Short fun letters from a Xian
Posted: 22 November 2006 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Doug Wilson is a pastor that emailed some replies to Sam Harris and has posted them on his blog. They're good because they're short, humorous (which will probably bug people), respectful and short.

You can find all of them here:
http://dougwils.com/?Action=Search&searchstring=harris

You can find the first one here:
http://dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=3093

Heres some quotes:

"In different ways, this same issue is going to come up again and again. You want Christians to quit behaving in certain ways. But why? You want them to write nice letters, and you want them to stop turning America into a big, dumb theocracy. But why? If there is no God, what could possibly be wrong with theocracies? They provide high entertainment value, and they give everybody involved in them a sense of dignity and high moral purpose. You get to wear ecclesiastical robes, march in impressive processions to burn intransigent people at the stake, you get to believe you are better than everybody else, and, at the top of the doctrinal heap, that God likes you. Further, the material universe doesn't care about any of this foolishness, not even a little bit. So what's wrong with having a little bit of fun at the expense of other bits of protoplasm? Hitler, Ronald Reagan, Pol Pot, Mother Teresa, Mao, Nancy Pelosi, Stalin, Ted Haggard, and the Grand Inquistor are all just part of a gaudy, and very temporary, show. Sometimes the Northern lights put on a show in the sky. Sometimes people put on a show on the ground. Then the sun goes out, and it turns out nobody cares.

"But you clearly care what happens to our nation, and I really find this curious. "The primary purpose of the book is to arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian Right" (p. viii). Again, you are using words like "should be." Not only do you have an "ought" going here, you have one that you are clearly willing to impose on others who differ with you (which can be seen in your goal of "arming" secularists). But what is the difference between an imposed morality, an imposed religion, or an imposed secular ought? Why is your imposition to be preferred to any other?"

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Posted: 22 November 2006 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Hi Bill,

I’ve replied a good deal to Wilson’s original few posts; I think Wilson’s posts help prove Harris’ point a good deal.  You can see this here:

http://poohsthink.com/?cat=49

(will need to scroll down just a bit)

Thanks
Michael Metzler
http://www.poohsthink.com

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Posted: 22 November 2006 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“Metzler”]Hi Bill,

I’ve replied a good deal to Wilson’s original few posts; I think Wilson’s posts help prove Harris’ point a good deal.  You can see this here:

http://poohsthink.com/?cat=49

(will need to scroll down just a bit)

Thanks
Michael Metzler
http://www.poohsthink.com

Very interesting stuff. I just read through some of Wilson’s stuff and some of your responses.

Something that runs through Wilson’s writings is a need for god to have ethics. He seems to miss the point that I think that Harris is making which is that without god, ethics becomes a strictly human construct. Atheists must take responsibility for their ethics in a reasoned way simply because there is no absolute reference. Wilson makes like without religion and god there can be no ethics and any concern that Harris or any other atheists can have over ethics cannot exist without some reference to left over christian values.
I don’t understand why there needs to be universal, black and white,  supernatural ethical references. Especially since those ethical references are not always followed by the religious anyway. That’s how we find christian soldiers like Commander Tillet being ethically able and willing to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

Harris places a benchmark on human suffering, which is rational but could not be the only benchmark or even one that always receives the same interpretation. At some point, if no one cares, then it really doesn’t matter. I think that it’s the responsibility of living things to care.

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Posted: 22 November 2006 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Dear Pilot,

I think you are correct regarding Wilson’s inability to understand the “human” side to ethics; as his response shows, the God Law approach to grounding all morality can end up eating up the real natural stuff of love, emotion, and human empathy.  However, it is a little more complicated in my view.  Without something like a Christian view, it is hard to make sense out of “justice,” and “right and wrong” in some of the ways we like to use these terms.  There is also the problem of our aptness to think of human dignity and human empathy as having an objective status outside of our own social relations: e.g. we intuitively like to think that it is objectively more important that humans get their relations right than, say, a bunch of ants. But it seems like you understand that the atheist does have to own up to some consequences to his/her point of view.

Michael Metzler
http://www.poohsthink.com

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Posted: 22 November 2006 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“Metzler”]Dear Pilot,

I think you are correct regarding Wilson’s inability to understand the “human” side to ethics; as his response shows, the God Law approach to grounding all morality can end up eating up the real natural stuff of love, emotion, and human empathy.  However, it is a little more complicated in my view.  Without something like a Christian view, it is hard to make sense out of “justice,” and “right and wrong” in some of the ways we like to use these terms.  There is also the problem of our aptness to think of human dignity and human empathy as having an objective status outside of our own social relations: e.g. we intuitively like to think that it is objectively more important that humans get their relations right than, say, a bunch of ants. But it seems like you understand that the atheist does have to own up to some consequences to his/her point of view.

Michael Metzler
http://www.poohsthink.com

Thanks Michael,

I think we are on the same page. I once read “The Book of Merlin”, which was the unpublished last chapter of the “Once and Future King” by TH White. The Book of Merlin was apparently found and published after his death.
In it, Arthur is taken by Merlin to a “meeting with the animals. This meeting occurs the night before Arthur’s fateful battle with Mordred, his bastard son. Arthur dies in this battle.

