Alan and I can now turn our attention to pursuing answers rather than merely seeking questions! I’ll start with the first one, where I assert:
Note that in (I) I am merely trying to establish the meaning and relevance of Deity — what might be called Strong Deism — not full Theism.To be sure, Alan has implied in the past that he doesn’t object to deism per se, but his response implies that he sees no need for this kind of deity.
Obviously, I do. [Read more] to find out why…
Further, I think Alan and I both agree that certain thing are objectively “good” (or at least demonstrably “better” than others), and that it is possible to rationally explore these questions. Right, Alan?
Where, then, do we disagree?
The short answer is that the atheistic ethics I’ve seen feel a bit to me like Aristotelian physics: useful and well-thought out as far as they go, but lacking the sort of deep grounding we’ve expected from physics since Newton established a coherent mathematical foundation for physical inquiry.
Put another way, I can readily see why atheists might (and do) believe in such noble ethics as above, but I’ve never been quite clear why it is not equally possible for them to believe in something else.
In particular, I’ve yet to see a rational system that can fully address what I call “The Ethical Trilemma.” The Trilemma arises in trying to identify the greatest good. That is, what is the destination of virtue — the thing sought for itself — as opposed to those things which are merely good in relation to something else.
These could be formulated in terms of three competing categorical imperatives:
Given these rough (but hopefully still meaningful) definitions, the Ethical Trilemma is simply this:
This is more than an academic exercise. I would argue that this in fact the problem which every political, religious, and ethical system has to solve; and further, that a failure to adequately address this question becomes the ultimate cause of a system’s mortality.
As far as I can see,there are only three possible responses to the trilemma:
This third option (iii) is aesthetically the most attractive, but it is an enormously strong statement. It basically asserts that the multitude of biological, psychological, and evolutionary forces responsible for humanity are fundamentally compatible with the scientific, philosophical, and intellectual investigation of the ultimate nature of reality — even when there appears to be strong evidence for conflict!
To me, (iii) is an ethical assertion equivalent to the modern belief in the unitary nature of physical law. That is, all physicists fundamentally believe that at some deep level general relativity and quantum mechanics must be reconcilable to a common mathematical “theory of everything” — even though we have no tangible proof that such a theory exists, or must be comprehensible to human minds.
So, the questions I have for Alan are:
Sorry for the deluge of questions, but this Trilemma has been bugging me for several months, and I’m dying to hear Alan’s answers. Over to you, Alan.