Home » Atheism, Culture, Darwinism, Ethics, Evolution, Human evolution, Philosophy, Religion » The New Atheists and the Age Old Problem of Evil

The New Atheists and the Age Old Problem of Evil

By now, most readers here are familiar with Richard Dawkins’s view of God as expressed in The God Delusion where Dawkins writes that God is “the most unpleasant character in all fiction … a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” The last time a literary character was described in such despicable terms was probably Charles Dickens’s description of Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!” writes Dickens, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I’ll let you decide which character is worse.

Let’s lay aside for the moment that Dawkins considers God fictional, that is to say (in Dawkins’s words) “almost certainly does not exist.” (even that betrays some slight doubt on Dawkins’s part). The real issue for Dawkins and many of his fellow ‘New Atheists’ (NA’s) such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and the like, is that humans have had a nasty tendancy to commit many acts of evil over the centuries in the name of this fictional God. As the NA’s see it, if we could only rid the world of this fiction called God and its handmaiden, Religion, then the the Golden Age of Atheism will lead the world to a Scientific Utopia, where Science and Reason rule the Mind and all humanity is rid of these childhood fantasies about God, Church, Religion and the like. In short we’ll grow up. At least, that is the upshot of most of the lectures, books, articles and blog posts coming from the NA’s and their ilk.

Unfortunately for the NA’s, there’s a huge hitch in their thinking, and it just isn’t going to go away no matter how much clever rhetoric they toss at it. That hitch is the age old Problem of Evil (PoE). According to the NA’s, if only we could rid humans of the false beliefs in this or that god or gods and/or this or that religion, then all the evils committed by humans in the name of those gods and/or religions would go away, too. Thus, Dawkins, Harris and the other NA’s mince no words in describing their disdain for anything that smacks of the supernatural. What the NA’s don’t seem to realize is that they are admitting that real evil exists, even if the God or gods in whose name(s) the evil is committed does not.

The upshot of taking evil to be real, even if the God(s) behind aren’t, is that evil still needs to be explained. For the NA’s, the only possible explanation for any behavior, evil or otherwise is evolution. Thus, for all their ranting against religion(s) and god(s), they really ought to be ranting against evolution itself. But appealing to evolution doesn’t help their case much.

On the NA’s worldview, all events in time and space are the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. That’s it. There simply are no other causal forces at work. That means that all human behaviors, good or evil, are also the end result of this same chain of evolution. We might claim we were motivated to do good or evil by our belief in some diety or religion, but the truth of the matter (on the NA’s worldview), is that evolution made us do it.

For all their complaints against religion(s) and dieties, the NA’s have no basis, rooted in evolution, to judge any act as good or evil, simply because evolution has not produced any objective standard by which to measure such things. Sure, humans might do things that NA’s (or others) don’t like, may even hate, but that doesn’t really make them evil (or good…depending on your point of view). Dawkins judgement that if the God of the Old Testament Scripture were real He’d be evil is thus not based on any objective standard, but is itself the result of the same evolutionary processes. For all the caterwauling from the NA’s against religion, they really ought to be complaining about evolution itself!

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

148 Responses to The New Atheists and the Age Old Problem of Evil

  1. “For the NA’s, the only possible explanation for any behavior, evil or otherwise is evolution.”

    That’s right. This is the crux of the matter. Everything, including religion and all evil, is a result of evolution. Even their disdain for evil and religion is a result of evolution. Now this makes their standard of comparison incoherent. This makes the standard, or measuring stick, also the thing being measured. There is no escape. No outside haven, that is not itself a result of evolution and subject to the same doubt that produces all other doubts, even doubts about religion, or deems evil as evil. If evolution cannot be trusted in the many regards that it produces “false” beliefs, why believe in any other beliefs it produces? If the judge is also on trial, the verdict is invalid. There is no possibility of a higher court of appeals, for all courts and all appeals come from evolution. So what next?

    C.S. Lewis articulated this problem well in The Abolition of Man. By “instinct” he means an evolutionary impulse or evolutionary standard of comparison in our actions and what we value.

    “But why ought we to obey Instinct? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it?—an infinite regress of instincts? This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve. From the statement about psychological fact ‘I have an impulse to do so and so’ we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle ‘I ought to obey this impulse’. Even if it were true that men had a spontaneous, unreflective impulse to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their fellows, it remains a quite separate question whether this is an impulse they should control or one they should indulge. For even the Innovator admits that many impulses (those which conflict with the preservation of the species) have to be controlled. And this admission surely introduces us to a yet more fundamental difficulty.

    Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. If it is held that the instinct for preserving the species should always be obeyed at the expense of other instincts, whence do we derive this rule of precedence? To listen to that instinct speaking in its own cause and deciding it in its own favour would be rather simple-minded. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest. By the very act of listening to one rather than to others we have already prejudged the case. If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.

    The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct [evolutionary standard] above its fellows dies very hard. We grasp at useless words: we call it the ‘basic’, or ‘fundamental’, or ‘primal’, or ‘deepest’ instinct [evolutionary standard]. It is of no avail. Either these words conceal a value judgment passed upon the instinct [evolutionary standard] and therefore not derivable from it, or else they merely record its felt intensity, the frequency of its operation and its wide distribution. If the former, the whole attempt to base value upon instinct [evolution] has been abandoned: if the latter, these observations about the quantitative aspects of a psychological event lead to no practical conclusion. It is the old dilemma. Either the premises already concealed an imperative or the conclusion remains merely in the indicative.”

  2. And who is to say that racism, homophobia, infanticide etc. is evil?

    And at what point does abortion become infanticide? When the cord is cut? When the head is visible? Those are rather arbitrary lines.

  3. Evolution cannot pull a boot-strap trick and elevate itself above itself. Therefore, all judgments are from the same source as the thing being judged, the judge is also the defendant.

  4. DonaldM,

    Is a talking donkey considered ‘good’ or ‘evil’?

  5. Megan

    DonaldM,

    Is a talking donkey considered ‘good’ or ‘evil’?

    Please tell me what this has to do with my OP? The literal truth (or not)of a talking beast as related in the Old Testament has no bearing whatsoever on the problem the NA’s have explaining any notions of good and evil, letting alone ranting against religion.

  6. MeganC

    You wrote:

    Is a talking donkey considered ‘good’ or ‘evil?

    Neither, since donkeys lack the ability to reason (as far as we know). An intelligent agent capable of making a donkey talk could be good, evil or simply mischievous.

  7. “The last time a literary character was described in such despicable terms was probably Charles Dickens’s description of Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.”

    It actually may have been the Grinch!! After all he’s a cruel one. Cartoons are more my speed :)

    Clive Hayden @ #3; Excellent point!! However thinking about it through the mind of Mr Dawkins, the defendent doens’t even exist and Mr. Dawkins has appointed himself as judge!! Isn’t that like trying to prove a therum or principle that slao doesn’t exist? Hmmm…interesting.

  8. “Dawkins writes that God is “the most unpleasant character in all fiction … a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    Sounds like someone has daddy issues.

  9. Dawkins even wants to explain God via darwinism. In one of his public interview he dociled that if God existed he must had evolved.

    According darwinian opinion human evolved from ancient fish via natural selection and random mutation. The more simle organism gave rise to more complex one. Human “evolved” by random mutation.

    So must have evolved also the supranatural. Dawkins are obviously not ashamed to solve also theological problems by applying his beloved darwinism.

    Marxists on the other hand explained evo of supranatural by “class struggle”.


    http://cadra.wordpress.com/

  10. DonaldM,

    “Please tell me what this has to do with my OP?”

    I took it from your OP that you had an objective method of determining if something is good/evil? Is that no longer the case?

    “The literal truth (or not)of a talking beast as related in the Old Testament has no bearing whatsoever on the problem the NA’s have explaining any notions of good and evil, letting alone ranting against religion.”

    To fill you in: we decided in a previous thread that, although unusual in violating physical but not logical laws, talking donkeys are part of a rational universe, that they are symbolic mediums for disembodied agents by means of nomologically issuing forth streaming audio and that parrots can apparently perform the same function (but that may be an incompatible category contradiction on my part). Somebody even produced video evidence of a talking mule!

  11. I’m curious as to whether ghosts are good or evil, or goblins.
    Better yet, what about trolls?

  12. DonaldM:

    Excellent.

    (A+ for Dr Dembski’s UD blog course in disguise!)

    GEM of TKI

  13. Wow, that was a pretty crazy post.

    So, can you explain why “evil” was “designed” into humans then? By the unknowable and unfathomable “designer”?

    As for the evolution of “evil” behaviour, (I AM NOT A SCIENTIST) it may be that such behaviour is simply an extension of social tribal behaviour that has been seen in primates – “You are not of my tribe and so I am hostile towards you” – which has been evolutionarily successful for isolated populations of various species.

    PS: I actually have some genuine questions about Intelligent Design that I’d like to ask. I don’t want to buy any books or subscribe to any mailing lists or anything – is there a forum or somewhere I can go to which I could ask questions about precisely what the ID “Designer” is supposed to be?

  14. —MeganC: “I took it from your OP that you had an objective method of determining if something is good/evil? Is that no longer the case?”

    And you felt that talking donkeys will illuminate that point?

    —–”To fill you in: we decided in a previous thread that, although unusual in violating physical but not logical laws, talking donkeys are part of a rational universe,”

    OK, so far:

    —-”that they are symbolic mediums for disembodied agents by means of nomologically issuing forth streaming audio and that parrots can apparently perform the same function (but that may be an incompatible category contradiction on my part).

    I would emphasize the wisdom found in the parenthesis and deemphasize that which precedes it.

    —”Somebody even produced video evidence of a talking mule!”

    Do you suppose that could have been a tribue to your obsession?

    “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”—-Abraham Maslow.

  15. On the atheist/Darwinist view, moral relativism must be true by definition. This is an absolute truth claim about the nature of morality, which says, “No absolute truth claims about morality are valid.”

    If moral relativism is true:
    1) You cannot criticize anyone.
    2) There is no evil.
    3) Blame, praise, justice, and fairness are meaningless concepts.
    5) There is no accountability.
    6) There is no possibility of moral improvement.
    7) Moral conversations are a complete waste of time.
    8) There is no reason to be tolerant.

    Yet, the NA’s engage in arguing in favor of everything their ideology and philosophy denies by definition.

    They criticize, talk about evil, praise, blame, justice, fairness, and moral improvement, and engage in endless conversations about morality which their philosophy cannot even begin address in principle.

    Last of all, and most importantly, in the name of tolerance, they are the most intolerant. The entire NA thing is logically incoherent and commits intellectual suicide from the outset.

    The bottom line is that they have created an imaginary philosophical universe which does not comport with reality and in which they cannot live without being completely self-contradictory.

  16. The author of the original post really ought to be reported for cruelty to strawmen given his rough handling of several of the already battered wretches. Still, presumably those who abuse strawmen will claim that, like any Creator, they are entitled to do whatever they please with their own creations.

    First up, we have a relative newcomer:

    By now, most readers here are familiar with Richard Dawkins’s view of God as expressed in The God Delusion where Dawkins writes that God is “the most unpleasant character in all fiction … a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    No doubt Richard Dawkins will be flattered to have his writing compared with that of Charles Dickens but it is beside the point. If you read that passage in context it is quite clear that Dawkins is pointing out that, if you take Old Testament accounts at face value, then the image of God you must take away is exactly as he describes in the quoted passage. And he is right. It is not difficult to find a Scriptural justification for every one of those epithets.

    Next we have this:

    The real issue for Dawkins and many of his fellow ‘New Atheists’ (NA’s) such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and the like, is that humans have had a nasty tendancy to commit many acts of evil over the centuries in the name of this fictional God. As the NA’s see it, if we could only rid the world of this fiction called God and its handmaiden, Religion, then the the Golden Age of Atheism will lead the world to a Scientific Utopia, where Science and Reason rule the Mind and all humanity is rid of these childhood fantasies about God, Church, Religion and the like.

    While there is no doubt that the New Atheists would be more than happy to see the back of all religion, there is nothing in their work to suggest that they think that eradicating faith will be quick and easy. And nowhere do they suggest that purging human culture of all faiths and superstitions will automatically cleanse it of evil.

    Moving right along, we come to this:

    Unfortunately for the NA’s, there’s a huge hitch in their thinking, and it just isn’t going to go away no matter how much clever rhetoric they toss at it. That hitch is the age old Problem of Evil (PoE). According to the NA’s, if only we could rid humans of the false beliefs in this or that god or gods and/or this or that religion, then all the evils committed by humans in the name of those gods and/or religions would go away, too.

    Not exactly. The Problem of Evil in theology is not that human beings commit evil acts but that such behavior is very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with the existence of the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God of New Testament Christianity. Apparently, there are atheists who understand this better then some Christians.

    As for evil, if religion were taken out of the picture you would remove one justification for bad behavior but the lessons of National Socialism in Germany or communism in Russia and China suggests people would have no difficulty in finding substitutes.

    What the NA’s don’t seem to realize is that they are admitting that real evil exists, even if the God or gods in whose name(s) the evil is committed does not.

    The upshot of taking evil to be real, even if the God(s) behind aren’t, is that evil still needs to be explained.

    No, first, evil needs to be defined. Is it an objective entity like a force of nature or a malevolent but incorporeal being like an “evil spirit”? Or is just an adjective we use to describe extremely anti-social behavior. We need to decide what there is to be explained before we get to the explaining.

    For all their complaints against religion(s) and dieties, the NA’s have no basis, rooted in evolution, to judge any act as good or evil, simply because evolution has not produced any objective standard by which to measure such things.

    Now we come to the most egregious misrepresentation of all.

    No, the theory of evolution does not provide an objective standard by which to measure good and evil because it is a theory in biology not ethics. It tries to describe how the world is not prescribe how it should be. Any attempt to justify any morality by appealing to the natural order of things commits the naturalistic fallacy and founders on the ‘is/ought’ problem. Again, atheists and agnostics seem to understand this better than some believers.

    What is intriguing about this need for an objective standard of good and evil is the fear and immaturity it betrays: the fear of not being able to tell right from wrong without some sort of ethical umpire to whom all decisions can be appealed; the fear of not having some wise father-figure you can run to with your problems and who will pat you on the head and tell you reassuringly not to worry, everything will work out all right in the end.

    The obvious question is what is to prevent us from working out our own morality, from setting our own standards of good and evil? We assume that God worked out His rules rationally, He didn’t just make them up as He went along (although it sometimes looks like that in the Old Testament) so, as rational beings ourselves, why shouldn’t we do the same? I asked this before but no one seems to have had an answer.

  17. —Clive Hayden: “Evolution cannot pull a boot-strap trick and elevate itself above itself. Therefore, all judgments are from the same source as the thing being judged, the judge is also the defendant.”

    Precisely. A Darwinist should not presume to express outrage about anything.

  18. —Gil Dodgen @15: Exactly right on all points. Well put.

  19. …as rational beings ourselves, why shouldn’t we do the same? I asked this before but no one seems to have had an answer.

    Seversky,

    Are you suggesting the large part of humanity is rational? That doesn’t appear to be the case. Otherwise, we would not have a debate on origin or definition of evil.

    You are correct that God was apparently rational in His design of the Ten Commandments. What reason is there for Man to work out his own rules? That would contradict the rationality of the TCs. Or is it that the TCs not rational ‘enough’?

    ?

  20. “Otherwise, we would not have a debate on origin or definition of evil”

    I will ask my traditional question on a thread that has to do with evil.

    What is the definition of evil and why are some acts/situations/happenings evil and others not? I have never seen it answered yet but we discuss it at length.

  21. —Seversky: “The obvious question is what is to prevent us from working out our own morality, from setting our own standards of good and evil?”

    The obvious answer is that we would all have different standards based on our own selfish proclivities.

    —-“We assume that God worked out His rules rationally, He didn’t just make them up as He went along (although it sometimes looks like that in the Old Testament) so, as rational beings ourselves, why shouldn’t we do the same? I asked this before but no one seems to have had an answer.”

    The answer is easy. [A] Someone has to put something on the table for everyone else to accept or reject, and [B] Once something is put on the table, most everyone else will reject it because they prefer a convenient code that plays to their strengths, rationalizes their weaknesses, and places few or no demands on them.

    If you don’t believe me, try putting something on the table. I assume you reject that irksome and objective document called the Ten Commandments, so I’ll let you start the bidding.

  22. 22

    Seversky,

    “The Problem of Evil in theology is not that human beings commit evil acts but that such behavior is very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with the existence of the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God of New Testament Christianity. Apparently, there are atheists who understand this better then some Christians.”

    I mean no disrespect, but your quote indicates that you don’t really understand the New Testament God. Most Christians understand that the Old Testament God is the same as that portrayed in the New Testament. The demiurge notion was effectively destroyed by the Early Church fathers. If you can’t understand that, you have no business really, defining for Christians what the NT God is like. We already know that He is the same as the OT God.

    We know this, because we take the NT scriptures seriously when Jesus warns the Pharasies of their fates, or when he warns the cities of Samaria and Judea that their fates might be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. We also know that Jesus is the judge of humankind as mentioned in the Book of Revelation. We’ve covered this issue quite effectively in other threads. Perhaps you were not posting or paying attention then.

    Christians have good reason for seeing that God as judge is present in both the Old and New Testaments. Christians also have good reason for seeing that the God who lays down his life for his friends, is present also in both testaments.

    And it is in both testaments where the problem of evil is addressed. Both testaments point to human sin as the one issue where evil arises. We are all accountable to a Holy God.

    Dawkin’s idea of the eradication of religion is simply the wishful dreams of a theologically limited (by choice) atheist.

    I understand that he is not necessarily calling on an all-out war on religion (although by some of his actions, one begins to wonder); rather, he believes that when more poeple are scientifically educated, religion’s eradication will be a natural effect of evolution. The problem here is that his is an eradication by design either way – through forceful mitigattion or through re-education. And it rather weakens his own consistency in support for evolution.

    He’s essentially saying that evolution provides no basis for morality naturally – that morality is something that has to be invented through reason. That’s hardly an evolutionary idea.

    Maybe he could channel those space aliens he hypothetically believes in to come and teach us a thing or two about morality?

  23. James Bond said:

    PS: I actually have some genuine questions about Intelligent Design that I’d like to ask. I don’t want to buy any books or subscribe to any mailing lists or anything – is there a forum or somewhere I can go to which I could ask questions about precisely what the ID “Designer” is supposed to be?

    Yeah. God forbid you should read what any of the IDists actually have to say for themselves at any length. So I take it that the very best way to understand ID is to avoid actually buying any of the books? Here’s something I’ve been trying to figure out over the last 13 years: are there any militant Darwinists who aren’t like this? After more than a decade these guys still show almost no familiarity with the ID arguments as they actually stand.

    Honestly, it’s ludicrous.

  24. Seversky,

    Go ahead and work out your own morality, and I’ll do the same, and ne’er the tween shall meet, for it will only be by artifice, and what you prefer will be different than what I prefer.

    You should read this essay called “On Ethics” in its entirety.

    http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false

  25. Severski:

    You are seriously out of date.

    Cf summary of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, here. (FYI, this was worked out and published in the 1960′s – 70′s.)

    the key problems of evolutionary materialism on both mind and morality are also summarised here, in the always linked.

    GEM of TKI

  26. JB:

    Read the weak argument correctives here at UD, which are free of charge, and you will also find the — equally free of charge — article on ID at NWE a far more balanced survey than the hatchet job by the ideologues spiooiling what could have been such a grand achievement — a solid encyclopedia by and for the people — at Wiki.

    GEM of TKI

  27. 27

    SB,

    “If you don’t believe me, try putting something on the table. I assume you reject that irksome and objective document called the Ten Commandments, so I’ll let you start the bidding.”

    Ha! I wanna watch.

  28. 28

    KF,

    Thanks for posting the NWE article on ID. A few weeks back we had a discussion about Wikipedia’s inaccurate and biased article on ID. NWE’s alternative article was not brought up. I think it’s an even better article than the one on Conservapedia, which was mentioned in the thread in question.

  29. —Jerry: “What is the definition of evil and why are some acts/situations/happenings evil and others not? I have never seen it answered yet but we discuss it at length?”

    Most of the masters define it in terms of “perversion of the will.”

