Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kirk Durston: Apologist for Genocide

Kirk Durston is a graduate student in biology at the University of Guelph, and the director of something called the New Scholars Society. This Society's mission statement is

"TO PROMOTE CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP IN EVERY FIELD, WITH A SPECIAL INTEREST IN THOSE AREAS WHERE PHILOSOPHY, FAITH, AND SCIENCE INTERSECT, ESPECIALLY THE PROBLEMS AND ISSUES THAT ARISE OUT OF THAT INTERSECTION.

TO PROMOTE THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION WITH RESPECT TO THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT OF LIFE.

TO BE A RESOURCE TO THOSE FACULTY AND SCHOLARS WHO HAVE AN INTEREST IN DEVELOPING THE SPIRITUAL AREA OF THEIR LIVES, FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE."

You can find their "statement of faith" here. It's the usual fundagelical claptrap about the bible being "uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts."

Durston is active in fundagelical affairs. For example, look at this interview supporting intelligent design. How many misrepresentations can you find there?

Durston spoke last Wednesday, June 20, at the University of Waterloo on the topic "Is Genocide Wrong? What are moral absolutes and where do they come from?"

Durston made the usual nonsensical argument that moral absolutes exist, and that they only make sense if they come from a god. He claimed, for example, that if morals are relative, we would have not justification for claiming that the Nazi genocide of Jews was wrong. He claimed that those who follow "traditional moralilty" are happier and more successful. He insisted that Christians have a lower divorce rate than non-Christians. However, Durston's claim is at odds with a Barna survey that showed that atheists and agnostics actually have the lowest divorce rate (21%). When asked about this, Durston dismissed the evidence, invoking the classic "no true Scotsman" fallacy by claiming that many people say they are Christian when they are actually not.

Durston surveyed various ways to obtain moral guidance, but totally omitted a naturalistic approach to ethics, namely the view that ethical principles are part of our evolutionary heritage. There is a reasonable amount of evidence for this latter view, such as the work of primatologist Frans de Waal (e.g., Chimpanzee Politics, showing that chimpanzees apparently have a moral code) and the field of evolutionary psychology (e.g., Robert Wright, The Moral Animal). In general, his presentation was barely at the level of freshman philosophy paper.

But the most repulsive part of Durston's talk was when someone from the audience asked why Durston's condemnation of genocide would not apply equally well to the god of the Old Testament, who indulged in genocide himself, in particular the genocide of the Canaanites. Suddenly Durston's tune changed. Instead of condemning this genocide, Durston sought to justify it. Genocide was OK, he claimed, if his god ordained it. Indeed, he said that the only thing that prevented him from going and out murdering people for his advantage was his religious belief.

If God ordained genocide in our modern day, Durston said, he would obey. However, he said he would have to be very convinced that this call was correct. God would have to appear to all Canadians in an unmistakable way. If that happened, we would have to obey and kill those we were instructed to.

If there is any better example of how fundamentalist Christianity is morally bankrupt, I can't think of it. Any crime, no matter how vile, is OK if their god commands it. What else but religion could make a good person become an apologist for genocide?

Addendum (added October 26 2007): Kirk Durston has asked me to post this clarification regarding his views on genocide. He agrees that he would participate in genocide if God ordained it, but he says the conditions must be extremely stringent: it must be that (for example) God simultaneously appears to every Canadian, in an impressive and undeniable show, so that every single Canadian is convinced of his existence (even atheists) and also convinced that God wants us (for example) to kill Americans. Only under these very strong conditions, he says, would genocide be permitted.

In my opinion, I already summarized this view in the paragraphs above, so I don't understand the need for the "clarification", but I've added it anyway.

35 comments:

RBH said...

Genocide was OK, he claimed, if his god ordained it. Indeed, he said that the only thing that prevented him from going and out murdering people for his advantage was his religious belief.

If God ordained genocide in our modern day, Durston said, he would obey. However, he said he would have to be very convinced that this call was correct. God would have to appear to all Canadians in an unmistakable way. If that happened, we would have to obey and kill those we were instructed to.


