Friday, April 4, 2008

My Concluding Salvo: Putting the Nihilist/Rhology Blogalogue to Bed

Rhology, thank you for your reply, which, undue hubris aside, was an enjoyable read. As mentioned in a comment box, I have to conclude this blogalogue, because of work commitments and an increasingly busy schedule. At summer’s end, when my workflow slows to a relative crawl, I would be happy to commence another extended discussion. If nothing else, our interactions enable me to refine my points, allowing me to find theistic arguments’ deficiencies and exploit them for evidentialism’s (and atheism’s) benefit.

My concluding salvo…

“This type of authoritarianism—I call it moral narcissism—is the point of comparison.”

Rhology: Then where are your cries of "atheofascist" over The Dawkins' calling child abuse immoral? Why restrict this to the Abrahamic religions? There are nearly as many targets for your "-ofascist" label as there are religions out there. Why engage in such special pleading?

Nihilist: I condemn everybody who, after formulating their moral opinions, decides those opinions ought to be inflicted on other people against their will. I do not take issue with Dr. Dawkins because, to me, his argument has less to do with the immorality of teaching children the doctrine of hell and more to do with whether, given the facts of the doctrine’s teaching, it falls under the legal definition of child abuse. One can make a legalistic argument without delving into the morality morass. [I offer no judgment about the legalistic case’s merit.]

Speaking strictly from my own perspective now, I single out Christians and Muslims for the “ofascist” designation because I concur with Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” When one believes a patently ludicrous notion, such as the divine inspiration and absolute perfection of a single book (a book written during our species’ bawling intellectual infancy, no less!), from that notion can spring what I would consider atrocities.

Your own comment box remark is illustrative: “So [if god] had said that it is necessary to prevent homosexuals from copulating, it is every human's responsibility to do so.” Presumably, then, if god had said it is necessary to castrate all practicing homosexuals, and then drench oneself in their spurting blood, you would agree it is every human’s responsibility to do so. Or, if god had said, every Sunday, it is necessary to torture all heathens prolongedly, you would agree it is every human’s responsibility to do so.

Your First Principle is the absolute inerrancy of a single book, from which you unquestioningly take your marching orders. You toss aside common sense, popular wisdom and other tools upon which humans rely for fear they are imperfect as compared to your text. This unshakeable loyalty, to a 2000-year-old cobbled-together tome, which could have contained anything, given the happenstance of history, is so frightening to me that merely assigning the “ofascist” label is being generous.

“However, I am doing no such thing”

Rhology: OK, so relativism is neither better nor worse than authoritarianism.

What's your argument, then, for choosing one over the other? Just whatever you feel like that day, or most days? Whether you have the wherewithal to inflict your ideas upon others or not?

Nihilist: Despite your question, I have been absolutely clear on this, so either you did not read or did not comprehend. Neither relativism nor authoritarianism could be judged moral or immoral in any objective sense, given our demonstrable moral ignorance. [Make a moral statement and then try to prove it—from square one—with no presuppositional appeals. If objective moral “laws” exist, they should be like the universe’s physical constants…unaffected by one’s viewpoint.] In light of this demonstrable moral ignorance, one can judge relativism coherent and authoritarianism incoherent. I am a moral relativist (“moral skeptic” is more accurate) because I strive to behave coherently. I do not impose my evidence-bankrupt moral opinions on others.

“Because it makes no sense for one to be coercive with respect to things about which one is ignorant.”

Rhology: This falls victim to the constant problem that your worldview provides you no way to say OUGHT. It's all just IS.

It may make no sense, but so what? Maybe Joe feels like it. Where's the prescriptive power in your statement? Why SHOULD Joe do that which makes sense? There's a reason we call these questions "moral" questions, as opposed to "arithmetic" or "fluid dynamics", you know.

If these are just opinions on your part, again, where's the prescriptive power? Why SHOULD anyone agree?

Why even make such statements? Why not just think them and be done with it? I'm serious.

