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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Meteor shield dwindling (Page 3)

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Author Topic: Meteor shield dwindling
TomDavidson
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I think it would very, very difficult to make the case that moral relativism is logically inconsistent, as no philosopher has been successfully able to do so without positing the existence of a higher power.
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Dan_Frank
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Asserting that morality is relative is a moral statement, Tom. It's either true, or it isn't.

If it's false, okay, that's fine, that one moral statement is false but there could be other ones that are true. Objective morality is still on the table.

If it's true, then it's an objective truth about morality. So then it's false. So... see above.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
Asserting that morality is relative is a moral statement, Tom.
No, it's not. It's a truth statement. Asserting that morality being relative is a bad thing is a moral statement.
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Rakeesh
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People keep talking about all of these evangelical atheists (and Boris, you criticize *others* of seeking false rhetorical advantage, ha). Well, I've spent most of my life as either an atheist or an agnostic, and you know what? I rarely meet any others.

This is another sign of the privileged position other people and I have been talking about: for other beliefs, it's widely accepted-especially here-that 'people on the Internet' and small but noisy groups of a larger whole aren't at all, especially in the former case, an accurate measure of the whole.

Not for atheists, though. It was seriously put forward that talk on the Internet heard by one person, or in-person anecdotal experience of another, is enough to speak authoritatively about the whole. When if I were to say that Christians are a bunch of evolution-denying homophobes, I'd hear a lot of valid criticism, even though it's just about certain that just on the basis of numbers we've all heard more examples of that that 'evangelical atheism'.

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Boris
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quote:
You would expect atheists to be smarter than most people
Why would we expect this, exactly? Because being Atheist means you're smart? Or because there are a lot of smart Atheists? What are you using as the rational for your determination of what is "smart"? Are you an Atheist because you believe that Atheists are smart and you want to be perceived as intelligent? Don't you think there might be a lot of really unintelligent people who would be atheists because "Smart people are atheists"?
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TomDavidson
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For one thing, it's a proven fact that atheists are better at detecting sarcasm.
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
Asserting that morality is relative is a moral statement, Tom.
No, it's not. It's a truth statement. Asserting that morality being relative is a bad thing is a moral statement.
So objective truth exists, but not objective truth about morality?

I don't understand how truth can exist without morality. Morality is about how to think and how to live. There are right ways to find the truth of a matter, and there are wrong ways.

At a basic level, pretty much everybody has some moral knowledge, even people who claim morality doesn't exist.

Do you mean that morality is contextual?

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
For one thing, it's a proven fact that atheists are better at detecting sarcasm.

[Wink]
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TomDavidson
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quote:
So objective truth exists, but not objective truth about morality?
That's correct. Because it is true that, for example, the sun is a ball of plasma. It is arguably good or bad that the sun is a ball of plasma, but that determination can only be made by an individual.

quote:
I don't understand how truth can exist without morality. Morality is about how to think and how to live. There are right ways to find the truth of a matter, and there are wrong ways.
The truth of something is not always the value of something; more importantly, an assertion of the ultimate value of something cannot always be given a truth value. This is the mistake Ayn Rand makes when arguing for Objectivism, and which underlies ultimately all forms of utilitarianism: the idea that "good" can be objectively measured and consequently maximized.

I'm just enough of a utilitarian to believe that it can, for a given definition of "good." But that definition will inevitably wind up being unrecognizable to someone actually intending to use the word to mean something like what we mean by it in casual conversation. You have to do what Rand does: assign values to things and assert that your reason for doing so is better than someone else's, based on axiomatic premises. Rand, for example, makes the argument that free will is more important than pretty much everything else; the ability to freely exert one's will is in her worldview one of the highest virtues. But not everyone will agree with her, and there is no real way to call them wrong (or right) without first agreeing to accept or reject the axioms used to reach that conclusion (assuming that a truly logical argument has been built, which we're going to provisionally grant in this case even though it's not really true.)

