Ed Hudgins

Choosing Life, by David Kelley

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Choosing Life

by David Kelley

In case you missed it, now posted on the TAS website is the essay on "Choosing Life" by David Kelley, TAS founder and chairman. This is based on a Summer Seminar talk from some years ago.

The entire Objectivist morality, Ayn Rand said, stems from the choice to live. But at the heart of this issue is the question of whether life is a value because one chooses it or whether one chooses life because it is a value. In his essay, Kelley illuminates the role of this choice in the moral philosophy of Objectivism and in our actual lives as individuals.

http://www.atlassociety.org/cth-13-2108-Choose.aspx

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Unlike other animals, however, human beings have free will. We have the capacity to think about the range of possible actions that are open to us at a given moment, and to choose which action to take. And so, unlike other animals, we are not entirely creatures of our genes and our environment when we act in pursuit of goals. We are not instinctively committed to the pursuit of any particular goal, not even to that most basic goal of all, our own self-preservation. Human beings can act in systematically self-destructive ways, and even seek death directly.

Because we have free will, we need moral standards to guide our choices. A dog does not need morality because it does not make voluntary choices.

I can't say I agree with this. I can observe animals making choices all the time, like a cat deciding whether to attack or not. If this is what is called "free will" then I don't see how he can say animals don't have it. I can see maybe like life forms without a nervous system, like bacteria, maybe but not higher life-forms.

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Thomas,

You might like to give this one a read: “Ascent to Volitional Consciousness” by John Enright (1990).

http://www.objectivity-archive.com/volume1_number2.html#47

ABSTRACT

Enright assembles our best understanding of the degrees of conscious control in higher animals. By comparison with these capabilities, the nature of human volitional consciousness is brought into richer relief.

The following theses are defended: Animals have a kind of awareness, which guides their actions, particularly their locomotion. An animal’s actions are limited by its range of awareness. Higher animals contemplate possibilities. The conceptual faculty of humans opens a vast set of possibilities for them. Humans are far more self-aware than any other animal. One’s understanding of one’s own habits allows one to control them and hence control the development of one’s own character. The choice to think has enormous ramifications in human existence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More on the human choice to live:

http://www.solopassion.com/node/4570#comment-52448

http://www.solopassion.com/node/4570#comment-64076

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Related, in Objectivity

Free Will; and Conceptual Consciousness V1N2 49–50, 56–61, V1N3 79–80, V1N5 69–71, V1N6 31, V2N1 118–20, 121, V2N3 22, 101–2, V2N4 195, 202, V2N6 32; Degrees of V1N2 47–63, V1N5 78–79, 83, V2N1 109, 121, V2N5 154; and Self-Consciousness V1N2 48–51, 59–61, V1N5 83, V2N1 118, 120–21, 130

Consciousness; and Animal Action V1N2 47–63, V1N5 30, 36–42, 46, 52–54, 102, V2N1 103, 105–6, 112–13, 117, 119, V2N2 77–78, 88–89, 92–95, 136, V2N3 20–21, V2N4 191, 197–98, 200–202, V2N6 16–17, 20–21, 70–71; Perceptual v. Conceptual V1N1 3, V1N4 61, V1N5 47, V2N1 113–18, 132–34, V2N2 87–90, V2N4 194–96, V2N6 31–32, 66–68; Volitional Degrees of V1N2 47–63, V1N5 29, 42–47, 49–51, V2N1 118, 120–22, V2N6 70–71

Emotions and Survival V1N5 21–24, 41–42, V2N2 37, V2N3 22, V2N5 110

Emotional Information V1N2 75–76, 82–84, V1N5 47–49, 62–63, V1N6 161–63, V2N1 116–17

Pleasure and Survival V1N2 73, V1N5 6–7, 19, 21–22, 161, V1N6 159–60, V2N3 10–11, 20–21, 37–38, V2N4 217

Choosing Thought V1N2 49–50, 62–63, V1N3 99, V1N5 9, 42–44, 83, V1N6 31, 154–58, V2N1 118, 120–21, 128–29, V2N3 101–3

Decision; and Awareness of Alternatives V1N5 104, V1N6 31, V2N3 91, 95; Perceptual v. Behavioral V2N1 115–16

Possibility and Conceptual Consciousness V1N1 29, 35, 37, V1N2 48, 56–61, V2N1 132, V2N2 70–71, V2N4 230–32, V2N6 55–56

Necessity; Moral V2N5 97–104, 107–8, 114, 123–30; Practical V2N5 97–99

Psychological Need for Synthetic Unity V1N2 70, V1N3 94, 97–100, V2N5 106–7, 109–13, 123–30, 141, V2N6 194

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Habit; Animal and Human V1N2 48–49, 51, 61–62, V1N3 21, V1N5 31, 40, 83, V2N1 113–15; v. Conceptual Knowledge V1N2 41, 48, 56–57, 59, 61, V1N3 27–32, 61, V2N4 103, V2N6 57–58; and Logical Connection V1N2 37–41, V1N3 21–32; v. Self-Conscious Decision V1N2 48–49, 61, V1N5 83

Association; and Logical Inference V1N2 37–41, 55–56, V1N3 10–11, 21–23, 26–27, 74–75, V2N1 134, V2N4 128–33, V2N6 96–97; and Perceptual Integration V1N2 38–40, V1N3 21–22, 61–65, V2N2 75, 86–88, 100, V2N4 149–55, V2N6 112–13; v. Representation V2N4 128–29, 132–33, V2N5 39–40, V2N6 83

Schemas; Abstractive V1N1 16–18, V1N3 41–42, 64, 70–75, 77, 81, V1N5 58, V2N4 154, 156, V2N6 102, 104–7; Action-cum-Perception V1N1 18, V1N2 39, V1N3 72, V1N5 32, 53–54, V2N6 102, 104–5; Competition and Coordination of V1N5 38, 40–41; and Concepts V1N1 16–18, V1N3 41–42, 69–78, V1N4 52, V2N2 90, V2N4 196, V2N6 103–6; Perceptual V1N2 57, V1N3 72

