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Is it Plagiarism?
Posted: 14 June 2007 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Is this plagiarism, or just really close to it?

"Stolen Bones

After spending some time studying the works of this burst of popular atheism, I have realized that they have very little to offer in the way of anything new or profound — just old bones to pick. You can’t teach old dogs new tricks. The similarity in language and argument to the popular atheists who wrote a century or so ago, is quite comical. In fact, in some places they seem to verge on plagiarism. In my book, The Return of the Village Atheist, I document some of the arguments of the former Communist murderers as an eerie echo in Sam Harris, for example, but those parallels exist due to the logical conclusions of atheism (a culture of death). Here are some more instances, these smacking of intellectual borrowing and unoriginality.

For example, Harris uses the language of bygone atheist Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Russell was a famous philosopher, mathematician, and loud opponent of religion. Among his anti-faith arsenal was the argument that the Church, “by its insistence upon what it chooses to call morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering.”[iv] Russell first gave this comment in 1927. Harris digs up the same 80-year old slander:

"Religion allows people to imagine their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral — that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings."[v]

Russell continued that the Church is,

"an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness."[vi]

Harris echoes, “Religion allows people to imagine their concerns are moral when they are not — that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation.”[vii]

Russell’s basis for morality was that which “would make for human happiness.”[viii] Harris repeats: for morality, “there need only be better and worse ways to seek happiness.”[ix] Same thought, no reference (and neither, by the way, could tell you exactly what happiness is, or when it is legitimate or illegitimate).

Harris could not even resist using the same example as Russell. The Cambridge scholar ridiculed what he saw as the Roman Catholic strictness on marriage:

Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says: ‘This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life’ . . . I say that that is a fiendish cruelty.[x]

Harris uses the same bark, only updating syphilis to HIV:

"If you can believe it, the Vatican is currently opposed to condom use even to prevent the spread of HIV from one married partner to another."[xi]

The similarities between the two writers on this issue are more extensive yet. Russell wrote,

"Take, for example, the question of the prevention of syphilis. It is known that, by precautions taken in advance, the danger of contracting this disease can be made negligible. Christians, however, object to the dissemination of knowledge of this fact, since they hold it good that sinners should be punished. They hold this so good that they are even willing that punishment should extend to the wives and children of sinners."[xii]

For Harris, his alleged Christian ambivalence to human suffering “explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year.”[xiii] Similarly, he complains,

"We now have a vaccine for HPV that appears to be both safe and effective. . . . And yet, Christian conservatives in our government have resisted a vaccination program on the grounds that HPV is a valuable impediment to premarital sex. These pious men and women want to preserve cervical cancer as an incentive toward abstinence, even if it sacrifices the lives of thousands of women each year."[xiv]

I refute these lies in Village Atheist. Here I just intend to show how Harris can’t even make up his own lies. Rather, he repeats Russell’s ideas, almost his very words, hoping to bring smear the Church. This level of intellectual pirating would get you expelled from any major university, and would end the career of any major journalist. But atheistdom, as we theists have been saying for some time now, is a worldview that destroys the foundations of morals. So much for the atheist’s vaunted quest for intellectual honesty.

Today’s generation of atheists even plagiarize each other. Harris seems to do so to Dawkins without citing him. In one place, Dawkins tries to argue that morality improves in history regardless of input from Christianity. Harris picks up his language without reference. Compare the two side-by-side:

Dawkins: “Although martin Luther King was a Christian, he derived his philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience directly from Gandhi, who was not.”[xv]

Harris: “While King undoubtedly considered himself a devout Christian, he acquired his commitment to non-violence primarily from the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi.”[xvi]

Dawkins himself has no real ammo against the faith, except that which he has garnered from Russell. His only defense against Christian scholar Alister McGrath’s insightful critique of him is to dig up an old bone from Russell’s back yard. Russell referred to the impossibility of disproving God as ridiculous, because, he said, it would be like disproving the existence of an undetectable teapot orbiting Mars. I have exposed the fallacy of Russell’s “celestial teapot” in a previous post; here we should just see the bankruptcy and utter tiredness of the modern atheists in their reliance on a dead and gone generation. Even though Dawkins cites his source, he nevertheless uncritically uses the same old argument. The old arguments failed once. They are just as flea-ridden today."

http://www.americanvision.org/foolsheart/blog/2007/06/darwins-bulldog-and-russells-terriers.html

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Posted: 14 June 2007 01:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Plagiarism involves copying exact or essentially exact words without attribution.  None of the examples cited fit this definition. Borrowing ideas, on the other hand, is widespread.  After all, I have it on good authority that there are only seven basic plot structures.  You will find that many religions apologists do this as well.

