Saturday, January 30, 2010

Psychology Class- Part 8 of 12

About four weeks ago, I posted a forum post from my PSY300 class (start back at the intro to the series if you have no clue what I'm talking about). The last three weeks have been spent posting charts to help explain the processes described in that forum post. While finishing the writing of last week's post (just a few minutes ago), I noticed an answer to challenge from atheists to theistic moral argument for God's existence- "Can I be good without God?" After I finish with this tangent, I'll get back on track.

One word and one phrase need clarification in this question. "Good" and "without God".

I want to look at the phrase "without God". My first clarifying question would be "do you mean 'without God's existence' or 'without believing in God'?" The answer to this question will determine how my unasked question about the meaning of "good" will be answered.

If the atheist answers "without God's existence," then it is quite easy. The answer is "yes" and "no"- both meaning the same thing and being just as valid as the other. Since atheists must base their morals on sociocultural contract theory, "good" (which is a moral term) has no objective, intercultural definition. So, one person in one culture may answer the question "yes" (basing his answer on the "goodness" of general behavior), and another person in another culture may answer the question "no" (same basis). If God does not actually exist, this answer does not change even if someone believes that He exists.

If an agnostic answers "without believing in God (whether God exists or not)," then the answer is a bit more complicated. We have to consider two possibilities here. The first being the atheistic position (described and answered above- which would hold true whether one believes or not) and the theistic position. "If God does exist and someone does not believe in Him, can that person still be good?" The answer is "yes," but with a qualifier.

First, let me establish the "yes" part. Theists believe that morals exist in God's nature. God cannot act immorally because it is not part of his nature. I am European by nature; therefore, I cannot be African- I perform actions that others might interpret as "African" (loosely), but it is not truly "African", my acting is based on and performed in the context of my European nature. In the same way, God cannot be or do actual evil, because it is against his nature. He may do things that we interpret as being "evil" or "bad", but that is because we are not aware of all the factors affecting the situation (see my post "Suffering Sucks...or Does It?"), which is the greater context of God's all-loving and moral nature. Since we are assuming that God exists in this situation, "good" has an objective definition. People may choose to act "good" whether they believe in God or not. So, yes, a person may still "be good" if they do not believe in God, but only if God exists.

Now for the caveat. Remember the discussion over the last few weeks? One may hold wrong beliefs, yet still choose to act in ways that their beliefs do not logically lead them to. An example of this would be the atheist who wants to act benevolently and call it that. This is accomplished by the emotions. In the theistic worldview, man was created "in the image of God." Part of this "image" is possessing innate knowledge and understanding of the moral nature of God. The emotions react accordingly to this innate moral understanding and stimulate the person to act according to it rather than the according to the false beliefs. A person may still refuse to act according to the innate understanding of the moral law. This happens by a stronger emotion that is committed to the false belief (the result of the original "sin", according to the Christian worldview).

If a person chooses to act right even though they hold a false view, consistency is sacrificed in the worldview. So, yes a person may act good and do good things even though they don't believe that God exists, but that is only possible if God actually does exists. If God does not actually exist, then the question is nonsensical because one of the key terms is void of objective meaning ("good").

Okay, that should be it for this part of the series. Next week's post will be a primer for the following week. The topic will be defense mechanisms.

For easier navigation in this series:

Introduction
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12

12 comments:

  1. "One may hold wrong beliefs, yet still choose to act in ways that their beliefs do not logically lead them to. An example of this would be the atheist who wants to act benevolently and call it that. This is accomplished by the emotions."

    Benevolence is actually rational even in a naturalistic schema. It leads to social rewards and intrinsic psychological rewards.

    Your leap that it is accomplished [solely] by emotions is false because it fails to take into account social rewards and intrinsic psychological rewards of being benevolent. When you account for social rewards and intrinsic psychological rewards of benevolence - it is actually rational to be benevolent; at least some of the time.

    There is no inconsistency on the part of the atheist; nor is their an epistemic dependence upon the emotions.

