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Author Topic: As atheists know, you can be good without God  (Read 5245 times) Average Rating: 0
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Jetavan
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« on: August 02, 2011, 06:52:13 PM »

From atheist Jerry Coyne, in USAToday:

"So where does morality come from, if not from God? Two places: evolution and secular reasoning. Despite the notion that beasts behave bestially, scientists studying our primate relatives, such as chimpanzees, see evolutionary rudiments of morality: behaviors that look for all the world like altruism, sympathy, moral disapproval, sharing — even notions of fairness. This is exactly what we'd expect if human morality, like many other behaviors, is built partly on the genes of our ancestors.

And the conditions under which humans evolved are precisely those that would favor the evolution of moral codes: small social groups of big-brained animals. When individuals in a group can get to know, recognize and remember each other, this gives an advantage to genes that make you behave nicely towards others in the group, reward those who cooperate and punish those who cheat. That's how natural selection can build morality. Secular reason adds another layer atop these evolved behaviors, helping us extend our moral sentiments far beyond our small group of friends and relatives — even to animals.

....
Nor should we worry that a society based on secular morality will degenerate into lawlessness. That experiment has already been done — in countries such as Sweden and Denmark that are largely filled with non-believers and atheists. I can vouch from experience that secular European nations are full of well-behaved and well-meaning citizens, not criminals and sociopaths running amok. In fact, you can make a good case that those countries, with their liberal social views and extensive aid for the sick, old and disadvantaged, are even more moral than America."



If morality comes from evolution and reason, then where did evolution and reason come from? Hmmm.... Roll Eyes
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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2011, 07:06:24 PM »

Looking at things from his perspective, I don't see anything wrong with what he said.
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« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2011, 07:19:16 PM »

Looking at things from his perspective, I don't see anything wrong with what he said.
Apart from his assumption that "God" is incompatible with "evolution" and "(secular) reason" he makes some very good points. Grin
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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2011, 09:11:12 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

I would only say this one thing about "atheistic" morality

They have ONE good argument about the flaw in religious morality.

It is quite true that if a person is only acting moral in order to appease the fear of retribution by a punishing God, that is not exactly morality so much as coercion.  Sincere morality stems from the depth of the altruistic heart, and that is the only source Atheists could argue for a sincere morality aside from a deep, healing, Sacramental connection with God. 

That is precisely what separated the Orthodox theological ontology from that Protestant Christianity which has a bit more "tit-for-tat" philosophy in regards to morality, essentially suggesting folks aim for love based moral behavior, but at the least idealize legalistically enforced internal morality.  This is not genuine.

Orthodox rather, seeks folks to be healed in their heart in the Grace of God, to learn to really see their morality as stemming not from coercion, from fear of retribution or for seeking some kind of reward, rather simply flowing of LOVE.

So if Christians of any variety practice a morality out of "fear of God" they should reevaluate exactly what their morality is, and then get readjusted towards a center on Christian love and it will naturally flow from there.

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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2011, 10:46:09 PM »

If morality is a product of evolution by natural selection (and nothing else), it loses all sense of meaning to talk about it as "morality".

I truly do not see why those on the "other side" of the issue cannot grasp this simple truth.
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« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2011, 10:57:25 PM »

If morality is a product of evolution by natural selection (and nothing else), it loses all sense of meaning to talk about it as "morality".

I truly do not see why those on the "other side" of the issue cannot grasp this simple truth.
"Morality" is simply an ideal way of behaving, of acting. The way we humans act, the way that we humans behave is certainly a product of natural selection -- our hands, our legs, our eyes, mouth, ears, nerves, brains, all these are a result of natural selection.

It's when the argument becomes "natural selection disproves God", a giant leap in "faith" is made, without warrant. Jerry Falwell and Jerry Coyne are identical when it comes to arguing that "evolution disproves God".
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« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2011, 01:06:54 AM »

Hmm, I'm not sure I am adequately phrasing my point.

What I mean is this: the very word "morality" is charged with existential connotations and connotations of meaning and ultimate purpose. If the whole thing can be reduced to an arguably meaningless product of evolution by natural selection, the word loses its commonly understood meaning.

Sure, you can say morality is the result of biological processes, which are in turn the result of chemical processes, which are in turn the result of physical processes, but once you do so, you are no longer talking the same language as Socrates or Kant.
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« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2011, 01:39:19 AM »

 ". . . No one is good but God" -- Jesus
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« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2011, 01:41:22 AM »

". . . No one is good but God" -- Jesus

Not so.
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« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2011, 02:53:06 AM »

". . . No one is good but God" -- Jesus

Not so.

depends how "good" is defined don't it?? and who defines it
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« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2011, 07:47:45 AM »

When you have no God, you have no system of morality.  You are left with merely a series of personal preferences, no more or less binding than your favorite ice cream.
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« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2011, 08:12:34 AM »

It does seem to me that the question of whether or not there is an objective ethics is a philosophical problem that is independent of the biological question of how our intuitions about ethics may have evolved. You can't disprove morality, let alone God, by demonstrating that our sense of morality is the outcome of natural selection. If you could, surely you could also disprove the existence of objective truth by showing how our inductive and deductive abilities are also the outcome of evolution.

I may be wrong, but my understanding is that ultimately secular ethics of the kind Coyne is advocating boils down to a kind of self-interest. Thus, in addition to acting on our innate intuitions about correct behavior, which contributed to our survival as a species, we act on the ethical principles we learned as children (which may have contributed to the survival of our ethnicity or society), and then we can further use our reasoning abilities to work out the kinds of behavior that will contribute to the future survival of ourselves and our descendants (assuming that our most high-minded goal is to make sure our genes get passed on). It's not a worldview that has much in the way of transcendental purpose, but I'm guessing Coyne is arguing that transcendental purpose is of no use as a concept ultimately.
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« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2011, 08:22:50 AM »

When you have no God, you have no system of morality.  You are left with merely a series of personal preferences, no more or less binding than your favorite ice cream.
you reaf Joseph Prager also?
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« Reply #13 on: August 03, 2011, 08:47:16 AM »

Who?
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« Reply #14 on: August 03, 2011, 08:48:49 AM »

Sure, you can say morality is the result of biological processes, which are in turn the result of chemical processes, which are in turn the result of physical processes, but once you do so, you are no longer talking the same language as Socrates or Kant.
I agree that stating that morality ("human behavior") is a result of biological and chemical processes, gives a large context in which to understand Socrates and Kant wrote. I don't see how it would contradict Socrates or Kant, though.
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« Reply #15 on: August 03, 2011, 08:58:59 AM »

I may be wrong, but my understanding is that ultimately secular ethics of the kind Coyne is advocating boils down to a kind of self-interest. Thus, in addition to acting on our innate intuitions about correct behavior, which contributed to our survival as a species, we act on the ethical principles we learned as children (which may have contributed to the survival of our ethnicity or society), and then we can further use our reasoning abilities to work out the kinds of behavior that will contribute to the future survival of ourselves and our descendants (assuming that our most high-minded goal is to make sure our genes get passed on). It's not a worldview that has much in the way of transcendental purpose, but I'm guessing Coyne is arguing that transcendental purpose is of no use as a concept ultimately.
By "transcendental" do you mean "having effects in an after-life"? That is, Coyne's worldview lacks an afterlife in which the effects of one's moral behavior are given enough time to produce their results?

I think this is a major  limitation of Coyne's ethics: one can enact a certain type of behavior (say, murder), and then escape human justice; whereas an ethics that includes the transcendent (say, an afterlife in which one experiences the effects of one's earthly behavior) provides a much larger, more comprehensive and inclusive context in which to understand the effects of one's behavior.
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« Reply #16 on: August 03, 2011, 09:01:27 AM »

After reading Coyne's article, it struck me that he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and child abuse are immoral. He simply treats it as self-evident. He does have a point about when God appears to command or do things that contradict moral principles that He elsewhere commands us to follow. But I don't agree with him that the reason Christians or Jews pass over such passages in silence is because they have moral intuitions that conflict with those passages; I think it's because those passages are hard to interpret in the Christian or Jewish moral framework. The usual answer is "God's justice is not our justice", but the apparent inconsistency is still there.
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« Reply #17 on: August 03, 2011, 09:04:29 AM »

I may be wrong, but my understanding is that ultimately secular ethics of the kind Coyne is advocating boils down to a kind of self-interest. Thus, in addition to acting on our innate intuitions about correct behavior, which contributed to our survival as a species, we act on the ethical principles we learned as children (which may have contributed to the survival of our ethnicity or society), and then we can further use our reasoning abilities to work out the kinds of behavior that will contribute to the future survival of ourselves and our descendants (assuming that our most high-minded goal is to make sure our genes get passed on). It's not a worldview that has much in the way of transcendental purpose, but I'm guessing Coyne is arguing that transcendental purpose is of no use as a concept ultimately.
By "transcendental" do you mean "having effects in an after-life"? That is, Coyne's worldview lacks an afterlife in which the effects of one's moral behavior are given enough time to produce their results?

I think this is a major  limitation of Coyne's ethics: one can enact a certain type of behavior (say, murder), and then escape human justice; whereas an ethics that includes the transcendent (say, an afterlife in which one experiences the effects of one's earthly behavior) provides a much larger, more comprehensive and inclusive context in which to understand the effects of one's behavior.

That could be part of what I mean, I suppose. By transcendental I really mean the idea that moral behavior is about something more than the survival of the individual or of the community. I agree that belief in an afterlife provides a larger context. In one sense, it can make morality more exclusively self-centered: rather than doing good for the sake of society's survival, for instance, you might do it only to save yourself from eternal punishment. On the other hand, doing good to please God is a far more sublime goal than doing good so that your children will grow up in a stable society. Coyne might say that doing good to please God is simply indulging an illusion, however.
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« Reply #18 on: August 03, 2011, 09:13:13 AM »

After reading Coyne's article, it struck me that he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and child abuse are immoral. He simply treats it as self-evident.
I think he's right about that. If you rephrase your statement as "he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and chld abuse are behaviors we as a society do not want to encourage", then I would think it is self-evident why we would not want to encourage such behaviors: because we would not want such behaviors done to us or our loved-ones.
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« Reply #19 on: August 03, 2011, 09:26:55 AM »

This article makes quite a few errors. First and foremost, much of the scientific evidence is based upon us anthropomorphizing the actions of the animals and reading into these actions. It's approaching the animals with the belief that our morals evolved and going from there. Once you approach a study with a presupposition (not a hypothesis) you're bound to see that study verify that presupposition, especially when it requires you to interpret the action.

Secondly, he's making a mistake in assuming that a purely secular society is a moral society or one that is even livable. How quickly he forgets that modern European secularists have inherited a Christian heritage, meaning that such morals tend to hold Christian presuppositions. In secular societies that lack such a Christian heritage, such as China or Turkey (if we buy into the propaganda of them being secular), we see rampant oppression and a populace that simply capitulates with that oppression. Or we can look to ancient, pre-Christian Rome to see where secular (read: Stoic) ethics gets a society.

At the end of the day, one might be able to be good without God in that one doesn't harm one's neighbors, but one cannot be holy without God. The completion of virtue is found through theosis in the person of Jesus Christ. Evolution simply cannot account for this, so while evolution could possibly explain our baser moral instincts that deal with survival, it cannot explain our higher mores. At some point, it becomes mutually exclusive to Christianity. I'd encourage people to check out the book Incarnate Love: Essays in Orthodox Ethics (2nd Edition) by Vigen Guroian.
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« Reply #20 on: August 03, 2011, 09:29:21 AM »

After reading Coyne's article, it struck me that he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and child abuse are immoral. He simply treats it as self-evident.
I think he's right about that. If you rephrase your statement as "he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and chld abuse are behaviors we as a society do not want to encourage", then I would think it is self-evident why we would not want to encourage such behaviors: because we would not want such behaviors done to us or our loved-ones.

But many other societies have looked at child rape and abuse as positive things, so it is up to him to explain why it's self-evidently wrong with other societies have accepted such things and embraced them.

Never forget that today we have a Christian background and premise at the bottom of our ethics. When people make a claim that a moral action is self-evidently wrong, all it takes is one counter example. In the case of child rape or abuse against children, we have several counter examples that prove it's not self-evident. Thus, he's left attempting to explain how it is universally wrong (which he can't do).
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« Reply #21 on: August 03, 2011, 09:30:01 AM »

At the end of the day, one might be able to be good without God in that one doesn't harm one's neighbors, but one cannot be holy without God. The completion of virtue is found through theosis in the person of Jesus Christ. Evolution simply cannot account for this, so while evolution could possibly explain our baser moral instincts that deal with survival, it cannot explain our higher mores. At some point, it becomes mutually exclusive to Christianity. I'd encourage people to check out the book Incarnate Love: Essays in Orthodox Ethics (2nd Edition) by Vigen Guroian.
"Higher mores" like what?
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« Reply #22 on: August 03, 2011, 09:32:28 AM »

At the end of the day, one might be able to be good without God in that one doesn't harm one's neighbors, but one cannot be holy without God. The completion of virtue is found through theosis in the person of Jesus Christ. Evolution simply cannot account for this, so while evolution could possibly explain our baser moral instincts that deal with survival, it cannot explain our higher mores. At some point, it becomes mutually exclusive to Christianity. I'd encourage people to check out the book Incarnate Love: Essays in Orthodox Ethics (2nd Edition) by Vigen Guroian.
"Higher mores" like what?

Such as truly altruistic sacrifice, forbidding certain sexual actions, the call to be holy as God is holy. Simply put, unless God's goodness is a product of evolution, then our own goodness cannot be a product of evolution. Either we are in His image or we are not.
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« Reply #23 on: August 03, 2011, 09:35:54 AM »

After reading Coyne's article, it struck me that he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and child abuse are immoral. He simply treats it as self-evident.
I think he's right about that. If you rephrase your statement as "he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and chld abuse are behaviors we as a society do not want to encourage", then I would think it is self-evident why we would not want to encourage such behaviors: because we would not want such behaviors done to us or our loved-ones.

But many other societies have looked at child rape and abuse as positive things, so it is up to him to explain why it's self-evidently wrong [when] other societies have accepted such things and embraced them.
I think "self-evident" is used in two different ways. One way is when "self-evident" means that something is obviously true and right for all people everywhere. Another way is when "self-evident" means that something's truth and rightness can be made clear even without a theistic or transcendental reference point. I think Coyne is using the latter definition of "self-evident".
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« Reply #24 on: August 03, 2011, 09:38:45 AM »

At the end of the day, one might be able to be good without God in that one doesn't harm one's neighbors, but one cannot be holy without God. The completion of virtue is found through theosis in the person of Jesus Christ. Evolution simply cannot account for this, so while evolution could possibly explain our baser moral instincts that deal with survival, it cannot explain our higher mores. At some point, it becomes mutually exclusive to Christianity. I'd encourage people to check out the book Incarnate Love: Essays in Orthodox Ethics (2nd Edition) by Vigen Guroian.
"Higher mores" like what?

Such as truly altruistic sacrifice, forbidding certain sexual actions, the call to be holy as God is holy. Simply put, unless God's goodness is a product of evolution, then our own goodness cannot be a product of evolution. Either we are in His image or we are not.
To say that our own goodness cannot be a product of evolution is similar to saying that our own bodies (and how they act and behave) cannot be a product of evolution: both are making an unnecessary divorce between (1) God; and (2) a particular mechanism by which God creates in this world (via evolution).
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« Reply #25 on: August 03, 2011, 09:45:12 AM »

After reading Coyne's article, it struck me that he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and child abuse are immoral. He simply treats it as self-evident.
I think he's right about that. If you rephrase your statement as "he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and chld abuse are behaviors we as a society do not want to encourage", then I would think it is self-evident why we would not want to encourage such behaviors: because we would not want such behaviors done to us or our loved-ones.

But many other societies have looked at child rape and abuse as positive things, so it is up to him to explain why it's self-evidently wrong [when] other societies have accepted such things and embraced them.
I think "self-evident" is used in two different ways. One way is when "self-evident" means that something is obviously true and right for all people everywhere. Another way is when "self-evident" means that something's truth and rightness can be made clear even without a theistic or transcendental reference point. I think Coyne is using the latter definition of "self-evident".

Either way you define it he's wrong. Again, my counter-examples would disprove either claim.

The problem with the first definition of self-evident is that we have societies that saw nothing obviously wrong with harming children. The second definition relies on everyone to have the same cultural backgrounds and philosophical presuppositions. Even if this is possible, there are still disagreements where both sides can rationally defend their respective positions. That is, Coyne may explain why abusing children is wrong, while the Spartan quickly explains why abusing children is not only acceptable, but moral and necessary. From a secular-rationalist perspective, both are right and there's no possible way to explain how either is wrong.

To state this more bluntly; modern secular ethics is only good so far because it's riding on the coattails of Christian ethics. The further our societies move away from Christ, the more depraved they will become.

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To say that our own goodness cannot be a product of evolution is similar to saying that our own bodies (and how they act and behave) cannot be a product of evolution: both are making an unnecessary divorce between (1) God; and (2) a particular mechanism by which God creates in this world (via evolution).

Not at all. Our bodies aren't in His image, so there's no problem in saying that our bodies evolved. But to say that what makes us good evolved? That causes too many theological problems and there is a necessary reason to divorce the two. If we are made in God's image, but that image evolved, then that image is made of nature and not of God. We are therefore no different from the animals in any aspect. God is not a product of evolution, so if we are in His image then His image is not a product of evolution. That is, what makes us good and our wills are not products of evolution (this is proven by the fact that we see neither anywhere else in creation).

Secondly, as I stated, there is no verifiable scientific evidence to show that our morals evolved. Such studies seek to prove such a thing and it's not difficult to accomplish this. I could easily set up a study to prove that lions enjoy watching "Jersey Shore" and I assure you I could prove my premise with relative ease. It's far too easy to anthropomorphize an animal's actions, meaning that such studies shouldn't be trusted.
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« Reply #26 on: August 03, 2011, 11:17:46 AM »

After reading Coyne's article, it struck me that he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and child abuse are immoral. He simply treats it as self-evident.
I think he's right about that. If you rephrase your statement as "he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and chld abuse are behaviors we as a society do not want to encourage", then I would think it is self-evident why we would not want to encourage such behaviors: because we would not want such behaviors done to us or our loved-ones.

