Why I changed my mind


Then we are in agreement. Empathy is a separate and independent part of it. Logic is there to critically examine our moral arguments, but logic isn’t the sole source for morality. For example, if a moral argument is based on a logical fallacy like the fallacy of ancient wisdom or the genetic fallacy, then we can question its soundness. Logic has more to do with judging moral arguments than as a source of the moral argument.

If anything, good itself is the axiom. In earlier posts I described it more as an innate part of being human, a sense of positive emotions in relation to other people. The axiom would be something along the lines of humans preferring one culture or society and another. Even then, it is pretty wishy washy, I must admit. Like we have both said, morality isn’t easy.

I think we both agree with each other.

(John Dalton) #563

It was really a rhetorical question (incidentally, by should I meant “is there valid reason.”) My point is that the existence of God is a matter of belief. This belief can act as a philosophical foundation for your morality, but so can other beliefs. For example, I believe that all humans have equal worth. If you feel that your belief gives you a firmer foundation for morality, I can accept that (though I don’t agree), but I will note that no one is compelled to believe it. Thus your morality is subject to the same problem of potential undermining questioning that any other moral belief might be.

That’s something different altogether. You’d have to demonstrate that to be true. I think you have a couple of problems. First, why is the absolute standard necessary? You may desire it, but can you show that effective moral systems could not have come to be without it (and in fact haven’t done so?) The other is a bit more hazy, but still important I think, and connected to what I was saying above. If it were true that God’s existence were vital to our morality, then why would that existence not be more or totally obvious? Doesn’t that leave a big hole in a morality that is said to require it, and apparently by design? The answer to that would involve free will I expect, but if true it still leaves it unclear to me why God’s existence would be necessary for morality–and that would be the case even if God does in fact exist.

(John Dalton) #564

I think that misses the point. Do you believe in all gods people have asserted to exist, including all aspects of their stated characteristics, abilities, demands, etc.?

(John Dalton) #565

There’s a lot more to it than that. I’ve always had intuition about this, but reading “the Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt had firmed up my thinking a lot, and I hope to read more in this area. As part of our evolved nature as social animals, we possess a number of capacities such as empathy. A lot of our moral impulses are based on raw feelings resulting from these capacities, and not any kind of rational thinking at all. Rational thinking comes later, and is still important in working things out, but it’s not the only player in the game and probably not the most important. I hope psychologists and other scientists continue looking into this area in more detail, and I’m sure they are. I don’t think it’s inconsistent with EC either.


The existence of God (or any other absolute standard, though I don’t see what that could be) is not necessary for a system of social rules favoring cooperation, but it is necessary for those rules not to be arbitrary. Without any absolute standard, it is very hard to objectively say they are good, and not “just different” from another system whose values we would find atrocious by our personal standards.

I’ll take a look on that book, it looks interesting. Yeah, that is kind of my perspective actually, I do think that our moral impulses (empathy, for instance) came to be through evolution tinkering our brains. The thing is, if the universe was designed in a way to bring about beings with these moral impulses (evolutionary creation), then they have a transcendent cause, if it was just a fluke, then they are arbitrary and no better than other possible social rules by any absolute standard. My belief that God actually intended for us to have a moral nature (among other things like consciousness and the like) is the main reason why I’m a theist rather than a deist. My favorite authors on that subject are Justin L. Barret and George Ellis (his theological work, not the ones in physics) are you familiar with their ideas? I think you would really like the first one at least, since his work is mainly focused on the psychology and evolution of religion (and his personal religious views are not directly put in his work, though he openly talks about them in lectures and interviews).


Your logic kinda makes sense, but it is totally conceivable to imagine beings which would be aware of the pain of others and still not care (the psychopath example kicks in here again).