Thought without Language V1N1 14, 16–19, V1N2 38–40, 48, 54–55, 58–59, 74–75, V1N3 6–9, 33–34, 70–72, 74–76, 81, V2N1 113, 118, V2N4 115, 228–29, 231

Intelligence; Animal V1N1 22–23, V1N2 47–59, 74–77, V1N5 48–49, 78–79, V1N6 190, V2N4 200, V2N6 10; v. Instinct V2N2 92–95, 99–102, V2N4 200–201, V2N5 75, 84

Concepts in Animals V1N1 14, 22, V1N2 48–49, 54–59, 74–75, V2N4 114, 169, 177

Imagination in Animals V1N2 52, 54–56, 74–75, V1N3 59

Edited by Stephen Boydstun

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Choosing Life

by David Kelley

In case you missed it, now posted on the TAS website is the essay on "Choosing Life" by David Kelley, TAS founder and chairman. This is based on a Summer Seminar talk from some years ago.

The entire Objectivist morality, Ayn Rand said, stems from the choice to live. But at the heart of this issue is the question of whether life is a value because one chooses it or whether one chooses life because it is a value. In his essay, Kelley illuminates the role of this choice in the moral philosophy of Objectivism and in our actual lives as individuals.

http://www.atlassociety.org/cth-13-2108-Choose.aspx

For some, life is not a value, so they commit suicide (sometimes) or live in misery waiting for it to end. Others find themselves alive and do not do anything to change that. And what about those who do not reflect on the fact that they are alive? So being alive and finding life a value are orthogonal to each other.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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ABSTRACT

Enright assembles our best understanding of the degrees of conscious control in higher animals. By comparison with these capabilities, the nature of human volitional consciousness is brought into richer relief.

The following theses are defended: Animals have a kind of awareness, which guides their actions, particularly their locomotion. An animal’s actions are limited by its range of awareness. Higher animals contemplate possibilities. The conceptual faculty of humans opens a vast set of possibilities for them. Humans are far more self-aware than any other animal. One’s understanding of one’s own habits allows one to control them and hence control the development of one’s own character. The choice to think has enormous ramifications in human existence.

I have no problem with the idea that man has much more to contemplate than other animals and, more importantly, he is the only animal that is aware that he makes abstractions from his environment. To animals their abstractions are the world.

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From another thread in this Corner:

3 December 2009

Daniel Barnes

"If life is what you want, you must pay for *it*, by accepting and practicing a code of rational behavior. Morality, too, is a must - *if*; it is the price of the choice to live. That choice itself, therefore, is not a moral choice; it precedes morality; it is the decision of consciousness that underlies the need of morality." -Leonard Peikoff, OPAR, (emphasis DB).

In Objectivism, the choice to live or die is pre-moral. You can't judge it right or wrong. It's like...whatever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Daniel Barnes

Is it, or is it not, the Objectivist position that the choice to live is pre-moral? That is, if you choose death, there is no moral judgment associated with this, either by yourself and others. It's like fine, like whatever, dude! Death, life...whatever you want.*

. . .

*Why? Because by doing so Objectivism attempts to avoid having any kind of duty to live.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

If the choice of moral standard is a pre-moral choice, that choice cannot be subject to moral judgement. And if morality only kicks into play once the choice has been made, all standards are legitimate on their own terms.

This ineluctable implication of the Objectivist ethical argument totally undermines, among other things, virtually the entire Galt speech, much of which is devoted to telling the audience what rotters they are for adopting another standard.

In other words, by the implications of their own philosophy, Objectivists can only legitimately criticise other Objectivists for failing to live up to their own standard; or, for that matter, “altruists” for failing to live up to altruism.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Robert Hartford

[brendan,] I share your concern that the Objectivist ethics begins with "the single choice, to live" as its moral foundation and moral standard.

That is why I used cognitive standards to prove the foundational principle of ethics as "acceptance and use of the principle of holding one's own life as the motive and goal of one's action." This puts the foundational moral standard of the Objectivist ethics on a sound cognitive foundation.

Please see:

Hartford, Robert. 2007. Objectivity and the Proof of Egoism. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 8, no. 2 (Spring): 291–303.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

If the choice of moral standard is a pre-moral choice, that choice cannot be subject to moral judgement. And if morality only kicks into play once the choice has been made, all standards are legitimate on their own terms.

. . .

My comments were addressed to the difficulties of the pre-moral choice, not the moral choice. I have no problem with grounding a moral standard in a cognitive foundation, but that’s not the same thing as making a choice for or against that moral standard.

The choice to adopt a standard presupposes a more fundamental decision, such as: “I want to be a moral person.” Is this a decision based solely on cognition, or are moral factors also involved?

. . . The difficulty with the cognitive, pre-moral choice is that it undercuts the likes of the message of Galt’s speech. In the speech Galt tells his listeners that they have chosen the wrong standard, and that this has resulted in their present circumstances.

But Galt also makes clear that his listeners have transgressed morally, and done so grievously. If the choice of the standard is pre-moral, Galt has no basis for these claims. Since his listeners have made poor cognitive choices, at most he can chastise them for cognitive mistakes, not moral transgressions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Michael Stuart Kelly

Brendan,

To use another kind of language, Galt can and does legitimately chastise people for not choosing life as a standard, then trying to impose that standard on those who do. If they want to go to hell in a handbasket, that's their business. But he does not accept their attempt to take everyone with them and make it impossible for anyone to live on earth well and independently as a life-lover.

Folks can quibble over details, but that's the way I understand the tenor of his talk with respect to choosing life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Stephen Boydstun

Brendan,

Would you think that simply choosing life without knowing of the connections of life to value or to moral value would count as a premoral choice to live? It seems to me that it would be a sort of implicit or partially conscious moral choice upon which choice with more conscious understanding of the connections of life to value and to moral value would count as square moral choice. What do you think?

