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On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, and Relational Possibilities

Back in 2007, Christianity Today hosted Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson in a debate entitled: “Is Christianity Good for the World?”. They exchanged letters six times, with Hitchens starting and Wilson concluding.

They debated a number of issues. The issue of most significance in this essay is their differences concerning the origins of morality.

Wilson, in his initial response to Hitchens, is the first to bring up morality. He argues in the first three letter-exchanges that the origins of morality are “supernatural,” or external to the human condition. Morality is presented as a “fixed standard” that humans more or less hew to.

When Hitchens finally responds to Wilson’s questioning, he argues that “ordinary morality is innate” to animals. In contrast to Wilson’s claim that morality has external origins, Hitchens’ claims that morality is internal to the human condition. It is biological. He notes how a number of animals demonstrate ethical behavior, and not just humans. As Hitchens puts it in the final exchange, “our morality evolved”.

Here we have the two predominate arguments in the contemporary world for the origins of morality: supernatural or biological sources.

There is a third alternative, which is a derivative of Don Cupitt’s non-realist theology. Instead of claiming that the origins of morality are supernatural or biological, I claim that they are social-relational. Morality, in general terms I would claim, emerges through the human conversation. We should not expect any external endorsements for our beliefs and our values and we should not expect to find a morality gene. Rather, we have to love and pursue commitments to our God, to our neighbors and to our enemies for their own sakes. Ultimately, we must persuade and fight for what we believe to be true, good and moral.

So there are three options for the origins of morality. Do you know any others? What about narrative realism? How do we discern which to trust?

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Comments

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I agree that it emerges. A moral absolutist position falls foul of Euthyphro and the argument that God’s character is consistent doesn’t answer the dilemma. A determinist position such as morality from genetic factors falls fouls of the thing most determinist positions fall foul of, namely the illusion of free will. In order for morality to be morality free will is required. Saying that it is biologically based is a contradiction in terms.

But I think that we must stress that what emerges is real and valid as such and not relative - it doesn’t lead to the view that everything is right. Also, I would suggest that it is not only human society from which morality arises but the universe as a whole. Humans are not the only ones with choice and we are not the only ones our choices affect.

The moral absolutist position is however understandable. It is similar to the difficulty people have in accepting that objects do not exist in themselves. They say that there is objective truth “out there” to be found. It is the basis of much scientific endeavour. But it is a false basis because logical truth only exists in propositions and propositions imply a proposer (and a language and hearers or interpreters of language and a medium in which language can be transmitted as well as the reality about which the proposition is made). Propositions are in that sense arbitrary in that they do not need to be made at all, yet when they are made, they are constrained by the realities they derive from. (For example a red tulip might be to one a warm spring morning and to another an open flower, to a bee it might be edible sweet ground - all valid propositions.) However, most people have the impression that they are discovering absolute truth and are unable to or have difficulty in self-referencing.

Your statement “We should not expect any external endorsements for our beliefs and our values and we should not expect to find a morality gene.” reminds me of a proverb in Job: the good we do is for ourselves and the bad we do is our own lookout.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Generally, I agree with what you’ve said.

For myself, though, the concern with real and relativism that you expressed is misplaced and overblown. Relativism is a concern that absolutist usually voice—I mean, relativism presupposes an absolute point that one can be relative to. I presume neither relativism nor absolutism—I say that we are all embedded in communities of faith and practice. Nowhere in the Bible does the concern for real and relativism take shape. Both are basically modern concerns. I would add that in concrete practice, “everything is all right” isn’t a genuine concern—opposition practically always emerges around small and large issues. Hence, I say that ultimately people must persuade and fight for what they believe is right, good and moral. There is no external foundation, but there are people who will disagree and fight. In practice, “relativism” and “absolutism” are rhetorical tropes used in the fight to establish some vision of morality over another.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Just because propositions imply a proposer doesn’t mean that there isn’t objective truth. There is a paradox here which is worth dwelling on.

—Every statement ever made by anyone is a claim to objectivity. Even if they say “in my opinion, I think that the sky is blue” they are still stating an objective truth about their opinion, although not an objective truth about the sky.

—Every statement ever made was made by someone, and therefore is subjective. In a sense, every sentence presupposes the words “in my opinion” prefixed to it.

But statements can be closer to or further from the truth, given their linguistic context. A word has objectivity inasmuch as the speaker and the hearer have an intersection of common meaning for the word. This actually happens quite a lot. Real things are communicated. If it were not so then society would collapse. Nobody is suggesting that propositions are 100% objective apart from their context. But they have a measure of objectivity within their context. They are not 100% subjective, either.

Morality works the same way. Absolute morality can be found as an abstraction, but never as a concrete example. If, for example, I believed that an absolute moral principle was love, that love might manifest in almost opposite ways in different cultures and circumstances. But the principle driving it would still be love. That wouldn’t change.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

But statements can be closer to or further from the truth, ”

Nope. Either true or false. I’m talking of course about atomic statements. Most everyday human statements are composite and in the sense that more or fewer of the atomic statements within a composite statement are true, the statement as a whole can be more or less true. But that’s not the point. An atomic statement is either true or false. That doesn’t mean that there is an absolute truth out there. If you go back to my first example, can you tell me which is closer to the truth “This tulip is red”, “This is edible sweet red growing ground” or “This is a red flower”? The purpose of the statement is not to establish truth. The statement is simply in itself either true or false. The truth value (of a statement) is established by evidence, not by merely making the statement.

Human language as you say (I think) can be vague but saying something imprecise does not mean that it is only half-way between truth and falsehood.

—Every statement ever made was made by someone, and therefore is subjective. In a sense, every sentence presupposes the words “in my opinion” prefixed to it.”

If everything everyone said were said with the implied prefix of it being the speaker’s opinion, then your suggestion that every statement is subjective would be true. But not all statements are made with that implication (very few I would argue) and for that very reason your suggestion that everything is subjective is also false. You are simply assuming the conclusion.

But getting back to subject, the universe has value in itself and that value is both created and mediated socially (and I don’t just mean in humans either), which is where the perception of morality (i.e. of some things being strongly right or wrong) comes from. It is written in the statements we make and the actions we do (which are really the same thing). The supposed objective morality can’t exist because there is no medium in which the language of the morality can be written. The argument that objective morality is an abstraction is surely wrong because the very language you use to abstract it must be communicated by those you are extracting it from. In order for it to be abstract, you would need to extract it from humans as well. I would argue that the perception of the reality of right and wrong as something external truly comes from the nature of the real world itself. For those used to thinking platonically it is understandable that this would be misinterpreted as an absolute set of rules somewhere in the ether. Or even the case of a great dictat of God, it amounts to the same thing. The great dictat doesn’t make the universe valuable in itself, which to my mind is a fundamental creation principle in the Bible. God saw that it was good.

Sorry if I sound pretentious.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re saying.

I agree that statements don’t establish truth, but describe it. But atomic statements are still relative to the intended meaning of the person who stated them. If you said “This tulip is red” I could disagree and say “no, it’s green.” How would we resolve our disagreement? What does the word ‘red’ mean to you? Can we be sure it means the same to you as it does to me? What if its colour was what you called red, and 50% of humanity was on your side, but 50% was on my side in denying its redness? To what authority would we go to settle the matter? Which statement is true and which is false?

I don’t understand this sentence: “The argument that objective morality is an abstraction is surely wrong because the very language you use to abstract it must be communicated by those you are extracting it from.” What do you mean? Everybody uses abstractions all the time, e.g. the word ‘human being’ is an abstraction of the characteristics of all specific human beings walking about. It’s not platonic, it’s the way the human mind works. To say “This is a telephone” imposes an abstraction onto a concrete object. How else are we supposed to communicate or think?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

What about a mix of all three. I think morality and the defining of right and wrong has emerged out of an extremely complex interaction between what we feel and wrestle with within, what we are learning as we interact with our external world around us, and what we are learning from interacting with each other in the form of families, communities and institutions. For example, take the Jewish people. Many have argued that the Jewish movement was a revolt against the Cannanite religions of the day. The narrative certainly suggests this - a people called to be holy, a people with a holy God. They felt strongly that their God and culture offered a better way of life. An alterantive to the pevailing systems of religion and thought. Why? Disillusionment, frustration, doubt, confusion, boredom etc…Well first it did not happen in isolation, it was ‘social-relational’. There was likely a process of agreement and disagreement, a sifting out of sorts, the development of frameworks. Second, there is an experiential knowledge, how the world works, making sense, what the bible calls wisdom maybe, a knowledge of how to get the good things out of life and what things seem to squeeze goodness out of life and introduce death. Obviosuly this aspect is often subdued by the systems of belief and action in which we are located. This is all fed back into the social-relational interactions almost like a feedback mechanism. Then there is our own personalities and making sense of the first two as well as coming to grasp with our finiteness and fragility in a big universe as well as our contradictory sense (or need) of being powerful and significant. If you look at the biblical narrative and limited historical constructions, there seems to be a gradual evolution of Jewish thought, a continual learning and re-learning process in community as different experiences come and go. Obviously, all this can get co-opted by powerful people to be used for their own ends, and the biblical narrative is not immune from this. But all the way from the prophets through to Jesus, there is this ideal, a holy alternative, a new creation, not finite, always developing but keeping its utopian ideals and desires for peace, harmony, fulfilment, purpose, responsibility and happiness. So what about God? The ‘supernatural’. Well this whole process does not eliminate God. Not if God is the one calling us to learn, to develop, to be inspired. Not if God is the one waiting for us to learn, to see, to be, using our biology and our sociology as well as our internal worlds (self-reflection and awareness are present in the Psalms). God may be calling us like the narrative presupposes to be different, to be the new creation in an old one that is clearly struggling.

One thing i have realised today is that we need to know why we do what we do, why we follow and interact with God in light of God’s interaction with Abraham through to Jesus. Why is something bad, why is something good. We cant just default to ‘the bible says so’. Im sure the people that wrote the stories wrestled with right and wrong for reasons that were beneficial to them. Obviously, the influence of political and alterior motives within the biblical narrative needs to sifted out. But there is no denying the power of the narrative to inspire. People have gone before us, wrestled before us, learnt before us, we need to learn from them. Like them we need to know why we do what we do (I assume this). Why is sex before marriage wrong? Why is the obsessive objectification of women worng? We wont be able to answer these if we cant see why they are destructive to youself, and possibly God allows us to taste these things, almost like spiritual nerves that sense heat and send messages to our brains to pull away.

The other day a collegue of mine mentioned that he had just legalised an adult gift store in a residential suburb. So I said that he must of had some angry opposition from local residents who feel this is wrong. He responded to me rather defensively and angrily stating that I shouldnt push my morals on others and that he has a right to earn a legal living. In response, i explained why exactly i though this might be a problem, not from an ‘its God’s law’ standpoint but from a consequences standpoint and why the objectification of women, sexual addictions and related pathologies are inevitable but undesirable aspects of society. I basically explained what i had learnt over time from my own limited experiences with addictions and the emotions, desires, cravings that i have experienced in consuming these products, over time learning about myself and understanding their destructive influences. Who says they are destructive some might say, thats your oppresive religion again restraining your freedom. Well then we back to Abraham again.

They will know us by our fruit…’

So i think by emphasizing one of three aspects over the other we might distort what is really going on.

Cheers
 Ryan

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

A mix of all three, I fear, risks logical inconsistency. How do we discern the boundary between a biological versus a supernatural versus a relational possibility? Does one over ride the other?

I prefer to stake out a definite stance from which to operate. I presuppose a relational origin for morals and try to consistently see where that line of argument and way of life takes me.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Q: What is the purpose of football?
A: The purpose of football is to score goals.

Actually, that is not the purpose of football. That is describing the rules of the game. The purpose of the game is something you have to think of outside the rules of the game.

I think we’re in danger of making this mistake if we say that morality is rooted in relationships. That’s not where morality comes from, that’s just describing what morality is. All moral principles are rooted in relationship, which is why “love is the fulfilment of the law”, as both Paul and Jesus say. But the question of why certain things are right and certain things wrong can’t be answered in this way. We all agree that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” might be an overarching principle based on relationship. But why should you do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Where did this command come from? What does the word “should” mean anyway if all moral principles just evolved?

To say that morality came from evolution is to say that morality isn’t morality. Mother Teresa evolved to be one type of person, Hitler to be another. There’s nothing better or worse about either of them if morality is rooted in evolution. But if you believe that someone objectively should behave differently, whether or not they want to, and regardless of how they evolved, then you must posit a different source to morality.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

An interesting response John.

I don’t think morality is a particularly Judeo-Christian concept really though. Arguably morality is basically a godless justification for law, and thereby a way to prevent and legitimate the punishment of particular actions. This may require an alternative totalising narrative, even such as the idea that our morals evolved.

Penal substitutionary atonement imagery buys into the idea that there is a morality that binds God to the punishment of certain actions. That link between morality and punishment is unbreakable.

But in the Covenant narrative, God gave the law to Israel as an expression of himself, his love for them, his inherent working, his logos (later incarnate) - to protect them, and to give them the best of creation, despite its fallen state. This isn’t objectivising morality - it’s denying morality in favour of relationship.

To justify law outside of this relationship we create another justification for law and call it morality.

I don’t think this is just semantics. It drives to the heart of our theology of God, to the nature of his sovereignty, and then on to the way we talk about atonement.

One way to test this is to turn it on its head, and ask why punishment is thought by Christian moralists to be inherently ‘moral’?

The answer C.S. Lewis gives - that it shows the perpetrator the nature of their action from the other side - is true but inadequate. This only shows an instrumental purpose to punishment, nothing inherent.

The stronger argument from scripture is that God punishes, but this shows only God’s desire to assert the image of his relational Trinity where it is abused, in the victim and the perpetrator.

I suppose, according to this rationale, the only ‘morality’, as such, that exists is in fact “Godless Morality” to steal Richard Holloway’s title.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You’re right, I was speaking from within a Judeo-Christian worldview when I said that morality was rooted in relationships. Morality is not a specifically Judeo-Christian concept, but to say that morality is rooted in relationships is something that extrapolates out of Jesus’ saying that love is the fulfilment of the law.

