Atheists, it turns out, are one of America’s most hated groups. In a recent study at the University of Minnesota on the American Mosaic Project, Researchers Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerties and Douglas Hartmann.

Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in ‘sharing their vision of American society.’ Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry…[Atheists are] seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public.

That must explain why Muffti is still a happily unwed fellow. It’s a good thing that women frequently like to date guys that their parents wouldn’t ever want them to engage in wedlock or the Muffti would have to start going to shul and hiding his religious views.

The study’s results, however, seem to be mirrored in the public discrouse. As the American Atheists Website notes, atheists are generally being targetted by total dipshits celebrities, rabbis and, well Melinda Barton. (Actually, the American Atheists, so far as Muffti can tell, are a bunch of whiners who complain about things like Katie Couric claiming ‘there are no atheists in a foxwhole’ (though Muffti would like to know just how long Katie has spent in foxholes), Melinda Barton, writing for Raw Story attempting to counter the injurious effects of the atheist ‘whackjobs’ on the left (Muffti would prefer the left got rid of the stupid first. First to go: Melinda Barton)).

However, to make this a Jewlicious story, Muffti noticed a while back that Rabbi Gellman took the time to write a piece about ‘angry’ atheists. As he puts it:

This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don’t mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help. Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it.

Rabbi Gellman might do well to consider alternative explanations for this alleged anger. Hmmmn, what might be causing it? Let’s see. Maybe it’s because idiots write to Newsweek and pretend they are psychologists while disussing us. Maybe we get miffed when we get told that our students should learn to be skeptical of evolution and taught its only (completely unsubstantiated by any evidence) competitor ‘theory’ (which oddly looks strangely like evolution with a tacked on ‘Oh yeah, God put this in play’). We get upset when we are told that we shouldn’t read holy texts as ‘histories’, that much of the hard to understand, contradictory parts are ‘metaphors’, that most of what goes on is ‘allegory’ and yet when we conclude that it must be a work of fiction, everyone goes ballistic.

The funny things about Gellman’s article is that he ends with an entirely psychological explanation for being religious:

I believe that the philosopher-rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was right when he said, “It is hell to live without hope, and religion saves people from hell.”

So, after claiming that atheists are angry and only atheists because of psychological rather than straightforwardly obvious rational reasons (like ’em or not), he goes on to tell us that religion is basically a way to keep yourself happy and hopeful. Hmmmn…

The thing is that the presupposition is unjustified. Atheists aren’t angry in general. We’re cool with all you believers. We frequently find you to be deluded and insensitive to reason, but we like children and they are kind of like that too. Truth be told, Muffti is just jealous. He wants to be happy too. So, Muffti will end this ramble with a pictorial representation of some theists:

Here’s some happy Muslims!

happy muslims

And some happy Jews!

happy jews

Don’t forget the happy Christians!

happy xtians

Oh, what the hell, here’s one happy atheist!

the Muffti

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34 Comments

  • it’s all about cropping. You don’t see the baby that the happy atheist is strangling, out of the frame of the shot.

  • Please don`t forget the Hindus and buddhists.
    Anybody who doesn´t think these groups are historically and practically all bout repression and violence (for instance much as I´ve loved the contacts I´ve had with Tibet, Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhism and despise the Chines rape of Tibet, can any truly literate person truly believe that Tibet was anything but afeudal repressive backwater hiding behind a veneer of self serving mumbo-jumbo?)Hindus? I remember hippie new agers promoting the idea that vegetarians are intinsically less violent, like in India, a quick read of the incidents during the India – Pakistan partition should disabuse anyone of that concept.
    Can anyone pleas explain to me just why this theoretical all powerful creator and contoller of everything is most concened with who´s bonking who and how and when. Everything else, war, poverty and injustce are minor issues and are actually perfectly legiimate tools in the
    ongoing most important God/Allah/Jehovah/Buddha/Vishnu war against “wrong” sex.
    By the way the only traumatic experienc I had (aside from sore knees and intense boredom) was at the age of ten when I grew a brain and began to reason. God and religion just didn´t add up then and still don´t today. The actions and behaviour of God´s spokesmen and followers sure aint much of a positive argument that´s for sure!

  • Atheism is also sort of a religion, an atheist just makes his own rules. By and By, its a pity to overly focus on “forbidden relationships” as a criique of religion (at least not of Judaism) since most of what is in the Tanach is about social justice and moral behaviour. Unless, of course, you are overly focused on that stuff.

    Actually, I don’t think of atheists too much unless they start preaching to me about morality in a condenscending fashion. That can be annoying

  • Thanks Robbie and Joy! Can you believe that Americans would hate most to have a man like that fine lookin’ dude marry their daughters (or son!). Yaaziel, you are one funny dude. Muffti isn’t strangling a baby; he’s happy coz he just ate one.

    Shlomo said:
    “Atheism is also sort of a religion, an atheist just makes his own rules.”

    Unless any belief set counts as a religion (which just trivializest he notion), Muffti can see no sense in which atheism is a religion. IT has no specific moral code that its member adhere to. It has not dogma. You dont have to join, there are no ceremonies involved.

    What makes it a religion? The fact that it involves a belief?!?

