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Bleak Conclusions

In an earlier post I lamented the apparent extinction of what I called “Nietzsche atheists,” by which I meant atheists with the courage and honesty to accept the bleak conclusions logically compelled by their premises. Some of our atheist friends seemed to not know what bleak conclusions I was referring to. Here is a comment that sums it up nicely. This post is adapted from kairosfocus’ comment to that earlier post. He refers to Hawthorne on ethics and evolutionary materialist atheism and writes:

Make two assumptions:

(1) That atheistic naturalism is true.

(2) One can’t infer an “ought” from an “is.” Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.

Given our second assumption, there is nothing 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 nothing 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. 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.

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554 Responses to Bleak Conclusions

  1. Excellent point. I often hear athiests claim that they are moral, but never here them explain why. Apprantly, it is just because they prefer to be moral.

  2. 2

    William [1]. Usually they appeal to their capacity for “empathy.” This is just a fancy way of saying they prefer to be moral for no particular reason.

  3. Usually they appeal to their capacity for “empathy.” This is just a fancy way of saying they prefer to be moral for no particular reason

    No, Barry, it’s just not the reason you want to hear.

  4. 4

    Do I hear you right? I hear you arguing that:

    (1) “Nietzsche atheists” are”atheists with the courage and honesty to accept the bleak conclusions logically compelled by their premises”

    (2) One of these conclusions is that “every action Hitler performed was permissible”

    (3) You wish more atheists were Nietzsche atheists. In other words, you wish that more atheists believed that every action Hitler performed was permissible.

    What have I got wrong? Sounds pretty twisted to me.

    (BTW, though not an atheist, I am a relativist, and I don’t think you understand relativism at all.)

  5. My reading of the Bible suggests that what God really hates is self-righteousness. Jacques Ellul, in his book The Subversion of Christianity, has some decidedly heterodox thoughts about morality. I offer them as a way to reframe the debate. The passages below are taken from pp. 69-70.

    “In the minds of most of our contemporaries, Christianity primarily means morality. The spiritual aspect is forgotten except among a few.

    God’s revelation has nothing whatever to do with morality. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    First, in the Hebrew Bible the Torah is not a book of morality, whether constructed by a moralist or as lived out by a group. The Torah, as God’s Word, is God’s revelation about himself. It lays down what separates life from death and symbolizes the total sovereignty of God. Similarly, what Jesus says in the Gospels is not morality. It has an existential character and rests on a radical change of being. Again, what Paul says in the exhortations in his letters is not morality but consists of practical directions by way of example.

    Second, there is no moral system in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. There are no moral precepts that can exist independently in some way, that can have universal validity, and that can serve the elaboration of a moral system.

    Third, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is against morality. Not only is it honestly impossible to derive a moral system from the Gospels and the Epistles, but further, the main keys in the gospel–the proclamation of grace,the declaration of pardon, and the opening up of life to freedom–are the direct opposite of morality. For they imply that all conduct, including that of the devout, or the most moral, is wholly engulfed in sin.”

  6. I suppose one answer is that even though conceptually an atheist might recognize this bleak view, in practice this is rarely manifested. Either through nuture or nature (and probably both) we are constrained by societal norms, mores, cultural values etc. And these appear to exist in many different cultures, all with different religious worldviews. And many biologists think that we all share an innate set of “values” through an evolutionary process (perhaps Allen can talk to this more).

    Furthermore atheism can provide a liberating influence for many (it has for me); rather then accept this bleak prospect we recognize that we are masters and mistresses of our own lives. We take responsibility for our own well-being and future happiness (and that of our families and friends too). Part of that is recognizing the societal and tribal natures of our existence – if you like the “golden rule” (which of course can hardly be claimed as a uniquely Christian stance). What may be perceived as “permissible” is really not because not only does it harm other sentitent beings, it is likely to harm myself as well.

    But I must admit that if I follow Christianity to its logical consequences, I find it equally as bleak if not more so. According to mainstream evangelical theology, many believe that those who do not accept Jesus as their savior will not only not be with God in the afterlife, but will receive unspeakable eternity-long suffering and torture. The world population is somewhere between 6 and 7 billion and probably about one third of these are Christian (and of course many of those are probably nominal and not truly evangelical). That means approximately 4+ billion of the people alive today are going to be subject to this fate (let alone the people that have already died). And depending on your theological viewpoint, some Christians either believe that these individuals have ‘chosen’ this fate for themselves or that it is even pre-ordained.

    Now, that’s what you call bleak! At least with atheism there is the hope that for the many millions of people who suffer in the world today, there’s some hope that this suffering will finally come to an end, but that is not the case with Christianity.

  7. 7

    JTaylor, what’s bleak about this?

    Matthew 13:50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Mark 9:48 where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched

    Rev 14:11 And the smoke from their torture will go up forever and ever, and those who worship the beast and his image will have no rest day or night, along with anyone who receives the mark of his name

  8. David Kellog: “JTaylor, what’s bleak about this?”

    It makes ‘Bleak House’ seem like ‘Animal House’…

  9. David,

    Josef Stalin died peacefully at a nice old age in his bed, as the powerful (and arguably richest) individual in the world. Do you see anything bleak about that?

  10. Barry Arrington,

    William [1]. Usually they appeal to their capacity for “empathy.” This is just a fancy way of saying they prefer to be moral for no particular reason.

    Why the scare quotes around the word empathy? Do you doubt that atheists possess it?

  11. I believe the key to understanding this seeming paradox is contained within this part of Barry Arrington’s quote:

    [A]n 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. [Emphasis added]

    Let me begin by pointing out that I believe that conflating the terms “atheist” and “naturalism” is to perpetrate a logical fallacy. I agree with T. H. Huxley, Bertrand Russell, and Stephen Jay Gould (among many others) that there is no necessary logical connection between these two terms. One — “natural” — refers to objects and processes that can be empirically studied, while the other — “atheist” — does not. Trying to lump these together is to confuse logical categories, and therefore results in confused and logically contradictory conclusions. I shall therefore consider the two terms separately, and then consider whether there is any merit whatsoever in conflating them.

    To begin with the term “atheist”, I believe that if one defines this term as meaning “the assertion that there is no God”, then conflating this term with “naturalism” is to create an oxymoron. There is no empirical evidence one can cite that would either validate or falsify the assertion that there is or is not an empirically unverifiable entity. To even suggest so is to state a direct contradiction in terms. Ergo, I believe that it would be much more accurate (and accord with what we understand about logical categories) to refer to “naturalism” as “non-thiest”.

    That is, “theism” has nothing whatsoever to do with “naturalism”. The former has to do with “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”, while the latter has to do with “the description of the way things are, as far as we can see”. In precisely the same way, “atheism” also has nothing whatsoever to do with “naturalism”. The former has to do with the conviction that something for which there is no empirical evidence either way nevertheless absolutely, positively does not exist. By contrast, the latter has to do with the assumption that those objects and processes that we can empirically observe and describe do, in fact, exist and can be described without necessarily referring to non-natural explanations.

    Furthermore, as I pointed out in the previous thread, there is an immense amount of human thought that is not subsumed under the rubric of “naturalism”. While some might like to categorize these modes of reasoning as “supernatural” (to contrast them with “natural”), I prefer to refer to them as “non-natural”. Once again, here is the short list:
    • Aesthetics (including the fine arts)
    • Epistemology
    • Ethics
    • Logic
    • Mathematics
    • Metaphysics
    • Ontology
    • Religion
    I believe that most people would agree that none of these are “natural”, in the sense that chemistry and physics are “natural”. I also strongly suspect that most people would agree that none of these are necessarily “theist”, including religion. In this context, please recall that I have already discussed in detail (in the previous thread) the idea that there are “atheist” — I would prefer to say “non-theist” — religions, such as Zen Buddhism.

    Here is a short list of the categories of explanations that most people would agree are subsumed within the domain of the “natural” sciences:
    • Astronomy
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Geology
    • Physics

    It is a generally accepted tenet of philosophy that one cannot derive “ought” statements from “is” statements. Attempting to do so is to commit a “naturalist fallacy” by conflating logically separate domains of human understanding. This distinction has been around since at least the time of Socrates, and was systematically analyzed and affirmed by René Descartes, David Hume, Emmanuel Kant, G. E. Moore, and John Rawls, among others. Ergo, attempting to explain concepts in the second list with reference to concepts in the first list (and vice-versa) are logically incoherent.

    Where things become more complex is when we consider the so-called “social sciences”:
    • Anthropology/Archaeology
    • Economics
    • Government/Political Science
    • History
    • Law (common and legislative) [1]
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    In these domains of scientific (i.e. empirical) explanation, human behaviors are studied using empirical methods in an attempt to formulate reliable explanations for the patterns observed. As Richarson and Boyd, Jablonka and Lamb, Lumsden and Wilson, and many others have pointed out, this means that some “non-natural” phenomena (i.e. ideas from the first list, which are formulated entirely “non-naturally”) can and do have significant effects on “natural” phenomena (i.e. human behavior) and again vice-versa) .

    However, this still does not mean that the various human “non-natural phenomena” (i.e. the first list) can be reduced to explanations entirely subsumed in the list of “natural” sciences (i.e. the second list). Ideas have behavioral consequences, which have consequences for the further development of ideas, ad infinitum. To be very specific as to the point of this thread, the idea of God(s) (i.e. a “non-natural” phenomenon) can and does have observable consequences for human behavior (i.e. a “natural” phenomenon). However, the two are still subsumed within logically separate, though related domains.

    The key word here, and the one that ties all this to the quote from Barry Arrington’s post at the head of this comment is the words “consequences”:

    [A]n 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. [Emphasis added]

    Yes, as Richard Weaver pointed out, “ideas have consequences”, and that is precisely the point. There is another, entirely logically separate way to justify ethics: on the basis of the consequences of the ethical prescriptions that flow from such ethical precepts. Such ethics are referred to as teleological ethics, and are contrasted with deontological ethics (i.e. the kind that Arrington refers to in his post). It has been my experience that when people formulate ethical prescriptions (and when they review their own behavior and the behavior of others in the light of such prescriptions), they generally evaluate the efficacy of such prescriptions on whether or not they have had the desirable effects. Furthermore, when people in groups formulate ethical and moral principles they do so via negotiation based on the same teleological criteria. That is, do our ethics produce the kind of society that all of us want to live in?

    Under such conditions, it is not entirely surprising that, regardless of one’s society there are a few ethical prescriptions that appear to be virtually universal. The most obvious of these is the “golden rule”: “do unto others what you would have them do unto you”, also known as the ethic of “universal positive reciprocity”. There is a deep unity in human social interaction, as testified to by the empirical fact that something like the “golden rule” exists in nearly all human societies, regardless of the details of the religious beliefs of those societies (see http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm for a list). And if one uses the “golden rule” as the basis for one’s ethical system, then one usually derives approximately the same ethics, regardless of where one believes that the “golden rule” itself comes from.

    Personally, I think that the “golden rule” is one of those very basic logical statements that needs no additional justification. It is what it is, says what it says, and has the effects that it has, regardless of whether one is a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Baha’I, agnostic, or atheist.

    So, Barry, is it necessary for one to be a Christian (or some other kind of “theist”) to believe in the efficacy of the “golden rule”, especially if one has observed the effects of acting according to its precepts? And, if your answer is “no”, then why do you consider this to be a “bleak conclusion”?

    [1] Yes, I’ve moved law from the non-natural sciences to the social sciences, as the kinds of laws formulated by law courts and legislatures (and studied in law schools) are clearly the result of human social interaction and negotiation.

  12. 12

    tribune7, sure I do. My kind grandfather also died peacefully in his bed. According to evangelical Christianity, he’s supposed to be going to the same place as Stalin.

    In evangelical Christianity, the vast majority of individuals are consigned to eternal torment. In the Calvinist version, they are predestined to go there. True or not, it’s bleak for everybody but the few who are saved.

  13. I think it is too bad that Barry has such a bleak view of the humanity of people who believe differently than he does – I would not want to live with such a black-and-white worldview.

  14. David Kellogg: “the Calvinist version, they are predestined to go there. True or not, it’s bleak for everybody but the few who are saved.”

    And if we are to accept Christian eschatology, and that the end times is ‘soon’ (as many Christians believe), then vast numbers of people will experience horrendous violence, disease and other calamities here on earth (prior to enjoying an eternity of even more suffering).

    I read one apologist who estimated that this would impact at least 2 billion people, which would make all of the atrocities of the 20th century pale in comparison.

  15. tribune7:

    Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head in a besieged bunker in Berlin and his body (and that of his wife, Eva Braun) was soaked in gasoline and set afire just ahead of the arrival of the victorious Russian army. Your point?

  16. 16

    Nothing is more bleak than Christian Hell, a place for which there is no evidence. People choose whether to believe in Hell or not. What does it say about the character of people who choose to believe that others who don’t share their personal beliefs will suffer an eternity of torture for that crime? And what does it say about a god, who remains invisible, and would know that the vast majority of people absorb their beliefs from their environment, would never the less torture for an infinite amount of time beings who did not believe in his existence because they were born in places and times when they were steeped in a culture of other gods or no gods?

  17. 17

    Responding to this: “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.”

    As an atheist, I think all things are potentially permissible. We have seen plenty of societies that have permitted and even encouraged all sorts of atrocities against targeted groups and individuals. But this is why societies need to establish laws and determine for themselves what actions and behaviors will and will not be tolerated.

    In America, we permitted slavery, then Jim Crow. We denied women the right to vote. We allowed polygamy in some parts. We interred our own citizens in camps. We know what Nazi Germany permitted, what the Stalinist Russia permitted, what Puritans permitted, and so on.

    Everything is indeed permissible except for what a society prohibits. The role of public discourse is to help shape what we decide is permissible and prohibited. To me, this is the very opposite of bleak. It would rather be bleak if injustices and inequities could never be redressed because of an exaggerated assignment of authority to some ancient collection of tales and wisdom now taken to be sacred.

  18. My kind grandfather also died peacefully in his bed. According to evangelical Christianity, he’s supposed to be going to the same place as Stalin.

    Here’s a verse to give them David:

    15″Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

  19. 19

    Barry Arrington:

    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.

    All you are showing is that all human actions are permissible by the Universe. I have no problem with this statement at all. The universe is not a thinking being, it doesn’t care what you do. But all human actions are not permissible by other human beings. Moral rules are made by people to allow societies to exist and to allow for people to live in relative peace. If a person chooses not to follow these rules he or she is likely not to have a very good life because they will be in conflict with other human beings. Some people do choose this route of conflict. They pay a penalty in most cases for their behavior. And they are penalized by evolution because they will have a more difficult time passing on their genes successfully. People who follow the law and moral conventions are generally more successful at having and raising children successfully and this is why, more often than not, people will choose to follow moral rules set by society.

  20. Barry, the flaw in your argument is that it leads to the same dismal conclusion even if you replace the initial atheistic assumption with a theistic assumption.

    Observe. Here’s the argument, rephrased accordingly:

    Make two assumptions:

    (1) That theism is true.

    (2) One can’t infer an “ought” from an “is.”

    Given our second assumption, there is nothing in either the natural or supernatural world from which we can infer an “ought.” It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there’s nothing in the natural or supernatural 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 yet we reach the absurd conclusion that 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 theism is true, all things are permitted.” For example if theism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many theists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

    Restating the argument this way makes it obvious that the logic hinges not on the first assumption but on the second: that you cannot derive an ought from an is. But this applies equally to the theist and the atheist. Asserting the existence of a god doesn’t suddenly make it magically possible to derive “ought” from “is”.

    Hoist by your own petard, eh, Barry?

    Of course, the solution is obvious: just add a third, uncontroversial assumption: One shouldn’t do something that one believes is immoral. Adding this assumption solves the problem, in exactly the same way, for both the theist and the atheist.

  21. In comment 9, I think tribune7 means that unless we believe that Stalin ultimately paid for all his atrocities, then we should assume that everything Stalin did was morally benign. Under this view, might doesn’t just make right, it equals right; justice only exists if the universe, by means of God, automatically enforces justice for us.

    So yeah, that isn’t nihilistic at all… /sarc

  22. Allen -Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head in a besieged bunker in Berlin . . . dying fairly painlessly after being idolized by millions and getting pretty much whatever he wanted in the way of the material.

    Your point?

    Some people might think he had a pretty good life.

  23. Mr Arrington,

    I am attempting to state Mr Kairosfocus’ logic in symbolic terms, and facing some difficulties. If you could persuade him or Mr Vjtorley to comment with a symbolic representation that is consistent, I would appreciate it.

    For example, my poor attempt
    U
    U imp poss x
    For all x: -( x imp Ob(x))
    PE(x) iff -(Ob(-x))

    where
    U = the universe
    imp = implies
    poss = possibility
    iff = if and only if (biconditional)
    Ob() = Obliged
    Pe() = Permitted
    x = a particular proposition (such as ‘murder’)

    If another reader has worked out the steps between “the universe includes the possibility of murder” to “murder is permissible” in detail, I would appreciate seeing the derivation. You can see that in my system

    -(x imp Ob(x)) via instantiation
    -(-x or Ob(x)) def. of implication
    - -x and -Ob(x) De Morgan’s Law
    x and -Ob(x) double negative
    -Ob(x) simplify

    but I need
    -Ob(-x) to conclude
    Pe(x)

    Thank you

  24. The issue of hell and judgment is a difficult theological problem, and from the arguments I’m seeing, it is not being treated as such. Furthermore, it is unfair to judge Christianity based on the tenets of Arminianism and Calvinism alone.

  25. B L Harville–Nothing is more bleak than Christian Hell

    Well, for those who wind up there, I guess.

    People choose whether to believe in Hell or not.

    And some choose right. Why would the concept of Hell bother you, anyway? You don’t believe in it.

  26. 26

    Basically what Christians appeal to for their “ought not to” is the consequences of hell or the consequences of losing the love of a divine being or of gaining a reward. What atheists appeal to for their “ought not to” is consequences in this world, like punishment, guilt brought on by empathy (because we have an inherent fellow-feeling) or rewards given by cooperation. Atheists have as much reason to be moral as theists.

  27. I have a question for any theist regarding a central statement of this original post: ‘ One can’t infer an “ought” from an “is.” ‘

    My question is, apart from moral enforcement via afterlife, what “oughts” can we infer from the “is” of God’s existence? As an atheist, my answer would be something like, if God is a being with needs and desires, than we ought to try to help him fulfill them, within reasonable limits constrained by the needs and desires of other beings. (Of course, if the God we’re talking about is omnipotent, I fail to see how anyone else has any responsibility to someone who can easily solve all his own problems.) But God merely being the Creator wouldn’t carry any extra weight. If I knew I had been built by Dr. Frankenstein, I wouldn’t assume that everything he desired for me was best.

    PS: I would like to apologize for any hurt caused by the sarcasm at the end of my last post. It’s just that sometimes the value of life is so intuitively obvious to me that I get ever more annoyed when people try tying all of it to God and God alone. I wonder if God gets annoyed about that too…

  28. tribune7 wrote:

    Some people might think [Hitler] had a pretty good life.

    This is a truly weird statement. So, are you arguing that God screwed up in not giving Hitler a bad life, or that God had nothing to do with the “goodness” or “badness” of Hitler’s (and, by extension, anybody else’s) life? Do you think that people get what they deserve because God ensures that they do?

    If you do, I own several nice bridges in the five boroughs that I will gladly sell to you, so that you can charge tolls and get all the money you need to live the kind of life you “deserve”.

  29. 29

    Berceuse,

    The issue of hell and judgment is a difficult theological problem, and from the arguments I’m seeing, it is not being treated as such. Furthermore, it is unfair to judge Christianity based on the tenets of Arminianism and Calvinism alone.

    True enough. How about this?

    The grounding of an atheist morality is a difficult philosophical issue, and from the original post, it is not being treated as such. Furthermore, it is unfair to judge atheism based on the writings of Arrington, kairosfocus, and Hawthorne.

  30. St. Augustine asserted that one of the eternal pleasures that await those in Heaven is the ability to view for eternity and in exquisite detail the unending tortures of the damned in Hell. And this is a religion of “compassion”?

    And yes, I am aware that some Christian theologians are so put off by the idea of eternal torment without the possibility of redemption that they assert that a compassionate God would not really condemn anyone to Hell.

    Furthermore, the prospect of spending eternity anywhere in any conceivable state of consciousness would be equivalent to, if not worse than spending it in Hell (can you imagine 100 million billion trillion years of amateur harp music, not to mention a trillion times that many years listening to your uncle Fred?)

    What we do during the lifetimes we have, and how our actions affect those around us (and vice-versa) is all we really know about anything at all, and therefore the only things upon which we can reliably base our ethical judgments.

  31. 31

    B L Harville,

    “And what does it say about a god, who remains invisible, and would know that the vast majority of people absorb their beliefs from their environment, would never the less torture for an infinite
    amount of time beings who did not believe in his existence because they were born in places and times when they were steeped in a culture of other gods or no gods?”

    Consider this bit of wisdom from C.S. Lewis concerning hell:
    “In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of Hell is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what he does….”The doors of Hell are locked on the inside.”
    ~The Problem of Pain

    Folks that go to hell go there willingly. God doesn’t send folks to hell who’ve never had a choice, but rather those who’ve made the Atonement to be of no effect, there remains no other atonement for their sins.

  32. 32

    How do atheists and materialists derive any “ought,” for all that exists is the “is” by their scheme? I would really like to know the answer to this question. If the answer I get is “from cultural evolution” that’s just another way of saying “from a bunch of individuals put together”–as if the fact of their being together magically produces the “ought” as an emergent quality of a group of more than one person. I don’t see how that would work, for any judgment of morality is only discerned by the individuals. If the individuals didn’t already know, before hand, what is right or wrong, putting them in a group won’t suddenly create it, anymore than the rules of a new sport would be magically discerned once you get enough people together. It wouldn’t matter how many folks were together, if you didn’t already know the rules individually, you couldn’t start playing just by virtue of being around others.

    And if I’m told that “empathy” accounts for morality through evolution, this is also a non-starter. For empathy wouldn’t be a duty for anyone to exercise–there would be no initial “I ought to empathize with this other person.” And secondly, if the one empathizing didn’t bring their knowledge of morality to their empathic imaginings, then that person’s imagining themselves in another’s shoes wouldn’t mean anything. The person who is empathic has to already know, themselves, whether or not something is moral or immoral “before” they move into another’s shoes–for if they didn’t, the mere movement into another’s shoes wouldn’t bring it about, for there would be no way to discern or analyze the moral cogency of any one else’s situation.

    And if I’m told it’s Reciprocal Altruism, that’s a non-starter too. For the act of reciprocity doesn’t bring about altruism. Altruism has to be known prior to any intention that says that the altruistic act “should” be reciprocated. And of course, the final blow, altruism means by definition a selfless act, and reciprocity means by definition a self-interested act. Saying reciprocal altruism is like saying selfless selfishness.

    So, the question remains, how do atheists and materialists discern an ought from an is?

  33. You see why judgment begins at the house of God!
    5 Wise / 5 FOOLISH – Wheat / Tares and the Tribulation that separates them etc. Jesus spoke in parables – rightly divide the Word – HELL is NOT ETERNAL except in the minds of “christians” following traditional, but woefully incorrect interpretations of parables. Hell is the loss of eternal life by those not willing to come humbly to Gods Revelation in its proper Hermeneutic of scripture interpreting scripture and losing their “Oil” Hell is death and is cast into the lake of fire to be forevermore DESTROYED = God’s mercy in executing just punishment by one and only one final (2nd) death for Hitler as well as anyone else. NO ETRNAL torture for the baby, child or adult which could not only not serve anything respective to just punishment not anything whatsoever in accordance with God’s character.
    Sooo much can be know about this, but todays “christians” are too lazy and too sold on their church and too scared to look diligently into the entire WORD. And as to Bleak – You CAN believe what you want and God in His mercy will give you what you want (“they have their reward”)- your “hope” that keeps you blind – so blind you can make up purpose as if you created the universe yourself and I’m sure someone has put forward a good sounding argument for that as well and why stop there – for infinite universes – now that’s a good bowl of hearty soup if you know what I mean.
    J. Ellul is right as to his point. There is none good – no not one – none who seek after God – until -

  34. So, the question remains, how do atheists and materialists discern an ought from an is?

    How do theists do it? Simply assuming the existence of a god into your worldview doesn’t help you do this, from what I can tell. Euthyphro’s Dilemma always rang true for me on this. Unless you start twisting around the definitions of words, you’re stuck in the same position.

  35. 35

    DanSLO,

    “How do theists do it? Simply assuming the existence of a god into your worldview doesn’t help you do this, from what I can tell. Euthyphro’s Dilemma always rang true for me on this. Unless you start twisting around the definitions of words, you’re stuck in the same position.”

    The Euthypro Dilemma applies to evolution too.

    The theistic answer is that there is no difference between goodness and God. They are category mistakes that we make.

  36. Well I’m not claiming to have the answer. This is certainly not my area of expertise. But I find your answer just as unsatisfying as you find ours. If we’re trying to nail down exactly what “goodness” is, you can’t just pull out your deity and claim that it solves everything by definition.

  37. DanSLO,

    Euthyphro’s dilemma was based around inconsistencies in the Greek pantheon. Yet, you want to apply this dilemma to the beliefs of theists.

    For a discussion of Euthyphro’s dilemma from a theist perspective, see this link.

    http://www.theologyonline.com/.....hp?t=47024

    By asking the question, about how theists do it, you are attempting to change the subject. There are clear answers to this question, and if you were truly interested, you would seek them out.

    As Jeffrey Dahmer said,

    “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behaviour to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…”

    Fortunately, we are designed with some moral constraints, so that for the most part, a person of a reasonably sound mind would not follow through on the logical conclusions that Dahmer arrived at. Dahmer’s reasoning follows the same path that Barry used in the original post (i.e., it is logically sound).

    The fact of the matter is that nearly all atheists will be horrified by this logical conclusion and will seek to escape it through humanism or another approach. What is amazing to me is that most will not even admit that this line of thinking is logical from the perspective of an atheist.

    I don’t think Barry is trying to say that atheists are necessarily worse morally than theists, but that the new atheist crowd does not seem to be able to recognize a logical outcome of their belief system. I’ll repeat his words here, because it goes to the heart of the matter:

    In an earlier post I lamented the apparent extinction of what I called “Nietzsche atheists,” by which I meant atheists with the courage and honesty to accept the bleak conclusions logically compelled by their premises.

  38. Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.

    Quite ironically, he does:

    Secondly, natural selection is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian). It is one of the classic philosophical fallacies to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’….

    I’ve wondered since I first read that, just where he got his moral standards from; for not only is it impossible to draw ‘oughts’ from ‘is-es,’ if it were possible, as Dawkins himself points out, the ‘is-es’ (on his assumptions) would lead in directions quite opposite to those he has taken. He’s saying that nature is one thing, but humans are another, which is quite in contradiction to his believing that humans are not at all different from nature.

  39. Mr Hayden,

    I can’t agree with you, even within the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    The story of Abraham’s life illustrates both sides of Euthyphro’s Dilemma. At one point, God informs him of his plan to destroy Sodom and Gommorah. Abraham does not accept this idea as ‘good’ just because it came from God. His question is, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” But in other circumstances Abraham is quite ready to kill his son because God told him to.
    Further, the Book of Job would seem to indicate that God’s willingness to be a moral standard has some limits. What is God’s answer to Job except that might makes right?

    I think your position in the previous thread might have been too reductionistic. We all construct our own private morality, and pretend we agree with others, just as we pretend we agree on what ‘red’ means.

  40. How about some ten year old kid in Tibet, raised in a Buddhist culture, who dies from lack of medical care after an infection.

    Is he going to hell?

  41. 41

    Darwinism is atheism pure and simple. The Darwinian not only refuses to believe in a living God, he refuses to believe that God ever existed.

    Allen MacNeill, the quintessential Darwinian, can dance around this issue until the cows come home but the simple truth is that the entire Darwinian fantasy is atheist based from beginning to end.

    Furthermore, it is unfair to identify Frederich Nietzsche as an atheist. His “Gott ist tot” clearly indicates that his God once lived.

    I have written an essay – “What is an atheist?” It is available on my weblog on the Essays button on the home page. I recommend it for those who want to know or even care what I believe and why I believe it.

    I have nothing more to offer on this subject at this time.

    Continue your nice cozy “debate,” something that has no place in science.

    It doesn’t get any better than this.

    “War, God help me, I love it so!”
    George S. Patton

    jadavison.wordpress.com

  42. 42

    Before this thread gets completely theojacked, can someone address the morality of the original post? Because he thinks (wrongly, in my view) that it would prove a point, Barry longs for atheists to believe that “every action Hitler performed was permissible.” Some morality you have there, Barry.

  43. I’m not trying to change the subject, I’m just saying that I’m just saying that I haven’t found a real solution (theist or atheist) that I found to be satisfactory. And yes, I’ve read some Christian apologetics and philosophy, including spending some time pouring over that link you just posted. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to be saying that a “unitarian” deity (like Allah) WOULD be vulnerable to Euthyphro’s Dillema, but the Christian God is conveniently a Trinity just when it comes in handy to solve that problem? I dunno…

    I don’t think it matters too much in practice. Atheists and theists alike come to their moral decisions based on their own cultural upbringings and their ability to empathize with others, not logic. Jeffery Dahmer, being a sociopath, lacked that ability and used logic to justify something he was already going to do. If killing and mass murder really was the logical result of atheism, you’d see a lot more atheists out on killing sprees, yet somehow the 30-40 million of us in the USA seem to commit crimes at exactly the same rate as people of other faiths (correcting for socioeconomic backgrounds, of course).

  44. Hazel said: “How about some ten year old kid in Tibet, raised in a Buddhist culture, who dies from lack of medical care after an infection.

    Is he going to hell?”

    Some Christians will say: Yes, it is pre-destined

    Some Christians will say: Maybe, depending on whether he would have accepted the gospel had he heard it

    Some Christians will say: Yes, because he never accepted Jesus as savior

    Some Christians will say: Yes, but only for a short time

    Some Christians will say: No, he will be annihilated as there is no hell

    What’s remarkable about this is that Christians like to say that, despite all their theological differences, they are in basic agreement on the basics. But these responses (which I don’t think are at all exagerrated) belies that. The most basic question – are you going to be in hell or heven cannot be unequivocally answered and agreed upon.

  45. How about some ten year old kid in Tibet, raised in a Buddhist culture, who dies from lack of medical care after an infection.
    Is he going to hell?

    Hazel, instead of asking those of us without authority questions we can’t answer why not trust God’s mercy and wisdom. The Bible says don’t judge. We don’t know what’s in anybody’s heart.

  46. 1) Are you saying that perhaps the Buddhist kid will go to heaven if he has something right “in his heart.” Assuming that he has never even heard of God or Jesus, are you saying that one can go to heaven without being a Christian?

    2) What kind of mercy is there in a God who condemns billions to hell?

  47. “Before this thread gets completely theojacked, can someone address the morality of the original post? Because he thinks (wrongly, in my view) that it would prove a point, Barry longs for atheists to believe that “every action Hitler performed was permissible.” Some morality you have there, Barry.”

    Is Hitler being held up as some form of standard? Is he the worse? If so on what dimensions is Hitler the worse? Why do these dimensions matter if they are judged to be relevant? It is possible for Hitler to be the worse today and ok some other day?

    Usually I think these discussions are a colossal waste of time but am curious on this since I could never find anyone on this site who could tell me what evil means.

  48. 1) Are you saying that perhaps the Buddhist kid will go to heaven if he has something right “in his heart.” Assuming that he has never even heard of God or Jesus, are you saying that one can go to heaven without being a Christian?

    If God were a fundamentalist that woman who committed adultery would have been stoned. I think God’s mercy far transcends what is written.

    2) What kind of mercy is there in a God who condemns billions to hell?

    I don’t think God condemns anyone to Hell. Those who end up there choose it because, I think, they don’t like God because they want to be their own God. I think God lets them in a place where He can’t answer them, as per their wish. I don’t want to go there.

  49. tribune7 said: ” don’t think God condemns anyone to Hell. Those who end up there choose it because, I think, they don’t like God because they want to be their own God. I think God lets them in a place where He can’t answer them, as per their wish. I don’t want to go there.”

    This seems to be a fairly standard evangelical reply that I’ve heard many, many times. In other words, why blame God, He’s just being God, right?

    But the truth is that God created the very system that allows such everlasting condemnation.

    God made the law that allowed this. God prescribed the sentence. God is the judge who passes the sentence. God created the prison that will hold the guilty.

    God could have done it very differently, but His cosmic game (of His own devising) apparently would not allow this.

    In the end, is it just to eternally punish somebody for the crimes of distant ancestors, who arguably were only fulfilling that most human of occupations (and what we are all practicing here) – the search of knowledge? Does the punishment fit the crime?

  50. DanSLO wrote:

    I don’t think it matters too much in practice. Atheists and theists alike come to their moral decisions based on their own cultural upbringings and their ability to empathize with others, not logic. Jeffery Dahmer, being a sociopath, lacked that ability and used logic to justify something he was already going to do. If killing and mass murder really was the logical result of atheism, you’d see a lot more atheists out on killing sprees, yet somehow the 30-40 million of us in the USA seem to commit crimes at exactly the same rate as people of other faiths (correcting for socioeconomic backgrounds, of course).

    You contradict yourself. First you state that neither atheists or theists base moral decisions on logic, next you state that Dahmer was logical, and finally you use the evidence that more atheists are not serial killers in an attempt to show Dahmer was not logical.

    I understand that the logical conclusion is bleak, and why you would want to run away from it.

  51. In #32 Clive Hayden wrote:

    “If the individuals didn’t already know, before hand, what is right or wrong, putting them in a group won’t suddenly create it, anymore than the rules of a new sport would be magically discerned once you get enough people together. It wouldn’t matter how many folks were together, if you didn’t already know the rules individually, you couldn’t start playing just by virtue of being around others.”

    Accotding to this reasoning, we are all born knowing the rules to baseball, basketball, cricket, tennis, etc. and therefore the rules to all of those games never had to be invented nor negotiated. However, this is patently absurd and falsified by the actual history of all of these games.

    How do people invent new games? I have participated in the invention of about two dozen games in my lifetime. In every single case, I got together with some other people and we agreed to play a game. Sometimes the rudiments of the game were based on some other game, the rules of which we already knew, and sometimes we just started with something virtually new.

    What happened next is precisely how people have negotiated the various rules of ethics and morals that have guided our behavior since prehistory. We played the game, and paid attention to how the rules we started out with affected the fairness and progress of the game. If certain rules didn’t quite work, we changed them. Gradually, through a process of give and take, combined with our learned experiences in the playing of the game, we refined the rules until they became fairly fixed.

    So yes, ethics are indeed an emergent property of the interactions between individual humans in social groups. What else could they possibly be?

    Also, based on my training in anthropology, it is very clear that this same process is exactly how all human social interactions have developed; through trial and error, based on prior and current experience, and tempered with a little prognostication about possible future developments. Indeed, this also describes how all human cultural institutions, including religions, have evolved.

    Note that I am not saying that this kind of evolution is strictly biological. On the contrary, it is a combination of biological predispositions, combined with a huge amount of learned experience, gained within the context of cultural evolution.

    Once again, here are some direct quotes from Richerson, P. & Boyd, R. (2006) Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, University of Chicago Press, ISBN #0226712125, 342 pages:

    Culture is crucial for understanding human behavior. People acquire beliefs and values from the people around them, and you can’t explain human behavior without taking this reality into account….Culturally acquired ideas are crucially important for explaining a wide range of human behavior — opinions, beliefs, and attitudes, habits of thought, language, artistic styles, tools and technology, and social rules and political institutions.”

    and

    “Culture is part of biology.…Much evidence suggests that we have an evolved psychology that shapes what we learn and how we think, and that this in turn influences the kind of beliefs and attitudes that spread and persist. Theories that ignore these connections cannot adequately account for much of human behavior. At the same time, culture and cultural change cannot be understood solely in terms of innate psychology. Culture affects the succes and survival of individuals and groups; as a result, some cultural variants spread and others diminish, leading to evolutionary processes that are every bit as real and important as those that shape genetic variation. These culturally evolved environments then affect which genes are favored by natural selection. Over the evolutionary long haul, culture has shaped our innate psychology as much as the other way around.”

  52. In #32 Clive Hayden also asked:

    “How do atheists and materialists derive any “ought,” for all that exists is the “is” by their scheme? I would really like to know the answer to this question.”

    Not being either an atheist nor a materialist, I can only hazard a guess. They do it the way all people work out the rules by which they live; through negotiation and experience.

    But I’ve made this comment multiple times in multiple threads, and Clive continues to ask the same question. Clearly, he doesn’t really want an answer, nor does he really want to discuss possible answers. He only wants to use the rhetorical gimmick of asking the same question over and over again, while disregarding the answers, in a vain attempt to make it seem as if his opponents haven’t provided an answer. At least that’s the way it appears to me.

  53. 53

    David Kellogg writes: “Before this thread gets completely theojacked, can someone address the morality of the original post? Because he thinks (wrongly, in my view) that it would prove a point, Barry longs for atheists to believe that “every action Hitler performed was permissible.” Some morality you have there, Barry.”

    Nice strawman David. I do not long for atheists to believe that every action that Hitler performed was permissible. Indeed, I want them to believe just the opposite. I do want them to ADMIT that their premises logically compel the conclusion that everything that Hitler did was permissible. I want them to admit that, because I want them to be horrified by that conclusion, and I want that horror to cause them to re-examine their premises. I suppose it is too much to ask though. As this thread demonstrates, they are much more likely to try to change the subject or spend their time building facile strawmen like the one you erected.

  54. JTaylor –God made the law that allowed this. ,

    And He gave us the choice to obey or not. He gave us freedom. That’s the greatest gift you can give someone.

  55. 55

    The only strawman here is the one you have created: the allegedly inconsistent atheist.

  56. 56

    Kellogg: “The only strawman here is the one you have created: the allegedly inconsistent atheist.”

    Give me a break. The logic is unassailable. It can be reduced to a simple syllogism:

    Major: The natural world is all there is.

    Minor: No “ought” can be inferred from the “is” of the natural world.

    Therefore, there is nothing upon which to infer any “ought” because “ought” cannot be inferred from the only thing that exists, i.e. the natural world.

    Therefore, no “ought” can be inferred at all.

    The more you deny the self-evident, the more foolish your atheism appears. So keep denying it. It is desirable for your atheism to appear foolish.

  57. 57

    I believe in entry 17 of this thread I provided a direct response to the original post.

    Everything Hitler did was permissible. Germany allowed it. Pope Pius allowed it. England allowed it. Russia allowed it. The US allowed it. It was able to be permitted and it was in fact permitted.

    In my experience and understanding of history, the commitment to reason and the free ability to question authority openly have been prized in atheistic viewpoints and admonished in religious.

    Make no mistake, Hitler’s was a religious crusade against a set of religious targets. We see similar such crusades emerging right now in parts of the US that are inventing so-called “liberal” bogeymen who want to come and take their freedom in the night.

    Only calm, reasoned dialogue – not debate, pace JAD – by parties that want to live together can save us now. Increasingly, it seems to me that creationists, atheists, liberals, and conservatives are choosing instead to opt-out and not seek mutual reconciliation.

    I wonder if this site considers itself part of the solution or part of the problem?

  58. Mr Arrington,

    I do want them to ADMIT that their premises logically compel the conclusion that everything that Hitler did was permissible.

    I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble working out the logic. See my comment 23. Do you have any suggestions?

  59. In #57 Barry finally clarified exactly what he was asserting in this post:

    “The natural world is all there is.”

    This assertion is the root of the problem. This is clearly a false premise, and therefore the logic derived from it is false as well. I have commented repeatedly that no scientist of whom I am aware (and I include Richard Dawkins in this) would agree with the premise stated above.

    As I have commented repeatedly, there are a great many things about which humans think (and as a consequence, act) that are not natural in any way. I won’t post the list again, but I find it quite interesting that neither Barry nor Clive nor anyone else whose expressed intention here is to show that atheists (by which they clearly mean anyone who accepts the theory of evolution as a reasonable description of how living organisms have come to be the way they are) are either morally bankrupt or unable to accept the “bleak” logic of their position.

    So, let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? Barry, Clive, et al: do you acknowledge (along with virtually all other non-psychopathic thinking people) the obvious fact that there are things about which humans think (and sometimes act) that are not “natural”? And do you also acknowledge that it is possible for a non-theist to come to the same conclusion, without stretching the limits of logical argument to the breaking point?

  60. I was unclear earlier, I didn’t mean to imply that Dahmer’s reasoning was logically sound, only that he was trying to rationalize the actions he had already decided to take. He wasn’t a normal guy who happened to take a wrong turn through a logical argument and ended up a serial killer, he was a complete and utter sociopath. Using him in this argument is like using Andrea Yates to argue that religious people are immoral.

  61. Nakashima:

    Thank you so much for your analysis. It confirmed what I had also concluded, but with much less rigor: that Barry’s logical is flawed as the result of a flawed major premise.

  62. BTW, if memory serves me right, Hitler (and Stalin, Pol Pot, et al) were all defeated as the result of superior military and economic force, and not just through superior moral force, right? Of course one could argue that such force was the result of God pulling strings to make things come out that way, but the fact remains that the “good guys” won and the “bad guys” lost, not because the “good guys” were more moral, but because they/we were much better at killing large numbers of people than the “bad guys” were. And isn’t it interesting that during World War II the “good guys” included the Soviets, headed by the very same atheist, Joseph Stalin, whose military forces are now considered by many historians to have actually won the Great Patriotic War (with our help, of course). This is indeed how we defeated both the Germans and the Japanese in World War II; by total war against both civilian and military targets, without any moral restraint whatsoever. We just happened to get there first, with the biggest bombs and the largest air, sea, and ground forces. At least that’s the way it seems to this Friend.

    And yes, I was a CO during the Vietnam War, and in all military conflicts since then as well.

  63. DanSLO,

    Nowhere did I blame atheism for Dahmer’s actions, but I would like you to explain why you now think that his conclusions were illogical. Neither am I making any argument about who is more moral. What Barry has asserted is a position of logic that is compelled by atheistic naturalism. On the other hand, it’s just possible that an already fragile mind combined with atheistic naturalism could be a dangerous combination, because he (Dahmer) did not flee from the logical conclusion as you and other strong-minded atheists have been doing.

  64. Hazel

    1) Are you saying that perhaps the Buddhist kid will go to heaven if he has something right “in his heart.” Assuming that he has never even heard of God or Jesus, are you saying that one can go to heaven without being a Christian?

    Yes. That’s Catholic teaching. See http://www.staycatholic.com/sa.....church.htm .

  65. On the derivation of “ought” from is – readers might like to have a look at these article by John Finnis on natural law:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entr.....political/

    http://fds.oup.com/www.oup.co......7181-X.pdf

    Off to work now. Back later.

  66. tribune7: “And He gave us the choice to obey or not. He gave us freedom. That’s the greatest gift you can give someone.”

    I wonder what kind of freedom it is when the only two choices are a) eternal suffering b) a servile existence to a deity (who by His own design) has condemned probably 90% of all humans who ever lived to eternal torture.

    What if my choice is to say “I didn’t ask to born, and I didn’t ask to play this silly game”? (especially since God already knows the outcome). What if I want to say that this law, is as measured against our human laws, a law that is unusual and cruel punishment, beyond anything that the cruelest human dictator could devise?

    It feels like the freedom a bull has running around the bullring. It may feel like freedom for a while, but ultimately no good is going to come of it.

    Sorry, I’m just not very happy with my “gift”…

  67. Nakashima:

    The lack of rigor in logical analysis was mine, not yours. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  68. 68

    Barry Arrington, your “is” is an “ought”.

  69. Pardon the cross post, but I intended the post the following here, in response to something Clive said here:

    Clive:

    How do atheists and materialists derive any “ought,” for all that exists is the “is” by their scheme? I would really like to know the answer to this question.

    Referencing my comment vis incompatible frameworks that appeared on the “Quote of the Day” thread, the atheist response to your question, directed to the religiously inclined, is in the neighborhood of, “The same way you do.” Their response is to argue that religious assertions of “morality derived from God,” from organized religion, and from religious traditions are no less human inventions than explicitly humanist creeds – although they are burdened with fewer fictions and are more honest about their human and cultural origins. The bottom line, from this perspective, is that we are all in the same boat with respect to the human origins of moral codes of conduct – although some of us aren’t aware of it.

    Of course believers take umbrage at this argument. But it is internally coherent. Therefore the key question cannot be, “Which viewpoint yields a more valid and justifiable morality” – because the answer one gives depends upon the framework from which one answers. The key question really is, “do you believe in God” – e.g., which organizing framework do you accept. Everything else follows from your response to that question.

    If the answer I get is “from cultural evolution” that’s just another way of saying “from a bunch of individuals put together”–as if the fact of their being together magically produces the “ought” as an emergent quality of a group of more than one person. I don’t see how that would work, for any judgment of morality is only discerned by the individuals.

    As I noted in the previous thread, your view of culture is decidedly reductionistic, and, in a very real sense, materialist – much more so than my own. The notion that “thoughts are only biochemistry” should be quite congenial to you, as it reflects exactly the same sort of reductionism.

  70. JTaylor, maybe this earth is a “Matrix”-like prison camp, where supercosmic entities have had their past memory stripped of the dastardly evil perpetuated against other supercosmic entities. That you and I are guilty of much worse than we can imagine. The Bible is silent about such possibilities. But redemption is offered for those who lay down their arms, so to speak.

    Maybe there’s WAY more than meets the eye. Surely you will concede it’s possible. Maybe instead of cursing the dark, you could try seeking the Light.

  71. 71

    Barry Arrington:

    Give me a break. The logic is unassailable. It can be reduced to a simple syllogism:

    The beauty of the syllogism is that, because of the slipperyness of human language, one can prove anything, and without any of that tiresome evidence-collecting.

  72. mike1962: “Taylor, maybe this earth is a “Matrix”-like prison camp, where supercosmic entities have had their past memory stripped of the dastardly evil perpetuated against other supercosmic entities. That you and I are guilty of much worse than we can imagine. The Bible is silent about such possibilities. ”

    It sounds like the synopsis for a Ron L Hubbard novel.

    Mike1962: Maybe there’s WAY more than meets the eye. Surely you will concede it’s possible.”

    Sure it’s possible – about on a par with the story that our ancient ancestors came from the planet Xenu on DC8 lookalike spaceships.

    Would you concede then that this whole thing could be a legend created by ancient people who were trying to make sense of the world they lived in (and is akin in many ways to other similar myths and legends made by other ancient peoples). Possible? Which is the most parsimonious explanation?

  73. JTaylor,

    Can you explain how God “should” have done it? To be clear, a quick reminder of what Christians believe He did do:

    create a world with creatures that have free will (in order to have meaningful relationships),

    watched as his creation turned away from him to sin (barring a full relationship with Him),

    sent his Son to die for them to restore that relationship and set a sad world back to right,

    allowed those creatures the opportunity to choose to be reconciled back to him or not,

    to ultimately spend eternity with those who choose him,

    and allowing those who don’t to live forever away from him (Hell, by the way, is probably nothing like the medieval conception of a fiery torture chamber, but rather simply a place of separation from our creator and source of life; see Lewis’ The Great Divorce, e.g.)

    Please, what should He have done?

  74. “(Hell, by the way, is probably nothing like the medieval conception of a fiery torture chamber, but rather simply a place of separation from our creator and source of life; see Lewis’ The Great Divorce, e.g.)”

    This is [[somewhat]] inconsistent with descriptions of hell in the bible.

    “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” Matthew 25:30 ..etc.

  75. theface said,

    ["This is [[somewhat]] inconsistent with descriptions of hell in the bible.
    “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” Matthew 25:30 ..etc.”]

    I’m not seeing the inconsistency; these verses are trying to describe what separation from God might be like. Some verses describe darkness, some flame; all point to the fact that separated from our creator is not a good place to be, but are probably not meant to be taken literally. In an autobiography someone may refer to a “dark” time in their life; do they mean it was literally dark?

  76. jlid: “Can you explain how God “should” have done it? To be clear, a quick reminder of what Christians believe He did do:…”

    I’m not sure He should have done or do anything. You’re assuming there’s a problem to be solved. I’m not. Here’s how I look at the story, perhaps in a more facetious (but I think essentially accurate) tone:

    God created mankind with the capability to sin. Sin is a concept God created so that He can be offended. Man sins and God is duly offended and punishes man and gives him a draconian law that cannot be followed, and in the process kills of a considerable number of both His chosen people and the scumbags that are His chosen peoples enemies. And the only way God can appease himself of the sins of the people he created is for them kill livestock in a special house. God eventually decides a better way is needed and sends himself to earth and decides to sacrifice himself so that himself will no longer be offended at the sins of the people himself created. But it’s not a real sacrifice because himself pops back to life again and all is well (except for the billions that don’t accept this sacrifice because they don’t see sufficient evidence for it and are therefore doomed to suffer in Mordor in utter excruciating agony for evermore).

    Yes, I know this is extremely facetious. When you put it like this, does it really have the ring of truth? Does it not sound like a legend and is not congruent with the kind of storytelling that ancient people used to explain the world?

  77. JTaylor,

    Hmmm. I can’t help but feel you sliding out of facing up to my question. Mischaracterizing an intellectual opponents’ idea and then dismissing it is not satisfying to me.

    “When you put it like this” you say. Indeed, why would I put it like that, when it is not like that at all? I wait for a response to my post, not to your own.

  78. 78

    Barry,

    Think about what you’re saying.

    1. You’ve said more atheists should be “Nietzsche atheists.” You have defined a Nietzsche atheist as an atheist who reasons to the logical conclusions of his beliefs.

    2. Eric Harris was a “Nietzsche atheist.” In your own words:

    Harris (and to a lesser extent Klebold) was a self conscious atheist and disciple of Frederick Nietzsche. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant of the facts or a liar. . . .

    Don’t tell me Harris was crazy, that he was not motivated by anything rational. Just the opposite is true. He thought long and hard about the logical consequences of the ideas he had been taught. He reached conclusions – evil conclusions to be sure, but not irrational – and he acted on those conclusions.

    3. Should therefore more atheists be like Eric Harris?

    The logic is unassailable.

  79. jlid: “Hmmm. I can’t help but feel you sliding out of facing up to my question. Mischaracterizing an intellectual opponents’ idea and then dismissing it is not satisfying to me.”

    I think I answered your question – I said that I’m not sure how God would do it because I don’t think there is anything ‘to do’. I don’t accept the concept of sinning against a deity. It’s a honest answer.

    As to my mischaracterizing. OK, I know I slipped in Mordor (whenever I read Revelations it always makes me think of LotR). But the part about God sending Himself to make a sacrifice to appease Himself, I believe is quite correct.

  80. b) a servile existence to a deity

    Considering Jesus, I don’t see God as being bossy or expecting us to be servile. I see being with Him as attending the greatest party ever conceived with the most interesting and decent people beyond our imagining.

    (who by His own design) has condemned probably 90% of all humans who ever lived to eternal torture.

    God wants all to be saved, according to the Bible. It just, it seems, most people aren’t going to want anything to do with Him.

    Imagine a place where everyone is equal in power, and that everyone one is convinced that he or she is the most important thing in the universe, and that there is no appeal to God’s mercy, justice or guidance. That is my vision of Hell. The conditions would be like the worst prison you could imagine multiplied by the highest number you can imagine multiplied by itself.

    But I don’t think God sends anybody there. Nobody has to go there. I think those who go there choose to do so because they don’t want to be with God, much less show an ounce of real concern for their neighbor.

    Granted, they will regret it once there are there but it was still their choice.

  81. “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.”

    They don’t like the obvious consequences of their worldview. So why do atheists persist in denying the consequences and believing that such a thing as “morality” exists? It’s because they are not actually atheists.

    An Orthodox Christian priest told me many years ago that there really are no atheists in the world. I didn’t really understand that at the time, but in my recent readings of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens, I’m very inclined to believe that priest.

    These guys are just posers who want the order required of an external God, but are too proud to acknowledge that God’s existence.

  82. JTaylor said,

    [I think I answered your question - I said that I’m not sure how God would do it because I don’t think there is anything ‘to do’. I don’t accept the concept of sinning against a deity. It’s a honest answer.

    As to my mischaracterizing. OK, I know I slipped in Mordor (whenever I read Revelations it always makes me think of LotR). But the part about God sending Himself to make a sacrifice to appease Himself, I believe is quite correct.]

    I am looking for a response to my beliefs, beyond merely “they are not my beliefs.” I know that already. Earlier you commented that you were not happy with your “gift” of life and choice etc. If it is true (as I believe) that God created man with free will in order to have meaningful relationships etc. (see previous post for complete list) then how would you respond? What would you have God do differently?

  83. tribune7: “Considering Jesus, I don’t see God as being bossy or expecting us to be servile. I see being with Him as attending the greatest party ever conceived with the most interesting and decent people beyond our imagining.”

    And while we’re at this party are we supposed to forget about all our loved ones and friends who didn’t “accept the invite” who at the same time are burning in hell? Or is God going to arrange it so we won’t have to think about that?

    tribune7: “God wants all to be saved, according to the Bible. It just, it seems, most people aren’t going to want anything to do with Him.”

    It’s hard to believe that – both because of the vehicle of the Bible itself and honestly because of the church. If everybody in the church truly, truly believe that 90% of the population are going to suffer for eternity would they not give up everything, do anything to ensure that this message gets out. I don’t see much of a sense of urgency with many in the church (they seem to busy living their own lives, pursuing careers, enjoying life, just like the rest of us).

    tribune7: “God wants all to be saved, according to the Bible. It just, it seems, most people aren’t going to want anything to do with Him.”

    Well of course ultimately I don’t think there’s any evidence to believe in hell (particularly when it seems such a loosely developed concept in the Bible, and barely even makes an appearance in the OT). As we’ve seen on this thread, not even Christians can really agree on the nature of hell – what, how long etc.

    Maybe the reason why most people don’t want anything to do with him is because for all intents and purposes He seems a despot? I don’t really buy the “we send ourselves to hell” – that’s just saying a kangaroo court has the authority and power to sentence people, but does not make it just

    God certainly doesn’t have a good track record in the OT and according to Revelations we can expect a lot more of that kind of thing before we’re done. I would not want to serve him because He is basically an unjust God as story after story in the OT informs us.

    It scares me to think that this kind of story can so corrode our thinking so that what is so obviously unjust is now seen as God’s righteousness. I think if I believed this it would completely undermine my moral compass.

    I have spoken to several Christians about this, and a few have admittedly candidly that they really do struggle with this and privately wish it was not true. I guess we have to ask ourselves why is that what seems righteous to God seems so despicable and unjust to us?

  84. jlid: “If it is true (as I believe) that God created man with free will in order to have meaningful relationships etc. (see previous post for complete list) then how would you respond? What would you have God do differently?”

