Can you lift yourself by the moral bootstraps?


But, when people are 1) good-hearted, 2) philosophical, and 3) atheistic, they have no choice but to try.  And the rationales tend to become a bit…complicated.  To use as neutral a descriptor as I can. 

Via Instapundit, the “Memorandum from the Devil“.  It’s new to me, but danged if it’s not better than “The Screwtape Letters“.  Lewis’s book was great, but it seemed to run long for the style and format and was tiring.  “Memorandum” seems the perfect length.

The piece is ostensibly by Satan (actually Arthur Leff) to a moral but non-believing law professor who’s made a huge scholarly effort to address, well…

How does one tell, and tell about, the difference between right and wrong?

Prof. Unger wasn’t the first, of course, and of course he won’t be the last.  And?

…it is not much to your discredit that your efforts to deal with it so spectacularly abort, for no one else has come up with a satisfactory solution, from the beginning of the world to the date hereof.

Where this 1970’s Unger differed from today’s Dawkins and Harrisses is that his mind was not totally closed.  So much so that Mr. Unger ended his book with an honest invitation to “Speak, Lord.”  For which he endured much mockey from the ivory tower crowd.

“Satan” observed,

You make no vulgar enthusiast’s easy leap to conversation with the Almighty; to the contrary, it is the scratching of your clawing fingers as you try to keep from being dragged to that final pass…

Heh.  I know that feeling.

Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” is where this ultimate trap was sprung on me.  “How can human beings have good and bad, right and wrong, without a superhuman reference?”

Answer?  We don’t.  We can’t.  How can my idea of right and wrong trump yours, if we’re both equally human? 

You were trapped in…a Godel problem: how to validate the premises of a system from within itself.

Or:  once you open a can of worms, you can’t put them back without a bigger can.

Don’t want to belabor stuff you’ve heard me spout before.  Prof. Reynolds calls “MFTD” one of the best things he’s ever read, and it is an amazing work.

About wormme

I've accepted that all of you are socially superior to me. But no pretending that any of you are rational.
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56 Responses to Can you lift yourself by the moral bootstraps?

  1. Mountainbear says:

    I think the rationales are simple. First of what is right? What is wrong? Good? Evil? They all matter on the point of view.

    Now, killing your own kind, or eating the babies of your own species is neither good nor evil. It’s in violation of anything helping the survival of your species. Right or wrong have nothing to do with it. In nature only two things count: survival and passing on your genes. Now if you kill your own kind and eat the babies of your own species, well, then nature will take care of you and your species will simply become extinct.

    A superhuman reference, well… Buddhism lives without it. Buddhism has no gods. Yet somehow it seems to work as a moral compass just as well, or even better, as/than those “philosophies” that threaten people like me with eternal damnation (on good days) or death (on bad days).

    You don’t need a superhuman reference if people would actually think. I mean seriously, if people would sit down and think about their actions before they’d do them… But I know, if people would think… Ok, that’s unfair. One human is capable of rational thought. A horde of humans is a mob controlled by their most basic instincts.

    There’s a German saying. “Was du nicht willst das man dir tut, das füg auch keinem andern zu.” Basically it means: the things you don’t want to happen to you, don’t do them to others. Very basic, very simple. If more people would consider things like this before doing something, we wouldn’t need some mythical superhuman references.

    But yeah, if people would think…

    • wormme says:

      What if the person thinking is a Hannibal Lecter? Some folks take pleasure in things the rest of us can’t stand.

      It’s not necessary to invoke anything beyond pleasure and pain in explaining human behavior anymore than it is for animals. Because if we are accidents, beings of chance, animals are all we are.

      All who say different, Christians, Buddhists, whoever, are just lying to themselves. Why? To minimize pain, of course.

      • Mountainbear says:

        Well, Hannibal’s thinking is not natural. Thus he would be… exterminated as he is a danger to his own species. If he was a lion, a bigger lion would eventually kill him.

        I do think we’re animals. Remove reason from a human and what you have left is a farting ape.

        However. I don’t like how those animal rights nutjobs present it. As animals, we homo sapiens sapiens are the most highly developed animal on this planet. We are on top of the food chain and there’s a hierarchy throughout the entire animal kingdom. Animals aren’t all equal, there are different stages of development. Homo sapiens are superior to gorillas, gorillas are superior to lions, lions are superior to zebras, zebras are superior to rats, you get my drift.

        Hmm, that actually just made me realize that animal rights nutjobs are fur covered marxists with their pitiful attempts to equalize humans with cows. Cause that ain’t working. Cows are inferior to us.


        We are currently the highest developed species on this planet. This planet however, well… it’s irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Look at the universe. Earth isn’t even fly crap on a window compared to that gigantic space.

        Yep, we animals. Compared to the sheer size of the universe we aren’t even ants. If god exists I doubt we’d ever understand what it wants from us.

        There is a scene in Babylon 5, where G’Kar talks with… Oh damn, I’m not sure with who it was, either with Sinclair’s girlfriend or Ivanova. They’re talking about the Walkers of Sigma 957, aka one of the First Ones. G’Kar has one of his best scenes there. He picks an ant from a plant, then puts it back up and says something along the lines that, if another ant would ask “what was that?”, the first ant would say “NFI!” He uses it as a hint towards humans, minbari, narn, centauri and the other species compared to the First Ones.

        I think it’s a perfect take on “god” in general, too.

        ‘sides, which god? We currently have millions. Thank the Japanese for that (yay Shinto!) So which one is the true one? Personally I doubt any is, because if god exists, it’s so highly developed that we could never understand it.

        Personally I don’t believe anything. Whatever maybe after I’m dead, well, I’ll find out about that soon enough since we all die anyway. Until then I have bigger issues to deal with than whether the Invisible Pink Unicorn or the Flying Spaghetti Monster created me.

        • wormme says:

          If Hannibal’s thinking isn’t natural…where did it come from? Being rare isn’t the same thing as being unnatural. How can you judge anything unnatural, when you’re observing it in nature?!

          Consider the possibility that you’re looking at Lecter and confusing “rare and disgusting” with “not natural”. You cannot have unnatural things without a supernatural standard.

          I’m willing to hear arguments to the contrary, of course. Although pretty soon we’ll have to start defining terms, and that’s when most folks throw up their arms and stalk away.

          • MG says:

            To follow MB’s lion analogy though; the odds of highly, internally threatening, pride members not being killed by the pride-lord are likely low.
            Societal animals do tend to limit the allowance of internal violence. Even so, their allowable violence is greater than what a human expects of their societies.

          • Why I keep popping over for tea:

            “I’m willing to hear arguments to the contrary, of course. Although pretty soon we’ll have to start defining terms, and that’s when most folks throw up their arms and stalk away.”

            ha ha ha oh how you make me laugh.

        • wormme says:

          Oh course his thinking is natura! For him it is. Who’s the atheist here, anyway? If you’re going to inject non-evolutionary concepts like “unnatural”, I need to know where you’re importing them from. Because if all there is, is the natural world…then there is nothing unnatural. Just because a serial killer’s thoughts and actions differ from yours doesn’t make him any less “natural” than you.

          Lecter’s type just isn’t common. And he’s only condemned as “monstrous” or “unnatural” because he takes pleasure in doing things which the rest of us find painful to even contemplate.

