Thursday, January 2, 2014

Objective Morals

Around 500BCE, Heraclitus used the term "Logos" to refer to the "divine order" -- the laws of nature -- and considered it part of God.

Some of those laws include the very fabric of the universe, including logic, mathematics...and information theory

There is a principle in information theory which yields a counterintuitive result to determining the strategy for maximum benefit from iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas.  That strategy is "Always cooperate, unless you are sure you are dealing with a scorpion."  Another possible strategy is "tit-for-tat", which turns out not to be the best strategy.

(Incidentally, ff you examine "always cooperate..." and "tit-for-tat", you may recognize "turn the other cheek" and "eye for an eye" -- and you'd be right.)

Anyway, this counterintuitive result is a principle in nature which guided the natural selection and evolution of "Love" -- all forms of it -- in humans.  (Metaphysically and telenomically, one could say that "Love came from Logos", which [to me] is like saying "Love came from God" -- but this isn't really necessary to the discussion.)

Another evolved trait whose natural selection was guided by the Logos was that of human conscience, which is informed by prudence and wisdom, among other factors.  Studies are uncovering that infants would appear to be born with a sense of justice, and thus would seem to confirm that conscience is an innate trait that we are born with (albeit without the necessary wisdom for complex moral reasoning).

Anyway, the argument _would_ go that "Love from Logos" shows Logos to be a source of what we regard as the highest good, and since this is also how we evolved conscience, conscience would be from the same source.  The thing is, there are other matters that evolved from the Logos that could include ideas such as "natural evil", which clued me in on the silly logical flaw in my argument.

Meanwhile, a scientific system of ethics can be derived from Information Theory.  Given that "morals are the ethics of conscience", and given the objective underpinnings of these sources, it would stand to reason that morals are also objective.  We should therefore be directing our studies toward how the conscience works to maximize the greatest moral good, which is love.

Of course, I'm assuming that "Love" is the highest good, which though may be in line with what some philosophers have said through the ages, others would disagree, and say that God is the highest good -- and since the Logos springs from God, and Love and conscience from the Logos, then conscience and Love are from God. But that is a bit simplistic, and wouldn't be satisfying to an atheist.

And I hope you can understand now why I say this is a thorny problem.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Non-Determinism in our Cosmos, and How That Relates to Free Will

I'm going to have to flesh out this post, but wanted to point something out.

1) Determinism is nothing more than a 19th Century fantasy.

The works of Cantor, Boltzmann, Godel, and Turning undermine this notion.  An excellent (and inspiring) video on this is the BBC's "Dangerous Knowledge":

2) If "free will is an illusion", why is there no way to shake it off?

This is actually one of John Searle's arguments.  We can "shake off" (through analysis) other illusions, but nobody can credibly explain what it would be like to "shake off" the alleged "illusion" of free will.

Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming reports of people who claim to have free will, there are those who will continue to claim it is an illusion -- and that they perceive it as such.  Since we can't discount these persons self-reports of their internal states, we are left with three possibilities:  a) the "illusion" people are mistaken, b) the "not illusion" people are mistaken, and c) some human minds have free will, and some don't.

I think the best way of approaching this trilemma is to examine (c).  If some people truly do not have free will, serious ethical (and moral) questions arise.  For example, how can someone who doesn't have free will be held responsible for their actions?  After all, there was no way for them to decide not to do whatever it is they would be responsible for if they did, indeed, have "free will".

Further, in regarding (c), knowing that some of our unfortunate fellow brothers and sisters on this planet are lacking free will, what could those of us who have free will do to help these poor persons undergo the least amount of suffering as possible?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.

I've written elsewhere, and pointed to articles about, developing a rational set of ethics from game theory.  You can see part of that discussion here:

The crux of _that_ post being that "conscience is innate," and that such a system of ethics would -- thanks to the discoveries of the fabric of our cosmos, as found through studies of game theory -- _include_ the "Golden Rule".  Other than that, I'm not going to cover well-trod ground yet again, and instead, rely on all of us agreeing that a rational, fair system of ethics works much better than in irrational, unfair system.

(In fact, you could also apply "rational" and "fair" to a host of other topics, such as "national defense" and "economics" -- but I don't have time to get into that at the moment.)

So how can conscience -- which includes our sense of fairness -- be "innate", if so many people seem to ignore it?  That's exactly the reason -- our own society is learning (or has learned) to ignore conscience.

Considering that we'd all like to be treated fairly, and the increasing UN-fairness in the world, you'd think this would be a word with frequent use.  But if you watch your U.S. "news" 24-hour talking heads channel, you'll see that "conscience" is a very rare word, indeed.

So I think our world would be a better place if "conscience" was something we considered more and more -- not less and less, as we are now.

