Why I changed my mind


That is actually one of my favorite arguments for God, “The inteligibility of the universe”. Well, I do think we can use logic to establish an efficient “algorithm” for reaching a specific goal. Let’s say your goal is “I wish that as many people as possible can be happy and live fullfiling lifes”, then sure, we can develop a set of rules and “morals” for that. But why do we value those things as positive (have empathy, in your words) in the first place? That is not something that just spontaneously pop out of logic and reason alone.

Yeah, that’s my point, empathy don’t just “pop out” as a natural, inevitable consequence of being able to use logic and reason properly, if it did, psychopaths wouldn’t be able to lack it without lacking logic and reason as well.

Well, I’ve always had these innate morals inside me, even as an atheist, and I also believed that they were “good for the sake of good”, it just felt contradictory to me to hold such belief without believing in anything transcendent, like I said before, I think they are either arbitrary or transcendent, which by no means mean that I would give them up if I didn’t believe in God, and I also don’t discard the possibility that they are in fact arbitrary, since I’m not 100% certain of God. All I’m saying it that I don’t believe you can both have the cake and eat it (believing morals are not arbitrary and at the same time believing there is not anything transcedent, be it God or whatever), and that was one of the many arguments that convinced me that the existence of God is more likely than not.

EDIT: If we accept “empathy” as some kind of axiom of morality, then yeah, we can build morality on top of it by using logic and reason. But empathy itself would still be an arbitrary value.


It comes from empathy, the third part you seem to be skipping over. Part of being human is being loved by others and treated fairly by others. We use empathy to help us determine if we are treating others as we like to be treated. If you find no inherent value in being loved or loving others, then I’m not sure what to say.

I never said that empathy does come from reason and logic. We use reason and logic in conjunction with empathy. They are the three legs of the stool, to use an analogy.

I guess I just don’t see why being good would need to be transcendent. I just view it as part of being human and something worth valuing. Like I said, if you feel you need some other justification in order for all of this to have value in your life, then I am glad you found it. Perhaps atheism just wasn’t for you.


So empathy being a value in itself is like an axiom for you, right? I think that is the main difference between us, you are happy to accept axioms by themselves (presumably axioms like the laws of physics as well, I would imagine) while I see (or feel, as you put it, though I think “feel” looks like suggesting it is an emotional rather than an intelectual choice) the need for explanations beyond the axioms (why there is something rather than nothing? Why can things like empathy be considered objectively good? etc.), and I think any cause/explanation for these questions as a whole would be at least remarkably similar to a deity.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #545

As an old friend of mine says about one of his favorite comparisons …

“It’s sort of like a three-legged stool, except that … it doesn’t have three legs, and … it’s not a stool!” :grin: I think the way you’ve set it up here is that reason and logic are the legs of your stool, such as you have, and empathy is the floor on which your stool is sitting. Once you’ve decided to start with empathy, you can enlist reason and logic to support it as you will. Just as the psychopath who has no empathy whatsoever can also enlist reason and logic to achieve his cold-blooded goals too. Evolution might favor the altruist … or maybe not. Neither science, reason, nor logic, (nothing of your stool) helps adjudicate about the floor on which it rests.


A psychopath lacks empathy, so I don’t see how that is comparable.

We favor the altruist, and that’s what matters. For all we know, empathy could be an evolutionary spandrel, to use Gould’s term. Perhaps evolution selected some other intellectual feature and empathy got drug along with it. Who knows. What does matter is that being loved matters to us at a very basic level, whether it is a product of natural selection, neutral drift, or some other factor.


The existence of human empathy is an axiom. I would think that we both agree that human empathy is a real thing.

I think @John_Dalton said something similar in an earlier post. When you are able to interpret pain in someone else, and can understand how your actions can cause pain in others, then that is the basis for morality. When it is established that humans do have empathy and the ability to reason then moral obligations are an inescapable conclusion. With other animal species there seems to be a lack of sentience, sapience, and empathy. Dogs who look into a mirror see another dog, they don’t see a self. They lack the type of empathy that we have, and the type of intellect that we have. They are not moral agents. We are moral agents because of those differences.

I am not okay with being ignorant of where things come from. However, I don’t see faith based beliefs as a very satisfying answer. It’s akin to just giving up on seeking an answer, at least in my view. Imagine if we just said “God must have poofed the solar system into being” and went home without ever pursuing the answer after that? We would be completely ignorant of solar system formation and important facts of how stars form. “God did it” just seems like the opposite of curiosity to me.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #548

Can atheists please stop using this argument? The Bible doesn’t actually deny the existence of other gods. Read Deuteronomy 32:

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God… (v8) They sacrificed to demons (Shedim, a word referring to a lesser Assyrian divinity) that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. (v17)

(Mervin Bitikofer) #549

It isn’t an answer. It’s a starting point.

Maybe for your sake around here we should stop talking about having faith. I don’t have “faith”. What I’ve got are axioms – like for example: that empathy is a good thing. Wink, wink.

Exactly. And yet the psychopath has access to the same reason and logic you do. And it fails to steer him toward empathy. Reason and logic need premises to work with. One of your premises is “empathy”. His premises do not include empathy. You say potato, he says pot-“ah”-ta. His reasoning and yours can both be fully logical. I’m glad you have empathy. Would that more of the world embraced the same premises you do!


It seems like a rather superfluous starting point.

But they lack empathy which I am saying is an essential part of how we determine morality. I am NOT saying that reason and logic leads us to empathy, but that we have empathy independent of reason and logic.

Yeah, and which one works better?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #551

It may depend on whether you ask the psychopath, or someone who thinks like us. To decide on that you’ve got to reach for even more fai … er … axioms.


So you don’t think that human empathy is a demonstrable fact?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #553

I suppose it is demonstrable that many people have it. Many people have bunions too.


Then why did you imply that it requires faith?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #555

Not faith that it exists — what I meant, if I failed to communicate clearly is that it needs to be accepted axiomatically that empathy is a necessarily good thing.


That is not one of my axioms, nor an article of faith. The axiom I am starting with is that empathy exists. There may be times where empathy takes a back seat to more reasoned approaches, it really depends on the moral situation. I never said that morality was easy to figure out. All I have been saying is that I view empathy, reason, and logic as the three main pillars of how we make moral decisions.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #557

Ahh — well, then; I guess all that needs to be noted to you then is that psychopaths and sociopaths also exist.


Yes, they do exist. There are also people with conditions which rob them of reason and logic. Your point?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #559

I think it’s been sufficiently made.


Just so there isn’t any misunderstanding, perhaps you could spell it out for me.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #561

I think we’re basically in agreement that morality is /or can be complicated. It sounded to me like you were claiming to have something of a logically-compelled foundation for your system of morality that should make your system of morality rise above other competing systems of morality. My point is that if this is your claim, then it needs to be contested, because it would indeed be false. You have no logical compulsion toward a certain system of morality (no matter how laudible) without first bringing on board some axiomatic premises about what is good and what societies ought to be working toward. Reason and logic (and brute force existences such as empathy or psychopathy or bunions for that matter) do nothing to advance your argument into the realm of “now logically compelling to all rational minds.” [added edit … or I should clarify: Reason and logic do nothing to advance your conclusion until you give them the needed axiomatic premises to work with. And only after that can your laudible conclusions see the light of day.]