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  2. I believe people act more based on "payoff" whether they believe in God or don't. Not all the time but most of the time. It is "what will I get if I do that".

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  3. Samuel,
    I'm not sure how you can consider "intrinsic psychological rewards" benevolent. On your terms, this "benevolent" action is one that is based on a belief of personal gain (psychological reward).

    I also don't see how you can say that benevolence is any different from malevolence for the atheist. There is only survival.

    To take it another step, let's go to "survival of my genes". Benevolence towards another set of genes is acted out only to perpetuate one's own genes. This is also a "personal gain" action, which defeats the purpose of benevolence.

    Both of your rational reasons for benevolence fail, not to mention the idea that benevolence should be preferred in the first place.

    Jeanne,
    I agree. Notice that they act based on what they believe the "pay off" will be. I'm not only talking about beliefs in God in this series. I'm talking about all beliefs. If someone considers a "pay off" more important than what they are taught by their religious beliefs, they will act upon the "pay off" belief. This comparison conclusion (belief) can be based on reason and/or emotions.

    Remember, that just because someone says they believe a certain way, does not mean that they actually do. Also, just because someone says that they place more value on one belief over another does not mean that they do. The latter, here, can be easily tested by observing their actions. Actions are always consistent with the belief that one actually holds is more valueable, regardless of what they say.

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  4. Samuel,
    Let me also add that the atheist is assuming that survival has is preferred to extinction. Is this an a priori assumption that must be accepted by the atheist, or has this conclusion been empirically established?

    Something else, your idea would not apply to the first human beings who did not live in a "society". The first human had to meet the second human and have some idea of the best way to act toward him/her (not to kill him/her). The first would not have a society to look at to determine what may be considered "appropriate". If they perceived a survival advantage, we are back to personal gain. "Benevolence" is a description of the a possible secondary intention, but not a description of the definite primary (if not, sole) intention.

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  5. "I'm not sure how you can consider "intrinsic psychological rewards" benevolent. On your terms, this "benevolent" action is one that is based on a belief of personal gain (psychological reward)."

    That sentence doesn't make sense.
    I'm not saying "intrinsic psychological rewards" are benevolent - but rather, that benevolence produces social rewards and intrinsic psychological rewards.

    So yes, atheists may act benevolently in part to enhance their own gain - but this is not mutually incompatible with contributing to the welfare of another (see: jita kyoei).

    ***
    "I also don't see how you can say that benevolence is any different from malevolence for the atheist. There is only survival. "

    Because malevolence does NOT contribute to happiness, survival, or reproduction; while benevolence DOES contribute to happiness, survival, and reproduction.
    ***
    "To take it another step, let's go to "survival of my genes". Benevolence towards another set of genes is acted out only to perpetuate one's own genes. This is also a "personal gain" action, which defeats the purpose of benevolence."

    Again, see jita kyoei. It means "mutual welfare, mutual benefit."

    Benevolence is extending kindness to another. By the psychological principle of reciprocity - extending kindness to others makes them more inclined to extend kindness to me. So yes, I have gained something out of the action, but the recipient of my kindness has also received kindness.

    I don't know what you mean by "defeat the purpose of benevolence" since extending benevolence still extends kindness to another.

    ***
    "Both of your rational reasons for benevolence fail, not to mention the idea that benevolence should be preferred in the first place."

    They do not. I will post the reasons why.

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  6. Before I post my argument to clarify, I will respond to your second comment.

    ***
    "Let me also add that the atheist is assuming that survival has is preferred to extinction. Is this an a priori assumption that must be accepted by the atheist, or has this conclusion been empirically established?"

    That survival is preferred to extinction can be held as an epistemic first principle like 2+2=4 or the law of non-contradiction.

    But your post is about if benevolence is consistent within the atheist worldview - not if the atheist worldview is correct. Let's keep it to one issue at a time.

    "Something else, your idea would not apply to the first human beings who did not live in a "society". The first human had to meet the second human and have some idea of the best way to act toward him/her (not to kill him/her). The first would not have a society to look at to determine what may be considered "appropriate". If they perceived a survival advantage, we are back to personal gain. "Benevolence" is a description of the a possible secondary intention, but not a description of the definite primary (if not, sole) intention.""