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Posted: 14 June 2007 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Yes, there are only so many arguments one can make about that which doesn’t change much over time.  If we’re going to talk about plagiarised arguments, what about the arguments used by theists against atheists?  Barely any variety there at all: “Without belief in God atheists can have no morals!” Wow, never seen that one before smile

But it doesn’t matter; we really shouldn’t expect there to be great variety in argument or in how they’re expressed.  The issues aren’t that complex (which doesn’t mean they are not - or can’t be - difficult).

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Posted: 14 June 2007 03:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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In Gaza, where at least 30 were killed today, one Muslim man said, “this is not a fight between oragnizations. This is a fight between Muslims and infidels.”

Not plagiarism per se, but sure sounds familiar. Who said that before…hmmmm…..

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Posted: 14 June 2007 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Sam quoted my exact words in arguing against the fundamentalist view of abortion and stem cell research, in talking about chimeras and embryos fusing and what happens to the extra soul in that case.

I doubt that he was reading my posts on Usenet at the time, and I believe Letter predates my arrival here.  It’s just that great minds think alike.

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“I will tell you with the utmost impudence that I esteem much more his Person, than his Works.”

  (Dryden, St. Euremont’s Essays, 1692.)

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Posted: 15 June 2007 01:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Plagiarism, as defined by most universities, involves more than just exact words.

For example, Yale:

“Plagiarism is the use of another’s work, words, or ideas without attribution.

[...]

Plagiarism takes many forms, but it falls into three main categories: using a source’s language without quoting, using information from a source without attribution, and paraphrasing a source in a form that stays too close to the original.”

http://www.yale.edu/bass/writing/sources/plagiarism/what.html

Just one example.

Most Christian apologies, and many atheist replies, are ancient, and thus so far a part of public domain that there can be no claim of plagiarism.  But these examples from Sam are modern and unique arguments about disease, Ghandi, etc.

I’m just wondering.

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Posted: 15 June 2007 04:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“dunamis7”]Most Christian apologies, and many atheist replies, are ancient, and thus so far a part of public domain that there can be no claim of plagiarism.  But these examples from Sam are modern and unique arguments about disease, Ghandi, etc.

I’m just wondering.

These ideas are not unique, that’s the point.  There are only so many ways of expressing them.  Read my post.  I read Letter just the other day and went so far as to read the part about chimeras and embryos fusing out loud to my husband, who immediately recognized the ideas and words as precisely my own.  Verbatim in several places.

I am quite sure that Sam did not read my posts on Usenet, so the only conclusion to be reached is that when people already thinking along the same lines find the same information it gives rise to the same ideas and they are expressed in the same words.

Or, as I already said, great minds think alike.

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“I will tell you with the utmost impudence that I esteem much more his Person, than his Works.”

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Posted: 15 June 2007 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Aw darn, Jefe, you sniffed me out.  I was being so sneaky!  Of course, looking for a wedge would be one thing (I’ve already found it!), but when the atheists refuse to see it right before their own face, what does it say?

The issue, as has been brought up in other forums, is the repeated - repeated - appeals to “intellectual honesty” and “morality” made by Harris, et al.  These the atheists, especially Sam, keep assuring us they have.  But the facts speak so persuasively to the negative.

Leahy has shown Sam to be a bit liberal, shall we say, with his statistics - I have done the same in Village Atheist.  Now I present evidence of what, anywhere else, would be called plagiarism.

As long as the evidence remains unrefuted, the atheists prove they really don’t care about honesty, etc.

