Mike the Martian and the Attack of the Argumentroid

One of the argumentroids of Robert Heinlein has annoyed me for years.

I was irked not the least because this particular argumentroid suckered me in my innocent youth, back when I was so proud of being a nonconformist, as were we all in my generation, and so proud of believing exactly what all the other nonconformists believed.

But let me first explain what my silly made-up word is supposed to mean.

I have always held that Science Fiction was never actually fiction stories about science. Instead, it is stories about fictional science.

Writers routinely commended for the “hardness” of their hard SF, that is to say, commended for their realism, such as Larry Niven or Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke, will introduce teleportation or psycho-history or faster than light drives or telepathy, none of which has any more scientific realism than flying carpets that run on happy thoughts and fairy dust.

And Robert Heinlein, the Dean of Science Fiction, was like them a past master of the art of making their unscientific baloney seem scientific.

The writer’s chore is to lull the dragons of skepticism which guard the castle of the mind so that the waking dream of the tale can slip into the gates. The reader places himself into a half-hypnotic half-awake state known as “suspension of disbelief” where, for the sake of the story, the reader is willing to swallow the baloney if only his imagination is given enough excuse. In other words, it is not scientific accuracy that science fiction seeks or delivers, but scientific verisimilitude.

It is not supposed to be scientific, but scientifroid, if I may coin an awkward term for some hulking shape that looks vaguely like science in a dim light, but is not.

This is done in science fiction by mimicking some of the tropes of science. For example, Larry Niven posits in his ‘Known Space’ yarns that the law of conservation of momentum applies to teleportation booths, so that it is more expensive to teleport from the North Pole to the Equator than to the South Pole, because of the difference in angular momentum between a body at rest at either Pole versus a body being carried along at the speed of the rotation of the Earth. Teleportation is still hooey, but it seems more scientific if it suffers a reasonable scientific (or, rather scientifroid) limitation.

Now, it has been known since the ancient Greeks erected their first shrine to the Muses that poets and playwrights and novelists who have the craft of working this half-hypnotic trick of making the unlikely seem likely have a dangerous or divine power.

The novelist has the most powerful rhetorical tool of all at his command. He has an audience that willingly is attempting to suspend their disbelief for the sake of the story. This means, unfortunately, that a certain amount of mental litter, opinions, editorializing, propaganda and “spin” also can make it past the dragons of skepticism while they slumber.

And therein lies a certain danger, because the editorializing is not written like an editorial, where the readers knows the editor is opining an opinion; it is written like a tale. We judge editorials on their rhetorical skill and soundness of argument, their power to appeal to the passions and the reason. We judge tales on their entertainment value, their power to amuse and divert.

And, of course, the amusement value of any editorial hidden in a tale has nothing to do with the soundness of the argument given. If the reader already has a definite opinion opposing the writer’s, or if the reader has hair-triggered skepticism in general, will he be likely even to notice he is being played for a sap.

Because an editorial put across in a story will not actually put forth an argument, except on very rare occasions indeed. It put forth an argumentoid, a hulking shape that looks like an argument in a dim light.

Here is the particular argumentroid of Heinlein’s that exasperated me. It is from STRANGER IN A STRANGE BED, or a book whose title is similar to this.

But a word about the background of the scene, for those of you lucky enough never to have read this work. The first expedition to Mars ends in disaster, and only one baby boy named Mike the Martian survives, who is found and raised to adulthood by the Martians, creatures of ent-like patience utterly lacking in sex drive. Because they are an older race, the Martians of course have Way Cool Psionic powers.

The list seemed to change from chapter to chapter, but I am pretty sure it included the basics: Id Insinuation, Intellect Fortress, Mental Barrier, Mind Thrust, Psychic Crush, Thought Shield, Tower of Iron Will. The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak and the Shield of the Seraphim were not included in the basic Martian package, but Astral Projection was.

Just to make sure the story is utterly and entirely realistic, Mike the Martian is a handsome supergenius with boyish innocence, suffering no physical or mental defects by being raised by nonhumans, and as rich as Croesus, and the sole sovereign owner (by human law) of the entire planet Mars. And, because he has a high midichlorian count, the Force is strong with him.

Mike the Martian is brought back to Earth as an adult, but his sexy nurse begins to suspect the Evil World Government has designs on him, and there is some cops-and-robbers rigmarole where she kidnaps Mike, and then Mike kills some policemen who come to investigate the crime. She takes him to the house of a crusty old curmudgeon Renaissance Man, and when the police arrive there, Mike kills more cops. No scene from the point of view of the dead police officer’s widows or orphans is onstage. But we all know from sad experience that nonconformists love copkillers, and that cops are pigs.

That plotline dies of inattention when the Evil Government is bribed, and nothing from that plotline ever comes up again. I guess Evil Governments just stay bribed in this universe, and no one cares what happens to pigs, so there are no ramifications or blowblack from the zany Martian murder spree.

Next, an Evil Church of Tastelessness tries to get its hands on Mike the Martian’s money by converting him to their sect. This sect is an offshoot of Christianity, but one that has snake dancing and slot machines and a wet bar, so people go drunk to services, and the Church is a casino.

Mike murders the high priest of the Casino Church, probably due to a misunderstanding (Martian ghosts do not go to heaven at death, but form the ruling body of the Martian race), and there are no long term effects from this, either.

At this point the sexy nurse and the curmudgeon Renaissance Man have a conversation about religion. But before repeating the conversation, on which I intend to pour more attention than it deserves, let me reveal the balance of the plot.

Mike the Martian travels up and down the world, to and fro, tries various odd jobs, and tries to discover the nature of mankind, which is suddenly revealed to him when he sees a big monkey bullying a smaller monkey in the monkey house at a zoo. In a moment of insight, all the secrets of human nature are revealed to him: men are chumps, hoi polloi, the lead-souled sinks, except for that special elite, hoi aristoi, the gold-souled swells, who, by dint of their special willingness to ignore convention, that is to say, to break the rules, are the natural rulers of the whole lot. (As one can tell from the ancient Greek terminology here, this is the oldest idea in history.)

Mike, being raised by Martians and therefore having no idea what sex is about, or for, or what the difference between men and women might be, or what money is, or is for, or what productive labor might be, and being ignorant as well of the fundamentals of the human condition, such as the inevitability of death, starts a religion which answers all the deep questions about the human condition.

I suspect the irony of having an utterly yet blithely naive ignoramus — and I mean Mike the Martian, not Robert Heinlein — who knows nothing of human life suggest the overthrow of the way humans have done business since the dawn of time was lost on the author.

This religion is absolutely brand-new latest thing anyone ever thought of, and is a credit to Mr Heinlein’s wondrous powers of innovation and invention—oh, wait, sorry, my sarcastrometer was turned up too high—this religion is the same dippy horsecrap we heard about from Simon the Magician in the First Century AD, namely, Gnosticism, the idea that you are God but do not realize it, and so you answer to no one. Knock yourself out.

As the new messiah, Mike the Martian heals no sick, raises no dead, cleanses no lepers, and preaches no hope to the poor. He does preach that the nonconformist self-anointed elite should be allowed to have sex with anything that moves, and money will somehow fall out of the sky along with well-baked apple pies. These two ideas are popular with lazy and horny teenage boys with no social skills nor foresight which I assume form the target audience of the book.

A group of evil and bigoted southern Christians stone Mike the Martian to death, and, in a moment so Christlike that one is apt to develop a hernia laughing, Mike uses none of his way cool mind powers to save himself, nor is his death an atonement for anything, nor serve any purpose. Like Obi Wan Kenobi, Mike the Martian appears as a ghost to tell his lawyer friend not to commit suicide, or turn off his targeting computer, or something. Then Mike dons wings and a halo and goes to a curiously anarchic heaven to get to work doing whatever it is angels do in this screwy antichristian background.

(I would like some psychiatrist to do a study of petriphobia, this irrational fear that nonconformists all uniformly seem to have that Christians will suddenly up and stone them for some violation of the Jewish dietary laws. No one seems to be afraid of being stoned by Muslims, who still perform this grisly method of execution to this day, and no one seems to be afraid of being stoned by Jews, who did use this method a millennium or two ago. Strange.)

So back to the conversation, which, in light of events coming after, are crucial for the theme and point of the book.

In the conversation are two characters, whom for the sake of argument (or, rather, for the sake of argumentroid) I will call Sockpuppet Son of Sockpuppet, and the Amazing Strawman Girl.

Strawman Girl is a assigned a role by the author of having a typical Midwestern Christian upbringing, Methodist or something, for the span of this scene, a personality characteristic which is not on display before or after, and has no effect on her personality otherwise. She is merely the ignorant bigot in this scene.

As I said, she criticizes the Casino Church of Wet Bar “Get It On” Dancing for having slot machines. That she would dare criticize a Church causes Sockpuppet Son of Sockpuppet to go into full pompous explanation mode with a side order of avuncular umbrage.

He first asks if she is familiar with Hindu or Muslim beliefs, not because any honest conversation about comparative religion is forthcoming, but merely so that Sockpuppet can be established in the reader’s mind as an Authority: He who Knows Stuff about Stuff. This is similar to Larry Niven, when making teleportation seem scientific-y, says it is limited by Conservation of Momentum. In order to sound like a Wise Man, the reader’s imagination is given an excuse to allow it to suspend disbelief into accepting that the designated Wise Man has studied the matter beyond the intellectual level of a midnight bull session among College sophomores who have downed a sixpack.

Let us enter the conversation at this point, and overanalyze it line by line, or until I run out of patience.  Sockpuppet, the comedy relief curmudgeon, is speaking.

“… You know about Sodom and Gomorra? How Lot was saved from these wicked cities when Yahweh smote ‘em?”

“Oh, of course. His wife was turned into a pillar of salt.”

“Always seemed to me a stiff punishment. But we were speaking of Lot. Peter describes him as a just, Godly, and righteous man, vexed by the filthy conversation of the wicked. Saint Peter must be an authority on virtue, since to him were given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. But it is hard to see what made Lot such a paragon. He divided a cattle range at his brother’s suggestion. He got captured in battle. He lammed out of town to save his skin. He fed and sheltered two strangers but his conduct shows that he knew them to be V.I.P.s — and by the Koran and by my own lights, his hospitality would count more if he had thought they were mere beggars. Aside from these items and Saint Peter’s character reference there is only one thing in the Bible on which we can judge Lot’s virtue — virtue so great that Heavenly intercession saved his life. See Genesis nineteen, verse eight.”

“What does it say?”

“Look it up. I don’t expect you to believe me.”

“Sockpuppet! You’re the most infuriating man I’ve ever met.”

“And you’re a very pretty girl, Strawman Girl, so I don’t mind your ignorance. All right — but look it up later. Lot’s neighbors beat on his door and wanted to meet these blokes from out of town. Lot didn’t argue; he offered a deal. He had two daughters, virgins, so he said — he told this mob that he would give them these girls and they could use them any way they liked — a gang shagging. He pleaded with them to do any damn thing they pleased … only quit beating on his door.”

” Sockpuppet … does it really say that?”

“I’ve modernized the language but the meaning is as unmistakable as a whore’s wink. Lot offered to let a gang of men — “young and old”, the Bible says — abuse two young virgins if only they wouldn’t break down his door. Say!” Sockpuppet beamed. “I should have tried that when the S.S. was breaking down my door! Maybe it would have got me into heaven.” He frowned. “No, the recipe calls for “virginis intactae” — and I wouldn’t have known which of you gals to offer.”

Hmmph! You won’t find out from me.”

“Well, even Lot might have been mistaken. But that’s what he promised — his virgin daughters, young and tender and scared — urged this gang to rape them … if only they would leave him in peace!” Sockpuppet snorted. “The Bible cites this scum as a “righteous” man.”

Strawman Girl said slowly, “I don’t think that’s the way we were taught it in Sunday School.”

“Damn it, look it up! That’s not the only shock in store for anybody who reads the Bible. Consider Elisha. Elisha was so all-fired holy that touching his bones restored a dead man to life. He was a bald-headed old coot, like myself. One day children made fun of his baldness, just as you girls do. So God sent bears to tear forty-two children into bloody bits. That’s what it says — second chapter of Second Kings.”

“Boss, I never make fun of your bald head.”

“Who sent my name to those hair-restorer quacks? Whoever it was, God knows — and she had better keep a sharp eye for bears. The Bible is loaded with such stuff. Crimes that turn your stomach are asserted to be divinely ordered or divinely condoned … along with, I must add, hard common sense and workable rules for social behavior. I am not running down the Bible. It isn’t a patch on the pornographic trash that passes as sacred writings among Hindus. Or a dozen other religions. But I’m not condemning them, either; it is conceivable that one of these mythologies is the word of God … that God is in truth the sort of paranoid Who rends to bits forty-two children for sassing His priest. “

What I would like you to notice, dear reader, is the artistry, the craft, with which the scene is handled. Just as adding the Conservation of Momentum making Larry Niven’s teleportation booths seem more realistic, crafting the conversation in this way makes it seem as if it is conversation two living people might have when investigating some of the deepest mysteries of human existence, or, if not that, then at least shedding light on a hidden and unseemly nook of Biblical Lore which you can bring up to surprise and discombobulate the next door-to-door preacher you want to annoy.

The first note of the symphony is established right away: turning a man’s wife into a pillar of salt seems too harsh a punishment. This implies, without saying, that the punishment is harsh and tyrannical, but what the punishment was for is not mentioned.

Second, it is asserted that Saint Peter says Lot is a just and righteous and Godly man.

At the risk of drenching you, dear reader, with the difficult yet august language of the Bible, this is the passage from 2 Peter to which this refers, where Saint Peter calls Lot a just man:

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah and seven others, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

I hope someone aside from me notices the irony of having Sockpuppet taking his reference from a passage specifically condemning what it is he doing with the reference: walking after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and unafraid to slander higher powers.

In any case, the assertion is not false, but it not the whole truth. Lot is mentioned in the same breath as Noah, as being someone who was spared divine retribution that fell upon the ungodly around him. The epithet “just Lot” or “righteous Lot” that is to say, a single adjective, is what the whole of this second point turns on.

The strawman here is what constitutes a “righteous” that is to say, law-abiding man. As  matter of fact Noah is not depicted as following in the violence which Genesis condemns in the antediluvian world, and Lot does not follow the practice of Sodom in betraying, raping and murdering guests. Neither, by the way, did King David, whose also has a rap sheet of crimes and sins to answer for, ever cease to worship and follow God; nor did Saint Dismas (the thief crucified next to Christ, the one who did not mock but believed) achieve his sainthood due to his history. He was still a felon.

Third, a particularly nasty bit of slight-of-hand is played when Sockpuppet sneers that his own lights, as well as the Koran of Mohammed, would give more credit to a man who honored a beggar as a guest rather than an elevated dignitary. The nastiness here is because this sneer against Lot is unfair to the point of being illogical, and as a matter of fact is a piece of playacting or hypocrisy on Sockpuppet’s part.

The unfairness is that at no point does it say how many widows and orphans and beggars Lot entertained and aided. It might have been none, one, few or many. He might have been as generous as Job. Lot is being criticized by Sockpuppet for failing to do something he was not asked nor required to do. “Well, he defied a mob to keep his guests safe, did he, despite that the mob was provoked to do worse to him, did he? Is that all? Is that all? and by the Koran and by my own lights, his hospitality would count more if he had been protecting a dozen men rather than two, and donated his liver for a liver transplant to one of them, and used magic kung-fu to blind the mob rather than forcing the angels to do it, and emancipated all the slaves in Sodom, and rescued Lois Lane.”

Not to place too much weight on the point, but I do not interpret the passage to mean that Lot knew, when first he greeted them, the status of his visitors. The prostrate bow and pressing them to take refuge for the night in his house could have been something he would have done to any traveler of any rank or degree, in order to preserve them from the violent men of Sodom. The passage at least implies this. And it was something he did at a certain risk to himself. The extravagant courtesy implies courtesy: Old (and New) Testament figures are always referring to themselves as “your servant” or “your handmaiden” — that is, calling oneself the other’s slave — as a matter of exaggerated oriental politeness. The implication that Lot would have snubbed beggars is sneer that comes out of nowhere and has nothing to back it up.

It is also hypocrisy, since there is a no scene where Sockpuppet offers his hospitality to any beggars. In the book, he offers his hospitality to the superhuman and super-rich Man from Mars, and a few playboy bunnies. Sockpuppet withdraws his hospitality, and very abruptly, from one of his hired hands, the poorest character in the story, when that man says he does not want to eat at the same table with a man-eating cannibal. So while Sockpuppet boasts himself more righteous than Lot, in fact he is not.

There is then some back and forth between Sockpuppet and Strawman Girl to make it seem as if Sockpuppet wants Strawman Girl to look up the passage herself and not to trust his interpretation. He then gives an interpretation which no one in his right mind could ever believe springs from the passage in question. In other words, that by-play of reverse psychiatry was once again a bit of craftsmanship, the kind of thing a skeptical and independent thinker would say, here soldered onto a idea which only a gullible parrot would swallow.

The point of this by-play is to aid the reader’s suspension of disbelief, so that he will think he checked the sources to confirm the story, when, in fact, such a check is fatal to the argument, because it is at this point that the only out-and-out lie is told. The lie is hidden amid so many half-truths and innuendos it is likely to pass unnoticed.

And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night. And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door. But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.

The passage is quite clear what happens. Lot invites the two strangers to be his guests, which, in the ancient Middle East established a sacrosanct relationship. The host held his honor on the line that his guests would not be harmed or molested.

When the mob of Sodomites surrounds the house, it is not to have a polite conversation with the two strangers, but to sodomize (hence the name) them and rob and murder them. They are not just making noises.

It is a measure of the desperation of the scene that Lot makes the offer his does. We might not think much of a man who throws his daughter off a lifeboat when the lifeboat is sinking, but we would certainly think less of a man who threw his guests off the lifeboat. If the alternative is to defy the mob and be torn to bits, while that might seem more manly to someone safely typing a science fiction make-believe story in a comfortable and civilized country, and might appeal to the Cowboy instinct, keep in mind Lot is not being recommended by Peter for being a martyr or an action hero, but for being just.

When Sockpuppet in a very similar situation is trying to keep Mike the Martian away from the cops, Sockpuppet goes out in a storm of wrath to berate the policemen for not producing a warrant. These are the men he refers to — rather self-flatteringly — as S.S. I call it self-flattery because defying the Schutzstaffel is an act of heroism, because it could get you killed, whereas yelling at a public servant is an act of spleen. Had Lot acted in this Cowboy Action Hero Way, it would have been gratifying for his courage, but it would not have been keeping with the prudence that has kept the Jewish race alive since the dawn of time while other more warlike and cowboylike races, the Egyptians, the Ammonites, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Medes, the Seleucids, the Romans, have either been reduce to a memory of their former glory, or reduce to not even a memory.

Again, your average agnostic or atheistic reader will have no particular sympathy for the idea that divine things are holy and should not be desecrated, and this includes angels being ass-raped and murdered. A man of Sockpuppet’s temperament (by which I mean driven insane by overweening pride until, like Caligula, he thinks he is a god) also would reject a notion very clear to the men of the ancient East or West, that divine things are higher in dignity than human things. To such men, between seeing an angel under your protection killed, and a human being, even one of your own, an unsentimental moral code would demand the human take second priority, and for much the same reason that given a choice between rescuing a human baby and a puppy, only an insensate moral monster would seriously contemplate recurring the puppy, even if it were his very own.

So, no, Lot does not offer his virgin daughters to the mob in order that they “stop beating on his door.” That is a unmitigated lie. Lot makes the desperate offer to preserve the holy and supernatural beings under his roof from being anus-raped and murdered by a mob, which is a different thing than Lot selfishly wishing for Lot and Lot alone to be left in peace.

There also may be an arch commentary hidden in the words of Moses on the depravity of the mob that the girls of the female persuasion had no particular appeal to them. The think to notice here is that the Sodomites utter the sentiment which is the point of Sockpuppet’s whole argument, if only he knew it: “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them” Or, translated out of the Shakespearean idiom, Lot is hated by the mob for being judgmental. He does not believe in situational ethics or multiculturalism.

Well, by Jove, that by itself is enough for Lot to be called “righteous” in my book.

As part of the shrubbery surrounding this central lie and obscuring it, we have several comments meant, once again, to lull the reader’s disbelief into hypnogogic suspension.

Strawman Girl says this is not the way it was taught in Sunday School, which is, of course, a true statement, since the version we just heard leaves aside any mention that the men of Sodom are bad guys bent on an unnatural crime. This is mean to imply that Sunday School teachers are liars, and only Sockpuppet is bold enough to defy convention tell the real truth.

Now, again, the comment is about Sunday School, that is, it is only about the parts of the Bible told and taught to children. Even Sockpuppet is not insane enough to aver that grown ups who read and study the Bible are unaware of passages men of ordinary reserve might be reluctant to describe in lurid detail to their toddlers.