Perhaps, but he doesn't say that himself. And theo does have a point that such behaviors were allowed in some cultures, however strange and unnatural that may seem to us. Unless we assert that the standards of our society are intrinsically superior to the standards of those societies, which would be at odds with his naturalistic assumptions, it's hard to see how he can argue that rape and child abuse are immoral in any universal sense.
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« Reply #27 on: August 03, 2011, 11:54:12 AM »

At the same time, I remember reading in Chesterton's "Everlasting Man" his speculation that e.g. cannibalism among New Guinean tribesmen may not necessarily indicate that they "approved" of it. They may have engaged in such behavior precisely because it was "wrong" in some sense. Take the example of e.g. magic or witchcraft in the early modern period, where there was a general understanding that it was diabolical, but, contra the claims of modern-day Wiccans, there is no evidence that real witches considered their practices to be part of a rival theological system to Christianity. They practiced their witchcraft knowing full well that it was diabolical. It could be the same with cannibals or child molesters or murderers: they know in some sense they're actions are evil, but they do it anyway, since at the same time they believe there are certain supernatural powers that will be satisfied by these actions and give them help in their endeavors. The only difference is that this consciousness of the evil in the actions is paradoxically also supported by the culture: they do these things on the basis of certain cultural dictates, even though they may contradict other cultural dictates, or possibly contradict innate moral predispositions.

I don't know if Chesterton is right, but it's worth considering as a possibility. I wouldn't be sure, in other words, that people in cultures in which child rape is sanctioned have no sense that there is something "wrong" with it. After all, you would have thought the parents, or at least the mothers would struggle with it at a very primal psychological level.
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« Reply #28 on: August 03, 2011, 12:18:43 PM »

The second definition relies on everyone to have the same cultural backgrounds and philosophical presuppositions. Even if this is possible, there are still disagreements where both sides can rationally defend their respective positions. That is, Coyne may explain why abusing children is wrong, while the Spartan quickly explains why abusing children is not only acceptable, but moral and necessary. From a secular-rationalist perspective, both are right and there's no possible way to explain how either is wrong.
I think Coyne's point is not that every non-theistic or non-transcendentalist ethic will conclude that behavior A is wrong, but that it is possible to claim that behavior A is wrong, without invoking theism or the transcendent.


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But to say that what makes us good evolved?
By "goodness" I mean all the behaviors we do (using our hands, feet, speech, etc.) that create a more just and enjoyable world. Those behaviors we can see also present in other animals, to a lesser degree perhaps, but they are present. Our hominid ancestors also possessed these behaviors, and we modern humans (ideally) continue those behaviors, but with a greater efficacy and efficiency.
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« Reply #29 on: August 03, 2011, 12:38:33 PM »

When you have no God, you have no system of morality.  You are left with merely a series of personal preferences, no more or less binding than your favorite ice cream.
That is completely not true. Morality isn't only a God thing it can come from an alturism and exists in a tonne of people who dont even believe in God. Even the countries that dont have a strong religiousness in their country they have a good working society and some would say maybe even better at tackling moral issues than the parts of the world who are strongly religious!!!

morality isnt just a God thing
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« Reply #30 on: August 03, 2011, 12:55:47 PM »

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I think Coyne's point is not that every non-theistic or non-transcendentalist ethic will conclude that behavior A is wrong, but that it is possible to claim that behavior A is wrong, without invoking theism or the transcendent.

There's a difference between claiming something is wrong and having justification to prove that it's universally wrong. I can claim it's wrong to eat ice cream, but unless I can provide some moral standard for why it's wrong then my claim is empty. Likewise, a naturalist can claim any number of things are wrong, but he is generally left without recourse as to offering a legitimate justification for why such things are wrong.

Quote
By "goodness" I mean all the behaviors we do (using our hands, feet, speech, etc.) that create a more just and enjoyable world. Those behaviors we can see also present in other animals, to a lesser degree perhaps, but they are present. Our hominid ancestors also possessed these behaviors, and we modern humans (ideally) continue those behaviors, but with a greater efficacy and efficiency.

I mean "goodness" in a moral sense, not in a mechanical sense. And like it or not, our goodness cannot be a product of evolution. If it were, then we are left explaining the Fall, the problem of evil, why Christ came to die, the (non) existence of free will, and the list goes on. While I know some Christians are apprehensive to disavow some scientific findings, the fact is some "scientific" discoveries simply are at odds with essential Christian doctrine. Of course, most of the time these discoveries are more philosophical than scientific (such as in the case of the evolution of morality), but the fact is sometimes the two are mutually exclusive. This is an instance where there is some level of mutual exclusivity.

Quote
That is completely not true. Morality isn't only a God thing it can come from an alturism and exists in a tonne of people who dont even believe in God. Even the countries that dont have a strong religiousness in their country they have a good working society and some would say maybe even better at tackling moral issues than the parts of the world who are strongly religious!!!

But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).
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« Reply #31 on: August 03, 2011, 01:36:35 PM »

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But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.
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« Reply #32 on: August 03, 2011, 01:36:46 PM »

Arguing Coyne's side for a moment, one response to the claim that cultures have different norms is to say "So what?" If we think about moral norms as essentially about making society convenient or comfortable as a whole, then each society, including our own, gets to define what's convenient or comfortable. Child molestation happens to make us uncomfortable, so we forbid it. If other cultures allow it, good for them, but in general we don't want it here. If norms change and our society ends up approving it, you might disagree individually, but who cares what the individual or the minority thinks anyway?

That's at least what he should argue if he were being consistent. It would be interesting to see how he'd try to argue that child molestation violates universal norms. Maybe you could argue we are predisposed by nature or nurture to want to protect children everywhere, causing us to attempt to change other cultures that abuse children. Again, tough luck for the cultures that we "reform". In any case, he might say we are always only acting on our feelings about it ultimately; there is no rational explanation ultimately for why something should be right or wrong in an absolute sense.

In any case, I wouldn't be surprised if there were good evidence that we are innately biased against child molestation, and that cultures which sanction it are the exception rather than the rule.
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« Reply #33 on: August 03, 2011, 01:59:46 PM »

Yes and no. St. Paul addresses this clearly.

An atheist can be righteous even more so than a Jew or a Christian.

But to the degree they are, it is still in relation to the degree they are working with law written upon their heart by God.
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« Reply #34 on: August 03, 2011, 01:59:59 PM »

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But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.
But why should I pay heed to your morals? That is to say, when our morals contradict each other and are at an impasse, who's morals do we follow? The strongest's?
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« Reply #35 on: August 03, 2011, 02:19:35 PM »

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causing us to attempt to change other cultures that abuse children

yeah "our culture" might condemn it but within our main culture there are other cultures and institutions riddled with charges of child abuse to answer to going back years and years.
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« Reply #36 on: August 03, 2011, 02:19:36 PM »

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But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.
But why should I pay heed to your morals? That is to say, when our morals contradict each other and are at an impasse, who's morals do we follow? The strongest's?

well my morals allow me to hurt you physically so, i guess i would win haha...

ok ok im only kidding





If it was a thing that affected a wider society that we lived in both of us then it would have to be who ever agreed that the majority thought it was the best thing for wider society BUT if it was just you and me and it affected us both then we would have to reason it out. Or we're back to hurting each other lolOl
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« Reply #37 on: August 03, 2011, 02:42:20 PM »

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I think Coyne's point is not that every non-theistic or non-transcendentalist ethic will conclude that behavior A is wrong, but that it is possible to claim that behavior A is wrong, without invoking theism or the transcendent.

There's a difference between claiming something is wrong and having justification to prove that it's universally wrong.
How could you "prove" (to everyone's satisfaction) that a certain behavior is wrong?

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« Reply #38 on: August 03, 2011, 02:47:49 PM »

greetings in that divine and most precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

After reading Coyne's article, it struck me that he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and child abuse are immoral. He simply treats it as self-evident.
I think he's right about that. If you rephrase your statement as "he doesn't explain anywhere why e.g. rape and chld abuse are behaviors we as a society do not want to encourage", then I would think it is self-evident why we would not want to encourage such behaviors: because we would not want such behaviors done to us or our loved-ones.

But many other societies have looked at child rape and abuse as positive things, so it is up to him to explain why it's self-evidently wrong with other societies have accepted such things and embraced them.


Nonsense, you're reading way to much Foucault! Many societies have OVERLOOKED the inherent wrongness of these viscious, painful actions out of ideological or political or self-seeking cost-analysis.  Folks KNOW that these actions are wrong, but if committing immoral behavior produces their own seemingly moral benefits for one's own social group, then folks patterns of morality shift.  So folks do not exonerate these immoral actions so much as they learn to accept them as "necessary evils" and this is EXACTLY how things like war and slavery have become so thoroughly part of our common human experience.
Hmm, I'm not sure I am adequately phrasing my point.

What I mean is this: the very word "morality" is charged with existential connotations and connotations of meaning and ultimate purpose. If the whole thing can be reduced to an arguably meaningless product of evolution by natural selection, the word loses its commonly understood meaning.

Sure, you can say morality is the result of biological processes, which are in turn the result of chemical processes, which are in turn the result of physical processes, but once you do so, you are no longer talking the same language as Socrates or Kant.

not true at all, if anything, morality takes on an even deeper meaning when based upon a theory of "natural selection" because morality is human beings counter towards the "smaller fish getting eaten by the bigger fish" aspect of natural selection process.  Human beings use their sense of internal morality to counter effects of nature like resource scarcity or conflict resolution.  There is no reason aside from the greater good, and yet it is human nature to be considered with the individual good.  Morality is then a very human trait in that humans have the agency to foresee aspects of the future, and humans can then predict the beneficial potential of their moral actions and convert their individual selfish instincts towards altruism.  This really is the anthpomorphic evidence of God within our own being, that God's own altruistic Nature has literally bled (through the Passion) into our own human minds that we can be like God and be moral not because of the fear of punishment, but the sincere and inexplicable aspects of human altruism.

Again, those atheists who criticize the pseudo-morality of many religious people have a point, many Christians are not internally moral, they are coerced by the "fear of God" and this really isn't morality at all, this is the effects of the literal bully pulpit.

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« Reply #39 on: August 03, 2011, 03:53:13 PM »

Quote
But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.
But why should I pay heed to your morals? That is to say, when our morals contradict each other and are at an impasse, who's morals do we follow? The strongest's?

well my morals allow me to hurt you physically so, i guess i would win haha...

ok ok im only kidding





If it was a thing that affected a wider society that we lived in both of us then it would have to be who ever agreed that the majority thought it was the best thing for wider society BUT if it was just you and me and it affected us both then we would have to reason it out. Or we're back to hurting each other lolOl

So as long as the majority believe an action is moral, then that action is okay? How does this mentality work when applied to Aztec sacrifices, Canaanite sacrifices to Molec, or even the Holocaust? Once again we see that a naturalistic morality is always subjective and ultimately tyrannical. The only reason we haven't seen it as such in our society is because it's evolved out of a Christian morality. Give it time though.

Quote
Nonsense, you're reading way to much Foucault! Many societies have OVERLOOKED the inherent wrongness of these viscious, painful actions out of ideological or political or self-seeking cost-analysis.  Folks KNOW that these actions are wrong, but if committing immoral behavior produces their own seemingly moral benefits for one's own social group, then folks patterns of morality shift.  So folks do not exonerate these immoral actions so much as they learn to accept them as "necessary evils" and this is EXACTLY how things like war and slavery have become so thoroughly part of our common human experience.

That reads far too much into history, specifically when we have cultures enjoying human sacrifices and taking pleasure in such actions. I would agree that it's taken years for them to condition themselves to such a society, but this actually works against the idea of natural selection leading to morality, for it would require the people to fall from an apex of morality, which natural selection cannot provide.
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« Reply #40 on: August 03, 2011, 06:25:25 PM »

Sure, you can say morality is the result of biological processes, which are in turn the result of chemical processes, which are in turn the result of physical processes, but once you do so, you are no longer talking the same language as Socrates or Kant.
I agree that stating that morality ("human behavior") is a result of biological and chemical processes, gives a large context in which to understand Socrates and Kant wrote. I don't see how it would contradict Socrates or Kant, though.

Are we using the word descriptively or prescriptively?
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« Reply #41 on: August 03, 2011, 06:37:19 PM »

@theo:
 
Firstly, the idea that Aztecs enjoyed human sacrifice begs all sorts of questions that I raised above, and that Habte Selassie also raised. You don't have to enjoy doing what you feel you have to do. Has it occurred to you that the Aztecs didn't enjoy carrying out these practices, but nevertheless felt compelled by superstition to engage in them? As an analogy, think of all those women in China who for centuries had their daughters' feet bound. Yes, it was the women who did this to each other, just as Somali women mutilate the genitals of their daughters. Do you think a single one of them enjoyed it? And yet as Pindar said "Custom is the ruler of all".

Even if they did enjoy it, it was their enemies they were sacrificing, so there's no question that their customs would detract from their overall fitness as a society. On the contrary, it enhanced it.

And if humanity evolved to be repelled by such behavior, that does not mean certain cultures couldn't develop in contrary directions. After all, our innate ability to feel empathy for others' pain is balanced by our innate ability to feel bloodthirsty rage against our enemies. Or do you think only born sociopaths are capable of killing? In different cultures in different contexts the two tendencies will be developed or suppressed in favor of the competing tendency. There is no "apex" of morality in the Darwinian framework, just as there is no "progress". It just so happens that our current cultural environment, which minimizes competition for resources, encourages the innate empathetic side of our collective psyche to be dominant. In less economically developed societies, people are used to harder struggle and tolerate a higher level of pain and cruelty. Even Orthodox nations tolerated judicial and non-judicial torture, mutilation and execution at times when everyone's pain threshold was considerably higher.
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« Reply #42 on: August 03, 2011, 07:41:51 PM »

It looks like people are searching for nice, clean answers. Well, biology and evolution is a messy business, there are competing factors to our survival that might never be perfectly balanced (at least, not until the advent of 2-directional mind machine interface and the ability to reprogram the brain Wink). On one hand, there's a strong desire to reproduced hard-wired in our genetic code by a billion years of evolution, it's absolutely necessary, the species would not have survived without it. On the other hand, we became social animals much more recently and we have evolved to optimize our social situation, but evolution can't just throw out the desire to reproduce, the species would cease to exist. So, on one hand we have a fundamental desire to reproduce at all costs and on the other hand we have the desire to live as a successful social people. It's not unreasonable to suggest that certain individuals in the society will be outliers on one extreme or the other, but on the average evolution has struck a pretty good balance.

Then, through at least the last 100,000 years of evolution we can add to natural selection artificial selection. If you go back far enough, you will see that rape was largely condemned as a violation of the man's (be it the father's or mate's/husband's) property rights and it threatened his genetic line, so he and others of power and influence in the tribe, acted to protect their survival and procreation by killing the guilty party. Over the years, those born with the strongest sexual inclinations, ones that caused them to go outside the bounds of what came to be regarded as socially acceptable, were killed...of course, those with no desire to reproduce may not have been killed, but they were also much less likely to reproduce. The result was that those who were most inclined to justify rape because of a strong and primitive reproductive desire were artificially removed from the gene pool and now we're at the point that, on average (of course there are outliers), we consider it inherently morally reprehensible without having to resort to property rights or a desire to ensure the integrity of our genetic line; and, of course, this has all run in parallel with the evolution of our brains and our capacity to reason and the cultural evolution that this element of biological evolution has allowed. We weren't always like this, this mindset and our modern reasoning capabilities are a result of thousands of generations of evolutionary selection, both natural and, more recently, artificial. But there's nothing wrong with seeing that we are a superior beings compared to our ancestors, that is the direction evolution should take, nor is this 'moral code' (I use the term morality with caution because of the superstitious baggage it carries, but it is the term that most accurately describes this instinct) any less important because of how we gained it, if anything it makes it more important because it has been tested and verified by evolution. We evolved this way for a good, objective reason, it has greatly aided the survival and advancement of our species. To me that seems like a far better reason to conduct our lives according to this 'moral code' than simply because the invisible man in the sky said we should.
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« Reply #43 on: August 03, 2011, 07:47:28 PM »

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But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.

You have just proven my point.  Without God, all a person has is a series of personal preferences.  There is no intrinsic right and wrong, but merely your personal preference of whether or not to engage in murder, much like a personal has a preference of whether or not to mix orange soda and Sprite.  You may find such a concoction to be repulsive, but it is not inherently wrong.

Without God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong - there is no moral and immoral.  There is nothing but preference.
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« Reply #44 on: August 03, 2011, 07:54:44 PM »

Sure, you can say morality is the result of biological processes, which are in turn the result of chemical processes, which are in turn the result of physical processes, but once you do so, you are no longer talking the same language as Socrates or Kant.
I agree that stating that morality ("human behavior") is a result of biological and chemical processes, gives a large context in which to understand Socrates and Kant wrote. I don't see how it would contradict Socrates or Kant, though.

Are we using the word descriptively or prescriptively?
Both, but I'm also placing biological and chemical processes within the larger context of divine wisdom.
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« Reply #45 on: August 03, 2011, 07:58:27 PM »

Sure, you can say morality is the result of biological processes, which are in turn the result of chemical processes, which are in turn the result of physical processes, but once you do so, you are no longer talking the same language as Socrates or Kant.
I agree that stating that morality ("human behavior") is a result of biological and chemical processes, gives a large context in which to understand Socrates and Kant wrote. I don't see how it would contradict Socrates or Kant, though.

Are we using the word descriptively or prescriptively?
Both, but I'm also placing biological and chemical processes within the larger context of divine wisdom.

Thank you.

Part of my argument is that to use the word descriptively is to deprive it of its force and meaning.

Sure, all people have "morality" (understood descriptively), but do they have morality (understood prescriptively)?

I don't think my argument is at odds with yours, both properly understood.
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« Reply #46 on: August 03, 2011, 07:59:27 PM »

Quote
But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.

You have just proven my point.  Without God, all a person has is a series of personal preferences.  There is no intrinsic right and wrong, but merely your personal preference of whether or not to engage in murder, much like a personal has a preference of whether or not to mix orange soda and Sprite.  You may find such a concoction to be repulsive, but it is not inherently wrong.