-----------

quote:
Do you mean that morality is contextual?
Not only is it contextual, but those contexts are internal and individual. An individual can choose to accept a social model of morality, but there is no requirement that he do so.
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Thesifer
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Morality seems to come from within, and culture, more than anything, if I were to offer my opinion.

There are things that we can argue that would be "Wrong" regardless of what culture we are in, but that doesn't mean that culture sees it as wrong or even morally objectionable.

"Honor Killings" are 'morally acceptable' to some, and preferable to ruining the family name. Although you can argue, rightly, that it's morally wrong to take a life.

There are many other examples of 'different morals' but it can be stated with certainty that morals are not pushed from any all-knowing entity.
And there's no way to set a baseline for what is actually moral or immoral.

If that were the case people that did things that you find morally objectionable would also find those things to be morally objectionable, although they might still do them willingly.

There are a few christian homosexuals that might agree they are living in sin, and morally objectionable. But if that weren't something coming from within, there would not be other homosexuals that do not have a moral objection to being gay - as an example.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

quote:
Do you mean that morality is contextual?
Not only is it contextual, but those contexts are internal and individual. An individual can choose to accept a social model of morality, but there is no requirement that he do so.
You were talking about things like "ultimate values" and stuff in the excised text, and I'm not real interested in going down that road right now. Let's focus here for now.

Even if you state that something is contextual, internal, and individual, that doesn't really get you off the hook from objectivity.

Like I said before, objective morality goes all the way down to the very, very basic. Whatever contextual, individual, internal goal a person has, there are still good and bad ways to accomplish that goal. A method that doesn't do a good job of achieving that goal is objectively worse than one that does, right?

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TomDavidson
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quote:
Whatever contextual, individual, internal goal a person has, there are still good and bad ways to accomplish that goal.
Are you defining "good" here as "effective" or "efficient?" If so, I think you're probably going to want to read up on utilitarianism, since you're making the very classic utilitarian argument.
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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by Thesifer:
I honestly don't think there is a single valid reason for opposing homosexuals. So if you want to have that debate, that's fine. But it won't be with me.

And I can think of many reasons for supporting homosexuals quite a few of which are based on my religion.

Please stop lumping us all together.

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Aros
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I'm not sure that you can assert any sane individual would support total moral relativism.

This has to be contextualized. There is moral objectivity, at least in regard to a human society or community. Any acts that act toward destruction of a community would tend to be deemed wrong. Like the wanton murder of one's neighbors.

You can argue that all morality is relative and that it is perfectly fine to murder your neighbor, as long as you don't get caught. But that's sure as heck a relativistic claim that wouldn't get held up by any reasonable member of society (other than yourself). Objectively (to everyone else), the act is wrong.

Pure moral relativism is something that only whack-a-doos and serial killers ascribe to.

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Rakeesh
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Moral relativism means cold-blooded murder is OK?
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
Moral relativism means cold-blooded murder is OK?

Actual relativism? Sure. Why wouldn't it be?

quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
Whatever contextual, individual, internal goal a person has, there are still good and bad ways to accomplish that goal.
Are you defining "good" here as "effective" or "efficient?" If so, I think you're probably going to want to read up on utilitarianism, since you're making the very classic utilitarian argument.
I think that what I said stands without getting into the weeds of definitions.

If you want to create a spacecraft, there are good ways to try to do it, and there are bad ways to try to do it.

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Thesifer
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
quote:
Originally posted by Thesifer:
I honestly don't think there is a single valid reason for opposing homosexuals. So if you want to have that debate, that's fine. But it won't be with me.

And I can think of many reasons for supporting homosexuals quite a few of which are based on my religion.

Please stop lumping us all together.

The statement you quoted was by no means a "lump" in any form of the word. I was speaking specifically to one person, and giving a response.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
There is moral objectivity, at least in regard to a human society or community.
Heh. That's like saying, "What do you mean, there's no such thing as unicorns? There are unicorns, at least in regard to rhinoceroses and mutant, single-horned goats!"

