Russell and Duenes

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us: Ten Years Later

with 33 comments

Ten years ago, Bill Joy, techno-guru and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote the now-famous piece for Wired Magazine entitled: “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” In it he worried that our breakneck progress in robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology – unencumbered by ethical restraint – might bring us to eventual extinction. Though sometimes accused of being a neo-Luddite, Joy clearly has never been anti-technology. Rather, his piece, taking our development of nuclear weapons as a cautionary tale, seeks to find ethical boundaries for our pursuit of scientific and technological knowledge. In other words, he’s grappling with the age-old question: Just because we can do something, ought we to do it?

Reading the article today, one can see that we have not nearly approached the doomsday scenarios he envisions. Scientists often overestimate what they’ll be able to do and by when. I cannot say, of course, how close we are to real breakthroughs in technological engineering, yet it was not the technology side of the argument that fascinated me. What grabbed my attention is Joy’s attempt, apart from a biblical epistemology, to ground some kind of ethical restraint on scientific progress. I don’t believe he succeeds, and it would be difficult to imagine anyone succeeding given our current “scientistic” idolatry with respect to technological advance.

Who holds authority in our culture to tell us what “the truth” is and how we ought to direct our lives? Is it the man in the collar or the labcoat? To ask the question is to answer it. You don’t see the priest or the prophet on CNN telling us what we should think about our modern world. Rather, it’s the scientists, for we are convinced that they have brought us all of the miracles – and we do indeed consider our modern technological and medical inventions to be miracles. As Joy writes, “In this age of triumphant commercialism, technology – with science as its handmaiden – is delivering a series of almost magical inventions that are the most phenomenally lucrative ever seen. We are aggressively pursuing the promises of these new technologies within the now-unchallenged system of global capitalism and its manifold financial incentives and competitive pressures.” This has led to tremendous arrogance and hubris in science – “scientism” – and Joy is right to worry about it.

Joy continues, “Plants” with “leaves” no more efficient than today’s solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough omnivorous “bacteria” could out-compete real bacteria: They could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop – at least if we make no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies. Among the cognoscenti of nanotechnology, this threat has become known as the “gray goo problem.” Though masses of uncontrolled replicators need not be gray or gooey, the term “gray goo” emphasizes that replicators able to obliterate life might be less inspiring than a single species of crabgrass. They might be superior in an evolutionary sense, but this need not make them valuable. The gray goo threat makes one thing perfectly clear: We cannot afford certain kinds of accidents with replicating assemblers. Gray goo would surely be a depressing ending to our human adventure on Earth, far worse than mere fire or ice, and one that could stem from a simple laboratory accident. But the obvious question when faced with extinction by “gray goo” is ‘Why would it be a depressing end?’ If our lives are nothing but physical existence here, as Joy seems to believe (see his ode to atheist Carl Sagan in the article), I can’t imagine that it could possibly matter how, or even if, we go extinct. But what’s even harder is to believe that we’ll somehow agree to what Joy calls “relinquishment.”

“Relinquishment,” according to Joy, means that we must “limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge.” This is a haunting sentence because, unwittingly, Joy is echoing the biblical account of what happened with Adam and Eve in the Garden. God provided everything the man and woman could possibly want, and then some, but God warned that there was a “certain kind of knowledge,” to use Joy’s words, that they were not permitted to have. Rejecting this God-given limitation, they plunged the entire creation into misery and divine judgment. And mankind has been in arrogant rebellion against God ever since. Now the sons of Adam simply have smarter technologies with which to rebel. Nothing in the nature of what’s needed as a solution has changed. What’s needed is moral and spiritual transformation by the power of God.

Joy, unsurprisingly, does not offer this as a suggested solution. But he’s clearly on to the problem. He writes,

We have, as a bedrock value in our society, long agreed on the value of open access to information, and recognize the problems that arise with attempts to restrict access to and development of knowledge. In recent times, we have come to revere scientific knowledge…It was Nietzsche who warned us, at the end of the 19th century, not only that God is dead but that “faith in science, which after all exists undeniably, cannot owe its origin to a calculus of utility; it must have originated in spite of the fact that the disutility and dangerousness of the ‘will to truth,’ of ‘truth at any price’ is proved to it constantly.” It is this further danger that we now fully face – the consequences of our truth-seeking. The truth that science seeks can certainly be considered a dangerous substitute for God if it is likely to lead to our extinction. [emphasis mine]

We are already beyond the point of danger, for the pursuit of scientific and technological knowledge, has supplanted God in our common life. The rise of the “New Atheists” – Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Pinker, et al – has been enabled by our scientific arrogance. We continue to pursue life-destroying embryonic stem cell research because, as President Obama told us, “Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” Ah, I see. Science must not be hindered by the “ideology” of people like me who believe that we’re all created in God’s image from the moment of conception. Yet here we’ve got Bill Joy telling us that maybe we ought to hinder science just a bit.

Joy says, “If we could agree, as a species, what we wanted, where we were headed, and why, then we would make our future much less dangerous – then we might understand what we can and should relinquish.” Indeed. But these questions about our desires, ends, and means are not scientific questions, as Joy clearly understands. They are metaphysical questions, spiritual questions, that must be answered by a sovereign source outside of ourselves.

Joy argues that such relinquishment – relinquishment that I assume will be stated and enforced by the government – will need a verification mechanism. He says, “Verifying compliance will also require that scientists and engineers adopt a strong code of ethical conduct, resembling the Hippocratic oath, and that they have the courage to whistleblow as necessary, even at high personal cost.” He calls for this at the precise moment when the medical profession is abandoning Hippocratic medicine with, shall we say, abandon. How in the world do we think we will convince ourselves to let go of the idol called “technological progress at any cost”? Joy quotes a bevy of moral voices, though never Jesus, in his ruminations about how we might proceed; finally getting around to his ultimate thesis:

The Dalai Lama further argues that we must understand what it is that makes people happy, and acknowledge the strong evidence that neither material progress nor the pursuit of the power of knowledge is the key – that there are limits to what science and the scientific pursuit alone can do…Clearly, we need to find meaningful challenges and sufficient scope in our lives if we are to be happy in whatever is to come. But I believe we must find alternative outlets for our creative forces, beyond the culture of perpetual economic growth; this growth has largely been a blessing for several hundred years, but it has not brought us unalloyed happiness, and we must now choose between the pursuit of unrestricted and undirected growth through science and technology and the clear accompanying dangers. [emphasis mine]

