Home » Intelligent Design » Hope, not Proof

Hope, not Proof

In my prior post I said (actually, as one commenter pointed out, I meant to say), ID gives us reason to hope for freedom from Darwinism and its implications with respect to objective morality. One commenter asked what ID has to do with establishing an objective basis for morality. The answer, of course, is nothing. ID is a scientific theory. It is not a system of ethics or even the basis for a system of ethics. As has been pointed out many times, ID says nothing about the nature of the designer or his/her/its ultimate purposes. The designer may be supernatural, but the theory does not posit a supernatural designer; nor is the existence of a supernatural designer necessary for its validity.

That said, ID does have implications for ethics and morality.

Because while ID does not depend upon a supernatural designer, it does not exclude a supernatural designer either. ID does not speak of – far less prove the existence of – the God in which I believe, but it is not incompatible with His existence. And therein lies the basis for my hope. Maybe, just maybe I say, the designer is in fact a supernatural God, and maybe that God has established a transcendent moral standard that gives us a firm foundation for ethics and principles of justice. I personally believe both of these things, but I believe them on faith, a reasoned and reasonable faith, but faith nevertheless.

I am firmly convinced that the God I worship exists, but I candidly admit I could be wrong. Over the centuries many philosophers have tried to prove the existence of God, and while many of their proofs are quite impressive, none is logically compelling. There is no ultimate or final “proof” – in the apodictic sense of that word – of God’s existence, and at the end of the day we must admit that, if He exists, God has given us freedom to doubt or even deny Him.

Logically, therefore, I am forced to admit at least the possibility that metaphysical naturalism (and its handmaiden Darwinism) could be true. And if naturalism is true, the cold, dark and frightening nihilism of Nietzsche and his intellectual progeny is the only clear-eyed way to look at the world.

Many people say Darwinism is a scientific theory, and as such does not speak to morality or ethics. Strictly speaking, this is true, but like ID, Darwinism also has profound implications for morality and ethics. It is not for nothing that Dawkins said Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. And as Nietzsche was honest enough to admit, an atheist is compelled to say that morality, ethics and justice are illusions. The only thing that exists is a brutal competition of wills. There is no right and wrong. There is only strong and weak. The 20th century was one long bloody lesson in the practical application of Nietzsche’s ideas.

We must always be very careful to distinguish between our science and our metaphysics. ID is science and Darwinism is science. Neither ID nor Darwinism addresses morality, ethics or justice, but both have implications for these matters. ID is consistent with my hope that a loving God exists Who has established a transcendent moral order. Darwinism is consistent with atheism, which in turn is inconsistent with the very idea of objective morality.

In summary, naturalism may be true, but ID gives me reason to believe that it is not necessarily true. Unlike Oliver Wendell Holmes, I have reason to hope. This is a fairly simple distinction, and it never ceases to amaze me that so many people seem unable to grasp it.

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32 Responses to Hope, not Proof

  1. Thanks for saying it so well. ;) It seems baffling to the informed why so many people misunderstand such a basic thing about ID, but it shouldn’t be surprising. The average person doesn’t care much about the evolution debate, they know their positions and they know some facts, and they’re told by the media that one is religion and the other is science.

    Mockeries of ID such as the infamous Flying Spaghetti Monster help us see what the Darwinists aren’t seeing. They can’t possibly comprehend, if ID were to be accepted, anything besides a supernatural creator as the origin of design. The unwritten fact that 99% of anti-ID arguments portray ID as religious shows both the weakness of the case against ID and the power of this wrong but easy to understand argument against it to influence the uninformed.

    On the bright side, with overwhelming support amongst youth for opening up evolution to be criticized, it’s only a matter of time before millions of high school students are introduced to the theory now sweeping the globe. I wonder how the Darwinists sleep at night.

  2. Barry:
    “That said, ID does have implications for ethics and morality.”
    Very true. I think it was said many times before, but let me say it again: if it hadn’t been for the obvious implications, ID would have been accepted side by side with other scientific enterprises. In fact, ID has been part of science for a long time. Consider how archeologists do design detection, and comtemplate the SETI scientific research. They have no problems in using ID science in their fields of knowledge. As Dr Dembski said in Kansas, “ID is only problematic if the intelligence cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution”, and/or (if I might add) if the Intelligence cannot be bound by the known laws of nature (the interaction of matter and energy, filtered by natural law).

    Barry said “This is a fairly simple distinction, and it never ceases to amaze me that so many people seem unable to grasp it.”