  • …and good call JC. Good luck getting an answer to that ‘if god is so powerful, why do evil thing happen?’ Slap the first person who says ‘free will’ and ask them why God lets earth quakes happen (is it the earth’s free will expressing itself?!?)

  • Oh muffti. Can we at least have some more pictures of happy atheists? Like maybe a young Stalin eating Georgian mozarella cheese, or perhaps a happy carefree Adolf painting up a storm before his shift as a waiter in a Viennese restaurant started? I could go on and on, but really, must we?

  • CK: take tongue. Put in cheek. Re-read.

    On the other hand, go on and on. Muffti is curious to see what you can come up with when you really go hog wild.

  • …and good call JC. Good luck getting an answer to that ‘if god is so powerful, why do evil thing happen?’ Slap the first person who says ‘free will’ and ask them why God lets earth quakes happen (is it the earth’s free will expressing itself?!?)

    umm, Muff, maybe God is expressing his free will? Maybe, cause he’s God, he gets to do whatever the fuck he wants? Maybe some days he doesn’t feel like being benevolent and merciful. Wouldn’t that be a God’s right? If he exists that is.

    Or can he only exist if he fits what you think he should be?

  • Sure…so long as you don’t think what god says about himself in the torah is true (weren’t there 13 attributes somwhere involving mercy, righteousness…) It’s not Muffti’s concpeiton that atheists attack, it’s theist’s.

  • Sorry to interrupt, but why don’t we get to the heart of it? The reason people mistrust atheists, I think, is that they believe that there can be no basis for morality without the existence of a transcendent being, such as G-d. I share this view. This is not to cast aspersions on any particular atheist, or even on atheists in general; their personal morals may be (and often are) exemplary. But that can be due to being raised in a society and/or family still infused with, or living off the legacy of, a religious basis for morality. The concern is that if the notion of morality is cut off from its religious roots, without some replacement basis, it will eventually die.

    So let me ask Muffti and anyone else, straight up: If there is no G-d, why be moral?

    (This is my first posting on Jewlicious, but no need to be gentle. Fire away.)

  • Why is everyone assuming God is a man? Seems to me with all the bad stuff in the world, God’s a woman, trying to get back at all the men for screwing things up.

    Oh, and Muffti – on your reply – it’s just like my pappy used to say, “I don’t care if you bring home a guy or a girl, as long as their Jewish!”

    (And if anyone out there is, in fact, an NJB looking for an NJB, c’mon over.)

  • muff – the god of the Torah is also one who causes plagues, kills folks for strange fire, and is unforgiving of just one little mistake of his pal moses. The God of the Torah commands genocide of amalek, and death to an adulterous woman.

    Maybe God, if he/she/it exists can have 13 attributes of mercy and simultaneously be wrathful. After all, if God is all powerful, can it not be anything it chooses in any given moment, and supremely so?

  • Hey J, welcome!

    It’s a difficult question that you ask, but Muffti thinks that there are many excellent answers for the atheist to avail himself of. However there is a prior question: is the reason you are moral really only because you think there is a god? If someone gave you definitive proof that there was no god, would you go out and start raping and pillaging immediately? Muffti suspects that the answer is ‘no’. (you may well stop keeping kosher and praying, if you do those things). So, the complex question is why do people act morally? And that is a question for moral psychology but clearly there is a moral sense that seems to guide most people (psychos and sociopaths aside)and rebelling against it seems to be psychologically unhealthy.

    More reasonably, however, Muffti simply thinks that one should be moral because it is good to be moral, and he sees no reason to think that the property of goodness has anything to do conceptually with there being a God. There seems to be pragmatic reasons to be moral, however, as well: societies don’t seem to thrive when there is no laws against violence to the person, some sort of security of property, the ability to enforce contracts, etc. One reason to be moral may be that you benefit from the contract to the society to act as such. Not acting in accordance weakens the society as a whole. Anyhhhow, there is a whole history of philosophers doing their best to lay morality on a firmer foundation than something contentious like a God.

  • Laya, fine question. For technical reasons, we have to be a bit careful about making sense of omnipotent: presumably God couldn’t make himself less powerful permenently or put someone else in charge of thigns while he takes a vacation. But that isn’t really germane to hte point at hand…

    So, the Muffti agrees that if you aren’t wedded to a conception of God as all (or, at least, mostly) good and just, then the problem of evil is no problem.

  • The “moral” practices and actions historically and presently exhibited by believers in a God of any sort do cause me at times, as an athiest, to ponder my own lack of moral fibre and practice.
    I just don´t seem to be able ot kill, rape and plunder my neighbours for not sharing my athiestic beliefs. I can´t even seem to get up the strength to harass, discriminate or publicly humiliate them for not being of the corect athiestic practice. God help me I don´t even care what they wear or eat or even (Help Me!) who they fuck!
    I truly do need some of that GOD stuff so that my morals can be believable and trustworthy in rhetoric and practice.

  • Perhaps JC could use some help from old school
    Soviets, devout Athiests I would say, to find that “moral fibre and practice”
    A lot of sound historical oppinion says that A lot more Jews were victims of Soviet-Athiest then even Nazis over a longer time. Besides Jews, do we need to look further? I didn’t know those that fight over “G-d Stuff” have a monopoly on nastiness or hypocritic self righteousness, or what ever dispicableness. This new knowledge amazes me!

