Sunday, December 17, 2006

Of Kangaroos and Courts

Justice filleted is justice denied, or something like that. So says animal rights philosopher Paola Cavalieri:

Can a society be considered just when justice is granted to all human beings even in case nonhumans are still excluded from it? Let’s imagine a society where all the citizens have adequate food, shelter, medical care, education, work and free time; where no one is discriminated against and all have equal institutional protection and adequate self-esteem; and where all can keep to their idea of a good life, while conflicts are settled peacefully. Such a society, however, exploits nonhuman animals. Can such a society be described as just? Can we say that, at least within the boundaries of the intra-human community, justice is truly present? An indication in the sense of a preliminary negative answer can be detected in John Stuart Mill.

In the essay The Enfranchisement of Women, probably written four-handedly with Harriet Taylor, Mill advances an important claim. Directly addressing “those Radicals and Chartists.... who claim what is called universal suffrage as an inherent right, unjustly and oppressively withheld from them”, he states that the women’s request for civil and political equality is - indeed, must be - their direct business. For with what rationality, he retorts, can the suffrage be termed universal, while half the human species is excluded from it? Isn’t to declare that a voice in the government is the right of all, and demand it only for a part - the part to which the claimants themselves belong - to renounce even the appearance of principle? Mill’s conclusion is that “the Chartist who denies the suffrage to women is a Chartist only because he is not a lord; he is one of those levelers who would level only down to themselves”. 22

This allegation clearly applies to the problem of justice and nonhumans as well. True, while Mill and Taylor could somehow take for granted the view that women are part of those “all” to whom a voice in the government pertains, the same does not hold in the case of animals. However, our argument has shown that, though not yet included in the current egalitarian paradigm, the view that (many) animals are part of those “all” to whom justice pertains is already implicit in it, and needs only to be recognized, or, to use a legal term, “articulated”. In this light, justice as applied only within the intra-human realm is not universal, and cannot therefore be appealed to as a matter of principle. But a justice which cannot be appealed to as a matter of principle is not justice. It seems that, as the Chartists in Mill and Taylor’s case, those human beings who demand justice only for the members of their species, while withholding it from nonhumans, are not demanding justice - they simply aim at a better treatment for a favored group.


Principles do not require the erasure of all distinctions, and theories of justice have throughout time made it clear that it applied to the behavior of humans to other humans and not animals. Yes, justice applied has often erected boundaries between different classes of people, boundaries that we now recognize as unjust. But to extend this trend toward inclusiveness beyond the human sphere is clearly an example of Reductio ad Absurdum. You could spin any number of theoretical outcomes of an application of justice equally between humans and animals to show how absurd this notion is. If we are obligated to stop our predation of deer, are we also obligated to stop wolves from predating upon them as well, or is that an infringement upon their rights? Are we responsible for land uses that infringe upon the habitats of animals, and if so what is the remedy? Are they entitled to some protected habitat or to all of their historic habitat?

There is no way to envision an implementation of this principle that doesn't involve the complete eradication of human settlement upon Earth. So you have to ask yourself why seemingly smart people get themselves wrapped up with such absurd philosophies. The obvious answer is that she is a philosopher, that is what philosophers do. There is a certain level of absurdity in trying to create a rational, logical framework to explain the world, because the world itself is a brute, illogical, irrational fact that defies explanation. Cavalieri is trying to frame justice as some metaphysical perfection that we are obligated to acheive.

I sense the same kind of desperation to acheive some sort of metaphysical perfection from our friends arguing for objective morality in our latest discussion on homosexual pastors. The objective morality position is basically a Platonic exercise in forms. Cavalieri falls into the same trap with justice, believing that it is an objective thing that exists independently of the beings for which it is a matter of concern.

Justice and morality are human constructs, ways of thinking about behavior between humans that motivate us to act reciprocally with one another rather than exploitively. They are based on feelings and experiences, not on the apprehension of or reflection on metaphysical entities. We have such notions because they are of purely practical necessity, and they reflect behaviors that we as a species adopted long before we had words to describe them or philosophers and theologians to explain them. They're not amenable to mathematical precision, and they will change as the conditions of human experience changes, though not greatly as they are grounded in human nature which is not infinitely malleable.

So don't expect to be sued in a court by a kangaroo anytime soon. We'll find ways to outlaw senseless cruelty toward animals because we do feel an affinity towards them, but I see steak on the menu for many centuries to come, though at some point we'll figure out a way to grow the meat without the rest of the cow.

72 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

If I'm right that god is Big Tapeworm and we are only here to create more little tapeworms to worship him, we're in big trouble.

And by what argument could Cavalieri say I am not right? Presumably, she would not even want to.

December 17, 2006 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can a society be considered just when justice is granted to all human beings even in case nonhumans are still excluded from it?

But what about the plants, man? What about the plants?

December 17, 2006 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More seriously, Duck, Cavalieri is your, not ours. Her whole point is to turn her back on the traditional definition of justice as it has been understood by all civilizations from the beginning of time to this date -- as something that applies to humans.

This is pretty much what we're afraid would result from changing morality from objective truth to whatever happens to strike the majority of people as a good idea at the time.

December 17, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

David beat me to it. There is no justice when we cut broccoli down in its prime! When we suck in bacteria with every breath sending them to an early death! Life sucks and then you die!

