My @Quora comment on an answer to Question with assumptions: Why are only women in Muslim countries found guilty of adultery stoned to de…

My @Quora comment on an answer to Question with assumptions: Why are only women in Muslim countries found guilty of adultery stoned to death but not Muslim men who seek sex from their wives and others and can marry and divorce as many as they want? :

My @Quora comment on an answer to Question with assumptions: Why are only women in Muslim countries found guilty of adultery stoned to de…

Have you ever been in an extraordinary situation were something happened and you thought, “That’s a movie moment”?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

Thanks for the A2A, Ken!

I have many movie moments in my 60+ plus years of living. I'll put one here and I might put others in the comments to this answer.

Back in 1995 or so, I was working as a very busy network administrator in Pasadena, California. I had to go pick up my fiancée in Chicago and bring her and her possessions back to Pasadena to get married and start our new lives together. I asked for two weeks off but my boss balked at that, saying it was a bad time to take off (and, in honesty, it was). The most I could wrangle from him was two days. I figured that, if I left right after work on Friday, I should be able to pull it off and get back by Wednesday — if I really hurried up.

My car wasn't big enough to carry all her stuff, so I reserved a large-sized passenger van from a rental agency and took it right after work, on Friday, and high-tailed it for Chicago. The van had a big, powerful, engine. It had no problem doing 110 mph for long stretches of time on the wide-open roads of the desert. I figured I was bound to get a ticket but figured I'd just have to risk it.

I was racing through Arizona, when two highway patrol cars pulled me over. An unmarked car also pulled over with us. It seems the unmarked car was driven by an off-duty officer who had notified the highway patrol of my location. The off-duty officer was very agitated but the officer in charge was nice enough. He said he clocked me at 110 mph and that he could take me to jail instead of giving me a ticket. He asked me why I was driving so fast and I explained my situation to him. He seemed sympathetic, which pissed off the off-duty officer. The officer in charge wrote me up for going 75 mph and said he would issue both a BOLO and an APB for me and my vehicle and that, if I was caught speeding while in Arizona, I'd be taken to jail. I didn't know if he was bullshitting or not, I was just glad I could continue on to Chicago.

I tried my best to drive legally but when I saw the border to New Mexico was only 20 miles away AND the highway was divided by a low barrier AND it was a lonely stretch of road with no cops in sight, I gunned the motor and took it up to 120 mph. At that rate, I'd be in New Mexico in just 10 minutes.

Just then, I saw a highway patrol car coming the opposite way. But, since the highway was divided, I just smiled and kept my speed at 120. And wouldn't you know it? Right there was a turn-around gap in the barrier! I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the highway patrol car make a U-turn through it and come after me. I hoped I could make it to the border before the cop caught up with me.

Up ahead, in the right lane, was a semi truck. And in front of the semi truck was a white van that looked just like mine. It was actually a different model but it looked like mine. The driver of the van was wearing a white tee shirt and sunglasses, just like I was! I pulled in between the van and the truck then, hastily pulled off my shirt and took off my sunglasses.

The highway patrol car came up along side me. He looked at me, then he pulled up along side the other van in front of me and looked at him. He slowed down and I came along side him again. He looked at me and I gave him a friendly smile and a raised eyebrow as if to say, 'Why are you looking at me?'

He raced ahead of us and took another U-turn at the next turn-around gap in the barrier. I couldn't believe it! He could have pulled over both our vans or he could have pulled over the semi truck too; just to find out which van was the one he was looking for. But he simply let it go.

When he disappeared in the distance behind me, I gunned the engine again. As I passed the van in front of me, he waved and gave me a big smile and the semi truck driver blasted his horn. I waved at them as I drove off. In just a few minutes, I was safe, in New Mexico.

Have you ever been in an extraordinary situation were something happened and you thought, "That's a movie moment"?

Why do we think we need existential beliefs? (…, Therefore I am)

Answer by Jim Ashby:

Thanks for the A2A, Baba!