And now, I have a confession to make:  The philosophy I've been writing about and systematically refining over the past 7 or so years didn't start with a systematic basis.  I'd like to be able to say that I worked it out starting systematically from first principles.  Yes, I can do that _now_, but I originally started with the bias based on a sense that people are inherently "good", if given the chance.

Some of that sense comes from ignoring the bleak picture painted of our world by legacy media, and relying on personal experience.  And maybe that's anecdotal, and I've been lucky with my experiences -- but I do know that legacy media isn't going to tell the truth about this.  (They also love to foster the myth that "people are stupid" -- another canard.)

So go ahead: call me Polyanna, tell me the world is sh*t, that you can't trust anybody, and all this other nonsense that is accepted as "given" in our society today.  Because even if I'm completely wrong, I still think it doesn't have to be that way, _if_ we start listening to our consciences, and instead, start talking about what they will or will not allow.

Unfortunately, there will still be people who think "the only way to be successful is to be ruthless and greedy."  They choose to ignore their consciences, and we have a name for them:  sociopaths.  And it's unfortunate that our current society can reward that behavior.  In terms of the Prisoner's Dilemma -- part of that game theory I mentioned earlier -- I think we could safely refer to them as "scorpions", those who will consistently "defect" from the behavior shown to have maximum benefit in iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas: cooperation.

So the next time you are faced with a moral question, just ask yourself:  what does your conscience tell you?  And if you're not sure, talk to someone you trust.  Because in my experience, the people who default all those decisions to "ruthless" always end up worse off than those who rely on their conscience.

If anything, I hope this gives you pause for thought.  Thank you for your time.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Letter to Bishop Vasa

Scott Doty
Santa Rosa, CA
Baptised 1972 or 1973 at St. Eugene's Cathedral.

Dear Bishop Vasa,

I believe the human conscience is God-given, and is the moral center of human society. I've even said that “morals are the ethics of conscience.” So when I see the Roman Catholic Church violating the dictates of functioning, good consciences, it is clear that they are acting in an immoral manner.

If this were one or two isolated incidents that were later corrected, I could understand how such things could be a part of individual human fallibility and human frailty. But when I see headlines that read, “Catholic Church excommunicates mother and doctors of a nine-year-old rape victim that had abortion – but not accused rapist”:

...and when I see such stories all the time, it becomes painfully obvious that the hierarchy of the church to which I was christened as an infant has completely lost touch with human conscience.

And during the period of time that I was an adult who still supported the Roman Catholic Church, I probably should have known better. You see, I attended summer camp at Camp St. Michael for two summers, at an age that I did not recognize the horrendous evil that I later learned I was witnessing. So I know for a fact that the public displays of horrendous evil performed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy are only the tip of the iceberg – a fact that has now been recognized within whole governments throughout the world.

Need I even mention the morally disgusting policies of covering-up for paedophile church hierarchy members? Should I offer constructive criticism regarding the CDF treatment of U.S. nuns? I supposed I could – but it would not make any difference.

Now, I know that you, Bishop Vasa, are not personally responsible for the unreliable consciences and evil doings that I refer to. However: You are the Bishop of the Santa Rosa Diocese, and as such, you are standing in the camp of these people with their morally repugnant decisions. And alas, to remove myself from the Roman Catholic Church's baptism rolls, I need to address you.

And here I do so: Please remove me me from the baptism rolls of the Roman Catholic church. I am not one of you, and I have given up on the hopelessly-broken Roman Catholic church hierarchy.

Never mind the theologically-mistaken positions of the Roman Catholic Church, positions that I no longer subscribe to. “By their fruits, you shall know them” -- and I cannot, in good conscience, have anything to do with the continuous unconscionable acts of the Roman Catholic Church.

Since this is an open letter, one such theologically-mistaken position does bear mentioning: the implicit (or even explicit) threat of excommunication that the Roman Catholic Church wields like a war axe.

It seems to me that such a threat carries with it an implied threat of damnation, and that the Roman Catholic Church uses such a fear to keep the “rank and file” aligned with their mistaken thinking. For those who don't know better, such threats – whether explicit or implicit – carry with them more than a hint of “spiritual terror”, where people cannot speak out with their consciences, for fear of terrifying consequences.

In short: Damnation doctrine is spiritual terrorism – and it is endemic to your organization.

I remain,

Scott Doty
Ex-Catholic, and Unitarian Universalist
Cc: St. Eugene's Office Staff

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On Death.

I have a friend whose cat just died.

I've told her what I always tell people: death seems so cruel, in how it separates us from our loved ones. But many of us do hope to be reunited with our loved ones, and I do not think this is just wishful thinking.