Where might this “strong evidence” against our scientistic idolatry come? Our great calling is for it to come from the people of God, who know by their life in Christ, that “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” in the power of Christ’s resurrection, is where true human happiness and flourishing will spring forth. I’m not suggesting we become neo-Luddites ourselves – of which there’s not much danger in western Christendom – but I am exhorting us to establish Christian communities, in the power and love of the Holy Spirit, whereby we exhibit and show forth  a common human life that is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy;” communities where we “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things…letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God…in word or deed, doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:2, 16-17). This has always been the call for God’s people, and it is certainly the answer that Bill Joy is searching for, though left unfound, in his article. I highly commend the entire piece to you. Ruminate over it, and then ruminate over your Bible with God’s people, for wisdom and winsome witness in our technological age.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 4, 2010 at 2:36 pm

33 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Hello, I haven’t read much of your blog yet. I am a non-believer as far as I can remember back. I see no evidence for the existence of God, or for the universe have any meaning or purpose. As I am 67 years old (though still in fairly good health) I know that my life will end sooner than later. I am a skeptic about most things, but I am fairly sure that when I die, I will cease to exist and that there is no such thing as life after death or Heaven or Hell, and that religious belief is a creation of the human mind.

    I was posting a comment at a liberal magazine to which I subscribe (THE NEW REPUBLIC) and a search for Bill Joy’s article led me to your blog and this post.

    I irritate bloggers all over the web with my comments. I will post part of what I posted at NEW REPUBLIC. You have my permission to delete my comment if you want to.

    [I should add that about a year or so ago I was banned from participation at worldmagblog, the discussion web site of the evangelical Christian magazine WORLD, so feel free to delete any of my comments or ban me from participation at your web site. Warning: at first bloggers think I am reasonable, but they soon learn better.]

    Ten years ago, I was unsettled by reading Bill Joy’s well-known dystopian essay in WIRED MAGAZINE, “The Future Does Not Need Us.” Checking the web today, I was equally unsettled by a reply by a Christian fundamentalist,

    Either we will destroy ourselves with our rationalist, scientific our of control brilliance, or we will destroy ourselves by sinking back into primitive religious fundamentalism/superstition?

    Please write an optimistic article about something that offers a few minutes of hope. My 7-year-old granddaughter (who has two mommies and two daddies) is visiting tomorrow and I need to present a cheerful and optimistic persona to her about how civilization is going to survive, so she can have a chance to land on Mars when the time arrives.


    May 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    • Modesty – We have no requirement for reasonableness in the comment section of this site, but we do require respectfulness. Personal attacks will not play here, but I don’t see you making any, so there should be no problem. I don’t find anything you’ve written irritating. As long as you’re willing to discuss ideas in a civil manner, I’m usually game.

      My question to you would be, Why do you “need to present a cheerful and optimistic persona to your grand-daughter about how civilization is going to survive?” What if everything is as you say, and there’s no meaning in life and no life beyond the grave. That seems pretty hopeless, and I’m not sure why we need to act optimistic if your view of the world is true. Frankly, if we destroy ourselves, by any means at all, I can’t imagine it matters much. I stated this clearly in my piece on Joy’s article. If there’s nothing but a purposeless, material universe out there, how could it matter one iota what we humans do to ourselves down here? The universe doesn’t have feelings, and so it doesn’t care. As the old Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes once asked, what problem would there be if we kerosened the whole ant-hill? Given atheism, I can’t see a problem with it. As Douglas Wilson says, “Shit happens; deal with it.”

      Of course, I believe that our lives down here matter infinitely, and I have reason to be optimistic, for Jesus Christ “came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I happen to count myself. He offers eternal life to those who trust him, and he promises “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore.” But that’s what I believe, given my premises.


      russell and duenes

      May 6, 2011 at 9:17 pm

      • That’s exactly right: nothing we do here matters one bit. But that’s no reason to be depressed; if that depresses you, it’s a sign of ignorance. That indicates that you’re living an entire human life with your eyes set on the afterlife, rather than the present. Nothing matters, but that doesn’t mean we can make our OWN meaning in life, our OWN purpose. Spending this life merely waiting patiently for the next isn’t much of a life at all.


        May 13, 2013 at 6:23 am

  2. Because of “bad apples” such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, nihilism has gotten a bad reputation. However, there are lots of good, quiet, kind, reasonably well-behaved nihilists (such as myself, at the moment gazing fondly at my seven-year-old granddaughter, who has shown signs of real artistic talent, and is crouched on the floor drawing a botanical sketch while her two mommies—one my daughter—look on) who don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t torture, don’t cheat on spouses, and even pick up after themselves (at least once in a while).

    Many religious believers seem to ask, “Why not be evil if you believe there no purpose or meaning to life?” (Although your reply is gently and deftly phrased, I think that is what it boils down to.)

    There are quite a few possible responses. One is, “Why not?”

    Actually, it is not that much harder (at least for some of the billions of humans of the world) to behave reasonably well as it is to behave in a wicked manner. For that matter, why not present a cheerful, optimistic persona to my granddaughter?

    Second, when I read responses from believers, especially from many conservative Christians, I suspect that they struggle with so many wicked impulses and perhaps because they fear that only belief in God & Jesus helps them stay at least reasonably on the straight on narrow. In fact, given their lamenting about all of us being sinners (even for so much as thinking a sinful thought even if not acted upon) and about only Jesus’ sacrifice can save us sinners and so on, I suspect that they are so consumed with guilt, foreboding and terror that only religious belief provides any alleviation.

    Third, although there is no way to measure this empirically, just as there is plenty of evidence that religious believers behave badly just as plenty of nihilists do. Although, Christians (as a group) have improved over the last few centuries, the history of Christianity displays a great deal of horror and cruelty. Among Catholics, one finds the Crusades and the Inquisitions. Among the Protestants, one finds persecutions of the Irish, persecution of “witches” (much worse than Scotland so saying “Salem” was a minor aberration does not slough it off), and persecution of aborigines such as Australian aborigines, and Indians in the United States. (I could go on; this is just the short list). All major religious groups—not only Muslims, but Hindus, Buddhists, Jews (and my ancestors were Jewish) and so on—have included major examples of virtuous behavior and major examples of wicked and violent behavior.

    Conservative religious believers (CRBs) argue against evolutionary theory because the implication is that we (human beings) are animals. CRBs admit we have an “animal nature” (hence we hunt, kill, lust) but only our “spiritual nature” from God allows us to be peaceful, self-controlled, benevolent, and altruistic. Actually, except for a few mammals which seem to have a joy in killing (weasels, etc.), most animals behave “better” in a sense, just using their survival instinct to eat what they need or to defend themselves. Humans are about the only animals that fight wars, kill for no purpose, and commit suicide.