    Oh, I think they do grasp it. In fact, they grasp it so well that they oppose it with a vengeance.

    The issue here is one of authority. If militant Darwinists allow an “Un-evolved Foot” at the door of science, where does it stop? To whom will the common people look for answers if they see that “they [scientists] can’t even agree with one another!” ? Militant Darwinists have to show a united front under the banner of “science” no matter what. Militant Naturalists need the tag of “scientific explination” behind their speculation or people will see right thru their facade.

    Given the recent polls showing that the American people want to hear/read/see more about Darwinism, we can conclude that people have in deed been alerted for the fact that most of what we hear as “scientific explination” is just a worldview masked as science.

    Just put yourself in the Darwinian shoes for a second. Imagine that you know that your view is just like any other view, but you wanted it to be “official”. Isn’t it safer to put the tag “scientific view” behind your opinions?

    To make scenario worse, imagine that you know that your speculation has no evidence to suport it, apart from philosophical claims, how far would you go to defend your “lady”? Very far in deed, considering the implications: “if life is the result of Intelligence then…..” (you know the rest, right?)

    We should not be surprised with the type of anti-ID polemics brought about by the Darwinists. A lot is at stake, and in this war there are no prisioners…

  3. Very thoughtful and well-expressed thoughts, Barry.

    I’d like to comment on a main idea, about which you wrote,

    “Because while ID does not depend upon a supernatural designer, it does not exclude a supernatural designer either. ID does not speak of – far less prove the existence of – the God in which I believe, but it is not incompatible with His existence.”

    Of course there are materialists who do not believe in God. However, there are many Christians who believe that science as currently practiced, including the theory of evolution, is not incompatible with the existence of God as they understand Him. Such people, commonly known as “theistic evolutionists” (although this is not a particularly good name), believe that everything that happens through natural processes manifests the Will and design of God. Many such people object to ID because they believe it makes an unacceptable theological distinction between the things (perhaps few) that God has designed and, by implication, the many things that happen “naturally” and hence are not designed.

    So I would be most interested in hearing about your theological understanding of the relationship between God and nature. Is the position of theistic evolution sufficient for you? And if not, what else is needed?

    To many, the existence of our universe, composed of elements (“particles” and forces) that have properties sufficient to manifest the physical world we experience, is sufficient evidence of God’s existence. Furthermore, many Christians believe, through both faith and their own internal sense of spiritual experience, that God is continually present, guiding their lives and the world in ways that are beyond our comprehension. Such people would say, I think, that we are able to “see” God spiritually through both his revealed Word and through his presence in our soul and in our mind, but that we cannot see the physical world in the same way He does. We are limited in time and space, and thus limited in our empirical ability to see cause-and-effect relationships, while God, in his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, must “see” the world holistically, knowing that the events of the world are connected in ways that manifest his Will and design for the world. We cannot see the world as God sees the world, but we can know through faith that the physical world we see, while logically self-consistent and amenable to scientific investigation, is just not all there is and is interconnected in ways that we cannot see.

    Such a position rejects materialism, and is, I think, compatible with Christian theology.

    So, Barry, I am interested in what, to you, Intelligent Design adds to this perspective.

    Thanks.

  4. “Naturalism” is in trouble right-off-the-bat because natural processes cannot account for the origins of nature. The only way around that fact is to say nature always existed. But science has told us that there was a beginning.

  5. Jack Krebs said

    Many such people object to ID because they believe it makes an unacceptable theological distinction between the things (perhaps few) that God has designed and, by implication, the many things that happen “naturally” and hence are not designed.

    This demonstrates a misunderstanding of ID. ID positively identifies design. It does not positively identify what is not designed. What is not identified as design may still be designed, it simply isn’t positively identifiable as design. In more formal terminology ID does not produce false positives but it may produce false negatives.

  6. “Because while ID does not depend upon a supernatural designer, it does not exclude a supernatural designer either. ID does not speak of – far less prove the existence of – the God in which I believe, but it is not incompatible with His existence. And therein lies the basis for my hope. Maybe, just maybe I say, the designer is in fact a supernatural God, and maybe that God has established a transcendent moral standard that gives us a firm foundation for ethics and principles of justice. I personally believe both of these things, but I believe them on faith, a reasoned and reasonable faith, but faith nevertheless.”