The comment about the “Whore’s wink” is merely like pepper in the soup, to add a greasy flavor to the process of discussing sacred scripture, by accusing it, without actually voicing the accusation, that the Holy Book is disgusting or unclean, too mean and nasty for high-minded nonconformists like Sockpuppet and the readership.

Likewise, the comment about actually reading the Bible is an aid to the suspension of disbelief, where the reader is supposed to be left with the impression that a real conversation about something really in the Bible just took place, and that Christians do not read the Bible. This allows the reader to give himself a pat on the back for knowing more about the Bible than Bible-thumpers do. And, yet, again, this is implied, not said. It is part of the craft of making it seem as if an argument took place, or an idea was explored.

And again, the by-play about exposing any of the sex bunny characters to the police and inquiring if Strawman Girl is a virgin is meant merely to lower the level of the conversation.

Elevated language, respectful language, forms of courtesy, and everything else the nonconformists despise are meant for one reason only: to recognize Man as above the animals. This story about Man being monkeys, not above the animals. The idea of defining Man as God instead of elevating man, desecrates God.

Crude and uncouth language or crude topics discussed in jocular language has a definite purpose in the craft of weaving a suspension of disbelief. Once you believe Man is Higher than Beast, you must of necessity acknowledge the concept of Higher, that is, in other words, More Holy. But the idea of Holiness is kryptonite to such a pretend conversation as this: so some crude joke or desecration is needed.

The character of Strawman Girl does not have any reluctance to discuss sexual matters to the point of boredom and beyond in any other scene than this: this character trait is present merely so that this jest can be made, which is, again, merely to lower the tone of the conversation.

Next we get to Elijah. I will not dwell on this point, because frankly I am not qualified. I can read the New Testament in Greek but not the Old in Aramaic. All I can say is that a quick check of a round dozen translations use the word “youth” or “unimportant youths” rather than “boys” or “little boys.” So we may or may not be talking about a street gang of punks who outnumber the Jets and Sharks together attacking a little old man. If “youths” is the correct translation, then he was not being “sassed” — or not just being sassed — but was being driven out of town by the youth mob, and act of considerable more brutality.

The point of this passage is to introduce a few more jokes at the expense of our loveable curmudgeon Sockpuppet, to get the reader to like him. This is because it is easier to agree with someone you like than with someone you dislike.

And the point is to call God “paranoid” — a word that seems to have no reference to anything that has gone before. I do not see why a divine being insisting on being treated as holy is paranoid as opposed to completely rational. I have never, for example, heard anyone make a coherent argument that keeping the Sabbath holy was an act of paranoia. Last I heard, that word meant having a persecution complex, being fearful, being a megalomaniac. I agree that a man who thinks he is God (such a Sockpuppet later in the story) is a megalomaniac by definition. But a God who thinks He is God, is thinking what is only common sense.

The passage ends with the usual throat-clearing one always hears from nonconformists. Sockpuppet says he is not singling out Christianity for his ire, when in fact he is. No mockery is made of Mohammedanism, and indeed, one of the main characters, portrayed as utterly sympathetic, is a Mohammedan. The shortcomings of that particular heresy is never discussed, but instead always treated with dignity and respect. This book was written in 1961, just shy of a decade before he Moonshot, and Muslims were not in the news then: but any foe of the Christian was a friend of the nonconformist, even back then.

Sockpuppet then says that the Bible contains some “common sense and workable rules of social behavior” — all the rules Sockpuppet despises, in other words — which is a compliment about as backhanded as saying that the US Constitution contains some memorable turns of phrase, despite being worthless as a legal document.

The point of the throat-clearing is to brush away the obvious: that the passage is just a slander against the Christians, and only against them, and is motivated by the same malice that motivates a graffiti artist. Claiming that all religions are equally false allows Sockpuppet to the pretense of being objective, and claiming that there is something useful in the Bible allows Sockpuppet the pretense of being open-minded. Both pretenses are necessary for the suspension of disbelief. If Sockpuppet has snarled at the end of the paragraph about how the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals were clinging bitterly to the guns and Bibles, the spell of suspension of disbelief would break.

Strawman Girl represents the strawman argument first put forward, to my knowledge, by Thomas Paine in AGE OF REASON that the Bible should contain no passages which will shock the conscience of a child.

Mr Paine, of course, was a Deist, who argued in favor of monotheism and against the divinity of Christ and against the inspired status of the Bible. No Biblical scholar, and I wager no Sunday School teacher either, ever claimed there was not shocking material in the Bible.

Indeed, most every teacher I have ever heard seem to indicate that the Bible carries the message that some unthinkable primordial catastrophe, the Fall of Man, marred all human existence and perhaps the natural world as well, and that men are wicked, craven, fallen, and totally depraved. Because of the utter desperation of Man’s wretched plight, Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of the Divine Being, was forced to suffer an unimaginable loss of dignity by becoming mortal, and forced to suffer a very painful and grimly imaginable passion and torment and death.

The honest atheist can dismiss this whole story as a fairy tale if he wishes, but no honest atheist can possibly make the claim that it is a Bowdlerized and saccharine fairy tale, taking place in Oz where no one dies and nothing really very bad every happens.

Of course, another point never mentioned is that Moses and Peter use the words “righteous” and “just” to mean “law-abiding” – someone who obeys rather than defies divine will. King David, for example, is held in considerable honor by Biblical writers, as is the patriarch Moses, despite the fact that both men are murderers. King David’s son Amnon conspires to outrage his half-sister Tamar, which is certainly reported, but, again, there is no hint that it is commended.

And, anyway, was not Lot the ancestor, not of the Jews but of their arch-enemies the Moabites? One would think that if Moses was slanting the story for propaganda purposes, he would make out Lot to be as wretched as possible. The fact that the tale shows Lot lives amid the treason and violence of Sodom without cooperating with it shows remarkable broadmindedness on the part of the writer, whoever he was. (I myself assume that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, but I realize that many people think Bacon wrote them.)

Like Homer, who shows his heroes with their warts and all, and his villains with their good sides, and unlike the simple cardboard cutout characters of Sockpuppet, Son of Sockpuppet, and Strawman Girl, the various Biblical authors tend to portray events with astonishing, even remorseless, objectivity. Compare Pravda airbrushing Trotsky out of pictures with Stalin to the almost comical cowardice and dunderheadedness of Saint Peter before his transfiguration at Pentecost.

Hence this the main point implied but never said is also false, and is grossly false. The idea there is that any event the Bible reports as coming from a man is one of which God approves, and which can be used as a model or behavior.

And anyone familiar with the Bible, from the murder of Abel by Cain all the way to the death of Saint Stephen at Saint Pauls’ behest is more likely to condemn the Bible for portraying too dark and grim a picture of the human condition, a long list of crimes and folly and wickedness than to condemn the Bible being saccharine.

Ah, but wait! Surely this was not what the argument actually said, is it? Well, reader, let me pull the same trick on you as the passage quoted plays, and urge you to read it, or even to get the book and read the surrounding material. What is the argument given, if it were given in a straightforward fashion?

1. Strawman Girl objects that the Casino Church is undignified.

2. Sockpuppet counters by saying all religions are undignified, specifically, that they contain absurdities and enormities, such as, for example, (a) a man Saint Peter upholds as “righteous” is instead vile cad who threw his daughters to a mob merely to enjoy some peace and quiet (b) a paranoid God has she-bears maul forty-two wee children guilty of nothing but sassing a vain bald man. Or, in other words, the Bible is loaded with “crimes that turn your stomach” that are asserted to be divinely ordered or divinely condoned.

3. Therefore — what? At this point all Sockpuppet says is that he is not condemning the Church, which is most certainly and most obviously is. The unstated conclusion is that the Christian religion is false, and that there is no God.

What makes this an argumentroid and not an argument is that this conclusion does not follow from the assumptions. If there is a being that stands to us in the same relation as a man stands to a dog, that is, a higher being, while we would be able to grasp some of the higher beings thoughts and actions (even as a dog can tell when his master is happy or fretful) some things are beyond our ken. Try has he might, the man cannot explain to the dog that he is fretting over the Theory of Bimetallism, or happy about the outcome of the Caledonian War. See THE BOOK OF JOB for details.

There is also the question that the minor premise, namely, that the Bible is full of sickening crimes said to be divinely ordained or condoned, is false, or, at least, is unsupported by the two examples given.

Logically, however, if there is no God, then the fact that a crime turns your stomach does not mean that this crime offends any cosmic law, or, indeed, any law aside from what you and your fellow human beings have deduced or intuited or perhaps invented.

Now, if you then say that you and your fellow human beings have deduced and intuited all or part of a real and objective moral order to the universe, you have to explain why the one thing all moral codes in all ages save the present have in common, namely, a belief in the supernatural sanction behind the code, is the one thing in the objective moral code every generation before yours got wrong.

On the other hand if you say that you and your fellow human beings invented, rather than deduced, the moral code in question, it is no longer a moral code properly so called, merely a matter of custom or fashion of a large and long-standing group, in which case there is no moral imperative to treat that custom as authoritative, only the practical consideration of not offending your unenlightened neighbors—which is, in fact, a theme mentioned in another place by Sockpuppet, Son of Sockpuppet, and seems to be the point of the book. Do As Thou Wilt is the Whole of the Law.

In the same way that the suspension of disbelief is necessary when reading stories about telepaths saving galactic empires to treat the make-belief as if it is science, in a case like this, the suspension of disbelief fails if the young and naive nonconformist (such as I was when first I read this argumentroid dismantled above) gets any hint about how old, stale, shopworn, and tired these ideas are.

Gnosticism and elitism and hedonism are all ideas that have been around long enough that they have Greek rather than Latin names, so most of them are old enough, two millennia or more, that the first people to invent them, Simon the Magician and his crew, might have indeed been rightly afraid of being stoned to death by antenicene Christians. Or thrown into a well by a Spartan ephor.

But to admit that these are the oldest and in many ways the most trite ideas in the world would spoil the suspension of disbelief for a science fiction story. They need to seem like Tomorrow’s News, not Yesterday’s rewarmed Leftovers.

154 Comments

  1. Comment by R_Flaum:

    “On the other hand if you say that you and your fellow human beings invented, rather than deduced, the moral code in question, it is no longer a moral code properly so called”

    See, I think this is exactly backwards. Morality is only important if it was invented by humans. If it’s a pre-existing fact about the universe, then it’s just… a thing, like a rock or a river. On the other hand, if it’s something human — if it grew out of our desires and was shaped by our thoughts — then that gives it significance that a rock or a river does not have.

    ETA: that said, I do think it’s impossible for one person, in a vacuum, to create a new moral system. It requires a whole society.

    • Comment by robertjwizard:

      It gains a significance to you. But that is just a reflection of your feelings. Morality has nothing to do with feelings or desires.

      Let’s say there is a competing morality, or, as you put it, desire. You have a desire to live, your neighbor has a desire to kill you and sodomize your corpse. Under your scheme his desire to kill you is just as valid as your desire to live.

      If not, why not? What argument do you have to counter his sanctioned desire to kill you? Negative popular opinion? If I transported you back as a Jew in 1940 Germany, you have no argument at all. Human dignity? A human construct, a desire, a quibbling of the pleasure centers of the brain so the poor thing doesn’t piss himself and fall to the floor in a pile of tears.

      You realize that in many fundamental ways, you depend on that rock, and that river – in your similarities to them. Man himself is a pre-existing thing in the universe – man and his nature precede any individual man into existence. Or you better hope your morality comes from God. You had better hope it has a source outside yourself. If not, anything goes.

      It does not acquire significance by coming from our desires but loses all significance thereby. Morality then becomes conjecture, all questions reduce to an argument involving nothing more pressing than mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip (btw, it’s Miracle Whip and I’ll kill anyone who says otherwise!).

      This is exactly how morality ended it up the way it is now. Non-existent except for the left-over emissions of yesterdays.

      • Comment by paul.griffin:

        I think the real trap here is that we always imagine ourselves the beneficiary, rather than the victim, of the moral vacuum. I tend to think of this as the “zombie apocalypse fallacy”. When imagining a so-called zombie apocalypse, we always imagine ourselves one of the survivors, when statistically speaking, should such a thing happen, the odds are immensely in favor of our being one of the millions or billions of zombies or their victims.

        We imagine God being dead and the will to power rushing to fill the void, and we imagine ourselves one of the powerful, free to do as he will, when in reality, you are rarely even the most powerful person in whatever room you happen to be occupying at the moment.

        Even if by some statistically miraculous chance you happened to be the most powerful man in the world, you could only be so for a relatively short time, until age slowed your reflexes, wasted your frame, clouded your wits, and left you ripe for the picking by some younger, faster, smarter opponent.

        When imagining the freedom and joy of the will to power or moral relativism, one should always imagine a boot on one’s neck, otherwise you are preoccupied with a wishful child-fantasy.

        • Comment by R_Flaum:

          You misunderstand. Of course I don’t want a moral vacuum — however, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that moral relativism leads to one.

          • Comment by Tom Simon:

            Moral relativism is a moral vacuum. What you want, as nearly as I can determine, is a society in which you are free to do to others whatever you think is good according to your moral code, and others are free to do to you whatever you think is good according to your moral code. I wonder whether you can spot a certain asymmetry in this position.

            • Comment by R_Flaum:

              And this differs from your position how? Your own moral code is based on your purely subjective decision that we have a duty to obey God. If I disagree with that — if I think that God should be counted as just one more person, with the same rights and status as everybody else — then you’re saying that I can’t live by that decision, but that you can live by yours. And that’s fine! That’s a perfectly reasonably position to take. But it is, fundamentally, one that possesses the same asymmetry.

              • Comment by The OFloinn:

                purely subjective decision that we have a duty to obey God.

                This is an easy error to make, inasmuch as it is sufficient for those who lack the skill, time, or inclination to probe more deeply. Even the most devoted parent will at one time or another sigh and say “because I said so.” After all, pace Goedel, not every truth can be proven.
                However, if God is the essential ground of all being, and not simply a god or “supreme being,” matters are different. It is not a “subjective decision to obey” but rather an epistemological ability to recognize truth. More in another comment.

                if I think that God should be counted as just one more person

                Or three more….

                But this is the error of considering God as some sort of “supreme being,” rather than as the ground of all being. It falls into Russell’s Paradox. After all, “dog” is not just one more animal included in the set {X|X is a dog}.

                • Comment by R_Flaum:

                  I don’t see that that follows at all. Even if God is “the essential ground of all being”, so what? How does that have any bearing on morality?

                  • Comment by The OFloinn:

                    Perhaps you don’t understand “ground of all being.” This means that everything that exists (“has being”) receives that being from Existence Itself, that is, from a being whose essence just is to exist. Such a being, we have customarily called God (as opposed to “gods”, etc.) Hence, morality receives its existence from God. This is made known in large measure through right reason: hence, “natural law.” Like the natural law of physics, it is not always easy to discern, but reason rightly applied may do so. Of course, ever since the triumph of the will, we tend to confuse what we know with what we want, and what we want with the satisfaction of the sensory appetites.

                    • Comment by R_Flaum:

                      Yes, it’s obviously true that if God created us, then He also created our sense of morality. However, if our sense of morality has developed away from what He wanted it to be, then I see no reason to think that the original form should necessarily be preferred to the later form.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      What if, in this hypothetical, the Creator also just so happens to be the metaphysical and moral foundation and basis of reality and ethics, so that while He can exist without Man, Man cannot exist without Him? In that case, is there still no necessary reason to prefer the original code of unfallen man to the later development of various human ideologies?

                      What if furthermore, this Creator just happens to be not merely more benevolent than any man or moral code invented by man, but infinitely loving, indeed the definition and living source of love, so that His motive both in the creation and redemption of Man cannot be doubted?

                      What if likewise, He is not just wiser than any man but is omniscient, foreseeing all ends, and possessing a judgment that cannot err? What if He likewise is not merely more honest than any man, but is the incarnate Truth itself? What if He likewise is also not just more capable than any man, but is omnipotent, so that as a practical matter ignoring Him is in the long run impossible, and defying Him is done in His permission and with His derision? What if He is also Father, and so has natural and unquestioned authority in this matter? What if he is also Monarch, so that he has legal authority in this matter? What if, in order to save Man from the disastrous consequences of this so called “development” of morality known as the Fall of Man, brought on by Man’s own foolish pride that considered God optional, God earned the lordship over man by making an act of astonishing self-sacrifice, even unto death, so that we are all in the moral posture of slaves who have been bought and ransomed at a price — in that case, would not natural gratitude, simple justice, common sense and a rudimentary sense of self-interest be a powerful argument in favor of adopting the Savior’s idea of salvation?

                      Come, now: if you were a madman, is there no reason to prefer the ideas of your psychiatrist over your own? Because yours are mad.

                      Or if you were a defective robot, and you knew the defect influenced your ability to think, is there no reason to prefer an owner’s manual you made up yourself to the manual written by the engineers who made you, and who know how the secret parts of you of which you are unaware actually work and are supposed to work?

                      Indeed, far from their being no reason to prefer the moral code of Eden over the moral code of Hell, I am utterly unable even to imagine even a single reason not to, moral, legal, logical, metaphysical, practical or otherwise.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      What you have suggested is impossible under the hypothesis. We are not discussing “our sense” of what is moral. That may simply be our appetite wanting to be slaked. It is an act of the intellect which recognizes the good and orders the will toward it. Still less is it merely an act of the senses, as in “our sense” of morality, as if it were no more than sniffing and tasting.

              • Comment by Tom Simon:

                And this differs from your position how? Your own moral code is based on your purely subjective decision that we have a duty to obey God.

                No indeed. My moral code is based on a thoroughly objective observation that actions have consequences, that certain consequences are unequivocally beneficial to us and certain others are unequivocally harmful, in such a way that either the lack of the beneficial consequences, or the presence of the harmful ones, is sufficient in itself to destroy us entirely — in which case it is meaningless to talk of further choices or values.

                If I disagree with that — if I think that God should be counted as just one more person, with the same rights and status as everybody else —

                A person with the same status as everybody else is by definition not God. Therefore, you are not even admitting the term ‘God’ into your moral calculus. If you did, you would quickly see that many of the properties which can be predicated of individual human beings cannot be univocally predicated of God, and any argument based upon the application of those predicates to God is fundamentally invalid.

                then you’re saying that I can’t live by that decision, but that you can live by yours. And that’s fine! That’s a perfectly reasonably position to take. But it is, fundamentally, one that possesses the same asymmetry.

                No indeed, because I am not making any arbitrary or self-interested declarations in the matter. I know that I do not have the authority or the capacity to invent a moral code for myself, and moreover, that a system of ethical precepts invented by and for just one person is not a moral code at all in the proper sense of the term. It is you who are making the arrantly egotistical claim that you yourself are the measure of all things. I claim only to be bound by an objective moral code that I discovered (with the enormous help of experts). I did not and could not create it.

                • Comment by R_Flaum:

                  No indeed. My moral code is based on a thoroughly objective observation that actions have consequences, that certain consequences are unequivocally beneficial to us and certain others are unequivocally harmful, in such a way that either the lack of the beneficial consequences, or the presence of the harmful ones, is sufficient in itself to destroy us entirely — in which case it is meaningless to talk of further choices or values.

                  Okay, two things: first of all, “beneficial” and “harmful” are themselves matters of opinion. Even if a consequence does “destroy” us, you’re still depending on your purely subjective desire not to be destroyed. Someone who wants to be destroyed would not consider this harmful. But second of all, and more importantly, what you’re describing isn’t a moral code. If you’re only following it out of the desire to avoid negative consequences for yourself, then it’s just purely selfish.

                  A person with the same status as everybody else is by definition not God.

                  Yeah, that’s fair. It’s true that I don’t consider the being described by Christianity to be “God” in the sense that we have an obligation to worship Him. However, that again is a purely subjective judgment — even if we agreed one hundred percent as to what the Creator is, I still would not feel any obligation to worship Him and you would. That, again, is entirely a matter of opinion.

                  No indeed, because I am not making any arbitrary or self-interested declarations in the matter. I know that I do not have the authority or the capacity to invent a moral code for myself, and moreover, that a system of ethical precepts invented by and for just one person is not a moral code at all in the proper sense of the term.

                  I agree! My own code does in many cases contradict purely self-interested desires on my part. I would probably be better off (physically, at least) if I didn’t follow it (and, of course, there are times when I do fail to live up to my own code). But that has nothing to do with whether it’s objective or not.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                It differs in that you have contradicted yourself and he has not. Your argument — if I understand it and perhaps I do not — boils down to a hypothetical of three statements: “(1) Suppose it were an objective fact that there were a divine being, a God, who had authority over men, both based on His fatherhood of them and His greater wisdom and virtue. (2) This objective fact is a subjective opinion (3) therefore the divine being is not divine, has no authority, nor fatherhood, and His greater wisdom and virtue count for nothing. If God disagrees with me, then so much the worse for Him. Show me the way to the whorehouse!”