  • JC, you is funny. Muffti like.
    Adam, Muffti isn’t really sure what you are getting at. The Soviets made atheism part of their political platform, but what drove them to persecute the religious was a political dogma, not a religious one.

  • Muffti:

    Gotta go point by point.

    “It’s a difficult question that you ask, but Muffti thinks that there are many excellent answers for the atheist to avail himself of.”

    I realize that this is a huge subject and won’t fit into a few comments on a blog, but could you provide examples and recommended books or articles?

    “However there is a prior question: is the reason you are moral really only because you think there is a god?”

    Good question. My answer is, no. I see morality as the only real avenue for meaning in life. ( I acknowledge that it’s entirely possible that life has no meaning and that there’s no G-d. However, unless and until I’m forced into that position by argument or evidence, I find it entirely reasonable to live as if G-d, meaning and morality do exist). And as I said earlier, only a transcendent being can provide a real basis for meaning and morality.

    “If someone gave you definitive proof that there was no god, would you go out and start raping and pillaging immediately? Muffti suspects that the answer is ‘no’. (you may well stop keeping kosher and praying, if you do those things).”

    After all these years, and considering my upbringing, the answer is probably no (though I probably would commit some minor transgressions). But that doesn’t address my argument. The real question is what a person raised with no basis for morality would do.

    “So, the complex question is why do people act morally? And that is a question for moral psychology but clearly there is a moral sense that seems to guide most people (psychos and sociopaths aside)and rebelling against it seems to be psychologically unhealthy.”

    Whoa. (Read that as if Keanu Reeves is saying it.) To say it is a question for moral psychology is to preclude my side of this debate before the actual debate occurs (“yes, there’s no true basis for morality, let’s just hand it over to the field of psychology to find out why people behave morally, as we would ask an entomologist about why ants behave as they do.”)

    Saying “clearly there is a moral sense” is description. We are discussing PREscription.

    And I don’t know what basis you have for declaring immoral behavior “psychologically unhealthy”. You need some basis to establish (1) why “healthy” is better than “unhealthy” and (2) what “unhealthy” even means. I think you are wrapped up in the moral framework of our society more than you suspect. And after this, you would need to contend with those who think that the restraints imposed by morality are unhealthy as compared to unrestrained expression of will.

    “More reasonably, however, Muffti simply thinks that one should be moral because it is good to be moral, and he sees no reason to think that the property of goodness has anything to do conceptually with there being a God.”

    “Good to be moral”? Sounds circular to me. What do you mean by “good”? And how does your definition of “good” not presuppose morality?

    ” There seems to be pragmatic reasons to be moral, however, as well: societies don’t seem to thrive when there is no laws against violence to the person, some sort of security of property, the ability to enforce contracts, etc.”

    I don’t think that works at all. If we’re talking pragmatism, then often it’s more pragmatic to be immoral. Just ask any tyrant or dictator. Even more humble individuals will find that it often pays to do the wrong thing, because the wrong act will yield them huge benefits while only doing very small damage to society at large (say, embezzlement). Are you condoning such behavior?

    “Anyhhhow, there is a whole history of philosophers doing their best to lay morality on a firmer foundation than something contentious like a God.”

    I’m sure they’ve done their best, but as far as I can see, they’ve failed. Do you have any examples of any that have succeeded? (And I agree that it would be great to have a firmer foundation for morality than an entity whose existence I can’t prove. But I don’t think anyone’s even come close to finding one.)

  • Just a small point; I claim no automatic moral superiotity, for athiests (except for possibly not believing the most ridiculous mindbogglingly absurd, less than childish, things that make up any and all religions). Of course any and all religions claim this automatic superiority for their herds, excuse me, flocks, who obligingly grovel for just their god.
    Now I personally believe that political beliefs, such as Communism and Nazism (George Bushism?) can be religion also. Any system of belief that demands faith, nonquestioning loyallty and doesn`t allow critical and free questioning even in the face of a tangible reality which is completely opposite to that which is dogma (just take a look at Mao poster propoganda of the sixties you didn`t even need the historical perspective to know that was bullshit.)
    But that´s my reasoning and is a whole other story.
    And of course athiests are not intrinsically more moral than others except, perhaps, in inintellectual maturity.
    What makes this athiest “moral”. Pragmatic empathy and egoistic logic. I only got one shot at life and it´s true quality has nothing to do with a bunch of superstitious rules or divine free passes but everything to do with luck, circumstances, healthy human interaction and my own responsibility.
    in parting: A short score board-
    Marxism & Nazism (athiests?) 1917 – 1990 (roughly, both are still reaping) x million victims.
    Religion – from the dawn of civilisation to today – x BILLIONS of victims and still counting, everyday.
    Excuse me , who´s moral?
    If a belief in a god is the “firm” ground that morality is built on then he needed some viagra a loooong time ago.
    I believe that true and relevant morality has and is developing despite religion and it´s herds.It´s a hard and ongoing process but must be done if we are to survive ourselves.