    Finally, humans are the only animals who are self-conscious of their own existence, who engage in abstract thinking, who invent philosophies and religious beliefs, who are aware of and despair about their own mortality, and who commit suicide.

    There is no serious empirical reason to consider Christianity or any other religious belief to be based on truth. Religious belief is something that human beings developed (over centuries) to console ourselves about our mortality and about our perception that we we are born for no purpose and die for no reason. As a child, my favorite fairy tale was “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” At a fairly young age I perceived that religious belief corresponds to the crowd that praises the Emperor is dressed when in fact he is wearing no clothes.


    May 8, 2011 at 6:34 am

    • Modesty – You talk about “bad apples” and “behaving badly” and being “well-behaved” and “evil” and having “wicked impulses” and so forth. Yet you are an atheist. And if your atheism is, in fact, true, then there’s no use in talking about anyone behaving “badly” or “well.” These terms, like everything else, are utterly meaningless in a godless universe. Atheism means that the only thing that exists is time and chance acting on matter. Given atheism, Hitler was not “behaving badly.” Rather, he was, like every other human being, just a bag of chemicals; and given the particular bag of chemicals he was, at certain temperatures and under certain conditions, he did the kinds of things he did. But you, as a consistent atheist, can’t possibly condemn him for it. You may not want to do the kinds of things he did, but he cannot possibly have been “wrong” on an atheistic account of things. He was just doing his thing, and when he died, he, like you, turned to fertilizer, and the universe didn’t care. As John Lennon told us to imagine: “Above us only sky.”

      Christians like myself aren’t arguing that religious people CAN or CANNOT behave “better” than atheists. What we’re claiming is that atheism gives no basis for judging ANY behavior as “good” or “bad.” Notions of “good” or “bad”behavior have to be based on objective standards, standards that are binding upon all people in all places. What I would like to know from you is: What is your standard for judging ANY particular behavior to be “good” or “bad,” and why should I have to conform to that standard? Does the universe care whether I do or not? Is it written down somewhere so I can read it?

      So please don’t reply by telling me that you don’t need God to be ethical. That’s not the issue. The issue is: What standard does the consistent atheist have for considering any behavior by a human being to be “good” or “bad” or “ethical.” Ethics? What are ethics in a godless universe? Answer that, and maybe we can get somewhere.


      russell and duenes

      May 9, 2011 at 11:29 am

      • Just my thoughts, but I think that ethics has always been about the individual privileging the needs of the culture above him or herself. I don’t think that’s going to go away, although I do think that the needs of the culture are going to eventually start turning against us biotic life forms at some point. When, I don’t know, it could be a long time, but I’m almost sure it will happen.


        June 16, 2012 at 3:23 am

      • “So please don’t reply by telling me that you don’t need God to be ethical. That’s not the issue. The issue is: What standard does the consistent atheist have for considering any behavior by a human being to be “good” or “bad” or “ethical.” Ethics? What are ethics in a godless universe? Answer that, and maybe we can get somewhere.”

        I’ll counter this argument with similar questions: aren’t the God-based ethics that you base your behaviors upon simply your own interpretation of God’s will? If God did not personally tell YOU — not through the Bible, which is itself a human interpretation of God’s words — what his morals are, how can you consider them perfect and fundamental? In other words, isn’t basing your morals upon the God of your faith the same as basing them upon your own mind? It’s your mind that holds this faith, after all.

        And in answer to your question: ethics in a godless universe are simple and logical: if one’s behavior benefits humans and other sentient life forms more than it harms them, one’s behavior is “good”; if it harms them more than it benefits them, it’s “bad”. We don’t need a God to determine this; our emotional minds are developed enough to determine this through our own sense of empathy. You could argue that this definition of “good” and “bad” causes a paradoxical web of ethics because it’s often unclear whether an action has more beneficial or more harmful repercussions; but that’s the same in a God-based universe. Any time we advance our human society, we harm other forms of life — which are, in your faith, “God’s children” — and thus we simultaneously are doing both “good” and “bad”. Thus, even a God-based system of ethics in fundamentally flawed; that leaves us with the unfortunate choice of prioritizing our actions based on WHOM they benefit and WHOM they harm. Please do not counter this prioritization argument with a statement that humans are inherently superior to all other forms of life; we’re not, and we’ll soon realize as much when artificial intelligence surpasses our own.


        May 13, 2013 at 6:49 am

      • The problem is, before we can discuss anything you’ve said, we may as well admit that you are basing your “benefit” and “harm” calculus on standards. I’d like to know what those standards are. Are they written down somewhere? May I read them? Are they binding on me and all others everywhere? Or just on certain people? Who says so? You say that we have developed standards for “empathy” from our emotionally developed minds. So how come so many people think that “empathy” for the unborn means not killing them, while millions of others think differently? How come empathy means that some people think we should feed the poor while so many others think that empathy simply means putting the poor out of their misery? Or the aged? Or the diseased? Or the mentally ill? And even if we agreed on a certain standard now, wouldn’t that standard be forever changing, and thus, always provisional, because our minds are constantly evolving? Thus, it seems to me that the question is not whether we will have standards, but rather, which ones we will have. But there is no such thing as a standardless worldview: yours, mine, or anyone else’s. And we don’t get to hang our standards from invisible skyhooks.


        russell and duenes

        May 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm

  3. There are several problems with your refutation of my comment.

    It is quite true that I have no basis for judging something “good” or “bad.” That is why I call myself a nihilist.

    The problem for religious believers is that they have no more reason than do I for judging something good or bad.

    Many religious believers say things such as “We have absolute values based on the Word of God as provided by the Bible.”

    The deconstruction of this gets complicated.

    1) There is no serious empirical evidence that the being described as “God” exists. There is very little reason to believe if He (or She or It) exists, that GOD resembles the many descriptions provided over the centuries by Jews or Christians or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists. There are hundreds if not thousands of variations of those sects (which I consider the “Big Five”) plus hundreds and probably thousands of other different religious beliefs. I see no reason to believe any of them describe reality.

    a) Either creating religions is something human beings do; or

    b) All (or most) religions are fallacies and frauds or delusions (except for one that happens to be true and all the others are frauds or accidents or schemes of the Devil, etc.); or

    c) Many religions are dim shadows of some great Divinity none of us understand very well.