    Do what most real life families have to do – live with each other and deal patiently with each others imperfections and faults. Learn to forgive, and then learn to forgive some more. Nothing more.

  85. JTaylor: Would you concede then that this whole thing could be a legend created by ancient people who were trying to make sense of the world they lived in (and is akin in many ways to other similar myths and legends made by other ancient peoples). Possible?

    Sure. And that’s the point. It makes no sense to dismiss any of these ideas merely because certain features are immediately appalling. Christianity may be true or false, but either possibilities is not dependent on the exceptions you have raised.

    “Which is the most parsimonious explanation?”

    Parsimony is a guiding rule of thumb within science. It is not some overarching law that all ideas must bow to. In general human affairs, parsiminous ideas often turn out to be the wrong.

  86. “I’m not seeing the inconsistency; these verses are trying to describe what separation from God might be like. Some verses describe darkness, some flame; all point to the fact that separated from our creator is not a good place to be, but are probably not meant to be taken literally”

    I can’t deny you the ability to figuratively interpret anything you like, and of course, your chosen interpretation of these passages could be accurate. It almost sounds as if you believe hell is a negative punishment, the removal of a “positive” stimulus (the quotations are for me [[shudder]]), rather than the presentation of a negative stimulus (that after death, one is fully conscious in some sort of void for eternity). If the former is the case, then for non-believers (in this one god, of thousands, no less), nothing happens at death. They live their lives disconnected from god, and then rest in peace, out of the clutches of yahweh. But if the latter is true, hell really is a “place” that god sends the soul after death, which would constitute an eternity of a “sort” of torture, and thus your down playing of its implications would be unwarranted, at least according this figurative interpretation.

    There is also, however, a high degree of internal consistency in the descriptions of hell in regards to torment and flames, especially coming from the mouth of jesus, which I should think has some merit as he (through his father?) created hell.

  87. mike1962: “Sure. And that’s the point. It makes no sense to dismiss any of these ideas merely because certain features are immediately appalling. Christianity may be true or false, but either possibilities is not dependent on the exceptions you have raised.”

    It’s not just as to whether the are appalling but also whether they are probable. For example, do you put any credence in Scientology and their bizarre stories about thetans, Xenu and auditing? Yet, many do and find it just as likely an explanation for the world as Christianity (and naturally enough it reflects our culture and technology of the day).

    So when you have two explanations and one is based on wildly inventive supernatural events (which do not happen in the modern world), and which have the clear hallmarks of legend (Noah, Red Sea, Passover, Jonah etc), and which come from a time when this kind of storytelling was prevalent in many cultures – then you have to seriously ask if there is not a more simpler explanation.

    Here the parsimonious explanation is the more probable and the better fit for the evidence. Of course if God turned up tomorrow in modern Israel and parted the Red Sea we have to rethink that…

  88. JTaylor–forget about all our loved ones and friends who didn’t “accept the invite” who at the same time are burning in hell?

    I know God. I know Jesus. I know there is evil in the world — the vast, vast majority of which is caused by the choices of people. I know there is a Hell. Who is going to go there I can’t say.

    I am not a fundamentalist. I do not know where you are getting your 90 percent figure from. I know about the broad and narrow gates but I’m not aware of any set proportions.

    I know people can be troubled by zealots over picayune things. If that should be your case, I hope you find the strength to ignore them.

    We can be certain of the goodness of God through Jesus and through His commands. If you can’t handle the Old Testament stick with the New.

    I see the OT as a record of man’s wickedness and God’s patience, but if it troubles you that much don’t read it.

    The New is what is applicable.

    Regardless evil is a reality and philosophies implying there is no purpose to our existence and that we are all here by accident give license to evil.

  89. JTaylor –I guess we have to ask ourselves why is that what seems righteous to God seems so despicable and unjust to us?

    You know, that is a very good thing to ask yourself :-)

  90. theface – this is not a ref. to hell, but to the day of judgement which is the 153 days or 5 months (Rev. 9) prior to the end of this universe and the beginning of a new one. “Outer darkness” is the time after the rapture when light (=Gospel) is taken out and men will be left with all their totally natural selves left to do only what will then be possible – weeping and gnashing of teeth in their revealed true nature of hatred of God, His Tree of Life and The Living waters. It is the time of the revelation of the justice of judgment ending in destruction by the 2nd death – annihilation = never the possibility of Eternal life. The new heaven and new earth then are created. Look, to begin with at Jude v 5 & 7. The blind will lead those who follow. The doctrine of eternal suffering of the lost in hell is totally unbiblical and bankrupt. Please don’t let traditional church teaching keep you from learning how to divide the word – life unto life or death unto death – its a two edged sword – to the disciples He explained privately, but to others – especially religious leaders he spoke parabolically to reveal the intent of their heart. So indeed – hath God said? Daniel is open – the wise shall know time and judgment and it is coming very soon. Rev. 3: 3-6. The Bible is a two edged sword guarding the way to the Tree of Life. It will keep out those who can only think in terms of God being some Master Egotist demanding worship etc. – they have no understanding and will only repeat natural questions and will not likely come to the knowledge of the truth. Many years ago I was an atheist – I can relate to the mind set yet more than joyful at my release from its grip. The “is” of the universe in it natural state will justify itself with its own “ought” Golden calves and anti (instead of) Christ’s are abundant. The believers ought is in seeing with some understanding the character of God. “Good Master – why do you call me good? there is none good but God. The natural man will seek and justify his own goodness and will be left to weep without the Source. they will argue their philosophy with each other and be left gnashing their teeth.

  91. p.s. a Bleak Conclusion indeed.

  92. ——-Allen: “It has been my experience that when people formulate ethical prescriptions (and when they review their own behavior and the behavior of others in the light of such prescriptions), they generally evaluate the efficacy of such prescriptions on whether or not they have had the desirable effects. Furthermore, when people in groups formulate ethical and moral principles they do so via negotiation based on the same teleological criteria. That is, do our ethics produce the kind of society that all of us want to live in?”

    How many times can you beg the question in one paragraph? What are desirable effects? How do you know good effects from bad effects? What is your definition of a good society? What kind of citizens is it supposed to produce? How do you guard against tyranny of the majority?

    —–“Under such conditions, it is not entirely surprising that, regardless of one’s society there are a few ethical prescriptions that appear to be virtually universal. The most obvious of these is the “golden rule”: “do unto others what you would have them do unto you”, also known as the ethic of “universal positive reciprocity”. There is a deep unity in human social interaction, as testified to by the empirical fact that something like the “golden rule” exists in nearly all human societies, regardless of the details of the religious beliefs of those societies.

    The questions are: [A] is it binding? [B] Is it discovered or created? If it is not binding, then it has no moral force. If it is created, then it can be uncreated. The true natural moral law not created by man, it is discovered by man. The difference is all importatn.

    —–Allen: “Personally, I think that the “golden rule” is one of those very basic logical statements that needs no additional justification. It is what it is, says what it says, and has the effects that it has, regardless of whether one is a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Baha’I, agnostic, or atheist.”

    You have to justify it to the tyrant who would prefer not to believe it. On the one hand, you tell him that we should all just get along and love each other.” On the other hand, he says that he would prefer that you be his slave. You have no answer, because you can appeal to no authority higher than him.

  93. 93

    Allan MacNeill, re your comment at [60], it is clear to me that you are positively shameless in your willingness to take any unfair advantage to “win” an argument, including by changing the definition of words in mid-argument.

    Let’s revisit my syllogism.

    Major: The natural universe is the only thing that exists.
    Minor: It is impossible to infer any ethical principle (i.e., an “ought”) from the existence of the natural universe or any part of it (an “is”).
    Conclusion: Therefore, it is impossible to infer any ethical principle from the only thing that exists.

    You say my major premise is false. Another word for the premise is “materialism,” and of course I believe it is false. The point is whether the atheists believe materialism is false. They do not. You also say you know of no scientist who believes materialism. Perhaps you have not heard of Richard Lewontin who writes: “we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism . . . we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute . . .”

  94. JTaylor,

    Thanks for your response. But I think you overlooked one of the premises. If it is true that God cannot have full relationships with humans who have a sinful nature, much the same as it is impossible for a plant to grow without water, or for carbon to be a liquid at standard temps and pressures, then something more is needed than mere patience. A bridge is needed. A way. A chance for reconciliation. You speak of forgiveness, but it has been extended to us. Jesus taught that we need but ask for it; he already paid the price for our sin. And God is patient too, as the scriptures teach that he delays his return to allow us choice; he desires that all accept forgiveness. So I sincerely cannot quite understand your response.

    Your response to tribune raises important issues. They are truly difficult; I have wrestled with them (and continue to). As a Christian I am torn as to the proper way to “evangelize”. You speak of how Christians should prioritize sharing the gospel; many Christians do this. Some have probably knocked on your door, given you pamphlets, preached at you. Have you listened? I don’t think I would either. Others try to live a sincere Christian life and, when a situation naturally arises, through friendship and trust, has a more meaningful discussion about their beliefs. I am not denying that many Christians don’t; I just want to point that there are plenty who do care.

    As for how we could live happily while friends and loved ones presumably are miserable, I don’t know. It sounds awful. I have noticed though, that right now people around the world are starving, being beaten, raped, etc. while I live a, if I am honest, relatively happy life despite that knowledge. I am not saying this as if it is some final answer; just an observation.

    Anyway, I’ve got to get to sleep. But I do (sheepishly) ask that you judge Christianity by Christ, not by his followers (we are mostly screw-ups, like everyone else).

  95. The point of the thread is that atheism can provide no rational justification for any morality whatsoever. Atheism = amorality. So, is amorality such a bad thing? Well, yes, amorality is undesirable because it always leads to immorality. If a man’s behavior does conform to a philosophy of life, he will find a philosophy of life that conforms to his behavior. If he does not subordinate his desires to the truth, he will bend the truth to fit his desires. As a result, everything and everyone will be twisted to fit his wishes.

    The honest atheist admits the point, realizes that he worships himself, and doesn’t try to dress it up with a lot of sweet talk about societal love and good will. That kind of atheist is to be preferred over the one who tries to paper the whole thing over and starts talking about the golden rule. I always test that little golden rule of theirs each time I ask them if they apply it to societal laws to protect unborn babies. In all the cases in which I have asked that question, no atheist has ever answer in the affirmative. So much for loving thy neighbor as thyself.

  96. tribune7: “I am not a fundamentalist. I do not know where you are getting your 90 percent figure from. I know about the broad and narrow gates but I’m not aware of any set proportions.”

    It’s an estimate. Total number people ever born (as homo sapiens) is something like 100 billion (amazing isn’t it). So perhaps only 10 billion of these would be ‘saved’. And a good number of these would have been in non-Western countries. Who really knows who are ‘True Christians’ but I’m sure it’s not much higher than 20 percent.

    tribune7: “We can be certain of the goodness of God through Jesus and through His commands. If you can’t handle the Old Testament stick with the New.”

    As much as it would be tempting, you can’t really just ignore the OT. Although I know churches and Christians who effectively do! (sermons are either based on the Psalms or Proverbs or very carefully chosen, especially if children are present. The God of the NT is the same as the God of the OT. It’s part of the package.

    tribune7: “I see the OT as a record of man’s wickedness and God’s patience, but if it troubles you that much don’t read it.”

    Well, I’m not sure I read much patience on God’s part, especially the bit where He floods the entire earth. Yes, we can say “different time, different context, different worldview” but genocide is genocide? Otherwise we are saying “genocide is wrong, except when God did it because the circumstances demanded it”. That is essentially what we are saying, and yes, it is more than troublesome. Murder: bad when humans do it, but righteous when God does it.

    If your great-great-great-grandmother many times was a member of a tribe living in Canaan who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got wiped out by the avenging army of Israel at God’s command, what would you feel about it? We seem to forget that (if these stories are true) that God chose to wipe out people (including children) just like ourselves, with hopes, aspirations, families, loved ones – simply because they were ‘collateral’ in God’s bigger game plan. It’s truly ghastly .

  97. theface,

    I do not deny that this place of separation will be awful; I believe that there is probably nothing worse than being separated from our creator. God knows this; this is why he sent Jesus to offer a way to be reconnected to him. I am saying that hell is most likely not some literal torture chamber, with God at the controls. Rather, God has completely cut them off from himself; I think you misunderstand the import of this in the Christian understanding of humanity and its relation to and dependence on God.

    Also, JTaylor, I think maybe you should check out a book called Blue Like Jazz. It’s an easy read that you may find interesting.

  98. StephenB: ” Atheism = amorality. So, is amorality such a bad thing? Well, yes, amorality is undesirable because it always leads to immorality. f a man’s behavior does conform to a philosophy of life, he will find a philosophy of life that conforms to his behavior. If he does not subordinate his desires to the truth, he will bend the truth to fit his desires. As a result, everything and everyone will be twisted to fit his wishes. ”

    StephenB: “That kind of atheist is to be preferred over the one who tries to paper the whole thing over and starts talking about the golden rule. I always test that little golden rule of theirs each time I ask them if they apply it to societal laws to protect unborn babies. In all the cases in which I have asked that question, no atheist has ever answer in the affirmative. So much for loving thy neighbor as thyself.”

    I do agree that atheism is a-morality. I’m not sure how you make the leap from here to morality. You seem to suggest that an atheist can’t have a philosophy of life – but many do and many are also secular humanists. For myself, I think I’ve probably taken a little bit of many philosophical systems, especially Buddhism. Why is it a given that an atheist then must by necessity fall into immorality? It’s a choice that we make and perhaps there’s even a genetic component at work too.

    I don’t think we are papering things over with the golden rule. For many atheists, because we value individuality we also respect it in others. And I think too because perhaps atheists realize the fragility of life as much or as more as others, many of recognize and respect the rights of other individuals. It is actually possible of an atheist to have an honest unfiltered respect for other livings things and not be completely selfish. OK, a little bit of Buddhism in there probably…

    As the unborn baby issue. I’ll try and answer it honestly. I’m neither a parent or married, so I’m probably not the most qualified person to speak to it.

    Firstly I hate the idea of it; it seems an appalling choice and certainly I do not support late term abortion. At best it should obviously be last resort. And even though I’m liberal on most matters I do support parents rights to be informed of their underage daughers’ desire to have an abortion (a measure on many US ballots to stop this). But on the other hand there is another line that seems to matter too – and that is the right of the mother and her wishes (and the ultimate well being of the child too). So it becomes an extremely difficult balancing act I have actually leaned to be more pro-life as I’ve got older, and it’s possible I may swing more this way eventually. A friend once pointed out that my views are inconsistent since I’m anti-death penalty so why would I also support abortion – and they had a good point.

  99. Allen MacNeill,

    “What happened next is precisely how people have negotiated the various rules of ethics and morals that have guided our behavior since prehistory. We played the game, and paid attention to how the rules we started out with affected the fairness and progress of the game.”

    Right there is the problem, for your notion of how we get any notion of morality by presupposing fairness begs the question. If you are saying that the rules of morality are arbitrary, invented by man as we invent rules in games, then morality is relative, and we know better than that. Whatever lies behind morality, it isn’t group think. Morality is not taken by consensus, otherwise the majority would always be right by definition.

  100. 100

    On the abortion issue: those who view abortion as murder make an assumption which to them is self-evident, but which is in fact quite arbitrary, namely, that a fertilized human egg is a human being (otherwise killing it would not be murder). To me, this assertion is quite absurd. A fertilized egg has none of the characteristics of a human being except genetic material (which the sperm and the egg also possess before they join)–no limbs, no face, no sense organs, and most notably, no brain.

    I believe that who we actually are is eternal and non-physical (our soul, if you will). We come to earth and inhabit physical bodies repeatedly until we no longer need that kind of experience for our (spiritual) evolution. We cannot occupy a body that has no central nervous system, including a well developed brain. So until the fetus has reached that stage of development, it has no soul, and thus is not yet a human being. Killing it simply means that no soul will occupy it.

    I don’t write this with the aim of converting anyone to my point of view. Rather, my purpose is to open people’s eyes to the fact that their outrage at abortion is based on assumptions that other people may not agree with. In fact, I would argue that the majority of Americans do not share the view that a fertilized egg is a human being (even if they don’t share my particular spiritual perspective), since everyone agrees that murder should be illegal, but the majority still accept a woman’s right to choose.

    On the issue of morality: the use of the word “permitted” is in the passive voice (permitted by whom?) and thus implies an authority who does the permitting. There really is only one such possible authority, and that would be God. However, I think a strong case can be made that God in fact does permit anything. This case is based on the fact that He has left us no definitive unequivocal moral code. The Bible itself is open to many interpretations (look at the variety of moral codes held by various Christian sects), and the other holy books (the Koran, the Buddhist scriptures, the Bhagavad Ghita, etc.) contain even more possibilities, and each of those sources has also been interpreted multiple ways by people who are absolutely certain that they are right.

    Let me offer another possibility: This veil of tears is an illusion, a place we come to experience and grow in the knowledge of who we really are. We are made in the image and likeness of God, but we have forgotten. Part of that likeness is that in the deepest core of our being there is only love. A large part of our job here is to experience that loving core. There is no morality. Everything is permitted, for only in total freedom can we truly find ourselves. What appears to be moral action is in fact love operating in the world through an individual human being. The only question that matters in any situation is, “What would Love do now?”

  101. jlid: “If it is true that God cannot have full relationships with humans who have a sinful nature, much the same as it is impossible for a plant to grow without water, or for carbon to be a liquid at standard temps and pressures, then something more is needed than mere patience.”

    I don’t obviously accept the concept of “sin”. My own hypothesis is that “sin” is simply an invented idea by ancient people (with an external agency) to explain why people sometimes do bad things.

    But taking that aside, why exactly is it that God requires this separation from sinful people? Think about it for a moment – God, the ultimate creator of the Universe (100 billion galaxies with 100 billion stars), can be offended because I have a wrong thought, or lie, or steal, or some other deed. In fact He is so offended that He demands some appeasement to ameliorate the bad odor of sin.

    It’s even stranger because we also have to conclude that the very concept of sin (and what constitutes sin) must have originated with God Himself. And of course living in the age we do, it’s quite a challenge to argue that some “sins” are really all that “sinful” today when they do not seem to harm anybody but God. A good example of this is homosexuality when practiced by two loving adults in a consensual relationship – it’s really hard to argue what harm this does and why exactly God would be “offended” – particularly when it’s clear that homosexuality appears not to be a learned behavior but an innate one (although many do even argue that homosexuality is going to destroy marriage as we know it – which is not borne out at all by the evidence – and besides heterosexuals seems to be doing a good job of this without any help from the gay community). So it’s fair to say then that what was once labelled sin was really perhaps a reflection of social norms of the day, and as I said today’s social norms have moved on.

    Is there perhaps a reason then to explain why God has to “separate” from us? Perhaps an obvious one is that since this actually an invisible (i.e., non-existent) entity, it is easier to explain it this way rather than have to deal with the fact that this God does not ever seem to show up (except on special occasions, but then only usually to prophets etc).

    So I don’t really think a bridge is needed – I think that’s just an elaboration we’ve invented to bolster the story of “sin”. Even in the Genesis story in the garden, it is never exactly clear why eating of the tree of life was quite so awful. If it’s true (and there is little reason to think it is), then I’m personally glad – because knowing good and evil is arguably what makes us human. I don’t think that eating that fruit was so much the ‘original sin’ as perhaps the original enlightenment.

    But the idea of needing a ‘bridge’ and one that involves sacrifice (and death) implies too a God that is ultimately constrained. He does not have the power to give forgiveness freely, but has to craft an elaborately staged sacrifice so that He may be appeased. And then rather than accepting this sacrifice freely for all, He throws it before us as an ultimatum – believe or else! I like what Christopher Hitchens has to say on this (and I’m paraphrasing) – that he never asked God to do this, that he is appalled that this sacrifice has to involve the loss of life, and that ultimately we are boxed into a corner to accept or reject this God with His bizarre game plans. Isn’t it just weird that God is offering us freedom but that freedom is ultimately freedom from God’s own wrath? Isn’t it like the despotic Emperor who reprieves the prisoner unjustly jailed on death row, and gives them another year to live – and somehow we are supposed to be grateful for this “act of mercy”?

  102. 102

    I quite agree with JTaylor and with Hitchens (as paraphrased). However, because there are inconsistencies in the Christian idea of God (or that of any religion) does not justify the conclusion that He doesn’t exist. The only valid conclusion is that Christianity probably got some of it wrong.

    My view of Christianity is that there are two sides (a vast oversimplification, I acknowledge): the “sin” side and the “love” side. I think the whole notion of sin and punishment by an angry or vengeful God, or of the idea that we can’t be one with Him if we have sinned and are thus “impure” contradicts the very nature of an infinitely loving and omnipotent God. If God is omnipotent, He can make the rules any way He pleases, and if He is infinitely loving, well, He loves us, for God’s sake (double meaning intended).

    On the other hand, there is a deep current within Christianity that encourages and nurtures the loving beings that we truly are, and this, I think is the real message of Jesus. There are many Christians who strive to live as he lived, and I believe that Jesus actually came to show us, by example, who we are.

  103. 103

    JT…did you and Bruce come in with Allen?

  104. Folks:

    A corrective/clarification:

    The ought-is gap emerges on a naturalistic premise [and, we know or should know that the relevant form of atheism in our culture is naturalistic evolutionary materialism . . . ]; which could have been more clearly stated by Hawthorne, but is implicit in his context.

    Citing Arthur Holmes on Ethics:

    However we may define the good, however well we may calculate consequences, to whatever extent we may or may not desire certain consequences, none of this of itself implies any obligation of command. That something is or will be does not imply that we ought to seek it. We can never derive an “ought” from a premised “is” unless the ought is somehow already contained in the premise . . . .

    R. M. Hare . . . raises the same point. Most theories, he argues, simply fail to account for the ought that commands us: subjectivism reduces imperatives to statements about subjective states, egoism and utilitarianism reduce them to statements about consequences, emotivism simply rejects them because they are not empirically verifiable, and determinism reduces them to causes rather than commands . . . .

    Elizabeth Anscombe’s point is well made. We have a problem introducing the ought into ethics unless, as she argues, we are morally obligated by law – not a socially imposed law, ultimately, but divine law . . . . This is precisely the problem with modern ethical theory in the West . . . it has lost the binding force of divine commandments.

    So, the issue faced by evolutionary materialist atheists — who happen to be precisely the new atheists we are now dealing with at UD and in the wider culture — is to ground their ethical claims, in a context where,a s Holmes goes on to point out, the very issue of rights (as the foundation of liberty) is at stake:

    If we admit that we all equally have the right to be treated as persons, then it follows that we have the duty to respect one another accordingly. Rights bring correlative duties: my rights . . . imply that you ought to respect these rights.

    In short, a right is a binding moral claim we make on others, based on our inherent dignity as persons. this finds — as rthe US DOI of 1776 testifies – a very natural home in a judaeo-Christian, Creaftion anchored worldview, but becomes immensely problematic once we see teh substitution of an evolutionary materialistic one.

    For, on those premises, the Hawthorne challenge becomes at once central:

    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’.

    So, the question now comes back with double force: why should we consider that people have rights at all?

    The only enduring answer to this has been aptly summarised in the US Declaration of Independence of 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .”

    In short, the is-ought gap of naturalistic ethics points to the question that the binding force of rights and correlative duties arises most naturally from our being equally valuable as creatures of God.

    But, if we do not accept that premise, then where do we go to escape the Hawthorne challenge?

    I search in vain above for a solid answer to that — most relevant — dilemma of our time.

    GEM of TKI

  105. 105
    CannuckianYankee

    I don’t have much to add to this debate except to point out the problem I see with the group morality notion propagated by some atheists and also by some Christians I might add, who do not accept the idea of absolute morality.

    I can’t help but notice that with group morality also comes group evil. M. Scott Peck pointed this out in his book “People of the Lie,” although I personally have some issues with his analysis and conclusions.

    An accurate observation (and in-fact study) is that people in groups also do evil things towards one another. Look at the treatment of Jews in Germany during WWII. It wasn’t just the Nazi’s or the SS who were responsible for this mistreatment, but ordinary citizens, who engaged in attrocities. In fact, the very first orders of the Nazis were carried out by ordinary citizens – police officers and others who had no official connection to Hitler’s SS. Or how about the great American evil of slavery? Same issue.

    So to argue that human beings for the most part base their sense of morality on what is acceptable to the group, or to the good of the group, is obviously problematic. After all, in the perspective of many ordinary citizens in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, ill-treatment of the Jews was seen as something that was for the good of German society.

    So how does one reconcile this very real phenomenon with the notion that groups of people form a moral code that is acceptable to all, and intended for the good of, and preservation of all and as a natural consequence of evolution?

    JTaylor continues to mention his assessment that the god of the bible is somehow guilty of genocide. I respectfully disagree with this assessment, but an attempt at a point was made, and it deserves an answer beyond the common Evangelical answers.

    If as Evangelicals and other Christians argue; God is the “law-giver,” which I also believe, then as we see in all legal codes, there is either a deterrent and/or a consequence for doing evil, which is meted out by the law-giver. Otherwise, no code of morality is enforceable. You can’t simply say “do not do this,” and expect that all will obey. It’s absurd to think this, given the reality of evil in the world, which is in most cases, done by free choice, and not by coercion.

    We get all of our sense of justice from law. If there is no law (or “ought”) then by all means, we are free to do as we please as a group or as an individual. All laws as we know them, have deterrens as well as consequences, which give force to the laws themselves.

    Several above mentioned that Christianity is not a moral code, and I would agree with this. However, the Judeo-Christian ethic is a justice ethic. In other words, it is an ethic, which deals with good and evil, whether in a group, or in an individual. Good is rewarded with positive consequences, and evil suffers negative consequences, whether in the present life or in the next.

    Now the issue with a Christian sense of justice, is that it includes the element of mercy. We see evidence of mercy practiced in the Old and the New Testaments. Of course, it also includes elements of no mercy, as well.

    If the God of scripture exists, then He is the law-giver, and at the same time, the rewarder of good and the punisher of evil. Death is a consequence of evil. Therefore, it is within the prerogative of a just God to mete out punishments for evil in this life or in the next. Of course, it is also His prerogative to grant mercy. It may not be the right of the human to possess the knowledge of to whom God metes out punishment, and to whom he grants mercy, for this knowledge on our part might impact the acts of evil upon which He ordains punishment.

    Furthermore, genocide is a human act, and cannot reasonably be attributed to a law-giver, who possesses the authority to mete out punishment or to grant mercy as He sees fit in dealing with the problem of evil. Scripture points out that God’s highest value is the freedom to choose to do good or evil. This appears to be the very first choice He gave to his human creation. That value does not then necessitate that there be no consequence either way with such a choice. In fact, to not have a consequence for evil contradicts the very notion of there being evil in the first place. If there is no consequence then it is not evil. We are free to do what pleases us without consequence.

    There is no narrative in scripture, which shows God meting out death and destruction upon a group of people simply for His own pleasure, and outside the context of law and consequence: “If you do thus, such will happen.”

    The whole context of God’s involvement in human affairs is to do justice. In an environment where sentient beings are free to choose, such choices inevitably involve both good and evil. Evil is the antithesis of a loving God. As such, in order for God to love us unconditionally, our choice to do evil (which is not without effect on others), is to mandate a consequence.

    It is also within God’s prerogative to use tools to mete out consequences for evil, which are outside of His supernatural capacity, such as ordering and/or ordaining that humans be involved in the consequation of evil. Thus, we too, as humans, are not completely reliant on God to recognize what evil is. Evil is often self-evident (or should I say evident by a heart-born revelation or intuition). So the argument that because other societies, which are outside the Judeo-Christian construct of justice have their own sense of morality, implies that the Judeo-Christian construct cannot be the moral authority in matters of good and evil, is problematic as an apologetic against Christianity.

    Let me make this point more forecefully by observing that in scripture we have a sort of “devolution” of morality among humans, and “evolution” of consequent law. In the 2nd chapter of Genesis we have only one given law – do not consume a certain fruit from a certain tree. In response to increasing human disobedience, we see an evolving system of law.

    This implies that as law was passed down and as societies formed in the ancient Near East and in migration to other areas of the world, such understanding of law was carried out to societies, which were outside of the geneological line, which made up the semitic people. Therefore, other societies were aware of the God-given laws, which developed as a result of human disobedience. Now it really makes no difference whether or not one accepts the Noaic deluge – for after that event, the process of law and disobedience started over, and the same phenomenon would continue as before.

    This possibility (and I make it a mere possibility in the interest of my atheist friends here) negates the notion among atheists and other skeptics of Christianity that the moral argument for the existence of God is negated by the existence of morality among cultures foreign to the Judeo-Christian ethic.

    So back to the point of the original post: an “is” cannot lead to an “ought.” There are too many moral relatives, which make morality meaningless. If your morality is contrary to and at the same time, as good as mine, then there can be no logical objection to also accepting Hitler’s morality as legitmate and acceptable.

    Now we can admire atheists who have a sense of morality that is inconsistent with a materialistic metaphysic, but it’s difficult to overlook just that – the inconsistency.

  106. Somewhere upthread, Barry wrote, “The point is whether the atheists believe materialism is false.”

    An small but important point that I am interested in emphasizing is that not all atheists are materialists. Many people who don’t believe in a theistic God nevertheless believe in some type of metaphysical/spiritual component beyond and/or in our universe. It would really be better to address these arguments towards materialism, not atheism per se.

    Second comment: the argument being advanced is that if there is no God, there is no higher external authority as the source of morality, and thus all actions are permitted. When someone like me, an atheist, says that I have morals, and that societies create and uphold moral systems for the general good of all, the rejoinder is that if I can’t deliver a rational defense of those morals, they are really empty, and I would be more honest to admit that in fact everything is permitted.

    The short version of the whole argument being that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is.”

    But what if there really is no God and no other spiritual reality – what if materialism is true? Then the argument that God is necessary for morals means nothing because there is no God.

    At that point one has to ask oneself, then why do people, universally and in all cultures, have a sense of right and wrong; why do societies have moral systems and laws; and why does people’s behavior range from the very good to the very bad, as defined by both social and individual standards of what is good and bad?

    I know – the rejoinder to this is, again, how do you know what is good or bad without reference to God?

    But my rejoinder is, again, what if there is no God? People don’t act as if everything is permitted. If there is no God then there needs to be another explanation. Obviously that explanation can’t be one which invokes a higher power if there is no higher power.

    I can’t give an argument about the source of morals to a theist who will only accept an argument which grounds morals in a higher power if in fact I don’t believe there is a higher power. My arguments about morals being grounded in the nature of human beings and their societies are deemed inadequate in respect to arguments grounding morals in God, but if there is no God, those arguments fails.

    And, I repeat, since it is a fact that people don’t act like everything is permitted, then other types of explanations must be searched for to account for the fact that people universally act upon what they understand to be moral standards.

  107. 107
    CannuckianYankee

    “So to argue that human beings for the most part base their sense of morality on what is acceptable to the group, or to the good of the group, is obviously…….”

    The above could have been better worded: “So to argue that human beings can reasonably base their morality on what is acceptable to the group, or to the good of the group…….”

  108. 108
    CannuckianYankee

    Hazel: “And, I repeat, since it is a fact that people don’t act like everything is permitted, then other types of explanations must be searched for to account for the fact that people universally act upon what they understand to be moral standards.”

    Hazel, I appreciate your attempt to argue the atheist point of view. I can only point out the circularity of the above statement though. Where does the moral standard come from? If you read my previous post on this thread, can you reasonably believe that human moral standards come from humans themselves, when humans are the ones who break those standards?

    Something is wrong with your premise: “people don’t act like everything is permitted.” History shows us that humans have permitted everything that is possible for them to permit. Murder, theft, rape, genocide, slavery, etc… have all been permitted by humans in history, so where on earth does the standard against such behavior come from?

    Your argument is full of holes, but I appreciate your attempt, because it strengthens the theistic position.

  109. Your argument is full of holes, but I appreciate your attempt, because it strengthens the theistic position.

    Only if there is a “God”. :)

  110. On the abortion issue: those who view abortion as murder make an assumption which to them is self-evident, but which is in fact quite arbitrary, namely, that a fertilized human egg is a human being .

    It’s not arbitrary. The DNA of the zygote shows it to be an individual different than either parent. You might disagree with the conclusion that it is a human being worthy of protection but the “assumption” is not “arbitrary”.

    Further, most of the debate with regard to legal abortion does not involve the zygote so much as the embryo and fetus, and involves long-standing and traditional determinations as to the existence of life and “personhood” such as heartbeats and brain waves.

  111. JTaylor –We seem to forget that (if these stories are true) that God chose to wipe out people (including children) just like ourselves, with hopes, aspirations, families, loved ones – simply because they were ‘collateral’ in God’s bigger game plan. It’s truly ghastly .

    Remember your question:

    I guess we have to ask ourselves why is that what seems righteous to God seems so despicable and unjust to us?

    Have you considered an answer?

  112. In #94 Barry Arrington asserts:

    “The point is whether the atheists believe materialism is false. They do not. You also say you know of no scientist who believes materialism.”

    I do not think it is the case that all atheists are materialists; indeed, from my own experience I know this to be a false statement. For example, my wife is an atheist, but she is most definitely not a materialist. If one believes that there is more in the universe than just energy and matter (e.g. information, or “ideas”) and that the list of human intellectual creations that I have posted multiple times actually exist (i.e. in the human mind), then one is not a “materialist” by definition.

    Ergo, not only is the syllogism you present at the head of this post false, but your assertion about all atheists being materialists is false as well.

    And, since we’re supposed to be discussing evolutionary biology, it is clearly not the case that all evolutionary biologists are atheists, nor are all evolutionary biologists materialists. Indeed, two of the founders of the “modern evolutionary synthesis”, Ronald Aylmer Fisher and Theodosious Dobzhansky, were most definitely not atheists (Fisher was a life-time Anglican and Dobzhansky – like many Russians – was a life-time believer in Eastern Orthodoxy). And I am myself also not an atheist (but rather a Friend), nor is Ken Miller (a Catholic), one of the most famous evolutionary biologists working today.

    When confronted with this obvious contradiction to their unshakable belief that scientists who accept evolutionary theory must be atheists, many creationists and ID supporters assert that people like Fisher, Dobzhansky, Miller, and me are simply “muddle-headed” and cannot see the obvious logical contradiction in our thinking. However, the reason they make arrogant and uninformed assertions like this is because they (just like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and PZ Myers) believe that if one is an evolutionary biologist one must also be an atheist. Ergo, they must conclude that evolutionary biologists who are not atheists are either misinformed, insane, or liars (sound familiar?)

    Useless as it may be at this website, may I nevertheless propose an alternative hypothesis: that there is no necessary connection between accepting evolution as a reasonable description of how living organisms have come to have the characteristics that they have, and believing that there is (or isn’t) a supernatural entity or entities (commonly referred to by the “role name” of God or gods). Indeed, based on experience, I believe that it is possible to be an intellectually fulfilled theist and still accept all of contemporary natural science, including evolutionary biology.

    This entire thread has focused on the question of whether a belief in God is necessary for being a moral person. Based on my own experience, I believe that this question is entirely logically separate from the question of whether some supernatural entity participated in the creation of life on Earth and its evolution to current forms. Indeed, there is no logical contradiction whatsoever between believing that a supernatural entity (or entities) provide(s) the foundation for moral prescriptions and the simultaneous belief that including the participation of a supernatural entity (or entities) in the evolution of life on Earth is unnecessary in a logically consistent explanation of how such evolution has occurred. This is especially the case if, as most people have already agreed, it is invalid to derive an “ought” statement (i.e. an ethical prescription) from an “is” statement (i.e. a description of nature).

  113. In #93 stephenB asks:

    “How do you know good effects from bad effects?”

    “And what is good, Phædrus,
    And what is not good…
    Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”
    - Socrates (The Phædrus)

  114. hazel wrote:

    The short version of the whole argument being that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is.”

    Exactly. What Barry and kairosfocus fail to acknowledge is that if the atheist must address the question of “ought” vs. “is”, then so must the theist, as I pointed out way back in comment #20.

    Barry can’t have it both ways. If his argument shows that all things are permitted under atheism, as he claims, then it also shows by the same logic that all things are permitted under theism. If he claims that theism is exempt from his argument, then by the same reasoning so is atheism.

    For Barry’s project to succeed, he would need to show that the “is” of “God exists” leads logically to the “ought” of “we therefore ought to behave a certain way”.

    He hasn’t done so. Instead he just keeps repeating his argument and insisting that the logic is “unassailable”.

    B L Harville put it succinctly:

    Barry Arrington, your “is” is an “ought”.

    If the theist is permitted to magically turn “is” into “ought”, then why is the atheist denied access to this alchemy?

  115. “To assert that Richard Lewontin, an atheist, is also a materialist, and therefore all atheists are materialists is such an absurd perversion of basic logic that I am amazed that you would attempt it in public.”

    Well where is the case for the non materialist atheism made. I do not mean the people here but the case laid out for all of us to look at. And does this mean that science must abandon methodological naturalism since there are potential non material causes.

  116. And if there is such a thing as “non materialist atheism ” does it mean that all these particular atheists are getting religion?

  117. 117

    There is neither evidence nor need for a living God. That does not mean that one does not exist. What cannot be denied (except by congenital atheists) is that one or more Gods once existed. To deny that is to accept the preposterous position that it was intrinsic in the nature of prebiotic matter to spontaneously self assemble into self-replicating, metabolizing and evolving entities. Those that are still willing to believe that proposition are fools. That is not an ad hominem attack but an attack on a huge segment of the present scientific community, a segment both blind and deaf to the world which surrounds them.

    “It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatsoever for believing it to be true.”
    Bertrand Russell

    A perfect commentary on Darwinism and all those, like Allen MacNeill, who still believe it. I select MacNeill only because I will not honor those who refuse to identify themselves, the vast majority of those who comment on these threads at Uncommon Descent. MacNeill’s allegiances and alliances are freely available in his blogroll on the home page of “The Evolution List.” They define his real position perfectly.

    It is hard to believe isn’t it?

    Not at all. The proof is right here for all to see.

    “Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don’t ever apologize for anything.”
    Harry S. Truman

  118. tribune7: “Remember your question:

    I guess we have to ask ourselves why is that what seems righteous to God seems so despicable and unjust to us?

    Have you considered an answer?”

    I don’t know if I have a definitive answer. There are certainly some interesting hypotheses. One is that man is not made in God’s image, but perhaps it’s the other way around. God is made in man’s image. If you then place this process in a tribalistic, ancient context, it is inevitable that this God could be a warring violent one. Perhaps this would give the tribe if not an actual tangible edge, certainly a psychological one (“my god can beat the pants off your god”) – especially where this “god” is competing with those of competing tribes. Tribal gods like this are indeed found in other violent cultures (Japan is one example) although of course many of these are polytheistic.

    There’re are probably other explanations too, but with out more research this is the one that comes to mind first. I’m sure with some digging there is probably a lot of material on this.

  119. Allen MacNeil writes:

    And, since we’re supposed to be discussing evolutionary biology, it is clearly not the case that all evolutionary biologists are atheists, nor are all evolutionary biologists materialists. Indeed, two of the founders of the “modern evolutionary synthesis”, Ronald Aylmer Fisher and Theodosious Dobzhansky, were most definitely not atheists (Fisher was a life-time Anglican and Dobzhansky – like many Russians – was a life-time believer in Eastern Orthodoxy). And I am myself also not an atheist (but rather a Friend), nor is Ken Miller (a Catholic), one of the most famous evolutionary biologists working today

    Can’t you add Sewall Wright and G. Ledyard Stebbins to that list? I don’t recall either of them being atheists either.

  120. Since Allen MacNeil insisted that morality can be judged by its effects, I asked him how we could distinguish good effects from bad effects.

    As a response, he writes,

    “And what is good, Phædrus,
    And what is not good…
    Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”
    - Socrates (The Phædrus)”

    Allen, I didn’t ask the question because I don’t know the answer. I asked the question because I knew that you don’t know the answer.

    The last person that you want to quote is Socrates. You think that we can “create” morality through concensus, but he realized that we can only “discover” it as an objective reality.

    So, if you are going to say that we can “know” good effects from bad effects,” which indeed we can, then you must also say that we can know the “objective moral law” that defines them as good and bad. Plato and Socrates are not your supporters, they are among your severest critics.

  121. JTaylor

    Murder: bad when humans do it, but righteous when God does it.

    If your great-great-great-grandmother many times was a member of a tribe living in Canaan who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got wiped out by the avenging army of Israel at God’s command, what would you feel about it? We seem to forget that (if these stories are true) that God chose to wipe out people (including children) just like ourselves, with hopes, aspirations, families, loved ones – simply because they were ‘collateral’ in God’s bigger game plan. It’s truly ghastly.

    Before you continue, you might to have a look at these two articles by Christian apologist Glenn Miller at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html (on the destruction of the Canaanites), and at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/rbutcher1.html (on the Amalekites).

    God is by definition reasonable. He cannot be otherwise, for His nature is to have perfect knowledge and love of everything and everyone. I suggest you take that as your starting point when interpreting passages in Scripture that appear to depict an irrational, heartless, bloodthirsty, vengeful or capricious God.

    God is not a utilitarian, because He knows full well that people are ends in themselves. God never treats human deaths as mere “collateral.” Therefore if God really did ordain that innocent Canaanites should be killed, then it must have been in their own best interests – in other words, God decided that they should die now, because He infallibly knew that something worse would have happened to them had they lived. As Christian apologist Glenn Miller points out in his article on the massacre of the Canaanites at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html , the Canaanites engaged in a number of extremely nasty practices, including child sacrifice (with at least some of it in fire), incest, bestiality and cultic prostitution – both male and female. I think it is rational to believe that in ordaining the deaths of people born into this culture, He was indeed doing them a favor.

    God is not a sadist: He delights not in pain, and would never inflict pain needlessly. Now, if God actually ordained that innocent people be killed, then He made Himself directly responsible for their deaths: He actually inflicted death on them. Could a just and reasonable God have additionally inflicted pain on these innocent people? No.

    Why not? Well, the deaths of these people might have been necessary, to rescue them from a greater evil that would otherwise have befallen them; but the suffering of these innocent people could have served no purpose, especially if they had done no wrong (which would have been the case for young Canaanite boys killed by the Israelites).

    I therefore conclude that if God actually told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites, He must have intervened to ensure that innocent Canaanite woman and children suffered no pain or distress in the process.

    There would have been a very easy way for God to do that, without violating any laws of nature. Many people are under the mistaken impression that theists merely envisage God as a First Cause, conserving all beings in existence but typically as a remote rather than an immediate cause of events. Not so. As Professor Alfred Freddoso points out in an interesting article at http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/chance.htm , this view, which he dubs the “conservationist” view, is most emphatically not the traditional Christian view. The traditional view is that God is not merely at the top of every causal chain; rather, God also works concurrently with every cause in the chain – in other words, not like this:

    God -> X -> Y -> Z

    but like this:

    God -> X
    God + X -> Y
    God + Y -> Z

    On the traditional “concurrentist” view, if God wishes to stop an effect from occurring, all He has to do is to withdraw His co-operation from ONE of the causes in the chain, and the effect will not occur. No law of nature is broken in the process, because laws of nature simply describe what happen when God chooses to work concurrently with natural causes, in His usual way. When God, for reasons best known to Himself, withholds His co-operation from these natural causes, they have no effect.

    Thus it would have been quite easy for God to withhold His co-operation from the natural bodily processes that were keeping the innocent Canaanite women and children awake, thereby causing them to lose consciousness, so that they were not aware of the Israelite attack and consequently felt no pain or distress as they were being killed. In a similar fashion, God could also have prevented the Israelite soldiers from experiencing any trauma as a result of carrying out such a gruesome task, by withholding his co-operation with the neurological processes that normally lay down memories in the brain: the soldiers may have had no memory of the killings afterwards.

    Professor Alfred Freddoso illustrates how God can prevent pain with an example, in the article I cited above, at http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/chance.htm :

    Think of Shadrach sitting in the fiery furnace. Here we have real human flesh exposed unprotected to real fire, and yet Shadrach survives unscathed – even though the fire is so hot that it consumes the soldiers who usher him into the furnace. How, on the [conservationist] view, can God save Shadrach? Only, it seems, by either (i) taking from the fire its power to consume Shadrach, which is inconsistent with the soldiers’ being incinerated but in any case amounts … to destroying the fire and in that sense overpowering it; or (ii) endowing Shadrach’s clothing and flesh with a special power of resistance, in which case God is opposing His creature, the fire; or (iii) placing some impediment (say, an invisible heat-resistant shield) between Shadrach and the flames, in which case God is yet again resisting the power of the fire. By contrast, on the … concurrentist [model], God accomplishes this miracle simply by withholding His own action. The (real) fire is, as it were, beholden to God’s word; He does not have to struggle with it or overcome it or oppose it. The fire’s natural effect cannot occur without God’s action, and in this case God chooses not to act in the way required. An elegant account, and one that does not in any way give any creature a power that God must oppose.

    The interpretation of a book written 3,000 years ago in a foreign language is a task fraught with peril, as it is no easy matter to determine what the sacred author meant to communicate to his readers. What I have endeavored to do is demonstrate that even if the account of the conquest of Canaan is a completely literal one, and all of the events narrated actually occurred as described, there is no need to suppose that God is bloodthirsty, capricious or a cold-blooded utilitarian bean-counter.

    You may object that no sensible person would obey a command to kill innocent women and children, regardless of who issued it. Ordinarily I would agree. However, I would also add that if

    (i) the command issued from a Deity who confirmed His Reality and His Goodness with numerous public miracles over a 40-year period; and

    (ii) the individuals being killed were part of an unremittingly hostile culture that threatened to wipe out your own; and

    (iii) unfortunately, there was no practical way of taking care of most of the innocent women and childrn being killed; and

    (iv) the culture in question was also uniquely depraved, and its vile practices threatened to overwhelm engulf your own culture’s new and very fragile way of life; and

    (v) nothing short of a massacre of this depraved civilization would persuade other civilizations dwelling in the region to “back off,” leave your society alone, and refrain from tangling with your Deity; and

    (vi) the depraved civilization had received numerous warnings of impending attack; and

    (vii) the Deity commanding the attack repeatedly showed His concern for innocent human life – e.g. by denouncing child sacrifice and infanticide as abominations, and by issuing laws to protect the rights of innocent women and children in your own culture,

    then it might be reasonable to believe the word of such a Deity, and to assume that its command to kill was a kind and not a cruel one.

    Lastly, I might add that no Christian commentator has ever suggested that God might issue a new command to kill the innocent at some future date; all commentators agree that the destruction of the Canaanites was only justified by the unique circumstances which the Israelites found themselves in.

  122. JTaylor –There are certainly some interesting hypotheses. One is that man is not made in God’s image, but perhaps it’s the other way around.

    Somewhere along the line you have developed beliefs that mercy is good, that cruelty is bad, that one should not inflict suffering needlessly, that disproportionate punishment is bad etc.

    Somewhere along the line you have developed a belief that compassion is a virtue and suffering should be alleviated. For instance, if you should see a man beaten by the side of the road you should go out of your way to care for him despite the inconvenience rather than letting him lie there.

    These values can be traced to a certain fellow who walked the Earth 2,000 years ago, although I’ll grant you can come to a similar understanding through a fair reading of the Old Testament — I’ve met very few Jews who were brutal people — despite your objections.

    Now, you might reply these values are innate and you would be wrong. Someone, on this thread, I think, said babies are born atheists. No, babies are born quite convinced they are God and the world is there to serve them. Parents are required to teach them love and compassion for others, sometimes through discipline but mostly through example.

    If you were born in a different society you might be quite accepting of cannibalism, or human sacrifice — burning babies for luck a la the Carthaginians, or torturing to death captives as per Iroquois squaws or raising sons to be suicide bombers as certain mothers do in Gaza or genitally mutilating daughters when they reach a certain age as is the practice in parts of North Africa.

    So the reason you are offended by parts of the Old Testament is because you were raised in a Christian culture which decrees harsh brutality to be offensive.

  123. JTaylor:
    “Why is it a given that an atheist then must by necessity fall into immorality?” EVERYONE DOES – Think of God’s “righteousness” metaphorically/meta-morally if that helps.

    Buddhism = Annihilation (true nothingness) that aspect of the human philosophy of Buddha is true for the natural man. Choice – Free Will – Yes, you can do what you will, but NOT in the arena of true morality. Like C.S. Lewis said “I’ve never had a selfless thought since I was born.” No one is perfect (totally moral) yet – there are those being perfected – the remnant. This is where Christ came to save His People from Their sins.

    You can not understand what God did from your present point of view. Look into 1. All flesh is like grass (due to our falling away from believing God – “Hath God Said?” @. God has a specific plan for all of eternity being worked out for His purpose not yours. 3. Study types and shadows and prophecy asking for eyes to see and ears to hear. The OT is MOST essential in understand the NT. “There was a time before the past when things to come were clearly cast.” (verse 1 of “What Is That To You” found at mortaldreamer.me)
    Patience? – Genocide? – What is life anyway and for what or better Who’s purpose and how is it that with ALL that has been Revealed most either ignore it or compromise it for their own faith and their own hope which keeps them blind. What is it to you that the Record is so plain – fulfilled prophecy in strict adherence to type and shadow with Christ plainly lifted up for all to SEE – and the response is talk talk talk – debate – complain sophomorically so – ignorantly so – immorally so – and thinking they judge the Bible!? – Truly ghastly.”

    “A friend once pointed out that my views are inconsistent since I’m anti-death penalty so why would I also support abortion – and they had a good point.” The opposition to the death penalty come out of a belief that life is special or even “sacred” The penalty of death instituted by God is a type and the punishment is death Because life IS sacred.

    Theface: “I am saying that hell is most likely not some literal torture chamber, with God at the controls. Rather, God has completely cut them off from himself. Hell IS complete total final and never reversible condition of annihilation” – yes they have forfeited the Gift – “Eternal Life In Christ” God’s plan of Redemption. So can you agree at least that if they are “cut off” from God who is Life that they DON ‘T have any life?

    In reading the rest of the posting – from 97 on – my point is made – the natural man’s (both “religious” and atheist – which is a religion) arguments/ beliefs are totally self justifying and un –“researched” in terms of biblical pontification. “ever learning, (and “thinking as JTaylor admonishes us to do #102) yet unable to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    StephenB: thank you for you summation in 96
    Bruce David: how do you know its a wrong assumption and your assumption is correct – seems to make my point. New Age thinking is quite self serving – a type if you will of the natural man trying to be “spiritual” in self justification and self glorification – drinking as the scriptures say from their own well/river – their “instead of” Christ.

    So JTaylor: YOU don’t think a “Bridge” is needed. Please just take a thought on the immense amount of information given that came from beyond space and time telling us before hand of the Redeemer – When and Why He would come and then still truly believe your philosophy is the rational and dare I say “moral” choice.

    Bruse David: your assessment of inconsistencies in the Christian idea of God is correct, but let me say that is due to the (hard to explain in brief) lazy – self serving hermeneutic of “Christians” (Tares – Foolish “virgins if you know what I’m referring to) rather than Scripture itself – this seen and understood within the hermeneutic of scripture interpreting itself. This is why judgment begins with “Christians” those to whom He says “I never knew you” and to their surprise. I will tell you straight out – no apologies whatsoever – you don’t have the slightest idea of what the “real message of Jesus” is – offensive – so be it, but it is given in Love. Anti – you are replacing the True “message” (work) of Jesus with you own. The truth is that you can’t say what you said and have any knowledge of what the Bible actually says – sorry.

    Kairosfocus: thank you for your post #105

    CannuckianYankee: thank you for your post #106

    Hazel: grasping at straws I think – materialism v. atheism – come now. AND God has created humans with conscience – the “sense of right and wrong” as you say. Believe me – I know atheism – at one time it gave me the “freedom” to my own sense of right and wrong. Thankfully that has given me a little better understanding of just what sin is….

    God reveals – Man rejects – judgment (after “much patience”) is sure and just – and coming soon – “the wise shall know time and judgment.”

    OH – tribune7: thank you for that most excellent question. Let me hint at an answer – ”

    Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” We think God should be serving our purposes and thoughts not having the knowledge of why this earth exists in the first place -

  124. vjtorley @122. As usual, your post is a gift to be treasured.

  125. JTaylor: Again my point – you have your interpretive filter serving you well. It’s inaccurate, but it works.

    vjtorley tries to enlighten on the viewpoint you use and brings up some good logical/”spiritual” insights. More importantly however is the judgment on the “tribal” nations are examples and types for our knowledge about the last days and the “Day of Judgment”
    The Watchmen are on the wall – as it was in the days of Noah. Do you seek knowledge in place of repentance?

  126. 126

    Allan MacNeill writes: “This entire thread has focused on the question of whether a belief in God is necessary for being a moral person.”

    Wrong. You are an obviously intelligent man, so I am utterly flabbergasted that you can read the post and the 112 comments that came after it and have no idea what the question is. The question in this post and the comments is not whether an atheist can be a moral person. I don’t know anyone who says an atheist cannot be a moral person. No, the question is whether an atheist can ground his/her morality in anything other than sentiment. So far, no one has demonstrated that they can.

  127. tribune7: #123 – your examples and last paragraph – great point – thanks.

  128. 128

    Allan MacNeil: “I do not think it is the case that all atheists are materialists.” OK, point taken. In this post I assume that in context people understand that I mean evolutionary materialist atheists such as Dawkins. Perhaps I should have been more careful with my language.

    For our purposes let us assume that I am not talking about the irrational type of atheist who denies the existence of God but, for whatever reason, refuses to accept the logical consequence of that denial – that materialism is true.

  129. vjtorley: “Lastly, I might add that no Christian commentator has ever suggested that God might issue a new command to kill the innocent at some future date; all commentators agree that the destruction of the Canaanites was only justified by the unique circumstances which the Israelites found themselves in.”

    None are “innocent” Rom. 8:1 and the judgment are written for our admonition and discernment regarding understanding God’s judgment plan and process. So, yes you are correct in the literal hermeneutic, but should point out the higher – prophetic aspect. I do obviously acknowledge that the materialist will not have much of a handle on this. I will also acknowledge that tares and foolish virgins don’t either.

  130. mauka

    If the theist is permitted to magically turn “is” into “ought”, then why is the atheist denied access to this alchemy?

    The reason is that God is the only Being for whom “is” and “ought” necessarily coincide. God cannot fail to be what He ought to be: someone who knows and loves perfectly. That’s because God does these things by nature: He is essentially omniscient and omnibenevolent.

    Creatures, on the other hand, are not morally perfect by nature; on the contrary, they are quite capable of doing wrong. For such creatures, the “is-ought” distinction is a real one; what they ought to be may be very different from what they actually are.

    The fact that God, who is essentially good, created human beings with certain built-in goods of their own is surely a sufficient reason for treating these natural human goods with respect.

