Friday, February 28, 2020
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The New Year’s Eve Curse

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champagne

I used to think New Year’s Eve was cursed, or at least that I was cursed to always have a lousy one. No matter how close I’d get to finally having a fun night, something always went wrong. It started when I was about 10 or 11. My family had lived across the street from a family who became our best friends, both the parents and the kids. My family then moved out of state and only got to see our friends about twice a year. For several years, we would meet them in the mountains at a ski area, renting a house together. Although the exact dates varied depending on schedules and availability, we almost always arrived a day or two after Christmas and stayed until a day or two after New Year’s.

Our parents usually went out on New Year’s Eve. They’d go to dinner followed by a late night of dancing. I don’t recall having a baby sitter. Either my memory is bad or they decided that the normal rules didn’t apply because it was New Year’s Eve and we were away from home. In any case, we were left to get into all sorts of trouble. I remember included shooting each other with slingshots, having snowball fights that resulted in large pieces of ice drawing blood and tears, breaking furniture, or the time my friend fell while chasing his brother with an axe. I’m not sure what our parents were thinking, but I guess they probably weren’t. After all, one of these nights was the first time I’d seen my parents falling-down drunk.

Some of the trouble we got in was more than enough to ruin our New Year’s Eve. There was nothing quite like having our parents come home to discover that somebody had a bad cut on their face or had broken something that would have to be replaced. This was the beginning of what we came to think of as our New Year’s Eve curse, and it was not limited to us getting in trouble. There was the night our parents rented a VCR so we could watch movies while they were gone and it promptly broke. That was all we had to do, and it took mere minutes before we turned on each other. There was the year we got lost in the dark and the snow while trying to do whatever stupid thing we were trying to do. It just seemed like something always went wrong that ruined the night.

As we entered adolescence, things got worse. The years where we were interested in meeting girls but too young to drive were especially rough. I remember walking for over an hour through the snow and in the dark to get to a dance only to discover that it had been moved to a new location we were unable to find. Like every other year, we had been sure we were finally on the verge of having a great New Year’s Eve but encountered only disappointment. Every year we would tell ourselves it was going to be different, but it never was. I remember “borrowing” a car a couple years before any of us could legally drive. I don’t think we made it more than a few hundred feet before losing control on the ice.

Our big break would come a couple years later, or so we thought. For a variety of reasons, including some of the trouble we had gotten into the previous years, our parents decided not to stay at the resort but for everyone to go to my home. I could drive by this time, and being on my home turf meant there would be no getting lost. Not only that, but I could virtually guarantee we’d have a great New Year’s Eve party to go to. We were so excited this year because we knew things would finally be different. I knew of a great party in a neighboring town. Several of my friends were going, so getting in would be no problem and I’d know at least a few people even though I wasn’t familiar with the host. I had concocted a decent lie to explain why we would be gone as long as we would, and we headed out. Our parents were staying home this year, so the odds were good that they would be too drunk to notice how drunk we would be when we returned.

Just as everything was looking up, the curse reared its ugly head. My car broke down before we could get to the party. These were the days before cell phones, so we’d have to walk a long way to get to a pay phone. Once there, we realized that any friend I could have called would not have been home. I didn’t know the name or number of the person having the party. We had no choice but to call our parents, admit we weren’t even close to where we’d said we would be, and face the consequences. Another New Year’s Eve was ruined.

Fortunately, we did finally manage to get one New Year’s Eve right. And since it would be our last one together, it was the one we had to get right. I was in college and would soon be moving away. The tradition of getting together every year would end after that year. This was another New Year’s Eve on my home turf where they stayed with us. There was an even better party, and it was in my hometown this time. In fact, I had known the guy throwing it since we were in third grade together. We got there without incident and finally had the New Year’s Eve party we had been wanting for so many years. The curse was over. It was so much fun we didn’t even mind when the police showed up.

Of course, we never really thought we were cursed. Skepticism prevented that. We recognized that the repeated disappointment was largely of our own making. We had unrealistically high expectations about what New Year’s Eve was supposed to be. Every year, we put so much pressure on ourselves that the night had to be so much better than any ordinary night that it never could measure up. I suspect lots of us do something similar in many situations and that the unrealistically high expectations we place on ourselves are part of what contributes to “holiday stress.”