    Augustine:

    “Evil was a “perversion of the will, turned aside from…God” to lesser things.”

    Stanely Grentz:

    “Evil is a perversion of the will that leads to a falsification of the order of the universe through an exchange of means for ends.”

  30. Since we’re talking about the Ten Commandments, can I ask a couple of questions :

    Is it the position of those who state that there is an objective moral code that the Ten Commandments is the basic moral code? And

    Is it your position that an act breaching one of the Ten Commandments is an evil act?

  31. 31

    You should read this essay called “On Ethics” in its entirety.

    I would suggest this one instead. It’s much better, in my opinion.

    http://books.google.ca/books?i.....38;f=false

  32. WM:

    Spinoza built up a rationalistic system on postulates standing on thin air. (Or if not thin air, then on such excerpts of commonsense experience as suited his purposes; in either case leaving major questions hanging unanswered.)

    As with any major philosophical system it should be examined on comparative difficulties.

    Lewis confines himself to specifics, and to cases anchored in experiential reality and the relevant history of ideas in a nutshell (and remember he is about 300 years farther on than Spinoza in that history].

    Cf in particular his discussion on Ethics from p. 44 on, and his remarks on subjectivism from 72 on. (I suspect Spinoza would have been scandalised by our modern and ultra-/ post- modern wave of subjectivist nihilisam.)

    GEM of TKI

  33. The Bible has a sensible and useful explanation for evil: it enters consciousness through vanity, or the desire to be “like God.” From this it follows that the most important decision in life is between the love of God and our neighbor and excessive self-love.

    Life is described as the “light of men,” their highest good. All men desire it, and for this reason all men hate their own nothingness, their mortality. Most of what is characterized as evil in the Bible comes from attempting to overcome their nothingness or “nakedness” by building themselves up at the expense of their neighbors.

    To “walk in the light,” then, is to love God and your neighbor as yourself. This is said to lead to prosperity, health and security—“abundant life.” To walk in darkness is to be in love with oneself—a mortal being—and to break the commandments on account of this unreasonable love; the result being death and destruction.

    This is an empirical proposition, by the way. It can actually be tested (unlike Natural Selection).

    Now a question for the proponents of naturalism: what is your account for the existence of evil, and, more importantly, your prescription for overcoming it?

  34. allanius (33),

    “Now a question for the proponents of naturalism: what is your account for the existence of evil, and, more importantly, your prescription for overcoming it?”

    First you need to define “evil”.

  35. It looks like we’ve got some interesting discussion going here, which is what I hoped. A couple of responses are in order. Seversky writes:

    No doubt Richard Dawkins will be flattered to have his writing compared with that of Charles Dickens but it is beside the point. If you read that passage in context it is quite clear that Dawkins is pointing out that, if you take Old Testament accounts at face value, then the image of God you must take away is exactly as he describes in the quoted passage. And he is right. It is not difficult to find a Scriptural justification for every one of those epithets.

    But Dawkins doesn’t take the OT at face value. If he did, he wouldn’t refer to it as “fiction”. And because he thinks none of it is true, he interprets the central character, God, exactly how he wants, with no attempt to really understand. In short, when it comes to understanding who God is, Dawkins is a novice.

    Seversky continues:

    While there is no doubt that the New Atheists would be more than happy to see the back of all religion, there is nothing in their work to suggest that they think that eradicating faith will be quick and easy. And nowhere do they suggest that purging human culture of all faiths and superstitions will automatically cleanse it of evil.

    I don’t recall ever suggesting that the NA’s did suggest that eradicating faith will be quick and easy. But they have made clear that they believe that if we rid the world of religious faith, most, if not all, evil goes with it. They conveniently ignore evils committed by atheists (Stalin, Pol Pot, etc) and more conveniently completely ignore much good works inspired by faith (ie, William Wilberforce or Mother Theresa). The clear implication of the many books, articles, lectures and blog posts of the NA’s is that a world devoid of religion will be one where reason and rationality are exalted (and by implication, evil free).

    Not exactly. The Problem of Evil in theology is not that human beings commit evil acts but that such behavior is very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with the existence of the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God of New Testament Christianity. Apparently, there are atheists who understand this better then some Christians.

    I think Seversky has missed the point. The issue is not the PoE “in theology”, but the problem that Dawkins and his fellow NA’s have in claiming evil exists at all under their worldview. It is both logically inconsistent and incoherent to label acts as good or evil when, under the NA’s worldview, there is no objective standard whatsoever to make the determination. The NA’s dislike of certain behavior is NOT an objective standard, hence the problem for them!

    As for evil, if religion were taken out of the picture you would remove one justification for bad behavior but the lessons of National Socialism in Germany or communism in Russia and China suggests people would have no difficulty in finding substitutes.

    Thus Dawkins and the NA’s can only appeal to evolution to explain it. Even calling it “bad behavior” is incoherent on the NA’s worldview. What makes it “bad”…the fact they don’t like it? Too bad and who cares.

    No, first, evil needs to be defined. Is it an objective entity like a force of nature or a malevolent but incorporeal being like an “evil spirit”? Or is just an adjective we use to describe extremely anti-social behavior. We need to decide what there is to be explained before we get to the explaining.

    But Dawkins and the NA’s have defined it for us. Its basically anything people do in the name of religion that they don’t like. That is the subject of Harris’s books. Also, on the NA worldview, there can be no evil spirits. For them, evil is whatever they decide to call evil…there is no other way to define it under the NA worldview. None. And that’s the point!

    Now we come to the most egregious misrepresentation of all.

    No, the theory of evolution does not provide an objective standard by which to measure good and evil because it is a theory in biology not ethics. It tries to describe how the world is not prescribe how it should be. Any attempt to justify any morality by appealing to the natural order of things commits the naturalistic fallacy and founders on the ‘is/ought’ problem. Again, atheists and agnostics seem to understand this better than some believers.

    Well, don’t tell that to me — tell it to Dawkins, Harris and the other NA’s, because this precisely what they do. Apparently these atheists and agnostics do NOT undertand the fallacies they commit at all! That is the main point of my OP!

    What is intriguing about this need for an objective standard of good and evil is the fear and immaturity it betrays: the fear of not being able to tell right from wrong without some sort of ethical umpire to whom all decisions can be appealed; the fear of not having some wise father-figure you can run to with your problems and who will pat you on the head and tell you reassuringly not to worry, everything will work out all right in the end.

    The whole point is that under the NA worldview, everything, absolutely everything — all events in space and time (no exceptions!) – must be explained as the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. That’s it. There can be no appeal to any other forces because there are no other forces to which they can appeal. None. On that worldview, there simply is no way to tell right from wrong, because the very terms are incoherent and all ethics and morals are relative. Each person can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.

    That is precisely what the NA’s have done. They have decided for themselves that religious belief is wrong. Now, they didn’t discover through science some objective standard to tell them that, because no such standard has ever been produced by the evolutionary process. So why should anyone pay any attention to their ethical opinion on the matter? Great, they don’t like religion or what people do in the name of religion. (Yawn) who cares what they think? Its no different than if I said, I think people who wear pink shirts are evil and if we rid the world of pink shirts, then the evil that people who wear pink shirts do would go away. That makes about as much sense as any of the arguments coming from the NA’s about religion and evil.

    The obvious question is what is to prevent us from working out our own morality, from setting our own standards of good and evil? We assume that God worked out His rules rationally, He didn’t just make them up as He went along (although it sometimes looks like that in the Old Testament) so, as rational beings ourselves, why shouldn’t we do the same? I asked this before but no one seems to have had an answer.

    Let’s suppose the NA’s are right and there is no God or gods, no deities of any sort that play any role whatsoever in the affairs of humans. Then, you’re right we each work out our own morality. But, and here’s the rub, there really is no behavior that can properly be called good or evil, since no one has any basis to make the determination beyond “I don’t like what you’re doing!” That’s the upshot of working out one’s own morality. On that worldview there simply is no way that morality ought to be, because there is no ought at all.

    But, if we suppose the NA’s have it all wrong (as I think they do) and there really is a God who is actively involved in the affairs of humans, and even had quite a bit to do with bringing everything, including us, into existence, then we need to discover what moral rules God intends for his creation and line up our morality with that rather than just making things up on our own.

  36. DM:

    Well said, again.

    I add this excerpt from Will Hawthorne (which was the subject of a full post some months back), that brings out implications a bit directly:

    ______________

    >> Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can’t infer an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ [the 'is' being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces]. (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.) Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an ‘ought’. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there’s no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action. Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it’s not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action. (This is just the standard inferential scheme for formal deontic logic.) We’ve conformed to standard principles and inference rules of logic and we’ve started out with assumptions that atheists have conceded in print. And yet we reach the absurd conclusion: therefore, for any action you care to pick, it’s permissible to perform that action. If you’d like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan ‘if atheism is true, all things are permitted’. For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

    Now, we all know that at least some actions are really not permissible (for example, racist actions). Since the conclusion of the argument denies this, there must be a problem somewhere in the argument. Could the argument be invalid? No. The argument has not violated a single rule of logic and all inferences were made explicit. Thus we are forced to deny the truth of one of the assumptions we started out with. That means we either deny atheistic naturalism or (the more intuitively appealing) principle that one can’t infer ‘ought’ from ‘is’. >>
    _________________

    The theistic solution — as pointed out by Anscombe (contra Hume’s “Surprise”) — is of course that when the ultimate, grounding “is” of all reality embeds the “ought” essentially [God is all-good], then we can safely derive ought from that is. In particular, properly instructed, empowered and insightful love will always be and do right.

    And, with creatures capable of virtue, we have creatures capable of choice.

    Thus, inherently the power to love implies the power to be indifferent or hostile. And so if we want a world in which love is possible as queen of the virtues, it is one in which real choice is possible, including that to do the selfish and the grasping. Thus, to twist the inherently good to improper ends, and so ending up with evil as privation of the good.

    The answer is of course that God acts with ultimate, self-sacrificing redemptive love, and we have a new choice of redemption.

    GEM of TKI

  37. Hi everyone,

    I was just reading the essay “On Ethics” in Christian Reflections by C. S. Lewis, which kairosfocus kindly provided a link to.

    I continued reading, and went on to the next essay, De Futilitate, an address given at Magdalen College, Oxford, during the Second World War, at the invitation of Sir Henry Tizard (then President of Magdalen College). On page 70, I found a very interesting passage, which I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on. Although it is directed at atheists who rail against the apparent heartlessness of the cosmos, I would contend that it could equally well be directed at modern-day atheists who rail against the apparent savagery of Yahweh in the Old Testament. Anyway, here is what Lewis says about these angry atheists:

    The defiance of the good atheist hurled at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recogizes as infinitely valuable or authoritative: for if mercy and justice were really only private whims of his own with no objective and impersonal roots, and if he realized this, he could not go on being indignant. The fact that he arraigns heaven itself for disregarding them means that on some level of his mind he knows they are enthroned in a higher heaven still.

    I cannot and never could persuade myself that such defiance is displeasing to the supreme mind. There is something holier about the atheism of a Shelley than the theism of a Paley. That is the lesson of the book of Job. No explanation of the problem of unjust suffering is there given: that is not the point of the poem. The point is that the man who accepts our ordinary standard of good and by it hotly criticizes divine justice receives the divine approval; the orthodox, pious people who palter with that standard in the attempt to justify God are condemned. Apparently the way to advance from the imperfect apprehension of justice to the absolute justice is not to throw our imperfect apprehensions aside but boldly to go on applying them. Just as the pupil advances to more perfect arithmetic not by throwing his multiplication table away but by working it for all it is worth.

    The above extract is taken from Christian Reflections by C. S. Lewis (preface by Walter Hooper), Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Company, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 2003. ISBN 0-8028-0869-7.

    The fair-minded, profound sentiments in the passage above could only have been written by an ex-atheist such as Lewis. So I would encourage the new atheists to maintain their rage, and continue seeking after good.

  38. vjtorley (37),

    I’m afraid this is (yet another) example of C.S. Lewis getting it wrong. As an atheist, I am never defiant to or indignant about the cosmos, I just accept it as it is. Lewis’ writing might be a misunderstanding of something else that atheists often do, however, which is to point out the contradiction between the actions of alleged deities as reported in scriptures and the alleged moral teachings of same deities in those same scriptures.

  39. StephenB,

    I have essentially asked the unanswerable question. Here on this thread we talk about evil in almost every comment but no one knows what they are talking about. Interesting phenomenon. I am not sure “perversion of the will” captures it. Though it is certainly one aspect of it.

    For example, how is the Lisbon earthquake a perversion of the will and that is the event that crystalized the modern discussion of evil and changed the thinking of many. Also I doubt that most here understand it as a perversion of the will.

  40. vjtorley,

    De Futilitate is a great essay. There’s also an essay called “The Poison of Subjectivism” that you might want to take a look at from one of Lewis’s books called The Seeing Eye.

  41. Seversky,

    The obvious question is what is to prevent us from working out our own morality, from setting our own standards of good and evil?

    Stalin did this. So did Hitler. And Pol Pot, and Amin, and Bin-laden, and…

    If working out our own standards is really such an “obvious question,” then you’re OK both with the standards these guys worked out for themselves?

  42. Most instances of this discussion I’ve seen oversimplify and therefore distort the alternatives.

    The first omitted observation is that individuals don’t invent moral codes; cultures and communities do, over historical times scales.

    The second is related. Routinely omitted from this discussion is the fact that, from the perspective of the agnostic/atheist, one is not confronted with a choice between a received moral code on one hand and other codes of human devising on the other.

    The actual choice at hand is:

    1) A state of affairs that includes the fact that human beings arose as part of, and are continuous with, the natural world. Due to our phenomenal behavioral and social flexibility, ethical and moral questions arise, questions with which we grapple with full awareness of our natural origins. We therefore recognize that the behavioral and ethical norms of our cultures, rather than having been received, themselves have a history, and were shaped by cultural evolution. Ultimately, they are recognized as of our own invention, and therefore we may wish to examine and challenge those cultural artifacts in light of experience.

    2) A state of affairs that includes the fact that human beings arose as part of, and are continuous with, the natural world. Due to our phenomenal behavioral and social flexibility, ethical and moral questions arise, questions that are resolved by means of a moral code that originated as a social and cultural invention, yet that we accept as received. A component of the received story is the fiction that it was in fact received. Ethical and moral decisions are taken absent an understanding of the socially constructed nature of the system of morality employed, and absent a full understanding of the human predicament and its origins.

    I choose option one. From where I sit there is no other option, because from within that framework “absolute,” received moral codes (including that of Christianity) are human inventions and reflect both human genius and human falibility. I find myself unable to believe otherwise.

  43. Gaz

    Lewis’ writing might be a misunderstanding of something else that atheists often do, however, which is to point out the contradiction between the actions of alleged deities as reported in scriptures and the alleged moral teachings of same deities in those same scriptures.

    First off, I really don’t think you’ve read Lewis correctly. Lewis was directing his comments at atheists of the time who really did express dismay at the apparent meaninglessness of the cosmos. I’m not sure who exactly Lewis might have had in mind when he made the comment, but it may have someone like Jean Paul Satre.

  44. —Jerry: “For example, how is the Lisbon earthquake a perversion of the will and that is the event that crystalized the modern discussion of evil and changed the thinking of many. Also I doubt that most here understand it as a perversion of the will.”

    Yes, I agree that the overall problem of evil is, as you say, a broader idea than the notion of evil acts. To accomodate that notion, one must include the other component, which is “privation of the good.”

    Indeed, if you take human acts out of the equation, that that other definition seems illuminative. So, to cover all the bases, including unfortunate acts of nature and other such things, I would submit that evil in the broad sense connotes a privation of that which is good and is caused directly or indirectly from perversion of the will [as in original sin etc.]

    I would argue, therefore, that the Lisbon earthquake could be thought of as the fallout as Adam’s perversion of the will. Indeed, our perverted wills are the fallout of Adam’s perversion of the will. From a theologcial perspective, it would seem that all evil follows from personal evil at some level. Otherwise, God must be held accountable for it, which is the secular approach to anti-theism and, I might add, the main argument against intelligent deisgn {God would never have designed things that way.)

    Here is Greg Koukl’s summary of Augustine:

    Central to Augustine’s idea of goodness (and, consequently, evil) was the notion of being. To Augustine, anything that had being was good. God as the ground of being was perfectly good, along with everything he brought into being. This goodness was a property that came in varying degrees.

    With this foundation Augustine was now prepared to answer the key issue: “Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being?”[i] To this Augustine answered: “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’”[ii]

    Augustine observed that evil always injures, and such injury is a deprivation of good. If there were no deprivation, there would be no injury. Since all things were made with goodness, evil must be the privation of goodness: “All which is corrupted is deprived of good.”[iii]

    The diminution of the property of goodness is what’s called evil. Good has substantial being; evil does not. It is like a moral hole, a nothingness that results when goodness is removed. Just as a shadow is no more than a “hole” in light, evil is a hole in goodness.

    To say that something is evil, then, is a shorthand way of saying it either lacks goodness, or is a lower order of goodness than what ought to have been. But the question remains: “Whence and how crept it in hither?”

    Augustine observed that evil could not be chosen because there is no evil thing to choose. One can only turn away from the good, that is from a greater good to a lesser good (in Augustine’s hierarchy) since all things are good. “For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil–not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.”[iv]

    Evil, then, is the act itself of choosing the lesser good. To Augustine the source of evil is in the free will of persons: “And I strained to perceive what I now heard, that free-will was the cause of our doing ill.”[v] Evil was a “perversion of the will, turned aside from…God” to lesser things.[vi]

    Central to Augustine’s idea of goodness (and, consequently, evil) was the notion of being. To Augustine, anything that had being was good. God as the ground of being was perfectly good, along with everything he brought into being. This goodness was a property that came in varying degrees.

    With this foundation Augustine was now prepared to answer the key issue: “Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being?”[i] To this Augustine answered: “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’”[ii]

    Augustine observed that evil always injures, and such injury is a deprivation of good. If there were no deprivation, there would be no injury. Since all things were made with goodness, evil must be the privation of goodness: “All which is corrupted is deprived of good.”[iii]

    The diminution of the property of goodness is what’s called evil. Good has substantial being; evil does not. It is like a moral hole, a nothingness that results when goodness is removed. Just as a shadow is no more than a “hole” in light, evil is a hole in goodness.

    To say that something is evil, then, is a shorthand way of saying it either lacks goodness, or is a lower order of goodness than what ought to have been. But the question remains: “Whence and how crept it in hither?”

    Augustine observed that evil could not be chosen because there is no evil thing to choose. One can only turn away from the good, that is from a greater good to a lesser good (in Augustine’s hierarchy) since all things are good. “For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil–not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.”[iv]

    Evil, then, is the act itself of choosing the lesser good. To Augustine the source of evil is in the free will of persons: “And I strained to perceive what I now heard, that free-will was the cause of our doing ill.”[v] Evil was a “perversion of the will, turned aside from…God” to lesser things.[vi]

  45. Diffaxial writes:

    1) A state of affairs that includes the fact that human beings arose as part of, and are continuous with, the natural world. Due to our phenomenal behavioral and social flexibility, ethical and moral questions arise, questions with which we grapple with full awareness of our natural origins. We therefore recognize that the behavioral and ethical norms of our cultures, rather than having been received, themselves have a history, and were shaped by cultural evolution. Ultimately, they are recognized as of our own invention, and therefore we may wish to examine and challenge those cultural artifacts in light of experience.

    Well, let’s grant for the moment that all of this is exactly right and represents the way things really are — the true state of affairs in the world. Whatever the ethical norms of any culture or community might can not, by definition, conform to any objective standard of the way things ought to be, because under this worldview, there simply is no ‘ought’. In the way you describe, ethics evolves in response to a larger political question of “how ought we order our lives together?” The problem is, there’s no way to answer the question individually or collectively because there’s no “ought” to which they can appeal. So whatever ethical system is contrived by the community or culture is arbitrary with no basis in an actual right or wrong.

