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October 18, 2013

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Actions that increase the total and general human suffering and reduce human happiness and freedom of action are morally evil. Actions that decrease the total and general human suffering and increase human happiness and freedom of action are morally good and desirable. Why is this supposed to be some riddle for the ages?

You still aren't seeing what the atheists are saying. Their worldview does support judgment - if only you would understand their worldview.

They say morality isn't cosmically objective. Morality is indeed what people like and don't like. It's not relative, though, because everyone shares the same underlying human nature.

Evolution indeed sets the standard. That's because life is the only source of value in the universe. Life is material, and morality is material too.

No, it's not just a matter of labeling. There's no deception. Evolutionary morality exists whether we recognize it or not.

Evil is just as much a problem for atheists as for Christians. Getting rid of God has no impact on the question. Why do you say atheists get rid of hope? That's ridiculous. Atheist have real solid hope, unlike the flimsy invisible hope of religion.

Whew! Did you understand anything I just said?

I must ask what atheists find hope in? And surely morality is counter to the basic tenet of survival of the fittest? And what exactly is evolutionary morality? What is it's purpose? How does it advance the species? To have something called morality that is purely subjective as you argue is of itself meaningless. A persons likes and dislikes have nothing to do with what is right or wrong. I don't like white rice. Does that mean white rice is immoral under my subjective judgement?
You say that evolution sets the standard. What standard? And how does it set this standard and if morality is all about likes and dislikes how and why should this apply to me? And again how does this standard benefit the species? I wonder...

This is the same argument we just had here a few days ago. Please check that discussion:

http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2013/10/the-implications-of-atheism-video.html

Atheists hope for life! Long healthy life for me and my children, my neighbors and loved ones, indefinitely into the future. Life is the standard - not individual life but life through the generations. Life is really all that anyone cares about.

"Survival of the fittest" really doesn't have anything to do with evolution. Evolution deals with the adaptation and changes of living organisms to their enviroment. Nature does not recognize any quality of "fitness." The term is simply a common catchphrase (invented mostly for political purposes).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

If life is all an anyone cares about, then I truly pity atheists. If the atheist dies, he or she will be snuffed out forever. Finality. That's it. No hope of anything. The only hope you get is...I guess to somehow live on through children? But what if you can't have children?

On the other hand, Christians have hope that we will continue to live on in the future in an uncorrupted resurrection body. None of this means either view is correct, I'm just pointing out how much more devastatingly hopeful the Christian worldview is.

I think if I was an atheist, I would often be depressed. Atheists do their best to put some kind of positive spin on it, but I just can't see it. That is not an argument the view is wrong, I'm just saying that the consequences of such a view if it is right is truly sad. If you are just a genetic machine/accident, then what possible use does your life serve?

Good write up Melinda, and I would also add from a different viewpoint. Not only does this highlight the logical inconsistency of rejecting an objective moral framework and yet trying to use objective morality as a support at the same time, it also highlights the innate, very selfish bent of mankind.

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Departing from the obvious contradiction that Melinda highlighted, what this quote also shows is a basic failure to make the proper "comparison", a basic failure to understand "good". What do I mean?

Well, if all we were required to judge ourselves by were our own estimation of good and evil, then sure, you would have good people.

But, that's not the proper standard. God's standard of what's good is nothing short of Himself. Compared to that, nothing else is good unless He makes it that way.

In other words, sure, you might have people doing good, moral, nice things. But what is that paltry effort compared the Most Holy God? It counts for "wood, hay, and stubble." You can be the best, most good, nice, unselfish person you can manage to conjure up, and that counts for squat when it comes to God's standard. We can't do it; there is none righteous.

That's what makes the Good News of God's Grace, His unmerited favour on our behalf, such a wonderful blessing!

John,

You are right, we have been discussing this idea repeatedly. Perhaps all this time we have been talking past each other for a valid reason: we are arguing at two separate levels.

Can an atheist be a moral person? Certainly.

Can an atheist be a godly person? I feel that they would have this feeling of ineptitude (or better, inaptitude) in a degree that all this is "faking it."

Jesus addressed this distinction in His Sermon on the Mount. "For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matt. 5: 20). The scribes and Pharisees were no rummies in the world of the moral. They were the paragons, the ones people looked up to as examples of living close to God. Jesus said not close enough.