    Of course, even if you didn’t believe in God, you could still hold to a kind of natural law morality, from a recognition that there are several practical human ends (basic human goods) whose goodness is self-evident, and which can be pursued for their own sake. For a discussion of these ends, and an explanation of why our recognition of these ends does not involve jumping from an “is” to an “ought,” see this article by Professor John Finnis at http://plato.stanford.edu/entr.....political/ .

    One question which an atheist might have a hard time in answering, though, is the question of why we should refrain from genetically re-engineering human beings, in such a way as to alter their psychological nature, and change the way they feel. A theist would have a perfect answer here: it is not our prerogative to do so. God, who made us, knows best.

  131. 131

    MacNeill again: “When confronted with this obvious contradiction to their unshakable belief that scientists who accept evolutionary theory must be atheists, many creationists and ID supporters assert that people like Fisher, Dobzhansky, Miller, and me are simply “muddle-headed” and cannot see the obvious logical contradiction in our thinking. However, the reason they make arrogant and uninformed assertions like this is because they (just like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and PZ Myers) believe that if one is an evolutionary biologist one must also be an atheist.”

    Wrong again: I will suppose for the sake of argument it is possible to believe in materialism or its functional equivalent in one area of life (i.e., while doing biology) and in theism in every other part of one’s life. But what I believe regarding this issue is quite irrelevant to this post and thread. The issue is whether people who are materialist atheists in every sense of the word can ground their morality in anything other than sentiment. They have not.

  132. 132

    “the question is whether an atheist can ground his/her morality in anything other than sentiment. So far, no one has demonstrated that they can.”

    The same can be said of a theist, with at least the difference that the atheist does not have religious ideology to use in rationalizing criminal behavior.

  133. 133

    MacNeill: “Useless as it may be at this website, may I nevertheless propose an alternative hypothesis: that there is no necessary connection between accepting evolution as a reasonable description of how living organisms have come to have the characteristics that they have, and believing that there is (or isn’t) a supernatural entity or entities (commonly referred to by the “role name” of God or gods).”

    I quite agree with you on this point. It is not LOGICALLY impossible for mechanical necessity and chance to have operated together in such a way as account for all of the complexity and diversity of life, just as it is not logically impossible for rain and wind to account for the faces on Mount Rushmore. And this is true even if God exists. Thus, there is no NECESSARY (as you say) connection between belief in evolution and belief in God. The issue is and always will be, where does the evidence lead? Is ID or Darwinism the most reasonable hypothesis based on the data?

    Again, this is quite beside the point of this post.

  134. 134

    MacNeill: “To assert that Richard Lewontin, an atheist, is also a materialist, and therefore all atheists are materialists is such an absurd perversion of basic logic that I am amazed that you would attempt it in public.”

    Do you specialize in erecting strawmen and knocking them over. I said no such thing. YOU SAID and I quote, “no scientist of whom I am aware (and I include Richard Dawkins in this) would agree with the premise . . . ‘The natural world is all there is.’”

    I quoted Lewontin to rebut this statement, not to demonstrate that all atheists are materialist. Stop twisting my arguments to suit your purposes.

  135. Barry says,

    For our purposes let us assume that I am not talking about the irrational type of atheist who denies the existence of God but, for whatever reason, refuses to accept the logical consequence of that denial – that materialism is true.

    Buddhist, Taoists, and others deny the existence of a personal God and also deny materialism. Are they irrational?

  136. 136

    mauka writes: “Barry can’t have it both ways. If his argument shows that all things are permitted under atheism, as he claims, then it also shows by the same logic that all things are permitted under theism. If he claims that theism is exempt from his argument, then by the same reasoning so is atheism. For Barry’s project to succeed, he would need to show that the “is” of “God exists” leads logically to the “ought” of “we therefore ought to behave a certain way”.

    You are quite wrong. If one assumes the premise that God exists and that God has prescribed a universally binding moral code, then my project succeeds. That is not that hard to understand.

  137. In other words, is it irrational to believe that there might be a non-material spiritual aspect to reality that is diffuse rather than consolidated into a willful, foresightful purpose “person”, and that personhood as we know it is a emergent property that arises that in fact creates an illusion about the true nature of spirit.

    For this is, approximately, what Buddhists believe, and it makes more sense to me than theism.

  138. 138

    Hazel writes: “Buddhist, Taoists, and others deny the existence of a personal God and also deny materialism. Are they irrational?”

    Yes, deeply.

  139. Tribune7 @124

    So the reason you are offended by parts of the Old Testament is because you were raised in a Christian culture which decrees harsh brutality to be offensive.

    I’m reminded of the Sawi people of Indonesia, who considered treachery a virtue until Christian missionaries introduced a different way. The former Sawi practice involved befriending a person then killing them when their trust in your friendship was complete.

  140. So far, no one has demonstrated that they can.

    Including the theists, I would argue.

    As I stated before, this is not my area of expertise, and so my responses to this topic haven’t been as well organized or clear-cut as I’d like since I am still sorting out my own views on this. However, for me, I think it really comes down to a question of objective morality versus a transcendent morality. The theists want a way (and I would too, I might add), independent of human subjectivity, to condemn the actions of people like Hitler or Dahmer. Unfortunately, if we learned anything from the last few thousand years of studying the cosmos, it is that the universe is fundamentally indifferent to our plight. This “grounding” of morality that theists are looking for would be some fundamental property of the universe that “cares” about what humans do to each other, but I don’t think such a thing could exist or even makes sense. As I stated earlier, I don’t think God solves this problem unless you do silly things like define God to be “goodness”, and I don’t think fundamental truths about the universe can be discovered by semantic weaseling like that.

    However, I think you can still have an objective morality, ie, one that is not subject to the whims and desires of every dictator and serial killer. Others will be able to state this much more elegantly than I can, but even though the universe itself may not “care” what Hitler does, other humans do. It is objectively true that what Hitler did caused human suffering and therefore his actions matter to a great deal of people. We can’t condemn him for violating some unseen moral property of the universe, but we can condemn him for violating near-universal human standards of moral behavior.

  141. Barry Arrington: “…God has prescribed a universally binding moral code…”

    Please explain the origin and nature of this code and how it is administered.

  142. 143

    DanSLO re your [141], let’s role play. I will play the strictly logical atheist.

    You write: “we can condemn [Hitler] for violating near-universal human standards of moral behavior.”

    I disagree. Hitler thought he was doing an affirmatively good thing by eliminating the Jews. He was elevated to power in a fair democratic election and he never violated a single German law. Who are you to say he was wrong. That’s just your opinion. A lot of very important people – even to this day – think he was right, including the President of Iran. Who are you to say your opinion is better than theirs? On what ground do you say you are clearly right and they are clearly wrong?

    You will say that Hitler caused a lot of suffering. Yeah, why should I care? Churchill caused a lot of suffering when he firebombed German cities; yet you call Churchill a hero and Hitler a villain. So, merely causing people to suffer cannot be the ground on which to choose which behavior is moral. We say that some people who cause others to suffer are moral and some people who cause others to suffer are immoral. Who are you to decide which is which and on what ground? If the Germans had won the war you would be singing a different tune today. You would have been indoctrinated to believe that Churchill, not Hitler, was the war criminal.

    Do you just have a deep intuition that Hitler was evil? Why should I care about the condition of your viscera, much less agree with you because they tell you to spout something about morality?

  143. Barry Arrington:

    “the question is whether an atheist can ground his/her morality in anything other than sentiment. So far, no one has demonstrated that they can.”

    Larry Tanner:

    The same can be said of a theist, with at least the difference that the atheist does not have religious ideology to use in rationalizing criminal behavior.

    Wrong, Larry. A Theist can appeal to an ultimate source of moral authority. Whether that source exists is a separate question. But it makes logical sense for him to point to a higher source for his moral code.

    As for rationalization, the Theist may rationalize his criminality, but the Atheist cuts out the middleman by not having a moral code that anyone (including himself) is bound to recognize. He may choose to bind himself, but he’s free to change his mind when it suits him. All things being equal, I don’t see how removing the need to justify/rationalize one’s actions makes others safer from “criminality”.

  144. 139 Barry Arrington
    04/22/2009 12:10 pm

    Hazel writes: “Buddhist, Taoists, and others deny the existence of a personal God and also deny materialism. Are they irrational?”

    Yes, deeply.

    I think that the word irrational has lost some meaning here.

    Believing in a transcendental being who we can not see or other wise directly experience, and who has taken this peculiar interest in a subset of human beings on this little planet, and who condemns to hell countless millions who have had the misfortune to not believe in him even if they in fact have other deeply held religious beliefs of their own, is rational, but to believe in a universal spirit that pervades the universe and in which we partake, is irrational.

    I don’t believe that whatever distinctions are separating the rational from the irrational here are in fact rational. Seems like special pleading for one’s own case to me.

  145. Hazel writes: “Buddhist, Taoists, and others deny the existence of a personal God and also deny materialism. Are they irrational?”

    Of course they are. ALL natural “rational” philosophy is irrational in it ultimate sense. May I ask what you find so compelling about Buddhism? That would be Eastern not Western Buddhism. No creator – no Father Creator in Heaven – just ultimate nothingness as the grand prize. I just wonder and please correct me if I am mischaracterizing this philosophy.

    Larry Tanner 133 – You don’t get a get out of jail free card for simply stating atheism is not a religion as it most certainly is. It is indeed a belief system.

    riddick: you are kidding – right? May I ask your age?

  146. Please explain the origin and nature of this code and how it is administered.

    Not speaking for Barry, but…

    According to Judaism and Christianity, this was accomplished by revelation, i.e. direct and indirect communication from God, at times accompanied by miracles and moral insights that are confirmed by human intuition. You may doubt the historical accounts, but that’s at least a partial answer to your question.

  147. You will say that Hitler caused a lot of suffering. Yeah, why should I care. Churchill caused a lot of suffering when he firebombed German cities. You call Churchill a hero and Hitler a villain. So, merely causing people to suffer cannot be the ground on which to choose which behavior is moral.

    Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call Churchill a hero for firebombings. Perhaps they were necessary to save even more lives, perhaps they were just an act of unnecessary evil.

    It really comes down to what kind of moral system you think is possible here. The world is not black and white, there are shades of grey where it is not always possible to categorize actions as 100% moral or 100% immoral. In practice, we all tend to use some kind of Utilitarianism to judge people’s actions where we look at the results of that action in terms of human suffering or human benefit. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that Hitler’s actions fall pretty heavily in the “immoral” category based on the effects of the Holocaust in that context.

    Again, when you ask for me to logically prove that causing human suffering is “bad”, I don’t know that that is possible. I don’t think that admission of ignorance opens the floodgates to dictators and genocide though, because most of us have empathy and can recognize the value of reducing human suffering, even as a simple selfish desire to make the world a better place to live in.

  148. 149

    “A Theist can appeal to an ultimate source of moral authority. Whether that source exists is a separate question.”

    Whether that source exists may be a separate question, but it’s a biggie. Am I supposed to be impressed by the mere fact that one claims to “appeal to an ultimate source of moral authority”? Appeal away, but it doesn’t get you a “get out of jail free card,” to use alan’s words.

    You still have not shown that theists can ground their morality in anything other than sentiment. This is, of course, the same criticism you level against atheists.

    Why you feel the need to level such a criticism is another matter.

  149. 150

    Hazel re your [145].

    Yes, we are talking past each other. We are using the same word to describe two very different things.

    I use the word “rational” in a strictly technical sense to mean “based on sound reasoning.” I also use the word “irrational” in a strictly technical sense to mean, “not based on sound reasoning.” By sound reasoning I mean thinking and making conclusions according to evidence and logic based on the law of non-contradiction. In this sense “rational” is a very western concept, and most Buddhists will admit that their religion is not rational by this definition.

    “Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument” – the Buddha.

    Here’s a website that discusses these issues fairly well.

    http://www.christian-faith.com.....ality.html

  150. 151

    DanSLO: “I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that Hitler’s actions fall pretty heavily in the “immoral” category based on the effects of the Holocaust in that context.”

    That’s just your opinion. Hitler thought he was doing the world a favor by wiping out the Jews. He would have said that his actions “fall pretty heavily in the ‘moral’ category based on the effects of the Holocaust in that context.”

    Who is to say you are right and Hitler was wrong?

  151. You still have not shown that theists can ground their morality in anything other than sentiment.

    We don’t both agree that it is “sentiment”. We perhaps both agree that if atheists are right it is only sentiment, and perhaps we both might agree that it is phenomenally sentiment, but one of us believes that we can consider something more than it appears, and another of us believes that’s foolishness.

    Thus the person who believes it’s foolishness is more chained to the conclusion that is is “simply sentiment” than the observer who is not. The one who thinks that everything useful must resolve in the state of things as they are known at the time, must admit that all they can see is sentiment and preference and at most intuition–but that would yield too much ground to the intuitionists as well.

  152. vjtorley in #121:

    I evidently must reconsider every kind word I have ever said about your comments. The content of #121 is so hideous and morally repellent as to actually have made me somewhat nauseous reading it.

    Why?

    Consider the minor wording change in the following:

    Der Führer is not a utilitarian, because He knows full well that Aryan people are ends in themselves. Der Führer never treats human deaths as mere “collateral.” Therefore if Der Führer really did ordain that innocent Jews should be killed, then it must have been in their own best interests – in other words, Der Führer decided that they should die now, because He infallibly knew that something worse would have happened to them had they lived. As National Socialist communications minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels points out, the Jews engaged in a number of extremely nasty practices, including child sacrifice (with at least some of it involving mahtzos made from the blood of children), incest, bestiality and cultic prostitution – both male and female. I think it is rational to believe that in ordaining the deaths of people born into Jewish culture, Der Führer was indeed doing them a favor.

    Der Führer is not a sadist: He delights not in pain, and would never inflict pain needlessly. Now, if Der Führer actually ordained that innocent people be killed, then He made Himself directly responsible for their deaths: He actually inflicted death on them. Could a just and reasonable Führer have additionally inflicted pain on these innocent people? No.

    Why not? Well, the deaths of these people might have been necessary, to rescue them from a greater evil that would otherwise have befallen them and to save the rest of humanity (and especially the Aryan race) from the effects of their brutish and inhuman practices. However, the suffering of these innocent people could have served no purpose, especially if they had done no wrong (which would have been the case for young Jewish children killed by the SS in the camps).

    I therefore conclude that if Der Führer actually told the SS to kill the Jews, He must have intervened to ensure that innocent Jewish women and children suffered no pain or distress in the process. This is why they were executed using machine guns in Russia (death from a machine gun bullet in the brain is virtually instantaneous and therefore virtually painless) and Zyklon B in the camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere in the Greater German Reich.

    Need I continue, or is the parallel obvious enough now? No, there’s even worse:

    On the traditional “National Socialist” view, if Der Führer wishes to stop an effect from occurring, all He has to do is to intervene in ONE of the causes in the chain, and the effect will not occur. No law of nature is broken in the process, because laws of nature simply describe what happen when Der Führer chooses to work concurrently with natural causes, in His usual way. When Der Führer, for reasons best known to Himself, intervenes in these natural causes, they have no effect.

    Thus it would have been quite easy for Der Führer, by using the narcotic and painless gas Zyklon-B, to intervene in the natural bodily processes that were keeping the innocent Jewish women and children awake, thereby causing them to lose consciousness, so that they were not aware of their execution and consequently felt no pain or distress as they were being killed. In a similar fashion, Der Führer could also have prevented the SS soldiers from experiencing any trauma as a result of carrying out such a gruesome task, by withholding his co-operation with the neurological processes that normally lay down memories in the brain: the soldiers may have had no memory of the killings afterwards.

    Grit your teeth, there’s only a little bit more of this horror:

    The interpretation of an edict passed down more than half a century ago in a foreign language is a task fraught with peril, as it is no easy matter to determine what Der Führer meant to communicate to the German people and to the world. What I have endeavored to do is demonstrate that even if the account of the Holocaust is a completely literal one, and all of the events narrated actually occurred as described, there is no need to suppose that Der Führer is bloodthirsty, capricious or a cold-blooded utilitarian bean-counter.

    You may object that no sensible person would obey a command to kill innocent women and children, regardless of who issued it. Ordinarily I would agree. However, I would also add that if

    (i) the command issued from a Führer who confirmed His Reality and His Goodness with numerous public demonstrations to the German People over a 20-year period; and

    (ii) the individuals being killed were part of an unremittingly hostile culture that threatened to wipe out the Aryan Race; and

    (iii) unfortunately, there was no practical way of taking care of most of the innocent women and childrn being killed; and

    (iv) the culture in question was also uniquely depraved, and its vile practices threatened to overwhelm engulf your own culture’s new and very fragile way of life; and

    (v) nothing short of a massacre of this depraved civilization would persuade other civilizations dwelling in the region to “back off,” leave your society alone, and refrain from tangling with Der Führer and His Chosen People; and

    (vi) the depraved civilization had received numerous warnings of impending attack; and

    (vii) Der Führer commanding the attack repeatedly showed His concern for innocent human life – e.g. by denouncing child sacrifice and infanticide as abominations, and by issuing laws to protect the rights of innocent women and children in Aryan culture,

    then it might be reasonable to believe the word of Der Führer, and to assume that His command to kill was a kind and not a cruel one.

    Lastly, I might add that no National Socialist commentator has ever suggested that Der Führer might issue a new command to kill the innocent at some future date; all commentators agree that the destruction of the Jews was only justified by the unique circumstances which the German People found themselves in, which necessitated this Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.

    Can anyone reading these words claim that this could not have been quoted from some long-lost apologetic authored by the good doctor (Herr Goebbels) himself?

    In sum, vj, you have asserted that:

    1) killing innocent people is entirely justified if God/Der Führer commands it,

    2) if you follow His orders, he will make you forget what you have done, and

    3) God/Der Führer will make certain that those innocent people who He has ordered to be killed won’t feel it.

    And you wonder why some people cannot stand Christianity and Christians…

  153. BarryA #151:

    Hitler thought he was doing the world a favor by wiping out the Jews.

    Not only doing the world a favor, Barry. Hitler also believed he was going god’s work:

    I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.

    - Adolf Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936

    Hitler’s morality was “based on an ultimate authority,” or whatever you want to call it, just as much as any other theist.

  154. 155

    Allen MacNeill,

    I’m still waiting on an answer for how we, as evolved beings, which cannot produce an ought from an is, know what ought is. I’m interested in your response in particular because you’re an evolutionary psychologist. The answer that culture provides it is a non-starter, because culture is just what the individuals will do once there are a lot of them. Not to mention that if you ask ten people to objectively explain culture, you’ll get ten different answers. And any culture, just like anything else, can only be known by an individual–so it gets self-refuting pretty quickly as an answer that is not itself an answer from culture, but from an individual. Thanks Allen. I’ve wanted to have this discussion with an evolutionary psychologist for a pretty good while. Also, as an aside, what domain over human behaviour does evolutionary psychology reign if not human behaviour as a whole?

  155. 156

    Barry Arrington:

    Who is to say you are right and Hitler was wrong?

    Human beings, who else?

    The 9-11 terrorists were doing what they were absolutely convinced was the will of their god and they believed they would be greatly rewarded in an afterlife. Were they acting morally, Barry? If you say no, then you are denying god-based morality.

  156. 157

    riddick,

    “Please explain the origin and nature of this code and how it is administered.”

    Origin–God

    Nature–God

    Administered–written in your conscience.

  157. 158

    Diffaxial,

    “Referencing my comment vis incompatible frameworks that appeared on the “Quote of the Day” thread, the atheist response to your question, directed to the religiously inclined, is in the neighborhood of, “The same way you do.” Their response is to argue that religious assertions of “morality derived from God,” from organized religion, and from religious traditions are no less human inventions than explicitly humanist creeds – although they are burdened with fewer fictions and are more honest about their human and cultural origins. The bottom line, from this perspective, is that we are all in the same boat with respect to the human origins of moral codes of conduct – although some of us aren’t aware of it.”

    We are in the same boat in regarding the origin of moral codes, but it is enough for me to point out that the answer given by the humanists and atheists is inadequate. It won’t do. It ain’t got legs ;). What I am interested in is the positive assertion that there is an answer of the origin of morality that comes from answers like “cultural evolution” and “evolutionary psychology.” These folks do think they have the answer to the origin of morality. The logic flows easily enough–if we are the product of evolution, then so must all of us be, even our morality.

    And my statement that culture is just a collection of individuals, I suppose, could be considered reductionist, but that would be like saying that math involves numbers.

  158. 159
    CannuckianYankee

    “The 9-11 terrorists were doing what they were absolutely convinced was the will of their god and they believed they would be greatly rewarded in an afterlife. Were they acting morally, Barry? If you say no, then you are denying god-based morality.”

    This is a ridiculous argument. The 9-11 terrorists were acting contrary to Judeo-Christian morality based in scripture. They may have claimed a god-based justification for their actions, but claiming such does not make it so.

  159. 160

    alan:

    “Bruce David: how do you know its a wrong assumption and your assumption is correct [?]”

    I don’t. I have my beliefs, you have yours. But if you make a law based on your assumptions and those assumptions are not shared by the majority of the population, you have participated in tyranny. Such tyranny would not be an inconsequential one. Women will die or be made sterile having illegal abortions, as they did and were before Roe vs. Wade. Doctors who are otherwise law-abiding will be turned into criminals because their consciences will not let them allow a woman to suffer when they have the power to prevent it. Children will come into the world unwanted, with all the psychological and social harm that accompanies such births. And women’s (and men’s) lives will be interrupted and altered by the need to care for and raise a child they didn’t want and can’t afford. Not to mention the effect that thousands more children will have on the ecology of our already overcrowded planet.

    alan:

    “I will tell you straight out – no apologies whatsoever – you don’t have the slightest idea of what the “real message of Jesus” is – offensive – so be it, but it is given in Love.”

    I am not offended, and I accept that it was delivered in love. I believe that Jesus came to show us by example who and what we really are. We are all the sons and daughters of God, made in His image and likeness, and we all have within us the power to be and do as Jesus did and was. I know that this is not the Christian point of view, but I do not come by my opinion lightly or without study. How do you know I am wrong?

  160. 161

    “Human beings, who else?”

    Indeed.

    The fact is that in this life human beings are the only arbiters of morality. I hear a lot about the need for an objective morality, but I know nobody who has access to such a morality nor who lives according to one. Everybody — atheist and believer alike — makes local, contextual decisions. Moral rules are decided — again, by atheist and believer alike — socially and via compromise.

    “Objective morality” has no effect except to say that my local, contextual moral decisions have more authority than yours, and therefore that you should have less say in the collective morality in which we all participate.

  161. Who is to say you are right and Hitler was wrong?

    What I am saying is that the transcendent morality that will allow you to condemn Hitler’s actions independently of all the suffering he caused does not exist, nor can it. We judge things to be good and evil based on the fact that they either cause or alleviate human suffering. Trying to separate the concepts of good and evil from the subjectivity of human experience is impossible, I think.

  162. Hi JTaylor,

    I’ve liked reading your posts.

    Its interesting that the character you describe in post 101 (yourself?) has been “unjustly jailed on death row” (my emphasis).

    Leaving that aside for now, I’m wondering how would you respond to a scenario in which the incarceration was not unjust. Imagine, for example, if a Nuremburg judge were to announce from the bench, “It is the opinion of this court that we all need to learn to ‘live with each other and deal patiently with each others imperfections and faults. Learn to forgive, and then learn to forgive some more. Nothing more.’” He then takes off his robes and walks out. Would this be acceptable to you?

  163. 164

    “They may have claimed a god-based justification for their actions, but claiming such does not make it so.”

    What would make it so?

  164. 165

    CannuckianYankee:

    They may have claimed a god-based justification for their actions, but claiming such does not make it so.

    That was my point. You can’t just say something is or isn’t moral because you say that your god says so. You’d have to prove your god exists and that’s not going to happen, is it? Therefore morality can’t be god-based.

  165. 166

    Allen MacNeill,

    Putting Hitler into the place of God has its own problems, namely, that God is not Hitler. There is a fundamental difficulty in arguing against God, for a river cannot rise above its source, and God is the source that even provides argument. It could be that vjtorley is correct in his assertion that through God’s divine omnipotence, was executing judgment that should be executed on the Canaanite people, just as God executed judgment on Hitler. It seems that you’ve got some built-in assumptions, such as that the Canaanite people were wonderful people, not deserving of any judgment. The same could be said of Hitler, but no one would say it, because we know better. And the same argument could be applied that you’re using, putting the Canaanite’s into the murdering camp against the Jews–if we are to arbitrarily move the characters around like you’re doing. In which case the only answer that could reasonably follow would be that killing is wrong no matter what–but this would apply to the Allied Forces being passive with the Nazi’s as well. It seems to me like you’re acting as if anyone in any circumstances would be equivalent to Hitler, provided that you put Hitler into the mouth and vantage point of any judgment. It begs the question–for we know, objectively, that Hitler acted wrongly and without justification–but we do not know this with the Canaanites. But this, again, mistakes facts for meaning.

  166. Clive @157,

    Can you elaborate? Or, is that all you have to say?

  167. Clive #157:

    “Please explain the origin and nature of this code and how it is administered.”

    Origin–God

    Nature–God

    Administered–written in your conscience.

    Clive, did you employ any particular design detection technique to determine that this moral code was “written in your conscience” (presumably, by the Christian God)?

  168. 169

    David,

    “The fact is that in this life human beings are the only arbiters of morality. I hear a lot about the need for an objective morality, but I know nobody who has access to such a morality nor who lives according to one. Everybody — atheist and believer alike — makes local, contextual decisions. Moral rules are decided — again, by atheist and believer alike — socially and via compromise.”

    You don’t know anyone who has access to objective morality? Everyone has access. Everyone lives according to it, otherwise there would be chaos. What is there to decide in a compromise if there were nothing that was shared objectively between folks? Compromise implies a standard that both can agree on. If there were no standard, there would be no compromise. Really, what you’re saying, is that there are rules, and we approximate to them as best we can, given that we sometimes fall short. But what is there to agree on or fall short from if there is no basis for comparison? And please don’t tell me the basis for comparison is within the culture, for that is a total nonstarter, for the culture comes after the individuals and is only brought about after decided norms and morals.
    And secondly, how is it that any one culture or people or conditional morality could ever judge another if they all, in isolation, build their own moralities and conflict? What rule of precedence would decide between them? By your scheme, it seems, no over-arching morality would exist by which to make any comparative study among the cultures or context in a conflict. By that logic, no one context or culture could tell Hitler what he was doing was wrong. And all of the wars or conflicts would be arbitrarily entered, and might would make right. And indeed wars couldn’t be avoided, for the pretext that we ought or ought not to war would be just as conditional and contextual, so there could be no argument leveled against Hitler that wasn’t just as arbitrary. And in fact, no wars could ever be deemed just or unjust, for there exists no rules “between” cultures or contexts.
    And thirdly, it’s interesting to note that what you’re saying is not only true for your context, but true for all contexts. You’re saying that your context is relative–but so are all other contexts. But if this is true, it isn’t relative, it’s objective. How does this follow?

  169. 170

    Ludwig,

    “Clive, did you employ any particular design detection technique to determine that this moral code was “written in your conscience” (presumably, by the Christian God)?”

    Yes, self-reflection.

  170. Wow, you guys are amazing!!

    Simply put, whose frame of reference for morality are we to use? If there is no frame of reference then why is my moral compass better or more accurate than anyone elses? The atheist would say, “It isn’t.” And if no one person’s moral compass is better to use then who can say for certain what is right and what is wrong? In such as the case with Hitler, whose moral compass are we using to pass a judgement of evil or not evil?

    However if there is an over-encompassing moral compass in which we are to abide by then all can be judged by that standard and we can succinctly conclude what is right and what is wrong for the most part.

    Just remember that with “sound rational reasoning” many an innocent man has been executed.

    CS Lewis does a great job of explaining the moral law of God in his book Mere Christianity.

    Good discussion ya’ll.

  171. 172

    “Compromise implies a standard that both can agree on. If there were no standard, there would be no compromise.”

    Of course there are standards. They just aren’t objective.

    “You’re saying that your context is relative–but so are all other contexts. But if this is true, it isn’t relative, it’s objective.”

    No, that just means that context is more or less universal. It’s not objective. Every being that makes moral decisions makes them contextually, but that doesn’t mean context is objective. Similarly, every being that sees also sees from its own perspective, but that doesn’t make perspective as such objective.

    Also, some contexts are individual, and some are very widely held. Every action is local, but sometimes “local” looks like the whole world. There’s nothing to be gained by adding “objective” to morality except a refusal to consider the perspective of others.

  172. 173

    Compromise implies a failure to achieve objective standards. The parties to compromise would both rather have something different, but they go with the best option available. Context; relativism; the real world.

  173. Clive #170:

    Yes, self-reflection.

    Can you calculate FCSI with that?

  174. 175

    David,

    Well, if you’re willing to say that universals are not objective, then I don’t know what you take objectivity to mean. It seems tantamount to saying that the whole universe is a small prison.

  175. wagenweg @171: “In such as the case with Hitler, whose moral compass are we using to pass a judgement of evil or not evil?”

    From whom or where did you learn that you are to be passing judgements on people? It’s Barry’s fault for citing Hitler in the original post. Barry, with didn’t you use yourself as an example and leave the paper-hanger alone? Are his sins worse in the eyes of God than yours?

  176. 177

    Ludwig,

    I’m not a mathematician, I can’t calculate much :)

  177. 178

    David Kellogg: “The fact is that in this life human beings are the only arbiters of morality.”

    You say this as if you have objective absoulte knowledge that it is true. How amusing. The jig is up David. Everyone knows you are trying to pass your opinion off as fact.

    “I hear a lot about the need for an objective morality, but I know nobody who has access to such a morality.”

    Nonsense. You, to cite just one example, have access to it, even if you deny it, as you certainly will.

    “Moral rules are decided — again, by atheist and believer alike — socially and via compromise.”

    Just saying it over and over and over does not make it so.

    “‘Objective morality’ has no effect except to say that my local, contextual moral decisions have more authority than yours, and therefore that you should have less say in the collective morality in which we all participate.”

    In the 20th century tens of millions were sacrificed at the alter of “there is no objective morality.” People like you truly frighten me.

  178. 179

    riddick,

    “From whom or where did you learn that you are to be passing judgements on people?”

    Are you saying that passing judgments is wrong? Wrong as in, you judge that it’s wrong to pass judgments? If it’s wrong to pass judgments then it’s wrong to make this judgment.

  179. Clive:

    And my statement that culture is just a collection of individuals, I suppose, could be considered reductionist, but that would be like saying that math involves numbers.

    No, it would like saying that math is nothing but numbers.

  180. 181

    David,

    “Compromise implies a failure to achieve objective standards. The parties to compromise would both rather have something different, but they go with the best option available.”

    There would be no “best” option available if relativity were true. “Best” implies that there is a fixed standard that is being approximated to, otherwise “best” wouldn’t mean anything. Better, worse, best, worst, are all either getting closer or farther from a real standard. Otherwise, they wouldn’t mean what they mean. “If the terminus was just as mobile as the train, you could never say you were getting closer to your destination” to paraphrase C. S. Lewis.

  181. 182

    DanSLO: “What I am saying is that the transcendent morality that will allow you to condemn Hitler’s actions independently of all the suffering he caused does not exist, nor can it.”

    So at the end of the day all you can say is what you said at the beginning. Hitler caused suffering so he was bad.

    Yet, we have already established that many people think that what he did was good. And you have never given me reason to say they are wrong and you are right.

    So after all the dust settles, you cannot bring yourself to say that what Hitler did was evil in any objective sense. All you can do is say, “I disagree and I wouldn’t have done it, but damned if I can say why other than it just doesn’t feel right to me.”

    But you know that what Hitler did was evil no matter who disagrees with you, don’t you. If everyone in the world said the Holocaust was right and you were the only one who said it was wrong, you would be right and everyone else would be wrong, wouldn’t they.

    So here you are with what you absolutely know beyone the slightest doubt to be true conflicting with what you are saying.

    You say that a transcendent morality does not (indeed cannot) exist. You know this exactly how? Have you searched the entire universe to confirm your statement? If you have not, then you must admit that it is possible you are wrong.

    And if it is possible that you are wrong, and what you know to be a fact seems to confirm that you are wrong, then it seems likely that you are wrong, that indeed an objective moral code does in fact exist and Hitler violated it.

  182. Clive #157:

    I’m not a mathematician, I can’t calculate much

    Maybe we can ask Kairosfocus to do it (that is, calculate the FCSI of the moral code written into the human conscience).

    After all, if we don’t figure out whether the chances of that code existing are beyond the upward probability bound, we won’t know for sure that it isn’t the product of unguided evolution.

    It would be a great research paper.

  183. 184

    You know, really, we are all moral relativists in practice, whatever we like to believe is the truth of the matter. There really is no choice about it. By this I mean that ultimately each one of us must decide for him or herself what is right or wrong.

    I will illustrate my point biographically. I was raised in an agnostic family. Since reaching adulthood, I have come to believe deeply in the existence of the Divine. Let’s say that I agree that I should surrender to God and allow His authority to guide my moral decisions. How do I discover what God wants me to do? Not having been raised in any particular religious tradition, I have many competing claims to sift through. The Muslims will tell me that the ultimate moral authority lies in the Koran and the Hadith of the prophet Mohammed. Buddhists will invoke the Buddhist scriptures. Hindus will point to the Baghavad Gita and the Upanishads. Just the other day, a couple of Mormons tried to convince me that the Book of Mormon was the final Word of God. How do I decide? I have no choice but to decide for myself what I believe to be true. Let’s say I believe that Jesus really lived and said and did what is claimed for him, and so I decide to become a Christian. But which version of Christian morality do I adopt? Do I accept Catholicism, which tells me that divorce, contraception, and even “impure thoughts” are sins? Or do I accept a stricter version that tells me that even dancing and non-liturgical music are crimes against God? Or do I go with a more liberal Christianity that holds that any genuine expression of love, even a homosexual expression, is good in His eyes? Again, there is no escaping it, the choice is mine. Let’s say that I decide that the only way out of my dilemma is to accept the Bible as the final authority for all moral questions. But I find that, among other things, the Bible says, “It is acceptable for marriage to consist of a union between one man and one or more women.” (II Sam. 3:2 – 5), and “Marriage does not impede a man’s right to take concubines, in addition to his wife or wives.” (II Sam. 5:13, I Kings 11:3, II Chron. 11:21), and “If the wife is discovered not to be a virgin [when she is married],…the woman is to be executed.” (Deut. 22:13 – 21) And many others, including that if a child is disobedient, he is to be taken to the town wall and stoned to death, and that if a woman, while defending her husband against an attacker, shall grab the assailant by his privates, she shall be executed. I would wager that even the most die-hard believer in the literal truth of the Bible ignores these admonitions. On whose authority? His or her own, of course. (Or else that of some other human being to whom they have surrendered their own authority).

    I submit that there is no absolute moral authority precisely because God has not left us a single, unequivocal, moral guide, but rather hundreds of competing guides, each claiming to be the one true authority. I think He wants it that way, because clearly, He could have made it different if He had wanted to. The good news is that He has given each of us an unerring moral compass within our own hearts. I always know, really, what is right action for me (but NOT for anyone else) in any given situation. The only question is whether I will listen to that inner voice.

  184. 185
    AmerikanInKananaskis

    One day, we’ll be rid of atheists. But we won’t get rid of them the same way they want to get rid of us (=genocide).

    Knocking down methodological naturalism is the first step.

  185. Of course it doesn’t feel right, and of course I wish it were otherwise. Wishing doesn’t make it so, however. We have to do the best we can with what we have.

    The reason I don’t think a transcendent morality can exist is that you can’t define it in terms of human suffering (it would then no longer be transcendent), and if you don’t, it comes across as being unsatisfactorily arbitrary (what if God said killing and causing suffering is good? Would we then be arguing using Mother Theresa rather than Hitler to represent evil?). It seems to be a fundamental contradiction.

  186. 187

    Bruce David,

    “would wager that even the most die-hard believer in the literal truth of the Bible ignores these admonitions. On whose authority? His or her own, of course. (Or else that of some other human being to whom they have surrendered their own authority).”

    The authority comes from the New Testament, being that it is a fulfillment of the OT Law. The verses you cite are from the OT. I can appreciate your conundrum, but there is an answer to it.

  187. 188

    Bruce David, that’s a nice post. I don’t agree with all of it, but I think your basic point is right.

    Clive, you write

    There would be no “best” option available if relativity were true. “Best” implies that there is a fixed standard that is being approximated to, otherwise “best” wouldn’t mean anything.

    First, relativity refers to physics, relativism to philosophy.
    Second, the “best” I was referring to implies at least two different “standards” — each party thinks his or her standard is best, but there is no agreed upon standard in compromise — only an agreement to settle.

  188. 189

    Clive the “answer” to Bruce David’s point is found at the end of a long series of relatively derived, negotiated interpretations and a highly contingent history of theological conflict and struggle. That’s a pitiful excuse for an objective standard.

  189. Could one of you who believes in objective moral beliefs offer a list. Maybe it would be useful to talk about specifics rather than just talking about these things in the abstract.

  190. 191

    David,

    The answer to Bruce’s question comes at the end of his post when he claims that he knows morality. We all know it, it is the premise, not the conclusion. If you do not assume it from the outset, no argument will bring you to it. In the end it just has to rely on “this is right” or “this is wrong” for its own sake. But, to make it relative, is to make it a conclusion, a conclusion of compromise or context. But what, prey tell, would be your premises that wouldn’t be circular reasoning in reaching your conclusion? What would you use for your premises in arguing towards a conclusion of morality that didn’t already presuppose morality?

  191. 192

    hazel,

    “Could one of you who believes in objective moral beliefs offer a list. Maybe it would be useful to talk about specifics rather than just talking about these things in the abstract.”

    Here you go:
    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....ition4.htm

  192. @ AmerikanInKananaskis, #185….

    What on earth makes you think atheists are threatening you and yours with genocide? Is it any particular atheists, or just atheists in general?

  193. 194

    Clive,

    All of those principles (not really “moral beliefs” except when specific) seem on the whole to lead to increased human happiness. Similar principles could be derived pragmatically (Jeremy Bentham) or with secular legal theory (John Rawls). Why must they be objective or involve anything divine?

  194. 195

    To Clive: You said,

    “The authority comes from the New Testament, being that it is a fulfillment of the OT Law. The verses you cite are from the OT. I can appreciate your conundrum, but there is an answer to it.”

    But don’t you see, your decision to accept the New Testament as your authority (instead of, say, the Koran, the Buddhist scriptures, or the Tao Te Ching) is a decision only you can make. No one can make it for you, and in so doing you are deciding what moral law you will adopt. There is no escaping the fact that each of us must decide for ourselves in some way what moral action is and isn’t.

  195. 196
    CannuckianYankee

    Bruce David: “There is no escaping the fact that each of us must decide for ourselves in some way what moral action is and isn’t.”

    Do you know the certainty of the above statement? If so, how?

  196. 197

    CannuckianYankee, you don’t decide for yourself? How does that work?

  197. 198
    CannuckianYankee

    Hazel: “Could one of you who believes in objective moral beliefs offer a list. Maybe it would be useful to talk about specifics rather than just talking about these things in the abstract.”

    Any comprehensive list would be obsolete in a few years, due not to relative values, but to changing acts of evil, and the subsequent shifting in the application and synthesis of law in response to them.

    If you start with Creation, there is only one law. If you go from there, say 2,500 years later, you get the Ten Commandments, and from there, the Levitical code. But according to the New Testament, these are insufficient, and the believers of the time they were written did not make themselves righteous by keeping them. New Testament morality is not based on the law of the Old – it rather transcends the law, because it is based in grace by faith.

    However, law is needed in order to point to the fact that we are sinful. It is the standard by which sin is measured, and includes not only outward deeds, but inward attitudes.

    So the answer, Hazel, is that while there are some objective codes in the bible, which point to our sinfulness, there is no code one can follow to declare oneself a righteous (perfectly moral)person.

    I think for the sake of argument, the simplest of the codes is the Ten Commandments. You might object to the “….have any other gods before me” part, but I think you would agree with much of the rest. Is it objective? I think so, but for only one very important reason – scripture states that it came directly from God. If the Ten Commandments were simply something that Moses made up while smoking peyote and hallucinating about a non-consuming fire in a bush while meditating alone on the side of a mountain in Arabia, I don’t think we could say that it is objective.

    Of course this is all dependent upon the truth of the existence of God and the truthfulness of scripture – most of us here are aware of that.

    But you asked for an example of a objective moral beliefs, which is not the same as asking for an argument for the existence of objective moral beliefs. That argument would have to come from the impossibility to defend rational thought in the context of relative truth. In other words, to be certain that there can only be relative truths is self-defeating. It’s no less the case when talking about relative morality. Morality comes from truth.

  198. —-David Kellogg: (to Clive) “Why must they (morals) be objective or involve anything divine?”

    Because the moral code must be in conformity with the intellectual faculties, volitional powers, explosive appetites, and deep-seated passions inherent in a designed human nature. Humans need operating manuals just like appliances need operating manuals, except that maintenance instructions are more important for humans. Only humans can pervert their own nature. It is just as easy to ruin a human being as it is to ruin a pop-up toaster. Simply tell him that there are no objective truths or morals, in which case he will stop trying to control his lower nature and immediately start acting like an animal.

  199. 200

    Before the howls of indignation start, let it be known that in comment [199] StephenB employed a rhetorical device known as hyperbole – i.e., exaggeration for emphasis. He does not believe that every single atheist acts like an animal.

    I wanted everyone to know this, because I now understand that we have some very sensitive readers. Why, Allan MacNeill says he positively got the vapors after reading vjtorley’s comment at [121], which was only a fairly standard apology for the manner in which God dealt with the Canaanites.

  200. 201

    “Simply tell him that there are no objective truths or morals, in which case he will stop trying to control his lower nature and immediately start acting like an animal.”

    This is rubbish. Plenty of people “with” objective truths and morals perpetrated hideous acts: abusing under-age parishioners, conducting pogroms, legislating against undesirables, colonizing and subjugating people.

    I think that religion’s insane pathology for characterizing people as flawed and sinned creates the very problem it alleges it exists to counteract.

    Human beings – individuals – do not need operating manuals. Such an idea is more than absurd: it’s dangerous, depraved, immoral, and incorrect.

    It infuriates me to hear such self-loathing trying to be imposed itself on others – wrapped, of course, in the obligatory package of sanctimoniousness.

  201. 202

    Barry, is your call for more “Nietzsche atheists” also a figure of speech? It suggests (see my 78 above) that you’re asking for more atheists to behave like Eric Harris.

  202. 203

    And yes, I get the hyperbole. The underlying point, however, is repugnant beyond exaggeration.

  203. 204

    Barry, I think you should let Stephen speak for himself. He sure sounds like he thinks atheists are more likely to act like animals.

  204. Allen McNeill

    As someone who has actually visited Auschwitz (have you?) I find it somewhat ironic that you would compare my apologia for what the Israelites did to an edict by Adolf Hitler, whoi masterminded the killing of six million Jews. That was an unfortuntate comparison. Now, let’s have a look at what I actually wrote:

    I therefore conclude that if God actually told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites, He must have intervened to ensure that innocent Canaanite woman and children suffered no pain or distress in the process.

    I highlighted these words for a reason. On the one hand, I am morally repelled by certain Christians who insist that God has no duties towards any of His creatures, and that He is pefectly entitled to kill anyone He wants, and command His followers to do the same, simply because He is God. That attitude strikes me as morally monstrous.

    On the other hand, I am not impressed by certain modernist “revisionists” who either allegorize the Canaanite massacres away, or who argue that the accounts of the Israelite conquest were not historical anyway, so we don’t need to worry about them. The reason why I don’t accept this reasoning is fourfold: (i) the Biblical writer(s) evidently treated the events narrated in the account of the Israelite conquest of Canaan as if they were actual historical events – in other words, the literary style of the Israelite conquest is that of a narrative, not an allegorical poem; (ii) for the last 3,000 years, the Jews have consistently taught that the narratives describing the conquest of Canaan were descriptions of historical events, and Jesus as an orthodox Jew would undoubtedly have been taught the same; (iii) nowhere in His teaching does Jesus ever hint that He thought otherwise, or that He regarded the actions of God in the Old Testament as unjust; (iv) for the past 2,000 years, Christian theologians of all stripes have consistently taught that God had every right to act as He did in commanding the slaughter of the Canaanites.

    The whole point of my post was to show that even God has certain duties towards human beings. In particular, (i) He may not kill or order the killing of innocent people, unless they would suffer an even worse fate had they lived; (ii) He may not inflict suffering on innocent people whose deaths He has ordained, even if it is necessary, for their own good, that they should die.

    It was for that reason that I argued that God must have intervened to spare the Canaanites from any pain while they were being slaughtered. The only alternative, as I see it, is to argue that Jesus was wrong about a basic point of morality, and hence not God.

    Your comparisons with Hitler are facile and beside the point. God is omniscient; Hitler was not. God loves everyone; Hitler loved no-one, except Aryans. God does want people to suffer; Hitler wanted 6 million Jews to suffer.

    You write:

    In sum, vj, you have asserted that:

    1) killing innocent people is entirely justified if God/Der Fuhrer commands it,

    2) if you follow His orders, he will make you forget what you have done, and

    3) God/Der Fuhrer will make certain that those innocent people who He has ordered to be killed won’t feel it.

    You ignored the numerous evidential conditions which I added in my post (#121), before any person could rationally carry out a command to kill. You also ignored the point that the deaths of the innocent people must actually be for their own good.

    Listen. I have a three-year-old son myself. I could no more contemplate killing a child than you could. I don’t know what happened 3,000 years ago, but as a Christain, that would be my best guess. But if you want to call Jesus a moral monster, then why don’t you just come out and say so?

  205. 206

    Just as an aside, it seems to me highly likely that the Exodus story in the Bible isn’t historical. But if there’s a historical component to it, it also seems highly likely that any slaughtering was performed by people rather than God. Putting the responsibility on God is a nifty rationalization.

  206. 207
    AmerikanInKananaskis

    @damitall, #193

    I guess you flunked 20th-century history.

  207. —-David Kellogg: “Barry, I think you should let Stephen speak for himself. He sure sounds like he thinks atheists are more likely to act like animals.”

    Well, first of all I didn’t use the word atheist, so our visiting Darwinists can breathe a sigh of relief. Second, I was referring to anyone who abandons reason, including moral relativists. Third, I did indeed used a metaphor for hyperbolic and dramatic effect, as in, I don’t really think Darwinists go around saying, “Bow Wow,” or “Meow.”

    I see Barry’s point, however, because a day or so ago, I pointed out that atheists are less enthusiastic about saving babies than Christians, [as in proabortion] and Allen immediately interpreted my allusion to that demographic group as “character assasination.” So, I can undersand why Barry was doing a heads up.

    Fifty years ago 80% of Americans believed in objective truth and objective morality. Today, only one in three accept the same world view. So, in effect, I refer to what might now be classified as the majority of unfortunate souls in the Western hemisphere who have been bamboozled into believing that there is no moral map by which they may guide their lives. Some of them are in government and on Wall Street, which helps explain our current finanancial crisis. The level of malfeasance is staggering and I have no doubt that the same moral relativism that informed their behavior will sink our ship—- unless rational people keep holding the the truth deniers accountable.

    Enemies of reason take heart, you have brainwashed our children and young adults so completely that they react to my appeals for reason and morality the same way you do——-W-h-a-z-z-z-z-a-t!

  208. —-Larry Tanner: “The underlying point, however, is repugnant beyond exaggeration.”

    The underlying point is that there is a moral code that was designed for humans. Is that what you find repugnaht, or do you always fail to read for context.

  209. —-Larry Tanner: “It infuriates me to hear such self-loathing trying to be imposed itself on others – wrapped, of course, in the obligatory package of sanctimoniousness.”

    In other words, you don’t accept objective morality yourself. There, that didn’t hurt so much did it.

    —-”I think that religion’s insane pathology for characterizing people as flawed and sinned creates the very problem it alleges it exists to counteract.”

    Its about time you got around to your bottom line. What took you so long?

  210. 211

    StephenB:

    “It is just as easy to ruin a human being as it is to ruin a pop-up toaster. Simply tell him that there are no objective truths or morals, in which case he will stop trying to control his lower nature and immediately start acting like an animal.”

    I hear versions of this repeatedly from Christian apologetics, the idea that without an external, objective moral code, backed up presumably by a punitive God, people will just do any terrible thing that they want to. But any objective observation of human behavior strongly suggests otherwise. As others in this thread have pointed out, many absolutely awful things have been done by people professing Christian faith (or Muslim or Hindu, etc.), and it is also true that many agnostics and atheists are totally decent, kind people (my brother, for instance–a confirmed atheist and Darwinist, yet one of the kindest people you’ll ever want to meet, in spite of an impish propensity to tease unmercifully).

    My view, as I have stated above, is that we really ARE made in the image and likeness of God. What this means to me is that the essence of our being is loving, creative, joyful, wise, powerful, free, and one with everything. This of course raises the obvious question, why do people behave in ways that are clearly in contradiction to that basic nature? The short answer is that we have forgotten who we are. It is also my belief, however, that that forgetting is part of the Plan. The long answer will have to await another post.

    Another way to say the same thing: do you really need God to tell you to do what you know in your heart is right?

  211. It has taken me a very long while, but I think I finally understand why ID exists, why this website exists, and why the regular commentators who support ID at this website are so determined to assert the absolute reality of ID, in spite of a complete lack of empirical evidence.

    It’s all right here in this quote:

    “Of course this is all dependent upon the truth of the existence of God and the truthfulness of scripture – most of us here are aware of that.”

    I believe that this is the crux of the whole science versus ID debate: if there is no empirical evidence for the existence of God, then it all comes down entirely to pure, unsupported supposition. Yes, one can assert that God exists, and can assert that therefore whatever God asserts must, by definition, be the absolute objective truth, but by the standards of scientific logic (which are now almost universally accepted as providing the most reliable evidence for descriptions of reality), arguments based purely and solely on assertion are no longer considered valid.

    Ergo, without some independent source of evidence – independent of the original assertion, that is – then it all comes down to dueling assertions, which means that eventually it all comes down to force majeure: whoever can make the most forceful assertion gets to define the Truth.

    Therefore, there must be some kind of empirical evidence for the existence of God. The fact that no one has ever found any is completely irrelevant, and will remain so indefinitely. It also explains why it is perfectly legitimate to deliberately distort, misinterpret, omit, or otherwise alter empirical evidence if it does not support the otherwise unsupportable assertion that God exists. [1]

    Here is the way it looks to me:

    Condition #1:

    • If a moral code is not objective, it is ipso facto invalid.

    • The moral code asserted by God is the only objective moral code. [2]

    • If God does not exist, then there is no basis for the assertion that there is an objective moral code.

    • Therefore, if God does not exist, anything is permitted.

    Condition #2:

    • An argument supported purely by assertion(s) is invalid. [3]

    • Ever since Bacon’s Novum Organum, it has generally been considered necessary that there should be empirical evidence (either direct or indirect) in support of arguments.

    • Ergo, there must be empirical evidence in support of the assertion that God exists. Otherwise, there can be no objective morals, and therefore anything is permitted.

    Conclusion:

    Since God must exist (otherwise there are no morals and anything is permitted), then there must be empirical evidence for His existence. Finding none, it is therefore necessary to pretend that some exists, or to make some up. Otherwise there can be no objective basis for morals, society will necessarily collapse into chaos, and we will all inevitably become insatiable, maniacal, cannibalistic, orgiastic mass murderers, rapists, and thieves.

    Notes:

    [1] Unsupportable on the basis of empirical evidence, that is.

    [2] An obvious corollary to this is that each and every one of God’s moral prescriptions is both objective and absolutely True, by definition. Hence the argument that anything God prescribes (such as the massacre of the Canaanites) is morally right, simply by virtue of His saying so.

    [3] To be specific, arguments based purely on deductive (i.e. Aristotelian) logic have been largely superseded by arguments based on inductive logic. This was Francis Bacon’s fault.

    P.S. It also seems to me that this is the reason why ethical philosophers now virtually unanimously agree that ethical prescriptions cannot be derived from statements derived from empirical science. To do so not only conflates two separate domains of logic (i.e. deductive versus inductive), but also requires that there be empirical evidence for something (i.e. ethical prescriptions) that are not and cannot be justified by empirical analysis (i.e. the workings of nature). Yes, we can use empirical analysis to determine if our ethical prescriptions have brought about the goals which we have decided to pursue, but we cannot use empirical analysis to formulate those goals.

  212. Bruce David, I like some your points. Think of it this way. If a society or culture is falling into an excess of one kind or another, the proper antedote is a push from the other extreme. One hundred years ago, for example, puritanism compromised rational discussions about sex. The proper response was to tell those poor people to “loosen up.” Today, we have fallen into the other extreme of vulgarity, which also compromises reason from the opposite perspective. The proper response at this time is to say, “tighten up.”
    We don’t need to be critiquing puritanism or religion, we need to be critiquing vulgarity and moral relativism. The way to do that is to push from the other side. Moral relativists must be exposed and confronted, because they have become a bigger problem than the old time bigots, which had the opposite problem.

    At the moment, our citizenry needs to worry less about getting sexual neuroses from too much stricture and more about getting addicted to internet pornography from too much moral neglect.

  213. vj:

    You ask:

    “…if you want to call Jesus a moral monster, then why don’t you just come out and say so?”

    and you provide the obvious answer:

    The only alternative [answer]…is to argue that Jesus was wrong about a basic point of morality, and hence not God.

    And with assertion, I completely agree.

  214. VJT said @121: “Before you continue, you might to have a look at these two articles by Christian apologist Glenn Miller at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html (on the destruction of the Canaanites), and at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/rbutcher1.html (on the Amalekites).”

    I read the articles (or rather skimmed, they are very long!). This caught my eye at the beginning of the first one:

    This is an issue I have always had profound trouble with and one I suspended judgment on when I began to believe. Lately, though, it has started haunting me again, and I have been searching and praying for an answer or insight. The responses to this problem I have seen so far (God did them a favor, they were like cancer, or God’s justice is beyond ours) seem to me to be lame or inappropriate.

    It suggests that this is being written for the benefit of believers, so that brings me to my first question. Is there a similar analysis (with the same conclusions) from a non-Christian or neutral author, or is it fair to say we’ll only see this kind of reasoning from a Christian? It is hard to read this and not assume that there is no strong confirmation bias at work (and I think some very fancy post-hoc rationalization if not sophistry too).

    Then the following scripture is quoted (Deut 7):

    When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you — 2 and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.

    This seems a rather unequivocal command to me. I’m sure if this was prophetic or it served some other kind of purpose everybody would be quite happy to take it at face value. But Miller of course tries to soft-pedal this one away too.