    There are probably more variations, but a), b), and c) strike me as the most common and logical explanations. There is a trend in the world today for religious belief to become “globalized” and syncretized. The United States, though not first, led the way (inspired by people such as Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson) in promulgating the idea of religious tolerance and of people of differing belief systems living together in tolerance

    There seems to be two big syncretic trends:

    α) One that is inclusive, tolerant, and respectful of other religious groups (Examples: Unitarians, ELCA Lutherans, etc.)

    β) One that is jealous, exclusive, and rejecting of other religious groups. This trends is often described as “fundamentalist.” (Examples: evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, fundamentalist Hindus, Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, etc.) Note: I do not equate evangelical Christians (which I am guessing describes you) with, say, Islamic fundamentalist terrorists), but there are similarities in terms of a tendency to say, “We know the truth; everyone else is incorrect.”

    Many fundamentalist/evangelical Christians go down a path of trying to “prove” Christianity is “true” in an empirical sense, with claims such as

    a) Logic. For example, “the universe had to have a beginning, Creator, etc.” This fails fairly miserably on the shoal of who created God? (Oh, he is eternal, etc., etc.)

    b) Empirical claims such as the Bible predicted something (such as coming of Christ) or matches up with archeological evidence.

    Quite a bit of this gets into attempts to refute evolution and “Old Earth” versions and “Young Earth” versions, etc. These arguments get very silly and the only people (for the most part) who are convinced of anything are the people who convince themselves and make claims such as “I proved…”

    c) The counter-empirical argument: Science and empiricism do not explain everything. “Explain beauty, love, sunsets, butterflies, miracles, etc.” runs this type of argument. Certainly empiricism does not explain how the universe began or (so far) how life began, and so on, but the only real logical conclusion from such arguments is agnosticism. Besides calling myself a “nihilist,” in polite or insecure or defensive company I call myself an agnostic. Sometimes I call myself a “radical agnostic.” [Terrorists such as Islamic fundamentalist extremists take hostages and torture or kill them. Radical agnostics take hostages; then we bore you to death.]

    We don’t really know how religious belief really began. Some likely clues: a) Before science developed religion provided “just so” stories, such as Creation myths. It never fails to amuse me how Judeo-Christians laugh at Norse myths, Greek myths, American Indian myths, but then say with a straight face that the Genesis myth (as I believe it to be) is the literal truth. I would be much more impressed about the Bible being “inerrant” if it contained one quadratic equation or one electronic circuit diagram, or some other piece of evidence or knowledge not known at the time of the people who told and transcribed it.)

    As humans evolved from hunter-gatherers into towns, cities, and countries, they developed chiefs/kings (to administrate) and priests (to explain and guide). The priests developed “rules” to guide social behavior and explained they came from Gods. The kings enforced the rules and paid/protected the priests. Eventually, the priests wrote down the rules in books such as The Bible (and other religions’ holy books). Eventually the priests created entire religions and dogmas: hello Mr. Pope, hello Mr. Luther, and so on. Eventually the kings were circumscribed by nobles and Parliaments: hello Magna Carta; hello Declaration of Independence; hello United States Constitution; hello United Nations, and so on.

    So, where does “morality,” or “ethics” come from? (I prefer the latter word as it is a little less loaded with religious and sexual connotations, but I am comfortable with either word and will use them interchangeably.)

    First, to say that religious instructions (such as the Ten Commandments, or the Golden Rule) are absolutes that come from God as opposed to the “relative” moral rules from secular people fails because there is (as I just noted) very little evidence that the Bible (or any other religious document) is anything other than a document created by human beings.

    Second, to say that the morality ascribed to God is “good” or “absolute” is circular logic. It boils down to “God is good” because “God is good.” In other words. God defines Himself as good. If there is a Being who creates and rules the universe, he might be an evil elder God of an H. P. Lovecraft horror story (if you are familiar with those old science fantasy potboilers) as the “wonderful” God of Judeo-Christian myth.

    My argument is that ethics/morality is an invention of human beings, deriving from

    a) Our physical evolution from mammals and primates;

    b) Our cultural evolution as cultures and civilizations such as the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and so on;

    c) Our ability and tendency to analyze, discuss, and evaluate.

    There is no logical or irrefutable way to say something is good or bad. I don’t disagree with your telling me that my opinions in this regard have no basis; the problem is that your opinions in this regard have no more basis than mine. The only difference is that you claim you got yours from a book (which I believe was created by humans) inspired by God (but in reality, I believe, was created in oral then written tales/documents thousand of years ago).

    Evolution: for example, most mammals care for their young though some (such as male lions) will on occasion kill and eat young. Humans have a drive/instinct to care for children, but some of us molest and kill young.

    We have a capacity called empathy, which allows us to vicariously experience the feelings of others. Thus if I am injured, I feel pain, which I wish to avoid. If I see another person injured, I vicariously share their pain. Thus I am likely to avoid injuring people, and I am likely to help an injured person.

    Empathy is a capacity, but it has to be developed. In that regard it is a characteristic like swimming. Most of us have a capacity to learn to swim, but most of us have to have training and practice; and some of us seem to have little or no ability. A small child has little empathy; most children learn to develop and experience their capacity for empathy and to care for others by parents and society.

    Some people never develop empathy; either because of they lack the capacity for it or because they are raised poorly. (This seems to be an uncertain question; I don’t know if any social scientists have studied it.) Famous people lacking empathy include (on a global scale) Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot; on a smaller but very dramatic scale one finds people such as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Gary Ridgway, Susan Smith, Tommy Lynn Sells, Marybeth Tinning, Gwendolyn Graham, Cathy Wood, Aileen Wuornos, Theresa Knorr, Charles Ng and Leonard Lake, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, and so on. Such people are often called “sociopaths.”

    Humans also have a capacity called rationalization. While some people feel it is wrong to ever kill another human being, most of us consider permissible to do so in self-defense. While some cases of killing other people seem clearly justified to most of us by an argument such as self-defense, many situations are ambiguous and unclear and range from individual situations (such as killing someone who attacks you on the street) to complex situations (such as killing someone who appears threatening but is not really) to wars, which can range from defending ourselves after attack (Japan/Pearl Harbor) to attacking a country we perceive as threatening (Iraq), even though we were not actually attacked in the same way as with Pearl Harbor. The recent “execution” of Osama bin Laden is an example of a morally complex killing action.