    This is precisely why a Nazi Germany can justify redefining an entire class of people as less than human and treat them accordingly, or why the English and others could invade the African continent and treat the Africans as property. Until William Wilberforce came along, partnering with his friends, one has to wonder how so many otherwise good citizens could so easily accept slavery. But, and here’s the important point, on the atheistic worldview, neither Nazi Germany nor the British slave trade could be called wrong or even evil by anyone. Nor could anyone say that those who opposed them were right to do so. It is, after all, just a cultural norm of the time, determined by that particular community in a particular time and place. How can we possibly say they were wrong or that what they did was evil? Further, if our current norms have “evolved” to the point where we think those things were wrong and are now wrong, we have no justification to criticize the actions of people in history, because, well, it was just the norm of the time.I

    I choose option one. From where I sit there is no other option, because from within that framework “absolute,” received moral codes (including that of Christianity) are human inventions and reflect both human genius and human falibility. I find myself unable to believe otherwise.

    I appreciate you honesty on this point. The logical outcome of this choice is that you can never justify any action as good or evil in a moral context beyond your own personal preference. Having said that, I wonder if you really do believe there are no moral absolutes and I doubt you live your life as if that were true. If someone raped and/or murdered one of your loved ones, I suspect you’d want justice because deep down you’d know that an absolute, not a relative, moral code was violated. If such an act really was only relatively wrong in that in violated some arbitrary cultural norm as opposed to absolutely wrong, because it violated an objective standard that such acts are always wrong, in all times and places across all cultures, then it’d be pretty tough to justify being outraged while remaining intellectually consistent. I don’t see how it could be otherwise.

  46. kairosfocus #25):

    “Cf summary of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense….. (FYI, this was worked out and published in the 1960’s – 70’s.)”

    There has been no satisfactory definition of evil here in this thread. As a non-Christian I would define evil ultimately as truly innocent suffering, which can have several types of causes. Plantinga’s defense mostly applies to willful human-caused evil in the above sense. Plantinga does not really address “ignorant evil” with human beings who have not been exposed to higher teachings (thereby enabling them to reject them) because of their time and place, and the other major category which is “natural evil”, such as disease and natural disasters. The ancient Christian theological attempts to resolve the problem of evil rightly must address all kinds.

    I am no NA, but I must recognize that the New Atheists generally seem to define evil correctly, ultimately as the subjective experience of innocent suffering. People like Dawkins come down on the specific Christian belief system primarily it seems, because of rebelling against noxious childhood indoctrination in narrow Christian teachings, and perhaps fear of retaliation from other Judeo-Christian religious adherents who may not be as nonviolent. Secondly they rant against the Christian religious notion of God because it is in truth very difficult or impossible to reconcile with evil as so defined.

    I don’t think the NA belief system relative to “evil” as previously defined is incoherent or inconsistent with their strict materialist Darwinism. If human consciousness is the result totally of random genetic changes plus selection, so is the human capacity to innocently suffer – it is the inevitable emergent capacity of a complex self-aware entity closely tied to a physical body with innumerable modes of damage and failure. The identity suffering = physical/psychological pain is wired into the neurological system, an inherent, instinctual part of Man’s animal nature with deep evolutionary roots.

  47. Sorry about the double post within a post @44.

  48. Gaz:

    Is it the position of those who state that there is an objective moral code that the Ten Commandments is the basic moral code? And

    Is it your position that an act breaching one of the Ten Commandments is an evil act?

    No, and no.
    The ten commandments were ten laws out of several hundred. Many reflected or enforced a moral code – don’t murder, honor your parents. Others, such as the sabbath, were laws for that specific nation to obey. They had a purpose relevant to those people at that time, but did not reflect any particular moral principle.
    In a sense you could compare it to a traffic light. It’s not intrinsically immoral to drive beneath a red light. But the law serves a purpose and prevents accidents.

  49. The only reason snobby, elite sci-peeps like Dawkins thrive today is better men than he or I went before and did all the terrible things he detest today in others around him.

    Good fought evil. Good destroyed fascist of the German Socialist Party and the Communist Marxist nations. Tyrants have expressed and marketed his tripe in the past.

    Dawkins would have us all return to the Marxist, Communist, Control freak standards he obsesses over daily. Whereby government tells parents how to raise children.

    Maybe Dawkins can set up a [email protected] website to report on your neighbors.

    How bout it Diffaxial? Seversky? Want to report and snitch like good little Hitler youth on your neighbors if they disagree? Obama’s doing it, why not Dawkins and the Darwinist? They already kicked out Dr. Sternberg, a man with 2 PhDs simply for publishing a perceived threat to their special little society world.

    The worst destruction in history is at the hands of atheist. Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Fidel, Pol Pot and so man others. What possibly could make Dawkins think atheism is the solution? Or that communities steeped in atheism again would not eventually revert backwards and destroy hundreds of millions of innocent people yet again in the future? Afterall, evolution has no direction. It could easily branch off again and destroy hundreds of millions as did its strict adherants. Gotta love those socialist gas chambers and socialist gulags.

    Who will save the people from people like Dawkins? From his own arrogance? This is what made men like Stalin and Mao so dangerous – their absolute surety of being correct in their beliefs of Darwin.

    Their arrogance in thinking that by rejecting a Creator, they could build utopia in their own image. Damned to hell be all others who stepped in their ways.

    Thankfully, over 50 signers of the American Constitution reasoned differently than the humanist and social marxist in Europe. They heeded the call of Judeo-Christian values. America soared past all other nations as a result.

    Dawkins is as blind and arrogant as the original blood red marxist. He just does not have the power today to implement his will.

    No Thanks Oz… I’ve seen behind the curtains of your hardened heart and I’d just as soon shut down your Kabuki theatre.

    And allow true liberty for all individuals to decide for themselves. That is the original vision of our founding fathers.

    I realize Mr. Dawkins is in love with the tyranny of olde England, but us yanks dumped you over 200yrs ago. Clean up your own mess of corruption of the Labor Party and stop the rationing of healthcare.

    Actually try to apply science instead of dictate from on high your false edicts of empty existentialist rhetoric. Albert Camus is calling Dawkins, to Algiers you must go. Watch a murder as a show and report back to no one what you know.

  50. magnan

    I don’t think the NA belief system relative to “evil” as previously defined is incoherent or inconsistent with their strict materialist Darwinism. If human consciousness is the result totally of random genetic changes plus selection, so is the human capacity to innocently suffer – it is the inevitable emergent capacity of a complex self-aware entity closely tied to a physical body with innumerable modes of damage and failure. The identity suffering = physical/psychological pain is wired into the neurological system, an inherent, instinctual part of Man’s animal nature with deep evolutionary roots.

    On the NA worldvidew there is no “if human consciousness…” is the result of evolutionary process: it is — there’s no other option. The reason the NA position on evil is incoherent is because they have no basis whatsoever to label anything evil. The idea that evil is the “subjective” feeling of innocent sufferent is likewise incoherent, because even the term “innocent” has not real meaning. Innocent how? They’re only innocent in comparison with some other standard of goodness, and where does that come from? If its totally subjective…and on the NA worldview is HAS to be…then the entire notion of innocence is incoherent. All it really means is that some thing that someone didn’t want or desire to have happened did happen. That’s hardly the basis to make claims that someone is “innocent” in some moral sense. There’s no objective guide to even tell the NA’s what that might mean. THAT’s the problem I’ve been pointing out here.

    I’ll give you points, Magnan, for trying to explain the problem away, but at the end of the day, most of what you’re saying here doesn’t make any sense at all.

  51. DonaldM: “The reason the NA position on evil is incoherent is because they have no basis whatsoever to label anything evil.”

    They do, if as I contend they have the inherent but unspoken definition of evil which I explained.

    “The idea that evil is the “subjective” feeling of innocent sufferent is likewise incoherent, because even the term “innocent” has not real meaning. Innocent how?” …”the entire notion of innocence is incoherent. All it really means is that some thing that someone didn’t want or desire to have happened did happen.”

    You seem to have some private definition of “innocent”. The dictionary definition of innocence (Wiki): “being not guilty of a particular wrongdoing, or being more generally in a state of blissful ignorance (in particular due to young age)”. This is my definition, where following general usage I interpret “wrongdoing” more generally as simply some specified action that resulted in suffering. In other words, innocent is not having brought on the situation (in this case suffering) through deliberate knowing action. Certainly this definition has real meaning. If not, please explain.

    Human beings can be guilty or innocent of causing suffering – no morality considered. As I explained, my standard definition for badness is human suffering. If you want to define innocence and ultimate badness in a Christian theological and moral sense, we really can’t communicate.

  52. I find the insistence on a definition of evil before it can be discussed to be wrongheaded. It is somewhat like insisting that we must define “alligator” with complete precision before we can discuss whether one should run from a particular elongated creature with large jaws.

    Rather, I would suggest that we simply accept (or deny as one wishes) that evil exists, and give an example. Thus I would suggest as a suitable starting point that “innocent suffering”, as suggested by magnan (#46), is as good a place as any to start. And I agree that it is hard-wired into us (although insisting that evolution [presumably mechanistic evolution] did it is begging some important questions).

    We can then see what comes of the discussion. We may find that not all innocent suffering really belongs under evil (perhaps, for example, a certain minor amount of suffering is not actually evil), and that there are some evils besides innocent suffering, although I would be strongly suspicious of any formulation that precisely reversed our initial postulate.

    Magnan is right that we need to address the problem of unintentional evil, and that of natural evil. The former, it seems, can be addressed by the lingering effects of human evil, in that parents and other adults have power over children that they can use for good or evil, just as they do, and even greater than they do, for other adults. That is, people do evil unintentionally because they have not been trained rightly, and the lack of right training can be attributed to human sin.

    This seems to be part of the problem of late effects, in the same line as one who smokes excessively (therefore doing something evil) may later repent, but still get lung cancer. We apparently have the ability to make choices that have at least some irrevocable effects.

    The latter problem, that of natural evil, is the weak point of Paley’s natural theology, as Darwin noted. It also has been a thorny problem for various theistic interpretations of nature, and a major argument used by atheists against theism. I would not prejudge the success of theist defenses, but would point out one interesting point. An adherence to the Biblical creation story interpreted relatively straightforwardly basically eliminates the problem.

    In the original account, there was no rain. The earth was watered by a mist, or by streams (the term has been translated both ways). Thus there were no floods or droughts, and presumably no hurricanes or tornadoes. If the earth was stable, and plate tectonics were initiated during the Flood, in the initial state there would not have been earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanoes. Even childbirth was apparently not intended to be painful initially. So most, if not all, human suffering was not there originally, and in this view can be attributed directly to human sin. In fact, even the original animal diet, according to the record, appears to be plant food, making the problem of animal suffering less severe if not eliminating it.

    Now, of course, this kind of solution is not without its own problems. But it appears that, since every view has its problems, it might be worthwhile to look at this particular solution more carefully.

    ScottAndrews (#49),
    The Sabbath may have more moral relevance that you stated. First, there is the principle of rest. Perhaps we were not designed to work at full tilt day in and day out without stopping. The French during the revolution tried to lengthen the week to 10 days without apparent success. And perhaps it is a good thing to take advantage of that rest to remind ourselves that we are the product of a Creator Who has claims on us.

    But I agree with you that the 10 commandments are not the ultimate law. That, it seems comes from the Torah: Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart . . ., and thy neighbor as thyself. The 10 commandments are just helpful reminders of what that love looks like in practice.

  53. DonaldM (43),

    “First off, I really don’t think you’ve read Lewis correctly. Lewis was directing his comments at atheists of the time who really did express dismay at the apparent meaninglessness of the cosmos.”

    I’m still not convinced. It’s one thing to be dismayed at the meaninglessness of the universe, another thing entirely to claim that it’s basically arraigning heaven in an unconscious homage to God. It strikes me as yet another bit of unjustified verbal gymnastics by Lewis, who is grossly overrated (Narnia excepted of course – you couldn’t keep me out of a wardrobe when I was six) in order to bolster his own beliefs.

    “I’m not sure who exactly Lewis might have had in mind when he made the comment, but it may have someone like Jean Paul Satre.”

    Maybe, but I suspect not. I’ve never met a single atheist who thought that way.

  54. ScotAndrews (48),

    “No, and no.
    The ten commandments were ten laws out of several hundred. Many reflected or enforced a moral code – don’t murder, honor your parents. Others, such as the sabbath, were laws for that specific nation to obey. They had a purpose relevant to those people at that time, but did not reflect any particular moral principle.
    In a sense you could compare it to a traffic light. It’s not intrinsically immoral to drive beneath a red light. But the law serves a purpose and prevents accidents.”

    My view aligns more with yours. But there seem to be some who believe otherwise, e.g. Oramus at (19):

    “You are correct that God was apparently rational in His design of the Ten Commandments. What reason is there for Man to work out his own rules? That would contradict the rationality of the TCs. Or is it that the TCs not rational ‘enough’?”

    That suggests its a basic moral code (having been given by God). And that is the trouble – there IS no set of objective moral codes, but some claim there are without any real evidence. I think it’sincumbent on those who say the Ten Commanments ARE a basic moral code to say whether violations of any one of the ten would be an “evil”.

  55. 55

    I think that all regulars at this site have come to understand that Diffaxial cannot say anything in which he does not assume his conclusion. It is, apparently, a pathological trait from which he has chosen not to allay himself.

    His post at #42 is a prime example. In this particular post he is concerned to offer two possibilities as to the ultimate question of origins, and then he will make a reasoned choice based upon his descriptions.

    Any rational person doing this same thing might say “Option A is that man arose by natural means and therefore…” and then “Option B is that man was created and therefore…”

    Observers of this will quickly note that the two descriptions actually offer a choice between two distinct possibilities – either we are a natural phenomenon or we were created. By setting up the question this way the answer gains some level of relevance. It gains its relevance because it represents an actual choice between two real and distinguishable possibilities. In other words, if the two options have nothing that distinguishes them at their core, then how could an answer be relevant to the choice between them?

    This is, in fact, the kind of question that anyone might pose to themselves in resolving any manner of issues throughout their lives – and therefore the concept is understood by ordinary human experience. Making choices between distinct outcomes is as common to men and women as breathing air.

    And then, there is Diffaxial.

    In his post he offers up the first option where the origin of man is simply a natural event. He then goes on the flesh out the description with errors of both recorded history and scientific fact. He begins his description with the words:

    1) A state of affairs that includes the fact that human beings arose as part of, and are continuous with, the natural world.

    In this first scenario the origins debate is settled and the entirety of mankind apparently knows this and grapples with the question of morality in light of knowing we (collectively) make it up as we go.

    Not surprisingly it is the second option where Diffaxial displays his inability to offer a second option. He begins his description of the second option by repeating the conclusion of the first:

    A state of affairs that includes the fact that human beings arose as part of, and are continuous with, the natural world.

    Having wasted the opportunity to actually offer a second option, he continues to offer nothing at all. In this second option he suggests that we know that we make it up (our morality) but we pretend that we don’t. He tells us “Ethical and moral decisions are taken absent an understanding of the socially constructed nature of the system of morality…”

    He then surprises all with his superior reasoning powers by choosing the first option over the second. From his standpoint he says “there is no other option” and he finds himself “unable to believe otherwise”.

    “Otherwise” of what?

    Both options were taken from the same conclusion. In his first option he clearly states a fact of the position (“full awareness of our natural origins”) yet in his second option he simply leaves out the corollary statement of fact, and instead assumes the position of the first option.

    This type of argument is certainly not new. Diffaxial comes here to argue for his position and his first argument (in every instance) is that no other position can even exist. He is a Popperian’s ethical nightmare. This is the same treatment he gave StephenB over the past days when he insisted that Stephen must first accept the man was the product of purely natural causes before the questions of volition or intelligence could even be addressed.

    As it becomes obvious, Diffaxial cannot allow himself the burden that he might be wrong – even to the extent of being able to have a reasoned conversation about the possibilities. He is a coward in this regard. Many ID proponents (including myself, and dare I say it, perhaps even most ID proponents) have allowed themselves that possibility. I think it is probably true that many ID proponents came to ID as a direct consequence of trying to honestly understand the options of “A” and “B”.

    And in our midst we have opponents who simply find it impossible to do the same. In their willfully induced Lewontinian spiral “there is no other option.”

  56. Matteo:

    When I want to learn about a particular topic (in Science), say extra-galactic astronomy, which is a great interest of mine, I don’t rush out and buy a popularised book mass-produced for the public. I buy a textbook, with diagrams, mathematics, thorough treatments of each concept in something of a sequence along with presentations of evidence for each assertion.

    I have never come across a rigorous ID textbook. Pandas and People is for high-school students. Signature in the Cell, or indeed any of the books I’ve come across from the ID authors clearly aren’t textbooks, and I doubt they’re thorough and rigorous enough for what I’m looking for.

    So, if you know of a good, rigorous ID textbook, I’d be geniunely pleased, and I would rush out and buy it immediately.

    Otherwise, please see my original query.

  57. DonaldM @ 45:

    Thank you for your response. You said (in part):

    Well, let’s grant for the moment that all of this is exactly right and represents the way things really are — the true state of affairs in the world…The problem is, there’s no way to answer the question individually or collectively because there’s no “ought” to which they can appeal…

    I don’t think you are fully entering into the assumptions you have granted (for the sake of discussion) in your response. If one does grant that human beings arose from and are extensions of the natural world, and that all ethical systems have cultural origins (nothing about what I have said compels that, btw), then one really only has two options: 1) understand that fact and operate from that understanding, or, 2) deny or fail to grasp those facts (which nevertheless still stand, as granted) and embrace a moral system you believe (incorrectly) to be absolute. The latter is obviously the inferior choice given the framework you have granted, in that it is premised upon either ignorance or denial and necessitates that one confer upon an ethical system of human contrivance a mistaken status as “absolute truth,” which sounds rather dangerous to me.

    The logical outcome of this choice is that you can never justify any action as good or evil in a moral context beyond your own personal preference.

    The repeated emphasis upon personal preference ignores my first point, above, namely that ethical and moral systems originate, in large measure, with peoples, communities, and cultures – within which we are each immersed from birth – not individuals and their preferences. This is not to deny that individuals make decisions, but there is nothing unique about that (i.e. many individuals who accept that there are moral absolutes nevertheless behave in violation of those absolutes).

    Second, what you want to say in the quote above is “you can never justify any action as ABSOLUTELY good or evil in a moral context,” a statement with which I agree. It doesn’t follow that persons and communities cannot do their best to make moral decisions – rather it follows that the imprimatur “ABSOLUTELY MORAL” necessarily eludes us – even those who declare that their morality is indeed absolute. This should be obvious, in that many ethical systems claim status as ABSOLUTE, yet conflict, and there is no place to stand outside of those systems from which we can adjudicate which is correct. Ultimately, the fact that the reality of the human condition is dismaying in some respects doesn’t change those facts, however much we may wish that they did.

    Again, this is granting my assumption above. You took correct note of my opening statement:

    “Routinely omitted from this discussion is the fact that, from the perspective of the agnostic/atheist, one is not confronted with a choice between a received moral code on one hand and other codes of human devising on the other.
    The actual choice at hand [for the agnostic/atheist] is…”

    Of course none of this compels agnosticism or atheism. Rather it is descriptive of the landscape as viewed from that particular vantage, which does not include the choice “accept an ABSOLUTE moral system.”

  58. Oramus @ 19

    Are you suggesting the large part of humanity is rational? That doesn’t appear to be the case.

    I agree the evidence isn’t encouraging.

    You are correct that God was apparently rational in His design of the Ten Commandments. What reason is there for Man to work out his own rules? That would contradict the rationality of the TCs. Or is it that the TCs not rational ‘enough’?

    They were written rather a long time ago. My neighbors have no asses – in the animal sense, at least – for me to covet. Mercedes, however, are different matter…

  59. StephenB @ 21

    —Seversky: “The obvious question is what is to prevent us from working out our own morality, from setting our own standards of good and evil?”

    The obvious answer is that we would all have different standards based on our own selfish proclivities.

    and

    Clive Hayden @ 24

    Go ahead and work out your own morality, and I’ll do the same, and ne’er the tween shall meet, for it will only be by artifice, and what you prefer will be different than what I prefer.

    …made much the same point.

    And I agree, it is going to be difficult and messy. But who said it would be easy? Just because it is likely to be hard is no reason not to at least try and we may find ourselves surprised by just how much we agree.