I don’t think that we need talk of morality only in terms of retributive justice, or ‘punishment’ (in the western sense). As far as I understand morality, it is what makes us say ‘ought’ or ‘ought not’ about human actions and behaviour. It says nothing, itself, about what will happen if you do what you ought not to do. To answer that question we have to turn to the concept of justice. But this is just terminology defining.

You’re right, I have never been satisfied by Lewis’ synopsis of punishment. But I don’t think he fully knew what he thought either. He rejected the view that there was nothing of substitution in it at all, but also rejected the Penal Substitution view. He never came down hard onto a clear affirmative exposition of Atonement and what he believed it meant.

I don’t think that morality is a justification for law outside of relationship. I think, rather, that law is a necessary band-aid on broken relationship to prevent it from spiralling into chaos. Or rather, law is the first step towards true morality from our current sinful state, which, taken to its logical conclusion, ends in relationship.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

Morality or duty never yet made a person happy in themself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and to associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the ‘gospel’, for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality… What really matters is not to obey moral rules but to be a creature of a certain kind.

You’re right that morality inputs directly into Atonement theology. But I don’t think that when the Old Testament talks of punishment, it means retributive justice. When God ‘punishes’ Israel, it always seems to mean what we would mean by discipline. He causes pain for corrective and restorative purposes. He never causes pain as a payment for wrongdoing, as though suffering and sin weighed each other out in the scales of justice.

Moreover, penal substitution makes no sense in terms of retributive punishment. The only thing that makes punishment punishment is if the wrongdoer is the one being punished. It’s a nonsense to suggest you can punish another person in their place. It ceases to be punishment if it’s transferred to another, and becomes merely suffering. I think the doctrine of Penal Substitution came about by a confusion between punishment and revenge.

But I’ve written enough. What do people think?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

This is a thought provoking discussion. I have questions. 

Discpline vs Retribution:

1. Is there a clear distinction between the two in the scriptures?

2. Does “discipline” in the sense it is used in John Ridley’s post include the aspects of restoration and correction and exclude “punishment” of the wrongdoer? Are not some wrongdoers punished and corrected and restored while others are punished, remain unrepentant and are destroyed? Not just in the scriptures only. Do we not see this played out day after day in our own lives and the lives of others in varying degrees of severity?

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. “As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest…”

…all were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, all drank the same spiritual drink, all drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them and the Rock was Christ. Neverthless, with most of them God was not pleased for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters, eschew sexual immorality, do not put Christ to the test, don’t gripe. These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction on whom the end of ages has come If you think you are standing strong, be cautious lest you fall.

Supernatural vs Biological:

Why the warnings in the passages quoted against idolatry, sexual morality and the like? This is one passage among many in the New Testament with similar warnings to avoid certain types of conduct. There are, of course, also many which encourage certain types of conduct. Where do Old Testament/New Testament standards of conduct originate? God? The children of Abraham? St. Paul? Darwin?

Penal Substitution:

In several translations the term propitiation is used of Christ’s actions on behalf of the people of God. Propitiation by His blood; for the sins of the people; for our sins; for our sins and not only ours but also for the whole world. Use mercy seat if you wish, or seat of atonement or whatever. The contextual imagery is almost certainly of the blood splattered Ark of the Covenant containing the images of the authority of God, His loving care and provisions and His holy character which cried out against the sins of the people and which cries were silenced by blood for a year. A yearly day of atonement.

Now, if the soul that sins, dies and all are sinners and have missed God’s standards (we lie, St. John reminds us if we say we have no sin) then the consequences of sin without propitiation may be quite dreadful.

If it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, the very sacrifice God stipulated for the people’s sin(s) and those sacrifices were but a shadow of good things to come-what did they foreshadow if not Christ’s perfect, once for all oblation and satisfaction of sin. What was the death and blood of bulls and goats if not penal substitution? What is the death and blood of Christ if not penal substitution?

It was expedient that one man should die for the people. Was it not?

Alario

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

These are deep and insightful questions. I’ll create a separate post to deal with some of them as it would be too long here.

Supernatural vs Biological:

Alario wrote:

Why the warnings in the passages quoted against idolatry, sexual morality and the like? This is one passage among many in the New Testament with similar warnings to avoid certain types of conduct. There are, of course, also many which encourage certain types of conduct. Where do Old Testament/New Testament standards of conduct originate? God? The children of Abraham? St. Paul? Darwin?

I don’t see that there needs to be a dichotomy between the two. The phrase “supernatural vs. biological” sounds to me like “three dimensional vs. two dimensional”. A two dimensional object (e.g. a piece of paper) can exist in a three dimensional world. It is just as real as the world it inhabits, but at the same time its reality is subject to that world. In another analogy, if an object casts a shadow then the shadow is real, but its reality is dependent upon the reality of the object. If we think of this natural world like the shadow, that doesn’t deny its reality nor its shape. It just says that it got those from a higher dimension.

God created the physical world with all its laws, like gravity, light, space, time, etc. The laws of chemistry extrapolate from these laws, and the laws of biology from those of chemistry. Evolution was not an accident: God created the Universe in the way you might plant seeds in the ground, knowing what will result.

The standards of conduct found in the Bible can come from any of the sources you name (Paul, Abraham, Darwin), and still ultimately come from God. God speaks to us in our own culturally specific context, showing us what morality looks like for our situation. God chose a people and began to reveal to them what he was like, using examples from things they would understand. The reasons behind the standards of conduct are always the same, and convey God’s purpose. But anyone who understands God’s heart can see what standards of conduct are required in their cultural context, and speak on God’s behalf, condemning some things and encouraging others.

Not sure if this answers your question, but if it doesn’t, please ask further questions!

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

But the question of why certain things are right and certain things wrong can’t be answered in this way. ”

Ah, yes. But because the universe is one self-consistent thing, the method and medium of morality is equally as important as the substance. Otherwise you are forced into a dualist view of the world, which is entirely unhelpful because it allows you to say anything and whatever it is, it cannot be proved right or wrong and there are no reality checks.

As I said before, the idea of there being absolute right or wrong is a mis-perception. No one would suggest the action of choosing 1 from 3 varieties of toothpaste on the shelf was in any way an issue of morality. But if you think about it, even that decision falls into a right and wrong spectrum. There is something ultimately satisfying (or dissatisfying) about the decision you made even though it is of very trifling significance. Morality is only a very selective set of judgement criteria. The reality is that all actions which involve freedom are somewhere on this spectrum.

The reason is that the universe is open. Once your decision is made, the universe is forever different; you have contributed to what the universe is. The universe thus has intrinsic value, it’s the value that we ourselves (and all interested parties, from amoebae to God) determine. It is not subjective in the sense that it is determined solely by our own free will. Even though it is determined by our own free will, it becomes reality as soon as we act upon it and when lots of people choose the same thing within the same constraints, the reality becomes stronger and the value stronger.

The perception of absolute morality is simply because we are too handy at generalising. Just think of toothpaste and you will be cured of this fault…

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I agree that everything has a ‘right and wrong spectrum’ and that everything we do affects the Universe for better or for worse. For that reason everything has moral implications. But surely it doesn’t follow from this that there isn’t an absolute morality? It only follows that we can never put this absolute morality into concrete terms.

With the toothpaste example, I could say that choosing one toothpaste is absolutely wrong. What I mean by that is that the choice is not a matter of your perspective. It’s not something that’s “wrong for you” but “right for me” (given the exact same circumstances). One course of action in a specific chosen circumstance is definitely more wrong, and another course of action more right. There is an absolute to which we all strive, and it is fixed and unmoveable. But it filters down on all of us in different ways, and every decision we make has an impact on our proximity to it.

From this perspective we can say that the universe is open and self-consistent, and for that very reason there must be an absolute morality. Only that absolute morality is above any cultural or verbal definition. It is a matter of each individual choosing what they believe, at that precise moment, to be absolutely right.

No?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

What I mean by that is that the choice is not a matter of your perspective. It’s not something that’s “wrong for you” but “right for me” (given the exact same circumstances). ”

The idea of something being right or wrong independent of perspective is still assuming the conclusion you are trying to make. I have never said that it is a matter of (pure and relative) perspective. Indeed I did say that merely making the statement doesn’t make it right. In the same way, merely choosing an option doesn’t make it moral either. What I do say though is that the rightness or wrongness of an action arises out of the entire context of that action. So there is never any such thing as “the exact same circumstances”. The idea of there being repeatable “exact same circumstances” only arises from the (erroneous) presupposition that there are absolute rules of morality.

Obviously in the case of an action such as going to war, the action will have an effect on many things and there is no single focal point on which to judge the issue. This results in a perception that some kind of rule is to be applied which can be said to be completely general. Thus anyone making the decision to go to war or not would be acting immorally if his decision was limited to his own personal perspective on the issue. But conversely it is also in my view immoral to shy away from the consideration of any and all perspectives by dissolving them all into a simple rule. The rule “war is evil” for example does not take into consideration the oppression and hardship that one nation may be experiencing at the hand of another. The rule rides rough-shod over the historical considerations.

But the toothpaste decision is 99% validated by the individual’s own taste. The same principle applies as in the war decision: you take as much of the context into account as you can. It only appears to be relative and individual because it just happens that the entire context is to do with the personal taste of a certain individual.

The idea that morality should be independent of context originates from the desire to protect society from decision makers (at all levels) who only take into account their own personal interest in making decisions. It is not meant to render the decision making process independent of all context. And the reason why it is necessary to take as much of the context into account as possible is because we care for the world as it is in its real historical existence, not in some artificial imagined, would-be world.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I don’t mean to suggest that the exact same circumstances could ever occur, I just mean that given (hypothetically) the exact same circumstances, the morality of a decision would be the same for one person as for another.

I agree that the rightness or wrongness of an action arises out of the entire context of that action. But surely rightness must still point in a certain direction, by very definition? I think that’s why you keep accusing me of assuming the conclusion I’m trying to make. I’m in fact trying to find out what the innate definition of morality is, what we mean when we say “ought” and “ought not”.

I assume you think that, given a context, a person can act in a way that is either right or wrong. In terms of history, we can judge people’s past actions (never being 100% accurate of course because we never know the full context) and say that what they did was right or wrong. If there is no absolute morality, then how do you judge whether what they did was right or wrong? Let’s say that, by a miracle, we know the entire context of the action. How then do you judge the action’s morality? Surely you would have to do so using certain principles applicable to general circumstances?

More fundamentally: what is the meaning of something being ‘right’ or something being ‘wrong’ if not that it pursues a certain good and fixed end, or deviates from that end? What is morality if it’s not absolute?

I mean these as genuine questions. Can you please explain your definition of morality, and how you would judge a person’s actions if you knew the entire context? Or more practically: how you would choose your own actions ot be as ‘right’ as possible given the context that you believe you have?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I agree that the rightness or wrongness of an action arises out of the entire context of that action. But surely rightness must still point in a certain direction, by very definition? I think that’s why you keep accusing me of assuming the conclusion I’m trying to make. I’m in fact trying to find out what the innate definition of morality is, what we mean when we say “ought” and “ought not”. ”

John, thanks. I can see where you are coming from now and I agree that these are valid questions.

But I can only return you to the notion that morality arises from the entire context of the action. I do feel that the need you have for an abstraction, some kind of rule to govern responses, which would grant some kind of consistency to the world, is understandable. But, if you don’t mind me saying so, and it isn’t a personal comment at all, to my mind this is a weakness.

And it can be caused by a desire for security, which in spiritual terms could be analysed into a lack of faith. (Please don’t misunderstand me here, I am not accusing anyone of lack of faith, it is only an analogy, shall we say a possibility, to give you an idea of the breadth of my point).

It could also be analysed as a desire for power. And I think this was the case with Plato himself - at least a dream of power for him. And also with some church leaders - they love to impose their rules, whether doctrinal or moral on their subjects but there is no need to expand on that.

But in the main, it is just because we have the habit of that (or very many of us). One of Richard Rohr’s recent comments which Andrew referred us to was that the emerging church was largely pacifist (I am not sure whether Jesus really did teach that that but let it stand for now). In the same context, the stress on not judging is very telling. Wanting principles to make this kind of decision is much to my mind like judging: we seem to be telling the universe what it should really be telling us. There is a kind of passivity here, a kind of acceptance of the world rather than domination of it. We have been taught in the fabric of our human (western) cultures to dominate our environment rather than to receive it.

I don’t come from Don Cupitt’s anti-realistic perspective at all, and I wouldn’t classify myself as liberal either though I agree with Jacob’s original proposition that morality arises from context. My perspective is totally and avowedly realistic and I believe that God is real, which Cupitt doesn’t. But I do feel that the New Tesatament is much more monist/pantheist/Stoic than it is Platonic/dualist/theist and if we don’t allow this into our spirituality, we won’t understand what true judgement is and we won’t perceive true morality for what it is when it arises.

Can you please explain your definition of morality, and how you would judge a person’s actions if you knew the entire context? Or more practically: how you would choose your own actions ot be as ‘right’ as possible given the context that you believe you have?”

As I said above, there won’t be an absolute right answer in a given context in the same way as there isn’t an absolute right answer to what that red thing is sticking up out of the ground in April. Lots of people will make different responses and they will all be right and some people will make responses which by common consent will be wrong. Although each statement will reflect the viewpoint of the proposer, the context determines that they are correct or false as the case may be. The exact same principles apply to actions. I guess that one the things about being a Christian is that you know God is always there and he has a viewpoint too. If you were to cite me specific circumstances I can tell you what I might do, from toothpaste to war and clearly the teachings of Jesus have nothing to say about a whole range of possibilities so perhaps there is less point in my spelling this out. I do find in everyday social interactions, that the issue of judging (the exhortation not to) does play a central role in my own decisions. Also, I try to steer a dynamic feedback system of thought as regards the poles of domination - acceptance. But I am starting to waffle…

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I completely agree with you about not judging: I would even go so far as to say that judging is one of the biggest problems that anybody has, and one of the greatest obstacles to finding truth. We believe we understand something when we’ve only seen it from the outside.

However, I think the solution to not judging is more complicated than that. Jesus himself says “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” in Luke 12, and in Philippians 1 Paul says “…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless…”, and if discerning is not judging, then what is it?