    Then we read stuff like:

    Even though they were the ‘scourge’ of the earth at that time–by international consensus–God did not desire to annihilate the people. His expressed intentions were to move them away from His people.

    and

    And, frankly, the alternative to ‘dying swiftly with your parents’ is NOT “obviously better”–its a close call.

    and

    think it should be clear by now that this was neither a (1) “slaughter”; nor (2) “wholesale”! It was a deportation

    and


    Far from being the “genocide of an innocent people for land-hungry Israelites”, it was instead the “firm, yet just–and even a little merciful to the masses–removal of a people from a tract of land, mostly through migration.

    Yes, that’s right – God was a “little merciful” that children and women (presumably pregnant ones) were slaughtered. What bothers me most is that the Caanites are also God’s children. What about their salvation? What chance did they or will they ever get to receive God’s love. Yes, they are wicked, but according to God (in the NT at least) we are “all wicked” and there are no graduations. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Could it not have at least been in His power to have “evicted” them humanely? We treat our pets (and livestock for that matter) better than God did His enemies.

    The basic message throughout this piece is that the Caanites were extraordinarily wicked and deserved everything they had coming to them. And of course everything that looks like genocide isn’t really “genocide” but just God “evicting and driving them out”. It’s just that in the process many hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) got slaughtered on the way.

    And the conclusion (which speaks for itself) is:
    What started out as the “Unfair genocide of the Canaanites” ended up as the “Less-than-they-deserved punitive deportation from the land”

    It certainly is an impressive piece of apologetics. So basically we have justified that which for all-intents-and-purposes bears remarkable similarity to genocide, is not only a justifiable act but one of even of mercy! I wonder if we applied this same process and methodology to the Jewish Holocaust in WWII whether we could derive a similar result – that the Nazis were also justified? Given how easy it is to twist and turn things, I have no doubt what the answer to that is.

    lt all seems to be a prima facie case of how the Bible is selectively interpreted. The difficult and challenging parts are treated with in-depth, arcane, and lengthy apologetics that cite hundreds of BIble verses to make their case (and usually by people who already believe and are trying to make something fit into an established faith position). Yet, when there is a verse or passage which serves some end (e.g., condemnation of homosexuality or a prophecy), it is treated completely at face value and cherry picked straight from the pages. I do not doubt that anybody could pick a position (pro or con) and make a very compelling and convincing argument that it is supported by scripture (again homosexuality comes to mind where people have done exactly that). KairosFocus in one of the threads, seems to think I should just accept the prophecies at ‘face value’ as history even – but if this kind of apologetics is good enough for dealing with the “genocide” issue why can’t we subject prophecy to the same process? Apparently it don’t work that way…

    VJT: “God is by definition reasonable. He cannot be otherwise, for His nature is to have perfect knowledge and love of everything and everyone. I suggest you take that as your starting point when interpreting passages in Scripture that appear to depict an irrational, heartless, bloodthirsty, vengeful or capricious God.”

    By whose definition? Yours? This is a humongous presupposition. So, you’re saying that every time I read some atrocious act in the OT, I should just shrug it off as “it’s OK really, God’s quite a good guy, honest!” I honestly don’t think my brain is capable of such mental gymnastics. I’ll guess I’ll just have to burn for ever along with all the other freethinkers…

  215. 216

    To Allen MacNeill #212

    The fundamental thesis of Darwinian evolution is that a large number of small changes in a species (brought about by random mutation and natural selection) acting over a long period of time can effect macro-evolutionary change (new organs, processes, or body plans). There is NO empirical evidence for this claim. It has not been observed in nature nor in the laboratory, and it certainly has not been observed in the fossil record (which records the evolution of living things, certainly, but not the Darwinian explanation of it). Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that contradicts that claim. You will find it in Denton, Behe, Dembski, and others.

    The reason that there are so many intelligent, knowledgeable people who believe in ID is quite simply that life cries out “This was ENGINEERED!” And in the light of the failure of Darwinism to explain it, the obvious conclusion is that it was. You want empirical evidence? Life itself is the empirical evidence.

  216. But even so respected an apologist for ID as Dr. William Dembski has stated that the Intelligent Designer could have been space aliens. Why is it that, when it comes down to brass tacks, the only acceptable explanation for the evolution of life on Earth is that the Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Mormon God did it? Or have you missed all of the threads on this website in which this has been the dominant theme?

  217. #216:

    Nice tu quoque, Bruce.

  218. At 196, after Bruce David had written, ““There is no escaping the fact that each of us must decide for ourselves in some way what moral action is and isn’t,”

    CannuckianYankee replied,

    Do you know the certainty of the above statement? If so, how?

    This is a common rejoinder by those on the “objective truth” side of this argument, and in my opinion, it has no weight. Since I agree strongly with Bruce David, I’d like to reply to CYankee:

    If I were responding, I would say “Of course I’m not certain, because I don’t believe certainty is possible. But after years of observing and studying human beings, reading widely in philosophy and religion, and reflecting deeply on my internal experience, the above statement represents something I do believe accurately reflects my understanding of the human condition. That’s the best I can do – make the most sense I can of the variety of experience I have had related to this topic.”

    Now of course it would be stupid to have to make that disclaimer every time I say something. All of us make countless statements, including all the ones on this forum, of exactly this nature – our best attempt to articulate what we believe is so based on the sum total of our experience. Coming back with “well, are you really certain is a rhetorical move that adds nothing to the discussion.

  219. Bruce David: 160 – and we all have within us the power to be and do as Jesus did and was.

    really – good luck being like Him and better luck making atonement for sin and fulfilling prophecy and being the creator of all seen and unseen and of things to come. Many have that hope that we may all become like Him while at the same time refusing to accept what He has to say about that…”what is in man”. The law is a tutor to show we don’t keep it and have a need. The command to be like Him is like a mirror to also show our need to which we might come to understand its impossibility and to hopefully respond in humble repentance “unto godliness” and hope in ones heart for the “inheritance of the saints in light”.

    Bruce cont. “I know that this is not the Christian point of view, but I do not come by my opinion lightly or without study. How do you know I am wrong?” – see above.

    thanks for your thoughts

  220. JTaylor

    I’ll guess I’ll just have to burn for ever along with all the other freethinkers.

    For the record, I don’t think you’ll burn. See my post #64 above.

    So, you’re saying that every time I read some atrocious act in the OT, I should just shrug it off as “It’s OK really, God’s quite a good guy, honest!” I honestly don’t think my brain is capable of such mental gymnastics.

    Suppose for argument’s sake that you’re right, and the God of the OT is indeed a moral monster. What should you do, in that case? If you find revealed religion to be intellectually incredible, then the next option to explore is bare theism: in other words, the position that there is an objective moral code, and a personal God exists who is by nature incapable of violating this code; however, for reasons best known to Him/Herself, this God has not (yet) issued any public revelation. That’s a perfectly respectable intellectual position to take, and I’d be more impressed if the skeptics on this thread were to give it serious attention.

    David Kellogg

    Just as an aside, it seems to me highly likely that the Exodus story in the Bible isn’t historical. But if there’s a historical component to it, it also seems highly likely that any slaughtering was performed by people rather than God. Putting the responsibility on God is a nifty rationalization.

    That’s a perfectly respectable position for a person who is not a Jew or a Christian to take. There is no archeological evidence of the Exodus, at the present time. As I am a Christian, it is not an option open to me; I therefore interpret the events you describe very differently. I might remind you that we know very little about what happened in those times. Ken Kitchener is an eminent Egyptologist who accepts the historicity of the OT narratives; however, many of his colleagues in the field do not.

    For the record, reading the Old Testament (especially the book of Deuteronomy) played a leading aprt in bringing me back into the Christian faith. What struck me was the fact that God wasn’t the monster everyone said He was – He displayed concern for the poor, widows, orphans and children. I suggest that you and JTaylor read the book – not once, but twice.

  221. Allen MacNeill,

    “Therefore, there must be some kind of empirical evidence for the existence of God. The fact that no one has ever found any is completely irrelevant, and will remain so indefinitely.”

    Your whole premise is utter nonsense. Science itself operates with unspoken metaphysical commitments that are not part of science itself, so your lunge for scientism never gets off the ground. Second, there is empirical evidence for design and a creator. Conclusive? No, but conclusive evidence for most weighty propositions is almost always lacking – there’s evidence enough, very ample evidence, to put stock in, and likely more will arrive. Finally, that deductive logic has been ‘superseded’ to such a degree is hardly a concern – it’s called “a mistake”. Aristotle, Aquinas and others have quite a lot to teach us even now.

    You have a nasty tendency to fall back onto psychoanalyzing people you disagree with when you run out of ammo. You shouldn’t do it, brother. It’s not very Quaker of you.

    Vjtorley,

    I find myself differing strongly with you on this subject for one reason in particular: It seems to me you’re making the mistake of viewing God as yet another human-like agent, rather than recognizing that God is in a unique position. Really, the most unique position available.

    Your reasoning seems to be that since God is just, that He therefore must have intervened to save whichever of the canaanites were not culpable. My response differs: God is the one being, the only being, who is capable of correcting all injustices, and righting all wrongs. What’s more, He is capable of doing this at any time. He doesn’t have to do it right when an act is about to occur, or right after it occurs, etc.

    Think of it this way. It would be immoral for a father to, say, leave his young child in the wood for three days in order to teach him a lesson. Even if his intentions are good (Say, he wants to teach him about self-reliance), even if he has relative control over the situation (He knows the woods well, knows his son well, has a very good idea of how things would work out), I think the case for the immorality of this act is strong. And the reasons are: No matter how smart the father is, he’s not omniscient. No matter how capable he is, he’s not omnipotent.

    If he were, then the situation changes. He knows absolutely everything that will happen to his child in the forest. He is capable of handling absolutely everything that could occur with his child in the forest. And (given this example) he loves his child, so he would want the best for his child. These capabilities change the morality of the act, and really, the morality of all acts.

    Naturally, the only person who has those capabilities in tandem is God. Our moral duties are going to differ drastically in scope as a result – and it is every bit as much of a mistake to apply the exact human moral standards to God, just as it would be a mistake to apply God’s moral standards to a man (say, for example, Stalin.) What we can expect is, regardless of what took place with the Canaanites (or at any other point in history), with God these things will be ultimately set right.

    In the meantime, we do what is morally right for humans – we love people, we recognize life as sacred, we do our best to do good and avoid evil. And when we falter, we pick ourselves up, recover, learn, and continue.

  222. 223

    To Allen MacNeill

    Just for the record, I myself incline towards the view that it was not God directly that did the engineering, but rather advanced non-physical entities preparing a place for us who choose to participate in human existence.

    I think that the reason most ID folks believe that it was the “Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Mormon God” is that that fits nicely with their metaphysical beliefs. But you really should ask them. But I also believe them when they declare publicly, as many of them do, that they came to their position in favor of ID for scientific, not religious reasons. In other words, it was that they saw a failure of the Darwinian explanation, which they concluded for scientific, not scriptural, reasons. It is really a scientifically based conviction that the Darwinian explanation simply doesn’t cut it, coupled with an openness to the possibility that life was designed based on their philosophic/religious worldviews that led to the conclusion that ID was the most reasonable explanation.

    But of course, this is just surmise on my part. Let some of the others give you their side of it.

  223. Allen,

    “Ergo, without some independent source of evidence – independent of the original assertion, that is – then it all comes down to dueling assertions, which means that eventually it all comes down to force majeure: whoever can make the most forceful assertion gets to define the Truth.”

    The most compelling argument for the existence of a God is the fine tuning of the universe. This is certainly evidence and it is independent of the original assertion. If someone is going to deny the existence of a God, then hey have to deal with that. It says very little about the nature of God but it is certainly evidence for an existence.

  224. jerry,

    I think there’s an abundance of arguments. Fine-tuning (even in some popular multiverse scenarios, this remains), first cause arguments, apparent design in nature (both end-products and evolutionary history), etc. Philosophically, even more arguments, some very powerful.

    The arguments – the positive arguments for atheism, for the suppositions of an utterly and ultimately Designer-less and purpose-less cosmos – are in dramatically short supply. And that’s one of the least discussed aspects of these conflicts – pretend-skeptics attack and attack, but next to none will put forth their explanation. Not because they don’t have one, but because the weaknesses and absurdities therein would make the most extravagant pagan cosmology seem reasonable by comparison.

    Which is why so many of the modern/’New’ atheists put in shockingly little time advancing their own metaphysics directly. In fact, if you watch the more outspoken ones, more time is dedicated to why they should never, ever be expected to provide such.

  225. 226

    re: 212

    Allen_MacNeill:

    “It has taken me a very long while, but I think I finally understand why ID exists, why this website exists, and why the regular commentators who support ID at this website are so determined to assert the absolute reality of ID, in spite of a complete lack of empirical evidence.

    It’s all right here in this quote:

    ‘Of course this is all dependent upon the truth of the existence of God and the truthfulness of scripture – most of us here are aware of that.’

    I believe that this is the crux of the whole science versus ID debate: if there is no empirical evidence for the existence of God, then it all comes down entirely to pure, unsupported supposition.”

    Mr. McNeill,

    I recognize that quote as mine from post # 198. I’m not certain if you meant to, but you appear to have taken the quote out of context with what I stated in the post. Perhaps I didn’t word it as well as I should, but what I meant to convey is that the objective morality found in scripture is dependent upon the truthfulness of that scripture, and is in no way self-evident. It’s not intended to convey the popular prescript “God said it, I believe it, and that’s good enough for me.”

    Hazel asked for an example of what might be considered as an objective moral belief. Please read the context. I in no way aserted that the scriptural Ten Commandments proclamation was self-evidently objective. In that sense, your conclusion is not warranted.

    I think it would behoove you to reexamine the whole premise of this thread – the inability of materialistic metaphysics to consistently appeal to any objective truth – including morality. What “is” does not give us what “ought to be.” If those who believe this were consistent, then they would necessarily be a-moral. On the other hand, the very fact that people in the western world appeal to the morality given in scripture – especially found in the Ten Commandments (while separating out some of the objectionable commands) indicates that there’s something within them that is objective, despite the inconsistency of their application among modern humans.

    I personally believe that the moral argument for God’s existence is one of the most logically sound arguments. Truth cannot be relative, without being self-defeating. We can transcribe that also to morality, since what ought to be is a form of truth. Thus, relative morality is also self-defeating. Truth can, however, be incomplete without being self-defeating, and I think this is where the problem lies in our inability to come to an understanding between us.

    I think the problem for us is that there is all kinds of evil manifested in the world and throughout human history. The application of law simply cannot be synthesized to address all evil without an occasional updating of moral law. If you read scripture carefully from the beginning, you can clearly see an updating of moral law in response to new manifestations of evil. This updating is not in any way a negating of the law that went before, but a synthesis of the old with new prescripts. Some may view this as relative, but I see it more as an “evolution” if you will, of the application of law to new manifestations of evil.

    At the end of the 1980s the world saw the end of the cold war, and a new surge in world terrorism. It took a while to respond to this developing evil, but humans responded by allowing an evolution in the way previous laws were applied in response. Hence, we switched to a cold war mentality to a more global one. An interesting observation, however, is that mistakes were made in response to 9-11. Mistakes were made because some of our leaders chose to abandon previous laws in favor of new tactics. Now it seems interesting that those protesting this change the most were those who were more aligned with a materialistic and relative view of morality. What was it that made the old way of doing things preferable to the new? Was our prior commitment to abandon torture as a means to interrogate “enemy combatants” somehow an objective measure? You tell me. I sense this kind of inconsistency among materialists quite often. Of course, you might argue that it was the non-materialist leaders who were inconsistent as well. Perhaps, but I think you can see the point that we appeal to something objective when we declare our distaste to things we find abhorrent.

    Now in your response, you appeal to empiricism. I’m afraid that empiricism is not without its difficulties, and especially when it comes to metaphysical questions. In order for empiricism to be valid, it must appeal to objective reality, and not so much to assertions about what that reality is. I sense that materialists produce a-priory assertions about the nature of reality without considering other options. I find this to be true among some religiously oriented thinkers as well.

    Can we not agree, however, that if a god could exist objectivey (and I know that many atheists have not dismissed this possbility forthright), that there could be objective evidences for that god’s existence beyond the materialistic empiricism you demand? After all, if you don’t allow that evidence, I can’t help sensing the presence of question-begging.

    Apologists appeal to arguments of logic in order to show the reasonableness of God’s existence. Could that not be a form of empiricism, however incomplete?

  226. 227

    StephenB says:

    Fifty years ago 80% of Americans believed in objective truth and objective morality. Today, only one in three accept the same world view.

    Ah, the things people believed fifty years ago.

    [A] 1942 survey revealed that only 41 percent of all Americans believed that black and white soldiers should serve together in the armed forces. Only 55 percent agreed that a black man could be just as good a soldier as a white man. Only 42 percent agreed that “Negroes are as intelligent as white people.” The perceived differences between blacks and whites are hard to exaggerate, as only 36 percent believed that “negro blood is the same as white blood.” In addition to these strikingly prejudicial sentiments, the bulk of white Americans preferred to maintain distance between the races. Fifty-one percent claimed that streetcars and buses should be segregated. Fifty-five percent favored active job discrimination. Sixty-eight percent believed that white and black children should go to segregated schools. When it came to restaurants, 69 percent favored separate facilities, and fully 84 percent wanted segregated neighborhoods. This complex of attitides existed in an atmosphere of denial that race was even a social problem worth addressing, as three Americans in five said that Negroes are getting all the opportunities they deserve in this country.” (From The Mass Media nd the Dynamics of American Racial Attitudes, Paul M. Kellstedt (Cambridge University Press, 2003).)

    “Objective morality” sure led to great moral attitudes, didn’t it?

  227. nullasalus,

    I have read and watched people discuss the philosophical proofs of God and while some convince me the typical response to them is that they are subjective and hard to pin down so that even the lay person can understand. The lay person would throw up their hands at the various arguments. They will however understand in a moment the fine tuning argument. The atheist throw the subjective understanding of the philosophical proofs at you but what they cannot throw at you is the science they so adamantly says backs up their world view. Did any of them use science to justify their view in the Shermer thread on either of the other threads since then. No they immediately retreat into the subjectiveness of a philosophical argument. They cannot resort to any science for OOL or for even evolution, only philosophical arguments. It must really irk someone like Allen MacNeill who rails about that we have no science for our point of view when he has zippo for his.

    If I was going to convince the average person on the existence of God I would start first with fine tuning. How one gets to your particular understanding of God is something completely different. I am just curious how Allen will handle it since he is a scientist and it is a scientific argument.

  228. VJT: “For the record, I don’t think you’ll burn. See my post #64 above.”

    I suppose I should take comfort, but then tens of millions of people in the US do have a literal belief that I will burn. I can understand there being some latitude in doctrine, in theology, but when it comes to hell at least there does seem to be a surprisingly wide range of interpretations. Which is odd when you think about it, that the very purpose of salvation is to be ‘saved from’ something, yet there is no total clarity of what we are being saved from exactly.

    VJT: “Suppose for argument’s sake that you’re right, and the God of the OT is indeed a moral monster. What should you do, in that case? If you find revealed religion to be intellectually incredible, then the next option to explore is bare theism: in other words, the position that there is an objective moral code, and a personal God exists who is by nature incapable of violating this code; however, for reasons best known to Him/Herself, this God has not (yet) issued any public revelation. That’s a perfectly respectable intellectual position to take, and I’d be more impressed if the skeptics on this thread were to give it serious attention.”

    Well I guess I don’t really think God is a moral monster per se, because obviously I don’t see sufficient evidence to accept that the OT/NT God actually exists. So even though I express this so-called moral outrage at God in the OT, it is only hypothetical in that if such a person existed, this is how I would feel about them. So it becomes something of a moot point.

    But I do agree with you about Deism – is that what you mean? (although I’m not sure I would characterize such an entity as a personal God?) Yes, it probably is a viable intellectual position (and oddly enough compatible with atheism in as much that an atheist sees no evidence for specific gods). Perhaps I could be a Revealed Religion Atheist and an Agnostic Deist (a RRAAD)? I think if ID ever did get to the point of conclusively and verifiably providing incontrovertible evidence, it’s a position I might seriously consider.

  229. ““Objective morality” sure led to great moral attitudes, didn’t it?”

    Are you trying to be ironic?

  230. 231

    Also, Mr. Mc Neill,

    nullasalus:

    “I think there’s an abundance of arguments. Fine-tuning (even in some popular multiverse scenarios, this remains), first cause arguments, apparent design in nature (both end-products and evolutionary history), etc. Philosophically, even more arguments, some very powerful.”

    I think in order to break down the moral argument as a whole, you need to deal with the above arguments. Perhaps you have done so?

    Nevertheless, each argument has its own basis in logic. The power of those arguments together cannot really be appropriately broken down peacemeal and affect the whole, because such objections are not evidently and necessarily so. They depend on some level of assertion and circularity.

    Hence, with sound logic based in objective truth, there are arguments for God’s existence, which if seen together, solidify an objective while incomplete picture of a whole.

    Now you may be capable of an attempt to break down one argument – although not completely, and that’s the point. The power of the reality of God’s existence lies in the whole picture, and not in an objection to any one of the parts. The parts harmonize with the whole.

    The problem with materialism is that its “parts” DO break down when attempting to look at the whole picture. This is because materialism is contingent, and cannot explain its first cause consistently within itself. Theism explains its first cause as uncaused and necessary, not contingent, and as such, is a more powerful argument.

    Because we can’t identify the designer satisfactorily by this approach does not negate the whole of the argument. It simply suggests that there may be other details, which might not be evident within our own logical paradigms. There might exist a higher “super-logic,” which encompasses the mysteries we have yet to discover. Some might suggest that such a super-logic is founded in materialism, but I can’t help but view this too as self-defeating.

    I wonder why a former atheist philosopher extraordinaire such as Antony Flew found it reasonable to make that switch to deism (which appeals to a desiger) based on the design argument alone (as he states). I wonder if he too looked at the bigger picture, and saw the flaws in his own materialistic assumptions about the nature of reality.

    And I can’t help but be dumbfounded at any objection to the existence of a god on moral grounds. The arguments above for such, and on the “Religion” thread started by O’Leary appear to be based in an observation of human evil – the very existence of which suggests a higher morality that comes from outside a human capacity to reason about issues of right and wrong. The fact that we appeal to moral objectivity (and atheists do this as much as theists) suggests a higher moral law prescribed by a law-giver outside of human self-evidence.

  231. —-”David Kellogg: A 1942 survey revealed that only 41 percent of all Americans believed that black and white soldiers should serve together in the armed forces. Only 55 percent agreed that a black man could be just as good a soldier as a white man.”

    —-“Objective morality” sure led to great moral attitudes, didn’t it?

    Your “analysis” at 227 is painfully myopic and lacking in context. From 1960 until the late 1990′s, violent crime rose 560%, illegitimate births were up 419%, Teen suicide up 300%, and SAT scores went down 80 points. Just for good measure rape, armed robbery, burglaray, arson, drug use all skyrocketed. They finally levelled off in the 2000′s becaue they could not have gotten much worse. Yes, moral relativism is death to a culture.

    Does the word proportionality mean anything to you at all?

  232. —-Allen: “Or have you missed all of the threads on this website in which this has been the dominant theme?” (Religion)

    Why are you trying to mislead people into thinking that this site covers only religion. At this very moment, seven UD threads are focused on science. If you like, you can go there and peddle your fantasy about naturalisitc forces creating life. That way you will not have to complain about topics like this which, for some reason, you can’t seem get your fill of in spite of yourself.

  233. I wrote:

    If the theist is permitted to magically turn “is” into “ought”, then why is the atheist denied access to this alchemy?

    vjtorley replied:

    The reason is that God is the only Being for whom “is” and “ought” necessarily coincide. God cannot fail to be what He ought to be: someone who knows and loves perfectly. That’s because God does these things by nature: He is essentially omniscient and omnibenevolent.

    vjtorley,

    I see several problems with your reply.

    First of all, “ought” and “is” coincide for God only if you define God as being morally perfect. This does not follow as a logical consequence of theism per se.

    However, let’s set that aside and assume your particular brand of theism, in which “ought” and “is” do necessarily coincide for God. Even then, we run into problems:

    1. What God ought to do tells us nothing about what his creatures ought to do. These do not necessarily coincide.

    2. The idea that God does what he ought to do runs afoul of the Euthyphro dilemma, one way or the other. If objective morality exists outside of God, then he is subordinate to it. If objective morality derives from his nature, then it is arbitrary: if it happens to be in God’s nature to torture babies, then torturing babies must be morally correct.

    3. Invoking the principle that “is” implies “ought” has unintended consequences for the theist. For example: Evil exists. Therefore, evil ought to exist. Or: Some people are cruel. Therefore, they ought to be cruel.

  234. 235

    JTaylor: “Well I guess I don’t really think God is a moral monster per se, because obviously I don’t see sufficient evidence to accept that the OT/NT God actually exists. So even though I express this so-called moral outrage at God in the OT, it is only hypothetical in that if such a person existed, this is how I would feel about them. So it becomes something of a moot point.

    But I do agree with you about Deism – is that what you mean? (although I’m not sure I would characterize such an entity as a personal God?) Yes, it probably is a viable intellectual position (and oddly enough compatible with atheism in as much that an atheist sees no evidence for specific gods). Perhaps I could be a Revealed Religion Atheist and an Agnostic Deist (a RRAAD)? I think if ID ever did get to the point of conclusively and verifiably providing incontrovertible evidence, it’s a position I might seriously consider.”

    So as you stand right now, you don’t see any “verifiable and incontrovertible evidence” that ID is at least more tenable in light of the detection of irreducible complexity and complex specified information, than unplanned random mutation as a mechanism for natural selection?

    Deism is really an incomplete paradigm, which appears to avoid the overall and most compelling arguments for theism. It’s a start, but it seems to be a rather timid position, which won’t go any further for fear of being labelled “religious.”

    I personally would like to see the term “religious” abandoned in the halls of logical inquiry. It is a loaded term, which prescribes unjustly to its adherents the possession of logical incongruence.

    I really don’t think that deism is really compatible with atheism unless of course you mean that deism is equal to atheism. I think one needs to do a paradigm shift in order to arrive at deism from atheism. Such a shift would have to acknowledge some incompatibilities between the two positions.

    So if you were to become a Deist, how do you think you would envision such a deity?

  235. I wrote:

    Barry can’t have it both ways. If his argument shows that all things are permitted under atheism, as he claims, then it also shows by the same logic that all things are permitted under theism. If he claims that theism is exempt from his argument, then by the same reasoning so is atheism. For Barry’s project to succeed, he would need to show that the “is” of “God exists” leads logically to the “ought” of “we therefore ought to behave a certain way”.

    Barry replied:

    You are quite wrong. If one assumes the premise that God exists and that God has prescribed a universally binding moral code, then my project succeeds. That is not that hard to understand.

    Circular reasoning. If a “universally binding” moral code exists, then by definition we ought to follow it. That’s what “universally binding” means. You’ve assumed your conclusion.

    Let’s revise your statement to get rid of the hidden assumption contained in the phrase “universally binding”:

    If one assumes the premise that God exists and that God has prescribed a moral code, then my project succeeds.

    No, because the mere fact that God has prescribed a moral code does not tell us that we should follow it. You haven’t supplied an argument linking the “is” of “God has prescribed a moral code” to the “ought” of “we are morally obligated to follow it.”

    Let me state preemptively that the following arguments do not work:

    1. God created us; therefore whatever he commands is morally binding.

    2. God is all-powerful; therefore, whatever he commands is morally binding.

    3. God is perfectly moral; therefore, whatever he commands is morally binding.

    If anyone doesn’t see why these three arguments fail, just ask and I’ll happily explain.

  236. 237

    David,

    “All of those principles (not really “moral beliefs” except when specific) seem on the whole to lead to increased human happiness. Similar principles could be derived pragmatically (Jeremy Bentham) or with secular legal theory (John Rawls). Why must they be objective or involve anything divine?”

    I believe that a lot of people, Jeremy Bentham and John Rawls included, in fact most of the world (which was my whole point in proving objective morality) can cite the same morality. It doesn’t matter if you’re secular or not, for everyone participates in various degrees in objective morality. The opposite would mean that morality emerged from a chaos–which has absolutely no basis. For if morality really were arbitrary, you would not have the same injunctions and principles. You would have vastly opposing and differing moralities, which ne’er the ‘tween shall meet. But we know better than this, as Lewis has bothered to show us.

  237. 238

    Bruce David,

    “But don’t you see, your decision to accept the New Testament as your authority (instead of, say, the Koran, the Buddhist scriptures, or the Tao Te Ching) is a decision only you can make. No one can make it for you, and in so doing you are deciding what moral law you will adopt. There is no escaping the fact that each of us must decide for ourselves in some way what moral action is and isn’t.”

    Well, I don’t decide the truth of a belief system by weighing the various moralities among each other. I accept or reject religious traditions for other reasons, and this is reasonable, we do this sort of thing everyday. And of course I agree with you, we have to decide in particular instances what is moral ourselves. Christianity presupposed morality. The injunction that man had sinned and was in need of salvation is evidence of that. The offer of salvation was for people who “already knew” that they had sinned, otherwise the offer wouldn’t make sense, nor would the assent to salvation in the people’s reaction to the offer.

  238. 239

    Allen MacNeill,

    I’m still waiting on an answer for how we, as evolved beings, which cannot produce an ought from an is, know what ought is. I’m interested in your response in particular because you’re an evolutionary psychologist. The answer that culture provides it is a non-starter, because culture is just what the individuals will do once there are a lot of them. Not to mention that if you ask ten people to objectively explain culture, you’ll get ten different answers. And any culture, just like anything else, can only be known by an individual–so it gets self-refuting pretty quickly as an answer that is not itself an answer from culture, but from an individual. Thanks Allen. I’ve wanted to have this discussion with an evolutionary psychologist for a pretty good while. Also, as an aside, what domain over human behaviour does evolutionary psychology reign if not human behaviour as a whole?

  239. 240

    mauka,

    “No, because the mere fact that God has prescribed a moral code does not tell us that we should follow it. You haven’t supplied an argument linking the “is” of “God has prescribed a moral code” to the “ought” of “we are morally obligated to follow it.

    Let me state preemptively that the following arguments do not work:

    1. God created us; therefore whatever he commands is morally binding.

    2. God is all-powerful; therefore, whatever he commands is morally binding.

    3. God is perfectly moral; therefore, whatever he commands is morally binding.”

    Why, when taking all three together, doesn’t the argument work?

  240. 241

    mauka,

    “2. The idea that God does what he ought to do runs afoul of the Euthyphro dilemma, one way or the other. If objective morality exists outside of God, then he is subordinate to it. If objective morality derives from his nature, then it is arbitrary: if it happens to be in God’s nature to torture babies, then torturing babies must be morally correct.”

    C. S. Lewis has already answered this question.

    “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 sic volo, sic jubeo (in which case He would be neither good nor wise). 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—ambulavi in mirabilibus supra me. 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. It is the Rita of the Hindus by which the gods themselves are divine, the Tao of the Chinese from which all realities proceed. But we, favoured beyond the wisest pagans, know what lies beyond existence, what admits no contingency, what lends divinity to all else, what is the ground of all existence, is not simply a law but also a begetting love, a love begotten, and the love which, being between these two, is also imminent in all those who are caught up to share the unity of their self-caused life. 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, not at a negative infinity, but in the positive infinity of the living yet superpersonal God, has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship: and a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective can lead us only to ruin.”
    ~The Poison of Subjectivism

  241. 242

    I am a believer and a mystic but
    I don’t buy the argument that under atheism all things are permissible or there is no basis for morality. Life itself spirals downwards under excess trauma and becomes unhealthy. Therefore the actions of Hitler are anti-life, whereas this universe/planet produces life and fosters life.

    It’s not as though the moral commands of religion are arbitrary. They are fundamental to life and reality.

    It doesn’t matter to one’s personal morality whether or not you are an atheist or a believer. Religious people are quite often not living up to the moral precepts of their religion because they lack personal, spiritual development. The commands mean less than nothing. He who refrains from killing because he believes a powerful being will punish him for it is not a moral being.

    No one can go to heaven until his morality is internal to himself and is self-sustaining, for otherwise heaven would not be heavenly, now would it?

  242. Clive Hayden asks:

    Why, when taking all three together, doesn’t the argument work?

    Why would you expect the combination of three invalid arguments to be valid?

  243. 244

    To Clive,

    Well, I agree with you that most people don’t choose their religion by comparing moral codes. My larger point is that we are each ultimately left to our own resources to choose what we believe to be true and what our values, moral and otherwise, will be, so that practically speaking, we are all of necessity moral relativists. While it is true that many people’s choice of a religion is based on other than moral considerations, nonetheless, a religion usually includes a moral code, so that choosing a religion is choosing a morality. So we can never escape the fact that at some level we must choose, and no one can do it for us. Even if we simply accept the beliefs handed down to us from our parents, that is still a choice, although one often not consciously made.

    I would add that in my observation, most people do not simply accept the moral strictures passed down from whatever sect they happen to be members of. I know Catholics who practice birth control, and other Christians who accept a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. Even within the context of a fairly clear religious dogma, people will make up their own minds.

    I’m curious, though. Did Jesus ever use the word “sin”? Or was that whole concept added later?

  244. 245
    CannuckianYankee

    mauka:

    “Why would you expect the combination of three invalid arguments to be valid?”

    Sounds reasonable, but is it? Rather, why would you not expect the combination of three incomplete but related arguments to be more completed by their combination? You did not demonstrate that the arguments were necessarily invalid, only incomplete. And I think it depends greatly on the combination:

    1. God created us.

    2. God is all-powerful.

    3. God is perfectly moral.

    Therefore, whatever he commands is morally binding.

    Allow me to break it down:

    1. God created us – giving us the ability to discern morality.

    2. God is all-powerful – giving Him the absolute authority to set boundaries on our moral behavior, and to set consequences for our disobedience to His moral law.

    3. God is perfectly moral, leaving us with an absolute standard of moral character.

    There is perhaps one more axiom that I would add to this, which would make it more complete:

    4. God expects His creation to be moral as He is moral – as such, He gives us the freedom to choose morality above immorality.

    Therefore, whatever He commands is morally binding.

    Reminds me of a quote from Romans:

    “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who supress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (1:18-20 NIV)

    This passage implies that morality is a part of God’s character, and what goes against His character is “godlessness.” It also implies His authority in meting out consequences for disobedience to His moral law, and it implies that God’s moral character is known to us, leaving us with a mandate to follow his moral commands, thus leaving us without excuse.
    All four axioms appear to be included in this text.

  245. Clive wrote:

    C. S. Lewis has already answered this question…

    First, note that Lewis commits the fallacy of argumentum ad consequentiam when he writes:

    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, not at a negative infinity, but in the positive infinity of the living yet superpersonal God, has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship: and a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective can lead us only to ruin.

    The question of whether value is eternal and objective is independent of whether believing so will lead us toward, or away from, ruin. Lewis should know better than to fall into this freshman-level logical trap.

    The rest of the passage attempts to evade the Euthyphro dilemma by arguing that:

    God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

    But this is tantamount to saying that whatever God does is defined as good by virtue of being something that God does. If God starts torturing babies tomorrow, then torturing babies is therefore, by definition, a good thing. Lewis betrays his own lack of confidence in this argument when he writes: “But it is probably just here that our categories betray us.” Probably?

    Lastly, the idea that God doesn’t possess his attributes (like goodness), but actually is them — known as the doctrine of “divine simplicity” — is simply incoherent.

    The best-known example of this incoherence is that God is held to be both merciful and just. According to the doctrine of divine simplicity, that means that God is mercy and God is justice. Yet mercy and justice are not identical, and so God cannot be identical to both.

  246. Bruce David asks:

    I’m curious, though. Did Jesus ever use the word “sin”? Or was that whole concept added later?

    If you believe that the New Testament accurately records Jesus’ words, then yes, he talked about sin quite often.

  247. 248
    CannuckianYankee

    I was thinking of the objections raised here to the morality of God as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. Some here have stated (I think erroneously) that everything God does cannot contradict the moral code He has set for humans. As such, some here find in “Thou shalt not kill” a contradiction to God’s own actions of killing.

    This is really not a reasonable argument against the God of the scriptures on several grounds:

    Blasphemy, for example is a behavior that can only be human and not of God. God cannot blaspheme himself. Therefore, there are some practices that are morally required of God, which are morally forbidden of humans. Humans, cannot claim to be God (except in context with the one and only incarnation). God on the other hand, cannot claim not to be God.

    There is a separation between the moral necessity of God and the moral contingency of humans. Therefore, there are situations in which God must kill in order to prevent a greater moral evil. This brings into question, of course, the morality of war, but wars are not fought for the sake of war, but on the basis of other humanly created moral dilemnas. So there is a difference between God killing to prevent a greater evil, and humans doing the same. Humans create the situations, which lead to the necessity of war; God does not. Furthermore, God does not create the situations that mandate His killing in order to prevent a greater evil, humans do.

    All of God’s actions are necessary to His moral character. Some might argue that God has not consistently applied killing to prevent a greater evil. Such an argument does not take into account that God might not be done yet. The greatest evils we can imagine will have their day in the court of God’s judgment, and the greatest acts of selflessness will also be rewarded. Revelation makes sense in that light.

  248. 249

    No one knows anything for certain about God or Gods. I agree with MaCNeill, that there is no evidence for the present existence of God That does not mean God does not exist which MacNeill doesn’t seem to grasp.

    Darwinians all reject not only a living God but the past existence of God. An unknown and unknowable number of past Creators cannot and must not be denied. I believe that is all that must be assumed in order to undestand the real world. That is what separates this Creationist not only from the atheist Darwinians but from the Biblical Fundamentalists as well.

    I have proposed two Gods, one benevolent, the other malevolent. What we witness today is their handiwork which was probably initiated millions and perhaps billions of years ago. Whether they have intervened along the way is problematical and I don’t see how that can be ascertained.

    I have written two essays that address the question of atheism and Creationism, “What is an atheist?” and “What is a Creationist?” They are available under the Essays button on my home page. The second one is not indicated there but is present immediately following the first. My webmaster has not yet taken care of the problem.

    I don’t expect others to agree with my assessment but there it is if anyone is interested.

    My suggestion that there must have been, as a minimum, two Gods provides me with an explanation for the existence of creatures like Christopher Hitchens, Paul Zachary Myers and Richard Dawkins on the one hand and the vast majority of decent God loving citizens of the world who are the objects of their transparent loathing.

    It is hard to believe isn’t it?

    Not at all. We can see it right here at Uncommon Descent.

    As for Christianity which provided the basis for most of Western Civilization, it is a magnificent ethic for human behavior. The life and death of Christ provides an ideal model for a free society. It is of no consequence whether Christ rose from the dead or not. His mortal existence was miracle enough.

    “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
    Albert Einstein

    I recommend “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” by Thoman E. Woods.

  249. vjtorley wrote:

    The interpretation of a book written 3,000 years ago in a foreign language is a task fraught with peril, as it is no easy matter to determine what the sacred author meant to communicate to his readers.

    That is a tacit admission that the sacred Author either could not successfully communicate his message to modern readers, or that He chose not to do so.

    If He could not, then He is not very competent. Why then should we consider Him worthy of worship?

    On the other hand, if the message of the Old Testament is so unimportant that God couldn’t even be bothered to communicate it clearly to modern readers, then why all the fuss? Why not just drop it from the Bible in that case?

  250. Allen states in #11…

    “Ideas have behavioral consequences, which have consequences for the further development of ideas, ad infinitum.”

    Bingo! Thank you Allen. You acknowledged a point I made(maybe unsuccessfuly) in the other thread about Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life as utilized by Hitler, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Sanger, Pol Pot, and Mao to name a few.
    Combining their atheistic beliefs and Darwin’s these two ideas had arguably the most destructive “behavioral consequences” this world has seen when implemented through massive propaganda campaigns.

    Darwin’s “scientific” ideas had meaning which he concluded “favored races” would eliminate certain “savage races.”

    German intellectuals(among others) picked up on Darwin’s ideas quickly to distribute as they interpreted into fields of economics, politics, socialsim, and communism. “Savage” or “inferior” races could be African, Jews, Gypsies or any other group depending upon the atheist leaders personal views at the time. Even if they didn’t fully agree with Darwins. And why should it matter? From a materialist “suvival of the fittest” view? The strongest do survive, right or wrong.

    Darwin’s ideas dripped down through the ages into all fields of science and philosophy, including areas like psychology as you know. Used for well intentioned purposes by most.

    However, Marx, Engels, Hitler, plus Communist like Stalin, Mao, Castro, and other extremist leaders around the world utilized Darwin’s “ideas” to extend their own twisted plans of “survival of the fittest.” Twisted ideas “ad infinitum” as you rightly state in comment #11, with behavioral changes floating down the river of time, at times with large disastorous consequences.

    I agree 100% with your statement, “Ideas have behavioral consequences.” Atheism and Darwin’s ideas combined for dangerous “behavioral consequences.”

  251. “That is a tacit admission that the sacred Author either could not successfully communicate his message to modern readers, or that He chose not to do so.”

    Or an admission that modern readers are imperfect, sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly.

    Or an admission that it requires sincere effort on the part of the reader.

    In fact, one of the more important lessons in the New Testament is the sorts of error that someone can fall into by taking communication too literally, or warping it (whether purposefully or not). You can argue ‘Then God should have made better subjects!’, but I’ve always found skeptical arguments that amount to ‘God shouldn’t have let a person like me exist if he’s so great!’ to be silly and self-refuting, especially with regards to Christianity.

    As for mercy and justice, their relation isn’t always crystal clear. It’s possible to give both a just and a merciful sentence at once. A person can be made to pay a penalty (justice) with a lenient sentence (mercy). No incoherence.

    Either way, I admire the various theists in this thread for offering strong and consistent arguments. But one day you guys should realize that the real task isn’t to defend theism (The arguments are abundant, and the rationales strong.) It’s to get skeptics to show what they’re offering in its place. Usually it’s nothing but skepticism and silence. Skeptics hate having to defend anything. It’s why they’re skeptics rather than thinkers far and away most of the time.

    On the other hand, offering Sartre or Camus to replace God or Christ (or frankly, just about any major theistic faith) is… rather not an equal trade.

  252. 253
    CannuckianYankee

    Hazel: “CannuckianYankee replied,

    ‘Do you know the certainty of the above statement? If so, how?’

    This is a common rejoinder by those on the “objective truth” side of this argument, and in my opinion, it has no weight. Since I agree strongly with Bruce David, I’d like to reply to CYankee:

    If I were responding, I would say “Of course I’m not certain, because I don’t believe certainty is possible.”

    Hazel,

    Thanks for responding. I didn’t ask the question as a rhetorical trick. I simply wanted to know how Bruce would respond. I’m interested in how those with whom I disagree respond to valid questions. I think the question is valid, because if one is not certain that “There is no escaping the fact that each of us must decide for ourselves in some way what moral action is and isn’t,” then I wonder by what standard such a statement can be made.

    Of course, you answered my question quite nicely from a non theist perspective. It is also the sort of response I would expect from a relative truth perspective, so nothing’s new here. Your response has prompted me to think about this a little more, and I would like to add my perspective.

    The reason I believe in objective truth is because I accept that there is some truth of which we can be certain. Perhaps you have heard the “self-defeating” argument against relative truth ad nauseum, but I don’t sense that you have actually followed it’s logic. To say “there is no objective truth” is self-defeating, because the statement itself would have to be objectively true. Also to say “I can’t be certain that there is objective truth” might escape the dillema, but it does not resolve it, because you stated “I don’t believe certainty is possible.” I think you were careful in how you worded this in order to avoid a self-defeat, and that shows some understanding; you could have stated “certainty is impossible,” and got yourself stuck.

    I think the problem lies in distinguishing between modernism and postmodernism. Modernism accepted the existence of objective truth, and postmodernism does not. Yet one could argue that modernism created an atmosphere in which science could be done objectively, while postmodernism will bring about the demise of rational objective science. This is so because if I cannot expect any objectivity from one perspective to the next, then all I really can rely on are assertions. I believe that Burce David’s statement is an assertion, and that’s why I asked the question. Of course I’m making no judgment as to whether the assertion is true. It may be.

    Let’s see if he’ll respond within a relative truth paradigm or within an objective truth paradigm. Because I get really confused on here sometimes with what some of the atheist posters base their truth. If scientism is the gospel of the “old atheists,” then what do the “new atheists” actually believe? I’m not certain if they are postmodernists or modernists.

    By your response, I would say that you are greatly influenced by postmodernism. Am I wrong? What do you think Bruce’s response would be?

  253. Mauka,

    Jesus spoke in parables to the masses. Unlike Hitler, Stalin or many politicians today he did not seek to coerce people to believe in him as a Savior.

    The choice is always yours to seek the truth and understanding of his teachings or reject him. He never once forced anyone to believe in him or his authority, nor did he ever command his disciples to teach such tyrannical methods.

    He described the harvesting of believers and non-believers as separating wheat from the chaff. He stated that to non-believers it would seem foolish, the process of winnowing. That mockers and scoffers would come, but that his sheep know him.

    Yes, it is quite a radical idea, not like any other in my personal opinion. He did not go about making wood icons of himself or paintings, or bow down to any natural elements or artificial elements. He taught, he traveled and healed with the final miracle being claimed as resurrection.

    Those who believed followed, some left when they discovered his plans were not to be a King of Israel that time, but to be a suffering servant. Some stayed becoming disciples that successfully spread the gospel around the world. No one forces you to believe in his story, but our children are forced every single day to believe in fictional evolutionary stories that are only guesses at best what happened 3.8 billion years ago. And it changes day to day depending upon which researcher or group claims expertise over which fossil record.

    You may assert it is incompetence or madness of Jesus story. I did at one time make similar statement and had many questions. But His simplistic method has led billions to believe in him and changed millions of lives, including addicts, murderers, thieves and atheist to become some of his most faithful and well known followers in history.

    Who have in turn led to more saved lives. Orphans left behind that now save millions of lives around the world with water, medicine, shelter, and education. People left for dead, with terrible birth defects now inspiring and saving others.

    No government agency required. No corrupt international agency. Just the faith in Christ has overcome brutal dictatorships where other governments of the world failed to help the oppressed, heal the sick, clothe the poor, or clean up an addicts life.

    Watch as China develops in the future as millions are converting yearly to Christianity. In future decades, more leaders will be Christians and it will explode in creativity and freedoms as the old atheist Communist generation dies off. Rampant corruption will be reduced as Christian leaders are allowed more positions of power.

    It will have nothing to do with atheism or Darwin’s ideas. It will have everything to do with Judeo-Christian ethics spreading through the nations civilian workforce, political positions and military.

    And it will all be done without the detonation of single suicide bomb. Darwinian ideas and atheism cannot save China from itself.

    But Judeo-Christian precepts can.

  254. 255
    CannuckianYankee

    re: 165

    B L Harville:

    “CannuckianYankee:

    They [the 9-11 terrorists] may have claimed a god-based justification for their actions, but claiming such does not make it so.

    That was my point. You can’t just say something is or isn’t moral because you say that your god says so. You’d have to prove your god exists and that’s not going to happen, is it? Therefore morality can’t be god-based.”

    But that is not the way apologists for the Christian faith form their arguments for morality. Morality itself is part of the arguments for the existence of God: the moral argument, which is what this entire thread is based upon.

    The statement “morality can’t be god-based” because I’m not going to prove my god exists is begging the question. The moral argument solves this problem by providing a cohesive argument for God’s existence and for such a god’s moral character. We can say objectively that the 9-11 terrorists were not acting from a god-given mandate because their actions violated the moral mandates of the god revealed in the moral argument and in scripture.

    Furthermore, Islam claims some adherence to Judeo-Christian values as revealed in scripture. They believe that some of the scriptures’ meaning has been corrupted, but they nonetheless adhere to some of its precepts, and one of them is that God is merciful. The acts of 9-11 were in no way congruent with the character of a merciful God. Therefore, their actions were evil, not good. We can know this objectively from their own religious precepts.

  255. John #249,

    “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
    Albert Einstein

    I’ve seen many quotes from Einstein, the usual on God, dice, etc., but not this one. Thanks.

  256. Folks:

    I see some interesting developments, including at least some acknowledgement from the pro-materialist side (now that the shoe is on the other foot . . . ) that comparative difficulties is an important approach. But in that they often seem to wish to go further and change the subject.

    So, pardon my repeating of the point made by Mr Hawthorne [and I claim no originality -- the OP in that respect inadvertently presents me as plagiarising . . . ouch!]:

    >>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’. >>

    So, now, let us reflect, in the general context of the onward exchanges:

    1 –> The key issue here is that while evolutionary materialistic atheists [and their fellow travellers] are often fond of direct or indirect arguments from evil against God [e.g. the moral monster thesis of Dawkins et al], their own worldview is inescapably incoherent at this point: assuming and using the reality of objective morality, even as they hold to a worldview that entails amorality (and often thus enables immorality).

    2 –> So, onward, we need to look at the issue of that incoherence as it seems a global consensus that human beings are morally mutually obligated: we all quarrel by in effect claiming “you unfair me.” (That is, we imply that we have rights that must be respected, based in the end on our dignity as persons . . .

    3 –> . . . and so, materialists: what inherent dignity accrues to a bit of jumped up pond slime and its perceptions of emotions of outrage or sensations of pain — which are in any case inevitable to one degree or another?

    4 –> In short, we have a global consensus that we are morally bound and hold some dignity, a dignity incompatible with our being jumped up pond slime.

    5 –> We also have a global consensus that at least some of the time we think, reason and know objectively and even correctly.

    6 –> But if we are jumped up pond slime, so-called thought is nothing but electro-chemical activity in neurons, which are in turn partly programmed genetically and partly programmed by whatever accidents of environment we encounter; in the end tracing to mental activity being produced and controlled by chance circumstances and mechanical material forces, however mediated. So, what controls our thought life has nothing whatsoever to do with (especially abstract) logical validity or truth.

    7 –> Bn short the objectivity of morality and the credibility of mind both turn out to be facts that are not well accounted for by evolutionary materialist thought [and please notice my specificity, as is so for Mr Hawthorne too].

    8 –> But, such thought and its zealous promotion by its true believers depend implicitly on the credibility of what it cannot account for as a theory and worldview of origins. In short, we see self-referential incoherence of an evidently inescapable kind. Reductio ad absurdum, unless a reasonable solution is forthcoming . . . and the burden of rebuttal is on the side of the evidently incoherent position.

    9 –> But, does that not equally point to the need for Judaeo-Christian theists to rebut the problem of evil? Precisely: DONE, ever since Plantinga blew away the deductive dofrom and tamed the inductive form as a the turn of the 1970′s. (The existential/pastoral form is a matter for counselling not debate; go find yourself a good pastor or priest or rabbi, not a circle of Job’s false comforters.) For those who came in late:

    The Defense approach is more logically powerful than the theodicy approach, for it relies on mere validity to disestablish a contradiction, not truthfulness of premises. (And those who try to read it as a theodicy show their misunderstanding.) The classic posed and claimed contradictory theistic set is demonstrably not contradictory, and there are reasonable grounds on which a world in which there is significant suffering experienced by creatures, is morally justifiable, given inter alia that morality itself is premised on the power of choice. In short, a world in which love is possible is one that necessarily has hate — and worse, indifference [in the bad sense] — as possible too. Thence, the point that the lesser of evils may be a relative moral good; e.g. wars may be just and homicide excusable; in a further context where death of an “innocent” (even that is relative . . . ) is a tragedy but may in context offset far greater losses in both time and eternity. Such a world is one in which reformation is also possible — and important. So is containment of evil [a la Cold War], and if necessary, removal of otherwise virulently spreading and destructive contagion (of which Nazism is an excellent recent case in point) through just war that inescapably will kill significant numbers of innocents given the means available a the relevant time. [And note the current resort of the Islamist terrorists and their fifth columnist friends in our civilisation, who make much of the inevitable loss of innocents in a war of containment or defense against attack, as if those who resist contagious and aggressive evils are to be equated to those who spread such while intentionally targetting civilians etc to terrorise and paralyse their intended victims, and inter alia binding generations to come into a blood feud to carry out the aggression as long as their culture endures as an entity holding significant power. (And if that sounds familiar, it should: this is materially the same dilemma faced by those confronting the Amorites c. 1,300 BC and who drove them out, breaking up the power centres and destroying the hard core who insisted on defending the indefensible to the bitter end. (And indeed, nearly 1,000 years later, a descendant-survivor of the elites of the Amorites sought to destroy all Jews in the Persian empire: Haman.) It is also the same dilemma that confronted the Spanish monarchs c. 1491 and impelled them to forcibly convert or exile what they viewed with some justification as an utterly irreconcilable and blood feud prone population descended from invaders. (NB: I am not defending Ferdinand and Isabella [much less, the notorious Inquisition . . . ], I am asking us to understand their dilemmas and ask ourselves whether we have reliably better solutions that we can present as at least the credibly lesser of evils. . . ) It is not without relevance to note that after WW I, the German populace in certain key parts, denied the reality of military defeat . . . a defeat bought at ruinous cost by the Allies. 20 years later, we paid an even worse price, but after the utter devastation of Germany, the centuries long feud between germans and franks finally came to an end, after three wars in 70 years. History has some very sobering lessons for us . . . ]

    [ . . . . ]

  257. 10 –> But also, there is the issue that the mere known existence of evil as an objectionable entity has implications, as Koukl pointed out:

    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.

    11 –> Thus, evil is now reduced to proper scope: a painful difficulty within the general face-validity of a theistic view. And, as Job’s case shows, it may be painful and hard to understand — perhaps even in part beyond our capacity to understand — but that does not give us leave to pretend to knowledge beyond our capacity, and to dismiss what we can otherwise know of God through personal encounter and/or from the characteristics of creation etc [Cf Job 38!]

    12 –> Someone has raised that hoary, long past sell-date objection, the Euthryphro dilemma. But, it is fatally flawed: for, it inescapably depends for its rhetorical force on a long since discredited Greek concept of gods, i.e. in a context of the independent reality of the material and ideational worlds. (It is on that implicit base that it becomes persuasive to ask whether the gods command the good because they are good [a reference to the platonic Form of the Good], or because of their power, i.e arbitrarily.)

    13 –> The Hebraic- Christian, revelationally anchored view of the Creator- Sustainer- Redeemer God is utterly different and is inherently not subject to such an objection.

    14 –> For, we are contingent; it is in the Creator-God that we live, move and have our being, including that we live in a contingent cosmos, dependent for its origin on a necessary being, the Creator. And, that Creator — who is Reason Himself, Truth himself, Love Himself and Holiness Himself — by his necessary nature is both powerful and moral. So, he acts in ways that are both moral and moral in a context that they are also reasonable.

    15 –> Thus morality is intelligible to us and we sense its compelling force as OUGHT, not just IS; i.e. we can understand core morality and see that its precepts are self-evident, on pain of hypocritically inconsistent absurdity on rejecting them. (Resemblance to the 2nd para of the 1776 US DOI is NOT coincidental.)