    This seems to me to be an equivalent to “ID makes it possible to be an intellectually fufilled theist.” Now, personally I don’t read the infamous Dawkins quote as saying that evolution implies atheism, but if I did, wouldn’t I also have to read the above as saying that ID implies theism?

    It seems to me that evolution is compatible with certain forms of theism, as well as atheism, and ID is compatible with other forms of theism, as well as atheism.

  7. Tiax,
    ID and evolution certainly are both compatible with certain forms of theism, and both most certainly exclude other forms of theism. Best leave theology out of things if we are searching for “scientific” truth. I, for one, wouldn’t want to leave it at that, but some folks might prefer not to consider the implications.

  8. There are many Christians who believe that science as currently practiced, including the theory of evolution, is not incompatible with the existence of God as they understand Him.
    This is true, however the fact that certain religious people claim that their religious world view is not hostile to darwinism it does not mean that:
    1) their religion is not hostile to darwinism and
    2) darwinism is true.

    On a side note, I am always amazed how certain darwinists (the ones Dembski calls the “Eugenie Scott Darwinists”) try to convert the Christians to their world view. I think this is a waste of time since, even if all the Christians in the world had no problems with darwinism, it would not make darwinism true. Such tactics are, of course, is based on the wrong assumption that the only ones who oppose darwinism do so solely for religious motives. As Casey as posted, trying to convince religious believers (Christians in particular) that evolution and belief in God are in harmony doesn’t change people’s oppinion.

    Perhaps Eugenie should spend more time finding evidence for darwinism and not trying to convert the Christians..

  9. Clearly some Christian sects don’t find Darwinian theory to be compatible with their religion while some others do. If Eugenie is trying to convince people that Darwinism is compatible with Christianity doesn’t that means she’s promoting specific Christian sects at the expense of others? It seems to me if there were any public funds involved in what she’s doing that would be a clear violation of the establishment clause which in my reading at least means the gov’t must be neutral – i.e. not favor one sect over another. Does that sound about right to you, Barry?

    Barry responds: It depends upon the context in which she makes her argument. If she is expressing her personal view in a private context, she has a right to try to convince Christians and others to change their religious beliefs. If, on the other hand, she is working on a government funded project, it would be a clear violation of the Establishment Clause for part of that project to be proselytizing for a particular religious belief.

  10. At least Dawkins is open in his contempt for religion and religious people. What I can’t stand are the people who claim that Darwinism is just a scientific theory that has no implications for Christianity unless you’re one of those horrible “fundamentalists” – and then put “Darwin Fish” on the bumper of their Volvos.

    I think the heart of the appeal of Darwinism as a worldview was best summed up by Whittaker Chambers in the forward to his book “Witness”. He was talking about Communism, but faith in Marx and faith in Darwin have the same ultimate source:

    “It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.

    It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.”

  11. Barry replies to Jack:

    Regarding theistic evolutionists. Many Christians of good will take this position. For example, in the February 2006 issue of First Things, Stephen M Barr has “The Miracle of Evolution.” Read it here. http://www.firstthings.com/fti...../barr.html.

    I think Barr’s argument fails on linguistic grounds. Wittgenstein said, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language,” and I think Barr has lost this particular skirmish. A detailed discussion of Barr’s article is beyond the scope of this reply, but it seems to me that Barr’s argument depends upon an internally inconsistent definition of “random.” He seems to be saying that the randomness on which Darwinism relies only appears to be random from our perspective, and from God’s perspective it is not random at all. In other words, he seems to be positing a “guided randomness.” I don’t see how this advances the ball. To define “random” as “not really random after all” is not helpful.

    A couple of weeks ago I discussed Barr’s article with Fr. Edward T. Oakes, who agrees with Barr. I asked Fr. Oakes if he believes in naturalistic Darwinism or in a creative process (whether evolutionary or otherwise) in which God intervened. He rejected the question, saying that he did not feel compelled to choose between the two choices. Maybe I’m not smart enough to grasp Barr’s and Oakes’ “third way,” or maybe they have bewitched themselves with language. Either way, I continue to admire them both tremendously, and it never occurred to me to question their faith or their good will.

    “Is ‘theistic evolution’ good enough for me?” I take it by this you mean to ask do I believe in Darwinism if it is granted that God helped it over the humps. Let me answer by saying that I am at least willing to accept Darwinism IF it can be demonstrated by reference to the empirical data. I am also willing to accept design IF it can be demonstrated by reference to the empirical data. To me, its all about the data. I am completely unwilling to accept Darwinism on a priori grounds, and I will do everything in my power to resist the hegemony over science that most evolutionary scientists insist upon arrogating unto themselves.