Moreover, we have to judge, all the time, as part of the everyday decision making process. Should I attend this church or that church? Should I choose this bank or that bank? Should I buy this house or that house? Should I spend my money on drugs or alcohol? And it is so intuitive and subconscious to start forming opinions of other people based on their actions, that it will take a very deep transformation indeed to stop us from doing that, and I myself am very far away from getting to that point.

But anyway. I want to understand how your “entire context” morality works in the practical reality of daily life. Suppose I came to you and said, “I really want to murder my wife. What do you suggest is the right thing to do?” How would you answer my question? And I shall ask ‘why’ to whatever answer you give, and ‘why’ to whatever answer you give to that, and keep on asking why until we reach something that is its own reason. Would you be willing to go through this process for me? Pick a few other questions, like:
1. My friend is pregnant and wants to have an abortion, what should she do?
2. I think judging is wrong, is this an absolute principle?
3. Which is better out of love and hate, and is this always true no matter what the context?
4. Which is better out of selfless care and selfish greed?

And add any number of ‘whys’ to the end of them.

I think the search for absolute morality is more like the search for principles of physics, like gravity or the speed of light. They drive everything that we experience, but are never visible or tangible as physical things. We have to abstract them from what we see around us to discover them. In truth there is an absolute reality about the red thing sticking up out of the ground: what is lacking is our ability to perfectly apprehend or describe it. It is there, objectively real - just we cannot label or name or understand it perfectly. No?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Although each statement will reflect the viewpoint of the proposer, the context determines that they are correct or false as the case may be.”

I would be inclined to say that the context sets certain general conditions for the emergence of this or that ethic.

People, I would say, ultimately persuade or fight for a specific ethic, which they creatively tie together from available contextual resources.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Jacob, I am inclined to agree with you. I wanted to give a simple picture. A term I use in this kind of context is constraint.

Josh, I may answer this in more than one shot as I am tired. Judging in the sense I meant is essentially adopting a position of moral superiority. That’s not the same as making practical evaluations of situations.

I would advise you to go ahead and kill your wife. It is clear that she she is secretly planning to destroy the world by developing a new rampant poison and though she is insane, most people would be unable to recognise her evil intentions therefore you are the only one who is able to do this. Even though no one believed you and you were punished by life imprisonment, you would have done the right thing. The fact that she had just been committing adultery and you had recently taken out life insurance on her, was really unfortunate from your point of view but you must act for the benefit of all, though it means sacrificing yourself.

Desert from the Daily Agony

But you will be disappointed in your search for an answer that is a reason in itself because reasons don’t exist by themselves. That’s because value lies in the very world to which the value applies, not in the abstract reason.

We have to abstract them from what we see around us to discover them. In truth there is an absolute reality about the red thing sticking up out of the ground: what is lacking is our ability to perfectly apprehend or describe it. It is there, objectively real - just we cannot label or name or understand it perfectly. No?”

No. What you are doing is not abstracting but imposing meaning. You are *giving* meaning to what is there. You are organising, manipulating, handling, classifying, etc. That is your human, God ordained faculty. God said rule over and subdue and what did man do in response to that? Gave names to all the animals.

Tulip” is a word, a part of a language, which *you* speak. The tulip does not speak this language or understand it.

The universe needs language in order to become real. That red thing becomes a tulip when you say so and not before (logically - not temporally - speaking). And the reason you are correct in saying it is a red tulip is not because you grasp the nature of the thing well or better than the person who erroneously asserts that it is a blue hyacinth. It is because you grasp the language convention that other English speakers use. Clearly both people see the same thing. But there is nothing absolute or perfect about the language convention so there is no reason to suggest that you lack the ability to perfectly comprehend or describe the phenomenon. You simply impose the organisation in whatever manner you want using the language conventions.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I would advise you to go ahead and kill your wife. It is clear that she she is secretly planning to destroy the world by developing a new rampant poison…”

I missed the context for this piece of advice, but I admit I’m intrigued.

The universe needs language in order to become real. That red thing becomes a tulip when you say so and not before”

And God said “let there be light;” and there was light. Couldn’t Genesis 1 be a report of the first naming of things? Before elohim arrived on the scene all was formless and void because it hadn’t been categorized and named. Elohim embedded everything inside of language and thereby made it real. This initial naming project could easily have been accomplished within a six-day interval, as reported by the narrator of this ancient text.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

And God said “let there be light;” and there was light. Couldn’t Genesis 1 be a report of the first naming of things? Before elohim arrived on the scene all was formless and void because it hadn’t been categorized and named. Elohim embedded everything inside of language and thereby made it real.”

John, I think this is very possible. Although it is a very big statement to make about so small a text. The first few verses of Genesis speak to me not of creation ex nihilo but but of separation out of chaos. Light from dark, heavens from earth, land from sea. Creation is not an act of pure unmitigated power as the ex nihilo interpreters would have us believe. I went through a stage of intense disappointment about that a few years ago. After I studied the use of the word for myself instead of reading second-hand opinions, I concluded that the ex ninilo interpretation put on it was rank and irresponsible eisegesis. It is rather an act of thoughtful artistry, separating chaos into its various strands. It is the thoughtful distinction that gives meaning to the world. That meaning is then encapsulated in the various environments that are created by the separation:

sun and moon to inhabit the regions of light, birds to inhabit the air, man and animals to inhabit the land, fish to inhabit the sea. Thus distinction brings about purpose. That, to my mind, is an aspect of language, which I regard as a fundamental aspect of the universe. It could not work without language and I could well imagine Genesis in this way. Although, to be fair to the narrative, I also feel that there is an element of physical control also being exercised there. But the physical control is surely not at the centre of the narrative. The focal point is the thought behind the creation, not the power behind it. Likewise, we too, when we have decided on names for all the different types of flower, don’t stop there and we will cultivate them and adorn our houses with them and we will physically manipulate our world in highly advanced ways. But there is, as I say, a big difference between manipulation based on thought and manipulation based on power. One enhances, one destroys.

In this primal case of creation, though, I would suggest that physical creation (from chaos) and mental distinction creating meaning are one and the same thing. This is typically what the work of an artist is and I think that God the artist is much nearer the flavour of these early chapters than is God the unkowable omnipotent.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You said: “Tulip” is a word, a part of a language, which *you* speak. The tulip does not speak this language or understand it.”

I note that you put ** around *you.* It is a way to emphasize that the Tulip is not doing the speaking, the person is doing the speaking. The Bible does not insert meanings into our minds, *we* actively read the Bible and make sense of it, attach meaning to it, impose meaning on it, use it in our daily lives.

The ** gets at a point I’ve been trying to make on this site for sometime: there is a tendency for some believers to smuggle out the *you* and act as if there is no reader and no interpretation, only unmediated Truth relayed from God/Bible through a faithful person.

Much of the debate centers on the source of meaning. Do meanings derive from some external foundation—like God or the Bible or a Tulip? Or do meanings emerge through the active work of *you* interpreting the Bible or the Tulip?

Part of an emerging theology, it seems to me, is a matter of making sure that *you,* the reader/interpreter, are visible and not smuggled out of the picture.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Thanks Jacob, I appreciate your reply. I would suggest making a distinction between the tulip and the Bible in that the Bible already is the work of a language adept so there are more constraints in the Bible than perhaps in the tulip. I’m not entirely sure about that but your point is nevertheless well made.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Much of the debate centers on the source of meaning. Do meanings derive from some external foundation—like God or the Bible or a Tulip? Or do meanings emerge through the active work of *you* interpreting the Bible or the Tulip?

Part of an emerging theology, it seems to me, is a matter of making sure that *you,* the reader/interpreter, are visible and not smuggled out of the picture.”

I am curious, does this mean that if I interpret the resurrection story to be symbolic and you interpret it to be real, that we are both correct? Doesn’t make sense to me because either the resurrection is real or it isn’t. If I believe it to be real, and it didn’t happen then my faith is misplaced. But if I believe it to be symbolic and it did happen, then I have missed a very important part of God’s revelation of Himself to us.

Or what if I saw homeless man who looks hungry. If I interpret that to mean that he is on a self-imposed diet and you determine that he needs help, are we both correct? It seems to me that he is either on a self-imposed diet or he is hungry because he cannot help himself. Does my perception of his reality change his reality?

I am curious, does anyone believe that when Paul was writing his letter to Timothy that Paul didn’t have specific issues he wanted to address? Was Paul trying to relay something to Timothy that Paul felt strongly about such that Paul wanted Timothy to interpret the letter in a manner consistent with Paul’s intentions? Or was he really just putting words on a page (yea, I know it wasn’t a page of paper) that meant nothing to Paul with an expectation that Timothy would interpret the words however Timothy wanted to interpret the words in Timothy’s context?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You wrote:

I am curious, does this mean that if I interpret the resurrection story to be symbolic and you interpret it to be real, that we are both correct? Doesn’t make sense to me because either the resurrection is real or it isn’t. If I believe it to be real, and it didn’t happen then my faith is misplaced. But if I believe it to be symbolic and it did happen, then I have missed a very important part of God’s revelation of Himself to us.”

I would say, no. If I interpret the resurrection story to be symbolic and you interpret it to be real, neither of us must be correct. It seems to me that we just have two different interpretations. Like art and art critics, however, not all are seen as equal—some interpretations are more acceptable than others. What is most important is that you live out your faithful commitments to Christ—regardless.

You wrote:

Or what if I saw homeless man who looks hungry. If I interpret that to mean that he is on a self-imposed diet and you determine that he needs help, are we both correct? It seems to me that he is either on a self-imposed diet or he is hungry because he cannot help himself. Does my perception of his reality change his reality?”

Maybe you should just ask if he is hungry and then show him how to fish. Or you could just give him money or food. Or you could interpret his pleas for food as a result of his laziness and tell him to go get a job—a welfare queen or king, as Republicans in the USA like to say. Or you could just ignore him because you interpret him to be too insignificant to bother with—a common response I see here in Washington DC. Or…. There are many ways to interpret a homeless man who looks hungry. Some interpretations draw from the Bible and some do not. Some interpretations are more helpful (or useful) than others. You, as a committed follower of Jesus, should respond accordingly. Yes, your perception of his reality (do you see him as a welfare king? or do you see him as the least of these?) makes a concrete difference in his life.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You wrote:
“I would say, no. If I interpret the resurrection story to be symbolic and you interpret it to be real, neither of us must be correct. It seems to me that we just have two different interpretations. Like art and art critics, however, not all are seen as equal—some interpretations are more acceptable than others. What is most important is that you live out your faithful commitments to Christ—regardless.”

I believe you are missing the point. Either Christ really did rise from the dead or He did not. One of those two views must be historically correct. My point is that whether I believe that he did (or didn’t) rise from the dead doesn’t change the historical fact that he either did (or didn’t) rise from the dead.

You wrote:

You, as a committed follower of Jesus, should respond accordingly. Yes, your perception of his reality (do you see him as a welfare king? or do you see him as the least of these?) makes a concrete difference in his life.”

Well said. I agree. But I wasn’t trying to create a dialogue on how one should react to his situation or whether how one acts will make a difference in his life. I was merely trying to find another way to illustrate that my perception of reality doesn’t change another persons current reality (with the caveat per your comment that if I act on my perception that may change his future reality).

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I’m not sure who is missing the point.

Either Christ really did rise from the dead or He did not.”

A statement like this is made by a person who is a committed philosophical realist. The point that we often miss is that not everyone is a philosophical realist—and being a philosophical realist is not a prerequisite for being a follower of Jesus. So, to me, it does not matter whether he really did rise from the dead or not, because ultimately we can never replay that moment—we have to trust the evidence that our eyes and ears gather. Trust, in my view, is more significant than the evidence—it is my trust in God that enables me to see the evidence in this new light of creation.

My point is that whether I believe that he did (or didn’t) rise from the dead doesn’t change the historical fact that he either did (or didn’t) rise from the dead.”

My point is that what you believe changes your conduct regarding yourself, your neighbors and your enemies—and homeless people too.

So, in some sense, we are talking about two different things. You are talking about some pristine historical fact and how it relates to your beliefs—whether it renders them true or false. I am talking about how your beliefs concretely shape your actions now, in the present.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You wrote:

So, in some sense, we are talking about two different things. You are talking about some pristine historical fact and how it relates to your beliefs—whether it renders them true or false. I am talking about how your beliefs concretely shape your actions now, in the present.”

We are, indeed, trying to make different points. We can debate the point on whether it matters or doesn’t matter whether He really rose from the dead (in fact that is being done in a different segment on the resurrection). But outside of that debate, would you be willing to directly answer my question without addressing the ramifications of the question on philosophical or spiritual beliefs?

Is it true that in space and time we call history that Christ either actually did rise from the dead or He did not rise from the dead?

I am not asking which you believe but am rather asking whether one or the other must be historically accurate without the possibility that they can both be historically accurate.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Would you be willing to say that it doesn’t matter whether or not Christ did or did not “actually” rise from the dead “in space and time we call history”? And would you be willing to say: What’s most important is not an uninterpreted historical fact but how I conduct myself in the present. Do I live in the way of Jesus now?

How shall we determine whether “Christ either actually did rise from the dead or He did not rise from the dead?”

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You wrote:
“Would you be willing to say that it doesn’t matter whether or not Christ did or did not “actually” rise from the dead “in space and time we call history”? And would you be willing to say: What’s most important is not an uninterpreted historical fact but how I conduct myself in the present. Do I live in the way of Jesus now?

How shall we determine whether “Christ either actually did rise from the dead or He did not rise from the dead?””

My response:

I must say that I am amazed at your unwillingness to answer the easy question. Your question is much more complicated as it seeks to understand how one decides on what to believe actually happened and whether ones view actually matters. My question merely asks whether two opposite things could both be accurate without attempting to decide what is actually accurate.

Why would you be reluctant to take a position on whether it is possible that Christ could have historically risen from the dead at the same time that He historically didn’t rise from the dead? Would you be equally as reluctant to answer the question of whether it is possible that Elvis is really dead and at the same time he never died (as some believe)? Or is your reluctance driven by the “topic” (Jesus) of the question rather than the actual question?

Now….to your questions which are much more complicated to answer. I will willingly fall into your “trap” by moving from a very benign question of whether two opposite views on whether Christ rose from the dead could both be historically accurate to the question of what I believe is historically accurate and why.