December 17, 2006 12:29 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David, when was morality anything other than what struck people as a good idea at the time? When slavery sounded like a good idea, it was moral. When having multiple wives sounded like a good idea, it was moral. This "objective morality" that you speak of is a chimera, something that noone has ever discovered. What would it look like if you did discover it? How would you know it was the real deal and not some list of rules that someone else thought was a good idea?

December 17, 2006 2:27 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

I don't like to eat broccoli, but I do enjoy having sex with it. Does this make me a bad person?

December 17, 2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

joe;

Only if you don't "clean your plate" afterwards. It's not just about you.

December 17, 2006 2:54 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I have some sympathy for claims that animals deserve justice - I don't eat mammals because IMO we're too wealthy a society to put up with the cruelties of factory farming methods, just to save a buck - but they don't deserve human justice.

December 17, 2006 3:01 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

So morality consists in doing what seems like a bad idea at the time?

I don't get it.

December 17, 2006 3:15 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Davd:

I think Duck just proved that the Inquisition was moral.

December 17, 2006 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter: I'm really sort of stunned that Duck doesn't recognize himself in what Cavalieri writes. I'm not saying that the arguments are of identical weight, but the whole "Hey, here's a good idea, let's turn all of civilization upside down and shake" is identical.

December 17, 2006 5:16 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

No, it isn't.

If I may be so bold as to speak for Duck (and Harry and Brit), what he is pursuing is symmetry argument.

That is what underlies systems that deserve the word "justice" associated with them.

The Declaration of Independence is fundamentally a symmetry argument.

It simply never occurred to Cavalieri. That isn't Duck's fault.

December 17, 2006 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Declaration of Independence is fundamentally a symmetry argument.

That I need explained.

December 17, 2006 8:12 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

I too am bewildered, although by now we should be used to the certainty that the Duckians will find a way to blame everything from racism to halitosis on religion and tradition. But you are right about their Christian roots--they remind me so much of the liberal Protestant ethos that wants nothing to do with tradition or rules or the Old Testament--just chuck the bad old past and talk about love (or symmetry?!?) or some new idea that is all the rage. Their creed, at least in the realm of the political/moral, seems to be similar to that of the young Wordsworth but they appear oblivious to why he came to renounce it all in horror. He ran into lots of Cavalieris too and was astute enough to recognize where they came from.

December 18, 2006 2:19 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

This is pretty much what we're afraid would result from changing morality from objective truth to whatever happens to strike the majority of people as a good idea at the time.

We're not saying that we want to change morality from objective truth to whatever happens to strike the majority of people as a good idea at the time, nor that we can.

We're saying that's just the way it is, and always has been, and there's nothing we can do about that.

December 18, 2006 3:14 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, poor modern man. Free to build whatever world he chooses with the wonders of science and technology, but morally just an object of inaccessible and irresitable forces over which he has no control.

December 18, 2006 4:38 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Thanks Skipper, that's exactly what I was arguing. Cavalieri is trying to construct an objective theory of justice that is perfectly consistent. When you do so, you get ridiculous outcomes like equality between people and animals. When you posit objective morality that is perfectly consistent, you get Abraham killing his son.

December 18, 2006 5:22 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

but morally just an object of inaccessible and irresitable forces over which he has no control.

That's your argument, not mine.

December 18, 2006 5:24 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Abraham killed his son? Darn, I really gotta pay more attention.

December 18, 2006 5:26 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

It was attempted murder, but since God ordered the hit it was moral in your book.

Peter, answer me this question: what objective rules of morality are you following in the face of violent protests from your conscience?

December 18, 2006 5:51 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Well, just last night I didn't kill my son, although my conscience was screaming at me that he richly deserved it.

Duck, what in the world are you talking about?

December 18, 2006 5:59 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I'm just trying to define terms, and what you mean by the term objective. If you say that morality is objective, you are saying that it derives from a source totally external to subjective human thought processes, like your conscience. If it derives from conscience, then it is subjective. It is possible that subjective morality and objective morality coincide, but the only way to truly know if you are following objective morality is in those instances where your conscience points in a different direction, in which case you are obligated to follow objective morality and negate your conscience.

Or maybe you are one of the few people with a perfect conscience that never deviates from objective morality.

December 18, 2006 6:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duck: That is, of course, the ancient Christian criticism of Judaism; that it is too law-ridden, too cold and insufficiently tempered by the mercy of Christ's love.

December 18, 2006 6:57 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Or maybe you are one of the few people with a perfect conscience that never deviates from objective morality.

Yes, that would be me. Next question?

Give me an example. Almost all the moral rules are prohibitions and the ones that are compulsions mainly deal with issues of observance. What kind of thing do you have in mind?

And Duck, you are too old to throw the three guys in the leaky rowboat at me.

December 18, 2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

The Declaration of Independence is fundamentally a symmetry argument.

A symmetry argument is one in which there is no preferred viewpoint. Within the context of the justice system, if the charge is theft, it does not matter (in theory) which party is the laborer, and which the executive.

The justice system is symmetrical with respect to social station because each party in the dispute is presumed to have identical interests (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) that are independent of everything else: by virtue of our shared humanity, our interests are symmetrical.

(This, BTW, puts in the night bucket OJ's argument that non-believers cannot comprehend the principles upon which our Republic is based.)

However, there is absolutely no possible symmetry of interests between humans and animals, although there are obviously some areas of overlap, particularly with respect to fear and suffering.