          But if you had a psycho killer’s appetites, you’d be an actual psycho killer unless you were too afraid of getting caught. In this case the dread of pain makes you forgo pleasure. But that’s all there is to it, there’s no right or wrong. Only pleasure and pain. That’s all that’s needed to explain any animal’s behavior.

          “Morality” is nothing more than herd programming by the numerous beta animals, to rein in the alphas and the lobos.

          • MG says:

            Aren’t you admitting that religion isn’t needed for morality in that?

            Also, aren’t you close to saying that religion, by definition, isn’t natural; since it hampers the pursuit of animal satisfaction? If religion isn’t natural, then how can it even have morality?

            And just for clarity, I’m not an atheist, but, I also bow to no man or house made by man.

          • wormme says:

            Obviously I’m doing a lousy job of communicating here. I apologize.

            My analysis is that a purely “natural” (Darwinian evolution) universe means that we are no fundamentally different from other animals. There is no “right and wrong” in the animal kingdom. Therefore, there is no right and wrong. There is abundant proof that we hairless apes lie even to ourselves. Conclusion: morality is a lie.

            So I had to choose between renouncing a purely chance origin of life, or renouncing right and wrong.

            I’ve never made another decision about which I was more confident.

          • MG says:

            Here’s an interesting thought:

            Giri primarily meant no more than duty, and I dare say its etymology was derived from the fact that in our conduct, say to our parents, though love should be the only motive, lacking that, there must be some other authority to enforce filial piety; and they formulated this authority in Giri. Very rightly did they formulate this authority—Giri—since if love does not rush to deeds of virtue, recourse must be had to man’s intellect and his reason must be quickened to convince him of the necessity of acting aright. The same is true of any other moral obligation. The instant Duty becomes onerous. Right Reason steps in to prevent our shirking it. Giri thus understood is a severe taskmaster, with a birch-rod in his hand to make sluggards perform their part. It is a secondary power in ethics; as a motive it is infinitely inferior to the Christian doctrine of love, which should be the law.

            Does this not loop to: “if people would think…” ?
            “Recourse must be had to man’s intellect…to convince him of the necessity of acting aright.”
            Remember, the fault of man, Biblically, came with the apple and the revolution it represented; before then, we knew not we were naked.

          • wormme says:

            Oh, man, once again I’m diving into deep waters while exhausted. This is far too much for me at three in the morning. I’ll try to look at this tomorrow later today, with fresh eyes and mind.

            Thank you for the Bushido link. Had heard of, but never read, this treatise.

          • MG says:

            Aha, wait. This is what we have wandered to, correct?

            There is no social (or ecological) setting for human nature a priori more “natural,” more “authentic,” more conducive to discovery of “essential” humanity, than any other. A man in love is no more or less “genuinely” what he is than in hate, or in slavery, or in some more pallid bureaucratic relationship-unless you so declare it…All the critic must say is that human nature with domination is human nature, and human nature without domination is human nature too.

            To which an evolutionist would respond: ‘natural selection’. Which, the lion pride is an appropriate extension of. An overly aggressive (our Hannibal lion), young individual in it, would die to a senior; on the off chance it was a male who actually took the pride he would have little chance to procreate because of his actions; his actions would eventually lead to his death no matter what; in a fitting, ‘Live by the Sword’ way. Thus, nature commands doom for challenging survival. Mayhap the question of this train should be why the thoughtless lion pride knows more of morality than the thinking man.

            Further, to think on morality as externally funded we find Hannibal a problem also. The very lack of a plateau to decide from, cited in the text, leaves you with an extreme moral failing that is impossible to rectify. Specifically: the failing of not knowing all ends. You as a mortal, entirely driven by God’s morality can make what are momentarily ‘moral’ decisions, which have fundamentally immoral ends.
            Let us go to an extreme then, using Hannibal as a person:
            You are walking down a sidewalk, in a quiet neighborhood; ahead a child plays in the road. From behind you comes a car with tires screeching, with a glance you notice a foaming-at-the-mouth madman, speeding towards the child, obviously intentionally.
            Clearly, morality says to save the child, yes? And so you do, rightfully so! Saved from a madman!
            Now, imagine yourself, a lifetime later, before God; and he asks: Why? Why was this child saved? Shall I show you his life? Shall I show you the end of your ‘morality’?
            I imagine any of us would stand dumb and wait, wondering what was before us. Now imagine that he shows you that you saved Hannibal, that the moment you watched, and acted in, was the moment of:

            Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?

            What, mere mortal, was the plateau you stood on to even decide to act? Why would you place any action of yours before the actions around you if a higher power commands any sway?
            There is an answer! But I’ll leave it slightly specious with the next part.

            Since we seem to be in the text itself, I’ll point out a dangerous detail that was missed by the author:

            There are, Professor Unger, not very many possibilities. In fact, there are, I think, just two.

            There is a third, which Satan should be well aware of; both together, born quite possibly with the assistance of his own fall.

          • wormme says:

            Wow, MG. Much of this comment’s meter was poetic. You had some serious literary rhythm going, so much that I totally didn’t get what you’re saying.

            Dang, I’m getting much of it, but not sure of the central point. Like regarding the Himalayas without glimpsing Everest.

            Can’t find the Sherlock musings that come to mind. Something like, “if you see a man running down the street, screaming, frothing at the mouth and waving a bloody razor, do you assume he’s a murderous madman? He might have been shaving, had a scare and cut himself, and now is searching wildly for someone to help him.” Okay, that’s waaaaay off. Anyway, it’s an illustration of Occam’s Razor, pardon the bloody pun.

          • MG says:

            And so the web catches! Trapping in terror as too many distant strands enshrine doom; as the damned warden pulls tight, knowing another has fallen; as all have come to his end; or, is it the blindness as the curtain draws back, as the light is shattered in the prism, and so many countless reliefs are cast in so many hues that motion, that thought, is but pointless in the awe…

Good madam, let me see your face.
            OLIVIA. Have you any commission from your lord to negotiate with my face? you are now out of your text: but we will draw the curtain and show you the picture. Look you, sir, such a one I was this present. Is’t not well done?
Excellently done, if God did all.

            The second situation is one of theoretical question in a universe where morality comes from God; where he is the source and final arbiter; and the problem with the human point of view to even claim morality, since we cannot know the ends of all our actions.

            The early part is a simple moral model, frequently seen without question:
            You see, and are able to intervene, when someone is clearly going to kill a child. The child is saved by your action and you go through life pleased with your moment of moral action.

            After death, you are quizzed by God, combatively, about what was, at the time to you, clearly a good action. He wants to know why you acted, why you felt that child should live, he directly questions your morality by pointing out that he made that decision; and you changed it, because you couldn’t see the future he could.
            He explains that you didn’t save the child from a Hannibal; you saved the child Hannibal.

            In the middle is the weak point, somewhat planned to see if someone would go after it. The driver of the car, traditional models would attack that point; and I admit to planning to landmine it with an extension if pressed on it: that God would inform you of the end and beginning of that, a person with no future and no hope, who had not and would not harm anyone else; a person who would be called insane and provided for, because of that service to God, someone who would end the abomination but no more. Another landmine is freewill; some would avoid an answer by saying if God intended all a certain way he would not have allowed freewill. But, without freewill how is he to judge his creation? How is he to know if it is worthy of him?

            Fundamentally, God’s question of “why” is just in this chain; why would any mortal have any reason to try and do anything? If the origin of morality is God, and he is the sole power who can see all things, then why are we not in a real tautology of “morality is passivity” because of the totality of God?

