Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Eternal accountability

I don't think atheists appreciate the force of the doctrine of eternal accountability in restraining evil. Unless there is eternal accountability, either of the Hindu karma-birth-rebirth kind, or accountability before a monotheistic God, if we get away with it on earth, we get away with it period.

69 comments:

B. Prokop said...

A lot of people have suggested that is the meaning of the final episode of the TV show The Sopranos. The cut to black as the mob chief is assassinated is supposed to be our viewing his death from his point of view. Instant non-entity. In such a case, he becomes completely equal to the greatest saint. The fate of Eichmann is no different than the fate of Franz Jaegerstaetter. In such a case, why not follow Loftus's advice? "I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free, primarily because my ethical standards aren’t as high." Doctors who rush to Ebola-stricken Africa on their own dime, firemen who charge into burning buildings to save an infant's life, heroic civilians sent to concentration camps for sheltering Jews, parents who work two jobs and sacrifice all so their children will live a better life, Christian aid workers in Iraq beheaded for trying to help people... suckers, all of them. They should have listened to Loftus, and saved all their trouble.

Jezu, ufam tobie!

im-skeptical said...

Bob, you should listen to Loftus. You don't understand anything he said.

B. Prokop said...

Posted below, but repeated here lest someone miss it:

Sirach the Sage:

"Do not argue with a fool, nor heap wood on his fire" (Ecclesiasticus 8:3)

From The City of God, Book II, by St. Augustine:

Even after the plain truth has been thoroughly demonstrated, so far as a person is capable of doing, the confirmed skeptic will insist on maintaining belief in his own irrational notions. This is due to either a great blindness, which renders him incapable of seeing what is plainly set before him, or on account of an opinionative obstinacy, which prevents him from acknowledging the truth of what he does see. Thence arises the woeful necessity of going to ridiculous lengths to expound yet more fully on what we have already made perfectly clear, in hopes that we might get through to those who close their minds to reason.

And yet how shall we ever profit from our discussions, or what bounds can be set to our discourse, if we forever fall to the temptation of replying to those who reply to us? We must acknowledge that those who are so hardened by the habit of contradiction will never yield, but would rather reply out of stubbornness, even when they recognize their own error.

From The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (slightly edited for context):

"If there is a real [intellect] - even the least trace of one still there inside [all the nonsense], it can be brought to life again. If there's one wee spark under all those ashes, we'll blow till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there's nothing but ashes we'll not go blowing the in our own eyes forever."

Christ:

"Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you." (Matthew 7:6)

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

Typo:

The Lewis quote should have ended, "we'll not go blowing them in our own eyes forever."

them, not the

im-skeptical said...

Yes, they desperately want to make it sound as if people who think for themselves are the fools. And you will always be their lackey.

jdhuey said...

Victor,

Frankly, I think that your opinion is just your own wishful thinking. As far as I can tell, if a person or group of persons want to do an evil deed then they will come up with a way to rationalize it so that they are off the hook with whatever afterlife they might believe in.

- For example, Gengis Khan killed an estimated 40 million people because , he claimed, it was God's Will that the Mongols would rule the world. There would be no punishment for trying to fulfill God's Will.

- George W. Bush believed he had God's blessing when he launched our invasion of Iraq. This invasion based on trumped up intel resulted in more American deaths than the attack on the Twin Towers and that doesn't even count the number of Iraqi deaths.

- No member of the KKK ever believed that God would punish them for just lynching a few black people.

The list of examples is endless.

Anytime someone thinks that they are doing harm to someone for a greater good or a higher cause then that harmed is justified.

JaredMithrandir said...

Christians need to stop using the Eternal Accountability argument to convince Atheists because form someone on the outside our belief in Justification by Faith alone undermines that.

Victor Reppert said...

I think it's asking a lot to assume that no one is deterred in this way. Sure, we can rationalize our way out of being deterred, in which case it doesn't appear in the newspaper.

jdhuey said...

I'm sure that some people are detered from violence by thoughts of eternal punishment alone but the question is how many? It seems to me that the vast majority of people that would be detered by that fear are also detered by the far more likely prospect of conventional justice.

Ilíon said...

VR: ".... if we get away with it on earth, we get away with it period."

Even if one doesn't look at the issue in terms of "get[ing] away with it", the problem is that unless our actions have eternal consequences, then then our actions, whether for good or for evil, don't really matter. For, if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, then, ultimately, no matter what our actions, it will be as though we had never been and had never acted.

B. Prokop said...

Like I said in the first comment to this thread...

Ilíon said...

^ The above is one of the things that so-called atheist fools, such as 'jdhuey' and 'im-skeptical', refuse to openly acknowledge ... even as they lie like dogs, and continuously prove by their dishonesties that they expect (and demand) no consequences to themselves for their actions.

im-skeptical said...

