Friday, July 10, 2015

How we know right and wrong...

Stan, at the Winging It blog, recently was disparaging/critiquing his more progressive friends, complaining that our reasoning is off. Of course, he was critiquing a strawman version of our reasoning, not the real thing, so that was a problem right off. I'll deal with it here because it is an oft-repeated mistake.

He suggested we say that...

"Wrong" is doing harm, and we know what "harm" is (despite the repeated failures of humankind to anticipate harm).
We know what "good" is (even if it conflicts with what God, "the judge of all the earth" (Gen 18:25), says it is.
Oddly, it puts them [liberals who disagree with Stan] in the driver's seat of morality as if they're much better at figuring out how the human being works than the Maker is. It's odd because it comes from folk who claim to love God.
A few thoughts, to clarify his misunderstanding about our positions. (I do it here because, A, he does not deal with my comments on his blog and, B, as I often note, it's not really about Stan and his error, it's about the ideas involved, and these ideas are often misunderstood by conservative types, so, my thoughts...)
1. We don't know perfectly what harm is, any more than you or I know perfectly how to interpret the Bible's every page.
How is imperfectly reading the Bible and understanding it any more reliable than imperfectly recognizing harm?
2. We don't know perfectly what "good" is, any more than you (any of us) know how to interpret the Bible perfectly or how perfectly to know God's will.
3. At the same time, most reasonable people can generally agree on both "harm" and "good..." I just don't think it's that hard. For instance...
The potential for harm when driving drunk is great, so it is not a moral good to drive impaired. We don't need the Bible to tell us this, we are rational and moral creatures. Is there anything to disagree with there? If so, what?
Even though the Bible never specifically condemns dropping nuclear bombs on a city of civilians during war time, we know that it causes horrific harm and is not a moral good. We are rational and moral creatures and this is obvious, we don't need the Bible to tell us it's wrong. Again, what is wrong with this line of reasoning, because I do not see it. This seems like something all people of good will can agree upon.
4. We are not in "the driver's seat" nor are we claiming to be. What we're claiming is this:
We are responsible for our behavior, for understanding - as best we can - right and wrong. We can't and shouldn't simply say, "Dan (or Stan or whoever), YOU decide for the rest of us what is right or wrong..." NO! God forbid, no!
Rather, we are saying that we each need to strive to do the right and avoid the wrong, because we are each reasonable, moral agents. I'm (we're) absolutely NOT saying we know better than the Maker. We're saying "I don't trust another human to tell me what is and isn't right." That is, we're not saying No to the Maker, we're saying No to Stan or anyone else who would presume to speak for the Maker.
Again, this seems like something all of us should be able to agree upon.
5. At the very least, he got the last claim right: We DO love God (not merely claim to love God...). It is precisely because we love God that we don't want to leave it to some guy on the internet to tell us what is right and wrong.
But this is just reasonable, is it not?


Marshal Art said...

"But this is just reasonable, is it not?"

Not. Indeed, there is rarely anything approaching reason in your "reasoning". The question then is, "why?". Is it simple simple-mindedness or something more willfully deceitful. I would say it could be either or both, with often more the latter than the former, though I wouldn't make any wagers either way.

1. "We don't know perfectly what harm is..."

Then on what basis should anyone ever use "harm" as a measure of what is moral or good? Am I harmed when getting a tetanus shot? Yeah, because someone just punctured my arm with a needle, which damages tissue and results in blood loss. That's harmful. But it does prevent other negative issues from developing, so one harm is greater than the other. What is more, the intention behind inflicting that harm was not malevolent. The harm inflicted was to insure a good. Basing morality on "harm" is insipid, not to mention subjective and too easily manipulative.

2. "We don't know perfectly what "good" is..." Actually we do. It is that which pleases God. Scripture provides quite useful guide, a set of "rules" if you will, that informs us of that which is pleasing to God. Conversely, it also provides that which displeases Him. No muss, no fuss.

3. "At the same time, most reasonable people can generally agree on both "harm" and "good..." Obviously not, unless you're eliminating yourself from that group of people to which can rightly be applied the term "reasonable". Even still, disagreement is not uncommon.

4. "We are not in "the driver's seat" nor are we claiming to be." Yes, you pretty much are. Your defense says it all, as you claim you are arguing interpretations. But you're denying them instead, and inserting your own based solely on your preferences. I say this again with reference to your routine lack of support for your positions...that is, that your support is never more than mere preference. We can argue our positions based on Scripture, whereas you base yours on what you want Scripture to mean. You deny our Scripture-based arguments in favor of your ambiguity dependent alternatives. You don't have to pretend that anyone is "speaking for the Maker" as if the Maker didn't already clearly and unambiguously say it. But you do. You put yourself in the driver's seat and disguise it under the pretense that you are merely trying to understand God to the best of your ability.

