Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can atheists be moral?

A lot of atheists are offended when Christians bring out the moral argument for God because they misconstrue the premise that "If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values" to mean, "If you don't believe in God, then you can't be moral." And then they'll point out that atheist are often more moral than Christians. And then the Christian will say, "Oh no, you've misunderstood me! I agree that atheists can be moral. In fact, I know atheists who are more moral than some Christians I know. That wasn't my point at all! I'm just saying that nobody can be moral if there are no objective moral standards at all, and there can be no objective moral standards if there's no God to ground them in. It has nothing to do with whether you believe in God or not."

Recently somebody took a poll asking people to list their religion (or lack thereof) and their position on abortion. Almost straight down the line, the Christians were prolife and the atheists were prochoice. It made me think that, by golly, maybe Christians are more moral than atheists after all! :-)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 11

I'm not going to post all of the emails George and I exchanged. I just posted those last few because I'm lazy and didn't want to rewrite all that stuff. Now I'm going to post one paragraph of another email I wrote George.

I was just thinking earlier today about the whole notion of feelings/impression/etc. giving people knowledge, answering questions, etc. The notion seems odd to me, but I was having a hard time putting my finger on why. And then it occurred to me. It's because a feeling is a feeling; a feeling is not a proposition. Feelings don't have propositional content. They're just feelings. So a feeling cannot correspond to reality in the same way that a statement or a claim can correspond to reality. "Warm fuzzy" is not true or false; rather, you either feel it or you don't. The only way a feeling can confirm a truth is if you already somehow know that certain feelings are to be associated with certain answers. That's how language works. Words like "car" and "chalk," refer to things in the real world, so we associate these words with the objects they represent. In the same way, we'd have to have some way of associated feelings with propositions. A burning in the bosom might mean "yes," or a shiver in the liver might mean "no." (I can't remember where I got that phrase "shiver in the liver," but I heard it somewhere and thought it was funny.) But how do we come to associate feelings with propositions? How do we know that a burning in the bosom (or what have you) doesn't mean "no" instead of "yes"? I'm just very skeptical of the view that God communicates with people through feelings and impressions. I tend to think that people find the confirmation they are looking for. People believe what they want to believe. They feel good about the things they like, and therefore think they are true.
There ye have it!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Obama on stem cell research

I just read an article saying that Obama wants to reverse Bush's orders on stem cell research and drilling. There's a lot of misinformation out there about this issue, and I'm a little reluctant to say anything about it because there's also a lot of people out there pointing out this misinformation. I don't have anything new to add. But I figure maybe somebody will read this who didn't read what somebody else said.

First, Bush did not put any ban on embryonic stem cell research. What he stopped was federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Second, we pro-lifers are generally not against all stem cell research. We are specifically opposed to embryonic stem cell research for the same reason that we are pro-life. It's because it takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification. It's impossible to harvest stem cells from embryos without killing them in the process. But it is not impossible to harvest stem cells from adults without killing them. So I'm all for stem cell research as long as it doesn't involve killing people to get them.

So why should we pro-lifers be up in arms over Obama's desire to reverse Bush's orders? Anything that is federally funded is something that we the people are paying for. If there is federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, then we the people will be paying to have embryos killed.

If you think about it, though, all of us are going to have some disagreement over how federal money gets spent. So at one point or another, each of us is going to financially support something we disagree with.

I find it troubling that somebody who claims it is above his paygrade to say when life begins seems to be all for allowing people complete freedom to end what he must at least consider possible life. There doesn't seem to be any reluctance or hesitation on his part concerning abortion and embryonic stem cell research. I haven't confirmed it, but I have read that he also was against the ban on partial birth abortion. He wants women to have complete liberty to destroy what he thinks might be an innocent human being. It seems to me that if there really is some doubt in his mind about whether the unborn are human beings, then there ought to be a corresponding hesitation on his part to be pro-choice. But there isn't. He's radically pro choice. Most pro choice people are at least opposed to partial birth abortion, and many of the pro choice people I've talked to think abortion ought to be proscribed at some point during the pregnancy. The point of viability seems to be the most popular cut-off point, and some say the third trimester.