--------

quote:
If you want to create a spacecraft, there are good ways to try to do it, and there are bad ways to try to do it.
If the cheapest, most efficient way to build a spacecraft involved whipping unpaid slaves to do the labor, would that be a "good way?" What if you needed to make a huge number of cheap spacecraft to save humanity from an incoming asteroid?

When you're discussing morality and attempting to link it to a given process or mechanism, it is vitally important to know what "good" means.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

quote:
If you want to create a spacecraft, there are good ways to try to do it, and there are bad ways to try to do it.
If the cheapest, most efficient way to build a spacecraft involved whipping unpaid slaves to do the labor, would that be a "good way?" What if you needed to make a huge number of cheap spacecraft to save humanity from an incoming asteroid?

No, that would be a worse method than building spaceships using free trade, creativity, and mutual benefit.

I don't just mean abstractly less moral in some nebulous way. I mean it would be the wrong way to do it. It would be worse.

There's a reason modern western society is wealthier, healthier, and more advanced and also has less slaves than 150 years ago. It's not just a random coincidence. Living well has consequences. Good ideas have consequences.

quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

When you're discussing morality and attempting to link it to a given process or mechanism, it is vitally important to know what "good" means.

I still don't understand what you mean. I think I am using words in their standard meanings. Would it help you if I posted the dictionary's definition of good?
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
There is moral objectivity, at least in regard to a human society or community.
Heh. That's like saying, "What do you mean, there's no such thing as unicorns? There are unicorns, at least in regard to rhinoceroses and mutant, single-horned goats!"

Is your point that morality wouldn't exist without humans?

Certainly. Morality is about how to make decisions. Take away decision-making entities and morality is meaningless.

So?

Heat is generated from energy. If there were no energy, there would be no heat. Does that mean heat is not an objective phenomenon?

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Rakeesh
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Doesn't seem a very good comparison at all, Dan. We can measure heat. We don't know it's an 'objective phenomenon' because of its connection to energy, but because it can be felt and measured and repeated.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
Morality is about how to make decisions.
No, it's not. Or, rather, not everything that is about how to make decisions is about morality. If your friend lives down the road to your left and you want to visit your friend, it is not morally superior to turn left. It is simply more effective. You're confusing effectiveness with rightness, which is what I was pointing out with the rocket example: what if we could build more and better rockets with slave labor? Would it be right to do so, even if we got more and better rockets out of the process?
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Aros
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All moral decisions may be subjective, but they are objective to a frame of reference. Actions can either be positive or negative with reference to a frame. For humans, these are often:

- Relation to self
- Relation to family
- Relation to community
- Relation to special interest
- Relation to country
- Relation to species
- Relation to other species
- Relation to the ecosystem / planet

I guess you might argue that you also have to infer that "positive" or "negative" also need to be specified -- whether benefit is short / long term, causal relationships to other groups or entities, etc.

It's rather an obtuse topic.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
All moral decisions may be subjective, but they are objective to a frame of reference.
This observation is the core of moral relativism.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
Like seriously if atheism is a belief, than we are all possessed of an infinite quantity of beliefs. If I am unconvinced that there are teacups in orbit around saturn, that is already a belief and a philosophy analogous to believing in God. Or infinite numbers of other things. Everyone is a practicing nonbeliever of the tens of thousands of gods they don't believe in. It's just ..

no.

i'm literally going to drink to purge the idea from my head now thanks

Atheism IS a belief. Aren't you thinking of agnosticism?

Most of the atheists I know, as opposed to the agnostics, spend more time proselytizing than any Christian. It's an active belief that God doesn't exist, and they're recruiting. Just like a few atheists on this thread.

You could make the case that a narrow subgroup of strong atheism is something of a belief structure. Atheism itself is as much not a belief structure as agnosticism.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Boris:
The reason you aren't willing to accept that Atheism is a belief akin to religion is that doing so robs you of a rhetorical advantage. "I do not have any religious beliefs, therefor it is not immoral, unkind, rude, or whatever for me to force my ideals and beliefs on others."