I note that in humanistic terms all efforts to reduce human suffering and increase happiness are bound to fail. Even if all our random acts of kindness were choreographed to impact each and every neighborhood at a moment, there would be little effect. Morality seems to be attached in some degree to materialistic levels, as if being happy in a ghetto could never be achieved until all the projects were torn down and mansions erected in their place. Godliness finds happiness in the condition, not in the hope of changed situations.

Perhaps this is the area of confusion, this equivocation of "moral" and "godly." It's much so like the bovines telling the equines how wonderful if horses could be cows.

Errki,

With due respect, quoting wikipedia, with its lax system of editing of submitted materials (though their efforts in improve in this area are appreciated), is often like quoting yourself. Who submitted the survival of species article, or attached emendations? This is often difficult to determine.

In research projects, I had instructed my students to avoid wikipedia as a primary source.

    I think if I was an atheist, I would often be depressed. Atheists do their best to put some kind of positive spin on it, but I just can't see it. That is not an argument the view is wrong, I'm just saying that the consequences of such a view if it is right is truly sad. If you are just a genetic machine/accident, then what possible use does your life serve?

If no one would ever die, there could not be new generations or other species. Every resource imaginable would be ultimately consumed by the ever-growing horde, a "grey goo" of humans. It would not matter how big the universe would be, an infinite number of people having infinite number of children would consume everything. If there was an infinite number of humans, what would be the meaning of any particular human? Death is the necessary part of life.

    With due respect, quoting wikipedia, with its lax system of editing of submitted materials (though their efforts in improve in this area are appreciated), is often like quoting yourself. Who submitted the survival of species article, or attached emendations? This is often difficult to determine.

Fair enough, I was writing on an adult education center computer (already wasting too much time on checking E-mail and reading blogs), so I had to look for the first available source. I was merely pointing out that the phrase itself is in more recent discussions generally seen as a nonsense. I suggest that one researches the origins of the quote and it's relation to science of evolution more thoroughly. Here is a more detailed opinion about the phrase:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13671-evolution-myths-survival-of-the-fittest-justifies-everyone-for-themselves.html#.UmFHVEDvmc9

But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

What a crock. No one believes this. This is from a Nobel winner - so what do we encounter from plain ol' folks on the plain ol' streets?

The atheistic view typically paints good vs. evil in a way that it’s just oh so easy to be good. You know, just “increase human happiness” and “decrease human suffering" and voila. It’s as easy as brushing your teeth in the morning. Everything else takes care of itself.

Just follow the directions mother nature gave ya and you can be a "good person" too.

Let me add:

We talk of “good” people because it’s the way the language works. I understand and agree with the title of the OP, but wanted to make that distinction. I’m using “good” person the way any Christian would so that it corresponds to the way the atheist would use the term.

Errki S,

Followed your lead and read the article on the misemphasis on the term "survival of the fittest." Informative read. And yes, smarts, speed, and camouflage do make for advantages attributed to the fittest (loved the line about Rambo, Einstein and Gandhi).

Still, there is that view of the savage advancement of nature. I think the better term for this line of posts is the phrase "red in tooth and claw." Again, not a quote from Darwin, but a line from Tennyson's In Memoriam AHH, where he ponders the contrast of the idea of love defined in the Christian ethos and the prevailing thoughts of Darwin's naturalism during that time in Victorian England. It was a quote used by Richard Dawkins in his Selfish Gene. This perhaps is that bothersome concept that influences the theist to hold no hope for an ethical system derived from biological science.

On the other hand, Christians have hope that we will continue to live on in the future in an uncorrupted resurrection body. None of this means either view is correct, I'm just pointing out how much more devastatingly hopeful the Christian worldview is.

So you're saying deluded happiness is more important than understanding reality? It doesn't really matter if the Christian is correct or not, just that his view of life - which has no evidential support - is more hopeful?

Personally, when I identified as a Christians I was much more miserable and less hopeful than I am now as an atheist. What is hopeful about the overwhelming majority of humanity suffering torment for eternity simply because they were born in the wrong place or time? I guess as long as you're one of the elect it's hopeful. If not, tough luck! I got my ticket!

