Response To Sam Harris' Article "Bad Reasons To Be Good
Posted: 30 October 2006 06:16 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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In Bad Reasons To Be Good (IHT 31 Oct ’06), Sam Harris not only displays his own arbitrary prejudicial ignorance in assessing moral conduct as decreed in the Bible, but also an inordinate lack of understanding of both (now irrelevant) Mosaic laws as well as the philosophy of morality.

By definition, moral conduct cannot be a matter of epistemological democracy where the majority gets to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, for that would simply once again legitimize the eugenics experiments of the Nazis conducted on innocent Jews or justify their wholesale slaughter, just because the mood of the day considered it ‘right’ at the time! By definition, moral conduct cannot be a social construct, but necessarily has to be something that is absolute, i.e. independent of any human perversion for it to have any value. And for anything to be absolute, it necessarily has to be determined by something that transcends human autonomy, i.e. it can only be the God of Biblical theism (something that is quite distinct from ‘religion’) which provides us with the only foundation and standard for all moral conduct.


Andrè L Immelman
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Posted: 30 October 2006 08:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“Andrè L Immelman”]
By definition, moral conduct cannot be a matter of epistemological democracy where the majority gets to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, for that would simply once again legitimize the eugenics experiments of the Nazis conducted on innocent Jews or justify their wholesale slaughter, just because the mood of the day considered it ‘right’ at the time!

Where in the article does the author claim that moral conduct is determined by “the majority”? I didn’t see it, nor did I see anything that could—however remotely—be construed as lending support to that proposition. In fact, Sam Harris explicitly repudiated that view in LTACN.

[quote author=“Sam Harris”] Everything about human experience suggests that love is more conducive to happiness than hate is. This is an objective claim about the human mind, about the dynamics of human relations, and the moral order of our world. It is clearly possible to say that someone like Hitler was wrong in moral terms without reference to scripture.
Letter to a Christian Nation, page 24

The point of the article is simply this: morality is logically independent of belief in God.

[quote author=“Andre L Immelman”]By definition, moral conduct cannot be a social construct, but necessarily has to be something that is absolute, i.e. independent of any human perversion for it to have any value. And for anything to be absolute, it necessarily has to be determined by something that transcends human autonomy, i.e. it can only be the God of Biblical theism (something that is quite distinct from ‘religion’) which provides us with the only foundation and standard for all moral conduct.

OK, so you missed the point! The above passage contains so many mistakes, misjudgments and non sequitars that it could be the subject of a thread in itself.

Here is one serious (indeed, insoluble) problem with positing God as “the only foundation and standard of all moral conduct”. Suppose we ask: is moral conduct good because God commands it? or does God command it because it is good?

If we chose the former option, we have something like Divine relativism. God commands us not to slaughter innocents, and that is good; but He could as easily have commanded us to slaughter innocents, and torture them as well, and that would be good. Most people are uncomfortable with this scenario.

That leads to the second option: that God commands only what is good. But it follows from this that God is simply conveying to us a moral code which is separate from Him. But where does this moral code come from?

Whatever value the idea of God may have, it simply cannot intelligibly be used as the basis for morality.

Ben

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Posted: 30 October 2006 08:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I’m Guest in the above post. For some reason the system keeps eating my handle.

Ben

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Posted: 31 October 2006 02:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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i think as long as morality is linked with suffering, we can establish a universal morality.  and i think sam argues this as well.

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Posted: 31 October 2006 02:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Andre,
Tell me how the simple, universally understood ethic of treating others as we would want to be treated HAS to come from any god whatsoever.

Rod

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Posted: 31 October 2006 04:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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By definition, moral conduct cannot be a social construct, but necessarily has to be something that is absolute,

But it is a social construct, and has been so for a couple of million years.  In the news this morning was a story about recently detected self-awareness in elephants.  They join some dolphins and our closest relatives in what the story called “Those animals who practice altruism.”

Who do they worship?  What god decreed to the chimps that they should treat one-another with some respect and practice their version of the golden rule?  Morality and ethics have been evolving on this planet for millions of years, long before ignorance and fear created gods for the first time.

The God of biblical theism, as you call him is a monster!  What makes you think the dolphins are anything like him?

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Posted: 31 October 2006 04:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Did the elephant blush when scientists brought up its big nose? I would like to see the science behind that experiment.

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Posted: 31 October 2006 04:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Should have posted this, sorry.

 

That self-recognition may underlie the social complexity seen in elephants, and could be linked to the empathy and altruism that the big-brained animals have been known to display, said researcher Diana Reiss, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Bronx Zoo.

