Sunday School June 4th 2017
June 5, 2017 at 8:57 pm #2980
– do you really believe we can do without the rule of law?
No, I am not even talking about the rule of law. I am talking about morality.
People will co-operate for the group but people can still compete for “selfish” reasons and still be ethical (or moral). I can even compete “unfairly”, with complete disregards for others but that does not mean I need to break the law.
I could take advantage of weaker people but I do not do so. Not because of the law of the land or any absolute morality “god inspired” rules. I do not do so because of my own evolved and well understood code of ethics. If anyone ever tries to enforce their moral code upon me then they better have a big police force as I live my life according to my own standards and my own rules. Neither the church nor the state informs me how to behave. I do as I wish.June 6, 2017 at 7:23 pm #2986
It comes down to the two main kinds of love offered by God: the unconditional (which is amoral and belongs to the individual) and the judgemental (which serves morality and applies to social life). They’re complementary, in that we need to thrive both individually and socially.
This is a false dichotomy, both through religion and in real life. From what I can tell, you have the “love no matter what” and the “judgemental”. This seems like a very arbitrary division. What makes your “unconditional” and “judgemental” an important enough dichotomy to then explain religious concepts and evolutionary morality? What about “involuntary love” vs. “reasoned love”? Or what about “familiar love”, “platonic love” and “lustful love”? Or what about “love for people” vs “love for things and ideas”? As you can see we can slice and dice love in many ways, and to be honest, I’d say dividing love by “familiar love”, “platonic love”, “lustful love” and “love of things and ideas” is a more constructive set of divisions (though certainly not totally adequate) and one where many examples may overlap. It also avoids the “complimentary” cliché (unconditional vs. judgemental) which I’m totally unconvinced is more than a highly abstract theory. You cannot unconditionally love someone and then switch to judgemental love. If you unconditionally love someone, then you aren’t going to suddenly switch to “judgemental love” since, being able to switch means your love for them never was unconditional. Temporary unconditional love doesn’t exist. You may have a “period of time where you love someone despite their inadequacies” and then the “tough love” moment when they crossed the line or when they need to learn lessons. If anything this is more of a spectrum rather than something that is complementary, and even then, I don’t see how this kind of spectrum adequately categorises the insane complexities of love (a concept 2500 years of philosophy has never remotely cracked).
I simply do not believe that unconditional vs. judgemental adequately explains new behaviour and social bonding that emerged “apart from other mammals”. How do you explain “the love of doing things that hurt yourself”? or “unconditional love of things you dislike”? or “the emergent love of non-biological entities” or “fraternal love” or the “dehumanising others and their capacity for love, in the name of one’s own love for family”. What about “love” for a person you’ve never met? What about “love of being in love” etc.June 7, 2017 at 11:17 am #2993
You have to remember I’m talking about God’s love and the ways in which an evolutionary theory of morality translates into theology. So God’s love must necessarily be different from people’s love. Yes, it is pretty abstract, as we would expect from something which forms the basis of a philosophical system. But I don’t think it’s difficult or inaccessible in the way that Buddhism sometimes is.
Apparently, in Christian theology, God shows several kinds of love, including, for example, the love between God and Jesus, and the act of sending His son down to Earth for the benefit of mankind. However, for atheists, these don’t mean anything.
To start with, God’s kindness and providence, i.e. His unconditional love, the rain that falls on the just and the unjust, corresponds in all practical ways to the biological pressure to thrive. If you think about it, this is equally accessible to everyone, saints and sinners alike, it doesn’t judge. Also, it’s never taken away. It’s provided by nature (evolution). Therefore, it’s love, it’s unconditional, and it comes from the equivalent place (nature / God).
This kind of “biological magic power” to thrive is accessed by putting the right conditions in place. If you give a plant the right conditions: good soil, water, sunshine, fresh air, whatever – then the plant can grow strong and thrive – by itself. Evolution has programmed all living beings in the same way.
Next we have “love God and love your neighbour as yourself”. If God loves you unconditionally (makes available to everyone the potential to thrive more – even someone who’s otherwise totally fucked can have their thriving increased) then it makes sense (if you’re religious) to love God in return. We love ourselves by putting the right conditions in place to make ourselves thrive. The same goes for loving other people – this amounts to putting the right conditions in place in order to make them thrive. These are the very simple and accessible mechanics of the idea.
This injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself” is the same as “mutual thriving”: in other words, cooperation. So, perhaps surprisingly, if we include “empathy and targeted helping” which is common to all mammals and birds, we can derive the whole of human morality. Cooperation requires fairness in order to work, and it requires enforcement, and it leads to the evolution of specific and detailed prosocial instincts. Cooperation leads to bigger and bigger groups, more and more group cohesion, group values, culture, and (sometimes) monotheistic religion.
The “enforcement” part is where God’s judgemental love comes in. That’s why the two kinds of God’s love are complementary. One is the raw material, the other is a way to enforce the fair and cooperative distribution of this raw material, on a large scale between relative strangers.June 7, 2017 at 11:50 am #2994
I know there are many kinds of human love, and “unconditional love” is just one among many. I think it’s an interesting and fruitful area of enquiry into ethics, and I haven’t fully looked into it yet.
Possibly it has three natural settings: 1) within families; 2) within cooperation and interdependence; 3) gratitude: when someone’s done something so amazing for you that you would never abandon them or refuse to cooperate with them. Very often, in practice, there’s a combination of two or more of these settings. For example, this would have been true within the original small groups of our pre-Homo sapiens ancestors.