If I am going to entertain any ideas of New Year’s Eve curses nowadays, it will happen at approximately 2:00 am when the fireworks are still going off. Happy New Year!



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Atheists: New Hampshire Must Keep Religious Indoctrination out of Public Schools

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Concord, NH–Today, American Atheists submitted testimony to support repealing an unconstitutional statue that authorizes recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools.

American Atheists supports HB 1306, which provides a clean repeal of the unconstitutional statute, and opposes HB 1334, which repeals the unconstitutional statue but also adds in new unconstitutional language.

More specifically, HB 1334 says that school employees may during contract time “take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities.”

This is unconstitutional. First, it is not constitutionally permissible for teachers to engage in religious activities with students even if they are “not participating in their official capacities.” Second, it is unclear who would be in the position to determine if teachers had “made clear” that they are not participating in religious activities as part of their official capacities. What one teacher thinks may qualify would likely differ from other educators, administrators, and certainly students and parents. This provision would leave schools vulnerable to lawsuits by students who are religiously coerced and by educators who feel that their new rights to religious expression are infringed.

“The only way to avoid religious coercion and ensure religious freedom in schools is for educators and administrators to not participate in religious activities with students,” wrote Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President for Legal and Policy.

“There is simply no need for the religious expression provisions found in HB 1334–school employees are and always have been free to engage in religious exercise in private and when not interacting as a teacher with students and parents,” added Gill. “New Hampshire lawmakers should instead pass HB 1306.”

 

 



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Republicans Exhibit Pathetic Behaviour over Witnesses

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There is absolutely no doubt that the impeachment of Donald Trump is showing the Republican party for exactly who they are – people who are willing to defend their partisan desires and in-group ideologues over and above doing what is morally right. It is excruciatingly painful to see. In my opinion, Adam Schiff and the Democrat managers have done a really very good job at presenting their case and summarising the arguments and counterarguments. Adam Schiff’s closing statement today was particularly good, and he proactively countered all of the Republican talking points and arguments.

The big issue at the moment is whether or not to more witnesses should be called, namely John Bolton. This whole scenario has thrown up some hilarious rationalisations from the Republicans. And I would be interested to see what the diehard Republicans who comment on this blog offer as arguments against more witnesses being brought forward, most pressingly, John Bolton.

Indeed, the arguments that the Republican senators and politicians and commentators are putting forward are nothing other than pathetic. The primary one appears to be that it might make the case dragged on a little bit longer. Well whoop-de-do. This is a legal procedure involving the most important man on the planet. He’s being impeached. Why wouldn’t you allow witnesses to be called forward for such a procedure? Trump and Republicans are, ironically in a case involving the Constitution, treating himself/Trump like a monarch, like he is the State. America is held up as being a nation championing freedom and justice. A fair trial is the bare minimum of what is expected. If you had any other legal case, from rape to embezzlement, and the prosecution and defence teams between them had to vote on whether or not witnesses could be called forward, where would the legal system be?

Check this senator out below:

I mean, the man starts off by saying that the decision as to whether John Bolton should be called forward depends on what state you’re from: “I’m thinking almost every Republican will not vote to have more witnesses because they’re in a place where, from the state they’re from, listening to their constituents and where they interpret all the information, is they don’t need that.” Wow. In other words, partisan politics is defining the outcome of a legal case. Wow. “It’s disrupting an election.” Wow. “So you’re talking ultimately about your vote?” “Yes, so that’s what I’m basing it on.” Wow.

This has nothing to do with truth. Nothing at all. He is not remotely interested in discovering the truth.

The interviewer says, with an air of incredulity, “What’s the downside? Why wouldn’t you want to hear from John Bolton?”

His answer:

  1. This would lead to more witnesses; where do you stop?
  2. If we’re this polarised, “we ought to worry how we’re going to get round that”…for legislation.

What? This is incomprehensible ramblings.

She asks: “You don’t want to hear it?”

He replies: “Me and almost every other Republican doesn’t either…. Almost everyone.”

“Why, as a United States Senator who is a juror/judge, why wouldn’t you want to hear from as many people as possible?”

His answer to this: “Convict or acquit? And I don’t think that even if you take everything what was in the Bolton revelation as the truth, would that make the difference? Take it over the hump where you’d convict the president on such a shaky case to being with? That ought to be easy to understand and that’s valid.”