                The problem with this argument is that the minor premise is a manifest self contradiction in terms. If there is a God, then He is God, and is not merely a person of no greater dignity nor authority than yourself, whose opinion is of no consequences to you. If there is a God, you are in the palm of His hand, and He is your father and the author of your being. The father-son relationship is not the relationship of two independent strangers with no obligations to each other.

                You did not actually say “show me the way to the whorehouse!” but you and I know what is actually behind all this blinding snowstorm of words you are putting out, and what the central reality is you are trying to hide from yourself.

                Excuse me for making a rather personal criticism, but I must speak:

                From your words, it is clear that you want the license to indulge your vices without your conscience raising an objection, so you must come up with a likely-sounding verbal voodoo to deprive your conscience of its divine authority over you. So you are stumbling around, trying to act as if you know how to conduct a philosophical conversation with a real philosopher, when you don’t and can’t. This implies that you grant honesty in reasoning, the virtue of philosophy, authority to overrule the conscience.

                But if the conscience has no authority, honesty in reasoning is merely a personal preference or matter of taste, the philosophy is impossible. All entities trapped in a world without honesty in reasoning or divine authority for the conscience can do is exchange reports of their personal and arbitrary preferences. In your universe, saying “I prefer the Nazis not to kill the Jews” is a subjective report not one iota any more meaningful than saying “I prefer pie to cake.”

                You are relying on a pose of intellectual integrity when the virtue of intellectual integrity is not logically possible within your subjectivist system — so the pose is nothing but posturing.

                You are play-acting at having a conversation, you are not really exposing your philosophy to examination and correction. In a subjectivist philosophy there is no mechanism for examination and correction of a philosophy, nor any imperative to seek integrity of one’s ideas, nor to have those ideas reflect reality. It is all ad-copy. You are writing emotional appeals, not addressing the reason.

                Ironically, you are doing the exact same thing Heinlein did in the passage dissected above, making no arguments, but uttering argumentroids.

                • Comment by R_Flaum:

                  Okay, it’s getting too late for a full rebuttal, but your first of the three statements is not an accurate representation of my view. Let me list a few of what I consider to be “objective” statements (which may or may not be true, but either way are objective claims), and then a few of what I consider to be “subjective” statements:

                  Objective:
                  God exists.
                  God is omnipotent.
                  God is omniscient.
                  God created the universe.
                  God created humanity.
                  God has given many things to us.

                  Subjective:
                  A creator has inherent authority over the created.
                  We should feel gratitude to God (This one I would agree with, I’m just saying it’s subjective)
                  The gratitude we should feel is sufficient to compel worship.

                  One quick note before I sign off: wisdom is about means, not ends. It can tell you the best way to get somewhere, but it can’t tell you where you should be going.

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    Your definitions of objective and subjective make no sense, and are not the way those words are used in English.

                    Objective, when used as an adjective, means 1. being the object or goal of one’s efforts or actions. 2. not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion. 3. intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings, as a person or a book. 4. being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject ( opposed to subjective ).
                    5. of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or a part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality.

                    Subjective means: 1. existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought ( opposed to objective ).
                    2. pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation. 3. placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric. 4. Philosophy . relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind as distinct from a thing in itself.
                    5. relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.

                    Your examples do not line up with these definitions of objective and subjective. If, for example, it is an objective moral law that I ought not to feel covetousness toward another man’s property, or I ought not feel hate to a man of another skin-color, this law is the law whether or not my personal viewpoint and experience and prejudices agree or disagree.

                    It is not a law that goes away merely because of my mood or my self-interest or my convenience.

                    Merely because the subject matter concerns a subjective experience (covetousness or race-hatred) does not mean that the law (one ought not covet what is another’s, nor hate the innocent) does not mean the law itself is subjective. So, likewise here. If there is a God, and he stands to us in the same relation as Father to Son or Author to Creature, it is incorrect to call logical deductions from this relationship, such as the proper roles and duties between them, subjective.

                    Your mind has been poisoned. You need to study philosophy, and badly.

                    • Comment by R_Flaum:

                      Er, yes, actually, that’s exactly how I’m using the terms. The claim “God created us” is an objective, factual claim. The claim “Creation confers authority” is a subjective claim — a matter of opinion.

                      If there is a God, and he stands to us in the same relation as Father to Son or Author to Creature, it is incorrect to call logical deductions from this relationship, such as the proper roles and duties between them, subjective.

                      But the deductions don’t depend solely on this fact. You first have to smuggle in your purely subjective beliefs as to what the proper roles and duties between Author and Creature are.

                      This whole argument, incidentally, comes almost directly from Socrates — go back and reread Euthyphro.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I’ve read Euthyphro in Greek, youth, while you were still in short pants.

                      And here again, you are merely using the word “subjective” incorrectly. If one man is a captain in the army and beneath him is a private in his squad, it is incorrect to call logical deductions from this relationship, such as the proper roles and duties between them, subjective.

                      What you should have said is that there can be no logical deductions about the nature of duties based on the nature of relations. Or if you had been a true man and not a loudmouthed boy floundering the deep end of the philosophical pool beyond your depth, you might have even phrased it as a question, perhaps even about how one can or cannot deduce an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ and avoids the naturalistic fallacy.

                      That at least would have been an interesting starting point for a debate. Instead you called me a smuggler, which is more to make you feel smug than it is to answer my point.

                      If you are making the general claim that all acts or violations of duty rest on the freedom of the will, in this limited respect any act or violation of duty has a subjective component, why then well yes, we agree on a true but trivial point.

                      If you are making the extraordinary claim that no duty has authority over you except upon the condition of a subjective decision of some sort on your part, that is rank nonsense, and your own conduct in this argument — where you constantly rely upon and make appeals to an objective set of standards of conduct you seem to expect all parties to obey — makes that a nonsense statement. A duty that is subjective is not a duty but a matter of taste or a judgment of expediency.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                “And this differs from your position how?”

                Let us compare and contrast the two codes:

                Code one says: “Let no man commit murder, for it is an objective fact that man is man in the in the image and likeness of God, therefore human life is sacred.”

                Code two says: “Let me do whatever I like, and let me do what I like to any other man, and let other men do what I like, for my whims and wishes are sacred.”

                Independent of the merit or lack thereof of the two codes, one is a code that applies equally to all, and the other reserves a special position to you personally and to you alone, and treats other men as nothing more than puppets, creatures of no position.

                Logically, two men can both live by Code One, or any code that is symmetrical and objective, and logically, no two men can both live by Code Two, since two totalitarians cannot both have total power over the other.

                The question is useless even as a rhetorical device.

      • Comment by R_Flaum:

        “Let’s say there is a competing morality, or, as you put it, desire. You have a desire to live, your neighbor has a desire to kill you and sodomize your corpse. Under your scheme his desire to kill you is just as valid as your desire to live.”
        Uh? That doesn’t follow at all. That’s like saying we have no basis for deciding that William Blake’s poems are better than William McGonagall’s, because our principles of poetic aesthetics are the creations of humanity.

        “If I transported you back as a Jew in 1940 Germany, you have no argument at all.”
        Certainly, but neither do you. Even if God is the source of morality, you still have to start from the entirely subjective premise, “one ought to obey God”. Now personally, if it were somehow proven to me that God exists and that He disapproves of my moral code, I would not take that as a reason to think less of my moral code; I would take it as a reason to think less of God. (Whether I’d have the strength of character to actually live up to my moral code in the face of such opposition is a separate question entirely)

        “It does not acquire significance by coming from our desires but loses all significance thereby. Morality then becomes conjecture, all questions reduce to an argument involving nothing more pressing than mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip.”
        Again, this seems backwards. Imagine two men on a sightseeing tour of the mountains. One of them says “I think that mountain’s a bit taller than that other one.” The other says “No, I think the other one’s taller.” I can’t imagine them getting into a big fight over this. On the other hand, I can imagine them getting into a fight over “I think that mountain’s prettier than that other one.”

        “This is exactly how morality ended it up the way it is now. Non-existent except for the left-over emissions of yesterdays.”
        Now, this is just bizarre. The world today is more moral than it’s ever been. It is true that, due to more advanced technology, immoral acts can have much worse consequences than they did in the past — you mentioned the Holocaust, which is a good example — but on the whole, we are better people than our ancestors were.

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          Even if God is the source of morality, you still have to start from the entirely subjective premise, “one ought to obey God”.

          Even if God is the source of natural law, you still have to start from the entirely subjective premise, “one ought to obey the law of gravity”.

          • Comment by R_Flaum:

            Uh? Choice doesn’t enter into that — if you have a way to violate the law of gravity, feel free to use it.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              It’s easy. You leap off a tall building — and take the consequences. It feels wonderful, I am told, until the consequences take effect.

              Similarly, if you violate the moral law, it feels good until the consequences kick in — but those consequences can be gruesome in the extreme. To a fool who thinks that the moral law is merely an arbitrary list of ‘Thou shalt nots’, of course, there can seem to be no connection between the cause and the effect; but then, I once knew a fool who disbelieved in gravity, and honestly thought that he could leap off a tall building and fly, if not for the ‘bad vibes’ of all the narrow-minded people who wanted him to fail.

              • Comment by R_Flaum:

                Ah, but even if that’s true, it has no bearing on morality. That is, even if you knew for a fact that a specific immoral action would not have adverse consequences for you, it would still be immoral to do it. Contrariwise, even if you knew that a specific moral act would have adverse consequences, it would still be moral to do it. And so the consequences cannot be the source of morality.

                • Comment by Tom Simon:

                  My dear Flaum, what do you think are the grounds for declaring an action to be immoral? It is the known and probable consequences of an action that make that action a matter subject to moral reasoning at all. I begin to see that you have not yet progressed beyond the pons asinorum, and still think that a moral code is nothing more than an arbitrary list of ‘Thou shalt nots’ (or ‘Thou shalts’) without any grounding in reality.

                  • Comment by R_Flaum:

                    No, no, no! You’re the one who’s portraying morality as just a list of thou shalt nots. If something is only immoral because you’ll be punished for it, then that’s just an arbitrary declaration of the person who pronounced the punishment. To progress beyond the level of “thou shalt not”, you have to recognize the morality or immorality apart from whether or not you’ll be punished for it.

                    • Comment by Tom Simon:

                      No, no, no! You’re the one who’s portraying morality as just a list of thou shalt nots.

                      That is a lie and an obvious one. You will not fool anyone by it but yourself.

                      If something is only immoral because you’ll be punished for it, then that’s just an arbitrary declaration of the person who pronounced the punishment.

                      That is your own puerile understanding of morality, not mine. I never said anything about punishment, but about consequences. If you jump off a tall building and try to fly by flapping your arms, you will suffer the consequence of dying, after which nothing in this world will be any good to you anymore. If you murder another human being, he will suffer the same consequence. It is objectively wrong to do either of those things, because they are opposed to objective goods — since all goods are restricted (at minimum) to those who exist.

                      Now, you may ask how I get from ‘destroying yourself is objectively wrong’ to ‘destroying other people is objectively wrong’. This is not a simple matter, and it would take much time and demonstration for me to prove it. I recommend again that you read Adler’s Desires Right and Wrong, which devotes an entire chapter to that exact question. Allow me to note in passing that Adler was not himself an adherent of any religion when he wrote it.

                      To progress beyond the level of “thou shalt not”, you have to recognize the morality or immorality apart from whether or not you’ll be punished for it.

                      That is exactly what an awareness of consequences entails. The consequences of an action do not arise from an arbitrary decision by a third party to reward or punish you; they inhere in the nature of the action itself. If you stick your hand in the fire, you will get burnt, because it is the nature of fire to burn things. If you jump off a tall building, you will fall down and kill yourself, because it is the nature of unsupported objects in a gravitational field to accelerate towards the centre of local gravitational attraction, and the nature of human bodies to break when they hit the earth’s surface at high speed. The consequences of immoral actions are equally inherent in their nature, but because there is usually a greater delay between action and consequence, it is possible for foolish people to delude themselves that the consequences are not real — as with the celebrated fool in the Greek proverb, who jumped off a tower, and halfway down to the ground said, ‘So far, so good.’

                • Comment by Darrell:

                  This depends on what you mean by using the terms morality, moral, and immoral. Most Christians equate immorality with sinfulness and sinfulness means missing the mark — the mark being Jesus Christ. By this reasoning every immoral action by definition has adverse consequences to the actor because it does violence to their inherent humanity.

                  • Comment by Tom Simon:

                    This is true, but perhaps too advanced for R_Flaum. Aristotle also equated immorality with missing the mark, but the mark he spoke of was a lower one — the goal of functioning as a human being. Obviously, anything that kills you, or causes you grievous harm, will cause you to miss that mark. Anything that kills or grievously harms other people will cause them to miss that mark, which renders them unable to perform a role in society — and that society is one of the things you yourself need in order to function as a human being; so in the end, you are indirectly damaging yourself. (‘Never send to know for whom the bell tolls,’ quoth Donne.)

                    Up to this point you can trace the reasoning without involving God at all. The trouble, as Aristotle himself well realized, is that if you follow the reasoning without fear or favour all the way to its ultimate conclusions, you will find yourself face to face with the existence of God and all that it entails. It is, perhaps, the fear and hatred of God that causes some people instinctually to shy away from even beginning a course of moral reasoning. If you cling to your prejudices, you have your reward; but if you honestly use your reason, there is no telling where it might take you in the end.

                    • Comment by R_Flaum:

                      “Objective goods” is a contradiction in terms. Destroying myself is not objectively wrong — I have made the purely subjective decision that I prefer to be alive than dead. If I had made the opposite decision, then it would be wrong to keep me alive against my will. If I had no preference, destroying me would be morally neutral.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I venture a guess that Mr R_Flaum is unmarried and has no children, and has never entered military service.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      A good archer is one who hits the mark more consistently. What is “subjective” about that good?

                    • Comment by R_Flaum:

                      “What is ‘subjective’ about that good?”The idea that accuracy in aim is desirable is subjective. (Also, on a less literal level, different archers may aim at different targets).

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      The idea that accuracy in aim is desirable is subjective.

                      It is desirable if one wants to be a good archer. Hitting the mark just is what it means to be good at archery, and is entirely objective given that one is engaged in archery. In the same way, achieving victory just is what it means to be good at strategy; healing just is what it means to be good at doctoring; and so forth.

                      on a less literal level, different archers may aim at different targets

                      Indeed, and one person may aim at feeding the hungry and another at clothing the naked and a third at comforting the afflicted. There are many gifts. Yet the matter is seamless and running a soup kitchen does not entitle you to take someone’s shirt.

                      The Nietzschean exercise of naked will in place of objective morality — I choose! Don’t ask me to give reasons. I just choose! — is oft a combination of two elements:
                      a) piggy-backing on Christian morality with the pretense that one has come up with it on one’s own.
                      b) an indulgence of the senses, to whichever senses one is presently enslaved.
                      But there is no attempt to create a rational morality from the hodge-podge, and it often does not stand up to scrutiny. E.g. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/are-there-secular-reasons/

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              Of course, as Tom Simon humorously points out, you certainly do have the choice to ignore the law of gravity. That most people are sensible enough not to do so does not mean that people do not unwittingly step off tall structures, flirt with danger, bungee jump, and do all sorts of things by which they can pretend that the planetary mass is not out to swat them like a bug on a windshield.
              The point is that the moral law is like any other part of the natural law. That it must be discovered does not mean that it is merely a construction of the human mind. Gravity is simply a blatantly obvious example.
              + + +
              You misunderstand Mr. Simon’s “says”. That defying a natural law naturally has consequences does not mean that the consequences are the reason why the law is good. But neither does it mean that the prudent man takes no account of the consequences when considering his acts. For example, Adam might wish to eat lots of chocolate and not get fat or sick; but the universal verdict of human reason is that this is not logically possible. We recognize the moral dimension of this when we say that too much chocolate is “bad” for you.
              Think what we mean when we say someone is a good doctor or a good archer or a good playwright. This is why the Philosopher says (in Nich. Eth., Book I) that the good is what all tends toward by nature. A defectus is a lack or shortfall of a good, as an archer who continually shoots high and to the left of the mark. The archer therefore practices “strengths” (Lat. “virtutes”) in order to “per-fect” what was “de-fect.”
              Now the natural end of a human being is “to be a rational animal,” and therefore the good is that which is a perfection of the rational and the animal. Hence, “Mens sana in corpore sano.” That is why exercise and diet are “good for you” and why hedonism and sloth are “bad.” Modern neuroscience tells us that habituating neural patterns that originate in more primitive regions of the brain tend to interfere with neural patterns originating in the neocortex. That is, indulging in the appetites interferes with rational thought, which is to say it de-fects our very nature and makes us less perfect as human beings. Hence, the distinction made by the Greeks onward to just before the present age between the good and the merely pleasurable.
              Just as it is natural for the inanimate to move toward the minimum of the gravitational potential function, it is good for the rational to move toward perfection of body and mind. The equivalent of diet and exercise for the mind is the exercise of seven basic strengths:
              For the intellect: understanding of principles, knowledge of proximate causes, and wisdom regarding final causes or goals.
              For the will: justice regarding what is due to another, courage to do what our intellect tells us is right when our inclination is otherwise, and temperance to refrain from what the intellect tells us is wrong when our inclination is otherwise.
              For the coupling: prudence in willing the means to attain the ends presented by the intellect.
              This is not always easy, especially the work of the intellect, which many are disinclined to engage, but it is possible in most cases to know ahead of time what is right and wrong, and even to rely on thousands of years of empirical data and analysis regarding this. This is not possible if one’s criteria are such vague nostrums as “fairness” (fair wrt what standard?) or “doesn’t harm others” (but not all harm is foreseeable, esp. at several removes from the actor).

        • Comment by Tom Simon:

          Uh? That doesn’t follow at all. That’s like saying we have no basis for deciding that William Blake’s poems are better than William McGonagall’s, because our principles of poetic aesthetics are the creations of humanity.

          No, it is like saying that we have no such basis, because our principles of poetic aesthetics are reinvented afresh, and of right, by each man and woman and each society in which they may happen to congregate. If Fred Bloggs is convinced that McGonagall is better than Blake, why, then, McGonagall is better than Blake according to the principles of McGonagall, which no other man may gainsay.

          Even if God is the source of morality, you still have to start from the entirely subjective premise, “one ought to obey God”.

          You fail to perceive that you have erred by denying a tautology. The statement ‘X is the source of morality’ is by definition equivalent to ‘one ought to obey X’. That is what the term ‘morality’ means. You are trying to grant a premise in the first clause of your sentence, and then deny with the second clause that the premise has been granted.

          Now personally, if it were somehow proven to me that God exists and that He disapproves of my moral code, I would not take that as a reason to think less of my moral code; I would take it as a reason to think less of God.

          That is because your moral code has no basis except in your self-will, and your actual God is yourself. You have arrogated to yourself the right to sit in judgement upon all other values, and will not be persuaded that you can be mistaken. To be so certain of oneself that all the evidence in the universe is not enough to change one’s mind — this, admirable as you seem to find it, is the very definition of lunacy.

          Again, this seems backwards. Imagine two men on a sightseeing tour of the mountains. One of them says “I think that mountain’s a bit taller than that other one.” The other says “No, I think the other one’s taller.” I can’t imagine them getting into a big fight over this. On the other hand, I can imagine them getting into a fight over “I think that mountain’s prettier than that other one.”

          Your imagination is defective. If there is, let us say, a title deed or a treaty which grants a certain person or country title to all the lands visible from the peak of the highest mountain, it may matter very much indeed which mountain is taller — and people may fight over it. I know of no instance in recorded history in which men have come to blows over the question of which mountain was prettier.

          Now, this is just bizarre. The world today is more moral than it’s ever been.

          This is nonsense by your own definitions. If morality is simply determined by each individual, then the world cannot possibly grow more or less moral over time — the standard just changes. You cannot judge the men of a thousand years ago by your own code, just as (according to you) they could not, were they present to do so, judge you by theirs. You cannot compare incommensurables. If you believe that morality consists, let us say, in individual liberty, and Nietzsche believes that it consists in endless struggle and war, then there can be no way of telling whether you are a better man according to your lights than he is according to his. It would be like asking whether Milton is more puritanical than a pig is fat. (I owe this precise figure of speech to G. K. Chesterton; equivalents could easily be devised.)

          Even if you agree with some other authority on the direction of the good, but disagree with the standard of measure, this still obtains. Imagine a dwarf saying to a giant: ‘I am taller than you, because I am eight feet tall by my measurement units, and you are only seven feet tall by yours.’ It means nothing if the units of measurement are not equal. Mr. Wright’s contention (made abundantly clear in others of his writings), with which I largely agree, is that our particular society has become less moral through the abandonment of standards. Like the dwarf, our ruler has become shorter — our feet have fewer inches — and our expectations have shrunk accordingly. But the fact that we live up to a low standard, while our forebears fell short of a high standard, does not make us more moral than they were.

          Since your claim is self-contradictory, it stands refuted.

