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We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Can you spot the common theme in these historic statements?

“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.” – Excerpt from the American Declaration of Independence, which was ratified on July 4, 1776.

Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.” – Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), article 1. The Declaration was approved by the National Constituent Assembly of France, on August 26, 1789.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” – Excerpt from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), article 1. The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.‘”- Excerpt from the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

(Emphases mine – VJT.)

Belief in human equality is a vital part of our democratic heritage. Take this belief away, and the moral foundations of Western civilization immediately collapse, like a house of cards.

Atheists divided

Sad to say, many (perhaps most) of the world’s 25 most influential living atheists don’t seem to share this belief. Specifically, many of these atheists don’t believe that newborn babies have the same moral worth as human adults.

However, there are some notable exceptions. Quite a few of the world’s most influential atheists still firmly believe that newborn babies are just as important as adults, and for that, I applaud them.

The question of whether newborn babies have the same moral worth as human adults is a fundamental one. Putting it another way: is killing a newborn baby just as bad as killing an adult? If the world’s top atheists cannot even agree on this issue, then I think it is fair to regard them as a house divided. And a house divided against itself cannot stand, as Abraham Lincoln remarked (quoting Matthew 12:25) in a famous speech he delivered on June 16, 1858.

The inability of the world’s leading atheists to agree on such a simple moral question is big news. I think readers of this blog are entitled to hear about that.

Evidence, please?

I hear some of my readers asking, “So where’s your evidence that the world’s top atheists disagree on this issue?” I’m very happy to oblige. Here goes.

In a recent post, I invited the world’s 25 most influential living atheists to respond to a short quiz on the moral status of newborn babies. To make sure that they knew about the quiz, I contacted as many of them as I could (i.e. nearly all of them) by email. Three atheists (Professor Peter Atkins, Dr. Richard Carrier and Dr. Michael Shermer) were kind enough to respond to my quiz. Another (James Randi) declined to respond, on the grounds that his answers would be too lengthy, but at least he was polite enough to answer my email. Six more atheists (Professor P. Z. Myers, Professor Peter Singer, Professor Steven Pinker – see also here and here, – Professor Daniel Dennett, Professor Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens) had already made their views plain, in a public forum, so I was able to identify how they would have responded. Unfortunately, I was not able to ascertain the views of Sam Harris, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Paul Kurtz, Lawrence Krauss, Edward O. Wilson, Jennifer Michael Hecht, John Brockman, Philip Pullman, Barbara Forrest, David Sloan Wilson, Ray Kurzweil, William B. (“Will”) Provine, Kai Nielsen and Susan Blackmore. I was pleased, however, that I had managed to find out how nine of the 25 most influential living atheists viewed the moral status of newborn babies.

There were five questions in my short quiz. One regular reader and commenter on Uncommon Descent, markf, remarked on his blog that “the response to the last question is the only interesting one.” He was right, and I’m going to focus on this question in this post. The last question on my quiz was:

Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult?

I soon discovered that the world’s 25 most influential living atheists are divided on this question. To his credit, Dr. Michael Shermer answered with a straight “Yes.” Professor Peter Atkins answered with a qualified “Yes,” adding that if the baby were irrevocably damaged in some way, he would modify his response. And on the basis of statements he has made on Youtube, I was able to ascertain that Christopher Hitchens would answer my question with an emphatic “Yes.”

Dr. Richard Carrier, on the other hand, answered “No,” and carefully explained his reasons. Although he believes newborn babies are persons with a right to life, he also believes that the moral worth of an adult is generally greater than that of a newborn baby; hence killing a baby isn’t as bad as killing an adult. Carrier doesn’t believe that all human beings are equal; rather, he believes that human beings occupy different points on a scale of moral worth. Three other atheists who did not respond (Professor P. Z. Myers (see here for a recent post of his, here for one reader’s comment on the post and here for P. Z. Myers’ reply), Professor Peter Singer, and Professor Daniel Dennett) have already made it clear in their published writings that they don’t even regard newborn babies as persons, let alone as individuals whose moral worth is equal to that of adults. Obviously, these atheists would answer “No” to my question. Professor Steve Pinker has published an article (“Why they kill their newborns”, The New York Yimes, November 2, 1997) in which he appears to suggest that he doesn’t regard newborn babies as persons, although he opposes the legalization of infanticide. However, he is quite up-front about one thing: he doesn’t think that killing a newborn baby is a crime of the same gravity of killing an adult. (See here, here and here for a discussion.) Finally, I was able to ascertain from Professor Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), that he regards individuals with highly developed nervous systems as having a greater moral worth than individuals with poorly developed nervous systems, because the former are capable of much greater suffering than the latter. As Dawkins puts it in his discussion of abortion:

A consequentialist or utilitarian is likely to approach the abortion question in a very different way, by trying to weigh up suffering. Does the embryo suffer? (Presumably not if it is aborted before it has a nervous system; and even if it is old enough to have a nervous system it surely suffers less than, say, an adult cow in a slaughterhouse.) Does the pregnant woman, or her family, suffer if she does not have an abortion? Very possibly so; and, in any case, given that the embryo lacks a nervous system, shouldn’t the mother’s well-developed nervous system have the choice?

But since a newborn baby’s nervous system is also far less developed than an adult’s, it follows that on Professor Dawkins’ view, killing a newborn baby is not as bad as killing an adult.

That makes three of the world’s 25 most influential atheists who believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult, and six of these atheists who don’t think it is. Unfortunately, I was unable to ascertain the opinions of the remaining sixteen atheists, on this vital ethical question. However, the big split in opinion on such a basic moral issue highlights the fact that on ethical matters, the world’s leading atheists are a house divided.

This prompts me to ask: if the world’s top atheists cannot even agree on this issue, how much confidence can we have in their repeated assertion that “naturalistic ethics” can deliver “goodness without God”?