However, to assert, as Cavalieri does, that animals should be included in the justice system is pure nonsense, because in order to hold animals must be able to assert a symmetry argument with humans.

And that is just plain nuts.

December 18, 2006 9:47 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Or maybe you are one of the few people with a perfect conscience that never deviates from objective morality.

Is there something in particular that's troubling yours? It sounds as though there is.

December 18, 2006 9:48 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

A symmetry argument is one in which there is no preferred viewpoint.

So we are endowed by one of our beer buddies, with certain inalienable rights...This is what drives us nuts about you, Skipper. You do not have to like what is in the text, but you can't pretend it is not there in the text.

December 18, 2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

It's not a matter of examples, it's a matter of defining what you rely on to determine what is moral. You claim as your objective source the revealed word of God as captured in the Bible. Then if you are not a literalist in applying each and every rule, prohibition and compulsion listed there, then you are not following an objective morality.

* When was the last time you stoned an adulteress to death?

* When was the last time you put a woman who was raped within the city walls to death?

Your conscience has no say over these things, because you forswore your conscience when you decided to follow objective morality.

December 18, 2006 9:53 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

I'm assuming the you is corporate. (Again, for the record, I'm personally as much of a heathen as anybody here.) But if there is nothing troubling your conscience, then why are you so troubled? The whole point of being a heathen is you get to act like a heathen: you know, crush your enemies, hear the lamentation of their women, that sort of thing. People go to war against God so that they can sin the way they want. You're not sinning, so why are you at war?

December 18, 2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Joe, this isn't the Dr. Phil show, it isn't about me or Peter or you or Skipper. We're trying to have a philosophical debate. Do you have a viewpoint? Anything you'd like to share?

December 18, 2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

we're trying to have a philosophical debate here...

Without any idea why. So, it's a hobby, then. But hobbies are supposed to be pleasurable. This one's just making you anxious. And no, that's not because of me; you get nearly as anxious with Peter and David, who are the most equable of men. Go back and read the "You're just robots!" comment from the gay Colorado pastor thread. You're in some real misery there. Again, why are you doing this?

December 18, 2006 10:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Anatole France expressed Skipper's argument as 'the law in its majestry forbids the millionaire as well as the bum from sleeping under bridges.'

Peter, how do you understand the story of Abraham and Isaac?

If God had not intervened and Abraham had killed Isaac, would that have been moral?

If God was inevitably going to intervene on Isaac's behalf, was He then lying to Abraham? For what moral purpose?

If God was not inevitably going to intervene to save Isaac, then a murder -- if not that particular murder -- falls within the parameters of moral behavior, no?

Although I find the story of Lot's wife the most disgusting thing in the Bible, I think the story of Abraham and Isaac is the most troubling to people who want to believe in a loving god.

December 18, 2006 10:49 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Well Duck, I'll tell you, I've been feeling more than a little guilty about these accusations of hypocrisy and cherry-picking you Duckians have been throwing around, so I've decided to make the effort and be more pure and literal in my approach. I don't want anyone accusing me of being milquetoast about faith like those weenie fundamentalists who pray for sinners like Haggard and Branes rather than off them as they have been told to. So I got myself a bag of nice shiny big stones and was getting myself pumped with the Old Testament for a little adultress-hunting when, at the last minute, I stumbled on this. What's a literalist supposed to do, Duck, especially about verse 6? I'd love to ignore it, but as you have reminded me many times, I'm a slave to these orders and have little choice.

Are you guys ever going to feel a little sheepish about expending so much energy battling a faith you've made up?

December 18, 2006 10:55 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

No, it's not a faith that I made up, it's a faith that you made up, which means it isn't objective. I have no doubt that you're not the stoning type, which makes you a good person, but to judge by the Bible a bad Judeo-Christian.

But instead of dancing around the question, why don't you answer it - what do you mean by objective morality? That's the whole point of my harangue - that and all the anger issues that I'm working through, that have been so perceptively diagnosed by Joe, but I won't expect you to give an answer on those.

December 18, 2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Speaking just for myself, I'm pretty sure I have never complained about Christians who failed to live up to the atrocious parts of Scripture.

Same, despite my Islamophobia, for Muslims. You never see me damning the waqf.

December 18, 2006 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harry: Not you, too. You've always taken the perfectly logical (if somewhat boring) position that you don't believe in G-d because you don't believe in "magic" and that everything observable can be explained through material means.

It's been Duck, Skipper and Brit who try to argue that they don't believe in G-d because they don't like him. In effect, they try to make theological arguments against His existence. One of their main theological arguments is that G-d must be, as I put it in another comment threat, fractally good -- good no matter how finely it His acts are sliced. This never works, though, because it is a completely naive approach to G-d. I can understand why D, S and B don't believe in that god. I don't believe in him either.

Someday, though, they'll have to deal with the actual G-d.

December 18, 2006 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skipper: What makes you think that the Declaration is "symmetrical" as you say?

December 18, 2006 3:35 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

No, no, no. Objective morality means rules/ strictures/prohibitions that emanate from outside humans and to which they are bound. That's all it means. It doesn't imply perfect knowledge or agreement about their definition or extent, about how, when or why we came to know them, about what we are supposed to do when we encounter them or what happens to us if we don't pay attention to them.

The Duckian efforts to equate ignorance, doubt and ambiguity with hypocrisy have become quite tired, although they are consistent with your demands that the Infinite explain Itself to your quite detailed, critical and very human satisfaction, which may point to the source of our problem here. To paraphrase Joe, whence the rage?