"The above is one of the things that so-called atheist fools, such as 'jdhuey' and 'im-skeptical', refuse to openly acknowledge"

More lies. What else should we expect from Ilion? I don't refuse to acknowledge what is obviously true. Billions of years from now, when the earth no longer exists, and humans have long since become extinct, there will be nobody around to care about what Ilion did, and the atoms that comprised his body will be scattered across the galaxy.

Now who is it that refuses to acknowledge the facts? He wants to believe a fantasy, because the truth is psychologically unacceptable to him. It doesn't make him feel warm and comfortable. Too bad, Ilion.

jdhuey said...

"If there's no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters... , then all that matters is what we do. 'Cause that's all there is. What we do. Now. Today."

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0512846/quotes

Dan Gillson said...

To quote someone who's smarter than me, the laws (even the eternal ones) which are meant to protect the oppressed and weak should be judged by their outcomes, not their intentions. Accordingly, given the sheer amount of evil done to weak and oppressed peoples in the name of God, religion, or dogma by people who believed that the wicked will be eternally punished, the doctrine of eternal accountability has been a complete failure.

steve said...

I think critics, both here and at the Secular Outpost, are missing the point of Reppert's argument.

As I construe it, his argument involves a contrast between something and nothing. Some religions have a deterrent to evil. They have a distinctively religious deterrent to evil.

In the nature of the case, that religious deterrent is entirely absent in atheism.

Whether or not some (or even most) religionists are actually deterred by that prospect is not a counter to his argument. For atheism doesn't have the same principle *at all*. It simply doesn't exist in atheism. Atheism removes that deterrent in toto. It differs in kind, not degree.

Moreover, atheism has no secular equivalent. Nothing that takes the place of that religious deterrent.

At best, an atheist can try to offset that principle by saying that just as religion can offer a distinctive disincentive to evil, it can also offer a distinctive incentive to evil, if, say, certain kinds of evil reap eternal rewards. Say the suicide bomber who commits mass murder to get his 72 virgins.

Keep in mind that that's not a direct rebuttal to Reppert's argument.

Now, Reppert's argument is too coarse-grained to address that objection. It would require a more fined-grained argument that distinguishes and evaluates different religious eschatologies.

oozzielionel said...

Christianity has much more to do with the hunger and thirst for righteousness than the fear of punishment.

Dan Gillson said...

Steve,

You're providing quite the gloss on Dr Reppert's short argument. Unfortunately, what Dr Reppert implies in the first sentence is that the doctrine of eternal accountability works, but atheists don't appreciate that fact. The people who have pointed out that the doctrine of eternal accountability doesn't work refute are still playing on the same field as Dr Reppert.

im-skeptical said...

"Atheism removes that deterrent in toto."

That's absolutely wrong. There is a natural deterrent to bad or anti-social behavior. We call it guilt. Guilt is a naturally evolved emotion that we experience when we do things that are not conducive to group cooperation and cohesiveness. Guilt is the very thing that forms the basis of superstitious beliefs about theistic morality. And it obviously isn't perfect, but it has functioned well enough to enhance survivability for groups of humans that have passed it along to their descendants.

B. Prokop said...

Closing lines of The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, by
Christoper Marlowe:


O God,
If thou wilt not have mercy on my soul,
Yet for Christ's sake, whose blood hath ransom'd me,
Impose some end to my incessant pain;
Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,
A hundred thousand, and at last be sav'd!
O, no end is limited to damned souls!
Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?
Or why is this immortal that thou hast?
Ah, Pythagoras' metempsychosis, were that true,
This soul should fly from me, and I be chang'd
Unto some brutish beast! all beasts are happy,
For, when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolv'd in elements;
But mine must live still to be plagu'd in hell.
Curs'd be the parents that engender'd me!
No, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer
That hath depriv'd thee of the joys of heaven.

[The clock strikes twelve.]

O, it strikes, it strikes! Now, body, turn to air,
Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell!

[Thunder and lightning.]

O soul, be chang'd into little water-drops,
And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found!

Enter DEVILS.

My God, my god, look not so fierce on me!
Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!
Ugly hell, gape not! come not, Lucifer!
I'll burn my books!—Ah, Mephistophilis!

im-skeptical said...

Thank you for helping to illustrate my point, Bob.

Papalinton said...

"As I construe it, his argument involves a contrast between something and nothing."

Paul Valéry (d. 1945), French philosopher and symbolist poet, best sums up the argument:

"God made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through"

B. Prokop said...

Excellent article HERE on anti-theist violence against believers, both in the 20th Century and ongoing today - with no comparable violence in the other direction.

Jezu ufam tobie!

steve said...