Even the SamHarris forum frequents like WalterCat give Sam a pass here.  He(She?) elsewhere responded to Leahy, “don’t think that you are going to impress anyone with your pathetic attack on Sam’s integrity.” (WalterCat, please correct me if I’ve quoted you out of context)

Eactly.  The atheists would not care if Sam was completely discredited.  They would still pack along with him because he preaches what they believe.  He’s the preacher—- you’re the choir.

Sam stands before the world with complaints about “intellectual honesty” in one hand, and a bagfull of bad stats and kidnapped quotes in the other.  And the atheists love him for it.

Be proud!

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Posted: 15 June 2007 09:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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My point is that I couldn’t care less what kind of person Sam Harris is.  I don’t care if he is a liar, a plagiarizer (and I must say that I find Joel’s argument very unconvincing), or a total jerk. It is 100% irrelevant to the issues I care about.

Here are the things I care about:

How can human beings best go about living their lives?

How can human beings come to a true understanding of the world?

Is there a sacred dimension of reality?  If so, what is it?

How can humans best respond to the sacred dimension of reality?

What really matters in a person’s life?

The kind of person Sam Harris is has absolutely no bearing on the proper answers to these questions.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 15 June 2007 05:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“dunamis7”]Be proud!

You don’t have an argument that matters.  Get back to us when you do.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 01:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Thanks for the candor, WalterCat.  I will, of course, admit up front that even if Harris plagiarized his entire book word for word, it would not necessarily invalidate the arguments.  Maybe Russell was right, after all, and Sam, repeating him, would be right by proxy.  But this is not my point.

You say,

How can human beings best go about living their lives?

It ought to occur to us that the issue of honesty would fall under that heading.  Hypocrisy, too.  Such things certainly form a part of what, to quote you again, “really matters.”

The isssue of atheism and honesty surfaces again in other forms.  Dawkins, when talking in Lynchburg, mentioned what a shame it is that politicians in this country can’t publically be atheists.  But considering that they come from higher educated classes, he says, many of them must be atheists, they just can’t admit it.  They are forced to “dissemble, even to lie.”  This, I suppose, is meant to show some kind of religious discrimination against atheists.

But all it realy shows is that, if true, atheists will lie in order to obtain political influence.  And who shall call them to account?  The atheists?  Hardly.  In the same way you guys have admitted that you wouldn’t even care if Sam was a plagiarist.  Atheism is the rally cry, apparently, whatever moral constitution follows.  It is a demonstration of the accusation against atheim that it erases the moral foundations of civilization.

So yes, this is an argument that matters.  Can atheists be trusted?  Can anyone who believes they will not ultimately give account for their actions, ultimately be trusted?

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Posted: 18 June 2007 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“dunamis7”]TIt ought to occur to us that the issue of honesty would fall under that heading.  Hypocrisy, too.  Such things certainly form a part of what, to quote you again, “really matters.”

Of course honesty matters.  Including intellectualy honesty.  But whether Sam is honest or not has no bearing on the issue of whether Atheism is true, whether it is intellectually honest, or whether honesty is important.

Sam’s aim is not to show that honesty is important (though I believe that he thinks it is).  His aim is to show that religions beliefs are treated with a different standard than all other beliefs.  And he is right about this.  And he is right about this regardless of whether he is honest.  And it is a complete distraction to bring up the issue of honesty if the issue under discussion is whether religions beliefs should be held to the same epistemological standards as other beliefs.

Have I noted that your argument that Sam is dishonest is exceedingly unconvincing?

But all it realy shows is that, if true, atheists will lie in order to obtain political influence.  And who shall call them to account?  The atheists?  Hardly.  In the same way you guys have admitted that you wouldn’t even care if Sam was a plagiarist.

I think that you understand that when I said that I don’t care if Sam is a plagiarist, what I meant what that his honesty has nothing to do with the correctness of his views.  NOTHING WHATSOEVER.  And I don’t know Sam and probably never will.  He is not running for mayor or president.  His honesty is not an issue.  It is a distraction from the real issue of whether belief in God is justified.