I think, therefore, I am. Cogito ergo sum. It is self-evident.

Your own existence is confirmed by self-awareness. You may doubt anything else but how do you doubt that your mind is doing the doubting? You experience through sensory perception . . . which is useless without a brain to integrate and interpret them. So even your own senses are dependent on your brain/mind. Your self-aware consciousness is the bottom line of your reality.

The foundation of knowledge is built on the self-evident, beginning with your own existence. From there, other things become self-evident. If I can reach out and touch someone, that person must exist too. If I'm a person that exists and am self-aware, this other person I grasp in my hands exists and is self-aware.

I'm no child psychologist, so I don't know what stages we go through as we acquire knowledge and a worldview but its seems self-evident that the first things we learn and internalize are self-evident.

Language factors prominently in how we think. Distinctions and discernment can't be adequately shared without language. One of the most fundamental distinctions is between the subjective and the objective: what is 'in your head' versus what is 'out there', tangible in reality. Discerning the difference, at first blush, doesn't seem inherently difficult but I've recently become increasingly aware of how language complicates discernment.

What I've been noticing is that people use language imprecisely; they shift indiscriminately (as suits their argument?) between different definitions of a word or they use reasoning that applies subjective concepts to objective things, or vice versa. Confusion invariably ensues when you conflate multiple definitions of the same word or when you conflate the subjective with the objective (or vice versa).

For instance, agnosticism and atheism. Agnosticism is about objective knowledge. Atheism is about subjective belief. In effect, agnostics claim God is not objectively knowable and atheists claim God is not subjectively believable. Knowledge deals with facts. Belief deals with opinions. I can't count the times or ways that people treat agnosticism as if it were a claim of subjective belief or that people treat atheism as a claim of objective knowledge. They arrive at completely bogus conclusions because they were imprecise with their language.

The distinction between subjective and objective might seem simple, or even self-evident . . . but, in practice, it gets complicated by abuse of language. The remedy is to be mindful of consistency: don't mix and match definitions of words and don't mix and match subjective and objective concepts.

I think, therefore, I am.

How you think determines who you are.

Why do we think we need existential beliefs? (…, Therefore I am)

Why atheists almost always lose to William Lane Craig ? (even though his arguments are claimed to be flawed)

Answer by Jim Ashby:

I've only seen a few of Craig's debates. He always held his own: very prepared. But there was only one that I felt he unequivocally won. That was the one he had with Sam Harris a few years ago.

It was the 2-hour debate, titled “The God Debate II: Is Good from God?”, held at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011.
And guess what? Harris really was embarrassingly destroyed by Craig! What a disappointment.

Craig started off with the premise that objective morality can only exist if God exists and, alternatively, if God does not exist, objective morality can not exist.

Harris then presented his premise that science can identify objective morality by determining what contributes to the well being of conscious creatures.

Craig rebutted with a scholarly evisceration of Harris’ premise that cited: the absence of moral objectivity in atheism; the subjectivity of human flourishing; the is/ought distinction; and more.

As Harris walked up to the podium for his own rebuttal, I realized that he CAN’T rebut Craig because he agrees that there is an objective basis for morality: namely the application of science to the question of human flourishing (well being). And sure enough, Harris didn’t counter a single Craig rebuttal. Instead, he launched into his usual attack on the Bible and its morality.

In disgust, I stopped watching when Craig came back to the podium and rightly pointed out Harris’ lack of a rebuttal.

Harris was so invested in his flawed thesis that “science can solve moral problems” that he was forced to agree that morality is objective. The fact is that Craig is right! Objective morality can only exist if God exists: if God does not exist, objective morality can not exist. The scientific method might be the best method we have to understand nature but morality is about value judgments: not exactly science's forté. After all, science, in the end, is still a human endeavor.