No, the reason why we are willing to accept that atheism is not a belief akin to religion is because we understand what belief structures are, and we understand what the definition of atheism actually is. Pretty much everything I've said on that matter still holds. You can DISLIKE that its separate categorization from religion certainly equips some arguments against religion, but it's easy to note, Boris, that pretty much nobody is making the X therefore Y argument you quote here, even though it is easy for you to proscribe the overarching testament on behalf of atheists because you feel persecuted by them.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
If you want to create a spacecraft, there are good ways to try to do it, and there are bad ways to try to do it.

When you say good or bad are you speaking about good or bad in a moral sense, or do you mean effective versus ineffective. Does the effectiveness of a spacecraft-building method apply to whether it is good or bad in a moral sense.
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Aros
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“Your petitioners are atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.

An atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it, and enjoy it.

An atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.

He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.

He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.

He believes that we are our brother's keepers and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”

http://atheists.org/atheism

. . . . I guess atheists don't believe anything.

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TomDavidson
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Hey, check out http://christians.org/, which undoubtedly speaks for all Christians. [Wink]

You are aware that the group American Atheists doesn't actually represent all atheism, right? *laugh* Please tell me you knew that already. And you're aware, moreover, that the statement in question was provided in a specific court case and could very easily have been demonstrated false even at the time it was presented? [Smile] And tell me that you realize that the list of "positive beliefs" given in your list is overwhelmingly a list of the only possible alternatives to divine intervention -- like "an atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said." While that's an oversimplification -- perhaps there's a third option -- it's not exactly a great example of a positive belief.

Anyway, to put your fears at ease, I have no doubt that there are lots of atheists out there -- many of them surely libertarians -- who do not want to see poverty eradicated, disease conquered, war eliminated, and brothers kept. But by far the majority of atheists do, just like the majority of humans do. Which is kind of the point. When you can substitute the phrase "almost all humans" for the word "atheists," and the only statement you can no longer make is "almost all humans do not believe in the existence of gods" (and similar ones, like "almost all humans do not believe in the power of prayer"), you realize pretty quickly that "atheism" isn't exactly a philosophy.

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Rakeesh
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So at what point are we allowed to stop taking you seriously on this subject, Aros? First it was 'my experience with atheists' permits sweeping generalizations. From Boris it was 'people on the Internet'. Now at least I suppose we're a step up from that sort of analysis-an actual statement made by an organization of atheists. That at least lacks the deplorable weakness of arguing from anecdote or Internet experience.

But if as Tom says, one of us were to select a single group of theists and then claim that 'there, see, theists believe this', you would have a host of prompt and relevant objections. Do you really not see the exact dang parallel to what you're doing?

But in any event, you *still* haven't actually made the claim for why stating that one doesn't believe there is reason to think something is true is an actual belief, such as belief in a deity is a belief.

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MattP
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quote:
I guess atheists don't believe anything.
There is no governing body for atheists, nor is there a canon of principles or doctrine. There are a handful of substantial atheist organizations, but they have no official status. Some atheists with similar goals and philosophies have come together to form these organizations, but they do not speak for all atheists.

It's impossible to know much about the beliefs of a person who identifies themselves as atheist from merely that identification. You know they don't believe in a deity and, by extension, they don't believe that a deity can influence the physical world or its inhabitants.

Perhaps it would help to point out that Christianity doesn't follow from theism - that there are a great variety of possible belief systems that accomodate a belief in a god or gods alone. Can you see how the lack of a such a belief is similarly unconstraining to the variety of beliefs that may be held by an individual?

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BlackBlade
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Tom: You need to remove the comma from your URL.
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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
http://atheists.org/atheism

Reads "*American* atheists"
Uh, a pretty simple reason that group doesn't represent me [Wink]

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Darth_Mauve
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I saw this on a Facebook post:

You do not need a religious belief to be moral.

You need empathy.

Without Empathy, the most religious person, following their religion, will do terribly immoral things.

With empathy you get sympathy, compassion, and a morality that all the Holy Books on Earth can not create.