Like you say, true unconditional love means that you would never reject a person or refuse to cooperate with them. But also, like you say, there’s a spectrum, and the place on the spectrum is determined by how much bad behaviour you would accept from someone before walking away.
In the theory of cooperation, it’s “partner control” rather than “partner choice” – sticking with the partner you have and working with them to overcome problems in the relationship, rather than rejecting them and finding someone else. This means helping and educating them rather than punishing or rejecting them. It also implies, more than usual, giving them the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them.
So it is worthwhile ethically to transplant elements of unconditional love into other relationships which may not be unconditional. It’s a kind and positive way to proceed, while leaving open the possibility of punishment or rejection.
Unconditional love can be seen as a form of reciprocity – one where you agree always to cooperate. It’s said that this is the form of reciprocity found among the animal kingdom, as “tit-for-tat”, contracts, trade etc. are too cognitively demanding for animals. Crucially, in long-term friendships between animals, each party is valuable to the other just by existing, so the pay-off for my helping you is “you still exist”. Therefore, the possibility of not being paid back is not really there, which implies that punishment is unncecessary. Hence, it pays them to help and educate rather than punish or reject.June 7, 2017 at 6:49 pm #2996
Sorry Simon but you are still sounding like a Christian apologist when turning theologian to explain what you think their gods’ love means. God’s love does not exist because God does not exist. If people believe that they are having a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe then they are suffering from a delusion. Therefore any moral framework based upon “God’s Love” is unsound. It means all actions are carried out under the threat of punishment or the expectation of reward. That sentence alone displays the very weakness of faith based morality. It removes much of the role of personal responsibility.
Atheists (i.e. non-believers) must build their moral framework though on-going discussions and self-development. It is an active endeavour. Faith based is too passive. All they need to do is read the same 2000 year old pages over and over. Don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form as Hitchens once said. It does not lend itself to further development and anything that may spring from theology, in order to improve it, is no longer faith based. It belongs in the secular realm. I can see no merit in using or claiming to need the Bible as a source of moral instruction. Whatever it may offer is too basic to warrant embracing because it is not “god breathed” as it was written by Bronze Age men over 2000 years ago. Morality is not a set of absolute rules. It is an ever evolving process that has no need for any religious input. We are way past all of that.June 7, 2017 at 8:27 pm #2997
We’re all atheists here, none of us believes that God exists. I’m just pointing out some interesting parallels between the moral framework I’ve derived independently, and the Christian one. I didn’t base mine on the Biblical one. That just fell out in the course of my work. You can see how both versions are very simple.
“Morality is not a set of absolute rules.”
– I think that’s kind of true, and nobody’s forced to do anything. But if we can find moral rules that are universal yet flexible enough to apply in every situtation – that’s the Golden Wonder.June 7, 2017 at 9:20 pm #2998
I know where you are coming from Simon. It is just that when you say “You have to remember I’m talking about God’s love and the ways in which an evolutionary theory of morality translates into theology” you should qualify it with something like “Christians might say that…..” Ok, maybe I am being a bit tedious but I want “passer-by’s” to know it is two (very moral!) atheists in discussion.June 7, 2017 at 10:47 pm #2999
Simon, as an amateur neo-psuedo-proto-philosopher, I find posts of yours such as these to be thought-provoking. I mentioned about a couple of years ago how your pov might appeal more to theists than to atheists, but now I’m thinking in a broader perspective.
Writing about theology and spirituality by using Judeo-Christian language makes sense because of both its legacy and its contemporary pervasiveness. Describing its evolution should be of interest to atheists, as well.
I even like your unconditional vs judgemental dichotomy wrt love. I certainly don’t mean here to open a rabbit hole, but this is a hugely significant topic, even if only because of how it’s related to one’s personal “free will” vs the interests of the social group that one belongs to, or free agency vs determinism.
It sounds to me like you’re providing a plausible narrative to theists who are considering how theism and theology came about, and hoping — or at least I am hoping for them — to examine a broader spectrum of spiritual evolution.
And then, there’s the world and progress to consider; our future possible ethics and moralities; e.g. how much and exactly how should we define rights and assign so-called “personal” (or even social) responsibilities to (say) artificially intelligent agents…
Holy crap!? Can we ever hope to cover all our future ethical and moral bases?June 8, 2017 at 7:11 am #3001
@Reg – sorry, that is too tedious, I’m not going to do that. If people were to think I was a full-on God-believer, it would mean they’ve misunderstood my plain English arguments.
@Pope Beanie – I think it’s cute how the two match up so closely. It’s ground-breaking. Apparently a “rational” version of morality has been the Holy Grail since the Enlightenment. It was only a matter of time before someone came up with one, since it’s a natural phenomenon that must have got here somehow.
I think it’s good to translate from one realm to the other: they illuminate each other, and validate each other.
I find that both sides can’t handle it – it’s too religious for atheists, and proves that religion is valid in one sense; and for a religious person, it pulls their brain off its hinges.
So more rationality can only be a good thing. It gives us a new way to move forward in this field. It is really surprising how much things open up when you have a key available.
It also offers the tantalising possibility of a new “universal rational religion” which apparently was another Holy Grail. But it’s a tall order expecting Muslims to accept any ideas from atheists: it’s like offering them the “Rolf Harris Book of Etiquette”.June 8, 2017 at 7:08 pm #3007
This is why it’s so important to qualify what you mean when using sweeping terms and to soften the claims with weasel words which are necessary when we are speculating or talking about something we don’t know so well (yes, weasel words are a good thing sometimes). Now that I have a better idea of what you are talking about and what you are getting at, your idea here makes sense and I even agree with a lot of it.
- This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Davis.
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