  • Hi, I’m an atheist…not always happy, but not often angry either. And I have a picture with a few really happy atheists in it. I’m not telling which ones are the atheists, you’ll have to see if you can figure that out for yourself. I bet you can’t.

    anyways….where could morality come from, if not from one god or another?

    It might be that there is such a thing as objective morality. This does make sense, if you accept the premises that others feel things such as pain in the same way that you do, and that pain is something that you would like to avoid yourself.

    It might be that we have developed an innate morality as our species evolved. Many of the behaviors that work against the survival of our species have been weeded out by natural selection.

    It might be that much of our morality is cultural, and depends for the most part on who our parents are, and is learned as we grow up.

    And it also might be that in times past, people have had morality, but no explanation for it…and have developed religions that codify the particular morality of their culture. The religion eventually is credited as the source of morality. This might explain why monotheists of different cultures (and different sects of the same culture) have such widely varying “official” moral codes.

    Whatever the case, it was fun being a part of that robotics competition!

  • Sorry, Muffti was away all weekend. Here’s a few quick words for J.

    First, appologies. You said: “If there is no G-d, why be moral?”. Muffti thought that this was a question about the causes of morality rahter than the reasons. Re-reading your comment made Muffti realize that he had completely misread and that’s why all that shit about moral psychology was in the response. But you’re right: its not especially germane to the issue.

    Let Muffti be a cheat at first however adn turn the dialectic around. You said:

    Good question. My answer is, no. I see morality as the only real avenue for meaning in life. ( I acknowledge that it’s entirely possible that life has no meaning and that there’s no G-d. However, unless and until I’m forced into that position by argument or evidence, I find it entirely reasonable to live as if G-d, meaning and morality do exist). And as I said earlier, only a transcendent being can provide a real basis for meaning and morality.

    Why should Muffti (or anyone) believe the last part of this quote: why does meaning and morality require a separate, transcendent being? These two issues don’t even seem, prima facie, connected to Muffti. Why does meaning require transcendence?

    OK, let’s continue trying to answer the question that Muffti is now starting to understand.

    And I don’t know what basis you have for declaring immoral behavior “psychologically unhealthy”. You need some basis to establish (1) why “healthy” is better than “unhealthy” and (2) what “unhealthy” even means.

    By ‘better’ Muffti meant ‘preferable’: Muffti takes it you don’t need a god to provide a basis for the claim that not having cancer is better for the body than having cancer. Why is it better? Because you prefer the one state to the other. Anyhow, at best this would give you a prudential reason to be moral rather than a ‘moral’ reason so perhaps we can drop it.

    “Good to be moral”? Sounds circular to me. What do you mean by “good”? And how does your definition of “good” not presuppose morality?

    It does presuppose morality and it is circular. But Muffti’s point was that it may just be that there are some basic properties in teh universe that stand in no further need of justification or basis. Think of it this way: it would seem otoise (though not in all contexts) to ask just why 2+2=4? In virtue of what, one might complain, does that equation hold? And a natural answer is: it just does. It’s one of the basic laws of the universe and it doesn’t get justified by anything. And one might ask if the answerer hasn’t simply dodged the question: hasn’t he just givcen a ‘fuck you’ response to a valid question? And one might then insist that mathematics can only have a basis if there is a being that somehow transcends math and makes math the way it is.

    But the latter demand may seem rather excessive: why is it that mathematical truths can’t simply be truths that do not extend for their justification any further than themselves? After all, say we posited a ‘math god’ who transcends (wahtever that means) math and makes math waht it is. Couldn’t one perfectly sensibly ask of this math god why he is the way he is, what gives him legitimacy and why he gets to call the shots about math? And pushed far enough one might think that unless a transcendent being grounded his choices and mathematical dictates, that appeal to him would be as uninteresting as simply appealing to the truths of math being basic truths that don’t get justified by anything transcendent. Muffti was using this as analogy: why can’t ethics be the same way? It’s not grounded by anything,, it simply exists and has no further justification. Why would this take away from its legitimacy?

    Of course, there is a disanalogy. ONe might ask why they should care that there are such properties as moral and immoral? And typically peopel posit a god as a grand punisher an d rewarder: you shoudl care that there are such properties because there is a big guy in the sky that will punish you if you violate the rules (i..e do things htat have the property of being bad) and reward you if you do the good. But this just gives a pragmatic reason to be moral, and truly not a very good reason to be moral. The good person isn’t moral because there is a super cop in teh sky watching everything he does:l he’s moral because he thinks that being moral is how he ought to be.

    That’s about as good as Muffti can do. He honestly thinks that, if there is such a hting as morality, it can do without a God as a positer or as an enforcer.

    One defensive manouver: using god as a way to analyze and justify the good runs afoul of an old problem known as the euthyphro problem (since it comes from Plato’s euthyphro): say we think that x is good if and only if God likes it/legistlated it/whatever relation god bears to ethics that makes him an appropriate answer to your initial question. Essentially one has to answer the question whether x is good because god likes it or vice versa. The probelm is this: both ways seem to run afoul of problems.