Well, if you have some kind of blind fate where you “protect” yourself from external information in order to maintain your beliefs, then yeah. But I don’t see faith as belief with total lack of evidence, I see it as belief with partial, inconclusive evidence. We do have evidence that points to God, the thing is that two people can look at the exact same evidence and conclude that God is more likely to exist while the other concludes that God is very unlikely to exist (either by believing that the evidence will probably be explained away eventually or that it even if we never know those things, it is still not reason enought to believe in God), it is kinda like multiverses, we can conceive the idea that they exist, and we have good arguments for their existence, but we also have good arguments for why that may not be the case, but we can’t (at least yet) prove their existence. I’m a theist because I think God is very likely to exist, and is the most likely explanation for these “axioms”, but of course, I could be wrong.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #568

No it is not. It is a matter of fact. Just as the beginning of the universe is a fact.


Do you mean that as an absolute truth (to which I would disagree) or as “it is a matter of fact that God either exists or doesn’t” (with my personal belief being that he does based on the evidence)?

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #570

I really do not know what the Absolute Truth is. It is a fact like any other fact is, even if we might not know it is a fact. Facts have consequences.


I understand, but we could use the multiverse analogy here again. If other universes exist, it is a fact that they exist, but if they don’t, it is a fact that they don’t. The only way of knowing for sure would be if we had access to absolute truth. But yeah, if you believe in God, you believe that his existence is a fact, and not some “make believe” like I’ve seen some atheists suggest. But it is not a fact in the sense that you could say for instance that “atheists are going against the facts by denying the existence of God”.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #572

The multiverse is the exact situation. The multiverse is not a fact. It is a theory that cannot be proven. It has no consequences. The Beginning out of Nothing or Big Bang is a fact until proven otherwise.

Atheists are not going against “scientific” facts in denying the existence of God, but they are going against philosophical and theological facts. If they want to stick their heads in the sand and deny the reality of the rational and the spiritual/moral, they can do so, but they should face the consequences of denying these realities.

(John Dalton) #573

Perhaps. A question for you, how do you think “the existence of God” translates into “an absolute standard” that we can utilize? I think people and groups have to work these things out ultimately. If it means that standards differ in certain aspects, among different people and groups, and at different times, that seems to square with what we actually see in the world.

We have evolved in a certain way, for whichever or whatever reason. Our social abilities have been a major force behind our uncommon global dominance as a species. Moral capabilities seem to be a pretty important part of that–they help us to get along with people and function in groups. How these translate into social rules is interesting and not fixed to any absolute standard I can see, but there are points of commonality around the globe. Some things are just pretty obvious. Groups that don’t recognize that killing or hurting each other is a bad idea aren’t going to function well internally or externally, ultimately. People that don’t get that run into problems, almost everywhere. Even a gangster knows he doesn’t want you to kill or hurt him, his family and his friends. You make it sound like any possible set of rules might be as practicable as any other without the supposed absolute standard to guide us. I don’t think things really work that way. There are physical realities that apply to everyone and can’t be ignored.

No I’m not! I’ll definitely take a look though, thanks!

Why do you think this is a problem for the kind of moral paradigm T_aq is talking about?

(Luca) #574

God is a fact?

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #575

My quick summary, which others are quite welcome to correct, as I’m not particularly knowledgeable in such matters…

Atheists: I don’t believe in God (or god, or that god or those gods).

New atheists: I don’t believe in God, and neither should you; belief in God is a societal evil that should be opposed whenever possible.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #576

Luca @Totti asked

What do new atheists do that atheists don’t? What makes them new?

Yes, the New Atheists are more militant than the old atheists were. But I have noticed another difference. The New Atheism is based on Scientism, while the most prominent old atheist, Bertrand Russell was a prominent philosopher. Dawkins in The River Out of Eden rejects philosophy as does Hawking. Dennett began as a philosopher but seems to have left that calling long ago, although he seems to teach it.

Thus it seems that the New Atheists are not basing their atheism on philosophy, but are rejecting philosophy as a way of understanding reality. They are advocating for a strictly material, physical universe, which means that rationality is a part of the universe because matter/energy does not think!