The atheist position should have been that morality is subjective, not objective. But even if one were willing to entertain God's existence, Craig was arguing divine command theory, which was dismissed centuries before Jesus came along, by the Euthyphro dilemma ("Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"). Euthyphro's Dilemma stemmed from a famous conversation between Euthyphro and Socrates that took place just before Socrates stood trial for impiety and corruption of minors. Surely, Harris is familiar with it. I think he didn't use it because it didn't fit his pet thesis.

Euthyphro's Dilemma can be rephrased as: "Is an act moral because God wills it or does God will it because it is moral?" If it is moral because God wills it, then it is arbitrary or capricious: without basis in reason. Anything God commands, no matter how horrendous, would be moral. If you uphold the divinity of the Bible, then you are forced to accept that God's will is arbitrary. But if God wills a thing because it is moral, then morality is independent of, and external to, God. If morality is independent of God, we don't need God as a moral intermediary: we could bypass God to access morality directly. Indeed, God is not omnipotent if he is constrained by an external morality.

But that's an old argument which makes pretty clear to me that morality has to have its reasons. Thanks to advances in human understanding, particularly evolution, we have a perfectly human explanation for morality that does not require God at all. Nature is 'red in tooth and claw': it has only a prime directive: survive. There is no good or bad, right or wrong, in nature. Morality is an entirely human construct  – by, for and about humans – and, as such, must be subjective because humans can never be perfectly objective: as Craig points out, that would require a perfect God – an infallible authority.

As an atheist, Harris should have had a 2-pronged strategy: 1.) point out the lack of perfection in the biblical God and 2.) provide a naturalist understanding of morality; admitting up front that it is subjective and relative but, in the end, far superior to the flawed morality of an imperfect God.

The naturalist understanding of morality asserts that we have evolved empathy as an impetus to cooperation. Combined with personal experience, empathy leads most of us to a "Golden Rule" sense of morality. From experience, I know what hurts me: with empathy, I know the same things likely hurt you too. Experience and empathy is all we need to decide most moral matters. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . because we need each other to survive and prosper." We are complex social animals, so this rule of thumb isn't sufficient for every moral decision but it is fundamental to most. Without this impulse for cooperation to counter our impulse for violence, we would probably squander the intellectual prowess responsible for our survival advantage.

It's a fallacy (with obvious religious motivations) that “we can not be moral without God”. Our morality is part of the human condition and existed long before Moses. Morality is not a dispensation from God: it is subjective and personal and, because it is informed by experience and empathy, develops as we mature. As a matter of fact, we ALL use our personal morality to overrule Biblical morality. And by ALL, I really do mean ALL: believers and nonbelievers alike. This fact is amply demonstrated by our universal rejection of slavery and the subjugation of women (well, maybe not the Muslims so much). Even though God/Jesus condoned the subjugation of our fellow humans in both the Old and New Testaments, we ALL overrule God's morality with our own and reject such human subjugation. Not only is God NOT the source of morality but he stands corrected by us all. WE decided what is moral. WE decide what is religiously worthy. NOT God.

You need to ask yourself: "If we overrule God, why do we need him at all?"
This subjugation of our fellow humans is a failing of Biblical morality that can't be reasonably addressed by apologetics. This is critical for all believers to understand. THEY CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. Either God is perfect or he's not. Either the Bible is divinely inspired or it's not. Either God is the source of morality or he isn't. Even a believer, if he’s honest with himself, must admit that if God's morality grows outdated, it was never perfect and timeless to begin with. The alternative is to claim that God is right and that the subjugation of our fellow humans is NOT at all immoral – that it is, in fact, desirable. But we ALL know that's an untenable position. We all know that is WRONG. We will not reverse our hard-earned moral progress to align it with God’s morality.

Empathy is a human trait that spawns a number of other human traits just as naturally as it spawns morality. Empathy also spawns human dignity and worth, cooperation and compassion. We can live reasonably moral lives without God but not without empathy.

