an open letter to a

Dear theist,

thank you for your letter that you wrote to us. It was well received. From it you said you were a secular humanist but you left. If you don’t mind my asking, what was your understanding of secular humanism and why did you leave?

What in the philosophy of secular humanism did you find most untenable? Is it embrace of human reason, ethics and philosophical naturalism or is it the rejection of religious dogma, pseudoscience and superstition that you didn’t like?

Or is it the claim that  human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god that you most disagree with? I hope you will be kind enough to indulge me.

As to your question, you ask what is the meaning of life? You say this question is fundamental and being that it has been asked by several generations of humans, I will take it to be so. Do you ask about all life or just human life? In my time I have seen men, mostly men, kill other life forms for pleasure. I am sure you heard of Cecil. Do these lives matter or do they exist for the pleasure of men? I digress. Life is to be lived. Trees have life, they grow and then die. Animals live and then die. We are unfortunate. We find ourselves in an absurd universe with the faculty for reflection. And we often think every question that occurs to us is answerable.

This is not to evade your question but to point out the futility of asking it. Maybe we should start by answering what is life before we get to what is the meaning of life. I hope you can shed some light on what is life?

In your letter you mention Belgium and it’s suicide rates and laid the blame on secular humanism. Assuming for a moment you are right and secular humanism is to blame, what is your argument against suicide? Who’s to decide when a person should quit this life? Does the alarm you raise about the low birth rate have anything to do with your Catholicism that sees women as breeders or something close? Or is it intellectual? I would love to know why you decry low birth rates.

You say the fatal flaw in secular humanism is its attempt to give meaning where there is none and me wonders really whether you thought about this statement fully. How it would be a flaw?

Your final question is unclear.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours naturalist and secular humanist.

On moral responsibilty

Marvin writes in his recent post

[..]Rehabilitative penalties presume a person with free will. A person with free will autonomously chooses for themselves what they will do. Education, skills training, counseling, and post-release programs like Offender Aid and Restoration open up new and better possibilities for the prisoner upon release. The goal is a changed person, someone who will make appropriate choices of their own free will.


Before I respond to his claims, let us first dispense with matters definitions. In the SEP, they write

to be morally responsible for something, say an action, is to be worthy of a particular kind of reaction—praise, blame, or something akin to these—for having performed it

This is an interesting topic. It relates to the question of determinism and how in a deterministic world can a person be morally responsible.

Below is an argument against moral responsibility, by Galen Strawson, that says what I would have said better.

(1) It is undeniable that one is the way one is, initially, as a result of heredity and early experience, and it is undeniable that these are things for which one cannot be held to be in any responsible (morally or otherwise).

(2) One cannot at any later stage of life hope to accede to true moral responsibility for the way one is by trying to change the way one already is as a result of heredity and previous experience.

For (3) both the particular way in which one is moved to try to change oneself, and the degree of one’s success in one’s attempt at change, will be determined by how one already is as a result of heredity and previous experience.

And (4) any further changes that one can bring about only after one has brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by heredity and previous experience.

(5) This may not be the whole story, for it may be that some changes in the way one is are traceable not to heredity and experience but to the influence of indeterministic or random factors.

But it is absurd to suppose that indeterministic or random factors, for which one is ex hypothesin no way responsible, can in themselves contribute in any way to one’s being truly morally responsible for how one is. The claim, then, is not that people cannot change the way they are. They can, in certain respects (which tend to be exaggerated by North Americans and underestimated, perhaps, by Europeans). The claim is only that people cannot be supposed to change themselves in such a way as to be or become truly or ultimately morally responsible for the way they are, and hence for their actions. pdf

For further reading

Determinism, freewill and moral responsibility

Moral responsibility and determinism [ I just skimmed through this article]

why do good people die?

Princess Mary is writing a letter to her friend Julie Karagina and she offers an explanation of why good people die. She is consoling her friend following the death of her brother in one of the campaigns. She says she can only explain it as a providence of god, who loving her (Julie) wishes to try you and your excellent mother.

She then proceeds to say

Religion alone can save us from despair

which reminds me of the quote

religion; it’s given peace in a world torn apart by religion

She then says

religion alone can explain to us what without its help man cannot comprehend; why, for what cause, kind and noble beings able to find happiness in life are called away to god, while cruel, useless, harmful persons, or such as are a burden to themselves and others are left living.

And I know many are wondering what this answer may be. She says death was but an expression of the infinite goodness of the creator, who every action, though generally incomprehensible to us, is but a manifestation of his infinite love for his creatures.

And as her final apology for god, she says

and his will is governed only be infinite love for us and so whatever befalls us is for our good.

And at this point I ask why should a believer ask god to grant their wish, like ask god to make their team win? Is it not god’s will that the believer’s life is shitty and this for their own good? Am I missing something?

thoughts on happiness

Prince Andrew Bolkonski, in War and Peace, while reflecting on the words of Pierre says

one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy.

and then he continues to say

let the dead bury the dead, but while one has life, one must live and be happy.

I think many of you will agree with either of the statements or both.

I think our greatest goal in life is to be happy.

on freewill, again

Regular readers have met Marvin. In his new post, freewill in a deterministic universe, he repeats the same claims he made in this post.

Now as then, I ask him to define what he means by freewill. I, when referring to freewill, mean un-caused. I don’t expand the meaning of free to include not being in bondage for that meaning is not relevant in our present discussion.

Though this

Our purpose — to survive as individuals, societies, and species — motivates us to adapt ourselves to our environment, and to adapt our environment to us

tells us nothing about freewill, adaptation to the environment happens without motivation. You adapt or perish, no two ways about it.

I confess readily English isn’t my first language, but I have tried to make sense of

It is us walking, talking, and thinking. It is us performing the mental process of choosing for ourselves what we will do next. And it is our own reasons and feelings, our own beliefs and values, our own genetic dispositions and our own life experiences, which guide our choosing

and I have failed. Apart from Monty Python’s Silly walk

which requires a lot of conscious effort, or military parades where the general does the thinking for the entire company, your walking style is unconscious, in fact if someone tried to imitate it, you’d hardly know it was you they were trying to imitate. And the same applies to all the things listed above here, they tell us nothing on the discussion about freewill.

So when he writes,

Ordinary free will is simply us deciding for ourselves what we will do (free), without being forced by someone else to choose or act against our will (unfree). And that is a meaningful distinction

I can fully appreciate the difficulty Marvin has here. In one scenario, and it is what confuses most people, a person is coerced to act in a certain way and in another there is no coercion. It is important to note; we don’t know how the subject would have acted without coercion and this is peripheral to our discussion on freewill. The relevant question to the discussion is whether the actions of the one who wasn’t coerced were un-caused. This is the only relevant question, all others are not relevant to this discussion.

I disagree with Marvin when he writes

But the single fact of inevitability tells us nothing we can put to any practical use. If you tell me my choice will be inevitable, but cannot tell me what that inevitable choice will be, then you’ve told me nothing helpful.

By telling you the above, I have told you all you need to know. Had we known all the circumstances, we would tell you what you would do, but because of this limitation, the best we can do is at least to reassure you that the outcome is inevitable and if all things were kept constant, that outcome will be repeated all the time.

It is good to remember words have different applications. and such meanings should not be confused.

This discussion will continue as long as we continue to equivocate.

I have been busy

enjoying life and that means I will be blogging intermittently in between. I read your blogs.

Here are some photos to keep you awed at our beautiful scenery