I’m thinking in particular of Rand’s line in Galt’s speech in which she has him say “I am. Therefore, I’ll think.” This comes well after she has set down her morality and its connection to life, human life, and thought. So the reader sees that compact statement as saying: “I am living, my biological nature is such that I must think to live, therefore I’m gonna think.” But consider someone who has never heard this theory of morality, one who simply says, by act if not in words, “I’ll think.” Couldn’t that choice of behavior be implicitly a choice to live, a sort of preconscious or premoral choice to live?

I have remarked on this issue here and here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

[Michael,] That’s a political issue, not an ethical one. When people want to forge a democratic but unified political and economic entity, they need to choose some baseline principles and practices that are workable and acceptable to the majority.

The fact that these arrangements may violate some people’s ethical standards is unfortunate but unavoidable. There is no way around this difficulty unless one could devise a system whereby all of one’s actions were entirely self-contained and affected nobody else. I’m not aware of any such system.

And nor do I think it’s the case that Galt is complaining about being repressed. The entire thrust of his talk is: this is what you wanted. He is castigating his audience because they chose the wrong standard and are now paying the price.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

5 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

[stephen,] I think that would depend on what would constitute “choosing life”. Most people don’t make a conscious choice to physically live; the body just keeps going. Whereas the choice to “live life to the fullest” or to pull back from, say, suicide, seem to be very much moral choices, in that they involve some type of valuing. I don’t see any prior non-moral cognitive element in these sorts of decisions.

The other point is that while the choice is presented as “choosing life”, in actual fact the choice is of a specific moral standard. You are not choosing life so much as choosing a specific type of life, and that requires a moral evaluatiuon.

Nor can I see how simply choosing to think could be a pre-moral choice to live in a certain way. That would depend on the content of the thought. I can understand how one could have an inchoate desire or impulse to act in a certain way, and that desire or impulse could be more consciously recognised as a choice to live in a certain way.

But I don’t think that such a desire/impulse would count as pre-moral. As you say: “It seems to me that it would be a sort of implicit or partially conscious moral choice...”

Edited by Stephen Boydstun

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I can't say I agree with this. I can observe animals making choices all the time, like a cat deciding whether to attack or not. If this is what is called "free will" then I don't see how he can say animals don't have it. I can see maybe like life forms without a nervous system, like bacteria, maybe but not higher life-forms.

We have cats, too, so I agree with you on this. I see it all the time. Stimulus-response is not enough to explain their behavior. They even turn down food to go outside.

However, David Kelley has an essay on free will. He finds volition in the choice of what to focus on, what to think about.

Personally, I place great weight on the ideas of Julian Jaynes. We probably did not have a sense of self before the invention of writing. That, too, is arguable, when you consider the animals who can recognize themselves in a mirror, other apes, of course, but elephants and porpoises, as well. The thing is, though, do they worry about it? Do they argue whether or not they are like us or us like them on the basis of essential characteristics?

Whatever our roots -- from the fact that blood is sea water -- there is a lacuna, a hiatus, between human and non-human ... and I am not sure that all "featherless bipeds" are "volitional creatures."

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From another thread in this Corner:

3 December 2009

Daniel Barnes

"If life is what you want, you must pay for *it*, by accepting and practicing a code of rational behavior. Morality, too, is a must - *if*; it is the price of the choice to live. That choice itself, therefore, is not a moral choice; it precedes morality; it is the decision of consciousness that underlies the need of morality." -Leonard Peikoff, OPAR, (emphasis DB).

In Objectivism, the choice to live or die is pre-moral. You can't judge it right or wrong. It's like...whatever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Daniel Barnes

Is it, or is it not, the Objectivist position that the choice to live is pre-moral? That is, if you choose death, there is no moral judgment associated with this, either by yourself and others. It's like fine, like whatever, dude! Death, life...whatever you want.*

. . .

*Why? Because by doing so Objectivism attempts to avoid having any kind of duty to live.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

If the choice of moral standard is a pre-moral choice, that choice cannot be subject to moral judgement. And if morality only kicks into play once the choice has been made, all standards are legitimate on their own terms.

This ineluctable implication of the Objectivist ethical argument totally undermines, among other things, virtually the entire Galt speech, much of which is devoted to telling the audience what rotters they are for adopting another standard.

In other words, by the implications of their own philosophy, Objectivists can only legitimately criticise other Objectivists for failing to live up to their own standard; or, for that matter, “altruists” for failing to live up to altruism.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Robert Hartford

[brendan,] I share your concern that the Objectivist ethics begins with "the single choice, to live" as its moral foundation and moral standard.

That is why I used cognitive standards to prove the foundational principle of ethics as "acceptance and use of the principle of holding one's own life as the motive and goal of one's action." This puts the foundational moral standard of the Objectivist ethics on a sound cognitive foundation.

Please see:

Hartford, Robert. 2007. Objectivity and the Proof of Egoism. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 8, no. 2 (Spring): 291–303.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

If the choice of moral standard is a pre-moral choice, that choice cannot be subject to moral judgement. And if morality only kicks into play once the choice has been made, all standards are legitimate on their own terms.

. . .

My comments were addressed to the difficulties of the pre-moral choice, not the moral choice. I have no problem with grounding a moral standard in a cognitive foundation, but that’s not the same thing as making a choice for or against that moral standard.

The choice to adopt a standard presupposes a more fundamental decision, such as: “I want to be a moral person.” Is this a decision based solely on cognition, or are moral factors also involved?

. . . The difficulty with the cognitive, pre-moral choice is that it undercuts the likes of the message of Galt’s speech. In the speech Galt tells his listeners that they have chosen the wrong standard, and that this has resulted in their present circumstances.

But Galt also makes clear that his listeners have transgressed morally, and done so grievously. If the choice of the standard is pre-moral, Galt has no basis for these claims. Since his listeners have made poor cognitive choices, at most he can chastise them for cognitive mistakes, not moral transgressions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Michael Stuart Kelly

Brendan,

To use another kind of language, Galt can and does legitimately chastise people for not choosing life as a standard, then trying to impose that standard on those who do. If they want to go to hell in a handbasket, that's their business. But he does not accept their attempt to take everyone with them and make it impossible for anyone to live on earth well and independently as a life-lover.