            I can see an answer to this, and it actually wraps and encases the lion too, but I remain curious as to what others see, so I won’t simply expound it yet.

            My suggestion would be to go back and read the devil’s two solutions, and consider if there isn’t a synthesis of the two!

  2. Xpat says:

    You’re right that MFTD is great (I hope to reread more than once), and like you I thought Screwtape dragged. However (this is just stylistic/aesthetic criticism), MFTD has a premise and voice problem that Lewis doesn’t. Premise: why would the devil bother writing this review essay? Voice: why is it in the devil’s interest to be patiently, honestly, kindly explaining the “good” in such a positive way? Lewis created a voice of malevolence that inadvertently spilled the beans; unfortunately, Leff doesn’t have a credible devil. No, sprinkling in some suave allusions to evildoing does not really do it.

    On substance, I’ve regretted most theological discussions I’ve gotten into on the net, and I’ve reached the stage where I say to myself “Good call!” when I successfully resist the impulse to get in any more! It’s me, it’s the importance of the subject, it’s the intensity of people’s feelings on it, but especially it’s the medium, I think. You just can’t do theology in com boxes–although I suppose it might sometimes work at the “testimony” level, like people sharing feelings or experiences that are important to them.

    • Mountainbear says:

      Those discussions tend to get out of hand quickly, because both sides of the fence are bound to be extremely defensive about whatever they may believe or not believe.

      Again, humans without reason, on both sides of the fence. I personally hate militant atheists. Like that one moron who used the US government over the Book of Genesis broadcast of Apollo 8? WHAT THE! If anyone has earned the right to do that on a public channel it’s those men. 400,000 km away from home, next to the moon, in a walnut. Hell yeah, they could run naked through the street without punishment for all I care, since the job of going to the moon took Balls of Steel the size of the moon. The atheist who sued had what to show off in comparison? Nothing. Typical.

      I remember what a German archeologist wrote about the myth of the Curse of the Mummy in the 1920s.

      “Reason must triumph. Cause only reason speaks the truth, no matter how small and pitiful this truth may be.”

      • Mountainbear says:

        sued, of course, not used. Bah!

      • wormme says:

        I’m glad you keep track of atheistic or agnostic bad behavior. I pretty much don’t even notice it. My radar is out for Christians or “Christians” who do the kind of crap you describe. Because I hold us to standards I’d never dream of inflicting on others.

        NOTE–Don’t want to seem like a liar here. Obviously I notice arguments for atheism, in the philosophic sense. A good 10-20% of this blog deals with that. But by definition a knowledgable Christian can’t hold hateful behavior against atheists. As Stephen said, “they know not what they do.”

        I don’t have Stephen’s active forgiveness, but do possess the power of apathy to an awesome degree. If you can’t forgive…forget!

    • wormme says:

      Yes, the Devil’s “motivation” in the piece was its big weakness. And he was too complimentary, I’m pretty sure Lucifer’s downfall was pride. Apart from that, essentially perfect.

      Restraining yourself from fruitless gestures should always feel good, but it doesn’t. If you look at it as conceding the last word, though…that always works for me..

      I put theosophical stuff here to polish the argument for myself, as much as for any other reason. But, since I’m being honest in my arguments and beliefs, why not cast that bread upon the waters? I wish ill to no one. (When I wish butt-whippins to statists, its for their own good.) Anyone who reads the theological stuff and concludes I want them to go to Hell is not someone I’d ever reach, anyway.

      And there might be one…one single person…who sees this and is transfixed as I was by Mere Christianity. What’s that worth? More than everything else I’ve ever done, combined.

      And if you ever see me waxing theological here, without compassion, alert me if you can but kill me if you must.

      • Xpat says:

        Yes, theological statements are fine and good, and probably what you should be doing (the Great Comission and all that). It’s the Internet theological discussions that don’t work–or at least rarely have in my observation. Because they’re not really discussions. But, for instance, a way it might work is to formalize it a little; for instance, you put a statement out like your OP above that’s long enough (that’s key) to be relatively complete, someone (preferably after waiting a day) puts out another reasonably comprehensive statement in response, and so on, all sides make sure they reeeeaaaaalllllyyyy understand what the person is trying to say and make charitable assumptions whenever possible, possibly a moderator in there to keep things from going off track or off topic, etc. etc.–then, you might actually have a discussion. Anyway, I wasn’t objecting to the OP at all!

        (MB makes some good observations on this issue, too.)

        • MG says:

          I’d suggest avoiding assumptions for rich debate. If there is something where an assumption is tempting, and there is a desire for detailed discussion, just ask for clarification.

          Both parties are enriched by finding the parts of their views which were not effectively communicated. And the quality of the discussion can only grow with fewer assumptions.

          If an assumption is needed as part of the concept, then it is always best to clearly identify it as such.

      • MG says:

        Both you and Xpat might want to consider which image of the Devil, he is not a planar entity of un-ending malice in all ages.

        That’s simple enough to see in Job, where the ‘Tester’ AKA ‘Devil’ is pictured talking with, and working with God directly. Working a service to God, to test the mortals.

        • Xpat says:

          You are right that there are a lot of models for the devil. My comment had to do with the viability of the model used by the author in MFTD. It seems like a cross between William F. Buckley and Scott Evil (“the diet coke of evil”).

          • wormme says:

            Yes, the adjective for Leff’s Devil would be “avuncular”, which doesn’t seem right.

            We agree The Screwtape Letters wasn’t Lewis’s best. But he did a tremendous job of conveying, through Screwtape’s word choices, a screaming monstrous id almost covered by honeyed words. Until, in the last missive, he dismissed that mask as he dismissed “nephew”.

          • MG says:

            My own critique would say the character in broad stokes was fine.

            The text for the character was over-worked. But that’s simply a very popular way to represent discussions with deities and such. From our limited point of view it is tempting to imagine them like some imaginary professor, constantly using complex everythings.

          • MG says:

            stokes = strokes!

        • wormme says:

          Well, he’s complex enough in the Bible. From greatest of the angels to Lord of the Pit. Not one-dimensional at all in his history. But the “character arc” from now on seems to be an ever-receding fall into an event horizon.

          • MG says:

            Meh, the Holy Roman Empire era demonized a lot without much actual cause. Say the Norse Gods, for instance. Do we hear the tale of things beyond our understanding, or the interpreted mumblings of mere men seeking power over others?

  3. midwest bill says:

    OK, here’s my rambling treatise on this … a subject I find quite important. I was a Bible thumper for a decade, getting a Biblical Studies Bachelor of theology even, in my youth. Now I am not, but hold to some things that seem prescient. So I ramble on here for me as much as anything, to see where my thoughts go now, in light of 30 years and a million beers away from that. …

    Animals seem to work out their own societal rules, but with a large degree of “might makes right”. But if you go to the ant (thou sluggard lol), their society is more communal and self sacrificing. Generally though, there is no concept of “justice” or “rights” as there is “innately” in most humans.

    Our more “evolved” society seems to find benefit in government, with perhaps one of the highest forms being our democratic republic. “Love you neighbor as yourself” may have biblical sounding implications, but is really functional as “the golden rule”, or Mountainbear’s German expression. I recall being taught some Biblical thing long ago .. the natural man had the law written in his heart … or was a law unto himself? Here I found it …

    For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending themselves, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ. (Rom. 2:14-16 NASB)

    This is I think, “natural law theory”, and makes sense to me. It makes Christians accept Mountainbear as good, if they really want to obey their Bible. I kinda now view the Bible as a long history of a lot of efforts to write down what is “good” and what is “evil”. This “wisdom of the ages” can have great depth, with or without a superhuman source.