On the question of how we shall determine whether He actually rose from the dead. I merely rely on the eyewitness accounts of those who were there and upon the historical evidence of how they reacted to what they saw.

I determine that He actually rose from the dead because I read a historical account of a bunch of disciples who ran and hid after Christ’s death. And then, when Christ appeared before them, somehow their entire outlook changed. They went from hiding (presumably in fear that they might be next) to boldly testifying that they had seen the risen Lord. When they went out proclaiming the gospel after seeing the risen Lord, I believe they expected they would be martyred (most of the 12 were martyred) but didn’t care. They obviously thought He was risen or they wouldn’t have changed their outlook on life/death. Since they were eyewitnesses…..I will side with them and believe that He really rose from the dead. Could they be lying? I doubt it because people don’t die for something they know to be a lie. Could they have been mistaken? Yes. But there are enough eyewitnesses that I am willing to accept that they weren’t all mistaken.

On the question of whether I think it matters whether He rose from the dead, I will simply agree with the Apostle Paul:

1 Corinthians 15:12 through 1 Corinthians 15:18 (NLT)12But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless. 15And we apostles would all be lying about God, for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, but that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. 18In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished!

On the question of whether it matters whether I believe He rose from the dead (a different question than whether He actually rose or whether it matters whether He actually rose)…I will pass on answering that question because it would take forever to document the support to my response.

On your comment that: “What’s most important is not an uninterpreted historical fact but how I conduct myself in the present. Do I live in the way of Jesus now?”

I will once again defer to Paul who does not believe that what is most important is how I live. Paul believes that what is most important is God’s grace which will move people to “live in the way of Jesus now”:

Ephesians 2:4 through Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I am reluctant to answer the question the way you’ve asked it because it starts from a premise that I fundamentally disagree with.

I can’t answer the question without making the same initial premise that you do. And I refuse to make that starting presupposition. Why?

Because I am not a philosophical realist. I do not presume that beneath all these texts and interpretations there is a foundational, uninterpreted fact of history on which my faith stands.

My faith is constituted by a daily, personal commitment to follow in the way of Jesus.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Thanks. That helps me understand. I apologize that I pursued it as I did but it never dawned on me that one who believes in Jesus could start with the idea that there may, in fact, be no historical basis for our belief in Jesus. But I guess you never said you believed in Jesus you just said that you follow the “way of Jesus”.

I must say that you have peeked my curiosity. If the “way of Jesus” has no historical basis…is it merely a philosophy of life?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Let me be clear, I am not saying that there is no historical basis for peoples’ faith in Jesus. I would say everything has a history.

Faith in Jesus has a history. But I do not think that a person’s faith is founded on an uninterpreted historical fact.

Followers of Jesus are living a story (or narrative), a story that has been told in a number of different ways, by a number of different people, in a number of different places on the earth. In some ways, I would say that faith in Jesus has multiple histories, none of which are reducible to one uninterpreted historical fact.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Thanks.

Forgive my ignorance but this idea of “uninterpreted historical fact” and “philosophical realism” are new concepts to me. So I looked them up.

The idea of “no uninterpreted historical fact” seems to be a concept that is used to mean that everyone’s view of history is dependent on how one discerns historical facts and is therefore dependent on ones pre-conceived ideas. I get that. I agree that our view of history is clouded by our pre-conceived ideas. But I don’t understand how that concept applies to whether there was, in fact, an historical event…independent of my view.

Philosophical realism, on the other hand, believes in a “reality that is completely ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.” I think this means that a philosophical realist thinks that things actually happen. For example, a philosophical realist may think that you actually posted on this web sight and someone who isn’t a philosophical realist may say that it isn’t clear that you actually posted on this web sight. A philosophical realist also thinks that 1 + 1 = 2.

I see these as being similar but different. Based on my new understanding, I should be able to both believe that the concept of “no uninterpreted historical fact” is a problem in trying to decide what really happened historically and still be a philosophical realist and believe that things really happen historically. But if I am not a philosophical realist, it seems like the concept of “no uninterpreted historical fact” is moot because there is no real historical fact to interpret. Am I missing something? (thanks for taking the time to educate me)

Moving on…you state in an earlier post:

“Because I am not a philosophical realist. I do not presume that beneath all these texts and interpretations there is a foundational, uninterpreted fact of history on which my faith stands.”

I now understand that at least one of your points is that your faith doesn’t need to understand whether certain things actually happened.

Then in a later post..you say:

I do not think that a person’s faith is founded on an uninterpreted historical fact.”

I now understand that to mean that if someone believes they are basing their faith on historical fact, they are really basing it on their interpretation of historical fact. I agree with that and I have no problem with that. But, as a newly discovered philosophical realist, I believe it is possible for ones interpretation of historical facts to be close enough to actual historical facts that one would come to the same life decisions as if one knew all the actual historical facts.

You stated

“Let me be clear, I am not saying that there is no historical basis for peoples’ faith in Jesus. I would say everything has a history.
Faith in Jesus has a history.”

I apologize but that isn’t clear. You say that there is a historical basis for faith and that faith has a history. But you didn’t actually say that there is a historical Jesus and I am assuming you tried to address that issue with the concept of “multiple histories…(not) reducible to one uninterpreted historical fact”. Am I reading too much into your actual choice of words or am I properly interpreting that as a person who is not a philosophical realist, you can’t take a position that anything specific happened in history?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You said:

The idea of “no uninterpreted historical fact” seems to be a concept that is used to mean that everyone’s view of history is dependent on how one discerns historical facts and is therefore dependent on ones pre-conceived ideas. I get that. I agree that our view of history is clouded by our pre-conceived ideas. But I don’t understand how that concept applies to whether there was, in fact, an historical event…independent of my view.”

I would say that we must be careful with our concepts here.

It is easy to leap to the conclusion that “pre-conceived ideas” sit on top of an underlying foundation—a foundation that we might be able to reach down and firmly touch if only we could get through the dingy layers of interpretation.

However, I would argue that that leap is unwarranted. We should not presume that “pre-conceived ideas” sit on top of an underlying foundation. We should affirm that all we have are “pre-conceived ideas” about the world—there is no way to get outside of our “pre-conceived ideas.” And that is not bad; ,it is good. I am committed to the “pre-conceived idea” that Jesus is the signpost to the new creation.

Here is how it applies: If you cannot get outside of your “pre-conceived ideas” about the world, then you cannot get to historical events “independent” of your view. It is illogical, it seems to me.

A philosophical realist sees 1 + 1 = 2 as a logical discovery, akin to Columbus’s discovery of America. 1 + 1 = 2 was there in the world waiting to be found and mirrored by humans in their theories. A philosophical realist looks over the bow of a ship and expects to see the lines of longitude and latitude glowing in the water below.

A non-realist sees 1 + 1 = 2 and the logic it entails as a human invention. It has a history, as all human inventions. These are Arabic numerals, not Roman—they come from a particular place and culture. The equation has a history than can be traced to some point when some person or group of persons started talking about 1 + 1 = 2 and using it in their daily lives. A non-realist looks over the bow of a ship and expects to see endless blue water that, because of this useful human invention called longitude and latitude, can be successfully navigated.

Faith has a history. The word “Christian,” as the Bible describes, was first used in Antioch after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It was a name invented then and it has been used in many different locations and spoken by many different people. That history can and has been traced by different scholars.

A distinction to keep in mind is this: empiricism as a method (skills of verification, close textual attention, proper sourcing, referencing, and so on) and empiricism as a philosophy of knowledge (the illusion of delivering uninterpreted historical fact, truth, and a knowable reality).

Close empirical method shows us that the name “Christian” has a history. I am not claiming that “Christian” refers to some uninterpreted historical fact, or knowable reality, about the empirical world.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Thanks. This has been quite educational experience and has provided me with another label as I have come to realize I am firmly in the camp of philosophical realism.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Thank you, too. It was a very fruitful discussion, I think. It helped clarify ideas and understandings for both of us.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Jacob,

I must admit that I want to merely accept that your paradigm and worldview is dramatically different than mine and move on. Frankly, both you and I have spent a lot of time on these posts and I don’t have a lot of time to spare. But for some reason, I can’t get my mind off this idea of not being a philosophical realist. I understand it in secular terms but I can’t come to grips with the concept in terms of Christianity (or Judaism for that matter).

So I have thought through the characters and writers of the Bible to try to find any that may share your paradigm. I can’t think of a single one that the Bible portrays as not being a philosophical realist. It seems to me that the entire Bible is written from the worldview that certain things are real and that certain things happened. One may argue that some things that I believe the Bible says happened others don’t believe the Bible says happened. In other words, any one of us could incorrectly interpret the Bible. And certainly there are parts of the Bible that don’t pretend to be historical accounts. But one can’t legitimately argue that the writers of the Bible don’t make emphatic statements about the reality of certain events. Whether it be the reality that Moses lived; or that Jesus lived; or that the Romans ruled Israel during the time of Jesus, or that King David lived, etc.

Jesus often refers to the writings of the Old Testament. He doesn’t do that with a mindset that the words of the OT can’t be trusted because they only reflect interpreted history. He spoke with authority believing that the words of the OT reflected reality. For example:

Matthew 12:1 through Matthew 12:5 (NKJV)
1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
3But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?

Paul was the same way. Luke, the same. Moses, the same. All of the disciples the same. One may question what worldview the writers of apocolyptic passages had, but all of the writers that wrote apocolyptic passages also wrote non-apocolyptic passages that reflected a worldview that I would classify as consistent with a philosophical realist.

I recognize that you may view those writings as including no uninterpreted history but I suspect even you would agree that the writers didn’t present their material and Jesus, Paul, and the other disciples didn’t speak and act as if they were merely interpreting history. They wrote and spoke from a perspective that they knew and understood history as being real and tangible.

How do you reconcile the difference of your philosophical outlook and worldview from those of the Biblical writers, the apostles, and of Jesus?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You said:

Jesus often refers to the writings of the Old Testament. He doesn’t do that with a mindset that the words of the OT can’t be trusted because they only reflect interpreted history. He spoke with authority believing that the words of the OT reflected reality.”

To be clear, I have never made any of these claims. These are your (poor) paraphrases of my argument.

I don’t know what Jesus’ “mindset” was and, frankly, I don’t think you do either—on what grounds do you claim to know Jesus’ “mindset”?

All that we have are Jesus’ words as they are appear to us in the Gospels. Interestingly, as far as the Bibles that I have read, Jesus never says anything about “reality” or “objectivity” or “philosophical realism.” So, I’m inclined to say that you are reading those concepts into the words of the Bible.

One of the central problems I have with philosophical realists’ readings of the Bible is that they try to smuggle out the empirical fact that they are reading and interpreting the Bible. The Bible does not impose itself on you and interpret itself for you—it does not tell you that it is fundamentally a philosophical realist. Rather, you are reading the Bible as if it were a text written from a philosophically realist perspective. So I think that it would be more honest for you to say: in my interpretation of the Bible, I don’t see how one can have a nonrealist understanding.

I am not the only person with a nonrealist faith. See also Walter Brueggeman, John D. Caputo, James K. A. Smith, Don Cupitt. Other people that adopt a realist expression of faith, but complexify it, are Andrew Perriman, Leslie Newbigin, and Marcus Borg.

To answer your question: I don’t reconcile my philosophical/theological outlook and worldview from those of the Biblical writers, the apostles, and Jesus. Rather, I read and understand the Bible and embody my faith through my nonrealist theological/philosophical perspective.

How do you think that you can read the Bible independent of your philosophical realist perspective and get at What The Bible Really Means and What Jesus Really Thinks? It seems to me that you can only read the Bible the way you read it, not The Way It Really Is.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You say:

One of the central problems I have with philosophical realists’ readings of the Bible is that they try to smuggle out the empirical fact that they are reading and interpreting the Bible. The Bible does not impose itself on you and interpret itself for you—it does not tell you that it is fundamentally a philosophical realist. Rather, you are reading the Bible as if it were a text written from a philosophically realist perspective.”

I am not trying to smuggle out the fact that I am reading and interpreting the Bible. We all interpret what we read. I am not sure why you would even suggest that anyone pretends that they are not interpreting. I have never met any Christian (never) that suggests that the Bible doesn’t need to be interpreted. We are supposed to interpret the Bible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

You and I both interpret…the question is whether on points of disagreement: one of us is right, one of us is wrong, we are both right, we are both wrong, or there is no right or wrong. But we all interpret, including you. The thing is that you think you are just as right as I think I am but the tone of your writing relays a message that it is only the realist who believe they are right.

You wrote:
“I don’t know what Jesus’ “mindset” was and, frankly, I don’t think you do either—on what grounds do you claim to know Jesus’ “mindset”?”

First of all, we both interpret scripture and make decisions about what we think it means…see above. You do it. As you said, you follow in the “way of Jesus” and you couldn’t do that without intellectually determining what that way is. And His way, includes his worldview. So why do your words attack me for doing the very thing you do?

It didn’t take you long to read what I wrote and decide that I was a realist. And you read what I wrote from a non-realists perspective. So we both read from our paradigm…that is no secret. But I acknowledge that you can read from a non-realist paradigm and pick out a realist. Why was it so easy to identify me as a realist? Because I said things that fit my paradigm and belief system. I make dogmatic statements. I assume that history is real, etc. My words jump off the page and scream “realist”.

You use totally different langauge. You don’t make dogmatic statements about whether the resurrection actually happened. You are very careful in your choice of words to make sure that you aren’t being presumptuous with history. It didn’t take me long to recognize that you thought differently than me…I just didn’t understand the way you thought or what the labels were that applied to it.

So if we can both read each others words and draw conclusions on what our philosophical perspectives are, why do you suggest that can’t be done with Bible writers and characters? I just apply the same logic to reading the Bible that you apply to reading my words. I read the words of Paul and I see a realist. I read the words the writers of the Bible attribute to Jesus and I see a realist. Are you suggesting that Jesus wasn’t a realist? Or are you suggesting that it isn’t fair to judge such a thing? You analyze my words and judge me so just apply the same analysis to Jesus words(or Pauls, or Johns, or Lukes, etc.) and make up your own mind.