It is that level of insanity (and I use that word advisedly) that makes me tend more and more to the 'militant atheist' camp. If enough Canadians (or Americans or Iraqis or whatever) hear the same imaginary voices, Durston believes it moral to commit genocide in obedience to those voices. And moderate Christians, I am coming increasingly to believe, only enable that view by their valuing of belief over evidence, faith over skepticism. Until and unless moderate Christians repudiate that insanity, they are a non-trivial part of the problem.

And your echo of Wienberg is entirely apposite.

RBH

Mark said...

Poeple like this scare me considerably. There is little difference between this breed and those who fly airplanes into buildings, or strap bombs to themselves and detonate them in the midst of public markets.

Such people imagine that an absolute power exists, and that whatever this power says is good and just, no matter what it is. But what is truly scary is they sincerely believe that they understand what that God is telling them to do. They kill without anguish. Without concern. Without thought.

The world needs to rid itself of this particular mental illness.

the rev. said...

Mark,
You're wrong. There is virtually NO difference between someone who argues that genocide is okay if his god says its okay and a suicide bomber who expects to wake up in paradise for martyring himself. In fact, I think it could be argued that the former is more dangerous than the latter.

Anonymous said...

If Durston isn't that smart you should prove it and debate him at U of Guelph next week. Campus for Christ is looking for a debater to take him on in the question, "Should a 21st century scientist believe in God?" Thus for, no one on the negative side has steped up to the plate.YOur Thoughts?
jamie.strickland@c4c.ca

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Jamie:

I never said that Kirk Durston "wasn't smart".

Besides, I'm already debating him at the University of Waterloo on Thursday, and that's commitment enough for me.

Anonymous said...

I'm not anonymous... I just don't blog.

"ethical principles are part of our evolutionary heritage"-Jeffrey

I can agree with you on that, Jeffrey. However, I'd have to point out that to stay consistent to our evolutionary explanation of ethical principles (given that God doesn't exist to impart them to us) you would ALSO have to concede that those who "believe" in religious ethical principles must be products of some sort of genetic mutation that predisposes them to have those religious "ethics" (regardless of what religion). Apparently the mutation that "Christians" have hasn't been weeded out yet. It remains to be seen whether that gene is "fit" enough to survive.


"They kill without anguish. Without concern. Without thought."-Mark

What is this crap? War propaganda? Do they eat babies too, Mark? Where did you do your research on the psychology of suicide bombers and "genocide apologists"? You sound like an ignorant fundamentalist telling war stories about the "savage indians". Way to give atheists a good name! I have a few fundagelical friends who claim to want to follow their god, but they're not brainwashed to accept all "commands" without remorse or concern. And I know that they're not just the exception to the rule.

"The world needs to rid itself of this particular mental illness."-Mark


"What else but religion could make a good person become an apologist for genocide?"-Jeffrey

Well, Jeffrey, apparently you should ask that question of Mark, since he basically wants the earth to rid itself of the gene that predisposes people to believe in religious crap. How would we do that? Should we prevent them from having babies?

I have to check out this debate. If this Kirk guy is as "first year philosophy" as Jeffrey said, it should be a good laugh. If not, I'm not afraid to admit if he has some good points.

yumikochao@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

No Jeffrey, you didn't SAY "Kirk isn't smart". Here's what you implied:

Kirk fits your definition of a fundamentalist evangelical.

His interview on intelligent design is full of misrepresentations (which he was too stupid or too brainwashed to note, unlike you, who noted them).

His argument was nonsensical.

He "invoked the 'no true Scotsman' fallacy, which you've actually accused people of several times and labelled wrongly in articles in your blog. (incidentally, do you think you understand Christianity better than Kirk? it's a fair question)

You said his presentation was "barely at the level of a freshman philosophy paper".

Then you implied that Kirk, along with ALL fundamentalist Christianity is completely morally bankrupt.

But yeah, you're right, you never said Kirk isn't smart.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

Religion, like many dogmas, can blind people to the foolishness of their opinions. Very smart people can hold ridiculous notions. For example, Francis Colllins, leader of the Human Genome project, is a very smart man, but his book, The Language of God, is an exercise in foolishness.

I didn't say that Kirk Durston was stupid, and I don't believe he is. You don't get to be a Ph D student without some smarts. It's just that his arguments were poor.