    You are equivocating on benevolence here.
    Benevolence as the action of extending kindness to another is an action.
    If we are talking about intentions....
    Altruism is the intention of holding another being's welfare above one's own.

    I think what you are looking for is "altruism".
    Evolutionary and social psychology can explain altruism. A cursory review of the literature should be fruitful in that regards.

    ***
    now to post my argument and sources for further clarification.

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  7. This argument was written concurrently with my first comment - in anticipation of possible objections to my first comment:
    ***
    Given an atheistic, naturalistic worldview:

    Is it not rational to maximize pleasure and minimize pain?
    Is it not rational to engage in behavior that increases the chances of survival and reproductive success?

    Pro-social (moral) behavior increases pleasure, minimizes pain, and contributes to increases chances of survival and reproductive success.

    Therefore, an atheist being benevolent is rationally consistent with her worldview - because benevolence is going to increase pleasure and minimize pain through social rewards and intrinsic psychological rewards; as well as increase chances of survival and reproductive success - by enhancing her social status.

    Or to put it simply.... would it be more rational to have children and spend your life with someone who was caring and reliable - or someone who was selfish and unreliable?

    Benevolence makes sense in an atheistic, naturalist worldview because it will increase one's happiness (which is a desirable end in itself), and because it will increase their chances of reproductive success (which is a desirable end given Darwinian evolution and a naturalistic metaphysic).

    ***
    Further reference:

    Philosophical:

    Hobbes, Thomas. (2008). Leviathan: on the matter, forme, and power of a commonwealth ecclesiastical and civil. Touchstone.

    Rousseau, Jean Jacques. (1968). The Social contract. Penguin.

    Locke, John. (1993). Two treatises of government. Everyman Paperbacks.

    Peikhoff, Leonard. (1991). Objectivism: the philosophy of ayn rand. Plume.

    Scientific:

    Barber, Nigel. (2004). Kindness in a cruel world: the evolution of altruism. Prometheus Books.

    Margolis, Howard. (1984). Selfishness, altruism, and rationality. University Of Chicago Press.

    Miller, Arthur. (2005). The Social psychology of good and evil . The Guilford Press.

    Sturmer, S, & Snyder, M. (2009). The Psychology of prosocial behavior: group processes, intergroup relations, and helping . Wiley-Blackwell.

    Thye, Shane. (2009). Altruism and prosocial behavior in groups. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

    Workman, L, & Reader, W. (2008). Evolutionary psychology: an introduction. Cambridge University Press.

    Wright, Robert. (1995). The Moral animal: why we are, the way we are: the new science of evolutionary psychology. Vintage .

    ***
    That list is by no means exhaustive. As much as possible I tried to limit my scientific resources to peer-reviewed, academic publications.

    I have to go pee now.
    No further comments.

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  8. I am truly enjoying this discussion. What I want to know is why does your computer let you post a comment over 300 characters.....Every time I have tried to leave a comment if its over a few words it is rejected for having to many characters. I finally gave up and decide to never leave a comment....now I see your LONG comment and wonder how did you do that?

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  9. Sam,
    First, You say that benevolence is based on the idea that survival is preferred over extinction. Since benevolence depends on this, it needs a firm foundation; otherwise the idea that "benevolence" is preferred falls along with it. That foundation can be shaken (if not destroyed) if it may be demonstrated that the opposite (extinction) is just as rational and/or preferred.

    I have spoken to a person who wanted to commit suicide. She argued that death was better than living because she would not have to endure pain and suffering anymore; she could finally be "at peace" or at least feel nothing. Is that a rational argument for the preference of extinction on the atheist worldview? If not, how would an atheist argue against that point?

    Second, do the "intrinsic psychological benefits" play a role in deciding if an action is to be taken?