    16 –> Indeed, let us see how Locke cites “the judicious [Richard] Hooker,” from that Anglican worthy’s Ecclesiastical Polity, when Locke set out to ground the natural law of liberty and justice for all — i.e Laws of [moral] nature and of nature’s God — in the 2nd chapter of his 2nd essay on civil govt:

    . . . 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 [which of course in both Hooker's and Locke's contexts traces to the equality of our creation in God's image], 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.

    17 –> Thus we see articulated precisely the view of core morality that we find in Romans:

    2: 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the [written Mosaic] law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) . . . .

    RO 13:8b . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    18 –> In short, core morality — not the mores of any given place or time, which often fail to be consistent with core morality 9which is why we need repentance and reform, and to listen to the pleading ever so sweetly reasonable voice of both conscience and true prophet [note the modifier!]) — is just as deeply and indelibly imprinted in our inner life as is core intelligence.

    19 –> That is how we find it an objective, consensus obligation, and how we find it reasonable as well. That is OUGHT is objective truth, in a world created and sustained by the inherently moral and inherently necessary, inherently truthful and loving Creator God.

    20 –> Thus also, why we find the objectivity of such core morality is a compass needle pointing to its Source.

    __________

    Finally, thanks for some kind words above. Appreciated.

    GEM of TKI

  258. PS: On the FSCI of a moral code. In the first instance: FSCI is one test for intelligent design, not its necessary and sufficient sign. So, the question is utterly misconceived. (That will of course not prevent its rhetorical abuse by the likes of our friends over at Anti Evo as (sadly) yet another fallacious, strawmannish and ad hominem laced talking point, but at minimum, a basic corrective is on the record.)

    FSCI, however is not irrelevant, as the issue is: we have certain requisites for a body plan of an embodied, sexually reproducing — thus in part genetically conditioned — creature that is capable of the underlying rationality.

    The required codes are algorithmic, digital, language based, symbolic and implemented by an obviously flexibly programmed information processing machine in the heart of the cell. that is, we have stumbled over not a stone or a watch in a field [and BTW, Paley had in mind a self-replicating (thus, by extension in light of our understanding of what that requires per Von Neumann's work on such automata, programmed) watch . . . if you actually read him you will see that] — but a computer in the heart of the cell. A computer that has in it well northwards of 1,000 bits of information. And in a body plan that requires well north of that too.

    So, the FSCI in our own cells strongly points to the known source of such FSCI, per inference to best known explanation: intelligent designers. (Onlookers, observe the persistent absence of counter-examples on the part of objectors to the inference from 1,000+ bits of functional information to design as its best explanation per known and multitudinous examples.)

    And, that sounds suspiciously like:

    Rom 1:19 . . . what may be known about God is plain to [men], because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

  259. Gosh, who knew atheists were so sensitive?

    Barry’s original point (if anyone remembers it) is simple and incontrovertible: natural law does not and cannot provide the specific moral guidance found in revealed law.

    Nature, red in tooth and claw, does not say “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Meanwhile revealed law, the ten commandments, fleshes out this rule in very specific terms, none of which can be derived inerrantly from nature.

    Alan’s point is well-taken. Atheists are quite capable of averring the value of moral guidelines like the Golden Rule. They are also quite capable of banding together and agreeing to make it the basis of a social contract.

    But he needs to come to terms with the facts. National Socialism, an atheist ideology rooted in Nietzsche and Darwin, highly successful in Germany and highly admired in Europe and America at the time, reviled the Golden Rule.

    And Modernism, rooted in the atheism justified by the concept of Natural Selection, was defiantly amoral. Joyce, Beckett, Sartre, Picasso, Genet, Foucault—merry amoralists all.

  260. Responding to vjtorley, I wrote:

    That is a tacit admission that the sacred Author either could not successfully communicate his message to modern readers, or that He chose not to do so.

    nullasalus replied:

    Or an admission that modern readers are imperfect, sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly.

    Or an admission that it requires sincere effort on the part of the reader.

    Many sincere readers (Christians among them) have concluded that the Old Testament is not the inspired word of a loving God, but rather a very human work that includes the kinds of imperfections to which human works are prone.

    Are you telling us that an omniscient, omnipotent God is incapable of getting his message across to a sincere reader? Doesn’t that sort of contradict the “omniscient, omnipotent” part?

    Or are you telling us that anyone who doesn’t reach the same conclusion that you do isn’t really sincere?

    nullasalus:

    As for mercy and justice, their relation isn’t always crystal clear. It’s possible to give both a just and a merciful sentence at once.

    The question isn’t whether mercy and justice ever overlap; the question is whether mercy and justice are identical. They are not, which is why it is incoherent to say that God is justice and God is mercy. Divine simplicity is a non-starter.

  261. If I could wave a magic wand and impart three principles of good reasoning to everyone in this thread who has not already learned them, they would be these three:

    Principle #1:
    The question you should always ask yourself is “What is the best, most parsimonious explanation of the facts at hand?”

    If instead you find yourself asking the question “How can I interpret the facts to fit in with my pre-existing beliefs?”, then you are asking the wrong question.

    Example:
    vjtorley violates Principle #1 by writing:

    God is by definition reasonable. He cannot be otherwise, for His nature is to have perfect knowledge and love of everything and everyone. I suggest you take that as your starting point when interpreting passages in Scripture that appear to depict an irrational, heartless, bloodthirsty, vengeful or capricious God.

    vjtorley’s pre-existing beliefs are 1) that God is perfectly loving, and 2) that the Old Testament is his word. Yet in reading the Old Testament, he runs across descriptions of “heartless, bloodthirsty, vengeful” acts of God. Instead of asking himself what the best explanation is for these new facts, he asks himself how he can interpret (one might say twist) the new facts in order to fit his pre-existing beliefs. His solution? Assume that the heartlessness, bloodthirstiness and vengefulness are only apparent, and that somehow everything will work out for the best in the end.

    Is that really the best explanation? An obvious and much more plausible alternative is that the Old Testament is not the word of God, and that the ancient Hebrews, just like hundreds of other societies both before and since, justified their behavior by claiming that it was divinely ordained.

    Principle #2:
    When arguing against your opponent’s position, always ask yourself what would happen if you applied the same argument to your own position.

    Example:
    Barry failed to apply Principle #2 when composing the opening post of this thread. If he had done so, he would have realized that his argument works just as well (which is to say, not very well at all) when applied against theism as it does when applied against atheism.

    Principle #3:
    When defending your position, always ask yourself if your defense applies equally to your opponent’s position (or to any other position that differs from your own).

    Example: The special pleading on behalf of Christianity seen in this thread and others. For example, when a straightforward interpretation of OT texts casts doubt on Christian presuppositions, vjtorley asks us to doubt the straightforward interpretation. Yet he calls for no such skepticism when a straightforward interpretation supports the standard Christian view. One might call it, to borrow one of KF’s favorite phrases, “selective hyperskepticism”.

  262. to CYankee: Thanks for the reply, and here are a few comments.

    The first will sound like exactly the kind of rejoinder I derided, but I’m asking it in good faith, I think.

    You write, “The reason I believe in objective truth is because I accept that there is some truth of which we can be certain.”

    But can you be certain that there are certain truths?

    How are your assertions any different than anyone else’s. Just because you believe that certain truths exist and I don’t doesn’t mean that what you say has a better chance of being correct than what I say. Your belief may be wrong, in which case you are in no better shape than I believe I am in terms of offering statements about what we think about the world.

    You write,

    I think the problem lies in distinguishing between modernism and postmodernism. Modernism accepted the existence of objective truth, and postmodernism does not. Yet one could argue that modernism created an atmosphere in which science could be done objectively, while postmodernism will bring about the demise of rational objective science. This is so because if I cannot expect any objectivity from one perspective to the next, then all I really can rely on are assertions. …
    By your response, I would say that you are greatly influenced by postmodernism. Am I wrong?

    I am not a postmodernist.

    As I wrote in some other post recently, I think this word “objective” has two different meanings which are confusing this discussion. I believe that human beings can learn, and have learned, a great deal of objective truth about the world in the sense that those truths are based on empirical evidence common to everyone and have been tested enough that there is a strong consensus about their truth. That the earth is approximately a sphere with a diameter of 8000 miles is an example of an objective truth, and so is the fact that my mailbox is black. Less certainly, but in the same category is the fact that all human beings (except a very small few who we classify as mentally ill) have moral beliefs that they feel they should follow (however imperfectly we are capable of doing so.)

    But this isn’t how the word is being used here. Here the phrase objective truth means Truths that somehow exist as transcendentally true, known to us as self-evident, and given to us by some higher power. These I don’t believe in because I don’t believe in the higher power.

    This does not negate my ability to search for truth. It just means my search for truth is a continual process of believing things and then testing my beliefs against further experience.

  263. Allen, continued… #11 made this comment…

    “To be very specific as to the point of this thread, the idea of God(s) (i.e. a “non-natural” phenomenon) can and does have observable consequences for human behavior (i.e. a “natural” phenomenon). However, the two are still subsumed within logically separate, though related domains.”

    Lets flip roles with your observational point of “God(s)” to that of Darwin’s ideas and atheistic naturalism. bold/italicize changes to your original statement.

    “To be very specific as to the point of this thread, the idea of Darwinian ideas(i.e. ‘survival of the fittest’ “natural” phenomenon) can and does have observable consequences for human behavior (i.e. a natural phenomenon). However, the two are still subsumed within logically separate, though related domains.”

    So we replace:
    1) God(s) and non-natural w/ Darwinain ideas, survival of the fittest, natural

    This leads to an Equal and Shared Domain Set of all natural phenomenon. An explanation as understood by materialistic Darwinians. Therefore, no such list of non-natural phenomenon under the neo-Darwinian model or current materialist evolutionist philosophy advocated by atheist truly exist. Its made up to account for morality.

    Notice I did not change the last sentence on purpose. Does it still work with the switched role of Darwin’s ideas instead of Allen’s comparison to God(s)?

    Obviously not. They are no longer “logically separate.” Darwinian ideas and atheistic naturalism are based upon natural phenomenon. They are both wedded to materialistic philosophy. The sentence would have to be restructured. We might say,

    “The Domains are natural and natural. Fully related. No separation.”

    This is the truth of a fulfilled atheist and darwinist argument of materialist origins.

    Any concepts of intelligenct agency of creation are rejected and instead accepted as elements of larger Domains under Darwinian processes, turning man into their own god(s). At this point, man is left to determine god-like authority and management over humanity. This accounts for the rise of megalomaniacs use of Darwinian ideas. It justifies their attempts at total world domination, feeding their intellectual pursuits or “ideas” that only materialistic science and philosophy are allowed for the advancement of civilization.

    The end results of such philosophy are staggering in hundreds of millions of deaths.

    Atheistic naturalism based upon Darwin’s ideas are shared worldviews(Domains) among noted past and present atheist leaders, like Marx, Mao, Stalin, Castro, et al.

    “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” – Adolf Hitler

    True Statement.

    Was Hitler a Lunatic? Crazy? Wrong? How so? How is anything abnormal or wrong under Darwinian Domain of naturalism? How can anyone possibly know until they see if it is the fittest? If Germany won under Hitler. Wouldn’t natural selection have worked? Why should America have intervened? Why not allow natural selection of the fittest work? Why empathy, sympathy and altruist cause for fellow man to defend other nations from such a plague?

    Would his ideas be the norm today of the fittest? Under Darwinism, he is not wrong, he is a genious of utopian vision of superior humans. The weak be damned. Altruism under Darwinian evolution is a made up fantasy.

    Barry is right, if you follow the reality of atheism and combine it with Darwinism, the logical conclusion is permissable human destruction and disaster.

  264. Theology is normally where I jump in. I’m not a pure ID guy and my field isn’t science. But I’ve set this one out because of these verses and present them to my brothers and sisters in Christ so that they might consider it for themselves:

    1Cr 1:25 This “foolish” plan of God is far wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is far stronger than the greatest of human strength.

    1Cr 1:26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you.

    1Cr 1:27 Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful.

    1Cr 1:28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important,

    1Cr 1:29 so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

    1Cr 1:30 God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and he gave himself to purchase our freedom.

    1Cr 1:31 As the Scriptures say, “The person who wishes to boast should boast only of what the Lord has done.”

    If you are not a Christian I don’t expect you to be swayed one way or other by these verses.

    If you are a Christian then why are you spending so much time arguing in a worldly way with those that cannot see?

    Barry, you presented a very obvious truth. If there is no universal standard of good then what Hitler did is permissible. If the wise of the world refuse to see it then so be it.

  265. In #226 CannuckianYankee wrote:

    “Apologists appeal to arguments of logic in order to show the reasonableness of God’s existence. Could that not be a form of empiricism, however incomplete?”

    In a word, no. The set of all arguments that are logical subsumes the set of all arguments that are empirical [1], but the two sets are not identical. That is, there are a large (perhaps infinite) set of arguments that are logical, but which contain no empirical information whatsoever.

    Here’s one:

    Major Premise: All widgets are wadgets.

    Minor Premise: Item A is a widget.

    Conclusion: Item A is therefore a wadget.

    All perfectly logical, and not a bit of empirical information in either the major premise, the minor premise, nor the conclusion.

    [1] Please note that I am using the term “empirical” here in its most widely used sense: that is, “empirical” denotes information that is derived by observation of natural objects and/or processes (either directly or via inference from indirect observations).

    From Latin empiricus meaning “observed”, from Greek empeirikos meaning “experienced”, from Greek empeiria meaning “experience”, from Greek empeiros “skilled”, from Greek en- meaning “in” + peira meaning “trial” or “experiment.” Originally denoting a school of ancient Greek physicians who based their practice on experience rather than theory.

  266. As for the “fine-tuning” argument, I think Neil Degrasse Tyson has dealt with that much better than I can:

    http://www.wimp.com/intelligentdesign/

    If the universe is so beautifully fine-tuned for life, why is it that it consists almost entirely of hard vacuum, sprinkled ever so thinly with thermonuclear furnaces that periodically explode? If the Intelligent Designer (aka God, aka Jahweh) really wanted to “fine-tune” the universe for life, why did He design a universe in which it takes billions of years to get multicellular life going, and then periodically smash it almost all the way back to the Precambrian?

    I would enjoy being able to interview a dinosaur at the end of the Cretaceous or a trilobite at the end of the Permian to get their opinion on how “fine-tuned” they thought the Earth was for life. If we manage to last long enough on this little rock, we may eventually be able to contemplate the same end that came to the Permian and Cretaceous megafauna…indeed, we may be the perpetrators of that end.

    So much for “fine-tuning” and a “compassionate” Intelligent Designer (who, BTW, is a thoroughgoing utilitarian, if in fact He exists:
    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......nd_09.html )

  267. APPENDIX:

    It seems — sigh — I have to do a bit of a microtut on the method and task of comparative difficulties in the context that for sufficiently serious issues, we have moved beyond rhetorical to dialectical [and even pedagogic] approaches:

    a –> We all have worldviews, which embed a core of first plausibles that by their very nature are beyond further proof. (Cf the above for a discussion on why tat is necessarily so.)

    b –> All such views bristle with difficulties, and so to avoid begging questions or selective hyperskepticism — the inconsistent imposing of unjustifiable high degree of evidence than the case permits; the better to dismiss what we do not want to believe while appealing to being reasonable . . . — we resort to comparative difficulties as a basic method of philosophy. [And, that is what we are now doing.]

    c –> The basic start-point is that we have a range of generally credible worldviews that are live options in a given time and place. In ours: theism [here including Deism], evolutionary materialistic naturalism, pantheism [including panentheism as a variant].

    d –> Such views must meet three criteria:

    [i] factual/empirical adequacy (they must cover the scope of accessible experiences and observations of reality, including our inner life)

    [ii] coherence (they must be logically and dynamically integrated and integrative, especially among core beliefs . . a challenge for even Mathematics post Godel)

    [iii] explanatory elegance and power (they must be neither an ad hoc patchwork nor simplistic; e.g through unwarranted reductionism or thought putting in arbitrary datum lines that lock off inconvenient facts form speaking)

    e –> As a direct consequence, mere parsimony is not a valid test: that which is simplistic is not sufficiently complex to explain relevant reality.

    f –> Similarly, worldviews (given their factual anchorage) are at most warranted to moral certainty per inference to best global explanation in light of comparative difficulties, not proved per demonstrative certainty. And indeed, not even mathematics [including logic systems!] is absolutely certain post Godel.

    g –> Notwithstanding, some things are self-evidently true, others are undeniably true and yet others are true beyond reasonable doubt.

    h –> For instance, that error exists is undeniably true, as a quick examination will substantiate. (Try to assert its denial and see how you end up in absurdity at once.)

    i –> Thus we know beyond reasonable dispute that truth exists and is knowable and assertable, for we have a known truth, albeit a humbling one.

    j –> We also — as a matter of fact — find ourselves bound to respect the truth and to seek it, though we often fall short thereof; especially where the truth affects matters of justice. (Just think about what happens when we quarrel.)

    k –> So, again per brute experienced and observed fact, we find ourselves morally bound to one another; leading to the issue of equality of nature and moral obligation as an inherent part of that nature.

    l –> Such of course leads to the criterion of worldview choice that no view that is amoral or immoral is credible. (Thus, en passant, the force of Hawthorne’s argument, and Koukl’s argument, as well as the impact of the moral argument to God; as well as the significance of Plantinga’s successful blunting of the problem of evil per the Free Will Defense.)

    m –> As well, by the very nature of virtue, virtues rest on choice: one loves only because one has made a choice. A programmed robot cannot LOVE, though it may be an instrument of someone’s loving care. (And notice how virtue is a property of persons, indeed of intelligent agents.)

    n –> Thus also a world in which virtues based on love are possible, is also a world in which vices based on hate or indifference are possible. And in such a world, especially if the in-group vs out-group trans-generational vengeful blood feud is a cultural prospect, we face sometimes grim choices of the lesser of evils. (NB: I cited some cases earlier this morning. Until the objectors who would paint God as a moral monster engage these issues, they have no right to claim that such putting of God into the dock is a responsible position.)

    o –> If you have the lesser problem of being troubles by such grim realities, welcome to the club.

    p –> Only, let us be humble enough to understand that we cannot calculate the balance of evils better than God. And then try to imagine a world in which ONLY an eye for an eye and ONLY a tooth for a tooth was an IMPROVEMENT.

    q –> Then join me in shuddering as we contemplate what lurks in the depths of our hearts.

    r –> Then, understand the love of God who came and bled for us.

    s –> Then, join us in the call to mutual repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation leading to discipleship under the Teacher of Love and reform based on love, that are at the heart of the gospel.
    ____________

    Grace be with us all . . . that we may unstintingly look into our own hearts, and find a way to turn from evil and vengefulness to the good.

    GEM of TKI

  268. Mr MacNeill:

    Strawman argument.

    GEM of TKI

  269. In #231 CannuckianYankee wrote:

    “…Antony Flew found it reasonable to make that switch to deism (which appeals to a desiger) based on the design argument alone (as he states).”

    I would suspect that he did so for the same reason that many people, from Aristotle foward, have favored Deism: because it provides an explanation for the origin of the universe, without positing any further attributes for the “demiurge/unmoved mover”. As my good friend, Will Provine, has pointed out, the God of Deism is totally unaffected by either evolutionary biology or ID. He is also utterly unconcerned with the universe or anything in it following His creation of it. He never intervenes in anything that happens following its creation, does not answer prayers, and is certainly neither beneficent, compassionate, nor forgiving, and as such (to quote Will Provine) “is not a God worth having”.

    In #231 CannuckianYankee also wrote:

    “I wonder if he too looked at the bigger picture, and saw the flaws in his own materialistic assumptions about the nature of reality.

    Fortunately, we have Flew’s own words to verify why he became a Deist: because of the problem of the origin of the universe. As a Deist who believes that the universe must have been “intelligently designed” to have the various characteristics that it has, he is a thoroughgoing and quite conventional Deist. This means that he now believes in the “deity” described above, which to me means he is still an atheist about everything except the origin of the universe.

    Not the ideal poster child for a religion in which the ruling deity is supposed to be omnibenevolent and can be successfully appealed to for favors and forgiveness…

  270. Allen quotes Tyson:

    If the universe is so beautifully fine-tuned for life,

    Strawman alert!!

    “so beautifully fine-tuned for life”?

    That is not what is being said.

    If the Intelligent Designer (aka God, aka Jahweh) really wanted to “fine-tune” the universe for life, why did He design a universe in which it takes billions of years to get multicellular life going, and then periodically smash it almost all the way back to the Precambrian?

    Another strawman. The designer need not be “God”, and the jury is out as to when the first multicellular life appeared.

    Also I would love to see Tyson interview a dinosaur.

    Is this guy serious?

  271. In #233 stephenB asked:

    “Why are you trying to mislead people into thinking that this site covers only religion?” [Emphasis added]

    Another straw man, eh stephen? Clearly, I did not assert that this website covers only religion. What I was pointing out is what anyone who can read English can discover for themselves: that many of the threads at this website (including this one) consist of literally hundreds of comments, all of which clearly fit the definition of religious apologetics. Furthermore, even those threads that are ostensibly devoted to “scientific” discussions contain numerous references to religion, not to mention more religious apologetics.

    Do you deny this?

  272. The underlying point, however, is repugnant beyond exaggeration.

    And why would that be?

  273. How are your assertions any different than anyone else’s. Just because you believe that certain truths exist and I don’t doesn’t mean that what you say has a better chance of being correct than what I say. Your belief may be wrong, in which case you are in no better shape than I believe I am in terms of offering statements about what we think about the world.

    Very well put, Hazel. You don’t know Rev. Flank, do you?

    One either finds arguments in favour of an omnipotent deity compelling, or one doesn’t. But, at the end of the day, it is just personal opinion.

  274. #254 by DATCG:

    To me, this entire comment reduces to:

    Belief in the Christian God and the precepts of Christian religion have beneficial effects, as we will see when China becomes Christianized.

    Is this any kind of evidence that the Christian God exists, or that the precepts of the Christian religion are, in fact, true?

  275. Good post by Allen at 266. We can invent an infinite number of logical systems with no empirical content. For logic to help us know anything it needs to be populated with content: definitions and propositions, that can be correlated with and then tested by empirical observations.

  276. It has been very interesting to follow this thread. In many ways it is a microcosm of the whole ID issue.

    The primary thing I see is the power of the intellect to make things fit our wishes. We see two people look at the exact same words and events and come up with totally different answers, answers which just happen to fit their view points. Why??

    The answer lies in a very important piece of Christianity. The Christian God is a hidden God, but not too hidden. As Pascal said, if you seek Him you will find Him, if you do not seek you will not find Him. I suspect the real reason people do not seek is that they are afraid. I understand that completely. I was baptized Catholic when I was 49. Until then I was a very happy, anti Christian, anti Catholic heathen. The last place I thought I would find truth, or wanted to find truth, was in the Catholic Church. It is interesting to look back at my conversion and realize that not a thing had changed in the world, except for how I looked at it. Once I opened myself the smallest bit to the possibility of Jesus being God, a whole new way of understanding flowed into my life.

    The relevance of this to ID is that if the Christian God is the basis of all things, then the evidence is all there. I am talking about the physical, scientifically measured evidence. It just will never be overwhelmingly there because God will never force you to believe.

    May you find truth, peace, and joy.

  277. Mr Allanius,
    Barry’s original point (if anyone remembers it) is simple and incontrovertible: natural law does not and cannot provide the specific moral guidance found in revealed law.

    Actually, I think Mr Arrington’s original point was that it was logically provable that atheistic naturalism led directly to the conclusion that all things are permissible, with the help of a few uncontroversial statements (such as ‘is does not imply ought’).

    That does not seem to be the case. Instead, like an oil tanker run onto the rocks, the thread is just leaking pollutants into the environment.

  278. 279

    mauka at [234]: “If God starts torturing babies tomorrow, then torturing babies is therefore, by definition, a good thing.”

    Because God is not mearly good, He is Goodness, your statement is quite literally meaningless. It is like saying “if red became green tomorrow then green would be red.”

  279. Allen,

    “As for the “fine-tuning” argument, I think Neil Degrasse Tyson has dealt with that much better than I can”

    What utter nonsense. He did not deal with it. He used the false premise of supposedly bad design to hand waive it away.

    Allen, why did you choose to ignore the argument with rhetoric. It is exactly the same stupidity that Darwin used in the Origin. It is a bait and switch.

    Thank you Allen for confirming for us that the fine tuning argument is one that you can not deal with.

  280. CY: “So as you stand right now, you don’t see any “verifiable and incontrovertible evidence” that ID is at least more tenable in light of the detection of irreducible complexity and complex specified information, than unplanned random mutation as a mechanism for natural selection?”

    Given the lack of experimental data, and the reluctance to even fund such research (the DI seems to prefer to spend their funds on PR projects), I haven’t seen much that would move ID out of the early hypothesis stage. That isn’t to say it couldn’t come, but like most scientific endeavors, if it’s going to happen it’s probably years and years away (and no, it shouldn’t receive special treatment in the meantime until that hard graft has been done). I don’t think a few books written by Behe, Wells, Dembski et al are sufficient yet to do the job (especially since they have yet to stand up to any kind of peer review).

    CY: “Deism is really an incomplete paradigm, which appears to avoid the overall and most compelling arguments for theism. It’s a start, but it seems to be a rather timid position, which won’t go any further for fear of being labelled “religious.”

    Yes, I would agree. I’m not sure how one actually becomes a deist, or to be frank, if there’s any point. If God has decided not to intervene in the Universe (and presumably that includes my own personal life), why should I be bothered if He can’t be bothered?

    CY: “So if you were to become a Deist, how do you think you would envision such a deity?”

    How does one decide that there is a Deist God since by very definition that God will not reveal himself? Probably like a very distance relative living in a foreign country; you know they exist and that somehow you have a link to them, but you never see or hear from them.

    But on the other hand not really knowing much about this, I expect I’m probably being presumptuous about Desim and if there are Deists here that can explain it differently, I would love to be corrected.

    So I think atheism/agnosticism seems to be a good fit for me for the time being.

  281. Hi Alan Fox, and thanks. I know of Lenny Flank from other forums, although he seems to have disappeared from the internet-o-sphere.

  282. Barry wrote:

    Because God is not mearly good, He is Goodness, your statement is quite literally meaningless. It is like saying “if red became green tomorrow then green would be red.”

    Barry,

    As I pointed out in #246, the doctrine of divine simplicity is incoherent:

    Lastly, the idea that God doesn’t possess his attributes (like goodness), but actually is them — known as the doctrine of “divine simplicity” — is simply incoherent.

    The best-known example of this incoherence is that God is held to be both merciful and just. According to the doctrine of divine simplicity, that means that God is mercy and God is justice. Yet mercy and justice are not identical, and so God cannot be identical to both.

  283. 285

    mauka re your [283]. You, a finite and contingent being, cannot fully grasp the infinite necessary being that is God. So you call him incoherent. Of we thing we can be certain — He is unconcerned by your criticism.

  284. You can assert that Tyson didn’t deal with the “fine-tuning” argument, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he didn’t. Indeed, in my viewing of the video, that’s exactly what he did.

    Arguing that we exist, and therefore the universe must have been “fine tuned” to produce us is a logically fallacious argument. Only if it can be conclusively shown that life is both inevitable and will necessarily arise, given the physical laws we observe in nature, would the “fine tuning” argument begin to have some ontological weight.

    Furthermore, if the “fine-tuning” argument were valid, it would also mean that the universe could have been fine-tuned to produce anything that exists today, including blobfish (http://www.amonline.net.au/fis.....chrol2.htm), lithops (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithops_optica), and bread mold (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspergillus). It would also be equally valid if our ancestors had gone completely extinct as the result of the Tobo eruption (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_eruption) and no humans remained today to contemplate the paradox of our existence.

    Do any of these examples support anything remotely like the religious assertions contained in this thread? Alternatively, do any of these examples support the idea that life (including human life) is possible in a universe with the physical characteristics of this one, but that it is neither inevitable nor necessary?

  285. Mauka

    You have addressed several comments to me. Now that I have some time, I’ll attempt to address them, one by one.

    (#234)

    You begin:

    First of all, “ought” and “is” coincide for God only if you define God as being morally perfect. This does not follow as a logical consequence of theism per se.

    Quite so. I have been up-front about my religious position throughout this thread. I’m not here to defend belief in Zeus; I’m here to defend belief in a Being whose nature it is to know and love perfectly. I’m not interested in any other kind of Deity.

    Assuming my definition of God, you then comment:

    What God ought to do tells us nothing about what his creatures ought to do. These do not necessarily coincide.

    I believe that CannuckianYankee has satisfactorily addressed your argument in his previous posts, #245 and #248.

    If these posts do not satisfy you, then I recommend you read the following two articles, which set forth a natural law ethics for human beings to follow, and defend it in intellectually rigorous terms:

    A Contemporary Natural Law Ethics by Germain Grisez, and

    Aquinas’ Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy
    by John Finnis.

    The idea that God does what he ought to do runs afoul of the Euthyphro dilemma, one way or the other. If objective morality exists outside of God, then he is subordinate to it. If objective morality derives from his nature, then it is arbitrary: if it happens to be in God’s nature to torture babies, then torturing babies must be morally correct.

    If you would like to see a well-reasoned philosophical response to the Euthyphro dilemma, then I suggest you read Steve Lovell’s article, “C. S. Lewis and the Euthyphro dilemma” at http://www.theism.net/article/29 .

    By the way, your assertion that “if objective morality derives from his nature, then it is arbitrary” simply begs the question.

    Case in point: “if it happens to be in God’s nature to torture babies, then torturing babies must be morally correct.”

    Since God is a Necessary Being, nothing happens to be in God’s nature. If it did, then God would possess an ad hoc collection of defining attributes, and then God would no longer be necessary, as it would be legitimate to ask what holds this motley collection of disparate attributes together. But since God is a Necessary Being, then whatever defining attributes He has must be inseparable from one another. They are not a piecemeal set, like “eats pancakes on Tuesdays” and “likes elephants.” That’s why I highlighted the two key attributes of perfect knowledge and perfect love in my “definition” of God’s essential nature: these two go hand-in-hand.

    Finally, it could not be in God’s nature to torture babies, because babies are good in and of themselves. Unaided human reason can apprehend that.

    You also write:

    Invoking the principle that “is” implies “ought” has unintended consequences for the theist. For example: Evil exists. Therefore, evil ought to exist. Or: Some people are cruel. Therefore, they ought to be cruel.

    I have nowhere said that “is” implies “ought” across the board; indeed, I expressly stated that the two notions coincide only for God. I have also maintained that a natural law ethic avoids a jump from “is” to “ought” in its derivation of moral norms, as the article I cited above by John Finnis makes quite clear.

    Mauka, I think your underlying difficulty with the theistic position is not ethical but metaphysical; you believe that the very concept of God is incoherent and philosophically indefensible. I’ll have more to say on that below.

  286. Allen,

    You continue to deflect and strike down strawmen. Mocking something is not an argument and that is what Tyson’s pathetic diatribe was about. Your examples are irrelevant and desperate and not worthy of someone who considers himself a scientist. Thank you for making the fine tuning argument by your inability to provide anything of substance against it.

  287. Kairosfocus #259:

    PS: On the FSCI of a moral code. In the first instance: FSCI is one test for intelligent design, not its necessary and sufficient sign. So, the question is utterly misconceived.

    I am so glad you’re here to help explain, KF. Thanks for responding.

    Clive said that there was a moral code “written in your conscience” by the Christian God, and that he reached that conclusion using the “design detection method” of “self-reflection.” (#170)

    I asked if one could use the design detection method of self-reflection to calculate FCSI. (#174) I asked that because it’s my understanding that ID is supposed to be about qunatitative analysis. But, now you say that question is “utterly misconceived.”

    I’ll defer to you, of course, on the intracacies of FCSI calculations, but is there some way to qunatitatively determine whether the moral code written in the human conscience was intelligently designed or whether it is the product of unguided cultural and biological evolution (as some evolanders have asserted on this thread)?

    Don’t we need some hard numbers before asserting that something was intelligently designed?

  288. —-mauka: “Lastly, the idea that God doesn’t possess his attributes (like goodness), but actually is them — known as the doctrine of “divine simplicity” — is simply incoherent.”

    Not only is it not incoherent, it is the only possible explanation. One cannot give what one is not. To say that humans “have” being is to say that it was given to them by something that “is” being. Something that merely has being cannot give it to something else. It can only pass it along, which introduces the problem of “infinite regress” and begging the question. You cannot have an endless string of “have”. Sooner or later, you have to have the “is.” It is the difference between creating, which God does, and begetting, which humans do. He or what begets is equal to what is begotton; he who creates is greater than that which is created.

  289. This is rich. Barry Arrington scolds atheists for supposedly being unwilling to follow logic where it leads:

    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.

    Then, when shown that his own concept of God is incoherent, he chucks logic out the window:

    mauka re your [283]. You, a finite and contingent being, cannot fully grasp the infinite necessary being that is God. So you call him incoherent. Of we thing we can be certain — He is unconcerned by your criticism.

  290. and thank you jerry for ignoring the rest of my comment. Using your logic, that means that you couldn’t deal with it.

    So much for rationality…

  291. “Don’t we need some hard numbers before asserting that something was intelligently designed?”

    Of course not; if it looks designed, it is designed, right?

  292. I’ve got to get ready for class, folks. It’s been grand!

    *************************************
    Allen D. MacNeill, Senior Lecturer
    The Biology Learning Skills Center
    G-24 Stimson Hall
    Cornell University
    Ithaca, New York 14853
    *************************************
    email: [email protected]
    blogs/websites:
    http://evolution.freehostia.com/
    http://evolutionanddesign.blogsome.com/
    http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/
    http://evolpsychology.blogspot.com/
    *************************************
    “I had at last got a theory by which to work”
    -The Autobiography of Charles Darwin
    *************************************

  293. StephenB writes, regarding the idea of divine simplicity:

    Not only is it not incoherent, it is the only possible explanation. One cannot give what one is not.

    So a sledgehammer is dentedness, and shatteredness, and drivenness, and flatness?

    And you are comfortable with a worldview that draws no distinctions among the four?

  294. Barry Arrington now posts a new thread (comments closed):

    No one, not a single person, has attempted to rebut the conclusion. Therefore, we must conclude that there is no rebuttal. The materialists are silent; they cannot speak. They must concede that their premises lead to the conclusion that the Holocaust was not prohibited by any moral principle of which we can be certain.

    Who had you in mind as materialists? Perhaps these materialists are not aware of your challenge. It would appear there are many valid attempts upthread to respond. Perhaps whether your conclusion is valid and whether it has been answered is just another matter of personal opinion rather than one of certainty.

  295. 297

    Barry’s alleged irrefutable syllogism is basically silly, and problematic on number of fronts. It depends on notions of both truth and value that I reject.

    Here are two passages from a relativist perspective, from Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s book Contingencies of Value.

    1.

    We may take note here of the recurrent anxiety/charge/claim — I shall refer to it as the Egalitarian Fallacy — that, unless one judgment can be said or shown to be more “valid” than another, then all judgments must be “equal” or “equally valid.” Although the radical contingency of all value certainly does imply that no value judgment can be more “valid” than another in the sense of an objectively truer statement of the objective value of an object (for these latter concepts are then seen as vacuous), it does not follow that all value judgments are equally valid. On the contrary, what does follow is that hte concept of “validity” in that sense is unavailable as a parameter by which to measure or compare judgments (or anything else). It is evident, however, that value judgments can still be evaluated, still compared, and still seen and said to be “better” or “worse” than others. The point, of course, is that their value — “goodness” or “badness” — must be understood, evaluated, and compared otherwise, that is, as something other than “truth-value” or “validity” in the objectivist, essentialist sense. (p. 98)

    2.

    The question is often put [to the relativist]: “But how would you answer the Nazi?” The reply has two parts. The first part is, it depends: it depends on where the Nazi and I — given, of course, my particular identity — each are, and what resources and power, institutional and other, are available to each of us. Under some conditions, I would not say anything at all to him or do anything else in particular (there are self-styled Nazis to whom I am not now saying anything, and about whom I am not now doing anything in particular either); under other conditions, I would look for the fastest and surest way to escape his power; under yet other conditions, I would do what I could, no doubt with others, to destroy him. The question to be asked in turn is whether, given a similar identity and under comparable conditions, anyone else, including an objectivist, could do or ever did otherwise. Second, I would suggest that “answering” the Nazi, in the sense of getting one’s ethical/epistemological arguments in good axiological order, is not, in any case, what is wanted. What is wanted, I think, is a theoretically subtle and powerful analysis of the conditions and, even more important, dynamics of the Nazi’s emergence and access to power and, accordingly, a specification of political and other actions that might make that emergence and access less likely, both in one’s own neighborhood and elsewhere. It must be added, however, that any such analysis must expect to compete with others and, accordingly, with the specification of other political efforts, including — as we must never forget — those mounted by Nazis as well. The point is that, whereas “answering” the Nazi with axiologically grounded arguments will do nothing at all to prevent or destroy his power, developing theoretical analyses and political programs with not do everything. The latter will not be decisive; nothing can guarantee that the jackals will be kept at bay, neither axiology nor any specific alternative that replaces it. (pp. 154-5)

  296. CY: “JTaylor continues to mention his assessment that the god of the bible is somehow guilty of genocide. I respectfully disagree with this assessment, but an attempt at a point was made, and it deserves an answer beyond the common Evangelical answers.”

    The biggest problem with all of these arguments and apologetics is that they are written by people who are already believers. And my understanding is that the vast majority of people come to Christianity based on the message of Jesus. They do not come to Jesus by first reading the OT and ackonwledging that God is truly a benevolent God. No, it’s usually the message of the Gospel that hooks them in. It’s only later when they realize (perhaps after the euphoria wears off) that there are real and substantial problems in the scriptures. Hence the elaborate and post-hoc rationalizing (which they have turned into almost into an art-form). The confirmation bias is real and must be taken into consideration here.

    The outsider test is useful here. If there was no NT, and if we were discovering the OT in a vault in the Middle East for the first time, would we seriously have this view? Or would we see these stories for what they really are – myths and legends of a war-faring people? And as I keep saying, Christians have no trouble reading the Bible literally went it suits their purpose.

    CY said: “There is no narrative in scripture, which shows God meting out death and destruction upon a group of people simply for His own pleasure, and outside the context of law and consequence: “If you do thus, such will happen.”

    I can think of at least one, and there are others too. To start with, what about the occasion when the boys laughed at Elisha and God set bears upon them who ‘tore them to pieces’:

    From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. “Go up baldhead,” they shouted, “go up baldhead!” The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces. (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)

    Exactly what law and consequence were the boys disobeying? Being somewhat bald myself, I can argue that this is probably good justice. But perhaps a little smackk on the bottom might have been more appropriate? We’re not told, but one can presume that at least several of the children did not survive (“torn to pieces” I guess is kind of a clue to that…)

  297. —-And you are comfortable with a worldview that draws no distinctions among the four?”

    And your are comfortable with ignoring the main theme in my argument [the "have" coming from "is] in the hope that I would forget about it?

  298. Allen said,

    “and thank you jerry for ignoring the rest of my comment. Using your logic, that means that you couldn’t deal with it.”

    I didn’t ignore anything you said. All of it was irrelevant.

    The universe is fine tuned in many ways and all you do is throw out is some irrelevant examples that I guess is meant to show that while it is fine tuned it is badly designed for some things as supposed by some people. You are an academic; what are the logical fallacies in that argument.

    None of your examples refute the fine tuning and in general have nothing to do with it. By using life examples (and I did not bring up life or even humans), you affirm that it supports life which of itself is beyond belief except for maybe an intelligence involved in the fine tuning.

    And if life exists elsewhere in the universe and is fairly common as Carl Sagan, another Cornellian, concluded then this would affirm that the ability to produce life is built in to the fine tuning. You are on record elsewhere that life seems to be inexplainable but if it is common then one has to deal with fine tuning, inexplainable and common. Thus refuting your argument that it is not part of the fine tuning.

  299. From the new thread overflowing with smug self-righteousness:

    The nearly 300 comments boil down to indignation mixed with the childhood rejoinder – “Oh yeah, same to ya.”

    Far from being childish, I think that is a completely valid response. None of the theists have ever come close to defining what it is that they are asking for. What would it even mean to say that the Holocaust was “not permitted”? That there is some fundamental property of the universe right alongside the laws of thermodynamics that states that Hitler was objectively wrong? Who is being childish, the ones asking for a logical impossibility or the ones stating that it cannot exist?

  300. JTaylor writes:

    The outsider test is useful here. If there was no NT, and if we were discovering the OT in a vault in the Middle East for the first time, would we seriously have this view? Or would we see these stories for what they really are – myths and legends of a war-faring people?

    Nicely put.

  301. If there was no NT, and if we were discovering the OT

    If everybody was kind and humble and always put others first and loved everybody else with truth, there would be no NT because there would be no need for an NT.

    But there is that reality that must be faced.

  302. Mr Arrington,

    I see you have a new post up (with comments closed) saying that there has been no response to the original logical argument of this thread.

    I have attempted to engage you on exactly this point several times on this thread. To claim victory and no response in another closed thread is inaccurate and misleading.

  303. I did not read the entire thread but I will nonetheless answer how it is possible to deny premise (2), also known as “Hume’s Law”.

    Those who minimally engage with the literature should know that attempts to violate Hume’s Law abound in contemporary moral philosophy, starting with John Searle in the 60s (although I agree with the late great J.L. Mackie and others that his particular solution doesn’t work).

    Here’s a really fresh possibility of how we can get an “ought” out of an “is”, coming from the latest wonderful book of philosopher and cognitive scientist Jesse Prinz:

    1. Smith has an obligation to give to charity if ‘Smith ought to give to charity’
    is true.
    2. ‘Smith ought to give to charity’ is true, if the word ‘ought’ expresses a concept
    that applies to Smith’s relationship to giving to charity.
    3. The word ‘ought’ expresses a prescriptive sentiment.
    4. Smith has a prescriptive sentiment towards giving to charity.
    5. Thus, the sentence ‘Smith ought to give to charity’ is true.
    6. Thus, Smith has an obligation to give to charity.

    Those interested in the details check out “The Emotional Construction Of Morals”, a masterful defense of contemporary non-cognitivism.

  304. tribune7: “If everybody was kind and humble and always put others first and loved everybody else with truth, there would be no NT because there would be no need for an NT.

    But there is that reality that must be faced.”

    Did we really need an NT to tell us that? There are plenty of other wisdom writings that teach the same and some argue go beyond the teachings of Jesus. The NT just happened to be the on that made it big – if it hadn’t been the NT I’ve no doubt it would have been something else. Who knows Buddhism might have made it to the west, and we’d all be practicing our koans now…

    What about them bears T7? Yikes, huh?

  305. Maupa (#246)

    You raise a number of objections to C. S. Lewis’s solution to the Euthyphro dilemma. Now, I acknowledge that C. S. Lewis’s own argumentation for his solution to the Euthyphro dilemma is at times sketchy and less than convincing. Thus I would agree with your comment (in response to a quote by C. S. Lewis) that:

    The question of whether value is eternal and objective is independent of whether believing so will lead us toward, or away from, ruin.

    However, I would contend that Steve Lovell’s article, “C. S. Lewis and the Euthyphro dilemma” at http://www.theism.net/article/29 , which I cited above, takes Lewis’s arguments much further and defends them against several philosophical objections anticipated by Lovell.

    But the real crux of your objection to C. S. Lewis’s proposed solution to the Euthyphro dilemma is that you regard the doctrine of Divine simplicity as incoherent. God, you write, cannot be identical with his goodness:

    Lastly, the idea that God doesn’t possess his attributes (like goodness), but actually is them — known as the doctrine of “divine simplicity” — is simply incoherent.

    The best-known example of this incoherence is that God is held to be both merciful and just. According to the doctrine of divine simplicity, that means that God is mercy and God is justice. Yet mercy and justice are not identical, and so God cannot be identical to both.

    Before I pass comment on your argument, let me observe in passing that if it were correct, it would be a metaphysical rather than an ethical refutation of theism.

    Now I’d like to address the argument itself, on its own merits.

    With the greatest respect, Mauka, you have not kept up with the most recent philosophical work in this area. You treat the doctrine of Divine simplicity as a doctrine that identifies God with His attributes or properties – a notion which you reject as absurd.

    Actually, I would agree with you here. For a recent and sophisticated defence of the doctrine of Divine simplicity, I suggest you read Making Sense of Divine Simplicity by Jeffrey Brower. It is a long article, but a thought-provoking one.

    Brower firmly rejects commonly held formulations of the doctrine of Divine simplicity, which identify God with His properties, arguing that “there is nothing in the doctrine of divine simplicity itself … that requires the identification of God with a property” (page 16). Additionally, Brower puts forward the following syllogism against this interpretation of the doctrine: (1) God is a substance; (2) No substance can be a property (i.e., an exemplifiable); therefore (3) God cannot be identical with a property.

    Brower urges a return to a more traditional, medieval conception of the doctrine of divine simplicity:

    If an intrinsic predication of the form “God is F” is true, then God’s F-ness exists and is identical with God.

    In other words:

    At least as understood by the medievals, what this doctrine tells us is that if a predication such as “God is good” is true, then there exists an entity, God’s goodness, that is identical with God; likewise, if “God is powerful” is true, then God’s power exists and is identical with God; and so on for other such true divine predications.

    But this in no way entails that God is identical with His properties.
    Brower then develops his own account of Divine simplicity, by invoking the notion of a truthmaker. A truthmaker is, roughly speaking, an entity required for the truth of a predication and for the referents of its corresponding abstract expressions. In Brower’s words:

    According to the truthmaker
    interpretation, God is identical with the truthmakers for each of the true (intrinsic) predications that can be made about him. Thus, if God is divine, he is identical with that which makes him divine; if he is good, he is identical with that which makes him good; and so on in every other such case. Now, since nothing can be regarded as identical with anything other than itself, this interpretation just amounts to the claim that God is the truthmaker for each of the predications in question.

    Regarding your objection that God’s mercy and justice cannot be identical, Brower would argue that in God’s case, mercy and justice are conceptually distinct; whereas for creatures, they are distinct in fact (see page 39 of his article).

    In short, I would contend that there is a vast and growing philosophical literature on Divine simplicity which you have not yet fully absorbed. I can’t claim to have absorbed it all either; but then, I’m not the one putting forward arguments against the possibility of God’s existence. You are. If you’re going to put forward serious arguments of this sort, then you need to be thoroughly au fait with the most sophisticated arguments that theists have to offer. The ball is in your court.

  306. 308

    Tsathoggua re your [305]. I can’t tell if you are being serious are if you are making a parody of materialist philosophy. Which is it. Either way, its pure gibberish.

  307. StephenB,

    If I am wrong about divine simplicity, there must be a flaw in my argument against it. Please point it out, if you are able.

  308. —-Nakashima to BarryA: “I have attempted to engage you on exactly this point several times on this thread. To claim victory and no response in another closed thread is inaccurate and misleading.”

    If you have a counter argument to make, this would be an excellent time to present it.

  309. —-mauka: “If I am wrong about divine simplicity, there must be a flaw in my argument against it. Please point it out, if you are able.”

    It assumes that the argument for God’s “simplicity” is equivalent to saying that God is identical with his properties.

  310. 312

    Barry Arrington:

    The nearly 300 comments boil down to indignation mixed with the childhood rejoinder – “Oh yeah, same to ya.”

    No one, not a single person, has attempted to rebut the conclusion. Therefore, we must conclude that there is no rebuttal. The materialists are silent; they cannot speak. They must concede that their premises lead to the conclusion that the Holocaust was not prohibited by any moral principle of which we can be certain. How very sad.

    You are delusional. Many people here have answered you. My answer @19 for example. You just don’t like the answers because you have to have things set in stone – you need guarantees to settle your uneasiness with what can sometimes be a chaotic world.

  311. 313

    I see #294 that Allen MacNeill has retired from the contest, leaving as his parting words a quotation from his God and Savior, Charles Robert Darwin.

    I told you that it was useless to try to reason with a “dyed-in-the-wool,” “prescribed,” “born that way” Darwinian. MacNeill has proven it beyond any doubt with his final, unmistakable tribute.

    Now try to have a rational discussion with Alan Fox.

    Good luck.

    It doesn’t get any better than this.

    I love it so!

  312. Mr StephenB,

    Please see my post @23. Thank you.

  313. If there is a God, he certainly permitted the Holocaust – in the sense that he could have prevented those events from occuring, but did not.

    Indeed, the only putative being capable of either stopping or permitting on this scale would be God.

    But he didn’t. He permitted it.

    So I don’t see how such events are less “permitted” under one system versus the other. In fact, in the context of the only system under which “permission” of this kind is not a category error (that of belief), the events were permitted.

  314. For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible.

    1) Apparently Hitler was okay with Christians who elected him on a very religious platform in 1932. He was against that awful Weimar Republic with it’s deterioration of morality, and pledged a return to traditional German Christian morality. You didn’t see any atheists campaigning for the Nazis.

    2) The Vatican never excommunicated one German or Austrian for Genocide, but it took them until 1992 to admit they were wrong about Galileo. Even the cardinals and priests who Sheltered Nazis and helped get them out of Germany after the war, were not excommunicated.

    I guess they thought that what is was what was supposed to be.

    2) Then why did the Evangelicals and the Catholics support Hitler, and clammer to get into the party, until well into the war?

    I guess they thought that what is was what was supposed to be.

    3)Then how come Hitler and the Nazis quoted Martin Luther about Jews and not Darwin or Bertram Russell?

    2) And how come the atheists, Jews,Gypsies, and the Mentally Retarded were persecuted and the devout Christians were not?

    “My Friend” I think you have it wrong about Christianity, Atheism and the Nazis.

    You better stop quoting history and using that analogy when you are not well informed (ignorant, not dumb, ignorant) about the details.

    I apologize, you don’t believe in the natural, objective world, so you shouldn’t be held to the standard of rationality.

    As Galileo said:
    I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

  315. David, if you are going to refute BarryA’s argument you will have to offer something of substance. So far, nothing has been forthcoming. You quote relativist Barbara Smith, who writes:

    —–”The point is that, whereas “answering” the Nazi with axiologically grounded arguments will do nothing at all to prevent or destroy his power, developing theoretical analyses and political programs with not do everything. The latter will not be decisive; nothing can guarantee that the jackals will be kept at bay, neither axiology nor any specific alternative that replaces it.”

    When does she get around to explaining why Hitler should not have power in the first place?

    —-”I would look for the fastest and surest way to escape his power; under yet other conditions, I would do what I could, no doubt with others, to destroy him.”

    What is it about him that deserves to be destroyed? Why should he not do the destroying. What makes her relativism better than his tyranny?

    —-”What is wanted, I think, is a theoretically subtle and powerful analysis of the conditions and, even more important, dynamics of the Nazi’s emergence and access to power and, accordingly, a specification of political and other actions that might make that emergence and access less likely, both in one’s own neighborhood and elsewhere.”

    She has yet to explain why Hitler’s emergence was a bad thing or why his politics ought not to extend to our neighborhoods, which is another way of saying that she has said nothing worthwhile at all.

  316. mauka re 236: “No, because the mere fact that God has prescribed a moral code does not tell us that we should follow it.”

    umm – pardon me but would you please let me know how this makes sense other than that God has prescribed a moral code, but not to us or put another way – please tell me to whom or what God prescribed the moral code and what does prescribed mean.

    thanks you

  317. —-Mr. Nakashima: “Please see my post @23. Thank you.”

    I have read the post, Mr. Nakashima, and I find no argument there. What I found was a symbolic representation of someone else’s argument. I don’t know what kind of inter-cultural language challenges you may be facing, but if you can bridge that gap long enough to present your case in written prose, it will help a great deal.

  318. 320

    Mauka asks:

    [quote]
    Are you telling us that an omniscient, omnipotent God is incapable of getting his message across to a sincere reader? Doesn’t that sort of contradict the “omniscient, omnipotent” part?[/quote]

    An omnipotent God might be capable of such, but does that automatically mean that he would and he did? A collection of writings, authored thousands of years ago in a remote spot in spurts and claimed to be coming from the “Lord” from a people who were henotheists along with the entire Mediterranean world (accepting a multiplicity of gods but loyal to their own god) and by various authors who claimed to get long and detailed words in visions?

    Such as never occur today even though clarification is badly needed?

    And when the text is self contradictory, contains much inexplicable immorality but totally typical of a warlike period for humans?

    How is it that many human authors have written works that so far surpass it in organization and coherence?

    If the creator of billions of galaxies stooped to write a little book somewhere, I would expect a much better job. Also, I’m sure God realizes that humans cannot be trusted not to interpolate. Human historical records are notoriously one-sided. Are we to believe that in religion people are going to be more honest??

  319. 321

    StephenB, you ask

    “When does she get around to explaining why Hitler should not have power in the first place?”

    When do you get around to that? I don’t see your moral stance as offering anything better (in fact, I’d say it offers a lot less). A relativist cannot provide the answer in terms that would satisfy you, just as you cannot provide the answer in terms that would satisfy me. I don’t see where BarryA or you get an immutable “ought” either.

  320. 322

    By the way, Mauka, justice and mercy are indeed the same, if one sees the big picture.

  321. avocationist said: “If the creator of billions of galaxies stooped to write a little book somewhere, I would expect a much better job. Also, I’m sure God realizes that humans cannot be trusted not to interpolate. Human historical records are notoriously one-sided. Are we to believe that in religion people are going to be more honest??”

    Well put. I expect though that the answer would be along the lines that we are asking for “extraordinary evidence way beyond that which is reasonable” or that God wants us to put our faith to the test, or God can do the heck what He pleases!

    It wouldn’t have been too much to ask you know. God could have even arranged to have the printing press invented a little earlier, so we could have had some reliable copies. It would have been easy for HIm (and after was Jesus not a carpenter – He could have helped!). Or he could have somebody write some basic theology or maybe a few basic definitions (presumably Jesus was literate right, couldn’t he have jotted a few things down, especially since he had quite a few years of not doing very much of anything?). I write a lot technical specifications for a living and know all about the trouble that occurs when writing is unclear and ambiguous.

    Leaving it up to humans did seem a perfect way of making way of making sure it got screwed up. And now look at us and all the endless discussions we have tried to make sense of the thing.

  322. Mauka (#250, #261)

    In an earlier comment, I wrote:

    The interpretation of a book written 3,000 years ago in a foreign language is a task fraught with peril, as it is no easy matter to determine what the sacred author meant to communicate to his readers.

    In response, you wrote:

    That is a tacit admission that the sacred Author either could not successfully communicate his message to modern readers, or that He chose not to do so.

    If He could not, then He is not very competent. Why then should we consider Him worthy of worship?

    On the other hand, if the message of the Old Testament is so unimportant that God couldn’t even be bothered to communicate it clearly to modern readers, then why all the fuss? Why not just drop it from the Bible in that case?