Without God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong - there is no moral and immoral.  There is nothing but preference.
Couldn't one argue that with God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong -- because what is right or wrong depends upon what God decides is right and wrong? I'm thinking of Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac, at God's insistence, for example.
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« Reply #47 on: August 03, 2011, 09:06:34 PM »

greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
@theo:
 
Firstly, the idea that Aztecs enjoyed human sacrifice begs all sorts of questions that I raised above, and that Habte Selassie also raised. You don't have to enjoy doing what you feel you have to do. Has it occurred to you that the Aztecs didn't enjoy carrying out these practices, but nevertheless felt compelled by superstition to engage in them? As an analogy, think of all those women in China who for centuries had their daughters' feet bound. Yes, it was the women who did this to each other, just as Somali women mutilate the genitals of their daughters. Do you think a single one of them enjoyed it? And yet as Pindar said "Custom is the ruler of all".

Even if they did enjoy it, it was their enemies they were sacrificing, so there's no question that their customs would detract from their overall fitness as a society. On the contrary, it enhanced it.

And if humanity evolved to be repelled by such behavior, that does not mean certain cultures couldn't develop in contrary directions. After all, our innate ability to feel empathy for others' pain is balanced by our innate ability to feel bloodthirsty rage against our enemies. Or do you think only born sociopaths are capable of killing? In different cultures in different contexts the two tendencies will be developed or suppressed in favor of the competing tendency. There is no "apex" of morality in the Darwinian framework, just as there is no "progress". It just so happens that our current cultural environment, which minimizes competition for resources, encourages the innate empathetic side of our collective psyche to be dominant. In less economically developed societies, people are used to harder struggle and tolerate a higher level of pain and cruelty. Even Orthodox nations tolerated judicial and non-judicial torture, mutilation and execution at times when everyone's pain threshold was considerably higher.

This is like, in fact is is genius, Post of the Month quality for sure Smiley



Then, through at least the last 100,000 years of evolution we can add to natural selection artificial selection. If you go back far enough, you will see that rape was largely condemned as a violation of the man's (be it the father's or mate's/husband's) property rights and it threatened his genetic line, so he and others of power and influence in the tribe, acted to protect their survival and procreation by killing the guilty party. Over the years, those born with the strongest sexual inclinations, ones that caused them to go outside the bounds of what came to be regarded as socially acceptable, were killed...of course, those with no desire to reproduce may not have been killed, but they were also much less likely to reproduce. The result was that those who were most inclined to justify rape because of a strong and primitive reproductive desire were artificially removed from the gene pool and now we're at the point that, on average (of course there are outliers), we consider it inherently morally reprehensible without having to resort to property rights or a desire to ensure the integrity of our genetic line; and, of course, this has all run in parallel with the evolution of our brains and our capacity to reason and the cultural evolution that this element of biological evolution has allowed. We weren't always like this, this mindset and our modern reasoning capabilities are a result of thousands of generations of evolutionary selection, both natural and, more recently, artificial.

However this I don't like, you've to heavily idealized the actual process of evolution, which by all accounts, natural selection is really a coincidence of the favoritism of environmental circumstances.  How did camouflage evolve? In the discussions at school with my students we sometimes speak anthropomorphically about natural selection and evolution, almost as if the animals themselves chose consciously to adapt and evolve certain traits.  This is simply nonsensical! Species don't chose to evolve, the environmental circumstances favor certain features over others, and the way in which these features evolve is through a combination of purely RANDOM mutation and further sexual reproduction where even if species mate selectively, none-the-less the combination of genes is randomized.  Both result not necessarily in conscious or strategic evolution, rather purely serendipitous.  Camouflage for example evolves as animals when the environment favors one kind of marking over another as an animal with some markings survives and reproduces more successfully where as the previous versions eventually go extinct.  Kodak bears are genetically identical with brown bears, and even sometimes swim back to shore in Canada and live out as brown bears.  How did the brown bear turn white? It surely didn't consciously decide this change, rather the snow white environment favored the eventual transition as lighter and lighter brown bears reproduced more successfully than darker brown bears until inevitably they turned white! Then in time the white bears out competed the fully brown bears and the brown bears either left or died off and after a certain amount of time the genetic differences get so strong that they become separate species.  At this time Kodak and brown bears can still fully reproduce like Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox are in full communion Smiley

Now that we've gotten the science out of the way, lets look at this quoted discussion about the cultural evolution of certain human traits in relation to natural selection. I'm sorry but I just do buy into the influence of reproductive instinct and natural selection on the evolution of human psychology and culture.  Yes, human beings have a fundamental, biological drive to reproduce, as do ALL living things, but just like all other living things, we are not solely defined by this urge just as we are no more defined by our urges to defecate! Animals do not live solely to reproduce, and sometimes scientists in their studies and theories forget that somethings live just to live, and reproducing a facet of this existing.  There is far more to life than just reproduction, and it is not the sole driving force, Freud was also mistaken.  I just think you have oversimplified the process and factors involved.  Culture is precisely what living things, be it humans or flowers, have inherent to their life which defines them beyond reproduction and in fact counters the forces of natural selection and nature.  Culture is beyond instinct and in fact it controls instincts.  Humans are not the only social animals with stratified societies and complex sociocultural patterns, and these are really beyond evolutionary explanation either in humans or animals! Species do many things to counter natural selection and ensure survival of even non-reproductive members counter to the instinctive drives or reproduction because while all universally share them as DNA bearing creatures, surely our lives are more beautifully complicated then that, even if solely defined by our numerous primal urges such as hunger, companionship, reproduction, fear, and pleasure! After all, we are often hungry for different things, seek companionship for different reasons, purposely avoid reproducing, deny fear, and have different definitions of pleasure. 

stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #48 on: August 03, 2011, 09:17:31 PM »

If morality comes from evolution and reason, then where did evolution and reason come from? Hmmm.... Roll Eyes

Well I believe in evolution, but God gave us morality and reason.  Cool
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« Reply #49 on: August 03, 2011, 11:29:50 PM »

Quote
But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.

You have just proven my point.  Without God, all a person has is a series of personal preferences.  There is no intrinsic right and wrong, but merely your personal preference of whether or not to engage in murder, much like a personal has a preference of whether or not to mix orange soda and Sprite.  You may find such a concoction to be repulsive, but it is not inherently wrong.

Without God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong - there is no moral and immoral.  There is nothing but preference.
Couldn't one argue that with God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong -- because what is right or wrong depends upon what God decides is right and wrong? I'm thinking of Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac, at God's insistence, for example.

I would say right and wrong are defined relative to God's will. Since God is good, His will is good, however it is manifest (we cannot judge such things by human standards).

Was it wrong for Joshua to slaughter every living thing in various cities—men, women, children, and animals? It was not, because without slaughtering them, Israel could not be established, and so Israel could not have produced the all-holy Theotokos, and therefore Christ could not be born. I think the divinely-ordained violence of the OT can ultimately be explained as necessary in order for Christ to be born—who then did away with such violence once and for all.
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« Reply #50 on: August 03, 2011, 11:38:32 PM »

However this I don't like, you've to heavily idealized the actual process of evolution, which by all accounts, natural selection is really a coincidence of the favoritism of environmental circumstances.  How did camouflage evolve? In the discussions at school with my students we sometimes speak anthropomorphically about natural selection and evolution, almost as if the animals themselves chose consciously to adapt and evolve certain traits.  This is simply nonsensical! Species don't chose to evolve, the environmental circumstances favor certain features over others, and the way in which these features evolve is through a combination of purely RANDOM mutation and further sexual reproduction where even if species mate selectively, none-the-less the combination of genes is randomized.  Both result not necessarily in conscious or strategic evolution, rather purely serendipitous.  Camouflage for example evolves as animals when the environment favors one kind of marking over another as an animal with some markings survives and reproduces more successfully where as the previous versions eventually go extinct.  Kodak bears are genetically identical with brown bears, and even sometimes swim back to shore in Canada and live out as brown bears.  How did the brown bear turn white? It surely didn't consciously decide this change, rather the snow white environment favored the eventual transition as lighter and lighter brown bears reproduced more successfully than darker brown bears until inevitably they turned white! Then in time the white bears out competed the fully brown bears and the brown bears either left or died off and after a certain amount of time the genetic differences get so strong that they become separate species.  At this time Kodak and brown bears can still fully reproduce like Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox are in full communion Smiley

It may have become confusing but in my post I discussed both natural and artificial selection. The death penalty, castration, and even family extermination have been used throughout human history and these are, in a very real sense, a form of artificial selection: the tribe making a conscience decision to remove an individual, and in some cases even his entire genetic line, from the gene pool. Maybe they didn't think about it in those terms (though in the case of family extermination, they may very well have), though that's exactly what they did.

As for natural selection, it's certainly true that the species does not determine how they evolve, that would be artificial selection, but I don't think it's incorrect to speak of the system as 'choosing' certain traits over others, it may not be a conscience choice, but an algorithmic choice is made: creatures and species that can survive and reproduce get to pass on their genes and influence the future of evolution, those that cannot survive and reproduce do not get to do so. So the system is optimizing all the elements for one characteristic: survivability. Yes, it can often be environment-specific, but since environments change over the ages there are many valuable environment-independent traits that get passed on as well.

Quote
Now that we've gotten the science out of the way, lets look at this quoted discussion about the cultural evolution of certain human traits in relation to natural selection. I'm sorry but I just do buy into the influence of reproductive instinct and natural selection on the evolution of human psychology and culture.  Yes, human beings have a fundamental, biological drive to reproduce, as do ALL living things, but just like all other living things, we are not solely defined by this urge just as we are no more defined by our urges to defecate!

The very nature of the system requires optimization for survival and reproduction and survival is only important through reproductive age, of course certain species can have various other characteristics, but these are the two constants across all living things from humans to insects to flora to bacteria. They are very strong and driving forces that must be strongly present for a species to survive. And, yes, there are outliers, but evolution is a game of means.

Quote
Animals do not live solely to reproduce, and sometimes scientists in their studies and theories forget that somethings live just to live, and reproducing a facet of this existing.  There is far more to life than just reproduction, and it is not the sole driving force, Freud was also mistaken.  I just think you have oversimplified the process and factors involved.

Of course I've oversimplified it, this is a web forum, I'm making a casual argument, not presenting a scientific dissertation. Wink Humans have evolved a remarkable capacity for logic and reason, which we no doubt evolved to give us a survival advantage, but we have done much, much more with it than that. But still, despite our accomplishments, we have a fundamental desire to survive and to reproduce (or at least engage in the reproductive act, our intellect has allowed us to separate the pleasure of the act from the consequences of the act and make decisions balancing our desire to survive (kids are expensive and don't help personal survival); however none of this has diminished the desire to actually engage in the reproductive act). But we are complex beings and how these things interact with our rational abilities is hardly straightforward, but we can't deny their overwhelming influence on human society, in fact the very existence of human society, of humans as social animals, is the result of a survival tactic that doesn't hurt with reproduction either.

Also, the fact that we survive to reproduce does not imply that these two impulses are in harmony, they can be pulling in opposite directions and one can even be detrimental to the other. But just so long as they are sufficiently optimized to the environment to be able to exist and reproduce in that environment and are more successful at it than competing species, that will be the species that survives. Though these things are likely to be optimized as time progresses.

Quote
Culture is precisely what living things, be it humans or flowers, have inherent to their life which defines them beyond reproduction and in fact counters the forces of natural selection and nature.

Flower culture? Really? A little to 1960's for my taste. Wink

Quote
Culture is beyond instinct and in fact it controls instincts.

If culture controlled instinct, the western world would have become extinct with the celibacy craze of the Roman Church in the Middle Ages.

Quote
Humans are not the only social animals with stratified societies and complex sociocultural patterns, and these are really beyond evolutionary explanation either in humans or animals!

No, we're not not, these characteristics are inherent in all social animals or at least all social mammals. They are traits that are necessary for animals to successfully live in a social context. Humans and horses don't both have stratified societies and complex sociocultural patterns because horses reason similarly to humans, we share these characteristics because they are necessary characteristics to live in a social situation and either followed similar paths of evolution as a result of this strong necessity of these characteristics for survival in a social situation or derive from a common ancestor that had these traits and passed them on due to the ability these traits gave this common ancestor to survive (I honestly don't know enough about the history of the evolution of the Horse to say which is true, I'm not even certain how long ago our common ancestor lived, though I'm sure someone has calculated it from DNA analysis).

Quote
Species do many things to counter natural selection and ensure survival of even non-reproductive members counter to the instinctive drives or reproduction because while all universally share them as DNA bearing creatures,

As you reminded me earlier, evolution is not a conscience choice by the species (at least for non-human species), we are likely the only species that has ever figured out this connection between survival and reproduction and its role in the advancement of evolution. Social animals help non-reproductive members survive because they are programmed to seek the survival of the herd. They don't know that evolution programmed them this way to simply be able to survive to reproductive age and reproduce more efficiently. They know what their instinct and impulses tell them to do, they don't know why they have them.

Quote
surely our lives are more beautifully complicated then that, even if solely defined by our numerous primal urges such as hunger, companionship, reproduction, fear, and pleasure!

They are because we have developed this remarkable capacity for reason, this doesn't mean that these primal urges and impulses are not central to our lives and existence, they are, but because of reason we are able to expand beyond these primal desires and at times expand on or even influence them.

Quote
After all, we are often hungry for different things, seek companionship for different reasons, purposely avoid reproducing, deny fear, and have different definitions of pleasure. 

We are hungry for different things, but we tend to gravitate towards that which is familiar (though I freely confess, I'm an outlier in this regard). Do we seek companionship for different reasons or do we inherently desire companionship and simply come up with different rationals to justify that desire? We may purposely avoid reproduction, but very few of us can shed the reproductive desire while of reproductive age, the writings of the Church Fathers can attest to this much at least. We can deny fear, but so can the the mother in the wild deny fear to protect her young, but we are more sophisticated in that we can also deny fear for rational reasons, not purely instinctive ones; but it is hardly true that reason always conquers fear, more often than not the opposite is true, we try to rationalize and justify our fear and as a result our history is plagued with genocide and great tragedy that results from this attempt to rationalize fear, this merger of fear and reason where fear ultimately wins. We may have some different ideas for leisure, not that evolution spent much time on those characteristics, but the vast majority of people (and social animals in general) share many of the same fundamental pleasures across all cultures, peoples, and species: the pleasure of a drink of water when suffering from thirst, the pleasure of food when truly hungry, the pleasure of success over failure, the pleasure of friends and companionship, and, above all, the pleasure of the reproductive act.
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« Reply #51 on: August 04, 2011, 01:16:16 AM »

Quote
But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.

You have just proven my point.  Without God, all a person has is a series of personal preferences.  There is no intrinsic right and wrong, but merely your personal preference of whether or not to engage in murder, much like a personal has a preference of whether or not to mix orange soda and Sprite.  You may find such a concoction to be repulsive, but it is not inherently wrong.

Without God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong - there is no moral and immoral.  There is nothing but preference.
Couldn't one argue that with God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong -- because what is right or wrong depends upon what God decides is right and wrong? I'm thinking of Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac, at God's insistence, for example.

That is a good question, and I've not thought about it too terribly much.  I would lean somewhat towards Bogdan's position, I suppose.  I might have really meant that without God, there is no constant morality but rather only arbitrary personal preferences.  In that case, as God is unchanging, I would say that right and wrong are quite intrinsic.
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« Reply #52 on: August 04, 2011, 01:16:44 AM »

Quote
But naturalism lacks a proper explanation for these things, that's what it means that there is no good without God.

Think of it this way - meta-ethically speaking it is necessary to have God in order to justify morality. Without God as the origin of morals then meta-ethically we have no morals. On the more normative side, however, an atheist can certainly act in a moral manner. But such an action is only explainable via theism, stating that the atheist is in the image of God and therefore will seek to act morally due to that image. Under a naturalistic aspect, we are left without a proper explanation as to why people are moral (or immoral).

My morals are moral to me, because i believe they are.

You have just proven my point.  Without God, all a person has is a series of personal preferences.  There is no intrinsic right and wrong, but merely your personal preference of whether or not to engage in murder, much like a personal has a preference of whether or not to mix orange soda and Sprite.  You may find such a concoction to be repulsive, but it is not inherently wrong.

Without God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong - there is no moral and immoral.  There is nothing but preference.
Couldn't one argue that with God, there is no intrinsic right and wrong -- because what is right or wrong depends upon what God decides is right and wrong? I'm thinking of Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac, at God's insistence, for example.

That is a good question, and I've not thought about it too terribly much.  I would lean somewhat towards Bogdan's position, I suppose.  I might have really meant that without God, there is no constant morality but rather only arbitrary personal preferences.  In that case, as God is unchanging, I would say that right and wrong are quite intrinsic.
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« Reply #53 on: August 04, 2011, 02:07:29 AM »

It looks like people are searching for nice, clean answers. Well, biology and evolution is a messy business, there are competing factors to our survival that might never be perfectly balanced (at least, not until the advent of 2-directional mind machine interface and the ability to reprogram the brain Wink). On one hand, there's a strong desire to reproduced hard-wired in our genetic code by a billion years of evolution, it's absolutely necessary, the species would not have survived without it. On the other hand, we became social animals much more recently and we have evolved to optimize our social situation, but evolution can't just throw out the desire to reproduce, the species would cease to exist. So, on one hand we have a fundamental desire to reproduce at all costs and on the other hand we have the desire to live as a successful social people. It's not unreasonable to suggest that certain individuals in the society will be outliers on one extreme or the other, but on the average evolution has struck a pretty good balance.