  60. CannuckianYankee @ 22

    I mean no disrespect, but your quote indicates that you don’t really understand the New Testament God. Most Christians understand that the Old Testament God is the same as that portrayed in the New Testament. The demiurge notion was effectively destroyed by the Early Church fathers. If you can’t understand that, you have no business really, defining for Christians what the NT God is like. We already know that He is the same as the OT God.

    We can all read the Bible and reach our own conclusions about what it means. I have known Christians who would argue for a different interpretation of the Scriptures but you are certainly right in that you are all entitled to worship the God of your choice.

  61. Regarding are humans selfish, as a topic on it’s own:

    Why do we have a problem with selfishness? For some reason people don’t want to be selfish and that’s an inherent part of the package too. And that would mean that people aren’t selfish.

  62. DonaldM,

    “Let’s lay aside for the moment that Dawkins considers God fictional, that is to say (in Dawkins’s words) “almost certainly does not exist.” (even that betrays some slight doubt on Dawkins’s part).”

    There’s doubt only to the extent that Dawkins can’t absolutely prove a negative, i.e. it can’t be proved that something doesn’t exist, including God. It puts God in the same category as Thor, unicorns and fairies.

  63. JamesBond

    You asked for a recommendation regarding a good ID textbook. I haven’t read it myself yet, but I’d suggest you buy The Design of Life .

  64. jerry:

    I will ask my traditional question on a thread that has to do with evil.

    What is the definition of evil and why are some acts/situations/happenings evil and others not? I have never seen it answered yet but we discuss it at length.

    Neither good nor evil can be defined quantitatively. This is because they transcend nature. They are ideas that reside in a separate dimension; the soul. Quality, love, hate, beauty are also in this category. Only their effects can be discussed.

    My belief is that we can only view the ultimate effects good and evil from their logical consequences. This is because goodness often reveals itself ‘through’ evil and evil hides ‘beneath’ goodness.

    Examples: abortion may appear as a good in that the mother could be saved, a child with defects could be spared ‘innocent suffering’, a victim of rape could avoid psychological damage, etc. Yet there is plenty of evidence testifying to the damaging effects of abortion, the psychological scars. Shouldn’t we encourage society to support expecting mothers in their time of distress?

    As well, who are we do decide that a child with defects would not enjoy their temporal experience? How about the child of incest or rape? Regardless of the circumstance of their conception, can they not decide for themselves once they come of age if their life is worth living? If we are so fond of life and living and are astounded by the wonder of it all, let ALL have a go, ABSOLUTELY. And again, all of us in society have a responsibility to counsel, provide emotional and yes, financial support to victims of rape and incest as they deal with the trauma. But abortion only amplified the pain. There is no chance to bring good from bad. There is only bad topped with more bad.

    Capital punishment seems a good because justice would be served. Yet state-sanctioned killing has never shown a positive effect on society. Retribution brings emotional gratification for sure, but does not ease the pain of loss. Rather, it complicates it. For the innocent now becomes equally guilty of ignoring the nature and consequences of the act of killing.

    Euthanasia would obviously stop a person’s suffering. This is a difficult one, I know. Yet my belief and personal experience is that those suffering are doing the greatest service to humanity. They are pillars of strength (read Fuastina’s Divine Mercy in My Soul).

    —Suffering is the hardest to understand from an agnostic/atheist view since preservation of the body is the highest priority. But from a Christian perspecitve, it is the soul that has the highest priority.

    Whereas, what appears evil to some like earthquakes, floods, disease, are facilatators of the good.

    Destructive nature beckons us to enhance our cognitive skills to learn and practice preventive design and maintanence of our surroundings, self-sacrifice to support rebuilding and caring for the hurt in areas where PD&M was ignored, or pleads for teaching and funds to do PD&D was left unheeded, etc.

    As well, Stephen Hawkings degenerative disease has not stopped him from learning. Ask him if he wants to pull the plug, so to speak.

    John Paul II in the same way, struggled to the end with grace, dignity,honour and majesty; and he gave us a gift of grace upon his death. I don’t know how many recieved it but I was a recipient of that grace. His pain was our gain for sure. But if you cannot discern and don’t believe, how can you take advantage of such a gift?

    My Mom’s pain was a great, great gift. She never, ever considered euthanasia. She told my sister she had no idea of the difficulty of her decision to forge ahead without the needle.

    Thank God she made that decision. Her death was the most powerful moment in my life. She reached out from the depths of an oncoming coma, and hugged my father for one last time, in our whole family’s presence. She crossed the bridge to the Crystal Palace with courage, power, grace, and majesty. Wow! is all there was to say.

    IOW, goodness nurtures and binds, evil divides and destroys. Neither can be discerned fully from appearances but often only from the reasoned, rational, logical end of their effects.

  65. StephenB,

    I was taught that there is only one real evil. That is the deprivation of salvation.

    So if a person is killed by a fallen rock and is saved, then is the killing by the rock evil. If not, then if there were two people killed by an avalanche evil? If not, then how many have to be killed before what happened is evil. If the person gets a severe disabling disease, pick any one, and the person is saved, was the disease evil. There are numerous cases of the “innocent” (whatever that means) suffering but I fail to see what that has to do with evil. That sounds like a classical biblical counsel that those who work hard and play by the rules will get rewarded in this life. And if it turns out otherwise, then is it evil? I grew up with people who were my age who had cerebal palsy, Downs, severe birth defects, etc. I thought what had happened to them as very unfortunate but not evil.

    It seems what a lot of people call evil is something that makes them feel squeamish and would not want to happen to them or makes them fell uncomfortable when they learn about it. I have brought up several examples before on other discussions of evil which illustrated this point. And then to attribute unpleasantness in this world to God is absurd. If there is no God, then it is meaningless. If there is a God and his plans are salvation, then what happens here to someone is also meaningless. Granted this is a Christian perspective and some others might not agree with this perspective.

    Another conundrum is what is evil in a supposed evil act. For example, if someone shoots someone and kills them for no good reason, is the person evil who did the shooting or is the act itself evil. Are certain acts evil or does evil only apply to the person and his motive? Can a person commit what is an evil act but have good intentions? Is the person then evil? Is the act then evil?

    Also we have the gold standard in evil, Hitler. What makes Hitler or Nazis more evil than others? Is it the act or the motive. Why not Timur? He makes Hitler look like a piker. There is a huge statue of him in Uzbekistan in his honor. Would it make any difference if the numbers were less?

    I could go on and on with different examples and I bet we could not get any agreement on anything.

  66. Seversky,

    And I agree, it is going to be difficult and messy. But who said it would be easy? Just because it is likely to be hard is no reason not to at least try and we may find ourselves surprised by just how much we agree.

    The first thing that I would say is that I have no moral obligations to even work out my own morality, much less that it should agree with yours if I do. There is no moral obligation or reason to try unless I decide it haphazardly, like a woman shopping for a hat.

  67. kairosfocus @ 25

    You are seriously out of date.

    Cf summary of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, here. (FYI, this was worked out and published in the 1960’s – 70’s.)

    The date has little to do with it.

    The Free Will Defense argues, in part, that any evil contingent on the human exercise of free will is tolerated by the Christian God (hereinafter known as Gc)because the alternative would be worse or lead to greater evil. Just how it would be worse or what the greater evil might be is unspecified, Gc’s will and purpose in these matters being inscrutable.

    Unfortunately, for this defense to succeed, the concept of Gc as a tri-omni perfect deity must be sacrificed. The argument rests on the proposition that Gc has no viable alternative to allowing some evil in order to prevent some other greater evil. But one of Gc’s defining properties is that of omnipotence. The only thing beyond His power is making the impossible possible or overcoming a logical contradiction such has making a square circle. Since there is nothing obviously impossible or even contradictory about Gc preventing all evil if He chose without compromising free will, the defense can only succeed by postulating a lesser god.

    Now, while there is nothing wrong with postulating a God with more limited powers, it does present a problem for those who cite God as the Supreme Authority on all questions of morality since that claim rests squarely on the Gc concept of unimpeachable perfection. Just as with Arthur C Clarke’s Third Law of Prediction which states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” so we could argue that any sufficiently advanced alien would be indistinguishable form a lesser god. We might respect the knowledge and the power of such a being, some might even worship it out of fear, but it could not claim the moral authority entailed by Gc’s state of perfection.

    In summary, the Free Will Defense only rescues Gc from the contradiction inherent in the concept by downgrading it to that of the sort of advanced alien that Richard Dawkins has been mocked for allowing as a possibility.

  68. Seversky:

    You are trying to treat a DEFENSE as a THEODICY, revealing your lack of currency.

    (Onlookers cf here. IEP also has an interesting account here. [Especially observe Mackie's tellingly revealing response to the logical success of the defense.])

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Reflect on what a logically possible state of affairs is, and how if augmenting a set of claimed contradictory premises A, B, C, D with another, Z, leads to a coherent conclusion E. In such a case the augmentation by Z shows that A, B, C, D MUST be coherent. The onward discussion is on the empirical realities and intuitions of a real world in which evil exists AND real virtues exist. Let us note that the core Christian message — and this is relevant as it is specifically the Christian conception of God that is being attacked — is that God solves evil through loving self-sacrifice, taking our pains into himself; and gives “proof of this to all men” by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead with 500+ eyewitnesses; so that we have an opportunity to be part of God’s solution.

    PPS: Propose a world in which real choice exists and is not used with a diversity of outcomes. Then explain the difference between such a world and one in which no real choice exists; i.e one in which omnipotence has been used to subtly program creatures such that there is no actual choice involved in actions that in this world are called virtues, as they are intuited to stem from virtuous choice. After that, provide an account of true virtues that does not imply real choice.

    PPPS: Then, S, you will need to address the comparative difficulties challenge, first on the evidently inescapable intellectual and moral incoherence of evolutionary materialist atheism, then [cf here too] on the broader problem of the one and the many. (No, you don’t have a “right” to make evo mat prevail by default on sniping at other worldviews.)

  69. Footnote: While we are at it, S, have a look here too, on evil as evidence for God. Key excerpt:

    _____________

    >> Evil is real . . . That’s why people object to it. Therefore, objective moral standards must exist as well [i.e. as that which evil offends and violates] . . . . The first thing we observe about [such] moral rules is that, though they exist, they are not physical because they don’t seem to have physical properties. We won’t bump into them in the dark. They don’t extend into space. They have no weight. They have no chemical characteristics. Instead, they are immaterial things we discover through the process of thought, introspection, and reflection without the aid of our five senses . . . .

    We have, with a high degree of certainty, stumbled upon something real. Yet it’s something that can’t be proven empirically or described in terms of natural laws. This teaches us there’s more to the world than just the physical universe. If non-physical things–like moral rules–truly exist, then materialism as a world view is false.

    There seem to be many other things that populate the world, things like propositions, numbers, and the laws of logic. Values like happiness, friendship, and faithfulness are there, too, along with meanings and language. There may even be persons–souls, angels, and other divine beings.

    Our discovery also tells us some things really exist that science has no access to, even in principle. Some things are not governed by natural laws. Science, therefore, is not the only discipline giving us true information about the world. It follows, then, that naturalism as a world view is also false.

    Our discovery of moral rules forces us to expand our understanding of the nature of reality and open our minds to the possibility of a host of new things that populate the world in the invisible realm . . . .

    [Now, too] The argument against God based on the problem of evil can only be raised if some form of moral objectivism is true. Morals, therefore, exist. I need not give a complete taxonomy of ethical guidelines to make my case. If there is even one moral absolute, it invites the question, “What kind of world view explains the existence of this moral rule?”

    Atheism can’t make any sense of it. Neither can most Eastern religions. If reality is an illusion, as they hold, then the distinction between good and evil is ultimately rendered meaningless. Something like the Judeo-Christian or Muslim idea of God must be true to adequately account for moral laws.

    Morality grounded in God explains our hunger for justice–our desire for a day of final reckoning when all wrongs are made right, when innocent suffering is finally redeemed, when all the guilty are punished and the righteous are rewarded.

    This also explains our own personal sense of dread. We feel guilty because we are guilty. We know deep down inside that we have offended a morally perfect being who has the legitimate authority to punish us. We also know we will have to answer for our own crimes against God.

    In the end, we’re forced to accept one of two alternatives. Either relativism is true or morality is true. Either we live in a universe in which morality is a meaningless concept and are forever condemned to silence regarding the problem of evil, or moral rules exist and we’re beholden to a moral God who holds us accountable to His law.

    There are no other choices. As Dr. Francis Schaeffer put it, “These are not probability answers; [these] are the only answers. It is this or nothing.”[5] If one is certainly false, the other is certainly true. That’s the way rationality works. >>
    ________________

    In short, the picture is not at all so one-sided as atheists often make it seem.

  70. Another footnote: Heaven — as generally understood — is not a whole world, it is an eternal state post a world in which free choice has consequences. [I point out a defect in IEP's analysis here.]

  71. Seversky (#67),

    Most of your post is logically sound. However, when you say,

    The only thing beyond His [the Christian God's] power is making the impossible possible or overcoming a logical contradiction such has making a square circle. Since there is nothing obviously impossible or even contradictory about Gc preventing all evil if He chose without compromising free will, the defense can only succeed by postulating a lesser god.

    you make a logical mistake. If God truly gives us freedom to choose to love or not to love, how can this be logically consistent with His making sure that we cannot chose not to love? This seems like a logical contradiction, very much like making a square circle. Could you explain how this works? If not, does it not take out a fundamental premise of the rest of your post and make the argument invalid?

  72. This is in response to magnan in #51 and Paul in #52. Magnan writes:

    You seem to have some private definition of “innocent”. The dictionary definition of innocence (Wiki): “being not guilty of a particular wrongdoing, or being more generally in a state of blissful ignorance (in particular due to young age)”. This is my definition, where following general usage I interpret “wrongdoing” more generally as simply some specified action that resulted in suffering. In other words, innocent is not having brought on the situation (in this case suffering) through deliberate knowing action. Certainly this definition has real meaning. If not, please explain.

    And Paul essentially agrees with this:

    Thus I would suggest as a suitable starting point that “innocent suffering”, as suggested by magnan (#46), is as good a place as any to start. And I agree that it is hard-wired into us (although insisting that evolution [presumably mechanistic evolution] did it is begging some important questions).

    As I see it, the issue here is that the very concept of innocence itself presupposes an “ought”. It might be stated this way: “It ought to be the case that the innocent do not suffer.” By extension, then, the suffering of the innocent is considered wrong.

    The problem is, on the NA worldview, (which is what this discussion is about), there’s no coherent way to make the claim that the innocent ought not suffer beyond saying “I personally don’t like it when innocent people suffer.” There’s not even a coherent way to define who the innocent are.

    To re-use the examples I already gave, in Nazi Germany’s persecution of the Jews, it was certainly the view of the Allies that the Jews were the victims of innocent sufferent, and as such it was morally wrong and evil that that suffering was being inflicted upon them by the Nazi’s. But the Nazi’s (at least at the leadership level) didn’t see the Jews as innocent, but as destroyers of Arayan purity and the like (in very broad terms). On the NA’s worldview no one can say which is right or wrong (good or evil) beyond their own preference as to how things ought to have been.

    In our time, many, if not most, Americans considered the acts of 9-11 to be evil in that innocent fellow citizens suffered. But in other parts of the world, the events of 9-11 were celebrated as heroic. On the NA’s worldview, whose to tell us which is good or evil? Sure, our commmunity and culture in the USA thinks it was evil; but communities and cultures elsewhere do not.

    The challenge for the NA’s is to develop a coherent argument to tell us why 9-11 really was evil and that such acts are always evil in all times and places. My contention is that on their worldview it is impossible for them to do so, and nothing said in this entire discussion has indicated otherwise. That’s the real point.

  73. DonaldM (72),

    The thing that’s missing from this entire discussion is a definition of what you mean by “evil”. I think most people have a gut feeling that the 9/11 attacks were “evil” without really knowing what “evil” actually means; for example, if the 9/11 attacks are evil, what about the USAF attacks on, say, Hanoi in North Vietnam – were they “evil”? And the imprisonment and torture without any sort of proper judicial process of people in Gitmo etc. who are actually innocent – evil or not?

    I submit this discussion is absolutely pointless without a definition of “evil”.

  74. Seversky (#67)

    Thank you for your post. You and I have sparred previously on the problem of evil, if you recall our exchange of views back in January. I responded to your arguments in this post:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-302477

    You composed a thoughtful reply a few days later. Owing to the time lapse, your post unfortunately escaped my notice:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-302797

    Having read your post, I think I can answer Paul Giem’s query in #71 regarding the logical consistency of your views:

    If God truly gives us freedom to choose to love or not to love, how can this be logically consistent with His making sure that we cannot chose not to love?

    In your post back in January, you wrote:

    An omniscient God on the other hand would know what the outcome was going to be in advance, by definition…

    If God creates or designs as we do then He forms a mental model of the intended creation before giving it physical form. An omniscient God would presumably be aware of the complete potential future ‘history’ of any creation when that ‘model’ is complete and before it is ‘materialized’.

    I’d like to make four comments.

    1. Your argument implicitly assumes that the only reason why creators or designers sometimes create flawed products is that they have an imperfect understanding of what they are making: in other words, their mental model of their products is incomplete. If they had a perfect understanding of what they were making, then no flaws would occur. An omniscient God, having perfect understanding, cannot make a flawed product. Thus if we accept the additional premise that human beings are flawed in many ways, we must deny that they are the creations of an omniscient God.

    I think the root of your theological problem is a metaphysical one: you think that a creature’s entire history – everything that it does, or that is done to it, during the course of its existence – is either part of its very nature (i.e. what it is), or more plausibly, part of its individuality (i.e. who it is). In other words, if it had a different history, it wouldn’t be that creature. It would be some other individual. That is why you wrote in your post at http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-302797 that an omniscient God, who presumably “forms a mental model of the intended creation before giving it physical form,” should be “aware of the complete potential future ‘history’ of any creation when that ‘model’ is complete and before it is ‘materialized’.”

    In Aristotelian terminology, what you’re assuming here is that there are no non-essential (i.e. contingent) properties of individuals. But if you accept both a libertarian account of freedom and a traditional theist account of God (as an omniscient, omnibenevolent Being) then you will reject this premise. On a libertarian account, Adam would still have been the same individual had he not sinned.

    2. Let’s go back to your comment regarding God’s decision to make a creature, such as you or me:

    An omniscient God on the other hand would know what the outcome was going to be in advance, by definition.

    My reply is: it depends what you mean by “in advance.” If you mean “before the creature acts” then I agree. God knows everything that has happened, is happening or will happen. But if you mean “before God even decides to make that creature,” then I would disagree.

    The notion of a Creator’s being able to foresee the free choices of one of His creatures, not only temporally prior to the creature’s making those choices, but also logically prior to the Creator’s act of creating that creature, is a logical absurdity. It sounds possible only because we conceive of the creature as a kind of virtual being, existing in the mind of God, complete and fully fleshed out in every detail (including its entire life history), but lacking one thing: actual existence. God then wills this virtual creature into actual existence, thereby creating it.

    But this picture cannot be true, for creatures (such as ourselves) who enjoy libertarian freedom. If you accept this version of freedom, then God’s decision to create an individual possessing it is fraught with real risk on God’s part: for God’s knowledge of the creature’s free choices is logically (not temporally) posterior to His act of making that individual. Once that creature exists, then God knows (by His very nature) what it will do. But not even an omniscient God could know what a being with libertarian free will would do, before deciding to make it.

    3. You might object that if God lacks the knowledge of what choices an individual with libertarian free will would make, until God actually decides to make that creature, then God must be ignorant of that individual’s choices until he or she comes into existence – which means that God does not know everything at all times. But this objection confuses logical priority with temporal priority. God’s decision to make me was not a decision made at a point in time after the creation of the cosmos, even if I began at a relatively late point in cosmic time (around July 1960, when I was conceived). Certainly, God’s decision to create me logically presupposes His decisions to create each one of my ancestors, but that does not mean that God made these decisions at an earlier time in the history of the cosmos. He could have made these decisions outside time (as Boethius proposed) or at the very beginning of time (see below).