Do you know what else is depressing about Christianity? It's the notion that Christians are living for a life that will never come and foregoing an opportunity to live the only life they will ever have to the fullest. That's a hopeless scenario and it is foundational to the Christian religion. Philippians 1:21 anyone?

Nope, I'll take reason and reality over hopeful fantasies anyday.

But, that's not the proper standard. God's standard of what's good is nothing short of Himself. Compared to that, nothing else is good unless He makes it that way.

Yes. It was good when God wiped out his creation with a mythical flood. It was good when he hardened Pharoh's heart multiple times just so he could bring about more misery upon the Egyptians. It was good when God ordained verses like Exodus 21:20-21. It was good when God told a bunch of nomadic herders to rape and pillage an entire countryside.

This is what Weinberg is talking about. Only a religious zealot would claim that these things are "good" and that the god who commanded them is a "good" being.

So what if each of us gets to define what good and evil are? 99% of us can do a better job of it than the god of the bible.

So you're saying deluded happiness is more important than understanding reality?

Of course, we all see through your feeble attempt to put words into his mouth...

What he's saying is that even if it were deluded happiness (which it's not), but if it were, it's still a better offering than your paltry fling at "reality".

The atheistic view typically paints good vs. evil in a way that it’s just oh so easy to be good. You know, just “increase human happiness” and “decrease human suffering" and voila. It’s as easy as brushing your teeth in the morning. Everything else takes care of itself.

Who said it was easy? Doing good is not easy, but I would argue that it makes life easier for a person in the long run.

Doing good is as simple as living the Golden Rule (which predates Jesus by many centuries). Recognize that others are beings like yourself who have the same wants and needs and treat them as such. Who cares about "ojective standards" of morality. Those don't exist and they don't need to exist for humanity to flourish.

Christians make this stuff way too complicated although it's necessary for them to do so in order to justify their malevolent lawgiver's actions.

AJG, I'm very interested in seeing the verse where God commanded people to rape. Can you give me the reference?

I'm also curious as to how God could wipe something out with something mythical.

I'm also very surprised to hear that God judges people for being born in the wrong place. That's also news to me! I'd love to see the reference for that, as well.

It's hard to tell if this is really your understanding of Christianity, or if you're just being rhetorical. If it's the first, you gave up to easily on trying to understand.

Of course, we all see through your feeble attempt to put words into his mouth...

He admitted his view wasn't necessarily correct, but that he clung to it because it gave him hope. Your beef with me is mainly because I referred to it as delusional.

And I think I demonstrated that his assertion that Christianity was more "devestatingly hopeful" than the notion that this life is all we have. Hopeful for whom, exactly?

AJG, I'm very interested in seeing the verse where God commanded people to rape. Can you give me the reference?

Numbers 31:7-18, Deuteronomy 20:10-14, Deuteronomy 21:10-14. Heck according to Zechariah 14:1-2, he even assists in the rape of women.

I'm also curious as to how God could wipe something out with something mythical.

Obviously, I don't believe in either god or a global flood, but it's your story.

I'm also very surprised to hear that God judges people for being born in the wrong place. That's also news to me! I'd love to see the reference for that, as well.

Clearly if belief in Christ is the only way to God (John 3:18), then those who are born in a place or time where they never heard of Christ are outta luck.

It's hard to tell if this is really your understanding of Christianity, or if you're just being rhetorical. If it's the first, you gave up to easily on trying to understand.

I use the bible to form my understanding of Christianity. What do you use?

Obviously, I don't believe in either god or a global flood, but it's your story.

The mistake you're making with your original statement is similar to this one.

If "God wiped out his creation with a mythical flood," as you put it, then you wouldn't really have a problem with that, would you. Because nothing would have been wiped out. The blending of our perspective (God, creation, evil, judgment, flood) with your perspective (it's all mythical) is a rhetorical device that does nothing but confuse the issue. If you're going to evaluate the morality of the story, then you have to evaluate it within the story. If you evaluate a blend of the story and your ideas about what "really" happened, you're no longer evaluating the story, you're evaluating something of your own creation (again, see the link).

Clearly if belief in Christ is the only way to God (John 3:18), then those who are born in a place or time where they never heard of Christ are outta luck.