Blowing smoke

Now that I’ve exposed the ethical disunity of the world’s leading atheists, I expect one of them will respond with a withering attack on my allegedly “simplistic” approach to ethics. We’ll doubtless be subjected to a long lecture about the hardships faced by our ancestors, about how difficult it was for mothers to simultaneously nurse two children in pre-industrial societies, and about how these mothers often had to make painful choices about which child to feed and which to let die. (All perfectly true, but completely irrelevant to the ethical point at issue, which is: do babies matter just as much as the rest of us do?) The “history lecture” will then be followed by a self-righteous tirade against “absolutist” ethics, with its high-falutin’ talk of “persons,” “rights,” “duties” and “moral worth.” Morality, we will be told, is always context-dependent, and there are no black-and-white answers to moral questions. (Now that’s a self-refuting assertion if ever I heard one.)

To my readers, I would like to say: don’t be fooled. All of this is nothing but an exercise in blowing smoke. It reflects the desperation of the world’s leading atheists to cover up the embarrassing fact that they cannot even agree on a simple ethical question: do newborn babies matter as much as the rest of us? Or putting it another way: is killing a newborn baby just as wrong as killing any other member of the community?

Now, I realize that there are some people who would reject the foregoing questions as meaningless. These people tend to have an instinctive distrust of abstract ethical reasoning, and they will stoutly maintain that moral questions can only be answered in relation to a particular time, place and circumstance. So here’s my answer to them. You want a concrete moral situation? Fine. I’ll give you one.

A tale of two killers

A man (let’s call him Smith) with an automatic weapon walks into a hospital maternity ward and kills the nurse on duty, before being wrestled to the ground by two alert, courageous bystanders. At the same time, in a nearby town, another man (let’s call him Jones) with an identical automatic weapon walks into a hospital maternity ward and kills a newborn baby, before being wrestled to the ground. Both men are put on trial, and both of them are declared sane and capable of distinguishing right from wrong, at the time of the killings. Should both receive the same punishment?

We know how nine of the 25 most influential living atheists would answer this question. Three would say yes, and six would say no. Six of these atheists would regard the nurse as having a greater moral worth than the newborn baby; hence they would say that the gravity of Smith’s offense is greater than that of Jones. Only three atheists (out of the nine whose views I was able to identify) would correctly answer that Smith and Jones should be punished in the same way.

Six of the world’s most influential atheists would give Jones a lighter punishment than Smith. I have to say that I find that scandalous. I will continue to call these six atheists out on this one, because their position is morally odious.

A short note on the practice of infanticide in human history

Let me add that I am quite aware of the reasons why infanticide was practiced in pre-industrial societies, and why it continues to be practiced in some societies today. (Readers might like to have a look at this article, and also here and here.) I have no wish to pass judgment on mothers in times past, who were faced with conflicting obligations about which child they should feed, or mothers who were unable to take proper care of their babies without jeopardizing the lives of other people in their community. But the fact that these mothers had to make difficult choices about their babies, in extreme situations, doesn’t imply that they believed that the babies they killed were any less important, morally speaking, than the adults in their community. All it shows is that these adults were not able to take care of the newborn babies, owing to the extreme poverty of their community. The same goes for hunter-gatherer communities that were sometimes forced to abandon elderly people whom they were no longer able to take care of, because they were unable to keep up with the rest of the tribe. Nobody in these communities attempted to rationalize the practice by saying that old folk are “less important” than young people; the community was simply unable to take care of them, that’s all.

Other cases of infanticide simply reflect long-standing cultural prejudices against women. I have no sympathy with communities that engage in the barbaric practice of female infanticide, which remains widespread in India and China (see here and here). Why? Because I know of other cultures, which eventually managed to eradicate this vile practice: first, the Jews in ancient Israel (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10-13; Psalm 106:35-40), and later on, the Christians in Europe (see here, here and here) and the Muslims in the Arab world (see here). If they could do it, then I have to ask: why can’t India and China? So yes, I do condemn the people who perpetuate the practice of child murder in these countries: furious fathers who were hoping for a son, elderly matriarchs who pressure young mothers into killing their baby girls because they were once told by their husbands to do the same thing, and yes, also the weak, acquiescing mothers who kill their baby girls because they’re afraid of being shunned, humiliated or beaten up. The acquiescence of these mothers is understandable, but it’s still morally wrong. There are some injustices you have to stand up to, because if you don’t, then who will?

A woman’s fear of having an illegitimate birth exposed is another common reason for the occurrence of infanticide in history. Again, while we can certainly understand the action of a mother who kills her newborn child in such circumstances, that does not make it right. Someone has to eventually stand up and fight an unjust social system which victimizes illegitimate mothers, while letting the fathers get off scot-free.

Finally, the silliest historical reason for the practice of infanticide was a religious one: some ancient societies condoned and even mandated child sacrifice as a way of placating the gods. And now ask yourself this: if you had lived in those times, and you wanted to uproot this barbarous practice, do you think that you could have done so if you were also on the record as publicly affirming, as many modern atheists do, that babies don’t matter as much as adults? Would you not stand a much better chance if you were armed with a prophetic warning from an angry God, who claimed to be the one true God, and who (i) asserted that children and adults alike were made in His image and likeness, (ii) declared the practice of child sacrifice to be a detestable abomination, and (iii) commanded the destruction of altars dedicated to the false gods whose priests demanded this sacrifice?

Religion has been responsible for many abuses in human history, but atheism is a totally ineffective way to combat these abuses. Only a good religion can displace the harmful practices of a bad religion.

In my next post, I shall argue that key concepts invoked by Intelligent Design can help us to understand precisely why all human beings – from embryos to Einstein – are of equal moral worth.

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91 Responses to We hold these truths to be self-evident…

  1. The common thread running through those famous statements, is that not one of them was about abortion – not a single one.