Folks can quibble over details, but that's the way I understand the tenor of his talk with respect to choosing life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Stephen Boydstun

Brendan,

Would you think that simply choosing life without knowing of the connections of life to value or to moral value would count as a premoral choice to live? It seems to me that it would be a sort of implicit or partially conscious moral choice upon which choice with more conscious understanding of the connections of life to value and to moral value would count as square moral choice. What do you think?

I’m thinking in particular of Rand’s line in Galt’s speech in which she has him say “I am. Therefore, I’ll think.” This comes well after she has set down her morality and its connection to life, human life, and thought. So the reader sees that compact statement as saying: “I am living, my biological nature is such that I must think to live, therefore I’m gonna think.” But consider someone who has never heard this theory of morality, one who simply says, by act if not in words, “I’ll think.” Couldn’t that choice of behavior be implicitly a choice to live, a sort of preconscious or premoral choice to live?

I have remarked on this issue here and here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

[Michael,] That’s a political issue, not an ethical one. When people want to forge a democratic but unified political and economic entity, they need to choose some baseline principles and practices that are workable and acceptable to the majority.

The fact that these arrangements may violate some people’s ethical standards is unfortunate but unavoidable. There is no way around this difficulty unless one could devise a system whereby all of one’s actions were entirely self-contained and affected nobody else. I’m not aware of any such system.

And nor do I think it’s the case that Galt is complaining about being repressed. The entire thrust of his talk is: this is what you wanted. He is castigating his audience because they chose the wrong standard and are now paying the price.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

5 December 2009

Brendan Hutching

[stephen,] I think that would depend on what would constitute “choosing life”. Most people don’t make a conscious choice to physically live; the body just keeps going. Whereas the choice to “live life to the fullest” or to pull back from, say, suicide, seem to be very much moral choices, in that they involve some type of valuing. I don’t see any prior non-moral cognitive element in these sorts of decisions.

The other point is that while the choice is presented as “choosing life”, in actual fact the choice is of a specific moral standard. You are not choosing life so much as choosing a specific type of life, and that requires a moral evaluatiuon.

Nor can I see how simply choosing to think could be a pre-moral choice to live in a certain way. That would depend on the content of the thought. I can understand how one could have an inchoate desire or impulse to act in a certain way, and that desire or impulse could be more consciously recognised as a choice to live in a certain way.

But I don’t think that such a desire/impulse would count as pre-moral. As you say: “It seems to me that it would be a sort of implicit or partially conscious moral choice...”

5 December 2009

Dragonfly

This whole discussion about "the choice to live" is surrealistic. There is, except for a very small percentage of the population that one day commits suicide, no such thing as "a choice to live", living is what they automatically do. That phrase is just a cheap rhetoric device to repudiate those people who don't agree with Objectivist principles and to suggest that they "worship death" or "choose death", a kind of manichaeist fantasy that has no basis in reality. Therefore all the discussions about this "choice" being moral or pre-moral make as much sense as those about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4499&st=380&gopid=85170entry85170, # 393

Edited by Xray

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There is one thing here which seems to be bringing unneeded problems to this matter - on the one hand, there is speaking of the initial choice to live or not - a choice made at the early stage of existing as an individual being... then there is the choosing of one after having acquired the means of cognition and consciously making choices... and I am seeing a switching back and forth on this, when they are not the same... it is as if, having first acknowledged the animal origins, we omit that when discussing anything further human, as if that animal origin has no effect to being human - when it does, because the human is an overlayering of the animal beneath...

This pre-moral, then, would have to be by way of percepts, as is with the other higher animals... only then, having afterwords reached to the capacity of cognitive ability, would there be choosing - and the issue of choosing life would be then contingent on the experiences, for better or worse, of the being...

Edited by anonrobt

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Thank you, Brendan, for your response. I wanted to tell you something that happened in my own life, in connection with your remark that you do not see “how simply choosing to think could be a pre-moral choice to live in a certain way. That would depend on the content of the thought.” My momentous choice to think was not a commitment about the future, only about the hovering moment at which I had arrived in one spring day at age 18. It could be said to have been a pre-moral choice analogous to Freud’s situation of the pre-conscious between the subconscious and the conscious, only my “pre-moral” choice was a stage in the self-development of a person.

My family was deeply religious. That was the worldview I had daily known always; it was “the religious paradise of youth,” in Einstein’s phrase. We prayed before each meal and by bed at night. We had our evening family devotionals. We had our wonderful church services and catechism training. We had our Bible, the word of God, and we had our Savior. We had our love for God and his goodness in the world. We had our faith.

As you know, that is not an unusual situation. It is the situation of millions of young people in this country to this day.

I was a scientific kid, a physics major. There has been a titanic conflict going on within people, the struggle between religion and science since the scientific revolution. That was one of the currents of Leibniz’ Theodicy. That conflict is still going on within the religious who have not watered down religious faith to vagaries.

In that one hovering moment, I chose to think. I simply chose to imagine what it would really be like if the world were self-sufficient, if it were all simply happening by itself, if there were no God, if the world were that way. And it was. It was.

To think included to question. This choice to think was to reject religious faith. The content was minimal, yet it was everything. It was not consciously a moral choice.

Somewhat later I would read Rand. Well, as it is that season, let me digress with the story of how that came about. There was an annual name drawing for family gift exchanges at the grandparents’ house. The exchange would be on Christmas Eve, after evening church service, out at their house on the farm in western Oklahoma. Grandpa had come down decades before from Hanover, Kansas, to draw a lot for a homestead, which he kept even through the dust bowl and which he greatly expanded. (His father had come over from Hanover, Germany, to avoid the draft.) The grandparents had eight sons and one daughter, my stepmother from when I was age 2. By 1966 all those nine children were married, and there were about forty grandchildren. That Christmas Eve I received two books by Ayn Rand, Fountainhead and Atlas. They were from an older cousin-in-law. He had lately read them, by recommendation from a co-worker. He perceived that I might be in need of these books, and at the name drawing a few weeks earlier, he and his wife had discreetly whispered around to find out who had drawn my name, and they had traded a name for mine.