Dan Gillson:

"You're providing quite the gloss on Dr Reppert's short argument. Unfortunately, what Dr Reppert implies in the first sentence is that the doctrine of eternal accountability works, but atheists don't appreciate that fact. The people who have pointed out that the doctrine of eternal accountability doesn't work refute are still playing on the same field as Dr Reppert."

I don't see him suggesting that it must have a 100% success rate to "work." So pointing out exceptions does nothing to obviate the principle. Even if it had a deterrent effect just 10% of the time, that doesn't "work" for atheists. So his argument stands.

steve said...

‪im-skeptical‬"

"That's absolutely wrong. There is a natural deterrent to bad or anti-social behavior. We call it guilt. Guilt is a naturally evolved emotion that we experience when we do things that are not conducive to group cooperation and cohesiveness. Guilt is the very thing that forms the basis of superstitious beliefs about theistic morality. And it obviously isn't perfect, but it has functioned well enough to enhance survivability for groups of humans that have passed it along to their descendants."

A predictably clueless objection:

i) To begin with, that would only have a deter effect if you're unaware of the fact that your sense of guilt is like an irrational phobia. But once you become conscious of your evolutionary conditioning, you can override the program. At that point you realize that you have no reason to feel guilty. That's just the mindless, amoral process of naturalistic evolution guilt-tripping you.

ii) Likewise, once a human has achieved that degree of objectivity, there's no reason why he should opt for altruism at the expense of self-interest.

B. Prokop said...

steve,

In any case, atheist spokesperson John Loftus has already ruled out guilt as a deterrent for atheists. May I quote?

"Today I am pretty much guilt free. That is, I have no guilt ... I am free of the need to do most of the things I felt I had to do ... I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free, primarily because my ethical standards aren’t as high. I’d like every person ... to experience the freedom I have found." (emphasis added)

Jezu, ufam tobie!

Dan Gillson said...

Steve,

Yes, Dr Reppert's argument stands, except for when it doesn't ...

im-skeptical said...

"To begin with, that would only have a deter effect if you're unaware of the fact that your sense of guilt is like an irrational phobia."

Steve, On what basis do you make this claim? The fact is that guilt is a powerful deterrent regardless of our intellectual understanding of how it arises. Do you have evidence that people can easily ignore their emotional responses?

"In any case, atheist spokesperson John Loftus has already ruled out guilt as a deterrent for atheists."

Bob, I already pointed out to you that you should make more of an effort to listen to what Loftus is saying. The only guilt that he is free of is the guilt that comes from the religion. He never said that he has become amoral or that he can do anything at all without experiencing the guilt that is common to all of us by virtue of our humanity. You are deliberately misconstruing his words. And that only shows your dishonesty, not his immorality.

Papalinton said...

"You are deliberately misconstruing his words."

It's deliberate, it's wanton, and it's malicious. It is what is called in the apologetical trade: "Lying for Jesus."

"Lying for Jesus is a form of pious fraud which happens when some Christians believe that falsifying information is acceptable if that brings people to Jesus or somehow supports his historicity, saintliness or supposed godliness.
The practice has a long and venerable history in the Christian religions."
SEE HERE

steve said...

im-skeptical said:

"Steve, On what basis do you make this claim? The fact is that guilt is a powerful deterrent regardless of our intellectual understanding of how it arises. Do you have evidence that people can easily ignore their emotional responses?"

Since you need to have the obvious explained to you, let's take a comparison: supposed I've been brainwashed by a mad scientist to feel guilty about eating cheeseburgers.

However, I discover that I was brainwashed. I realize that there's no rational basis for my guilt-feelings.

Even if I can't stop feeling guilty, I can still override my conditioning in the sense that it doesn't prevent me from eating cheeseburgers. My feelings don't control me to that extent.

Victor Reppert said...

Even assuming you are right, couldn't Bob just have misinterpreted his words honestly?

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

Linton,

How on Earth can you accuse me of misconstruing (or worse, even lying), when I provided a direct quotation? Are you saying that Loftus is misconstruing his own words? Loftus clearly and plainly says that he considers the absence of guilt feelings to be a great advantage of his atheism, and encourages others to "experience the freedom I have found." He calls this "living life to the hilt".

Are you denying that Loftus wrote those words? Or are you saying it's malicious to call people out on what they're saying? It's not like I covertly taped him at some private event or broke some confidence (like if he were speaking off the record) - he himself published the words which I quoted. In fact, Loftus's overall tone in the quotation makes it clear that he is even proud of them.

Jezu ufam tobie!

im-skeptical said...

Victor: "Even assuming you are right, couldn't Bob just have misinterpreted his words honestly?"

Bob: "How on Earth can you accuse me of misconstruing (or worse, even lying), when I provided a direct quotation? Are you saying that Loftus is misconstruing his own words?"