    Most of those statements were intended to be about adults, and some were intended to be about male adults.

  2. You’re right, Neil. The same mentality that would deny equality to women and minorities is at play with denying equality to infants and the unborn.

    Good eye!

  3. if the world’s top atheists cannot even agree on this issue, how much confidence can we have in their repeated assertion that “naturalistic ethics” can deliver “goodness without God”?

    Why should disagreement over this rather tricky moral question reflect on the validity of atheist ethics? Theists frequently disagree on important ethical questions. You and Stephenb disagreed on what to do given the choice of saving a baby or an adult. Does this reflect on the validity of the assertion that God can deliver goodness?

  4. Why should disagreement over this rather tricky moral question reflect on the validity of atheist ethics?

    Because atheists have bloviated unceasingly about how inferior theists are from an ethical and psychological point of view, and that if atheist ethics were followed we’d finally be living in a rational paradise?

  5. I’ve always found this following video good for clearly illustrating the ‘moral dilemma’ of a atheist. At least the moral dilemma of a atheist who lives consistently within his worldview:

    Cruel Logic
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qd1LPRJLnI

    this is of related interest:

    Will Provine on EXPELLED
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpJ5dHtmNtU

  6. Since 1973 there have been 46 million abortions in the U.S. — about 15% of the current population — and almost all of them were done for purposes of convenience.

    I think this says it all concerning the morality of the issue.

    Some things are easily discernible, if one has eyes to see.

  7. semi OT:

    Francis Chan On Living Eternally – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/5848080

  8. –markf to VJT: “You and Stephenb disagreed on what to do given the choice of saving a baby or an adult. Does this reflect on the validity of the assertion that God can deliver goodness?”

    No, we did not, in fact, disagree on the matter:

    –VJ to SB: “I totally agree with you that it would be immoral to forcibly throw someone off a lifeboat. The direct killing of an innocent human being is wrong.”

    –”On the other hand, if a ship (such as the Titanic) had just capsized, and if I were in a lifeboat picking up survivors, and I could only take one more, then I would choose to save a baby over a talented artist, even if that artist were Leonardo da Vinci. I would therefore save the baby and allow the artist to die. And my judgment would not change if the artist were also a great humanitarian, like Mohandas K. Gandhi.”

    –SB to VJ: “I take your point about the difference between picking up someone in the boat versus choosing to throw someone overboard. Given that assumption, I think I would make the same choice.”

    Inasmuch as you are wrong about the facts in evidence, you may want to try another tactic.

  9. The inability of the world’s leading atheists to agree on such a simple moral question is big news. I think readers of this blog are entitled to hear about that.

    I don’t see why it’s “big news.” Why should there be lock-step agreement on every point? Are there not important and not-easily-resolved philosophical issues that can and should be raised? I think it’s a good thing that basic assumptions can be questioned and re-examined. Heck, the US Declaration has, over time, undergone revision. The “all men” at one time, as a practical reality, excluded women and black slaves.

    I would take once-and-for-all agreement as something to be wary of.

  10. #8 Stephenb

    I apologise. I didn’t realise your debate with vj had continued and you had come to some agreement. Nevertheless, will you grant that theists do disagree about important moral issues?

  11. Neil Rickert (#1)

    This post is about the moral status of babies who have already been born. I quoted from the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the Gettysburg Address and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech, because they all make reference to a man’s creation or birth. Hence they are not just about adult males. In the 18th century, “all men” commonly meant everyone. Even today, we say: all men are mortal. We don’t mean to suggest that women may be immortal.

    As for abortion: I’ll address that in my next post. In this one, I’m simply concerned to argue that many atheists are fundamentally mistaken regarding a moral premise that most people would regard as self-evident. and hence not in need of justification. Hence the title of this post.

  12. markf (#3)

    Thank you for your post. Referring to the ethical question of whether newborn babies and adults are of equal moral worth, you ask: “Why should disagreement over this rather tricky moral question reflect on the validity of atheist ethics?”

    The answer is that (as I stated in my reply to Neil Rickert) ordinary people regard the moral equality of babies and adults as axiomatic. It’s not something they question or feel the need to question. I think there is a huge divide between the secular intelligentsia and the man in the street on this issue, and that this divide matters even more than the issue of abortion, where the average citizen’s moral intuitions really are somewhat confused and inconsistent. The point of my post was to draw readers’ attention to this issue.

  13. #11

    I am not at all convinced that ordinary people regard the moral equality of babies and adults as axiomatic. I suspect most of them have never been put in a situation where they had to consider it. However, let us assume that most people do believe this.

    There are huge divides between the man in the street and some theological ethical opinions e.g. contraception. Should we therefore doubt the validity of theological based ethics?

  14. To his credit, Dr. Michael Shermer answered with a straight “Yes.”

    Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Shermer used to be a Christian.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Shermer

  15. —markf: “Nevertheless, will you grant that theists do disagree about important moral issues?”

    I would argue that Theists are consistently on the side of human values and that atheists are consistently on the side of anti-human values. Believing that man is made “in the image and likeness of God” will prompt one to favor public policy that supports a culture of life. Believing that man is solely the result of a “purposeless, mindless process” will prompt one to favor public policy that supports a culture of death. Hence, most Christians are pro-life, while most atheists are pro-abortion. Beliefs have consequences.

  16. Dr Torley:

    Perhaps, I should add to your collection of cites, this from John Locke’s 2nd essay on civil gov’t, Ch 2 sec 5, when he sought to ground liberty.

    He cites “the judicious [Richard] Hooker” from that Worthy’s Ecclesiastical Polity [1594 -]:

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

    Locke goes on to observe, in remarks that seem very relevant to our situation:

    The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions . . . . so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind, and not unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another . . . . In transgressing the law of Nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men for their mutual security [i.e. we see here the right to self-defense for the community, and also the individual, as is discussed at length in the work], and so he becomes dangerous to mankind . . . . [Ch III, S 17] he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power [i.e. to tyrannise upon another, by force, fraud, usurpation or invasion] does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life. For I have reason to conclude that he who would get me into his power without my consent would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it.