In the meeting with the animals, Arthur is taught the difference between might and right. Merlin and the animals teach him how man is the only universally feared creature, that other animals have their natural enemies, and inhabit their natural niches, they respect the niches of others. Only man knows non place. Merlin teaches Arthur that “contrary to his old friend Aristotle’s belief”, man is not a political animal. In fact, Merlin says, man is the only creature that fails politics entirely. That it “takes a bird a million years to modify a single primary feather and we think we have evolved in a hundred years because we have invented the internal combustion engine”!!

What can I say, it’s a good read. It obviously affected me. I think that the greatest problem with humans is that, as a function of thier intellects, they make unnecessary distinctions between themselves and their environment, especially their biological environment. We alienate ourselves from our environment and from the other passengers on this ship. We consider that we are capable of things that are somehow “unnatural”.

I see intellect as a tool that we developed in a Darwinian way to manipulate environment so as to insure our success. Just like other creatures. I think that intellect is to be distinguished from conciousness, which other creatures share more completely. Intellect means finding differences between elements of the environment. Other creatures create distinctions but not to the extent that humans have.

Most importantly, other creatures have not necessarily created a universally fundamental distinction between self and non self. Humans almost completely identify with themselves as their own particular blob of protoplasm. I don’t think that this is true of other creatures.

Our intellects have created our science and our “know how” - our technology, something that has served us well, here to fore. This use of intellect as a means of survival may turn out to be rather shallow and short lived. It appears that our lack of identity with the larger organism of which we are necessarily a component, may prove us to be an unneccessary, useless, or even detrimental component. As a species, we seem to share a special kind of ecological hubris, we bite the hand that feed us.

Religion, of course, is rife with it. We are made in god’s image etc. All religions are so completely and so shallowly anthropocentric.
I think there is a natural, dynamic and non absolute reference for ethics and for the creatures that are eligible make those distinctions. A mothers instinct for the survival prospects of her offspring come to mind. These distinctions are not to be made by god, they are to be made by mothers. I think that ethical choices are some function of ecology. What we all intend, whether we conceptualize it or not, is some continuance, some propagation of life, in any form, on this planet, into what we see as the future. This is the essentially ethic, the essential Earth centered biological imperative. (my humble opinion)

Anyway, I’m babbling again. Sorry.
Thanks for any forebearance on the part of readers. This is something that interests me greatly.

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Posted: 22 November 2006 04:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Yes, I like the distinction between intellect and consciousness here.  The latter I find more generative of real morality and as Harris points out, we do apparently share consciousness with lower animals.  However, I do think that if you try on the theistic perspective and say, “well, if Trinitarian traditions are right, then….,” we have a fairly coherent picture that accounts for these outliers I mentioned above. 

I’m reminded of Martha Nussbaum’s argument that our emotion of “disgust” is our way of separating ourselves from the animals.

Michael Metzler
http://www.poohsthink.com

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Posted: 23 November 2006 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“Metzler”]Yes, I like the distinction between intellect and consciousness here.  The latter I find more generative of real morality and as Harris points out, we do apparently share consciousness with lower animals.

No question about it. We share some intellectual functions as well. It seems that the difference between humans and other organisms is not so much the degree or magnitude of development or expression of these functions but our complete identity with them, especially intellect. It seems that we identify with intellect at the expense of conciousness. As in a kind of figure / ground reversal, our perception seems polarized to discern distinction and difference. To reduce and divide.

Fundamentally, we seem to think ourselves completely apart and unreliant on our environment, especially our ecological environment. All of our neo-classical economics tells us that we can divide the envrionment into commodities and that there is nothing that cannot be abstractly valued by money. This perceptual bias convinces us that the whole is the sum of the parts.

This is a shallow perception though. The dynamic emerging phenomenon that is the real ecological world is completely lost. In particular, we lose any realistic perception of the dimension of time, we human creatures effectively live in Flatland.

I think that this is where we lose our ethical way. This is where we lose the reference that what constitutes good is a function of what actions or behaviors go to propagate and continue and make healthy the whole organism as an emergent phenomenon.

[quote author=“Metzler”] However, I do think that if you try on the theistic perspective and say, “well, if Trinitarian traditions are right, then….,” we have a fairly coherent picture that accounts for these outliers I mentioned above.

I’m sorry but you lost me here. The theistic perspective is not one that comes naturally to me. Could you expand on this some?

[quote author=“Metzler”]
I’m reminded of Martha Nussbaum’s argument that our emotion of “disgust” is our way of separating ourselves from the animals.

You might expand on this some as well. I see her point here but I find that I am far more like to express disgust with my fellow humans than I am with the gooey & non-linear biological world. It’s like our intellect allows our conciousness a perception of separateness. We feel like we live in our heads and operate our bodies like they were remote controled Waldos.

It seems that the religious imperative is to deny completely the reality of our human existence as biologic creatures that are indivisible from our biologic surroundings.
Thanks for the conversation Micheal.

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