If I get a parking ticket and my sister gets a parking ticket, and you, as my friend, graciously pay my parking ticket, would you then say that the government is fining my sister for not knowing you? Again, you were purposefully mis-phrasing our position in order to confuse the issue.

Numbers 31:7-18 – Nothing in there about God commanding rape.

Deuteronomy 20:10-14 – Nothing in there about God commanding rape.

Deuteronomy 21:10-14 – Nothing in there about God commanding rape, but there is something here that sheds light on the previous passage, because it clarifies that they're allowed to take the women as wives (normally it wasn't permitted for an Israelite to marry someone from a different nation). This part also is specific about regulations. She is to be able to mourn the loss of her parents for a month before the marriage, and she is to be treated as a wife, with all the privileges of a wife. He isn't allowed to sell her, because she's a wife. He isn't allowed to mistreat her, because she's a wife. It seems to me that the whole purpose of this is to prevent the Israelites from resorting to random rapes. They can only marry the ones they're willing to commit to as a wife.

Zechariah 14:1-2 – God judges many nations by bringing other nations against them in battle. That doesn't in the least mean that God is commanding that nation to rape women, as if He approves of rape. You will find nowhere where God commands the Israelites to enter a nation and rape the women. What you will find is that when God causes another nation to come against Israel in judgment, that other nation is still punished for any evil that they do, even though their battle against Israel is being used as God's judgment against Israel (as even the very next verse says, "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations"). They were punished (see Jeremiah 50:11-16, for example) because they had evil purposes (e.g., Isaiah 10:5-7), not God's purposes of judgment against evil in mind.

That's it for me for the day, so I'll let you have the last word, if you wish.

If "God wiped out his creation with a mythical flood," as you put it, then you wouldn't really have a problem with that, would you. Because nothing would have been wiped out. The blending of our perspective (God, creation, evil, judgment, flood) with your perspective (it's all mythical) is a rhetorical device that does nothing but confuse the issue. If you're going to evaluate the morality of the story, then you have to evaluate it within the story. If you evaluate a blend of the story and your ideas about what "really" happened, you're no longer evaluating the story, you're evaluating something of your own creation (again, see the link).

The point is that Christians believe this story and don't have a problem with it. I can say that the Greek gods in the Iliad were bloodthirsty tyrants who reveled in war and bloodshed but still not believe they exist at all. The fictional character Yahweh who indiscriminately destroys all the inhabitants of the earth by drowning them is a moral monster. Is that better?

If I get a parking ticket and my sister gets a parking ticket, and you, as my friend, graciously pay my parking ticket, would you then say that the government is fining my sister for not knowing you? Again, you were purposefully mis-phrasing our position in order to confuse the issue.

But God created everyone with the full knowledge that he will condemn most people in the end. He's responsible for the depravity of his creation (not that I do think humanity is in fact depraved). The government in your scenario did not set up all the drivers to fail from the beginning. Each person had the choice to speed or not to speed. Sinners born condemned do not have the same luxury.

Numbers 31:7-18 – Nothing in there about God commanding rape.

So you don't consider the enslavement and forced marriage of young virgins to be rape? What do you think it is, a divine dating service?

The God of the bible divinely controls all that comes to pass so he is ultimately responsible for it all.

"I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things." -- Isaiah 45:7

Dear AJG,

Yes. It was good when God wiped out & cleansed most of His FALLEN/CORRUPTED creation with a CATASTROPHIC flood that buried the enormous amount of organic material which we now pump out of the ground to use as fuel and to make plastics. Those ancient reprobate slaves of sin were given enough time and evidence to repent up until moments before their death, just like everyone else including me & you.

Yes. It was good when God hardened Pharoh's heart multiple times to demonstrate to all of us the utter futility of putting our faith in other gods, rulers, and governments and to once again give enough time and evidence for all to repent. Pharoh had ordered the killing of all male children of Jewish slaves. The misery of the plagues was distributed evenly amongst all in Egypt, except for those 1st born male slave children who were saved by the blood.

Yes. It was good when God ordained verses like Exodus 21:20-21. This slave/servant protection clause comes right after the terms of indenture beginning in verse 2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. 3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him”. Our God did not say, “You may buy and kill slaves as you please,” as so many slave traders have done and are still doing today.