    Sobering, in light of the history of the past 100 years.

    GEM of TKI

  17. —markf: “Nevertheless, will you grant that theists do disagree about important moral issues?”

    Christians usually agree on basic ethical principles, but they sometimes disagree about the application of those principles. Atheists, on the other hand, deny the very existence of the principles being applied. Thus, there moral equivalency implied in your question does not exist.

    VJT is correct when he argues that atheists are all over the map on the moral status of infants. In another respect, however, they are consistent in the fact that they consistently promote anti-humanistic values. Their unity comes not from any coherence in their own position, as VJ points out, but rather in their resolution to militate against truth. They are unified in what they deny and hate, not in what they affirm and love.

  18. @16. Thus, [the] moral equivalency implied in your question does not exist.

  19. vjt:
    so you honestly think your “tale of two killers” presents anything close to an actual moral dilemma, and any of the people that answered No to your question (e) would actually give a lesser punishment to the homicidal maniac who killed the baby. Wow. That situation you concocted had absolutuely nothing in common with the actual moral dilemmas dicussed by any of the people that answered your question or that you reasonably inferred their answer for.
    Moreover, it seems quite clear from the thread above and the thread on which the questions originated that both you and StephenB DO NOT hold the worth of a newborn baby to be equal to the worth of a human adult either – there is a glaringly obvious gradient in value, if the default strategy when faced with being able to save only one of them is saving the baby;
    some people might find that just as scandalous (and have very good moral justifcations for their opinion) as you find your completely unjustified conclusion that ANYONE would punish a criminal maniac differently according to the age of the person they happened to murder in a homicidal rampage;

  20. My uncle and aunt (devout christians) had 3 or 4 babies that were either still born or died within an hour or 2 of being born. This was after their first child who was fine. The babies were named, but I don’t know the names. They don’t feature in the family history. There is no doubt that they do not have the same status as adults or children who died. They never achieved personhood. There’s nothing to remember them by I guess. No personality or emotional connection.

  21. #16

    Christians usually agree on basic ethical principles, but they sometimes disagree about the application of those principles.

    I asked about theists, not Christians.

  22. —”I asked about theists, not Christians.”

    You will have to be more specific. Islam, for example, does not accept the inherent dignity of the human person and may, therefore, support certain kinds of public policy that are less than humane. Islam also embraces the philosophy of “abrogation,” which allows for God to change His mind about what is good or bad, revise his moral teachings, and therefore discourage any kind of rationally-based morality. Theism that is not grounded in reason or the natural moral law is quite limited in its capacity to provide moral guidance. Atheism, on the other hand, is completely bankrupt in every way.

  23. I wrote: “[Atheists] Their unity comes not from any coherence in their own position, as VJ points out, but rather in their resolution to militate against truth. They are unified in what they deny and hate, not in what they affirm and love.”

    I do not mean to suggest that VJT necessarily agrees with me on the second part of that statement.

    I should probably rewrite my comment as follows: As VJ points out, atheists have no coherent or unified sense of morality with respect to a baby’s right to life. I would go one step further, however, and point out that atheists ARE unified in their militancy against truth and their rejection of any kind of objective morality. They are unified in what the deny and hate, not in what they affirm and love.

  24. markf

    The reason why I am so certain that the man in the street regards newborn babies as morally equal to adults is that I have often witnessed how people react when they hear that the police have arrested the killer of a baby or a young child. Frequently the sentiment is along the lines of: “Good! I hope they hang the b******!” Even people who are otherwise opposed to capital punishment may say things like this. The loathing runs deep, and is universal. Newspapers frequently run mug shots of the killer on the front page, accompanied by captions like: “The face of evil.” The killing of a baby or young child is generally regarded as a quintessentially evil act.

    Again, even in prisons, murderers who have killed babies often have to be kept under special protection, because prison wardens fear that these killers would be torn to pieces if they were allowed to mingle freely with other prisoners.

    In other words, people who kill babies and young children are the target of a unique and special loathing – which would make no sense if people thought that the killing of a baby was less of a crime than the killing of an adult.

    You mentioned contraception in one of your comments. I might remind you that popular sentiments have changed considerably during the last one or two hundred years. However, the loathing directed at baby killers has not changed for centuries, perhaps millennia. I think this is a significant fact.

  25. #20 and #21

    Stephenb

    Leading Christians don’t even agree that all men are born equal. There are many leading Christians who have argued that other races are inferior to white men and that Kings rule over us by divine right. This has extended to valuing a King’s life more highly than a commoner. I am not saying such views are correct or logical – just that there has been disagreement.

  26. markf

    Thank you for your post. There have of course been Christians who believed that kings were born with the Divine right to govern their realm. But these same Christians believed that kings, like commoners, possessed immortal souls, which could be saved or damned. They also believed that former fishermen (four of the twelve apostles) would be among the greatest saints in the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21:14).

    As for Christians in times past who were racists, I should like to point out that racism was relatively rare until the 18th century, when Linnaeus attempted to give it a scientific footing. Even those who mistakenly believed that some races were inferior in intellect did not automatically consider them inferior in moral virtue on that account. Most of these Christians would have believed that spiritually, at least, all humans were equal, and capable of attaining Heaven – otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered to catechize people from other races.

    Human souls don’t come in different grades, shapes or sizes. On the spiritual plane, there’s a level playing field for human beings.

  27. #23 vj

    I am sorry but you are waffling rather than recognise the rather obvious fact that Christians also disagree about fundamental moral principles. Many (but not all) Christians may have believed that “inferior” races were all capable of going to heaven – but that did not extend to giving these races equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Why not accept that this particular argument does not hold water? You make plenty of good and interesting points.