    What do the data show? Here I stand on the shoulders of giants. Johnson, Behe, Dembski and others have shown me the gaping lacunas in the Darwinist project. Thanks to their work I understand that the evidence for Darwinism is simply not overwhelming, as many scientists claim. Moreover, the case for design is very impressive, perhaps even compelling. For now, I take the position that design has the upper hand. I say “for now,” because science is not static. I don’t agree with Popper about everything, but I do agree with his assertion that science never makes absolute statements. All scientific conclusions are contingent. The exciting thing to me is the contest between the two theories, which in the chess game of origins is really only in its opening gambit. Like all truly important games, in the game of origins the stakes are huge and the risks are high. “Let the data speak for itself!” is the ID battle cry. Fair enough I say, but who can know with certainty where the data will lead in the end?

  12. 12

    Barry wrote:
    “And as Nietzsche was honest enough to admit, an atheist is compelled to say that morality, ethics and justice are illusions. The only thing that exists is a brutal competition of wills. There is no right and wrong.”

    Barry,
    Implicit in your statement is the idea that any non-illusory ethical system must come from God. I would disagree for a couple of reasons:

    1. Most of us believe that God (if he exists) is subject to morality just as we are. We don’t believe that things are good because God does them; rather, we think that God does them because they are good. If we were to discover incontrovertible proof that God existed, and that he wanted us to torture and kill our firstborn children as a sacrifice to him, many of us would refuse on the grounds that God was asking us to do something immoral.

    If morality is prior to (and binding on) God, does that make it illusory in your view?

    2. Even if you accept the idea that God’s will defines morality rather than conforming to it, there is still the problem of discerning God’s will. Religions and cultures across the globe have attempted to do so, sincerely, with conflicting results. If God’s true will is inaccesible to us, does that mean that our many human systems of morality are necessarily illusory? Should we therefore refrain from arguing about right and wrong? I think we would all say the answer is no.

    Barry responds to neuromonopolist:

    You raise two very complex issues that are impossible to address in a short post. Briefly, however:

    First, you raise the classic Euthyphro Dilemma. I disagree with you and agree with C.S. Lewis, who said:

    “There were in the eighteenth century terrible theologians who held that “God did not command certain things because they are right, but certain things are right because God commanded them.” To make the position perfectly clear, one of them even said that though God has, as it happens, commanded us to love Him and one another, He might equally well have commanded us to hate Him and one another, and hatred would then have been right. It was apparently a mere toss-up which He decided on. Such a view in effect makes God a mere arbitrary tyrant. It would be better and less irreligious to believe in no God and to have no ethics than to have such an ethics and such a theology as this. . . .

    When we attempt to think of a person and a law, we are compelled to think of this person either as obeying the law or as making it. And when we think of Him as making it we are compelled to think of Him either as making it in conformity to some yet more ultimate pattern of goodness (in which case that pattern, and not He, would be supreme) or else as making it arbitrarily . . . But it is probably just here that our categories betray us. It would be idle, with our merely mortal resources, to attempt a positive correction of our categories . . . But it might be permissible to lay down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. [But since only God admits of no contingency, we must say that] God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God. These may seem like fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and religious experience converging to meet at infinity . . . has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship.”

    Here is Steve Lovell on the subject (very detailed and complex): http://www.theism.net/article/29

    As for your second point, I reject categorically your suggestion that we cannot know the Good. I direct you to “What We Can’t Not Know” by J. Budziszewski.