Then, through at least the last 100,000 years of evolution we can add to natural selection artificial selection. If you go back far enough, you will see that rape was largely condemned as a violation of the man's (be it the father's or mate's/husband's) property rights and it threatened his genetic line, so he and others of power and influence in the tribe, acted to protect their survival and procreation by killing the guilty party. Over the years, those born with the strongest sexual inclinations, ones that caused them to go outside the bounds of what came to be regarded as socially acceptable, were killed...of course, those with no desire to reproduce may not have been killed, but they were also much less likely to reproduce. The result was that those who were most inclined to justify rape because of a strong and primitive reproductive desire were artificially removed from the gene pool and now we're at the point that, on average (of course there are outliers), we consider it inherently morally reprehensible without having to resort to property rights or a desire to ensure the integrity of our genetic line; and, of course, this has all run in parallel with the evolution of our brains and our capacity to reason and the cultural evolution that this element of biological evolution has allowed. We weren't always like this, this mindset and our modern reasoning capabilities are a result of thousands of generations of evolutionary selection, both natural and, more recently, artificial. But there's nothing wrong with seeing that we are a superior beings compared to our ancestors, that is the direction evolution should take, nor is this 'moral code' (I use the term morality with caution because of the superstitious baggage it carries, but it is the term that most accurately describes this instinct) any less important because of how we gained it, if anything it makes it more important because it has been tested and verified by evolution. We evolved this way for a good, objective reason, it has greatly aided the survival and advancement of our species. To me that seems like a far better reason to conduct our lives according to this 'moral code' than simply because the invisible man in the sky said we should.

Like Coyne you simply take it as self-evident that the way we have evolved is objectively "good". But who are you to say it's "good"? What is your authority for determining what's good and what's bad? If we had evolved to all be rapists, would that be "bad"? If our society as a whole died out because we couldn't adapt socially, would that be "bad"? I think theo is right about the inconsistency of evolutionists when talking about morality: if you are going to say that morality has no objective existence and that our moral sensibilities are no more than instincts that evolved under specific environmental conditions, you should stop using value-laden language like "good" or "bad", at least if you want to be consistent. Of course, if you don't mind being inconsistent then keep using such language, but you can expect people like me to keep pointing out your inconsistencies in an annoying fashion.  Wink
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« Reply #54 on: August 04, 2011, 04:14:17 AM »

It looks like people are searching for nice, clean answers. Well, biology and evolution is a messy business, there are competing factors to our survival that might never be perfectly balanced (at least, not until the advent of 2-directional mind machine interface and the ability to reprogram the brain Wink). On one hand, there's a strong desire to reproduced hard-wired in our genetic code by a billion years of evolution, it's absolutely necessary, the species would not have survived without it. On the other hand, we became social animals much more recently and we have evolved to optimize our social situation, but evolution can't just throw out the desire to reproduce, the species would cease to exist. So, on one hand we have a fundamental desire to reproduce at all costs and on the other hand we have the desire to live as a successful social people. It's not unreasonable to suggest that certain individuals in the society will be outliers on one extreme or the other, but on the average evolution has struck a pretty good balance.

Then, through at least the last 100,000 years of evolution we can add to natural selection artificial selection. If you go back far enough, you will see that rape was largely condemned as a violation of the man's (be it the father's or mate's/husband's) property rights and it threatened his genetic line, so he and others of power and influence in the tribe, acted to protect their survival and procreation by killing the guilty party. Over the years, those born with the strongest sexual inclinations, ones that caused them to go outside the bounds of what came to be regarded as socially acceptable, were killed...of course, those with no desire to reproduce may not have been killed, but they were also much less likely to reproduce. The result was that those who were most inclined to justify rape because of a strong and primitive reproductive desire were artificially removed from the gene pool and now we're at the point that, on average (of course there are outliers), we consider it inherently morally reprehensible without having to resort to property rights or a desire to ensure the integrity of our genetic line; and, of course, this has all run in parallel with the evolution of our brains and our capacity to reason and the cultural evolution that this element of biological evolution has allowed. We weren't always like this, this mindset and our modern reasoning capabilities are a result of thousands of generations of evolutionary selection, both natural and, more recently, artificial. But there's nothing wrong with seeing that we are a superior beings compared to our ancestors, that is the direction evolution should take, nor is this 'moral code' (I use the term morality with caution because of the superstitious baggage it carries, but it is the term that most accurately describes this instinct) any less important because of how we gained it, if anything it makes it more important because it has been tested and verified by evolution. We evolved this way for a good, objective reason, it has greatly aided the survival and advancement of our species. To me that seems like a far better reason to conduct our lives according to this 'moral code' than simply because the invisible man in the sky said we should.

Like Coyne you simply take it as self-evident that the way we have evolved is objectively "good". But who are you to say it's "good"?

Success is good, failure is bad. I need no personal authority to state this, it's a basic truth, either you accept that success is good and pursue it or you do not, if the latter is the case the others will and in the end they will triumph over you and your voice will no longer be heard and your opinion will become irrelevant. There can be debate over the best way to achieve success, but in the end it is the only goal and the only good. So, of course, what is 'good' or 'bad' is system dependent, it is directly logical consequence of the fitness algorithm being applied by the system.

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What is your authority for determining what's good and what's bad? If we had evolved to all be rapists, would that be "bad"?

If we evolved that way we would have a fundamentally different society and a fundamentally different set of morals, what would be 'good' and 'bad' in that hypothetical world has no necessary parallel to the real world in which we exist.

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If our society as a whole died out because we couldn't adapt socially, would that be "bad"?

Of course not, if a species can't adapt it does not deserve to exist.

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I think theo is right about the inconsistency of evolutionists when talking about morality: if you are going to say that morality has no objective existence and that our moral sensibilities are no more than instincts that evolved under specific environmental conditions, you should stop using value-laden language like "good" or "bad", at least if you want to be consistent.

It's not inconsistent, these are basic English words with simple correlations to often quantifiable characteristics. You may have loaded them with irrelevant philosophical baggage and nonsensical ramblings of half-sane men, but that would be your problem, not mine; to the typical native speaker of the English language they simply do not have that baggage.

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Of course, if you don't mind being inconsistent then keep using such language, but you can expect people like me to keep pointing out your inconsistencies in an annoying fashion.  Wink

And if needs be, we'll pull out the OED and get into a discussion of etymology and linguistics. If we're lucky, perhaps someone has quantified the use of these words in the English language, what do you think is the more common usage? Using the word 'good' in an abstract philosophical sense or more everyday down to earth uses like 'that was a good piece of cake', 'did you have a good vacation', and 'Got got the job? Good for you'. In no way, shape, or form would someone be suggesting that the cake, vacation, or job was somehow a morally uplifting pursuit of the highest metaphysical goals, rather it's simply an indication that it seems to be adequate.
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« Reply #55 on: August 04, 2011, 04:29:52 AM »

The above exchange is why I think those who talk about morality descriptively and those who talk about it prescriptively are really talking past each other.

We often confuse each other by using the same language when we are not really discussing the same thing.
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« Reply #56 on: August 04, 2011, 05:02:29 AM »

The above exchange is why I think those who talk about morality descriptively and those who talk about it prescriptively are really talking past each other.

We often confuse each other by using the same language when we are not really discussing the same thing.

You're probably right, but since I reject the very notion and existence of 'prescriptive morality' it's difficult to address it, other than flat out dismissing it. When you don't believe the metaphysical even exists, discussions about the metaphysical concepts, entities, and hierarchies seem rather pointless. It's like when Tolkien fans get together, discuss the history and geography of middle earth and argue about Elven linguistics. It might be fun for those who are into it; but it's fantasy, I could never take it seriously in a debate. Same thing with metaphysical notions, from where I stand it's just as much fantasy as Tolkien's middle earth (and not nearly as interesting, I might add).

So when someone tries to ask me about the metaphysical implications of a physical reality, I have two choices, I can either ignore it and that I am merely dealing with the physical reality and that I believe metaphysics to be an unnecessary variable that adds nothing to the discussion or I can openly call them out and mock them for trying to force their fantasy world on the real world in which we exist. I usually opt for the former, though sometimes the latter is fun Wink
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« Reply #57 on: August 04, 2011, 05:26:33 AM »

GiC, you really don't get it, do you? "Success is good" you say. Why is it "good"? "Because if you don't succeed no one will care what you think." Why is that bad? "Because success is the only goal and the only good." Huh? Sez who? What if I like failure? Maybe I think the species that die out are the good ones, and the ones that survive are bad. How do you intend to persuade me otherwise?

If you said something along the lines of "I like to succeed because I like having a leg up over my fellow human beings" I would have accepted that as a reasonable, if amoral, answer. You are simply stating your feelings about the matter, which are empirical facts. But if you try to persuade me that your pursuit of success is "good" in some transcendental sense, i.e. that I should feel just as good about your success as you, you will fail, since I have no reason to accept your authority and your ability to judge what's good and bad in these matters.

The typical English speaker practically, if not theoretically, believes in an objective morality: that is why he uses words like good and bad. He may not have really thought through why he has an objective morality, but he does, because otherwise these words have no meaning. You, on the other hand, are insisting that there is no objective morality, and therefore your casual usage of moralizing words like good and bad is open to challenge on the grounds of inconsistency with your professed moral relativism. If you don't like the challenge, stop using them. If you don't mind it, by all means keep doing so. It gives me something to do here. Cheesy
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« Reply #58 on: August 04, 2011, 06:31:15 AM »

The above exchange is why I think those who talk about morality descriptively and those who talk about it prescriptively are really talking past each other.

We often confuse each other by using the same language when we are not really discussing the same thing.

You're probably right, but since I reject the very notion and existence of 'prescriptive morality' it's difficult to address it, other than flat out dismissing it. When you don't believe the metaphysical even exists, discussions about the metaphysical concepts, entities, and hierarchies seem rather pointless. It's like when Tolkien fans get together, discuss the history and geography of middle earth and argue about Elven linguistics. It might be fun for those who are into it; but it's fantasy, I could never take it seriously in a debate. Same thing with metaphysical notions, from where I stand it's just as much fantasy as Tolkien's middle earth (and not nearly as interesting, I might add).

So when someone tries to ask me about the metaphysical implications of a physical reality, I have two choices, I can either ignore it and that I am merely dealing with the physical reality and that I believe metaphysics to be an unnecessary variable that adds nothing to the discussion or I can openly call them out and mock them for trying to force their fantasy world on the real world in which we exist. I usually opt for the former, though sometimes the latter is fun Wink

You are a materialist and I'm okay with that.

Fundamentally, our worldviews are at odds, but that doesn't get to me so much. What gets to me is the confused and contradictory and generally all-over-the-place notions that many of those on the "other side" to me often hold.

Many people on "your side" like to think they can basically maintain a Christian worldview without the whole God thing or any of the nasty stuff like self-renunciation. They don't have the courage to follow their premises to their natural conclusions, as I have recently said elsewhere. This is nowhere more the case than in the realm of (prescriptive) morality.

I won't object to the atheists and materialists talking about "morality" if, by that word, they mean what you have described, but most of them are so confused as to what they mean, I find it impossible to even begin the discussion without defining the terms. As much as they'd deny it, some of them are basically Christian in worldview.
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« Reply #59 on: August 04, 2011, 08:37:07 AM »

The above exchange is why I think those who talk about morality descriptively and those who talk about it prescriptively are really talking past each other.

We often confuse each other by using the same language when we are not really discussing the same thing.

You're probably right, but since I reject the very notion and existence of 'prescriptive morality' it's difficult to address it, other than flat out dismissing it. When you don't believe the metaphysical even exists, discussions about the metaphysical concepts, entities, and hierarchies seem rather pointless. It's like when Tolkien fans get together, discuss the history and geography of middle earth and argue about Elven linguistics. It might be fun for those who are into it; but it's fantasy, I could never take it seriously in a debate. Same thing with metaphysical notions, from where I stand it's just as much fantasy as Tolkien's middle earth (and not nearly as interesting, I might add).

So when someone tries to ask me about the metaphysical implications of a physical reality, I have two choices, I can either ignore it and that I am merely dealing with the physical reality and that I believe metaphysics to be an unnecessary variable that adds nothing to the discussion or I can openly call them out and mock them for trying to force their fantasy world on the real world in which we exist. I usually opt for the former, though sometimes the latter is fun Wink

A "mathematician" who claims to not believe in metaphysics? Now that's sweet. I will ponder about that while I use π to hold the papers on my table. And as for fantasy worlds I will try to imagine one where a person could even reason about something if this something had not been perceived in a non-rational way before, since reasoning is comparing two things and you can't compare if you don't have it first place.
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« Reply #60 on: August 04, 2011, 01:23:14 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


Success is good, failure is bad. I need no personal authority to state this, it's a basic truth, either you accept that success is good and pursue it or you do not, if the latter is the case the others will and in the end they will triumph over you and your voice will no longer be heard and your opinion will become irrelevant. There can be debate over the best way to achieve success, but in the end it is the only goal and the only good. So, of course, what is 'good' or 'bad' is system dependent, it is directly logical consequence of the fitness algorithm being applied by the system.



No, he is right, you are not considering, even in evolutionary terms, the variation of circumstance.  Even though Hitler was successful at waging devastating World War, and in mass murdering over 11 million people, can anyone in any way call such "good" or even really "success"?  Even from an evolutionary perspective, say a genetically diseased animal reproduces passing down and potentially even exaggerating the disorder, is this really "success" from an evolutionary standpoint?  Now my brother, this is what I meant by culture, which yes even plants possess, which helps living things define and shape their world of sensory bombardment, confusing interaction with the environment, and the whim of instinct and impulse.  Culture is the patterns, ideas, goals, and tendencies of living things, not just social mammals.  Plants have the same reproductive and eat-to-live goals which we humans have, and perhaps they may even be conscious of them we have no real way of knowing and science only deals with what you can know, not what you can't.  So its better not to make assumptions regarding currently improvable issues with current science.  We can agree still that with this loose definition of culture that other living things have these patterns of behavior, shared meanings and symbols (whether bird songs or bear trails), expressed values, etc etc.  These are used by living things to manage, explain, and even control instinct.  They do not eliminate instinct but rather they shape and form the manifestations of instinct.  Above all, culture may be the result of certain evolutionary advantages over the process of time, but it is not itself a kind of evolved "instinct" or natural impulse, rather it is continually shaped, transformed, and transmitted by the very living beings which use it to articulate their sense of living.  Instinct alone is a silly, naked concept which should best be understood within the full context of living things, not just as a primary drive of life, as I said before, scientific dissertation or casual conversation, that is far to simplistic Smiley



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« Reply #61 on: August 04, 2011, 02:25:12 PM »

GiC, you really don't get it, do you? "Success is good" you say. Why is it "good"? "Because if you don't succeed no one will care what you think." Why is that bad? "Because success is the only goal and the only good." Huh? Sez who? What if I like failure? Maybe I think the species that die out are the good ones, and the ones that survive are bad. How do you intend to persuade me otherwise?

Because it is common English usage, when a sample of the population is highly correlated to the fitness algorithm we call it a 'good fit', when it is poorly correlated we call it a 'bad fit'. 'Good' and 'Bad' are terms that have no intrinsic value, they're a collection of letters, or sounds, as the case may be. The reason these words have a specific meaning is because our language evolved to give them those meanings. If you were making up a new language, you could say that 'bad' means highly correlated and 'good' means poorly correlated, or you could say that 'foo' means highly correlated and 'bar' means poorly correlated. From an abstract perspective, it really doesn't matter.

I know you're trying to imply these words have some application beyond the current system in which we live (a world governed by the laws of Physics), but they're simply descriptions of fidelity to the fitness algorithm, if the algorithm changes the definition of 'good' and 'bad' must change with it to reflect fidelity to said algorithm. We use the words 'good' and 'bad' as we do because it is the current common usage of these words in the English language. It's really no more complicated than that.

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If you said something along the lines of "I like to succeed because I like having a leg up over my fellow human beings" I would have accepted that as a reasonable, if amoral, answer.

Whether I like something or not has no bearing on whether it is highly correlated or poorly correlated.

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You are simply stating your feelings about the matter, which are empirical facts. But if you try to persuade me that your pursuit of success is "good" in some transcendental sense, i.e. that I should feel just as good about your success as you, you will fail, since I have no reason to accept your authority and your ability to judge what's good and bad in these matters.

As I reject the very existence all metaphysics and this 'transcendental sense', that would be a rather futile exercise. Nothing is 'good' in 'some transcendental sense', because it doesn't exist and I have no more of a rational reason to accept the existence of this metaphysical concept than I have to accept the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him). Now, if you can deliver a convincing rational argument as to why this extra variable needs to be introduced into the equation, I'll entertain it, though I doubt you can. If not, we can assume that unnecessary variables can be excluded from the model and address the model at hand (the universe) using the remaining, necessary, variables.

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The typical English speaker practically, if not theoretically, believes in an objective morality: that is why he uses words like good and bad. He may not have really thought through why he has an objective morality, but he does, because otherwise these words have no meaning.

Seriously, you believe that when the average person talks of having a 'good dinner' that they are implying that the piece of cow carcass they just devoured for sustenance was an objectively morally edifying object? Regardless of what you think most people believe, that is simply not how the language is used.

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You, on the other hand, are insisting that there is no objective morality, and therefore your casual usage of moralizing words like good and bad is open to challenge on the grounds of inconsistency with your professed moral relativism. If you don't like the challenge, stop using them. If you don't mind it, by all means keep doing so. It gives me something to do here. Cheesy

'Good' and 'bad' are, first and foremost, adjectives. Yes, certain philosophers have tried to turn them into concepts, into nouns, but in common usage they are most often adjectives. Often as predicates or describing implied nouns, but they're generally adjectives. Adjectives describe nouns, therefore they are inherently relative to the noun they describe. Generally speaking, 'good' may be 'better' than 'bad', we can say that a 'good idea' is better than a 'bad idea' but that's only because we're using the terms to describe the same thing: an idea. But can we necessarily say that a good bowl of peas is better than bad sex? Not unless you really, really like peas. I do not, so though I may objective realize that a certain bowl of peas is superior to other bowls of peas, that it is a 'good bowl of peas', but I'll still take bad sex over good peas, unless I'm on the verge of starvation. So while 'good' may be better than 'bad' within the same system, when you're talking about two different systems there is no necessary correlation. So when I talk about 'good' in a general sense, it still needs a system to have any meaning, the system is the universe in which we live with the laws of physics and the biological laws of evolution. Once you go outside that system, 'good' and 'bad' may imply completely different things.

Using an example from evolutionary computation, say I evolve a neural network that generates a sine curve, I can run several neural networks through this system and I will hopefully eventually come up with a good fit. But if I then go and change the fitness algorithm, change the system to define the ideal as an exponential curve, this same neural network that used to be a good fit for the sine curve will likely be a very bad fit, in fact it's likely to be worse than a randomly generated neural network and will likely be discarded within the first couple generations because it is such a bad fit. That the neural network was good in the first system has no inherent bearing on whether or not it will been good in a different randomly selected system.
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« Reply #62 on: August 04, 2011, 02:30:20 PM »

The above exchange is why I think those who talk about morality descriptively and those who talk about it prescriptively are really talking past each other.