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Posted: 31 October 2006 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“frankr”]Did the elephant blush when scientists brought up its big nose? I would like to see the science behind that experiment.

hahaha… thats great.

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Posted: 01 November 2006 04:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“Andre L Imelman”]By definition, moral conduct cannot be a matter of epistemological democracy where the majority gets to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’,

That is why we reject morality as purely religious concept. We embrace ethics.

[quote author=“Andre L Imelman”]for that would simply once again legitimize the eugenics experiments of the Nazis conducted on innocent Jews or justify their wholesale slaughter, just because the mood of the day considered it ‘right’ at the time!

This is where you are going too far, my friend, indulging in fantasy. My response to you would be to criticise your religion, whatever it is, by saying that belief in absolute authority of God justifies the killings and other crimes on God’s order. It would be funny if, infortunately, it wasn’t actually the reality of religious morality.

Thomas Orr

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Posted: 01 November 2006 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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I don’t necessarily object to basing my conduct on god’s word, as long as he will take the time to come down here and tell it to me personally. I will accept burning bushes, mannah from the sky, turning my neighbor into a pillar of salt, changing my tapwater into a decent merlot as proof of ID.

Short of that, I’m forced to come up with my own code of ethics.

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Posted: 01 November 2006 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Biblical theism (which is very much a religion) does not guard againt moral relativism, but practically guarantees it. Theodicy, the attempt to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil, leads to some rather dodgy conclusions. If God permits suffering, then suffering must be good. If God permits innocents to die, then it must be good for innocents to die. The ways of God are not only mysterious, they are utterly repugnant. It seems, then, that moral reasoning is beyond us. The very possibility of knowing the difference between good and evil is lost in a theological fog. Only the word of God is sufficient to establish the law.

And what does that law accept? Slavery, genocide, war, incest, murder, torture, rape, lying, theft, the denigration of women—virtually any crime you care to think of is committed in the Bible by God or one of his chosen followers. No matter what atrocity you intend, there’s a passage you can refer to to justify it. A child who gives a little thought to it can come up with better than this. You can choose to emphasize some passages over others, but that’s your choice, and there are other believers who will choose to emphasize less appetizing passages. What have to got to argue against them but the opinions of other believers who happen to agree with you? What have you got but a rambling and self-contradictory book which offers no certainty as to which parts are correct, and which parts are superseded? Nothing but your own opinion, and the opinions you choose to value of others.

It is wrong to promote the suffering of others. It is wrong to own slaves. It is wrong to slaughter one, or hundreds, or millions of people. It is wrong to treat others as simple means for your own purposes, or as simple means for the purposes of your God (which amounts, ultimately, to your own purposes.) The Bible will not tell you this, not without dozens of qualifiers and escape clauses. If you think it does, you have applied the secular morality of the Enlightenment to your reading of the Bible.

Give credit where credit is due. You owe your modern ethics to the efforts of thousands of secular thinkers who fought the dominant religious morality of their day to bring us to this understanding. Each step of the way—slavery, torture, war, sexism, racism, exploitation of all kinds—those who sought to preserve these quoted line and verse in that defense. Some still do. If you don’t agree with them, it’s not because of the Bible. You cannot apply bronze age morality to the nuclear age. If we do, we will all surely die.

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Posted: 03 November 2006 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“Andrè L Immelman”]In Bad Reasons To Be Good
By definition, moral conduct cannot be a matter of epistemological democracy where the majority gets to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, for that would simply once again legitimize the eugenics experiments of the Nazis conducted on innocent Jews or justify their wholesale slaughter, just because the mood of the day considered it ‘right’ at the time! By definition, moral conduct cannot be a social construct, but necessarily has to be something that is absolute, i.e. independent of any human perversion for it to have any value. And for anything to be absolute, it necessarily has to be determined by something that transcends human autonomy, i.e. it can only be the God of Biblical theism (something that is quite distinct from ‘religion’) which provides us with the only foundation and standard for all moral conduct.


Andrè L Immelman
George, South Africa[color=darkblue][/color]

The mood of the day was that eugenics were wrong.  The mood of Germany, and perhaps other places in the world, was that it was okay.  There is an enormous difference in those two statements.  And you must take into account the historical mood of all civilizations…this does not necessairly lend itself towards an idea of absolute right or wrong…but lends itself towards an (nearly) absolute sense of identifying with like-wise beings.  Humans deplore human the destruction of humans because of our relationships to one another…admittely such relationships are demolished in the wake of brain frying dogmatism, but dogmatism must intercept humanity, not vice versa.

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