Loftus clearly said that there is a certain kind of guilt that he no longer experiences. It's right in the quote that Victor provided. Let's look again at what Loftus said: "Today I am pretty much guilt free. That is, I have no guilt in regards to the Christian duties mentioned above. I am free of the need to do most of the things I felt I had to do because I was expressing my gratitude for what God had done." This can't be understood as anything-goes amorality, unless you are utterly uncomprehending what he said, or just plain dishonest.

DJC said...

Victor,

"I don’t think atheists appreciate the force of the doctrine of eternal accountability in restraining evil"

You may be thinking about society generations ago. Modern liberal moral training of children undertaken by parents and schools no longer teaches that the primary reason to refrain from evil is punishment, and the primary reason to do good is to earn reward. Instead what is taught is that the the primary reason to refrain from evil is empathizing with the person being wronged. The primary reason to do good is empathizing with the person being helped. By shifting the emphasis of moral acts to the good or harm they do to other people, punishment and reward because diminished secondary concerns for moral behavior, and an afterlife is a moot point. Given the steady reductions in violence and crime over time, this liberalizing approach to moral training seems to be working.

At the same time, there will always be a percentage of people lacking empathy for which the liberal approach fails completely and punishment and reward are all that can matter. However, these psychopaths and sociopaths are barely moral agents in the first place (lacking empathy) and they will cause enormous problems for society whether they believe in an afterlife or not.

Papalinton said...

DJC, your comment at 3.58pm is both insightful and erudite. Truly a pleasure to read.

malcolmthecynic said...

DJC is closer, but I think many are missing the logical cut of the argument here.

The gist is this: Empathizing with people does not matter. Lower violence rates do not matter. Reward, punishment - don't matter.

Because one day, we'll all be dead, and it is utterly irrational for us to concern ourselves with other people if oblivion is the only thing awaiting us.

The response "So you religious people only avoid doing bad things because you're afraid of Hell!" is a red herring. It doesn't actually address what I said, and only scores cheap emotional points.

Aragorn said...

I'm an atheist but I would have to agree with the OP - not for anything else other than the fact that it is supported by science. The evidence that a belief in supernatural justice motivates ethical behavior is strong and incontrovertible.

I understand this and yet feel compelled to disregard it in evaluating god claims. Either God exists or she doesn't and considerations of how theistic belief could help motivate moral behavior in people is irrelevant. Moreover, the science doesn't show that one cannot be motivated to act morally without theistic belief, only that it would be far easier to do so.

B. Prokop said...

I mostly object to DJC's assertion that there has been a "steady reduction in violence and crime over time". Crime may be less violent, but it's just as prevalent. You may not get mugged as often on some street corner, but that's only because the thieves are too busy stealing your identity and cloning your credit cards. And as for violence, the world today is on the whole more violent than at any time since 1945. The overall trend is, sadly, not toward less violence, but rather the reverse. Just take a look at THIS, if you need any proof.

I'm not trying to score any debating points with this observation. I'd just like to set the record straight.

malcolmthecynic said...

I wrote a story, since published, about a universe where the rate of violent crime is virtually nil, percentage wise. The only catch is that once a year a planet full of people needs to be destroyed.

The catch is that in my universe there are so many planets this increases the rate of violent crime by only a fraction of a percent, and so this far future universe still has, percentage wise, much less violence than we do now.

But is it more more moral?

My claim, then, is this: Just because the world is less violent does not mean that we're any more moral than we used to be.

jdhuey said...

Bob,

May I recommend Steven Pinkers' "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined."

It seems to me that if the only way to stop violent crimes (like mugging) is to have the crimmals turn into identity theives then that is a postive trade off. However, neither you or I believe that the crime is an either/or proposition.

DJC said...

Papalinton, thank you, you're entirely too kind.

malcolmthecynic,

Empathizing with people does matter because empathy is an emotionally expressed value which can not be denied any more than pain or pleasure can be denied. When someone steps on your foot, it is quite beside the point to tell yourself pain does not matter because one day we'll all be dead.

Aragon,

"The evidence that a belief in supernatural justice motivates ethical behavior is strong and incontrovertible."

I agree but argue this has strongly faded as a motivator in modern 1st world societies much the same way conservative religious attitudes are in decline (i.e each generation is more liberal on average than the last)

B. Prokop,

"And as for violence, the world today is on the whole more violent than at any time since 1945."