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kmbboots
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The central tenet of most religions (and the one we tend to struggle with the most) is to love your neighbor as yourself. That is pretty much the essence of empathy, isn't it?
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Aros
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- I never said that "all atheists" had a belief system of atheism. I only said that some do. It got labelled "evangelical atheism" after the fact.
- I showed that Wikipedia agrees with me.
- I pointed to a group that testified to the Supreme Court with a statement of beliefs.

Do all atheists have a system of belief? No. Do some of them? Yes. Anecdotally, are some of them more prone to promoting their views than many theists? Yes.

Do you guys not read what you're arguing against?

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advice for robots
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Christianity ties meaningful worship of God together with empathy in the two great commandments--loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.

I know those often get uncoupled in practice, but suffice it to say that those two commandments are at the very core of Christian belief.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I pointed to a group that testified to the Supreme Court with a statement of beliefs.
Can you tell me what distinguishes them as atheist beliefs as opposed to, say, human beliefs?
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Rakeesh
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quote:
Atheism IS a belief. Aren't you thinking of agnosticism?

--

So, yes, under one definition you could say that atheism is a lack of belief. Under another definition you could say that it IS a belief that there is no divinity.

--

. . . . I guess atheists don't believe anything.

We're reading you sending mixed messages. If overall your message is 'for some atheists, it's a belief' as opposed to 'atheism is a beef', then no problem.
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Aros
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Good way to pick and choose, Rakeesh. You're really good at fact-finding. Here's one for you:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sarcasm

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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
I pointed to a group that testified to the Supreme Court with a statement of beliefs.
Can you tell me what distinguishes them as atheist beliefs as opposed to, say, human beliefs?
Yes. They self-identified themselves as atheists. You can say those are humanist beliefs all you like, and you'd be right. But they were a public group making an official statement of belief to Congress. I'd imagine that makes them atheists. And this holds up to the Wikipedia definition.

But you can use whatever definitions you like. At this point, this argument is truly a pointless exercise. Heck, it probably is anyway.

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Rakeesh
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If multiple people see the same thing and come to the same conclusion, and the conclusion isn't what you intended, maybe just maybe the communication glitch was on your end.
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Aros
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Rakeesh,

Okay. Find another person that couldn't see the sarcasm in "....I guess atheists don't believe anything."

You could start a club! Talk about girls and your least favorite teachers. With membership cards and everything.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
If you want to create a spacecraft, there are good ways to try to do it, and there are bad ways to try to do it.

When you say good or bad are you speaking about good or bad in a moral sense, or do you mean effective versus ineffective. Does the effectiveness of a spacecraft-building method apply to whether it is good or bad in a moral sense.
...Yes?

quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
Morality is about how to make decisions.
No, it's not. Or, rather, not everything that is about how to make decisions is about morality. If your friend lives down the road to your left and you want to visit your friend, it is not morally superior to turn left. It is simply more effective. You're confusing effectiveness with rightness, which is what I was pointing out with the rocket example: what if we could build more and better rockets with slave labor? Would it be right to do so, even if we got more and better rockets out of the process?
Taking away the context of the actual world we live in is sort of pointless. This is like saying "physics is subjective," and then when challenged saying "What if the laws of physics operated differently somewhere? Then it'd be subjective, right?"

It's a non sequitur. That's not the best way we know how make lots of effective spacecraft.

Are you familiar with the hypothetical wherein the individual motivation someone has is "Maximize the number of squirrels," and how that would play out?

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TomDavidson
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quote:
At this point, this argument is truly a pointless exercise.
Well, yeah. Just admit you're wrong and we can all feel like something's been accomplished.

------

quote:
Are you familiar with the hypothetical wherein the individual motivation someone has is "Maximize the number of squirrels," and how that would play out?
I sure am! And you, my friend, should consequently be aware of the concept of simplified thought experiments.

Seriously, though, Dan, the problem here is that you seem to be unable to draw a distinction between "most efficient" and "most good." This is going to make any ethical conversation with you difficult, since pretty much all anyone can do until you see that distinction is engage you in increasingly ridiculous Socratic dialogues.