One of my points is that I keep getting replies to my posts that challenge me and say (or imply) that it is inappropriate to take dogmatic positions on issues…but the writers of the Bible clearly take dogmatic positions. One may challenge whether I have rightly divided the word but I don’t see how one can challenge the fact that the writers were realists. And if the writers and Jesus were realists…it seems like being a realist isn’t so bad.

I can back up my view. I already gave you the example of Jesus. Here is Paul:
1 Corinthians 15:12 through 1 Corinthians 15:20 (NLT)
12But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless. 15And we apostles would all be lying about God, for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, but that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. 18In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished! 19And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.
20But the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.

He is not unclear about his view of history. You may say that he is wrong and that he can’t possibly be so certain becuase there is nothing real beneath the layers of interpretation but I am not trying to determine whether he is right or wrong…I am trying to show that he thinks he is right. Paul thinks he is 100% right about the hisorical event of the resurrection. He is a realist.

Please understand that I am not attacking your sincerity or your faith. I am merely pointing out that, as to this one issue, my worldview and philosophical outlook is consistent with the writers of the Bible and with Jesus. It can’t be a wrong way to look at the world in a way that is consistent with Jesus

I have shown you texts that prove my point and that I believe you will agree show a realist perspective from Christ and form Paul. If you can show me passages that indicate I am wrong and that Jesus or any of the NT writers seemed to be non-realists, I would be interested in seeing them. But please don’t take a process of intellectual discovery and trash it by attacking me instead of pursuing the topic.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Do I think that I am “right”? No, but I am committed. Believing that one is “right,” it seems to me, is a bit different than being committed to a way of life. So, for me, the question is not about determining who is right and who is wrong—that is your aim, not mine. I am committed to a way of life in Jesus, which isn’t a matter of being “right.”

I have never claimed to know Jesus’ mindset and I have never determined what his worldview was. I read the Scriptures, fellowship and converse with other people about what I’ve read, write about what I’ve read, and embody what I’ve read in my daily life. You are concerned about what Jesus’ mindset and worldview were, not me. All we have are Jesus’ words, not his mind or his intentions, and so I think that searching for them is a fruitless undertaking.

You’re right that it didn’t take me long to identify you as a realist. You asked me:

So if we can both read each others words and draw conclusions on what our philosophical perspectives are, why do you suggest that can’t be done with Bible writers and characters?”

Because philosophical realism, while having roots in various ancient Greek-pagan philosophers like Plato, didn’t become a coherent paradigm until the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. A similar story goes for non-realism as well. The problem with claiming that Jesus, Moses and St. Paul were philosophical realists is that it is anachronistic. The point is that no one would claim (and hope to be believed) that Jesus drove a Toyota. Everybody knows that Toyota’s weren’t around then. Not everyone is as up to date on the history of various philosophical debates—so it is much easier to claim that Jesus was a philosophical realist, even when that philosophy wasn’t around then. So, I am arguing that Jesus was not a realist and he wasn’t a nonrealist. It would have been historically impossible for him to be either—neither philosophy was in existence, nor was the Toyota.

For me, non-realism isn’t a matter of being consistent or inconsistent with the Bible—those are your concerns, not mine. For me, I read and understand the Bible through a non-realist lens—non-realism defines the philosophical/theological stance I take. No text is going to “prove” that.

Where you see the Bible as proving your faith as right, I see the Bible as giving me the narrative resources to embody the new creation heralded by Jesus. The Bible aims not toward fixed points in the past, but to a future kingdom here on earth.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Well said.

I must say that I am surprised at the reference to anachronism since the idea of known chronology seems to be inconsistent with your philosophical perspective. But, I am a realist and I will accept the anachronistic reference as being historically accurate. That being said, while it may be true that the term “philosophical realism” didn’t exist in Bible times, the “belief in a reality that is completely ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.” didn’t start when philosophers coined the phrase or when Wikipidia put the definition on the web.

On April 15, your wrote:

“’Either Christ really did rise from the dead or He did not.’
A statement like this is made by a person who is a committed philosophical realist.”

Interestingly enough, I had no idea what a philosophical realist was when you made that comment. I am not a philosophical realist because I am up to speed on the debate of realism/non-realism. I am a philosophical realist because my world view and philosophical outlook is consistent with what has been termed philosophical realism. The debate about philosophical realism didn’t need to have started in Biblical times for us to look back and determine whether any of the people of that time had a worldview consistent with what is now called philosophical realism or non-realism.

But, your point is well taken which is that you are not concerned with whether Jesus, or Paul, or the apostles share your philosophical perspective. I will admit that I wouldn’t have jumped to that conclusion had you not come out and said it, particularly since you are well aware of the philosophical perspectives of other believers (and whether they match your perspective) per your previous post:

“I am not the only person with a nonrealist faith. See also Walter Brueggeman, John D. Caputo, James K. A. Smith, Don Cupitt. Other people that adopt a realist expression of faith, but complexify it, are Andrew Perriman, Leslie Newbigin, and Marcus Borg.”

Finally, you are also correct that I am very concerned with whether I share the philosophical perspective of Jesus (not so much Paul or the apostles except when their perspectives match Jesus perspective which I believe to be the case on this issue). But it isn’t because I want to be “right” in the sense that I want my view to be right. It is because I want to have the “right” worldview and perspective. The bottom line is that I want to be as much like Jesus as I can which includes a desire to share his worldview and philosophical perspective.

You said:

“Where you see the Bible as proving your faith as right…”

You got that wrong. I am not looking for the Bible to prove my faith as right. The Holy Spirit reveals God through the Biblical text and I adjust my life to be consistent with God’s character and teachings. I do look to the Bible as proof of who God is so that “I know whom I am believed” as the old hymn states.

You said:

“..I see the Bible as giving me the narrative resources to embody the new creation heralded by Jesus.”

I agree with that part (at least I think I do assuming I am interpreting what you are saying correctly). My faith is in the Resurrected Creator God as revealed in the “narrative resources” of the Bible. You may think I read the Bible from my philosophical lens (which I do) but the Bible (in that the Bible reveals Christ) and the Holy Spirit shape my philosophical lens so that I can read the Bible.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Interestingly enough, I had no idea what a philosophical realist was when you made that comment. I am not a philosophical realist because I am up to speed on the debate of realism/non-realism. I am a philosophical realist because my world view and philosophical outlook is consistent with what has been termed philosophical realism. The debate about philosophical realism didn’t need to have started in Biblical times for us to look back and determine whether any of the people of that time had a worldview consistent with what is now called philosophical realism or non-realism.”

Two points:

1) Most people are not philosophical realists because they are up to date on current philosophy debates. Rather, most people are philosophical realists because they grew up in late modern America or Europe and have been taught and trained to think that the world is divided into objective and subjective realms.

2) This goes back to my point about philosophical realist smuggling out the reader. How do you get outside of your philosophical realist perspective and “look back and determine whether any of the people of that time had a worldview consistent with what is now called philosophical realism”? It seems to me that you cannot make such a determination about what the people in the Bible Really Believed. Why? Because all you can do is read the Bible from your perspective—you cannot get outside of your perspective and determine the Real Nature of the Bible. Your comments suggests to me that you are attempting to get around the fact that you are reading the Bible, and pronounce on What The Bible Really Says.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

“How do you get outside of your philosophical realist perspective and “look back and determine whether any of the people of that time had a worldview consistent with what is now called philosophical realism”?”

I have already noted that I can accept that I have a paradigm that affects my perspective. You also have a paradigm that affects your perspective. But somehow, from within your paradigm you can read what I write and make a determination as to my philosophical paradigm; you can read what Andrew writes and make a determination as to his philosophical paradigm; you can read what James K. A. Smith writes and make a determination as to his philosophical paradigm; etc. Are you suggesting that when you read John, Luke, Paul, Moses, etc. you lose your inductive reasoning ability and can’t draw any conclusions as to whether they have a view consistent with what is today called realism or non-realism?

So far, instead of looking at those writings and applying the same inductive reasoning you apply to my writings, you have side-stepped the issue by claiming that because Jesus lived before the study of realism/non-realism, He couldn’t have had a perspective consistent with a realist.

You support that by noting: “most people are philosophical realists because they grew up in late modern America or Europe and have been taught and trained to think that the world is divided into objective and subjective realms”

That may be true for people today but even if it is true, that doesn’t exclude the possibility that the Jewish people of Bible times had similar training and perspective (which is what I am suggesting is the case).

You certainly don’t owe me anything and you don’t have to study the Bible with the idea of understanding the paradigm of the writers if you don’t want to. But please don’t suggest that that study is impossible. If one can understand the paradigm of living writers based on their writings, I don’t see how it is intellectually honest to suggest that just because the writers are dead one can’t possibly understand their paradigm based on their writings.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You said:

I have already noted that I can accept that I have a paradigm that affects my perspective. You also have a paradigm that affects your perspective. But somehow, from within your paradigm you can read what I write and make a determination as to my philosophical paradigm; you can read what Andrew writes and make a determination as to his philosophical paradigm; you can read what James K. A. Smith writes and make a determination as to his philosophical paradigm; etc. Are you suggesting that when you read John, Luke, Paul, Moses, etc. you lose your inductive reasoning ability and can’t draw any conclusions as to whether they have a view consistent with what is today called realism or non-realism?”

I can make determinations about contemporary writers because I have been trained to make those determinations—I make a living as a teacher and some of the classes that I have taken and that I teach deal with the philosophy of knowledge. I know the history of the philosophy of knowledge, especially modern construels.

I am not an ancient Jew or Palestinian. I don’t read or speak Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic. I don’t know much about the culture and history of the time. Basically, I have no warrant to make any claims about the ancient people, their history or their culture or their paradigms of thinking.

I am a person in late modern America reading the Bible from late modern America. I can understand things from here, not from the ancient Middle East.

So I don’t loose my inductive ability to read the text. But induction does not give me a warrant to talk about what ancient Jewish mindsets were. Induction enables me to read the text closely from my current vantage—that’s all.

It takes years of training in ancient history, culture and languages to say anything worthwhile about what people believed then. I don’t have that training. Do you? If not, what makes you think that you can say anything worthwhile about the ancient Middle East or what people believed then? Without that training, I don’t see how it is intellectually honest for you to claim that you can pronounce anything worthwhile about the ancient writers.

Here is one way to see the difference between me and you:

I am here in late modern America reading the words of the Bible and trying to understand how to live the new creation now in late modern America.

You are here in late modern America reading the words of the Bible and trying to understand what ancient Middle Eastern people really believed.

We have two different endeavors.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I submit that we have the same endeavor but different views on how to accomplish the task. I also want to read “the words of the Bible and…understand how to live the new creation now in late modern America”. But I don’t believe it is possible to use the Bible to “understand how to live the new creation now in late modern America” without understanding what the Bible meant in the context of its original writing or without attempting to understand the worldview of the writers or of Christ.

I will admit that I am not a Bible scholar so I am certain that I lack a thorough understanding of what the Bible meant in the context of its original writing. Because I am a layman without the formal training, I rely on commentaries, seminary classes, etc. to try and understand the Bible in its original context. I will also admit that I rely on the translations of people who do understand the language and the history of the Biblical culture. I do rely on the idea that when I read Luke 24 in the NIV English translation, that it is a reasonable translation of the original text.

Given that, when I read about Jesus talking to the men on the road to Emmaus, I see Jesus talking with conviction (much like a realist would speak) about the words of Moses and all the Prophets:

Luke 24
25. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

And I see the men make a very “realist” statement:

33. They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34. and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35. Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

And I logically conclude that Luke is writing the words in agreement with the conclusion those men made. Otherwise, I would expect Luke to break into the dialogue here (or anywhere in the writing)and suggest that perhaps the men don’t know what they are talking about because they can’t possibly know whether Jesus rose from the dead. Or, I would expect Luke to leave that story out of his writings if he didn’t agree with the conclusion.

I am comfortable with my leap of faith that the English translations I use are reasonable. I suspect you might also be comfortable with that since you probably use an English translation as you are “here in late modern America reading the words of the Bible and trying to understand how to live the new creation now in late modern America.”

You say:
“I can make determinations about contemporary writers because I have been trained to make those determinations—I make a living as a teacher and some of the classes that I have taken and that I teach deal with the philosophy of knowledge. I know the history of the philosophy of knowledge, especially modern construels.”

You are definitely more learned than I am as you have clearly studied this topic for years. You note that you specifically understand the modern construels. But I suspect you must have studied Plato and other ancient writers as it relates to the study of the philosophy of knowledge. When you read a quote from Plato that has been translated to English, do you forbid yourself to draw any conclusions on his paradigm because you don’t speak his language? Or do you accept the translation and read his writings with an eye toward understanding both what he is trying to say and his paradigm from which he said it? Or do you you even care what his philosophical paradigm is? I suspect those who study the philosophy of knowledge spend endless hours trying to understand the paradigm of the philosophers they are studying and learning from. I suspect those students (such as yourself) not only want to know what the other philosophers are saying but also want to understand why they are saying it and what they are thinking when they are saying it.

I would not personally put the writings of Plato anywhere near the significance of the writings of Paul but I would suggest that if one believes it is necessary to understand Plato’s paradigm in order to understand his writings, it must also be necessary to understand Paul’s paradigm in order to understand his writings. And I believe that one actually can come to understand Plato’s paradigm through both his writings and through an understanding of his culture. The same is true with Paul, etc. I know we will never have a complete and thorough understanding of either person’s paradigm but my point is that we can seek to understand it and that it is important to seek to understand it.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

You said:

I submit that we have the same endeavor but different views on how to accomplish the task. I also want to read “the words of the Bible and…understand how to live the new creation now in late modern America”. But I don’t believe it is possible to use the Bible to “understand how to live the new creation now in late modern America” without understanding what the Bible meant in the context of its original writing or without attempting to understand the worldview of the writers or of Christ.”

I don’t think it is necessary to understand the worldview of the authors or of Jesus to embody the word of God in the present. That is not to say that studying the ancient context is worthless; I just don’t think that studying the ancient context is necessary for living in the way of Jesus today. There are plenty of people, I imagine, who are very committed to the way of Jesus and know very little about the historical context in which Jesus lived or the worldviews of those around him.