          Now, if there were one valid standard which could be held to apply to all nations and individuals in all ages, then and only then could you begin to fairly compare them. I have, as it happens, undertaken considerable investigation in this field; and I have found two things. First, by the old, platitudinous moral law that was acknowledged by every successful and literate society before the last century (I cannot, for want of evidence, investigate the codes of the non-literate societies), we have fallen appallingly short of our ancestors in cardinal matters, and have excelled them only in secondary things and not always in those. Second, by our own standards, supposing us to have agreed upon any, we are still inferior on the whole to them. The widespread belief to the contrary can be attributed to two kinds of legerdemain. One is simple ignorance: most of us don’t look for evidence of the goodness and superiority of our ancestors, so we don’t find the particular points upon which they can most strongly challenge us; and conversely, most of us remain blissfully unaware of the evil that is common in our time.

          You give a cursory nod to the Holocaust, seemingly unaware that this is not an egregious event, but an entirely typical product of the modern, relativist moral calculus, replicated (in kind, though not in detail) in many countries around the world in the last century. It is not even the worst slaughter of its kind: Stalin and Mao killed more in absolute numbers (and, yes, they did strive to wipe out entire nationalities as part of their programs), and Pol Pot and some others killed a greater percentage of their subject populations. They did these things with the active complicity and approbation of large and influential parties in the West; we cannot even excuse ourselves on the grounds that they were far away. And there is not one instance of a deliberate slaughter of such a kind, on such a scale, in all the ages of human history prior to the twentieth century, with the sole exception of the earliest period of the Mongol conquests. Nor will it do to blame technology and the evil of a few individuals. It was not Hitler and Himmler who killed the millions of the Holocaust, but a concerted effort by hundreds of thousands of Germans who enrolled themselves voluntarily in the Nazi Party and its police apparatus, abetted by tens of millions who peaceably submitted to the Nazi state and contributed materially to its campaign of world conquest. The millions killed at Auschwitz were almost none of them German nationals before the war began; they were people taken from the conquered territories. Auschwitz itself was on Polish soil until the Germans seized it by force in 1939. Mutatis mutandis, the same can be said of all the great massacres of the twentieth century: they were perpetrated not by a few madmen with vast technological weaponry, but by mass movements with widespread popular support. And while the twenty-first century is still shrouded in present politics and the poisonous fume of lies that it generates, I see no reason to suppose that the mass of humanity have improved in this respect. It was not high technology that permitted the rulers of Sudan to oppress and murder the people of Darfur or South Sudan; it was not sophisticated weaponry that turned North Korea into a giant concentration camp. Other examples are not far to seek, though so far we have had nothing as spectacular in scope as the Gulag Archipelago or the Great Leap Forward.

          Moral progress, indeed! It takes a remarkable ignorance of human affairs in either the past or the present to imagine that we are morally better men than our forefathers were.

          • Comment by R_Flaum:

            The statement ‘X is the source of morality’ is by definition equivalent to ‘one ought to obey X’. That is what the term ‘morality’ means.

            Well yes, that was… kind of my point. I was pointing out that your reasoning is circular.

            That is because your moral code has no basis except in your self-will, and your actual God is yourself.

            My moral code is based in a belief in natural rights, and my God is a respect for my fellow man.

            You have arrogated to yourself the right to sit in judgement upon all other values, and will not be persuaded that you can be mistaken. To be so certain of oneself that all the evidence in the universe is not enough to change one’s mind — this, admirable as you seem to find it, is the very definition of lunacy.

            “Mistaken” has no meaning in this context, because our disagreement is not over facts. Whether or not God exists, and what his opinions of morality are — these are factual questions. But they have no bearing on the issue at hand. Knowledge of facts is important in determining the means to an end, but they cannot change the ends toward which we work.

            This is nonsense by your own definitions. If morality is simply determined by each individual, then the world cannot possibly grow more or less moral over time — the standard just changes. You cannot judge the men of a thousand years ago by your own code, just as (according to you) they could not, were they present to do so, judge you by theirs.

            Would you please try responding to what I actually said, rather than to what the straw relativist in your head is saying?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              “Would you please try responding to what I actually said, rather than to what the straw relativist in your head is saying?”

              Here again a reference is being made to a moral imperative (a duty to answer truthfully) which you seem to assume Mr Simon and everyone in the discussion will recognize and will recognize as authoritative. You would not and could not make that assumption if you believed the duty to answer truthfully were a matter of nothing but personal opinion, or if you believed (consistently) that personal opinion is paramount

              You are assuming the very matter that you dispute in your process of disputation.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              “The statement ‘X is the source of morality’ is by definition equivalent to ‘one ought to obey X’. That is what the term ‘morality’ means.”

              Well yes, that was… kind of my point. I was pointing out that your reasoning is circular.

              Puh-lease do not misuse terms of logical reasoning. A circular argument is one where the conclusion assumes the premise. In this case: Major Premise = X is the source of morality; Minor Premise = A source of morality is what one ought to obey; Conclusion = X is what one ought to obey.

              Mr Flynn was pointing out that you had overlooked the minor premise, the definition of the word “source.” Instead of accepting correction like an honest man, you accuse him falsely of making an error in logic.

              Your other responses (such as the paradox where you call him mistaken for calling you mistaken because the word has not meaning when discussing anything other than facts) show a similar puerile inability to grasp basic Freshmen-level logic.

        • Comment by robertjwizard:

          You deny and concede my point in the same post. You also make an assumption. I do not base my morality on God. I am not religious. You also assume that the entire support for objective moral positions rest on the subjective edicts of God. As if without God any claim to moral objectivity vanishes. Take a deadly sin such as sloth. Is sloth a deadly sin merely because one believes in God and God said sloth is a sin, therefore it is so, but sans God it is therefore a desire as any other value like hard work? Is there nothing in reality, the nature of man, and the nature of the world he lives in that makes sloth immoral? Certainly so. And it is these facts of man and of reality that serve as the standard of moral or immoral.

          Now personally, if it were somehow proven to me that God exists and that He disapproves of my moral code, I would not take that as a reason to think less of my moral code; I would take it as a reason to think less of God. (Whether I’d have the strength of character to actually live up to my moral code in the face of such opposition is a separate question entirely)

          This is pure hubris. As an atheist I find this to be a ridiculous statement. If it were proven to you that GOD exists, by this fact, his “morality” is morality, it is reality, and yours, to the degree it is contrary to his, is immorality. Your position would be, at best, Gnosticism, at worse, Satanism. And you would have a mentor to live up to your moral code in the face of such opposition, that would be the devil.

          The world today is more moral than it’s ever been. It is true that, due to more advanced technology, immoral acts can have much worse consequences than they did in the past — you mentioned the Holocaust, which is a good example…

          I see that Mr. Wright and Mr. Simon have pretty much exploded this statement. I would also add that the Holocaust is, in fact, not a good example as regards technology. I have read voluminously on the specific operations of the concentration camps. They were models of inefficiency. Killing was not their chief aim. The camps were an experiment in total domination, of totally breaking down the human spirit, to create absolute docility. The contradictory, useless work, the insane, meticulous regulations that switched without warning. The arbitrary punishments, the experiments, the tortures both physical and psychological. Some prisoners were worked near death and then brought back to full health to be taken out and then shot, or brought back to health and given a position of authority and then thrown into a latrine the very next day to drown in feces. Given the technology of the firing squad and the gas chambers, the vast hell of the concentration camps produced a lot less death than they could have. As incredible as that is to think.

          But then you have to grasp something that is worse than the concentration camp as merely a killing floor.

          Greater massacres could have been perpetrated in any prior age (at least proportional to population) based simply on technology. To kill, technically, is not hard. The Reign of Terror only lasted 10 months and claimed some 17,000 lives by guillotine alone in France. They were simply killed. Technology is not the issue – ideology is.

      • Comment by R_Flaum:

        “Let’s say there is a competing morality, or, as you put it, desire. You have a desire to live, your neighbor has a desire to kill you and sodomize your corpse. Under your scheme his desire to kill you is just as valid as your desire to live.”
        Uh? That doesn’t follow at all. That’s like saying we have no basis for deciding that William Blake’s poems are better than William McGonagall’s, because our principles of poetic aesthetics are the creations of humanity.

        “If I transported you back as a Jew in 1940 Germany, you have no argument at all.”
        Certainly, but neither do you. Even if God is the source of morality, you still have to start from the entirely subjective premise, “one ought to obey God”. Now personally, if it were somehow proven to me that God exists and that He disapproves of my moral code, I would not take that as a reason to think less of my moral code; I would take it as a reason to think less of God. (Whether I’d have the strength of character to actually live up to my moral code in the face of such opposition is a separate question entirely)

        “It does not acquire significance by coming from our desires but loses all significance thereby. Morality then becomes conjecture, all questions reduce to an argument involving nothing more pressing than mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip.”
        Again, this seems backwards. Imagine two men on a sightseeing tour of the mountains. One of them says “I think that mountain’s a bit taller than that other one.” The other says “No, I think the other one’s taller.” I can’t imagine them getting into a big fight over this. On the other hand, I can imagine them getting into a fight over “I think that mountain’s prettier than that other one.”

        “This is exactly how morality ended it up the way it is now. Non-existent except for the left-over emissions of yesterdays.”
        Now, this is just bizarre. The world today is more moral than it’s ever been. It is true that, due to more advanced technology, immoral acts can have much worse consequences than they did in the past — you mentioned the Holocaust, which is a good example — but on the whole, we are better people than our ancestors were. Our descendants will most likely be better people than we are.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Even if God is the source of morality, you still have to start from the entirely subjective premise, “one ought to obey God”. Now personally, if it were somehow proven to me that God exists and that He disapproves of my moral code, I would not take that as a reason to think less of my moral code; I would take it as a reason to think less of God.

          The problem with the statement is that the premise ‘one ought to obey God’ is not subjective, and merely calling it subjective does not make it so. If the divine author of all reality has established a rule in the moral sphere just as the law of gravity is established in physics or the law of non-contradiction is established in logic, then this establishment has a fundamental reality.

          You also stand to the Creator in the same relationship as a child stands to his father. Now, it cannot be argued that a child’s obedience to his father is a subjective preference of the child, since before the age of reason that child does not have the mental or moral capacity to make such a preference. If a child disobeys his father, he is being a brat.

          The world today is more moral than it’s ever been. It is true that, due to more advanced technology, immoral acts can have much worse consequences than they did in the past — you mentioned the Holocaust, which is a good example — but on the whole, we are better people than our ancestors were

          At first I thought you meant that we are more chaste, more likely to keep oaths, show a greater self-discipline and self-reliance than our ancestors, ask for less material from the charity of others or the public coffers, make greater contributions to the arts, more honesty in the sciences (particularly climate science which is a paragon of intellectual integrity), have a broader acceptance of politically incorrect opinion and greater freedom of speech, and men at all levels of business and government less willing to take bribes or tell lies than any previous time in history, that never before have punctilious rules of chivalry governed all aspects of war and military science, from terrorism to the use of torture, that never before have abortion rates been so low, or the rate of the divorce, and never before have the blue laws been so strictly and loyally kept, or laws against public indecency, never has there been less pornography, never have the families of the poor in the inner cities been so strong, to virtuous, and never has the workforce been so hard-working (especially in France and Spain and Greece, which puts the American workingmen to shame) and never has envy been more entirely dismissed and derided as an uncomely sin, and wrath, and gluttony, and lust —

          — but then I realized you just meant we are more humble and modest than our ancestors, and we would not make smug, outrageous, nauseatingly self-righteous claims about a moral superiority very much not in evidence.

          The claim of this generation to moral superiority is based solely on the willingness to abandoned the depraved to the evils of their own lusts and appetites, which falsely call it toleration.

          The claim of this generation to moral superiority is based solely on moral retardation. There are grown ups out there who cannot tell whether or not it is better to save a man’s life or a dog’s if the two were mutually exclusive.

          • Comment by R_Flaum:

            If the divine author of all reality has established a rule in the moral sphere just as the law of gravity is established in physics or the law of non-contradiction is established in logic, then this establishment has a fundamental reality.

            The fact that He established it has a fundamental reality. Whether we assign any significance to this fact is inherently a matter of opinion.

            Now, it cannot be argued that a child’s obedience to his father is a subjective preference of the child, since before the age of reason that child does not have the mental or moral capacity to make such a preference. If a child disobeys his father, he is being a brat.

            Well, first of all, “subjective” does not necessarily mean “reasoned”. An instinctive familial urge is also subjective. But more to the point, your argument is only true if the father’s command is in fact moral. If the father tells the child to do something immoral, then the child should disobey his father.

            As to the morality of the present day, I was actually thinking on a somewhat longer timescale, comparing the modern world to the pre-Industrial Revolution era. I wasn’t talking specifically about the year 2013.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              That the law of gravity exists is a fundamental reality, whether we assign any significance to this fact is inherently a matter of opinion. Of course, not assigning significance to that fact and jumping off a cliff would have disastrous consequences and likely kill or ruin our lives but still matter of opinion.

              Sure we can choose to ignore morality, but we can not, fortunately or unfortunately choose to ignore the consequences of ignoring morality any more then we would be able to choose to ignore the consequences of ignoring gravity. You can claim in your happy fairy world that there are no consequences to ignoring morality, statistics tell a different story and personal experience will eventually catch up to you. I am sure flying through the air when jumping off a cliff is terribly exciting and, if one ignores the fast approaching ground, it must seem like nothing bad could ever happen as the jumper has cast off the outmoded belief in gravity.

        • Comment by robertjwizard:

          Now, this is just bizarre. The world today is more moral than it’s ever been.

          Wow, I really don’t know what to say to that. I would have to assume we either live on different planets, one of us lives in total isolation from man, or we have different sense organs.

          How do you even justify such a claim?

          • Comment by R_Flaum:

            The bit where we no longer practice slavery was a big hint.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              There are to this day a number of countries where chattel slavery is still practised, and a considerable number of countries where the state holds the general populace in a state of slavery. This is exactly what I meant when I referred to ignorance as a form of legerdemain. You can only pretend superiority to your ancestors by wilfully ignoring many of the evil acts that are actually going on in the world today — and by wilfully ignoring many of the good acts that were formerly common but have nowadays become rare.

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              But slavery disappeared in the medieval Latin West, as well as Byzantium, for entirely religious reasons; and after it was resuscitated by the Age of Reason was abolished again de jure in a movement led by the religious, from William Wilberforce to the civil rights movement of Rev. M.L.King.

              • Comment by R_Flaum:

                Oh, absolutely. I’m not saying that we should reject the many valuable contributions Christianity has made to our current moral system — current-day morality, even when not Christian, developed from Christianity in much the same way that Christianity developed from Judaism. (And now I really am going to stop for tonight).

            • Comment by Mary:

              You might as well claim we are more moral because we are less likely to steal bread.

              We are less likely to steal bread because we are more prosperous, not more moral. By the same token, we no longer practice slavery because it is more economical to use machinery.

              • Comment by R_Flaum:

                Granted. It’s of course true that we don’t face the same temptation to (e.g.) enslave people that our ancestors did, because we’d have nothing to gain. I’m not claiming that we have better moral fiber with which to resist temptation; I’m saying that, because we don’t face temptations as severe as our ancestors did, we haven’t been as corrupted by them.

                • Comment by Mary:

                  Piffle. That is one temptation. We face many temptations far more severe as a consequence of our prosperity and they have obviously corrupted us.

                • Comment by The OFloinn:

                  OTOH slavery arose in ancient times as an alternative to the massacre of prisoners of war or of cities captured, so matters are not entirely clear. (Enlightenment slavery was a more callous affair and had no such excuse.)

                  • Comment by John Hutchins:

                    Also, in some places “slavery” was closer to “indentured servitude” and even in many places where that wasn’t the case a slave had more rights then many poor farmers and factory works do in some third world countries (and in the US sometimes too) do today. In most of the other cases the difference between being a slave and not being a slave was very minimal in that you still were pretty much property and still had pretty much no rights, and your life pretty much sucked either way.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      Well, the evil of slavery is not that the slave was badly treated. In some times and places they were treated rather well. In Mamluq Egypt, they ruled the country. The evil is that they were legally regarded as property, which is a sin against human dignity. In some cases of free workers, their poor and desperate condition was due precisely to their freedom: the employer had no incentive to keep them in good health. He simply fired them when they could no longer produce. Freedom is always the freedom to fail, which is why paternalistic government by “the open-handed lord” is often so attractive.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      True, slavery is a sin against dignity, even when the slaves are treated as well as or better than those that are free. I was trying to get at, and did a poor job of it, that while we don’t have slavery today in the same way that they had slavery in 1800 what we do have and are okay with is often worse.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      You are correct that if the moral code of the universe is an unintentional natural by-product of inanimate natural forces, such as the laws of mathematics are, or the laws of economics are, that the existence of such a code has no moral authority. It is, as you say, merely a raw fact. You are incorrect, and quite grossly incorrect, if you assert that morality is only important if it is invented by humans, for the reason given in the essay, namely, this if it is invented, it is merely human opinion. Society is a collection of human opinions, each one just as subjective and lacking in moral authority as the other.

      If and only if the moral law is universal is it a moral law properly so called. Otherwise it is a custom, or habit, or opinion, or tradition, which has no moral authority on any man who does not voluntarily bow and yield to the force of custom. It is local, and applies to one society, or one group within society, and not to any others. No one, for example, argues that homosexual acts must be immoral and should be illegal on the grounds that all Western society for over two thousand years disapproved of such acts; but many people argue that since society has somehow changed its collective mind on this point since 1968, such acts are now licit, and to express disapproval or even to think it, is illicit, even criminal. Hence, even those who claim that moral law is not universal treat their moral code is making a universal demand on thought and word and deed.

      The only way a universal moral code could be universal to all intelligent beings wheresoever situate, and issuing from an authority whose wisdom is not open to suspicion, is if the moral law is the law of a supernatural being, indeed, the creator of the cosmos.

      Even a god as august and dignified as Zeus or Odin, if he did not make the world, is only enforcing (but not on himself, apparently) a moral code which has some other and older origin. Moral universality implies ethical monotheism.

      • Comment by R_Flaum:

        “You are incorrect, and quite grossly incorrect, if you assert that morality is only important if it is invented by humans, for the reason given in the essay, namely, this if it is invented, it is merely human opinion.”
        What do you mean, “merely”? Just because something’s subjective doesn’t mean it’s unimportant — indeed, I might go so far as to say that only subjective things are important. “That pond is beautiful” is a more important statement than “That pond is four feet deep”.

        “No one, for example, argues that homosexual acts must be immoral and should be illegal on the grounds that all Western society for over two thousand years disapproved of such acts; but many people argue that since society has somehow changed its collective mind on this point since 1968, such acts are now licit, and to express disapproval or even to think it, is illicit, even criminal.”
        See, here you’re just misunderstanding what the word “licit” (or, if you prefer, “right”) means. If I say something is “right”, that means that it is in accordance with my moral code. It’s possible that I may someday have a different moral code than I do now, in which case I will then be using a different definition of the word “right” — I will then use it to mean “in accordance with my moral code at that time”. But that won’t mean that the concept has changed, I will just be using the same word to refer to a different concept.
        Thus: it is immoral — that is, a violation of my moral code — to prevent victimless homosexual acts between consenting adults (to actively interfere, I mean; if someone merely goes around expressing disapproval of such things but doesn’t take any forcible action, that’s his right). If I were transported back in time to a period when society rejected this view, that wouldn’t change this. Even if I myself were somehow convinced that this view was wrong, that wouldn’t change this — I would in that period use the word “right” to refer to a class of things that’s different from the class to which I now apply the term. But that doesn’t change the fact that the class of things which I currently denote with the term “right” has to include some homosexual unions, by necessary logical consequence from my moral premises.

        • Comment by Tom Simon:

          See, here you’re just misunderstanding what the word “licit” (or, if you prefer, “right”) means. If I say something is “right”, that means that it is in accordance with my moral code.

          Then you are misusing the term ‘right’, in a way that only a pure moral subjectivist — who is, in effect, always a moral nihilist — can do. Mr. Wright’s position, in favour of which an enormous quantity of argument and evidence can be adduced, is that the moral law is objective — it has its own existence, which, as touching the moral behaviour of human beings, turns fundamentally upon the determinate nature of human beings as such.

          As for the term ‘licit’, Mr. Wright is a lawyer and is using it, so far as I can discern, in its strict technical sense as a term of art in law. You have no colour of right to dispute his definition merely by substituting a subjective one of your own; and such a substitution can serve no purpose but to prevent meaningful communication and darken counsel.

          Thus: it is immoral — that is, a violation of my moral code — to prevent victimless homosexual acts between consenting adults (to actively interfere, I mean; if someone merely goes around expressing disapproval of such things but doesn’t take any forcible action, that’s his right). If I were transported back in time to a period when society rejected this view, that wouldn’t change this. Even if I myself were somehow convinced that this view was wrong, that wouldn’t change this — I would in that period use the word “right” to refer to a class of things that’s different from the class to which I now apply the term. But that doesn’t change the fact that the class of things which I currently denote with the term “right” has to include some homosexual unions, by necessary logical consequence from my moral premises.