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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
At this point, this argument is truly a pointless exercise.
Well, yeah. Just admit you're wrong and we can all feel like something's been accomplished.


So, you feel that my argument that "some atheists have a formed and developed atheist belief system" is incorrect?

Is that because:
- You don't feel they're atheists?
- You don't feel that their purported belief system can be called "atheist"?
- Whatever they call themselves, they aren't representative of a significant population of atheists?
- You don't like them? You were double-crossed one time and live your life plotting revenge?
- You've abandoned your senses and are living in a shack in Montana, waiting for the government to come and "take our guns"?

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

quote:
Are you familiar with the hypothetical wherein the individual motivation someone has is "Maximize the number of squirrels," and how that would play out?
I sure am! And you, my friend, should consequently be aware of the concept of simplified thought experiments.
Cool, where did you run into it? I didn't think it was very widely known, but I'm not really sure.

It's not simplified to remove important, contradictory details the way your suggestion that slave labor is actually good is, though. It's simplified to make its point very clear.

quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

Seriously, though, Dan, the problem here is that you seem to be unable to draw a distinction between "most efficient" and "most good." This is going to make any ethical conversation with you difficult, since pretty much all anyone can do until you see that distinction is engage you in increasingly ridiculous Socratic dialogues.

It's not just "efficient," though. There are many definitions of "efficient" that would be totally immoral. But yeah, I do think that which is rational and practical (and is actually efficient) is what is moral.

Here, let's get back to something else that you said:
quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
Morality is about how to make decisions.
No, it's not. Or, rather, not everything that is about how to make decisions is about morality. If your friend lives down the road to your left and you want to visit your friend, it is not morally superior to turn left.
Yeah it is. Just on a very small, somewhat irrelevant scale.

If you turn right, you made a mistake. No big deal, and I agree most people wouldn't notice the moral distinction there. But let's look at it a little more.

If you notice it and don't do it anymore, you've improved. If you keep doing it, though, then you're not learning from your mistake. You're living irrationally, and irresponsibly. At least in this one tiny sphere of your life.

At this point it might be a little easier to see that this is a bad way of living, and to pass moral judgment. There's still a long way from this level of bad living to one of the big moral failures, like being a murderer, of course.

But those moral failures come about because of countless smaller ones. Someone living rationally and solving their problems consistently isn't going to suddenly murder someone.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
So, you feel that my argument that "some atheists have a formed and developed atheist belief system" is incorrect?
Rather, that it's irrelevant. Because what you were previously claiming was that atheism was itself a belief system, not that some atheists have a belief system that is compatible with a lack of belief in any gods. The first is more rhetorically useful, but is untrue. The second is accurate, but also entirely irrelevant.

------------

quote:
But yeah, I do think that which is rational and practical (and is actually efficient) is what is moral.
Then let me go back to suggesting that you read up on utilitarianism. [Smile]
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:

quote:
But yeah, I do think that which is rational and practical (and is actually efficient) is what is moral.
Then let me go back to suggesting that you read up on utilitarianism. [Smile]
I have. What I said there is actually much closer to Objectivism, in terms of mainstream moral philosophy. It's not too surprising if you don't recognize that, though.
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TomDavidson
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I consider Objectivism to be just another form of utilitarianism, albeit one that's not quite as rational.

But, seriously, let's go back to the "maximize squirrels" bit for a second to discuss why all morality has to be subjective: because even if your goal is to maximize happiness (as just an example of one moral goal a utilitarian might set), you still have to decide whether your goal is to reduce sadness, maximize individual happiness, increase the average level of happiness, or increase the sum total of happiness (by some metric). Each of these results might look very different. Heck, Objectivism might be said to be utilitarianism with a core goal of "maximize personal self-determination."

But there is no way to establish which of these goals is best, because the very definition of "best" depends on choosing a goal ahead of time. There's no objective indicator you can use -- despite Rand's insistence otherwise, mind -- to determine which of the very many things you might want humanity to accomplish is in fact the ultimate thing.

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