There is no discernible distinction between a baby inside the womb and a baby outside the womb at 7 to 9 months that has any moral significance. Partial birth abortion is barbaric. I don't see how anybody who knows anything about the procedure and has a conscience can say this is a right women have that ought to be protected.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 10

This is an email I wrote to George:

If I were talking to an atheist or a Muslim about Christianity, I would ignore the issue of the authority of the Bible altogether initially. Remember the four points I thought were essential to Christianity? The authority of the Bible wasn't one of them. And the authority of the Bible doesn't even show up in the ancient creeds--neither the Nicaean creed, the apostles creed, nor the Athanasian creed. It is important, of course, but it's not definitional to Christianity. I think a person can discover that Christianity is true without ever addressing the question of whether the Bible is the authoritative word of God. These things can be based on philosophical and historical arguments, and there is plenty of literature out there on arguments for and against God, the historical Jesus, the resurrection, etc. If I were talking to an atheist or a Muslim, I would talk about the evidence for my beliefs without addressing the issue of the authority of the Bible. A few books that have been influential to me regarding the historical Jesus and the resurrection include N.T. Wright's series on "Christian Origins and the Question of God." So far, he's published three volumes, and there are at least two more coming. They include:

The New Testament and the People of God
Jesus and the Victory of God
The Resurrection of the Son of God

When I first started studying the Bible, I used to pray that God would reveal the truth to me. I knew there were many denominations and many beliefs out there. I didn't have much faith that God would answer my prayer because I figured there were lots of people who had prayed that same prayer, and yet people still disagreed with each other. I used to be quite a bit discouraged about it. But as I studied, my anxieties began to fade as I began to realize there were good arguments and bad arguments, well-justified views, and unjustified views. The more I learned, the more I began forming opinions. And I came to a point where I decided absolute certainty wasn't necessary. Reasonableness was enough. So I'm no longer anxious about the mere possibility that I could be wrong about some things. I'm sure I'm AM wrong about some things. By I try to proportion my beliefs to the strength of their supporting arguments. That is, I believe strongly in what I think is well-justified, and I hold my beliefs lightly when they are speculative. I wrote a blog about the subject of authoritative interpreters, if you're interested. I think the notion creates problems of its own. [I also wrote a blog] about how I deal with the issue of "whose interpretation is right?."

Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to address the evidences you brought up to support the BOM. I plan to get into that eventually, ... but at the moment, I'm still learning the basics. All I know is from secondary literature, and from what I've read, secular archaeologists and historians aren't very impressed with the evidences that Mormons bring up. You mentioned bias on the part of these archaeologists as an explanation for their reluctance to yield to these evidences, but it seems to me that knife cuts both ways. As I pointed out in my last email, the difference between the BOM and the Bible is that while all people--those who believe in the Bible and those who don't--agree that the Bible is rooted in history, but when it comes to the BOM, it seems that only Mormons think it is rooted in history. So I don't think bias is the deciding factor. If it was, then you'd have the same thing with the Bible as you do with the BOM--only Christians saying it is rooted in history. Since both secular and Christian scholars agree that the Bible is rooted in history, but only Mormons think the BOM is rooted in history, if bias is a deciding factor, I'm inclined to think the bias is on the part of Mormon scholars, not secular or Christian scholars.

[Editing some stuff out...]

You said that Jesus' statement that we could ask anything we want was unqualified, but do you really believe there are no qualifications at all? What if I prayed and asked God to send a worldwide flood to remove wickedness from the world? Well, we know that would be praying amiss because the Bible already tells us that God won't do that again. It seems to me that Jesus' statement IS qualified in a few places in the New Testament. We must pray according to God's will (1 John 5:14), and I think much of God's will is revealed in the Bible. The only way people can have whatever they want is if God has no purpose in the world. If God has specific plans and purposes, then I don't think those plans and purposes are going to be thwarted just because people make requests of God that are inconsistent with those plans and purposes. Qualification to Jesus' statement about prayer seem to permeate the Bible when you look at it like that.
And that's the end of my email to George.

Part 11

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 9

The rest of George's email...

I do believe that God answers sincere, honest, and faithful prayers. If you read the Koran and ask God "is this your word and is this true" I think he'll reveal to you that it is not, assuming you're sincere in your efforts and not just testing him.

I know the experiences that I've had. I don't know the experiences that you've had. I think the question to ask yourself is "Did God answer your prayer"? Is it possible that you moved on before any answer was given by God? I believe God loves all of us. I also believe that God may have a plan for each and everyone of us. Perhaps you weren't ready at the time and so no answer was given then. I can't interpret your revelation for you.....but I do believe that God does reveal things to us.

As for your question to me, I believe that if you prayed to God and sincerely asked "Is the Pope a Prophet of God" that God would reveal to you that he was not. In the event that Joseph Smith wasn't a prophet, I believe God would steer honest seekers of truth away from a false prophet and false scripture.

D&C 9:8-9 reads: But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

Now, keep in mind, this is advice given regarding the process of translation. I think the "burning in the bosom" happens very rarely. I've only had one experience that I could describe like that and it was regarding a serious life decision. I have experienced the "stupor of thought" however as I've been steered away from other things.

More often, I believe revelation comes in this way as described in D&C 85 "Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things". For me it's most often a thought that is accompanied by feelings of joy or peace. If I'm unsure, I'll often pray and say "Father, this is what I THINK you're telling me, is that right".
That's the end of George's email.

Part 10