But, tally ho, my friend. If you wish to continue to do battle with a Judaism or Christianity that no Jew or Christian has believed in since time immemorial, good luck. Although it isn't my field, I'm pretty sure you don't have about 97% of the Muslims either. No doubt you know better than they, but Duck, have a heart, you have to leave something for all those priests, rabbis, imams and sages to earn their keep around. Yes, I know, their bumbling equivocation drives me bananas too. The only difference between you and me is that I don't think the answer to that is that they should be proving their righteousness by demanding we kill people, while you apparently do. Neither do they. I guess you just can't get good help these days.

Harry:

That the Covenant provides that obediance will never extend to requirng human sacrifice--quite a radical idea at the time. Are you contemptuous of that too?

December 18, 2006 4:44 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

David, there's a difference between not believing in any god and not liking a particular god. I'm guilty both ways.

Hence my problem with the god of Abraham. Peter's response does not address my problem because the Covenant, however innovative, doesn't retroactively cancel god's ambiguous (to put the very best spin on it) behavior beforehand.

It doesn't do me much good to tell me that god has mysterious ways that I cannot understand. I understand well enough what goes down down here, and if I don't like it, then as a self-respecting, independent person, I ain't goin' 'long with it.

In other words, in actual fact, I am presented with an array of gods, nearly all of whom are more or less disgusting. On what grounds should I select among them?

And, in the case of American Christianity, 'time immemorial' doesn't go back so far. It doesn't even predate my grandpa.

December 18, 2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

"And in the right corner, weighing two hundred pounds, well-versed in Enlightenment philosophy and the historical sins of the American South, and sporting a library to die for....Harry Eagar!"

"And in the left, veteran of any number of theological conundrums, source of objecive morality and unapologetic cause of the Lisbon earthquake...God"

And now a word from our sponsor.

December 18, 2006 5:24 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Rage, what's with all this talk about rage? There's no rage. I'm just passionate about my point of view, that's all.

It doesn't imply perfect knowledge or agreement about their definition or extent, about how, when or why we came to know them, about what we are supposed to do when we encounter them or what happens to us if we don't pay attention to them.

Well, since we don't know exactly what objective morality demands, then what sort of morality do we end up practicing? We can't very well say "I can't know what I'm expected to do, so I'll pass on this one" when presented with a moral dilemma. Well, we rely on our best, most informed, most firmly held subjective judgment, that's what. We're all in the same boat, Peter.

December 18, 2006 5:49 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

joe;

So we are endowed by one of our beer buddies, with certain inalienable rights.

You are conflating design and intent. Design is what the actual rules are, intent is the why and wherefore of those rules. It's perfectly valid to say that the Declaration of Independence is a symmetric design, without agreeing with the reason such a design was chosen. The Founding Fathers chose the design because of their political and religious beliefs. But that doesn't mean Skipper can't agree with the dsign from a different intent.

Here's a thought experiment for you — suppose the DoI had stated that all men were endowed by their Creator with the right to jobs, houses, and food. Would such a design still be valid? If not, you see how design and purpose are not the same thing.

December 18, 2006 6:24 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

AOG: sorry, DoI is one design, two elevations. The horizontal elevation, the one that treats among men (roughly, governments are instituted onward) can rightly be called symmetric. The elevation that treats between men and their Creator, can't be. Whether you think there is a Creator or not.

David: backwards, and dangerous. Duck, Skipper and Brit aren't a threat to anyone; they may not like G-d, but if G-d showed up trailing His clouds of glory their pride wouldn't be wounded for long. Harry's would be, which is reason enough to think that it needs to be. Whether you think there is a G-d or not.

December 18, 2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The only difference amongst us, really, is the proportion of god's word we choose to ignore.

If the Fundamentalists are correct and he intended us to pay attention to all of it, it will go as hard for Peter and David as for me, very likely.

So what's the objective criterion you guys use to give the old heave-ho to the bad parts?

December 18, 2006 9:34 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

It's been Duck, Skipper and Brit who try to argue that they don't believe in G-d because they don't like him. In effect, they try to make theological arguments against His existence. One of their main theological arguments is that G-d must be, as I put it in another comment threat, fractally good -- good no matter how finely it His acts are sliced. This never works, though, because it is a completely naive approach to G-d. I can understand why D, S and B don't believe in that god. I don't believe in him either.

It amazes me that after all this time you can think that. Which just goes to show, you read what you want to read, not what is there.

Those are the reasons we don't believe in the specific God that we, as various kinds of Christian, were brought up to believe in. "God is good"; "God is loving"; "God is merciful".

I'm atheist about that God, on the evidence.

My position is that if there is a God, it is unknowable. I don't disbelieve in an unknowable God. I am, as I have said many, many times before, Dunnoist about it.

December 19, 2006 1:01 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

That would be more persuasive if we didn't see so many arguments here about how He is incompetent, unloving and unmerciful and unworthy of any respect.

Duck:

We can't very well say "I can't know what I'm expected to do, so I'll pass on this one". Well, we rely on our best, most informed, most firmly held subjective judgment, that's what.