I’ll tell you what’s easy to understand: you’re rambling excuses are pathetic. And circular. A case is shaky when you don’t allow relevant first-hand witnesses. And not allowing first-hand witnesses because the case is shaky…

And any Republican or supporter who defends this absolute twaddle needs their head checked. I challenge the usual suspects here to build their best case as to why Bolton should not be allowed to testify given we are here, at an impeachment.

And now the White House has issued a formal threat to John Bolton:

And if you want to see something just as excruciatingly painful and funny to boot, watch this:

 


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How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Quote Of The Day” series on this site, probably because I’ve put blogging on the back end in recent months due to other projects taking precedent. As a result of course I just haven’t been churning out posts as frequent as I used to, which used to be at least 2 per week. So I’m going to try to pepper the long periods in between the more detailed longer posts with shorter QOTD or random thoughts style posts, and hopefully that will remedy (at least a bit) the eerie silence.

Since this blog is mostly about making arguments that are designed to help convince people of various different views, I came across this article on Scientific American about how to convince people when facts fail. It has 6 steps to take:


If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1 keep emotions out of the exchange, 2 discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3 listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4 show respect, 5 acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6 try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.

I’ve violated all 6 numerous times. Guilty as charged.



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Christians Back Lawsuit Against UK Government for Not Passing Online Porn Block | Beth Stoneburner | Friendly Atheist

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Last year, the UK government considered a bill that would’ve forced websites to check the ages of anyone seeking to view adult content online. It was widely derided. Not only would there be workarounds, the amount of personal data such a “block” would’ve gathered was both overly intrusive and more likely to stigmatize people based on their personal preferences.

That bill thankfully died last year.

Now a Christian organization is defending a lawsuit against Parliament for “failing to adequately protect children” from accessing online pornography. The Christian Action Research & Education (CARE) claims that their hand has been forced.

“It is tragic that it has come to this, but if it forces the government’s hand so age verification is finally introduced, then so be it,” James Mildred, communications manager for the Christian charity CARE, told Premier. “The U.K. had the opportunity to be the world leader by pioneering effective age checks technology, only for the government to give up.”

Much like with conservative Christians who push for abortion bans, this bill wouldn’t achieve what they want. What’s the end goal? To block kids from seeing sex? That’s never going to work, and certainly not with an internet age check.

While there are plenty of parents, Christian and otherwise, who may not want their children accessing adult content, it’s not like the Christians pushing for this kind of bill are eager to promote comprehensive sex education either. They’re not promoting contraception or consent.

Ignoring sex — or pretending like it doesn’t exist — isn’t going to stop kids from accessing (or doing) it. This lawsuit, like the legislation, shouldn’t be taken seriously.

(Image via Shutterstock)





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Bibles on the Road to Atheism

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The road to atheism

I may not be a fan of atheist memes (or any memes for that matter), but I think there’s a great deal of truth to this particular meme. I’m sure that plenty of people have transitioned from Christian to atheist without ever having read any bibles; however, I’ve also heard from countless ex-Christian atheists that this was an important part of their own path to atheism. I think I would have left Christianity behind sooner or later even if I never looked at their bibles. Doing so probably sped up the process though.

Growing up, I was frequently told that the bible was “holy” and that it was the greatest book ever written. Needless to say, that made me quite eager to read it. When I was given my first bible, it was kind of a big deal. Finally, I’d get to see what all the fuss was about. To say it was disappointing on that initial read was an understatement. Even as an early teen, the contradictions and inconsistencies were apparent. But the cruelty of the genocidal “god” and the manner in which it interacted with humans were among the things I remember most. I finally understood what “god-fearing” meant, but I was puzzled as to why this thing deserved to be worshiped.

I have heard many atheists who were former Christians describe similar experiences. This is one of the reasons I’ve always found it puzzling when Christians try to drum up fears about atheists attempting to “ban the bible.” I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered an atheist who didn’t think that more people should read this book in order to discover what it actually says. Most of us seem to agree that we’d have more atheists if more people were to do so.

Is the road to atheism really littered with bibles? I’d say so. Discovering for oneself that “the good book” is anything but good has a way of prompting questions and stimulating critical thinking. Learning how little relevance it has for modern life has a similar impact. The process probably isn’t instantaneous, but it certainly helps to get the ball rolling. At least, I found that it had that effect.