    If x is good because God made it that way, then we are left with no explanation of why god did so. Had God picked murder and rape to be good, then that’s what we would be obligated to do and its a matter of luck that God picked what he did. (we can’t even say that God did the right thing, in some sense, because ‘right’ is a term of moral approval and if God is the ultimate source of morality, he can’t but do the right thing: i.e. murder and rape would be the ‘right’ choice had he picked those). The other horn, however, is also problematic.

    Say God picked/legistlated/wahtever x becuase x is good. Well, then, that means that x was good with or without God’s legislation and thus God is at best a reporter on what is good, not a legislator or justifier of it.

    wikipedia has a nice, brief discussion of this dilemma.

  • Muffti:

    Thanks for your response. In order:

    Re meaning and morality: This is really three separate issues. (1) Does meaning require a transcendent being? (2) Does morality require a transcendent being? (3) What is the connection between meaning and morality, if any?

    Reviewing my post above, I jammed meaning in there without introducing it properly. To answer your questions, I define something “meaningful” as more than just the feeling of meaning (which many events in life can bring) but actual permanent and transcendent meaning (transcending our feelings and thoughts). Something that MATTERS, not just to the individual, but on an objective basis. For such a thing to exist, there would have to be a transcendent being. (For example, the birth of a child would certainly give a feeling of “meaning” to the child’s parent, but does this event really “count”, or are the parent and child simply piles of matter which will soon enough disassemble?

    As for the connection between meaning and morality, if morality is in fact mandated by a transcendent being, it would certainly have meaning in the sense I described.

    Now to the heart of it. I think you’re really out on a limb by comparing morality to basic mathematics. I’m aware that there’s a vast literature on the ‘basis’ for mathematics, but I think I can safely say that if we’re going to grant human reason any validity (which we in effect agreed to do by having this conversation in the first place!), then 2 plus 2 are going to equal 4. It’s a basic tool of reason, along with the rules of logic. Outside the basic tools, though, it’s a lot harder. You can pile a set of two bricks onto a similar set and show that you have four bricks, but there’s no analogy for this in the case of ethics (or much else). If this is the standard of evidence you are willing to accept, you can just as well believe in G-d.

    Moreover, your analogy works poorly in a “practical” sense. If someone refuses to believe that 2 + 2 = 4, the “penalty” is that they’re crazy and that their calculations will get messed up. The numbers themselves don’t have to “care” either way. But in the case of morality, as we know all too well, every day many people disregard it. Is it probable that the nature of morality itself takes such an indifferent attitude toward its own violation (“Don’t do that! It’s extremely important! Oh, too late. OK, no matter.”)? Possibly, but it seems problematic.

    Which brings us to the “pragmatic” issue. You mention the “big cop in the sky”. Well, yes, the reason for an individual to be moral is not the “big cop” but because of morality’s intrinsic worth. But this ignores the overall “objective” picture. If transgressors end up in exactly the same position as the moral people, what then would be the value of morality? (And note that you can’t answer that the moral people have the knowledge that they behaved morally. In many instances that can’t be so – for example, someone who sacrifices his life.)

    A further argument in favor of positing G-d rather than positing morality alone is that you get some explanation for the existence of pre-Big Bang reality, whatever that was. True, science may one day pre-empt this field. But it may not.

    Re the Euthyphro dilemma: I’m a bit hesitant to step into the middle of this, but here’s my thought. Why assume that either G-d or morality pre-dates the other? Why can’t we say that morality and G-d are simultaneous and inseparable concepts? Further, if G-d also fills an ultimate Creator role, then why isn’t it reasonable to say that the possibility of murder and rape (being dependent on the existence of the beings found in the material world which were created by G-d) arises simultaneously with morality?

  • Just a small point; I claim no automatic moral superiotity, for athiests (except for possibly not believing the most ridiculous mindbogglingly absurd, less than childish, things that make up any and all religions).

    interesting. for your info, brother jc; as a religious jew, i was never actually mindboggled by any absurdities. other than, of course, the absurdity of claiming that science may be able to prove the inexistence of a god. the basic idea of a god, to the best of my knowledge at least, is defined by being above the “facts” or “laws” of “nature”.

    going back to the original post, to claim that human beings evolved from apes is one thing. to say that that is a fact is another. who gives you a right to limiting the creative process to an evolutionary process only, starting with atomic and subatomic particles – a theory full of unexplained gaps and complications, while excluding the possibility of creation given by the biblical account?

    just a by-comment on the moral argument; all is good and easy when generalising morality to good and kindness and a lack of murder. what about the details? who decides those? you? me? the president? abortion, bioethics, capital punishment, jail sentences, claims of insanity and robin hoodistic tendencies. no one belongs to anyone else so shouldn’t everyone choose for himself? would that not lead to complete anarchy? just a question.

  • Good points all of them J. Muffti is gong to stick to a few words coz he is tired.

    OK, Muffti isn’t sure what to say about the notion of meaning that you have going. In particular, he doesn’t understand your example: what does it mean to say that the birth of a baby really COUNTS? Or MATTERS? Maybe muffti is being obtuse but he isn’t sure what you are getting at.