We often confuse each other by using the same language when we are not really discussing the same thing.

You're probably right, but since I reject the very notion and existence of 'prescriptive morality' it's difficult to address it, other than flat out dismissing it. When you don't believe the metaphysical even exists, discussions about the metaphysical concepts, entities, and hierarchies seem rather pointless. It's like when Tolkien fans get together, discuss the history and geography of middle earth and argue about Elven linguistics. It might be fun for those who are into it; but it's fantasy, I could never take it seriously in a debate. Same thing with metaphysical notions, from where I stand it's just as much fantasy as Tolkien's middle earth (and not nearly as interesting, I might add).

So when someone tries to ask me about the metaphysical implications of a physical reality, I have two choices, I can either ignore it and that I am merely dealing with the physical reality and that I believe metaphysics to be an unnecessary variable that adds nothing to the discussion or I can openly call them out and mock them for trying to force their fantasy world on the real world in which we exist. I usually opt for the former, though sometimes the latter is fun Wink

You are a materialist and I'm okay with that.

Fundamentally, our worldviews are at odds, but that doesn't get to me so much. What gets to me is the confused and contradictory and generally all-over-the-place notions that many of those on the "other side" to me often hold.

Many people on "your side" like to think they can basically maintain a Christian worldview without the whole God thing or any of the nasty stuff like self-renunciation. They don't have the courage to follow their premises to their natural conclusions, as I have recently said elsewhere. This is nowhere more the case than in the realm of (prescriptive) morality.

I won't object to the atheists and materialists talking about "morality" if, by that word, they mean what you have described, but most of them are so confused as to what they mean, I find it impossible to even begin the discussion without defining the terms. As much as they'd deny it, some of them are basically Christian in worldview.

That's one explanation, if you hold to the presupposition god created man. But if you believe man created god, as I do and as I believe science demonstrates, then we could argue that Christians are basically secular in worldview though they wrap that world view in religious imagery. Wink

It ultimately comes down to questions about the existence of the supernatural/metaphysical and the scientific evidence (our only testable and verifiable means for knowledge about the universe) for or against.
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« Reply #63 on: August 04, 2011, 02:40:51 PM »

The above exchange is why I think those who talk about morality descriptively and those who talk about it prescriptively are really talking past each other.

We often confuse each other by using the same language when we are not really discussing the same thing.

You're probably right, but since I reject the very notion and existence of 'prescriptive morality' it's difficult to address it, other than flat out dismissing it. When you don't believe the metaphysical even exists, discussions about the metaphysical concepts, entities, and hierarchies seem rather pointless. It's like when Tolkien fans get together, discuss the history and geography of middle earth and argue about Elven linguistics. It might be fun for those who are into it; but it's fantasy, I could never take it seriously in a debate. Same thing with metaphysical notions, from where I stand it's just as much fantasy as Tolkien's middle earth (and not nearly as interesting, I might add).

So when someone tries to ask me about the metaphysical implications of a physical reality, I have two choices, I can either ignore it and that I am merely dealing with the physical reality and that I believe metaphysics to be an unnecessary variable that adds nothing to the discussion or I can openly call them out and mock them for trying to force their fantasy world on the real world in which we exist. I usually opt for the former, though sometimes the latter is fun Wink

A "mathematician" who claims to not believe in metaphysics? Now that's sweet. I will ponder about that while I use π to hold the papers on my table. And as for fantasy worlds I will try to imagine one where a person could even reason about something if this something had not been perceived in a non-rational way before, since reasoning is comparing two things and you can't compare if you don't have it first place.

Mathematics is a field of logical extrapolation of empirically tested presuppositions. It is a very dangerous and tragic thing then mathematicians become too metaphysical about the system they're working in. The flawed attempts to prove Euclid's fifth postulate using the other four is a clear example of this. A century before the development of hyperbolic geometry all the difficult work was done, the contradictions that arose when removing the postulate had long been published. But mathematicians at the time took Euclidean geometry as an article of faith, they were not willing to entertain the truth that it was a very limited system, that other geometries are just as valid. Because of this we unnecessarily sat in darkness and ignorance for decades when parts of the revolution in mathematics that took place in the 19th century could have taken place in the 18th century. Mathematicians cannot afford to have a metaphysical attachment to any particular system, to any set of axioms, they must always be the skeptic, always questioning, always seeking to undermine not only the new and different but also the old and the established. Without this, their work cannot be performed in an honest and productive manner.
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« Reply #64 on: August 04, 2011, 03:41:35 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


Success is good, failure is bad. I need no personal authority to state this, it's a basic truth, either you accept that success is good and pursue it or you do not, if the latter is the case the others will and in the end they will triumph over you and your voice will no longer be heard and your opinion will become irrelevant. There can be debate over the best way to achieve success, but in the end it is the only goal and the only good. So, of course, what is 'good' or 'bad' is system dependent, it is directly logical consequence of the fitness algorithm being applied by the system.

No, he is right, you are not considering, even in evolutionary terms, the variation of circumstance.  Even though Hitler was successful at waging devastating World War, and in mass murdering over 11 million people, can anyone in any way call such "good" or even really "success"?

Overall, no he was not successful and therefore not good, he was defeated, forced to commit suicide, and a reaction against his regime, rather than the policies of his regime, became the influential power in Europe following his demise. Now, had he been successful and changed the world then we may be able to say he was successful or good. But even in that case, I suspect that the policies of racial purity he advocated would have lead to a restriction of the gene pool, a lack of genetic diversity, and a rise of associated diseases. So even had he been successful at what he attempted does not inherently imply that he would have been successful from an evolutionary perspective, to fully and definitively answer that hypothetical question we would have had to let him win and wait a million years to find out the ultimate results. Though I think that we would have found out that, ultimately, he would not have been successful, even had he conquered the earth and imposed his will upon it.

At the end of the day, we don't get to decide what what is success and failure, what is good and bad, evolution and physics will take care of that. The fact that someone is successful within a paradigm that we have established does not imply that it will ultimately be successful through evolution. The fact that we can explain the fundamental bases for success and failure does not mean that we can always predict the exact effect our actions will have when judged through those lenses. As you keep saying, the system is incredibly complex. We have evolved a sense of 'morality' that guides us in a somewhat optimized direction, but that system of morality is only as good as it has evolved to be, it is in no way perfect. I have no doubt that it can be improved upon, but I am far less certain of the exact effect any specific change to our morality might have. Something that seems like a good idea can end up being incredibly damaging or what seems like a bad idea, might not end up being as bad as we thought.

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Even from an evolutionary perspective, say a genetically diseased animal reproduces passing down and potentially even exaggerating the disorder, is this really "success" from an evolutionary standpoint?

That is a far too limited perspective, unless we're talking about something on the scale of an asteroid impact, which fundamentally alters the local, though not the global, system, the changes from one generation to the next is little more than background noise. Now, if that same animal passes on its genes for a thousand generations, there must be some value in the genetic material, even if still diseased that animal would represent a local optimization, it may still not survive over the ages, but at that point it has demonstrated a limited degree of success, it has demonstrated that some optimization has taken place and that it is amongst the best solutions available for the local environment.

Something I've learned from evolutionary computation is that unless you set up a very discrete system (and the universe is anything but discrete) there will always be imperfections, there will always be disease, you will almost never arrive at a perfect solution, even for generally simple problems like creating a neural network to mimic the sine function over a limited domain. Yes, there are abstract perfect mathematical solutions that can be achieved through back propagation, but you're not going to achieve perfection from evolution. You can optimize and minimize these imperfections, but on some level they're always going to exist. In the example I gave about the sine curve, you would certain exact numbers for each specific weight (the exact weights would change with the architecture of the networks and there may be multiple possibilities), there may even be countably infinite possibilities, there usually are. But from probability theory we know that the probability of generating an element of a countably infinite set from an uncountably infinite set that contains it using random or semi-random methods incorporating all the elements of the uncountably infinite set is exactly zero.

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Now my brother, this is what I meant by culture, which yes even plants possess, which helps living things define and shape their world of sensory bombardment, confusing interaction with the environment, and the whim of instinct and impulse.  Culture is the patterns, ideas, goals, and tendencies of living things, not just social mammals.  Plants have the same reproductive and eat-to-live goals which we humans have, and perhaps they may even be conscious of them we have no real way of knowing and science only deals with what you can know, not what you can't.  So its better not to make assumptions regarding currently improvable issues with current science.  We can agree still that with this loose definition of culture that other living things have these patterns of behavior, shared meanings and symbols (whether bird songs or bear trails), expressed values, etc etc.  These are used by living things to manage, explain, and even control instinct.  They do not eliminate instinct but rather they shape and form the manifestations of instinct.  Above all, culture may be the result of certain evolutionary advantages over the process of time, but it is not itself a kind of evolved "instinct" or natural impulse, rather it is continually shaped, transformed, and transmitted by the very living beings which use it to articulate their sense of living.  Instinct alone is a silly, naked concept which should best be understood within the full context of living things, not just as a primary drive of life, as I said before, scientific dissertation or casual conversation, that is far to simplistic Smiley

Well, I guess we simply different understandings of culture, most of this I would have regarded as phenotypical characteristics. I would define culture as the customs surrounding interaction between different members of a species, I'm not so sure that we can say plants have culture since that would imply that they communicate with each other. The neural circuitry required for communication simply does not seem to be present in plant life. Now many animals do have a culture of sorts, the more complex the animal the more complex the culture but much of this culture amongst the less complex life forms is likely little more than mimicry driven by instinct and the reason this culture evolves and progresses is because those who adopt a more successful culture (which is often merely an accident of birth, like with much of evolution) are more likely to survive and reproduce, so in time the more successful culture will eclipse the less successful one.
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« Reply #65 on: August 04, 2011, 04:08:41 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


As I reject the very existence all metaphysics and this 'transcendental sense', that would be a rather futile exercise. Nothing is 'good' in 'some transcendental sense', because it doesn't exist and I have no more of a rational reason to accept the existence of this metaphysical concept than I have to accept the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him). Now, if you can deliver a convincing rational argument as to why this extra variable needs to be introduced into the equation, I'll entertain it, though I doubt you can. If not, we can assume that unnecessary variables can be excluded from the model and address the model at hand (the universe) using the remaining, necessary, variables.

I'll take you up on this challenge, to interpret somethings that are clearly transcendental and yet not necessarily supernatural or metaphysical.  Somethings are universal, not in a moral sense or even a religious sense, but in a ontological sense.  To "live" is "good" and this in a transcendental reality.  It might not be morally good (for example some folks embrace capital punishment as a moral point, you've even implied such kinds of thinking might have an evolutionary factor in regards to artificial suggestion) in some situations but to the organism involved it is surely a benefit of circumstance of being "living" which is sort of the point of all life right? This might be the closest to a universal "good" which is beyond morality which you have been trying to discuss with us, but the reality is that it would be a transcendental norm.  It is separate from the relative definitions of "good" or "bad" dictated by cultural morality.  It doesn't even have to be religious, simply ontological.  It neither really has to be evolutionary, because while it benefits evolution and natural selection for living beings to live and potentially reproduce, surely each living being is not necessarily conscious nor even concerned with their status within the process of evolution.  Really, evolution may very well be a transcendental process!
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Generally speaking, 'good' may be 'better' than 'bad', we can say that a 'good idea' is better than a 'bad idea' but that's only because we're using the terms to describe the same thing: an idea. But can we necessarily say that a good bowl of peas is better than bad sex? Not unless you really, really like peas. I do not, so though I may objective realize that a certain bowl of peas is superior to other bowls of peas, that it is a 'good bowl of peas', but I'll still take bad sex over good peas, unless I'm on the verge of starvation. So while 'good' may be better than 'bad' within the same system, when you're talking about two different systems there is no necessary correlation. So when I talk about 'good' in a general sense, it still needs a system to have any meaning, the system is the universe in which we live with the laws of physics and the biological laws of evolution. Once you go outside that system, 'good' and 'bad' may imply completely different things.

Unfortunately this does not support transcendental "good" or "bad" if anything to reaffirm the cultural relativity of morality and even consciousness.  When we in Orthodox, of our Fasting culture, are in Fasting Season we would definitely prefer a "good bowl of peas" to "bad sex" because we are abstinant to both meat and sex culturally and so peas are quite on the menu, good or bad. In fact, then we do not really even think in moral or value-based terms of "good" or "bad" rather we simply eat the peas.  They are at the same time "good" because of our hunger, and yet could also really be "bad" on their own if poorly cooked or perhaps just thought of as "bad" in compared to a savory meat dish.  See humans have the agency to balance contradictions at the same time , which is also perhaps transcendental isn't it.
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Using an example from evolutionary computation, say I evolve a neural network that generates a sine curve, I can run several neural networks through this system and I will hopefully eventually come up with a good fit. But if I then go and change the fitness algorithm, change the system to define the ideal as an exponential curve, this same neural network that used to be a good fit for the sine curve will likely be a very bad fit, in fact it's likely to be worse than a randomly generated neural network and will likely be discarded within the first couple generations because it is such a bad fit. That the neural network was good in the first system has no inherent bearing on whether or not it will been good in a different randomly selected system.

But what if the flaws in the disregarded neural network influence the progression into the better fit?

stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #66 on: August 04, 2011, 05:15:56 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


As I reject the very existence all metaphysics and this 'transcendental sense', that would be a rather futile exercise. Nothing is 'good' in 'some transcendental sense', because it doesn't exist and I have no more of a rational reason to accept the existence of this metaphysical concept than I have to accept the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him). Now, if you can deliver a convincing rational argument as to why this extra variable needs to be introduced into the equation, I'll entertain it, though I doubt you can. If not, we can assume that unnecessary variables can be excluded from the model and address the model at hand (the universe) using the remaining, necessary, variables.

I'll take you up on this challenge, to interpret somethings that are clearly transcendental and yet not necessarily supernatural or metaphysical.  Somethings are universal, not in a moral sense or even a religious sense, but in a ontological sense.  To "live" is "good" and this in a transcendental reality.  It might not be morally good (for example some folks embrace capital punishment as a moral point, you've even implied such kinds of thinking might have an evolutionary factor in regards to artificial suggestion) in some situations but to the organism involved it is surely a benefit of circumstance of being "living" which is sort of the point of all life right? This might be the closest to a universal "good" which is beyond morality which you have been trying to discuss with us, but the reality is that it would be a transcendental norm.  It is separate from the relative definitions of "good" or "bad" dictated by cultural morality.  It doesn't even have to be religious, simply ontological.  It neither really has to be evolutionary, because while it benefits evolution and natural selection for living beings to live and potentially reproduce, surely each living being is not necessarily conscious nor even concerned with their status within the process of evolution.  Really, evolution may very well be a transcendental process!

I would agree that it is good to be alive, but would not agree that this is a first principle or that it implies some form of transcendence. Rather I would argue that it is good to be alive because the fact that you're alive implies that you've undergone a degree of optimization by the system, that you're amongst the best possible fits the system as, thus far, been able to develop. It also gives you the potential to influence the future of that system, which is also good, possibly even more good than simply being alive since those who will influence the future of the system are a subset of those alive and their actions, whether conscious or not, will potentially effect the future of the system.

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Generally speaking, 'good' may be 'better' than 'bad', we can say that a 'good idea' is better than a 'bad idea' but that's only because we're using the terms to describe the same thing: an idea. But can we necessarily say that a good bowl of peas is better than bad sex? Not unless you really, really like peas. I do not, so though I may objective realize that a certain bowl of peas is superior to other bowls of peas, that it is a 'good bowl of peas', but I'll still take bad sex over good peas, unless I'm on the verge of starvation. So while 'good' may be better than 'bad' within the same system, when you're talking about two different systems there is no necessary correlation. So when I talk about 'good' in a general sense, it still needs a system to have any meaning, the system is the universe in which we live with the laws of physics and the biological laws of evolution. Once you go outside that system, 'good' and 'bad' may imply completely different things.

Unfortunately this does not support transcendental "good" or "bad" if anything to reaffirm the cultural relativity of morality and even consciousness.  When we in Orthodox, of our Fasting culture, are in Fasting Season we would definitely prefer a "good bowl of peas" to "bad sex" because we are abstinant to both meat and sex culturally and so peas are quite on the menu, good or bad. In fact, then we do not really even think in moral or value-based terms of "good" or "bad" rather we simply eat the peas.  They are at the same time "good" because of our hunger, and yet could also really be "bad" on their own if poorly cooked or perhaps just thought of as "bad" in compared to a savory meat dish.  See humans have the agency to balance contradictions at the same time , which is also perhaps transcendental isn't it.

Well, I was giving an example relevant to me in my non-religious, non-starving state, feel free to change the example to 'bad peas' vs. 'good sex' if it makes more sense to you. Wink But, with that said, I think you're getting at the same thing I am. That the words 'good' and 'bad' are relative to that which they explain. And it is in no way a corruption of the English language to use them accordingly, in fact, it's common usage.

And yes, we have the agency to balance contradictions, sometimes the 'tools' or characteristics we have to survive truly do conflict with each other and choices have to be made. We might really want to have sex, but generally are willing to forego it if we think it will cost us our life; however, someone might very well give their life to preserve the lives of their children. This doesn't mean that in the first case we don't want to have sex nor does it mean that in the second case we want to die, but these would both be considered 'moral' choices. At the same time, there's some sub-conscience probabilistic calculations going on that we probably don't even recognize we're doing. In the first case, it's not worthwhile to throw your life away for the off chance of reproduction that probably won't happen, but in the second case, especially if you're beyond reproductive age, you're looking at sacrificing your life for the possibility of them carrying on your genes since if they died you would have no chance of reproducing, your offspring are no longer a possible chance for continuing your genes like in the first example, they are a highly probable chance, likely the best chance you'll get. These decisions are 'good' in perhaps a greater sense than 'good peas', but it's not an absolute and transcendent good, it's simply good relative to the system as a whole, or at least a larger part of the system, than the very limited part of the system that concerns peas.