Yes. It was good when God told His nation of nomadic herdsmen to execute part of His justice by killing other nations of reprobate unbelievers who were given enough time and evidence to repent. What better way to show everyone involved how important it is to repent, acknowledge and trust the God who gives us life and delivers us from sin and death? Choose this day whom you will serve! Choose life, not death! Joshua 24:15, Deuteronomy 30:19

You say, "So what if each of us gets to define what good and evil are?"

To put it simply, we don’t answer merely to each other or to ourselves for our wickedness and moral debt. There is a day of judgment that awaits each of us. Justice awaits those like the Zodiac killer who may have escaped justice here on earth. He will have no slaves in the afterlife, but he will remain a slave of sin forever.

What more could God do than He has already done. He sent His very own Son to die on a cross to redeem us from eternal slavery to sin. He has provided the way of reconciliation and eternal life that was promised from the beginning. As it was in Noah’s day, there is still more than enough evidence to lead you to repentance and faith. Mercy awaits you, if you will trust in Him. He alone is truly good. The world was and is changed by His power. He is the remedy for evil.

You know all this and yet you willfully reject it. You may continue to impugn God and ridicule His people, but He will not be mocked and we will not be shamed. Galatians 6:7, Roman 10:11

Please reconsider your position. See Hebrews 11

No, the atheist has not gotten rid of the problem of evil by rejecting God.
The problem of evil is a problem for theism only. So only a theist would need to get rid of it. He could try redefining it. He could change the subject. Or both.


Weinberg is correct; religion is the best way to rationalize evil. That's because all of us have a conscience (Rom 2:15), and religion (doing evil paraded as good) is the best way to hijack it.

That's incidentally one of the few reasons why religion will never go away. There are, after all, (even evolutionarily speaking) reasons why the vast majority of humans have been, and still are, religious. Justifying evil as good is one of them; it was even used by a creature to rebuke his creator (Jn 12:4-7).

Every religion has experienced evil simply because humans are evil and (mostly) religious, and have thus confined the practice of evil within the boundaries of their religious culture and/or experience.

That does not mean that all religious people are evil, just the vast majority (Mt. 7:13-14).

It does also not mean that non-religious people fare any better
http://bitly.com/1i4h9i7

The sense of moral superiority felt by non-religious people is in a sense correct (you don't see today's secular Europeans kill each other they were doing in the religious days of the reformation), but also misplaced: they are, after all, using a Christian moral framework (as passed down in the last 2000 years) to morally judge past and current human behavior. If they were using purely evolutionary morality (say, reciprocal altruism), I doubt their moral condemnation would be so harsh.

They also equate evil with religion, concluding incorrectly (see link above) that an atheistic world would be devoid of evil. A less biased view indicates that human evil has been perpetrated within religious cultures only because most people throughout history happened to be religious AND because religion offers the best excuse to silence one's conscience.

As for the problem of evil, I don’t presume to know why the creator allows it, but I have an (non-calvinist) idea; he is respecting our free will. He knows what’s best for His creation, but is withholding what philosopher Isaiah Berlin termed as positive freedom, an active form of the will that might encourage a tyrannical government; through his exercise of positive freedom, in fact, a wiser leader might force less wise subjects to follow his will, thus exercising tyranny over the subjects’ will. Berlin explained: ”To manipulate men, to propel them towards goals which you, the social reformer, see, but they may not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.”

Francesco,

they are, after all, using a Christian moral framework (as passed down in the last 2000 years) to morally judge past and current human behavior.

Why do you say that?

RonH

With Scott Richardson's post defending the indefensible, Professor Weinberg rests his case.

If "life" is the ultimate definition of what is morally good, then I suppose we should be learning from the microbes. A nuclear holocaust would kill all humans and yet the microbes would push on with billions upon billions of new lives into the future. It would also bring about world peace. So, from an evolutionary perspective, trying to hold them back and promote humanity instead is immoral - no?

>> With Scott Richardson's post defending the indefensible, Professor Weinberg rests his case.

Typical mini-response of wit without substance.

To this point, I would describe myself as a fideist who, for apologetical purposes must resort to evidentialism to make an argument. Scott Richardson's post was an expression of the Christian position, central to the OP. For a brief rebuff as you offered, you have revealed that you too are a fideist who needs to offer evidence to support your assertions. Science neither proves or disproves God. The God concept is beyond the protocols of pure science. To demonstrate that there in the test tube no evidence of God can be explained simply that the test tube is incapable of holding Him.