You said:

When you read a quote from Plato that has been translated to English, do you forbid yourself to draw any conclusions on his paradigm because you don’t speak his language? Or do you accept the translation and read his writings with an eye toward understanding both what he is trying to say and his paradigm from which he said it? Or do you you even care what his philosophical paradigm is?”

You are using paradigm synonymously with mindset and worldview. I’m not sure I agree.

Let me just say this: I don’t think that it is necessary to get at Jesus’ mindset or worldview. I think that it is necessary to meditate and pray over his words and actions as they are portrayed in the Gospels.

Another way to think about the difference between you and me:

Where is meaning? There are three general theories:

1) Meaning is located in the authors intentions.
2) Meaning is located in the text itself.
3) Meaning is located in the interaction between the reader (in a context) and the words of the text

In my view, you are situated somewhere around camps 1 and 2. You are trying to understand the Bible by getting at Paul’s original intentions or by getting at the meaning that is in the Bible itself.

I am clearly situated in camp 3. I think that the meaning of the Bible emerges through its daily use—one reads it, discusses it with friends, and tries to relate the text to their everyday lives.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I am in the camp that all three are necessary and meaningfuul but that 3 can’t be properly accomplished without 1 and 2. Not to confuse things but I am also in the camp that the authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit so it is not only the authors intentions but God’s intentions that I seek to understand.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Again, from my view, your stance risks logical inconsistency. That may not be an issue for you. It is for me. I prefer to take a logically consistent stance and see where it takes me.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

See one of my older posts: “What is the status of interpretation?”

In my estimate, this is your current view as I understand it.

1). Present immediacy. People operating from this hermeneutic position argue or assume that mediation can be overcome in the present. This is a very popular model. Adherents often presume that they have unmediated, or direct, access to The Way of Things. They presume that their words speak the truth—and truth is seen as referring to some external world. Global warming is happening and the scientific evidence proves it, is one such argument in this vein.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Or let me put it this way:

Christ is risen!”

That phrase can be seen as a proposition that can be tested against some historically available empirical data—either Christ did or did not rise, as you say. With enough data, we can nail down the truth or falsity of this claim, this view says.

That phrase can be seen as an evocative assertion that has concrete import in one’s daily life and relationships—it gives meaning and direction to peoples’ lives.

These are two different, as in mutually exclusive, views.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I actually disagree.

In logic, two mutually exclusive (or “mutual exclusive” according to some sources) propositions are propositions that logically cannot both be true.” (wikipidia)

In this case either can be true without them both being true but in some cases, they can both be true.

To me, they are both true. I believe that with access to enough accurate data it would be proven that Christ is risen. I also believe that because I believe Christ is Risen, my daily life is dramatically different than if I didn’t believe it.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

If I might butt in here…

Was Jesus in the tomb for day-night-day or was it day-night-day-night-day-night? Where was the tomb? Where was the place of crucifixion? There are a lot of possibilities concerning many aspects of the events in Jerusalem that year. When exactly was the year even? There happen to be four Gospels, each with a different perspective on events and there are many more perspectives from people who experienced them. Some contradictory I am sure.

Some people today attach considerable importance to the issue of how long Jesus was in the tomb, some to where the tomb was located. I guess you are not interested in these issues yourself, Bobby. Like many, I guess you have extrapolated all the myriad facets of this particular history into just the one. It is often a matter of pure convenience and I have no criticism of it in that sense. The actual history (to use your phrase) is not however limited to this one statement. I would like you at least to understand that this or any other particular statement about some past event is not the event itself. It is just that - an extrapolation. And it is your choice to make that extrapolation rather than any other extrapolation.

But the only thing that can be verified is your extrapolation. There is no actual event “Jesus rose from the dead”. (Or “John Kennedy was assassinated” - to show that this is not fundamentally a religious matter) There is only a string of bits moving in a continuous stream and your interpretation of them. I don’t mean your subjective interpretation, I mean your choice to subdivide and classify that stream into manageable, comprehensible, communicable bits. Your statement, once made, can then be tested as to whether it is true or not but you must understand that it is an extrapolation from the events themselves and the evidence available to you and not the “actual history”.

What Jacob possibly fears and I definitely do is that you have reduced the “actual history” to a dogmatic statement and we feel that the “actual history” deserves a lot more than that from us. And God also deserves a lot more from us, which is possibly why Jacob focussed on our responses rather than the mere statement. I feel that the statement “Jesus rose from the dead” lets us off the hook. How for example can we share in the sufferings of our neighbours and witness to them if they are, deep down in our sub-conscious, little more than a doctrine of suffering, an expression of Satan’s activity, perhaps a scalp to win or, less crassly but still lacking, an opportunity to show that you are a Christian? Your suffering neighbour won’t be too interested in you if you want to make a statement about her. And when you do become properly involved and experience the moment, share the suffering, it is then that you realise that you are alive and alive in God. If you later relate the incident, it is very possible to destroy the experience the moment you open your mouth: you extrapolated from it and hence killed the reality. All that is left of it is your statement. It is quite a lot like the fundamental quantum paradox.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

No problem joining if you don’t mind having a discussion with someone like me who is clearly intellectually inferior to most on these postings.

I must admit that the idea of a “string of bits moving…” seems a bit too esoteric a concept for me. I tried to put together a coherent response but I just don’t understand where you are coming from so I decided not to show my ignorance by attempting to respond to that issue.

I do, however, agree that “actual history” deserves more from us than just defining it as actual history. But that wasn’t the topic I was trying to pursue because I wasn’t sure that Jacob thought actual history existed and if it doesn’t exist…it doesn’t deserve anything from us. I was responding to a comment/question Jacob made:

“Much of the debate centers on the source of meaning. Do meanings derive from some external foundation—like God or the Bible or a Tulip? Or do meanings emerge through the active work of *you* interpreting the Bible or the Tulip?

Part of an emerging theology, it seems to me, is a matter of making sure that *you,* the reader/interpreter, are visible and not smuggled out of the picture.”

The bottom line is that I was trying to understand his paradigm because it was foreign to me. I think he has done a fine job of explaining his position and I have learned a lot.

Moving on to your comments…you say:

“I feel that the statement “Jesus rose from the dead” lets us off the hook. How for example can we share in the sufferings of our neighbours and witness to them if they are, deep down in our sub-conscious, little more than a doctrine of suffering, an expression of Satan’s activity, perhaps a scalp to win or, less crassly but still lacking, an opportunity to show that you are a Christian?”

I must admit that I, once again, don’t understand where you are coming from. If I say “Jesus rose from the dead” how does that mean that I don’t truly love my neighbor? How does that statement make anyone a “doctrine of suffering?”

The question of whether Jesus rose from the dead is important to me for the same reason it was important to Paul:

1 Corinthians 15:12 through 1 Corinthians 15:18 (NLT)12But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless. 15And we apostles would all be lying about God, for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, but that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. 18In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished!

The way I see it, I should follow Christ’s example in all matters…including loving my neighbors (truly loving them not just loving them to get something from them). But the only way I can truly follow His example is through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Apostle Paul and I both agree that that power doesn’t exist without the power of the resurrection.

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Bobby, I appreciate that you want to move on so I will try to be brief.

I guess I am somewhere in between the realist and non-realist camps. I apologise if I have confused you by appearing to side with Jacob and then perhaps appearing not to. In the context of the discussion I affirmed his views because they seemed to me to answer the particular concerns you were raising. I believe that the universe must be reflexive. It cannot be dogmatically defined, which is where I felt that you were heading to. Definitions are necessary to ensure that the universe has meaning but just so long as you don’t assume that those definitions are objective truths about the nature of the world. Let’s be clear: if you are going to objectify one thing then you must objectify everything, otherwise your world-view is inconsistent. You may *assert* that Christ rose from death is an objective truth. But that supposed objective truth has no meaning unless it is in the context of changed lives both then and now. It must give meaning to life. But inasmuch as it gives meaning to life, the meaning of the assertion itself becomes contextual. That is an example of what I mean by reflexive: the resurrection as objective truth gives meaning to life, then the objective truth achieves significance and/or more meaning by the life that is being changed by it. Once it is thus enhanced, it gives meaning in a perhaps slightly different way, a richer way hopefully and the life that is influenced by it is correspondingly the richer. But there is no beginning or end to this process: there is no objective truth to start with, it is just that the whole world is constantly in this reflective state. Truth and morality emerge from it and attempts to arrest the process by creating fixed dogmatic assertions only result in loss of meaning, not in preservation of meaning.

Best wishes.

Desert

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Thanks. If you have been following the continued dialogue I am having with Jacob, you can see that I have not moved on. Frankly, I am drawn back to the debate because I think it is a debate worthy of my time.

Would you mind commenting on my view that Jesus, the writers of the Bible, and the apostles all have a philosophical paradigm and, based on their writings and on the words attributed to them in those writings, their paradigm is consistent with a realist perspective?

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Would you mind commenting on my view that Jesus, the writers of the Bible, and the apostles all have a philosophical paradigm and, based on their writings and on the words attributed to them in those writings, their paradigm is consistent with a realist perspective?”

The first part of your question depends on what you mean by philosophical paradigm. We all have world-views and in general our world-views are self-consistent. So I don’t think it helps to affirm that the Bible writers also had such. It would probably be a sign that they were in some way defective mentally if they did *not* have a consistent world-view. And that’s a different matter from whether they have a worldview that is conscious and communicable.

The second part of your question is more interesting. In contrast with Jacob, I have studied the Bible and have a humble degree in theology. I would say that there are perhaps indications that some authors are philosophical realists but there are also indications of rather different paradigms. In the main I would still side with Jacob here in that it is quite problematical trying to discover at this stage what the world-view of all the Bible writers were with any certainty, despite having the entire Bible to look at. I think the best you can say positively is that there are multiple paradigms and that the Bible is not a unity in the sense of having a common world-view. Nonetheless, I would try to make some qualified guesses at what a specifically Israelite world-view may have been, in case there was one which could be said to predominate.

I could give examples though this would take a lot of time. Just one for now. The early chapters of Genesis (say up to ch. 15) clearly do not make sense when considered as a factual account of history. And I regard 7 day creationists as completely barmy, day-age creationists as only slightly less so and gap theory-ers as perhaps slightly more thoughtful and respectable but still missing the mark by miles.

But if we start from the assumption that down to say the tower of Babel, the text is intentionally allegorical then we can start talking about a range of very diverse interpretations of these chapters as worthwhile discussing. But whatever particular interpretation you think has the most merit, there will always be a perhaps ironic kick-back: how do you retranslate the allegorical *meaning* back into actual history? How does God’s creation of Adam relate to the lives of cave-men 150,000 years ago? How does the message of the tower of Babel relate to the development of language in the actual world?

I’m asking rhetorical questions to illustrate a point which to me seems common in the Old Testament, namely the narrative event. This is an event which exists primarily in the words of a book. I am reluctant to call it myth because it is wider ranging than just myth. But it seems to me likely that the Hebrews had a mentality whereby the logic of their society and belief was crystallised not only in actual history but also in word-events. Of course there are many places where actual history is narrated and commented on, but the frequency of these narrative events would seem to me to be a counter example of the idea that the Bible writers were all philosophical realists. It is not only a counter example from my point of view. Personally, I would argue that the ancient Israelites were generally against the notion of making objective pronouncements and rather preferred a more submissive stance towards the world. They were theologically monists, remember that! The idea of monotheism goes far deeper than belief in one God. The point about ancient near eastern polytheism was that the world was unpredictable, there were many different forces behind it, whereas monotheism asserted that not only was God one but *consequently* that the world was one too. In other words that it was consistent and reasonably predictable and fundamentally meaningful. All these features were contradictions of the prevailing polytheistic mentality.

I would say that the desire to objectify which seems a characteristic of philosophical realism, is largely inconsistent with the ancient Israelite monist world-view. And Paul in the New Testament also appears to be much influenced by a Stoic world-view (an essentially monist perspective) rather than a Platonic one. Though I don’t want to go into detail now as I would be here all night… The idea of objectifying seems to be a much more dualist perspective and of course Platonic.

Finally, don’t be manipulated into thinking that if you are not a realist then you must be a subjectivist.

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Thanks for that well thought out answer. I have received quite an education. I was taking a realist to mean a “belief in a reality that is completely ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc. Philosophers who profess realism also typically believe that truth consists in a belief’s correspondence to reality.”

But I am clearly not qualified to determine whether I am a realist by scholastic standards or whether Paul is a realist. So let me stick to layman’s terms.

I believe in the reality of the resurrection. I believe it happened in real space and time. It isn’t a figment of my imagination and it isn’t my spin on the sum of a bunch of fragments of information. Paul believes the same thing and Paul believes that without the fact of the resurrection, our faith makes no sense.

In other words, I don’t think that history is the sum of interpretation. I believe there is real history in real space and time. I concede that we often misinterpret history but there is real history nontheless. Jesus believes the same thing. He frequently referred to the OT writings as real events. He talked about the fact that He would rise from the dead. He did not speak of things as if they may have happened in his opinion but he spoke firmly about what He believed. Moses was the same way. He wrote about the Exodus and about Abraham, etc. as real people that really existed.

I noted earlier that I concede that some writings may not have ever been intended to be historical writings but still, when the writers wrote about history, they believed the history happened and did not write in such a way as to relay a belief that history was in the eye of the beholder.

Luke believes that real things happen in real space and time. John does too, as does Mark. All of the apostles believed that Jesus actually rose from the dead and they all believed He lived. Most were martyred because of that belief.

So, if those aren’t the characteristics of a realist but are the characteristics of something else, them I am something else.

I won’t even attempt to look up what a subjectivist is because that will most certainly confuse me more.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

In other words, I don’t think that history is the sum of interpretation. I believe there is real history in real space and time. I concede that we often misinterpret history but there is real history nontheless.”

So what is the “real history” then? Sure, it is true that something happened and things continue to happen. But if you don’t answer that question at all then it is entirely helpful to us. You can’t stop with “things happen”; you simply have to make statements, assertions, interpretations in order to have any history at all. In my opinion, if nobody anywhere makes any statements, then the universe would stop working. If you think that history exists objectively, without your or anybody’s viewpoint, try to think what the actual history was! It’s impossible! Thinking becomes impossible! And without any kind of thought, meaning becomes impossible and cannot arise, therefore the entire universe is nothing but pure random chaos. You are a part of the process of reality, you cannot avoid that.