5. As in the previous, this is just you being deceitful again. None of US leaves it to anyone on the internet to tell us what is right and wrong. Those upon whom we rely at all compel our reliance on their clear explanations and interpretations of God's Word. They aren't telling us what is right and wrong. They are telling us what GOD says is right and wrong and doing so in a substantive, rational and Scripturally supportive manner.

Dan Trabue said...

?Then on what basis should anyone ever use "harm" as a measure of what is moral or good?

Because it's generally something people can see and recognize, it can be measured fairly objectively. When one damages another's life or liberty, it's fairly easily spotted. No one mistakes what a theft looks like, as a general rule. You take something that does not belong to you that does belong to someone else. Taking it from them causes harm, it removes their liberty to have property.

When someone damages another person's body, it's easily noted that harm has been unjustly caused. Whether that's someone assaulting a person, raping a person, killing a person... these are easily recognized as harm and a depriving of someone's right to life.

That, as opposed to, "What I think the Bible says about morality..." which is not agreed upon at all, anything like universally. For one thing, you have many people who do not believe the bible is the inspired word of God. On what basis should they take your hunch that it is as a starting place for morality? Additionally, not everyone who DOES think the Bible is of God thinks it is a rule or rulings book, where we can find lines that give us rules for our lives today. Additionally, we have the problem of human interpretation. There is perhaps, for instance, NO teaching anywhere that is clearer than Jesus' peacemaking/pacifism teachings, and yet, many people don't see it.

So, given the very real problems of saying "we'll get our morality from the Bible" and the strong disagreement on some very basic teachings, why would we NOT defer to Harm as a more rational and measurable standard, at least as a starting point?

Dan Trabue said...


Basing morality on "harm" is insipid, not to mention subjective and too easily manipulative.

Admittedly, harm can be subjective (I'm not sure what is insipid about it, as a measure, but it can be subjective to some degree), I'm not disagreeing. But is that your argument against "harm" as measure?

If so, then does that not also apply to holy text interpretations? How do we know there IS a holy text that gives us rules? The answer to that is subjective and would be debated by much of the world.

How do we know WHICH holy text is the "right" one to give us morality? The answer to that is subjective and would be debated by much of the world.

How do we know WHICH interpretation of a given text/idea is the "right" morality? The answer to that is subjective and would be debated by much of the world.

It seems your argument against harm is true, but multiplied if you want to offer "The Bible" as the source for morality.

After all, I glean my morality, in part, from Christian teachings learned about in the Bible. And yet, you think my morality is at times wrong. So, I am living proof that your theory (if it is your theory) that "the Bible" is the source for morality.

Where am I mistaken?

Marshal Art said...

Perhaps you could have been more clear that you were speaking of a general secular notion of morality and goodness. My bad to assume you cared about actual morality over what the world thinks.

"When one damages another's life or liberty, it's fairly easily spotted."

Such as the life of an unborn child ripped apart by an abortionist. But you support a woman's "right" to decide to do this for any reason. Scripture teaches something quite differently regarding sexual behavior and the value of human life. Yet God says murder is wrong due to the fact that man is made in God's image, not because it hurts. The affront is to Him primarily.

Yet we can end the life of an unborn child in exactly the same way that isn't save the life of the mother should it be actually threatened by giving birth. There, it is choosing one life over another...sort of what we do in war defending against an aggressor like Germany or Japan in the 1940's. Then, as in other wars, we damaged property as well as human bodies, and even appropriated land and resources of the enemy. All good.

So it isn't harm that is a good measure of right and wrong at all. Choosing harm as a measure is just another way to justify/rationalize wickedness that does not result in easily recognized or perceived harm, such as sexual sin.

I don't much care about what atheists believe is goodness or evil. Theirs is a self-serving code of determination. Yet, God's way, which is not mysterious or difficult to understand for honest people, benefits even the non-believer whether they are willing to admit it or not, or whether or not they are willing to be satisfied with the benefits living according to God's way will bring about.

Dan Trabue said...

So, it would appear you are saying I am not mistaken. Thanks, I agree.

Marshal Art said...