As jdhuey notes, this is factually wrong and Pinker's book lays out that specifics of that argument in meticulous detail. For a quick summary, see Pinker's recent reply to Gray here

"Research institutes in Oslo and Uppsala compiled datasets of global battle deaths since 1946, and their plots showed an unmistakable downward trend. The per-capita death rate fell more than tenfold between the peak of the second world war and the Korean war, and then plunged an additional hundredfold by the mid-2000s. Even the recent uptick from the wars in Iraq and Syria has not brought the world anywhere near the death rates of the preceding decades. Other datasets show steep declines in genocides and other mass killings. The declines are precipitous enough that they don’t depend on precise body counts: the estimates could be off by 25%, 100%, or 250% and the decline would still be there."

B. Prokop said...

"battle deaths"

An extremely misleading statistic. Of note, when you count the wounded in Iraq that would have died in Vietnam (because the medical technologies differed), it has been calculated by no less than the Department of Defense itself that the death rate in Iraq would have been equivalent to that in the former conflict. The only reason we had dramatically fewer deaths in Iraq is because we now have so many permanently disabled vets who 50 years ago would have died in combat.

A second reason for the falling combat deaths is the dramatic lessening of friendly fire incidents. The US Marine Corps estimates that as many as 15% of combat deaths in the Pacific in WWII were from friendly fire. There were more than 25,000 (!) friendly fire deaths in the campaign to liberate France in 1944, and nearly as many in Italy! Such incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan were so rare as to be newsworthy (and controversial).

Oh, and by the way. The Guardian is hardly an unbiased source of information. I lived in England for several years, and one of the first things I noticed while there is that their newspapers don't even make a pretense at being objective. They wear their biases and prejudices on their sleeves. Everything )and I do mean everything) they report is unashamedly slanted toward an editorial objective - In The Guardian's case, toward atheism and leftist politics. I would take anything from The Guardian with a shaker full of salt.. in fact, with an entire salt mine! Sorry, but I flat out do not believe Steven Pinker in this case.

jdhuey said...

But the inescapable fact is that whenever you use the words “more”, “less”, “rise”, or “fall” you are making a claim about numbers. If you then refuse to look at them, no one should take your claims seriously.

These last two sentences from Pinker's article seem that could have been directed at Bob.

Even if your complaint about the statistic 'battle field deaths' is valid it really wouldn't change the basic conclusion an iota. The decline in major conflicts is just too great.

It is perfectly OK to be skeptical about counterintuitive conclusions but you really do owe it to yourself to investigate the facts.

Also, this is not just some wild ass analysis by some lone fuzzy headed professor. The same observations about violence declining have been shown by a number of different people. For example, Francis Fukuyama in his books "The Origins of Political Order" and "Political Order and Political Decay" relate the same basic statistics.

malcolmthecynic said...

Empathizing with people does matter because empathy is an emotionally expressed value which can not be denied any more than pain or pleasure can be denied. When someone steps on your foot, it is quite beside the point to tell yourself pain does not matter because one day we'll all be dead.

But it also means that if I decide I don't care if I do something supposedly immoral you have no good reason to tell me that I should care.

steve said...

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-steven-pinker-wrong-violence-war-declining

steve said...

http://bedejournal.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/steven-pinkers-medieval-murder-rates.html

http://bedejournal.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/steven-pinker-and-an-lushan-revolt.html

B. Prokop said...

Steve,

Thanks for those links. The first one you provided did a better job of skewering Pinker's dubious thinking than I could ever have.

Now my work here is done!

Jezu ufam tobie!

jdhuey said...

Bob,

The article you think is so good was in the Guardian and because of their bias anything they print should be taken with a whole shaker of salt.

B. Prokop said...

Yeah, but sometimes salt can be the "Salt of the Earth".

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men."

steve said...

I'd like to venture a few observations about whether crime is declining. I'm not a sociologist or criminologist, so I don't claim to be an expert, but that could be said for other commenters:

i) To my knowledge, crime stats are kept by law enforcement agencies. But the same agencies have a vested interest in touting their success in combating crime. It would be gullible to assume a police chief or FBI director will advertise official failures.

ii) Crime is a technicality. Depends on what is illegal. If, say, pot is legalized, then you will see crime go down in relation to pot possession or pot sales. That, however, doesn't mean the activity has declined. Indeed, it might spike.

iii) Ironically, I daresay that crime can be underreported in some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods. If police avoid certain neighborhoods because it's too dangerous, those crimes won't be reported. If police let crime slide in some neighborhoods because they wish to avoid the bad publicity of a police shooting, riots, national TV coverage, &c., those crimes won't be reported.

iv) Likewise, if people in crime-ridden neighborhoods stop calling the police, either due to slow response time or fear of reprisal for being "snitches," those crimes won't be reported.

v) When prosecutors offer defendants a chance to plead to a lesser offense, the crime stats will go down for more serious crimes, even though, in reality, those actual crimes have not declined.

vi) I think it's possible that certain violent crimes were more prevalent when babyboomers came of age. When you had a larger percentage of young men, crime spiked. It naturally went down when the percentage of young men declined.