    4. You don’t have to subscribe to Boethius’ account of God’s timelessness (which has been criticized by some philosophers) in order to recognize the distinction between logical priority with temporal priority. Even if you accept (as some theologians do) that God is omnitemporal and omnispatial (existing at all points in space and time), the distinction still makes perfect sense. It works like this. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ll leave out the angels and concentrate on human beings. Of course, angels and demons are as real as you and I.)

    (a) God, at the beginning of the world, decided to create the universe, starting with those entities having determinate properties.

    (b) God, at the beginning of the world, then decided to create Adam and Eve – i.e. the first individuals to possess libertarian free will. Having created them, God instantly realized what fateful choices they would make, billions of years later. Before making them, God did not know what they would do. He only knew what they might do.

    (c) God, at the beginning of the world, then decided to create each of Adam and Eve’s sons and daughters. When I say “then,” I do not mean to imply that there was any time delay on God’s part; on the contrary, God (being omniscient) had instant feedback regarding Adam and Eve’s choice billions of years later. By “then” I simply mean that God’s decision to create Adam and Eve’s children was logically consequent upon His decision to create Adam and Eve.

    (d) I think you can now see how God then decided (at the dawn of time) to create you and me, many many generations down the line from Adam and Eve.

    (e) I think you can also see that God, foreseeing the possibility that Adam might sin, came up with a magnificent contingency plan: the Incarnation. God sent His Son into the world, to redeem us.

    All right. Now, what about angels? God may have created them at the dawn of time, and having done so, automatically realized that some of them would rebel against Him and wreak havoc in the world. But God has already thwarted their plans. He did that at Calvary.

    Creation is still plagued by all manner of natural evils. However, Christians believe that this is a temporary setback, and that one day, there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth. Don’t ask me what that means: I have no idea. All I know is that death shall be no more.

  75. —-Jerry: “I was taught that there is only one real evil. That is the deprivation of salvation.”

    If we use that standard, then it would seem inappropriate to allude to earthquakes or other temporal problems as examples of evil, which appears to be your point. Even at that, we already know that, from a Christian perspective, God can turn evil into good even during this life. If we accept that as a given, then obviously evil is a broader concept than the ultimate evil of losing one’s soul.

    —- “So if a person is killed by a fallen rock and is saved, then is the killing by the rock evil. If not, then if there were two people killed by an avalanche evil? If not, then how many have to be killed before what happened is evil. If the person gets a severe disabling disease, pick any one, and the person is saved, was the disease evil. There are numerous cases of the “innocent” (whatever that means) suffering but I fail to see what that has to do with evil. That sounds like a classical biblical counsel that those who work hard and play by the rules will get rewarded in this life. And if it turns out otherwise, then is it evil? I grew up with people who were my age who had cerebal palsy, Downs, severe birth defects, etc. I thought what had happened to them as very unfortunate but not evil.”

    I would argue that “evil” is both something that we do and something that can happen to us, something “delivered” and something “received.” They are not the same thing. The first represents a “perversion of the will,” while the second represents a “privation of the good.” John the Baptist, for example, experienced evil when he lost his head over a silly dance,[privation of the good] even if his soul was saved, and Salome committed an evil act when she asked for his head [perversion of the will]. Does a person experience evil he is killed by a fallen rock and is saved? I think all “natural disasters” can be thought of as manifestations from the first sin, which was evil. In other words, nature, after having been disrupted by original sin, has the potential to harm us. So, if someone saves his soul after some natural disaster, God turned derivative evil into good.

    —-“It seems what a lot of people call evil is something that makes them feel squeamish and would not want to happen to them or makes them fell uncomfortable when they learn about it. I have brought up several examples before on other discussions of evil which illustrated this point. And then to attribute unpleasantness in this world to God is absurd. If there is no God, then it is meaningless. If there is a God and his plans are salvation, then what happens here to someone is also meaningless. Granted this is a Christian perspective and some others might not agree with this perspective.”

    Christians do not hold God accountable for original sin. If we understand evil as a “privation of the good,” then the subjective element is largely eliminated. We all know that life, love, beauty, unity, and goodness are good things. Prior to original sin, we had them in abundance. On the other hand, those things that disturb or corrupt live, love, beauty, unity, and goodness are bad things. Evil has no substance in and of itself. Thus, the loss of health, which disturbs life, is a bad or evil thing, but God can turn it into a good thing. Anything can be evil if it militates against the good. Music can be evil if it encourages bad behavior; politics can be evil if it promotes bad behavior and a bad culture. A good culture is one in which it is easy to be good; a bad culture is one in which it is easy to be bad. So, any culture or philosophy that denies that there is any such thing as objectively good or objectively bad behavior is, to the extent that it promotes that error, an evil culture. Or, to use your paradigm, if a culture makes it difficult to save your soul, it is an evil culture.

    —-“Another conundrum is what is evil in a supposed evil act. For example, if someone shoots someone and kills them for no good reason, is the person evil who did the shooting or is the act itself evil. Are certain acts evil or does evil only apply to the person and his motive? Can a person commit what is an evil act but have good intentions? Is the person then evil? Is the act then evil?”

    Again, I submit that evil is in the will, not in the intellect. That means that everything turns on motives. It proceeds from loving and choosing the wrong things. Obviously, shooting someone either out of vengeance, a desire for publicity, or for any other reason other than self defense is an evil act. On the other hand, the extent to which a person is good or evil comes in gradations and degrees. We can’t know nor can we judge how good another person is because we don’t know their secret motives, temptations, proclivities, strenghs, weakenesses, or the level of their ignorance, [and all evil acts contain a measure of ignorance] but that doesn’t change the reality that there are some evil people. What we can judge, though, is the evil nature of their acts.

    —-“Also we have the gold standard in evil, Hitler. What makes Hitler or Nazis more evil than others? Is it the act or the motive. Why not Timur? He makes Hitler look like a piker. There is a huge statue of him in Uzbekistan in his honor. Would it make any difference if the numbers were less?”

    I don’t understand the difficulty here. Don’t we agree that all mass murderers are guilty of evil acts. Stalin killed many more people than Hitler, but our politically correct culture focuses on Hitler because, for some unknown reason, he is perceived as an extremist conservative while Stalin is perceived as an extremist liberal, yet both men were tyrants and qualified neither as conservatives or liberals.

    —-“I could go on and on with different examples and I bet we could not get agreement on anything.

    I suspect that you are right, but I comment on your objections because they are more probing than the typical Darwinist talking points.

  76. —-”And I agree, it is going to be difficult and messy. But who said it would be easy? Just because it is likely to be hard is no reason not to at least try and we may find ourselves surprised by just how much we agree.”

    We cannot ascertain how much we might agree until each of us puts something on the table.

    Here is my standard for morality:

    The Ten Commandments

    The Beatitudes

    The Sermon on the Mount

    The Natural moral law

    What is your standard?

  77. Sorry, I forgot. @75 is for seversky.

  78. 78
    David v. Squatney

    jerry:

    —-“I could go on and on with different examples and I bet we could not get agreement on anything.

    StephenB:

    I suspect that you are right, but I comment on your objections because they are more probing than the typical Darwinist talking points.

    Doesn’t this undermine quite severely the assertions made in the OP? DonaldM tells us that atheists have no basis on which to judge good and evil, but I’m not sure thiests can do a great deal better.

  79. Gaz (#73):
    “The thing that’s missing from this entire discussion is a definition of what you mean by “evil”.”

    You apparently have not read my posts 46 and 51. These defined “evil” in a secular, non-strictly Christian theological way, which is how the NAs inherently define it.

  80. DonaldM (#72)- All I can do is paraphrase my post 51:
    “…to the NAs and secularists in general innocent is not having brought on the situation (in this case suffering, which is the ultimate evil to NAs and secularists) through deliberate knowing action….. Human beings can be guilty or innocent of causing suffering (the ultimate evil to secularists) – no morality or theology considered. Please engage these explanations without appealing to Christian theology. If the latter is necessary in your judgement, then we have to engage in a religious argument which would be counterproductive.

  81. —David v.Squatney: “Doesn’t this undermine quite severely the assertions made in the OP? DonaldM tells us that atheists have no basis on which to judge good and evil, but I’m not sure thiests can do a great deal better.”

    Theists believe in an objective moral law and Darwinsits do not, thus Darwinists have no basis for morality. What is it about that distinction that you find puzzling?” I, for one, am in total agreement with Donald M, and, from what I can tell, everything that have written confirms his thesis. If you think Jerry is coming from a different place, then you should take it up with him.

  82. DonaldM @ 35

    But Dawkins doesn’t take the OT at face value. If he did, he wouldn’t refer to it as “fiction”. And because he thinks none of it is true, he interprets the central character, God, exactly how he wants, with no attempt to really understand. In short, when it comes to understanding who God is, Dawkins is a novice.

    As mentioned before, the Old Testament recounts how God slaughtered almost the entire population of the world at one time, save for a chosen few. At face value, had it happened, this would have been genocide on a vast scale, far exceeding the best efforts of any subsequent human tyrant, whether religious or secular.

    Yet believers are taught that this is a great example of divine justice, mercy and benevolence and accept that interpretation almost without question.

    If Dawkins is novice for refusing to deceive himself with such an Orwellian doublethink then count me as equally naive.

    I don’t recall ever suggesting that the NA’s did suggest that eradicating faith will be quick and easy. But they have made clear that they believe that if we rid the world of religious faith, most, if not all, evil goes with it. They conveniently ignore evils committed by atheists (Stalin, Pol Pot, etc) and more conveniently completely ignore much good works inspired by faith (ie, William Wilberforce or Mother Theresa).

    The New Atheists no more blind to the evils of Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot than they are to the good work done by the likes of Wilberforce, although I will admit that Christopher Hitchens has been less than kind to Mother Theresa. Nor will they deny that there are many who have been inspired to do good works by their faith. What they are also not blind to, however, is the fact that great evil has also been done in the name of religion by those who hold themselves to be devout followers of their chosen faith or that such behavior undermines the claims that believers inevitably hold themselves to higher moral standards than non-believers.

    I think Seversky has missed the point. The issue is not the PoE “in theology”, but the problem that Dawkins and his fellow NA’s have in claiming evil exists at all under their worldview. It is both logically inconsistent and incoherent to label acts as good or evil when, under the NA’s worldview, there is no objective standard whatsoever to make the determination. The NA’s dislike of certain behavior is NOT an objective standard, hence the problem for them!

    The point being missed is that this is still a strawman because it is attributing to New Atheists a concept of evil that they do not hold.

    Part of the misunderstanding may arise from the predicate structure of the English language. For example, we can say both ‘the rose is red’ and ‘the rose is beautiful’. In the first case we are identifying an observable and measurable property of the flower. The second case sounds as if we are doing the same, referring to an objective property of the flower when, in fact, we are expressing a personal opinion or judgement of it – beauty exists in the eye of the beholder as the saying goes.

    The same is true of the concept of evil. For some believers it is a malevolent force or entity that has an objective existence in the outside world; for agnostics and atheists it is a judgement we make about anti-social human acts and they have no more need of an ‘objective standard’ of evil than they have for an objective standard of beauty.

    If morality can be said to have any objective existence at all it lies in the common interests all human beings have in survival and security for themselves and those they love. Whatever their origin, moral codes function to regulate human behavior in society so as to protect the well-being of all its members.

    No, the theory of evolution does not provide an objective standard by which to measure good and evil because it is a theory in biology not ethics. It tries to describe how the world is not prescribe how it should be. Any attempt to justify any morality by appealing to the natural order of things commits the naturalistic fallacy and founders on the ‘is/ought’ problem. Again, atheists and agnostics seem to understand this better than some believers.

    Well, don’t tell that to me — tell it to Dawkins, Harris and the other NA’s, because this precisely what they do. Apparently these atheists and agnostics do NOT undertand the fallacies they commit at all! That is the main point of my OP!

    I am not aware of any instances where any of the leading New Atheists have committed the naturalistic fallacy. What we do find is Richard Dawkins saying the following in this interview in Skeptic magazine:

    Skeptic: Well, if we don’t accept religion as a reasonable guide to “what is” or even a reasonable guide to “what ought to be,” does evolution give us such a guide? Can we turn to evolution to answer not what is, but what ought to be?
    Dawkins: I’d rather not do that. I think Julian Huxley was the last person who attempted to. In my opinion, a society run along “evolutionary” lines would not be a very nice society in which to live. But further, there’s no logical reason why we should try to derive our normative standards from evolution. It’s perfectly consistent to say this is the way it is–natural selection is out there and it is a very unpleasant process. Nature is red in tooth and claw. But I don’t want to live in that kind of a world. I want to change the world in which I live in such a way that natural selection no longer applies.

    As I wrote before, agnostics and atheists are well aware that you cannot infer how we should behave from observations of the way the world is. The same would be true of any moral prescriptions from some lesser god. Such a being may have the power to enforce its will on us but that does not make it right. Or do you believe that might makes right?

    The whole point is that under the NA worldview, everything, absolutely everything — all events in space and time (no exceptions!) – must be explained as the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. That’s it. There can be no appeal to any other forces because there are no other forces to which they can appeal. None. On that worldview, there simply is no way to tell right from wrong, because the very terms are incoherent and all ethics and morals are relative. Each person can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.

    That is precisely what the NA’s have done. They have decided for themselves that religious belief is wrong.

    Not quite. What they have observed is that, in many cases, religions insist that their followers hold views that are false to fact. This can lead to great harm: harm through omission as in the case of devout parents praying for the recovery of their daughter as she dies of untreated diabetes on the living-room floor in front of them or harm through commission such as believing that flying aircraft into skyscrapers and killing thousands of people will earn you a place in paradise and the services of 72 virgins for all eternity.

    If such beliefs were commercial products there would almost certainly be consumer protection groups demanding that the packaging displays a prominent health warning ‘Danger! These products have been found to be harmful and even fatal if misused.’

    Let’s suppose the NA’s are right and there is no God or gods, no deities of any sort that play any role whatsoever in the affairs of humans. Then, you’re right we each work out our own morality. But, and here’s the rub, there really is no behavior that can properly be called good or evil, since no one has any basis to make the determination beyond “I don’t like what you’re doing!” That’s the upshot of working out one’s own morality. On that worldview there simply is no way that morality ought to be, because there is no ought at all.

    Yes, that’s right.

    What we do have, however, are human beings who, individually, are weak slow and vulnerable but who have also found that they have a much better chance of survival if they co-operate and live in groups. But the coherence and stability of any such social group depends not on doing whatever you please but on balancing that against respecting and protecting the right of your fellows to do the same provided they accord yo the same consideration. From this there emerges probably the most basic and the greatest “ought” of all: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

    Do you really not know that to be a good rule unless some god tells you it is? Are you really unable to work it out for yourself?

  83. 83
    David v. Squatney

    StephenB,

    Theists believe in an objective moral law and Darwinsits do not, thus Darwinists have no basis for morality. What is it about that distinction that you find puzzling?

    My question is simply: If this moral law is objective, why are there so many disagreements about the content of that law, even among Christians? I’m an atheist, but I go to church every week, and I observe these disagreements all the time. Even the definition of the word “evil” seems to be difficult to pin down.

  84. NA apologists:

    Again, let’s address a basic issue, court5esy Will Hawthorne — which BTW easily shows why neither examples nor descriptions nor characterisations of evil will meet your “satisfaction”:

    _________________

    >> Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can’t infer an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ [the 'is' being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces]. (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.) Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an ‘ought’. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there’s no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action. Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it’s not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action. (This is just the standard inferential scheme for formal deontic logic.) We’ve conformed to standard principles and inference rules of logic and we’ve started out with assumptions that atheists have conceded in print. And yet we reach the absurd conclusion: therefore, for any action you care to pick, it’s permissible to perform that action. If you’d like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan ‘if atheism is true, all things are permitted’. For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

    Now, we all know that at least some actions are really not permissible (for example, racist actions). Since the conclusion of the argument denies this, there must be a problem somewhere in the argument. Could the argument be invalid? No. The argument has not violated a single rule of logic and all inferences were made explicit. Thus we are forced to deny the truth of one of the assumptions we started out with. That means we either deny atheistic naturalism or (the more intuitively appealing) principle that one can’t infer ‘ought’ from ‘is’. >>
    _________________

    In short, on materialistic or naturalistic premises, there is no ground for ought; so the first problem of modern atheism is to ground the sense of evil and associated judgements.

    Unless that issue is squarely faced, all te4h above red herrings on the OT etc are just that: distractive tactics leading on to strawman and ad hominem attacks towards atmosphere poisoning.

    Precisely what the so-called New Atheists specialise in.

    So, now, what reality do you have that can adequately ground ought?

    And if you do not, on what grounds do you object to the real or imagined issues with he OT or Christendom or ‘fundies” etc etc>

    (Apart from handy rhetorical tools for manipulation of emotions and perceptions. Which itself would be the biggest warning flag against NA of all.)

    GEM of TKI

  85. magnan (79),

    You’re right, and I owe you an apology. But I sense a reluctance on the part of some here to use your definition.

  86. StephenB (75),

    “Here is my standard for morality:

    The Ten Commandments

    The Beatitudes

    The Sermon on the Mount

    The Natural moral law”

    Two questions:

    (1) What is “Natural moral law”?

    (2) If this is your standard for morality, then by definition anything contravening them is immoral. Presumably, then, you consider that someone of other than the Judeo-Christian faith is immoral because they have other gods, thus breach the First Commandment and hence are immoral?

  87. —-David v. Squatney: “My question is simply: If this moral law is objective, why are there so many disagreements about the content of that law, even among Christians?”

    It may be more of a disagreement over what get’s emphasized. It’s human nature to rationalize conveniently selected portions of the natural moral law when one of its tenets falls in the area of our weakness. That’s why adulterers think that muggers are far worse than they are, snobbish rich people hate envious poor people, and envious poor people hate snobbish rich people. In general, though, most educated Christians, when they are not rationalizing their own behavior, agree in principle about the binding nature of the Ten Commandments, The Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and the Natural Moral Law.

    —-”I’m an atheist, but I go to church every week, and I observe these disagreements all the time.”

    Why would an atheist go to Church? What exactly do they disagree about?
    In any case, atheism provides no rational grounding for morality of any kind. It is illogical for an atheist to be outraged over anything.

    —”Even the definition of the word “evil” seems to be difficult to pin down.”

    That is because it is more difficult to define evil than to recognize the natural moral law, which is accessable to everyone. Still, I think my definition of evil is quite reliable, even though I picked it up from someone much smarter than myself [Augustine].

  88. —Gaz: “What is “Natural moral law”?

    Google “Illustrations of the Tao.”

    —-”If this is your standard for morality, then by definition anything contravening them is immoral.”

    Sounds good to me.

    —”Presumably, then, you consider that someone of other than the Judeo-Christian faith is immoral because they have other gods, thus breach the First Commandment and hence are immoral.”

    It depends on how much he knows or doesn’t know and why he doesn’t know it. No one can be held accountable for his ignorance unless it is willful. Objectively speaking, it is immoral not go give God the worship he is due. On the other hand, if someone has been brainwashed since birth to hate God, or has been raised by overly rigid Christians, or has been educated to think that God is mere “energy,” or has been persuaded that God is cruel, or has been steeped in atheism, his disposition and capacity to worship or conform to a higher moral authority has been compromised [injured] and it is more difficult for him to give God his due. So, his offense is mitigated, at least until he has had time to realize his problem and face it.

  89. 89
    David v. Squatney

    StephenB,

    It may be more of a disagreement over what get’s emphasized. It’s human nature to rationalize conveniently selected portions of the natural moral law when one of its tenets falls in the area of our weakness.

    I would agree that must be one reason. But the end result is that these people then appear to be following a very subjective moral law. Maybe they really are as a rule “better” than atheists following guidelines that they have pieced together themselves, but it’s not clear to me.

    Why would an atheist go to Church? What exactly do they disagree about?
    In any case, atheism provides no rational grounding for morality of any kind. It is illogical for an atheist to be outraged over anything.

    My wife is a Christian and prefers that I accompany her.

    One issue on which I’ve seen much disagreement is the role of the wife in marriage, as described in Ephesians 5:22–24:

    Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

    (To be fair, you haven’t singled this out as part of objective moral law, but as it’s in the bible, I assume you take it to be important.)