  13. Barry, although not to suggest your comment implies that ID does not point to a supernatural god, I believe that even an objective consideration of the facts, yes the facts, compels a conclusion that there must be a supernatural being behind ID. Also, who else/what else would be behind ID: Star Trek’s Borg, last year’s nobel prize winner for chemistry, physics or biochemistry? It amazes me that many, perhaps most in the heavy life sciences, like biochemestry for example, do not at the very least allow for the real possibility/likelihood of ID and that the ID was the product of a supernatural god. The biological facts are as follows: Every cell in our body (except for a few specilized cells) contains all of the genetic info to make a whole individual. All of this from the double helix that is DNA. All of the nuclic acids (of which there are 4 diffeent kinds in DNA) are ordered in a specific way along the DNA helix, so that when the signal comes for a transcription of the gene described by that sequence of nucleic acids (gene), via a very complex enzyme know as RNA Polymerase (of which there are more than 1 verisons) that via a biochemical signal attaches to the right spot on the DNA, and releases at the right point on DNA, so as to make the right messenger RNA that finds its way to the protein making ribosome, that then assembles the right protein by linking the right transfer RNA’s that makes the protein in the right way – just for starters. This explanation is nothing but a few word explanation of what is a stunningly complex and elegant mechanisim to create an organism, in all of its order. I am convinced by what I believe is an objective analysis, that even a not very engaged or deep analysis of this and all of the related biological processess that create (and maintain) an organism cannot be by the process of trial and/error, i.e. evolution. I think it is more likely that a Boeing 777 would spontaneously assemble itself somewhere in the universe than the mechanism for creation and maintainng life be the product of natural selection. Perhaps the biological process could be obtained by trial and error, but it would take much longer, just intuitively, than the 15 billion years (perhaps on the order of quadrillions on quadrillions of years) that the earth has been in existence, assuming that is a correct time frame for the earth’s existence. And there are many new biological processes being discovered and understood for the first time now, that add to the elegance and complexity of the biological mechanism. So I am absolutely persuaded, by even a limited understanding of just what is know as the “Central Dogma” in biology, very roughly outlined above, that life is the product of ID, and there is no ID that could create such a complex, inter-related biological processes for the creation of life other than a supernatural being. And with all of the elegance, order and beauty of the biological process it is no leap to conclude that the supernatural god must be benevolent. That is for another blog however. And if you consider the mechanisms of biological processes such as photosynthesis and energy creation for life processes, I do believe that those processes alone lead to the same conclusion that life must be the product of ID, and that ID can only be froma supernatural god.

  14. mspeters

    What exactly about the design of life we are able to observe do you believe requires violating known laws of physics insomuch as a supernatural force is required? Please be specific as I’ve not been able to identify anything that requires a deity. The question “who designed the designer?” is a metaphysical one as there’s always a logical requirement for an unknown and possibly unknowable first cause at some point whether its NeoDarwinian evolution or intelligent design.

  15. Barry wrote “Let me answer by saying that I am at least willing to accept Darwinism IF it can be demonstrated by reference to the empirical data. I am also willing to accept design IF it can be demonstrated by reference to the empirical data.”

    Question. What empirical data swung it to ID for you?

    I cannot write a thesis on all the empirical data that convinced me in this post. However, the following broad categories come quickly to mind: irreducible complexity (Judge Jones’ resort to cooption to try to account for irreducible complexity was facile at best); information theory; and the paucity of transitional forms in the fossil record (Punctuated Equilibrium is the Darwinist theory to account for how Darwinist evolution always occurs where we can’t see it).

  16. To Davescot

    I infer from your comment that the laws of physics are alone enough to explain all (or most) of the explanation for the creation (and maintenance)of life. The laws of physics (and chemistry more importantly I think) are absolutely integral and required to the whole structure of the creation of life I believe.(The supernatural being created those laws too I believe necessarily). But it does not follow that such laws are the explanation for the processes of life. In fact the fabulous interrelation between atoms, molecules, electron sharing, and electron transfer that really form the basis for biological reactions and energy creation within living organisims are explained by the nature of matter and the elements, covalent/ionic bonding, quantum mechanics in the physics world etc. These biological processes are fully consistent with and supported by the laws of physics and chemistry as we understand them. But it does not necessarily follow that therefore that the laws of phyics/chemistry are enough alone for the creation/sustenance of life, I think, any more than it follows that stringed instruments can make music without a person behind the instrument. I just believe that from what we understand about how biological proceess occur, that are founded on well understood principals of chemstry and physics, they cannot ever have occured by chance/natural selection. They are absolutely too inter-related and complex. I wonder, but I truly believe that if Mr. Darwin knew what we know now about biochemical processes, and if he were intellectually honest, as I think he was, he would have had a totally different theory that he might have advanced.

    My feeble explanation of the biochemstry does not do the whole process justice. If I think about the whole process, the integration of all of the biological processes, and their timing – the idea that they could not occur, even within the laws of physics, by chance is so overwhelming. By the way, timing is everything they say. (Besides biological processes themselves, if they are out of order, the teeth that belong in the mouth might end up replacing the toenails).