    FYI:
    "Benevolent", Adjective
    "Benevolence", Noun

    "Altruistic", Adjective
    "Altruism", Noun

    The adjectives may be used to describe an intention or an action. They are synonyms of one another. You have not justified your distinction. What are the nuances of each word that would justify the distinction in this conversation? Unless you can provide a valid nuance, let's stick with the original word (benevolence) to avoid confusion by the readers.

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  10. Jeanne,
    I am not aware of a 300-word limit to comments on Blogger. I do believe that there is a limit of characters somewhere around 1500.

    I have noticed that if I stay on the page too long (from composing my post), it will time-out and not post the comment. However, if you click "Post Comment" a second time, it will post. Send me an email if you still have problems.

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  11. You conflated action and intention.

    I used benevolence to denote the action of kindness to another person.
    I used altruism to denote the intention of placing another's well-being above one's own.

    Just in case you don't believe me:
    "Benevolence noun. desire to do good to others; goodwill; charitableness: to be filled with benevolence toward one's fellow creatures. " Random House Dictionary 2010.

    "Altruism. noun. the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism )."
    Random House Dictionary 2010.

    Those are two very different things.
    My argument was for "benevolence" since that is the word you used.

    ***
    " One may hold wrong beliefs, yet still choose to act in ways that their beliefs do not logically lead them to. An example of this would be the atheist who wants to act benevolently and call it that. This is accomplished by the emotions."

    The problem with your argument is not only that the conclusion does not follow from the premises (how action is accomplished is unrelated to whether beliefs and actions are logically consistent).... you're saying cognitive dissonance is accomplished by the emotions is different from establishing that benevolence and atheism are incompatible. Two issues.

    - and also that 1) there is nothing in atheism contrary to benevolence and 2) even if there was, you haven't demonstrated that it is so.

    ***
    "She argued that death was better than living because she would not have to endure pain and suffering anymore; she could finally be "at peace" or at least feel nothing. Is that a rational argument for the preference of extinction on the atheist worldview? If not, how would an atheist argue against that point?"

    1. There is no uniform atheist worldview. You have to realize this. You need to be more specific. I can think of at least 3 different atheist perspectives that would each approach the issue differently. But I can't pee for you. You're going to have to take the time to understand them - me trying to condense Epicurus, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Sartre Nozack, and Peter Singer into a Blogger comment isn't going to do anything for you.

    2. Depends. Is this atheist an existentialist, rational egoism, Buddhist, nihilist, etc. ? Are they a parent, child, student, spouse, teacher, lover, soldier, etc.? All those things are important.

    3. If you give me more details I could probably give you a better answer.

    4. See Victor Frankl, "Man's Search for Meaning."

    If you can't imagine HOW an atheist would argue against suicide - you need to take it upon yourself to really understand their philosophy (at least if you are going to argue against atheism). I realize this isn't an answer to your question - but you have to take the time to pee for yourself.

    The fact that you can't see why a rational egoist can justify benevolence, or why an existentialist can justify altruism means that you don't really understand the theories you are attacking.

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  12. I don't want to debate anymore. It's not good for my practice. It's not going to contribute to any good thing. If you read through the above philosophers (prime sources please) - your questions will be answered.

    ***

    The last thing I will leave is my method. My method for establishing the firmness of my beliefs is to find the strongest arguments AGAINST them - and see if my beliefs can hold up to it.

    The thing is - I could have tons of arguments for my beliefs and never have absolute certainty. But all it takes is one sound argument to disprove one of my beliefs and every belief built upon that belief. You'll be surprised to know that for this reason, I spend at least half if not more of my time reading theist philosophers.

    This weekend I was reading William Lane Craig, Robin Collins, J.P. Moreland, Dembski, and Behe.

    This weekend I spent 6 hours mulling over Molinism until I was convinced that the evidentiary argument from evil still holds even in spite of Molinism.

    If you read the prime sources and want to know what I think of them - I would be happy to share and discuss. If you need a resource for social psychology - I will do what I can.

    But debating someone about atheism - who isn't familiar with atheism is like trying to hold a theological debate with an opponent who has never read a Bible. In the end, we all have to pee for ourselves anyway.

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