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Author Topic: As atheists know, you can be good without God  (Read 4929 times) Average Rating: 0
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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).

Quote
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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« 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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Carl Kraeff (Second Chance)
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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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