    I do not have an explnation or an answer to who created god. Perhaps there are things we do not understand about time that once we do, might give an answer to the question. But I do not think that because there may not be a good answer to the first cause of god himself, that that must mean that there cannot be a god. Again, in looking at the processes of biology themselves, I am overwhelmingly persuaded that they cannot have happend by chance. The fact that I cannot explain the source of the supernatural creator does not change that fact. It makes me sometimes wonder, “who was god’s father,” but I can accept that I do not know everything that I might want to know about god without causing me to reject the concept of a supernatural creator.

  17. mspeters

    You could have just said “no, I can’t point to anything about the design of life that requires violation of the laws of physics” and saved us both some time.

  18. DaveScot

    True. However your post seemed to be worthy of more than a perfunctory response.

  19. 19

    Barry quotes C.S. Lewis:
    “…when we think of Him as making [the law] we are compelled to think of Him either as making it in conformity to some yet more ultimate pattern of goodness (in which case that pattern, and not He, would be supreme) or else as making it arbitrarily . . . But it is probably just here that our categories betray us. It would be idle, with our merely mortal resources, to attempt a positive correction of our categories . . .”

    This is a major cop-out on Lewis’s part. He is essentially saying that if our “merely mortal resources” (i.e. our faculties of reason) lead us to an unwanted conclusion, we are entitled to ignore reason, declaring it inadequate to the task. The problem, of course, is that this tactic can be deployed with equal justification in defense of any irrational idea, and therefore has no value in separating truth from falsehood.

    “But it might be permissible to lay down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. [But since only God admits of no contingency, we must say that] God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

    The words “might be permissible” betray Lewis’s uncertainty. He’s on shaky ground, and he knows it. Even Steve Lovell admits that the equation of God with goodness is problematic. The most obvious error is the conflation of an agent (God) with a quality of that agent (goodness). There are other problems, but this is not the place for a detailed analysis.

    “These may seem like fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and religious experience converging to meet at infinity . . . has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship.”

    Again, the cop-out: These “fine-spun speculations” MUST be true, because otherwise Lewis is forced to accept an unpalatable conclusion. Not a very convincing argument: “I don’t want to believe it; therefore it’s not true.”

    Barry again:
    “I reject categorically your suggestion that we cannot know the Good. I direct you to “What We Can’t Not Know” by J. Budziszewski.”

    What I said was that we cannot know God’s will. In any case, Budziszewski makes my point for me in the following paragraph:

    “[T]here are some moral truths that we all really know–truths which a normal human being is unable not to know. They are a universal possession, an emblem of mind, an heirloom of the family of man. That doesn’t mean that we know them with unfailing perfect clarity, or that we have reasoned out their remotest implications: we don’t, and we haven’t. Nor does it mean that we never pretend not to know them even though we do, and we do. It doesn’t even mean that we are born knowing them, that we never get mixed up about them, or that we assent to them just as readily whether they are taught to us or not. That can’t even be said of “two plus two is four.” Yet our common moral knowledge is as real as arithmetic, and probably just as plain.”

    He is admitting here that our moral sense is always clouded. If, as your original post implies, you depend on God as the ultimate source of morality, you now have the problem of never perceiving that morality directly without distortion — you are always acting on an imperfect interpretation.

    This also raises the interesting point of why God would not endow us with a perfect moral sense. If he wants us to be moral, and takes pleasure in seeing us do so, he would be wise to equip us with a means of unfailingly distinguishing right from wrong. Note that a perfect moral sense would not threaten free will in any way — we’d still be perfectly free to do the wrong thing, or the right thing. It’s just that we’d always know which we were choosing.

    Our failure to understand and follow the moral code in all its particulars is not evidence that the code does not exist. It is evidence of our clouded judgment. Christians would say it is is evidence of our fallen nature. — BA

  20. A question: Can’t we say anything about the Nature of the Designer by what it’s designed? I am not saying that we can know everything about the Designer, but surelly, there must be something we can know about the Nature of the Designer by observing what is design. Is that question still within “science”?

    If you came across a computer in the desert you would be able to infer that the computer was designed. But the only thing you would be able to infer about the designer is that he is capable of designing a computer. — BA

  21. Barry says:
    “If you come across a computer in the desert you would be able to infer that the computer was designed. But the only thing you would be able to infer about the designer is that he is capable of desiging a computer.”

    If you disassemble that computer, and have the wherewithal/ability/expertise/interest to look at its guts in detail and a molecular level- that is the microchips in particular – can’t you infer at least something (perhaps a lot) about the designer? Perhaps that the designer had a great deal of technical sophistication, had invested a lot of thought in the design, and had a reason for the design as presented? Can’t you even infer a possible purpose of the designer for the computer?