And I think that, by raising this issue of plagiarism, you are trying to distract from this issue.  You know that Sam’s integrity is not the issue here.  You understand that it has no bearing on the correctness of his arguments.  But you are trying to make it one.  And you are trying to impugn the integrity of all atheists in the process. 

These tactics are truly unbecoming for someone such as yourself, Joel.  And I think you know that too.

If Sam were trying to run for office, his honesty would be an issue.  Then it would be pertinent to raise issues about plagiarism (if they were true).  But until he does choose to run for elected office or attempt to attain a position of responsibility, the issues you raise are a complete distraction.  (They are a distraction in any event since, as I say, your arguments are 100% unvonvincing).


Atheism is the rally cry, apparently, whatever moral constitution follows.  It is a demonstration of the accusation against atheim that it erases the moral foundations of civilization.

This claim makes me angry.  You know that I never said that moral constitution does not matter. If you look carefully at the list of questions that I am interested in, you’ll see that morality matters a great deal to me.  I do think that Atheist politicians should be honest.  But it is hard to hold them to account when none of them will admit to being atheists.

Furthermore, even if one or two atheist politicians were dishonest about their religious views, this would hardly prove that Atheism yields the collapse of civilizations.  This is a ridiculous slippery slope fallacy.  And you know this too, Joel.  You are far too eduacted not to regcognize the pathetic flaw in such an argument.

Clearly there are all kinds of dishonest politicians, many of them Christian.  Their dishonesty no more proves the failings of religious belief than would the hypothetical plagiarism of an atheist writer.

So yes, this is an argument that matters.  Can atheists be trusted?  Can anyone who believes they will not ultimately give account for their actions, ultimately be trusted?

The most trustworthy people I know are atheists.

If the only reason you act morally is fear of punishment or hope of reward, you are not acting morally.  You know this too, Joel.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 18 June 2007 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]This claim makes me angry.

It makes me angry as well, and I don’t consider myself an atheist. Morality is about actions that help or harm people. Some religious doctrines offer definitions “pleasing God” that overlap with moral actions, but “pleasing God” as a concept has nothing to do with morality.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Let me say firstly, that the last thing I wanted to do is make you angry, waltercat.  Angry people don’t think straight, and anger leads to fruitless waltercations.  Let me attempt to assuage that swell by saying that I don’t believe, and never believed for a moment, that you don’t care at all about morality, or dishonesty, or any other moral matter.  And I do recognize that I used the term “atheists”—- as in individuals—- while I was intending to speak of atheism as a system of thought taken to what I see as its logical conclusions.  And I thank Jefe for caring that even if (and I also stress IF) Sam was a plagiairst, he would hope to see him bear the full responsibility of such.

But since you are so vehemently arguing that one’s integrity has no bearing on the truth of their arguments (which sentiment I opened m last post with!), why do you not think it pointless to impugn me on a very similar charge of the honesty of my intentions (“distraction,” “unbecoming”)?  Isn’t this pretty much just a form of ad tuum?

Further, when you combat my point about lying atheists in office (another hypothetical, btw) you accuse me of a slippery slope.  Well, it would be had I argued that way.  My point was just to point to an example of what I see as the general principle that atheism erases moral authority.  This is using particulars as evidence, but not establishing a general based on those isolated particulars.

Perhaps the most trustworthy people you know are atheists.  I never dissented.  My beef is with atheism as a system of thought.  If Christianity is true, and Christians lie, it’s a tragedy.  If atheism is true, and anyone lies, big deal.  I would love to hear why it is ultimately wrong.

I would agree that to act only out of fear or hope of reward is to not act morally.  But it is impossible to erase some element, so way, of fear from the moral equation.  I have not completely worked this out, but smeone will always be there to enforce the rules.

And thank you for all of the compliments.  To you, Waltercat, I return them.

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Posted: 18 June 2007 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“dunamis7”] Angry people don’t think straight

Perhaps.  But I suppose that anger can be a force that focuses the senses.  Anger is a useful emotion in certain circumstances. 