          In the bold-faced passage, you concede that your definition of ‘right’ is mutable and depends upon the definitions taught by your social environment. This is the very opposite of having a view which is a necessary logical consequence from any set of moral premises.

          Furthermore, since you define ‘immoral‘ solely as ‘a violation of your moral code’, you leave entirely unanswered the only question in the matter with any meaning: Who appointed you the judge of others’ actions? If they have their own moral codes according to which such actions are not immoral, by what authority does your own code outrank or outweigh theirs? You have given and can give none, since your position is one of pure and radical subjectivism.

          This, by the way, is why a moral relativist is always in effect a moral nihilist. If immoral actions are merely those that are against the moral code of the perpetrator, and each of us is free to alter his moral code at will, why, what is to restrict anyone from doing anything he pleases? I could find out where you lived, and murder you in your bed — having decided, on ad hoc grounds of my own, to adopt a particular set of principles by which your murder is not defined as an immoral act. Indeed, by claiming that the individual has the right to his own moral code, you leave yourself with no defence but brute police power against the depredations of those who have no moral code at all.

          • Comment by R_Flaum:

            In the bold-faced passage, you concede that your definition of ‘right’ is mutable and depends upon the definitions taught by your social environment. This is the very opposite of having a view which is a necessary logical consequence from any set of moral premises.

            Nonsense. I merely conceded that it was theoretically possible that I might become corrupt in the future and accept beliefs I now consider abhorrent. So might anyone. I was not in any way saying that doing so would be a good thing to do.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          What do you mean, “merely”? Just because something’s subjective doesn’t mean it’s unimportant — indeed, I might go so far as to say that only subjective things are important. “That pond is beautiful” is a more important statement than “That pond is four feet deep”.

          You are using the word “important” ambiguously, and so the statement is not logically relevant.

          A moral code, in order to be a moral code and not merely a list of personal preferences, taste, or opinions, is a list of things we ought or ought not to do whether or not we are so inclined. This is what is meant by “authority.” An imperative has authority if and only if one ought to obey whether or not one is so inclined.

          A list of one’s own inclinations is not a moral code by its very nature. There is no such thing as a list of things we are inclined to do or not to do whether or not we are so inclined. That is a contradiction in terms.

          See, here you’re just misunderstanding what the word “licit” (or, if you prefer, “right”) means. If I say something is “right”, that means that it is in accordance with my moral code.

          The word licit means Permitted by law; legal. [Middle English, from Old French licite, from Latin licitus, past participle of licre, to be permitted.] If your personal preferences that you call your moral code happens to be in line with the law, then indeed your personal subjective whims and preferences are licit; otherwise they are not. This kind of argument by redefining words to mean the opposite of what they mean is distasteful to me.

          You say that society can make a moral code, by which you seem to mean a list of what one ought or ought not to do based on one’s personal preferences, and then say that if thrown back in time, you would reject the authority of society older than 1968 to make such a code. If sodomy between consenting adults is licit in all times and places and under all conditions, then this is a moral law that is absolute, for then any society which held otherwise would be in error. (Likewise, if chastity is the rule for all times and places, then this is a moral absolute, and any society which held otherwise is in error.) But you said that society is what makes the rules defining the moral code, and if that is true than by definition whatever society says is licit is licit despite your personal preferences, and there are no moral absolutes.

          If society has the authority to define the content of the moral law, then morality is relative to each society, and it is morally wrong to defy society on a point where your opinion, or the opinion of your faction, disagrees. If it is morally correct to defy society on a point where society has made a moral error, then morality is not relative to each society. You have made what seems to be a blatant contradiction in terms here, both claiming that society has the authority to make moral laws, and then claiming that authority for yourself if and when society reaches a conclusion that scandalizes you. This is illogical.

          • Comment by R_Flaum:

            A moral code, in order to be a moral code and not merely a list of personal preferences, taste, or opinions…

            Again, what do you mean, “merely”? There is literally nothing in the universe that is more important than people’s preferences and opinions.

            …is a list of things we ought or ought not to do whether or not we are so inclined. This is what is meant by “authority.” An imperative has authority if and only if one ought to obey whether or not one is so inclined.

            A list of one’s own inclinations is not a moral code by its very nature. There is no such thing as a list of things we are inclined to do or not to do whether or not we are so inclined. That is a contradiction in terms.

            Now you’re just being overly simplistic. People can have conflicting desires.

            If your personal preferences that you call your moral code happens to be in line with the law, then indeed your personal subjective whims and preferences are licit; otherwise they are not.

            By law, do you mean legal codes, or the moral law? If the first, then I would say that there are times when the law can be immoral (though this is not a decision that should be made lightly, of course — weakening the fabric of law has serious adverse consequences, so it would only be justified if the law were truly horrendous, not if it were just a bit sub-optimal). If the second, then I think we’re both saying the same thing, because what you call the moral law is just your moral code.

            You say that society can make a moral code, by which you seem to mean a list of what one ought or ought not to do based on one’s personal preferences, and then say that if thrown back in time, you would reject the authority of society older than 1968 to make such a code. If sodomy between consenting adults is licit in all times and places and under all conditions, then this is a moral law that is absolute, for then any society which held otherwise would be in error. (Likewise, if chastity is the rule for all times and places, then this is a moral absolute, and any society which held otherwise is in error.) But you said that society is what makes the rules defining the moral code, and if that is true than by definition whatever society says is licit is licit despite your personal preferences, and there are no moral absolutes.

            That is not what I said at all. I didn’t say that the reason to obey the moral code is that it was created by society. I said that, in practice, only a full society has the practical ability to create a moral code (individuals can make advancements or adjustments to it, but they can’t create a new one from scratch). That doesn’t mean you have to adopt the moral code of whatever society you find yourself in. Now, in practice, most people will adopt the moral code of the society in which they were raised, but that doesn’t mean that the moral code derives its authority from the society.

            The problem here is that the question “should I adopt such-and-such a moral code” is nonsensical, because “should” is itself a moral question and as such can’t be answered unless you already have a moral code. So you can’t say that we “should” adopt the moral code of the surrounding society, or that we “shouldn’t”. You have to start from, “given that I have this moral code, where does that lead me?” It is true, as a factual matter, that I got that moral code from society, but what does that have to do with anything? It’s mine now.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              Again, what do you mean, “merely”? There is literally nothing in the universe that is more important than people’s preferences and opinions.

              This is a remark of consummate stupidity. I refer you again to my former acquaintance whose preference and opinion was that there was no such thing as the law of gravity, and that he could leap off a tall building and fly if it were not for the bad vibes of people who wanted him to fail.

              There are a great many things more important than people’s preferences and opinions. One of them is whether those preferences and opinions have any congruence with external reality: i.e., whether the people holding the preferences and the opinions are sane. Many others would suggest themselves readily to your mind, if you were not estopped from pursuing such thoughts by false definitions.

            • Comment by Darrell:

              I have a request, and it is serious and not intended as snark. Would you define mere or merely as you understand the word(s)?

              • Comment by R_Flaum:

                In this context, I understand “mere” to indicate both that morality is due purely to opinions, and that it would be a more noble thing if it were not due purely to opinions.

                • Comment by Darrell:

                  So here are the point that I don’t understand. If merely means “purely” and Mr. Simon’s personal opinion is that you are equating morality purely with a list of “personal opinions, tastes, [and] preferences” to which you believe that there is literally nothing in the universe more important than a person’s preferences and opinions, to what are you objecting and why?

                  Is it that your opinion and preferences differ from his? Is there a way that you and he can determine which preference or opinion is the moral (or more moral) one?

                  • Comment by R_Flaum:

                    I was objecting to the second part of the definition: that it would be a more noble thing if it were not due purely to opinions.

                    • Comment by Darrell:

                      I apologize for my lack of clarity. Let me try a different tack.

                      If each individual’s opinion is more important than anything else in the universe then why is one opinion more important than another? What is the standard that is being used?

                      This is why I asked the question about mere . You seem to object to the word because you construe it to smuggle a derogatory opinion but you had just stated that opinion is more important than “literally” anything else. The implication seems to be that you meant your opinion is literally more important than anything else in the universe. Or is there some other standard that you are using and, if so, how did you arrive at it?

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I am also wondering whether, if each individual’s opinion is more important than anything else in the universe, more important than wisdom or truth or facts or beauty or reality or sanity, what happens if one of the individuals, such as I, opines that each individual’s opinion is of very little or no importance by itself, and is in fact an evil ranging from slothful self-absorption in its mild form to satanic arrogance in its ultimate form, and that the opinion has value when and only when it also happens to be true, or fair, or noble, or some combination thereof?

                      If only one’s opinion matters, and my opinion is that opinions do not matter, what happens to the alleged importance of opinions?

                    • Comment by Mary:

                      How dare you! It’s his opinion that it’s more noble thing if it were not due purely to opinions. Are you trying to infuse an objective standard into this, and hold that his opinion does not matter?

        • Comment by Pierce O.:

          What do you mean, “merely”? Just because something’s subjective doesn’t mean it’s unimportant — indeed, I might go so far as to say that only subjective things are important. “That pond is beautiful” is a more important statement than “That pond is four feet deep”.

          Just wanted to pop in and say that the hobbit I found drowned in my garden pond today might have appreciated it more if I had told him the pond was four feet deep rather than that it was beautiful.

      • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

        a universal moral code….universal to all intelligent beings wheresoever situate

        If such a universal code exists, how does that “creator of the cosmos” disseminate it? Is it hard-wired into every intelligent being’s brain, or is it discerned only through a book which has been in existence for the last 2,500 years of Homo sapiens‘ 150,000+ year tenure on this planet??

        • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

          a universal moral code….universal to all intelligent beings wheresoever situate

          If such a universal code exists, how does that “creator of the cosmos” disseminate it?

          Is it hard-wired into every intelligent being’s brain, or is it discerned only through a book which has been in existence for the last 2,500 years of Homo sapiens‘ 150,000+ year tenure on this planet??

          Is there a third possibility? I do not mean to create a false dichotomy.

          (By the way, your vivisection of “Stranger” was superb. Doubtless if there were a PETA for books, they’d be picketing your door at this moment.)

          (And sorry about the double post. The edit button did not show up in the post upthread of this one)

          • Comment by Darrell:

            The Roman Catholics are now going to begin talking about Natural Law — which has nothing to do with a 2,500-year-old book.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law
            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09076a.htm

            • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

              A Natural Law implanted “in our natures” (for so I take the term to mean) by God, independent of any special revelation, would not carry any marks which would clearly distinguish it from a wholly secular moral code arising out of societal evolution.

              • Comment by Darrell:

                Vicq

                Before this conversation derails, did you follow and read either of the links that I posted?

                I should note that I am not Roman Catholic (but we Orthodox Christians are sympathetic to Roman Catholics on this point) and am simply attempting to speed this up by providing you links that Roman Catholics are going to select your “third possibility” and it is more than being “hard-wired into every intelligent being’s brain”.

                • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

                  Indeed I did, and I have discussed natural law on a number of fora in the past.

                  My personal opinion is that there may well be a universal natural law which is the common inheritance of all mankind.

                  But given the diversity of societal moral norms over the ages and continents, it surely must consist of a scant few principles, and contains nothing explicitly Catholic, or Christian, or even monotheistic. For example, the “universal morality” must demonstrably be silent on divorce, or intoxication, or homosexuality, or slavery.

                  Does the existence of a (very concise) universal morality imply that that morality was imposed from a source outside mankind? I’m willing to consider the arguments for that.

                  But a demonstration of that principle in no way demonstrates that the creator of that morality has a personal desire to see that humans abide by it, nor that the creator even abides by it himself.

                  • Comment by Darrell:

                    I believe that you’ve misunderstood Natural Law but I’ll let one of the local philosophers wade in to discuss as it isn’t part of my particular tradition.

                    Where Natural Law and the arational theology of Orthodox Christianity are in full agreement is that morality is part of the fabric of reality. Within Orthodox Christan theology man is intended by God to become more and more human (fully human, if you will) and those things that bring an individual closer to full humanity are moral. Conversely those things that bring an individual further from full humanity are immoral or sinful. Sinful because they lead the individual to “miss the mark”.

                  • Comment by John Hutchins:

                    For example, the “universal morality” must demonstrably be silent on divorce, or intoxication, or homosexuality, or slavery.

                    Social norms are not the same things as morality. A society that favors divorce will perform objectively worse over the long run then a society that discourages divorce. A society that finds intoxication to be socially acceptable will likewise perform objectively worse then one that either forbids alcohol all together or one that discourages intoxication. A society that promotes slavery will face social problems that a society that forbids slavery will not have. A society that doesn’t respect the reality of reproduction and the necessity of nuclear families will have generally worse outcomes then one that promotes stable marriages and the raising of children, despite ones personal sexual deviance or preferences, on such things.

                    As I said, we can ignore morality but we can not ignore the consequences of ignoring morality. Even in cases where what is moral is not perfectly clear to everyone there is still an actual moral choice with consequences, either good or bad, based on that choice.

                    God desires us to be like Him and for us to have joy. Following correct morality will allow people to have joy in that they will not need to regret their own pasts and will live in old age, if they live to old age, surrounded by those that love them, as they have loved others. Yes, life is not always perfect and a nearly perfectly moral man may end up losing all his property and children and wife through no fault of his own, but even still society as a whole is better when people are moral, and we can trust that God will in the end justify those that are moral and bless them with all that they are currently lacking. This life is not all there is but even if it were then being moral, in spite of opposition, is still the best course, for us, for our families, and for society.

              • Comment by lotdw:

                “A Natural Law implanted “in our natures” (for so I take the term to mean) by God, independent of any special revelation, would not carry any marks which would clearly distinguish it from a wholly secular moral code arising out of societal evolution.”

                Maybe. It depends on your definitions and understandings of some of those words. If “societal evolution” is relativist in nature – IE slavery was right in the West in Classical and Modern times, but wrong in medieval and contemporary times (or see other moral views which have undergone cycles, like abortion or euthanasia or various women’s rights) – then there is a real difference. Natural Law should be able to be understood with regard to objective facts and reason, and evolution (even in the basic sense of change) shouldn’t enter into it. If a thing is right according to Natural Law in one century it is still right centuries later.

                I have my worries over whether this is possible – epistemology is constantly changing – but it does distinguish the two.

  2. Comment by robertjwizard:

    I wish I remembered something from that book. No I don’t.

    (I myself assume that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, but I realize that many people think Bacon wrote them.)

    Bacon? Kevin Bacon, Clara Latimer Bacon, Francis Bacon? The esteemed Mr. Canadian Bacon?

    I read in a Jewish commentary that it is believed by some that Moses wrote the entire 5 books. And that God told Moses of his own death, last chapter of Deuteronomy, and that Moses wrote it with his own tears.

    I think, and I have read a little (and I emphasize the word little) about it, there was a great deal that belonged to the historical Moses (people like to speculate whether he existed or not, so lets say Mr. X) and then there was a great deal added onto it.

    But whatever the case, it hardly matters now. And I’m just picking on a parenthetical comment of yours because I have nothing to say because I can’t remember Stranger in Other Strangers’ Beds.

    Ah, I remember it sucked. There you go!

    • Comment by The Deuce:

      Bacon? Kevin Bacon, Clara Latimer Bacon, Francis Bacon? The esteemed Mr. Canadian Bacon?

      If we’re going by the “insights” of “higher criticism,” presumably all of the above, with a switch in authorship every other word or so.

  3. Comment by dangerdad:

    Obviously petriphobia is associated with Christians.

    Peter? The rock? Anybody? …. Read a book! [/Handy from “The Tick”]

  4. Comment by Mark McSherry:

    STRANGER is a 20-year updating of one of Heinlein’s first stories, the short novel LOST LEGACY. All the scaffolding is there with the drapery slightly repainted. LOST LEGACY: Secret knowledge gained leading to superhuman powers— nest of practitioners hidden away in Mt Shasta— Tormented and demonized when trying to share those secrets with the world at large—

    One might even call Heinlein’s LOST LEGACY a precursor to Marvel’s X-Men. And also, a story not likely to be found in BOY’S LIFE. Heck, RAH couldn’t even get Campbell to publish it in ASTOUNDING. It finally saw print in the November 1941 SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, badly re-edited and re-titled LOST LEGION.

    LOST LEGACY is included in the Heinlein collection ASSIGNMENT IN ETERNITY.
    The Baen Books edition includes an introduction by Heinlein biographer William Patterson which is accessible online—

    http://www.baenebooks.com/p-1636-assignment-in-eternity.aspx

    —where he writes:

    “In fact, Heinlein regarded all of the stories collected in Assignment in Eternity as exceptionally important at the time of their initial publication, and he revisited all of them later in life, making of them his last and in some ways greatest literary achievement, the World as Myth super-novel. The contribution of the ideascape of “Lost Legacy,” it is true, went mainly to Heinlein’s great masterwork, Stranger In a Strange Land (the description of the adept’s artforms in “Lost Legacy” is in all essentials the same as that given for Martian art in general, for example)—but, then again, Jubal Harshaw shows up as a principal player in the World As Myth, so it comes to the same thing in the end…”

  5. Comment by deiseach:

    Some random searching has the Douay-Rheims render the term as “little boys”, the King James as “little children” and the Knox Bible as “young boys”, so definitely what is meant is not “young men” but “youths”. How old those youths were is another matter; somewhere between 12-16? That’s for those with more Greek to debate.

    I think what we can take from the incident is (1) mockery is always dangerous and (2) since events in the Old Testament foreshadow events in the New, we are (perhaps) meant to contrast the reaction of Elisha – a human man, even if he was a prophet – with the mockery of Christ, God the Second Person of the Trinity. Instead of she-bears, a whole host of the heavenly warriors could have descended to utterly obliterate those who dared lay a hand on Him, much less the spitting in the face, jeering, beating and flogging that comes during the Passion: Matthew 26: 53 “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Uzziah was immediately struck dead for barely touching the Ark of the Covenant to save it from toppling when the oxen stumbled; ribald Roman soldiers made a butt of the One in whose sight the heavens themselves are not pure.

    And yet “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      My own random searching, in case anyone is interested:
      2 Kings 2:23
      (KJ21)
      23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel. And as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him and said unto him, “Go up, thou bald head! Go up, thou bald head!”

      (ASV)
      23 And he went up from thence unto Beth-el; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth young lads out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou baldhead; go up, thou baldhead.

      (AMP)
      23 He went up from Jericho to Bethel. On the way, young [maturing and accountable] boys came out of the city and mocked him and said to him, Go up [in a whirlwind], you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!

      (CEB)
      Elisha and the bears
      23 Elisha went up from there to Bethel. As he was going up the road, some young people came out of the city. They mocked him: “Get going, Baldy! Get going, Baldy!”

      (CJB)
      23 Elisha left to go up to Beit-El. As he was on his way up the road, some boys came out of the town and began making fun of him. “Go on up, baldy! Go on up, baldy!”
      (CEV)
      Some Boys Make Fun of Elisha
      23 Elisha left and headed toward Bethel. Along the way some boys started making fun of him by shouting, “Go away, baldy! Get out of here!”

      (DARBY)
      23 And he went up from thence to Bethel, and as he went up by the way, there came forth little boys out of the city, and mocked him, and said to him, Go up, bald head; go up, bald head!

      (DRA)
      23 And he went up from thence to Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, little boys came out of the city and mocked him, saying: Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

      (ERV)
      Some Boys Make Fun of Elisha
      23 Elisha went from that city to Bethel. He was walking up the hill to the city, and some boys were coming down out of the city. They began making fun of him. They said, “Go away, you bald-headed man! Go away, you bald-headed man!”

      (ESV)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”

      (ESVUK)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”

      (E B)
      Boys Make Fun of Elisha
      23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. On the way some boys came out of the city and •made fun of him. They said to him, “Go •up too, you baldhead [away, baldy]! Go •up too, you baldhead [away, baldy]!”

      (GNV)
      23 ¶ And he went up from thence unto Bethel. And as he was going up the way, little children came out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Come up, thou bald head, come up, thou bald head.

      (GW)
      23 From there he went to Bethel. As he walked along the road, some boys came out of the city and mocked him. They said, “Go away, baldy! Go away!”

      (GNT)
      23 Elisha left Jericho to go to Bethel, and on the way some boys came out of a town and made fun of him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they shouted

      (HCSB)
      23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking up the path, some small boys came out of the city and harassed him, chanting, “Go up, baldy! Go up, baldy!”

      (KJV)
      23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

      (KNO )
      23 Then he went to Bethel, and as he climbed up along the road, he was mocked by some young boys from the city; Up with thee, bald-pate, they cried, up with thee, bald-pate!

      (LEB)
      23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; as he was going up along the way, young boys came out from the city and mocked at him and said to him, “Go up, baldhead; go up, baldhead!”

      (MSG)
      23 Another time, Elisha was on his way to Bethel and some little kids came out from the town and taunted him, “What’s up, old baldhead! Out of our way, skinhead!”

      (NASB)
      23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!”