To the issue of your 10/18//3:12 post, you have scoured the Bible for all the sordid details of wanton activity supported by God. Rape and carnage does occur in the pages of Scriptures, but as a testimony of human cruelty. I offer this explanation. God enters into the pages of human history directly through Abraham's line. He enters a world of moral decadence, but not with a "cold turkey" approach to moral improvement. War crimes are significant. Ancient kings relish their records of slaughter and enslavement. God enters in an uses such to replace morally bankrupt societies. Israel ousts the Canaanites (or tries to, results of failure of such evidenced in the next generation). Assyria ousts the northern kingdom of Israel, the Babylonians the southern kingdom of Judah at their moral nadirs. Ditto the Germanic tribes to the Roman culture.

Slavery depicted under the Hammurabic Code was intolerable. Under the Mosaic Code, the system resembles the temporary state of indentured status, total slavery being agreed upon by both parties. New Testament times offered the idea of the slave as brother in Christ, and manumission of slaves was a trend in a Christianized Rome, again on voluntary conditions.

Rape in war was savage. Your Numbers and Deuteronomy cites were efforts to show deference to conquered peoples, efforts not thought of in Egyptian or Assyrian cultures.

You must explore the historical background before cherry-picking your "bad lights in Bible history."

I hold the Weinberg quote as missing the point, unless religion is accepted as a human construct. Rarely does philosophical circles explore the possibility of true religion and false religion.

And, perhaps, humanism is just one of those false religions.

ErkkiS: You commented:

"Actions that increase the total and general human suffering and reduce human happiness and freedom of action are morally evil. Actions that decrease the total and general human suffering and increase human happiness and freedom of action are morally good and desirable. Why is this supposed to be some riddle for the ages?"

It made me think of something I read about the predicted coming economic collapse and what it might look like. It was saying that those who may have stocked away things like food and water, emergency supplies etc. would be subject to looters, raiders, etc. so others could get their hands on needed food rations, goods, and supplies for themselves and their families.

Presupposing that your definition of good and evil is the best one possible, which scenario could be called "good"--the one where the stockpile person keeps, guards, and protects with force if necessary-- his limited hoard of goods (which he has been setting aside for months for himself and his family), or the one where the looter, with a family of eight to support, comes in and takes what he needs for himself and his family to survive? Which case best "decreases the total and general human suffering and increases human happiness and freedom of action"?

I am interested to hear your views.

    I am interested to hear your views.

Alright, lets break this thing down. This depends on a lot of variables. The most optimal scenario here would probably be that assuming the hoarder would actually have enough canned goods, water etc. to actually provide for the family of eight, the would-be looter and the hoarder could come to some kind of deal where, in exchange for food and water, the looter would pay with work, protection, or some other kind of favor.

If agreement isn't possible, there are essentially two sub-optimal choices. The first is that the looter simply kills the hoarder and takes what he wants. Ethically considering, he is obviously wrong in that he is A) initiating violence B) if he can not actually provide for the family of eight, why did he have so many children? What right he has to kill some other people for his poor lifestyle choices?

From an strictly utilitarian perspective, it might be argued while looter is still "wrong" in initiating violence, it is still a better alternative then leaving his kids, who are ultimately innocent in this whole ordeal, to die. Of course, if we assume that there actually are enough goods to provide for a large family, one would assume there is enough to provide for the original hoarder and his family as well, so there is no reason why the looter would actually have to kill the hoarder. He could simply take him hostage or temporarily subdue him, and take what he needs (but not more).

There is of course the broader matter of what nature of relationship the hoarder and the looter have in the first place. Did the hoarder destroy the economy on purpose to be the king of this apocalyptic world? Has the hoarder cheated or exploited the looter in the past, being the reason why he is in economic devastation? Why has the economy collapsed so completely? Why can't the looter move away from the collapsed economy and start again elsewhere?

So to answer the question, I would say the following scenarios are optimal:

A) If there are enough goods for the family of eight, the hoarder and the looter could make an agreement. This meets the utilitarian and the deontological ethical standards: no one has to actually suffer, and the rights of no person are violated and no moral principles are broken.