    And again:

    Are you telling us that an omniscient, omnipotent God is incapable of getting his message across to a sincere reader? Doesn’t that sort of contradict the “omniscient, omnipotent” part?

    The foregoing quotes assume that the Bible is a message from God to private individuals. It is precisely this premise which I and many other Christians reject – and for that matter, most Jews would do likewise. For the traditional understanding of Scripture is that it can only be read, understood and properly interpreted within the body of the believing community – or what I and many Christians would call the Church. In the Bible, God does not speak to “the sincere reader”; God speaks to the Christian community.

    There are some parts of Scripture whose interpretation has been defined by the Christian community. There are other passages in Scripture where a degree of latitude has always been permitted. And in still other cases, a widely held interpretation may have held sway for hundreds of years, without ever having been seriously challenged within the Church, but also without having been defined as part of what Christians are bound to believe.

    With regard to the conquest of Canaan: both the historicity of the narrative and the justice of God’s command to slaughter the Canaanites has been upheld by Christian writers and thinkers for centuries. No theological definitions have been made with regard to how these passages should be interpreted by Christians.

    For my part, I favor the traditional interpretation because Jesus would have been taught this interpretation as a child, and in His public teaching, He never seems to have renounced it, either implicitly or explicitly. (Contrast with slavery, where it could be argued that “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:33), carried to its logical conclusion, means abolishing slavery.)

    In #121 above, I endeavored to show that the traditional interpretation need not entail that God is cruel, as Tom Paine and countless freethinkers after him have alleged. I argued that God could easily have prevented all suffering on the part of innocent women and children, for I do not believe in a God who needlessly inflicts torment on babies, even for a moment. I also argued that while the deaths of these innocents may have been necessary, their suffering was not. In this way, I sought to soften the rigor that has attached to the traditional interpretation of the conquest of Canaan.

    Now, if another Christian were to argue that the Biblical passages describing the conquest of Canaan were not originally intended to be taken literally but allegorically, and that in fact Jesus did (at least implicitly) uphold an allegorical interpretation of these passages, then I would certainly be perplexed – “Then why didn’t he tell us, and save us all this arguing?” – and my curiosity would be piqued – “OK, so where exactly does Jesus say this in the Gospels?” – but I certainly would not accuse that Christian of heresy.

    You might ask, “Why hasn’t the Church settled the matter already, and defined what the correct interpretation of these passages should be?” Well, for one thing, it doesn’t have to. It’s hardly a pressing need; God isn’t commanding us to slaughter anyone in the present day and age, and all Christians agree that He could never do such a thing again.

    For another thing, the Church is a human institution, even though it was founded by Jesus Christ. It may take a long time for it to recognize truth, and even longer to define it as such. The delay may be caused by factors relating to human sinfulness: not only intellectual complacency (the sin of sloth), but also a lack of virtue in the everyday life of both lay Christians and pastors, can impede the development of theological insights that might have occurred centuries earlier in a Spirit-filled Christian community.

    All that Christ has guaranteed is that the Church will never make a false definition of the Chistian faith. However, there is no guarantee that definitions of what belongs to the Christian faith will be made when they should be. Nor could there be such a guarantee, without God over-riding human freedom to sin.

    “But couldn’t God have spoken more clearly?” Unlike you, I don’t presume to know what God could or couldn’t have done, because I don’t know what the consequences would have been had God acted differently. I sympathize acutely with your perplexity, and I feel it myself; but for me, it is not a conclusive argument against the truth of Christianity. The reason is that I find the case for Christianity to be much more persuasive than the arguments marshalled against it.

  323. Did we really need an NT to tell us that?

    Well, yes.

    There are plenty of other wisdom writings that teach the same

    Sure and that gets us back to the Old Testament. It’s not enough. Moses might tell you to do what’s right. Buddha might tell you to do what’s right. Plato might tell you to do what’s right. Confucius might tell you to do what’s right.

    Jesus tells you, you no longer have an excuse not to. Jesus made it so that one can no longer blame God — who through him confronted our arrogance and cruelty, AND forgave us — for the evil in the world.

    People still will, though.

  324. —-B L Harville to BarryA:

    —-”You are delusional. Many people here have answered you. My answer @19, for example.”

    Let’s look at your argument:

    —-”But all human actions are not permissible by other human beings. Moral rules are made by people to allow societies to exist and to allow for people to live in relative peace.”

    You are begging the question. How do we know which set of rules or prescriptions, MADE BY PEOPLE, will, as you put it, “allow societies to exist and to allow for people to live in peace.” Whose prescription, among all the varying prescriptions should we follow? Is it OK to fight a war in self defense? Is it OK to kill unborn babies for convenience? Is it OK train chilren in religion or, for that matter, in anti-religion? Which people should we follow in matters of creating or distributing wealth? Should children [or adults] remain chaste until marriage? Or, should they be given condoms and told to “be careful?” Should we give up peace for the sake of freedom? Should we give up freedom for the sake of peace? All these and thousands of other competing moralities were “made by people.” Under the circumstances, you can hardly say, “let the people decide on morality.”

  325. 327

    Where do Barry and StephenB get their “ought” from? From a statement or set of statements that gained moral force for them. But the meaning of every statement (including this one) is conditional, contingent, and variable. With a little effort we could probably find that StephenB’s “absolute” moral positions differ in some way from Barry’s “absolute” moral positions, even though they share a similar basic framework and belief system. Which one is really the absolute truth? It depends. Barry and Stephen will use what resources are available to expand their sense of what holds moral force (including their sense of the limits of moral force) using contextual, variable, and conditional means — just like everyone else.

    BarryA and StephenB may comfort themselves with the thought that their moral positions are more grounded, but all they have done is pushed the grounding to a level where they don’t have to take responsibility for their moral actions.

  326. What Barry doesn’t get is that if one doesn’t believe in objective, God-given “oughts”, then his argument that you can’t derive them from “is” is irrelevant – it’s certainly irrelevant to me. Of course I can’t provide the kind of argument that he wants me to provide because to do so I’d have to accept his assumption that reference to objective “oughts” are the only ones that count, and I don’t accept that.

    Since this all boils down to whether you believe in God or not, and since that’s a subjective choice, we’re at a stalemate.

    But Barry’s self-congratulations are not in order, I don’t think.

  327. 329

    Allen MacNeill:

    Not the ideal poster child for a religion in which the ruling deity is supposed to be omnibenevolent and can be successfully appealed to for favors and forgiveness…

    No, but Flew, who decades ago said there MUST NOT be a God and now says there MUST be a God, IS the poster child for the ability to just know things without evidence.

  328. Barry Arrington @ 308

    As I expected, just slander, no arguments.

    I’m not sure how comfortable are you with the contemporary literature of meta-ethics. Are you familiar at least with Searle’s “How to derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’”(1964)? Many discussions on Hume’s Law – the main issue of this thread – from the last 40 years will inevitably mention it.

    The argument sketched above is valid and I am convinced of its soundness. If you are interested in the details, buy the book; it will require an incursion in the cognitive neuroscience of emotions and moral psychology alongside all the usual weaponry of logic and philosophy of language from analytic philosophy.

  329. 331

    StephenB:

    How do we know which set of rules or prescriptions, MADE BY PEOPLE, will, as you put it, “allow societies to exist and to allow for people to live in peace.” Whose prescription, among all the varying prescriptions should we follow?

    It’s a process similar to biological evolution. Societies, in a sense, compete and the ones that are stronger morally, militarily, etc. will survive and the less fit societies will die out. Families that do a better job of bringing up their children, which includes moral instruction, will thrive and others will tend to die off. Like bio evo it is a messy process but leads to progress in the end. Look, for example, at the institution of slavery. The Bible says it’s okay. If morality were absolute and based on the Bible then we would still have slavery. Fortunately, morality is not set in stone so we have the potential to make the future better than the past.

  330. 332

    I’m a few hundred posts late.

    On the idea of Hell – the word has the same origins as hollow, hole, helmet – empty places where you can put something. Where used in the OT it referred to the grave, the final destination of all men. It was neither a place of consciousness nor suffering. When Jacob believed his son Joseph was dead, he believed that Joseph was in Hell and that he would eventually join him. Were they bad people?

    Similarly, the NT states that the punishment for sin is death, and that he who dies has paid for his sin. In Revelation, Hell is thrown into the lake of fire, which many claim is Hell.

    The idea of eternal hellfire was borrowed from pagan religions and Greek philosophy. It contradicts everything the Bible says about the compassion and justice of God.

  331. Barry Arrington says:
    “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.”

    If theism is true, and if there’s an all powerful God, then every action Hitler performed was not only permissible, but actively permitted by a being who could have prevented them. Many theists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

    And indeed, we can find evidence that genocide is not only permitted, but sometimes actively encouraged by the Abrahamic God:

    Numbers 31
    Vengeance on the Midianites

    1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
    3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.” 5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. 6 Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.
    7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man. 8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho. [a]
    13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.
    15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

    Ah! Moses the lawgiver.

    Humanity has to decide what is permissible in our cultures and what is not. We do that whether religions and gods are invented as part of the process or not.

  332. 334

    StephenB, in [325], virtually every one of the questions you ask is also a problem for the theist or the believer in “absolute” moral law. Which scripture? Which testament? Which verse? Which tradition of interpretation? The answers to those questions are among the contingencies that help the absolutist answer the questions of [325]. And absolutists will (a) answer differently from each other (b) give different answers in different contexts.

  333. 335

    iconofid quotes,

    17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

    I believe vjtorley would argue that this was for the boys’ and the non-virgins’ own good.

  334. “Numbers 31 Vengeance on the Midianites”

    I would love to hear Joel Osteen preach one of his sappy feel-good sermons on this passage…

  335. Mauka (#262)

    You wrote:

    Principle #1:
    The question you should always ask yourself is “What is the best, most parsimonious explanation of the facts at hand?”

    If instead you find yourself asking the question “How can I interpret the facts to fit in with my pre-existing beliefs?”, then you are asking the wrong question.

    Applying this priciple to the atrocities described in the Old Testament, you reject as contrived my proposal that the bloodthirstiness and vengefulness on God’s part are only apparent, as unparsimonious:

    An obvious and much more plausible alternative is that the Old Testament is not the word of God, and that the ancient Hebrews, just like hundreds of other societies both before and since, justified their behavior by claiming that it was divinely ordained.

    My question to you is: what are “the facts at hand” that you are trying to explain? For you, they’re the Biblical accounts in which innocents are slaughtered. For me, “the facts at hand” include not only the entire Bible, but also the subsequent history of the Jewish and Christian communities. Why should we focus on a few troubling verses, and ignore the rest of the Bible? And why focus on the text alone, and ignore how it was received by the community?

    Your methodology would entail that whenever you hear of a criminal charge brought against someone you know and love, you should assume its truth, if the person’s alibi is more complicated than the account of the alleged crime. That methodology completely ignores context.

    I used to believe that the God of the Old Testament was a monster. But then I started reading Deuteronomy, which encapsulates Jewish law more than any other book in the Old Testament. Despite coming across many horrifying and very disturbing passages, I was nevertheless struck by how moral this “monster” was. This monster wanted even slaves to rest once a week. He wanted debts to be relaxed every seven years, and He commanded that Hebrew slaves be released after seven years. He commanded the Israelites to make sure that the needy were never lacking for anything, and He instructed His people to defend the rights of the alien, the orphan and the widow.

    You focus on the draconian laws and argue that they prove that “the ancient Hebrews, just like hundreds of other societies both before and since, justified their behavior by claiming that it was divinely ordained.” I focus on the book itself. In the book of Deuteronomy, I can literally hear the voice of a single character booming through every page: Yahweh. I don’t know of any other sacred book in the ancient Near East or anywhere else in the world at that time (c. 1000 B.C.) whose god talks like Yahweh does in Deuteronomy. If you can’t see that, I honestly don’t know what I could say to make you see it. I’m sorry.

    Reading the book again, I gradually began to wonder if maybe these draconian laws, horrible as they were, might have been necessary at that time, for reasons we cannot fully fathom now. I feel no inclination to revive them today, but my sense of intellectual honesty tells me that without the book of Deuteronomy, we’d still be living in a society where infanticide, slavery and exploitation of the poor were rampant.

    You also write:

    [W]hen a straightforward interpretation of OT texts casts doubt on Christian presuppositions, vjtorley asks us to doubt the straightforward interpretation. Yet he calls for no such skepticism when a straightforward interpretation supports the standard Christian view.

    My answer to this charge should be obvious to you by now: there is no such thing as “a straightforward interpretation.” There is a correct interpretation, and that may take centuries for the Christian community to determine.

  336. 338

    “Numbers 31 Vengeance on the Midianites”

    Sometimes, after careful deliberation of the facts, a judge decides that a criminal should be strapped to a chair and electrocuted.
    You can agree or disagree with capital punishment, but is it a double standard to say that men shouldn’t indiscriminately murder one another? One knows the facts and is qualified to judge, while the other acts out of his own wrath or greed. There is no comparison.

    In the account cited above, what was God’s reason for taking vengeance? If his standards were incorrect, with what should they have been replaced, and with what outcome? Your judgments aren’t very weighty until you answer those questions.

  337. mauka,

    “Many sincere readers (Christians among them) have concluded that the Old Testament is not the inspired word of a loving God, but rather a very human work that includes the kinds of imperfections to which human works are prone. Are you telling us that an omniscient, omnipotent God is incapable of getting his message across to a sincere reader?”

    With respect, mauka – testifying to the sincerity and intellectual diligence of any individual, much less ‘many’, is a tougher argument than you apparently assume. It involves a lot of assumptions about people that, frankly, I’m not interested in making. And you’ve shifted the question of the content of the OT to the source – there are also many people who claim that the OT is both the inspired word of God but not utterly literal or perfect in a literary sense, while at the same time conveying exactly what was intended to be conveyed.

    As I said, my response to you is that not every misunderstanding or misinterpretation is on the part of the writer – the reader can be at fault. What’s more, particularly within Christianity, it’s not assumed that humans (even good people) are going to be perfectly sincere, perfectly diligent, etc. Quite the opposite: The assumption is that they will be (at times, wildly) imperfect, misunderstanding things, etc. Again, look at what Christ said about the problems of the law-based approach to God – and specifically the tendency to get bogged down in hair-splitting over meaning.

    Either way, your criticisms miss the mark. And the shift to the question of whether the OT is inspired misses as well – especially since, as vjtorley and tribune7 pointed out, even those who are non-Christian can still get to heaven. So if you were implying that if God really wanted to save people, He would have made the OT/NT more or less convert any and all people on the spot… No, there’s a better method.

    “The question isn’t whether mercy and justice ever overlap; the question is whether mercy and justice are identical. They are not, which is why it is incoherent to say that God is justice and God is mercy. Divine simplicity is a non-starter.”

    They’re identical in that they are both utter subsumed under ‘goodness’. Divine simplicity is fine and a powerful argument – I think Vjtorley and StephenB have been handling this well.

  338. 340

    If we go back to the original post for a moment:

    Given our second assumption, there is nothing 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 nothing 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. 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.

    I think we have pretty well established that every action – whether by Hitler, Churchill, Martin Luther, Osama bin Laden, or the Pope – is “permissible.” Every one of these people has his defenders and apologists.

    Does this fact preclude anyone from denouncing particular acts? No.

    Does this fact prevent societies from deliberating and establishing provisional laws that restrict or prohibit certain acts or types of behavior? No.

    My parting comment on this matter is that atheists by an large are perfectly comfortable with the idea of the permissible. It simply means we need to accept our responsibility to think, to speak, and to act when we see condemnable behavior.

    The bottom line is the original post fails. It’s incorrect in its assessment of atheism and its relation to morality. Indeed, the post more powerfully reveals the inconsistencies and contradictions of religious based morality. That much at least has become clear in this long thread.

    Many thanks, all.

  339. Scott Andrews says:

    “In the account cited above, what was God’s reason for taking vengeance? If his standards were incorrect, with what should they have been replaced, and with what outcome?”

    Reason? None. Had this god existed outside Moses’s head, he could have attempted to turn the other cheek, and to love his neighbours and enemies, I suppose. Moses could have done the same. He could have replaced what you call his “standards” with some basic humanism.

    Outcome? The Midianites would have survived. No genocide, infanticide and rape. Surely this is something all the Christian holocaust haters on this thread would approve of, like the rest of us?

    “Your judgments aren’t very weighty until you answer those questions.”

    Answered.

  340. 342

    Barry,

    “Because God is not mearly good, He is Goodness, your statement is quite literally meaningless. It is like saying “if red became green tomorrow then green would be red.”

    Thank you Barry. I’m glad someone understands that saying something like “circles are squares with God so it’s incoherent” is itself incoherent.

  341. 343

    Allen,

    I’m still waiting on an answer for how we, as evolved beings, which cannot produce an ought from an is, know what ought is. I’m interested in your response in particular because you’re an evolutionary psychologist. The answer that culture provides it is a non-starter, because culture is just what the individuals will do once there are a lot of them. Not to mention that if you ask ten people to objectively explain culture, you’ll get ten different answers. And any culture, just like anything else, can only be known by an individual–so it gets self-refuting pretty quickly as an answer that is not itself an answer from culture, but from an individual. Thanks Allen. I’ve wanted to have this discussion with an evolutionary psychologist for a pretty good while. Also, as an aside, what domain over human behaviour does evolutionary psychology reign if not human behaviour as a whole?

  342. 344

    Hazel writes: “What Barry doesn’t get is that if one doesn’t believe in objective, God-given “oughts”, then his argument that you can’t derive them from “is” is irrelevant – it’s certainly irrelevant to me. Of course I can’t provide the kind of argument that he wants me to provide because to do so I’d have to accept his assumption that reference to objective “oughts” are the only ones that count, and I don’t accept that.”

    Hazel is content to say to Hitler, you may or may not be evil. I can’t provide the kind of argument that compels the conclusion that you are evil. All I can say is that in my gut I disagree with your kiling of millions of people, and I hope others do too. But if I am in the minority, so much the worse for your victims.

  343. 345

    I don’t see what you hope to gain by this pointless little exercise. Your alleged moral superiority will not make you more effective against those you oppose.

  344. David Kellogg (#334)

    I am of course familiar with Numbers 31:17 – indeed, I used to quote it against believers.

    FYI, here’s a quote from Matthew Henry’s famous 1706 Biblical commentary – the chapter on Numbers 31 (see http://www.christnotes.org/com.....&c=31 ):

    All who, without commission from God, dare to execute private revenge, and who, from ambition, covetousness, or resentment, wage war and desolate kingdoms, must one day answer for it. But if God, instead of sending an earthquake, a pestilence, or a famine, be pleased to authorize and command any people to avenge his cause, such a commission surely is just and right. The Israelites could show such a commission, though no persons now can do so. Their wars were begun and carried on expressly by Divine direction, and they were enabled to conquer by miracles. Unless it can be proved that the wicked Canaanites did not deserve their doom, objectors only prove their dislike to God, and their love to his enemies. Man makes light of the evil of sin, but God abhors it. This explains the terrible executions of the nations which had filled the measure of their sins….

    The sword of war should spare women and children; but the sword of justice should know no distinction, but that of guilty or not guilty. This war was the execution of a righteous sentence upon a guilty nation, in which the women were the worst criminals. The female children were spared, who, being brought up among the Israelites, would not tempt them to idolatry. The whole history shows the hatefulness of sin, and the guilt of tempting others; it teaches us to avoid all occasions of evil, and to give no quarter to inward lusts. The women and children were not kept for sinful purposes, but for slaves, a custom every where practised in former times, as to captives. In the course of providence, when famine and plagues visit a nation for sin, children suffer in the common calamity. In this case parents are punished in their children; and for children dying before actual sin, full provision is made as to their eternal happiness, by the mercy of God in Christ.

    If the Biblical account is to be believed, then the Midianites were so utterly depraved that they threatened to corrupt the entire nation of Israel. The Israelites had no right to initiate force against them; but the omniscient God (who knows the consequences of every human action) would have been justified in ordaining their deaths, for the good of all parties concerned.

    Yes, I sense your incredulity. In the past I would have scoffed too. All I’ll say is: if Christianity is correct, then you have to take the supernatural seriously – and that includes the demonic. We’re dealing with supernatural realities here – a cosmic fight between forces of good and Satanic forces of evil, which had infested certain civilizations in the Ancient Near East with many revolting cultic practices. In 1200 B.C., the land of Midian formed part of this battlefront in this cosmic struggle.

    What about the girls spared?

    The remaining young girls – with an average age of 5 years – were spared and distributed throughout the people, into families. They would eventually be assimilated into Israel families, but from this moment on, they would care for them, feed them, train them, etc. for family life in Palestine.

    There was no way to assimilate the boys, in the society of that time.

    (Source: http://www.christian-thinktank.com/midian.html )

  345. 347

    In the first half of the twentieth century, all the world’s leaders believed in some sort of objective morality. Many of them probably believed their morality came from God. Yet they permitted Hitler to rise.

    Meanwhile Barry is interested in what kind of philosophical conversation hazel would have with Hitler. (Of course, Barry has said that Eric Harris acted rationally on his philosophy.)

  346. No, Hazel is quite content (which is not really the right word) to say Hitler is evil. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

    And it is much more than my gut which thinks so.

  347. 349

    Barry -

    Hazel is content to say to Hitler, you may or may not be evil. I can’t provide the kind of argument that compels the conclusion that you are evil. All I can say is that in my gut I disagree with your kiling of millions of people, and I hope others do too. But if I am in the minority, so much the worse for your victims.

    This is exactly what happened. Check out the History Channel sometime for a start.

  348. 350

    Seems like Matthew Henry’s just making it up as he goes along.

  349. 351

    iconofid:

    Reason? None.
    IOW, you don’t know. That’s what I thought.

    Outcome? The Midianites would have survived. No genocide, infanticide and rape.

    So you don’t know why they were killed, but you know that if they weren’t killed, they wouldn’t have died. Are those really answers? As I said, not much basis for questioning the judgment.

    God didn’t set out to exterminate everyone. The Israelites were forbidden to enter certain territories. Why were others targeted? What standards of justice were applied? What would have been the outcome for Israel and for those nations were those judgments not carried out?

    I understand if you don’t believe in God. But arguments based on what an all-knowing, all-powerful God would or wouldn’t do fail because even hypothetically accepting his omniscience rules out our ability to possess his knowledge or question his decisions. How can we say what an all-knowing God would do without knowing everything ourselves?

  350. 352

    vjtorley, we seem to have switched places, as I once had your assurance.

  351. 353

    Tsathoggua writes: “The [Jesse Prinze] argument sketched [in 305] is valid and I am convinced of its soundness. If you are interested in the details, buy the book; it will require an incursion in the cognitive neuroscience of emotions and moral psychology alongside all the usual weaponry of logic and philosophy of language from analytic philosophy.”

    Sigh. The atheist materialist believes, by definition, that all of reality can be reduced to particles in motion. Why should I make an incursion into the “cognitive neuroscience of emotions and moral psychology” when, by definition, the mind is an illusion, when what we call “mind” is nothing but an epiphenomenon of electro-chemical processes in the brain. How can the mindless electro-chemical processes of (I like kairosfocus’ phrase) jumped up pond scum be of the slightest interest to me? If the atheist materialist is correct, if all of reality can be reduced to particles in motion, then I know without the slightest doubt where we will arrive before we ever begin the inquiry – there is no principle by which I may judge whether the moral prescriptions of one amalgamation of particles in motion is superior to the moral prescriptions of any other amalgamation of particles in motion.

    Thus, what I said in my response to you is by no means slander. Any attempt to talk your way out of a conclusion that is compelled by unassailable logic is quite literally gibberish.

  352. 354

    Barry, you’re quite fond of claiming that your own writings are characterized by “unassailable logic.” But your logic also suggests (see 78 above) that more atheists should be like Eric Harris.

  353. 355

    Hazel writes: “No, Hazel is quite content (which is not really the right word) to say Hitler is evil. Please don’t put words in my mouth. And it is much more than my gut which thinks so.”

    Here we come to the essence of the issue we have discussed in this thread. Hazel says that Hitler was evil, and it is much more than her gut which thinks so. Yet Hazel has been asked repeatedly in this thread to tell us, oh please tell us, by what chain of inference you have arrived at the conclusion that Hitler is evil, and she has steadfastly refused to do so. Her silence speaks volumes.

    Prediction: Hazel will read this comment and do one of two things: (1) scurry to the sidelines and wait until she thinks no one remembers the question before she starts participating again (if ever); or (2) give us another evasion. She will by no means give us a straightforward answer to the simple question. I will bet good money on this if anyone is willing to cover my bet.

  354. 356

    David Kellogg re your [354], perhaps people would take you more seriously if you actually responded to my arguments instead of always trying to change the subject when you are unable to respond.

  355. VJT said: “I feel no inclination to revive them today, but my sense of intellectual honesty tells me that without the book of Deuteronomy, we’d still be living in a society where infanticide, slavery and exploitation of the poor were rampant.”

    Many people make a very compelling argument that is precisely because of books like Deuteronomy that it was only comparatively recent that slavery was obliterated even in putative Christian countries like the USA. And of course it does not help at all that Jesus never once condemneded slavery. In fact the Bible not only fails to condemn slavery anywhere bu implicitly condones it.

    Your arguemnt, if there is one, completely escapes me. I don’t know what rose-tinted glasses you wear when you read Deuterronomy, but please do us all a favor and don’t wear them when driving!

  356. 358

    Barry,

    You seem to think that one is not permitted to call something evil without invoking some sort of theism.

    I fail to grasp your logic, but I wonder if you think there are other judgments an atheist will have to toss out. Can an atheist like music or art? Can an atheist vote? Can an atheist hire a lawyer?

    What is it you see in atheism that seems to entail people suddenly giving up opinions?

  357. ScottAndrews says:

    I understand if you don’t believe in God. But arguments based on what an all-knowing, all-powerful God would or wouldn’t do fail because even hypothetically accepting his omniscience rules out our ability to possess his knowledge or question his decisions. How can we say what an all-knowing God would do without knowing everything ourselves?

    Look back at the post of mine you first replied to. This thread is about Hitler’s actions being permitted in an atheist view of the world. I pointed out that, if your omniscient omnipotent god exists, then Hitler’s genocidal actions (and Moses’s) were clearly permissible under that god. They happened, and omniscient omnipotence means what, in respect to this?

    I wasn’t attempting to explain the god’s genocidal tastes, and I can certainly see nothing that I would describe as reason in them.

    But he’s your god. And as he clearly wanted the holocaust, why do we see Christians talking about it as a bad thing?

  358. JTaylor wrote:

    In fact the Bible not only fails to condemn slavery anywhere bu[t] implicitly condones it.

    Exodus 21:16 “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”

    1 Timothy 1:9-10 “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.”

  359. And hazel has straightforwardly answered your question innumerable times: since I don’t believe in the God you believe in, I don’t think that a “chain of inference” based on us being created in the image of God is relevant.

    I use the entirety of my humanity to make moral choices, just as everyone does. I use the values of my culture, the values of my family, the depths of the human nature I find when I look inside myself, my knowledge of what acknowledged wise people have said across multiple culture, my rational desire for the society I live in to be healthy so that I and the people I love can live a happy and productive life, my emotions, my knowledge of how people and social institutions work, and so on, to make moral choices.

    Moral choice is always a complex multi-facted affair. Human beings are moral creatures (although all of us are imperfect in this regard, and some more than others.) We are born with the propensity to care about right and wrong, we are raised in the values of our culture, and as we grow up we assess and adopt our moral values to make them our own.

    Your belief that this can all be boiled down to logic is flat out wrong.

    My 2 cents.

    Any bets on whether Barry addresses these issues, or just retreats to his same old arguments?

  360. 362

    Want to talk morality? Which particular theory of morality do you want to discuss?

    Non-Cognitivist Theories:
    – Emotivism
    – Imperativism/Prescriptivism

    Cognitivist Theories:
    – Subjectivist Theories:
    —- Private Subjectivism
    —- Cultural Relativism
    – Objectivist Theories:
    —- Ethical Naturalism
    —- Ethical Non-Naturalism

    Assuming you can get past that, once you dig into Ethical Relativism, Absolutism, Egoism and Utilitarianism, you’ll find that there’s a lot to talk about. Dealing with it here inevitably treats the subject too simplistically.

    Theists (and I write this as a theist myself) generally seem to think we’ve cornered the market on morality. That’s because we think too shallowly (typically) about morality. There’s a lot worth discussing.

    Just don’t paint all atheists as lacking “proper moral foundations” (or, worse, plain immoral). Many of them have a quite different view of what morality is, and unless we get to grips with that, the rest of the discussion is moot.

  361. Atom @360

    Well alright, but it’s bit of a stretch though isn’t it? The first verse talks about kidnapping; the second about slave traders. If God was so concerned with human rights, why not an eleventh commandment. Jesus spoke about slavery but never condemned it. At best (and it’s also a stretch, we can say God was rather ambivalent about it all).

    And what about these:

    However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

    When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

    Nice, huh! OK, to beat them as long as they don’t instantly…I wouldn’t do that to my goldfish let alone another human being.

    And there are many more verses..it’s not hard for an apologist to make a very compelling case that slavery is permissible, even with the verses you quoted (after apologists deal with those kinds of contradictions all the time..)

  362. You seem to think that one is not permitted to call something evil without invoking some sort of theism.

    It is permitted but only a metaphor with little meaning. If you do not believe that God/Good and the Devil/Evil actually exist then saying that something is “good” or “evil” is merely an archaic metaphor for something else. And the something else that such metaphors refer to has usually interpreted as a scientific fact by modern atheists. I.e. when you say that Hitler was “evil” what you really mean is that natural selection operating on an ancient population of worm-like creatures and other processes that seem “natural” have caused an understanding to emerge from you which causes you to call Hitler “evil.” While on the other hand, if Hitler was “evil” that’s merely describing the result of natural selection operating on the penises of ancient ape-like creatures, among other processes that apparently seem “natural” to most atheists. The Darwinian creation myth causes people to describe Hitler’s “evil” metaphorically, not as an artifact of intelligent agency created by a mind.

  363. Barry,

    A lot of the rebuttals are sort of along the lines of:

    Well, like, what if there were, like, no god. . . And, well, what if we like, all, like peaceful and cool.

    It’s a “what if” argument that is impervious to reason.

  364. Mr StephenB @319,

    No, my post at 23 shows that KF’s argument (which Mr Arrington quoted favorably in the OP), and my attempt at a derivation, which failed. I am open to the suggestion that my formalism did not capture KF’s three points, but as he said the third is a part of standard deontic logic, and the first two are straightforward translations of his other two propositions. Do you disagree?

    Rather than switching out of symbolic argument, we should agree that it is via symbolic argument that we can avoid cultural and linguistic problems, and separate issues of formal, logical structure from issues of deeper semantics. Mr Arrington’s OP makes a claim about formal logical structure.

    I’m aware that Mr Arrington is a lawyer, not an intellectual such as yourself. For that reason, I suggested that he bring in Mr Vjtorley (who obviously understands symbolic logic as seen in the previous thread) or KF.

  365. Hazel @ 361

    This is extremely well said and resonates with my own experiences and life.

    We should immediately publish this (as an illuminated manuscript of course), as St. Hazel’s epistle to the Arringtonians.

  366. 368

    iconofid:

    I pointed out that, if your omniscient omnipotent god exists, then Hitler’s genocidal actions (and Moses’s) were clearly permissible under that god.

    But he’s your god. And as he clearly wanted the holocaust, why do we see Christians talking about it as a bad thing?

    That’s correct. Assuming an omniscient God, nothing can occur without his permission. But why were such things permitted? If mankind explicitly rejects God, can we rightly hold him responsible for the outcome? Is the suffering inflicted by the Holocaust permanent, or will it be undone?

    The argument boils down to, “If there was an omniscient god, he would know as much as I do.”

    A lot of believers don’t know the answers. When someone’s child dies they get Hallmark-card answers like, “God wanted another angel,” or “It’s all part of his plan.” I wouldn’t believe any of it either.

  367. Something else to consider.

    Without God, there is no evil because God is the one who defines evil.

    Or maybe this: without God what is thought of as evil, now, will likely not be thought of as evil since the definer of the word will be someone or something else. And what the atheists must remember is that, that definer is very, very unlikely going to be them.

  368. 370

    Good for you Hazel!!! I would have lost that bet. You have finally stepped up to the plate and told us what you base your moral judgments on:

    Hazel writes: “I use the entirety of my humanity to make moral choices, just as everyone does. I use the values of my culture, the values of my family, the depths of the human nature I find when I look inside myself, my knowledge of what acknowledged wise people have said across multiple culture, my rational desire for the society I live in to be healthy so that I and the people I love can live a happy and productive life, my emotions, my knowledge of how people and social institutions work, and so on, to make moral choices.”

    And Hazel confirms – finally – the premise of the OP. Every single one of Hazel’s panoply of moral decision criteria falls to a simple “says who.”

    In other words, her protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, it really is just Hazel’s gut that guides her through her moral life. Happily, since Hazel had the great good fortune of being born into and raised in a society living on the accumulated moral capital of its Christian heritage, her gut has been thoroughly infused with Christian morality, and we can have every confidence that it will usually lead her the right way.

    Sadly for future generations, however, we are churning through that Christian moral capital at an alarming rate, and our culture is descending rapidly to the bottom of the moral slide upon which we find ourselves. When we get to the bottom and Hazel’s children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren are faced with moral choices of great moment, will I be so confident that their “gut” will lead them into the paths of righteousness? Not likely.

  369. 371

    mynym [364] – your post makes little sense to me.

    How absurd to suggest that judgments such good or evil become empty metaphors without believing in some other realm where immortal forces battle each other!

    I would urge you to stop trying to project whatever it is you think atheists “really mean” and figure out what it is you really mean.

  370. I use the entirety of my humanity to make moral choices, just as everyone does. I use the values of my culture, the values of my family, the depths of the human nature I find when I look inside myself, my knowledge of what acknowledged wise people have said across multiple culture…

    In other words, you use language, whether by talking or thinking to yourself or by reading what others have written and so on. If language and information can never be an irreducible reality and can instead always be reduced to biological processes then what basis is there to limit yourself or others with illusions like language and intelligent agency?

  371. 373

    Barry Arrington:

    Sadly for future generations, however, we are churning through that Christian moral capital at an alarming rate, and our culture is descending rapidly to the bottom of the moral slide upon which we find ourselves.

    Strange, the holocaust happened when Europe was substantially more Christian than it is today. Slavery in the USA occurred when the USA was much more Christian. Less Christian western nations have generally lower crime rates and even abortion rates than the more Christian western nations. The facts just don’t seem to fit your theory of how things “ought” to be.

  372. 374

    I recommend two important books:

    “Slouching Towards Gommorah” by Robert Bork

    and

    “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” by Thomas E. Woods Jr.

  373. 375

    Barry Arrington,
    Oh, and I should add that the biggest threat to Western civilization today comes from a group of people who believe very strongly in their god (Allah) and moral absolutism, just as you do.

  374. 376

    Every generation has imagined itself peering out from the widening gyre.

    Surely some revelation is at hand! Surely the second coming is at hand!

    Feh. The negativity of the hand-wringers can only astound.

  375. Barry said: “And Hazel confirms – finally – the premise of the OP. Every single one of Hazel’s panoply of moral decision criteria falls to a simple “says who.””

    Says us, that’s who – which is what mankind has been doing for the last few thousands years. That’s what we see in the OT – an attempt to write down a moral code to the best of their ability (which of course applied to our modern understanding and culture is very flawed).

    Barry: “In other words, her protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, it really is just Hazel’s gut that guides her through her moral life. Happily, since Hazel had the great good fortune of being born into and raised in a society living on the accumulated moral capital of its Christian heritage, her gut has been thoroughly infused with Christian morality, and we can have every confidence that it will usually lead her the right way.”

    The implication here of course is that those not forutnate to be born into a culture infused with Christian morality are at a lost. So where do those born in Japan or China look for their moral guidance? Last time I was in Japan it not only seemed a very law-abiding and moral country, but perhaps far more family-oriented than most Western countries.

    Barry: “Sadly for future generations, however, we are churning through that Christian moral capital at an alarming rate, and our culture is descending rapidly to the bottom of the moral slide upon which we find ourselves. ”

    Every generation says something like this. Look at life and crime in medieval Europe or even 18th century England, a supposedly Christian country. It was a nasty violent place. It would have been easy to make the same argument in those times too.

  376. Tsathoggua #330 said,

    “The argument sketched above is valid and I am convinced of its soundness.”

    For readers, the POV from Tsathoggua is of a non-cognitivist.

    From wiki:

    “A noncognitivist denies the cognitivist claim that “moral judgments are capable of being objectively true, because they describe some feature of the world.”[1] If moral statements cannot be true, and if one cannot know something that is not true, noncognitivism implies that moral knowledge is impossible.[1]“

    Another words the moral statement, Murder is morally wrong cannot be known to be true or false. Murder as a moral issue is impossible to know. In this case, they cannot distinguish murder from a justified killing in self-defense. Since it is impossible to know whether something is moral or not.

    And from Standford.edu external link:

    “Non-cognitivism is a variety of irrealism about ethics with a number of influential variants. Non-cognitivists agree with error theorists that there are no moral properties or moral facts. But rather than thinking that this makes moral statements false, noncognitivists claim that moral statements are not in the business of predicating properties or making statements which could be true or false in any substantial sense. Roughly put, noncognitivists think that moral statements have no truth conditions. Furthermore, according to non-cognitivists, when people utter moral sentences they are not typically expressing states of mind which are beliefs or which are cognitive in the way that beliefs are. Rather they are expressing non-cognitive attitudes more similar to desires, approval or disapproval.”

    The argument may be valid based upon non-cognitive logic, but it does not necessarily lead that it is valid reality.

    Quite a tangled web of illogical spinning it appears to me. It leads to a severe case of cognitive dissonance. Justification through such complex circular reasoning is yet another branch of avoiding truth and morals through “non-cognitivism.”

    It turns reality into one big game of jabberwocky semantics.

    Irrealism:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I.....hilosophy)

    None of this addresses Barry’s points, it shifts the logic to a non-cognitive stance that morality is not real or can be objectively understood. In the end it does not add any weight to dislodge the is-ought problem.

  377. How absurd to suggest that judgments such good or evil become empty metaphors without believing in some other realm where immortal forces battle each other!

    The way that most people understand the term “evil” is linked to intelligent agency in one way or another, whether in reference to human beings doing evil things or a transcendent evil being causing evil and so on. This is why we do not call the insane evil or anyone else we think to be governed by physico-chemical events, etc. Atheists have linked themselves to the Darwinian creation myth and philosophic naturalism. If evil exists given such ignorant views, it is merely an evil of the gaps. It is merely an “evil” that can be referred to metaphorically until progress supplies an amoral, natural explanation.

    I would urge you to stop trying to project whatever it is you think atheists “really mean” and figure out what it is you really mean.

    I know what I mean. If natural “evolutionary” (whatever that may mean) explanations are amoral and progress will naturally and inevitably verify evolution then evil is an evil of gaps in knowledge, nothing more.

  378. JT,

    You’re right. See Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

    BTW, Kidnapping someone and selling them is the same as slave-trading…unless I’m missing something…

  379. Actually, Barry, I said all those things before, in bits and pieces. I’ll also note that I mentioned reason and knowledge as well as emotions, so saying it’s all “gut” is wrong – but I’ve never noticed that actually acknowledging what others are saying is one of your strong points.

    And, even though I am thoroughly Western in upbringing, my study and reflection have led me to reject some Christian values and adopt others from other cultures. There is a lot of Christianity that I think is unbelievable, and even bizarre, and other parts that are as uplifting and inspiring as any.

    But there are many ways in which I am not impressed with this Christian moral capital of which you speak. I am sick of war, of demonizing people who are different than we are, of spending money on war that could be better spent on social infrastructure that would help those less fortunate than me lead better lives, and so on. I also have little respect for those like you whose idea of discussion is black-and-white argumentation meant to condemn and divide rather than humane interaction meant to help bring people together despite their differences, sume of which can be bridged and some of which can’t but which still would benefit from better mutual understanding.

    So please don’t parade the superiority of your Christian moral capital out on me. Yes, some of Christian morality is excellent – mostly that part about compassion towards other, which is just as much a part of other religions, but on the other hand much of what has historically been associated with Christianity has been indefensible in my opinion, such as the arrogant and violent ways in which Christianity has been foisted on others because Christians think they are right and everyone else is wrong.

    I am sure we’ve worn out this conversation, so I’ll quit now.

    And thanks to JTaylor at 367.

  380. 382

    Barry, how do you know it’s not your “gut” that you’re simply reifying?

    As for your charge [354] that I have not “responded to [your] arguments,” I have explained that your syllogism rests on questionable assumptions [297], that objectivist morality holds no advantage over relativist morality [327], that objectivist morality rests on relatively interepreted sources [334], that objectivist morality “permitted” the Holocaust [347], and that your own logic leads to moral positions that I consider repugnant [78 and 354].

    That’s not being nonresponsive; that’s responding in a way you don’t like.

  381. StephenB, Barry, Nakashima, KariosFocus,

    It would be interesting to see if Nakashima’s attempts at logical operands can be attained and any language barriers overcome.

    For me and other readers Mr. Nakashima. Can you explain the use of “Oblige” in your attempt of symbolic representation?

  382. 384

    mynym [379] – It appears you don’t know what a metaphor is.

    On the chance you do, what are the tenor and vehicle for your point on evil?

  383. Strange, the holocaust happened when Europe was substantially more Christian than it is today.

    That’s incorrect, Darwinism and other forms of Nature based paganism were prevalent.

    E.g.:
    (The Nordic Pagan Chant Grows Louder
    By Albion Rossberlin
    The New York Times, Aug 4, 1935; pg. 3-4)

    A sampling of an increasingly decadent culture:

    In 1930, the same year that Marlene Dietrich’s Blue Angel was released, Hannah Hoch made the photomontage Marlene. With its challenging array of sexual signs…the photomontage provokes a wealth of questions about gendery identity and sexuality, strategies of representation, and the reading of imagery by a Weimar audience. [...] Viewed in its historical context, Hoch’s image takes its place amidst an enormous proliferation of images of androgyny during the Weimar years, produced by both avant-garde artists and mass-culture institutions.[...]
    …in keeping with representations of the New Woman and certain leftist ideologies of Weimar, her androgynous images depict a pleasure in the movement between gender positions and a deliberate deconstruction of rigid masculine and feminine identities.
    (Androgyny, Spectatorship, and the Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Hoch
    by Maud Lavin
    New German Critique, No. 51,
    Special Issue on Weimar Mass Culture (Autumn, 1990), :62-86)

    And so on, your assertions are worthless without evidence. It often seems that Darwinists project their mythology of progress onto everything with no regard for empirical or historical evidence.

  384. —-Hazel: “I use the entirety of my humanity to make moral choices, just as everyone does. I use the values of my culture, the values of my family,”

    And if your family is at variance with your culture?

    —-”the depths of the human nature I find when I look inside myself,

    and if your instincts are at variance with those of your culture and those of your family?

    —-”my knowledge of what acknowledged wise people have said across multiple culture,”

    and if one culture is at variance with another?

    —-”my rational desire for the society I live in to be healthy so that I and the people I love can

    and if that society is at variance with your emotions?

    —-”live a happy and productive life,

    and if your happiness must be purchased at the expense of someone else’s happiness? or if their happiness must be purchased at the expense of yours?

    —-”my emotions, my knowledge of how people and social institutions work, and so on, to

    and if your knowledge tells you that your emotions are wrong?

  385. —-Spiny Norman: “Want to talk morality? Which particular theory of morality do you want to discuss?”

    No, I want you to tell me where you get your moral values.

  386. Riddick @ 176
    Thank you for making my point.
    Their seems to be this misconception that christians aren’t suppose to judge. That’s ridiculous. If we don’t use our judgement than how will we know if there are sheeps in wolves clothing, which tree bears which fruit? In fact without judgement we wouldn’t be having this 363 post discussion. In fact darwin made judgements about what he saw did he not? He could have concluded that the animals he observed were indeed unique because that’s where God placed them and nowhere else on earth.

    “are his sins worse in the eyes of God than yours?”
    I’m assuming by “his” you are referring to hitler?
    If so let me put it this way. there are only 2 kinds of sins. Forgiven and unforgiven. So yes, assuming that he did not repent before his death, his sins are worse than mine because I have been forgiven. (makes me sound pompous doesn’t it?) Understand here that I am not using my own made up version of morality to make these statements. I am using the moral law given to us by the moral law giver.

  387. It appears you don’t know what a metaphor is.

    On the chance you do, what are the tenor and vehicle for your point on evil?

    It appears that you do not understand that it’s not my point on evil at issue. Atheists who take the Darwinian creation myth seriously are using the term evil metaphorically when what they are referring to are a chain of natural, physical, amoral events that have little to do with “good” and “evil” events brought about by intelligent agency.

    Are you disagreeing that the majority of atheists take the Darwinian creation myth seriously? Or that given such a view what we call “good” and “evil” has more to do with amoral events creating a Tree of Life than some supposed transcendent sentience and knowledge of good and evil? If we do have this supposed knowledge of good and evil and the language by which we know of it is reducible to biological processes then isn’t the real issue biological, not philosophical?

  388. Re 386: Then I have to choose. I have to exercise my free will and consider all the variables and make a choice – that is an unavoidable part of the human condition.

    And, after choosing, and taking responsibility for my choice, I have to assess whether it was a wise choice so that I will be able to make better choices in the future.

  389. Does anybody out their know what the purpose of morality is? (whether objective or transcendent)

  390. Mr DATCG,

    If we refer to the Deontic Logic entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we can see that Obligatory and Permitted are related by the formula
    PEp ? ~OB~p

    This is the formal deontic meaning to which Mr Kairosfocus referred. I hope that helps.

  391. Sorry, the question mark in that formula is the biconditional (if and only if).

  392. —–David Kellogg to BarryA “But your logic also suggests (see 78 above) that more atheists should be like Eric Harris.”

    I recall that you used to try to play that same game with me, unsuccessfully I might add. Here’s the way it works. First, the sophist compares a comment in one context [“Nietzsche atheist," as one who is HONEST about the implications of his atheism] and compares it with the same term used in another context ["Nietzsche atheist" as UNCOMPROMISING IDELOGUE] and conflates as if they had been used in the same context.

    For the sophist, context doesn’t matter. What matters is finding words and phrases that can be twisted and tweaked until they mean what he wants them to mean.

    So, if after Johnny cleans up his room, mommy beams with approval and says “Johnny you’re a good boy,” and later, when defending Johnny in court for a capital crime, mommy says to the judge prior to sentencing, “but Johnny is a good boy,” that means that Johnny’s mother is also pleased with Johnny for committing murder.

  393. 395

    StephenB, BarryA didn’t give two definitions of the term “Nietzsche atheist.” He also referred to Eric Harris as a person who reached rational conclusions based on his beliefs. In fact. His term “Nietzsche atheist” was arrived at after he’d talked about Harris as a follow of Nietzsche who reasoned his way to his actions.

    It’s not my fault if Barry’s term is equivocal.

  394. wagenweg @388,

    Boy, this thread has really brought out the modern-day Pharisees in force.

    I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if Jesus didn’t die for Hitler’s sins, then He didn’t die for yours, either.

    I suggest you reread Hebrews 9:11 through 10:18.

  395. @394 IDELOGUE should be IDEOLOGUE

  396. —David: “It’s not my fault if Barry’s term is equivocal.”

    Differing contexts do not constitute equivocation. In Barry’s first example “Nietzcshe atheist” refers to one who doesn’t rationalize his atheism with sweet talk about a “golden rule” and, in the second context, it refers to one who is responsibly rational and therefore cannot use insanity as an excuse. You are straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

  397. Atom said : “ou’re right. See Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

    BTW, Kidnapping someone and selling them is the same as slave-trading…unless I’m missing something…”

    My apologies I misread the verse about kidnapping – yes it does indeed mention selling (that’s what happens when I try to work and follow this Blog at the same time).

    Of course now we seem to have a clear contradiction between God apparently prohibiting slavery and apparently permitting it. Puzzling.

    I did follow the link. I can’t tell who the author is, but judging by the writing style it looks like Glen Miller who VJTorley quoted earlier.

    It seems on a par with those other articles – it seems an attempt (and a very difficult and convoluted way to follow) to basically soften the topic. You know – God’s slavery was actually quite “humanitarian” compared with other cultures. “The Hebrews were really super nice to their slaves etc”, “They weren’t slaves forever etc”.

    Evidently though this kind of apologetic is needed (and at length too) because a casual reader is certainly not going to come away with this impression just by reading the Bible on their own. I guess we should be lucky we have apologists like Miller (or whoever it is) that can so succinctly and clearly explain it for us (sarcasm intended).

    I have to be cynical and say that it seems very unlikely the person who did this study and wrote this did it with an attempt to really find out what the Bible said – but already had their mind made up.

  398. There really isn’t anything left for me to write on this subject that I haven’t already posted, so I’m just about done. I do, however, have three questions for Barry and stephenB:

    Is it possible to craft a set of moral prescriptions that are not fundamentally grounded in the Christian religion?

    Alternatively:

    Are Christian morals the only valid morals?

    If you like, you could also answer this one:

    Must one be a Christian to be moral?

    And please be aware that your failure to answer these questions with a simple “yes” or “no” will tell everyone reading this thread all they neede to know about your actual beliefs, and what to think of your morality.

  399. JTaylor,

    No worries about misreading the verse. I just wanted to point out that the bible does seem to speak out against some forms of slavery, notably the kind practiced in the US and much of the world, where unsuspecting Africans were captured and forced into slavery, and had no rights.

    (Although you somewhat make light of the Torah’s protections of slaves, saying they weren’t enough, you must admit that giving slaves any rights was quite a departure from most forms ever practiced.)

    You are correct that it does seem to offer implicit condoning of some forms of servitude, such as voluntary (or indentured) servitude and the enslavement of war prisoners. We can argue about specific forms of slavery (should war prisoners be killed, sent home to fight you another day or kept as slaves?), and agree that most forms (maybe all?) are horrible. But I don’t think the Torah promotes slavery as much as sets out guidelines and laws for it, in its many forms. Some forms were clearly prohibited, some were tolerated, but all were regulated with laws granting slaves at least some rights.

    I don’t think a contradiction is present, but you may see differently. I just wanted to point out that the bible does in fact speak out against slavery, at least the American form of chattel slavery (which is how we usually think of it at least here in the US.)

    be blessed,
    Atom

  400. Hey Allen,

    Can I take a shot at answering your three questions?

    1) Yes

    2) If the universe was created by the Christian G-d, then yes. (The potter alone has the right to define what the proper shape and behavior of his pot should be, especially if he created the clay from scratch.)

    3) No

    Atom

  401. 403
    CannuckianYankee

    Hazel:
    “You write, “The reason I believe in objective truth is because I accept that there is some truth of which we can be certain.”

    But can you be certain that there are certain truths?

    How are your assertions any different than anyone else’s.”

    I would rephrase the question: can I be certain that there are no certain truths? It is an absurd question. If there are no certain truths, I cannot be certain of it. Therefore there must be certain truths in order to know for certain that there are none. Therefore certain truths trump any other truth. Certainty must exist in order to “do” truth at all. It’s not an assertion, but a logical necessity.

    But we have examples of certainty all around us:

    What we call “grass” exists.
    Canada is the largest (and therefore greatest/sarc) country in North America.
    Whisky contains alcohol.
    Water is wet.
    Barack Obama is the President of the United States.
    Murder is illegal in the United States.
    All women are female.
    1+1=2.
    Helium is a gas.
    Julius Caesar died.
    Shakespear was a playwright.

    All of the above “truths” are certain. I can be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that they are true. To believe that one can’t be certain of anything may be fashionable, but it really is an absurdity. I’m certain of that.

  402. 404

    Just re: the slavery issue. A couple of things (I may post later with proper detail, gtg tute atm).

    -Just because there are laws and morals regarding slaves does not mean that slavery is viewed as ‘good’ by God. Instead, what we see is recognition that slavery *will* exist no matter what (i.e. this even applies to modern day workplace…) – and this is how to do it morally.
    This point exactly is made by Christ when the pharisees ask him “If we weren’t supposed to divorce, why were we given laws regarding how to do that?”. To which of course Christ replies, “The laws were given because you could not do things properly. But it was not meant to be like that…” (heavily paraphrased). We see that provisions are made for compromised circumstances, but that does not dictate what is ‘ought’.
    However, if there is a verse that instructs that ‘slavery is good’, then please point it out.

    -Another quick one: slavery was a *normal* practice under OT law (someone correct me if there is not a direct equivalence between what I describe here), however not as you might think.
    To understand this fully, it would be good to read up about the laws of Jubilee, land ownership, etc. But pertaining to slavery, when a man went into unrecoverable debt to another man, he was made a slave to that man for a period of time until losses were recouped. Upon the completion of this service he was freed, and *given* (by law) capital by the master so he could get back on his feet.

    Hopefully this gives some direction as to the slavery issue.

  403. Thank you, Atom! By answering my three questions, you have demonstrated more intellectual honesty than either Barry or stephenB. And, I strongly suspect that their answers would be essentially the same as yours, only had they your courage and integrity.

    So, to follow up. Based on your answers, the following logically follows:

    Axiom 1: The universe was wholly and entirely created by the Christian God.

    Corollary 1: Being part of the universe wholly and entirely created by the Christian God, Christian morals are the only valid morals.

    Corollary 2: All Christian morals (regardless of content) are ipso-facto valid.

    Corollary 3: Other morals may be formulated using virtually any alternative justification, but unless such alternative morals are explicitly Christian morals, they are ipso-facto invalid.

    Corollary 4: It is not enough that the content of such alternative morals be identical to that of Christian morals; if they are not explicitly Christian, they are ipso-facto invalid.

    Assertion 1: One need not be a Christian to be moral.

    Given the starting axiom and the four corollaries derived from it, the only way that Assertion 1 can possibly be valid is that one must accept all and only Christian morals as uniformly and absolutely valid. If this is the case, then the following necessarily follows:

    Implication 1: Any moral precept not explicitly or implicitly covered by Christian morals is ipso-facto invalid.

    Implication 2: Any moral precept explicitly or implicitly covered by Christian morals is ipso-facto valid, regardless of content.

    Please feel free to criticize my analysis and show me where I have erred, if indeed I have.

  404. 406

    How about this for a slogan? “If the Bible is true, slavery is sometimes permitted.” It’s truer than the slogan Barry offers for atheists.

    Avonwatches [404], it could be that what is “good” changes over time. Or it could be (to use the language of the original post) that what is “permissible” at one point is not “permissible” at another, i.e., that what is supposed to be “objectively” bad is only “relatively” so.

  405. Hey Allen,

    When I say that Christian Morals are the only valid morals for a universe created by a Christian G-d, I don’t agree with your corollary 3. (I don’t think Torah would agree either.)