I did not have time to begin to read the books until the following summer. Meanwhile, in that hovering moment of spring, I had become an atheist, by choosing to think instead of going along with the faith dynamic. I had not yet read any Randian ideas such as that the anti-mind is the anti-life or that life is the rational basis of value and one’s choices or that life is an end in itself. Yet in turning from faith, I had just that feeling of cleanness that Rand described for Cheryl in her turn to doubt and truth in Atlas.

Looking back on my momentous choice, now with Rand’s philosophy in my mind, I can see I was making a near-moral choice, a pre-moral choice. This same choice has been made by millions of people around the world. Most have not been turning from faith to Rand’s particular philosophy. I was not. To make this choice, one does not need to be turning to any prospective way of life at all. One chooses to think, against faith, where faith here means suspension of rational criticism. Those who choose faith—a daily choice—are making a squarely moral choice. They are choosing value, as they expressly see it. They are not in the pre-moral choice zone.

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Stephen,

I was 100% with you until the end.

First the good stuff. What a wonderful way you have of expressing the ah-ha moment: "To think included to question."

This resonates deeply with me and reflects my own experience, including my own "moment of awakening" (to coin a cliche).

Now the quibble: your judgment of those who adhere to faith. If they are in a moral zone and kept there by daily choice, then so was you before you made your "pre-moral choice." How do you come from a moral zone to a pre-moral zone?

But it's only a quibble because I don't like this blanket moral/pre-moral terminology. I find it oversimplified. Really, really, really oversimplified and even out of hierarchy on a fundamental level.

I believe most people keep to faith because they are brought up that way and they have learned a bad epistemological habit: that sometimes it is OK and even applauded to accept the words of another without verifying what they are told. In this mentality, truth can be what someone else says and no further thought is needed for it to be true. All you have to do is trust the person or source.

That's a bad habit that's drilled into you from birth (including some very coercive indications of who should be trusted) and a lot of different pressures are used to operate that drill. It takes a life-changing moment to see through that trap when you are in it, not just a simple choice. In other words, the choice is simple, but the situation is very complicated for one in it. Often he doesn't even realize that a choice is there to be made.

In fact, I believe a whole series of choices are made here, not just one. (As I am writing this, the thought suddenly occurred to me that this would make an excellent theme for an article...)

I do agree with your "moral zone" judgment about those who are aware of the choice to think for themselves and still adhere to faith, blindly following what they read or are told. And for those who are in the trap and unaware, I guess you could call their state "pre-moral," since ethics can only kick in after awareness. But terms like "aware" and "unaware" are more fundamental than "moral" and "pre-moral."

It is true that we have automatic emotions that will impel us to make instantaneous choices in reaction to stimuli, but in conceptual terms, we have to know something before we can truly judge it. Cognitive before normative. Otherwise, we taint proper identification by imposing uninformed evaluation on it first.

It's funny, though. Despite all this thinking, principle-identifying, system-making, etc., the emotions are there always regardless of where we want them to fall. In my experience, I don't know what was stronger emotionally, the knowledge that I had a valid ability to choose to think about everything on my own and question it all, even the very existence of God, or the choice to think itself. I do know the feeling for both was overpowering and scary at first, but I would not give it up for anything once I felt it.

Michael

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I believe most people keep to faith because they are brought up that way and they have learned a bad epistemological habit: that sometimes it is OK and even applauded to accept the words of another without verifying what they are told. In this mentality, truth can be what someone else says and no further thought is needed for it to be true. All you have to do is trust the person or source.

That's a bad habit that's drilled into you from birth (including some very coercive indications of who should be trusted) and a lot of different pressures are used to operate that drill. It takes a life-changing moment to see through that trap when you are in it, not just a simple choice. In other words, the choice is simple, but the situation is very complicated for one in it. Often he doesn't even realize that a choice is there to be made

...............

I quite agree, Michael... and like bad habits, one which the longer kept is harder to overcome...

Edited by anonrobt

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No, I don’t think religious conviction can be carried forward mainly by habit. It typically requires continual reinforcement and shelter from confrontation with the facts that there is nothing beyond the natural world and no afterlife. In the extreme cases, religionists need to isolate their community of believers from nonbelievers. Even in our open society, atheists have to be careful about pronouncing “there’s no such thing as God or the supernatural, this life right here is all there is, death is the absolute end of each of us.” Your physical safety could be at risk.

Many atheists are shunned by their own families except insofar as their families are able to forget the atheism. I’ve never known of families shunning a member for their political beliefs the way families shun for atheism. Keep quiet if you will, and they can pretend. Actually, it’s not always enough to keep quiet. That you do not have a church affiliation or that you do not bow your head when they pray may be enough to trigger their alarms and (painfully) stop your company. Faith requires active support and renewal. Faith requires continual vigilance against its fall and therewith (to the religious faithful) the loss of all value, meaning, and significance of human existence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Robert, I quite agree about the vegetative and sensitive systems of the human body being ever oriented to life (of the individual and species), and that adherence to those ends by the full human being, supervised by the rational mind, is volitional. Rand agreed too. As you know, she thought the pleasure/pain mechanisms of the body to be ones earliest (and ongoing) form of experiencing the value relation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kelley’s way of thinking about choosing life can be summarized (from IIC) by the excerpt below. His account is based on and consistent with Rand’s. So is the account given by Peikoff, notwithstanding his rhetorical excess. (It was a very hot topic in 1991, the year OPAR came out. Rasmussen and Gotthelf had been debating this issue at ARS, and the debates over this continue to arise there whenever those philosophers are present and the headliner topic of the meeting lies in meta-ethics.)

