatural source that bequeaths unalterable moral codes"; it is that there is a God that gives the value I have to every other human being and hence I must love my neighbour as myself. Therefore I will on occasion choose that which harms myself in order to honour God and respect that value in others.

Robert
...and it has nothing to do with what society thinks or majority rule or "success of the system" or "sustainable consensus" or "collaborative society".

The comments to this entry are closed.