That, however, doesn't mean crime is lower within that demographic. Rather, the overall demographic profile may have changed.

vii) The more offenders you incarcerate, that may lower crime. But that doesn't reduce the number of criminals. It merely reduces the number of criminals on the streets. What you've done is to quarantine criminals.

vii) Finally, how crime is reported isn't straightforward. For instance::

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24971071/denvers-top-law-enforcement-officers-disagree-is-crime

B. Prokop said...

Steve,

Incredibly, one argument I have seen advanced in favor of abortion is that it lowers crime rates by lowering the number of people in age brackets most inclined to criminal activity.

Jezu ufam tobie!

DJC said...

malcomthecynic,


"But it also means that if I decide I don't care if I do something supposedly immoral you have no good reason to tell me that I should care."


The question is why one doesn't care. If it is because one is not capable of feeling empathy and does not perceive moral emotions, you're correct, I have no good reason to tell the sociopath or psychopath that they should be moral.

On the other hand, if one is capable of feeling empathy, guilt, shame, embarrassment, compassion, etc., than I can show that person that they've harmed another and engage in moral argument to convince them to discover feelings of guilt, shame and empathy. This of course relies on addressing the reasons one harmed another and seeing if they can be persuaded, in hindsight, to see it as immoral behavior. That requires a rational argument based on mostly shared moral intuitions. (However, in some cases, it may not be possible for resolution: gay marriage and extreme conservative Christian views comes to mind. In this case, we can expect society to move forward without regard for the moral intuition of a minority.)

B. Prokop and Steve,

There is no doubt that violence and crime is declining on the whole. But rather than go into the full scope of the evidence, I have a suggestion: please continue making the claim that violence and crime are increasing but do it in Christian forums and among Christian company. I believe you'll learn more about it that way.

Ilíon said...

steve: "i) To my knowledge, crime stats are kept by law enforcement agencies. But the same agencies have a vested interest in touting their success in combating crime. ... "

In similar wise, one of the main (ahem) arguments for socialized medicine goes like this: "Infant mortality is so much lower in the European countries with socialized medicine than in the US. This proves that a state-bureaucracy-run medical system is better than the hybrid system we have in the US."

But, European governments don't count "live births" the same way American governments do. In America, is the infact is still alive at birth, even is it dies soon after, that counts as a live birth. In (most or all of the) European countries, an infant has to survive for some minimum span of time before it is counted as a live birth.

Oddly, the fact that we actually have better medical care under our semi-socialized system than the fully-socialized Europeans never seems to count as evidence that perhaps we could have even better care if we reduced the socialism in our system.

steve: "i) To my knowledge, crime stats are kept by law enforcement agencies. But the same agencies have a vested interest in touting their success in combating crime. ... ii) Crime is a technicality. Depends on what is illegal. ... iii) Ironically, I daresay that crime can be underreported in some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods. ..."

I live in "the bad part of town". The police still answer calls, but it's clear that they don't want to make official reports when they do answer a call. I expect in that regard it's much the same for people in "the good part of town"


steve: "ii) Crime is a technicality. Depends on what is illegal."

B.Prokop: "Incredibly, one argument I have seen advanced in favor of abortion is that it lowers crime rates by lowering the number of people in age brackets most inclined to criminal activity."

The extreme violence -- the *murder* -- that is abortion has been declared to be legal. Voila! All that violence, all that murder, goes down the memory-hole; Pinker is right: look at how *moral* we have become!

Also, just think how drastically the crime rates could drop if some Mad Scientist were to bio-engineer a plague that wiped out the whole human race!

malcolmthecynic said...


On the other hand, if one is capable of feeling empathy, guilt, shame, embarrassment, compassion, etc., than I can show that person that they've harmed another and engage in moral argument to convince them to discover feelings of guilt, shame and empathy.

Why should I care or listen to you? Why is being empathetic better in any meaningful sense anyway?

steve said...

DJC said...

"Prokop and Steve, There is no doubt that violence and crime is declining on the whole. But rather than go into the full scope of the evidence, I have a suggestion: please continue making the claim that violence and crime are increasing but do it in Christian forums and among Christian company. I believe you'll learn more about it that way."

i) If it makes you feel better to misrepresent what I actually said, that evinces the weakness of your own position. I didn't claim that crime and violence is increasing. I didn't take a position on that.

ii) As far as the evidence goes, there's different kinds of evidence. There's reading crime stats. But there's also living long enough to observe social changes.

I attended suburban junior high and high school in the 70s. We didn't have student ID badges, metal detectors, or security guards.

I don't recall news coverage of schoolyard snipers and lockdowns (although I may have missed it).

My junior high had an open campus. In principle, anyone could walk right off the street and into the school buildings. Security was nonexistent.