In any case, making it more difficult for people to get their hands on a bible is one of the last things I’d ever want to do. We need more atheists. The more people who discover what is in these various “holy” books, the better. By doing so, I think it becomes far more difficult to claim that anything about them is holy.



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Atheists: End Conversion Therapy in Virginia

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Richmond, VA–Today, American Atheists submitted testimony supporting HB 386, a bill that would protect young LGBTQ Virginians from harmful conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy consists of dangerous and discredited practices, often religiously based, that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

This legislation would protect LGBTQ young people in three ways:

  1. Professional standards for state-licensed health care providers would consider conversion therapy an unacceptable business practice for anyone under age 18.
  2. Those who perform conversion therapy would face disciplinary action.
  3. Virginia could not extend funds to support conversion therapy.

Image by Daniel Tobias via Flickr under CC 2.0



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God is a Consequentialist. The Theist’s Defence: God is Not Moral (II)

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I spent the previous piece on this topic, laying the groundwork for establishing that God is a moral consequentialist before pointing out that some theists create a defence of this accusation by claiming that God is not moral because God is under no moral obligation. What does this mean and does it hold up? Let’s take a look.

First of all, what does William Lane Craig say on the matter[1]:

Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfil. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

Divine Command Theories

This sort of position seems to imply that God’s commands are not good in the context of him giving them, but in humans following them, because God is not “good”. Initially, this is problematic in a pragmatic sense, as Wesley Edwards states[2]:

As we’ve seen, when confronted with what would normally be considered crimes against humanity, the theist will respond in various ways, none of them satisfactory: “We are His creations, and He can do as He pleases,” or “God is good regardless of His actions, just in ways that are beyond us.” Stripped of our own ability to know an evil deed when we see it, we now have to first ask: “Who did it?” One is reduced to saying, “I don’t know if it was evil until you first tell me whether or not God did it. I’ll even do the deed myself, no matter how bloody or genocidal, if you first convince me that God ordered it.” Uncritical obedience to orders ultimately becomes the only criterion of moral behavior, even when the rule is infanticide, such as illustrated in Gen 22:2 where Abraham is told to slaughter his own son. Indeed, Abraham’s willingness to blindly follow orders – even with the tortured, frightened screams of his own child in his ears – is held up as the supreme example of moral “goodness” we should all follow.

If it is true, as some theists claim, that “God communicates to us our sense of judgment for determining right and wrong,” then shouldn’t we naturally sense moral beauty in these O.T. [Old Testament] atrocities, since they were sanctioned by God? Fortunately, few do. But even if our moral instinct is one of revulsion, we are told to remember that good is defined by God. Anything He does is good by definition, no matter what: healing sick children or having them ripped apart by wild animals. Curiously, many Christians have often complained at this point that “things were different in the Old Testament.” In other words, their “absolute” morals were different in the past. Such a view ironically turns their absolutism into a rather extreme form of moral relativism.

I think Wesley Edwards points out the flaws to Craig’s approach with clarity and force. As well as (Divine Command Theories (DCTs) being circular in nature, they suffer the issues of not being particularly good pragmatic guides of how to act morally since we are unable to fathom exactly what would be morally commanded by God and how to comparatively rate different actions morally. There is an epistemological issue with how we would know how and if God had communicated a command to us and so on.

The importance of exclusivity in Divine Command Theories here is that they imply that morality only comes from power, status and relation in giving particular commands. As you will see, this is fraught with problems.

Moral Obligation Exemption

Furthermore, Craig tries to drive a wedge between moral obligation and a moral ‘good’ such that God is exempted from obligations or moral duties/oughts. However, this does not exempt his actions from being morally valued. Craig would say that the value is necessarily good, since it comes from God’s nature but this is begging the question. Moreover, the moral value (which may well be good, and necessarily so) seems to still be derived, in so many cases (as I have exemplified previously and elsewhere) from the consequences of the actions. From every design facet to every death in the Bible, to every unit of pain and suffering experienced in the world, God must be valuing his own actions and omissions on the basis of their consequences. I can see no way around this conundrum.

I am particularly perturbed by this claim that “God doesn’t issue commands to Himself”. What does this really mean? I may live on a desert island with no other human being. I might decide, after some time, to become vegetarian, so as not to cause any pain or suffering to other sentient creatures. I’m doing this because I am trying to make my behaviour as morally good as possible, irrespective as to whether any other human being qua moral creature exists on Earth. The obligation I have is to my desire to be as moral as possible.