  22. mspeters

    Sure, you can figure all that out from the forensic evidence but you won’t be able to determine what the designer looks like, where the designer lives, if the designer is dead or alive, or if the designer is one entity or many entities. If you understand the design well enough you can conclude that it could have been designed by highly skilled intelligent agents not necessarily unlike ourselves, merely here before us and more technologically advanced. Technical expertise is a relative term. A child’s chemistry set today (or anything similar like microscopy or astronomy) would be beyond the state of the art a mere 500 years ago in human history. Other intelligences in the universe, if there are any, have had billions of years to get a leg up on where we are today.

  23. Hello Neuromonopolist,

    I think the problem of goodness preceding God is a made-up problem. You seem to say that because reason had led you into this dilemma, that Lewis’ explanation denegrates reason. Basically, you say there is no way out of this. Reason can and does lead people into false dilemmas, generally due to inadequate understandings. God cannot possibly be contingent upon anything prior, as without God there is only nothingness. You have focused on Lewis’ wording “It might be permissible” as showing uncertainty, and therefore you dismissed the real content of what he said:

    “The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency;”

    In my view, that which we call good is simply a reflection of existence itself. The idea that God could have decided to tell us to be bad, and that if he did so we should obey it, seems like an anthropomorphism. It elevates evil to an equal position with good and God as the big boss in the sky. According to the wisdom of the east, duality is an almost overwhelmingly attractive but false appearance. Opposites appear equal but aren’t. One derives from the other, and disappears back into the other. The reason goodness is good is that it is the primary reality, so that what we call moral more closely conforms to reality than that which we call evil.

    This comment:
    “If morality is prior to (and binding on) God, does that make it illusory in your view?”

    The essential and, I think, unavoidable definition of God is that which has no contingency. The buck stops. If something binds God, then that something is God. To speak of God obeying something to which he is bound is to falsely define God.

  24. 24

    Barry wrote:
    “Our failure to understand and follow the moral code in all its particulars is not evidence that the code does not exist. It is evidence of our clouded judgment. Christians would say it is is evidence of our fallen nature.”

    My point is that we have a strong moral sense, despite having no reliable way of discerning God’s moral code, if it exists at all. The strength of our moral convictions does not rest on a belief in their divine origin.

    Suppose we learned today that God is absolutely real, and that he demands the death of Abdul Rahman for converting to Christianity, just as the Afghan clerics say. Most of us would still find that demand immoral, despite knowing that it came directly from God. The strength of our moral convictions does not depend on a belief in their divine origin.

    Your ridiculous suppositions are beginning to bore me as well as your pretense of speaking for some mysterious group about what their morals are based upon. Consider yourself warned. -ds

  25. avocationist,
    good. may i quote you? “The reason goodness is good is that it is the primary reality”.
    i like it.
    and things that aren’t good are merely twisted copies of good. brings to mind screwtape’s domain.

  26. Barry ,I would like to thank you for a thouhtful, honest, and heart felt post. It did an excellent job of hashing an important issue in the debate. There is however, one essential point on which I would differ. You seem to imply that a belief in an objective morality inevitably leads to Nietzsche’s ideas. I have also read in these posts that a “survivalist mentality” is a necessary byproduct. I must admit that I am a bit dumb founded as to why people believe that these obviously negeative consequences necessarily follow from a belief in objective morality. Whether or not moral behavior is decided upon by God or human society, its utility in human society remains unaffected. You are absolutely correct to point out the horrors that a lack of morality in the higher echelons of power creates. I will not try to deny that part of the phliosophy behind Hitler’s or Stalin’s justifications stemmed from Darwin. I would most vociferously argue that their application was an inaccurate and perverted interpretation of Darwin. In the end there are many people that belief in an objective morality and live admirably moral lives. There are plenty of pragmatic reasons to behave in a moral fashion and philosophers like Nietzche seem to discount or ignore all of those.

    I am afraid you misunderstood me. I said rejecting objective morality leads ultimately to nihilism. Indeed, that is practically the definition of nihilism. You are correct that not everyone who says they reject objective morality becomes a Stalin or a Hitler. But the only reason they don’t is because they don’t carry their position through to its logical conclusion. As has been said many times before, they are living on the moral capital of past generations, and they have a felt need to be “nice.” But if their position is correct, their felt need is pure sentiment, and there is no logical reason for them to prefer “niceness” over cruelty. – BA

  27. ?????

    ftrp11, I think you have the definition of “objective morality” backwards. If you sort that out, I think you’ll make more sense.