      (NCV)
      Boys Make Fun of Elisha
      23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. On the way some boys came out of the city and made fun of him. They said to him, “Go up too, you baldhead! Go up too, you baldhead!”

      (NET)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel. As he was traveling up the road, some young boys came out of the city and made fun of him, saying, “Go on up, baldy! Go on up, baldy!”

      (NIRV)
      Some Young Fellows Make Fun of Elisha
      23 Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. He was walking along the road. Some young fellows came out of the town. They made fun of him. “Go on up! You don’t even have any hair on your head!” they said. “Go on up! You don’t even have any hair on your head!”

      (NIV)
      Elisha Is Jeered
      23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!”

      (NIV1984)
      Elisha Is Jeered
      23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!”

      (NIVUK)
      Elisha is jeered
      23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’

      (NKJV)
      23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”

      (NLV)
      23 Then he left there and went to Bethel. On the way, some young boys came out from the city and made fun of him. They said to him, “Go up, you man with no hair! Go up, you man with no hair!”

      (NLT)
      23 Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. “Go away, baldy!” they chanted. “Go away, baldy!”

      (NRSV)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!”

      (NRSVA)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’

      (NRSVACE)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’

      (NRSVCE)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!”

      Melachim Bais 2:23 (OJB) | |
      23 And he went up from there unto Beit-El; and as he was going up along the derech, there came forth ne’arim ketannim out of the Ir, and jeered in mockery at him, and said unto him, Go on up, thou kere’ach (bald head); go on up, thou kere’ach.
      Melachim Bais 2:23

      (RSV)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”

      (RSVCE)
      23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”

      (TNIV)
      Elisha Is Jeered
      23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!”

      (VOICE)
      23 Elisha then traveled north to Bethel retracing his last steps with Elijah. On his way there, a large group of young boys came out of the city and began making fun of him: “Keep going, baldy! Keep going, baldy!”

      (WYC)
      23 Forsooth Elisha went up from thence into Bethel; and when he went up by the way, little children went out of the city, and scorned him, and said, Go up, thou bald one! go up, thou bald one! (Go away, O bald one! go away, Baldy!)

      (YLT)
      23 And he goeth up thence to Beth-El, and he is going up in the way, and little youths have come out from the city, and scoff at him, and say to him, `Go up, bald-head! go up, bald-head!’

  6. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    If there is a being that stands to us in the same relation as a dog stands to a man, that is, a higher being

    This seems reversed, unless perhaps you are making a jest?

    Now, if you then say that you and your fellow human beings have deduced and intuited all or part of a real and objective moral order to the universe, you have to explain why the one thing all moral codes in all ages save the present have in common, namely, a belief in the supernatural sanction behind the code, is the one thing in the objective moral code every generation before yours got wrong.

    That does not seem very difficult. Our ancestors were mistaken as a matter of mere fact about the existence of supernatural things, and ascribed all sorts of phenomena to them. You would not object if I explained that we now know that lightning is a natural phenomenon and not a supernatural weapon or manifestation; why the sudden objection when I say the same thing about morality? Moreover, that is not “the one thing” they got wrong; there were any number of moral mistakes made.

    In addition, it is not clear that your assertion, that all prior moral codes had supernatural sanction, is correct. Buddhism is not particularly concerned with gods, as I understand it. Some forms of paganism have strict rules about who you may marry, but do not ground them in the edict of a supernatural being. What is the supernatural sanction in Confucianism? The Norse admired bravery, laconicism, defiance in the face of death, and so did their gods; but they did not claim that these were good traits because their gods admired them – rather the reverse.

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      Our ancestors were mistaken as a matter of mere fact about the existence of supernatural things,

      Repeatedly asserted by you, but never proved. In fact, your attempts at proof over the years have been so inept that I can only think they may have helped to unconvince people who were formerly convinced of your position.

      The assertion not being granted, the rest of your argument fails in consequence.

      • Comment by R_Flaum:

        That’s burden-shifting. The burden of proof is on you to prove the existence of supernatural beings, not on anyone else to prove their nonexistence.

        • Comment by Tom Simon:

          Nonsense. That supernatural beings exist is the common and ordinary belief of humanity, attested by enormous amounts of evidence — a sufficiency of which has been posted on this very blog by Our Host, Mr. Wright. It is not my job to defend the accumulated knowledge of the human race against one person who insists (for his own rhetorical purposes) upon disbelieving it; any more than it is my job to defend the multiplication table against a person wilfully ignorant of arithmetic.

          It is, in fact, Dr. Andreassen who is making the extraordinary claim: that the nearly unanimous belief of the human race in the supernatural (a belief which, you notice, he concedes exists) is merely wrong, and wrong in the particular and naive way that will alone support his argument.

          • Comment by R_Flaum:

            That is not how the burden of proof works. The default position is always the null hypothesis. Whether that’s the most commonly held hypothesis is irrelevant.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              You are trolling, R. Flaum, and I do not accord to trolls the courtesy that I extend to honest inquirers. When I upbraided Dr. Andreassen, it was in the context of years of previous discussion on the very topic at issue, in which Mr. Wright and others furnished abundant evidence in favour of the supernatural, and Dr. Andreassen denied it all based on nothing more than an a priori definition that the supernatural is that which does not exist. You have no right to invoke the burden of proof without apprising yourself of the entire content of the argument so far; any more than a lazy geometry student has the right to turn to a proof on page 361 of Euclid’s Elements and say, ‘I don’t see how that follows. The burden of proof is on Euclid to repeat his entire argument from first principles on every single page!’

              • Comment by Dirigibletrance:

                No, he isn’t trolling. He is correct about how the burden of proof works. Whether something has been the default belief of mankind for most of history is irrelevant, most of mankind can be wrong. We must hold to logical positivism when asserting whether something is “proven” or not, and there is insufficient evidence to prove the existence of supernatural beings. There is only circumstantial evidence that they exist at all, this is not sufficient to conclusively assert anything about them, only postulate and speculate.

                • Comment by Mary:

                  Sez who? The burden of proof for your arguments here is on you.

                  • Comment by Dirigibletrance:

                    Not really. I am not making a new arguement per se, I am pointing out the flaw in another person’s arguement, namely Mr. Simon’s contention that Mr. Flaum is trolling, when in fact he was attempting to hold the discussion to some semblance of logic and the scientific method.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  The phrase “burden of proof” has a technical meaning in the field of law referring to the degree of evidence (“a scintilla” or “reasonable evidence” or “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty”) needed impose a burden or penalty depending on the type of case. For example, in a civil case, being sued for negligence, the complainant need only meet a burden of “clear and convincing” evidence, whereas in a criminal case, being put in jeopardy of life and limb for a felony, the burden is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In law, because the lawmakers and jurists deem it wiser to let a guilty man go free than to punish the innocent, the burden is always on the prosecution. This is a policy decision. A society with less Christian concern for the innocent or in more danger from crime or both might decide another policy.

                  Here, there is no analogous policy at work, and no standard of evidence. Atheism is not the default position, nor is it an argument to say to someone “I have not been persuaded of your position, therefore your position is false.”

                  It is futile to argue about the burden of proof in a philosophical context unless you first establish policy. Before the burden of proof can be decided, you have to establish whether it is better to run the risk of having a mistaken atheist go to hell or run the risk of a mistaken Christian live his life in pleasant delusion. You then have to establish whether some proof is enough, or clear evidence, or evidence beyond any reasonable doubt, or apodictic certainty where no other conclusion is logically possible.

                  I am a lawyer, and ya’ll are using one of my terms of art. If you are going to use it, please use it respectfully.

                  Circumstantial evidence (also a term of my art) is admissible and probative in certain cases and for certain types of evidence, as is hearsay — I can list the exceptions for you, if you wish.

                  And the troll is not using the term correctly at all, and neither are you. As proof of this, allow me to state that your definition and application of the burden of proof does not meet and satisfy your own burden of proof.

                  NOTHING could meet your announced burden of proof, that we must believe nothing until proven otherwise, for then why should we believe your rule that says that we must believe nothing until proven otherwise? That majority of man can be wrong, and so too can the minority; and nothing in logic says that only apodictic certainty is permissible as proof.

                  • Comment by Dirigibletrance:

                    I was speaking of scientific, empirical proof, and I assume that he was as well, rather than in a legal sense. The standards of courts of law, the procedures followed therein, and the way that “proof” is ascertained in criminal proceedings does not seem sufficient to the task of answering questions about the nature of the universe.

                    Although perhaps I chose the wrong words, rather than “burden of proof”, I should have modified the previous responder’s language to something like “workable model” or “working hypothesis” or something else that more accurately describes the way that knowledge is attained in science.

                    Circumstantial evidence and hearsay may be admissible in courts of law, but they will get you laughed right out of a laboratory unless you can produce something more concrete, or at least something more theoretically sound and at least potentially testable or observable. There is no such current working model for supernatural phenomena, no body of observed, recorded data for it which can be tested either empirically or mathematically. This is why I saw there is insufficient evidence to prove the existence of supernatural beings, because there is no evidence whatsoever. Their existence is not *disallowed* under most working models of the universe either, so you can incorrect in saying that I was asserting that athiesm is the default position: I was not.

                    There is simply no data, so the default position is “there is currently insufficient data to form a conclusion.”

                    I find it odd that you push back so hard against this. According to: 2 Corinthians 4:18 “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” and to 2 Corinthians 5:7 “We live by faith, not by sight.” being able to arguementatively “prove” the existence of god, whether in a legal sense or in a scientific context, is not of prime importance.

                    Indeed, spending excessive energy attempting to do so rather seems to be missing the entire point of the gospel.

                    • Comment by Darrell:

                      Indeed, spending excessive energy attempting to do so [proving the existence of God] rather seems to be missing the entire point of the gospel.

                      This is essentially the view of Orthodox Christianity and is why I describe it as arational. It is also why I don’t understand why people believe Roman Catholicism is irrational or unsupported by philosophy. They’ve been doing philosophy for longer than anyone else.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “The standards of courts of law, the procedures followed therein, and the way that “proof” is ascertained in criminal proceedings does not seem sufficient to the task of answering questions about the nature of the universe. ”

                      What? The burden of proof to send a man to the electric chair is MUCH HIGHER than what anyone uses to decide whether the Earth or the Sun is in the center of the solar system.

                      You are grossly, grossly mistaken in your comment, comically so.

                      Indeed, I dare say I could find many a man who believes in evolution even though he never once, not once, spoke with an eyewitness who saw a new species emerge from an old one via natural selection.

                      Proof beyond a reasonable doubt means that no other alternative explanation is reasonable. It means that no doubt is reasonable.

                      The debate between the Steady State Theory and the Big Bang Theory was not between two models, of which one model was compelling and the other was unreasonable. Both were reasonable. One had slightly better evidence than the other, and involved no assumption about a cosmological constant. The doubts about the Big Bang theory were (and are) reasonable.

                      “Circumstantial evidence and hearsay may be admissible in courts of law, but they will get you laughed right out of a laboratory unless you can produce something more concrete, or at least something more theoretically sound and at least potentially testable or observable…”

                      The comment is risible. Circumstantial evidence means evidence based on the circumstances, such as, for example, the evidence that Einstein’s theory is correct because of the precession of the axes of Mercury. It does not prove the speed of light is constant to all observers. It is a piece of evidence consistent with, that is, found in the same circumstances with, what one would expect if the circumstance is true.

                      As for hearsay being laughed out of the laboratory, again, the comment is risible. Hearsay means listening to a witness tell you what an eyewitness said, or as when you have a man tell you what is in a book or on an island rather than read the book or visit the island yourself. All scientists depend on the hearsay reports of other scientists. No one who believes in evolution when to the Galapagos Islands, no, not one, and looked at the same birds and turtles Darwin looked at, if we take the birds to be the primary evidence. His written statement is not even open to cross examination. We take his word on hearsay. Those of you who, unlike me, never read ORIGIN OF SPECIES, indulge in double hearsay.

                      I hope the irony is not lost on you that you are here holding forth a legal opinion to a lawyer without bothering to look up what the terms mean (in answer to a post where I am asking people NOT to misuse the terms!) and saying something that is not only untrue, but the opposite the truth. Scientific and philosophical investigation of the truth have more relaxed standards than a court of law, and rarely if ever admit of the type of direct evidence and direct examination and cross examination routinely found in criminal and civil cases.

                      No one has ever put the gods on the witness stand. The use of physical evidence in science is an attempt to prove that an theory about a general rule is not disproven by a given experiment. Evidence in a court of law is not about any such airy abstractions, and it is positive rather than negative.

                      Jurors prove facts. Scientists prove theories.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “There is no such current working model for supernatural phenomena, no body of observed, recorded data for it which can be tested either empirically or mathematically.”

                      This is like saying there is no current working model for geometric phenomena, no body of observed and recorded data that proves the theorem of Pythagoras.

                      Or like saying no body of recorded date proves that women deserve the right to vote.

                      But geometric abstractions do not exist in the realm of the senses, and neither do political or legal concepts or normative duties. Therefore they cannot be affirmed or denied by any combination of sense data.

                      Which is not a bug, but a feature. Physics and physics alone is concerned with phenomena. Physics and physics alone is proved or disproved by sense data. All other disciplines rely on rationalism or intuition (in the philosophical sense of the word).

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      Best remind everyone that the verb “proof” means “to test.” A meaning still found in phrases like “proof of the pudding” or “the exception proofs the rule”, in “proving grounds” and the “proof” of whiskey.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “This is why I saw there is insufficient evidence to prove the existence of supernatural beings, because there is no evidence whatsoever.”

                      None whatsoever? I am an eyewitness. The reason why I am no longer an atheist is that I saw God.

                      What changed me was the evidence you just said does not exist whatsoever.

                      I assume by “whatsoever” you mean to distinguish between this and some evidence that is doubtful, or partial, or open to re-interpretation? But you did not say the evidence for God was doubtful. You said it did not exist. Whatsoever.

                      You can say my eyewitness testimony is not persuasive to you, or you can say that you have not had the opportunity to cross examine me, or you can say that you mistrust science fiction writers and mistrust lawyers, and would not accept my word of honor no matter what I said — those things are matters or judgment and opinion where reasonable men can differ.

                      Or you can say, as many an atheist to me has said, that starting from the premise that God does not exist, assuming any man who says he sees God must be lying or mistaken or mad, and since I am such a man, my testimony is a lie or a mistake or madness; and since the testimony given evidence of God is false or erroneous or insane, therefore God does not exist — in which case, you are arguing in a circle, assuming the point in dispute, which is a point on which reasonable men cannot differ. (A man who regards a circle argument as valid is unreasonable by definition.)

                      But when you say I DO NOT EXIST AT ALL, then you doing what we Houyhnhnms call “to say that thing which is not.”

                      The evidence for God exists, and is abundant. There are both material evidences and historical events, and philosophical arguments, not to mention revelation itself.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      Indeed, all empirical evidence is against the irrationality of pi. Take any circular object and measure its diameter and circumference. The ratio of the two will be a ratio by definition. To say that a ratio is irrational is so astonishing that the Pythagoreans pronounced death on anyone revealing such a thing. But that is because while the physical world contains circular objects, it does not contain circles. Such objects represent a second abstraction from the physical. (Being, beauty, truth, et al. are the third abstraction.)

                • Comment by The OFloinn:

                  But did Popper and the others not explode logical positivism into smithereens?

          • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

            Mr. Simon:

            If I were to meet you in person tomorrow and tell you that at the age of seventeen I had lost my left hand in a motorcycling accident, but as a result of diligent prayer to God, He had (showing my fully functional left hand with a flourish) recently caused it to regrow…

            …upon whom would the burden of proof reside?

            If I were to aver that the hand had regrown as a result of diligent prayer and offerings to Osiris, would the burden of proof be allocated any differently?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              The phrase “burden of proof” has a technical meaning in the field of law referring to the degree of evidence (“a scintilla” or “reasonable evidence” or “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty”) needed impose a burden or penalty depending on the type of case. For example, in a civil case, being sued for negligence, the complainant need only meet a burden of “clear and convincing” evidence, whereas in a criminal case, being put in jeopardy of life and limb for a felony, the burden is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In law, because the lawmakers and jurists deem it wiser to let a guilty man go free than to punish the innocent, the burden is always on the prosecution. This is a policy decision. A society with less Christian concern for the innocent or in more danger from crime or both might decide another policy.

              Here, there is no analogous policy at work, and no standard of evidence. Atheism is not the default position, nor is it an argument to say to someone “I have not been persuaded of your position, therefore your position is false.”

              It is futile to argue about the burden of proof in a philosophical context unless you first establish policy. Before the burden of proof can be decided, you have to establish whether it is better to run the risk of having a mistaken atheist go to hell or run the risk of a mistaken Christian live his life in pleasant delusion. You then have to establish whether some proof is enough, or clear evidence, or evidence beyond any reasonable doubt, or apodictic certainty where no other conclusion is logically possible.

              I am a lawyer, and ya’ll are using one of my terms of art. If you are going to use it, please use it respectfully.

              • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

                My hypothetical was addressed to Tom Simon’s apparent contention that large-scale belief in the supernatural is an indicator of its actuality.

                I’m more than willing to set aside the legal definition of “burden of proof” and posit that it’s a total stranger (not Vicq Ruiz, that known unbeliever who might well be pulling your leg) who comes to you with the tale of an God-caused experience (regrowing a hand, or something analogous) which cannot be fitted into a naturalistic framework.

                Is your inclination to believe, or to doubt??

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  Are you asking me? Seriously? Seriously?

                  The reason why I am no longer an atheist is because I had an experience (regrowing a dead heart, or something analogous) which could not be fitted into a naturalistic framework. My choice was then either to (1) doubt my own sanity, allowing me to dismiss the facts as hallucination (2) expand the framework to fit the facts.

                  While I was inclined by my atheist principles to favor option (1), I found that my stern principles as a philosopher did not allow me to make up whatever comfy crapola might be necessary, in total disregard for the evidence, to invent to suit my inclinations. There was no circumstantial evidence to support the insanity theory, and firm evidence otherwise. By process of elimination, I was left with option (2).

                  So your question is not merely poorly conceived, it is extremely poorly conceived. You are not asking a question that pertains to whether or not the subject matter is innately believable, whatever that means. Instead, you are, in effect, asking someone if his beliefs are based on something belief-worthy. Myself, I cannot imagine anyone answering a question of that form in the negative.

                  You tell me: if you saw a UFO, would you believe in UFO’s?

                  And, yes, OBVIOUSLY the large-scale belief in something is probative of its reality, while it is of course not logically inevitable. It could be that you are right and everyone else on Earth is wrong.

                  But you atheist are so weak, puling, feeble and gormless compared to real atheists, you make me sick.

                  Real atheists known that they have an uphill battle, that history and the majority are not on their side, and that they have to be brave, resourceful, persuasive and utterly logical to convince people of something that is so hard to believe and so against human nature to believe — but which, by atheist axioms, is the hard and uncomfortable truth.

                  Real atheists don’t pretend they’ve already won and argument they have not even begun.

                  Come, you say there is no God, and that the soul perishes at death. Display your proof. Call your witnesses. Tell me the conditions of the experiments which have any bearing whatever on this question. You cannot.

                  You cannot because you have no evidence, no proof. For who has seen a soul perish? What you have, since you are a weak atheist, an atheist-wannabe, is an emotion.

                  What you should have, if you were a strong atheist, a real atheist, a man, is an argument grounded on inescapable first principles, rigorous in logic, and clearly defined.

                  I had a whole arsenal of such arguments polished and ready back when I was an atheist, you quivering dribbler of words, you jelly. What do you have?

                  You have an unsupported claim that we ought to accept your position as the default position for mankind (even though, historically, it is a position of freakish abnormality, almost unheard of) and that a failure to meet a burden of proof you will set arbitrarily high constitutes a vindication of said position.

                  More people believe in Atlantis than believe in Atheism. If it were reasonable to accept yours as the default position on this question, it would be more reasonable to accept theirs as the default position on that one.

                  • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

                    Um. Well. Setting innuendo aside, may I summarize?

                    John C. Wright was an atheist.

                    One day, he had a personal experience which he could not fit into his atheist worldview.

                    Subsequently, he had to adjust his worldview accordingly.

                    I do not challenge that in the slightest.

                    Vicq Ruiz is an atheist.

                    He has never had a personal experience which did not fit his atheist worldview.

                    Perhaps someday he will.

                    If he ever does, he likes to think he will have the intellectual honesty to adjust his worldview accordingly.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      To prepare you for that day, let me suggest an good exercise to strengthen the intellectual honesty is (1) to meet the opponent’s strongest arguments, not his weakest (2) to answer any questions honestly and fully, without sarcasm or putting on an air of superiority (3) to ask questions where you do not understand (4) be curious, rather than assume you know (5) be prepared, if you do not believe in God, to give a reasonable account for your disbelief.