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Using an example from evolutionary computation, say I evolve a neural network that generates a sine curve, I can run several neural networks through this system and I will hopefully eventually come up with a good fit. But if I then go and change the fitness algorithm, change the system to define the ideal as an exponential curve, this same neural network that used to be a good fit for the sine curve will likely be a very bad fit, in fact it's likely to be worse than a randomly generated neural network and will likely be discarded within the first couple generations because it is such a bad fit. That the neural network was good in the first system has no inherent bearing on whether or not it will been good in a different randomly selected system.

But what if the flaws in the disregarded neural network influence the progression into the better fit?

If the flaws are serious, they might, but if the network has been sufficiently optimized, for a specific task, it's likely they will not have an advantage over random noise. In fact, certain 'characteristics' tend to become locked in, if your training for two different systems, you need to train simultaneously, training in sequence is unlikely to work. Now, if the two systems are similar enough, say sine from 0 to 1 and 1.5^x-1.75 over the same domain (for some reason evolution is a lot better at getting the general form than reaching the local max and min of a curve, whereas a particle swarm optimizer has the oppose problem), then, yes, the original solution might be end up being the progenitor of the optimum in the second system. But if you're using the same equations over the domain of 1000 to 1001, there isn't a chance it will happen. In the end, it's all system dependent.
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« Reply #67 on: August 04, 2011, 06:53:38 PM »

As an evolutionary biology major, I'm lol'ing at a certain someone talking out of their butt about evolution.  police
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« Reply #68 on: August 05, 2011, 07:59:05 AM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.
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« Reply #69 on: August 05, 2011, 01:09:10 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

In the survival of the fittest mentality, if GiC kills you and takes your things, that's good to him! Cheesy
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« Reply #70 on: August 05, 2011, 01:14:05 PM »

As an evolutionary biology major, I'm lol'ing at a certain someone talking out of their butt about evolution.  police

By all means, enlighten us.
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« Reply #71 on: August 05, 2011, 01:26:33 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.
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« Reply #72 on: August 05, 2011, 03:12:10 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

Evolutionarily speaking, again that is to simplistic. You've already acknowledged the effect of artificial selection on the process of biological evolution, and so it can hardly be solely attributed to the effects of the interaction between living organisms and the environmental systems which they live.  Living organisms have the remarkable ability to adapt and change not just themselves, but also aspects of the environments, and so you have to equally include the effects of conscious beings on the process of evolution as much as just the reaction to the variables of physics, chemistry, and mechanics which we variously interact with within our environments.  We are both shaped and yet also have the agenc to shape our lives within the parameters of the fundamental laws and rules of the Multiverse. Further, even "success" in evolutionary terms is variable, as again, even those things which may reproduce are not necessarily successful in evolutionary terms if they are diseased or carry potentially dangerous mutations.  What of those living things which are also currently extinct? In the scheme of evolution these are "failures" yet when you shift to scale, perhaps they are also both immediate (in having reproduced) and also long-term (in their influence in the evolution of other living things) impacts on the evolutionary process.


stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #73 on: August 05, 2011, 03:18:32 PM »

As an evolutionary biology major, I'm lol'ing at a certain someone talking out of their butt about evolution.  police

By all means, enlighten us.

English lit. is closer to science than biology.

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« Reply #74 on: August 05, 2011, 04:46:32 PM »

At the end of the day, we don't get to decide what what is success and failure, what is good and bad, evolution and physics will take care of that. The fact that someone is successful within a paradigm that we have established does not imply that it will ultimately be successful through evolution.

Willing to elaborate? Because success and failure to you may mean that, but not for another, it's perspective. Evolution and physics don't decide what is good and bad. From an evolutionary perspective you can determine what is good or bad for your species or other species, that's all.

We have evolved a sense of 'morality' that guides us in a somewhat optimized direction, but that system of morality is only as good as it has evolved to be, it is in no way perfect.

The idea that premoral sentiments evolved in primate societies as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups is still flawed and relatively untested. As my professor put it "We are trying to hard to come up with the cause of morality that fits our current ideas, what we should be doing is focusing on the evidence."
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« Reply #75 on: August 05, 2011, 07:39:16 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?
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« Reply #76 on: August 05, 2011, 10:48:37 PM »

English lit. is closer to science than biology.

Care to tell us how? That is an ignorant statement, considering biology is a natural science.
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« Reply #77 on: August 06, 2011, 03:11:43 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?

good = success
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« Reply #78 on: August 06, 2011, 03:47:59 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

Evolutionarily speaking, again that is to simplistic.

I think I'm speaking generally enough here that it isn't too simplistic, I'm not just talking about biological evolution here but any change that happens in the universe, whether natural, artificial, biological, or physical. For instance, part of the system that is the universe is occasional asteroid impacts, these may be outside the system of biological evolution, but are definitely part of the system that is the universe. So while optimization within biological evolution may not include asteroid impacts (you really need to be a space going species to protect against those), but optimization within the context of the entire universe takes into account the ability to defend against asteroid impacts and black holes that may enter the solar system where you evolved. Ultimately, computational complexity, which we call intelligence, and related artificial selection is very likely going to be required to optimize in the face of these conditions, therefor making the evolving of this computational complexity, which includes reasoning abilities, necessary for a truly successful computational system.

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You've already acknowledged the effect of artificial selection on the process of biological evolution, and so it can hardly be solely attributed to the effects of the interaction between living organisms and the environmental systems which they live.

I don't follow, artificial selection is dependent on the natural evolution of computational abilities that allow artificial selection. It may be a different paradigm than natural evolution, but it is still subject to optimization by the universe.

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Living organisms have the remarkable ability to adapt and change not just themselves, but also aspects of the environments, and so you have to equally include the effects of conscious beings on the process of evolution as much as just the reaction to the variables of physics, chemistry, and mechanics which we variously interact with within our environments.

'Consciousness' is a direct consequence of evolution as it has been experienced, at the very least, on this planet; it's an extension of physics, chemistry, and mechanics not a competing paradigm.

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We are both shaped and yet also have the agenc to shape our lives within the parameters of the fundamental laws and rules of the Multiverse.

But the ability to shape our environments is a consequence of optimization within the system of the Universe/Multiverse (universe vs. multiverse is one issue I'm not yet willing to take a stand on. Wink)

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Further, even "success" in evolutionary terms is variable, as again, even those things which may reproduce are not necessarily successful in evolutionary terms if they are diseased or carry potentially dangerous mutations.

It's still success, it may not be perfection, it never will be, but it's success because they are sufficiently optimized to compete for resources, survive, and reproduce within the local system in which they exist. If the diseased species survived and reproduced it implies that, even in their diseased state, they were more optimized than other species that they successfully competed against.

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What of those living things which are also currently extinct? In the scheme of evolution these are "failures" yet when you shift to scale, perhaps they are also both immediate (in having reproduced) and also long-term (in their influence in the evolution of other living things) impacts on the evolutionary process.

Those that are extinct because they failed to reproduce and influence the future of evolution are failures in the evolutionary system, they obviously had short-term successes and within the context of certain local systems may have been quite successful, but within the Planetary System, or within the Solar System for those wiped out by asteroid impact, they were failures. As for those that simply evolved into new species, the only reason we call them extinct is because we are still stuck with a system of taxonomy that was developed before our modern understanding of genetics and is based on mutual reproduction. The computational system that is the species, never ceased to be, never truly became extinct, it merely further optimized, defiantly an indication of success.
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« Reply #79 on: August 06, 2011, 07:02:45 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?

good = success

So when you say success is the only good, you are simply expressing a tautology?
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« Reply #80 on: August 06, 2011, 07:19:34 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


 As for those that simply evolved into new species, the only reason we call them extinct is because we are still stuck with a system of taxonomy that was developed before our modern understanding of genetics and is based on mutual reproduction. The computational system that is the species, never ceased to be, never truly became extinct, it merely further optimized, defiantly an indication of success.

Now this I can emphatically agree with.  One of the sticklers for religious folks theologically condemning the theories of evolution is that the concept of permanent extinction, in some theological opinions, violates the supremacy and permanence of the Will of God.  From this perspective, God created a perfect system and extinction would violate such perfection, so many folks theologically simply deny extinction even though in our current era we can literally observe many many extinctions of species.  This same mentality is what condemned the Copernacan model of the heliocentric solar system because supposedly God had created the Earth as a fixed position, but in reality this was really just theological posturing.  Even the Scriptures speak of revolving motion of the planets and the movement of celestial bodies, including the shadows they cast, and also considered both the Earth and other bodies spherical!

Of course, scientifically speaking, there is really only a single form of life on Earth, DNA, and so long as living organisms continue to reproduce and transmit their DNA, there is no extinction, merely what we might think of as "phase changing" like water to a gas.  For example, I like to joke and say regarding poultry, "Dinosaur, its whats for dinner" as it is becoming increasingly clear that birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. In fact within 15 years we may no longer portray dinosaurs as looking like scaled reptiles, as more and more fossil evidence is suggesting that all dinosaurs had feathers!  So really, the dinosaurs didn't go extinct at all, they just changed phase into birds!  Their DNA sequences became increasingly diverse and complex over so many generations, but the patterns for dinosaurs more than likely remain the same within the bird sequences, preserving in a sense even the life of those long dead dinosaurs.

Let me ask you a side-bar question since you are our resident atheist and mathematician, what do you think of the influence of fractal geometry in regards to evolutionary patterns? We find fractal patterns at ever level, from the subatomic to the shapes of galaxies and everything in between.  Fractals not only shape the patterns of mechanics and physics but also natural phenomena like waves, weather, and some folks suggest even the stock market!  Now I bring this up because some of the more intelligent "Intelligent Design" folks who are actually practicing scientists (not televangelists) are looking at the potential for fractals being perhaps a mark of a Creator, they being so systematically a part of the observed Multiverse (sorry, I won't argue but I do believe in the Multiverse theory as explained by string theory Wink )?

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« Reply #81 on: August 06, 2011, 10:40:15 PM »

'Consciousness' is a direct consequence of evolution as it has been experienced, at the very least, on this planet; it's an extension of physics, chemistry, and mechanics not a competing paradigm.

Examination of the evolution of consciousness is faced with many difficulties, it's hardly plausible to come out right and say it is a direct consequence of evolution.

Those that are extinct because they failed to reproduce and influence the future of evolution are failures in the evolutionary system, they obviously had short-term successes and within the context of certain local systems may have been quite successful, but within the Planetary System, or within the Solar System for those wiped out by asteroid impact, they were failures.

In grand scale of things, that is incorrect. Would you consider non-avian dinosaurs failures? Dominant as they were for 160 million years. Or let's just pick a perticular species, say a Tyrannosaur, which according to our current estimates survived for 2 million years. Call that a failure? All species will eventually die out or evolve into other species, so are all species "failures"?

As for those that simply evolved into new species, the only reason we call them extinct is because we are still stuck with a system of taxonomy that was developed before our modern understanding of genetics and is based on mutual reproduction. The computational system that is the species, never ceased to be, never truly became extinct, it merely further optimized, defiantly an indication of success.

Species - A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes.

If a group evolved to the point where there DNA was no longer identical and it was no longer able to exchange genes it, by definition, would become a new species. When the previous species dies out, that species no longer exists.
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« Reply #82 on: August 08, 2011, 12:12:38 AM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?

good = success

So when you say success is the only good, you are simply expressing a tautology?

Yes.
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« Reply #83 on: August 08, 2011, 12:53:15 AM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!


 As for those that simply evolved into new species, the only reason we call them extinct is because we are still stuck with a system of taxonomy that was developed before our modern understanding of genetics and is based on mutual reproduction. The computational system that is the species, never ceased to be, never truly became extinct, it merely further optimized, defiantly an indication of success.

Now this I can emphatically agree with.  One of the sticklers for religious folks theologically condemning the theories of evolution is that the concept of permanent extinction, in some theological opinions, violates the supremacy and permanence of the Will of God.  From this perspective, God created a perfect system and extinction would violate such perfection, so many folks theologically simply deny extinction even though in our current era we can literally observe many many extinctions of species.  This same mentality is what condemned the Copernacan model of the heliocentric solar system because supposedly God had created the Earth as a fixed position, but in reality this was really just theological posturing.  Even the Scriptures speak of revolving motion of the planets and the movement of celestial bodies, including the shadows they cast, and also considered both the Earth and other bodies spherical!

Of course, scientifically speaking, there is really only a single form of life on Earth, DNA, and so long as living organisms continue to reproduce and transmit their DNA, there is no extinction, merely what we might think of as "phase changing" like water to a gas.  For example, I like to joke and say regarding poultry, "Dinosaur, its whats for dinner" as it is becoming increasingly clear that birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. In fact within 15 years we may no longer portray dinosaurs as looking like scaled reptiles, as more and more fossil evidence is suggesting that all dinosaurs had feathers!  So really, the dinosaurs didn't go extinct at all, they just changed phase into birds!  Their DNA sequences became increasingly diverse and complex over so many generations, but the patterns for dinosaurs more than likely remain the same within the bird sequences, preserving in a sense even the life of those long dead dinosaurs.

Our definition of 'species' tends to work well when looking at evolution at any one moment in time, but it does tend to fall apart when looking at the entire history of a computational system.

Quote
Let me ask you a side-bar question since you are our resident atheist and mathematician, what do you think of the influence of fractal geometry in regards to evolutionary patterns? We find fractal patterns at ever level, from the subatomic to the shapes of galaxies and everything in between.  Fractals not only shape the patterns of mechanics and physics but also natural phenomena like waves, weather, and some folks suggest even the stock market!  Now I bring this up because some of the more intelligent "Intelligent Design" folks who are actually practicing scientists (not televangelists) are looking at the potential for fractals being perhaps a mark of a Creator, they being so systematically a part of the observed Multiverse (sorry, I won't argue but I do believe in the Multiverse theory as explained by string theory Wink )?

Well, a fractal is a topological representation of a recursive equation. So when looking at a recursive system (tomorrow's weather/dna/stock market depends on today's and today's depended on yesterday's with similar variables, along with the initial boundary conditions, influencing the new results), it's not unexpected that the topological representation will end up being a fractal. No as for this being the mark of the Creator, it is a result of initial boundary conditions that were established by the universe, so maybe in a poetic deistic sense you could say that it's a mark of a creator...it's not that I don't appreciate the poetic value of such language, I only object to it because it is usually misleading in the context of a culture with a long history of theism. Wink
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« Reply #84 on: August 08, 2011, 09:00:55 AM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?

good = success

So when you say success is the only good, you are simply expressing a tautology?

Yes.

All right. In that case I'm not sure what point you were trying to make by saying in effect "success is the only success". I would of course have to agree with you there, but you have not introduced any new or interesting concept thereby. If you are content in simply repeating banalities, however, I cannot object.
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« Reply #85 on: August 08, 2011, 01:32:33 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?

good = success

So when you say success is the only good, you are simply expressing a tautology?

Yes.

All right. In that case I'm not sure what point you were trying to make by saying in effect "success is the only success". I would of course have to agree with you there, but you have not introduced any new or interesting concept thereby. If you are content in simply repeating banalities, however, I cannot object.

1=1 is also a tautology. But if everyone keeps insisting that 1=42 then 1=1, even though a tautology, is still worth reasserting. One would, of course, hope that a tautology is obvious enough that it need not be continuously restated, but, alas, this doesn't always seem to be the case.
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« Reply #86 on: August 08, 2011, 01:36:21 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?

good = success

So when you say success is the only good, you are simply expressing a tautology?

Yes.

All right. In that case I'm not sure what point you were trying to make by saying in effect "success is the only success". I would of course have to agree with you there, but you have not introduced any new or interesting concept thereby. If you are content in simply repeating banalities, however, I cannot object.

1=1 is also a tautology. But if everyone keeps insisting that 1=42 then 1=1, even though a tautology, is still worth reasserting. One would, of course, hope that a tautology is obvious enough that it need not be continuously restated, but, alas, this doesn't always seem to be the case.

Who was ever suggesting 1 was anything other than 1? Or who was ever suggesting success, by your or anyone's definition, was not success? What I was challenging was your statement that success was good, when according to your own philosophy there is no such thing "good" to which anything, including success, might be equivalent.
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« Reply #87 on: August 08, 2011, 03:14:43 PM »

The trouble with atheists is not that they can't be good.  Many of these people have done wonders for Science & technological development, education, medicine, architecture, etc....

The problem with atheists is that they follow THEIR will, not God's.

Satanism is a religion of self worship, atheism in its truest form.  When one only follows his/her will or does what he/she wants they are the rulers of their own lives.

Anton Levey (co founder of the church of Satan) and Aleister Crowley said "Do what thy wilt shall be the whole of the law".   SO even if your actions are good, you are doing them for yourself, rather than submitting to the will of God and -
"Thy will be done" - Yeshua in the Lord's prayer.

So yes, good works for submitting your will to God, makes you NOT in charge of your life, but following what God wants.
Good works done for yourself to be nice, or just kind to somebody else, may appear fine and seem good, but it's your will over God's.

It's about submission and throwing out your life & will and following God's.
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« Reply #88 on: August 08, 2011, 03:20:24 PM »

The trouble with atheists is not that they can't be good.  Many of these people have done wonders for Science & technological development, education, medicine, architecture, etc....

The problem with atheists is that they follow THEIR will, not God's.

Satanism is a religion of self worship, atheism in its truest form.  When one only follows his/her will or does what he/she wants they are the rulers of their own lives.

Anton Levey (co founder of the church of Satan) and Aleister Crowley said "Do what thy wilt shall be the whole of the law".   SO even if your actions are good, you are doing them for yourself, rather than submitting to the will of God and -
"Thy will be done" - Yeshua in the Lord's prayer.

So yes, good works for submitting your will to God, makes you NOT in charge of your life, but following what God wants.
Good works done for yourself to be nice, or just kind to somebody else, may appear fine and seem good, but it's your will over God's.

It's about submission and throwing out your life & will and following God's.