It doesn't appear that way at all, except to one as desperate as you to maintain your un-Biblical positions. What's more, you are not at all "living proof" of one who uses Scripture as the basis for morality if you only do so "in part". Talk about ambiguity!! "In part" can be .05% or 99.9% or anything in between. Hardly one convicted in the faith. So clearly I am saying that you are most certainly mistaken as to how one determines right and wrong. Once again you show you follow Scripture as it suits your preferences, rather than form your preferences based on Scripture.

Dan Trabue said...

I noted...

It seems your argument against harm is true, but multiplied if you want to offer "The Bible" as the source for morality.

And you had nothing to suggest that I am mistaken, so I assume you are conceding the point. Am I mistaken?

That is, IF you are suggesting "ideas about 'harm' can be subjective and mistaken, therefore Harm is not a good measure for morality..." THEN that is just as true and even more so for the bible/sacred texts. That is, "IF interpretations of holy texts can be mistaken, therefore, holy texts [and very clearly, they can be mistaken and are much more frequently mistaken/not agreed upon than 'harm'...] are not a good measure for morality..."

That is, by YOUR reasoning, sacred texts are not a sound measure for morality.

Where specifically am I mistaken, or do you concede the point?

Marshal Art said...

First of all, I never said "suggesting "ideas about 'harm' can be subjective and mistaken". I even reviewed my previous comments and found no such statement. All I said was that ideas about harm are subjective. Indeed, I said, " Basing morality on "harm" is insipid, not to mention subjective and too easily manipulative."

Secondly, I offered quite a bit to show you are mistaken and thus not conceding anything. It does not follow that because basing morality on harm is inane because it is subjective, then therefore basing morality on the Word of God as clearly revealed in Scripture is equally problematic for the same reason. The reason it doesn't follow is because the Word of God is not subjective. It is manipulated and perverted, as we see with your renderings, but it is not so mysterious and difficult to fathom to the point of honest interpretation being subjective. You simply need it to be in order to continue supporting things like sexual immorality.

In addition, there is only one "sacred text" and that is the Bible (unless you're referring to all the books individually and thus the collection we call "the Bible" would then be "sacred 'texts'"). The Book of Mormon, the koran...those are not "sacred texts" to me, and thus I do not refer to them is such a general way. I may refer to them as, for example, the mormons' sacred text, or the muslims' sacred text, but otherwise they are not sacred at all.

As such, by sound reasoning, the only "sacred text" that matters is an appropriate source of learning what moral behavior is. Only progressives have trouble with understanding it because there is so much that is inconvenient if they have the honesty to admit what it teaches. You do not.

Dan Trabue said...

The reason it doesn't follow is because the Word of God is not subjective.

The text says what it says. That is not subjective. Gen 1: 1 says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..." regardless of what anyone may think, that is what it says (at least in the KJV). Not subjective.

BUT, once we move from "the text literally says..." to "...and that MEANS, in my opinion..." we have moved from objective to subjective.

Just as a point of fact.

Do you disagree with reality?

So, whose subjective opinion is the right one on which text and on what basis would you make that claim?

You make it, I'd say, based on your subjective and culturally-biased (and often emotionally overwrought and irrational) opinions. Which is fine, My interpretations are my opinions, too.

The point is and stands: IF "harm" is a poor measure for morality because interpreting harm is subjective, then "the Bible" is an even poorer measure because its interpretations are even more subjective/less provable/less agreed upon.

You are making my point, Marshall. No need to continue making it, unless you just want to go ahead and acknowledge that you are making my point.

Marshal Art said...

And here is where you engage once again in the deceitful misdirection from the point at hand. We're talking about morality, are we not? What does arguments regarding how long it took God to create the universe have to do with arguments regarding morality? The only people who find Biblical teaching on morality to be subjective are those like yourself, who find what it teaches inconvenient. Genesis could have said God created the earth on a Tuesday afternoon and it wouldn't have any bearing on the subject of morality.

What's more, that one aspect of Scripture might be a source of debate does not mean that all of Scripture is similarly troublesome. You just use unrelated issues to provide license to bastardize that which you dislike. You're not fooling anyone, God the least, so you can 86 that strategy once and for all, man up and stick to the issue.

Dan Trabue said...

My point stands, Marshall. IF one says "the text says 'in the Beginning...' and 'do unto others as you'd have them do unto you...'" THAT is objective. It either objectively says that or it doesn't.

But, when one moves from "does the text literally say that?" to "does the text mean what you're saying it means...?" we've moved from objective to subjective. Just as a point of fact in the real world.

Sorry, if you think otherwise, you clearly don't understand what "objective" means.