  28. Stephenb

    I can’t resist responding to this – although it is a bit of a digression.

    I would go one step further, however, and point out that atheists ARE unified in their militancy against truth and their rejection of any kind of objective morality.

    Obviously atheists disagree with you about the truth of religion. Some are militant about this – many are not.

    Many atheists reject objective morality – some believe in it.  Some are militant about this.  Others are not.

    They are unified in what the deny and hate, not in what they affirm and love.

    Atheism is not a religion, so it is true that all they have in common is they do not believe in a God, just as the only thing uniting those who do not believe in fairies is their lack of belief in fairies.  Some atheists hate religion; others do not.  I am rather fond of religion personally. Some of my dearest friends are religious and I find that an impressive and appealing part of their character. 

  29. Onlookers:

    A corrective re an atmosphere-poisoning suggestion by MarkF,22:

    There are many leading Christians who have argued that other races are inferior to white men and that Kings rule over us by divine right.

    Individuals who are Christians doubtless have taught many things that were and are patently wrong. In this case, the matter is a question of [on the part of leading persons] willful ignoring and/or distortion of quite explicit biblical teachings, Old and New Testament.

    Of these, the following two texts are classic corrections of any tendency to racism, and show how Dr Torley is fundamentally right and responsive on the key issue:

    AC 17:24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.’

    GAL 3:6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who believe [= penitently trust in God] are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles [ethne = nations, i.e. people groups] by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith . . . . 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law [i.e. that those who fail to live up to the standard of right are under its penalty, so our only hope is God's mercy and forgiveness] by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles [ethne -- nations/ people-groups or tribes/clans] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit . . . .

    GAL 3:26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    These are not obscure texts, or particularly hard to understand:

    _____________

    1: we are all descendants of one father [and mother, Eve is "the mother of all living"]; now a scientific fact too, so the whole human race — the best use of that word — is one family.

    2: God equally cares for us all, so much so that he has provided space for us and a common means of and call to redemption.

    3: The blessing of Abraham, in Christ, is open to ANY people group that will receive it. So, British Israelism and extensions thereof are utterly misdirected. The issue is whether we have the faith of Abraham, thus are of his spiritual seed, not whether we are physically descended from him. (And descent from Abraham is interesting: about 10% of Jamaicans are of some Jewish ancestry!)

    4: In Christ, no distinctives come before that unity, whether of race, or of sex or of social status. (And BTW, Paul’s counsel to slaves was to not make it trouble you unduly but if you can get out, do so.)

    5: In Christ, we are of the seed and blessing of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise. Christians are meant to be blessed and a blessing to the world, which — despite the inevitable struggles to know, accept and consistently do the right — a great many have proved to be across these 2,000 years.

    6: In Rom 13, Paul teaches [cf here] that civil authorities are God’s servants to do us good, especially by defending the civil peace of justice, and so are due submission and taxes.

    7: But (cf here) that kings are such is one facet of that is one aspect of the whole: ALL civil authorities down to the Magistrate in court or the teacher in the classroom and the policeman on the beat, hold the same basic remit from and accountability before God.

    8: They are due honour and respect, and should be obeyed in the usual course. The exception being, where they have manifestly set out on rebellion against the remit of justice under God, and so peaceful civil protest and remonstrance are the first level of correction, on many Biblical examples and teachings elaborated in the already linked. Ac 5:29 — from the mouth of the apostles answering to their civil and religious authorities (including a hereditary High Priest of de facto royal rank since the Hasmoneans) — is plain: “we must obey God, rather than men!”

    9: Beyond that, the Reformers correctly saw that the scriptures taught the interposition of lower magistrates as equally called under God to do good, reward the good and defend the civil peace of justice from wrong-doers; and so a more formal level of remonstrance and then if necessary reformation or replacement of authorities irretrievably gone bad, are also warranted.

    10: So, those who absolutised the status of kings were in demonstrable error, which was in fact pointed out at the time, e.g. most notably by Samuel Rutherford in response to Maxwell in his Lex, Rex. (This work is a key behind the scenes influence on Locke’s work on civil government and liberty. We have already seen how Hooker was an explicit influence.)

    __________________

    So, those Christians who have taught racism, are plainly afoul of the many warnings against scripture twisting or scripture-ignoring.

    Christians may have disagreed with the explicit teachings of the scriptures, but they have been corrected from within its resources, from foundational principles and examples. For, the Judaeo-Christin view holds that truth is objective, that conscience reflects the candle of the Lord within, and that the scriptures aptly answer to both.

    By sharpest contrast, we have repeatedly seen how evolutionary materialism undermines the credibility of mind to know beyond perceptions shaped decisively by forces of chance and necessity, and leads to an amorality that reduces to Plato’s warned against: the highest right is might.

    Markf usually pointedly ignores whatever I write, but that does not prevent the rest of us from duly noting the corrective facts.

    G’day

    GEM of TKI

  30. F/N: A further corrective.

    Re MF @ 25, the relevant form of atheism we need to address is evolutionary materialism, often imposed nowadays in the name of “science” — typically through the backdoor of methodological naturalism and implicit a priori materialism — and its radical relativism, amorality and tendency to abusive, domineering factions were noted as long ago as Plato in The Laws, Bk X, 360 BC:

    __________________

    >> Ath. . . . [[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [[i.e the classical "material" elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only. [[In short, evolutionary materialism premised on chance plus necessity acting without intelligent guidance on primordial matter is hardly a new or a primarily "scientific" view! Notice also, the trichotomy of causal factors: (a) chance/accident, (b) mechanical necessity of nature, (c) art or intelligent design and direction.] . . . .