That's a good point. Another good point is that atheists' definition of "good", as in "we can be good without God", frequently differs from the Christian definition of good. Obviously it's easier to be good when you get to decide for yourself what counts as good or bad.
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« Reply #89 on: August 08, 2011, 03:33:19 PM »

Hm so again it's all about defining your terms. I keep getting confused by GiC's use of "good" and "bad" because the context in which he uses it keeps demanding that I interpret them in an ethical, rather than some other sense. But he seems to reject metaphysical ethics, which leaves me wondering what exactly he means when he asserts that e.g. "success is the only good". What is "good" in your system such that I might agree with you that success is the only good? Because if you are relying on us both understanding the same thing by "good", I would simply have to disagree with you that success is the only good, because, for example, I do not think that success bought at the expense of others is good, but rather in my system it's bad.

By 'system' I don't mean my or your personal preferences. I mean, ultimately, the laws of physics and how they apply given the initial state of the Universe following the big bang. Biological evolution is really a direct consequence of this all dependent on the properties of sub-atomic particles and how they interact to create atoms and how they interact to create molecules and how they interact to create computation, which is to say, life and how these computational systems interact with other computational systems and the physical laws that surround them competing for the resources necessary to perform computation where the computational systems that can best find utilize the required resources and use them to create the next iteration of the program, which tends to happen using a selective semi-randomized computational method we have come to call 'evolution'. The system is the universe, 'success' is ultimately defined as the the computational system, regardless of how it comes to be, that can most successfully survive and propagate itself within the rules and boundary conditions established by the universe, that is to say the global system in which all we computational systems (or perhaps more accurately, sub-systems) exist.

OK, thanks for defining "success" for us. How do you define "good"?

good = success

So when you say success is the only good, you are simply expressing a tautology?

Yes.

All right. In that case I'm not sure what point you were trying to make by saying in effect "success is the only success". I would of course have to agree with you there, but you have not introduced any new or interesting concept thereby. If you are content in simply repeating banalities, however, I cannot object.

1=1 is also a tautology. But if everyone keeps insisting that 1=42 then 1=1, even though a tautology, is still worth reasserting. One would, of course, hope that a tautology is obvious enough that it need not be continuously restated, but, alas, this doesn't always seem to be the case.

Who was ever suggesting 1 was anything other than 1? Or who was ever suggesting success, by your or anyone's definition, was not success?

You were the one saying that good meant something other than success. So I reasserted the tautology that good=success.

Quote
What I was challenging was your statement that success was good, when according to your own philosophy there is no such thing "good" to which anything, including success, might be equivalent.

I never said there was no such thing as 'good', it's a perfectly good English adjective. I use it all the time, as an adjective and as other parts of speech as they've evolved in common usage since the 17th century. I might say that I had a good lunch, or that a lady is good looking, or I might say 'good' as an acknowledgement of a task adequately performed, or I might even say that an individual is good for nothing, to use it in an adjectival phrase.

But like with most words containing common language connotations, I reject anything more than their common usage. But as for baggage that philosophers and their translators have attempted (rather unsuccessfully, I might add, judging from modern common usage) to add to this perfectly good Anglo-Saxon term of notable lineage, well that too is good for nothing.

Languages are formed by evolving through interaction and isolation alike, words may come to mean different things as time passes and different words can come to be used for the same things, but it is this natural development that creates a language and defines the meaning of a word. Language is not formed through the mindless pontifications of some hare-brained philosopher (or should I say hair-brained, or hairbrained, which seems to be where the language is going, at least in North America, though the original is still common enough it seems like a hares are becoming a less and less common as a cultural reference, probably because they look like rabbits and most the North American species are known as 'Jackrabbits'...languages evolve).
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« Reply #90 on: August 08, 2011, 03:43:48 PM »

The trouble with atheists is not that they can't be good.  Many of these people have done wonders for Science & technological development, education, medicine, architecture, etc....

The problem with atheists is that they follow THEIR will, not God's.

Satanism is a religion of self worship, atheism in its truest form.  When one only follows his/her will or does what he/she wants they are the rulers of their own lives.

Anton Levey (co founder of the church of Satan) and Aleister Crowley said "Do what thy wilt shall be the whole of the law".   SO even if your actions are good, you are doing them for yourself, rather than submitting to the will of God and -
"Thy will be done" - Yeshua in the Lord's prayer.

So yes, good works for submitting your will to God, makes you NOT in charge of your life, but following what God wants.
Good works done for yourself to be nice, or just kind to somebody else, may appear fine and seem good, but it's your will over God's.

It's about submission and throwing out your life & will and following God's.

And the problem with theists is not that they can't be contributing, successful members of society, but that even when they do they seem to only do it because their deity told them to, with a nice threat of damnation thrown in for good measure. I fear that if some omnipotent creator of all things instructed them to do something that was damaging and destructive, many of them would blindly obey...like the myth of Abraham and Issac illustrates. An intelligent being who makes decisions based on the values instilled by his experience and evolutionary past is much preferable to a mindless slave who only does his master's will without cause or reason.
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« Reply #91 on: August 08, 2011, 03:56:41 PM »

I find it refreshing to hear more Christians admit that atheists don't simply steal (or continue in) one of the thousands of Christian moral codes, but almost always have a different moral code... this is progress! Smiley
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« Reply #92 on: August 08, 2011, 04:00:16 PM »

GiC, you know perfectly well that "good" has an ethical meaning. People do not simply use good in the aesthetic sense; one doesn't merely talk about "good lunch" but also about "good behavior". The community, not the individual, determines the meanings of words. You don't get to redefine the common meanings of words in order to win your argument.

But let us leave that aside. Let us accept your artificial restriction of "good" to the aesthetic realm. So, "success is the only good" reflects your personal, unaccountable taste. You prefer success to failure; success gives you more pleasure or enjoyment. That is very nice, to be sure, but hardly concerns anyone other than yourself. It is a completely worthless statement for the purposes of this discussion, which is to determine whether one can be "good" without God. It seems rather you should have challenged the presupposition of the statement, that there is such a thing as ethical good (the obvious meaning of the word in this context). Trying to assert that good does not mean good in the sense which the context demands involves digging yourself into a proverbial hole.
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« Reply #93 on: August 08, 2011, 04:22:50 PM »

GiC, you know perfectly well that "good" has an ethical meaning. People do not simply use good in the aesthetic sense; one doesn't merely talk about "good lunch" but also about "good behavior". The community, not the individual, determines the meanings of words. You don't get to redefine the common meanings of words in order to win your argument.

But let us leave that aside. Let us accept your artificial restriction of "good" to the aesthetic realm. So, "success is the only good" reflects your personal, unaccountable taste. You prefer success to failure; success gives you more pleasure or enjoyment. That is very nice, to be sure, but hardly concerns anyone other than yourself. It is a completely worthless statement for the purposes of this discussion, which is to determine whether one can be "good" without God. It seems rather you should have challenged the presupposition of the statement, that there is such a thing as ethical good (the obvious meaning of the word in this context). Trying to assert that good does not mean good in the sense which the context demands involves digging yourself into a proverbial hole.

I believe that we have already defined success, for the context of this conversation, in terms of the system that is the Universe, not your personal success or failure in your business ventures or friendships. Yes, of course success is relative to the system, but the more pervasive the system the more significant the impact, or lack of impact, upon it. But if you're not successful within this system, that would imply that no one but yourself has been substantially affected by your actions, you are truly irrelevant not only to humanity but to the entire universe (of course, we'll see what impact humanity ends up having on the universe, we could get wiped out before we can expand beyond this world, making the entire experiment of life on earth a complete and pointless failure...but even then, we have sent probes out, no doubt containing organic material and organic material has been thrown into the universe by asteroid impacts, so even if our species ceases to be, it does not inherently mean we failed...only time would tell).

You seem to think that success is only something that applies to your personal life and immediate surroundings, but it is a description of optimization in any system. Just as you can have a successful person you can also have a successful gene, or a successful computer program...maybe the latter will be our legacy?
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« Reply #94 on: August 09, 2011, 09:43:05 PM »

In getting back to the point rather than devolving into primitive practices and their attitudes towards them, here are the following problems that Christians must overcome if we accept that morality is an evolutionary trait:

1) God cannot hold us accountable for wrong doing as such wrong doing in some could simply be a result of their biology and/or genes

2) What does it mean to be in the image of God? If God is immutable then how is it that His image must evolve?

3) If morals evolve then how are they in any way universal?

4) How do we deal with the implications of this theory, namely that God becomes the cause of evil (the evolution of morality would require immoral acts to occur, thus if such a tract was sanctioned by God then He directly becomes the cause of evil, which is a heresy)?

5) How could we say that humans fell from grace when they were never truly in a state of grace?

So, theologically speaking, there are massive problems in accepting the evolution of morality. Philosophically and scientifically there are even bigger problems, but we'll leave those at bay because, honestly, the theological aspects are far more important.
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« Reply #95 on: August 11, 2011, 08:16:17 AM »

In getting back to the point rather than devolving into primitive practices and their attitudes towards them, here are the following problems that Christians must overcome if we accept that morality is an evolutionary trait:

1) God cannot hold us accountable for wrong doing as such wrong doing in some could simply be a result of their biology and/or genes

I don't quite follow this. Are you saying that an evolved conscience entails that conscience does not exist, perhaps because it is entirely determined by physical forces? To me this is simply a reformulation of the old theological disputes between Pelagians and Anti-Pelagians, and boils down to the paradox that God created beings with free will, and yet God's providence remains completely sovereign. Rather than insist that evolved sense of morality undermines the very notion of morality, we can simply accept that there is a paradox we are not able to fully understand.

We have always known that our ability to choose freely is subject to all sorts of other forces, otherwise known as our passions. Exercising free will rightly involves struggle, and ultimately we are told that we are in fact unable to win this struggle without supernatural help. To me this implies that without the grace of God we are in fact, as you suggest, the slaves of our biology. Only by divine intervention are we able to free ourselves from this slavery.

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2) What does it mean to be in the image of God? If God is immutable then how is it that His image must evolve?

Do the Fathers say that the image of God rests only in the soul or mind? I ask because you are prepared to accept the evolution of the body, but balk at the evolution of the soul. It's probably worth remembering here that some of the Fathers believed we inherited our souls from our parents, i.e. souls were not merely created specially for each individual person. If we can be said to inherit our souls, it would follow that we should be able to accept the evolution of souls as well as bodies.

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3) If morals evolve then how are they in any way universal?

I think we need to distinguish between morals and conscience. Evolutionary psychologists in effect say that our consciences are evolved, but notwithstanding some of their attempts to use this as an argument against absolute morality, the question of the existence of morality in the abstract is a philosophical one, logically independent of the biological question of the evolution of our conscience. As an analogy, the question of whether or not there is objective truth is logically independent of the idea that our ability to discern the truth in the world around us is part of our evolved psychology.

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4) How do we deal with the implications of this theory, namely that God becomes the cause of evil (the evolution of morality would require immoral acts to occur, thus if such a tract was sanctioned by God then He directly becomes the cause of evil, which is a heresy)?

This problem has already been raised: how can God be the author of death, which is what some people infer from the idea of our evolving from other species through natural selection? I would say that this falls under the same problem mentioned above, i.e. the fact that God is completely sovereign, and has the power to stop any evil that occurs in the world, and yet chooses not to. But we don't deduce from this that God is evil, because we also hold that rational creatures have free will and are responsible for their own evil deeds. God made us subject to passions, and He also offers us His grace in order to overcome these passions. It is up to us to accept His offer of help.

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5) How could we say that humans fell from grace when they were never truly in a state of grace?

Good question. On our evolution thread I raised the possibility that the causal connection between sin and death may not require we believe sin preceded death in real time, and apparently I am not the first one to come up with this idea. I certainly wouldn't insist on this interpretation as the dogmatic truth, but it's a helpful way for me to reconcile the teachings of the Fathers with scientific facts.

How is this related to your question? I would say that the state of grace can be understood as the situation of the innocent rational creature. Wherever and whenever our ancestors first became capable of reason, and thus of accepting supernatural help in overcoming their enslavement to physical forces, they were in a state of grace so long as they accepted this help. Whenever they first denied this supernatural help and tried to rely on themselves alone, they fell from that state of grace. I can't be more specific since we don't know the fine details of how humans first evolved, though science certainly holds that it must have been gradual.

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So, theologically speaking, there are massive problems in accepting the evolution of morality. Philosophically and scientifically there are even bigger problems, but we'll leave those at bay because, honestly, the theological aspects are far more important.

In general, I think it's unwise to stake the truth of our dogmas on the truth or falsehood of scientific theories. What will you do if evidence continues to accumulate for evolved psychology, including morality? Are you going to end up like Protestant creationists (or myself at one point) and resort to ever more distorted interpretations of the facts in order to preserve what you think is dogma? It's true that we don't have fossils of pre-human minds, but we do have increasingly sophisticated and plausible models of how various aspects of our psychology may have evolved from modules we share with other animals. It's easier now than ever to see how a sense of morality can in fact confer biological fitness, given certain social conditions. I don't see how logically any of these facts entails that there is no such thing as morality. Rather, atheistic evolutionists should ask themselves just why the conditions for human morality evolved as they did, and also they should consider the fact that a moralistic view of the world is too entrenched in our psychology to be easily dismissed by the knowledge that it's evolved. Thus, you have materialists like GiC unable to abandon moralizing language like "good", "deserve" and so on. As humans, we are biologically incapable of being amoral. We are compelled to think not only in terms of what is, but of what ought to be. And it's a great imponderable why this should be the case, if there is no supernatural purpose to the world.
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« Reply #96 on: August 11, 2011, 11:57:02 AM »

I think that some people are raising some very interesting existentialist points in here. If there is no God, everything is permissible. Sartre knew that well, along with other existentialists. Why truth? Why not untruth? Why do "good"?  Why not do evil? If one begins with the premise of atheism, then the logical conclusion is nihilism. Of course, a person need not take atheism to its logical conclusions, as there can be very good atheists. But they are not consistent atheists.
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« Reply #97 on: August 11, 2011, 05:39:02 PM »

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I don't quite follow this. Are you saying that an evolved conscience entails that conscience does not exist, perhaps because it is entirely determined by physical forces? To me this is simply a reformulation of the old theological disputes between Pelagians and Anti-Pelagians, and boils down to the paradox that God created beings with free will, and yet God's providence remains completely sovereign. Rather than insist that evolved sense of morality undermines the very notion of morality, we can simply accept that there is a paradox we are not able to fully understand.

We have always known that our ability to choose freely is subject to all sorts of other forces, otherwise known as our passions. Exercising free will rightly involves struggle, and ultimately we are told that we are in fact unable to win this struggle without supernatural help. To me this implies that without the grace of God we are in fact, as you suggest, the slaves of our biology. Only by divine intervention are we able to free ourselves from this slavery.

If our consciousness (and be proxy, our consciences) evolved then we've moved beyond paradox and into the realm of contradictions. An evolved conscious cannot, by definition, have free will because it was formulated via process of cause and effect. Likewise, via evolution, the conscious must be purely material and cannot be immaterial. A material conscious cannot be free because it's not only influenced by external forces, it's determined by external forces. Hence the difficulty of a Christian accepting the evolution of conscious (and conscience) if the Christian desires to remain consistent with Orthodox teachings.

So no, it's not a paradox, but a contradiction. To label it a paradox is simply playing a trump card when one isn't present. I would contend that a paradox only exists when we don't truly understand one aspect, such as the Incarnation. We cannot comprehend the nature of God (should we use such a carnal term to describe God), therefore the Incarnation ends up being a paradox. In the case of conscience, we have a good idea what the conscience is and an even better idea of what evolution is; therefore, we cannot create a paradox between the two and say we have free will when evolution would not allow for free will.

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Do the Fathers say that the image of God rests only in the soul or mind? I ask because you are prepared to accept the evolution of the body, but balk at the evolution of the soul. It's probably worth remembering here that some of the Fathers believed we inherited our souls from our parents, i.e. souls were not merely created specially for each individual person. If we can be said to inherit our souls, it would follow that we should be able to accept the evolution of souls as well as bodies.

Which fathers indicate that we inherit our souls in an evolutionary sense? In looking to St. Gregory of Nyssa as well as St. John of Damascus my understanding is that our souls are immaterial, meaning they can't be subject to evolution (as evolution only deals with natural forces). Whether or not we inherit our souls is irrelevant - if our souls are immaterial then they're not subjected to evolution, which is a natural (physical) force.

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I think we need to distinguish between morals and conscience. Evolutionary psychologists in effect say that our consciences are evolved, but notwithstanding some of their attempts to use this as an argument against absolute morality, the question of the existence of morality in the abstract is a philosophical one, logically independent of the biological question of the evolution of our conscience. As an analogy, the question of whether or not there is objective truth is logically independent of the idea that our ability to discern the truth in the world around us is part of our evolved psychology.

I think you're avoiding the question  Wink.

The argument put forth is whether or not morals are a product of evolution. You're bringing up the epistemic aspect whereas I'm talking about the ontological aspect of morality; apples and oranges. If morals are a product of evolution then perhaps we could say there is no ontology to morals, that it's purely epistemic, which would of course make morality subjective to our conscience. But of course, if this is true then we have to ask what God's part in all of this is and how He could command us to do certain things when we've yet to evolve to the point where we can do those things.

Rather, Christians have always had the sense that morals come from God's nature, thus morality is mind-independent. So the issue isn't epistemic, but ontological. In this case, evolution must account for ontological morals without first appealing to our noetic environment, which it can't do. That's well beyond the scope of natural selection.

So we're left with a very simple question - do morals come from God? If so, then they're not a product of evolution. If not, then how is God moral?

In dealing with our understanding of morality, perhaps you would wish to make the argument that while morals come from God, our consciences must evolve to handle such morality (which I think that might be what you're trying to say). But this is inherently problematic because it removes our responsibility for any wrongdoing! Can we get angry at a man with no legs for not running a 10k marathon? Of course not, because he lacks the necessary "equipment" to get the job done, through no fault of his own. Likewise, if our consciences are evolved, then none of us can truly be "immoral" because we're simply following a line of cause and effect; God may want us to do x, but if our minds haven't evolved to accomplish x, then there's no way He can hold that against us and still claim to be just.

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This problem has already been raised: how can God be the author of death, which is what some people infer from the idea of our evolving from other species through natural selection? I would say that this falls under the same problem mentioned above, i.e. the fact that God is completely sovereign, and has the power to stop any evil that occurs in the world, and yet chooses not to. But we don't deduce from this that God is evil, because we also hold that rational creatures have free will and are responsible for their own evil deeds. God made us subject to passions, and He also offers us His grace in order to overcome these passions. It is up to us to accept His offer of help.