A much wider range of things can be values for us [than can be values to other organisms], because of our abilities for reasoning, producing, imagining, playing, and relating to others. We can pursue a vast range of things that other animals can't . . . . But if we ask what makes these things valuable, objectively valuable, we must identify the difference they make in our lives. The consequences of achieving or failing to obtain these particular goods must make a difference, ultimately, in terms of the fundamental alternative of life or death. There are facts about value . . . not subject to our choice. If we are rational, we must accept them as facts in the same way that we accept the fact that water runs downhill. And they imply that life is the only possible goal that can be an ultimate value and standard for all other values. We joke about the glutton who eats to live and lives to eat, but it’s only a joke. Eating cannot be an end to which life is merely a means because the difference that food makes—hunger or satisfaction—is significant only in relation to life. And if one eats without reference to that higher goal, ignoring one’s health, then, as Rand put it, nature will take its course.

. . . . .

So we are constrained by the facts of reality. But let's not forget . . . [that] value is that which one acts to obtain. If an organism does not pursue a particular goal, then it obviously does not value that goal, and there is no basis for saying that the goal is a value. Values and valuing, the goal and the goal-directed action, go together as two aspects of a single phenomenon. It’s true, we can say that something is potentially valuable in the sense that it would serve the animal’s life if the animal could pursue it.

. . . . .

Organisms other than man seem hard-wired to pursue their own survival. They have, so to speak, an automatic commitment to life, a lock on life as a goal.

. . . . .

For humans, the choice to live plays the same role that hard-wired instinct plays for lower animals. Our own choice is the source of our commitment to life, it is what gives us a lock on life as a goal. If the commitment is not there, if I do not actually value my life, then my life cannot be a value for me. It is not something I act to gain or keep.

Of course I am still subject to the facts of reality, [facts about value in particular . . .], which imply that life is the only thing capable of serving as an ultimate value. If I try to make something else my highest value—say golf, or chocolate éclairs, or service to the proletarian revolution—just because they give me the most pleasure or inner satisfaction, then I am acting on subjective whim, in denial of the facts of reality. . . . Objectivism does not permit this sort of arbitrary and unconstrained choice. But neither does it commit the opposite fallacy of intrinsicism by ignoring the fact and the role of human choice. If I do not choose to live, if it is a matter of indifference to me whether I live or die, then from a moral standpoint there is nothing more to be said. And that, as far as I can see, is the solution to the puzzle and the end of the story, philosophically speaking.

[He continues with important speaking on ramifications and application.]

I think David goes too far when he says “from a moral standpoint there is nothing more to be said.” Potential value and moral opportunity can remain even for one come to a state of indifference whether he continues to live.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael, you wondered how one might come from a moral zone to a pre-moral zone. I think one mover would be what is commonly called an intellectual conscience. That would be a sort of higher-order normativity in mental operations, even though we would count it as an order of normativity derivative from biological norms of the human animal.

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Stephen,

You wrote: "No, I don’t think religious conviction can be carried forward mainly by habit."

If not habit, then it is choice. And that means that the vast majority of people in 100% of human history have been mentally corrupt on purpose.

I can't go there.

I'm interested in persuasion and even spreading rational individualistic ideas like Rand's, but my starting premise is that people are basically good, seek guidance and do the best they can with what they've got, not that most people are evil and need correction. While I recognize that evil does exist and that some people are hopelessly evil, I don't hold that view of most people.

Underneath, I'm a nurture dude, not a disciplinarian. Farmer, but not the one cracking the whip over the cattle and branding them if I can avoid it.

Michael

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[...] Faith requires continual vigilance against its fall and therewith (to the religious faithful) the loss of all value, meaning, and significance of human existence.

Thus is readily explained — as if any Objectivist-type could miss it — the panicky reactions of the Human-Driven Climate Change faithful to the recent exposures of their church experts' systematic dishonesty and corruption.

With this being "inconveniently," as the Holy Gore might say, hauled into the open just before the Bishops' Conclave of that tax-subsidized church. And its being fueled, as we speak, by paté de foie gras and private limousines, all over Copenhagen.

Any such blow will risk the loss of faith. If not for the true-believer "scientists," then among the productive people who are being placed under extortion to pay for them.

(Fascinating personal grist and perspective, Stephen. It echoes many of my own experiences, a few hundred miles north of you in Iowa.)

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Stephen [boydstun] wrote: "No, I don’t think religious conviction can be carried forward mainly by habit."

If not habit, then it is choice. And that means that the vast majority of people in 100% of human history have been mentally corrupt on purpose. I can't go there. [...]

We have a third case for most, if not nearly all, of humanity — one of honest actions built upon a base of corrupt and unexamined premises.

I'm not one, either, to routinely indict those who accept the mistakes or irrationalities propounded by others without knowing their nature. Nearly all of humanity assumes that those who guard the roots of thought, religious or not, know what they are doing. Rarely, these days, is that trust genuinely earned.

Few have the ability, time, erudition, or attention to examine what is handed to them, as to the nature of existence and of how to gain knowledge about it. They're too busy earning a living and making a family. Those priorities are entirely proper.

The Lady kept talking about "checking your premises" — which always conjured, for me, a mental image of inspecting for dry rot in one's basement with a flashlight {g}

Yet even after doing such checking, as any homeowner can tell you, the rot one does find is often difficult to remove, and requires time and effort. I made such mental discoveries starting more than 30 years ago, and I know I'm not anywhere near being done with the reconstruction, and I may never be.

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Another couple of comments.

First, I don't want to give the impression that I believe Stephen to be a cattle-prod. In my view, he is a farmer, just as I am. God knows we have enough cattle-prods in our little subcommunity.

I do believe that the view that humanity is bad and needs to be fixed gives rise to all sorts of mischief. And it opens the way to anyone who steps up and says, "We need a fixer? Hey, that's me! I know how to fix humanity real good!"

(bash)

We get that in our subcommunity, too...

Stephen,

You wrote:

Michael, you wondered how one might come from a moral zone to a pre-moral zone. I think one mover would be what is commonly called an intellectual conscience. That would be a sort of higher-order normativity in mental operations, even though we would count it as an order of normativity derivative from biological norms of the human animal.