As for the moral bankruptcy of fundamentalist Christianity, I think that should be clear to all but the most biased observer. When a system of beliefs encourages hatred against homosexuals and blocks stem-cell research, what conclusion can one draw? But being morally bankrupt doesn't imply stupidity, either. There are lots of intelligent but evil people.

I'd recommend reading what I wrote, not what you're hoping to find in it.

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey:
Atheism, like many dogmas, can blind people to the foolishness of their opinions.

Jeffrey, you're making some incredibly misguided ASSumptions. First of all, I read exactly what you wrote. As a matter of fact I didn't read what I was hoping to find in it because it wasn't there. I was hoping to find a well formed argument that I myself might use to level against Durston in the upcoming event. I actually wasn't hoping to find such an unbalanced view (or at least language indicative of such a view)that would spur some of the comments that follow. No, I don't hold you responsible for what others say, but I do hold you responsible for what you personally communicate to us about someone. Don't misunderstand me. I am a proponent for free speech, but I honestly have to question the morals of someone who feels it's acceptable to misrepresent someone to an extreme that feeds an already shakey fear or hatred (or even mockery) of that person or their ilk.

Jeffrey, I note your words and references are carefully chosen to avoid SOME misunderstanding. However, this blog entry (and the responses that have not challenged your assumptions) don't seem to be generating an intelligent scholarly conversation, but rather a platform for bigotry and intolerance. So far, in the process of (apparently) trying to give religion a bad name, we're falling into creating a bad name for ourselves.

So as to avoid any

To avoid any confusion, I'm not defending Durston or Christianity. I'm merely trying to discourage what I see as unhelpful double standards when we make statements about people who don't believe the things we do.

Yumiko

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yumiko:

Atheism isn't a dogma, it's a rejection of the dogmas of religion. Atheism says, I don't accept your claims about the supernatural. I don't say definitively there is no god, I only say the evidence isn't currently there. In exactly the same way, I don't say Bigfoot definitively doesn't exist, only that the evidence isn't in the least compelling.

So your facile parallel between atheism and religion is not suitable.

You say, "I honestly have to question the morals of someone who feels it's acceptable to misrepresent someone to an extreme..."

But you've provided no evidence whatsoever that I misrepresented Durston in any way.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate how you jump on semantics and incorrect definitions, while you ignore everything else I said.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yumiko:

Semantics is everything, since semantics is meaning. I notice you don't back up your baseless charge that I misrepresented Durston.

If you have a coherent point you want me to address, feel free to state it. So far, I've addressed everything I considered worthwhile addressing.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Kirk Durston asked me to post the following:


Jeffrey, thank you for the link. Your addition is closer to what I said to the fellow during the Q&A. I can't say that say that I'm impressed by the tone and emotive wording of the article you wrote.
Without the context of what I actually said during the course of that talk, your entire article certainly comes out with a very different flavour. However, I would hope that your readers would have the intelligence to realize that they are hearing something second hand from an individual who may not, shall we say, be entirely objective when reporting what Christians say in their lectures. A smart person will always check things out for herself, so I trust that you encourage your disciples to actually come out and hear what I have to say in my own words.

(You can put the above as one of the responses to your blog, if you wish, although I'd ask that it go in word-for-word if you do).

I enjoyed meeting you last night, Jeffrey. You are certainly an interesting person. I'd enjoy having coffee with you sometime when I'm at the U of W (I collaborate with Dr. Andrew Wong and some of the
other researchers over at Systems Design). I'd be interested in hearing more of your perspective on certain issues.


I should note that I don't have any "disciples" and don't really want any, and that I can only report on events from my own point of view. I think I represented Kirk's comments fairly. He seems to disagree, but doesn't really specify precisely what I said that was inaccurate.

Jason said...

I just saw your debate - YOU ROCK! You represented the ideal of scientific thought. I'm so use to seeing atheist debate with a faulty understanding of semantics (like Richard Dawkins), speaking about 'truths' and 'proofs'. Kudos to your synergy of semantical understanding, charismatic presentation and excellent research.

Anonymous said...

Jeffery,

Are you in favor of murdering millions of babies? I can define your Athiest fundie friends as haters much worse than any Judeo-Christian historical account.

Stalin murdered over 20 million of his own people. He committed vast murder do to hatred of Jews and Christians.

Mao murdered in estimations up to 40-60 million Chinese. That is the result of Athiest hatred and blind meaningless existence.

In fact, the Chinese today, most dogmatic atheist still imprison and murder innocents for their religious beliefs. That is real life. It is not a hypothetical. So you have AFundies murdering people today.

Your atheist beliefs have no evidence of moral values. Materialist Evolution cannot create love, altruistic meaning or any number emotive highly nuanced value based systems. All Materialist Evolution can create is Monsters of Death like Stalin or Mao.

Christian beliefs, as interpreted from Yeshua/Jesus teachings however based upon New Testament Doctrine did not advocate violence, except for nations to defend themselves.

You are an accident and therefore have no value. You are not a human, your just a bunch of meaningless atoms arranged by accident over a billion years. One accident at a time. You are a function of your genes and act selfishly and blindly only for your own survival. You can care less about 45 million murdered babies or for the death of 2.5 million Sudanese. If you have any feelings they are unjustified neural net responses which should simply be ignored.

You have no moral high ground because your value is worthless based upon your philosophical beliefs in athiestic evolution and materialism.

Over 45 million babies have been murdered in the name of Margaret Sanger across America. An Evolutionist, Eugenist, and Racist who thought, taught it best to abort/murder blacks and other "undersirables." She fought for these racist murdering sprees her whole life right along with Hitler's Eugenics programs. Yes, she was anti-semite too. Damn the Jews again - atheist charge!

Yet you do not quibble over this loss. Yet you try to hold the high ground in a hypothetical? While 45 million babies lie dead? murdered? Discarded in waste bins? Bodies, heads sucked out, fingers, hands, limbs torn apart?

Please spare us your dismal attempt at emotive whining. Your nothing but lost or a full blown deceiver. Truth is Atheist have been dogmatic fundie murderers all over the world. And worse, they don't just attack adults who can defend themselves. They attack the weak, the deformed, the malnourished, the poor of society, the blacks, the Jews, etc., etc.

How many Canadian babies have been murdered while you toss out hypocritical insults daily against Christians? Or you flaunt your apriori decision that materialism is the only way forward and atheist have the high ground? How absurd.

It is estimated 100 million Chinese babies have been murdered.

Yes Athiest have their fundies, their dogmatic nutjobs as well and have caused destruction on this earth far and above anything quoted from bibilica times up until this day.

The tribes who sacrificed live babies to fire were wiped out by Israel. This is true. Pharoh in Egypt wiped out male Jewish babies in mass, not because of any god, but because Jews were multipling to fast. Harrod himself ordered the murder of Jewish babies in mass. He did not believe in the Jewish God, did he?

As to embryonic stem cells...
Why don't you add up the number of medical advancements from Adult stems cells in comparison to the tumorous failures of embryonic stem cells?

Adult Stem cells are in use in clinical human trials and succeeding. People have lived with Adult stem cells replacing organs(bladder) now for several years with no complications.

Embryonic stem cell research recieve funding in any state that authorizes it. In California - 3 Billion dollars has failed to produce any results. Failures. Why do Billion dollar corporations need government money? If embryonic stem cell is so promising, why don't they fund their own research? Why are Adult stem cell research projects already working in real world clinical trials?

In America, we have this old idea that Taxation without Representation is evil. Jefferson classified Taxes used against peoples moral will as a form of Tyranny. I can understand how a materialist without a value system can be confused by such moral issues.

Your assertions that "atheism" is not dogmatic is just an assertion you can only make as an individual, nothing more. Whether or not you are dogmatic is different from other individuals and groups as I have just shown you by several examples of millions dead at the hands of Dogmatic, FundieAtheist. Although u seem very close minded through all your insults and claptrap mockery. Without considering the other side of your own atheist coin in history.

And your explanation of atheism does seem closer to agnostic beliefs. You at least admit you cannot prove a negative.

But I'm sure you are all over the Multi-Universe option? Do you have "faith" in Multi-Universe?

Afterall, Koonin has succomb to depending on it to defend the absurd Dogmatic Neo-Darwinist drivel still being forced upon students and society today in classrooms around our nation. Koonin admits as much that the only way out of the current atheistic conundrum of materialist evolution is = Ding = Faith in Multi-verses. He believes in things unseen, untestable and most improbable. Multi-U's are just as improbable as Aliens or a External Creator. In fact, Panspermia is more acceptable, even by Dogmatics like Richard Dawkins who had to admit that "maybe" Aliens did seed earth.

LOL! To hilarious. But then who seeded the Aliens atheist? Haha.

The Darwins tree has fallen hard in the last few years and papers are being published that Darwin was wrong(see Doolittle). Gradualism is dead and so is the Darwin Tree. The Modern Synthesis is giving way, it is being superceeded. JunkDNA is Dead too.
Everything materialist based their assumptions on apriori, no Creator, accidental life is being overturned more every day with each new discovery of complex code uncovered in life.

Darwin had no clue about cells or mathematics, informational sciences or software/hardware. Not to mention he regurgitated much of his opinion from other authors. He was a poor scientist in comparison to many of the greats of his time.

I might add, it is Mendel, a Christian Monk that led the revolution to genetics once rediscovered. It was Linneaus, another Christian that led taxonomy.

Darwin was a good copier of others ideas. He did put together a picutre rather well. But the truth is he was not the first. Everyone, including religious naturalist at the time were well aware of natural selection as a concept through breeding. In fact, 2000 years ago, Jacob himself, a poor shepherd herder new how selection worked, LOL.

But hey, don't let facts get in your way. Stick to your atheist worldview. Keep rewriting history in your own atheistic "un-dogmatic," charming way.

LOL...
Gideons Rush

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Gideon:

I find it fascinating how many logical fallacies you can cram into one comment. And your choice of pseudonym is appropriate, as the Gideon of the Bible was a truly contemptible person, who murdered and tortured people.

Logical fallacy #1: You imply
1. Stalin was an atheist.
2. Shallit is an atheist.
3. Stalin was a murderer.
4. Therefore, Shallit supports murderers.

The ridiculousness of this argument should be apparent to anyone with connected brain cells. With your logic, you could have just as easily said

1. Stalin was a Georgian
2. Stalin was a murderer.
3. Therefore, all Georgians support murderers.

Both atheists and believers have committed murders. The question is, which ones committed their murders because of their beliefs. You have not shown that Stalin and Mao committed murders because their atheism told them to do so.

Actually, there is some reasonably good evidence that atheists in the US behave more ethically than believers. See, for example, R. E. Smith, G. Wheeler, and E. Diener, Faith without works: Jesus people,
resistance to temptation, and altruism, J. Applied Social Psychology 5 (1975), 320-330.

You write, "Materialist Evolution cannot create love, altruistic meaning or any number emotive highly nuanced value based systems." This is just a dogmatic assertion, without any evidence provided. Many disagree; see, for example, Robert Wright's The Moral Animal.

As for abortion, it is not really worthwhile to argue with someone who cannot distinguish a baby from a fetus.

One of the signs of the true crackpot is that he attacks the greatest scientists. True, Darwin did not know what we know now, but he still was one of the greatest scientists that ever lived. Your dismissal of his work as "copying" shows no understanding of his accomplishments.

JGF White said...

@Jeffrey

"Both atheists and believers have committed murders". Regrettably true. Gideon should've left his point at that. I agree with you Jeffrey that these fellows were not spurned by their atheistic thinking to commit these acts, but on the contrary, these beliefs did not STOP these individuals from carrying out these atrocities. I criticize your view of morality only because it (strongly appears to be) based on genetics and not on something even remotely objective. If evolution really does play such a large part in how we perceive wrong and right then this puts very little onus on the individual. That is to say, it is not pragmatic to discuss matters of correct or incorrect morality because of the relative differences genetically between groups as well as the allowance of individuals to make terrible choices in light of these differences. What then is advancement and what is not? If committing genocide facilitates the prosperity of my local gene pool why does it even matter? If there is a net gain in population, sustainability, and so called quality of life what is the issue? Subjective perception of pain doesn’t necessarily function as a measure of morality either as based in genetics. If an individual cannot perceive pain then “let us have fun and try and mutilate them, it’s not wrong!” I’m only being facetious to try and make a point. Evolution is quite ugly when you think about it, we do what we have to do to survive; talking about morality is a waste of time. There are only two rules: survive and impart to survive. What makes these rules not arbitrary? Are we assuming that they are innate? If we assume the evolutionary process from first cellular life then genetics really plays less of a role then we think in our understanding of morality, if at all.


JGF White

Jeffrey Shallit said...

JGF White:

I think you have a deficient understanding of evolution. There is no logical problem at all in evolution producing cooperative behavior, or even what you would call "moral" behavior. Read The Moral Animal by Robert Wright.

Furthermore, there is good evidence that cooperative behavior has occurred -- without religion -- in other species. Read any of the work of Frans de Waal, such as Chimpanzee Politics.

Come back when you've read those and then maybe we can have a discussion.

JGF White said...

@Jeffrey

I never said that evolution could not produce cooperative behaviour; this is clearly self-evident. I simply stated that morality cannot be based on genetics or relativistic thinking. Right and wrong instead become “right or wrong for a certain circumstance”. Perhaps this is what you’re actually positing, which therefore negates the “problem” of (for example) historical genocides because of the relative lack of historical information as to why these occurred in the first place. A certain ignorance of the facts does not allow us (from your position) to label their behaviour as moral or immoral. This bridges into the area of historical criticism which the current educated secularist (which, correct me if I’m wrong, is your position) tends to hold, particularly in the area of biblical criticism, which was the topic you discussed above. Essentially you fail your own test; your position’s negation of the truth claims of the material does not allow you label it moral or immoral. If you did assume its truth claims, you would have to do this holistically, without straw-men arguments and we all know that you won’t do that. ;-) All I’m saying is that your position tends to limit your ability to label what is moral and what is not, which ultimately shows that it is not worth it for you discuss it in the first place.

You bring up evidence of cooperative behaviour in other species without religion. I really don’t see how this is relevant to what I said considering I said nothing pertaining to religion in my previous post.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I simply stated that morality cannot be based on genetics or relativistic thinking.

Sure they can - except I would use "ethics" rather than "morality" because of the religious connotations of "morality".

which therefore negates the “problem” of (for example) historical genocides because of the relative lack of historical information as to why these occurred in the first place.

No, it doesn't - since we judge such genocides based on the particular ethical rules that our society has come to agree on.

Essentially you fail your own test

I would like to propose a new rule: whenever anyone
claims that a philosophical argument is self-defeating, it's time to find someone more interesting to argue with.

JGF White said...

@Jeffrey

I suppose you’re right, if you choose to live without ultimate meaning in such forms of “ethics”. You say that ethical rules are based on norms which our society has come to agree on. You disappoint me Jeffrey, if their society came to agree it was fine to commit genocide then it’s permissible for them to judge it moral just as we judge it immoral. It’s ultimately arbitrary. Don’t fall under the illusion that our technologically advanced society has helped with this. You should be well aware of the amount of pain we have caused each other (and still cause each other) through such advances. Not that I don’t appreciate such advances, I just cannot say that our educated mind has changed our nature as human beings.
On the topic of claiming self-defeating statements… If you don’t wish to discuss truth and just want to dance around semantics and what makes you feel good, then by all means continue in your silliness. I have better things to do with my time. If you wish to legitimately detail where you disagree with my arguments you should do so and not just feign disinterest or post petty responses; if you don’t then you do not respect me as an opponent. Maybe the process of discovery of truth in discussion isn’t important to you and you’re so entrenched in your position that your bias precedes truth. Or maybe you just don’t have answers to what I have to say, which I hope you don’t. Either way, you insult yourself.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Mr. White:

Your comments are full of presuppositions which you are blind to. For example, define "permissible". What makes an action permissible and others impermissible?

Maybe the process of discovery of truth in discussion isn’t important to you and you’re so entrenched in your position that your bias precedes truth. Or maybe you just don’t have answers to what I have to say, which I hope you don’t.

Or maybe I have given answers that you find so unacceptable you can't see them when they are there.

Either way, you insult yourself.

Yet another example of the "your argument is self-defeating" con. What's next, talking of "category errors"?

JGF White said...