It was torn down a few years ago. The new facility is built like a youth detention center, with a single entrance.

My old high school now has lots of fenced in areas it never had when I was a student there. And it has uniformed policemen as security guards.

If crime has been dropping like a rock, when are public schools increasingly built and staffed like prisons?

Ilíon said...

MtC: "Why should I care or listen to you? Why is being empathetic better in any meaningful sense anyway?"

Because otherwise he'd have to admit that according to what he himself insists is the truth about the nature of reality, he's no "better" than Lenin, Stalin, Mao or Hitler, and that he has no basis upon which to condemn any of them for their actions.

Ilíon said...

... and he'd have to acknowledge to himself (*) that when he condemns this or that as "immoral", all he's really doing is:
1) saying "I/we don't want you to do it, therefore you must not do it"
2) implicitly saying, "might makes right"


(*) the rest of us already know it

steve said...

BTW, here's a British example of dubious crime stats. There's a conflict of interest when those who keep the stats are the same people responsible for law enforcement:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2013/01/should-we-trust-official-crime-figures.html

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2013/11/the-fiddling-of-crime-figures-vindication-of-my-warnings.html

DJC said...

malcomthecynic,

"Why should I care or listen to you? Why is being empathetic better in any meaningful sense anyway?"

Caring/listening assumes that you value and desire your behavior to be reasonable and consistent. I think all people desire to be reasonable.

For second question, it isn't that being empathetic is better, it is that empathy is valued. As I said, if I run into someone who doesn't value empathy, moral argument of this nature is impossible. With sociopaths/psychopaths, we seem to be only able to resort to threats of punishment.

steve,

"I didn't claim that crime and violence is increasing. I didn't take a position on that."

Okay, than I revise my suggestion for you to make the claim that crime and violence is not decreasing and see if you get disagreement from other believers.

"If crime has been dropping like a rock, when are public schools increasingly built and staffed like prisons?"

Most likely it has more to do with fear than reality. Here's the 2013 National Child and Youth Well-Being index and you can see the violent crime victimization rate has been dropping since 1994. It was 121.3/1000 in the 12-19 age group in 1994 and today it is 35.9/1000 in 2012. That's quite a drop.

DJC said...

llion,

There are two senses of morality that you have to be careful not to equivocate on. In one sense, our moral intuitions prompt praise or condemnation; this is the sense in which atheists condemn mass-murderers and it is the most important sense since it's from the heart and derives directly from our value for good behavior and abhorrence for bad behavior. I don't disagree that it is, at core, "I/we don't want you to do it, therefore you must not do it." That's what a deep-rooted visceral response feels like.

The second sense of morality is how to discover objective rules that mesh with the moral intuitions and values of the human race. This is more complicated under naturalism because it seems to require that everyone's moral intuitions can be brought into harmony and that moral intuitions never conflict with each other. We can see this discovery on-going in American culture as slavery is abolished, women allowed to vote, and gay marriage legalized. But I disagree that this is "might makes right". A democracy is never fairly characterized as "might makes right", so neither is this process. It is perhaps somewhat a tyranny of the majority, but giving voice and fair hearing to minority views is also part of US democracy and can also be part of an atheist process of discovering objective morality over time.

malcolmthecynic said...

Caring/listening assumes that you value and desire your behavior to be reasonable and consistent. I think all people desire to be reasonable.

It is very reasonable and consistent for me to decide that I don't care what you do or anyone else does or thinks.

You say "Well, you'd be a sociopath then". You're right, but you also have no way to condemn the sociopath as immoral.

malcolmthecynic said...

I'm making a broad claim here. You keep talking about how appealing to empathy as the basis for morality is making society a better place. But that doesn't work, since we have no good reason to call such a place "better" or "worse" just because it happens to be in line with how (many, in western society) feel.

DJC said...

malcolmthecynic,

"It is very reasonable and consistent for me to decide that I don't care what you do or anyone else does or thinks."

That's not quite the same. You at least desire for your own behavior to be reasonable in your own eyes. If I claim that your behavior is unreasonable, you probably will at least evaluate the argument to see if it makes sense.

I also left out moral shaming. I may also morally shame you. We are hardwired to take morally shaming seriously enough to, at the very least, get angry when we think it unfair.

"You say "Well, you'd be a sociopath then". You're right, but you also have no way to condemn the sociopath as immoral."

I believe that is true. But this should not be problem under naturalistic morality because we likewise don't condemn man-eating lions either. We lock them up, shoot them, etc. This turns out to be the same thing we usually end up doing with pyschopaths and sociopaths after other forms of moral rehabilitation inevitably fail. Human beings must have moral intuitions are they can not function as moral agents.