I have no problem with qualifying things like this. I do believe it is clearer, though, to qualify a word at the time it is used when it can be construed to be more general.

Even so, I see things like "higher-order normativity" to be a matter of degree, not kind, whereas "moral" and "pre-moral" are actually matters of kind (notwithstanding the "pre" degree term) if a person is using "moral" as the standard. In other words, "pre-moral" does not define a time when morality is less intense. It defines a time when morality does not exist for a person.

And, with respect to whether a person is "pre-moral" or not before rejecting religion, the more I think about it, the more I can't make any sense out of it. :)

Michael

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Stephen--I think you don't have a good understanding of religious experience. Most religious people believe in God not because they have been told to believe in God but because they have, in some way or another experienced God. And usually that experience either is the result of the process of "thinking" or the motivation to begin the process. But the process of thinking includes the personal experience of directly experiencing God, and when a person has had that experience, you don't put it away like a bad dream or something. It's impossible to communicate that experience to those that have not had it, but that is merely a characteristic of the experience. You can't describe the source of Existence in terms of Existence, because it is beyond Existence, in the same way that you can't adequately describe the fifth or higher dimensions in terms of the four dimensions of our physical reality. You can at best give approximations. But how can you talk in any sensible fashion about something which is beyond existence, beyond conceptualization--so far beyond conceptualization that even such a basic concept as exist/not exist does not adequately apply to it.

But just because it is not describable does not mean it is false; and just because it beyond description does not mean that certain consequences can not be inferred from the simple fact of experience It.

But I've had those experiences beginning from the age of fourteen, and it's not possible for me to not "believe" that God exists. I did try it once, as an intellectual experiment, and it lasted all of about four minutes. To not believe in God would be a denial of reality as I experience it. Every moment of my waking life I experience God more tangibly than I do the air I breathe, more tangibly even than I experience myself; everywhere and everything I look, I listen, I touch, I smell, I taste, I "see", I "hear", I "feel", I "smell" or "taste" God pouring through it and out of it like water coming from a pipe that never shuts off.

And because I have that experience I know (these are some of the consequences I referred to two paragraphs above) that I must use my mind, that I must choose life for myself and for all others, because God is me and them; I know that I must allow all others the freedom to choose for themselves and must claim the right for myself to choose and think for myself--in other words, an ethos that in most of its details is rather close to the everyday ethos of Objectivism, however different the foundations are.

And there are certain other consequences: one doesn't experience one's self in the same way afterwards: the ego is revealed as something insubstantial and temporary, and one senses Something more real than one's own self. But that part of the experience is not strictly germane to the point I'm trying to make here.

And notice that certain things are not necessary consequences of that experience--it is not necessary to believe anything written in the Bible or any scripture; it is not necessary to accept as binding anything anyone tries to force on oneself merely on the grounds of authority (in fact, it is necessary to reject such attempts); it is not necessary to believe in an afterlife or even in the existence of the soul as that term is usually used in religion. And above all, it it not necessary (in fact, it is necessary to reject the temptation t do so)to tell other people what they should think or believe, beyond telling them that they need to think for themselves.

This does not keep some people from accepting authority or a Scripture or the existence of an afterlife, mostly because they have not done the work of thinking the matter through thoroughly; and many people find it appropriate or convenient to worship God in conformity with some established religion out of habit or because they find it helpful to follow a spiritual discipline of some sort, although the details of that discipline don't matter. In fact, if you thoroughly and consistently applied Rand's words about the fundamental choice being to think or not to think in a consistent manner, you'd have a very good spiritual discipline right there.

Now, there are people who do believe in God simply because that's what they have been taught, or who are afraid to think for themselves, and to them Stephen's words apply in full force. (And usually these people are found in fundamentalist movements, whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Moslem, or whatever.) But there are an immense number of people who "believe" because they think, not because they do not think.

Jeffrey S.

Edited by jeffrey smith

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But I've had those experiences beginning from the age of fourteen, and it's not possible for me to not "believe" that God exists...Now, there are people who do believe in God simply because that's what they have been taught, or who are afraid to think for themselves, and to them Stephen's words apply in full force. (And usually these people are found in fundamentalist movements, whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Moslem, or whatever.) But there are an immense number of people who "believe" because they think, not because they do not think.

Excellent and thoughtful post Mr Smith, well done. There are, to coin a phrase, varieties of religious experience.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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Stephen--I think you don't have a good understanding of religious experience. Most religious people believe in God not because they have been told to believe in God but because they have, in some way or another experienced God. And usually that experience either is the result of the process of "thinking" or the motivation to begin the process. But the process of thinking includes the personal experience of directly experiencing God, and when a person has had that experience, you don't put it away like a bad dream or something. It's impossible to communicate that experience to those that have not had it, but that is merely a characteristic of the experience. You can't describe the source of Existence in terms of Existence, because it is beyond Existence, in the same way that you can't adequately describe the fifth or higher dimensions in terms of the four dimensions of our physical reality. You can at best give approximations. But how can you talk in any sensible fashion about something which is beyond existence, beyond conceptualization--so far beyond conceptualization that even such a basic concept as exist/not exist does not adequately apply to it.

But just because it is not describable does not mean it is false; and just because it beyond description does not mean that certain consequences can not be inferred from the simple fact of experience It.

But I've had those experiences beginning from the age of fourteen, and it's not possible for me to not "believe" that God exists. I did try it once, as an intellectual experiment, and it lasted all of about four minutes. To not believe in God would be a denial of reality as I experience it. Every moment of my waking life I experience God more tangibly than I do the air I breathe, more tangibly even than I experience myself; everywhere and everything I look, I listen, I touch, I smell, I taste, I "see", I "hear", I "feel", I "smell" or "taste" God pouring through it and out of it like water coming from a pipe that never shuts off.