Thus to maintain their monist materialist ideology they must reject not only theology and meaning, they must also reject philosophy and purpose. The is the message of the 2011 book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions by Alex Rosenberg, which received good reviews.

Of course if philosophy is rejected as a possible mediator between those who are discussing these issues, it is very hard to see how they can be mediated.

There are two “mysteries” in this life: rationality and spirituality. Atheists can deny the fact that humans are spiritual beings, because the spiritual, artistic part of life is hard to pin down. However when one says that humans and reality are rational because humans can understand the universe though science, then it is hard to understand from whence this rational nature comes from if not from God Who created the universe and created humans in God’s own Image.

Sadly there is an “easy” way of a logical dilemma and that is to reject logic.


Well, if God is the entity which made the world and sustains it, a moral law created by him would be absolute, pretty much the same way that the laws of physics are absolute, you can’t break the laws of physics, and you can’t make torturing children ok for the same reason, basically. It would be just logically inconsistent with the nature of reality, without God (or another source of an absolute standard), there is no way that you can say that a moral code which allowed for that would be “actually wrong” and not “just different”.

Yeah, but we have several animal species which live by rules which are way different from ours and they seem to be doing fine, so I don’t see how developing our morals would be “inevitable” in some sense. Maybe it was inevitable in order to reach our current level of development, but there is no law of nature telling that a species must necessarily reach it, we could be still living in the jungle and that would in no way by a logical impossibility. I’m also rather skeptic that the short period of history in which we have been living in civilized “moral” societies was big enough to genetically select us for “empathic brains”, but I could be wrong on that, maybe someone here on biologos specialized in population genetics could write about it, I would be very interested to read it.

Well, he did specifically state that “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.”. Maybe I misinterpreted it by accident, but it did sound a lot like he was conveying that being able to interpret pain in someone else and understanding how your action can affect them would make empathy “pop out”, like I suggested before, and I just don’t agree with that (for the reasons I outlied previously).


I just happened to stumble across this video today, I don’t really have a formed opinion on these issue, but I did find it very thougth provoking.

What is your guys opinion on this? (just for the sake of discussion, I’m not using it as an argument for anything).

(George Brooks) #579


The irony about Dennett (the one who looks like Santa) is that it was the depth of his analysis, defending the lack of Free Will, that convinced me that God’s role in the Universe was to make it possible for humans to have Free Will.

It’s ironic, and to some it doesn’t even seem possible. But Dennett is just what I needed … I’m 61. And his YouTube video changed 40 years of my opinions just last year !

(George Brooks) #580


It’s my view that this fellow is just packaging what we already know about the limits of the human mind, and making it sound fairly dramatic. i give him high points for his ability to make sense of it all.

Basically, he is is arguing that “empathy” comes from our evolutionary past in a tribal context … so that we are moved by the situations of our neighbors and their children and what-have-you.

Most psychologists and evolutionary scientists are quick to point out that the human brain is not equipped to assess global issues very well. The human brain is not built to be very good at certain kinds of probability problems.

But empathy… we nail empathy. And it’s a good thing we do.

Now… to have empathy And to Also be able to evaluate issues like global warming in purely logical ways … well, that’s something that would have had been relevant in our evolution. And it looks like it wasn’t.

(Stephen Matheson) #581

Dennett is a brilliant, world-famous, provocative philosopher. He is my favorite philosopher and among my favorite authors. Assume that what you have read elsewhere on this thread is nonsense.

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea was a game changer for me, almost 20 years ago when I was still a Christian (and even an evangelical). I just finished his fun sampler, Intuition Pumps and Other Thinking Tools, which I recommend for reading on the subway or in the bathroom (ahem) and am now partway through From Bach to Bacteria and Back. I sometimes disagree with his conclusions but always learn a lot from him. Those who want some refreshing brain exercise, aimed at a smart layperson, should really try Intuition Pumps. It’s great fun.