    In cultural terms, a society in which people murdered each other willy nilly would probably not flourish. However, some societies seem to have developed in sociopathic ways. Ancient Sparta is an example. In modern times, societies such as Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Mao’s Communist China seem to be examples of sociopathic societies. On the other hand, some societies such as the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands seem to be societies which have developed very gentle and empathic societies.

    Again, we are complicated and flawed. A society may teach its members to be very kind to people it perceives as “similar,” yet very harsh to people seen as “others.” At the very time people such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were creating the Declaration of Independence and creating a country based on “inalienable rights” they were also keeping people with black skins as slaves.

    From the earliest times our colonies were developing and protecting “property rights” (still a fundamental concept in our society), we were stealing land from the “Indians” (native aboriginal inhabitants). Roger Williams, the New England Puritan who helped found Rhode Island and helped establish values and practices such as freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief (which eventually entered our Constitution once our nation was formed) argued vehemently to the other Puritans (who blithely ignored him) that they should pay the Indians for the land the Puritans helped themselves to.

    Over time, our thinking about ethics/morality changes. At one time, most countries were ruled by kings and queens. Today, few are. At one time, torture and execution were considered standard, useful, and necessary methods of law enforcement. Catholics had their Crusades and Inquisitions; Protestants had their witch trials (England’s being much worse than America’s). Frankly, I don’t know how any Christian can read the details of these times (I can provide you some books with exquisitely gory examples and details if you have led a sheltered life in this regard) without blanching in horror and disgust.

    Now much of the world is abolishing torture and capital punishment. For many years and in many places dictators such a Gaddafi ran amok while other countries politely looked away; now, very clumsily (to be sure) we are trying to discourage such behavior.

    You said about my earlier post:

    You talk about “bad apples” and “behaving badly” and being “well-behaved” and “evil” and having “wicked impulses” and so forth. Yet you are an atheist. And if your atheism is, in fact, true, then there’s no use in talking about anyone behaving “badly” or “well.” These terms, like everything else, are utterly meaningless in a godless universe.

    One, my judgments about these matters are very similar to yours. I was not particularly indoctrinated with religious instruction, but we both grew up in the same culture and were influenced by similar values inculcated by our parents, culture, and capacity for empathy, I suspect. So I use these terms, though as far as I can tell, you think they come to you from the “Mouth of God” through the Bible and I believe they are a creation of human beings. And, I am not exactly an “atheist” (though I don’t much care if you insist on calling me that). I am a “high agnostic,” (a parody of “High Church” in the Anglican Church). A “high agnostic” does not know how the universe began and admits it, unlike a religious fanatic, who makes up stories about it or parrots stories that others made up about it. However, I am sure that I will die and cease to exist in any form and not go to a “Heaven” or a “Hell.” In that sense, I guess I am an “atheist” but it’s not a good term for my over all world view.

    This is very long, and you have my permission to delete it.

    (This is your blog, after all.) However, you have posted mildly sarcastic barbs about my not explaining the basis of my thoughts so I have done so.

    As the saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.”


    May 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    • Modesty – I don’t have a problem with your long response, although I simply cannot keep up a dialogue this involved. That said, I’ll respond to one of your points, which is a point you seem to keep making. You say, “There is (as I just noted) very little evidence that the Bible (or any other religious document) is anything other than a document created by human beings.” But I say that there is a mountain of evidence pointing to the Bible’s truth and reliability. You seem to assert your point, rather than argue for it. My main line of argument would be thus: A man named Jesus claimed to be God, and claimed that he would be crucified and raised from the dead on the third day. This is a historical claim, and the Bible says it happened. His earliest followers said it happened, said they were EYEWITNESSES of its reality (i.e., They saw Jesus raised from the dead), and went to their graves for it. This is a matter of historical record. People can try to muddy it up with a bunch of “scholarship,” and “what scholars say,” but nonetheless, the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ is astounding. But you seem to waive it off. But on what basis? a priori anti-supernaturalism? What is your evidence that the historical witness to the resurrection of Christ is “created by human beings?” The apostle Paul said,

      “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve [disciples]. After that He was seen by over five hundred brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have died. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”

      All these hundreds of people claim to have seen Jesus alive from the dead, as He predicted. You would say the above historical facts are false because…?


      russell and duenes

      May 9, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    • I’m so sad for you not being able to believe in God. He is real and deep down I think you know that. Since you were 67 when you wrote all this, I truly hope you find God and He can change your life and mind and heart like He has mine. My hope is that you would at least read a little bit of the Bible every day, and see if your heart doesn’t start changing. I hope the Holy Spirit calls you, because He has to prepare your heart to accept Him. I do know that God promises if you seek Him you WILL find Him. God doesn’t break His promises.

      Laura Polchlopek

      June 5, 2015 at 3:10 pm

  4. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. [At the time and place Christ supposedly lived and died.] You weren’t there. You want to believe. I see no reason to believe. I see no reason to want to believe.

    In fact, I find evangelical Christian theology not only dubious but offensive.

    To be born as a human being is to suffer. This varies; my life has gone pretty well, better than I thought it would. But all life involves pain, disappointment, disillusionment, etc. Many lives involve unimaginable pain and suffering, whether from illness, persecution, accident…you name it. And as the only self-aware animals capable of abstract thinking (marginal exceptions great apes and whales), we are aware that our lives will eventually end, with apparently no reason for our existence and our suffering. As a person with imagination and empathy, my awareness that even though my life has gone reasonably well, I am still saddened by my awareness of all the other pointless suffering. As John Donne wrote, “No Man Is an Island.”

    The argument seems to run (if I understand it correctly) that with Christ’s sacrifice we will go to Heaven if we believe in Him. [Despite your arguments in your last comment, the evidence for Christ’s existence and miracles is marginal, as is the evidence for God’s existence. If God wanted us to know He exists, He could easily provide irrefutable evidence in today’s world—perhaps flaming words in the sky–THIS IS GOD’S BULLETIN FOR TODAY, MAY 10, 2011 instead of thousands of varying bulletins delivered from pulpits all over the world. Instead, we depend on questionable stories from thousands of years ago, transcribed and edited in four closely but not perfectly synchronized and collated Gospels. And so on. Bottom line…”FAITH” is required. Faith means, “I want to believe because the story sounds so good.” Except it does not sound that good to me. So I continue.]

    The theory goes: after the suffering of life (supposedly because of Adam’s and Eve’s sin), we accept Christ’s sacrifice) and then we get to go to Heaven. If we don’t go because we believed in Christ, then we go to Hell. There are so many problems and flaws in this formulation, I am surprised that anyone takes it seriously for five miutes, rather than billions of people for thousands of years.