    No, I think I am correct. By “objective morality” I mean what C.S. Lewis called the “Tao” in “The Abolition of Man.”

    See here for a summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Abolition_of_Man

  28. Your “Who designed the designer?” argument was deleted. Please read the moderation policy “Put a sock in it” on the sidebar. -ds

  29. Barry
    I couldn’t disagree more. The logical conclusion of objective morality is not necessarily nihlism. The logical conclusion as far as I can tell ( in an extremely oversimplified explanation )is something like this. Morality is necessary for groups of intelligent and social creatures to interact in a net-productive fashion. Social mores are necessary for groups to survive. The more socially cohesive a group is the better chance it has of surviving and progressing. Granted that some elements of social cohesion are capable of being detremental to the society’s further survival. Polygammy and incest are two of many social conventions that come to mind that have historically had deleterious effects for cultures that have adopted them. That being said in general social cohesiveness has been a good thing. Morality is absolutely necessary for such cohesion to exist.

    No society can do well if it lets people kill eachother at random. The cost to the society in pure human capital and lost cohesion would make it impossible for such a society to survive in competition with a more healthy society. There are certainly some commonalities throughout human societies. However other things are a bit more context dependant. We would find it horrible to contemplate killing our elders or allowing them to kill themselves. In a society living on the edge of survival though such a practice could be a justifiably honored sacrifice.

    What has constituted successful morals for a society has changed across time and place. Our own moral rules are constantly being challenged and changed. Are birth control and sex eductaion proper? Well that depends. By traditional American Christian standards no they probably are not. By many contemporary standards they are both pragmatic and healthy. Neither view appears to be metaphysically right or wrong. What ends up being right or wrong will be (again in an ideal world) whichever side conveys the best advantage to our society.

    At any rate we can objectively say that what are considered moral behaviors have had a positive social effect throughout history. We rely on society to provide us with the ability to live and prosper. It is in our best interest to promote society’s welfare. Those who choose to abuse the rules that benefit society will (in an ideal world) always be punished by society.

    This is the case for most people today. If you break the social contract you are either imprisoned or ostracized. This of course does not hold true for everyone. Those with power often are able to sidestep the rules. some do it indefinitely. Some can get away with it for awhile and are then held accountable. More and more though it appears humanity is taking its first baby steps away from this ugly historical reality. As societies begin to resemble coalitions of the weak the society’s moral law becomes more and more univerally applicable across the society.

    Sorry going way off topic here. Bottom line: there are objective reasons for us to promote moral behavior and behave morally that have nothing to do with a hangover from the moral capital of past generations.

    Let me get this straight. Morality is nothing more than a collective assessment of social utility. Therefore, if enough people think genocide has social utility, it is not only not wrong, it is an affirmatively moral action. If the views of the Iranian mullahs and their followers become more widespread eventually we will reach a tipping point where it will be OK to give the holocaust another go. Do it right this time. Finish the job. Your position is monstrous. Don’t accuse me of distorting your statement. You said in so many words that if we get hungry enough it is OK to bump off not just my grandma, but all the grandmas. My only consolation is that I know you don’t really believe what you wrote. You have the same moral sense that every human has, and – no matter what you say – you really know it is wrong to take innocent human life under any circumstances. – BA

  30. 30

    jacktone,

    I perceive you are sarcastic, but alas I didn’t get it. I have read some of Lewis but not all. Didn’t read screwtape.

    Mono-
    “My point is that we have a strong moral sense, despite having no reliable way of discerning God’s moral code, if it exists at all. The strength of our moral convictions does not rest on a belief in their divine origin.”

    Certainly this is interesting, and what I think it points to is that we embellish and add much man-made and anthropomorphic dogma to our real inner moral sense.

    The questions you present, such as the belief of clerics that the God of this universe is actually demanding the death of somebody for converting to this or that religios faith says to me that your level of interest in this whole topic of God is on the level of the lowest common denominator. I know that sounds insulting, and I really, truly don’t intend that. But arguing about God is a serious and deep question. Using the rants of fundamentalists as argument points is a waste of time.

  31. Barry, a belated welcome! You make me pine for my copy of C.S. Lewis Signature Classics.

    Thank you for the welcome. Isn’t this great fun?

  32. Indeed, but I am constantly having to tell myself to mind my manners.

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