Nihilist: My evidentialist principle, although lacking objective moral standards at this time, certainly offers the potential to make “ought” statements. Suppose Axelrod is standing in his living room, and he genuinely wants to go outside. There is a locked door separating him from the great outdoors. If he wishes to go outside, he OUGHT to go to the door, unlock it, open it and step out; that would be coherent behavior. If he wishes to go outside, he OUGHT NOT to walk right into the locked door; that would be incoherent behavior. Furthermore, suppose Comstock genuinely wishes to see a comedy film. However, at his local multiplex, only two films are being screened: American History X and The Naked Gun. If he wishes to see a comedy, he OUGHT to see The Naked Gun and OUGHT NOT to see American History X. No moral judgments, objective or subjective, have been rendered, but we have arrived at clear, coherent “ought” statements. In truth, the only prescriptive powers I lack are those related to areas of demonstrable ignorance.

Incoherency arises in attempting to be coercive with respect to things about which one is ignorant. Ponder “best color” and “best film,” which are analogous to “moral behavior” and “immoral behavior.” It would be incoherent for me, an aficionado of red, to demand that you renounce green and recognize the intrinsic superiority of my color. It would be incoherent for me, a fan of Mulholland Dr., to demand that you throw aside your favorite film and recognize the superiority of mine. These would be manifestly incoherent behaviors, and I do not shy from identifying that. The same goes for inflicting arbitrary moral opinions on others.

We previously have touched on the fact that, even though your worldview does afford you the right to make objective moral judgments, said judgments are mere derivatives of your First Principle…offshoots of your personal metaphysical foundation. You have failed to explain why, if you live in, say, Oklahoma, your metaphysical foundation should hold any relevance for two homosexuals living in Detroit: Your First Principle is the method by which you interrogate the world. It does not overarch the world itself; the world is not captive to Rhology’s mind.

If existence affords you a metaphysical foundation, it affords one to every person. Setting aside issues of law, if you may live in accordance with your own First Principle, so too may everyone else.

“it makes no sense for laws to be religiously derived.”

Rhology: 1) Go start your own country and see how far you get with that.

2) Oh, the USSR already tried that. Well, maybe you can do better than they did.

3) On what basis would you argue that atheism would be able to justify laws of religious freedom? Humans have no universal rights on atheism. Freedom is not a mandate on atheism.

Nihilist: You have committed gross intellectual dishonesty: You snipped a few words from a sentence, and pretended as though your snippet was my complete thought. Here is the proper quote: “Rather, I contend that, in a country with constitutionally enshrined freedom of religion (and its negative, freedom from religion), it makes no sense for laws to be religiously derived.” [Your choice to snip words from a sentence reminds me of Roger Ebert’s complaint that a word like “fun” will be attributed to him in a movie advertisement, when his real sentence was something like, “This movie is absolutely no fun.”]

If there is to be true freedom of religion—equality of faiths before the law—the government cannot have one religion (or even a few) as its legal system’s foundation. Such is antithetical to freedom of religion: If all religions are equal, Christianity cannot be “more equal” than the rest.

I shall answer in parts, as this seems to demand:

1. Objective judgments vis-à-vis laws can be made without appealing to religion…indeed, without appealing to morality at all. In a democracy or republic, the government works for its citizens, and must comport itself in a way representative of the citizenry’s demands. If a democratic government is formed and the citizens task it with promoting societal stability and preserving individual liberty, that government can create laws that enable it to perform its tasks. Kidnapping and murder could be outlawed because they cause chaotic instability and abridge victims’ liberty. The government need not wade into morality at all; it needs only look at its mandate and figure out which laws shall permit it to complete its duties.

2. The USSR represented nothing more than exchanging one dogma for another. I would argue that, in some sense, the laws in the USSR were religiously derived, in that Marxism/Leninism was imposed with a dogmatic, nay, religious fanaticism.

3. If a new democracy or republic were to arise, and the citizenry wished to enjoy complete freedom of religion, then the government could make it a constitutional tenet, as a way of serving the people for whom it works. We need not try to decipher cosmic truth; we need only to know the priorities of the people for whom the government works. We are not endowed by a creator with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; rather, we value those things, and assign government with safeguarding them (preferably via constitution).

“Recognition of moral ignorance does not forbid formulation of moral opinion.”

Rhology: If only your camp would extend such courtesy to ID and not deny ID-ers tenure, a voice, etc, all the while thinking they were ignorant.