    Here’s a few. Imagine a person—I visualize a young woman in a place such as Libya or Ivory Coast (to take today’s headlines) who is captured, tortured, repeatedly raped, sees her children ripped from her arms and tortured, raped, and murdered in front of her eyes. Lying in the bush, she dies an agonizing death of thirst over several days. Suppose she was a Christian. This is a made-up story—a “parable” if you like—but stuff like this happens in real life—every day—all over the world.

    After death, or after resurrection, or whatever, she wakes up in Heaven—whatever it looks like—clouds, angelic choirs, wings, harps, however you imagine it…. Jesus greets her. What does he say? “Hi—I’m Jesus, Son of God. I know you had a tough time down there—I know everything and see everything—but now you are in Heaven and it’s all right.”

    And she is supposed to say, “Yes, praise you Jesus, now it’s just fine and I will forget all that little unpleasantness because I am so happy to be here at last.” Do you really believe this?

    Here’s another. What is Heaven like? What do you do for ETERNITY without being bored? Sit there in an endless haze of happiness? How is what people imagine about Heaven different from being in an endless happy “high” from heroin or cocaine or alcohol or [pick your drug of choice]? In real [mundane] life, drugs such as these narcotics have bad “side effects” [you might starve or become infected, etc.], but God having infinite powers can—I suppose—put you in a happy haze for eternity.

    It is interesting that humans are much better at imagining Hell than they are at imagining Heaven. The two greatest poets (in most opinions) at portraying and imagining Heaven and Hell were Dante and Milton. It seems to be generally accepted (and this matches my reaction to reading their works) that their portrayals of Hell are much more interesting and engrossing than their portrayals of Heaven.

    Which in turn takes us to the problem of Hell. Well, I have (as usual) gone on too long) and if I added any more to this comment I might get myself described as a (minor, to be sure) demon straight from Hell.

    By the way, do you believe Heaven and Hell are real places? Do you really believe that you will have an existence after your physical body dies? If you do, please describe what you imagine Heaven to be like, why it compensates for the suffering of life, and why you won’t eventually get bored without being in a narcotic-like haze/high.


    May 10, 2011 at 9:27 am

    • I’m crafting a lengthy response to this comment, worthy of the time you took to write it, which I will then post as a whole new post on my main page, if that’s OK with you. As I said, don’t worry about going on for too long. Such a thing will not get you ostracized here (though I may not always be able to throw down a proper length response).


      russell and duenes

      May 10, 2011 at 10:51 pm

  5. Thank you. Take as much time as you need. However, keep in mind that I am 67 years old, so my time is getting short. However, my personal trainer at the gym told me that I am in excellent shape for a 67-year-old coot, with good blood pressure, reasonable insulin level, and my body mass index is about ideal for my weight and height. (This took five years of work at the gym because I was 40 pounds overweight with very high blood pressure when I started.)

    Even so, the Lord may take me at any time. So who knows how long you have if you are going to “save” my soul? By the way, one of these days I will explain why Christians find Christianity so exciting as we all know God wins out over Satan in the end. But not today.


    May 11, 2011 at 6:28 am

    • I very much appreciate your correspondence, and I mean that in all sincerity. Don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with your prodigious output, but you have certainly set me to thinking and reflecting, and in that I rejoice.


      russell and duenes

      May 11, 2011 at 9:58 pm

  6. I appreciate this dialogue.


    August 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm

  7. I have been seriously ill (though not “deathly” ill). Ill enough so that my mortality is clear to me. While I can’t say for sure how I will react if I am alive when the time finally arrives when I know I will die fairly imminently, I feel fairly confident that I will say something such as, “It’s been a pretty good life. Too bad I have to go now, but that’s the way it is.”

    Anyway, as I am recovering fairly well, I will follow up on my early statement about why so many Christians find Christianity so exciting. I’ve read the Bible. I find it neither believable (except that it refers to a few minor incidents that can be verified by archaeological and historical research – none of them “miraculous” or at least explainable by reasonable alternatives – or that inspiring. It’s got some fairly good writing as literature – just as other religious myths have some interesting and attractive writing. Some of the urgings about ethics/morality is compatible with mine; such as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but many of the same precepts can be found in other religious-moral teachings.

    At one time, trying to put myself into the spirit of evangelical Christians, I wondered, “If you believe the Bible is inerrant, and that there is a God and a Satan, the Bible clearly explains that God wins.” Satan is never portrayed as stupid or ignorant; just a lesser godling who tries to become chief God. Obviously, he can read the Bible and see that he will lose, as can anybody who believes the story.

    However, the key ingredient, the one that makes Christianity such a successful religion, is that it argues that each individual soul must be saved (whether by the Catholic method, the Protestant method, the Mormon method, or the Jehovah’s Witness method – or move down the other splinter Christian denominations). Evangelism – which is just a very fancy, highfalutin word for selling, is an exciting activity for many human beings. Humans talk about “memes”; a fancy word for something in human society and the human nervous system analogous to “germs.” Germs are infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses. [My illness was caused by a bacterial infection of my leg] A meme seems to act like an infectious value/concept/idea. Democracy and Communism are both powerful memes that spread quickly through many human societies.

    Religion is the most powerful meme of all. Hearing or reading ideas such as, “It only seems as if you will die; in fact you have a ‘soul’ that will live after your physical body dies”; and “It only seems that life is unfair and that the wicked often prosper and succeed and that the virtuous often suffer and lose; in fact virtuous people will either be rewarded with good karma (Hinduism/Buddhism) or with an individual Heaven (Christianity/Islam); and the wicked will be punished with bad karma or with Hell.”

    Now I am sure you have bought tangible products that lived up to their advertising and sales promises fairly well, whether it’s an automobile or a house or a tool or a sandwich; and I am sure you have bought tangible products that were faulty, deceitful, broken, or otherwise disasters.

    The wonderful thing about religious salesmanship is that no one ever comes back to complain. There’s not one documented incident in all of human history of a person who died coming back to life and saying, “There’s no there, there. I want all the money I tithed back; I want all the temptations I resisted to give in to; I want all the time I wasted praying or feeling guilty back.” This is the perfect salesmanship. Never a disappointed customer. (Well, that’s not really true. Many people raised in religious belief end up being disillusioned before they die; but plenty remain believers until they die.)