You simply refuse to deal with my point that the objective morality we're talking about consists mainly of restrictions on conduct, don't you? We're not talking about alternative lifestyles and it isn't Dear Abby vs. Ann Landers, which is why you are having such difficulty coming up with serious examples. When faced with a friend trying to decide whether to lie, commit adultery, blaspheme or steal, do you encourage him to rely upon his "best, most informed, most firmly held subjective judgment"? If he says he thinks such things are wrong, do you tell him he is a hypocrite for not stoning adultresses?

Once again, the Duckians attempt to defeat the concept of morality by insisting it doesn't exist and that it encompasses everything we do from dawn to dusk.

Harry:

If the Fundamentalists are correct and he intended us to pay attention to all of it, it will go as hard for Peter and David as for me, very likely.

Nice try, Harry, but don't even think about trying to sneak in on our coat tails. We'll have our own problems and the last thing we'll need is you around whining about Abraham and Lot's wife and trying to argue how, objectively speaking, we're just as bad as you. Can't you take your eternal damnation like a man?

December 19, 2006 3:41 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

Are you being serious?

You've missed out the important clauses. These are the arguments:

IF you posit a God as a designer in evolution, and He exists, then He is incompetent.

IF you posit a God as a personal being who has power over what happens to each human being, and He exists, then He is unloving or unmerciful or capricious...

Et cetera.

We can only play what's put in front of us.

December 19, 2006 5:19 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

joe;

Yes, the DoI is one design with a justification, not elevation. Or are you saying that the DoI presumes to proscribe how to relate to the Creator the way it proscribes how to relate to Men?

I read it as, to use Skipper's terms, "we should have symmetric relations among Men because the Creator intended us to be that way".

December 19, 2006 5:49 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

IF you posit a God as a designer in evolution, and He exists, then He is incompetent.

IF you posit a God as a personal being who has power over what happens to each human being, and He exists, then He is unloving or unmerciful or capricious...

Why, you old sourpuss. You need some inspirational literature. I commend the following:

The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear. It is an immensely exciting experience to be born in the world, born in the universe, and look around you and realize that before you die you have the opportunity of understanding an immense amount about that world and about that universe and about life and about why we're here. We have the opportunity of understanding far, far more than any of our predecessors ever. That is such an exciting possibility, it would be such a shame to blow it and end your life not having understood what there is to understand.

Richard Dawkins, 1995

I'm sure a rationalist like you wouldn't be caught dead trying to argue that, if God created the world, it's a botched, capricious job devoid of love and mercy, but if it was natural selection, it's a work of wondrous beauty no sane person would ever want to miss. So, c'mon Brit, let's forget our differences and sing along together:

"I see skies of blue...red roses too..."

December 19, 2006 7:47 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Sure, I'll sing along...

December 19, 2006 8:06 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

By the way, actually I would argue that, in a way.

If it was designed by an omnipotent Creator to be like this, it's pretty shoddy work.

But if I assume it wasn't, I find it possible to take a sane view of the piles and the slow death by cancer and the mass starvation and the deformity and the tsumanis, and be grateful for that brief crack of light between the dark eternities.

December 19, 2006 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brit: I understand why this is confusing, particularly to casual Anglicans and Americans, both of whom have been raised to (not) believe in "Santa G-d", but the Judeo-Christian G-d is an angry and vengeful G-d. He is also a merciful, benevolent and loving G-d. The very attempt to define Him is not only heresy, but doomed to failure.

This is where you guys have to drop out. If you believe in the possibility of a Creator, existing outside of time and space as we know them (and I've already said that G-d could simply be a eternal Truth), then our differences are sectarian. That's where I think that you and Duck and Skipper fall.

If you rule out the possibility of a Creator, as I take it Harry does (within the limits of human understanding) then that is not a sectarian difference but rather the difference between a god and no god. I understand, though, that "Dunnoist" may well be secret code for "I reject the existence of any god for all intents and purposes, but recognize the limits of human understanding."

Duck, though, (and to a lesser extent, Skipper) has a very particular picture of G-d, that he insists upon with as much verve as any believer. G-d has to be personal, He has to be fractally good, He has to design creatures perfectly, He cannot do anything for its heuristic value even if it just amounts to having us tell particular stories, etc., etc., etc. Duck is as religious as anyone I know (assuming that we "know" our imaginary computer friends). Duck's belief might be negative, but the absolute value of his commitment to his picture of G-d is large.

December 19, 2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

A God that is vengeful, capricious and fickle, like the one in the OT, or the Olympian Gods, is more believable than Santa-God, certainly, but still less believable than an utterly unknowable God about whom nothing can meaningfully be said.

My Dunnoism is basically this: I cannot positively assert that there exists no unknowable force or Creator, which you might want to label "God", but neither do I have any reason to believe in the existence of one, and since I cannot know the unknowable by definition, it is futile to form an opinion one way or the other.

Many Jews (and less Christians, but still many, including priests and Archbishops and all sorts) are in my opinion behaviourally religious, but philosophically indistinguishable from Dunnoists, when pressed on the matter.

The problem is in claims to knowledge. Here, I can't see how you can hold the "Judeo-Christian" thing together in opposition to the Dunnoists.

As religions go, Judaism fits rather well with Dunnoism (as does that other principally observance-based religion, Hinduism). It is the questioning religion, and as long as you stick to the observances, you can just about coherently be a good Jew while holding really very obscure, esoteric and elusive conceptions of "God".

But Christians, to qualify as such, need to claim some fundamental items of knoweldge: number one, of course, being the literal divinity of Christ.