What Craig seems to be saying here is that God has no obligation to anyone else. But I don’t see morality as exclusively being an obligation to other people. Indeed, in its purest form, it is an obligation to oneself and is to one’s standards and desires. You could say that God has no desires, but he has a nature to which his actions must be benchmarked. If, as many theists will claim, God has some kind of free will, then God has an ability to act in any number of ways. There is no doubt here that we get into a whole suite of problems, many of which I have set out in other pieces:

But this doesn’t take away from the idea that God has moral character will stop it seems perfectly clear to me that any sentience entity that acts and interacts with other living creatures is moral – their actions have moral dimensions. Therefore, God is moral.

Joseph Lombardi sets out in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, in his essay “Against God’s Moral Goodness“:

Questions about the moral goodness of God usually arise in discussions of the problem of evil. But matters other than the quantity and types of evil in the world might also called divine moral perfection into question. Consider the following argument. God is not perfectly good in the moral sense unless God always fulfils his moral obligations. This, in turn, presupposes that God has moral obligations. But there are features of the divine nature which make it impossible for God to have such obligations. Therefore, God is not perfectly good in the moral sense.

William Alston, in his 1989 paper “Some Suggestions for Divine Command Theorists” discusses the term obligation at length, saying the “S has a moral obligation to do A” essentially means “(morally) ought to do A”, and:

It leaves us without any adequate way of construing the goodness of God. No doubt, it leaves us free to take God to be metaphysically good; but it forecloses any conception of God as morally good, as exemplifying the sort of goodness that is cashed out in being loving, just, and merciful. For since the standards of moral goodness are set by divine commands, to say that God is morally good is just to say that He obeys His own commands. And even if it makes sense to think of God as overbearing commands that He has given Himself, that is not at all what we have in mind when thinking of God as morally good. We aren’t just thinking that God practices what He preaches, whatever that may be….

For if God is good in the right way, there will be nothing arbitrary about His commands. On the contrary His goodness will ensure that He issues those commands for the best

Alston continues by discussing how incoherent moral obligation is when attempting to apply it both to humans and to God. “For if it is the same, how could it be constituted so differently in the two cases? And if what it is for God to have an obligation is something quite different from what it is for a human being to have an obligation, how is divine obligation to be construed? I have no idea.”

Craig claims that God “can give and take life as He chooses”. God certainly can do this (he has the ability if he exists) – but taking life gratuitously and causing pain gratuitously falls into the trap of the problem of evil.

What Craig is saying here is essentially that God can do whatever the hell he likes, murder and rape an entire species of sentient creatures, and be let off the hook because he is not moral. How can these same people say God is love and God is good? How can they say that God is perfect? Again, this is a case of a solution to one theistic conundrum not cohere in with other theistic conundrums and solutions. Let’s see if Craig’s claims chime with the Bible:

Nahum 1:7

“The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

Mark 10:18

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

James 1:17

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Romans 2:4

“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

Romans 8:28

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Romans 12:2

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

There are loads more, but you get the point. The Bible explicitly claims God is (morally) good.

The key to what Alston proposes as a solution to maintaining that God is good but has no obligations in the sense of DCTs is as follows: “If this move is to work, we will have to develop an account of divine moral goodness that does not involve the satisfaction of moral obligations.”

Alston sets out that some say God is “essentially perfectly good” and it would be impossible for him to fail to be good when speaking of God’s duties or oughts. The question might return to the issue I set out in a previously linked piece, that God’s nature determines his actions so that he cannot act freely/have free will. Alston maintains that, even though there is no way that God can fail to, say, love his rational creations, he still ought to do so. Even if there is an overwhelming obviousness to a statement, it doesn’t invalidate the truth of a statement. This, Alston calls “the inappropriateness argument”. (I have to admit, there is some confusion in Alston’s paper as he presents arguments, Devil’s Advocate arguments and counter-arguments and you are often not sure which of these he actually adheres to.)

Alston continues by separating some conception of moral goodness from moral obligation.

The fact that it would be, morally, a good thing for me to do A must not be confused with the fact that I morally ought to do A, that it is morally required of me, that I am morally blameworthy in case I fail to do it.