    A valid moral in that case is one that coincides with the true moral, even if it is arrived at by different means. It may be unjustified from an epistemic point of view, but that doesn’t make it invalid.

    For example, I don’t want my future children hitting each other. If the older brother doesn’t hit his younger brother because he is afraid that hitting him will result in his turning into a toad, he is still acting morally and still has a valid moral belief, though it is unjustified (in the sense that the justification is untrue.)

    So you can hold and act out a valid moral precept even if you have no idea why it is really a true moral precept.

    Atom

  406. Some quibbles:

    What we call “grass” exists now

    Canada is the largest (and therefore greatest/sarc) country in North America if and only if largest = greatest

    Whisky contains alcohol unless it doesn’t

    Water is wet if and only if it is in liquid phase

    Barack Obama is the President of the United States if and only if he is a natural-born citizen of the United States

    Murder is illegal in the United States Actually, it is only illegal in the individual states; in the United States (i.e. that federation of individual states defined by the Constitution), murder is not even mentioned

    All women are female phenotypically, but not necessarily genetically; about one in 20,000 phenotypic females are genetically male (i.e. are Xy males with androgen insensitivity syndrome

    1+1=2 unless the first “1″ is an apple and the second “1″ is an orange, and the “2″ are either apples or oranges (but not both)

    Helium is a gas unless it’s a liquid (for physical reasons, helium never becomes a solid, even at zero degrees Kelvin)

    Julius Caesar died yes; he was murdered

    Shakespeare was a playwright unless his plays were actually written by Edward DeVere, Christopher Marlowe, or another Elizabethan playwright (identity unspecified)

    Got any other “certainties” you’d like to assert?

  407. clarification on my last post:

    …he is still acting morally and still has a valid moral belief (namely, that he shouldn’t hit his brother), thought it is unjustified (in the sense that his justification is untrue.)…

  408. For the sake of argument, let us grant that B.A.’s assumptions in the original post are indeed true. That the atheist reality is truly amoral. May we touch on how, then, theism provides the solution?

    I’ve noticed that the subject of god’s “goodness” has been mentioned several times, typically followed by dismissals asserting that “god is goodness; goodness is god.” I would like for the discussion to touch upon this, as so far, the answers surrounding it have been somewhat unsatisfying.

    “God is goodness”. From this statement, how does one derive “oughts”? It seems logical that one would use the actions or attributes of god to fashion a definition of goodness, by which one could attempt to live up to. This, of course, raises some questions.

    1) If god is goodness, is god only capable of acts which fall into this realm of behavior?

    2) There is strong evidence that human definitions of goodness have changed with time, is god capable of such change? or is the goodness that is associated with god absolute?

    I am, of course, very interested to read the answers of others, and I truly hope that some folks will put a lot of effort into it, but I am going to offer a few thoughts first, to which hopefully some readers may respond.

    Regarding question 1. It may be said then that goodness is an attribute of god, that god is morally perfect, in a sense. It is clear, however, that in the past god has commanded things of his followers which do not fall into the realm of goodness (such as commanding the slaying of others), and that god has committed actions which himself which do not fall into the realm of goodness (such as testing the faith of Job). I suppose under one interpretation of “god is goodness”, one would have to think that because god did those acts, those acts fall under the realm of goodness. This has been dismissed by B.A. as meaningless, so one may wonder if B.A. believes then that god is only capable of actions which match his attributes of goodness and moral perfection. This would, however, comes into strong conflict with other supposed attributes of god, namely omnipotence and omniscience. If god is only capable of acts which are “goodness”, this would insinuate that god is not capable of evil or immoral acts, which would thus insinuate that he is not omnipotent (or if you would prefer Swinburne’s definition of omnipotence, god would be incapable of bringing about any logically contingent state of affairs which involve evil or immoral states of affairs). Thus it appears that god could not be both omnipotent and “goodness” simultaneously. God’s attribute of omniscience also finds conflict in this respect, in that if god were omniscient, he would have all the knowledge there is about all possible evil acts, including how to make them occur (one could then appeal to god’s supposed omnipotence to claim that he must also be capable of committing all of these acts, by definition). This would, of course, be in conflict with god being goodness or his moral perfection. How does one resolve these conflicts?

    Regarding question 2. Suppose that god’s goodness is absolute, it has never changed or will never change for all possible time. If humans derive their goodness from god, why have human definitions of goodness changed to exclude or incorporate certain moral beliefs? For example, the social acceptableness of racism. I suppose there are a few possible explanations. God’s goodness has always leaned towards the notion of racism being reprehensible, but humans chose not to follow this. This, of course, raises the question of why it took humans so long. Did they not know how to interpret goodness? This also raises the question of how, in particular, B.A. makes this determination. There is another possibility, that god’s goodness holds that racism is acceptable, and humans have decided that it is not without his permission. No doubt many believers will deny this, but they would still have to answer the question of, if we derive what goodness entails from god, why we took so long (and even struggle today to get it right). This possibility raises another question regarding conflict with god’s attributes. If goodness is absolute, this entails that god cannot alter its definition, or that he cannot change his mind regarding what goodness entails. This would insinuate that god is not omnipotent, yet again possibly demonstrating that god is incapable of being both omnipotent and morally perfect.

  409. In #407 Atom wrote:

    “…you can hold and act out a valid moral precept even if you have no idea why it is really a true moral precept.”

    But only if it’s actually a Christian moral precept, right? Otherwise your logic involves an internal contradiction.

    BTW, the orthodox prohibition against spelling out the full proper name of the Judeo-Christian deity only extends to His proper name (hence the common abbreviated transliteration from the Hebrew, “J*W*H”). “God” is only His role name, as in “policeman”, and for this reason, should technically not be capitalized (unless one is writing in German).

  410. Re #409:

    Ergo, unless one’s acts are explicitly subsumed under Christian morality, they are not morally justified, even if they are identical to the exact same acts performed by a Christian.

    In other words, what matters is not the actions per se, but the fact that they are explicitly Christian acts performed by a person who explicitly professes to be a Christian, right?

  411. And therefore, logically, one cannot act morally unless one is performing acts explicitly subsumed under Christian morality, and one explicitly professes that one is in fact a Christian.

    At least that’s the way it follows, given your answers to my questions.

  412. Barry and stephenB: you are becoming conspicuous by your non-participation in the rest of this thread. I thought this thread was still open for discussion. Is that no longer the case, and if not, why?

  413. —–Allen: “Is it possible to craft a set of moral prescriptions that are not fundamentally grounded in the Christian religion?”

    Yes, Of course, many of them would intersect with the Christian religion because truth is truth wherever you find it. Plato and Aristotle anticipated and prefigured many of the same moral truths that can be found in Christianity. The Declaration of Independence is grounded in “the natural moral law.”

    —–“Are Christian morals the only valid morals?”
    Mostly yes, but it is a question of degree not kind. Pagan morality can be valid, but incomplete. Christianity, for example, gets in back of the behavior to the intent. {“You have heard it said, but I tell you”…….} Thus, it is not enough to refrain from killing, it is also necessary to refrain from committing little murders through cruelty of speech, and, to take it one step further, to refrain from the vice of hate which makes those other things happen. In other words, it gets past the behavior to the heart, which is really the only thing that counts. It’s the same with rape and the vice of lust. If one would like to make a sex object of another human being, it may be that the only thing stopping them is a lack of opportunity. That person is immoral regardless of behavior.

    Further still, Christianity gets to the matter of “habit,” that is, it recognizes that virtue is something that must be practiced and perfected (with the help of God, of course.) In that sense, the Christian must “kill” his lower nature. Buddhists do a little of that, but the do it for the wrong reason. The idea is not to kill desire but to direct wisely it so it will be of some use. I don’t think other moral systems get around to that. How does one practice and perfect a virtue like patience, through trial, error, discomfort, blood, sweat, and tears, when one doesn’t even believe that there is any such thing as virtue? Even at that, what is his motive for doing it? Is it for self glorification or for the honor and glory of God? What a man does is important, but more important still is WHY he does it.

    Must one be a Christian to be moral?

    No, the only thing necessary is for one to follow whatever light he has been given and to never stop following that light. If he thinks he is starting to get close to the truth and stops short, then he has compromised his morality. So, if he is a Buddhist or an atheist who is honestly searching, he is moral; if he is a Christian who refuses to follow the light of his faith and go deeper, he is compromising his morality. If he is a Christian who refuses to act on his beliefs and therefore, provides red meat for Darwinists to slander his religion, he is compromising his morality. If, on the other hand, an atheist, through no fault of his own, honestly believes that the “fine tuning” of the universe is an accident, even though he is truly open to the prospect of a designed universe, he is a moral person, though obviously not very bright. Most atheists are not open to the idea period. That makes them immoral because they refuse to follow the light that they have been given.

  414. Allen MacNeill (#405)

    I would have answered your three questions in the same way Atom did – 1. Yes 2. Yes 3. No.

    However, after reading the conclusions you draw, I am rather puzzled about the meaning of some of your statements.

    First, your argument is unclear because it fails to define “Christian morals” with sufficient precision. Do you mean:

    (a) the moral code approved by the Judeo-Christian God, including both

    (i) natural law precepts, which unaided reason can discover, and/or

    (ii) specifically Judeo-Christian precepts, like keeping the Sabbath holy, which reason cannot discover; OR

    (b) the collection of moral precepts found in the Bible; OR

    (c) the ethical precepts taught and believed by the body of Christian believers down the centuries?

    I’ll assume you mean (a)(i) and possibly (a)(ii) as well.

    You write:

    Corollary 3. Other morals may be formulated using virtually any alternative justification, but unless such alternative morals are explicitly Christian morals, they are ipso-facto invalid.

    Corollary 4. It is not enough that the content of such alternative morals be identical to that of Christian morals; if they are not explicitly Christian, they are ipso-facto invalid.

    Please define “explicitly Christian.” Do you mean, “issuing from the mouth of Yahweh (as in the Ten Commandments) and/or Jesus Christ (as in the New Testament)”? Or do you mean “anything which the Judeo-Christian God desires that we should do”?

    Please define what you mean by a valid moral code. As far as I am aware, the term “validity” normally attaches to syllogistic inferences, not moral codes. Regarding codes, there are only two questions to answer: is the source a reliable one, and are the instructions in fact correct?

    Since the bulk of human moral precepts are discoverable by reason alone (religious precepts being an exception), and since all humans are possessed of reason, and since most people reason correctly most of the time, I’d expect most moral codes to be correct at any given time.

    Thus a moral code may be to some degree flawed, but the bulk of its precepts may be true nonetheless.

    The morality of an act is certainly dependent on the intentions and beliefs of the person performing the act, but I have yet to hear anyone argue that it matters where those beliefs came from (moral code X or moral code Y, or no code). If the beliefs in question were correct, and acquired in a reasonable fashion, and the accompanying intention were also appropriate to the situation at hand, that suffices to render the act in question moral. Thus a pagan acts morally when he/she takes care of his/her aged parent.

    Do I accept all and only Christian morals as uniformly and absolutely valid? Yes, if “Christian morals” are defined as in sense (a) above. However, it may happen that members of other religions are more keenly aware of certain Christian moral precepts than Christians are themselves, simply because the scope of (a) is larger than that of (b) and/or (c), and also because a pagan may be able to discover with unaided reason certain truths that are not explicitly stated in the Bible and have not yet been defined by the Christian Church.

    I would say, for instance, that:

    (i) the Japanese have long had a better understanding of the importance of controlling one’s anger than most Christians living in the world today;

    (ii) Buddhists have probably shown more compassion towards animals than Christians, over the past 2,000 years (although cruelty to animals is prohibited in the ancient Noachide code);

    (iii) some atheists are streets ahead of most Christians on matters relating to civil rights.

    I would also say that the advanced moral awareness shown by the Japanese, by Buddhists and by socially aware atheists merely illustrates the fact that they understand certain aspects of Christian morality better than Christians themselves, even if they do not know that the moral precepts which they understand are in fact part of a vast and universally valid corpus called “Christian morals.”

    In other words, some atheists are better Christians than the Christians, in at least some respects.

    But I would also say that the moral code comes from the will of God, who is necessarily good.

    I hope that clarifies matters.

  415. Allen “I’m not an atheist” MacNeill,

    You have done exactly what Barry pointed out has been occurring all through the thread. Good show, and thanks for the confirmation. It looks like this issue has been settled.

    P.S. I always finding it interesting when people express what they are not instead of what they are.

  416. Barry Arrington asseverated:

    Assume:
    (1) That atheistic naturalism is true.
    (2) One can’t infer an “ought” from an “is.”

    If these two things are true, nothing exists from which we can infer any moral principle. If moral principles cannot be inferred, nothing is prohibited by any moral principle and therefore all things are permitted. This leads to the conclusion that the Holocaust was permitted.

    If ‘ought’ cannot be derived from ‘is’, if moral principles cannot be inferred from observations of nature, then all we can say is that the world is silent on such questions. It neither permits nor prohibits events such as the Holocaust because, so far as we can tell, it is utterly indifferent to human affairs. Granting permissions or imposing prohibitions are the actions of intelligent beings such as ourselves, not inanimate universes. Atheists are quite capable of working out for themselves that something like the Holocaust is wrong. They do not stand around scratching their heads, bewildered because they apparently cannot tell what is good or evil without divine guidance.

    No one, not a single person, has attempted to rebut the conclusion.

    Has it occurred to you or any of the myriad of kairosfocus’s “onlookers” that perhaps the moderation policy of the site has prevented those who would attempt a rebuttal from presenting their case here?

    Therefore, we must conclude that there is no rebuttal. The materialists are silent; they cannot speak.

    …or they are not allowed to speak, at least not here.

    They must concede that their premises lead to the conclusion that the Holocaust was not prohibited by any moral principle of which we can be certain. How very sad.

    What is both sad and dangerous is this need for certainty. If you look at those who perpetrated the worst excesses in the name of religious beliefs or atheist political ideologies, one thing that they all had in common was an unshakable conviction that they were right. People do not commit atrocities when they are in doubt, they do it when they are convinced they are in possession of some Absolute Truth which justifies almost any act in its furtherance.

  417. stephenB:

    Your answers to my three questions were the same as Atom’s:

    1) Is it possible to craft a set of moral prescriptions that are not fundamentally grounded in the Christian religion? Your answer: yes

    2) Are Christian morals the only valid morals? Your answer: yes

    3) Must one be a Christian to be moral? Your answer: no

    This is presumptive evidence that the axiom, four corollaries, one assertion, and two implications that I derived from Atom’s answers also apply equally to yours. Would you agree, and if not, why not?

    (still waiting for Barry A’s answers to the three questions)

  418. JTaylor (#357)

    Many people make a very compelling argument that is precisely because of books like Deuteronomy that it was only comparatively recent that slavery was obliterated even in putative Christian countries like the USA.

    Then they are flat wrong.

    See the following:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism (Article in Wikipedia which describes how Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, and certain prominent Anglicans brought about the abolition of slavery in the British Empire – an accomplishment which eventually led to the worldwide abolition of slavery, as Britain pressured other countries to follow suit.

    http://www.christianitytoday.c.....-53.0.html

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/POPSLAVE.HTM

  419. Allen–Is it possible to craft a set of moral prescriptions that are not fundamentally grounded in the Christian religion?

    Sure. Think of the Nazis and the Communists.

    Are Christian morals the only valid morals?

    Morals that tell you not to love your neighbor as you love yourself or do unto others as you’d have them do unto you are not valid.

    Must one be a Christian to be moral?

    One must do what Jesus teaches to be moral.

  420. In #417 TCS wrote:

    “You have done exactly what Barry pointed out has been occurring all through the thread. Good show, and thanks for the confirmation. It looks like this issue has been settled.”

    And what, exactly, might that be?

    I always find it interesting when people have no actual arguments to make, and therefore say “what he said” without being specific about anything at all. Do you have something original or trenchant to contribute here, or are you simply a cheerleader for your “side”?

    As to your nickname for me, I have repeatedly, both at the website and elsewhere, stated exactly and unequivocally what I am. You either missed it, or weren’t paying attention (or have refused to acknowledge the fact). Here is a link to a brief summary, in case you missed it:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......stion.html

    So, got anything substantive to say, TCheerleaderS?

  421. vjtorley [419]

    Your arguement is a non-sequitur. The fact that christian groups played a prominent role in the abolition of slavery in the seventeeth century does not change the fact that books like deuteronomy were used to justify slavery, potentially from its initial publication in 700 B.C. until 1833 A.D.

  422. tribune7:

    Here’s the tally for you:

    1) Is it possible to craft a set of moral prescriptions that are not fundamentally grounded in the Christian religion? Your answer: yes

    2) Are Christian morals the only valid morals? Your answer: yes

    3) Must one be a Christian to be moral? Your answer: Your answer: “One must do what Jesus teaches to be moral”

    Sorry, that last one wasn’t a “yes” or a “no”, so I shall rephrase it: If one must do what Jesus teaches to be moral, can one do so and not be a Christian? That is, can one do exactly what Jesus commands, but never have heard of or read the Bible, never heard of Jesus or his moral commandments, or accepted him as one’s personal savior, and consequently act without grounding one’s morals explicitly in the Christian faith, and still be moral?

    And please, no weaseling out of this one; just answer yes or no.

  423. 425

    Wait a minute, I DID make a rebuttal to Barry’s conclusion. Post 242. If it is too cryptic, I could elaborate.

  424. But if Barry says your rebuttal was invalid, then he says you didn’t make one. Got it? That way, he wins no matter what…

  425. Sorry, that last one wasn’t a “yes” or a “no”, so I shall rephrase it: If one must do what Jesus teaches to be moral, can one do so and not be a Christian?

    Can you follow Jesus and not know who He is? I think, yes.

    Do you need to know who Jesus is to be a Christian? I think, yes.

    So, my answer to 3 will be no.

    So put me up there with Atom & StephenB.

  426. These discussions are nearly always sophomoric, serving mainly as a way for people to vent. Not that I am any type of expert in all this which is why I seldom participate but I doubt there are many here if anyone who are trained to debate this topic. And if there is you can bet that that others will not receive it well.

    I have never found anyone here ever who can define what is good and bad let alone what is evil. Now we all have our opinions on this but I think it is little bit naive of us to define what is good and bad for God if in fact He is our creator. It is silly. If God is our creator then also what is permissible for us may be quite different than what is permissible for Him. It is quite ironic to see atheists try to assess the rules of behavior for someone they do not think exists.

    We have no idea what the ultimate fate is of any person/people that died at God’s will or who died as a result of some human’s action if it was approved by God. We also have no way of judging anyone on whether he or she has been a moral person. As I said it also seems we also have difficulty judging what is moral or what is not. There seems to be only one universally accepted immoral person/people and that is Hitler and his agents which I find amusing.

    I am not saying that there isn’t any standard. I believe there is but it is unlikely that such a venue as this will get at it. There is too much emotion, too much desire to prove the other person wrong. We will reach 700+ comments and few will be moved one iota from their present position.

    Maybe the goal is to produce 700 comments. If it is, then I know how to do it. I have been around here long enough to know what generates comments and it is not science or evolution.

  427. Barry:

    I believe that I have already stated that, if one accepts your premises (which I do not), then your syllogism is indeed valid. That’s the fundamental problem with Aristotelian logic: it all depends on the validity of the premises. You have crafted yours in such a way that you can get exactly the answer you want, and then assert on the basis of that answer something that does not necessarily follow at all.

    Just what one would expect from a clever, well-trained lawyer.

    Now, if you believe at all in the value of cross-examination, would you at least attempt to answer my three little questions?

    Or not, your choice; your refusal to do so will speak as loud (if not louder) than your answers.

  428. 430

    Allen,

    You didn’t ask me, but my answers to your three questions would be yes-no-no. Forgive me for not elaborating, but there seems to be little left to say on this thread.

    I am not an xian, but I would have thought the proper xian way to answer your questions would have been as I did.

  429. 431

    Is it possible to craft a set of moral prescriptions that are not fundamentally grounded in the Christian religion? Yes.

    Are Christian morals the only valid morals? The term “Christian morals” is meaningless. Therefore the question cannot be answered.

    Must one be a Christian to be moral? No.

    Christianity is not unique in its ethical construct. All people everywhere have access to a core of morality. We have already touched on this in this thread. Indeed, C.S. Lewis used an eastern term (Tao) to describe this moral core precisely because he wanted to emphasis its universality. I don’t know why you ask these questions. I have said repeatedly that even an atheist can be moral. He just can’t ground his morality in anything other than sentiment – see Hazel’s posts for an example.

  430. tribune7:

    You have a talent for weaseling out of answering a plain and simple question. I didn’t ask “Do you need to know who Jesus is to be a Christian?” I asked “Must one be a Christian to be moral?” This is not in any way equivalent to your response. Shall I conclude that you refuse to answer question #3, or that you are incapable of understanding simple English?

  431. Thank you, Barry. Two follow-up questions:

    You have stated that “even an atheist can be moral. He just can’t ground his morality in anything other than sentiment”.

    Is morality that is grounded merely in sentiment valid?

    If your answer to this question is “yes”, can a morality that is grounded merely in sentiment be considered to be equally valid to Christian morality?

  432. —-Allen: “This is presumptive evidence that the axiom, four corollaries, one assertion, and two implications that I derived from Atom’s answers also apply equally to yours. Would you agree, and if not, why not?”

    I am not clear on your question, but I will be happy to answer it when I am.

    I provided a qualified yes on question number two, because of the reasons I stated, which obviously hold no interest for you. The term “valid” can suggest generally true or true to the very last letter. In the first case, other moralities can be valid in the sense that they reflect true morality in an imperfect way. The Ten Commandments, for example, are not as perfectly expressed as the Sermon on the Mount. So, question number two can be either a qualfied yes or a qualified no. If you want to rephrase your formulation as the only “fully developed valid morality,” Meanwhile, the “natural moral law,” which was designed to underpin US jurisprudence [and then abandoned], is perfectly valid, though not complete. In that sense, the answer to your question would be, no.

    While we are at it, by the way, where do you get your moral code. Hazel gave it her best shot, so you should step up as well.

  433. 435

    Barry sez: “I have said repeatedly that even an atheist can be moral. He just can’t ground his morality in anything other than sentiment.”

    How do you “ground” your morality, Barry? It’s based either on a set of prescriptions (which are in the inherently slippery and relative terms of language) or on conscience (equivalent to sentiment). How is that better?

  434. And one more, please:

    If a person acts exactly like a Christian who is following all of the precepts of Christian morality, but has never read the Bible or heard of Jesus, and therefore never accepted him as their personal savior, can that person be considered to be as moral as a person who has read the Bible, heard of Jesus, and accepted him as their personal savior?

  435. That should read, “If you want to rephrase your formulation as the only “fully developed valid morality,” I can give you an unqualified yes.

  436. Jerry [427]

    I agree that such “discussions” as this one are ultimately futile, but you have to admit, they can be pretty fun.

    “It is quite ironic to see atheists try to assess the rules of behavior for someone they do not think exists.”

    Just as it is an important part of ID to attempt to refute evolutionary theory, one can argue (and many indeed have) that it should be an important part of atheism to refute arguments for the existence of any god. This includes demonstrating that the attributes or behaviors that one typically associates with god are logically incoherent.

  437. stephenB wrote:

    “I am not clear on your question, but I will be happy to answer it when I am.”

    Do you agree with the following implications that follow from your answers to my three questions:

    Implication 1: Any moral precept not explicitly or implicitly covered by Christian morals is ipso-facto invalid, regardless of content.

    Implication 2: Any moral precept explicitly or implicitly covered by Christian morals is ipso-facto valid, regardless of content.

  438. “Hazel gave it her best shot, so you should step up as well.”

    No, I give a quick summary of a number of components of life that have gone into helping create my morals, principle and values. My best shot, should I ever have the time, would be much lengthier, and be aimed at a different audience than Stephen.

  439. 441

    BTW, Allan kept badgering me to answer the questions. Well, I do have a job and it is not what one would call a 9-5 type of job. I was at a hearing of one of my school board clients from 4:45 PM to 7:45 PM. I was not dodging the questions.

    Allan asks further: Is morality that is grounded merely in sentiment valid?

    I don’t know what the question means. If it means can a person act morally even if cannot ground his ethics in anything but sentiment? Of course, I have already said so many times.

  440. —-Allen: “If a person acts exactly like a Christian who is following all of the precepts of Christian morality, but has never read the Bible or heard of Jesus, and therefore never accepted him as their personal savior, can that person be considered to be as moral as a person who has read the Bible, heard of Jesus, and accepted him as their personal savior?”

    Morality is not just a function of following objective norms, it is also a function of the individual’s disposition and readiness. A person who has never read the Bible, never heard of Jesus, and who acts exactly like a Christian [ought to act] would likely be MORE moral, because they are doing more with less. It’s not just where you are but where you have come from and how many obstacles you had to over come.

  441. —-Hazel: “My best shot, should I ever have the time, would be much lengthier, and be aimed at a different audience than Stephen.”

    I probably should not have injected that comment in my response to Allen. Sorry.

  442. 444

    Allan asks: “If a person acts exactly like a Christian who is following all of the precepts of Christian morality, but has never read the Bible or heard of Jesus, and therefore never accepted him as their personal savior, can that person be considered to be as moral as a person who has read the Bible, heard of Jesus, and accepted him as their personal savior?”

    Yes. Any given atheist can behave in a way that is more moral than any given Christian. Lewis addressed this issue in depth in Mere Christianity. People act more or less moral. No one is perfect though, so everyone, even the most moral person who ever lived, needs God’s mercy, and that mercy is offered freely through Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross.

  443. stephenB asked from whence I get my morals. As usual Hazel’s answer to stephenB’s question is much more elegant and succinct that mine. Indeed, rather than present a long list (or a very brief autobiography), I would simply refer anyone interested to a link already posted in this thread:

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

    and state that I agree with almost all of the “sentiments” expressed in the quotations listed. We could go through them one by one, but that would make this thread even more absurdly lengthy than it already is.

    I would also like to add a caveat to that list. It’s one I have carried on my person ever since I first read it more than 30 years ago. It’s the statement that, perhaps more than any other, “convinced” me to become a member of the Society of Friends:

    “Dearly beloved friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all with the measure of light which is pure and holy may be guided, and so in the light walking and abiding these may be fulfilled in the Spirit, – not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

    - Given forth at a General Meeting of Friends at Balby in Yorkshire, in the ninth month, 1656

  444. Barry in #443:

    Amazingly, here at the end of this long, long thread, we once again completely agree. You’d make a terrific Quaker, Barry ;-)

  445. stephenB in #441:

    And, here at the end, I can agree with you as well.

  446. 448

    David Kellogg asks me: “How do you “ground” your morality?”

    I ground it in what C.S. Lewis called the Tao. I recognize that there are certain non-negotiable first principles that I may never violate without violating my moral code. In Latin: “Fiat justitia ruat caelum” (Let justice be done though the heavens may fall).

    Example: Suppose someone could guarantee you that you could end all sickness in the world by torturing a child to death. Would torturing the child be moral? Some people think this is a hard question. It is not. Torturing a child is never moral. It is not a matter about which a cost/benefit analysis may properly be performed.

    Of course, the next question is, “what is the Tao?”

    Do not murder.
    Do not steal.
    Do not covet.
    Do not bear false witness.
    Do not commit adultery.
    Do as you would be done by.
    Etc.

    The Tao is not hard to find.

    BTW, with respect to the slavery question two quick points:

    1. Many of the old testament regulations were not prescriptive; there were ameliorative. Think about the implications of that principle with respect to the treatment of slaves before these ameliorative principles were announced.

    2. The Bible does in fact, properly understood, prohibit slavery. The ameliorative principles were followed by this prescriptive principle: “Do as you would be done by.” As the full implications of this rule were gradually understood, it became increasingly clear that Christianity was utterly incompatible with slavery. That is why the abolition movement began in the Christian west and spread to the rest of the world, not the other way around.

  447. And so, it’s almost time to sneak off to bed with Leah and the little Dragon. Just one more thing (and I hope it doesn’t open a whole new can of Wurms):

    Based on the many and various viewpoints expressed in the comments in this thread, I have concluded that morals that are grounded in “sentiments” (such as those listed by C. S. Lewis in the link posted earlier) are better — more comprehensive, more realistic, more compassionate, and more universal – than morals based on a rigid system of formal logic.

    But that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read and taken to heart the advice given forth by the Friends at Balby…

  448. Do you agree with the following implications that follow from your answers to my three questions:

    —”Implication 1: Any moral precept not explicitly or implicitly covered by Christian morals is ipso-facto invalid, regardless of content.

    In a general sense, I would say yes, to the extent that love is the motive. In the specific sense of a definite moral directive, I would have to say no. If you are playing in the world series of poker and someone tries to bluff you out of the pot, there may be a moral response to that, but I don’t think you will find it in the Bible. Indeed, part of morality, that is, the virtue of prudence, consists of doing good according to unchanging moral principles in changeable situations where there are no moral precepts.

    —-”Implication 2: Any moral precept explicitly or implicitly covered by Christian morals is ipso-facto valid, regardless of content.”

    I can only provide the answer from a Catholic perspective. So, if I disagree with my non-Catholic bretheren on the subject of infant baptism, we can’t both be right. So, I can only answer the question yes from a Catholic perspective and not from a non-demoninational Christian perspective.

  449. 451

    Barry sez, “I ground it in what C.S. Lewis called the Tao. I recognize that there are certain non-negotiable first principles that I may never violate without violating my moral code. In Latin: “Fiat justitia ruat caelum” (Let justice be done though the heavens may fall).”

    So you have an internal moral code — a conscience — that you try to adhere to. Congratulations. Me too. You choose to believe that that’s more than “sentiment.” But that choice is arbitrary and unnecessary. Believing it’s more “grounded” that another’s may make you feel better, but it’s not even more consistent — it’s just a decision that it’s grounded rather than a reason — and it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference in how a person will act.

  450. 452

    In answer to David Kellogg at [451]

    Perhaps I should follow this up with a quick addendum lest I be misunderstood.

    A given atheist is more moral than a given Christian to the extent he follows the Tao more consistently. Then what is the advantage of the Christian perspective on morality?

    The answer lies in the fact that I believe the Tao is woven into the warp and woof of the universe by the creator God in whom we live and move and have our very being and, as I said, following the ethical rules he has woven into the fabric of his creation is always and forever mandatory no matter how much I am tempted to temporize or allow myself to say in any given case that the benefits outweigh the costs of transgression “this time.”

    To the atheist, however, the moral code must always be seen as a more or less arbitrary construct with no ontological foundation. Therefore, the temptation to temporize and engage in cost/benefit analysis is much harder to resist.

    The point of temptation is at the point of decision. Consider euthanasia. This is an easy question for me. Killing old and otherwise infirm people is wrong. Period; end of analysis. The atheist might start – indeed he must start – at the same place. He knows “though shalt not kill” is a fundamental ethical prescription. But for the atheist it is much easier to say, “well, this person has no quality in his life, so under these circumstances, ‘though shalt not kill’ can give way.” This is not to say there are no Christians in favor of killing old and infirm people. There probably are. But in the case of the Christian they hold their position in the very teeth of the morality they know God has prescribed. Not so for the atheist.

    So in the end, the problem with the atheist grounding morality in sentiment as opposed to the Christian grounding his morality on a steadfast commitment to following the precepts of the Tao lies mostly in the fact that the it is easier for the atheist to be pushed off his stand “when the rubber meets the road.”

  451. 453

    Alright then, I am no atheist, but gather round and I will tell you what I think your best argument is.

    The argument from the atheist viewpoint is that what we observe of the universe and of planet earth, is that the best and highest result is Life. Life itself is the fundamental imperative of all life forms, and supporting life forms is the best expression and fulfillment of earth’s capability as a planet, in that quite obviously things are richer and more complex with life forms than without.

    Therefore, that is moral which fosters life, not just the mere fact of not being dead, but healthy, functional, strong.

    Events like killing, concentration camps, or the inquisition are traumatic and reduce the effectiveness of people who go through them, and of course outright kills others.

    Most moral behaviors, such as not stealing from others, would render life a constant battle and emotional chaos if they were abandoned and everyone stole from everyone.

    That last might appear to be a mere practicality, but it isn’t. All the moral ideals foster abundant and healthy life. And I think we can all agree that even if life is nothing but atoms in motion, nonetheless it is the best thing this solar system has going, and its opposite is non life, which is not a good thing. Things which bring about fear and insecurity, anger, poverty, ill health, vengeance, etc. are all on the downward spiral against life.

  452. 454

    Allan, I deleted your comment about the Tao, becaue you posted it in a deliberate attempt to confuse and obfuscate. That’s not nice. Please don’t do it again.

  453. David Kellogg,

    Actually, it does make a ‘damn bit of difference’ in how a person will act – unless you’re reducing what you’re saying to ‘a person will do what they do’, which isn’t much of a statement.

    Nor is an ample defense of what ‘grounds’ a moral decision, and what that conveys, merely a ‘decision that it’s grounded’. Unless, again, any rational and consistent conclusion is just a ‘decision’.

    The fact that some people can act morally without being able to justify or ground their morals in no way implies that justification is not necessary or important, any more than the fact that someone can say true things without understanding them means that understanding is superfluous.

    At the end of the day, the argument circles around to the original post. The existence of a foundation – a grounding – is necessary intellectually for morality and morals to mean anything at all. Arguing ‘Well, people can perform morally good acts without recognizing the intellectual foundations or objectivity of morality’ as indicating such grounding isn’t needed is like citing the hard-wiring of humans to use language as a reason to not bother with native language classes in school.

  454. 456

    avocationist at [453]: sorry; no go.

    You sneak a warrantless “ought” in right at the beginning in your premises when you say “the best and highest result is Life.” Says who. Goethe and Schopenhauer would disagree. Who are you to say they are wrong.

  455. 457

    Barry sez, “Killing old and otherwise infirm people is wrong. Period; end of analysis.”

    True. But apparently sometimes it’s right to kill homosexuals (Lev 20:13), women who aren’t virgins on their wedding night (Deut 22:20-21), brats who hit their parents (Ex 21:15), and adulterers (Lev 20:10).

  456. Barry A,

    My own view on the matter is that a recognition that morality is real – that there are objective rights and wrongs, goods and bads – is of prime importance for a number of reasons. But one of those reasons is because it’s the only way to make sense of morality without denying it the moment ones’ sentiments start to be examined.

    If I simply do whatever I think is best without ever asking myself why I think it’s best, eventually the day is going to come where I ask those questions. And that’s the point where I’m either going to be a realist about morality, or a subjectivist. Now, if I become a realist, that doesn’t mean I’ll just declare all my sentiments ‘objective’ by fiat – but it does mean that I’ll take morality seriously. I’ll recognize the importance of being consistent, the importance of deliberation, and more – because I will then be admitting that morality isn’t something I’m deciding, it’s something I’m discovering.

    If I become a subjectivist, then I’m going to deny the reality of morality in its entirety. At that point on, I can no longer do ‘what I think is best’, because I will have rejected that there is a ‘best’. I won’t be able to take morality seriously, much less be consistent or try to seek out what’s truly good, because I will have decided in that moment that there is no good to seek. I’ll just do whatever feels right, and all other people can do is hope that ‘what feels right’ doesn’t harm them or others – that, or hope I change my mind about the reality of morality.

  457. Allen wrote:

    “And what, exactly, might that be?”

    Try reading, and a little reflection. I think you could figure it out if you tried. As to you repeatedly stating unequivocally, and exactly what you are, let’s see.

    You point to a blog post that says nothing about what you believe, only that you are not an atheist, but a Friend. Then you describe in detail what takes place in a meeting other than anything to do with God.

    So are you saying that you believe in God, and that Jesus his Son was crucified for your sins and resurrected? Because the only thing that tends to separate your arguments from those of a typical atheist is calling yourself a Friend. Maybe I missed your numerous comments where you have stated these things clearly.

    It seems to me that all you have done here is attempt to challenge Barry’s premises and to change the subject. This is the only way you can escape the conclusion.

    As to me being a “cheerleader” for my side, you have that part right. Perhaps you were trying to be offensive there… ;)

  458. 460

    In case Barry responds by saying that was for a special reason, I should add that killing homosexuals, non-virgin brides, kids who hit their parents, and adulterers violates my moral code. To quote your own comment, “Would [killing any of these people for these reasons] be moral? Some people think this is a hard question. It is not.”

  459. Are you saying it’s an objective truth that such killings are wrong, David? If so, welcome to the world of objective morality. If not, why bring it up? It’s not like it’s really wrong. ;)

  460. 462

    nullalas, it violates my moral code. I’d use what resources available to fight such rules.

    I mention it because if it violates Barry’s moral code, then God’s moral code in the Bible changes. If it doesn’t violate Barry’s moral code, then there is no consistent moral code among individuals, as I find those laws repugnant.

  461. 463

    That wasn’t well put. Rephrasing: They are not hard questions for me. I’m curious if they are hard for Barry: if he’s more ok with killing disobedient children than (say) allowing an old man with cancer to take his own life.

  462. David Kellogg,

    Wonderful, it violates your moral code. Which are sentiments. Which isn’t really morality – just ‘what you like and what you don’t', and (by your measure) it cannot hope to be anything more than that.

    Now, I happen to like milk chocolate better than white chocolate. When I mention this, I’m not making reference to my ‘moral code’. My moral code entails a belief in objective morality (that is, morals are real just as math is real – I can be wrong about particular morals, just as I can be wrong about particular math equations, and reason can make some headway here) from the outset.

    So I ask again: Are you saying it’s an objective truth that such killings are wrong, or not? I mean, given what you’ve said here, obviously the answer is no. But what can I say – I’d like to hear it one more time.

  463. 465

    I’ve said above [297] that the question is posed in a way that’s not meaningful to me because the notions of “truth” and “value” implicit in the premises are ones I reject.

  464. David Kellogg,

    Alright. So, you do not think that it is true that such killings are wrong. And you reject talk of value in such situations.

    Let me try another tact. Is employing deception or dishonesty in a rational discussion for the purpose of advancing your subjective desires objectively wrong? Maybe that’s a question you can answer.

  465. Allen_MacNeill– You have a talent for weaseling out

    Go back and try post 427 again.

    Mouth the words if you have to.

  466. 468

    I would say it usually violates my sense (and I would hope our shared sense) of how to conduct a reasonable discussion to employ deception and dishonesty for the purpose of advancing subjective desire. Of course, cops use deception to investigate crime; I suppose a person could use deception to advance subjective desire in some cases (hiring a private investigator to investigate a spouse in an impending divorce, say).

    But usually I’d find it wrong. For example, I find your distortion of my position wrong in the way you frame my answer in terms I have explicitly rejected. It would have been better had you said “So, you do not think that it is objectively true that such killings are objectively wrong. And you reject talk of objective value in such situations.”

  467. Allen MacNeill

    If a person acts exactly like a Christian who is following all of the precepts of Christian morality, but has never read the Bible or heard of Jesus, and therefore never accepted him as their personal savior, can that person be considered to be as moral as a person who has read the Bible, heard of Jesus, and accepted him as their personal savior?

    I would of course agree with Barry (#444) and StephenB (#442). See my comment to Hazel in #64 above.

  468. Are we going to make it to 500 comments? Would that be a record for UD?

    I must admit I do appreciate the new moderation policy and that even though this is a huge thread, the moderation has been lightly handled.. I know that’s been a point of contention, but I think it’s making this site more interesting and worth visiting. So thank you for that Barry.

  469. Also, if long threads are going to be common here, has anybody who runs this site considered adding a discussion forum? It makes dealing with long threads like this one considerably easier (and of course to manage multiple conversations too).

  470. 472

    David,

    What would convince you that objective morality were true? What sort of test or evidence would you need to see?

  471. David Kellogg,

    “But usually I’d find it wrong.”

    You’d find it wrong, the way I find white chocolate less appealing than milk chocolate. You don’t like it. You don’t mean ‘wrong’ in any objective, realist sense.

    Let me spell out the problem I’m having here: Moral relativism, to any person who is a realist about morals to any degree, carries with it some (objectively) repugnant taint. Back in 297, Barbara doesn’t so much explain herself as pre-emptively defend herself using every reasonable rhetorical trick she can muster. As well she would – she’s got little else to value other than herself and what she personally likes or dislikes. No need to worry about actual, objective rights or wrongs – they don’t exist, so there’s no need to seek them out.

    But once she’s reached that point, why even reason with her intellectually? She’s admitted to a stance on morality that makes sophistry, dishonesty, and worse available to her in conversation as well as anywhere else. Even a fellow relativist would have trouble reasoning with her.

    Now, if I was discussing something with a person who claimed to believe in objective values, but clearly did not put stock in honesty, there’d be no point in really discussing anything with them further. So what should I do if someone comes up to me and says ‘I don’t think honesty in discussion is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in any objective sense’?

  472. 474

    Clive Hayden:

    What would convince you that objective morality were true? What sort of test or evidence would you need to see?

    You’d have to show that morals never change over time and do not vary by geography, religious affiliation, etc. This is going to be somewhat problematic.

  473. David Kellogg

    <blockquote
    But apparently sometimes it’s right to kill homosexuals (Lev. 20:13), women who aren’t virgins on their wedding night (Deut. 22:20-21), brats who hit their parents (Ex. 21:15), and adulterers (Lev. 20:10).

    Assuming for argument’s sake that one could actually know beyond reasonable doubt that a command to kill all members of a particular group was indeed a command from God (and not some malevolent intelligence), it still would not follow that members of that group deserved to die. All that follows is that it would be objectively better, at this time and place, if all members of that group were to be killed, than that they be allowed to live. That is, of course, the sort of thing that only an omniscient Being with knowledge of the past, present and future, could possibly know.

    As a point of logic, saying that all members of a group should be killed does not necessarily entail that they deserve their deaths, even if they are condemned for their wicked behavior. They may in fact deserve a penalty far less than death.

    Do I think that killing homosexuals, non-virgin brides, kids who hit their parents, and adulterers is objectively wrong? Yes. These people do not deserve to die. Even if an omniscient Being were to determine that certain individuals falling into these categories should be killed here and now, it would still remain true that killing homosexuals, non-virgin brides, kids who hit their parents, and adulterers per se was objectively wrong.

    Do I think that killing all those people who happened to be homosexuals, non-virgin brides, kids who hit their parents, and adulterers in Israel c. 1200 B.C. was wrong, if God commanded it? No, but only if the people carrying out the killings actually knew that the killings were in fact commanded by God. And the mere fact that I, living in the 21st century, have great difficulty envisaging how the Israelites could have known that God (and not Satan, for instance) was indeed addressing them, does not mean that they could not have known this.

    Do I think it is possible that a nomadic, spiritually fragile and often hard-hearted people living c. 1200 B.C. in a strange land where they were surrounded by evil and at times demonic civilizations (let’s assume Satan is real for the moment), may have found it necessary to resort to brutal measures, in order to maintain law and order and prevent total social collapse? Yes, I’d say it’s certainly possible. I’ve never experienced occult or demonic influences, and I imagine they’re a lot rarer following the Crucifixion, but none of us is in a position to rule out the possibility of such malevolent influences. Wishing that something did not exist won’t make it go away. But even in this extreme situation, no mere mortal could determine for him/herself that it was right to implement such draconian laws. Only God could do that.

    Can I imagine any situation in the future when, in order to restore law and order, it might be necessary and/or justifiable to kill people who are homosexuals, non-virgin brides, kids who hit their parents, or adulterers, even following a “Mad Max” or “Terminator”-style breakdown in the entire fabric of society, worldwide? No. Since the Redemption of humanity has already been accomplished (in 33 A.D.), we will always have enough spiritual resources at our disposal to fight human wickedness without having to kill people who do not deserve to die.

    Indeed, the fact that I am a Christian makes me more certain (not less) that draconian laws mandating the killing of those who do not deserve death will never be necessary in the future than a pagan or an atheist would be.

    So there you have it. I’m not a threat to your social order, David.

    I hope that answers your questions.

  474. Sorry. That first paragraph was a quote from David.

  475. The argument in the OP is not that hard to destroy.

    The entire argument rests on the following:

    “One can’t infer an “ought” from an “is.””

    This is simply not true. You CAN infer “ought” from “is”, and we do it all the time. What you CANNOT do is call this science.

    A scientific theory cannot be used to generate an “ought”. It can only be used to generate more “is”.

    So basically, the entire argument falls to pieces, since the second premise is NOT TRUE.

    There is nothing preventing an athiest from inferring an “ought” from an “is”, as long as they don’t cann this science.

    That wasn’t so hard was it?

  476. 478

    “Assuming for argument’s sake that one could actually know beyond reasonable doubt that a command to kill all members of a particular group was indeed a command from God (and not some malevolent intelligence), it still would not follow that members of that group deserved to die. All that follows is that it would be objectively better, at this time and place, if all members of that group were to be killed, than that they be allowed to live. That is, of course, the sort of thing that only an omniscient Being with knowledge of the past, present and future, could possibly know.”

    nullasalus [473], are you on a first-name basis wtih Prof. Smith? I quoted her writing merely to point out some things that were wrong about Barry’s representation of relativism. I don’t have time to expound on relativist epistemology and moral thought at length, but I will say that your objections are (non-objectively) both wrong and predictable. In fact, “sophistry, dishonesty, and worse [are] available” to everybody, objectivist or no, as your own unfair (dishonest? I choose not to think so) representation of my stance earlier shows.

    Hilarious. The OT laws were allegedly operative for some thousands of years, during which vjtorley says it was best for non-virgin brides to be executed.

  477. David Kellogg writes:

    Hilarious. The OT laws were allegedly operative for some thousands of years, during which vjtorley says it was best for non-virgin brides to be executed.

    That’s some prodigious rationalization, isn’t it?

  478. Two quotes from vjtorley:

    God is not a utilitarian, because He knows full well that people are ends in themselves. God never treats human deaths as mere “collateral.” Therefore if God really did ordain that innocent Canaanites should be killed, then it must have been in their own best interests – in other words, God decided that they should die now, because He infallibly knew that something worse would have happened to them had they lived.

    And:

    Do I think it is possible that a nomadic, spiritually fragile and often hard-hearted people living c. 1200 B.C. in a strange land where they were surrounded by evil and at times demonic civilizations (let’s assume Satan is real for the moment), may have found it necessary to resort to brutal measures, in order to maintain law and order and prevent total social collapse? Yes, I’d say it’s certainly possible. I’ve never experienced occult or demonic influences, and I imagine they’re a lot rarer following the Crucifixion, but none of us is in a position to rule out the possibility of such malevolent influences. Wishing that something did not exist won’t make it go away. But even in this extreme situation, no mere mortal could determine for him/herself that it was right to implement such draconian laws. Only God could do that.

    Consider the implications. If vjtorley is right, then:

    1. It just so happens that God had to order the massacre of entire societies — including innocent men, women and children — to prevent Hebrew society from collapsing.

    2. It just so happens that every single innocent person and child that the Hebrews killed on God’s orders had to die in order to preserve “law and order” or prevent “social collapse.”

    3. It just so happens that if a single one of those innocents had been allowed to live, something terrible would have befallen Hebrew society. They all had to die. No exceptions.

    4. It just so happens that not only did every one of these innocent people have to die for the sake of Hebrew society; every single one of them was personally better off being killed than if they had been allowed to live. Every single one.

    5. It just so happens that these were always win-win situations: Hebrew society benefitted by being rescued from collapse, and each of the innocent people benefited from an early, bloody death.

    6. It just so happens that every single woman who had her child torn from her arms and killed in front of her benefited from this. With God dispensing this sort of “compassion”, who needs Satan?

    7. It just so happens that God couldn’t take the lives of these innocents painlessly, by supernatural means. No, it was necessary, for their sake, that they endure painful, bloody deaths. Praise be to the Old Testament God for his mercy.

    8. It also just so happens that it was necessary for the Hebrews themselves to do the killing. Every Hebrew soldier who ran his sword through the body of an innocent child was better off for having had such an experience. If God had taken the child’s life painlessly and supernaturally, then the soldier would have been deprived of this experience.

    9. It just so happens that if there are still demonic forces out there at work in the world, God may find it necessary to order us, like the Hebrews, to kill innocent children again.

    That is a mind-bogglingly improbable concatenation of just-so stories, yet vjtorley finds it to be more plausible than this:

    The Old Testament is not the word of God.

    vjtorley, there is no delicate way of putting it. You have sacrificed your intellect on the altar of the Old Testament, along with all sense of moral proportion. If there is a God, how do you suppose He regards your bibliolatry?

  479. Barry Arrington says @ 448: “David Kellogg asks me: “How do you “ground” your morality?”
    You reply, “I ground it in what C.S. Lewis called the Tao.”
    And what is the Tao?
    “Do not murder.
    Do not steal.
    Do not covet.
    Do not bear false witness.
    Do not commit adultery.
    Do as you would be done by.
    Etc.”

    Barry, if your moral code ends in “Etc.”, you don’t have an absolute moral code. But I do give you points for not pointing at the Bible and saying, “I get my morals from here.” Although I recognize that you can pick and choose a half-way decent moral code from the Bible, what you pick and choose is based on your personal opinion and nothing else. And it will never carry any more weight than your personal opinion.

    We atheists at least know that it’s up to us to figure out right from wrong AND we know that morality found in the various Holy Books is ultimately derived from men and carries no supernatural weight.

    For instance, let’s take slavery. When it comes to the Bible and slavery, when you’re talking ameliorative vs. prescriptive, you’re channeling J. P. Holding. That’s never a wise thing to do. It gets worse when you say, “The Bible does in fact, properly understood, prohibit slavery.” Number one, when you have to say, “properly understood”, you’ve already lost. You no longer have an absolute morality, you’ve got a human morality – something you have to figure out on your own. Just like us atheists. Number two, the Bible does in fact allow slavery. When Leviticus 25:44-46 says,

    44 ‘As for your male and female slaves whom you may have – you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you.
    45 ‘Then too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession.
    46 ‘You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.’

    It means that you may buy slaves from the nations around you, and you can also purchase the children of aliens living in your country and you will own them forever. And not only do you own them, you can will them to your children and they in turn can own them as slaves forever. And if you don’t believe this, go to Lev 25:1 and see who’s giving these orders: “The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them:” If you really believe God doesn’t want you to own slaves, take it up with God.

    Other sources for slaves are also listed, but they come with strings. If you buy a fellow countryman, you have to let HIM go after six years max. But according to Exodus 21:7, that doesn’t hold for women: “And if a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.”

    And of course, you have to treat your slaves with kindness, as in Exodus 21:20 “And if a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. 21 “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property. So if you should buy your neighbor’s daughter as a slave, you not only own her forever, but you can beat her to death – so long as she lives a day or two after the beating. FAMILY VALUES!!!

    And if you think owning slaves was just a Hebrew thing which doesn’t apply to Christians, go read the New Testament:

    1 CORINTHIANS 7:21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.
    Paul knows that slavery is evil, but he’s not going to defy God’s orders. (Or the Roman Empire’s.)

    EPHESIANS 6:5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;
    6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

    COLOSSIANS 3:22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerety of heart, fearing the Lord.

    1 TIMOTHY 6:1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.
    There are more verses, including the entire book of Philemon, which is a letter from Paul to Philemon, owner of a runaway slave named Onesimus, who Paul is sending back to his legal owner, as per God’s Rules.

    Have you ever wondered why the heart of the Bible Belt consists of the former Slave States? It’s because those states read their Bibles, realized that Chattel Slavery is 100 percent Biblical and Officially Approved by God, as written in His Word and their faith was strong enough for them to launch the worst war in American history to fight for God and His Word.

    Also, when speaking of how Christians led the anti-slavery movement, please remember who their opponents were: all the other Christians.

    I’ll summarize: Christians are in exactly the same boat as Atheists when it comes to morality. NOBODY has an absolute morality, nobody can show you an absolute moral code or tell you where to find one and we’re all on our own when it comes to figuring out what’s right and what’s wrong. (Actually being social animals, evolution gives us a rough-and-ready moral code, but you can’t trust it fully and you will always be responsible for your actions in the end.) But at least atheists understand what’s going on and don’t go looking to non-existent Gods and human authored holy books for the answer.

  480. Nakashima-San (and others):

    (First, pardon if I don’t get the phrasing quite right; esteemed sir.)

    A bit of a minor correction, before substantial issues are addressed: the hon BarryA, Esq., inadvertently attributed to me an argument I cited [with clarifications] from a certain Mr Hawthorne.

    Now, too, I agree with the argument as clarified [and, of course, BTW, that there is an is-ought gap unless the ought is already in the is traces to Mr Hume's original remarks].

    Indeed, I believe this key claim is unobjectionable, and is the root of the “fact-value” dichotomy so beloved of much modern discourse.

    However, I also believe that our contingent cosmos [accepted as morally certain fact] entails — logical sense — a necessary being as its causal foundation. While there are many candidates for that logically necessitated being, the most credible candidate is a person, one who is knowledgeable and powerful and moral as to inherent nature.

    Such a being, also, is not subject to the dilemma that turns on the distinction between goodness as a property or form and command as a power relationship. That is, since God is inherently good, his commands by his inherent nature will also be good [including cases where he is ameliorating evils and/or cutting off its virulent destructiveness], and the cosmos he created and sustains will reflect that morality once it has in it created beings capable of intelligent choice. For, moral government relates to such beings “made in God’s image” such as ourselves.

    And, moral government is not the same as mechanical government.

    That is, “thou shalt not X” does not imply that one such as we are is incapable of X; but just the opposite. We are being instructed not to do X, while we are in fact all too capable of doing it. (E.g. we are capable of willfully shedding innocent blood with malice aforethought; but OUGHT not to. Similarly for stealing, lying/ slander/ false witness against thy neighbour etc.)

    So, then we may re-examine the key issue, with the above in mind:

    1 –> As a matter of fact — cf how we quarrel ["yuh unfair me", in the Caribbean vernacular] — we accept that the Tao is binding, i.e we find ourselves morally obligated.

    2 –> And, by and large the tao is in part adhered to; or civilisation would collapse.

    3 –> This is one of the points in Kant’s Categorical Imperative: immoral behaviour is personally and socially destructive.

    4 –> Immoral behaviour also parasites off the fact that it is often exceptional, e.g. lying works only because most of the time we tell the truth and expect to be told the truth. (And a society in which truth telling is rare is impossible: lying if dominant would cause social collapse.)

    5 –> E.g. that “Cretans are liars” is so, only means that they will lie when they see an advantage to it, but they will usually tell and expect to be told the truth; especially among the in-group. And thus lies revealed the destructive nature of lying, etc.

    6 –> So, indeed, a general consensus on what is destructive behaviour to be sanctioned is not that hard to get to, save where interests, manipulative rhetoric and power games intervene.

    7 –> But such intervening forces are all too commonly acting, so we expect that social- cultural patterns of morality [mores and customs and laws] will USUALLY be tainted and in need of reformation.