    As far as the analogy between math and morality goes, Muffti thinks tath you are mixing up to rather important things. One question is what justifies the ontological status of a set of truths (i.e. math, ethics) and the other is an epistemological question, viz: what justifies US in believing a set of truths to be true. Muffti’s analogy was supposed to target the first question, whcih seemed to be the topic of conversation. Muffti thought the question was an ontological one: how can some activities or states BE moral while others not if there is no god. And Muffti tried to ask a similar question: how could 2+2 really EQUAL 4 without there being some ontolgical being aroudn to make it so. In both cases, Muffti thought there wasa straightforward answer: adding a being doesn’t help anything and just starts a regress which you may as well end by saying that give that 2+2=4 and that killing is wrong*, those are both simply basic ungrounded truths of the universe. That was an ontological question about the nature of these truths: are they just true (given that they are true) or are they true in virtue of something that transcends the properies and objects in teh domain making htem true?

    *(acutally, Muffti thinks there is more to say: killing is probably wrong, on Muffti’s reckoning because of its general lowering of utility…there probably is some unifying principle (more or less) to morality: but call that principle P and we can just reask all the same qs about whether it is basic or mandated by a God etc. so Muffti will simplify and just talk about particular ethical rules)

    But you seem to have shifted to an epistemological question: how do we KNOW whether or not killing is wrong/2+2=4. And you point out a disanalogy there. It is virtually a priori that 2+2=4 and impossible to doubt, but ethics? Surely that is easily doubtable so what is our epistemic justification for saying that killing is wrong etc.?

    Muffti agrees wtih you on this disanalogy but he doesn’t see how positing a god really helps with these matters. Culture after culture has posited god after god with conflicting conceptions of what is good, why things are good what we ought to be doing, what we ought to be avoiding. So posit a god all you like: unless you know you’ve posited the one that is telling you the ttruth about ethics, as opposed to your neighbours whose god is telling him all sorts of crazy shit, what’s positing a god really gotten you vis a vis knowing that some apparent ethical truth T is really a truth??? So Muffti can’t say he’s very impressed by the epistemollogical advantages of positing a god unless you are willing to take a further step and say that the revelation your god gave you is accurate. But what entitles you to this further step?? The fact that you are pretty sure what he said is true? And now Muffti can accuse you of operating in a manner that imitates a closed figure with no angles and lots of curves 🙂

    Now, given that we all agreed on hwihc god was the right one and which moral code legislated wasthe right one, there are some practical advantages, Muffti agrees. But where do you get the right, philosophically speaking, to be so sure that your agreement is based on truth rather than simply mutual agreement?

    On the practical/pragmatic side, Muffti is willing to agree that if you can convince people that moral code M is the right one, and convince them that there is a big rewarder in the sky who makes sure htat he moral end up in different places/situations than the immoral, then all power to you and you do have a pragmatic advantage. But what you say really confuses me: you agree that one ought to be moral for morality’s INTRINSIC worth. But then you say that it ignores the objective picture. Muffti’s objective picture (insofar as he has one) is this: one ought to be moral ofr moralities sake, not for his own. You get nothing in return for it. And you should do it anyways because it is the right thing to do. On Muffti’s picture, doing things simply because they are right, not because you will end up in better shape than anyone, just is what it is to be really moral. Doing it for some reward or to end up in better shape than your lying cheating neighbour is liek congratulating yourself for gettinga better job coz you will make more money than your lazy, unproductive neighbour. The value of mroality is either in itself or, as far as Muffti can tell, there isn’t any at all. (This is just he muffti’s personal view). But he’s not really very goood at figuring otu pragmatic advantages versus non-pragmatic advantages. HE certainly thinks that htis is a bad line of reasoning:
    If I believe in God, then I can believe that there are all sorts of goodies coming my way fo the good things I (and my good friends) do.
    I wanna believethat htere are goodies coming my way and bad things coming to my crappy ass sinner fellwo humans.
    Therefore, God.

    Muffti should note as well that there are two questions that are being shoved together anbd he isn’t sure which you are asking (ah, philosophy and its hard to follow distinctions!) (1) what is the value of morality as a system of truths given that hte transgressors and the followers end up alike? (b) What ist he value of morality to a follower given that he follows rather than transgresses and ends up in the same boat. They have very different answers presumably.

    vis a vis the question of positing god gives you an explanation for the existence of pre-big bang morality, Muffti is pretty convinced that this is no advantage at all, at least not from teh stand point of science. The going view is that it doesn’t make any sense to talk about pre-big bang reality, given that the basic parts of reality (time, space) didn’t pre big-bang exist (well, at least on most views). BUt this matter is too complex for any of us to konw at this point what advantages there are to be accrued Muffti thinks. He’ll give it to you as a conditional advantage whose antecedent he has no faith is true 🙂

    As far as the euthyphro problem goes, Muffti doesn’t really undersatnd what you are getting at. The question isn’t one of temporal order, its a question fo dependance: is morality dependant on God’s will, or are good and right indpenedant entities? Both horns seem to leave you in curious positions (the one vis a vis the good, teh other vis a vis god). Muffti doesn’t undersatnd what it means to say taht God and the good are inseperable concepts. And he doesn’t understand why the physical possibility of doing bad things, even if it does ‘arise simultaneously with morality’ is germane to the issue: the qeustion is whether or not all these physically possible bad things could ahve been good things to do rather than bad things. General answer: no. Question? Why not: answer: coz god wouldn’t let that happen…and we are back to euthyphro problem. But Muffti is surely misunerstanding your point here….