"I'm making a broad claim here. You keep talking about how appealing to empathy as the basis for morality is making society a better place. But that doesn't work, since we have no good reason to call such a place "better" or "worse" just because it happens to be in line with how (many, in western society) feel."

I'm making the fairly uncontroversial claim that society is becoming a better place if there are lower rates of violence and crime. Maybe it's due in part to a focus on empathy as a basis for morality.

If you are saying we have no good reason to call low violence or crime "better" or "worse" just because it happens to be in line with how many in western society feel, I will of course object.

Ilíon said...

Declining to get it: "I also left out moral shaming. I may also morally shame you. We are hardwired to take morally shaming seriously enough to, at the very least, get angry when we think it unfair."

'Unfair'? What in the Hell does that mean?

Declining to get it ... including what he himself is saying: "If you are saying we have no good reason to call low violence or crime "better" or "worse" just because it happens to be in line with how many in western society feel, I will of course object."

On what *grounds* will you object such that Malcolm has a moral obligation to give a damned about your objection?

DJC said...

llion,

[I wrote] "We are hardwired to take morally shaming seriously enough to, at the very least, get angry when we think it unfair."

In context this refers to the extensive built-in moral emotions and reactions we have as part of social behavior. When you attack me in this post, implying that I'm slow or stupid for not "getting it", that's a form of moral shaming (most likely you are generally shaming me for, in your view, the immoral belief of being an atheist instead of a believer), and it has the desired effect in me to a first approximation; it causes an instinctive, unconscious reaction where I assess my behavior and beliefs for wrong-doing and errors. But in this case, I find nothing unreasonable or immoral in my behavior so another instinctive, unconscious moral reaction occurs in which I feel irritation and a desire to lash out at you in the same personal way and affect similar moral shaming on you by saying, for example, that you're a defective and immoral person for your misguided personal attacks and you should change to become a better person. Purely hypothetically of course.

"On what *grounds* will you object such that Malcolm has a moral obligation to give a damned about your objection?"

First, no one has a moral obligation to care about the appearance of rationality, I just assume most people want to be seen as rational. But if I was having an argument involving moral obligation in its terms, I would make it solely about shared values. Moral obligation exists as deep-seated intrinsic values we all possess for doing good to others, for not wanting to hurt others, for abhorring wrong-doing, for being seen as someone who does good, and for not being seen as someone who does evil. Without those values, morality can not exist. Certainly those values can defer to self-preservation, and can submit to other categories of moral desires to correct, punish or eliminate bad behavior which can also be terribly misguided in the light of rationality. But shared value means we can talk meaningfully about obligations.

malcolmthecynic said...

First, no one has a moral obligation to care about the appearance of rationality, I just assume most people want to be seen as rational. But if I was having an argument involving moral obligation in its terms, I would make it solely about shared values. Moral obligation exists as deep-seated intrinsic values we all possess for doing good to others, for not wanting to hurt others, for abhorring wrong-doing, for being seen as someone who does good, and for not being seen as someone who does evil. Without those values, morality can not exist. Certainly those values can defer to self-preservation, and can submit to other categories of moral desires to correct, punish or eliminate bad behavior which can also be terribly misguided in the light of rationality. But shared value means we can talk meaningfully about obligations.

Who care if most people share these values? It has no moral force.

DJC said...

malcolmthecynic,

"Who care if most people share these values? It has no moral force."

I'm not sure how to interpret your sentence. I'll try it two ways.

Guess 1
"Who cares if most people share these values? Those values have no moral force to most people.

On the contrary, values have the moral force that matters most because it is the raw motivational experience, like pain or pleasure, that fundamentally moves a person. Think about the moral emotions: contempt, anger, disgust, shame, embarrassment, guilt, compassion, gratitude, praise, etc. No one needs to go to school for them, we're just born with the full set and know exactly how to use them. Mini-programs hardcoded in our brain that are powerfully motivational but are linked (in the big picture) to the interests and welfare of society or other people, and are meaningless for lone individuals.

Guess 2
"Who cares if most people share these values? You can't get objective moral rules from that."

Maybe not perfectly objective but since everyone has the same class of moral intuitions and we all know what anger, disgust, shame, embarrassment, guilt, compassion, gratitude, praise, etc., feel like and what situations trigger them, we have considerable common ground. Where we differ may be on the strength of moral intuitions and Haidt's moral foundations theory expounds on that.

malcolmthecynic said...

DJC,

I still don't think you're getting what I'm saying.

The world happens to share lots of moral intuitions. I do not, and kill a man.

I have done nothing wrong, according to this moral system, because it's not a moral system. That you think I did is your opinion, but it is also the opinion of many that parmesan cheese is better than provolone. It has no moral force, even if many people agree.

"Lots of people agree with me" isn't even a starting point. It's a useless sentence.