    8 –> It is the need for reformation and justice that reveal the key: reformation usually comes from the margins, and it comes by complaint about unbearable injustice and the need to correct it that gradually gains enough force and support that the power centres cannot ignore it any more, so they are forced to compromise with it. (The dirty secret of the abusive power holder is that he can only wield what is granted him by tacit or explicit consensus and/or habit and/or fear, and what he can keep so by intimidating — or at least isolating and discrediting — forces of change. [resemblance to what is happening surrounding the ID issue is NOT coincidental.] BTW, the Japanese transformations after the 1850′s and the 1940′s show another path to reform: implications of having to deal with a [militarily] superior external power centre that has broken into the situation.)

    9 –> So, the question is in focus: how do we justify moral reform? ANS: by appeal to the binding force of ought, backed up by enough support to break the control of those who benefit from the present written or unwritten “rules.” It is not just a raw matter of “who gots the gold, the mikes and the guns makes the rules.”

    10 –> By the very nature of the case, there will never be enough gold, microphones and guns to do that, and acting like that is just the way to provoke peasant and/or proletariat uprisings that may find some middle class leadership . . . revolution. [Check out Rehoboam's blunder in 1 Kings 11:26 - 12:24, and cf. the US Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the Dutch DOI of 1581, which seems (at least to this onlooker) to be a part source of the 1776 work.]

    [ . . . ]

  481. 11 –> So, moral government based on the force of ought is real, not a matter of mere sentiment. But, at any one time, the mores and customs and law codes of a community will reflect a compromise depending on the history in question. [That fact is precisely what is being turned to play rhetorical games to object to the OT. The persistent failure of the objectors to reckon responsibly with the realities of morality in culture are indicative of the problem. VJT shows a better, more balanced way.]

    12 –> BTW, Glenn Miller’s lifeboat challenge is one that such objectors need to grapple with seriously, bearing in mind real life softened forms such as a business in trouble in a depression. (Sometimes, the lesser of evils is itself unspeakably horrible.)

    13 –> And, I think it would be highly instructive to pull a copy of Churchill’s largely autobiographical account of World War II, to see what that means when a great statesman has his back to the wall in the face of a horror such as nazism. Start with “their finest hour” which describes what it was like to ride the tiger from May 10, 1940 on, largely told through the text of the official — written! — decisions he made at the time.

    14 –> Think about his decision to hold back those last 25 squadrons of Hurricanes in the teeth of the French desperately importuning him to send them over to France. He held back on the principle that Britain was the last bastion of liberty between Hitler and the conquest of the world. (But, to the French that must have looked like the failure to put in the air-power counterweight they needed to save France — which led straight to unspeakable horrors and millions of deaths. [Recall, it was only in tactics and aerial power that Hitler's armies had an advantage. He actually had fewer and inferior tanks, and would not have been able to operate the blitz absent the Czech tanks and trucks that were captured as a result of the Munich compromise of 1938.])

    15 –> And, then, think about Churchill’s interaction with Darlan over the French fleet at the time of France’s surrender. Then think about the horror of sending the Royal Navy to bombard the French ships if they would not join the Allies or would not disable the ships otherwise. (The story of the two peasant families who having lost sons through that bombardment insisted on burying their sons with coffins draped in French and British flags, is especially telling on the contrast in attitude I am getting at.)

    16 –> So, we are back to the logic of the grounding of morality as OBLIGATION, per evolutionary materialist atheism:

    a: Physical materials and forces do not carry the force of ought.

    b: the physicalist, evolutionary materialist view a priori, adn by definition, rules out that which goes beyond such.

    c: it therefore appeals to sentiment, rhetoric and power plays to ground morality as a social force

    d: But this utterly fails to address the point that we find ourselves as a matter of fact to be obligated (beyond mere individual or collective advantage)

    e: In fact, it entails that ought is an illusion, convenient for community progress but of no more real binding force than what one cannot [per prudent estimation] likely get away with. [We call people who live like that Machiavellian -- a name that is worse than the devil's! -- for good reason.]

    f: and, if OUGHT cannot be grounded in the only IS that is permitted to the evolutionary materialist (if s/he is consistent with the view in question), then s/he has no ought grounded within the resources of that view.

    g: so, s/he is locked up to sensibilities and tastes or preferences or “who got the more gold, mikes and guns,” to address manifest evils such as nazism or apartheid.

    h: S/he has lost the binding force of ought. That is, all is permitted — there is only IS. (Thus, as de Sade said, nature has made us the men stronger than the women so we may then freely do as we please with her. [Think about what we are now doing to unborn inconvenient children and the disabled.])

    i: But, we know that something is desperately wrong here; for, by common consent, we are in fact obligated.

    j: There has to be an is out there that makes OUGHT possible.

    k: The best candidate: God.

    16 –> So, an evolutionary materialist, like the rest of us, is inescapably moral [look a the morally tinged outrage that so peppers the above] but plainly has no adequate grounds for that in his or her worldview.

    17 –> S/he may abandon his or her morality (not practically possible but one may argue like that) or may appeal to the de facto existence of morality and its general benefits (so being inconsistent but decent), or may decide that something is deeply wrong with the worldview.

    18 –> If your reductio has reached absurdum . . .

    GEM of TKI

  482. nullasalus wrote:

    As I said, my response to you is that not every misunderstanding or misinterpretation is on the part of the writer – the reader can be at fault. What’s more, particularly within Christianity, it’s not assumed that humans (even good people) are going to be perfectly sincere, perfectly diligent, etc.

    nullasalus,

    You’re still missing the point.

    There are three logical possibilities:

    1. The Old Testament, as a message to modern readers, is the best that God can do.

    2. God — who has perfect knowledge of how best to get his message across to imperfect readers — could do better, but He chose not to.

    3. The Old Testament isn’t God’s word.

    Assuming that you reject #1 as implausible, as I do, that leaves two possibilities.

    You would, no doubt, reject #3.

    That leaves #2:

    God could do better, but He chose not to.

    Why do you suppose that God is content with the Old Testament as it is, when so many sincere readers (Christians among them) are convinced that it cannot be the word of God, and when even Christians who accept it as the word of God find it deeply troubling and challenging to their faith?

    Why doesn’t this motivate God to do better?

    And why not consider the obvious possibility that it’s because the Old Testament is not His word?

  483. PS: It is — sadly — no surprise to see that those whose view locks them up to morality = rhetoric plus might makes right, to seek to overthrow morality rhetorically through strawman-tinged dismissals, instead of seriously addressing the realities of morality and reform in culture across time.

  484. at 454, Barry wrote,

    Allan, I deleted your comment about the Tao, becaue you posted it in a deliberate attempt to confuse and obfuscate. That’s not nice. Please don’t do it again.

    This has me curious, especially since I’m intrigued by CS Lewis’s use of the word Tao (which I wrote about on the Shermer thread) in a Christian context. Perhaps you would be wiling to email me what you wrote at [email protected]?

  485. Hazel:

    I suggest it is wiser to point elsewhere or at least not use the AT character.

    GEM of TKI

  486. Why? Spam concerns?

  487. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to point out what Ayn Rand pointed out years ago: While it is certainly true that you cannot get an “ought” from an “is,” you most certainly can get an “ought” from an “if.”

    For instance, *if* you want to avoid catching AIDS, you *ought* to desist from using a used needle to inject drugs.

  488. theface,

    You have a couple things wrong.

    It is not essential for ID to undermine evolution. ID is trying to get it right. ID would have no problem if Darwinian macro evolution was correct. I personally and several others who support ID once thought it did and if there were good proof would change my mind back. Allen MacNeill a frequent proponent of the atheist side on this thread has said that Darwin is dead as a theory in evolution.

    If you think this is enjoyable, then I feel for you. I over estimated the level of discussion by called it sophomoric. It is actually juvenile or that maybe that’s too high a level. If you enjoy it, to each his own.

    Have fun.

  489. Hazel:

    Yes — both spam and ID theft concerns; including mailbox hijacking.

    GEM of TKI

  490. 492

    On the question of whether or not one must be a Christian to be moral:

    If each one of us is moral or not moral, if it’s black and white, then the answer is easy. None of us are moral. The end.

    But as obvious as it sounds, it’s not a judgment any of us get to apply to ourselves or anyone else. I can try my hardest to do what’s right, but if I call myself “moral” as a result it means nothing.

    But it’s not black and white. Paul wrote that people who know nothing of God’s laws demonstrate what the conscience is by doing what’s right even though they have no law to guide them. Some people don’t need a moral code to be kind to others and not kill them.

    The Bible tells us right from wrong so we can apply it or choose not to. It does not appoint us as judges of those who choose not to.

    It was mentioned that Christian nations have done more wrong than non-Christian nations. If they haven’t acted according to Christian standards, do they qualify to be called “Christian” nations? When there was an Israelite nation, God wrote the laws, instituted the government, and judged. Where in the world is the Christian equivalent?

  491. Allen –if a person acts exactly like a Christian who is following all of the precepts of Christian morality, but has never read the Bible or heard of Jesus, and therefore never accepted him as their personal savior, can that person be considered to be as moral as a person who has read the Bible, heard of Jesus, and accepted him as their personal savior?

    Maybe much more so.

    Based on the many and various viewpoints expressed in the comments in this thread, I have concluded that morals that are grounded in “sentiments” (such as those listed by C. S. Lewis in the link posted earlier) are better — more comprehensive, more realistic, more compassionate, and more universal – than morals based on a rigid system of formal logic.

    IOW, don’t be a Pharisee :-)

    and so in the light walking and abiding these may be fulfilled in the Spirit, – not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

    And I wonder where they got that from :-)

  492. second Corinthians

  493. Good Morning Everyone. Glad to see that everyone is alive and kicking.

    I dropped my 2 cents in way back at #277 and continue to follow with baited breath.

    It is interesting to see that all the arguments seem to have a basic premise that there is an objective moral code that even God should be following. The question, related to the question of the original thread, is “Where does that code come from?” It seems to me there are two answers. It comes from humans or it comes from someone higher than humans.

    If it comes from humans there appear to be two possibilities.
    1 – All humans are equal so all human ideas are equal; or
    2 – Some humans are more equal and therefore they should set the rules.

    If it comes from someone higher than us then it is our task to obey.

    That is where the Christian understanding is so important. Only in Christianity do we know for sure that God is not only good, but Goodness itself. The Trinity tells us that God is a relationship bound together by pure Love. We can trust what he has done and tells us even when we do not understand.

    Gesualdo

  494. 496

    Kairosfocus [480 & 481] – your analysis breaks down horribly at #1 and #16 when the notion of “obligation” get arbitrarily and uncritically tossed in.

    I would suggest that there is in fact no such obligation. It is a mental construct, an illusion, and strictly speaking unnecessary.

  495. A Footnote:

    Above, there ewas a challenge on the biblical Judaeo-Christian view of the OT.

    A few notes on where those of us who hold to a high view of the OT are coming from, starting with:

    2TI 3:1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them . . . .

    14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

    1 –> As millions across 20 centuries and in the world today testify, the OT and NT deliver on precisely this promise — we personally meet God and find reconciliation with him in the face of Christ as guided by the scriptures, and find all that through them we obtain we need for life and godliness, in the company of the saints. [This is independent of any scientific or historical or whatever issue -- we meet and know God as we know our mothers. God is self-authenticating and per real life experience, trustworthy.]

    2 –> In particular, as anchored through the 700 BC prophecy in Is 52 – 53, and as fulfilled in the Gospels, Acts and summed up in 1 Cor 15:1 – 11, we have in the face of Christ him who was incarnated as suffering servant, Saviour and redeemer, dead, and risen with 500+ eyewitnesses and supernatural, liberating, forgiving, cleansing, healing, life transforming power to this day. [And yes I personally have experienced this, as well as observed and known people who have been healed through prayer int he name of Jesus. Otherwise I would not have back or breath enough to sit up to type this.]

    3 –> A strong characteristic of that power we personally know is its purity, especially moral purity: the pull is from sin to the right, individually, in church and community, in civilisation. And a lot of history backs it up.

    4 –> Now, that history outlines that moral reform is pretty much as I have outlined, and it also tells us that we are often in situations where the best we can do, once we respect the power of choice that makes us humans capable of virtue, is the lesser of evils. (If you want a world in which love is possible, you have one in which rejection, hatred and indifference are also possible. I need not elaborate beyond noting that love is the root of all virtues.)

    5 –> Now, that same Jesus stood foursquare in the OT, Hebraic prophetic tradition, saying that he was the forerunner of the age of the Spirit in which the law’s righteousness would be inscribed not so much in stone as in hearts, transforming life and community.

    6 –> So, given the fulfilled prophecies and seeing the glittering principles [the golden rule is from Moshe [cf Lev 19:15 - 18 . . . observe the little bit on slander], Jesus only said that the law and the prophets hang on the double command to love God and to love man who is of course made in God’s image] we accept the general validity of the scriptures he fulfilled and respected as his context.

    7 –> Thus, we see a foundation to morality in genral, and keystone principles that are articulated into personal and community ethics, including for government with liberty and justice; tempered by mercy and forgiveness.

    8 –> Of course those OT scriptures have difficulties. that is to be expected of any worldview with enough of a history to have to deal with the real world of having to compromise between the ideal and the real, with real and imperfect people wielding power.

    9 –> Do we let such difficulties, painful as they may be overturn our general confidence, especially in pursuit of a worldview that seems to unavoidably undercut the foundation of OUGHT that is the premise of all morality? Of course not.

    10 –> So, what do we do then? We understand the “I hate divorce” principle and the hardness of hearts principle.

    11 –> For, that which regulates and ameliorates that which we do from the hardness of our hearts and resulting balance of power and force of custom in our cultures at any given moment, compounded by lesser of evils that we face, is not grounds for rejecting that which is rooted in what is credibly true, and softens hearts while easing the worst of the evils of our time, preparing for a better day.

    12 –> It is the failure to grasp that with some measure of responsible understanding that is to my mind the most telling refutation of the “God is a moral monster” points-scoring rhetorical approach that has so often been raised in this thread. For, there is at stake a lot more than debate points.

    GEM of TKI

  496. In #454 Barry wrote:

    “Allan, I deleted your comment about the Tao, becaue you posted it in a deliberate attempt to confuse and obfuscate. That’s not nice. Please don’t do it again.”

    Several people have emailed me privately to find out just exactly what it was that I posted that Barry found so objectionable. I will not repost it here, as he will undoubtedly remove it again and ban me. However, while it is still possible to make comments here, I can tell you what they were and how to find them.

    The first was simply a direct quotation of the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching, as translated in 1972 by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English (you can find it easily by googling the title and the translators’ names), and the second was a commentary on this by a later poet and scholar.

    The Tao is, of course, the name that C. S. Lewis chose to call the “perennial philosophy”, and he called it that for very good reasons. Indeed, there are several direct quotations from the original Tao Te Ching in Lewis’ list, linked in comment #445. Follow the link and see for yourselves.

    One of the core teachings of the Tao (and Zen Buddhism and the traditions of the Society of Friends) is that any statement of right and wrong by humans is not the whole of the law. However, this idea makes people who are unshakably committed to a particular doctrine very uneasy.

    On the basis of the fact that Barry censored a direct quotation from the very document that C. S. Lewis chose as the name for his compendium of the “perennial philosophy”, it appears to me that Barry is a person who is threatened to his core by any suggestion that his particular doctrines are not absolute. I can therefore see why he deleted the direct references to the Tao and warned me that if I were to refer to it again, I would suffer the consequences. Despite his own statements to the contrary, he apparently finds the sentiments expressed in the actual Tao to be sufficiently threatening that they must be censored. Very telling, in my opinion.

    And, despite the fact that I have not actually reposted the quotations that C. S. Lewis used as the title for his list of the “perennial philosophy”, I suspect that this comment, too, will be swiftly censored, and I will be subsequently banned from this forum. Those who read this comment before it has been removed can make of this what you will.

    “By their acts shall ye know them”

  497. Mr Kairofocus,

    Thank you for correcting me about the source of the argument. Do you have a link to Mr Hawthorne’s text?

    We would have to revive the “Shermer” thread if we wanted to discuss your first assumption, that the universe needs and has cause outside of itself. Absent a desire to do that, I will simply note politely that this is an important assumption.

    I’m not very interested in most of the arguments on this thread that go into specifics of the Bible. Whether or not the Midianites were a threat to the invading Israelite nation that warranted ethnic cleansing, there are other places in the Bible text where the morality of God is touched upon. The Book of Job for example. Everything that has been said here to defend God’s commands against the Midianites has already been said by Job’s smarmy friends. “… must have done something to deserve it.” “… better off this way.”
    At the end of Job, there is this Lovecraftian moment when God shows Job that He is not moral. Morals are for mortals. Morality is not grounded in ‘imatio dei’, at least not for believers in the God of the Bible.
    Instead, it seems to be grounded in divine coercion. God dispenses legal codes, not moral codes. Your bringing up the experience of Japan is quite apt. Japanese culture did not include a prohibition on prostitution until its occupation by America. Also, suicide has an acceptance I have not seen in other cultures.
    But we seem to have wandered into a culturally relativistic morality. Your examples of Churchill, are they of a leader making immoral but necessary choices, or choices whose very necessity gave them moral force? I can’t tell.

  498. 500

    Alan [496], I don’t understand it either. Why is your quotation from the Tao more confusing that Lewis’s appropriation of the term in the first place?

  499. Tao Te Ching

    It reads a bit like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

  500. Larry:

    In your post you seem to think that we have an obligation to offer claims that are well grounded, not merely persuasive.

    Why is that?

    Then you go on to make precisely my point:

    I would suggest that there is in fact no such obligation. It is a mental construct, an illusion, and strictly speaking unnecessary.

    Cf my:

    >>1 –> As a matter of fact — cf how we quarrel ["yuh unfair me", in the Caribbean vernacular] — we accept that the Tao is binding, i.e we find ourselves morally obligated.

    16 –> So, an evolutionary materialist, like the rest of us, is inescapably moral [look a the morally tinged outrage that so peppers the above] but plainly has no adequate grounds for that in his or her worldview.>>

    Or, maybe you prefer my discussion here [not to mention Mr Hawthorne's point from the original post].

    Citing the latter again:

    _________________

    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’.
    ____________________

    You have made my point for me: evolutionary materialism undercuts the basis for morality and so is amoral. Mr Hawthorne aptly shows where that ends up.

    If a system of morals cannot ground the recognition of Nazism as evil, it is plainly absurd.

    Thank you.

    GEM of TKI

  501. Here it is from the pen of C. S. Lewis himself:

    “The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar. ‘In ritual’, say the Analects, ‘it is harmony with Nature that is prized.’ The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being ‘true’.” [Emphasis added]

    - C. S. Lewis, “Men Without Chests” (chapter 1 of The Abolition of Man)

  502. Barry Arrington:

    I have been trying to follow this discussion, but given it’s length, I might very well have missed any discussion regarding what I am about to write.
    Barry wrote:

    #444: No one is perfect though, so everyone, even the most moral person who ever lived, needs God’s mercy, and that mercy is offered freely through Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross.

    #452: To the atheist, however, the moral code must always be seen as a more or less arbitrary construct with no ontological foundation.

    On the “Materialist Concede that Holocaust was Permitted if Materialism is True” thread Barry wrote:

    They must concede that their premises lead to the conclusion that the Holocaust was not prohibited by any moral principle of which we can be certain.

    As can be seen from the first quote, I think it’s safe to say that Barry thinks that his morals are derived from the biblical God. My question is, then, how can you be certain that any existing objective moral principles are derived from this god? There are, after all, an infinite set of potential gods having an infinite set of moral principles. The probability that you have chosen to obey the TRUE set of moral principles is, in other words, infinitely small, is it not? Isn’t your choice of god (and hence moral principles) entirely arbitrary (and based purely on sentiments)?

  503. And again:

    “And what is good, Phædrus,
    And what is not good…
    Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

    If the good is immanent in all things, and all we need to find it is to search all the way to the root of all things, then do we really need someone else to tell us what they are? Yes, telling us how they looked for it, and where, and what the search was like can be very useful, but in the end every one of us must make that search for ourselves.

    Indeed, relying on someone else to tell us what is at the end of the search, rather than doing the difficult work of finding it for ourselves, is the beginning of evil.

    And, as a good friend once said, it is always good to avoid the beginnings of evil.

  504. 506

    mauka @479:
    I’m afraid that by trying to explain why God would annihilate a given nation, and why by the sword, we only dig a deeper hole. If I could tell you or anyone else why or how it would be okay to kill a few thousand people, then it follows that I should be able to pick off a few here and there myself, since I know what I’m doing.

    There are two possibilities:
    A) God was wrong to kill the Midianites, or do so as he did. His act was therefore evil, as anyone can see.
    B) God was right to do as he did. If we don’t understand it, it is because of our own limitations.

    It’s not possible to decide between A and B by examining the morality of the act, since B includes our inability to do so.

    That means that it’s pointless to debate the killing of the Midianites, or any other such event or law. What matters are the underlying principles – is are a God, and if so, is he good, evil, or indifferent? Is he all-knowing, all-powerful, or not? Does he care about us?

    We’d like to think that our answers those questions and how act on them are logical responses to the available evidence. But they aren’t. They are choices.

    And it’s difficult to make an informed choice by starting with a list of the most perplexing accounts and laws in the Bible.

  505. Allen, what is it that you are saying about the Tao? Are you saying that it is the “natural moral law” as C.S. Lewis understood it?

  506. In 502 Hoki wrote:

    “Isn’t your choice of god (and hence moral principles) entirely arbitrary (and based purely on sentiments)?”

    Having just reread “Men Without Chests”, it seems to me that Lewis is saying precisely this: that it is sentiment and not logic that points the way to the Tao:

    “The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.[Emphasis added]
    - C. S. Lewis, “Men Without Chests, chapter 1 of The Abolition of Man

  507. stephenB asks what it is I am trying to say about the Tao. I am simply agreeing with what C. S. Lewis wrote about it in The Abolition of Man, and pointed out in the appendix, which can be read here:

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

    Do you think I am trying to obfuscate or say something entirely the opposite of what it says there? If so, you are entirely mistaken.

    And, FWIT, it is interesing to note that the majority of the quotes that Lewis includes in his compendium of the Tao are taken from atheists and pagans. Ergo, it is plainly not the case that one must be a Christian (or even a theist) to find the Tao.

  508. Scottandrews 332:

    ABSOLUTELY – I’ve said the the same earlier and as is true of folks trying to “interpret” or understand the Bible Naturally (you would know what I mean) they will only be receiving to “wrong” side of the sword and this applies to many who think they are christians as well – foolish “virgins” Tares etc. I would admonish EVERYONE here to 1. get their hermeneutic correct 2. get serious about comparing scripture with scripture. 3 SEE the complete Harmony and 4. In true humility -WONDER AT IT (WORD IN FLESH) ALL! “To whom is the arm of the Lord Revealed?”

    PAY ATTENTION and if you have the WANT start with learning what a parable is and that the entire scripture Bible is a parable only to be understood in Light given to the “WANTER” Your natural mind CAN NOT understand or even want to understand.

  509. Nakashima-San:

    The issue of the grounds for our contingent universe is indeed a key issue. A contingent being necessitates that which is not contingent as its causal basis. that which begins to exist has a cause, in short. And the cause of the cosmos is plainly something beyond it, something which had no beginning as such, nor can it go out from existence.

    As to the end of Job, what ch 38 is about is the limits of human understanding, not he idea that the God of the Bible is beyond morality:

    >>JOB 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:

    JOB 38:2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel
    with words without knowledge?

    JOB 38:3 Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

    JOB 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.

    JOB 38:5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    JOB 38:6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone–

    JOB 38:7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy? . . . .

    JOB 38:12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,

    JOB 38:13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?

    JOB 38:14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.

    JOB 38:15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken . . . >>

    In short, though the details are beyond human ken, the Creator is also the judge who breaks the arm of the wicked in his good time.

    The example of Churchill is the example of a great and highly moral statesman confronting evil as existential threat and having to make choices and undertaking actions as a result that we all wish we will never have to make. With the survival of a civilisation at stake, in the teeth of the veritable demons of hell themselves en-fleshed in the most blatantly demonic statesman of modern times.

    My point is that what he did was to wage ruthless war on a level we have not seen in history before, but in a context where the alternatives were worse, far, far worse. And so, the lesser of evils, though an evil was a relative good; one that I trust we never have to have on our consciences.

    But also, I want to hear from those so eager to make rhetorical points, that they have grappled with that sort of situation; seriously done so. [Had they done so, I doubt that the sort of argument that so glibly falls from their typing fingers would be raised.]

    (For me, I will never forget the day when I went with a team into the mouth of an active volcano, knowing that the best qualified among us to fully estimate the danger refused to go further in beyond a certain point, but knowing that our island desperately needed the data. So, I took my own life and that of those with me in hand and went in closer and closer, to get fresh air fall ash samples. We were lucky, but had circumstances been more like St Vincent, 1979, it ever so easily could have been different. Was I wrong to expose the lives of those with me? Or would I have been wrong to fail to get the key data? And, what if I had been a subaltern on the Somme, in July 1916, with a platoon looking to me for leadership? Or,the general in charge?)

    Okay, thanks

    GEM of TKI

  510. p.s. I’ve found this thread quite interesting and revealing – someone might want to turn it into a book even though its already been written in terms of the arguments>

  511. to be specific, stephenB asks:

    “Are you saying that it is the “natural moral law” as C.S. Lewis understood it?”

    Yes, and that by describing it in the way he did, he was pointing out the same characteristic of the “natural law” that lies at the heart of the Tao, at the heart of Zen, and at the heart of Friend’s beliefs:

    “A special transmission outside the scriptures
    No dependence upon words and letters
    Direct pointing at the Tao
    Perceiving one’s own nature and attaining enlightenment”

    - Nansen Fu-Gwan
    The Way of Zen

  512. p.p. s. I copied this to Word and got 420 pages!

  513. Several commentators have asked what it is that I believe in, and have insinuated that stating plainly and simply that I am a member of the Society of Friends and a practicing Zen Busshist is not enough. I could say that they apparently do not have access to google to find out what it is that people with such associations accept as valid. Furthermore, it would take more space and words than this entire thread to comprehensively state what I believe (although if we could take a long walk along the trails at Sapsucker Woods I could do it much more quickly, and without many words at all).

    Lacking both the time and space to do that, here is yet another quotation that I have carried on my person for at least the last 30 years:

    People in whom the Tao
    Acts without impediment
    Harm no other beings
    By their actions
    Yet they do not know themselves
    To be “kind”, to be “gentle”

    People in whom the Tao
    Acts without impediment
    Do not worry about their own interests
    And do not despise
    Others who do
    They do not struggle to make money
    And do not make a virtue of poverty

    They go their own way
    Without relying on others
    And do not pride themselves
    On walking alone
    While they do not follow the crowd
    They don’t complain of those who do

    Rank and reward
    Make no appeal to them
    Disgrace and shame
    Do not deter them
    They are not always looking
    For “right” and “wrong”
    Always deciding “Yes” and “No”

    The ancients said, therefore:

    People of the Tao
    Remain unknown
    Perfect virtue
    Produces nothing

    “No-self”
    Is “True-self”
    And the greatest person
    Is nobody

    - Chuang Tzu
    Translated by Thomas Merton

  514. 516

    alan @508: Nothing personal, but I don’t think we’re saying the same thing.

  515. Sorry, “Busshist” should be “Buddhist”. My ring finger temporarily pre-empted the middle finger on my left hand.

    Don’t you hate it when that happens?

  516. Allen #511 – I’m not sure if you believe this and I can only hope you don’t, but if you do you have more faith (belief in an unknown) than I. Its an easy sell though to the natural man “seeking” “enlightenment”. The way of zen vs. I AM the Way etc.

  517. ScottAndrews wrote:

    There are two possibilities:

    A) God was wrong to kill the Midianites, or do so as he did. His act was therefore evil, as anyone can see.
    B) God was right to do as he did. If we don’t understand it, it is because of our own limitations.

    You’ve missed the other possibility, which is that

    C) God (if he exists at all) didn’t order the killing of the Midianites. The Old Testament is incorrect.

    As many in this thread have pointed out, it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves whether we think a particular act is moral or immoral. Likewise, it is up to each of us to decide whether we think a particular book plausibly is or is not the word of God.

    You have to consider the three possibilities and decide which of them best fits the facts.

    To me, it is obvious that C is the best explanation.

    In order to think that B is the best explanation, you would have to believe that every instance of cruelty, unfairness, barbarity, vengefulness, etc. on God’s part in the Old Testament is only apparent, and furthermore you would have to believe that God couldn’t even be bothered to explain to people how he was doing these apparently evil things for the best of reasons.

    Any of us in that position would be smart enough to realize that we should explain ourselves, lest we give the wrong impression. Do you really think that an omniscient God would be too stupid to realize that?

  518. Allen: I did not receive your #513 before my 516

    Scott per #332 – Hell is the grave and is total and final destruction and not eternal suffering which as you pointed out is contrary to the Character of God and unbiblical – right? Point out our difference on this if you will – thanks.
    also – the lake of fire = the 2nd death – burns up = destroys hell – the grave – death forever = total END.

  519. KF: “8 –> Of course those OT scriptures have difficulties. that is to be expected of any worldview with enough of a history to have to deal with the real world of having to compromise between the ideal and the real, with real and imperfect people wielding power.”

    But why KF? You keep saying this is expected with “worldviews”. But we’re not talking about a “worldview” here. Aren’t we in fact talking about the revealed Word of God. I don’t know what flavor of Christian you are, but I’m guessing many people here will view it as such.

    Maukas a very good point in 482. Perhaps we have a new trilemma on our hands:

    1. The Old Testament, as a message to modern readers, is the best that God can do.

    2. God — who has perfect knowledge of how best to get his message across to imperfect readers — could do better, but He chose not to.

    3. The Old Testament isn’t God’s word.

    I’ve yet to see you properly address this point either in this thread in the others – why is God’s word so imperfect and thus a source of considerable confusion and obfuscation? (since as Mauka explains #2 is really the only valid choice).

    How can this be with an omnipotent God who created 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars but apparently is so careless as to not proof His own word?

  520. 522

    Hoki writes: “There are, after all, an infinite set of potential gods having an infinite set of moral principles. The probability that you have chosen to obey the TRUE set of moral principles is, in other words, infinitely small, is it not? Isn’t your choice of god (and hence moral principles) entirely arbitrary (and based purely on sentiments)?”

    If you start with materialist assumptions, you get materialist conclusions.

    Your materialist assumption is that the moral code is arbitrary, just one of many codes that could exist. If you start with that premise, then your conclusion is valid, which, of course, validates the original post.

    But start with a different premise and see what conclusions you reach. Assume that the Tao is not merely one moral code among many possible codes, but that it in fact exists and is objectively true. Then your comment would be something akin to saying “You say two plus two equals four, but there are an infinite number of numbers that two plus two could equal, so isn’t the probability that you have chosen the correct number as your sum infinitely small?

  521. ScottAndrews wrote:

    What matters are the underlying principles – is are a God, and if so, is he good, evil, or indifferent? Is he all-knowing, all-powerful, or not? Does he care about us?

    If we want true answers to those questions, the last thing we should do is to throw out the evidence that doesn’t match our preconceptions. Yet that is precisely what you advocate:

    And it’s difficult to make an informed choice by starting with a list of the most perplexing accounts and laws in the Bible.

  522. mauka 517 – scott will answer for himself, but I will say – yes – God gives grace to the humble, but rejects the proud. He will harden your heart and deceive you with parables that reveal your attitude. “divides the thoughts and intent of the heart” (Heb.4:12 – and again Is. 53:1)
    YOU say God doesn’t “explain” and I thought that 35 years ago as well. To the natural man even the idea of having to be SAVED is both abhorrent and foolish, but to the Spiritual it is Rivers of Living Water. This is the divide and part of understanding what actually is the purpose of this present creation and why many have this crazy idea of Design in the first place.

  523. 525

    mauka:

    Any of us in that position would be smart enough to realize that we should explain ourselves, lest we give the wrong impression. Do you really think that an omniscient God would be too stupid to realize that?

    I need to stop beating this horse, but I’m weak and I can’t help it.

    (Yes, I left out C, only because if it’s true then there’s nothing to discuss.)

    In other words, if God were omniscient, then he would have been as smart as you or I, and would have acted accordingly.

    Here’s a good reason for God not to explain himself: Those who, based on the evidence at hand, choose to trust in him, will believe that he acted justly. Maybe one day there will be a better understanding.

    Meanwhile, those whose preference is to disbelieve God or prefer their own judgment have ample reason to do so.

    You see, there are possibilities at right angles to those you have already considered.

    Anyone can believe anything if you hit them over the head with enough evidence. Among other things, the Bible is deliberately constructed to reveal what we want. Believe it or not.

    That’s not the same angle from which you or I might approach the same problem. It’s a whole lot smarter.

  524. HI Allen MacNeill,
    Glad to see you’ve survived the first hundred comments.
    Re: Abolition of Man/Men Without Chests:
    Whatever it is you wish you could say about it don’t ignore the point Lewis was making; that the Tao, to which he refers, is a common if not universal recognition of objective value.
    Whatever you want to say about Lewis and emotion recall for your readers that he is saying that the good objectively and rationally warrants our positive emotional response. He states:

    And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason(when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due cannot feel it).
    No emotion is in itself a judgment; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as the conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can and should obey it.

    my emphasis.

    So contra your statement above, it seems Lewis was not exactly agreeing with your assessment:

    Having just reread “Men Without Chests”, it seems to me that Lewis is saying precisely this: that it is sentiment and not logic that points the way to the Ta

    It is not emotion alone, without logic that points the way, but proper emotion properly trained by Reason.

    In those essays and lectures, in which Lewis was pointing out the universal recognition that the transcendent objectivity of value exists beyond nature, do you think he was claiming that they could be properly grounded without God?
    That we all recognize oughts is well-known and stated from the beginning.
    Lewis was taking it that step further against new and alternative moralities, and as would be against today’s forum full of relativists, in saying that not only do we recognize the oughts, but we recognize also that they must be objectively true.

    He in no way says that they can be objectively true without God.

    Your quote and claim does not really represent Lewis well. Is this, do you think, what Barry sought to avoid by censoring you?

    On the subject of your quotes and representations, at comment #30 you made a claim about Augustine and hell. Could you give us a citation for that claim? I’ve read Confessions but don’t recall him saying this.
    I do know that many an atheist likes to put this claim (quoth MacNeill:one of the eternal pleasures that await those in Heaven is the ability to view for eternity and in exquisite detail the unending tortures of the damned in Hell) in Aquinas’ mouth, but, of course, we don’t actually find it there.

    I

  525. 527

    We have exhausted this thread and I am closing it down now.

    To our atheist friends, I extend my hearty thanks for your participation. Preaching to the choir is boring, so I very much appreciate commenters like Allan MacNeill, who write in good will from a different viewpoint. You make us work, and that is good. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

    To my allies, thank you so much for your assistance. I do have a day job, and I take more time away from it to write on this blog than perhaps is wise. Because I have a day job, I sometimes drop out of site for days or even weeks at a time, so I am grateful for folks like Tribune7, karifocus, StephenB and others who carry the ball with seemingly inexhaustible wisdom and grace in my absence.

    To the lurkers, this blog is for you. Sometimes people ask me why I debate my opponents on this blog. No one ever seems to change their mind. That question misses the point. I am very pleased that we have thousands of visitors each day, the vast majority of whom never post a comment. You are our audience, the ones each side hopes to persuade. I hope you have not been disappointed and that you have come to a greater understanding of the truth through this debate. For as it has been said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

  526. 528

    mauka:

    If we want true answers to those questions, the last thing we should do is to throw out the evidence that doesn’t match our preconceptions. Yet that is precisely what you advocate.

    Come visit this country you’ve never heard of – it’s called the United States. It’s wonderful.
    We stored some toxic waste here and here. We murdered the indigenous population and imported a bunch of slaves. Eight years ago some huge buildings fell down and lots of people died.
    Ready to visit?
    I’m not saying to disregard the negative. I’m saying that if it’s the only thing put in front of you, someone must really want to push a biased viewpoint on you. The intention is that given the bad first, you’ll never move past it. Maybe you wouldn’t judge the man cutting open that helpless person with a knife if you knew he was a surgeon.

  527. Barry: “We have exhausted this thread and I am closing it down now.

    To our atheist friends, I extend my hearty thanks for your participation.”

    It was fun. I hope you consider my suggestion of adding a forum to this web site, if that is technically feasible. If long threads like this are going to be allowed in the future, it would be a much better vehicle of that kind of discussion.

  528. I am fascinated by the fact that CS Lewis incorporated the Chinese idea of the Tao into his thought, and I think the material being posted here (and the part that was deleted as being a “deliberate attempt to confuse and obfuscate”) is extremely pertinent to this discussion.

    When StephenB asked Allen, “Are you saying that it [the Tao] is the “natural moral law” as C.S. Lewis understood it?”, Allen replied, fittingly,

    Yes, and that by describing it in the way he did, he was pointing out the same characteristic of the “natural law” that lies at the heart of the Tao, at the heart of Zen, and at the heart of Friend’s beliefs.

    The key word here is the one that appears above three times, and is referenced in the title of the CS Lewis chapter: heart. Human beings apprehend not only moral concepts but also the larger issue of “God” through what we metaphorically refer to as the “heart”, not just the mind, and especially not through brute intellect. We marshall the depths of our overall being when we approach the Tao (or God, or whatever you want to call it): marshaling just the intellect is not just insufficient, it is actually counter-productive. Every attempt to reduce the Tao to specific religious dogma, including Christian theology, or absolutes, such as the “objective moral truths” that have been the subject of this and other threads, is bound to be incomplete.

    Naming things, and manipulating those names with our intellect, is a powerful tool that is central to our humanity and to our ability to understand the world. But naming things is also misleading, especially when we name things that we can’t actually apprehend and then come to believe those names represent separate things. One needs to approach the Tao with wholeness, and with respect for the Tao’s wholeness, not with the intellect only, and not with a false belief that the concepts of the intellect actually represent parts of the Tao: the Tao has no parts.
    A relevant quote:

    The Way of Liberation [the Tao] is not limited
    The Way of Liberation has no boundaries
    Everyone and everything everywhere
    Resonate within it endlessly

    The Way of Liberation cannot be named
    The Way of Liberation cannot even be described
    It is always eternally ever-present
    But it cannot be taken by deception or force

    The only entrance to the Way of Liberation
    Is through That Which Is
    Surrender to That Which Is
    And you shall be set free!

    The logical arguments that started this thread – the an atheist is obligated to believe, and act upon, that all is permissible, and that an atheist has no logical rationale for having any morals – is an attempt to take the Tao “by deception or force.” It’s an attempt to impose, via the intellect, a separateness among people based on a profound lack of heart. One does not approach God and morality by flexing one’s intellectual and ego-filled muscles – one approaches God and morality by surrendering the intellect and ego to the heart.

    At the end of every one of the yoga classes I attend, the teacher says:

    “Bow the head to the heart and
    surrender the ego to compassion”

    With this advice we embrace all human beings, irrespective of their religion (or lack thereof) as all being faced with the same range of moral dilemmas, and all bringing the same moral nature to those dilemmas.

  529. And I don’t think the thread is exhausted, although Barry might be. Why not let it go on until it comes to a natural end?

  530. Indeed, I was just about to pose a new question to our theist friends:

    Assuming that God exists and that he has a specific, objective moral code that he wishes us to follow, why doesn’t he make our moral intuition perfectly reliable? If it were, then we would all agree (and be objectively correct) on controversial moral issues including abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research.

    Note: This would not take away our freedom to choose. We could still choose to ignore our moral intuition (which is what usually happens, after all, when a seven-year-old steals candy from the drugstore).

  531. Hazel, inasmuch as Allen, one whom you quote with approval, has acknowledged that the natural moral law is, just as C.S. Lewis described it, “objective,” “universal” “binding,” and real, don’t you think you ought to finally acknowledge the same thing? After all, you have been arguing against this very same proposition for weeks.

  532. Barry:

    If you start with materialist assumptions, you get materialist conclusions.

    I made no assumptions. I was pointing out that YOUR choice of god and moral principles to follow might be entirely arbitrary and, perhaps, based purely on sentiments. It seems to me that you have made the grand assumption that your god is the one that exists. Have can you say this with ANY certainty?

  533. Allen –that it is sentiment and not logic that points the way to the Tao:

    I don’t think you are suggesting that logic and reason are useless and should be discarded are you?

    And then there is the subject that hasn’t really been broached and that is the behavior of others.

    I think, for instance, most of us on this board feel that bullying for the pleasure of exercising power and gratifying ego are quite bad form, but that is certainly not a universally held view.

    Should some actions ever be proscribed and others coerced? Should punishment — always the intentional infliction of unkindness — ever be involved? Should the punishment be escalated if ineffective? Should there be a limit to it?

    Just something to ponder.

  534. Allen, Hazel (I know her well) is about to tell me that the Natural Moral Law is not objective and independent of human designs. If you are going to draw from C.S. Lewis’ Tao, you have a moral obligation to make it clear that you do not subscribe to Hazel’s statement, which reads as follows:

    [Every attempt to reduce the Tao to specific religious dogma, including Christian theology, or absolutes, such as the OBJECTIVE MORAL TRUTHS, that have been the subject of this and other threads, is bound to be incomplete.”

    Do you agree with C.S. Lewis that the natural moral law consists of objective moral truths, or do you agree with Hazel that they do not. I have answered all you questions, and I ask that you answer this one, since everything turns on it.

  535. I am so glad that it is still possible to post comments, and hope that this continues.

    In response to several queries about what I believe, I have already posted several answers. Walking into campus this morning, I realized that the most important thing has not yet been clearly stated by anyone here, including me. So, here it is:

    Ends never justify means.

    This is, of course, both the heart of the Tao, of Christianity, of the ethics of Emmanuel Kant, and virtually every other system of ethics that humans have ever intuited.

    There is an obvious corollary:

    People are always ends, and must not ever be treated as means to some other end.

    Many Friends/Quakers express this by saying “There is that of God in every person”. Others express it by saying that “Each person bears some measure of the Light”. Let me be perfectly clear about this: both of these sentences express the same sentiment, although they use different words to do so. The words ultimately don’t matter; the sentiment does.

    If one accepts this, and believes that the God of the Old Testament must also be bound by this fundamental principle, then it is absolutely clear that the slaughter of the innocent Canaanites and Midianites (i.e. the women, children, and especially the infants among them) must violate this principle. No amount of post hoc rationalization or magical hocus pocus about “anaesthetizing people” or “wiping memories” can alter this plain and simple fact. Indeed, to attempt such pathetic rationalizations is to compound the evil perpetrated by the warriors who carried out such slaughter, and to apologize for the entity Who commanded it.

    For this reason, the Friends (and other “peace” fellowships) utterly renounce the use of war under any conditions whatsoever. In Friends’ peace testimony there is no such thing as “just war theory” nor “collateral damage justified by moral ends”.

    It was for this reason that I became a “Quaker by convincement” and why I was, am, and will always be a conscientious objector to warfare of any kind, for any purpose, under any circumstances.

    Is it necessary to point out that Friends (along with many other, but sadly not all, Christians) point out that this was also Jesus’ way?

    And Barry, I’m interested why you continue to refer to me (and only me) in paragraphs that describe atheists. Do you have a reading comprehension problem, or is your understanding of reality so limited that you cannot comprehend that someone might have beliefs like mine and still claim to not be an atheist?

  536. tribune 7 asks:

    “I don’t think you are suggesting that logic and reason are useless and should be discarded are you?”

    No, I’m not. I’m stating essentially the same thing that David Hume stated in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) and that C. S. Lewis stated in The Abolition of Man; that both logic and emotion are necessary for the full comprehension of the Law/Tao. Neither supercedes nor transcends the other, and any attempt to do so violates both the letter and the spirit of the Law/Tao.

  537. Allen: “Ends never justify means.”

    And of course for those of us who live in the US, we are seeing this very principle being played out this week. Through the release of CIA memos it appears that the US did indeed authorize the use of certain highly questionable methods to obtain information.

    What’s interesting is the reaction to this from those previously in power, particularly Cheney and Rove. Instead of admitting their shame, they are asking for more information that they say will show that the methods were effective. I wonder if either them mentally compare their actions to those of the OT God? (although that’s unlikely with Rove as he is apparently agnostic, despite his pandering to the religious right).

  538. Re my post in #532: for the sake of argument, you can even have the assumption that there is a god. Not particularly materialistic, wouldn’t you say?

  539. In #534 stephenB puts words in Hazel’s mouth:

    “…the Natural Moral Law is not objective and independent of human designs.”

    and then claims that this is what she means when she writes:

    “Every attempt to reduce the Tao to specific religious dogma, including Christian theology, or absolutes, such as the OBJECTIVE MORAL TRUTHS, that have been the subject of this and other threads, is bound to be incomplete.”

    I believe that the problem here is the conflation of the terms “absolute”, “objective”, and “incomplete”. I believe that any human attempt to capture the whole of the Law/Tao in words is incomplete by definition. We do not, and never will have the whole of the Law/Tao, for if anything is clear from our attempts to do so, capturing the whole of the Law/Tao (especially using logic and argument) is to violate one of the fundamental characteristics of the Law/Tao: that it cannot be fully captured in words alone.

    That is why I wrote earlier that it would take many hundreds of pages of written words to describe what I believe, but only a walk through the woods to show what I believe. Indeed, one of the founding stories of Zen Buddhism is the story of the transmission of the Tao from Siddh?rtha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha) to Mahakasyapa by completely wordlessly holding up a lotus flower. Blake expressed the same thing in his poem “Auguries of Innocence”, as did Jesus in the parable of the mustard seed.

    So, if by “objective” you mean “completely captured in verbal descriptions and fully expressible using logic”, then I must disagree that the Law/Tao is “objective” in that sense.

  540. Allen-that both logic and emotion are necessary for the full comprehension of the Law/Tao.

    I’ll go along with that.

  541. Allen, you know very well what “objective” means and if you don’t give me a rational answer, I will take note of it. I didn’t say anything at all about it being “completely captured in verbal descriptions.” I am beginning to get the picture now.

    C.S. Lewis expounded on the Tao in order to dramatize the point that morality is a “law, an objective reality that can be understood and ought to be followed. In other words, it was something real, something independent of human designs, something we “discover,” not something we “create.”

    Lewis describes it as “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” Or, again, as Plato taught, humans must be “trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.

    So, when I ask you where you get your morality, you send me to a website which explains this philosophy in detail, even though, in fact, it is the very same philosophy that you have always argued against. Not only do you not accept the “natural moral law,” you negate objective morality, period. Unlike Lewis, you don’t think we “discover” morality; you contend that we “create” it.

    In effect, you borrow from Lewis’ account of morality, while, at the same time, undercutting its rational foundations. His whole point was that a universal moral code cannot be arrived at by consensus because it is, in fact a “law.” It is, more to the point, the “NATURAL MORAL LAW.” So, in effect, you steal his descriptive component of morality for your own purposes, while throwing the “law” component back in his face, the one part he considered most basic of all. Worse, it appears that you are trying to leave the impression that you believe something similar to what Lewis believed, which is clearly not the case.

    You and Hazel are both shamless and “irrational,” and if I risk censure for stating the truth, then so be it.

  542. Allen and JTaylor — “Ends never justify means.”

    It really depends on the ends and the means, doesn’t it?

  543. As to stephenB’s question:

    “Do you agree with C.S. Lewis that the natural moral law consists of objective moral truths, or do you agree with Hazel that they do not. I have answered all you questions, and I ask that you answer this one, since everything turns on it.”

    As I have pointed out, the “hinge” word of this statement is the word “objective”. I like the explanation of this term in Wikipedia:

    “While there is no universally accepted articulation of objectivity, a proposition is generally considered to be objectively true when its truth conditions are “mind-independent”—that is, not the result of any judgments made by a conscious entity. Put another way, objective truths are those which are discovered rather than created.”

    I think this captures the sense of the Law/Tao fairly well. If the Law/Tao were not “mind-independent” (by which I interpret to mean that meaning of the Law/Tao depended fundamentally on the generally accepted meaning of the words and logic in which it is expressed by humans), then to me it clearly couldn’t be the whole of the real, objective Law/Tao. As I have stated before, my understanding of the law is captured (imperfectly, of course) by this:

    The name that can be named is not the eternal Name
    The Way that can be taken is not the eternal Way

    Here it is transliterated from the Chinese, followed by three literal translations:

    Tao k’o tao fei ch’ang tao

    Tao called “Tao” is not Tao

    Name called “Name” is not Name

    Way called “Way” is not Way

    Or, as expressed by Alfred Kobzybski:

    “The map is not the territory.”

    And here it is in a classical Zen koan:

    A master (“roshi”) and an apprentice (“unsui”) were walking in a moonlit garden at night. The master said to the apprentice,

    “Do you see the moon?”

    And the apprentice said,

    “Yes.”

    Then the master said,

    “Point to it,”

    and the apprentice did so.

    Then the master said,

    “Do you see your finger?”

    And the apprentice said,

    “Yes.”

    And then the master said,

    “Never mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon.”

    So, stephenB, is the Law the words in which it is expressed, or is it That Which Is imperfectly captured by the words?

  544. In #541 stephenB wrote:

    “So, when I ask you where you get your morality, you send me to a website which explains this philosophy in detail, even though, in fact, it is the very same philosophy that you have always argued against. Not only do you not accept the “natural moral law,” you negate objective morality, period. Unlike Lewis, you don’t think we “discover” morality; you contend that we “create” it.”

    Stephen, you are not even very good at putting words in other people’s mouths, much less reading what is right there in front of you. I have written many things on this subject, both here and elsewhere, and posted links to the things with which I agree, and yet you continue to assert that I believe exactly the opposite of those things.

    Why do you do this? Do you claim to know what is in my heart? Do you know me better than I know myself? Have you dived all the way to the bottom of my spirit and found what I am there?

    Or have you only found what you wanted and expected to find there, because to find me there (rather than the simulacrum of me that you have created in your own mind) would be intolerable, because it would shake the foundations of your absolutely rigid worldview?

    Just curious…

  545. So, tribune7, you deny that ends never justify means. Ergo, you believe that there are ends that do, indeed, justify whatever means one believes are necessary to achieve them, right?

    Glad you finally made that clear to all of us.

  546. stephenB and tribune7 have finally revealed their true colors here, for all to see. I am glad that this thread was still open, and that this was therefore possible.

    I am also happy that this thread made it possible for me to defend myself and my beliefs against the distortions, mischaracterizations, and outright lies promulgated by them. Which of us stated outright exactly what we believed, and which of us claimed that this was not the case and that we actually believed something completely different from what we plainly and simply stated?

  547. Biology class starts in 20 minutes, and I have to walk to get there. Therefore, this is goodbye, for now…

  548. Allen, maybe YOU just like putting words in others mouths.

    You–“Ends never justify means.”

    Me–”It depends on the ends, and depends on the means.”

    You–Ergo, you believe that there are ends that do, indeed, justify whatever means one believes are necessary to achieve them, right?

    No. What I believe is that you should never say never without thinking.

    You have a letter to send (the end). You choose to use the U.S. mail (the means). Does the end justify the means?

  549. Allen:

    I have not followed this thread (and don’t want to read all the 500+ posts!), so I am not taking any position about the discussions here. I just wanted to thank you for citing one of my favourite principles of all times:

    “The map is not the territory.”

  550. Someone here has sure revealed their true colors, Allen. What’s the Tao say about self-righteousness? Dishonesty? Hypocrisy?

  551. 553

    Barry writes [520]

    If you start with materialist assumptions, you get materialist conclusions.

    Your materialist assumption is that the moral code is arbitrary, just one of many codes that could exist. If you start with that premise, then your conclusion is valid, which, of course, validates the original post.

    But start with a different premise and see what conclusions you reach. Assume that the Tao is not merely one moral code among many possible codes, but that it in fact exists and is objectively true. Then your comment would be something akin to saying “You say two plus two equals four, but there are an infinite number of numbers that two plus two could equal, so isn’t the probability that you have chosen the correct number as your sum infinitely small?

    But people must we willing to give up their assumptions or presuppositions that are incorrect or ineffective. Maybe not give them up for all time and maybe not give up everything about them, but I see no reason to cling to any particular assumption, presupposition or worldview.

    You see assumptions driving conclusions. That may be how it works for you, but it’s not how it works for me and many others besides.

    If we have two competing assumptions, as you have identified, how do we decide which one is preferable? One assumption hypothesizes that “the moral code is arbitrary” (to use your words). The other proposes that a particular moral code “it in fact exists and is objectively true.”

    OK, given your predilection to the second hypothesis, then it’s time for you to put up or shut up. What exactly is the test that detects the existence of the moral code? What is the test to establish that this one moral code is true and not false?

    I propose that you create a new thread where you identify the test and run through it several times in different scenarios.

    I hope others will echo this call for seeing the test in action. Bring it out. No weasel words, no evasion, no tu quoque.

    Show the test and use it. If you don’t or if you refuse, perhaps you can simply take the time to reflect on a word such as “hypocrisy.”

  552. Allen, in answer to question about the “objective nature”of the Tao, and in particular reference to my lack of belief in “objective truths,” wrote,

    So, if by “objective” you mean “completely captured in verbal descriptions and fully expressible using logic”, then I must disagree that the Law/Tao is “objective” in that sense.

    I like this answer. However, speaking for myself, I would say more.

    I have made clear at other times (although I don’t expect people to necessarily remember this) that my basic position is that we can not really know the nature of the metaphysical, or if there is even anything beyond the physical. I lean towards believing, in my heart, that there is more to the world than just the physical, and I like the philosophy of the Tao and other Buddhist teachings the best, but I don’t believe they are “true” because my belief that we can’t know is paramount.

    So for me, talking about the Tao is a way of talking about the unknowable, not a way of talking about the known – the nice thing about this being that it is in keeping with the whole idea of the Tao anyway.

    Here’s another quote from the Tao Te Ching:

    The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
    The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

    All attempts to be specific become part of this world, and thus provisional. The Tao may or may not be “objectively real”, but as soon as we approach it cognitively our understandings become inextricably entangled with our culture, our basic human nature as well as the particularities of our personality, conflicts with other understandings, and so on. In this sense, anything we think is a objective truth can’t be.

    The quote above expresses the basic Taoist/Buddhist idea that out of the one true One comes the restless multiplicity of the world – the Tao is the “mother of ten thousand things. We are part of the multiplicity of the world, and our intellectual capacities – our words and logic – bind us o that world and blind us the Oneness.

    If one really wants to try to find the Truth – if it is there to find – one has to abandon the attempt to nail it down with words and logic. Words and logic bind the ego to the illusion of multiplicity. The Eastern search for truth involves quieting the mind, freeing ourselves from our attachment to our verbal models of the world, and surrendering the ego.

    So, no I don’t believe the things that CS Lewis, or anyone, mentions are objective truths. They are human truths, filtered through the human condition, and subject to all the complexity of both our human nature and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.