(PS - Duck can fight his own battle, but I think what he says is that semantically, the word "God" in normal usage means a personal God. If you're talking about something else, some kind of thing that exists but doesn't exist in any knowable way, don't use the word "God". )

December 19, 2006 10:09 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

There is Dunnoism and Indifferentism.

I see no evidence for anything resembling any of the gods invented by any of the religions (with the possible exception of the extremely flexible Buddhist conceptions, which I don't pretend to get).

But if 'god' is 'truth' or impersonal or anything not pretty close to the common or garden variety gods, then what's the fuss about?

That kind of god isn't going to sit in judgment, or, if he is, we have no way of knowing what to do to get a pass.

I'm content generally with the way I behave. If the Big Spook did come down and lay his hand on my shoulder and say, 'See, son, I really did set it up so that Lot's wife turned into salt,' I would have to change my mind about whether he exists or not, but I wouldn't need to change anything else.

December 19, 2006 11:18 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Now that's pride.

I read it as, to use Skipper's terms, "we should have symmetric relations among Men because the Creator intended us to be that way".

That's likely a more stable design than this one:

Anatole France expressed Skipper's argument as 'the law in its majestry forbids the millionaire as well as the bum from sleeping under bridges.'

That is very lovely, but it suggests that the law derives its majesty from its symmetry. DoI says the majesty comes from someplace else. This is a live problem for us moderns: we've allowed the law to get stuck in a feedback loop that demands ever-finer degrees of equality, so as to reassure ourselves about the majesty.

December 19, 2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Joe:

So we are endowed by one of our beer buddies, with certain inalienable rights...This is what drives us nuts about you, Skipper. You do not have to like what is in the text, but you can't pretend it is not there in the text.

My assertion as to the type of argument is completely independent of its putative source.

Had Jefferson said "we are endowed by our {Creator | Vishnu | Allah | evolution | ...}, we are endowed with ..." (where the notation indicates picking only one choice from inside the braces), it is still a symmetry argument.

David:

It's been Duck, Skipper and Brit who try to argue that they don't believe in G-d because they don't like him.

About G-d I have absolutely no opinion whatsoever, because it is impossible, within human terms, to distinguish any opinion about G-d from its exact opposite. Consequently, so far as I can remember, I have never made any kind of argument against G-d's existence.

About religion, I do very much have opinions. Chief among them is that all religious claims about G-d are pure, unadulterated, human invention (with the notion of particular revelation the most pernicious of all). It is those claims about G-d, not G-d itself, that Duck, Brit and I attack. If a religion invokes, for example, a loving God, then that claim is subject to inspection. Questioning the claim, or disliking its consequences, has nothing to do with the completely unknowable object of the claim.

The distinction seems pretty clear to me.

So until G-d tells me he really did set it up so Lot's wife turned to salt, I will treat that assertion as particularly nasty fable. If and when G-d tells me otherwise, then I'll have to conclude it wasn't a fable.

What makes you think that the Declaration is "symmetrical" as you say?

It doesn't matter who the subject and object are, the inalienable rights remain the same. (As opposed to the Constitution, which was asymmetrical in the way it treated blacks and whites)

Which gets back to something like the point of Duck's post: Paola Cavalieri's entire essay is junk because she completely fails to address symmetry. There's no need to resort to religious belief to come to that conclusion.

December 19, 2006 1:22 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yeah, I don't think she is 'one of ours.' She pretty much isn't one of anybody's. Take away her academc sinecure and no doubt she'd be one of those old ladies holed up with a million cats.

Joe, attaboy. That's what we're lookin' for.

France was being sarcastic about the law's majesty. The law he experienced (mid-Third Republic) wasn't all that majestic.

I don't know how widely it is known by Americans, but Islam has four separate but equal law codes. They are not, I think, hugely different; perhaps somewhat like difference between civil law in 49 states v. civil law in Louisiana.

But, in any event, different enough that Muslims kill each other over it.

Anyhow, I suppose the one thing that really makes westerners different from (following Huntington) the other six ways to thinking is equality before the law.

This has also been hard to maintain.

Where did it come from?

The Hebrews had it, and nobody around them did. And the Germans. Not totally, but the idea was aborning among both.

In America, we got the tradition in both forms. Lucky us.

December 19, 2006 2:39 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

I think you are missing David's point, which I take to be that the source of your visceral antipathy to the character of the Old Testament deity is not your scepticism or materialism but rather your Christian heritage. You think God was "vengeful, capricious and fickle"? Why don't you try Baal for a time and get back to us?

It's weird arguing with you fellows about this because, although you think you understand Judeo-Christianity well enough to slice and dice it to shreds, you absolutely refuse to countenance the notion that the Divine is revealed through history, which is sort of what it is all about--as a matter of fact, that’s how history was invented. The god you so despise was revealing himself to vengeful, capricious, fickle people in vengeful, capricious, fickle times surrounded by far more vengeful, capricious, fickle religions, but thousands of years later you are steaming He didn’t behave like a 21st century life counsellor. There is a clear progression away from that blunt harshness in the Old Testament and lots about love, joy, deliverance, etc., but the law was always the law and you have a very big problem with that. You remind me of modern white-collar fraudsters whose instinctive reaction to being caught is to mount an indignant constitutional challenge.