There is this idea of supererogation, whereby it might be morally good that I teach children in a Siberian village to play the piano, but I’m not morally obliged to do so. What Craig’s defence seems to do is to say that God is not morally obliged to love his creations, but also that in loving them, this is somehow not morally good (i.e. it has no moral value because God is not moral). It is as if there is some kind of moral vacuum when considering God. So what Alston appears to end up saying is that God cannot have moral obligations qua divine commands, as he is not obligated to anyone else, but he can still have moral goodness in his actions.

Of course, the problem for theists is when a critical analysis of the Bible shows that God is in contravention of those perfect moral standards. In breaking promises and in justifying rape or genocide, does God invalidate his perfect moral goodness, his omnibenevolence? And we return to the problem of evil.

Eleanore Stump, Catholic philosopher, has pointed out that God has entered into covenants and promises with people in the Bible and this constitutes obligation. Breaking these, should God do so, would be less than morally perfect and show that God is under some kind of moral obligation. I don’t think that Alston’s defence of this Stump example is as he says: an anthropomorphism (such as God “stretching out his arm”). If God promises to do something, then he promises to do something (it reminds me of the Jewish concentration camp prisoners of war taking God to court for breaking the covenant).

Alston concludes of this: “In particular, we can think of God as perfectly good, morally as well as otherwise, even if that moral goodness does not consist in the perfect satisfaction of obligations.” There is more to moral goodness than moral obligation. Terms like justice, mercy and love all have moral dimensions, and all supposedly apply to God.

When Alston talks of these arguments to evade the issues of the Euthyphro Dilemma, he says: “We evaded the first horn by taking God’s moral goodness, including the moral goodness of divine actions, not to be constituted by conformity to moral obligations, and hence not to be constituted by conformity to divine commands, even on this ethical theory.” He is saying that there is moral goodness in divine actions.

The issues with Craig’s approach are then:

  • You can have obligations to yourself.
  • You can have obligations even if you are constrained to act to a single outcome.
  • You can be moral outside of obligations.
  • God is moral (if he exists).
  • Craig incoherently argues for moral consequentialism whilst simultaneously calling it a terrible ethic and denying God is moral because he has no obligations.
  • And, therefore, the claim that God is a moral consequentialist maintains.

To conclude, despite various potential objections, it seems apparent that the moral value derived from the actions of God have their basis in the consequences of those actions, and not in their intrinsic morality (if this exists at all). Either the objective morality claimed by theists does not exist, or it is consistently trumped by the consequences of the actions. Whether the consequences are defined with a classical utility – or something else, such as justice or love – is neither here nor there, and this can be discussed elsewhere. What is apparent is that if this is the case, then theists might do well to adjust their own moral philosophy, or to explain why the moral code of God is different to our own, if God is supposed to be the moral benchmark against which we all act, and whose moral nature is reflected in our own personal moral dignity.

NOTES:

[1] Slaughter of the Canaanites, William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767 (retrieved 01/01/2012)
[2] Does Morality Depend on God?, P. Wesley Edwards, http://www.freethoughtdebater.com/FDoesMoralityDepend.htm (retrieved 01/01/2012)

 



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With Just A Door, Windows and Some Concrete, This New Humanist Classroom Will Be Ready – Atheist Alliance International

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Over the past month, we’ve been raising money for the Kasese Humanist School in Uganda. All in all, we’ve raised just over $2000 so far. For the students at Kasese, this is enough money to make a massive difference in their lives. Your selflessness has paid for the tuition for many of these eager learners. You’ve bought them textbooks and science equipment and ensured they get access to the medical care at the school’s clinic. Thanks to you, the future is looking more and more promising for all the students at KHS.

To wrap up this month of fundraising for KHS, though, we want to tell you about their latest project. When we launched this campaign at the beginning of January, we learned that Robert Bwambale, who founded and currently runs this evidence-based, humanist school, was building a new classroom.

The new classroom will be in use come February, and Robert has named it the Nelson Mandela classroom. Yes, we are all aware that Mandela was a believer, but he stood for human rights, just as Atheist Alliance International stands for human rights and just as Robert Bwambale stands for human rights. The education that students will get inside the completed Nelson Mandela classroom will still be secular, evidence-based and instill humanist values in the hearts and minds of the KHS students.