B) Alternatively, if no agreement can be made, then it might justifiable, if possible, for the looter to steal enough to provide for the family but leaving enough for the hoarder or take the hoarder as a temporary hostage. This would violate the hoarders rights from a Kantian perspective, but would not necessarily lead to actual death and suffering.

C) If the looter actually initiates violence, from a Kantian perspective the hoarder has no reason to not shoot the looter, especially if he has not wronged the looter anyway in the past. The looter would have done the same thing in the reverse position: protect himself. It would still be preferable that he would see that the kids have enough to eat, or try to make some alternative arrangement to provide for the kids, for example trying to establish adoptions. Whether he has a "duty" to do so, is bit difficult to say, and depends a lot on exactly how badly the society in this scenario has collapsed and how big sacrifices the hoarder would have to make for this to be possible.

D) If there is not enough goods to actually provide for the family, then there is really no reason why the hoarder would have any ethical dilemma in simply the shooting the looter, if the looter has initiated violence: the children are doomed anyway.

"Actions that increase the total and general human suffering and reduce human happiness and freedom of action are morally evil. Actions that decrease the total and general human suffering and increase human happiness and freedom of action are morally good and desirable. Why is this supposed to be some riddle for the ages?"

Riddle or not, it is wrong.

Sometimes moral acts increase human suffering. Sometimes immoral acts decrease human suffering. Sometimes moral acts decrease freedom. Sometimes moral acts reduce human happiness. On and on and on.

If there were a committee assigned the task of creating an atheistic ‘book of morality’ it would be 1,000 volumes long with millions of footnotes and if then explanations. It’d be so convoluted it would take 1,000 volumes to respond to it.

The authors would tell us to follow it just because. At least until enough time had passed, of course. Then certain aspects of the morality described would be obsolete.

Take the following comment from Erkki above for example:

He could simply take him hostage or temporarily subdue him, and take what he needs (but not more).

Given the passage of enough time, this could turn into: “He could simple take him hostage or temporarily subdue him, and take what he needs plus one for the road (but not more).

    If there were a committee assigned the task of creating an atheistic ‘book of morality’ it would be 1,000 volumes long with millions of footnotes and if then explanations. It’d be so convoluted it would take 1,000 volumes to respond to it.

Which is exactly why it is completely pointless to write "book of morality" such as it is pointless to write "book of science" "book of politics" or "book of human interaction". You can't outsource reason or common sense.

But Erkki, didn’t you just write a little jot and tittle above?

This could be the intro:

"Actions that increase the total and general human suffering and reduce human happiness and freedom of action are morally evil. Actions that decrease the total and general human suffering and increase human happiness and freedom of action are morally good and desirable. Why is this supposed to be some riddle for the ages?"

Could we not just consolidate all the godless moral pronouncements and bind them up? After all, as you say, this is no “riddle for the ages”. That sounds like moral confidence to me.

I already pointed out why your criteria fall. If your entire description of morality can be picked apart and shown to be false, shouldn’t you at least pause for a minute?

    Could we not just consolidate all the godless moral pronouncements and bind them up?

Yeah I guess you could. Sort of like how you could make a book giving every possible mathematical equation and an answer to it. Doesn't do anything to help you understand how mathematics and logic works though.

    I already pointed out why your criteria fall. If your entire description of morality can be picked apart and shown to be false, shouldn’t you at least pause for a minute?

I don't really see how you've pointed out that my criteria fails. While there are obviously muddy spots between for example deontological and utilitarian ethics, I have never seen any ethical system that would make unnecessary human suffering or pointless, random violence seem rational from ethical perspective.

Yeah I guess you could. Sort of like how you could make a book giving every possible mathematical equation and an answer to it. Doesn't do anything to help you understand how mathematics and logic works though.
Oh? So it’s the logic of morality that’s elusive? But you just told us how morality “works”. “It’s no riddle for the ages”, remember that line? What other ingredients are you lacking for your moral proclamations to be anthologized in print?

Don’t think too hard about them. You won’t be able to put your finger on them. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how you whip it up. It’s really of no importance because I believe my point was lost on you early on.

Namely, that you can’t define morality (that works) in your own terms (i.e. what mother nature gave you).