  • Berk said:

    going back to the original post, to claim that human beings evolved from apes is one thing. to say that that is a fact is another. who gives you a right to limiting the creative process to an evolutionary process only, starting with atomic and subatomic particles – a theory full of unexplained gaps and complications, while excluding the possibility of creation given by the biblical account

    Muffti isn’t limiting anything to anything. But you have to decide on a cirriculum, don’t you, and just like the newspaper can’t put every event that happens in it as news, schools can’t teach everything that has ever occured to anyone as a theory. We only take plausible theories: there’s a theory out there that the world is really created by two forces: evil and good and that what happens here is the outcome of the constant struggle. Why don’t we teach that? It has about as much plausibility as the ‘God created it this way’ one does…

  • Muffti:

    Great response. But- you call that a few words?? Considering the subject matter, I guess it is.

    Re my definition of ‘meaning’: By “matters”, I’m trying to say something along the lines of cosmic significance, or, if you like, one of the themes that runs through Macbeth: Is the world a place of sound and fury, signifying nothing, or is there a transcendent significance to what we do (in the play, Macbeth’s crimes were of cosmic significance)? Does any crime have an effect other than its material effect on the perpetrator and victims?

    As for the math/morality analogy, I’m not sure if I’m properly understanding the “ontological” part. I tried to show that the mathematical example is less conducive to requiring a “backing” being than is ethics. Wouldn’t that be on point?

    As for regress, if I’m understanding you correctly, your question is, why wouldn’t any being I posit require a further being backing it up, on into infinity? The best I can do is to say that the concept of G-d includes the notion that G-d transcends any need for further backing up, or is of infinite transcendence. Obviously, these are notions that can barely be understood, and such an answer seems to be a dodge. I’ll have to concede that, but let’s compare it to its competing claims: that (1) there is no such thing as morality or (2) that there is, but we just posit it for no reason (because it feels right? because the Guardians need a myth to keep the others in line?). In a field of lame answers, I go with the least lame.

    Re the cultural argument: Of course, this is a very effective argument. But perhaps I can reduce its effectiveness by saying as follows. People in all cultures have minds that lead them to posit morality and beings to back this morality up. Although even the purest and most well-intentioned among them have disagreed on the nature of morality and god(s), possibly there is one true G-d and one true morality (though adjusted for differing circumstances, as a football playbook would be). Possibly no one has ever, nor ever will, apprehend true morality or the true nature of G-d perfectly (or even very imperfectly); but maybe that’s okay. Maybe the good faith effort is what’s important. (Of course, part of good faith is to have a well-thought-out reason for our beliefs and actions in the area of G-d and morality.) So, you ask, is my “revelation” accurate? I answer that in my place and time, given the availability of knowledge that currently exists and whatever ability I may have, I’m doing the best I can. (Angular enough for you?:))

    Re intrinsic morality: You did understand me correctly. Your two questions distinction is what I was addressing: Even if there is no reward and punishment from the perspective of a follower (question 2), morality is problematic in and of itself without consequences (question 1).

    Re the Big Bang, point well taken, but even if physical, material reality started at the Big Bang, surely some form of reality had to precede it.

    Re Euthyphro, I shouldn’t have used the term “pre-date”. What I meant was that if in fact G-d is the Creator (of reality itself, not just the world), there’s no reason to set up morality as a concept separate from G-d. G-d is, by definition, inter alia, the source of morality. People were created to follow the moral path. Could the bad things have been good things? Unknowable; it’s like asking how things would be if G-d had used different rules of physics and biology in creating our reality. (In fact, WHETHER G-d could have used different rules is an interesting question in itself.)

    This is a tough debate to have in this format. But I hope that at the very least we’ve managed to show, from our opposing sides, what a difficult and far ranging topic this is, and why glib or emotional responses don’t do it justice.

  • This is a tough debate to have in this format. But Muffti just can’t let you have the last word, concliatory as your last paragraph was 🙂 HE’ll try to be briefer however.

    AS far as meaning goes, Muffti still only has a vague sense that the topic of transcendence has any real meaning. Suppose that we were really just actors on a stage that more ‘ojbective’ beings watched for centuries on end and even tinkered with once in a while. Would that really make you feel any better or like hte world had deeper significance? Muffti never quite got that feeling: to him it would just meant hat there are another bunch of people out there who teh Muffti’s actions ever so mildly effect. So what? Frankly, Muffti is happy enough and finds enough satisfaction (and hardship sometimes) trying to deal with the emotions, desires and needs of more local beings that he loves without much desire that greater beign taken an interest in what he does. Say it turned out that Martians watched out every move and that they laughed or cried based on waht we did. And say the rewarded people they liked for good actions and punished people they didn’t, albeit with special ray guns that we could see so we didn’t know it was going on. Would that mkae you feel more momentous and important? Or just like there were more people in your life whose desires and stuff you had to take into account? 🙂