Nelson Mandela classroom

The Nelson Mandela classroom under construction at Kasese Humanist School.

Robert is building the Nelson Mandela classroom for grade 6 at the Kahendero campus. Initial fundraising gave the school enough to start the project, but they are short the money to build a door and shutters. They also need to purchase four windows. A coat of paint is required as well as a concrete floor. Robert suggested just $500 would enable him to finish this classroom. I told him that ought to be an easy goal to reach if your previous generosity towards this school is any indication.

We’ve set the goal at $500. You can donate here:


Nelson Mandela classroom

The Nelson Mandela classroom with an unfinished floor.

There is so much more than a secular humanist education that makes this school worthy of our support. Robert, who seems to live by the school’s motto, “with science, we can progress,” has implemented programs that I wish I could find at my own kids’ schools here in Canada. There is a vocational skills workshop, where high school students work in an auto shop on campus to learn to fix vehicles.

A student at KHS works on a vehicle in the auto shop.

A student at KHS works on a vehicle in the auto shop.

From used tires, instructors teach the students to build eco stoves that are more durable, portable and use less charcoal than other stoves commonly used in the area. These items are then sold at the market to supplement the school’s income.

Eco Stoves

Robert Bwambale poses with the eco stoves his students built.

In several locations, the Kasese Humanist School has gardens where they grow cassava, bananas, tomatoes, coffee, mangos, corn, peanuts, cotton, avocados, jack fruits, and acacia trees. The idea is eventual self-sufficiency, and so far, they’ve made a lot of use of the vegetables, livening up and enriching the meals for the students.

Robert harvesting corn in one of the gardens at KHS.

One recent Sunday, while many Ugandans were in church, Robert and his team planted 1000 eucalyptus trees at one of the campuses of KHS. Robert said,

“The trees planted are for poles, timber, and as they grow, they are helping in modifying climate, providing oxygen to animals, shelter to some birds, soil catchment, windbreakers and adding beautiful scenery to Kasese Humanist School.”

Baby eucalyptus trees, ready to plant.

I think we can all agree that Robert, his staff, and this school are remarkable and deserve all the support they can get. Please consider donating to help Robert finish his Nelson Mandela classroom.



We would also like to highlight some of the students at Kasese Humanist School who did not get as many donations as the others. If you could find it in your heart to give to these studious kiddos, donate here:

Francis Maweje

Francis Maweje

Francis Maweje only has $5 in donations. Click here to donate to his education fund.

Kirabo Susa

Kirabo Susa

Kirabo Susan only has $10 in donations. Click here to donate to her education fund.

Birungi Joan

Birungi Joan

Birungi Joan only has $5 in donations. Click here to donate to her education fund.

Tusemererwa Mercy

Tusemererwa Mercy

Tusemererwa Mercy only has $11 in donations. Click here to donate to her education fund.

Karamagi Wilson

Karamagi Wilson

Karamagi Wilson only has $5 in donations. Click here to donate to his education fund.

As January comes to an end, so will our feature of the Kasese Humanist School. That doesn’t mean you can’t follow what new things they’re doing. We will share updates regularly on our Facebook page. You can also follow the school’s Facebook page here.

We want to thank you for making the fundraisers for KHS such a booming success, and we can’t wait to post new photos of the children enjoying the textbooks and equipment you bought them. Thank you, atheists, for being generous for the sake of generosity, no promise of paradise required.



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God is a Consequentialist. The Theist’s Defence: God is Not Moral (I)

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I have written an essay that can be found variously on this site called “God Is a Consequentialist” in which I set out that God is a moral consequentialist. Some of which I will now set out or paraphrase before looking at the defence William Lane Craig and others use to get around this. This first piece will set out some of the ways that God is a consequentialist.

Firstly, let us look at the global flood involving Noah. In this passage (Genesis 6-9), God is revolted by all the sin committed by humanity and sends down a flood to kill all of humanity bar eight and all animals bar two of each kind (Genesis 6:7):

So YHWH said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

The classical interpretation of the characteristics of God is that he is at the same time omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. His all-loving characteristic is one with which we find most interest in this context. He destroys all the world’s population bar eight and all the world’s animals bar two of each kind. Is this a benevolent act? Surely not. Surely such destruction of people apparently endowed with moral dignity and of animals with no moral value per se must not have intrinsic moral goodness. So how can such an act be seen as being morally good, if not in the intrinsic value of the act?