    As salesmanship is exciting, and as our genes and our cultures have strong impulses to spread memes, and as Christianity is based on saving one soul at a time, Christianity is always exciting. There’s always one more soul to win or to keep from backsliding.


    June 16, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    • Modesty, my friend, I’m very sorry to hear you’ve been ill. I’m glad you are still alive and kicking. I have not had time to read your comments, but I will this week and will respond then. Take care of yourself.


      russell and duenes

      June 17, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    • Modesty, my friend, I don’t know that Christians find Christianity “exciting.” Rather, they find it true and worthy of their lives in every way. I also think you’ve put the cart before the horse. Christians only find evangelizing others exciting because Christians have first, prior to doing any evangelizing, experienced the love, joy, truth, comfort and life transformation that come from knowing the God of the Bible. It is THIS that they then share with others. They don’t just read marks on a page as they read the Scriptures. Rather, Christians open themselves up to hearing from the Holy Spirit as He speaks in the words of the text. The fact that you find the Scriptures tedious and boring simply shows the truth of the Scriptures, namely, that we are spiritually blind and dead people apart from the workings of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts. But you insist on hardening your heart to God, so God does you the great service of allowing you to have what you want. You don’t want Him, and so you shall not have him, eternally you shall not have Him if that is your desire. Christians like myself simply know that the love of Christ is something more precious than anything this world has to offer, and so out of love for others – myself, out of love for you – we offer it to others. Quite obviously you may take it or leave it. But even though I’ve never seen or heard you, I find that I care about you and truly desire your well-being. I honestly think about my words to you, with great care, so that whatever I may say might give you some benefit.

      There is indeed a man who died and came back from the dead. He also testified about a glorious future in God’s kingdom for those who would put their confidence in Him. This is a historical fact. But you insist on calling it a myth, a fable, or some such. You ask for evidence but then wave off all evidence given you. Jesus still lives. He still rules over death. His resurrection from the grave was testified to by eyewitnesses who were inclined to disbelieve it, and it has been attested by millions upon millions of Christians over the centuries. But you want to just toss it all away. Again, that is your choice, but do not say that no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us the truth. You do not believe Jesus. You would not believe anyone who would so testify today. You would find a way to discredit it. That is called blindness. That is called hardness of heart. That is your condition. You don’t WANT eyes to see. But Jesus offers them to you.


      russell and duenes

      June 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

    • Further, why would someone come back and say, “There’s no there there” if there IS something there? You assume, without evidence, that it’s false, and then assume that therefore, someone should come back and tell us it’s false. But if it’s trust, we should expect no such testimony. And since well over 90% of human beings are theists of some kind, we should also not expect people to come back with stories of nothingness.

      I think there are plenty of people who have come back and described things that WON’T be there. Generally people don’t come back and say, “I’ve seen hell, and it is horrifying” either. I have no way of tabulating all of the after-death experiences. I gather that they are quite diverse. But as I said, we do have Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and I trust Him above all others testimonials. After all, he’s the only one who rose from the dead and stayed alive.


      russell and duenes

      June 24, 2012 at 11:00 am

  8. Billions of people do believe in Christianity. Billions of people do not believe in Christianity. If I were the only person who did not believe in a world of people who universally believed, I would be a bit nervous, but given the wide variety of beliefs, I am very dubious about arguments by people who believe in imaginary things.

    Judeo-Christianity was not “designed” by one person, but developed over thousands of years by many people, in a time before humans understood empirical research. I was seriously ill recently, and still am, although getting better. I was not treated by prayer; I was treated by doctors and medical personnel, using medicines and treatments developed by scientists and other researchers. I presume you have had medical treatment at one time or another in your life. Even if you prayed, you still (I presume) used the results of empiricism.

    Morality is based on our evolution and our cultural development. All societies (long before Christ) had moral rules and ideas about right and wrong. Probably, the most basic one (found in a variety of religions and cultures) is The Golden Rule. It’s been stated in a variety of compatible ways, and long predated Moses, Christ, etc.

    Human beings are animals, the only ones we know of who possess the power of abstract thinking, the only ones who can contemplate our own mortality; the only ones who can say, “Life is not fair; in this life the wicked often prosper and the virtuous often suffer.” Thus we invent Karma or Heaven and Hell as [imaginary] places where we survive our physical death and places where the books are finally balanced by an imaginary being.

    My basic morality is don’t murder; don’t torture; don’t rape; don’t steal. Not because Jesus said these things but because I would not like to have them happen to me. The details get complicated and difficult (as you are on your way to being an attorney) you well understand the complications. In general, however, the basic ideas are not that difficult. For example, killing in self defense is probably justified and should not be called murder. Even when taling about murder we have various classifications such as manslaughter, etc.

    What does not harm should not be prohibited without a clear and sensible justification. It’s fairly sensible to prohibit marriage between humans and animals (as animals cannot consent); it’s fairly sensible to prohibit marriage between adults and children (as children cannot consent and are not physically ready for marriage); it’s fairly sensible to prohibit marriage between close relatives (as there are unpleasant genetic consequences), etc.

    Humans are strongly driven by our evolutionary heritage to mate; that’s why we have sexual relations. These sociobiological urges are stronger than they need to be just to preserve the species; that’s why we mate all the time. From a practical point of view, marriage between a male and a female is probably the most sensible way for a culture to manage mating and children, but the system breaks down all the time. In early eras, most humans were struggling to stay alive and seldom lived beyond a few decades and were too busy finding roots and deer to eat and avoiding being eaten by leopards and being enslaved by the tribe over the hill to worry too much about elaborate fulfillment in a relationship. Even so, we had a variety of relationships, such as polygamy.

    Bottom line: homosexual marriage of consenting adults does very little harm to society. Heterosexual marriage is a nice idea in theory and most people want to practice it, but lots of people fail to be faithful, fail to care for their children properly, and so on, but we find the general system of marriage works reasonably well, so we maintain it. Homosexual marriage in general is probably less perfect than heterosexual marriage in general, but would not be so awful that it should not continue to be banned.

    For all you claim to believe in imaginary things; in practice you follow the rules of empiricism and you follow the general rules of empathic ethics. When you fly in an airplane, you may pray but you say inside the plane and do not jump out. I know it is a waste of my time to talk to you. To be a human being is to suffer and to be restless. You were supposedly happy indoctrinating children (carefully chosen to already be fairly well indoctrinated so mostly you were giving them booster shots) but you got restless and decided to study law. That would be admirable, except I think you main reason is to do what I consider to be mischief. Well, that’s what human beings do; we quibble and argue, we invent imaginary gods and heavens. I am sorry that you are so committed to mischief; I would admire you more if (even within the framework of your imaginary belief) you could find something more useful to pursue. I doubt you will. What a waste.