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I think that’s rather backwards logic. It’s like saying that the eagle nebula didn’t exist until we first saw it through a telescope and then called it the eagle nebula. Just because the thing has to pass through your mind for you to be able to imagine it existing, doesn’t mean it can’t exist apart from your mind.

Desert Reign wrote:

If you think that history exists objectively, without your or anybody’s viewpoint, try to think what the actual history was! It’s impossible!

You’re saying, effectively, that there’s no such thing as objectivity because as soon as we try to imagine it, it becomes subjectivity. But that’s like saying that the cat didn’t exist before I saw it, and will cease to exist after I’ve stopped looking at it. Of course my viewpoint of the cat is subjective, but to say that therefore it doesn’t objectively exist without our meaning attached to it — well, I’m reminded of the man who says that the whole Universe is a dream inside his head. We can’t disprove him, but we would call him insane nonetheless!

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It’s not if it doesn’t pass through *your* mind. It’s if it doesn’t pass through *anybody’s* mind. But I would like to credit even the cat with some intelligence so you have to include the cat himself as well. I only asked “you” (i.e. Bobby at the time) to try it as an example. But I also said that this doesn’t lead to subjectivity. I’ve said it a number of times in this discussion so please consider.

If *something* exists, then it must be distinct from something else. Even the Eagle Nebula needs to be distinguished from the gas and stars around it that are not part of the Eagle Nebula. I am not saying that this is subjective! I am saying that the only way the Eagle Nebula can be seen as distinct from its surroundings is if someone distinguishes it. I doubt very much if it will distinguish itself. The cat will distinguish itself, as will possibly the tulip. The Eagle Nebula does not exist apart from us.

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Reign and Ridley:

Framing the discussion in terms of whether the world “exists” or not is misleading.

It is not that ‘the world does not exist,’ but that at the most basic logical level it is quite impossible to disentangle the world from the practical knowledge activities that we use in constituting and studying it.

If you (and everybody else) stopped looking at and calling this thing a “cat” and a “nebula,” then there is logically no way to *prove* or *substantiate* the claim that it would “cease to exist.”

One can infer that because the cat was visible at time x then it is also visible at time y. But if the cat is not visible at time y because no one is observing, then the claim cannot logically be demonstrated that the cat continues to “exist.” It is an inferential leap that isn’t necessarily warranted or as obvious as you imply.

Moreover, couching the debate in terms of objective and subjective is also misleading. It is more useful and logically more consistent to say that the “cat” and the “eagle nebula” are *social-relational creations*

What do I mean? We can’t know or study this observable thing called a “cat” and a “nebula” without naming it, classifying it, and describing it. The thing is inseparable from the name given to it—the name constitutes it, gives it meaning to our lives. It isn’t just a “cat,” but somebody’s “pet” that they “love” and “care” for. And without a human invention called a telescope, the “nebula” would have never been observed in the first place. Without words and other human inventions, none of these things would matter—they are *only* significant to us because we have made them significant by observing and naming them.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Desert Reign: ok I will take seriously that you are not being subjectivist, but it’s hard to initially grasp the difference between subjectivism and what you’re saying. I am beginning to understand your viewpoint as poststructuralist: that things don’t exist as themselves until we name them and thus distinguish them from other things. Is this fair?

Jacob: Point taken, that ontology and epistemology are different. Things may exist apart from our perception of them but that doesn’t mean we can know they exist or prove it in any way. To see the cat at x and then at y doesn’t prove it exists between those two times.

The test comes in the ability to predict what will happen and act based on that prediction. If we assume that things exist even when we’re not aware of them, then we can plan our lives much more easily. I’m not at home right now, but a lot of the decisions I make today are on the assumption that my house exists, that it will exist even when nobody’s at home. Call it faith, if you will - in a sense it really is faith. But it’s a faith that’s built on years of not being disappointed.

Moreover, surely things must be separable from the name given it, because two people could attach opposing meanings to the same object. It doesn’t matter what they think of it, or what significance they give it - the thing is still there, interfering with their lives. You could even attach the wrong meaning to things, and this does lead to disappointment and grief when the thing fails to live up to our expectations. But how could it be the wrong meaning if the only meaning the thing had was the meaning I gave it?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Yes, I agree it is faith.

You said:

Moreover, surely things must be separable from the name given it, because two people could attach opposing meanings to the same object. It doesn’t matter what they think of it, or what significance they give it - the thing is still there, interfering with their lives. You could even attach the wrong meaning to things, and this does lead to disappointment and grief when the thing fails to live up to our expectations. But how could it be the wrong meaning if the only meaning the thing had was the meaning I gave it?”

Sure, people attach different and often opposing meanings to things all the time. For instance, what does the Bible mean in your life? Some place little to no meaning on the Bible. They don’t own one, they never pick it up or look at it. For other people the Bible has lots of meaning in their lives—they read it everyday, they own multiple copies, the talk about it, they pray over it, etc… Or for instance, take the meaning of “nature.” Some people want to conserve and cultivate “nature” and other people want to develop and sell bits and pieces of “nature” to make money. Or take cars, for instance. Some people put a whole lot of meaning in what car they drive, how sporty it is, its color and stereo system. Other people could care less. They ride bikes and think owning a car is a waste of money—so they ride a bike. Or take Jesus crucified. What does that mean? For some people, it means everything. For others, it means nothing.

The point is: meaning varies.

No, I don’t think the meaning of something can be the wrong meaning. It might be a meaning that other people disagree with, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

For example, I could think that my new job means happiness and then be proved wrong. I could think that the kiss of a girl means that she loves me, and be wrong. I could think that the Ecuadorian sucre bill in my hand meant money, and be wrong. No?

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things don’t exist as themselves until we name them and thus distinguish them from other things. Is this fair? ”

Until they are named. It need not be us who do the naming. The cat will no doubt name itself and wouldn’t need us. It won’t use the same language as us but it will I am sure be able to identify itself as a being distinct from its surroundings, whereas the nebula will not be (as far as I know). God too will be able to name things.

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But the names that are significant to us are our names, the names that we use everyday.

So while the cat may be able to identify itself as being distinct from its surroundings, it does not have operate within or create culture. There are no cat scholars, theologians, journalists, artists, etc. It does so because of survival, to identify a mouse from a plant is necessary for the cat’s survival.

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But how could it be the wrong meaning if the only meaning the thing had was the meaning I gave it?”

It’s only wrong if something else is right. If you were the first person ever to have seen a red tulip and you exclaimed “Ah, a blue tulip!” Your peers who also now see it will no doubt correct you by saying that it is red, not blue. Even though they have never seen it before and are happy to call it a tulip, just as you have named it, they are not happy to describe it as blue. But that is only possible because there is an environment in which blue and red have already been defined and accepted as part of the language you speak. Red and blue are existing categories. Thus, you can only be wrong or right in the context of a shared language. If you were the first person to have ever seen anything red (or blue) and you exclaimed “Ah, a blue tulip!”, how could you be wrong?

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Surely that’s just got to do with the meanings we give the words, not the things? I agree that the words are given meaning by convention - that’s what language is. But to say the things are made what they are by convention - that doesn’t make sense. I could say that the word ‘blue’ means the color of the sky, and then say the tulip is that color. Then I would be wrong, no?

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But the point of the logical move is that once you accept that words make the world meaningful—as opposed to the world having intrinsic, or natural, meaning that imposes itself on humans—then it follows that you cannot get outside of language to check and see if the language is accurate.

All you can do is argue and debate and impose and challenge meanings.

I would say the word “blue” has multiple possible meanings—from the sky to the sea to my daughters t-shirt to…. Most people would agree, particularly once you showed them an example of what you speak—my daughter’s “blue” t-shirt.

If you could get enough people to agree that the “tulip” was “blue” or breed a strain of “tulip” that everyone generally agreed was “blue,” then I think that there is no reason to say that a blue tulip is necessarily wrong.

On the other hand, you might be laughed out of the room and a lot of people might use the commonplace metaphorical phrase, “You are wrong!”

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If you (and everybody else) stopped looking at and calling this thing a “cat” and a “nebula,” then there is logically no way to *prove* or *substantiate* the claim that it would “cease to exist.””

Perhaps my phrase “cease to exist” was mis-formed. I assert that if no one anywhere looks at the Eagle Nebula and says ‘This is the Eagle Nebula’, then the Eagle Nebula would never come into existence at all. As soon as someone does do that, then even if after that person died and no one else called it the Eagle Nebula after that or paid it any attention at all, it still was once called the Eagle Nebula and the course of the universe would have been forever changed because there was a meaning attached to that stuff up there. The meaning is going to be lost when that person dies but the universe is its history and that cannot be changed or ignored. That’s what historians, archaelogists, anthropologists, geologists, etc. are trying to do all the time, to piece back together the meanings that existed in the past because they think there is something important about that endeavour.

By the way, could I ask you to call me Desert or Desert Reign, not Reign? Reign is not a surname but part of a phrase which is intented as a pun. The whole thing is named after a poem. Thanks.

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I assert that if no one anywhere looks at the Eagle Nebula and says ‘This is the Eagle Nebula’, then the Eagle Nebula would never come into existence at all.”

What’s the use of an assertion such as this? It isn’t verifiable, manipulatable or predictable. Who cares?

You added:

As soon as someone does do that, then even if after that person died and no one else called it the Eagle Nebula after that or paid it any attention at all, it still was once called the Eagle Nebula and the course of the universe would have been forever changed because there was a meaning attached to that stuff up there. The meaning is going to be lost when that person dies but the universe is its history and that cannot be changed or ignored. That’s what historians, archaelogists, anthropologists, geologists, etc. are trying to do all the time, to piece back together the meanings that existed in the past because they think there is something important about that endeavour.”

Generally, I can agree.

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But the matter that made up what was (or wasn’t) called the Eagle Nebula would still exist, even if nobody called it that. We don’t need to define exactly which atoms make it up and which don’t, because all definitions fade into one another. The Universe in all its complexity exists objectively

The important thing isn’t the name it’s given, or our categorisations and classifications. We distinguish mammal from bird, and a category is born. But all the creatures that we’ve categorised existed before we gave them names. Or to use an example for something that isn’t self aware: we distinguish rock from soil, and give them names. But the material that made them up was there, and would have been there even if we’d never defined what they were in language.

The Universe exists whether we name it or not, and it is not all the same. Some parts are different from others. Of course where we draw the line between parts will always be debatable, because each part flows into the others. But drawing the line between parts doesn’t cause the matter of which they’re made to exist. No?

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People’s bodies are sometimes crushed by giant waves of water.

But what did it mean varies greatly depending on the context and community of people speaking.

Was it a meteorological event? Was it God’s wrath? Was it the work of a foreign enemy?

There are pressures, for sure. But what they mean and the response that follows is dependent on the names and descriptions used by people.

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The Universe exists whether we name it or not, and it is not all the same. Some parts are different from others. Of course where we draw the line between parts will always be debatable, because each part flows into the others. But drawing the line between parts doesn’t cause the matter of which they’re made to exist. No?”

The name-phrase “Eagle Nebula” was essentially a meaning given to the raw atoms by someone. Otherwise, what we now call the Eagle Nebula would have remained raw atoms, without distinction from anything else. If some parts of the universe are different from others, then that difference needs to be actualised in somebody’s mind, otherwise there is no difference. You can’t make the statement that some things are different and not say what that difference could at least potentially consist of. Suppose there were only cats and mice. My cat doesn’t distinguish between mice and rats because he is not programmed to do so, he has no ability to do so. If cats and mice (along with rats) were the only animate beings in the universe, you could not assert that there was any difference between rats and mice. In the same way, there might be many things that we view as being the same, a type of cloud for example. But an eagle might be able to distinguish that same cloud into 6 different types. Difference is about meaning and meaning is about mind.

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Moreover, couching the debate in terms of objective and subjective is also misleading. It is more useful and logically more consistent to say that the “cat” and the “eagle nebula” are *social-relational creations*”

I would agree for the Nebula but not for the cat. I think that the cat already defines itself. I also think there is a misconception that subjective means aesthetic. There is an acknowledment that we are individuals, each to be respected as such. Aesthetics stems a lot from that. The supposed subjective statement “This painting is pleasing” is the same kind of statement as the supposed objective statement “This painting is a portrait of the artist as a young man.” The only difference is that the aesthetic statement is uttered in the context of an acceptance that some statements are restricted in their scope to the individual uttering them. No one would require the statement to be rephrased to its more logically correct “This painting pleases me.” Subjective-objective is not about that. It is about perception from a vantage point.

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But the subjective/objective way of framing the debate draws from and continues to support a set of historical debates that I would rather not support.

I am interested in changing the terms of the debate—not debating with the same old terms.

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I’m sorry for returning to that issue. I was really thinking of something that John said, not you and I tend to agree with you on that.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

It is not that ‘the world does not exist,’ but that at the most basic logical level it is quite impossible to disentangle the world from the practical knowledge activities that we use in constituting and studying it.”

If I understand you aright here, Jacob, I would say that this partly reflects my own view but I feel that I have not been quite exactly understood. The universe is everything that is real. So our thoughts are also real and the meanings we attach to things are also real. They are a part of the real universe, there is no dichotomy. The cat is still able to distinguish between night and day and between mouse and grass and he might not use the same language as us but if there were only cats and no humans then the universe would exist just the same because the cat had done that act of organisation. But such an act requires a retina, a lens, tongue, teeth and a brain amongst other things, which are themselves physical things, so the language is written in the physical medium of the very things that the language is describing or organising. Look up the universe as a self-configuring, self-processing language in a search engine and I am sure you will find a better explanation than mine.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I meant unhelpful, not helpful.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Desert Reign said:
“In my opinion, if nobody anywhere makes any statements, then the universe would stop working.”

Interesting. So the world is spinning on its proverbial axis and gravity is at work and the sun and moon stay close enough to the earth to allow photosynthesis and tides, etc. but far enough away so as not to cause the earth to evaporate. And all of this only happens because people or cats or other living things “think” it happens? That would mean that none of it was happening when the prevailing scientifc thought was that the universe revolved around the flat earth.