    [[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [[Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT. (Cf. here for Locke's views and sources on a very different base for grounding liberty as opposed to license and resulting anarchistic "every man does what is right in his own eyes" chaos leading to tyranny.)] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [[Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality "naturally" leads to continual contentions and power struggles], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[such amoral factions, if they gain power, "naturally" tend towards ruthless tyranny], and not in legal subjection to them. >>
    ___________________

    Grim, but sadly apt.

    This, we must not forget.

    GEM of TKI

  31. So markf, I just don’t get your position that you have chosen to defend. i.e No matter how egregious the violation to evidence, reason and logic, the atheistic/materialistic worldview is shown to be, you could care less. Yet on the other hand no matter how contrived and imagined the evidence is against the Christian/logos worldview you cling to this with all your might, steadfastly ignoring the thorough defense that is patiently presented to you by kf, StephenB and others. Why do you refuse to be honest with the evidence? But more importantly why do you refuse to be honest with yourself? The consequences you set yourself up for, with such shallow deception to yourself, for you are certainly not deceiving kf, or StephenB, are far greater than you can possibly imagine right now. Which is a point I am sure to why such patience is extended to your unreasonableness by kf, StephenB and others,,,

  32. markf:

    Atheism is not a religion…

    According to the US Supreme Court it (atheism) is a religion.

  33. F/N 2: In case the example from Plato is “too remote,” let us look at prof Provine, at the Darwin Day address U Tenn, 1998:

    _________________

    >> Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent . . . .

    The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . . >>
    _________________

    The amorality involved was aptly exposed and rebuked by Will Hawthorne at the blog, Atheism is Dead:

    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’.

    Now, it would be interesting to see MF’s response on the merits as an evolutionary materialistic atheist trained in philosophy, and the further contributions by Dr Torley and SB, both of whom have advanced training in philosophy and/or related fields.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: In my ID Foundations 2 post, I take up the pivotal free will issue on p. 2; building on a point made by Plato.

  34. Joseph:

    These days, in the guise of institutionalised evolutionary materialism allied to increasingly radicalised state power that is now beginning to trammel on the principled conscience –

    cf a current case in the UK here and here in light of judge Rutherford’s observations; cf. this text on the nefarious alliance of worldview-level ideology [being presented as religion or irrelegion makes but little difference to the dynamics] and power that infringes on the principled conscience at the telling point that the daily bread of people is now being put in peril as a point where compromise of conscience is demanded — but of course, evo mat denies that the conscience responds to any real duty of true right and wrong, so such rising tyranny is in the end unsurprising –

    . . . atheism is the functional equivalent to a de facto established and domineering church.

    Why is it that time and again we refuse to learn from sad and painful history?

    GEM of TKI

    PS: You don’t have to agree with the “obviousness” of a self-evident truth for that self evidence to be readily apparent to the common-sense onlooker. Just, on denying it, you promptly end up in a tangled thicket of contradictions, inconsistencies and absurdities. “Professing wisdom, one ends in patent folly.”

  35. —markf: “Obviously atheists disagree with you about the truth of religion. Some are militant about this – many are not.”

    My emphasis was not on the militancy per se, but rather on the unifying phenomenon of being against something and the fact that atheism, as a thought system, has nothing it its substance with the conceptual power to unify.

    —”Many atheists reject objective morality – some believe in it. Some are militant about this. Others are not.”

    Atheism and objective morality are mutually exclusive. To the extent that any atheist believes in objective morality, he doesn’t even know his own philosophy. Morality is behavior that aims at an objecive good. Without the good, there can be no morality; without God, there can be no good.

    —”Atheism is not a religion, so it is true that all they have in common is they do not believe in a God, just as the only thing uniting those who do not believe in fairies is their lack of belief in fairies.”

    You are confusing solidarity, which is a sociological concept, with conceptual unity, which is a psychological/psychological concept. The issue is the atheist’s lack of internal consistency, not his bond with other atheists.

    –”Some atheists hate religion; others do not. I am rather fond of religion personally. Some of my dearest friends are religious and I find that an impressive and appealing part of their character.

    This time you are confusing people with thought systems. How can you be fond of “religion” in general? Are you saying that you like all its manifestations? If you like the Eastern religions, which affirm immanence and deny transcendence, how can you like Islam, which affirms transcendence and denies immanence. If you are fond of Christianity, which teaches that man can be intimate with God, how can also be fond of Islam, which teaches that God and man must always maintain a master/slave relationship?

  36. #32 Stephenb

    My emphasis was not on the militancy per se, but rather on the unifying phenomenon of being against something and the fact that atheism, as a thought system, has nothing it its substance with the conceptual power to unify.

    Agreed. As I said the only thing atheists have in common is they don’t believe in a God.   So do you withdraw the adjective “militant”? 

    Atheism and objective morality are mutually exclusive. To the extent that any atheist believes in objective morality, he doesn’t even know his own philosophy. Morality is behavior that aims at an objecive good. Without the good, there can be no morality; without God, there can be no good.

    Clearly I don’t agree – but I haven’t the time or energy to get into yet another debate about metaethics.

    You are confusing solidarity, which is a sociological concept, with conceptual unity, which is a psychological/psychological concept. The issue is the atheist’s lack of internal consistency, not his bond with other atheists.

    Up until now the discussion has been about the significance of atheists disagreeing with each other.  I am afraid I am not interested in a discussion of conceptual  inconsistencies in atheism.  I find such discussions get nowhere and some Christians often get rather aggressive (so do some atheists but I don’t get the brunt of them).

    This time you are confusing people with thought systems. How can you be fond of “religion” in general? Are you saying that you like all its manifestations? If you like the Eastern religions, which affirm immanence and deny transcendence, how can you like Islam, which affirms transcendence and denies immanence. If you are fond of Christianity, which teaches that man can be intimate with God, how can also be fond of Islam, which teaches that God and man must always maintain a master/slave relationship?