    I saw one pastor preach a very hard line on this passage: Even if a woman is being severely physically abused by her husband, she should still submit to him, with absolutely no exceptions. He was very clear on this. Another pastor took a more reasonable approach in my view, and instructed wives that they were allowed to leave their husbands if their lives or health were in danger.

    What does objective moral law tell us in this situation?

    All I can say to your second point is that I get outraged over certain things, just like anyone else, and do not concede that I am especially illogical or irrational. Take as an example the Michael Vick case, which has been in the news lately. Let me ask you, when you first heard the details of how he treated those dogs, did you do a quick mental scan and determine which principles of moral natural law, the Ten Commandments, etc. were violated, and on that basis proceed to be outraged? That’s not how my mind works. My reaction of outrage was no more illogical than anyone else’s, and was perfectly normal and appropriate under the circumstances.

  90. —-David v. Squatney: Writes concerning this scripture: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

    —-“(To be fair, you haven’t singled this out as part of objective moral law, but as it’s in the bible, I assume you take it to be important.)

    —-“I saw one pastor preach a very hard line on this passage: Even if a woman is being severely physically abused by her husband, she should still submit to him, with absolutely no exceptions. He was very clear on this. Another pastor took a more reasonable approach in my view, and instructed wives that they were allowed to leave their husbands if their lives or health were in danger.”

    —-“What does objective moral law tell us in this situation?”

    The objective moral law always reaffirms Scripture and Scripture always confirms the natural moral law, so if there seems to be a conflict, and clearly your example dramatizes a real conflict, then someone, as in this case, is “stacking the deck.”

    The pastors in question are telling only half of the story, which is why they leave out these passages that follow: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…..husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” Well, Christ loved the Church in a radically self-sacrificial way and “gave himself up” for it. In other words, he also submitted himself. So, where does that leave us? It means that the passage is calling for MUTUAL submission, that is, the wife submits to the husband AND the husband loves his wife in a self sacrificial way.

    According to the natural moral law, human beings have inherent dignity, and, although one shouldn’t have to point out the obvious to these ministers, wives also have inherent dignity. According to Christianity, the alluded to dignity stems from having been made in God’s image, which is a big part of the Gospel’s message. So, the concept of mutual submission makes sense with the concept of inherent dignity, which, in turn, confirms general Biblical teaching. Scripture must be understood and interpreted in the light of its entire teaching, which is why it is easy to take a passage or two and twist it to serve one’s own ends.

    —-“All I can say to your second point is that I get outraged over certain things, just like anyone else, and do not concede that I am especially illogical or irrational. Take as an example the Michael Vick case, which has been in the news lately. Let me ask you, when you first heard the details of how he treated those dogs, did you do a quick mental scan and determine which principles of moral natural law, the Ten Commandments, etc. were violated, and on that basis proceed to be outraged? That’s not how my mind works. My reaction of outrage was no more illogical than anyone else’s, and was perfectly normal and appropriate under the circumstances.”

    Michael Vick violated the Fifth Commandment [Thou Shalt Not Kill], which includes all wanton violence against any of God’s creatures. It isn’t just murder that is forbidden by that commandment. It includes cruelty of speech, hate, or any other kind of violence that physically or psychologically militates against any of God’s creatures. So, it is perfectly reasonable for a theist or anyone who accepts objective morality to become outraged on the grounds that an objective moral law was violated.

    On the other hand, the atheist rejects the very moral standards that Michael Vick breached. How can one breach a moral law if that moral law doesn’t exist? One can “feel” outraged, as you did, but one cannot, without appealing to the objective moral law declare that what Michael Vick did was wrong. If one cannot logically declare that wrongdoing actually occurred, then one cannot logically be outraged over it. All he can do is say that he just doesn’t like it or that it doesn’t “feel” right. To the question of “why,” the atheist has no answer.

  91. 91
    David v. Squatney

    StephenB,

    I should make clear that these two pastors did actually discuss the responsibilities of husbands; I don’t want to portray the situation unfairly. Nevertheless, women are sometimes injured or killed by abusive spouses. If a woman feels she is in a dangerous situation, and the man is not upholding his responsibility, should she continue to submit to her husband? What is the answer according to objective moral law?

    One can “feel” outraged, as you did, but one cannot, without appealing to the objective moral law declare that what Michael Vick did was wrong. If one cannot logically declare that wrongdoing actually occurred, then one cannot logically be outraged over it. All he can do is say that he just doesn’t like it or that it doesn’t “feel” right. To the question of “why,” the atheist has no answer.

    My answer is that dogs can suffer, and one of the subjective moral principles I’ve accepted is that it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering, which Michael Vick did. I can’t prove this statement deductively from axioms which are know to be true, but based on my life experience I have no reason to reject it. I know I would not want to live in a society where murder was condoned.

    Just out of curiosity, why do you think it is that virtually everyone, atheist or theist, would find Vick’s actions repugnant?

  92. David v. Squatney

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    If a woman feels she is in a dangerous situation, and the man is not upholding his responsibility, should she continue to submit to her husband? What is the answer according to objective moral law?

    The answer is No. For an explanation of Christian moral teaching on this subject from a woman who is now a Christian, but who was raised an atheist and grew up wanting to be a CEO, please see http://www.conversiondiary.com and scroll down to the recent post on husbands and wives.

  93. —-David v Squatney: “I should make clear that these two pastors did actually discuss the responsibilities of husbands; I don’t want to portray the situation unfairly. Nevertheless, women are sometimes injured or killed by abusive spouses. If a woman feels she is in a dangerous situation, and the man is not upholding his responsibility, should she continue to submit to her husband? What is the answer according to objective moral law?”

    Absolutely not. Not only should she be allowed to leave him, she should be encouraged to do so—and soon.

    —”Just out of curiosity, why do you think it is that virtually everyone, atheist or theist, would find Vick’s actions repugnant?”

    In my judgment, everyone instinctively recognizes that cruelty to animals is objectively wrong. It’s more than just a feeling; it’s a self-evident truth.

  94. Folks:

    FYI, on the latest distractive issue.

    From C1, the apostolic teaching is that husbands have a duty of tender self-sacrificing care to their wives.

    From C2, spousal abuse was deemed active-form abandonment of the marriage (instead of running away, driving out the other party with blows); i.e. grounds for annulment.

    Back on target, it is still manifestly the case that evolutionary materialist atheists — the modern form — have no grounds for warranting the “ought” they find in their hearts, on the IS-es that they accept.

    Being unable to find evil other than a repugnant reality, they then too often fail to address the implications of the glaring gap in their world views, but instead tend to deflect attention from critical self-reflection; through focussing on attacking adherents of other worldviews (which have a far better warrant for addressing the nature and challenge of radical evil).

    Much of the thread above reflects this sadly typical problem.

    We need to move beyond such, to a serious addressing of the relevant comparative difficulties on factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory power:

    1 –> which worldview adequately accounts for the fact of evil and the fact that we find it self-evidently true that evil is real and radically rooted in our inner and outer worlds? Which provides a more cogent solution?

    2 –> which worldview is intellectually and morally coherent?

    3 –> Which worldview provides an explanatory framework tat is best able to account for the circumstances and t6o give us handles for dealing with evil in the real world of morally fallen people, not just the armchair.

    GEM of TKI

  95. PS: The existence of an objective moral law on the matter does not entail that we will not make errors — even gross ones — about it, if we are blinded by gaps in our thinking, or interests, or ideologies. Just the opposite. And, the issue in view on the battered wife etc is the same one as that with the schoolyard or neighbourhood bully. [Funny how it becomes ever so much clearer when put in those terms. that's because we do not have blinders on when we look at bullyism -- usually. [The bully of course is almost always the exception there . . .; but equally, it is possible to twist one's perceptions through the victimist ideology/ rationalisation of usurpation of authority and rebellion of our day, and view legitimate restraint as bullying -- I find that too much of current children's literature and/or film falls into that trap. That is why the intervention of wise counsel is often required.])

  96. 96
    David v. Squatney

    vjtorley,

    Thanks for the contribution.

    StephenB,

    Thanks for post #93. It looks like we’re agreed on those two points.

  97. 97
    David v. Squatney

    kairosfocus,

    I noticed you used the term “distractive issue” in #94. Is it your view that my post(s) are off topic?

    Back on target, it is still manifestly the case that evolutionary materialist atheists — the modern form — have no grounds for warranting the “ought” they find in their hearts, on the IS-es that they accept.

    Well, this evolutionary materialist atheist believes that even if we don’t have access to objective moral law, it still makes sense to search for those basic moral principles that we can all agree on. One such example would be the 5th or 6th commandment (I go to a Protestant church :) ) which StephenB cited. As I said earlier, I don’t believe that this commandment came to us from God, being an atheist, but I think it’s universally accepted that it’s a good rule.

    Being unable to find evil other than a repugnant reality, they then too often fail to address the implications of the glaring gap in their world views, but instead tend to deflect attention from critical self-reflection; through focussing on attacking adherents of other worldviews (which have a far better warrant for addressing the nature and challenge of radical evil).

    I’m not sure about the meaning of your first sentence here. I do find evil to be a repugnant reality of course. It is something else as well?

  98. StephenB @ 90:

    …it is perfectly reasonable for a theist or anyone who accepts objective morality to become outraged on the grounds that an objective moral law was violated.

    On the other hand, the atheist rejects the very moral standards that Michael Vick breached. How can one breach a moral law if that moral law doesn’t exist? One can “feel” outraged, as you did, but one cannot, without appealing to the objective moral law declare that what Michael Vick did was wrong. If one cannot logically declare that wrongdoing actually occurred, then one cannot logically be outraged over it.

    Nor can you, from where the atheist and agnostic sit. Or, more accurately, from that vantage your claim of possession of an absolute system of morality from which you “logically declare” the wrongness of actions is perceived as false, and empty. There are only ethical systems of human contrivance, including that of Christianity. Reasoning to the contrary conducted from within the framework of Christianity is also grounded in premises of cultural origin and carries no special force. The spectacle that emerges is that of persons wielding yet another humanly contrived ethical system, often as a bludgeon, with complete assurance that their system is absolute and God-given.

    We are all in the same boat. Some of us don’t know it.

    Of course, you can construct a symmetrical, opposing claim: We all sit in a boat constructed by God; some of use don’t know it. So you select that view, while we select another. Ultimately, there is no place to stand from which it may be adjudicated which view is correct other than within one’s life and one’s “ownmost” death, and even your claims of absolutism become subjective. So a measure of humility is in order.

  99. Diffaxial,

    Ultimately, there is no place to stand from which it may be adjudicated which view is correct other than within one’s life and one’s “ownmost” death, and even your claims of absolutism become subjective. So a measure of humility is in order.

    Morality, in reality, is not subjective, and data lovers should read this to evidence the point:

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....ition4.htm

    This is also your evidence for the Natural Law.

    And even your claims about subjectivity are really objective, for you assume that you are “right”, and that others “should” comprehend your “correctness”, and agree. On the assumption of subjectivity, you’re explaining your preference in what color of shirt you like to wear, and no one “should” feel “compelled” to agree with your “argument” on those grounds, for I like different colored shirts.

  100. —Diffaxial: ‘Nor can you, from where the atheist and agnostic sit. Or, more accurately, from that vantage your claim of possession of an absolute system of morality from which you “logically declare” the wrongness of actions is perceived as false, and empty.”

    If there is no such thing as right and wrong, then there is nothing to get outraged about. To be outraged is to declare non-verbally, “that isn’t right,!”—”That isn’t fair.”

    If there is no such thing as objective justice or a natural moral law, then the words “right,” “wrong,” “fair, and “unfair” are meaningless. Atheists who use these words or argue on behalf of the concepts they represent, are illogical inasmuch as they are appealing to concepts that they have already characterized as non-existent.

    —”There are only ethical systems of human contrivance, including that of Christianity. Reasoning to the contrary conducted from within the framework of Christianity is also grounded in premises of cultural origin and carries no special force.”

    It goes a lot deeper than that. Everyone recognizes that no one should be cruel to animals. The term “recognize” means just what it implies—apprehension of truth, not just a feeling. Everytime you question me about this, you contradict your own philosophy by implying that I am in error, as if there was an objective standard of truth or morality from which I have strayed. I am amazed that you don’t see this.

    —-”The spectacle that emerges is that of persons wielding yet another humanly contrived ethical system, often as a bludgeon, with complete assurance that their system is absolute and God-given.”

    It’s either God-given or it doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist, it can’t be invented. It is impossible to inject morality into a meaningless universe.

    —”Of course, you can construct a symmetrical, opposing claim: We all sit in a boat constructed by God; some of use don’t know it. So you select that view, while we select another.”

    What is your view? Explain your morality in detail so that we can discuss it, rally around it, critique it, or discount it.

    —-”Ultimately, there is no place to stand from which it may be adjudicated which view is correct other than within one’s life and one’s “ownmost” death, and even your claims of absolutism become subjective. So a measure of humility is in order.”

    You have it backwards. Humility consits in submitting to God’s laws; pride consists in rejecting them and, as if often the case, rejecting God . Pride means trying to arrogate unto one’s self a role that only God can play; humility means recognizing that we are mere creatures dependent on God for even the smallest detail.

    Pride is swollen egotism that tries to build its own separate center and its own origins apart from God, exaggerating its own importance and trying to be a world unto itself. At its worst, it becomes unteachable and even ironic as it declares that those who recognize God’s law are, themselves, proud and in need of more humility.

  101. StephenB @ 90:

    If there is no such thing as objective justice or a natural moral law, then the words “right,” “wrong,” “fair, and “unfair” are meaningless. Atheists who use these words or argue on behalf of the concepts they represent, are illogical inasmuch as they are appealing to concepts that they have already characterized as non-existent.

    Please put his miserable notion out of its misery. I need no pretend absolutes to recognize when I am being harmed, or to express outrage over that harm. I need no pretend absolutes to love family and community, or to express outrage when persons and communities I love are harmed. I need no pretend absolutes to abstract that reasoning and generalize it to peoples I haven’t met. I need no pretend absolutes to agree with others to conduct our exchanges equitably, or to recognize when those agreed standards of fairness have been violated. I need no pretend absolutes to understand that to codify a system that supports fairness and justice the standards promulgated must apply to all for the system to work at all.

    It goes a lot deeper than that. Everyone recognizes that no one should be cruel to animals.

    This is patently untrue, and one needn’t look far for a counter example: Michael Vick and his dog-fighting cohorts obviously didn’t recognize that.

    Everytime you question me about this, you contradict your own philosophy by implying that I am in error, as if there was an objective standard of truth or morality from which I have strayed. I am amazed that you don’t see this.

    Please, no more trips around the tiresome “absolute truth” mulberry bush.

    You have it backwards. Humility consits in submitting to God’s laws; pride consists in rejecting them and, as if often the case, rejecting God…

    More reasoning from within culturally and socially constructed frameworks (theism, Christianity). As I said, such reasoning has no special power to compel assent.

  102. —-Diffaxial: I need no pretend absolutes to understand that to codify a system that supports fairness and justice the standards promulgated must apply to all for the system to work at all.”

    You can “feel” any way that you like, but what you cannot do is provide any rational justification for your feelings.

    —-“This is patently untrue, and one needn’t look far for a counter example: Michael Vick and his dog-fighting cohorts obviously didn’t recognize that.”

    You are assuming incorrectly that people do not do things that they believe to be wrong. In fact, many people prefer that which is wrong for the sheer thrill of it. If sin wasn’t fun, people wouldn’t do it. Of course, it is possible to so dull one’s conscience with bad behavior that the conscience is rendered ineffective. Perhaps that is what you have in mind.

    I wrote: Everytime you question me about this, you contradict your own philosophy by implying that I am in error, as if there was an objective standard of truth or morality from which I have strayed. I am amazed that you don’t see this.

    —-“Please, no more trips around the tiresome “absolute truth” mulberry bush.”

    I am obviously right about this inasmuch as you have no reasonable answer except to say, “please stop!”

    —-”More reasoning from within culturally and socially constructed frameworks (theism, Christianity). As I said, such reasoning has no special power to compel assent.”

    It was you who raised the issue of “humility,” not me.

  103. —-Diffaxial: I need no pretend absolutes to understand that to codify a system that supports fairness and justice the standards promulgated must apply to all for the system to work at all/

    If “fairness” and “justice” do not exist as objective standards, then they obviously can’t be applied. All one can do is declare his or her perception of justice, persuade others, and try to mobilize a group effort to institutionalize it into law. But what if I have a different standard of justice and would prefer to institutionize my standard into law. How do you arbitrate between my standard of justice and your contrary standard of justice? It can’t be done. One of us will win or lose the battle of “might makes right.” In the larger picture, taking everyone else’s personal standard of justice into account, it would lead to a war of all against all. The only solution is to appeal to a universal standard which binds us all. This is clear.

  104. StephenB @ 102 & 103:

    You can “feel” any way that you like, but what you cannot do is provide any rational justification for your feelings…If “fairness” and “justice” do not exist as objective standards, then they obviously can’t be applied

    Sure I can, and sure they can. In the instance of fairness, if one desires relationships characterized by equitable exchanges, then one behaves in a manner that makes that highly probable. That probability is ample rational justification for fair conduct. As occurs daily in all walks of life, the definition of “equitable” is negotiated by the parties involved without consulting transcendental sources. Indeed, much of childhood play revolves around practicing attaining agreements vis fairness and policing violations (“thats not fair!”). Generalization from countless such specific examples is a simple matter. No absolutes need apply.

    You are assuming incorrectly that people do not do things that they believe to be wrong.

    Of course they do. I doubt Vick and his companions were among them, but who knows? But you are assuming that all wrong doers believe at some level that their conduct is inherently wrongful. That is certainly not the case, as anyone who has had experience with genuine criminality (as I have, up to and including murder) will tell you. You’re dreaming if you believe otherwise.

    I am obviously right about this inasmuch as you have no reasonable answer except to say, “please stop!”

    What, you’re like in third grade?

  105. kairosfocus @ 68

    You are trying to treat a DEFENSE as a THEODICY, revealing your lack of currency.

    It matters not.

    For an argument to succeed, in other words, for it to compel our agreement, it must not only have a valid form but we must also concede the truth of each of its premises.

    We can construct a valid argument as follows:

    All blergs and only blergs are splinft

    Zwonk is splinft.

    Therefore, zwonk is a blerg

    But it is utterly meaningless.

    In the specific case of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, again, it can only compel agreement if we are prepared to concede the truth of all its premises.

    One of Plantinga’s key premises is that the Christian God (Gc) values free will so highly that he is forced to overlook other evils in order to preserve it. Is that the case? According to the Old Testament, no, it isn’t. There are many examples of people exercising their free will in ways that displease Gc who, far from being tolerated in the interests of upholding free will, are dealt with very harshly. Need I mention the Great Flood yet again? And with out this premise, the Free Will Defense fails.

  106. 106

    Seversky,

    There are many examples of people exercising their free will in ways that displease Gc who, far from being tolerated in the interests of upholding free will, are dealt with very harshly. Need I mention the Great Flood yet again? And with out this premise, the Free Will Defense fails.

    Remember the Ninevites.

  107. —–Diffaxial: “Sure I can, and sure they can. In the instance of fairness, if one desires relationships characterized by equitable exchanges, then one behaves in a manner that makes that highly probable. That probability is ample rational justification for fair conduct. As occurs daily in all walks of life, the definition of “equitable” is negotiated by the parties involved without consulting transcendental sources.”

    How can millions of people agree on a standard of justice or morality when you and I can’t even do it? I have provided my definition of morality, for example, but you have offered nothing. How can we work out an agreement if you don’t put something on the table?

    —-”Indeed, much of childhood play revolves around practicing attaining agreements vis fairness and policing violations (”thats not fair!”).

    That’s right, because children understand that a universal standard of justice exists. Darwinists do not. That means that, insofar as ethics is concerned, children have the intellectual edge.

    —-”Generalization from countless such specific examples is a simple matter. No absolutes need apply.:”

    The logical error in your position persists, and the question begging lingers. One cannot participate in equitable relationships without knowing what equitable means. Among other things, it includes refraining from lying, stealing, and cheating. However, you don’t think these things are objectively wrong, so you have no way of defining equitable. Indeed, I may think that equitable consists of making you my slave. Maybe that’s my idea of justice. Indeed, history is little more than tyrants making slaves of the masses and declaring it to be just. In any case, it is impossible to negotiate without an objective standard to arbitrate between the multi-varied notions about the meaning of fairness. Without it, everyone will appeal to his or her personal standard of morality, which will be different in each case, which leads to a war of all against all.