"But where does the atheist and naturalist find objective values of good and evil in his worldview to make this judgment? There are no good or evil people; there are no good or evil acts. His worldview doesn't support this judgment. All he can do is report what he does and doesn't like, personal tastes about religion and behavior."


It's amazing how people continue and continue and continue to not grasp what seems to me such an obvious reality.

@ Erkki S. -

"Actions that increase the total and general human suffering and reduce human happiness and freedom of action are morally evil."

According to whose definition? Yours? Mine? Some government body?


"Actions that decrease the total and general human suffering and increase human happiness and freedom of action are morally good and desirable."

According to whose definition? Yours? Mine? Some government body?


"Why is this supposed to be some riddle for the ages?"

It isn't a riddle. People choose to make it so. It's actually the simplest thing in the world, which is why I can never understand why people don't get it.


Without a transcendent standard for good and evil, words like "suffering", "happiness" and "freedom" don't even have meaning. They can be whatever someone claims it to be.

Kim Jong-un of N. Korea thinks his actions and treatment of his people are good. Among other things going on there, innocent people are in prison camps. So what? He thinks that's a good thing. Who are we to say it isn't?

Our opinion is that putting innocent people in prison camps is an evil act. His opinion is that putting innocent people in prison camps is a good thing.

Without an ultimate standard, how do we know who is right?

    Oh? So it’s the logic of morality that’s elusive? But you just told us how morality “works”. “It’s no riddle for the ages”, remember that line? What other ingredients are you lacking for your moral proclamations to be anthologized in print? Don’t think too hard about them. You won’t be able to put your finger on them. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how you whip it up. It’s really of no importance because I believe my point was lost on you early on. Namely, that you can’t define morality (that works) in your own terms (i.e. what mother nature gave you).

I'm not sure if I get your point. You seem to be saying that because I can not write some "ultimate book of morality" containing every possible situation with the billion+ variables possible in human existence (as if someone can) then my original statement is bogus. But this seems like a straw man. I have never claimed to be able to write some ultimate book of ethics. Just like I can not write some ultimate book of mathematics. But I know how math works regardless, and can easily identify and separate mathematical nonsense. (Two-dimensional triangle can not have three corners 90 degrees each in standard Euclidean geometrics.)

    According to whose definition? Yours? Mine? Some government body?

Mine.

    According to whose definition? Yours? Mine? Some government body?

Mine again.

    Without a transcendent standard for good and evil, words like "suffering", "happiness" and "freedom" don't even have meaning. They can be whatever someone claims it to be.

Here's a bit of a challenge. Without resorting to google, wikipedia, or online dictionary, explain to me what "transcendent" means in this context, why exactly do you need "transcendence" in order to understand abstract concepts and what "transcendent" rule dictates that you need a "transcendent" rules to understand good and evil.

    Kim Jong-un of N. Korea thinks his actions and treatment of his people are good. Among other things going on there, innocent people are in prison camps. So what? He thinks that's a good thing. Who are we to say it isn't?

Guessing from his family history and whatnot I find it extremely unlikely that Kim Jong-Un actually cares about anything other then watching movies, eating and enjoying his wealth, or even rules the North Korea in any meaningful way. Even if he does, so what? Anyone with access to unbiased information can clearly see that what is happening in North Korea is not in anyway increasing human happiness of freedom or that North Korea is any standard. What Kim and his family thinks is irrelevant.

    Without an ultimate standard, how do we know who is right?

We don't. Hence the standard: actions that increase human happiness and freedom are morally good and desirable. Actions that increase suffering, destroy humanity and restrict human potential are evil.

Dear AJG,
RE: "With Scott Richardson's post defending the indefensible, Professor Weinberg rests his case."

When we stand before God and He asks each of us about His Son, His Son will defend me as my advocate, but you and Professor Weinberg will be the ones defending the indefensible.

When God rests HIS case, it’s eternal. So, please seek better counsel. You’ll need it.

I hope to see you with us when the saints go marching in.

Love's necessarily triune E Pluribus Unum, the Whole, defines death as that vacuum void of Love to be, simply, Hell. Such is actualized in Time there between Genesis 3:16 and John 3:16 as Hell on Earth. "I have no delight in any of this. Prepare for me a body."

Love's Own definitions reveal the truth of the matter.

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