    Fair enough.  I fond of many Christian people and also many brands of religion – although I find other brands repellent.  I find that in practice the beliefs of religious people vary a great deal even within quite small divisions – so one Catholic will have moral and spiritual ideas that are interesting and attractive while another will not.  So perhaps there is not such a great difference between being fond  of a person and being fond of a thought system.

  37. —markf: “Agreed. As I said the only thing atheists have in common is they don’t believe in a God. So do you withdraw the adjective “militant”?

    For some atheists, [Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins etc] both militancy against and denial of truth serve to create an artificial unifying force. For the more quiet ones, denial is the sole factor. So, militancy is a decisive unifying factor, but, unlike denial, it is not universal. Perhaps that is the distinction that you had in mind.

    –”Clearly I don’t agree – but I haven’t the time or energy to get into yet another debate about metaethics.”

    I think that it is relevant to this extent. The one objective moral code is bound to produce more consistency than millions of subjective moral codes that are being made up along the way. This principle would seem relevant from both a psychological and sociological perspective.

    —”Up until now the discussion has been about the significance of atheists disagreeing with each other.”

    That would seem to be the case. VJT has focused on the sociological phenomenon, while I have emphasized the philosophical/psychological component.

  38. markf

    First, I would like to thank kairosfocus, who has done an excellent job of showing just how unscriptural racism is. And if I may cite a verse from the Old Testament, there’s Malachi 2:10:

    Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?

    Racism is not just anti-Christian; it’s anti-Jewish as well.

    You argue that “Many (but not all) Christians may have believed that ‘inferior’ races were all capable of going to heaven – but that did not extend to giving these races equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Well, I fail to see how you could deny an equal right to life to someone whose ultimate destiny (Heaven) you believed to be the same as your own. That really would be strange.

    Let me add that there have been NO Christian saints, Church Fathers, doctors of the Church or bishops who have espoused the bizarre notion that human beings from some races have a greater right to live than human beings from other races. NOT ONE. That fact speaks volumes.

    There have indeed been wicked acts of racism performed by people who happened to be Christians during the last few hundred years, but skeptics will search in vain for any Scriptural or theological sanction for the vile and heretical notion that some human beings are born with a greater right to live than others.

    I don’t deny that Christian teachers and theologians have disagreed about all sorts of moral issues, but the equal right to life of human beings, regardless of race or station in life, is not one of them.

  39. kairosfocus (#30)

    I’d like to ask you a quick question. What do you think of Searle’s attempt to derive an “ought” from an “is”? I’m asking you this because the crux of Will Hawthorne’s argument for the amorality of atheism is that “one can’t infer an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.”

  40. Why is Martin Luther King Jr being put in the same league as true leaders of America.?
    the rights of Americans went to all citizens save in minor matters.
    MLK ws just using general American beliefs to gain for Africans the rewards of America.
    perhaps he really did believe identity shouldn’t matter but if today is a teacher its that identity is the most important thing and trumps general rights.
    Thats how people think in reality.
    MLK is used to accuse Southerners or other Americans of denying them what they deserve as citizens.
    Its not a moral or intellectual fact that African Americans live without segregated identity and segregated motives for their gain at other identities losses.
    The very word African American nullify’s the whole MLK speech and moral claims of desegregation.
    MLK is not worthy as a figure for common rightds of mankind.
    Gotta put it right.

  41. #38

    vj – I am not denying that Christianity has an excellent record overall in supporting equality of life, liberty and pursuits of happiness. My only claim is that some leading Christians have argued the opposite and therefore this is a major moral issue on which Christians have been divided. I assume that slavery counts as preventing some people have equal rights to life, liberty and pursuits of happiness.

    Examples include:

    Southern Baptist support for slavery

    Papal bulls such as Dum Diversas.

    This nice little quote from Joseph Smith founder of Mormonism:

    “After having expressed myself so freely upon this subject, I do not doubt, but those who have been forward in raising their voices against the South, will cry out against me as being uncharitable, unfeeling, unkind, and wholly unacquainted with the Gospel of Christ. It is my privilege then to name certain passages from the Bible, and examine the teachings of the ancients upon the matter as the fact is uncontrovertible that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation, and walked with God. And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude. “And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant” (Gen. 9:25, 26).”

    You might like to inspect comment number #40 from one of your Christian colleagues.

  42. MF:

    Pardon me for being direct.

    By your own confession, you are an Englishman.

    Why, then do you insist on a strategy of atmosphere poisoning in the face of well-known history?

    For, you know or should know of the life and career of a certain former member of Parliament of the UK known as William Wilberforce. In particular, what he and others such as a certain Thomas Foxwell Buxton did to address the almost unprecedented form of slavery that arose surrounding the discovery of the new world.

    And, that their principal motivation was biblical, starting with the stringent proscriptions on kidnapping and selling into slavery that are in OT and NT, multiplied by the “for hardness of heart” principle [cf. Mal 2:16 and Matt 19:1 - 6] that opens the door to reformation of common evils as the gospel softens the hearts of a civilisation.

    On the slavery issue, I first bring to bear some key biblical references that are too often glided over in a convenient silence in the haste to blame the Judaeo-Christian worldview as lacking adequate ethical-moral resources to address evils, or even as being a promoter of evil:

    ___________________

    >>Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. [1 Cor 7:21 - 23.]; . . . .

    It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery . . . . You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. [Gal. 5:1, 13 - 15.]

    The law is good if one uses it properly . . . [it] 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 [KJV: menstealers] and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. [1 Tim 1:8 - 11, emphasis added]

    If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. [Deut. 24:7. Cf. Lev. 24:22: "You are to have the same law for the alien and the native born . . ."] >>
    ____________________

    The kidnapping based slave trade that was at the foundation of New World chattel slavery was the easy first target, as this was a direct violation of scripture. Indeed, we see an OT civil law that sentenced those involved in such to death.