    As I said, you contradict your own philosophy by implying that I am in error, as if there was an objective standard of truth from which I have strayed. You continue to evade that fact. To be consistent you must concede that we are both always right because there is no objective standard to declare either of us wrong.

  108. StephenB,

    Your post at 88 doesn’t convince, I’m afraid – it looks to be your own reflections without any real evidence to back it up. For instance, the assertion that ignorance may be a mitigating factor has no apparent objective basis. I think you are projecting your own personal views and elevating them to the position of an objective moral code, without any real justification. I can understand why, I guess we all do something similar from time to time, but it is unconvincing.

  109. Onlookers:

    There is something very sad about the spectacles above of advocates against “absolute” morality inadvertently acknowledging the objectivity of morality even as they struggle against it. [SB has done an excellent point by point job on this.]

    As to the idea that by simply insisting on confusing a defense with a theodicy one can announce defeat of a defense, this simply underscores the depth of the breakdown of reasoning at work.

    I will focus on this front a bit:

    1 –> The key challenge made in recent decades through the problem of evil, was that it entailed that the concept of God in theism was incoherent, so that it was not possible to have a God like that: omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent.

    2 –> However, the challenge “contradiction” is so stringent that it is subject to a LOGICAL defense, which does not have to pass anyone’s tests of plausibility. (By contrast, theodicies project that they sufficiently describe the actual state of affairs in our world, so if one objects to the described state of affairs, on personal incredulity or whatever, one can insist that the theodicy is defeated. (Whether that rhetorical tactic will stand up to Divine Scrutiny come That Day when we will have to reckon with the standard of the Man who God has revealed by raising him from the dead, is another matter. (let’s just say that I would not put the weight of my soul on it.))

    3 –> It should be obvious above that Sev has again chosen to treat the Plantinga Free Will Defense as if it were a theodicy. That is a serious error on the logic involved.

    4 –> As the first corrective step, we observe that the claim “contradiction” is about some set of propositions or claims, A, B, C . . . which either directly states “X AND NOT_X” or implies it. the latter being the classic reductio ad absurdum.

    5 –> As such, the claim “contradiction” is vulnerable to a purely logical defence: if we augment A, B, C, etc with somethign say Z, that is such that {A, B, C . . . } AND Z are plainly not a contradiction, then neither component of the compound can be contradictory.

    6 –> As the challenge and response are str5ictly logical, the only constraint of Z is that it describes a logically possible state of affairs of our world. (In short, it itself must not be logically self-contradictory, as opposed to questions of plausibility to adherents of any one worldview or another. indeed, one logically possible state of affairs is that we live in a world created five minutes ago, with all the artifacts and memories etc being formed in an instant. Not even Lord Russell who first suggested this believes it, but it is empirically equivalent to our believed actual world. thus, we know that empirical tests are not a complete test of truth, hence the need for other worldview tests such as coherence and explanatory power, and the need for inference to best explanation on comparative difficulties.)

    7 –> As anyone who goes out to look a the previously linked summaries of the FWD will see, Plantinga succeeds in providing such a logically possible state of affairs. And that is a very important job indeed: we know know beyond REASONABLE doubt, that the theistic concept of God is logically coherent. [NB: in my observation, on this and other cases of logical error, the commonest rhetorical counter is to appeal to implausibility, but of course since only what fits well with one's existing views will seem plausible, this often amounts to a crude begging of the question by appeal to prejudice, often multiplied by ridicule, demonisation and dismissal. Such are of course major informal fallacies of appeal to distractive emotions.]

    8 –> And as well, the FWD points us to the zone of interest for addressing the issue of the inductive form of evils, and the existential form: what could be a valid reason for God creating a world in which evil can come to be? (One possible answer is — as noted above and consistently not addressed [no prizes for guessing why] — is that a world in which the freedom required for love and other like virtues is a world in which free choice necessarily exists, with the consequences thereof should some creatures choose to abuse that power. So, do we want a world in which love is possible/ if so,t hat is a world in which evil is also possible, and indeed the actual world seems like that. God’s answer, on classic Christian theism? redemption, driven by love and appealing to hearts and minds on truth working by concerned love. [this also explains hos often the rhetorical attack against Christianity and Christians seeks to demonise and discredit us as hateful or ignorant, or stupid or wicked. And, while indeed every one of us struggles to overcome radical evil, it is hardly a fair or balanced view to try to say assert that [against abundant evidence] Hitler was a Christian acting based on Christian thought, while gliding over say a Mother Theresa or a St Francis or even a Chuck Colson or a Billy Graham in studious silence.])

    9 –> On balance, among the informed and current, the debate over the issue of evils is now at a different level than only a few decades ago.

    10 –> And one key issue on this, that evolutionary materialist atheists and fellow travellers must confront, is that on the evo mat view, there is an unbridgeable IS-OUGHT GAP. For, in a world of matter-energy, acted on by chance and blind mechanical forces across space-time, we may have ion channels aned voltages in neurons etc and we may have OBSERVED [not explained!] thoughts, conscience and feelings, but we do not have any grounds for saying that any one feeling is an OBLIGATION.

    11 –> That is, oughtness has disappeared, swallowed up by IS-NESS.

    12 –> In the very literal sense, evolutionary materialist atheism is A-MORAL. (Which should be very worrying, as amorality is often a ground for licence and cultural suicide.)

    13 –> As indeed, the above exchanges abundantly illustrate.

    14 –> It is therefore very understandable to see that many reason (or directly intuit) through the modus tollens: If Evo Mat then a-morality [= not-morality], but plainly — on direct experience of the reality of oughtness — morality; so not-Evo Mat. [And BTW, this basic reason is a major part of why regardless of how many august figures pronounce that the world is as evolutionary materialism envisions, many thoughtful people will conclude that the authorities in question MUST be wrong; even without other evidence or argument.]
    _____________

    GEM of TKI

  110. StephenB @ 107:

    Indeed, I may think that equitable consists of making you my slave. Maybe that’s my idea of justice. Indeed, history is little more than tyrants making slaves of the masses and declaring it to be just.

    And they believed it, because they lived their lives immersed in the systems of assumptions about people in the world, both articulated explicitly and embedded in the background of less explicitly articulated facts, supplied by the cultures in which they lived. As with all cultures, those cultural assumptions emerged across history and were contingent, far from absolute. To become more objective is not to consult a book in which the absolutes are codified (no such book exists, as all such books are equally the products of the cultures from which they emerged); rather, it is to strive to include oneself (and one’s cultural history) in one’s picture of the world, and understand that what you formerly took as fact actually arises out of an amalgam of facts and one’s view of those facts, i.e., to understand that the “reality” supplied by one’s culture is itself contingent upon perspective, and not absolute. This is a process that is repeated recursively, as one eventually sees that this new vantage is also constructed of the seer and the things seen. We are all similarly inextricably embedded, which is why “absolute truth” and “absolute knowledge” is denied to individuals. However, to understand the above is an increment in relative truth, and relative knowledge.

    You, apparently, have yet to accomplish even the first of those maneuvers, and instead cling tenaciously to the system of ethics that characterizes the culture in which you have been immersed and mischaracterize this contingent system of human devising as “objective.” It reads as awfully naive.

  111. Diff:

    You have inadvertently underscored the points Stephen, others and I have made about the reductio ad absurdum of evolutionary materialist a-morality and radical relativism.

    GEM of TKI

  112. 112

    …and assumed his conclusions. :)

  113. Diffaxial

    As with all cultures, those cultural assumptions emerged across history and were contingent, far from absolute. To become more objective is not to consult a book in which the absolutes are codified (no such book exists, as all such books are equally the products of the cultures from which they emerged)

    The claim that “no such book exists” is a mere assertion. Christians would argue that the Bible is the Word of God, and that the writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down what we now call the Old and New Testaments. If that’s true, then the claim “no such book exists” is false. There’s at least one. I understand that you may not accept that the Bible’s origins are of divine origin, but that is a different matter.

    We are all similarly inextricably embedded, which is why “absolute truth” and “absolute knowledge” is denied to individuals. However, to understand the above is an increment in relative truth, and relative knowledge.

    So, the claim being made here doesn’t represent abosulute truth either. So is it 65% true…78%…89%…99% and how can we know? This statement is very close to saying “its absolutely true that there is no absolute truth”, which is obviously self-referentially false.

  114. —Diffaxial: “We are all similarly inextricably embedded, which is why “absolute truth” and “absolute knowledge” is denied to individuals. However, to understand the above is an increment in relative truth, and relative knowledge.”

    It is important to understand the significance of your own theory. Social Contructivism, your paradigm, holds that objective truth and morality cannot be “discovered” because they don’t exist. As the story goes, they must be, and are, “created.” More to the point, they can only be created in context, that is, group A socially constructs its own truth and morality, while group B develops another one, and so on. Given that point, the thoughtful person should ask this question: What happens when group A’s truth conflicts with group B’s truth? Taking the point further, what happens when multiple groups generate isolated truths appropriate only to each group? How do you arbitrate between them? It does no good to suggest that they should work things out and create their own truth because they have already done that.

    Socially constructed truths grounded in moral relativism cannot be coordinated one with the other, because they are designed to serve only one group, the group that conceived them. Only if all groups agree to submit to an objective, universal truth that binds them all can they hope to settle their differences. Naturally, that binding principle must really be the truth, since, as already indicated, arbitrarily established truths always divide, whether imposed from the top down or conceived from the bottom up.

    I have put these points to the test several times, most recently with you and seversky. In both cases, each of you insisted that groups can come to agreement on these things even in the absence of universal principles. So, I asked both of you to do it for real. Come to an agreement with me. I put my morality on the table and asked both of you to put your morality on the table so that we could negotiate. Not only did both of you refuse to negotiate, you didn’t even submit your opening gambit. How can six billion people come together and socially construct an equitable agreement if you, I, and seversky cannot get together? It is only under the banner of truth that a well-ordered society be established and maintained.

  115. 115

    StephenB,

    So, I asked both of you to do it for real. Come to an agreement with me. I put my morality on the table and asked both of you to put your morality on the table so that we could negotiate. Not only did both of you refuse to negotiate, you didn’t even submit your opening gambit. How can six billion people come together and socially construct an equitable agreement if you, I, and seversky cannot get together? It is only under the banner of truth that a well-ordered society be established and maintained.

    Exactly.

  116. —Gaz: “Your post at 88 doesn’t convince, I’m afraid….”

    But I had such high hopes for you.

  117. 44 StephenB
    “To say that something is evil, then, is a shorthand way of saying it either lacks goodness, or is a lower order of goodness than what ought to have been.”

    Doesn’t work. The Holocaust lacked goodness, or, was a lower order of goodness than what ought to have been?

    “..evil could not be chosen because there is no evil thing to choose. Evil, then, is the act itself of choosing the lesser good.

    People choose to rape, murder, steal, etc., every minute. They are not lesser goods.

  118. Donald @ 113, StephenB @ 114:

    Whether my position is best characterized as social constructivist is debatable – I am more optimistic about the capacity of science to confidently, albeit provisionally, characterize reality and truly decide difficult questions than admitted by social constructivism.

    But grant all of the above vis social constructionism in the domain of morals and ethics. What I am asserting is that from this vantage your moral “absolutes” are also socially constructed, including the socially constructed mythology that they are absolutes. That puts your “objective morality” on all fours with those views you seem to despise so much, claims of absolutism made from within your system of thought notwithstanding.

    Is this a bare assertion? Of course it is; that is the only sort of assertion there can be vis claims for a god-given moral structure of the universe (and its compliment, the absence thereof). Yours that your favorite system provides absolutes is bare assertion, too. That again puts these viewpoints on all fours with one another, your claims notwithstanding.

    Am I engaging in some sort of logical paradox by claiming that it is absolutely true that there are no absolute ethical truths? If I had made a claim in absolute terms that might be so, but I have not. Above I prefaced my first post with “from where the atheist and agnostic sit” and couched my assertions as arising “from that vantage.” I noted that “nothing about what I have said compels” the premises from which I started. I noted, “Of course, you can construct a symmetrical, opposing claim” from your own vantage as believers. I further noted “Of course none of this compels agnosticism or atheism. Rather it is descriptive of the landscape as viewed from that particular vantage, which does not include the choice ‘accept an ABSOLUTE moral system.’” I noted that “We are all similarly inextricably embedded, which is why ‘absolute truth’ and ‘absolute knowledge’ is denied to individuals,” and I certainly include myself among those individuals. And so on. These are far from claims of “absolute truth” for my assertions. The claim that a paradox results is mistaken.

    I’ve ignored StephenB’s “test” because it is completely off point. I’ve not asserted that all parties everywhere are capable of negotiating difficult issues vis fairness and justice. Specific instances of failure have no particular bearing upon what I DO assert: that parties do oftentimes in many places negotiate equitable exchanges without resort to phony absolutes, when motivated to do so.

  119. 39
    jerry

    If an earthquakes is evil then I guess cyanide is also?

  120. —-Davem: “Doesn’t work. The Holocaust lacked goodness, or, was a lower order of goodness than what ought to have been?”

    The victims of the holocaust were denied that which is good, namely freedom, health, and dignity. The evil that they experienced was a “privation” of those and other goods.

    —-“..evil could not be chosen because there is no evil thing to choose. Evil, then, is the act itself of choosing the lesser good.”

    The perpetrator chooses a course of action which will deprive another person of a something that is good. For example, the slanderer chooses to deprive the victim of his good name, the murderer deprives his victim of life etc. The whole point is to take away something from he/she who is hated.

    —”People choose to rape, murder, steal, etc., every minute. They are not lesser goods.”

    An evil act deprives both the perpetrator and the victim of some good. From the perpetrators side, it constitutes perversion of the will if it is done knowingly. If it is done accidentally, or not knowingly, it is not an evil act.

    On the other hand, the victim experiences evil [deprivation] whether the event is executed with malice or whether it is experienced for some other reason. Of course, the Darwinist does not acknowledge the “good” so he cannot know what the individual has been deprived of. Hence, he has no way of assessing either good or evil. Evil is a parasite on good, and if good doesns’t exist, then evil doesn’t exist. That is why Darwinists cannot define evil.

    A good person is like a “good” anything else. If a thing or person operates according to the purpose of its existence, it is good. If, for example, a can opener was designed to open cans, it is a good can opener if it serves that function. If a pencil was designed to write, it is a good pencil if it writes well. A pencil cannot be a good can opener, and if it tries to play that role, not only will it fail to open the can, it will destroy itself in the process.

    Similary, if humans, who were designed to save their souls, a task that requires, among other things, behaving according to the natural moral law, disavow it or try to rewrite it in an attempt to rationalize the act of choosing the wrong things, that is, if they try to play the role of God, they will not only fail to be happy, they will also, like the presumptuous pencil that tried to be a can opener, destroy themselves and others.

  121. —-Diffaxial: “I’ve ignored StephenB’s “test” because it is completely off point. I’ve not asserted that all parties everywhere are capable of negotiating difficult issues vis fairness and justice. Specific instances of failure have no particular bearing upon what I DO assert: that parties do oftentimes in many places negotiate equitable exchanges without resort to phony absolutes, when motivated to do so.”

    You have ignored it because it completely refutes your position. Your whole point is that absolute, objective standards are not necessary because equitable standards, which in your case would be arbitrary standards, are sufficient to build a well-ordered society and can be arrived at through consensus, negotiation, or some other process. If, as you now acknowledge, all parties cannot everywhere “negotiate difficult issues vis fairness and justice,” then you have conceded that arbitrary standards are not up to the job that you claimed they could handle. Hence, absolute, objective truth is necessary as a unifying principle, since a socially constructed consensus about truth and morality can neither unify nor consistently be arrived at through negotiation. Indeed, as I made clear, and as you confirmed by refusing to negotiate, it can never be arrived at through that process.

  122. Paul Giem @ 71

    asks a very good question:

    If God truly gives us freedom to choose to love or not to love, how can this be logically consistent with His making sure that we cannot chose not to love? This seems like a logical contradiction, very much like making a square circle. Could you explain how this works? If not, does it not take out a fundamental premise of the rest of your post and make the argument invalid?

    As you suggest, on the face of it this looks like the kind of logical contradiction that even an all-powerful deity like Gc could not overcome. If that is the case, then my argument is undermined and Plantinga’s Free Will Defense stands.

    My answer is that it depends on what you mean by evil. Let us consider two instances of one man shooting another. In the first case, a man walks into a restaurant and shoots one of the diners dead, apparently at random, and then points the gun at another diner. In the second instance, one of the other diners is a policeman who draws his gun and shoots the gunman dead before he can get off a second shot.

    I think most people would agree that the first shooting was an evil act but the second was good. The reasons would be that the first shooting was a case of murder, the unlawful taking of another’s life, the second served to save lives given that it appeared the gunman was prepared to shoot more people.

    In other words, evil resides in the effect of an act. We could argue that it also lies in the purpose of the evil-doer but, unlike Gc, we cannot see into the heart of an evil-doer, we can only infer intent after the act.

    This also offers an escape from the contradiction. In the case of the first shooting, an all-powerful, all-knowing God would foresee what the gunman was intending but do nothing to interfere with the planning or execution of the shooting so as not to violate his free will. What he could do, however, is to prevent the evil effect. He might cause the gunman’s hand to shake as he fires so the bullet goes wide or He might arrange for the cartridge to misfire. Thus, the gunman is allowed the full exercise of his free will but the evil effect of his act is forestalled.

  123. StephenB,

    I think you miss my point. I believe the focus on so called evil is misplaced because what most people are calling evil is not really evil. As I said I believe there is only one true evil and that is an act of the will as you said and it denies salvation. The other things that people like to call evil, are not evil at all but extremely unpleasant earthly events.

    Things that cause pain and suffering on earth are not necessarily evil but most people use the term in that sense and then turn around and then says God allows evil because he allows pain and suffering and therefore He is not good or the Christian conception is then nonsense. That is why I made my examples as I did. I believe the discussion of evil is conflating two separate ideas. One is unpleasantness at various levels on earth with what I consider the only true evil. All the discussion is on the unpleasantness and the then association with God. To me it is a non sequitur.

    As I said who cares what happens to someone if they are saved. Name whatever unpleasantness you can imagine and there is no comparison. And the reverse, the person who has every possible earthly advantage but defies God and is not saved. Which is evil?

    While the world always looked upon physical calamities as unfortunate it was the Lisbon earthquake that seemed to focus people on this type of suffering and senseless loss as evil. It happened on All Saints Day and was thought to be a rebuke by God. It certainly made theodicy a prominent issue and was used by many to reject God. That is why when the theodicy issue comes up, I will participate a little since I avoid religious arguments around here like the plague. But for about 20 years even before I ever heard the term theodicy, I had rejected these unfortunate events as evil because they just did not matter in what really counted. I had come to the conclusion that what people were describing as evil was a subjective thing and not absolute.

    So I will restate my point. What most call evil is just unpleasantness and it can be extreme. But it is not real evil which as you say is an act of the will. The two concepts should not be conflated.

  124. “If an earthquakes is evil then I guess cyanide is also?”

    I haven’t a clue where you got that reasoning. I never said an earthquake was evil. I have a very narrow view of what is evil. See my previous post.

  125. —-Jerry: “I think you miss my point. I believe the focus on so called evil is misplaced because what most people are calling evil is not really evil.”

    I understand your point very well. I just don’t happen to agree with it for reasons that I have already indicated. On the other hand, I am not persuaded that you understand my position.

  126. Stephen

    Excellent onward contributions, again.

    I have made a more or less rounding off comment on the HuffPo thread, on the manifest amorality of evolutionary materialism — which reduces step by step to “might makes right” — and its philosophical roots, which were evident from the days in which Plato exposed them in the Laws, Book X, 360 BC.

    GEM of TKI

  127. StephenB (118),

    “But I had such high hopes for you”

    Dad – is that you ??