My own anger at your comment was due to the fact that I have spent the better part of a year here at this forum trying to demonstrate the fallacy involved in the argument that atheism has no foundation for absolute morality.  This is simply false.  And, as someone who understands the strength of the Euthyphro Dilemma, I think you will agree with me that the most common understanding of the relationship between God and ethics is deeply flawed.

I teach my students the Euthyphro Dilemma as well as several atheistic (and theistic) moral theories, and I think that by the end of the semester, they understand that it is an unfair criticism of Atheism to claim that it has no way to account for objective morality.  It affects my mood when I hear someone as educated as you, Joel (or frankr, or Silenus) engage in the kind of moral argument which has been defused for millennia.  Many atheists care deeply about understanding morality and many very brilliant atheists have attempted subtle and sophisticated theories to account for its existence.

Let me attempt to assuage that swell by saying that I don’t believe, and never believed for a moment, that you don’t care at all about morality, or dishonesty, or any other moral matter.  And I do recognize that I used the term “atheists”—- as in individuals—- while I was intending to speak of atheism as a system of thought taken to what I see as its logical conclusions.  And I thank Jefe for caring that even if (and I also stress IF) Sam was a plagiairst, he would hope to see him bear the full responsibility of such

Thank you.

But since you are so vehemently arguing that one’s integrity has no bearing on the truth of their arguments (which sentiment I opened m last post with!), why do you not think it pointless to impugn me on a very similar charge of the honesty of my intentions (“distraction,” “unbecoming”)?  Isn’t this pretty much just a form of ad tuum?

No. I am not suggesting that your beliefs are wrong by impugning your motives.  I did not say, “Christianity will bring about the end of civilization because Joel is arguing in an unfair manner.”  I only made an observation that was quite pertinent: that the discussion of Sam’s plagiarism is beside the point, a total distraction.  It has nothing to do with the truth of his claims.  If you agree with me about that, as I am certain you do, great.  But I want you to quit focusing on it, stop acting as if it mattered to the truth of Sam’s claims, and move in a more fruitful direction.  Let’s move on.

Further, when you combat my point about lying atheists in office (another hypothetical, btw) you accuse me of a slippery slope.  Well, it would be had I argued that way.  My point was just to point to an example of what I see as the general principle that atheism erases moral authority.  This is using particulars as evidence, but not establishing a general based on those isolated particulars.

But the fact (if it were one) that atheist politicians lie, would not justify the assertion that Atheism erases moral authority.  The fact that Christian politicians lie does not justify the assertion that Christianity erases moral authority.

Furthermore, you said,

But all it realy shows is that, if true, atheists will lie in order to obtain political influence. And who shall call them to account? The atheists? Hardly. In the same way you guys have admitted that you wouldn’t even care if Sam was a plagiarist. Atheism is the rally cry, apparently, whatever moral constitution follows. It is a demonstration of the accusation against atheim that it erases the moral foundations of civilization.

And it certainly is a slippery slope fallacy to argue from an instance of one moral standard being violated to the conclusion that civilization will collapse. 

I believe that it was not your intention to argue in this fashion.  I hope, then, that you will take my complaint as constructive criticism.

I would love to hear why it is ultimately wrong.

It is wrong because we have the prima facie obligation to tell the truth to other rational agents.

I would like to hear why lying is wrong from a theistic perspective.

I would agree that to act only out of fear or hope of reward is to not act morally.  But it is impossible to erase some element, so way, of fear from the moral equation.  I have not completely worked this out, but smeone will always be there to enforce the rules.

See, I make good points.

And thank you for all of the compliments.  To you, Waltercat, I return them.

They were all meant sincerely.  You are very intelligent, educated, and a capable debater.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 18 June 2007 07:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “the most common understanding of the relationship between God and ethics,” honestly.  If you mean a simplistic “God commanded it therefore it is right,” then you’re dealing with a vulgar and popular notion, and not one that any apologist I know espouses.  Maybe many of your students do, but, come on.  We all deal with this level of ignorance in children.

To argue that lying is wrong “because we have the prima facie obligation to tell the truth to other rational agents,” is to argue that lying is wrong because lying is wrong.  Perhaps you are abbreviating.

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