That sounds incredibly Calvinistic...

The above aside, what you're arguing doesn't work. We can say that God allows evil and death because of our free choices. We choose to go against what is right. But that explanation simply doesn't apply to the question I asked. I asked:

4) How do we deal with the implications of this theory, namely that God becomes the cause of evil (the evolution of morality would require immoral acts to occur, thus if such a tract was sanctioned by God then He directly becomes the cause of evil, which is a heresy)?

The evolution of morality wouldn't be an act of free will, but something God would have to guide pre-humans along through. This would make God the author of irresponsible and evil choices as such creatures wouldn't have free will (remember, if the conscious is a product of evolution then it must be material, meaning it cannot have free will).

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Good question. On our evolution thread I raised the possibility that the causal connection between sin and death may not require we believe sin preceded death in real time, and apparently I am not the first one to come up with this idea. I certainly wouldn't insist on this interpretation as the dogmatic truth, but it's a helpful way for me to reconcile the teachings of the Fathers with scientific facts.

How is this related to your question? I would say that the state of grace can be understood as the situation of the innocent rational creature. Wherever and whenever our ancestors first became capable of reason, and thus of accepting supernatural help in overcoming their enslavement to physical forces, they were in a state of grace so long as they accepted this help. Whenever they first denied this supernatural help and tried to rely on themselves alone, they fell from that state of grace. I can't be more specific since we don't know the fine details of how humans first evolved, though science certainly holds that it must have been gradual.

Yeah, Bill Dembski offers up that argument in The End of Christianity. The book kind of goes off on a tangent, but his original essay was eye-opening for me. And I do accept the premise of his theory that God prepared the world for the Fall, knowing what Adam and Eve would do. I also do think that this grants you a strong avenue in this discussion to proving that our morals could evolve (though I still think you have to explain how a non-physical aspect of humanity is subject to a purely physical law).

The problem with what you're saying, however, is that it's just not tenable. We're assuming that our ancestors killed, destroyed things, and then one day discovered such actions were wrong? At what point did this happen? Furthermore, and more problematic, if evolution brought us to that point, why did we divert from it? Again, natural selection relies on cause and effect, so if we reached a moral apex then there's no way we could have chosen to go against that apex.

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In general, I think it's unwise to stake the truth of our dogmas on the truth or falsehood of scientific theories. What will you do if evidence continues to accumulate for evolved psychology, including morality? Are you going to end up like Protestant creationists (or myself at one point) and resort to ever more distorted interpretations of the facts in order to preserve what you think is dogma?

If they can prove that our consciousness is physical and determined then I would abandon Christianity or at least become a Calvinist. If evidence arises against a core aspect of Christianity then we don't, then we have to doubt our faith.

But as it is, I would contend there's absolutely no evidence that our consciousness has evolved. I've read the articles and it's more philosophical than it is scientific. They take evidence and then interpret it through a philosophical lens (as do I), but this merely proves that the evidence isn't conclusive at all, nor is it compelling, nor can it properly be called evidence.

The problem with Protestant creationists is they argue against the actual science. I'm not arguing against the science. I'm arguing against the philosophy of naturalism, which states that everything can be explained via nature. The arguments you're bringing up aren't actually scientific, but come from a naturalist philosophy. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the two, but never think scientists aren't subject to philosophical biases.
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« Reply #98 on: August 11, 2011, 05:45:03 PM »

Yeah, Bill Dembski offers up that argument in The End of Christianity. The book kind of goes off on a tangent, but his original essay was eye-opening for me. And I do accept the premise of his theory that God prepared the world for the Fall, knowing what Adam and Eve would do.
Doesn't that negate free-will?
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« Reply #99 on: August 11, 2011, 09:05:26 PM »

Yeah, Bill Dembski offers up that argument in The End of Christianity. The book kind of goes off on a tangent, but his original essay was eye-opening for me. And I do accept the premise of his theory that God prepared the world for the Fall, knowing what Adam and Eve would do.
Doesn't that negate free-will?

I do think that's a valid objection to his theory. How I think he would get around it (at least how I get around it) is that God knew the free-choice Adam and Eve would make (or humanity would make) and thus prepared the world in accordance to their free choice. Being perfect in knowledge and foreknowledge, He would have known their actions. Of course, Richard Swinburne has a completely different view, one that I ashamedly admit that I haven't looked into all that much. Regardless, you may want to check out Dembski's book on the issue (or look up the essay Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science).
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« Reply #100 on: August 12, 2011, 10:19:01 AM »


If our consciousness (and be proxy, our consciences) evolved then we've moved beyond paradox and into the realm of contradictions. An evolved conscious cannot, by definition, have free will because it was formulated via process of cause and effect. Likewise, via evolution, the conscious must be purely material and cannot be immaterial. A material conscious cannot be free because it's not only influenced by external forces, it's determined by external forces. Hence the difficulty of a Christian accepting the evolution of conscious (and conscience) if the Christian desires to remain consistent with Orthodox teachings.

So no, it's not a paradox, but a contradiction. To label it a paradox is simply playing a trump card when one isn't present. I would contend that a paradox only exists when we don't truly understand one aspect, such as the Incarnation. We cannot comprehend the nature of God (should we use such a carnal term to describe God), therefore the Incarnation ends up being a paradox. In the case of conscience, we have a good idea what the conscience is and an even better idea of what evolution is; therefore, we cannot create a paradox between the two and say we have free will when evolution would not allow for free will.

I agree that according to our dogmas, free will as we possess it now has to be free of natural causality. That much needs to be taken on faith. Likewise we have to believe conscience has some kind of independent status in our minds, in order for it to be reliable judge of our actions. The thing is that so much of our natural human inclinations, even the most altruistic (such as caring for complete strangers), can be explained in terms of natural selection (i.e. given relatively sophisticated social structures among primitive hominids, kindness to strangers outside immediate family or community turns out to confer greater fitness than hostility does).

http://www.economist.com/node/21524698

So it's not the case that only our "fallen" passions (desire for food, sex etc) are explicable in Darwinian terms. Also, other species at least have been observed to hesitate between different possible actions, i.e. they don't always rush headlong into action after a stimulus, but consider different options and make some kind of decision. Does this mean they have or could have free will, too? Or does the fact that other animals exercise choice mean that free will may not really be free originally? Dogmatically it seems impossible to concede that these other animals are rational in the way we are, but it may mean that free will or conscience, if truly unique to humans, must involve something far more subtle than simply the ability to exercise a choice among options, or possessing selfless inclinations that are directed to individuals outside one's immediate family or community.

Even if in some way what we usually think of as our consciences may be shown to be evolved, that doesn't mean we don't have consciences or a knowledge of what morality is.

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Which fathers indicate that we inherit our souls in an evolutionary sense? In looking to St. Gregory of Nyssa as well as St. John of Damascus my understanding is that our souls are immaterial, meaning they can't be subject to evolution (as evolution only deals with natural forces). Whether or not we inherit our souls is irrelevant - if our souls are immaterial then they're not subjected to evolution, which is a natural (physical) force.

No fathers speak of evolving souls, but then no fathers speak of evolving bodies, either. These fathers you cite believed in an immutable human nature in which neither body nor soul was subject to evolution. The boundary between physical body and the mind is being continually broken down, in any case. This is a big problem for those, like yourself, who allow evolution of bodies but not of souls or minds (unless you wish to draw a distinction between the two). This point of view is only supportable insofar as we don't know enough about the physiological basis or modular structure of the mind to theorize about how the mind may have evolved. The more we know about these things, however, the harder it is to support this rigid mind-body dichotomy.

The point I was making in any case is that some fathers, recognizing that people often inherit psychological as well as physical characteristics, allowed the possibility that we inherit our souls as well as bodies through natural generation, on the assumption that psychology is purely the product of the soul. It is not a great leap from there to allowing for the evolution of the soul, where soul = mind.

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I think you're avoiding the question  Wink.

The argument put forth is whether or not morals are a product of evolution. You're bringing up the epistemic aspect whereas I'm talking about the ontological aspect of morality; apples and oranges. If morals are a product of evolution then perhaps we could say there is no ontology to morals, that it's purely epistemic, which would of course make morality subjective to our conscience. But of course, if this is true then we have to ask what God's part in all of this is and how He could command us to do certain things when we've yet to evolve to the point where we can do those things.

Rather, Christians have always had the sense that morals come from God's nature, thus morality is mind-independent. So the issue isn't epistemic, but ontological. In this case, evolution must account for ontological morals without first appealing to our noetic environment, which it can't do. That's well beyond the scope of natural selection.

So we're left with a very simple question - do morals come from God? If so, then they're not a product of evolution. If not, then how is God moral?

In dealing with our understanding of morality, perhaps you would wish to make the argument that while morals come from God, our consciences must evolve to handle such morality (which I think that might be what you're trying to say). But this is inherently problematic because it removes our responsibility for any wrongdoing! Can we get angry at a man with no legs for not running a 10k marathon? Of course not, because he lacks the necessary "equipment" to get the job done, through no fault of his own. Likewise, if our consciences are evolved, then none of us can truly be "immoral" because we're simply following a line of cause and effect; God may want us to do x, but if our minds haven't evolved to accomplish x, then there's no way He can hold that against us and still claim to be just.

Actually that was precisely the point I was trying to make (obviously not very well): the ontological status of morality is independent of the (possibly evolved) epistemic status. Many atheist evolutionists don't recognize the distinction between the ontological and epistemic aspects, or they think there is only an epistemic aspect.

Just out of curiosity, how do you account for, say, born sociopaths? An apparent complete lack of normal human empathy present since childhood, before the traditional age of reason? Are they responsible for what they do? Is God setting them up to be damned? They may know in an abstract sense what the normal rules of morality are, but they seem to have no internal mental judge to check their selfish inclinations.

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That sounds incredibly Calvinistic...

The above aside, what you're arguing doesn't work. We can say that God allows evil and death because of our free choices. We choose to go against what is right. But that explanation simply doesn't apply to the question I asked. I asked:

4) How do we deal with the implications of this theory, namely that God becomes the cause of evil (the evolution of morality would require immoral acts to occur, thus if such a tract was sanctioned by God then He directly becomes the cause of evil, which is a heresy)?

The evolution of morality wouldn't be an act of free will, but something God would have to guide pre-humans along through. This would make God the author of irresponsible and evil choices as such creatures wouldn't have free will (remember, if the conscious is a product of evolution then it must be material, meaning it cannot have free will).

You already created this kind of problem for yourself when you accepted evolution in general, with the concomitant presence of death in the world before sin, the cause of death, even existed.

I think that there is in fact a material element of "conscience", if we mean things like good inclinations, which I think could very plausible be evolved. The supernatural element is something more akin to the idea of God "guiding" the evolutionary process. The very fact that creatures evolved into something like us, with free will and conscience, suggests a supernatural purpose to the world. We should distinguish between process and result.

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Yeah, Bill Dembski offers up that argument in The End of Christianity. The book kind of goes off on a tangent, but his original essay was eye-opening for me. And I do accept the premise of his theory that God prepared the world for the Fall, knowing what Adam and Eve would do. I also do think that this grants you a strong avenue in this discussion to proving that our morals could evolve (though I still think you have to explain how a non-physical aspect of humanity is subject to a purely physical law).

The problem with what you're saying, however, is that it's just not tenable. We're assuming that our ancestors killed, destroyed things, and then one day discovered such actions were wrong? At what point did this happen? Furthermore, and more problematic, if evolution brought us to that point, why did we divert from it? Again, natural selection relies on cause and effect, so if we reached a moral apex then there's no way we could have chosen to go against that apex.

Given that you apparently believe we are descended from non-human ancestors, you'll need to answer these questions for yourself. I personally never said they suddenly one day discovered what they were doing was wrong. Perhaps they always knew, or gradually came to such knowledge. The story of the Fall of course describes it as this instantaneous event, but you already rejected that story when you accepted Darwinian evolution.

Evolution is supposed to have given us competing inclinations. Some inclinations represent what we can call our "angelic" side, e.g. empathy for strangers; other inclinations represent our "animal" side, e.g. sex drive and appetite. As you know yourself, there is in fact no human who was ever purely good, except for Christ. So there is no moral "apex", except for individuals who struggled the most against their fallen inclinations. Or rather, Christ, not humanity in general, is the moral apex.

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If they can prove that our consciousness is physical and determined then I would abandon Christianity or at least become a Calvinist. If evidence arises against a core aspect of Christianity then we don't, then we have to doubt our faith.

But as it is, I would contend there's absolutely no evidence that our consciousness has evolved. I've read the articles and it's more philosophical than it is scientific. They take evidence and then interpret it through a philosophical lens (as do I), but this merely proves that the evidence isn't conclusive at all, nor is it compelling, nor can it properly be called evidence.

The problem with Protestant creationists is they argue against the actual science. I'm not arguing against the science. I'm arguing against the philosophy of naturalism, which states that everything can be explained via nature. The arguments you're bringing up aren't actually scientific, but come from a naturalist philosophy. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the two, but never think scientists aren't subject to philosophical biases.

The philosophical error I see to be the confusion between epistemology and ontology, as we discussed above. Even if our sense of morality evolved, that doesn't mean there is no such thing as morality. We can't become amoral creatures simply because of the knowledge we now have about the process by which our sense of morality came into being. In order simply to live as human beings we need to have faith in absolute morality.

I am sympathetic to the idea of evolved morality for the following reasons:

Sense of morality is not in fact an absolute human universal. Rather, it is a statistical universal. You have outliers, like those sociopaths I mentioned, or individuals who are so retarded they can't be said to have the normal faculty of reason. How are universal statements about human conscience supposed to apply to them?

Behavior approximating human morality can be observed in other species to a greater or lesser degree. It's not the case that other animals behave in purely selfish ways. To me it's inherently plausible that the ability to exercise choices, to feel empathy for strangers and to sacrifice oneself may have gradually evolved.

Humans in general display that variation in behavior that is consistent with an evolutionary framework. If all humans behaved in a set way that would be better evidence for special creation.
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« Reply #101 on: August 12, 2011, 11:43:39 AM »

I think I can say more or less what I was saying above in a shorter form. I don't see anything implausible about saying that our minds evolved along with our bodies. Since we don't observe a strict distinction between the two now, it doesn't make sense to project a strict distinction back onto our origins as a species. Pointing to gaps in evidence for the evolution of the mind is about as rigorous an argument against evolution as pointing to gaps in evidence for the evolution of the body: small gaps or errors in detail don't take away from the overall explanatory power of the theory.

Free will, conscience and so forth I think more of as facts about our human condition now. However we think about our origins, it's the case now that we have free will and are obliged to think in moral terms. Just as evolution of bipedalism means we can't help but walk on two legs, so evolution of morality means we can't help but be moral.

What then of ontological morals? This is where reason and revelation come in. Our morality in its basic form evolved, but is subject to competing inclinations. By our reason, however, we can discern what the real aims of morality are, and understand how virtue lies in cultivating some inclinations while suppressing others. Revelation tells us the ultimate supernatural purpose of these morals that are ours by nature and which we can partly discern through reason.
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« Reply #102 on: August 12, 2011, 01:22:40 PM »

I'm enjoying this discussion, but sadly don't have time right now to get into a deep discussion (I should later today I hope).

For now, in reading through it could be possible that we are both right. It seems that I border too much along the line of putting a strict divide between our physical nature and our immaterial nature. I would contend that you're committing the opposite error of almost removing any distinction between the two. Perhaps there is a middle ground we haven't considered (one that I think you have come closer to than myself in your last post) wherein some aspect of our morals and consciousness can be explained via evolution, but not the entirety.

I'll post more later.
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“Wherefore, then, death approaches, gulps down the bait of the body, and is pierced by the hook of the divinity. Then, having tasted of the sinless and life-giving body, it is destroyed and gives up all those whom it had swallowed down of old." - St. John of Damascus
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« Reply #103 on: August 12, 2011, 02:04:05 PM »

I'm enjoying this discussion, but sadly don't have time right now to get into a deep discussion (I should later today I hope).

For now, in reading through it could be possible that we are both right. It seems that I border too much along the line of putting a strict divide between our physical nature and our immaterial nature. I would contend that you're committing the opposite error of almost removing any distinction between the two. Perhaps there is a middle ground we haven't considered (one that I think you have come closer to than myself in your last post) wherein some aspect of our morals and consciousness can be explained via evolution, but not the entirety.

I'll post more later.

You might be right about me going to an extreme. This is always a danger when trying to rationalize conflicts between tradition and modern science. It's probably worth remembering that the Fathers recognized on the one hand a clear distinction between body and soul (such that e.g. the soul can be separated from the body after death), and on the other hand an intimate connection between the two (e.g. bodily fasting contributes to spiritual health, or the fact that we will be judged at the last day body and soul together).
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« Reply #104 on: August 12, 2011, 02:54:14 PM »

I think that some people are raising some very interesting existentialist points in here. If there is no God, everything is permissible. Sartre knew that well, along with other existentialists. Why truth? Why not untruth? Why do "good"?  Why not do evil? If one begins with the premise of atheism, then the logical conclusion is nihilism. Of course, a person need not take atheism to its logical conclusions, as there can be very good atheists. But they are not consistent atheists.

I think that utilitarians, for example, use a closed loop: utility=good, so that whenever something has utility it is good. I would think that this would hold up even in extreme nihilism. Of course, this misuse of "good" is a contradiction for good cannot be defined by man, it is a transcendent concept and word and man can only assent.
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« Reply #105 on: August 12, 2011, 03:09:53 PM »

This might be relevant:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will
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« Reply #106 on: August 12, 2011, 03:14:26 PM »

It may also be relevant that e.g. St John of Damascus discusses free will extensively in his Exposition of the Orthodox faith, using the understanding of human psychology prevalent at the same time. I wouldn't be surprised if the patristic doctrines concerning free will were subtle enough to withstand modern empirical scrutiny. I do distinctly remember St John explaining how free will can be broken down into several stages of psychological action, in which the act of choosing is not the first in the chain, but is rather preceded by certain functions of desiring. This seems to correspond in some respects with the findings of the most recent experiments (e.g. that brain activity is observed prior to the subject's consciousness of his action).
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