  128. StephenB (121),

    “If, as you now acknowledge, all parties cannot everywhere “negotiate difficult issues vis fairness and justice,” then you have conceded that arbitrary standards are not up to the job that you claimed they could handle.”

    It’s not so much that they are not up to the job, just that it’s hellish difficult getting there. That’s one reason why we have so many wars. But, in some areas, some people make progress – Western Europe, for instance, where wars were rife until the mid years of the last century, whereas now it’s virtually unthinkable between those states.

    “Hence, absolute, objective truth is necessary as a unifying principle, since a socially constructed consensus about truth and morality can neither unify nor consistently be arrived at through negotiation.”

    The fact that there are so many conflicts suggests there is NO absolute objective truth – if there is, why would people be in conflict over waht they recognise as the same absolute truth?

    “Indeed, as I made clear, and as you confirmed by refusing to negotiate, it can never be arrived at through that process.”

    How are you so sure it can “never” be agreed by negotiation? Lots of things thought intractable have been solved by negotiation – the political situation in Northern Ireland being one. “Never” is too strong. “Difficult”, for sure.

  129. StephenB @ 121:

    You have ignored it because it completely refutes your position.

    If individual successes and failures at negotiation are indicators of anything, witness that you and Jerry, both purportedly operating from within a system of objective truth and morality, find yourselves unable to agree on a definition of “evil.” Thank you for that.

    Your whole point is that absolute, objective standards are not necessary because equitable standards, which in your case would be arbitrary standards, are sufficient to build a well-ordered society and can be arrived at through consensus, negotiation, or some other process…If, as you now acknowledge, all parties cannot everywhere “negotiate difficult issues vis fairness and justice,” then you have conceded that arbitrary standards are not up to the job that you claimed they could handle.

    I’ve made no claims regarding what is ultimately attainable by means of human efforts.

    What I have claimed is that individuals and parties oftentimes attain fair and equitable exchanges (ie., exchanges they regard as equitable, and that become the basis for sustained human cooperation and, at times, unity) without consulting transcendental definitions of “fair” and “equitable.” This process attains many of the aims of the parties involved (i.e. is rational), and can sometimes be generalized to larger scales.

    Most probably, well ordered societies are possible to the extent that we now observe: a fractally pluralistic world characterized both by considerable cooperation and order at many scales, and considerable strife and conflict at those same scales. Whether increased order is possible remains to be seen; history is turbulent.

    What I have also said is that the moral codes for which absolutism is claimed, including yours, are themselves the products of cultural evolution. You may assert otherwise, but there is no platform from which the “absolute” correctness of either position can be adjudicated, which puts them on all fours with one another, your claims upon absolute truth and an objective moral code notwithstanding.

  130. Seversky

    I think most people would agree that the first shooting was an evil act but the second was good. The reasons would be that the first shooting was a case of murder, the unlawful taking of another’s life, the second served to save lives given that it appeared the gunman was prepared to shoot more people.

    In other words, evil resides in the effect of an act. We could argue that it also lies in the purpose of the evil-doer but, unlike Gc, we cannot see into the heart of an evil-doer, we can only infer intent after the act.

    The Amish would disagree and say that the evil resides in all of it. Recall the response of the Amish community to the shooting of several school children a couple years back in, I believe, Pennsylvania. Instead of seeking revenge or retribution, they displayed forgiveness and love in both word and deed. Perhaps they understand something better than what most do.

    This idea was the the subject of the 80′s movie “Witness” with Harrison Ford. Well worth seeing, by the way.

    That said, the point of my OP and this thread is that on the NA’s worldview the very concept of evil itself has no meaning whatsoever. It does not matter what most people would think or believe about a particular situation. On the NA’s worldview, evil can only mean “something I do not like took place” or “something I didn’t want to happen, did happen.” In other words, it comes down to personal preference, because on the NA’s worldview there is no possible way to objectify any notion of what evil, or for that matter, good, is. None. So, even in Seversky’s example of the shooter in the diner, we may not like it, may even abhor it, but on the NA worldview, no one can say it is evil with any real meaning.

  131. Diffaxial

    What I have also said is that the moral codes for which absolutism is claimed, including yours, are themselves the products of cultural evolution. You may assert otherwise, but there is no platform from which the “absolute” correctness of either position can be adjudicated, which puts them on all fours with one another, your claims upon absolute truth and an objective moral code notwithstanding.

    Applying your own logic to your own statement then, there is no way adjudicate the truth of “…the moral codes for which absolutism is claimed, including yours, are themselves the products of cultural evolution.” On your own logic, this not something that can really be known to be true, so why should anyone accept it. It a mere assertion on your part. Excuse me for rejecting it as false.

  132. DonaldM: @ 129:

    On your own logic, this not something that can really be known to be true, so why should anyone accept it. It a mere assertion on your part. Excuse me for rejecting it as false.

    Of course. That is your prerogative. And that is my point: yours is no more or less a bare assertion, adopted by prerogative, than the contrary view. Your view includes claims vis the absolute objectification of notions such as good and evil – mine does not. What do you have that I don’t? Undecidable claims. Claim away, brother: you are certainly justified in attempting to convince others of the correctness of your views.

  133. —-Diffaxial: “If individual successes and failures at negotiation are indicators of anything, witness that you and Jerry, both purportedly operating from within a system of objective truth and morality, find yourselves unable to agree on a definition of “evil.” Thank you for that.”

    You did not think that one through. Your example proves once again that individuals cannot get together and forge a consensus on fundamental matters. Unless we all acknowledge self evident truths as a starting point, all attempts at coming to agreement on the most difficult issues are futile. Thank you for dramatizing my point once again.

    —-“I’ve made no claims regarding what is ultimately attainable by means of human efforts. What I have claimed is that individuals and parties oftentimes attain fair and equitable exchanges (ie., exchanges they regard as equitable, and that become the basis for sustained human cooperation and, at times, unity) without consulting transcendental definitions of “fair” and “equitable.”

    You have stated that objective, absolute truths are not necessary. That leaves only the alternative, which is the prospect of building truth and morality by consensus. In any case, can you provide a specific example of individuals coming together and forming unity without an apriori principle to guide them—-one that we can analyze? Recall, after all, that you refuse to go through the “process” with me, which proves that all your assertions are empty. It two individuals cannot go throught the process at the simplet level of interaction, then clearly millions with the increased permutations could never hope to. That is clear.

    —-“This process attains many of the aims of the parties involved (i.e. is rational), and can sometimes be generalized to larger scales.”

    Again, an example would help.

    —-“What I have also said is that the moral codes for which absolutism is claimed, including yours, are themselves the products of cultural evolution. You may assert otherwise, but there is no platform from which the “absolute” correctness of either position can be adjudicated, which puts them on all fours with one another, your claims upon absolute truth and an objective moral code notwithstanding.”

    Of course the moral codes cannot be proven. They must be accepted on faith, just as the principles of right reason must be accepted on faith. With regard to the latter, it is impossible to have a rational discussion with anyone who rejects those principles. Have you so soon forgotten: Darwinists at this site, with your blessing, assert with confidence that an automobile can be a part of a crankshaft because they will not acknowledge in principle that the whole is always greater than any one of its parts. This can mean only one thing: There is an inverse and proportional relationship between the Darwinist’s inability to reason and his capacity to be embarrassed about it.

  134. —-Diffaxial: “What I have also said is that the moral codes for which absolutism is claimed, including yours, are themselves the products of cultural evolution. You may assert otherwise, but there is no platform from which the “absolute” correctness of either position can be adjudicated, which puts them on all fours with one another, your claims upon absolute truth and an objective moral code notwithstanding.

    Your claims are unprovable and self-refuting; mine are merely unprovable. You are either saying that it is absolutely true that there are no absolute truths, which is contradictory, or you are saying that we can’t know anything about it, which is equally self refuting. Whichever way you go, you are immersed in intellectual quicksand.

  135. Unless we all acknowledge self evident truths as a starting point, all attempts at coming to agreement on the most difficult issues are futile. Thank you for dramatizing my point once again.

    Self-evidence is a pet subject of mine.

    What makes a ‘truth’ ‘self-evident’?

    I am asking very seriously because I know of no self-evident truths except things like ‘up is not down.’

    Boolean algebra is a fine tool for ascertaining truth.

  136. —Cabal:

    —”What makes a ‘truth’ ’self-evident’?”

    It is self evident if denying it causes one to descend into intellectual absurdity. Also, if the self-evident truth is not agreed to by both parties prior to the discussion rational discourse is impossible.

    —”I am asking very seriously because I know of no self-evident truths except things like ‘up is not down.’”

    How many do you want? Let’s try these for starters:

    A thing cannot be and not be at the same time.

    The whole is always greater than any one of its parts.

    A proposition cannot be both truth and false at the same time and under the same formal circumstances.

  137. StephenB @ 131 & 132:

    Of course the moral codes cannot be proven. They must be accepted on faith, just as the principles of right reason must be accepted on faith.

    [My claims] are merely unprovable.

    I accept these statements without reservation.

    This aligns without conflict with the thesis of my posts here: Your claim of possession of an absolute system of morality from which you can ‘logically declare’ the wrongness of actions is empty.

    “Logical declarations” from premises that themselves must be accepted on faith are not logically compelled for those who don’t share that faith. And, for those persons, it is the absence of faith resembling yours, not want of abstract thinking and reasoning (as you are so fond of claiming), that results in dissent to your claims.

    Given your statement above, a similar argument can be mounted vis your claim of a “proof” of the existence of God derived from “principles of right reasoning.” That proof is not logically compelled, as you have previously so strenuously claimed, but rather rests upon premises that “must be accepted on faith.”

  138. —Diffaxial “I accept these statements without reservation.”

    If that is the case, then you have radically changed your position, having always claimed that the principles of right reason are mere “tautaologies” and need not [do not] apply to the real world.

    —-“Logical declarations” from premises that themselves must be accepted on faith are not logically compelled for those who don’t share that faith. And, for those persons, it is the absence of faith resembling yours, not want of abstract thinking and reasoning (as you are so fond of claiming), that results in dissent to your claims.”

    The faith of which I speak constitues agreement on the principles of right reason. If one doesn’t accept them, then one cannot reason in the abstract. To dissent from them is to abandon logic. In spite of your claims in the preceding paragraph that you accept those statements without reservation, you have yet to show that you are serious about that. Indeed, you are silent on the example referring to the proposition that “the whole is always greater than any of its parts.” I gather, then, that you reject that one as well.

    Returning to old business, are you now prepared to provide examples of individuals coming together and forming unity without an apriori principle to guide them. If, as you insist, it happens every day and happened all throughout history, you should be able to cite one instance.

  139. StephenB @ 136:

    If that is the case, then you have radically changed your position, having always claimed that the principles of right reason are mere “tautaologies” and need not [do not] apply to the real world.

    You misunderstand: You stated that your propositions are unprovable (hence unproven). I accept without reservation that they are unprovable (hence unproven). You stated that faith is required for their acceptance (and that absent faith nothing compels their acceptance). I accept your assertion that faith is required for their acceptance.

    I don’t accept your propositions vis objective morality and right reason themselves, as I find them unproven, and don’t share your faith. As you say, absent faith nothing compels their acceptance. Certainly not logic: Were logic sufficient, faith would not be required.

    Indeed, you are silent on the example referring to the proposition that “the whole is always greater than any of its parts.” I gather, then, that you reject that one as well.

    On what basis? As you say, I’ve been silent on that assertion, and haven’t given it any thought. It seems largely to exercise the definitions of “whole” and “part.”

    Returning to old business, are you now prepared to provide examples of individuals coming together and forming unity without an apriori principle to guide them. If, as you insist, it happens every day and happened all throughout history, you should be able to cite one instance.

    Sure. Here’s an example on a small scale, from personal experience. Every now and then I gather with three friends to form a small jazz (or jazz-like) ensemble (I play piano). We all like to improvise and we all like to solo, but also enjoy attaining a shared ground that can be quite compelling, as any ensemble musician will tell you. On a good day we virtually wordlessly attain a cooperative integration that includes both an equitable distribution of solo time (supported by the background of non-soloing musicians) and sometimes quite surprising and moving instances of unity of musical expression and exchange (“conversation”). We’ve never required transcendent definition of “fair” to attain this particular form of “fair play,” and indeed have never explicitly discussed the issue. Nevertheless, the fairness we attain is eminently rational, as it is by means of that fairness and cooperation that we attain the goals we seek.

  140. StephenB @ 103

    How do you arbitrate between my standard of justice and your contrary standard of justice? It can’t be done. One of us will win or lose the battle of “might makes right.” In the larger picture, taking everyone else’s personal standard of justice into account, it would lead to a war of all against all. The only solution is to appeal to a universal standard which binds us all. This is clear.

    There must be an agreed standard of morality. Something imposed on us all by force majeure is not going to work. It never has, at least, not for long. What is clear is that what is meant by this “universal standard which binds us all” is Christian morality. This is not necessarily wrong but its claim to authority rests on it being the will of an all-powerful Creator. What is that but the biggest case of “might makes right” of all?

  141. DonaldM @ 128

    On the NA’s worldview, evil can only mean “something I do not like took place” or “something I didn’t want to happen, did happen.” In other words, it comes down to personal preference, because on the NA’s worldview there is no possible way to objectify any notion of what evil, or for that matter, good, is. None. So, even in Seversky’s example of the shooter in the diner, we may not like it, may even abhor it, but on the NA worldview, no one can say it is evil with any real meaning.

    That rather depends on what you mean by “real meaning”. As we know, words only mean what we decide they mean. Those meanings can vary according the the group which uses the word, the context in which they are used and over time. No one meaning is more ‘right’ or “real” than another.

    I agree, though, that there is no way to “objectify” notions of good or evil or morality. There is no reason to think they are anything other than concepts or judgements which exist only in the minds of intelligent observers.

    If we return to the story of the shooting in the restaurant, an artificial intelligence like an android, so common in science-fiction genres, might observe the shooting and simply note the details without passing any judgement on it at all, whereas a human observer might be horrified by the evil of it. Evil, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

    Witness is a good movie, though.

  142. —-Diffaxial: “I don’t accept your propositions vis objective morality and right reason themselves, as I find them unproven, and don’t share your faith. As you say, absent faith nothing compels their acceptance. Certainly not logic: Were logic sufficient, faith would not be required.”

    The rules of logic cannot prove themselves or be proven by any other means. That is the whole point. Faith in logic’s philosophical underpinning precedes the logical initiative; neither logic nor rational discourse cannot exist without them. So far, you are on record of rejecting those principles on the grounds that they are not relevant to the real world.

    —-“As you say, I’ve been silent on that assertion, and haven’t given it any thought. It seems largely to exercise the definitions of “whole” and “part.”

    If you reject[or question] the principle that the “whole is always greater than any one of its parts,” on definitional or any other grounds, you must concede that an automobile could be a part of a crankshaft. Does that in any way give you pause?
    .

    —-“Sure. Here’s an example on a small scale, from personal experience. Every now and then I gather with three friends to form a small jazz (or jazz-like) ensemble (I play piano). We all like to improvise and we all like to solo, but also enjoy attaining a shared ground that can be quite compelling, as any ensemble musician will tell you. On a good day we virtually wordlessly attain a cooperative integration that includes both an equitable distribution of solo time (supported by the background of non-soloing musicians) and sometimes quite surprising and moving instances of unity of musical expression and exchange (”conversation”). We’ve never required transcendent definition of “fair” to attain this particular form of “fair play,” and indeed have never explicitly discussed the issue. Nevertheless, the fairness we attain is eminently rational, as it is by means of that fairness and cooperation that we attain the goals we seek.”

    Since I am a jazz pianist myself, I accept all examples of musical symbolic interaction as relevant. So, I am attracted to the subject matter. From a sociological standpoint, there is an unspoken, apriori unifying principle that guides your group as it does all modern groups, namely the imaginative power of the individual. This ethic informs, unifies, and guides the members of the group and defines what it means to be fair.

    From a performance standpoint, the musical laws make up the apriori defining principles that provide for the creativity. Creativity occurs only within the boundaries of those [principles] laws. They can be probed, stretched and teased, but they cannot be broken without compromising and finally destroying any sense of artistry. You could never hope, for example, to form a group and create your own musical laws or allow them to emerge during the performance. Those laws are transcendent and unchangeable. If either you or the bass player began creating new musical laws, even if done in a spirit of perfect cooperation, chaos would follow. In keeping with that point, if you try to be creative and play an Aflat pentatonic scale against a Cmaj chord, it will sound awful. The existence of an unchanging, unifying reality precedes you. One can build order only around an ordering principle.

  143. —seversky: “There must be an agreed standard of morality.”

    I completely agree.

    “Something imposed on us all by force majeure is not going to work. It never has, at least, not for long.”

    I agree again. We are on a roll.

    —-”What is clear is that what is meant by this “universal standard which binds us all” is Christian morality.”

    Not really. The common morality that binds us all, [atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, etc] is the natural moral law, which is much broader and much less demanding than the Christian ethic. [Google "Illustrations of the Tao"].

    —”This is not necessarily wrong but its claim to authority rests on it being the will of an all-powerful Creator.”

    Not really. It’s main claim is that it is a self evident principle, which it is. All normal people know that we shouldn’t lie, cheat, slander, steal, murder, and rape. It’s a built in instinct that reflects our human nature.

    —”What is that but the biggest case of “might makes right” of all?”

    Might makes right is the logical and only alternative to the ordered principle of the natural moral law. Either we submit to order or we submit to tyranny. Those are the two choices; there is no third.

  144. Stephen, you are still dead on target. Order up salvos by the score.

  145. StephenB (143),

    “It’s main claim is that it is a self evident principle, which it is. All normal people know that we shouldn’t lie, cheat, slander, steal, murder, and rape. It’s a built in instinct that reflects our human nature.”

    Not really. “Lying” was done extensively in World War 2 to deceive the eneny as to our battle plans. Does that go against the natural law?

    How about judicial exceutions. Murder? Many would say so; and many wouldn’t. And then there’s those vegetarians who say “meat is murder”. Hardly good grounds for a “natural law” self evident to all.

  146. Onlookers:

    It is worth the while to pause and excerpt Locke’s citation from “the judicious Hooker,” in Ecclesiastical Polity, when he set out to ground natural alw as the premise of liberty, in teh 2nd Essay on Civl Giovt, Ch 2 Section 5:

    _______________

    >> . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant. >>
    ________________

    I need not do more than simply point out the pivotal nature of that for the rise of modern democratic self-government of and by a free people.

    In short, Severski’s attempt at turnabout rhetoric just above, self destructs.

    God’s requirements of the creatures equally made in his image, that they respect one another, is intelligible and reasonable, not arbitrary.

    It is evolutionary materialism that is facing an inescapable is-ought gap, not Judaeo-Christian theism.

    GEM of TKI

  147. PS: It is also worth the pause to underscore that this is not a matter of “Christian” morality [though Christians, Jews and other theists have championed the morality of fundamental equality of human nature in our time] but a general, and generally understood principle: we are equal by nature, and have rights that reflect that dignity, so by simple common sense reasoning on reciprocity, we should mutually respect the right to life [without which we are simply not here to stand for our rights], liberty, person, reputation, etc.

  148. StephenB @ 142:

    From a sociological standpoint, there is an unspoken, apriori unifying principle that guides your group as it does all modern groups, namely the imaginative power of the individual. This ethic informs, unifies, and guides the members of the group and defines what it means to be fair.

    You slay me. (But murder is WRONG!)

    StephenB: “Provide examples of individuals coming together and forming unity without an apriori principle to guide them.”

    Diffaxial: (provides example from personal experience).

    StephenB: “No, your conduct was guided by unseen unity fairies of which you were unaware.”

    I can see the future of this discussion:

    Diffaxial: (provides another example.)

    StephenB: “No, invisible a priori awareness of fairness fairies guided their conduct, although the parties were unawares.

    Diffaxial: (example)

    StephenB: “Nope. Morality fairies.

    Let’s dispense with that. Suffice it to say that you plan to claim that every instance of human beings attaining fairness, unity, and cooperative agreement upon ethics and morality MUST reflect the presence of aprior, objective principles, regardless of the self-report of the participants to the contrary. On what basis? As above: faith that it must be so, and that counterexamples are simply not possible.

Leave a Reply