Then along comes Christianity and says love trumps law and forgiveness is always possible. That’s good news, but there have always been those Christians who got more than a little overexcited and came to think love erased the law altogether and that forgiveness was an entitlement. Many of them become very angry at any deity that won’t prove his love by hugging them daily whatever they do and distributing bliss all around. Or, eventually, at anyone who believes in such a deity. The point is that your criticisms of the god of the Old Testament could only come from one who has a pure New Testament perception of what He is supposed to be, and by pure I mean one that renounces the Old rather than builds on it.

I don't get it. You all see yourselves as rough-tough conservatives who scorn the whining of the gooey, bleeding-heart left. Life's a tough challenge, real men understand freedom, self-discipline, self-reliance, duty,accountability yada, yada, but on this subject you’re like chippy undergrads who demand life be their oyster and who go on endlessly about how everything from poverty to piles is the fault of the "establishment" and how perfect and harmonious life would be without it. You Duckians have complied quite an extensive list of His incompetence and failings. I’d be careful if I were you, because that kind of hatred for the past and anticipation of sunny days ahead once we forget it tends to start in joy and excitement and end in arrogant intolerance, or even worse. Dawkins’ mystical odes to the beauty of the universe, which he just knows every bright worth the name will see if he reads his books, go hand in hand with his open and very nasty war on the religious. Dawkins is as much a lapsed Christian as a scientist/materialist. Like the Duckians. C'mon guys, how else can you explain materialists who feel compelled to hand down ten commandments to the rest of us or argue endlessly the extraordinary question of whether God is moral or not?

December 20, 2006 2:54 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

The posts you make in that vein are always a joy to read. I feel they ought to carry a title, like "First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Secular Modern Rationalists" or something.

They do take some sifting, but there is gold in there.

Your take on Christian morality as "revealed through history" is interesting, and I'd like to see you expand on it, but it does strike me as idiosyncratic. And confusing. As I said above, we can only play the God that's put in front of us: in here we've got the mad, bad OT God, the NT Santa-God and your mixture of the two - and that's just three of the "Judeo-Christian" ones presented. We haven't even started on the other 'histories' in the world: the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Muslim histories and conceptions.

Well, I'll treat each one on its merits. I don't blame God for anything, since I have no idea what it is that would take that blame.

Up above you said "Are you guys ever going to feel a little sheepish about expending so much energy battling a faith you've made up?"

But then shouldn't you feel the same about always defending it?

But this point is well taken:

I’d be careful if I were you, because that kind of hatred for the past and anticipation of sunny days ahead once we forget it tends to start in joy and excitement and end in arrogant intolerance, or even worse.

I agree with that, which is why I have no taste for bashing people just because they are signed up to a religion, so long as they're happy for me to remain a free agent.

Within the philosophical noodling arena of the pub or the Daily Duck I reserve the right to be as rude as I like to whoever else wants to noodle, but I don't want to burn the Mosques and Temples and replace them with science museums, and nor do I want to stand outside the Church bellowing at the old ladies that they're all wrong and their bones will only turn to dust. For me it's Tolerance first, insisting on the Truth a distant second.

I do however, appreciate that it's probably easier to take this laid-back attitude as a Dunnoist in a Godless place like England than it is in an overwhelmingly preachy place like the States.

December 20, 2006 5:41 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Duck, though, (and to a lesser extent, Skipper) has a very particular picture of G-d, that he insists upon with as much verve as any believer. G-d has to be personal, He has to be fractally good, He has to design creatures perfectly, He cannot do anything for its heuristic value even if it just amounts to having us tell particular stories, etc., etc., etc. Duck is as religious as anyone I know (assuming that we "know" our imaginary computer friends). Duck's belief might be negative, but the absolute value of his commitment to his picture of G-d is large.

Let me put it this way. The particular image of God that I disbelieve is the only image of
God which is worth building a religion around. It is the only image of God, to paraphrase Harry, that would matter to people if He existed. It is the God of the universal religious impulse to feel a personal connection with the universe, the only God for which the activities of submission, entreaty, prayer, worship, adoration, fear, abegnation, etc become operational. If God is not personal, then there is no purpose doing any of these things.

If the divine is impersonal, then you can imagine any number of abstract qualities or attributes it may posess, but it would be more an object of study & speculation, like string theory or such. Noone thinks string theory is going to save their soul. The study of such a god becomes a hobby, not a personal necessity.

December 20, 2006 7:52 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You simply refuse to deal with my point that the objective morality we're talking about consists mainly of restrictions on conduct, don't you? We're not talking about alternative lifestyles and it isn't Dear Abby vs. Ann Landers, which is why you are having such difficulty coming up with serious examples. When faced with a friend trying to decide whether to lie, commit adultery, blaspheme or steal, do you encourage him to rely upon his "best, most informed, most firmly held subjective judgment"? If he says he thinks such things are wrong, do you tell him he is a hypocrite for not stoning adultresses?

I don't see how the qualification that we are talking about restrictions on conduct has any bearing on whether those restrictions were decided upon based on objective or subjective criteria. That's the point that you are not addressing. How were those particular restrictions decided upon? I say they were decided upon by men according to their subjective judgments.

My friend, when he makes his own judgments, will be doing exactly what the men who determined the restrictions on conduct did. He'll rely on his best judgment. That's all we have to work with.

December 20, 2006 8:20 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Idiosyncratic is the word for it.

I have two personal conceptions of Judeo-Christianity, both of which contradict Peter's in a fundamental way.