    Well, there’s always the chance (no matter how unlikely) that you will surprise me by choosing to do somethings useful. Other Christians I know have done so. Go ahead; surprise me.


    June 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm

  9. Definition of ‘good’ in a Godless universe: An action that increases the future well-being of the most people in any given circumstance.

    Steve M

    September 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    • Your comment smuggles in another term that would have to be defined: “well-being.” In to define it, you’re going to need some standard by which to measure an “increase in well-being.” How does one speak of an increase or a decrease of such a thing without an objective standard by which to measure? And where will one get such an objective standard in a universe that has no objective, transcendent standards?


      russell and duenes

      September 30, 2012 at 11:38 am

  10. Hi SteveM. I had a good experience with an attorney, once. However, I can well understand why Shakespeare (in one of his English History plays) had one of his characters say, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

    I am not sure about Dante’s Inferno, not being fluent in Italian or Latin, but a web site does claim the following:

    “In Dante’s inferno, lawyers typically went to the third tier in which they would spent an eternity trapped inside a burning, overheated, metal coffin with no room to move and little air to breath.”


    September 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm

  11. God? Which one? The Christian one, the Jewish one? the muslim one? And this God of the three religions is a God that promotes thievery. First, he tells Abraham to take over the land of the Canaan because he promised it to Abraham. So, it’s okay for someone to steal another person’s property as long as God tells him it’s okay? I do not believe this kind of God nor this kind of religion.

    joao coelho

    March 7, 2013 at 8:15 am

    • Joao – That’s fine. No one can force you to believe. But a God who owns everything cannot be charged with promoting thievery. He simply has the right to do with all of His creation as he pleases. The “promised land” was God’s, and God chose to whom to give it. God needs no title search to be done for lands that He’s thinking of using. The whole world is His, and indeed, His people inherit the world. This may not be palatable to you, but I might ask you a question: By what standard do you condemn thievery? You want to wax indignant about it, but on your terms, why is it wrong? Do you believe in a God who says it’s wrong? Does evolutionary biology inform you that it’s wrong? By what standard?


      russell and duenes

      March 7, 2013 at 8:31 pm

  12. I am still alive, but becoming increasingly aware of my mortality. I recommend an excellent book by a former Catholic priest, THE AMATEUR’S GUIDE TO DEATH AND DYING: ENHANCING THE END OF LIFE. I have communicated with the author, but have no financial interest or benefit from the book. It is written with an approach that can be beneficial to a religious believe or a non-believer. I dare you to read it and make up your own mind.


    March 8, 2013 at 5:48 am

  13. Joao Coelho, (Portuguese or Brazilian I am guessing), excellent comment. As an atheist, I consider morality (I prefer “ethics” a better word as it is less obsessed with sexuality) a fairly obvious and straightforward matter in its basics.

    It has no philosophical basis. It arose from our physical evolution and our cultural development. At basics, it come down to four “don’s” and one “do.”

    1. Don’t murder.
    2. Don’t torture.
    3. Don’t rape.
    4. Don’t steal. (Joao’s point).
    5. Help other people, especially in suffering, danger, and deprivation.

    As the old saying goes, “The devil is in the details.”

    Thus murder is wrong, but self-defense justifies killing. Is taxation or corporate success “stealing?”

    And so on. That is what keeps lawyers and legislators busy.


    March 8, 2013 at 5:57 am

    • Modesty – Glad to see you back in here. I was wondering if you were still with us, based on your statements previously that you were in ill-health. I hope you are feeling better. I was beginning to miss your commentary.


      russell and duenes

      March 8, 2013 at 8:33 am

  14. I see a couple of new comments from someone with the screen name “Intellectual Pie.” In one comment, he/she says “Spending this life merely waiting patiently for the next isn’t much of a life at all.” I agree with that comment.

    In the comment, he says, “In other words, isn’t basing your morals upon the God of your faith the same as basing them upon your own mind? It’s your mind that holds this faith, after all.” Again, I agree.


    May 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

    • Once again, glad to see you are still with us, Modesty. I hope you are well these days, and I am always glad you are still willing to read and share your comments.


      russell and duenes

      May 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      • First of all, thank you for your concern for my health. As I mentioned, I had at least one (probably several) “mini-strokes.” With the “blood thinner” I am taking, my doctor thinks I may live another ten years. Maybe so, but as a pessimist, I suspect I may keel over even as I type this comment. Just yesterday, I got sick to my stomach (perhaps food poisoning, perhaps gastroenteritis). I am feeling a little better today, but not completely out of the woods, especially as I live in the woods).


        May 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm

  15. Intellectual Pie can reply for himself/herself much better than I can, I am sure, but just to keep in practice for going to Hell, I will respond.

    “basing your “benefit” and “harm” calculus on standards. I’d like to know what those standards are. Are they written down somewhere?” etc.

    In terms of aesthetics and ethics, there are no standards. In my basement I have jars of screws and nuts from various projects I bungle with. If I try to put a ¼ inch nut on a ½ inch screw, it won’t turn. If I try to put a metric nut on an “English” screw, it won’t turn. In terms of the empirical world, the word “standards” perhaps makes some sense.

    If I look at a painting or listen to some music and pronounce either beautiful or ugly, my nervous system is responding to stimuli. My wife (who often disagrees with me on such matters) is quite likely to declare an opposing opinion. Her nervous system is responding to stimuli differently than mine. The word “standard” when applied to ugliness and beauty (aesthetics) is a meaningless word.

    The same thing is true in regard to “ethics” (aka “morality”). At the most basic level, animals respond positively or negatively to stimuli such as threats and opportunities for sustenance (air, liquid, food, etc.). We call positive reactions “pleasing” and negative reactions “painful.”

    As we live in the woods, out my window I see squirrels gathering seeds under our bird feeder. As products of evolution (as are we humans), squirrels are little computers. Their nervous system says, “Seeds – good – sustains my life.” The squirrels squabble over seeds. One squirrel’s nervous system says, “Meaner squirrel than me – bad – it will bite me – run away.” That’s the “standard” of squirrel morality. (Condensed a bit.)

    As humans, creatures that also evolved (whether you accept your heritage or not), we are much more powerful computer nervous systems. So we invent terms such as “standards” that have no meaning and pretend that an imaginary computer nervous system called God invented them.


    May 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: