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Essays

Ground rules

Statements about:
nature of God
scripture
epistemology
values
morality
justice
God & morality
God & justice
rights
probability
faith
belief
afterlife
worldviews
living with a God
miscellaneous

LIST  of  STATEMENTS  AGREED  ON

6th draft of a work in progress

There is probably no statement on which all atheists and/or all monotheists agree including this one.  Nevertheless, the world could profit from a list of statements on which all sensible atheists and all sensible monotheists agree.  Unfortunately, the term "sensible" is subjective.  Therefore no such list could be claimed as authoritative.  Nevertheless again, we sensible people (everyone who either agrees with me, or can show a flaw in my thinking) still have the right to formulate such a list, and publish it.

Ground rules:

If I make a statement, and you disagree with it, then it's your job to point out a flaw in it (e.g. error, ambiguity, unacceptable vagueness, etc.).  If you don't agree with it, but you can't articulate a disagreement, then your disagreement is emotion based.  You just dislike the statement which is irrelevant.  One side or the other will dislike almost every one of these statements.

If you don't understand a statement, and I can't state it clearly enough for you to understand it, then I have to either trash the statement, or cross you off as not worth talking to about it.  Conversely, you have the right to propose statements.  If you make a statement, and I don't understand it, and you can't explain it to my satisfaction, then even if it's perfectly true, I'm not worth talking to about it.  But in this context I'm still the ref, because it's my football (webpage).  You also have the right to publish a counter-list, be your own ref, and define sensibility any way you like.  Eventually such lists could be posted in a public forum where people can vote on the statements.

Bruce Gleason is considering UNdebating this list at a BYS meeting.
UNdebate:  Opposing sides look for ways to agree.

It is proposed that all sensible atheist and all sensible monotheists agree with the following statements:

Statements about the existence and nature of that which is called God

The term "God" (even with a capital G) is ambiguous.

"God" can mean (but is not limited to) any of the following:
1.  a personal Supreme Being
2.  a personal Creator of this universe
3.  a personal Creator of mankind
4.  a personal Being to whom mankind is accountable

All 4 of the above may be one Being.  He (for lack of a better pronoun) may also be two Beings, three Beings, or four different Beings.  This is still monotheism for all practical purposes if:
they are all fully submitted to the Supreme Being,
      and/or
the God to whom mankind is accountable cannot be circumvented by mankind.

For any of the above 4 definitions of God:
A sensible atheist thinks a God is possible, but not probable.
A sensible monotheist thinks a God is probable, but not certain.
With one exception:  A sensible monotheist may think Transcendental Argument and Argument From Reason prove a personal Supreme Being.

The supreme being (uncapitalized) is that which created the first created thing.
It may or may not be a God(1).
A creator (uncapitalized) is anything which creates.
It may or may not be a Creator:  i.e. God(1, 2 or 3).
The above capitalization convention will be used thruout.

OMNIPOTENT can mean:
1.  able to do anything
2.  able to do anything within the bounds of logic
3.  able to do anything power can do
4.  having all power that exists

Only the Supreme Being can possibly be omnipotent(1, 2, 3, or 4), but He is not necessarily either.

Only the Supreme Being can possibly be omniscient, but He is not necessarily either.


Statements about scripture

SCRIPTURE is herein defined as a set of documents inspired by a Creator or Judge, and expressing his will for a particular community, or all mankind.

Believing that you are created by a Creator, and/or accountable to a Judge does not rationally imply a belief that any set of scriptures is his word, or even remotely represents him.

Apparent scriptures are likely to develop naturally in any world having literate creatures.

Even if there were no scriptures, or pretenses thereto, critical thinking alone would compel the possibility of a personal Supreme Being, a personal Creator, a Being to whom mankind is accountable, an afterlife or afterlives, and a Judgment Day or Days.

One set of scriptures will necessarily contain the least erroneous approximation of truth.
That doesn't mean anything in it is true, much less that the whole set is reliable.

A God(3 or 4) who has a purpose for sentient creatures might allow any set of scriptures to develop, whether it furthers his purpose or not.
A set of scriptures which furthers his purpose for one group of people at one time may not further his purpose for that group at a later time, or for other groups of people.



Stipulaive definitions:
ONTOLOGY:  what exists, or the study of what exists
EPISTEMOLOGY:  what is known, or the study of what is known, or how things are known

Statements about epistemology

Objective epistemology is the set of objective rules governing how things are known.
Subjective epistemology is a person's chosen rules governing what things he claims to know.

You can't know more than your epistemology enables you to know.
The most correct epistemology enables you to know all that is knowable without allowing you to think you know anything you don't know.

A logical possibility does not require evidence.  It requires lack of contrary evidence.
e.g.  existence of a flying spaghetti monster

An ontological possibility may exist without known evidence, but it cannot be shown to exist without evidence.
e.g.  Statement A is ontologically possible if and only if statement B is true.
It is not known if statement B is true.
Therefore statement A cannot be shown to be ontologically possible.

If you believe X is true, then you necessarily believe that everything logically implied by X is also true, once you recognize that logical implication or you're irrational.

The probable truth of any declarative statement is judged by its logical compatibility with premises assumed to be true.

One false premise in an epistemological foundation nullifies the reliability of all probability judgments built on it.

To a legitimate philosophical yes or no question, only 4 answers are legitimate:
Yes.   No.   I don't know.   We don't know.
Any other answer is an evasion.
e.g.  To the question, "Does A = B?" the answer "A = C" is an evasion.
The legitimacy of a philosophical question may be challenged by stating why it is illegitimate.
If you can't state why it is illegitimate, you are evading it.
Disliking a question does not make it illegitimate.

For the purpose of truth seeking:
1.  precise terminology is always preferable to metaphor.
a.  but comprehensible approximation is preferable to incomprehensible precision.
2.  less ambiguous terms are always preferable to more ambiguous terms, unless a more ambiguous term somehow makes meaning more comprehensible.

Terms may be ambiguous.  The concepts for which they stand are never ambiguous, no matter how much they may be merged by tradition and no matter how pragmatically convenient or even necessary their merger.
e.g.  God(1, 2, 3, & 4),  morality(1 & 2),  belief(1 & 2), faith(1 & 2)

CONFLATING CONCEPTS CAUSES CONFUSION.   [Capitalized because it's a biggy]


Statements about epistemology in relation to values

There is no practical distinction between a known truth and a necessary assumption.
But this does not diminish their epistemic difference.

Emotional preference for the truth or falsity of any proposition tends to hinder one's judgment of the truth or falsity of that proposition.

For some people, the option to resist the coercive force of truth is more important than accepting or even identifying truth.
Exercising this option is detrimental to one's epistemology.

You have the option to throw off the shackles of logic.
Exercising this option is detrimental to your epistemology.

The truth or falsity of any given proposition is totally independent of the purpose for which it is said.

The truth or falsity of any given proposition is unaffected by the consequences of saying it, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant those consequences may be.

The truth or falsity of any given proposition is irrelevant to people whose decisions would remain the same either way.

If the meaning of a statement is clear, but you don't understand it, then you've chosen not to understand it, in order to preserve the apparent benefits of ignorance.

When the truth or falsity of a given proposition cannot be known, and there is insufficient data to judge probabilities, and you must act as though it is true or false, then you must bet on its truth or falsity.
But but you are not forced to pretend to know either way.

Statements about values (prior to morality)

Good is that which is liked.  (a subjectively evaluated concept)

That which is liked is that which causes a greater ratio of happiness to unhappiness.

There necessarily exists an emotional factor which causes an emotional being to either like existing or dislike it.  I have called this factor happiness for lack of a better term.  Happiness and unhappiness can be graphed with a zero line between them, and degrees of each in proportion to their distance from the zero line.

Objective good (if it exists at all) is either:
1.  that which a personal Supreme Being likes,
      or
2.  that which causes a greater ratio of happiness to unhappiness in the universe.

Objective good(2) does not require a God(1, 2, 3, or 4).

Good(1) = good(2) if and only if a personal Supreme Being likes that which causes a greater ratio of happiness to unhappiness in the universe.

A personal Supreme Being is either good by definition, or totally above good and evil, in which case calling Him good means nothing but that you happen to like Him.

If God(1, 2, 3, or 4) is called good by definition, then the term "good" becomes meaningless for all esthetic purposes and nearly all moral purposes.


Statements about morality

Objective morality exists if and only if it is defined as either:
1.  behavior which a personal Supreme Being likes,
      or
2.  behavior which causes a greater ratio of happiness to unhappiness in the universe

Objective morality(2) does not require a God(1, 2, 3, or 4).

Objective morality(1 or 2) is objectively irrelevant to any creature that is not going to be rewarded and/or punished for moral/immoral behavior.
If doing good(1 or 2) does not ultimately benefit the doer of it, there is ultimately no reason to do it.

Fear of punishment can be used to teach morality(1 or 2), but it can also be used to teach any arbitrary system that is sold as morality.
True understanding of morality must evolve beyond fear of punishment.

The Golden Rule is a good general rule for most people.
It is not a good universal rule for most people, because some people can't handle what most people can handle.
And it is not a good general rule for all people, because masochists, for example, shouldn't be treating everybody like masochists want to be treated.

Morality(1 or 2) is hard to understand, not because it is intellectually difficult, but because it is frightening.
People don't want moral(1 or 2) clarity.  It denies them the ignorance excuse.

It's always morally(1 or 2) correct to have morally correct opinions.
But it's not always morally correct to express those opinions, because any moral principle can be taken to an immoral extreme.

Honest personal expression is evil(1), if a personal Supreme Being doesn't like it.
Honest personal expression is evil(2) if and only if it influences people to do more evil(2) than good(2).


Statements about justice

Justice is that which is deserved.
Yes, that's circular, because that which is deserved is defined as justice.
Nevertheless, it is intuitively understandable by any sensible person.

In a just system:
• every person gets what he deserves, and is able to act so as to deserve enough of what he wants that if he gets it, he will want to exist.
• unjust people may exist, but when they get caught, they will be appropriately punished.
• all unjust people will get caught, but some may avoid capture for a long time.
• the effort to catch and punish unjust people will cost the public no more than the majority is willing to pay for.

If you desire a better deal than you deserve, then you deserve to live in a world full of people who desire a better deal than they deserve.

A creature is able to deserve reward or punishment if, and only if, it has free will, and a sense of what actions cause happiness and unhappiness.

A creature that feels emotions deserves happiness only after it has willfully caused happiness.
It deserves unhappiness only after it has willfully caused unhappiness.

A creature deserves reward if the intent of its willful actions up to that point in time have been to cause more good(2) than evil(2).
A creature deserves punishment if the intent of its willful actions up to that point in time have been to cause more evil(2) than good(2).

Justice includes compensation to those who have received undeserved unhappiness, and punishment to those who have willfully caused undeserved unhappiness.

Any amount of deserved punishment can be neutralized by a corresponding amount of moral(1 or 2) acts.
Any amount of deserved reward can be neutralized by a corresponding amount of immoral(1 or 2) acts.

When a deserver of happiness receives happiness, that's an example of justice.
When he receives more than he deserves, that's beneficence.
Beneficence is granting undeserved happiness.
Beneficence is good(2) only when it occurs after justice has been achieved, and only if the beneficiary proves deserving.
A beneficiary proves deserving only when he pays the beneficence back, or pays it forward.

Any given law is good(2) if and only if the justice caused by it exceeds the injustice caused by it.
Any law may be good(1 or 2) for a while (year, century, millennium, etc.) and then turn bad.

Justice is consistent with grace (unmerited favor) if and only if those who ask for grace are made to live in community with others of their own kind, until they get sick of it, and ask for what they deserve, so that they might live among others who want only what they deserve.

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.  (Augustine)

In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?  (Augustine)


Statements about God and morality

A creator is moral(2) if and only if the sum of its creation experiences more happiness than unhappiness.

If God(1, 2, 3, or 4) is good(2) relative to his creation, then morality(1) = morality(2).

An evil(2) creator is one which is immoral(2).

Evil(2) creators may exist.
An evil(2) creator is one that does one or more of the following:
1.  compels a member of its creation to exist after that creature desires not to exist, and:
a.  that creature does not deserve punishment
      or
b.  that creature has already been justly punished for infractions of justice.
2.  promises reward for doing things deserving of reward, and does not pay up

It is evil(2) to create evil(2).
If a Creator creates free will beings, some of them will become evil(2).
The only way to create free will beings without becoming evil(2) is to influence them such that the good(2) they do outweighs the evil(2).
Such influence will necessarily be in the form of reward & punishment.

It is not possible to create a creature in a state of deserving punishment.
If it were possible, only an evil(2) creator would do it.

Any non-omnipotent emotional being has motivation to be evil(2), but is not compelled to be evil(2).


Statements about God and justice

No God (1, 2, 3, or 4) is necessarily just.

Only an unjust God(1, 2, 3, or 4) would allow a creature's good & evil evaluator to become corrupt and then judge it by an uncorrupted standard.
A just God would judge his creature by the creature's own standard, and change that standard if he doesn't like it.

If God(1, 2, 3, or 4) is just, he will give you what you deserve, whether you believe he exists or not.
If God is not just, he will probably cheat you, unless you happen to be a competent enough sycophant to get him to like you.

Nothing screws up a person's sense of justice more than faith in an unjust God(1, 2, 3, or 4).

The God(4) you serve is the God(4) you deserve.

A moral(2) God(1, 2, 3, or 4) is not automatically just, because some creatures may be cheated without lowering the universal happiness level to below the midpoint.

Perfect justice may be impossible to achieve, even for a moral(2) God(1, 2, 3, or 4).
But the effort to approximate justice within the confines of one's budget is perfectly realistic for any sentient being or community of sentient creatures.


Statements about rights

Definition:  license to be, do, or have something
A.  without deserving punishment for it  (moral right)
B.  without being prosecuted for it  (legal right)

If a God(1, 2, 3, or 4) exists, then some rights are God-given -  i.e.  moral(1) rights.

Moral(2) rights are entitlements which cause a greater ratio of happiness to unhappiness in the universe.

Moral(2) rights are not God-given.  They come into existence automatically upon creation of an emotion-feeling creature.

Any God(1, 2, 3, or 4) who denies his creatures moral(2) rights is an immoral(2) God.

Any creature that is going to be rewarded or punished for its behavior has a moral(1 or 2) right to have its behavior corrected if it asks God(3 or 4) for correction.

You deserve what you deserve now.
But you don't necessarily have a moral(1 or 2) right to it now.
You have a moral(2) right to it eventually.

Legal rights should conform as closely as possible to moral(2) rights.

Civil (legal) rights should be equal for atheists and monotheists.
... even in a nation where the majority are monotheists.


Statements about probability

Definition:  the chance of a given possibility within a fixed number of possibilities expressed as a statistic   e.g.  The probability of drawing the ace of spades is 1 out of 52.

Probability itself is based on mathematics, and therefore a subset of logic, and is therefore objective.
But probability judgment is an opinion.  It happens every time a mind makes a guess.
e.g.  My car will probably start.  I will probably not be in an accident.

Any time you make a probability judgment without known statistics, that judgment is totally subjective.

The more choice you allow into your probability judgment, the less accurate that judgment is likely to be.
e.g.  I can probably make that traffic light.

The more you allow observation and reason to dictate your probability judgment, the more accurate that judgment is likely to be.



Statements about faith

Among religionists, faith can mean (among other things):
1.  probability judgment
a.  probability judgment plus trust
2.  trust (a willful decision)
a.  despite perceived improbability
  e.g. an abused wife who stays in the relationship
i.  ...while pretending to think it probable
3.  knowledge

Faith(1a) is two separate concepts combined into one, because they happen simultaneously.

But probability judgment is an involuntary act.  Trust is a voluntary act.  They are clearly different concepts.
And it makes no sense to command or exhort someone to do an involuntary act.

Faith(3) is an epistemically inexcusable, and even scripturally unjustifiable, use of the term.

Faith(1 or 2) in any particular thing should be a theory to be tested, not a lifetime commitment to be clung to regardless of contrary evidence.

Faith(1) in the power of God(1, 2, 3, or 4) to do miracles does not imply faith(1) that any particular miracle attributed to that God actually happened.

The simple decision to bet on the possibility most likely to offer worthwhile life doesn't take a bit of faith(2a), and it provides a firm foundation on which to operate, without any false knowledge claims.

Faith(1 or 2) is not a spiritual ladder.
Faith is a safety net for when you fall off the ladder.
The ladder is the decision to seek truth, regardless of where it takes you, and the decision to do what you think you should do, regardless of unpleasant consequences.

Faith(1 or 2) can be useful as a safety net to keep a person out of nihilism while his worldview is either not yet formed or under reconstruction.

Epistemically, the term faith is unnecessary.  It can be replaced by several other less ambiguous words:  trust, confidence, and of course belief.

Unfortunately, belief suffers from some of the same ambiguities.


Statements about belief

Belief can mean (among other things):
1.  probability judgment  (an involuntary mental act)
2.  trust  (a willful decision)
      a.  despite perceived improbability
Here's a brief essay to flesh this out.

Since belief can mean 2 things, then a person can be a monotheist or atheist several different ways:
A monotheist(1) believes(1) that a God(1, 2, 3, or 4) probably exists, but that person may not trust that God by acting accordingly.
A monotheist(2) chooses to bet that a God(1, 2, 3, or 4) probably exists, and acts accordingly.
A monotheist(2a) makes that bet despite perceived evidence that a God probably doesn't exist.