The context is everything here. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is retribution. Humans could have been so sinful as to deserve almost entire eradication. Aside from this being an incredibly unlikely scenario (let us assume that this might be the case), this retributive punishment is incoherent with the death of a myriad of morally unaccountable, yet sentient, animals. Furthermore, retribution actually offers little in the way of constructive usefulness past a sort of deterrence which could be achieved in other ways without so much death, I wager. It could be argued that retribution has some moral value itself, but only insofar as it pertains to gaining pleasure for the agent. It would be easier to argue that catching the thief and putting him through successful rehabilitation would be a morally greater course of action than a retributive one.

The second way of looking at this is that God was trying to achieve a greater good in this seeming ‘evil’. Perhaps God needed to do this potentially harsh act in order to achieve a particular (all-loving) end. If this is the case, then God (whose acts can only be seen as morally perfect) is using this event and the lives of all those who perished to achieve an end. This is clearly a form of consequentialism. The moral value of the event was not in the event itself, but derived from the consequences, even though we might not know what these were. As is often cited as an answer for difficult moral dilemmas involving God, who knows the mind of God? God moves in mysterious ways!

A more recent event, the tsunami of 2004, has some poignant parallels with the global flood event. The world was shaken by the sheer force and fallout of such a massive natural phenomenon. Some 280,000 people died, as well as entire ecosystems and potentially billions of organisms perishing. God, with his classic characteristics, would have known this was going to happen and would have had the power to stop it. Being all-loving, all we can possibly conclude from his permissive will is that the tsunami must have served some greater good in order for it to be permitted by an omnibenevolent Creator deity.

It is difficult to second guess such reasons for allowing destruction of this magnitude. It could be a combination of reasons, seen by theologians as theodicies, or theories which seek to answer the Problem of Evil[1], such that it might seek to be character-building or soul-building (the Irenaean Theodicy) for the survivors (or even those who perished). The generally accepted maxim by Christian philosophers is that we cannot know the mind of God and he has his reasons (that perhaps we do not have the capabilities to understand) but that there must be a reason or a greater good to come from such suffering. In a debate with Jeffrey Jay Lowder, Phil Fernandes (a philosopher of religion and theologian) stated[2]:

“A theist … would have to argue that this is the greatest possible way to achieve the greatest possible world… God often uses evil and human suffering to draw people to himself. Now God’s ways and thoughts are far above our understanding and even the Scriptures state that. At best atheistic arguments show that limited minds can’t fully understand why God allows so much evil…”

This sort of rationalisation is commonplace, and William Craig has also reached similar conclusions when talking of the Problem of Evil in debates and also in his writing[3]:

Again, such an assumption is not necessarily true [that an omnibenevolent God would prefer a world without evil].  The fact is that in many cases we allow pain and suffering to occur in a person’s life in order to bring about some greater good or because we have some sufficient reason for allowing it.  Every parent knows this fact.  There comes a point at which a parent can no longer protect his child from every mishap; and there are other times when discipline must be inflicted on the child in order to teach him to become a mature, responsible, adult.  Similarly, God may permit suffering in our lives in order to build us or to test us, or to build and test others, or to achieve some other overriding end.  Thus, even though God is omnibenevolent, He might well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting pain and suffering in the world.

This is a clear exposition of the notion that the moral value of God’s decisions is being evaluated by an analysis of the consequences. Craig here seems to implicitly accept moral consequentialism as the system to justify God’s actions whilst simultaneously claiming God is not moral. William Lane Craig’s approach is to establish our morality in a reflection of God’s commands (such as “Love thy neighbour”), but to deny God the same moral obligation.

It is this response that I will concentrate on in the next post, now that I have set the scene.

NOTES:

[1] The Problem of Evil:

1. God exists.

2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

3. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.

4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.

5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.

6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.

7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.

8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

(The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Evidential Problem of Evil”, Nick Trakakis)

[2] This is oversimplifying matters, necessarily, as I could also introduce ideas of moral and/or reasons internalism and externalism here. For further reading, I would advise seeing Williams (1981) p. 101-13.
[3] Craig (2008) p. 172

 

Craig, William Lane (2008; 3rd Ed), A Reasonable Faith, Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL

Williams, Bernard (1981) “Internal and External Reasons”, in Williams’s Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press



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