Consider our own consciousness for a second: the fact that we are here, experiencing our lives -- having our "I" that experiences everything -- is miraculous. We can't explain consciousness, in the sense of our self-awareness.

In fact, in the realm of modern epistemology, one could even say there is very little evidence that other people are conscious. Philosophers call our sense of this the "theory of other minds"...we assume other people have their own minds, and their own consciousnesses, because we ourself have that.

So if someone tells you there is "no evidence" for consciousness after passing on, tell them that -- by the standards of modern epistemology -- there is "no evidence" for consciousness in the living. (Indeed, some of the more reductionist philosophers might even consider it embarrassing to their own hypotheses that humans are actually conscious!)

But in the realm of our own self-awareness -- when we don't reduce ourselves with scientific arguments regarding packets of matter and energy -- we know "we" are here, now, experiencing our lives. And it seems to me that an ultimate definition of God would be "that from which our consciousness came from." I can think of nothing more "Alpha" than God, from which our consciousness came -- and I can think of nothing more "Omega" than re-uniting with God, our source, in Whose Image we are created.

I'll spare you the discussions of miaphysticism and other understandings of "hypostatic union" and just point to a Wikipedia article:

And if we are all to be reunited with God, then it stands to reason that we will be reunited with each other. I won't pretend to understand how that will work, but I'm satisfied that God is so unbelievably awesome that (S)He has that already figured out.

Good luck, and God bless,


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Word of God": More Deceptive Evangelical Christian Semantics

I truly hate to be mired in semantical fiddle-faffery, but Orwell was right: controlling language can control how people think.

I am currently discussing the term "Word of God" with a group of Christians on the Facebook group "Christianity Debate." It seems that those with a Biblical inerrant outlook refer to the Bible as the "Word of God", and whenever they see a writer (in Scripture, or outside of it) use that term, they consider it a reference to the Bible.

First, there is a context to this: off-and-on in the group, we've been discussing the role of human conscience in both our moral lives and our exegesis. A learned (I assume) Christian man explained to me that to appeal to conscience is "special pleading", and a kind of logical fallacy. But this would seem not to be the case when discussing our moral development, because what would these "morals" be without conscience to discern them?

So my new turn of phrase is the say that "morals are the ethics of conscience." Already, folks have been working to develop a scientific ethics -- particularly, business ethics -- through study of Information Theory, specifically Game Theory. But there is no way to make the leap from ethics to morals without involving our consciences.

Fortunately, when talking with Christians about conscience, we have the backing of church fathers who grappled with matters of natural religion through the lense of human conscience -- and attempted to show how these findings were compatible with the Christianity that they practiced. But they did not believe in Biblical inerrancy, any more than any rational and responsible theologian would today.

Today's evangelical Christians don't seem to have a sense of that history. "Word of God", to them, is the Bible -- and Heaven help anyone who dares disagree with what they find written there. But (hopefully) we know better: "Word of God" is the Logos, which Heraclitus termed the Divine Order in our Cosmos.

To clarify: I believe the Logos to be the very fabric of the Cosmos, its set of Natural Laws. We can argue if the Logos is actually part of God, or those Laws that He fixed to create our reality...but there can't be any confusion that the Logos is that Word of God that we find here:

In the beginning was the Word (gk "Logos"),

and the [Logos] was with God,

and the [Logos] was God.

(Jn1:1, of course.)

But mainstream, rational, responsible Christians are not Biblical inerrantists -- and indeed, almost certainly don't fall into this error of thinking "Logos" refers to Scripture. Because while Scripture may be inspired by the Logos...the map is not the territory.

It is becoming more and more apparent to me that this confusion is exploited by irresponsible evangelical Christians to lead their congregations astray. They tell people to deny their God-given consciences and trust in the Bible, which they conflate with the term "Logos" under discussion. But our God-given consciences are just as much a product of that Logos as any inspiration the Logos had given prophets, apostles, or any other churchmen, great or small.

Except for a few sad pathologies, we humans are, indeed, Persons of Conscience. We can't tell this by looking at what passes for "news" on our airwaves, because such media specifically seeks out thos pathologies, and clouds the fact that almost all people act decently when they can. But if we examine great dramas from Hollywood, we can discern that the moral dilemmas found therein would be unintelligable to an audience that didn't have servicable consciences.

Expanding on the latter will be the topic of another post.

Scott Doty
Santa Rosa, California
November 9, 2011

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Deceptive Usage of the word "inerrant" by Christians

From the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy in the Bible


Article XIII

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Looks like this is an unfalsifiable pseudoscience -- there doesn't seem to be anything they will accept as an error in the Bible, including the "reporting of falsehoods".

(I just wish I'd seen this years ago.)