    The wisdom of our parents is not understood till we become more experienced in life, so indeed the “sacred texts” of thoughtful men trying to attain and build upon ancient wisdom might appear to come from “superhumans”. Throw in some cool robes, song and dance, and a chance to “belong”, and hey … why not sign up? But shortcomings of “less evolved” societies of 4000 years ago may discredit some of that wisdom, so now kids get their religion from Star Trek or their “progressive” professors. I don’t believe a flood covered the earth 5000 years ago, but I still think there are many keys/truths for a strong society in the Bible.

    A democratic society’s advantage is it can by vote, enforce the golden rule, or some of the ten commandments. But man is corruptible, so greed and ego and obsessions eventually corrupt our well designed system, if good men are not constantly willing to aggressively, or even “illegally”, fight “evil”. I think Ben Franklin said “we must all hang together, or we shall surely all hang separately”. But men have been sluggards, so the new golden rule is “he who steals the most gold wins”.

    Deception became the rule. The passive majority haven’t killed their captors, because they have TV, the internet, and texting; along with guaranteed health care and food stamps, which they can trade for drugs or booze. The “devil” politicians constantly divide the drugged masses by color, creed, sex or global warming belief. Anything to divide, distract and conquer the “golden rule believers”. (perhaps golden calf tendencies would fit in here too)

    I very much believe in the social structure our churches provide, even though I don’t hold fast to the necessity of a superhuman belief. Another layer of moral fiber protection might be Boy Scouts or various other private and benevolent organizations. Many of these are targeted by the leftist elite, since they encourage independence, which doesn’t fit into the leftists desire to control. The moral fiber should be taught from the grassroots level, not an organized state “progressive” religion, which these days seems more about training drones for enslavement.

    Our system has now “devolved” to where fighting back requires hiring lawyers, who have formed their own cabals of “superhumans”. The common man must submit. If you are buying a property or running a business, you need an army of these superhumans/mutants, to defend your every action. These new gods interpret and redefine truths that are “self evident” to conform to their Marxist dream world. “God given” inalienable rights to the pursuit of happiness, are changed to a right to health care and a job, provided by the new god of government. But even if a true God gave those rights, it is Man that is pulling himself up from his bootstraps, to define a government in which man can achieve liberty.

    It gets complicated … but the lawyer political class, and the elite are subverting our constitution … and they are “devils”, and they demand worship and tithes … in the form of protection money, pay them or they screw you, then later they screw you anyway. “Servant of the people” is only their Orwellian title. Their real moral code is “whatever you can get away with”.

    Anyway, I’m rambling into stream of consciousness. But to me the Tea Party is the “silent majority” that has the golden rule written in their heart, whether they are religious or “Gentile”.

    In the new testament Jew and Gentile were united as “golden rule Christians” … the great mystery revealed “God’s people” were not just Jews, but everyone that “believed”. On a societal level I think that group should include “golden rule non-christians”. I’d argue that even the Bible reserves a place in heaven for the unbeliever that is just. There is a gathering together of the Christians, then later a resurrection of the just and unjust. Again from a societal perspective, this separates the Bible from Islam which seems to insist all be forced to convert, forced to submit, or be killed. Baptists might swear the best “unbeliever” or even the backsliding Christian will burn in hell (with Mountainbear), if they don’t tithe to the Baptist church, but at least they won’t send you there themselves.

    Free thinking men all must now organize to fight off the corrupt mutant power elite that look down on the masses, and willfully enslave us. Our judicial branch can sometimes write very insightful rulings, but activist and corrupt judges all too often fail in either judgment, or willingness to punish bad behavior by their lawyer friends. A shake of the finger, and a wink and a nod, and they are off to fleece the next victim. Calling on God to stop this might be nice, but my Tea Party (golden rule believers) will have to have the will to rise up to fill some big shoes (or boots). Again, even Biblically, this is “man’s day” … men choose their own destiny, rise up on their own. And I’d say Biblically … things get worse, not better, so hoping for change you can believe in would require JC to come back. On this count I am definitely fighting for Tea Party man to defy Biblical prophesy, and rise up to a higher “calling”.

    “They” haven’t taken our guns yet, or our private property, so there is still time, perhaps, to save our society. Too bad it may come to that, but even our current administration has said it basically comes down to “might”. The wretched and animalistic side of man dominates most societies.

    Car czar Bloom said: “We know that the free market is nonsense. …We kind of agree with Mao that political power comes largely from the barrel of a gun.” He selectively, politically, illegally?, closed dealerships using the power of government. But I think guns in defense of individual freedom was the constitutional intent, for times when such animal spirits of mutant lawyers and politicians take control. There are plenty of golden rule Gentile/unbelievers I will stand with, against these devils that will usually call themselves Christian.

    It seems man HAS lifted himself from his own bootstraps, because we have free will to do that, or NOT do that … and we DID. For much of our long history, and in different geographies or recent administrations, it might be argued “we did NOT”. Even the perfect man (Adam) fell back into his own boot, since he had free will. Whether it is God that gives us that innate ability is perhaps a different question. As I see it.

    That comes down to arguing the existence of God. Then one can waste a lifetime arguing “If God is all good, why does he allow evil to exist?” I prefer to observe that men DO know good from evil, but stupid and/or powerful men often choose evil for reasons of lust and greed. Other good men, believer or atheist, prefer a better society and life believing the golden rule. If the Bible is right, these good men will be in heaven some day … if not, we still fight for a free society “heaven” on earth now.

    That’s all I got … Miller time. 🙂

  4. Nico says:

    Dear wormme, it’s not that simple.

    Let us suppose that a God exists. Why do we not all agree on its existence? Possible reasons include: a) he/she/it is testing our faith (in what? a specific holy book? or just God’s existence?), b) he/she/it does not want to or cannot interfere too much or even at all with the machinery of the universe that he/she/it created [for us?], c) he/she/it wants to remain unknowable to us, which implies not interfering too much in the machinery of this universe…, d) something else? Here’s the real question: how is any one of us to decide what to believe in (what to have faith in) if they have no direct evidence of a supernatural reason for having to believe in any one idea of God?

    Put differently, why should we be Christians instead of Jews, or Muslims, or Hindus, or ?

    I don’t believe you can come up with a compelling answer to this. I believe this is because regardless of God’s existence or non-existence, God does not give each of us sufficient evidence of its existence.

    Personally I’m sort of a Deist, or agnostic: I don’t deny God’s existence, but I’m not convinced of its existence either. I am fully aware of the fact that everything we know points to a beginning of time. I just don’t know if it’s one turtle holding up the universe, or if it’s turtles all the way down, or if the universe is somehow self-causing. Even if there is a God, it’s not clear what turtle holds up God’s universe, if any, and if none, why it would be none for God’s but one for our universe. These are not simple questions, and they’re almost certainly unanswerable.

    I do believe that God, if there is one, could interfere in our universe, but if God wants plausible deniability then God must be very circumspect in His actions. Perhaps God hides in quantum mechanics, in chaotic systems, and so on — systems where we cannot easily (or at all) find evidence of such external causes. (You mention Gödel. The inherent limits to our knowledge implied by the incompleteness theorems might also be another cloak for God.) The result is, I believe, that we are bound to disagree about such matters as God’s existence and the source of morality — put differently: any one religion is necessarily not obviously more correct than any other, or even than non-religion, for if this were not so then we would all quickly become adherents of that one more-correct religion!

    This all brings us right back to your question: whence morality?

    I suppose that evidence of immoral behavior by specific supposed religious people is not helpful: there will always be bad apples and misunderstandings, even amongst the pious. Other attacks on any one faith-based source of morality also won’t do, since faith is practically an axiom in faith-based systems. A better approach, indeed, what you requested of us, is to outline a system of morality that does not directly require God. Much, much has been written on this subject. Christians have Thomas Aquinas’ Natural Law to go on, whenever they get tired of flogging purely theological foundations of morality.

    So it is that I subscribe to Natural Law as my source for morality. Please do tell me how this fails any more than your choice of religion fails to be more obviously correct than any other. (Sure, most of us might agree that some religion is clearly wrong, though their adherents wouldn’t. That’s not the point. Please do not point to suicidal cults as an example of obviously-wrong religions that therefore imply yours is obviously better, for even so yours will not be obviously better than at least a handful of others.)

    I suppose you’ll want an explication of how some behavior X comes to be moral or immoral under Natural Law. But I shall not provide such a thing. Natural Law is a nice system, but it is not really any more obvious than any religion’s truth, particularly as one gets down to the nitty gritty. Abortion? Immoral, IMO, and I believe I can make a case under Natural Law for this proposition, but I am not confident that I can make a case that all other proponents of Natural Law would agree with.

    No doubt you will point out my multiple references to consensus as a key failure of any approach that is not faith-based. This is true. It’s also true in the case of faith-based morality systems (since clearly not all agree on a single religion!). Where to from here, then? Well, this is where I reach for Gödel and plead limits on what we produce solely on the basis of logic. Indeed, faith != logic, but since faith is something you can only get others to agree on, you either must make logical arguments for it (which are bound to fail; see preceding clauses), or non-logical arguments (note: not necessarily _illogical_!). But why should anyone be convinced by any one non-logical argument for any one faith?

    I believe you’re in no better position than me. Necessarily. You and I, and everyone else, must believe in something. I choose to believe in the most minimal set of beliefs possible: I believe the universe that contains me exists and I believe my sense by and large (there are, of course, illusions, but these can be understood once one has built up enough knowledge on the basis of believing one’s senses). Even so, I fail to be independent of others’ knowledge, but since that’s a non-goal for me, that’s not a serious problem. Sure, it’s not a great jump from this to Deism (it’s tiny), and it’s also a small jump to any one religion, really — the problem is: which religion, which brings me back to the above arguments.

    To summarize: politics is unavoidable. If you want consensus on some proposition (e.g., we must ban abortion) you must make a cogent case for that proposition and get society to adopt it, whatever your society’s political processes might be. To each of us morality might be absolute (and for many there may be many shades of gray, or perhaps morality might be shifting even) but in totto our collective morality is not that simple. As a fervent anti-communist, my every use of the word “collective”, or any variant thereof, sets me on edge, but it’s not the case that we can simply ignore the need to achieve consensus. Even absolute monarchs and dictators must have a measure of consensus (think of Lenin’s democracy of the elite concept), but they have fewer people to reach consensus which, and in some cases the only consensus that matters is consensus as to whether or not to depose the absolute ruler.

    I will leave you with a thought: economics is also subject to (indeed, a branch of) Natural Law. Substitute the Lord’s word, if you wish, for Natural Law. Therefore perhaps one can apply economic arguments and solutions to certain morality issues. For example, a while back I proposed (on a blog read by fewer than yours) an economic method for minimizing the incidence of abortion: pay abortion clinics a bonus for every baby they successfully place for adoption via a legitimate adoption agency. Note that such a scheme would not create an undue incentive for people to conceive more babies, since supply would not affect demand (that is, from people seeking to adopt), unlike yesteryear’s welfare payments formulas that were based on how many the receipient has.

    That dirty word, “compromise”, is nonetheless a critical aspect of our condition, that may only be escaped in systems with absolute rulers, and perhaps not even then. As Chuchill famously said, [paraphrase] democracy is the worst form of government, but for all the others.

    Please accept my apologies for the length of this comment. I am one of your seven regular readers 🙂 and I very much appreciate your writing (e.g., your post on marxism and the Shakers), even if we disagree on certain things.

    • wormme says:

      Well, of course I do believe it is that simple. If we are the product of chance, we are but animals. “Morality” is a lie we tell ourselves to minimize pain. Even then, a lot of (or most) folks let themselves get away with behavior they claim is wrong in others. That makes “right and wrong” a power game, not an ethical one.

      The question of why we don’t all believe in God is a matter of free will. I’m not aware of ANYTHING all people agree on. Making it impossible to deny God’s existence would, I believe, make automations out of us. Or angels or demons, perhaps.

      As far as “why Christian?”, for me it’s the words in red. Jesus’s. I’ve read a billion words, none pierced me and transfixed me as his do. For my Dad, a book called “None Of These Diseases” convinced him that there is a God who communicates with men. A nomadic tribe, the only monotheists known back then, suddenly started performing advanced sanitary measures that wouldn’t be known to the rest of the world for centuries. How did they know? They claimed the knowledge came from God.

      You’re free to follow “Natural Law” if you choose, just as others are free to practice Darwinianism “red in tooth and claw”. Whatever maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain for any animal, that’s what it’ll do. Sans God, Aquinas was just another self-deceitful little mammal. He formulated Natural Law to minimize his pain at the world he observed.

      Your idea on monetizing the abortion rate downward seems brilliant. No chance right now to examine it more thoroughly, though.

      I also try to have as few axioms as possible. No doubt it doesn’t seem that way to you. Again, my understanding of chance evolution is in direct conflict with my conscience. Both cannot exist. Either my actions carry no more moral freight than a spider’s, or there is a qualitative difference between us and them that’s unexplainable through Darwinian evolution. I know people try to do it. To date, I’ve seen nothing even faintly convincing.

      Thank you so much for such a deep, thoughtful comment.

      • Nico says:

        Heh, sure, it’s simple for *you*. You made a choice: to believe in a specific set of beliefs, so everything else flows from that, but the necessary thinking has been done for you, and it’s not all logical (“rational”?). The same applies to me, actually, and Aquinas’ Natural Law. What’s not simple is getting others to agree with your view 🙂 I should have been more specific (as to the antecedent of “it”) when I said “it’s not that simple” 🙂

        I’m glad you like my idea, and I’m glad you came up with a name for it. My dad is an economist and he thinks it’s a good idea also. What I don’t know is: how to sell it. I keep thinking it’d be useful if a Republican candidate were to hawk this, or if Texas, say, were to push this right now, as it’d allow the candidate to say “hey, remember Bill Clinton’s formula, safe, legal, and rare? well, how come dems never care to do anything about the rare part? that’s what I want to do right now”. This would help take the issue off the table for many independents, make it easier to elect reps. I welcome your help with this (feel free to e-mail me if you like). It might be possible to do this entirely as a private effort, perhaps by finding an adoption agency that charges enough $$$ that we could get them to pair up with a clinic and pay them a portion of that $$$ for every baby placed, but to really have a major impact I think this needs to be public policy, whether taxpayer funded or not (and here it’s good to point out that the long-term benefit of every additional child to a society with bad demographics will far exceed, probably by several orders of magnitude, any fee that could convince a clinic to play ball, particularly considering how cheap abortion is). (Think too about how the supply and demand match up here. If there were not enough adoption demand then there would still be some abortions, and if there’s enough adoption demand then the only abortions that would take place are those where the mother is so inexorably committed to aborting that the clinic could not muster enough cash to convince her. Think too of the fact that adoption and abortion demand are both usually in the same ballpark in the U.S., year in, year out.) Help!

        As for Aquinas, I must say I think you’re way off :/ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with studying how nature (as created by God, if you wish) shapes our moral compass. It seems rather closed-minded to reject such a study as seeking to minimize one’s pain. If God created our universe and us, with all the laws of nature that we can infer from observation and analysis, why shouldn’t we try to figure out what those laws are, even if only approximately? Once upon a time the study of anatomy was considered quite the heresy. Where would we be without it today? Also, don’t forget that Catholics claim him for themselves, and made him a saint. You might not be a Catholic, but surely you should not dismiss Aquinas so easily. (Perhaps you’ve studied this deeply, and a short blog comment may well not show it. But if not, then I urge you to read him carefully.)

        • wormme says:

          Obviously I can’t judge how open or closed my own mind is. Only everyone else’s.

          All I can say is that I, personally, can’t reconcile chance existence with morality. I believe Mind begat Matter, not the other way around. But both ideas are equally ridiculous to me. I chose one above the other because to do otherwise was to deny my conscience. I choose to believe that there’s meaning to my life, rather than that I’m free to do anything without meaningful consequence.

          I acknowledge that my position is beyond understanding. Still waiting on anyone, deist or atheist, to join me. But it’s okay if no one does; I’ve spent a half century alone, I can handle a few more decades.

          • Nico says:

            There’s much below to continue this thread with, but I’m afraid I’ll merely distract you from writing new posts, so I’ll just leave you with a couple of thoughts and you may have the last word.

            First, don’t throw in the towel. We all have to believe in something, and though many ideas are ridiculous (marxism, fascism, jihadism, sharia law, and all sorts of other crap), yours aren’t, at least not now that we’ve established that you’re happy to work within the system we have 😉 (Note that it wasn’t my goal to figure that out about you, but when you compare being pro-life to being an abolitionist you have to understand that some people will likely misinterpret what you say to mean that you would fight a civil war over abortion. I suppose some people would espouse that sentiment, if only there were clearly separated belligerents to fight a war with, but fortunately the two sides here are so mixed that no civil war is possible unless we mean neighbors fighting each other.) My goal had not been to evangelize my ideas, or to change your worldview, but to show you empirical evidence that a) some societies manage to find a tolerable common morality, b) that some [I believe most] non-theists (and deists — basically, non-religious people) do in fact bootstrap morality without religion, and some (many? I hope) even manage to find abortion abhorrent (my wife, an atheist, shares my view of abortion).

            I’d like to explore further, for example, why we wouldn’t see a civil war over abortion. There are many reasons, but I suspect the biggest has to do with how we value people according to age and other factors (it may sound awful, but think of how juries make awards in wrongful death cases), namely, that we value the very youngest (particularly _others’_ young) the least in some ways (this is just an observation, mind you). But I think I’ll leave this alone for now.

            Second, just in case anyone thinks that my idea for reducing the rate of abortion could cause an incentive for ill-intentioned people to adopt as a way to get paid for it, there should not be any payment to would-be adoptive parents, not for adopting a would-have-been-aborted baby, nor in welfare payments (but then, we shouldn’t pay welfare according to how many children a household has, nor, for that matter, should we have the kind of welfare where we pay people for anything other than a truly bare minimum, such as food stamps).


          • wormme says:

            Well, though I am bad about wanting the last word, it’s never necessary in a forum like this.

            I’d say a major reason we don’t face a civil war over this is because almost all people can see aborting an unborn to save the life of the mother. That’s a chink in the philosophical armor not found in abolition. I believe a similiar reason explains the (usual) tolerance for alcohol not found for other recreational chemicals. The Apostle Paul said, “drink a little wine for thy stomach’s sake”. In a mostly Christian society, that’s another chink in the armor. He never said, “fire up a doob for thy eye pressure’s sake”.

          • midwest bill says:

            Trying to argue, explain or make others understand why “LIFE” seems beyond a mere chance arrangement of amino acids, is mostly a waste of time, as I see it. No scientist has explained to me what makes forces force, or why relativity makes time itself flexible. But I like the idea that “God IS light”, which would seem to allow a god to span time and be all powerful. Screwtape letters or Aristotle can observe, but not prove.

            Having a “spark of the divine” seems a better philosophy than that we are just a “speck of the cosmic dust”. I’m not sure it makes sense to accept that we emerged from lifeless dust. Nature should teach us that life comes from life, not from non-life. The scientist might ask us to answer where God came from … I can only reply “where did dust come from?” Another quaint expression … “Henry could explain the Ford, the Ford couldn’t explain Henry”. But the intelligence in the design seemed apparent.

            The Bible says “the natural man receives not the things of the spirit, neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned.” I don’t know about that, but to me it is “obvious” that conscience is not just a chemical reaction. The closer we look at nature, the more “intelligent design/perfection” we see. Some of the greatest science now is trying to grasp the smallest particles and forces. Perhaps we will eventually kick ourselves out of the garden (earth) when we become as gods, using our knowledge of the atom to blow ourselves up.

            Sci-fi thinks the “magic” gift of life comes from lightening striking primordial soup, or some such thang. They show computers eventually becoming so advanced that they achieve “awareness”. Believing that life, and moral life especially, is something greater … something purposeful … makes complete sense to me. If that is wrong, this worthless speck of dust at least had some moment of unexplained ethereal joyful awareness that he/it/nothingness had meaning. I think therefore I am … marvelous.

  5. Xpat says:

    Now, darnit, would everybody just stop being so civil and substantive! I said very clearly above that theological discussions are impossible on the Internet, and I meant it! Impossible! Do you hear me? I know you’re just doing this to prove me “wrong” and it’ll degenerate into ad homs and tangential non-sequitors any minute now. So, just drop the pretence, OK? Sheesh.

    • MG says:

      I am being uncivil now.

      Feel better?

      • Sue says:

        Shame on you! 🙂

      • wormme says:

        Ha ha! That is the most civil expression of uncivility EVER! It’s almost Pythonesque in its purity.

        “I’m being uncivil.”

        “Er…no you’re not.”

        “Yes, I am. I’m being extraordinarily uncivil, if you’d be so kind as to acknowledge it.”

        “But, old boy…”

        Awesome, MG.

        • MG says:

          Now, look here old boy; if you’re going to interfere with my providing aid and comfort to those in need, with sport, then we really won’t be able to rectify this particular discussion between us!

          After all, there is no reason to be uncivilized about being uncivil to make someone feel at home!

          So, we may have to agree to disagree on this.

          See you at tea, then?

  6. Nico says:

    This makes me think of another point…

    Suppose you had a person somewhere who is bound to be alone forever. Perhaps they are the last human being altogether (if a woman, then a non-pregnant one without access to sperm banks). Perhaps they are a solitary astronaut on a one-way mission to Mars (these have been proposed, where the would-be astronaut would be an elderly person or someone who would otherwise have a short remaining life expectancy). Or just alone on some island without anyone knowing about them. The specifics don’t matter.

    So here’s the question: what are all the immoral acts available to such a person? I can think of a few: suicide, leaving a work behind intended to libel humans to an alien species, this sort of thing. Aside from suicide though, all immoral acts that person could commit strike me as ones that harm [the memory of] others.

    What I’m getting at is that morality refers primarily to our relationships with other people. Even the immorality of suicide does, to a large degree, depend on others. E.g., a putative last human might not in fact be the last, and by committing suicide they might indeed causing someone else to be the last and thus end the species, when perhaps they could have reproduced if only they’d waited/searched longer!

    This last/lonely human could do all sorts of things that some people find immoral without themselves thinking of such acts as immoral. For example: body modification, masturbation, and so on. (Though any body modification that prevents reproduction, or which risks death, would be immoral for reasons also shared by the immorality of suicide.)

    I’m really just exploring an aspect of the foundation of Natural Law here. But it’s interesting to think of morality as depending on the [potential, even] existence of others that can be affected by our actions. Any one of us can too be affected by the actions of others. Which gets us to a very interesting problem, namely that if we all disagree on morality then we’re bound to have conflict. Fortunately, in a society with a well functioning, representative political system, we can make such conflicts mostly either ones of criminal scope (addressed by the criminal justice system), civil scope (addressed by the civil courts, backstopped by the criminal justice system), or political scope (addressed by words on the political stage). Thus disagreements amongst ourselves as to morality are mostly not a big deal, at least insofar as this-world consequences for society and its members go.

    Now, how do you convince someone that abortion is immoral? I don’t know any one great answer to that. I am faced with this problem myself, for I have children. I have attempted to instill in them the sanctity of life as a critical principle, for example. I also have conversations not unlike the one in this thread, at least with the older one (she’s 15). I’m confident that my children will be well-equipped to make good moral calls in their adulthood, and even in what remains of their childhood. And I’m pulling up my morals by the bootstraps. I’m not offended by your claim that I cannot succeed at this. Clearly there are existence proofs that people do succeed at this, though the proofs can only be established in the form of consistent observations of _past_ and current behavior by unbelievers. Moreover, there are Christians who do this too! (See, again, Thomas Aquinas.)

    The real takeaway for me is that your argument that morality cannot be bootstrapped without faith is demonstrably false, unless by this you mean that those of us who take this road somehow agree 100% with your view of morality, but since disagreement is unavoidable, I can’t help but not care one bit that we do disagree to some degree as to morality. That you disagree with this assessment is irrelevant: it’s _my_ assessment, not yours 🙂 Which brings me to…

    Society consists of individuals, and disagreement is bound to occur as to practically any subject, at least until wide consensus is reached. Society is not really a choice either: mammals by definition have societies consisting at least of a mother and her children, at least for a while. And for us humans society is less of a choice still. So we must structure society so as to minimize the impact of disagreement. I believe that’s a major aspect of the U.S. Constitution.

    Back to abortion (a subject about which I care very much). I would settle for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. I don’t care so much about the legality of abortion as I do about the frequency of abortion, and about the health of our society. Roe v. Wade was a key element in the subsequent nationalization of [seemingly] every bleeping issue, and in this specific case it means that steps to reduce the incidence of abortion have become too difficult for us to experiment with. Nationalizing every local issue means that our government necessarily becomes less representative and less responsive. If you care about morality then you ought to care about structuring government such that we can make disagreements about morality into local issues by and large — the reverse risks losing the argument altogether, and it means losing all sorts of inputs too.

    • wormme says:

      Don’t know if you’ve read Pratchett’s “Disc World” novels, but one of his characters sums this up amazingly well. Granny Weatherwax is asked something along the lines of, “where does immoral behavior begin?”. She ponders for a moment and says, “treating people as things.”

      QUESTIONER: “Surely it’s more complex than that.”

      GRANNY: “Nope. People as things, that’s it.”

      P.S.–I absolutely want minimal scope of government for maximum representation. But anyone who regards abortion as the killing of a person can’t really be expected to accede to being a part of it. They can’t be expected to ever stop trying to abolish it in their nation, even if it’s illegal in their own state. The Northern Abolitionists didn’t stop at ending slavery in their area.

      • Nico says:

        No, I’ve not read that.

        I don’t expect you to stop working to ban abortion. I expect you to agree, grudgingly perhaps, that you have to work with the framework that we have here. To me that means changing the culture, and that will be slow, which is why I propose schemes for reducing the rate of abortion: a) reducing the number of abortions has to be good regardless of the legal status of abortion, b) I believe taking such steps will help change the culture towards valuing life more. Personally I care about the rate of abortion, legal or otherwise, more than I care about the legality of abortion, and i’d take a lower rate of abortion over a ban if the latter were to net us a higher rate than other methods.

        Was Lincoln sincere when he said that his foremost goal was to preserve the Union, and that if he could do so by freeing none, some, our all the slaves, then he would? I don’t think he meant that he’d be happy to se slavery continue indefinitely so as to save the Union — I think he meant only to avoid a bloody fight and to settle the matter peacefully over a long period of time if need be. There’s no question here if a civil war, so I hope you’ll agree with me…

        • wormme says:

          If we were likely to have a civil war over abortion, it seems like it would have been right after Roe v. Wade. Unless it’s when (if) RvW is overturned. That really doesn’t seem likely either.

          You’ve obviously given this an enormous amount of thought. Though I hadn’t thought about it in these terms, my belief is the same as yours; a lower incidence of abortion is more important than its legal status.

          Since I probably seem like a religious fanatic to you, I’ll share my extremist belief. Assuming that human life begins at conception, not a single unborn soul is in spiritual danger if it is killed in the womb. The people killing it, even if they “know not what they do”, ARE in danger.

          For that reason, I utterly oppose physical warfare against “abortionists”. Their victims aren’t the ones in immortal danger; their killers are. And so the last thing I want to do is take their life before they’ve really examined it.

          Thanks again for all the thought you’ve put in here, Nico. I’d really like to see your ideas on minimizing abortion tested. If there’s a flaw in your approach, I’ve yet to see it.

          • Nico says:

            “You’ve obviously given this an enormous amount of thought.”

            You flatter me. I’ll admit to having thought about this a fair bit, but I don’t claim to have a lock on this. You’re clearly quite able in the deep thought department (and I don’t mean in a Jack Handy way :).

            “Though I hadn’t thought about it in these terms, my belief is the same as yours; a lower incidence of abortion is more important than its legal status.”

            I’m glad you agree with this. There’s all sorts of bad things that need not be legislated against if they also don’t happen much. Also, there’s always going to be some number of abortions, even if illegal (and which go undetected), so supposing we could get the rate down to about that level (OK, perhaps I’m dreaming) then I don’t really care whether abortion remains legal. Note that I understand the revulsion you must feel about any moral calculus: I feel it too. But moral calculus is something we do a fair bit of, such as, for instance, to avoid wars (think of the Lincoln quote I referred to above, from his letter to the New York Tribune on August 22, 1862), during wars (think of WWII and carpet bombing of Axis cities by the Allies versus Axis monstrosities) and even during peacetime (the very act of acquiescing peacefully to a society which allows things that one abhors because it is possible to effect desired changes, even if on long scales, is a moral calculus).