I understand that people stretch logic to seem logical but…are you serious or are you just trying to make a philosophical point?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Let’s be clear: if you are going to objectify one thing then you must objectify everything, otherwise your world-view is inconsistent.”

I disagree. I think there are some things that are “objective truths” as you put it. I think it is an objective truth that I am alive. And there are some things that are not objective truths. It is not an objective truth that I am handsome. My wife may believe I am handsome (or at least she tells me she believes it) but that is only her opinion and one I am certain most women would not agree with.

Please explain why that makes my world-view inconsistent?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

How is “I am alive” an objective truth? What makes being “alive” objective?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Interesting question…I am not really qualified for this debate so while I will attempt to explain what I mean, I will agree that what I mean doesn’t really belong in a philosophical debate about objective reality.
I view objectivity as the opposite of subjectivity. Something is objectively true outside of my paradigm. The fact (and I don’t use that word loosely) that I am alive is a fact and is not based on my subjective views.

Based on your question, I looked up objectivity and found the following:
Wikipedia: “Objectivity is both an important and very difficult concept to pin down in philosophy. While there is no universally accepted articulation of objectivity, a proposition is generally considered to be objectively true when its truth conditions are “mind-independent”—that is, not the result of any judgments made by a conscious entity. Put another way, objective truths are those which are discovered rather than created. While such formulations capture the basic intuitive idea of objectivity, neither is without controversy.”

But Wikipidia went on to compare objectivity and subjectivity”

“In philosophy, an objective fact means a truth that remains true everywhere, independently of human thought or feelings. For instance, it is true always and everywhere that ‘in base 10, 2 plus 2 equals 4’. A subjective fact is one that is only true under certain conditions, at certain times, in certain places or for certain people. For instance, ‘That painting is beautiful’ may be true for someone who likes it, but not for everyone.”

So I retract my statement to the extent that I was saying that the fact that I am alive is an objective truth from an intellectual philosophical perspective. I will die some day and after that, it will no longer be true that I am alive. But, I am alive today. I am real, I can be touched, and everyone who knows me personally would agree that I am alive. The question of whether I am alive is not a matter of personal opinion or subjectivity.

I also still believe in the objective truth that God exists. That is true under all circumstances, at all times and in all places. I also believe that some things, such as the idea that Mickey Mantle is the greatest baseball player ever, is not an objective truth. So, once again I ask why believing that some things are objectively true (even by the strict standards of philosophical debate) is inconsistent with believing that some things aren’t objectively true?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

So, once again I ask why believing that some things are objectively true (even by the strict standards of philosophical debate) is inconsistent with believing that some things aren’t objectively true?”

It risks inconsistency because where ever you decide to draw the line between objective and subjective is arbitrary and ultimately contentious—you get to pick and choose which is which. Moreover, it begs the question: how do you know that the line you draw between objective and subjective is accurate?

Logically speaking, it is far more consistent to start from either an objectivist or a subjectivist stance and see where that logic leads you.

At the same time, there is no need to presume that objective and subjective exhaust all of the possibilities for where one may take a stand.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Jacob said: “It risks inconsistency because where ever you decide to draw the line between objective and subjective is arbitrary and ultimately contentious—you get to pick and choose which is which. Moreover, it begs the question: how do you know that the line you draw between objective and subjective is accurate?”

I disagree. The line need not be arbitrary. It may be contentious but it need not be arbitrary. It does “beg the question” as you say but why is that a problem. Maybe the question of “accuracy” needs to be answered.

I have asked for an explanation of why believing some things are objectively true and some things are subjectively true shows inconsistency in thinking

Jacob said: “Logically speaking, it is far more consistent to start from either an objectivist or a subjectivist stance and see where that logic leads you.”

Frankly, no explanation has been given that can be viewed as logically coherent. Certainly the mere statement that it is logically more consistent doesn’t make it logically more consistent. The only logically coherent answer would be that there either is nothing that exists which is objective (which means that accepting both views makes no sense but it also means that accepting only a purely objective view makes no sense) or, alternatively, that nothing exists which is subjective (which is ridiculous to even consider).

So, in my opinion, it isn’t the fact that I believe both coexist that should be the object of the debate. The object of the debate should be the fact that I believe that some things are objectively true. But a purely subjective thinker could never prove that something isn’t objectively true because that thinker would have to admit that his subjective thinking is clouded by his paradigm, etc. Logically speaking, for a subjective thinker to make the case that nothing objectively exists or occurs (and to further make the case that it makes no sense to believe that anything objectively exists or occurs), the subjective thinker would be making the case that it is objectively true that everything that exists or occurs only exists or occurs subjectively.

The point is that, by definition, if one’s view is a subjective view, it need not be an accurate view and if it need not be accurate, then why would one spend time defending the view at all?

Said another way:

I believe there is objective truth. I recognize that I subjectively believe that there is objective truth but I defend my beliefs when I believe that my subjective beliefs are accurate as to objective truth. Could I be wrong when I think I have an accurate view of objective truth…yes (I could be wrong). Do I believe I am wrong…no.

If one believes there is nothing but subjective truth then one believes one is never right. In that case, how could that person who is never “right” logically prove that I am wrong?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Bobby said:

I believe there is objective truth. I recognize that I subjectively believe that there is objective truth but I defend my beliefs when I believe that my subjective beliefs are accurate as to objective truth. Could I be wrong when I think I have an accurate view of objective truth…yes (I could be wrong). Do I believe I am wrong…no.”

And basically that was the point of my original post: people believe a lot of different things about the origins of morality, but ultimately we must “defend” our beliefs or persuade others to adopt them.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Jacob, I picked this spot in your discussion with Bobby to raise an issue and to commend Bobby for his patience, charity and resolute endurance in pressing his point.

So I am not flying under a false flag, let me say clearly that I am in Bobby’s “camp”. Or, probably more correctly, in the Apostles’ camp. If Christ did not rise from the dead, Christians are to be pitied more than anyone else. I believe what I believe (which can be essentially summed up in the Creeds) because eyewitnesses to the Lord’s crucifixion, death and resurrection say so and wrote it down and passed it around. There is nothing new about it. Emergent people just don’t seem to like it very much.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am as sceptical of the emergent movement as I am of the much criticized (by emergents and others) evangelicalism. I think the emergents rightly criticize the evangelicals for many reasons yet have nothing to replace what they tear down. Baby out with bathwater and so forth. The two seem like the first two little pigs with houses constructed respectively of straw and sticks.

You, Jacob, seem to be a man who likes to steer clear of straightforward propositional statements (as do many who seem to write and speak for the emergent movement) except where such statements suite your position and argument.

For example: “The point that we often miss is that not everyone is a philosophical realist—and being a philosophical realist is not a prerequisite for being a follower of Jesus. So, to me, it does not matter whether he really did rise from the dead or not, because ultimately we can never replay that moment—we have to trust the evidence that our eyes and ears gather. Trust, in my view, is more significant than the evidence—it is my trust in God that enables me to see the evidence in this new light of creation.”

There is a lot packed in there.

True, not everyone is a PR.

PR not a prerequisite for being a follower of Jesus. That’s a statement of propositional truth. Don’t know if being a PR is or is not a prerequisite. Maybe “real” followers of Jesus, the sheep, not the goats, are PRs. Or, maybe being a follower of Jesus under your terms is different from being a Christian and every Christian, whether they know it or not are PRs but not all PRs are Christians. Maybe trust in the literal resurrection of Jesus is a prerequisite. So, until you know for sure, maybe it should matter to you.

The literal Resurrection can’t be replayed. We can only trust the evidence our eyes and ears gather therefore (my interpretation of your comment) because we cannot witness the literal Resurrection with our very own senses when it actually happened, it shrinks to a meaningless event or non-event. In either event, irrelevant. If this is in fact your point, it too is a statement of propositional truth and a very neatly constructed one at that.

I know one thing, your eyes can read the scriptures and your ears can hear preached evidence of eyewitnesses that attest to the fact that Jesus rose literally from the dead. Seen by the women, by the disciples, by 500, by Paul. Touched. A flesh and blood real Man that they sat and cooked fish and ate with. Spoke with. All written so that we might have confidence in what and, more importantly, Whom we put our trust. Blessed are they who have not seen yet believe. It seems to me you are actively rejecting evidence of the literal resurrection in the hope of maintaining a pristine philosophy. I fear it is the only evidence God is going to give you.

I pray your quest is not spiritually fatal. It would be terrible to present yourself before the Master as a fine fellow, as a loyal follower of Jesus and as a man who eschewed with all his heart philosophical realism maintaining a purer, more honest philosophy and then hear the horrible words…

As I write these final words, I realize concerns of the judgement of God and eternal consequences for our actions may have little room in your philosophical constructs.

I fear it is so but I pray it is not. 

Lord have mercy upon us; Christ have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy upon us.

Alario

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

A lot of what you say depends on eye witness testimony.

The other day I read about eyewitnesses who saw Elvis.

Because there were eyewitnesses, should I believe what they say too?

I think there is more to faith than simply eyewitness testimony.

One has to trust the words of the eyewitness.

It isn’t simply about seeing and hearing, but about seeing and hearing in a particular way, from a particular angle. The Gospels were not neutral, objective accounts of what happened; rather, the Gospels were prejudiced from the start. They told of the Good News, which is a perspective on the world. It wasn’t just witnessing the events, but witnessing them from a particular angle, from lenses colored by trust.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Jacob,

Are you comparing one person who claims to be an eyewitness or even multiple people who claim to be eyewitnesses to seeing Elvis to the hundreds of eyewitnesses documented as having seen the risen savior?

You state:
“It isn’t simply about seeing and hearing, but about seeing and hearing in a particular way, from a particular angle. The Gospels were not neutral, objective accounts of what happened; rather, the Gospels were prejudiced from the start. They told of the Good News, which is a perspective on the world. It wasn’t just witnessing the events, but witnessing them from a particular angle, from lenses colored by trust.”

You must be reading different Gospels than me. The disciples had all huddled together in fear that they might be the next to be killed. Even though Jesus had told them that He would rise again…they really didn’t understand it and weren’t expecting it. So their lenses weren’t colored by trust when they saw the risen savior.

To be fair, their lenses were colored once the Gospels were written. But you are missing an obvious fact. They were afraid…then they saw Jesus…then they boldly went out and declared Jesus as Lord. What changed? It wasn’t that they realized they wouldn’t be next to be killed. In fact, all but one of the disciples were martyred. It was that they realized that a Christ who raises from the dead must indeed be God. They then came to the conclusion that to live is Christ and to die is gain. And that realization only came as a result of seeing Jesus alive.

The 1st century Christian movement could not have been the result of a conspiracy to lie about Jesus resurrection because people don’t die for what they know to be a lie. Granted, people die for lies all of the time (take Muslim suicide bombers for example). But they don’t think they are dying for a lie. It is clear that the disciples and many of the others who saw Jesus after his resurrection were 100% certain of what they saw.

Do you really think the person who claims to have seen Elvis is 100% certain? Would they die for their belief that Elvis is alive?

It has been said before but it is worth saying again. Faith in Christ is in fact faith (no amount of evidence can change that). But Hebrews 11 says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see. Christianity is a faith system that has always been subject to verification. Luke, for example, documented the words of the eyewitnesses, so that ‘you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught’. We, as Christians, aren’t asked to have blind faith. We are asked to look at the evidence of the world around us (which reveals that a God exists); the evidence that we are all empty and searching for something (Ecc 3:11) (which reveals a need for a relationship with God); the evidence of the Old Testament which identifies God in action amongst His people (more eyewitnesses by the way); the evidence of hundreds of prophecies fulfilled in the person of Christ (which can’t just be a coincidence); the evidence of the eyewitness accounts from people who gave their lives defending what they know they saw; etc. While all of this evidence doesn’t change the fact that we must have faith…it does provide intellectually supportable support for Christian faith.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Bobby,

You asked:

Are you comparing one person who claims to be an eyewitness or even multiple people who claim to be eyewitnesses to seeing Elvis to the hundreds of eyewitnesses documented as having seen the risen savior?”

My answer is: I’m claiming that all eyewitnesses tell stories about what they saw. You’re right, the disciples were confused. It took them sometime to figure out what they saw, to make sense of it, to put together a coherent story that they trusted with their lives.

Do you really think the person who claims to have seen Elvis is 100% certain? Would they die for their belief that Elvis is alive?”

No, I don’t think they are certain and most probably would not die in the name of what they saw. Yet, they were eyewitnesses who told a story about what they saw.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Jacob said: “Your right, the disciples were confused. It took them some time to figure out what they saw, to make sense of it, to put together a coherent story that they trusted with their lives.”

To be honest, I am not certain what you are trying to say here but I don’t believe they “took time to put together a coherent story that they trusted with their lives.” They weren’t trying to “put together” a story at all. They were seeking to understand the significance of Christ’s resurrection (which they were certain was real) in light of what they knew of (and from)Him from following Him for the previous 3 or so years. The bottom line is that His resurrection made perfect sense in light of Jesus own teachings…they just didn’t see it fully until they saw the resurrected Christ.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

If you already knew the answer, and the answer is set in stone, why ask me?

I would be more inclined to say that we have two different ways of interpreting the words we see on the biblical page.

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I don’t see how what I’m doing is giving or imposing meaning to what is there. Whatever I call the tulip, whether I understand it correctly or incorrectly, whatever meaning I give to it - none of these things change the reality of what it is. It is what it is, objectively. I see a fragment of the reality, but that doesn’t change it.

If judging is “adopting a position of moral superiority” then is judging, with this definition, something that’s absolutely wrong?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

Naming doesn’t change the nature (whatever that is) of the object being named. Naming does change the meaning of whatever it is being named.

That ice is melting in the arctic is an empirical fact that most would agree with. Whether you call that ice melt “man made global warming” or “natural” makes a great difference in how you respond to the ice melt.

The ice is still melting. What it means varies?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

but surely the cause of the ice melting really is man made global warming, or natural? And surely I want to know whether it really is man made global warming before I call it that, and then respond to it according to what it is, not according to what I have called it?

Re: On the Origins of Morality: Supernatural, Biological, ...

I don’t know what the grand cause is. All I know is that some people call it “man made” and others call it “natural” and depending on which you call it, conduct follows from that naming.

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