Mr. Shallit:

If you read the context of what I was saying you would realize that I was applying your proposed ethical standard to the given situation. It’s not a presupposition to use the word ‘permissible’ considering I was applying YOUR OWN system of thinking. I mean, if you don’t believe your system is transferable to others than that’s okay, just don’t tell me mine shouldn’t be used. In fact, why are we discussing this at all if this is the case? Please… this is tiresomely ridiculous. Why is it so hard for you to accept that your position can make no claims as to how or why atrocities are wrong or right? You’ve made no legitimate argument against this, hence why I don’t find your answers acceptable. And really… if your argument is not philosophically self-defeating, why is it so hard for you to point out to me where it isn’t? I write on these blogs to get answers to my questions, not because I enjoy rhetoric.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Sorry for the delay in posting your comment - blogger thought your comment was spam - how appropriate!

You seem extremely confused. You don't have a good understanding of what my ethical views are, yet you feel capable of pronouncing on them. Meanwhile, your own views - as much as I can glean of them - seem quite inchoate.

Here is one misunderstanding of yours: to say that an action is "wrong" can mean many things. For example, it can mean "I think it is wrong" or "Society has determined it is wrong" or ... So there is no self-contradiction at all in my characterization of genocide as "wrong", provided you understand what "wrong" means for me.

Why is it so hard for you to accept that your position can make no claims as to how or why atrocities are wrong or right?

Because I always find it hard to accept false claims, particularly when they are delivered with such smug and arrogant self-assurance.

JGF White said...

Both of the criterion you used in your definition/description of “wrong” were subjectively substantiated which is arbitrary considering other individuals can substantiate that their actions are “right” by the same basis. This therefore doesn’t allow you to criticise their actions. It doesn’t matter that the word ‘wrong’ is relativistically defined because it still remains subjectively based. Again… if you choose to live like this then that’s okay, just don’t expect to criticise other’s views and be taken seriously; they’re just subjectively basing their arguments as you do.

How many ‘claims’ have I actually posited? Most of my statements have been criticisms of your worldview, which (if haven’t managed to mention at least 3 times) you haven’t directly addressed. If you can’t answer them, you should just say so rather than refusing to address them. You shouldn’t criticise the inchoate nature of my views if you can’t first respond to the criticisms of your own (which I happened to do first).

Also… you failed to comment on my pointing out your contextual mistake above. I’ll take this as a point in my favour.

I apologize for the apparent arrogant or smug nature of my writing. It tends to be the nature of the medium. Perhaps I perceive your claims as more hostile than they are as well and a feedback loop is developing. Regardless, I asked that question hoping for an answer based in reason, not in emotion. Again… your view displays its subjective and arbitrary nature.

Will you respond with more semantically argumentative discourse or will you finally address the criticisms I have brought to light? I really do have better things to be doing with my time.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Both of the criterion you used in your definition/description of “wrong” were subjectively substantiated which is arbitrary considering other individuals can substantiate that their actions are “right” by the same basis.

You're wrong again. Society's view of ethical behavior is not "arbitrary", since it depends in part on our evolutionary history.

Do you also criticize modern mathematics because the choice of axiom system, such as ZFC, is "arbitrary"?

Really, do you even bother to think about what you're saying?

you failed to comment on my pointing out your contextual mistake above. I’ll take this as a point in my favour.

Take it any way you want - I have no idea what you're babbling about.

Will you respond with more semantically argumentative discourse or will you finally address the criticisms I have brought to light? I really do have better things to be doing with my time.

Then do them, because you're not impressing me with your "criticisms" -- which amount to making unjustified claims, taking unjustified leaps, and not really addressing my responses.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

P. S. The "claim" I was referring to in the penultimate response was that my "position can make no claims as to how or why atrocities are wrong or right". It certainly can, and does.

JGF White said...

I don’t have sufficient knowledge to comment on modern mathematical theory nor do considerate it a loss to my immediate position.

If our view of ethical behaviour is based in part on our evolutionary history then it could just as easily revert to any other state whereby it substantiates itself by its new basis. Ultimately it’s still arbitrary, subjective and situational.

The contextual mistake I was previously referring to was your questioning of my use of the word ‘permissible’. It was the first thing I addressed, I thought you would realize. Forgive me for not being clearer.

What unjustified claims/leaps have I made in my criticisms? And like I said in my previous responses, YOU’VE been the one that hasn’t been addressing my responses. I believe I hold the prior claim.

You say your position can and does make claims as to how/why previously stated atrocities are wrong. Please elaborate; I don`t easily take statements at face value.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

If our view of ethical behaviour is based in part on our evolutionary history then it could just as easily revert to any other state whereby it substantiates itself by its new basis.