            Moral calculi are necessary when others’ actions force the matter, which happens enough that we must be prepared to engage in the practice. Indeed, w.r.t. abortion a very influential moral calculus was used in selling the idea of legalizing abortion: the idea that making it legal would save the lives of women so committed to aborting that they risk(ed) back-alley abortions. I’m not ready to pronounce that calculus fully null, which is why I desperately want us to try to find economic solutions first: if we get the abortion rate way down, whether naturally or by force, then that moral calculus will re-gain much currency, possibly leading to legalization anew, which would probably be a final victory for legal abortion. I also want to de-nationalize the issue, and this too, partially, as part of a moral calculus: politics should be local as a way to maximize our ability to test different solutions to problems before settling on one consensually — this could have an enormous moral impact if it means, as I think it does, making it easier to defeat, nay, trounce the left at the polls and thus save freedom for all. I’m willing to accept a dissatisfying state of moral affairs as long as there’s a realistic method of obtaining change. (Yes, I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject of moral calculus.)

            As I wrote earlier: things are not that simple.

            (I should also point out that I’m very happy for gay couples to adopt children, and if they may adopt, then they ought to be able to marry. Even if you’re very skeptical of this, as I suspect you must be, you should consider whether any unborn saved by gay couples offsets your concerns on sanctity of human life grounds (though this is not my only reason for my position, it might someday be your first).)

          • wormme says:

            The care you take with regards to others’ sensibilities is wonderful. It will make you (or has done so already) a terrific champion of your causes.

            But as far as I can tell, I have no moral sensibility or calculus in the areas we’re discussing. My arguments are reasoned strictly according to my axioms and no one else’s. (Again) as far as I can tell, I have the least “moral” mind I know. I believe I know right and wrong, but unlike everyone else I don’t seem to feel it.

            And apologies for the overuse of “I” in this reply.

  7. Nico says:

    “Well, though I am bad about wanting the last word, it’s never necessary in a forum like this.”

    Careful what you wish for! 🙂

    • Nico says:

      PS: I think I’ll approach my state rep about the whole paying abortion clinics to place unwanted babies for adoption idea. Perhaps by following my proposal that politics should [once again] be local, I might have a decent chance of making something happen. Wish me luck, because I think I’ll need it.

    • wormme says:

      While writing that, it occurred to me that a sudden heart attack could make me a liar. But apparently I am impervious! Blow, wind, crack your cheeks! I am your bette…urk…ugh…

  8. Nico says:

    That’s a sweet thing you say, and I sure hope you’re right. As for moral calculus, you implicitly accept it when you fail to take up arms or vote with your feet w.r.t abortion, say. Or perhaps you’re being merely practical. But I suspect it’s the former. I was right that you’d feel revulsion at the thought. Take comfort in knowing that it is perfectly moral to engage in moral calculus, but only when you do so as a consequence of someone else’s immoral acts; sometimes you have no choice but to.

  9. Nico says:

    @midwest bill:

    I don’t see why religious beliefs (even Creationism) should be mutually exclusive with evolution, or even modern cosmology.

    Here’s a few ways to reconcile the one with the other:

    o God created everything per-Genesis, exactly as described, but also created everything as we see it, and such that we could conclude that we got here via evolution (and the Big Bang and all that).

    o God created the universe more or less per modern cosmology (though obviously we’re missing some details) knowing that in the enormity of the universe there was bound to be one (or more?) sentient species. You might object that we’d not be “in his image” this way, but if you think of his image as “law bound” and “sentient”, then our own nature would be “in his image”. There is the problem that surely God wouldn’t play dice with the universe (to paraphrase Einstein), but if the universe is large enough (much larger than the visible universe, but we have reason to think that it is indeed) then there’s no question of chance, not if the probability of us arising approaches 1!

    o God created the universe more or less per modern cosmology and has been guiding its evolution such that Earth would form (along with our Sun, …), and then also guided the evolution of life on Earth such that we would appear. God could do all this and leave no evidence of his meddling by hiding in the detail, so to speak (in the quantum aspects of the universe, in chaotic systems, in the enormity of it all, …). This would lead us to today’s situation, where some can’t fathom chance leading to us while others can’t fathom a Creation that leaves behind evidence of evolution.

    Are there other ways of reconciling these positions? Probably. I’ve not given this subject enough thought to come up with more on the spot. Indeed, the first two of the above ideas I’m certain I’ve seen before elsewhere. I’m also sure that some of you will reject all three of the above, though I don’t [yet] know why anyone would (tell me!).

    Incidentally, I don’t understand why the Dawkins of the world are so hostile to religion. They are clearly smart enough to come up with the above and educated enough to be aware of existing attempts to reconcile religion and cosmology/evolution. Well, actually, I do understand: atheism can sometimes be as much a religion as any other.

    Also, I don’t understand the recent claims that the universe is self-generating. I can be convinced of self-generating universe theories — that’s not the issue. What I don’t understand is why a self-generating universe would preclude the existence of God, or why eternity without beginning is theologically/philosophically less problematic for an atheist than eternity with a beginning. (Imagine a theory whose mathematics imply that every black hole spawns a new universe without any way to reach from the child to the parent. And imagine that other consequences of the same theory are testable and stand the tests. Then one might conclude that the universe really is very likely to be self-generating and eternal. But one would not have evidence that there wasn’t an actual first universe, and even if one did, the question would remain: why is any of this possible?)

    You might think that this should be enough to convince one (e.g., me) that there must be a God, but you’d be wrong: the turtles all the way problem remains, leading me to a fair degree of skepticism. That is, one might believe in God, but the question then becomes: whence God? One solution is to punt, as always in all things axiomatic. Of course, punting is inevitable for all of us in this sense (see sub-threads above); we just choose different ways to do it, different sets of axioms.

    In the end we’re left with the same problem of how to interact with each other. Which is why I jumped in here: to tell wormme the good news (heh!) of natural law — though I know you, midwest bill, beat me to it. Thanks, incidentally, for that Bible passage you quoted, as I was not aware of it!

  10. midwest bill says:

    thanks for the thoughts Nico … as I said somewhere in my rambling treatise … on a societal level, it seems the important thing is that the majority that seem to live by that natural law, are worthy of our respect, even if “we” consider ourselves some higher order of sentient spiritual being. It seems to me the bible actually requires that, and the “disobedience” of Christians not accepting the natural man that obeys natural law (and would also be in heaven) … causes more animosity than necessary.

    If we could strip out the scientific errors of the Bible and a few other things, I’m thinkin’ we can find a pretty solid philosophy on how to have strong beliefs, but still not condemn others that are good, even if they don’t baptize themselves fully as “Christians”.

    I don’t hold myself as any better than Mountainbear, and I have no certainty that God did “it’ … but I prefer the philosophy that chopping my neighbors into pieces for mere meaningless pleasure would be “evil”, and obeying the golden rule is “good”. MountainBear doesn’t call that good, but seems to think it makes sense. Perhaps I just prefer to play my “fantasy game” differently, and call it good, and even hope against hope that there really is a greater good.

    But it is more logical to me to think that forces and life defy the laws of entropy. I don’t know that shaking a box of Timex watch parts would ever produce a watch … even starting with the necessary components. I think they would go back to dust.

  11. Nico says:

    Atoms aren’t quite like watch parts (former -> active, latter -> passive). But that’s for another day.

    I’m pleased (honored, really) that you’d take the view that you take of a non-believer who adheres to natural law. Good stuff.

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