Why atheists almost always lose to William Lane Craig ? (even though his arguments are claimed to be flawed)

Why do some atheists use the phrase “lack of belief” to categorize their theory? Isn’t their theory actually a belief and shouldn’t “lack…

Answer by Jim Ashby:

Thanks for the A2A, Kevin! I actually have a lot I want to say in my answer.

Here's how defines atheism:

1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

The first definition is expressed in the affirmative (belief). The second definition is expressed in the negative (disbelief). Belief in no gods is the same as disbelief in gods. There's no difference.

Atheism is all about (dis)belief. Here's the definition for belief:

1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief.
3. confidence; faith; trust: a child's belief in his parents.
4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: the Christian belief.

A belief is an opinion or conviction (strongly held opinion). Belief, opinion, conviction: these are all subjective concepts. So 'true' atheists do NOT make any objective claims about gods . . . that's what agnostics are for.

1. a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God,and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
2. a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge insome area of study.
3. a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic: Socrates was an agnostic on the subject of immortality.

Whereas atheism is all about (dis)belief; agnosticism, as the definition clearly spells out, is all about knowledge. The words used in definitions #1 and #2 of the word, 'agnostic', are objective words: unknown, unknowable, knowledge, experience. Agnosticism is an objectively realistic stance on the existence of gods. Atheism is a subjectively realistic stance on the existence of gods.

It needs pointing out that definition #3, 'a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic', describes people who are undecided or neutral about the existence of gods. 'Neutrality' implies a CHOICE to not take a stance . . . while 'indecision' suggests that the person really doesn't know (for whatever reason) what to think about the existence of gods.

Of these two stances (neutrality and indecision), neutrality necessarily conflates objective knowledge with subjective belief. What is it that neutrality avoids taking a stance about? BELIEF, of course. If the stance were about knowledge, then it would fit the primary definition and neutrality would be irrelevant. The claim of neutrality violates rational integrity by conflating the objective with the subjective. People sense the equivocation inherent in this timid version of agnosticism and often (rightly) think that 'neutral agnostics' are 'sitting on the fence'.

Sorry, but those last two paragraphs were necessary to deal with a meaning of agnosticism that too many people (both theists and atheists) view as the only meaning. That version of agnosticism does not apply to most agnostics here on Quora: agnostic atheists.

Atheism and agnosticism are two sides of the same freethought coin. One side is subjective: the other side is objective. Both sides are rational and reasonable. Most atheists are, more accurately, agnostic atheists. They value honesty and shun certainty.

But, thus far, I've focused on the nonbelievers and have ignored the believers. The main difference between theists and atheists in public forums is that the vast majority of theists won't admit the possibility there is no God. They have faith. In contrast, atheists readily admit there might be a God. Their belief is provisional (upon evidence). They repeatedly remind theists of the provisional nature of their belief when theists try to paint atheism as a faith. That's a lame-ass false equivalency that theists desperately want to foist upon atheists. Sorry, theists, but faith is what most distinguishes theists from atheists. Having faith means having a closed mind: belief without (and despite the lack of) objective reason.

Most theists are gnostic theists, not agnostic theists. There appears to be very few theists — gnostic or agnostic — who don't feel the need to defend their faith and, indeed, who can even recognize that the phrase, 'defend their faith', is an oxymoron. Faith is belief despite objective reason: it can't be defended. Those who do attempt to defend faith are taking a gnostic position; a claim of subjective knowledge. An intangible knowledge, in the heart and soul, as opposed to objective knowledge from the world around us. This special 'knowledge of faith' conflates the subjective with the objective. It's a fundamental category error . . . another oxymoron. The faithful can't point to anything external to confirm their 'special' knowledge, so the only place left for the 'knowledge of faith' is (where else?) within. The 'special' knowledge of faith is impervious to reason because it's not based on reason. That's why we say: 'If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.'

Why do some atheists use the phrase "lack of belief" to categorize their theory? Isn't their theory actually a belief and shouldn't "lack…