The monotheist position is further complicated by the possibility of believing(1 or 2) in an immoral(2) and/or unjust God.

An atheist(1) believes(1) that a God(1, 2, 3, or 4) probably doesn't exist, but that person may act as morally(2) as if he were going to be judged by a moral(2) God.
An atheist(2) chooses to bet that a God(1, 2, 3, or 4) doesn't exist, and acts accordingly.
An atheist(2a) makes that bet despite perceived evidence that a God probably does exist.

A moral(1 or 2) atheist(1) has nothing to fear from a moral(2) God.

An atheist(2a) is in danger of punishment by a moral(2) God.


Statements about an afterlife

Life after death is possible, but not certain.
Probability of an afterlife cannot be determined for lack of a criterion by which to judge admissible evidence.

If there is an afterlife, it too will probably be full of people who don't know what the meaning of life is.

If there is an afterlife, then there are a potentially infinite number of afterlives.
In every one there are likely be people telling you both truth and lies about God(1, 2, 3, or 4).

If there is a just afterlife, then the way to get what you ultimately want is to do what you think you should do, even when it doesn't get you what you presently want.

A person who believes(1 or 2) in a just afterlife has more reason to behave morally(1 or 2) than he would if he didn't.

A person who believes(1 or 2) in no afterlife has less reason to behave morally(1 or 2) than he would if he believed(1 or 2) in a just afterlife.
A person who believes(1 or 2) in an unjust God(4) has less reason to behave morally(2) than he would if he didn't.

If the quality of your eternal life depends on believing(1) things that appear improbable, the creator of the system is evil(2).

If the quality of your eternal life depends on believing(2) that you will be rewarded for good(1 or 2) works even if it appears improbable, the creator of the system is good(2).

It's more honorable to go to hell with integrity than go to heaven without it.

Threat of eternal torture may be sufficient reason to worship someone, but it does not make that person worthy of worship.

We all deserve to be reborn into a world filled with others of our own kind, until we either love it, or hate it enough to change.

You can run from truth all your life if, and only if, there is no afterlife.
Otherwise truth will keep biting you in the ass until you accept it.
So you might as well turn around and confront it, and either eat it or be eaten by it or both.

Statements about worldviews

If any two parts of a theory or worldview are logically inconsistent, that theory or worldview is necessarily incorrect.

All worldviews contain blank spots caused by lack of data.
Those blank spots are rightly called "mysteries".
But if known data conflicts with your worldview, that conflict is no mystery;  it means your worldview is wrong.

Most people don't have a coherent worldview;  they have disjointed pieces of worldviews.

The fact that your worldview gives you a knowledge claiming license does not imply that you actually know what your worldview allows you to claim to know.

Thoughts once scrambled by an erroneous worldview cannot be unscrambled until that worldview is trashed, or at least updated to accommodate them.

When your worldview is rationally coherent and not improbable, you don't need faith(2) to believe(1) it.


Statements about living with a God

Minds, if designed by a Creator, are designed to learn and evolve.
That purpose can be thwarted by willfully clinging to what you've been taught.
...as is advocated by Paul:  2nd Thes 2:15,  2nd Tim 1:13,  Col 2:7,  Tit 1:9.

Either you can willfully choose to think other than what your creator designed you to think, or all your thoughts are what your creator wants them to be.

Your Creator would not design you to think one thing, and then order you to think something else contrary to it.
If you have to pretend to think what you don't think in order to please what appears to be God, that God is not your Creator.

If your Creator wanted you to believe stupid stuff, He would have made you stupid.


Miscellaneous

If you'd rather be safe than right, you're neither.

Even if all Christians committed heinous crimes, those crimes would still be in violation of their claimed philosophical position.
Even if no atheist ever committed such a crime, there would be nothing in their claimed philosophical position to forbid it unless they are also humanists.

The law of entropy can be interpreted such that life is, or is not, a violation of it.
The latter interpretation requires some convoluted reasoning.

When observed phenomena have an unknown cause, and a hypothesis is proposed which explains them, that hypothesis is epistemologically probable to any mind that can't think of a more probable hypothesis.
Offensiveness does not make a hypothesis less probable.

One thing theists and atheists agree on is that future scientific discoveries will prove them right.


End of Statements.

I had more of these, but they got censored by my imaginary friend, who may or may not be identical to God(1, 2, 3, or 4), but who in any case had an active roll in creating this list.