    The ontological poitn was supposed to be this. Some properies seem like they can’t just be those properties: they need something with more authority to make them exist, or be what they are. Aesthetics adn ethics have long fallen under this category in some people’s minds: what is beauty? Isn’t it just what makes people happy (or some complexified version of this question)? Is it possible for everyone to be wrong about what beauty is? And people/philosophers started to argue that there is something different about the property of being ‘beautiful’ than the property of ‘being a table’ or ‘being 5 feet tall’. The latter are physical properties and we can all apprehend htem etc. etc. But the former is wierd and sorta spooky: we can see colour, shape, texture but can we SEE beauty? feel it? So peole have been anxious to try to give theories of beauty that somehow amkes beauty a property of something much deeper (the 18th and 19ht centruy philosophers thought it was something to do with glimpsing infinity and the sublime. Others thought beauty was really the objective soul getting happy in the presence of divine objects or soething. Muffti is no aesthetics guy). Anyhow, same ‘feelings’ apply to ethics: what property could there be that was so important that it attached to certain actions and somehow, BY ITS NATURE AS A PROPERY OF ACTIONS, had the ability to morally compel us to do them? Muffti concedes that this is a very hard problem: say I told yo that there is this property of actions, GMYP and some actionsa re GMYP. And you should do GMYP actions. You may very well ask Muffti why? What’s the connection between GMYP and the actoins being athing you should do? Say it is GMYP – so what? THis is the ontological question. (another question would be: say the GMYP things should be done, how do we know what things are GMYP and which aren’t?!?) It’s very difficult to answer. SO peole have been tempted to posit a diety who has the authority to say: beacuse things are GMYP (or good in the actual cases), you have to do those thigns! Kosher for jews is good, and since I’m a diety, I command htat you keep kosher.

    This story is compelling in a way adnt hat partly explains the appeal of connecting god to morality: without positing god, how do you connect the fact that somethings are good and somethings are bad with the fact that you shoujld do the good things and avoid the bad things? God has provided a conceptual resource for answering this quesiton (and the epistemoloogical question along with it! most gods revceal to their chosen people what they want them to do).

    Compelling, yes. But Muffti thinks fallacious nonetheless. This is the source of hte euthyphro problem and hte regress problem. Adn even if you get out of htose problems, it still does what Muffti thinks is most reprehensible: you turn the beauty of moralityh and doing the good into just the model of law and the government. God is a big cop in the sky and your motivation to do the good is simply that he doesn’t catch you and put you in his analogue of jail. You don’t have good citizens just beacues they fear the government and that keeps them in line: you have gbood citizens when the citizens appreciatethe rule of law and order, like that legal code and obey it coz it seems compelling to them. similarly, good peopel aren’tthose who follow the moral law because they are scared shitless of God beating the hell out the them in their lives or afterl ives. Good people apprecaite the beauty and harmony that seems to come wtih being Good.

    Does hat help?

    Muffti can’t say he understand the response to the cultural argument. For all Muffti knows, the satanists got things right. Or the followers of Ba’al and they just ran into a bad history. Anyhow, Muffti guesses he’s tryign to say taht your answer is angular enough for him 🙂

    Last two points: vis a vis the big bang, there is no clear need to posit reliaty ‘before’ hand. If modern physics is anywhere on teh right track, ‘time’, ‘space’ and reality are concepts that are relational to one another. You can’t ditch one and consider what happens with out the other (i.e. you can’t ask: ‘what’s space like with no time? is it just frozen? Does all the stuff just stand still’?) So Muffti thinks it may well be a bad inference to say that ‘this started at P. Therefore there must be somethign that precedes P.’ (oince againt hink of the regress: eveyrthign must go back for ever or stop at a certain point. Why is God the special point?)

    Vis a vis Euthyphro, Muffti is still confused. You seemto havec just picked the ‘its good coz god likes it path’ and then denied that god could have done otherwise because of what god is like rathe rthan what ehtics is like. But unless you think there are some heavy constraints on God’s freedom, its difficult to see why taht should be true. But Muffti will agree with one thing: once you have this great pie inteh sky that we are banned from knowing much about, its awfully ahrd to know what is necessary and waht is contingent! One might think this is a great answer but when you think about it a bit, isn’t this just another reflection of what a non-theory the God theory really is? ISn’t it just another reflection of how much myustery you are asked to swallow to be a theist just so you can get the whole thing working without exposing horrbile contradictions?!? (This applies to your contention that God simply transcends and contains somehow the notion that he is untranscendable. You can demand that but notice; (a) that outruns the need you ahd for god int eh first place: to give morals grounds and (b) its an awful lot of ontology to deamnd just so that what look slike a shaky inference from mroality -> God can hold int eh first place).

    Cheers! this has been fun.

  • Buddhists are hostile people? Tibet was about Buddhism putting down others? Is that what is attempted to be said? If so, I do not know where that comes from. If not, please explain it to me.

    Another issue is of clumping together God/Allah and the Buddha in the same grouping? God, by Judeo-Christian perspective or God, by the arabic word “allah” in Islam, is worshipped. The Buddha, basically, not worshpped. One does not worship teachers.

    Next?

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