And because I have that experience I know (these are some of the consequences I referred to two paragraphs above) that I must use my mind, that I must choose life for myself and for all others, because God is me and them; I know that I must allow all others the freedom to choose for themselves and must claim the right for myself to choose and think for myself--in other words, an ethos that in most of its details is rather close to the everyday ethos of Objectivism, however different the foundations are.

And there are certain other consequences: one doesn't experience one's self in the same way afterwards: the ego is revealed as something insubstantial and temporary, and one senses Something more real than one's own self. But that part of the experience is not strictly germane to the point I'm trying to make here.

And notice that certain things are not necessary consequences of that experience--it is not necessary to believe anything written in the Bible or any scripture; it is not necessary to accept as binding anything anyone tries to force on oneself merely on the grounds of authority (in fact, it is necessary to reject such attempts); it is not necessary to believe in an afterlife or even in the existence of the soul as that term is usually used in religion. And above all, it it not necessary (in fact, it is necessary to reject the temptation t do so)to tell other people what they should think or believe, beyond telling them that they need to think for themselves.

This does not keep some people from accepting authority or a Scripture or the existence of an afterlife, mostly because they have not done the work of thinking the matter through thoroughly; and many people find it appropriate or convenient to worship God in conformity with some established religion out of habit or because they find it helpful to follow a spiritual discipline of some sort, although the details of that discipline don't matter. In fact, if you thoroughly and consistently applied Rand's words about the fundamental choice being to think or not to think in a consistent manner, you'd have a very good spiritual discipline right there.

Now, there are people who do believe in God simply because that's what they have been taught, or who are afraid to think for themselves, and to them Stephen's words apply in full force. (And usually these people are found in fundamentalist movements, whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Moslem, or whatever.) But there are an immense number of people who "believe" because they think, not because they do not think.

Jeffrey S.

amazing, isn't it, the power the mind has in extenuating delusions, as a defensive measure against having to deal with the reality of no fantasy...

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But just because it is not describable does not mean it is false; and just because it beyond description does not mean that certain consequences can not be inferred from the simple fact of experience It.

But I've had those experiences beginning from the age of fourteen, and it's not possible for me to not "believe" that God exists. I did try it once, as an intellectual experiment, and it lasted all of about four minutes. To not believe in God would be a denial of reality as I experience it. Every moment of my waking life I experience God more tangibly than I do the air I breathe, more tangibly even than I experience myself; everywhere and everything I look, I listen, I touch, I smell, I taste, I "see", I "hear", I "feel", I "smell" or "taste" God pouring through it and out of it like water coming from a pipe that never shuts off.

Wow, it’s really brave to post this to an atheist forum. Bravo for that, and the sincerity. I know you’ve been stung for it elsewhere. Dawkins pretty well captures my reaction:

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name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="
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I’d temper it with something evocative about not casting off the wonder of youth, something Joseph Campbell might say. You did remind me of a high school religion teacher, a Marist Brother (Catholic), who would say: For those who are aware, no explanation is necessary, for those who aren’t aware, no explanation is possible.

So you don’t follow any denomination? Or go to services?

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Jeffrey,

Thank you for sharing so straightforwardly this personal and important part of your existence. I know what you are talking about from personal experience. I had religious experiences as a child and even into the beginning of college. (I had one religious experience in early college, which was the call; I switched my major from Physics to Letters, for a while, in preparation for the seminary.) The suffusing presence of God was for me as you describe for you. Although the religious people all around me had that sense of God’s presence, they did not seem to have the private, religious experiences I sometimes had.

There is another thread here that I think you would find of considerable interest. It is called Existence Isn’t Everything. One remark in the thread from its originator was: “It cannot be hunted; it can only be received. Therefore, knowing it does not primarily require acuity, but receptivity.” Also.

I see those experiences of my youth as occasions of feeling. That does not make small of them. There are feelings profound, such as can be composed through music.

(By the way, I think some religious experiences are complex partial seizures. I suspect that the mystical episodes that Aquinas experienced were of that origin. When I was a child I had grand mal seizures; they stopped when I was about nine. About ten years ago, I started having episodes in which I could not complete any thought; it would drift as in a dream. I did not know the names of things, and I would be entranced by color. The first few times I would be afraid. I could tell my partner Walter that I was not right. He would bring my Vermeer book and sit with me and talk me through features of paintings, which was calming, until the episode passed. I would be fine and productive the next morning. Eventually these episodes were diagnosed and effectively treated. Complex partial seizures take many other mental patterns for people, not only the way they go for me.)

Some of my personal friends are religious. They see the world as you do, although they also have some connection, however sparse, to an organized religion, Christian or Jewish. With them and with all the religious people I meet, I suppose of them that their love of God is their love of value. In fact, when evangelists want to speak with me, I tell them, truly, that I don’t believe in the supernatural, but that there is one part of their god I do believe in. Their god is moral goodness, and I believe in that. I tell them I think there is value right here in the world, operating right here in you and me. And that life, natural life, is the source and perpetual support for all value, meaning, or significance.

I know that some people have also put human hatred into their god. When an evangelist speaks to me of hell to come for the unrighteous, I tell them, ah, that part, that is only the expression of human hatred and anger. If they tell me everything in the Bible is true, I ask them how they know the Bible exists. Things get interesting. But I digress.

To return to the topic of David’s essay, I look at people embracing God as choosing value. Given my metaethics, congruent with Rand’s, that means implicitly they are choosing life. Their full choice will have widely various amounts of the anti-life in it as well, but for the peaceful people I encounter, their choosing of God, their openness for God, their love of God is mainly their love of life and value.

Shielding one’s beliefs from rational criteria is on my view a slip indirectly contrary human life and value. Typically, belief in God is not only an indirect choosing of life, but a turning from human life, a turning from the worldly full weight. Anyway, in sum, it seems there are two deep indirect ways in which people choose life. They implicitly choose life insofar as they choose to think, leaving nothing shielded from rational revision. In a mixed way, they implicitly choose value, and life, in accepting God.

Also.

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Clip 3 is very interesting. The implication is that we are (by evolutionary means) wired for some kind of religious belief or experience.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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