Does that work anywhere else? Recognition of ignorance in particle physics does not forbid formulation of opinion on black holes.

Recognition of chemical ignorance does not forbid formulation of opinion on whether I should mix ammonia and bleach and inhale the results, does it?

That's special pleading.

Nihilist: Apparently, it is time for the “square-peg-in-a-round-hole” routine, because your examples are unanalogous; they are mere red herrings employed for obfuscative purposes. Below, please find examples of issues about which we truly are ignorant.

  • What is the best color in the spectrum?
  • What is the best number between one and 20?
  • What is the best film ever made?
  • What is the funniest joke ever written?

These are issues about which we are ignorant because, even if facts are discoverable, we have no certainty as to what a relevant fact might be or how the facts might converge to form a conclusion. Is acting quality relevant to the “best film” question? Who decides what acting is good and what is wretched? Is being divisible by two relevant to the “best number” question? If so, who decides whether that would be propitious or deleterious?

Such is morality. Perhaps human suffering is relevant vis-à-vis moral questions, with increased suffering being immoral and decreased suffering (or increased pleasure) being moral. Then again, maybe not. For now, there is no way to know. Although we can ascertain facts about what behaviors cause suffering…or what actions cause pleasure…or what behaviors harm the environment, we have no way of knowing those facts’ relevancy to the question of morality.

Conversely, facts involving radiocarbon dating, for example, clearly have relevancy vis-à-vis Darwinian evolution. In the sciences, facts’ relevancy is generally clear.

Rhology: Been wondering something - Where are these "Christofascists"? Compared to the very large number of Islamofascists, they are a speck if they exist at all. And their modus operandi is so different from jihadists as to warrant the serious question - why the "-ofascist" at the end of the appellation?

You need to point these people out and give a good reason to think they're acting in accord with a doctrine that could reasonably be thought to be of Christ; otherwise you're engaging in poisoning the well. Showing that their numbers even approach that of jihadists would help your case as well. It needs the help.

Nihilist: You keep wanting to make this about behavior when, from the commencement, I have said my Christofascist/Islamofascist comparison involves mindset. Large numbers of Christians and Muslims suffer from the pathology that their arbitrary moral opinions can and should be inflicted on other people against their will. One need not be an abortion clinic sniper to be a Christofascist; one need only be a Christian so enamored of his religion that he feels not only can he make objective moral judgments about other people but can coercively impose his moral standards on them, as well. [Consider your personal delusion here: The fallacy that your metaphysical foundation, and its offshoots, extends beyond your mind.] If one’s Christianity is an unwelcome interference in other people’s lives, one is a Christofascist. I use this standard for Muslims and all other theists. I rarely encounter an atheofascist (that being an atheist who acts coercively toward theists).

“One need only remember the commandment addressing covetousness, which lumps thy neighbor’s wife in with that same neighbor’s ox and ass.”

Rhology: You have completely abandoned your original field of discourse on this topic, that of the "wives, submit to your husbands", since I provided you the context.

Nihilist: I only “abandoned my original field of discourse” in your reply, because you chose not to quote the relevant portion of my response. I said, “My concern is not related to the specifics of the inequality but rather to the inequality itself. You condemn Islam’s ‘mistreatment’ of women but, when one looks at Christianity, it is quite clear that women and men are not treated as absolute equals.” As long as you affirm “the head of the woman is the man,” your condemnation of female treatment under Islam is rather like you walking into a bar—nursing a cold Budweiser— and promptly telling everybody downing shots that they should not imbibe alcohol.

Rhology: You're battered so you retreat to the OT, moving the goalposts.

Nihilist: I did not realize you scoff so easily at the Ten Commandments, to which many Christofascists are happily wedded. After all, you must remember the two-and-a-half-ton Ten Commandments monument commissioned by Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. Presumably, his battle over the monument underscores his viewpoint that the commandments remain relevant today. In raising the aforequoted objection, I assumed you might wish to defend the placement of wives alongside oxen and asses.

“This is not a ‘clean break’ from the Islamic misogyny you excoriate.”

Rhology: Deal with the hypothetical all you want. The Bible denies such hypotheticals - God doesn't change, can't be any other way. It's like asking me if God can microwave a burrito so hot that He can't eat it.