The Catholics made much of the fact that their religion was one, holy, catholic and apostolic. There just isn't any room for god growing through history in that conception.

And, as a practical matter, the Roman church has always been and still is reactionary.

The Baptists and other holy rollers also rejected history, constantly harping on a return to the status quo ante of around 33 AD. That's why they called themselves Primitive Baptists.

Peter is positing a Judeo-Christianity as found in the senior common rooms of ancient English universities and in rural deaneries inhabited by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. Judeo-Christians of that stripe were mighty scarce where I grew up.

December 20, 2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

The Baptists and other holy rollers also rejected history, constantly harping on a return to the status quo ante of around 33 AD.

Am I the only one here who finds that funny?

December 20, 2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Now you're just being coy. For the holy rollers, history stopped about 33 AD.

Your point was that Christians allow god to evolve in history. Baptists don't do that, and Catholics don't do that.

December 20, 2006 8:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I didn't they they believed God evolved, Harry. I said they believed He revealed Himself through history. Frankly, I'm very puzzled as to why anyone with a Christian background would have difficulty with that.

As you are the resident expert on the holy rollers, I'll not comment on what they (the very epicentre of Judeo-Christianity--not like those quirky eccentrics in remote outposts like Oxford and Cambridge) believe, but you obviously are very wrong about the Catholics. Otherwise, the magisterium, Vatican councils, etc, make no sense. Are you suggesting Neuhaus is a heretic when he says:

"The reason we don't kill one another over our differences with respect to the will of God is that we no longer believe it is the will of God that we kill one another over our differences respecting the will of God."?

December 21, 2006 2:20 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

A minority view, as a review of newspapers would reveal.

Down South, the bumper sticker: 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever' is very common.

The center of gravity of theology is shifting away from Oxford to Cleveland, Tenn., the world headquarters of two Christian sects each overtaking Anglicanism.

December 21, 2006 8:47 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

The center of gravity of theology is shifting away from Oxford to Cleveland, Tenn.,

Yikes, that is scary! Oh well, we have to look on the bright side. At least we won't have to worry about the good folks of Cleveland, Tennessee boring us to tears with their doubts about the Thirty-nine Articles.

Down South, the bumper sticker: 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever' is very common.

I said He revealed himself through history. I didn't say He was quick about it. But I admit your equating bumper stickers "Down South" with the authority of Maimonedes, St. Augustine and Acquinas et. al. does open up a whole new theological direction I had never considered. What do the bumper stickers say about natural law or original sin?

Seriously Harry, you can criticize populist expressions of a creed or you can criticise the intellectual foundations of a creed, but don't use the standards, and especially the expressions, of one against the other.

December 21, 2006 4:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I have less than no interest in the 'creed' and know far more about it than is good for me.

My only interest in religion is that I have to interact with it. Never ran across Maimonides; my experience has been almost entirely with the common or garden variety Christian.

Probably Maimonides would not have branded me with 3 Ks, though I wouldn't bet Augustine wouldn't have, if placed in that social setting; but of the Christians I knew personally, it was a real possibility.

Over at Volokh today, there's been a discussion about why Muslims are anti-semitic. A number of posters identifying themselves as Jews have volunteered that being around Christians makes them nervous, too.

December 21, 2006 7:59 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Seriously Harry, you can criticize populist expressions of a creed or you can criticise the intellectual foundations of a creed, but don't use the standards, and especially the expressions, of one against the other.

And which expression is the real one?

This is the kind of statement that drives me nuts (but not into a rage). It really doesn't matter what the intellectuals say about the creed, because 99.99% of the faithful follow the popular expression. I can't remember who I argued with on BrosJudd, but we were debating whether Vatican I said that salvation was not available outside of the Catholic church. Actually that wasn't the debate, because Vatican I clearly stated that. The debate was to whether that meant that non Catholics couldn't be saved. It was quite clear, quoted my opponent, that theologically speaking the "Catholic" church included all those who believed in Christ, even those people who didn't realize that they believed in Christ, like Hindus.

My mother and father grew up in the Vatican I Catholic church, and there was no confusion about what that meant. Protestants, Jews, and everyone else who wasn't a Catholic, meaning not baptized in the Church of Rome, was going to Hell. No if's, ands' or but's.

If you say that the church of the theologians is the true expression of the faith, then you're basically saying that nobody but the theologians practice Christianity.

December 23, 2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

The center of gravity of theology is shifting away from Oxford to Cleveland, Tenn.

And Nigeria as well.

December 23, 2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

If you say that the church of the theologians is the true expression of the faith, then you're basically saying that nobody but the theologians practice Christianity.

Exactly. As a general rule, nobody practices "the true faith", we all just do the best we can, and influence each other to greater or lesser degrees.

December 24, 2006 1:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't care whether people are true Christians or Muslims or whatever, I care only about how they treat me (and, by extension, everybody).

If they treat them well, I don't care if they are trimmers when it comes to creed; and if they treat them badly, their orthodoxy cannot excuse them.

We then get into the question of 'treating them well.' The devoted evangelical considers he is doing a favor when he forces/persuades a remote group (eg, the Hawaiians) that they must abandon the faith of their fathers. Somehow, though, he does not consider this a Newtonian reaction. If the Hawaiians should suggest that, for example, the expression of aloha gives superior results to the expression of Christian charity (an indubitable truth, by the way), the Christian evangelical is never thankful.

December 24, 2006 1:10 PM  

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