                      As an attorney, I know that even an odd and eccentric belief can be made to seem reasonable if the evidence and the line of thought that supports it can be placed before the jury and put in its best light. Atheism is a freakish belief that afflicts people without normal social skills, who are unable to see the divine nature of the universe we all inhabit. But, it is a freakish belief which has a certain appearance of internal consistency, a certain childlike simplicity of explanation, that can be made put forward in a good light if you have your arguments prepared, and if you have your axioms defined.

                      There is a person who leaves comments on my blog frequently who is the most perfect example of a lack of intellectual integrity of anyone I have ever met. Charity forbids I should mention his name. But he is the example to avoid. He is not even aware that atheism is a metaphysical argument rather than an empirical deduction. (He does not even known what an empirical deduction is, and he is too proud and too stupid to ask where he does not know). Consequently, there is no point arguing with him: he is a shame to the cause, and makes atheism look even more freakish and sophomoric than it needs to look.

                      Lucretius is rolling in his grave. Now, THAT man was an atheist! He could lay out his principles, define his terms, establish his procedure, and drive to a logical conclusion like nobody’s business. AND do it poetry! AND do the poetry in Latin! Ah, be still my heart! Oh, that there were men such as he in these depraved and barbaric days!

                      I believe atheism can be argued with considerable panache and persuasive power, but not by amateurs who do not know the difference between a circular argument and sewer hole.

                  • Comment by DaveSomething:

                    I would humbly suggest that you may be succumbing to a wrathful temptation which you have repeatedly confessed. This post seems… a little over the top.

                    God bless,
                    Dave

              • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

                I have no objection to setting aside the question of legal terminology in your favor.

                Let me simply posit that a stranger (not that well known infidel trickster Ruiz) comes to you with a sincerely presented account of a God-caused miracle such as a regrown hand, an event for which the naturalist world view simply cannot account.

                Is your inclination to believe, or to doubt, and why?

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Are you making the claim that “burden-shifting” is an illicit or dishonest move in the chessgame of this conversation?

          If so, you are appealing to a set of rules governing conversations which you seem to expect Mr Simon to acknowledge, and whose authority you seem to assume without question is binding on Mr Simon.

          This is an epistemological claim (since you assume he knows or should know the rule of which you speak) and a moral claim (since you seem to assume he ought to conform his action to the standard the rule defines.)

          Either claim directly undercuts your argument. If morality is subjective, no grounds can exist to support the ideas that rules about licit or honest behavior in a discussion are rules men know or should know, and are rules that bind all parties.

          (Here we see that even those who question whether or not moral rules are objective tacitly rely on the assumption that they are.)

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      we now know that lightning is a natural phenomenon and not a supernatural weapon or manifestation; why the sudden objection when I say the same thing about morality?

      One wonders:
      Is there an important distinction between morality and lightning?
      In what way is a natural phenomenon not of divine origin, given that the divinity is Existence Itself, a.k.a., the substantive ground of all being.
      Whether morality is “given” in the same manner that lightning was supposedly “thrown,” that is, something external to its source. (cf. convertibility of the transcendentals)

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “you have to explain why the one thing all moral codes in all ages save the present have in common, namely, a belief in the supernatural sanction behind the code, is the one thing in the objective moral code every generation before yours got wrong”

      “That does not seem very difficult.”

      This sentence is a warning sign that the sentences following are not worth reading. Upon inspection, they do not, in fact, offer an explanation as to by what means the natural moral code common to all ages of history and all tribes of man erred in this one regard and not in others. All that is stated here is that it is the case.

      So whether or not it is difficult to explain by what means our ancestors made this mistake, and how it was corrected, in the paragraph offered no explanation is offered.

      Also, in the interests of clarity, I not asking on what grounds our ancestors claimed that the moral code was the edict of a divine being — as you point out, not all made that claim, or made it in the same way — I am asking on what grounds respect for the gods and the spirits of the ancestors, which is a universal principle appearing in all versions of the moral law known to man, can now be held to be an error, when the other parts of the moral code, the one should not kill the innocent, or lie, or take their stuff, or fail to defend the weak, are not in error.

      • Comment by R_Flaum:

        I’m not sure that earlier cultures really had a clear distinction between natural and supernatural.

        A minor quibble: while it might reasonably be said that morality has historically been tied to religion, there are non-theistic religions — Jainism, for instance. This doesn’t really impact your main point, because even these religions do associate morality with universal truths, it’s just that these truths don’t take the form of a sentient being.

        I would also dispute the extent to which morality was always tied to religion. While there definitely was an association, I don’t think it’s so clear-cut as all that. Look at Coroebus confronting Apollo, for instance, or the karmic backlash from Odin’s oathbreaking. It seems to me that at least some of the pagan thinkers viewed morality as independent from the will of the gods.

        • Comment by Tom Simon:

          I’m not sure that earlier cultures really had a clear distinction between natural and supernatural.

          That is radically irrelevant, for you claim to have such a clear distinction, and to hold that everything which falls into the category of the supernatural is nonexistent. This is an extraordinary ontological claim, and one eminently subject to refutation. For a summary of such a refutation in a modern context, I suggest that you look to the works of Dr. Edward Feser, particularly The Last Superstition. If you can’t easily track down a library copy, you can find detailed discussion of many of the same points on his blog at edwardfeser.blogspot.com.

          Incidentally, for a strongly reasoned argument against the relativity of morals in general, I can recommend the late Mortimer Adler’s book, Desires Right and Wrong. His reasoning and evidence played a large role in leading me out of the verbal and intellectual morass in which you appear to be trapped.

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          at least some of the pagan thinkers viewed morality as independent from the will of the gods.

          This may be why those pagan thinkers abandoned the paganism of their ancestors and concluded that there must be a purely actual being that was the ground of all being and even (in the case of Plotinus and Neoplatonism) that the One must have three hypostases. After that, they got baptized.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        Upon inspection, they do not, in fact, offer an explanation as to by what means the natural moral code common to all ages of history and all tribes of man erred in this one regard and not in others.

        Again, this is not the only question (moral or otherwise) on which I assert that our ancestors erred. That aside, I attempted an explanation by analogy: They erred in the matter of explaining the origin of morality in the same way that they erred in explaining the origin of lightning. Both were originally assigned a supernatural cause. I assumed that you have some model of how they came to make the latter error, and would agree that it can be applied to the former. Is not this an explanation? If not, perhaps you could say what is lacking; do you disagree that the lightning error can be applied to the morality, do you disagree that we share an understanding of how lightning came to be misexplained (in which case I have explained one black box by appeal to another), or is there a third problem?

        That aside, your clarification seems to be asking a slightly different question:

        I am asking on what grounds respect for the gods and the spirits of the ancestors (…) can now be held to be an error

        In the case of the gods, I would say that it is on the simple grounds that they do not exist; our ancestors were making a factual error. (In the case of the Aztecs they were additionally making a moral error, in that the Aztec gods, even if they existed, would not be worthy of respect; but the factual error is sufficient.) As for the spirits of the ancestors, it depends on what is meant by ‘spirit’. If one speaks of a ghost, of a survival of the consciousness of the ancestors after the death of the body, then once again plain nonexistence seems to me like a good reason not to require respect. If we speak of the memory of one’s ancestors, then a certain amount of respect is due, so in that case I do not make the assertion you attribute to me. One may of course differ on the precise amount of respect and on how it should manifest itself; and respect, obviously, does not preclude observing that they were mistaken on many points both factual and moral.

        That said, I must again object to your assertion of universality. Buddhism is, at least in some versions, not theistic; where then is the respect for the gods? It also seems to me that in its monastic versions it is not really very concerned with the spirits of the ancestors – indeed those ancestors are presumably either reincarnated or nirvana-ized, so concern for them is a bit futile. Come to think of it, the three monotheistic religions don’t seem very concerned with respect the spirits of the ancestors either. Your `and’ is unjustified; it is not the case that every moral code has had both, and at least one seems to have have neither.

        Touching the burden-of-proof argument between Tom Simon and R_Flaum, this seems to me somewhat irrelevant to the question at hand, which was how an atheist can explain why he cuts out a specific part of older moral codes but accepts other parts. Atheism is, as it were, already assumed; we are not arguing about whether one should be an atheist but about what atheism, accepted for the sake of argument, implies for objective morality. No?

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          I now remember why I held you once in such low esteem, sir. There was a time once when you actually answered a question honestly, and admitted something which was both not necessarily partisan to your cause, was not mere verbal fluff, and showed real intellectual curiosity. Here you have returned to your former habits.

          I assumed that you have some model of how they came to make the latter error, and would agree that it can be applied to the former. Is not this an explanation?

          The assumption is false: I see no application whatsoever between an assertion of a moral universal norm (such as “All men ought to treat others as they themselves would be treated”) and the assertion of a theory of physics (“lightning is caused by fiery humors impregnated into clouds by the alchemical action of the sun”). The two do not share the same epistemology. Epistemology is the theory of how a statement is known to be true or false. The epistemology of normative statements in by universal categorical logic based on undeniable first principles of moral reasoning; the epistemology of physics or natural philosophy is to examination of measurements of matter in motion to confirm or deny predictions of those motions based on the assumption of unknown universal consistencies governing the motions.

          So, again, the question is, if you accept, no doubt with some nuance of exceptions and limiting conditions, the natural moral law which is intuitively known to all men is indeed universal, and you accept that murder, theft, rape and adultery are wrong (perhaps also anger, gluttony, lust, and arrogance) on what ground can dismissal of the moral law relating to respect for the ghosts of one’s ancestors and the shrines and rituals of the gods, which are no less universal than the prohibitions on murder, be dismissed?

          You have now twice merely repeated that it is the case that this is so. Be that as it may, I am asking you why this is so. On what grounds can eleven parts out of twelve of the universal moral law be affirmed, and the twelfth part denied? I submit that it is not on the basis of the universal moral law itself.

          That said, I must again object to your assertion of universality. Buddhism is, at least in some versions, not theistic; where then is the respect for the gods?

          Buddhism proposes an eightfold path to lead out of the suffering of this world into the supernatural world of Nirvana, after countless reincarnations, in order to escape from the endless divine punishments exacted by Karmic law for sins. I suggest that the variations of this doctrine, which is a supernatural discipline to achieve non-material paradise after kalpas of reincarnation to escape the scourge of the Karma for sin are not logically self-consistent with a philosophically materialistic view of the universe.

          However, Buddhism is a philosophy which exists in the context of a culture of rite and religion, also called Buddhism. That there are variations of the philosophy, such as Zen Buddhism, unconcerned with devotion to the gods is neither here nor there. Showing disrespect for the gods would be in any case a violation of the second, third, sixth and seventh aspects of the Eightfold Path, which governs right intention, right speech, right effort, and right mindfulness.

          It also seems to me that in its monastic versions it is not really very concerned with the spirits of the ancestors – indeed those ancestors are presumably either reincarnated or nirvana-ized, so concern for them is a bit futile.

          Again, you have fallen into your old habit of talking bullshit, which I really would insist you stop doing. All Buddhist cultures from Tibet to Japan to India and throughout the Orient place a tremendous weight on filial piety and honoring ancestors. There is no way you could be unaware of this. The Buddhist cultures clearly and obviously hold it as a high value. That you think that any ancestor who achieves Nirvana now is beyond caring whether he is treated with respect, and therefore you deduce that Buddhists do (or ought to) mock and mar the grave memorials of their ancestors and throw down their shrines is a comment that is stupid beyond my patience to answer gently.

          As a matter of fact, Buddhist cultures revere their ancestors, even if one finds a few odd modern atheists Buddhists (who believe in reincarnation and igher powers running the cosmos). As a matter of fact, ancestor worship and reverence for the dead is a supernatural belief and is part and parcel of the universal moral code found among all cultures and all periods of history. It is irrelevant that you think they ought not.

          We were discussing why this is the case, and my challenge was for someone positing a universal moral code with no supernatural origin or sanction to explain the paradox of supernaturalism being part and parcel of a naturally evolved moral code with only natural processes for its authority and dignity.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            on what ground can dismissal of the moral law relating to respect for the ghosts of one’s ancestors and the shrines and rituals of the gods, which are no less universal than the prohibitions on murder, be dismissed?

            I have told you twice, and this will make three times: Neither ghosts nor gods exist. Our ancestors made a factual mistake in asserting their existence; from that factual mistake followed the moral error of according respect to nonexistent things.

            In the interest of not having to repeat myself a third time, I will keep this comment short and not respond to all that you said. I hope this will make it easier to pick out the main point, that respect for nonexistent beings cannot be required, at the price of cutting short some threads of discussion.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Thank you for yet again informing us that you happen to have an opinion for which you have no warrant, proof, or evidence. I do not give a tinker’s damn about a report of a personal psychological fact, that you happen to be a person who happens to have such an opinion. Since I asked once and twice and thrice that you give a warrant or support for this opinion, I conclude that you are unwilling or unable to understand what giving a warrant or support for an opinion means.

              Me: “Any one who believes X, which seems to contradict Y on which X is based, must be ready to explain the seeming contradiction, or give some warrant for accepting all of Y except for X.”

              You: “Oh, Me! Pick Me! I can explain it!”

              Me: “Go ahead.”

              You: “I believe X is true!”

              Me: “Yes, that is nice, but I want to know why you believe it is true. And how you reconcile it with Y?”

              You: “I believe X is true!”

              Me: “I got it. I got the concept. I am asking for a justification or reason.”

              You: “I believe X is true! The reason is…. uh…. I believe X is true!”

              Me: “Do you understand the difference between telling me that you believe something and telling me why you believe something?”

              You: “I believe X is true! I do! I believe X!!”

              Me: “Based on what evidence?”

              You: “Evidence? Uh…. I believe X is true!!!”

              Me: “Based on what?”

              You: “X is true because X is true, and I believe it because it is true!”

              At what point should I conclude that you either can answer the question but will not, or cannot answer the question and will not admit you cannot?

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                Very well, I misunderstood your question. I opine that it was a bit badly phrased, but never mind, I was not answering the question you asked. Let me try again.

                There seem to be two points on which I disagree with the ancestors, and which require explanation. Firstly, they assert the existence of the supernatural. Secondly, they reason from the supernatural to the specific moral injunctions that we agree on, such as not stealing. Is that a fair statement of the points you want explained?

                Now, it seems to me that the first is not a moral statement but a factual one. Disagreeing over statements of fact always has the same explanation: The evidence that convinced the ancestors does not convince me. They made errors of pattern-seeking in random data, not testing hypotheses that are clearly testable, and accepting the fundamentality of mental processes on the grounds that their internal parts are not readily apparent. In some cases they also made the error of trying to prove “from first principles” what they already believed, and therefore glossing quickly over the shaky parts of the “first principles”.

                The second question is, given that our ancestors reasoned from what I think are false beliefs to what I think are true ones, how do I arrive at the same conclusions? Because the said ancestors were not actually basing their morality on what they falsely believed about the supernatural, they were basing it on their innate human nature, same as me. They were simply mistaken about the source of their axioms, but the axioms themselves were nevertheless (mostly) correct and therefore led to (mostly) correct conclusions after correct reasoning was applied.

                To put it differently, it’s easy to arrive at correct conclusions from wrong axioms if you already know what is correct. If the objective moral code can be intuited, then it is trivial to create axioms which, though false, give the correct morality back out when used in syllogisms.

      • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

        on what grounds respect for the gods and the spirits of the ancestors….can now be held to be an error, when the other parts of the moral code, the one should not kill the innocent, or lie, or take their stuff, or fail to defend the weak, are not in error.

        I’m not sure I would characterize that first part of the moral code as an “error”. However, I would characterize it as lacking in consequence.

        My family can suffer major harm if I fail to provide for or to defend them. Likewise they will suffer the collateral damage if I become known as a liar or cheat. Consequences ensue!

        On the other hand, the gods and spirits, being, well….gods and spirits, are far beyond any possible harm which may ensue by my failing to respect them.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Finally! Someone answered, or tried to answer the question! Thank you, sir.

          Now I will point out that the universal morality does not express things in terms of consequential prudence, although that forms part of its genius. So the distinction is made between commandments to live in peace and support one’s parents, but now it is called into question whether patriotic affection for the gods of the city and the ghosts of benevolent ancestors has a positive effect. If I were as unscrupulous as a Darwinian, I would say it must have a survival value, or else it would not be a universal practice.

          But I am not so unscrupulous. I will say instead that even atheists admit such beliefs have a social utility, since the improve moral, make sense of life senselessness, and command the loyalty to serve a higher purpose which all men naturally hunger for, except the most cynical. In the modern world, that role is taken up with the nation-state, especially nation-states which represent and fight for a certain political philosophy or way of life (as Democracy, or Communism) and that role is taken up with various abortive attempts to create utopia: environmentalism, socialism, feminism, racism, antiracism, multiculturalism, anarchism, spiritualism, and the various other communal efforts to find higher powers to adore, worship, serve, and sacrifice others to. I would say that the later and more advanced forms of the ancient religious version of this Darwinian strategy of finding meaning in life promote philanthropy and cosmopolitanism, such as Buddhism and Christianity, whereas the modern forms by their nature cannot have but a limited appeal or be directed against a limited set of goals, and therefore are more prone to corruption.

          So, there is a consequence to running a society with no heart and no soul and no belief in the soul. You end up with shallow, stupid, and evil creatures who think that selfishness is a virtue, that word-cleverness is wisdom, and that subjectiveness is the only important thing in the world. You end up with a society where otherwise honest men are not ashamed to say thing like have been said elsewhere in this comments: nowhere men who believe in nothing and have no honor and no sense that they have lost anything by losing their honor.

          And that is a consequence very much to be avoided.

          • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

            If what you are saying is that respect for the gods provides benefits to human societyin fact I do agree, and have said so in various face to face and online discussions. (The idea that it provides benefits to the gods is what my comment above was intended to reject)

            My acceptance of the utility of religious faith is the reason why I have tried hard never to object to it in others, nor am I one of those atheists who is constantly seeking to excise religious symbols from our public life. (I am that unusual combination, a lifelong atheist who is a lifelong political conservative).

            It’s a matter of self interest if nothing else, since it is undeniable that societies where the Jewish and Christian faiths predominate have generally shown more public tolerance for unbelievers than those where other faiths dominate. (However, this is true only since the 1600’s at best – my view is that Christianity well leavened with the Enlightenment, or vice versa, is what has produced the best societies on Earth)

            I get along quite well in social situations with those of strong religious faith, questions about my own being politely turned aside with an “I do not quite hold with that” which the listener may interpret as he chooses.

            Do you think I’m being hypocritical?

            Am I letting my side down?

            Would you think more of me if I stood on the divan and shouted “You’re all hoodwinked by this imaginary sky fairy!” That is the image of the atheist which I choose to reject.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              No, I apologize humbly. I admire your position. I used to be in your position.

              I was also an atheist who wanted religious objects and ceremonies left alone. I did not believe in God because the evidence did not persuade me. I told myself that if ever I came across the evidence, I would be persuaded by it and it alone, wherever it led.

              I would think far less of you if you were a unbible-thumper denouncing the spaghetti monster.

              To answer your original question, the reason why I changed my mind was because I came across evidence. Now, this is not a scientific theory, and so the evidence does not, obviously, follow scientific limitations and procedures. It involves the whole person and all of life. It is a question at one philosophical and metaphysical and ontological and personal.

              It is philosophical because whether or not God exists has philosophical implications, particularly in matters of ontology and ethics, but it is not solely philosophical. A philosophical question like “is there a necessary being which is the ground of all contingent being?” becomes an ethical question if it is asked whether this necessary being is necessarily and omnipotent monarch and final judge of all human actions, as well as the source and legislative authority for establishing the natural laws of ethics and virtue and prudence. This becomes a question of immediate personal significance if it is asked whether that omnipotent monarch also just happens to be your father. Then the question is more akin to being asked “Do you love the girl you are about to ask to marry?” than being asked “Is the Earth the center of the Solar System or is the Sun?”

              • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

                Despite the fact that I have been a burr under your saddle on more than one occasion, I will continue to read and post here until such time as I am kicked out of the parlor.

                The reason being that I have read works by several Christian apologists who claim to have once been atheists. Most of them do not ring true in the least. The arguments they raise so as to counter with their faith rarely even rise to the level of “straw man” – they are arguments that no true atheist (not even an Scots atheist) would make.

                You and a very few others are not in that group. Most particularly, you seem to realize that atheism is -hard-.

                I’m really sick to death of the Christians who tell me “Ruiz, you just want to be an atheist because it means you can persist in all your many sins without fear of punishment.” I consider that to be purest bullspit.

                Knowing that this life is all that there is, is not fun. It’s not encouraging. But, as Dr. Johnson once said in another context, it “concentrates the mind wonderfully.”

                Thanks.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  Mr Ruiz, despite my bad manners, I do have a sense of honor and a few rules I impose on myself. One of them is that I do not ban people unless they use foul language, or insult my family, particularly the dead, or they deny the Jewish Holocaust. That is the one topic I consider to be beyond the pale of civilized conservation. I did ban one guy once who double-dog-dared me to do it, since he claimed it was not technically possible.