Nihilist: My hypotheticals have little to do with the Bible and much to do with you as an individual.

A couple rounds back, I asked you this:

“…what if Jesus had explicitly preached that women should walk ten steps behind men, or that they never should show their faces in public, or that they never should shake hands with men?”

Prior to confirming Jesus did not preach that, you answered:

“I'd submit and conform to it.”

This relates to what I wrote to commence this long rebuttal: If god had said it is necessary to castrate all practicing homosexuals, and then drench oneself in their spurting blood, presumably, you would submit and conform to it. Or, if god had said, every Sunday, it is necessary to torture all heathens prolongedly, presumably, you would submit and conform to it. I know I cannot make objective moral judgments, but your willingness to submit absolutely to a text—a text (!) written by primitives who knew essentially nothing of the natural order—is far more revealing than you might wish to accept.

“Presumably, when that verse was written, god knew quite well that some of his followers would misuse it in the context of hysterical hunts for witches”

Rhology: You're the one who's so fond of freewill. What's wrong if God is a fan of it too?

Man, God just can't win - you won't give Him credit either way!

What's He supposed to do? Zap them out of existence as soon as they start to think a wrong thought about the meaning of the Bible?

Besides, this is just one more moral judgment - you're trying to convince me that these hunts and these Scriptures which supposedly underpin them are morally objectionable. This dog only comes out when the meat is stinky enough, it would seem.

Nihilist: Hold it…I am not making any objective moral judgments. I am using biblical standards as articulated by YOU: After all, you are to apologetics what the finest Oxford fairyologist is to the study of pixies, fairies and elven creatures.

I shall let you speak on behalf of Christians as to the moral righteousness of using torture on suspected witches in order to secure extravagant confessions. “I wouldn't support those gross abuses,” you emphatically stated. You also condemned as sinful executing somebody who was not afforded a fair trial. Undoubtedly, many innocent people were executed as witches, given the miserable standard of evidence that prevailed, the forced confessions attributable to torture and the nonsensical tests confected to distinguish witch from non-witch.

If this spectacle truly were displeasing to god, why would his divinely inspired text include a verse that facilitated and enabled such blood-drenched lunacy? Would omitting/rephrasing that verse have obliterated free will? No. The deity’s alleged omniscience, and his choice to leave the verse “as is,” clearly seems to indicate that god was quite satisfied with permitting the witch-hunts to occur. One wonders why god would indirectly facilitate acts you identify as being sinful.

“it is not even clear from the Bible whether the creator of the universe is aware of Australia.”

Rhology: B/c it's not mentioned in the Bible? Wow - a ZINGER of an argument!

Nihilist: I have reiterated this point quite a bit on my blog. The notion that a book…any book (but particularly a cobbled-together tome from an ignorant period of human prehistory)…is omnisciently inspired is quite extraordinary. Only the most extraordinary of evidence would suffice to substantiate this notion. So, as I scour the Bible, I look for brand new information about the natural order—information that, prior to the Bible’s writing, was unavailable to humankind. But the Bible, to its shame, fails the test. In a recent blog post, I wrote this…

“…the Bible could have contained some brand new information about the natural order. I have harped on this before, primarily because I think The Argument from Mundanity is one of the strongest weapons in an atheist’s arsenal. After all, Christians claim that the creator of the universe directly inspired the Bible’s very words. Forget about Einstein and Hemingway; forget about Joyce and Sagan—this is the creator of the universe here. And yet, despite god’s omniscient authorship, the Bible wallows in pre-scientific primitivism and yawn-inducing mundanity. As Sam Harris observed, ‘[The Bible] does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century.’ There is nothing about the actual age or size of the universe. There is nothing about the germ theory of disease. Earth’s vast geography is shrunk down to claustrophobically local levels. It is not even clear from the Bible whether the creator of the universe is aware of Australia. If the Bible’s alleged omniscience had been manifest, that tome could have been meaningful evidence.”

If you want to impress me with an omnisciently inspired book, you shall have to do much better than the Bible. Moreover, you shall have to offer up a better justification for Christofascistic tendencies than the fallacious notion that the world is overarched by your metaphysical foundation, that being the prism through which you view it.