Just as easily as what? I can see you know as much about evolution as you do about mathematics. Hint: in evolution not all paths are equally likely.

Ultimately it’s still arbitrary, subjective and situational.

I recommend a good dictionary - your use of the word "arbitrary" does not match with mine, nor the rest of the world's.

How about giving us an example of a system of ethics that is not "arbitrary", according to your own idiosyncratic view of the term? Hint: if it depends on the whims of an unseen supernatural being, what could be more arbitrary than that?

You say your position can and does make claims as to how/why previously stated atrocities are wrong.


Go read The Moral Animal, and come back when you've understood it. Another good one is Darwinism and Human Affairs.

YOU’VE been the one that hasn’t been addressing my responses.

Don't lie; it makes it harder to take you seriously.

JGF White said...

Just as easily as it got to the state it did. If one set adapts to a level in which they see genocide of the rest of the sets as a viable and ethical behaviour, how can you say it isn`t if they are more evolved and you aren’t? I’m not saying this happens over night, but it will eventually happen given the right process.

Oxford Dictionary: Arbitrary - Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.
Perhaps I could’ve used ‘transient’ in a few instances. Regardless, I still feel this conveys the subjective/situational meaning I was implying.

A system of ethics that is based on the whims of a supernatural being is certainly arbitrary. But I would say a system of ethics that is based on faith of immutable character is not. We make decisions this way all the time. How could you marry Anna if you did not trust in the relative unchanging of her character and her caring towards you? If divine self-disclosure has given me faith of immutability and ethical perfection then I don’t find it difficult to put my faith in it. In fact, I find it overwhelming difficult to do otherwise. BUT, I can’t hold you to that same standard because you have not had this form of divine self-disclosure. NEITHER do I prescribe my value system to you without it, that wouldn’t be fair. Is this inconsistent? I wouldn’t say so. Ultimately I can’t give you an ethical system that you’ll appreciate without divine self-disclosure. I can witness to the fact that a certain belief system has changed my life but I cannot force it upon you. I can only sincerely pray, that you receive this divine self-disclosure yourself.

I’m honestly sorry for my hostility towards you. Like I said earlier it can be easy to forget you’re talking to people and not arguments when you’re seeing them in writing.
I’ll read those books and get back to you by email or something similar. Maybe one day we can go for coffee or something, I would very much like to hear some of your insights on mathematics as its been an area I’ve been wanting to better myself in.

Cheers.

J

Jeffrey Shallit said...

how can you say it isn`t if they are more evolved

Like I say - you don't really know anything about evolution, do you? "More evolved", indeed. I guess you don't realize that a shark or a cockroach is just as "evolved" as we are.

How could you marry Anna if you did not trust in the relative unchanging of her character and her caring towards you?

Umm, that's a little creepy. Do we know each other? If not, how are you referring to my wife so casually?

I don't believe that anyone's character is "unchanging". Character can change based, for example, on disease or experience.

I can only sincerely pray, that you receive this divine self-disclosure yourself.

Thanks but no thanks. Based on my research and observation, nontheists are, on average, more ethical than theists, so I wouldn't want to "evolve" in the wrong direction!

RBH said...

JGF White wrote

But I would say a system of ethics that is based on faith of immutable character is not.

There is no such animal. I know of no ethical system, faith-based or not, that has not changed over time, and in more than 50 years of adult thinking life I've looked. Consider, for example, that if Old Testament ethics were immutable, it would be OK for me, a citizen of the U.S., to own a Canadian as a slave. I doubt that many Canadians would agree.

Anonymous said...

He seems to disagree, but doesn't really specify precisely what I said that was inaccurate...

another atheist who has no qualms pretending to be an idiot when it comes time to save face.

go ahead and `moderate` this comment. With your intelligent discernment.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

another atheist who has no qualms pretending to be an idiot when it comes time to save face.

If you have something to say, why not say it, instead of resorting to insults? If you think I reported something inaccurately, why not simply correct it?

Ricky said...

"Religion, like many dogmas can blind people from the foolishness of their opinions."

My good friend, how do you know atheism is not a dogma that blinds people? What are your reasons to choose to interpret facts in a manner that concludes there is no God?