                  I, like you, am sick of any argument ascribing a motive to the man making the argument. Let us suppose that, back when I was an atheist, Ayn Rand was frightened to persist in her sins, and for this reason she was an atheist, and then using factious arguments convinced me to be an atheist also. Then she dies, and I, who suffer from no such psychological limitation or distortion, voice the same argument. What does it matter to me what the personal motives might have been of whoever first invented the argument I now make my own? Even if the ad hominem argument CORRECTLY identifies the motives, that has no bearing on the soundness of the argument. If I catch a murderer because I am a detective working for pure love of justice, or a vigilante driven a personal desire for revenge, what bearing has that on the soundness of the evidence convicting the murderer ?

                  Likewise, now that I am on the other side of the battlelines, I am exasperated by arguments which imply that Christianity is invented for purposes of wish fulfillment. It fulfills no wish I had before my conversion. And who wishes to die a martyr, or even to be exposed to public contempt at the hands of orcs and trolls and unwashed half-educated sophomores? My wishes could be fulfilled more easily by the promises of a paradise filled with Houri, as the lascivious Mohammedan enjoys, or a Valhalla of endless combat, as the proud and doomed Viking sought.

                  • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

                    Oh, I quite agree. Christ is a hard taskmaster, and those who paint the Christian life on earth as a Big Rock Candy Mountain do the faith no service.

                    Topic for future discussion if you are so inclined….were your views on abortion, homosexuality, and the other “social issues” similar in your atheist days as they are today? If so, how did you reconcile them with your atheism, if not, how did your conversion bring about a change of view??

  7. Comment by Bobby Trosclair:

    A good article by John. Although some of Heinlein’s books (i.e., the earlier ones) led me to make some positive choices and decisions (the virtues of preparedness, trying to develop a wide range of personal skills, the importance of a rigorous academic program, the value of the military and patriotism, even taking up fencing), I’m saddened to confess that Heinlein’s fashionable agnosticism was a factor in my own loss of faith when I myself was a lazy and horny teenage boy with neither social skills nor foresight. Or at least, it was one of a number of sources I used to justify my own poor choices. (Deo Gratias, I got better.)

    I’ve read about a couple of incidents that suggest Heinlein may have reconsidered his stance on religion in his later years (a not uncommon event when contemplating the possibility of one’s personal extinction).

    Spider Robinson told an interesting story about Heinlein, which is contained in the the revised 1992 edition of the anthology, “Requiem and Tributes to the Grand Master,” edited by Yoji Kondo.

    Robinson edited the anthology “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” and asked his favorite authors to pick their favorite forgotten or little known story as a companion piece to their own, and comment on it for the anthology. Robinson was surprised that Heinlein picked Anatole France’s story, “Our Lady’s Juggler,” which, as Robinson noted, was a deeply religious story that most Catholic school children have introduced to them at an early age (or used to, perhaps). One of the characters is the Virgin Mary. Robinson was startled that Heinlein, “widely considered to be one of the great Agnostics,” had selected it.

    Robinson also mentions that there was a concerted effort by Keith Henson and the Alcor Foundation to get Heinlein to agree to be cryogenically frozen upon his death in the hopes of resurrecting him at a future date (as described in a chapter in the book, “Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition” by Ed Regis. ) Heinlein declined, even though the Alcor Foundation agreed to waive the considerable financial cost for him. Henson asked Robinson to intercede with Heinlein, but Robinson declined. Although he felt that Heinlein, if anyone, deserved an outside chance at living forever, Robinson felt it was a deeply personal decision for Heinlein, and did not wish to intrude.

    On the day of Heinlein’s death, Robinson spoke with SF editor Jim Baen, sharing their grief. At one point the subject of cryonics came up, and Robinson said he wished he had the guts to ask Heinlein why he said no to the offer. Baen admitted he did ask Heinlein once.

    Heinlein’s answer to Baen is intriguing: “How do I know it won’t interfere with rebirth?”

    • Comment by Mark McSherry:

      I’m not the first to point out that there is a long streak of mysticism in Heinlein’s work. More pronounced in his pre-WWII writings, but evident even during the time of his Juveniles. ROCKET SHIP GALILIEO devotes much of a chapter to epistomology, Chapter 10, “The Method of Science”. And the “Little People” of Venus in SPACE CADET, though of a childish Gandhi-like deposition, are capable of manipulating and transforming physical objects that far excede those of Earthlings in 2078. And then there’s the inscrutible Martians of RED PLANET…

      I first read the 1960 STRANGER when I was eleven. Loved the first half, meh on the last. Truth is, I couldn’t make sense out of the last two Parts. Re-read the 1990 STRANGER last summer, the first time for the 220,000-word plus version. So I recall Mr Wright’s excerpt above. And I remember chuckling as I read Jubal’s Biblical pontificating to Jill— RAH, I thought, was once again “pulling my leg”. His examples from the Bible are specific enough that anyone with a bit of effort could check the validity (BS-factor) of Harshaw’s rant. After all, Heinlein\Harshaw says to Jill\The Reader, “Look it up when we get home. I don’t expect you to believe ME.”

      And that line is probably RAH’s finest “words of wisdom”. Better than any of Lazarus Long’s aphorisms from TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE. And for the reader to keep that skepticism in mind, most especially, when Heinlein tackles the “touchy” topics in his novels following STRANGER.

  8. Comment by gray mouser:

    Strawman Girl represents the strawman argument first put forward, to my knowledge, by Thomas Paine in AGE OF REASON that the Bible should contain no passages which will shock the conscience of a child.

    And isn’t it interesting that when looking at the passages of the Bible that attest to the supernatural works of God, the miracles of Christ, etc. that it seems exceptionally unlikely that a child’s conscience would be “shocked.” At least, that is my experience as the father of three. It is only the adult who has lost his child-like innocence that could be shocked that God punishes the wicked, perform miracles, or give his followers a moral law to follow. These are, in fact, the most natural thing for a supernatural person to do.

    Deists, and others, want a neutered God who makes demands only in an analagous sense; a deity who is safely caged, who is incapable of breaking into history, taking his people by the throat, and effectively dragging them into the Holy Land kicking and screaming. And yet a God who can’t do those things is unworthy of the name. Of such a deity it certainly cannot be said that he “is love.”

  9. Comment by Tom Simon:

    My dear Mr. Wright:

    ‘Sockpuppet Son of Sockpuppet’ is an apt name; but perhaps it would not be too unseemly of me to remark that I see what you did there.

  10. Comment by Darrell:

    Next we get to Elijah. I will not dwell on this point, because frankly I am not qualified. I can read the New Testament in Greek but not the Old in Aramaic. All I can say is that a quick check of a round dozen translations use the word “youth” or “unimportant youths” rather than “boys” or “little boys.” So we may or may not be talking about a street gang of punks who outnumber the Jets and Sharks together attacking a little old man. If “youths” is the correct translation, then he was not being “sassed” — or not just being sassed — but was being driven out of town by the youth mob, and act of considerable more brutality.

    This almost has a Protestant understanding to it which I would suggest shows the wisdom of the Church being the vessel of Holy Tradition. What Strawman Girl should have told Sockpuppet Son of Sockpuppet is that the Holy Bible was not intended to be read outside of Holy Tradition and is not, in fact, a series of ancient attempts at local newspaper reporting.

  11. Comment by Dirigibletrance:

    Ultimately, every reader is responsible for how they digest the ideas they intake. I don’t like it when you call ideas “dangerous” for this reason, an idea simply is, and what we do with it (and whether we think critically and realize that an idea is stupid or not) is something the reader must decide for themselves.

    Having said that, I remember that even in my horny teenage years, I found “Stranger” to be a vile and digusting book. Not that I was innocent of the very same sins, but I knew them to be wrong, and it felt perverse to read something that attempted (and failed) to portray it reasonable to turn the entire moral order of human sexuality and life upside down just to justify them. To use a child-like analogy, while I myself was guilty many times of stealing cookies from the jar, I still found it perverse and repulsive to portray a world in which it was every man’s right to take as many cookies as he wants, whenever he wants, regardless of who they belong to.

    The only interesting idea I remember in the book was the notion that, because Mike was aware of souls (to him they were not mythical things, but as tangible as a keyboard is to us) he didn’t understand the wrongness of killing, because to him it was merely removing a thin material covering over a being. But the sort of religion or social movement a creature like that would start, at least intuitively to me, should have been some sort of ascestic, Vulcan-like movement where all bodily desire or gratification is rejected as being ultimately meaningless.

    I have no plans to go back and read it again as an adult, there are much better works of Science Fiction that demand my attention.

  12. Comment by stefanlittle:

    I just finished reading “Hermetic Millenia”. I really enjoyed it! I was hunting for news of a follow-up book and found this site. I thought I would read this latest post and found this article about Heinlein’s Argumentroid problematic. I cannot argue with you about the laziness of Heinlein’s critique of Christianity in the book, but overall the article reads like a primer on being wary of thought crimes. Many of your points itch my brain in a similar way that the Heinlein passage (I think) was meant to. Was this on purpose? Were you trying to make us question your rhetorical methods in bringing us to your professed position?

    In any case, I am going to enjoy spending some time on this new (to me) place on the internet which looks to have a lot of interesting content. Hope to see/read more on posthumanity and other interesting topics. As an ardent (when I can be bothered) apatheist, I find this article a bit tiring, but I can understand a Christian’s frustration with poorly formed critiques/attacks on their religion of choice embedded in a semi-hypnotic inducing media format that might influence the young and others lacking indoctrination.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      but overall the article reads like a primer on being wary of thought crimes

      What? How is an article warning people to avoid logical errors equated in your mind with a warning to commit logical errors? The two would seem to be opposite.

      You have also accidentally, I hope, offered me a mortal insult. I decline to accept it, so no apology is necessary, but your wording makes me suspect that you are unaware of the gravity of the accusation you make.

      Many of your points itch my brain in a similar way that the Heinlein passage (I think) was meant to. Was this on purpose?

      Yes. I was using Heinlein’s same worthless techniques on him, using mockery rather than argumentation, as an illustration on how it is done. (Admittedly, he did it better than I did.)

      Were you trying to make us question your rhetorical methods in bringing us to your professed position?

      Yes. I was assuming my readers are mentally alert enough to notice that making fun of Mr Heinlein’s mustache (or my cheap tricks of rhetoric) does not invalidate his argument.

      I also assume the reader can pick out the thread of the real argument involved. Heinlein is arguing that all religions are equally deserving of respect because they are all equally contemptible, especially the Christian religion, because the Bible depicts various crimes and enormities as having been committed with divine sanction or command. Then the example he used, Lot offering his virgin daughters to assuage a criminal mob, turns out to be something not done with divine sanction nor command, nor indeed ever done at all: instead the angels yank Lot back into the house and blind the mob. Therefore all religions are equal and judging them is wrong. Thereforeh Jill the Strawman Girl is shown to be wrong to display disrespect for the make-believe Casino-Huckster religion of Fosterism. Whose leader Mike the Martian has just murdered in a nonchalant display of Martian psionics. As a bit of persuasive logic, the syllogism leaves much to be desired.

      To give you are reference point to understand my passionate interest in the topic of Christian apologetics, I was an atheist for 35 years, and not an apathetic atheist, but an ardent, passionate, vituperative and proselytizing atheist. I convinced members of my family to stop attending church, and convinced college friends of mine at school to depart from their religious beliefs. I was good at what I did.

      Then, not long ago, I began to loose my faith in atheism. As a model of the universe, a model that left out the supernatural dimension of things did not have the explanatory power needed to serve as a model. Too much was left unexplained; too much was unaccounted-for. To quell the growing and lurking suspicion that there could be something wrong with my perfectly logical model, I decided on an experiment: I prayed to the non-existent God and double-dog-dared him to show himself to me, or else, if he did not show, I was relieved from any effort to pursue any further inquiry into his existence.

      Before three days passed, I had a heart attack, was dying, and the prayer of someone who claims to have the power to heal through prayer, healed me through prayer. The attacked stopped within a moment of the prayer. This was something my model could not account for. Going to the hospital to see what the attack had been (at the time, I thought it was pleurisy) the doctors announced that I had five clogged arteries and required major surgery. The holy spirit came into my body, and I felt it almost like a physical sensation. Instead of being frightened or even annoyed by the hospital stay, it was one of the most joyous and pleasant times of my life, ever. I was visited by the Virgin Mary, who spoke to me, and by Jesus Christ, who frighted the crap out of me, and my God Almighty, who was beautiful beyond words. Christ said that God does not judge people, but that he, Christ, would be my judge, for the authority to judge man has been given to him.

      At that point, I was sure this was an hallucination or a dream, because we all know that Christians believe in a judgmental God, who condemns the wicked. I should mention I was not on any painkillers or any medication which might cloud the judgment or induce hallucination. I was oriented as to time, place and person. I was aware of the nature and character of my acts. I talked this over with my wife in the car after we were driving back from the hospital.

      After I was released from the hospital, about a weak later, I had another ecstatic experience, and was sent on something like a spiritual journey outside of time and viewed reality from the point of view of eternity, and was the told the solution to an old philosophical conundrum concerning the problem of determinism versus the freedom of the will, as well as the nature of Biblical prophecy. Again, there were no drugs, no bumps on the head, no other evidence of hallucination or madness.

      So I decided to start reading the Bible. In a book of the Bible I had not read before (atheist do not normally pore through the Bible, after all) I came across a passage I had never read and never heard any Christian ever make reference to in my hearing. The passage is from John 5:22 “For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son.”
      This is almost word for word what Christ said to me.

      Now, there are two possible explanations: my mind is playing some elaborate trick on me for reasons of its own, a trick which allows me to know the wording of passages in books I have not read; or the same person who spoke to me spoke the words that Saint John wrote down, and the reason why they are the same is the same person is real and really said that.

      So, having frivolously demanded God show me some proof of His being, because I was so sure there was no one to heard the request and no answer to give, I was answered by a plethora of evidence, an abundance of evidence, an embarrassment of evidence.

      While I am not as vituperative as an theist as I was when an atheist, unlike other theists, I have walked more than a mile in atheist shoes, and am allowed to hold anyone who takes up the noble banner of atheism to the high standard I once maintained: that is, to be logical, to make real arguments and not play silly word-games, and to stick by your guns. I expect honesty. No one should be an atheist through mere shiftlessness, or mental sloth, or emotional sentiment.

      I do not wish you to be made to feel unwelcome, but I also do not wish you to feel betrayed if you venture some empty-headed comment favoring atheism and are met with contempt. Atheism is a difficult position to argue, and I hold those who do not have the intellectual power to maintain their argument rigorously, or even competently, in bitter contempt. It is not the atheism to which I object, by the empty-headed version of atheism, that is, the lukewarm, Laodicean, wavering, mealy-mouthed, dishonest, intellectually craven atheists. To them I very strongly object.

      You at least can appreciate my background which tempts me to hold atheists to a high intellectual standard. I used to be one of you, and I was good at what I did. I used to be Darth Vader. To see my place in the Hall of Evil Fame now be taken by Team Rocket from Pokemon, causes me shame.

      And the high standard I demand for logical bravery in speech, poor Mr Heinlein does not meet. As piece of persuasive story-telling, however, he meets and exceeds my best attempts. I hope that difference is clear.

  13. Comment by Dirigibletrance:

    “You are grossly, grossly mistaken in your comment, comically so.”

    Oh, silly me. I forgot that it was lawyers, rather than scientists and engineers, who put men on the moon and discovered the casimir effect. It slipped my mind that litigation, rather than research and testing, is what developed the knowledge that now allows trains around Europe and Japan to float on magnetic lines of force at 200 kilometers per hour, suspended over a charged rail. That it was legal proceedings which have allowed us to send unmanned spacecraft into interstellar space and land on mars, as well as verify the existence of the higgs boson. That criminal courts allowed us to use scanning-tunneling microscopes to analyze the cytoskeletal structure of cancer cells and develop ways to thwart them. That it was the diligence of the country prosecutor’s office which discovered the cosmic background radiation, and determined that space-time is Minkowskian, rather than Euclidean.

    Something is risible here, but it isn’t my comments or my point of view.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Actually, this reply is even more risible than the last.

      Usually I can identify what informal logical error is being made, but in this case yours seems to be a stream of pure irrelevance.

      Were we arguing about whether the moonshot was more useful to mankind than the Common Law, the principle of trial by jury, the presumption of innocence and the US Constitution? I will concede the point that technology has more daily use for the comfort of man. But this is like arguing whether Milton is more puritanical than a pig is fat.

      But, no, we were discussing the degree of certainty and the type of evidence admitted, and you made statements which were in error, and now you compound the error all the more.

      Your comment is typical of the science-worshiper who knows little or nothing about the methods of science, what those methods can do and what they cannot do. Even a cursory study the history of science (and mine was more than cursory, since I have read Archimedes to Newton to Einstein and beyond, not prettied up secondary sources) will show how often scientific learning changes its basics assumptions.

      Real scientists (and even some science fiction writers) know that science does not produce juridical or philosophical certainty and does not attempt to. It tries to produce a model that fits the observed facts. It does not try to convict the guilty, does not try to establish philosophical or theological principles, or, for that matter, it does not try to judge beauty contests.

  14. Ping from John C. Wright is Endlessly Interesting:

    […] It just gets more fun. Go here and read it all. […]

  15. Comment by The_Shadow:

    I want to thank you, Mr. Wright, for confirming me once again in my resolve never to pollute my mind and heart with _Stranger in a Strange Land_ – nor indeed any of Heinlein’s later work. One attempt, _The Cat Who Walks Through Walls_, soured me on him for all time – I have never seen such a blatant betrayal of a reader’s trust by an author as that piece of dreck.

    As for Mr. Flaum, I was struck while reading his posts with the thought that he seems to be conflating two, or perhaps three, different things; and that this might be at the root of his insistence that duties are subjective?

    First, there is a moral duty in itself. This is about as objective as it comes – it is as hard and as piercing as the nails thrust through the wrists of Christ.

    But then there is one’s own cognitive recognition of that duty; which is, of course, subjective. And then further there are the emotional reactions which may or may not attend that recognition – or else cloud and prevent that recognition. These are about as subjective as they come.

    I am wondering if Mr. Flaum is conflating at least the first two, and possibly the third? He seems to me to be saying that if he does not recognize a duty, it does not exist. Much like Bishop Berkeley’s famous tree ceased to exist when he turned his back on it.

    It is also possible he is falling prey to a curiously common (and curiously modern) confusion, that anything that cannot be seen or touched must therefore exist only in our minds. I remember how bizarre I found this in Hume, yet many people take him seriously as a philosopher – why, I cannot imagine. My own training is in physics, and I have yet to see or touch an electron, and indeed know of them only through a long chain of inferences; yet I am confident they exist outside my own mind.

    Moral duties are of course not inferred in the same way; but as you have ably said, our knowledge of them is grounded in stronger evidence, not weaker. It is conceivable, though unlikely, that some new evidence could cause me to reassess the existence of electrons. But it is nearly impossible to imagine a set of circumstances that would require me to reassess my duty to speak the truth, to name only one. (And to be quite frank, I added the ‘nearly’ only because someone might have a better imagination than mine.)

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Unfortunately. Mr. Flaum is too overeducated to ask question with curiosity or answer questions humbly.

      If he were a simpler man, I could find out if he were conflating those three things by asking him about them, and explaining (if he did not know) what the three things were. If he were a more educated man, I could ask him in technical terminology, and be confident that he at least understood the question being asked. But he is a modern man, a sophomore, and so he has the odd combination of ignorance and overconfidence that makes conversation impossible.

      I suspect he is reciting the dogmas of his creed, not uttering the conclusions of his ratiocination. I will be delighted to be shown wrong.

  16. Comment by Nostreculsus:

    It seems very strange to me that, although I read “Stranger in a Strange Land” years ago, I remember none of it. None of the plot outlined above. It’s all gone.
    Can I claim to have read a book when I have forgotten every incident and character in toto?

    And now some nit-picking.

    Next we get to Elijah. I will not dwell on this point, because frankly I am not qualified. I can read the New Testament in Greek but not the Old in Aramaic.

    The Old Testament is mainly written in Hebrew. Exceptions are a few chapters in Ezra and Daniel and one verse in Jeremiah which are indeed in the closely related Semitic language of Aramaic, the common language of Israel from about 500 BC. So, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and most of the Talmud are in Aramaic.

    Now the episode of Elisha (not Elijah – Heinlein gets this, at least, right) and the boys is in 2Kings, which was written in Hebrew, not Aramaic.

    Is [a universal moral code] hard-wired into every intelligent being’s brain, or is it discerned only through a book which has been in existence for the last 2,500 years of Homo sapiens‘ 150,000+ year tenure on this planet??
    Is there a third possibility? I do not mean to create a false dichotomy.

    Of course there is a third possibility. There may be an external being, the “dreamer”, who knows you and sends you dreams, some with particularly important messages. Because of torpor and fear of change, many people do not understand these messages.

    To quote the French mystic, Grothendieck, “Le reveur n’est autre que Dieu.” And when He speaks, it is in such a low voice that nobody ever understands.

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