    Slavery, more broadly, is seen as an evil in society and culture, something that is there on the hardness of men’s hearts but which it is not directly possible to ban under relevant circumstances of human societies under the circumstances of the times. For instance, in the ANE, under all too frequently encountered famine conditions or the like, the alternative to enslavement was often death by famine.

    So, the biblical, OT approach was amelioration [and of a form of slavery that typically was what we would call indentured servitude, as opposed to the more notorious cases of plantation style slavery].

    In the NT, again, outright abolition was not a feasible option under the circumstances, so amelioration and the value of liberty, spiritual and civil, was encouraged.

    Indeed, in the case where Paul dealt with a runaway slave, he sent him back to his master, with a letter — sent from prison and subject to censorship of those who were looking for an excuse to put Paul to death — that has in it the direct offer to stand the costs of manumission and cover debts, while encouraging Philemon to release his brother.

    (It seems the hint was taken, and Onesimus reportedly later became a bishop, and is perhaps the person who first compiled the Pauline corpus.)

    So, we have a reformational-transformational approach to major abuses in sinful human cultures, not a confrontational-revolutionary one. (And,the history of recent centuries gives us but little reason to expect more than a new type of tyranny from most bloody revolutions.)

    In that context, that some Christian leaders or members may well have been in error or may well have been captive to the spirit of their age, is neither good reason to suggest that the Biblical worldview does not have adequate resources to ground objective morality, nor that it does not have a viable approach to reformation.

    And, it certainly does not ground the idea that the Christian faith is amoral or morally relativistic, nor that it cannot correct the error of even leading churchmen.

    And that is the bottomline: we see here where sinful error is corrected, even if defied or even if it takes a long time for the correction to soak through our sinfully hardened hearts and institutions of power.

    A challenge that is plainly looming again in our day.

    GEM of TKI

  43. Robert Byers

    I included an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech in my introduction, because of its citation of the phrase, “All men are created equal,” and also because Martin Luther King dedicated his life to making this statement come true. Throughout his career, he steadfastly advocated non-violence, and he also won a Nobel Peace Prize. His track record speaks for itself, and I think his speech deserves to be cited.

    Let me add for the record that I had no intention, in citing Martin Luther King, of accusing Southerners of anything. I visited the USA in 1994-95, and spent three months traveling around the States on a Greyhound bus and backpacking at youth hostels. I got to see 34 states, and I very much enjoyed my time in the South.

  44. markf

    I think kairosfocus has done an excellent job of answering your question on slavery. Let me just add that slavery pertains to the right to liberty, rather than the right to life. The point I wished to make was simply that the right to life is surely the most fundamental right of all, and that no Christian leader has ever asserted that some people have more of a right to life than others, on account of their race or station in life.

    It is indeed a great shame that some Christians (including a few Popes) condoned slavery in times past, but kairosfocus has convincingly shown how thoroughly un-Biblical the slave trade was.

    You cited Genesis 9:25-26. In those verses, Canaan was cursed – not his descendants (presumably, the Canaanites), not Ham, and certainly not Africans, who according to Genesis 10 would have been descended from Ham’s other sons.

    There have been major ethical disagreements between Christians on some issues, but they pale when compared to the ethical disagreements between atheists, or even (more narrowly) secular humanists.

  45. #44 vj

    I didn’t ask any questions about slavery so I don’t see how KF could have answered one!

    I am glad you accept that Christian leaders have been in dispute about the moral issue of slavery. I am not sure why you say this pales into insignificance when compared to the ethical disagreements between atheists, or even (more narrowly) secular humanists. The issue of slavery has affected millions of people. It is based on denying the premise that everyone has a right to liberty. In practice slavery also frequently denied people the right to life in the sense that whether they lived or died was the slaveowner’s decision.

    The issue of whether it is worse to kill a new born baby or an adult hardly ever comes up in practice. About the closest you get is when the doctor has to decide between saving the mother or the child – and most people would accept this is a very tricky decision indeed.

    I didn’t cite Genesis, Joseph Smith did. My point is not whether the Bible actually supports slavery or not. I repeat that I entirely accept that Christianity as a whole has an excellent record on combating slavery. My point is only that Christian leaders from time to time disagree about fundamental moral principles including slavery – quite possibly because some of them misinterpret the Bible. (I am repeating myself – but I don’t know how else to get this point across). If atheist leaders disagree about moral principles you take it as a reason to doubt their morality. This argument applies equally to Christians. (I actually think that disagreement among leaders does not reflect on either group’s fundamental morality – I just want to show that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander)

  46. Onlookers:

    Pardon a direct comment: MF, sadly, continues the tactic of atmosphere poisoning.

    before anything else, I appeal to the onlookers to examine the video and discussion here.

    Then, let us ask yourselves: are we being manipulated by artful shadow-shows and rhetoric, so that what we imagine is light — especially the light of science and reason — is in fact deepest darkness and deception?

    MF’s comment “I just want to show that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” is — on my considered opinion — quite out of order, and he knows or should know it.

    Instead, the root issue of evolutionary materialist amorality vs Christian objectivity of moral standards, must be faced; as was already pointed out at 30 and 33 above but — as is sadly usual — was pointedly ignored by MF.

    Next, as Dr Torley has already highlighted, the question of the right to life must take precedent over any other moral issue, as without your life you have no rights to exercise.

    So, any attempt to rob any member of the human family of his or her right to life from conception to natural death, stands exposed for what it is: a first step to tyranny.

    So also, the horrible slide from abortion effectively on demand [you can't see the baby in the womb . . . ], to infanticide [ a baby is not fully human . . . ], to euthanasia and genocide [on whatever excuse that will then appeal to those whose consciences have become benumbed by the earlier stages of the slide . . . ] has plainly begun to accelerate to the edge of the cliff.

    have we learned nothing from the sad and bloody history of C20?

    Are we bent on repeating some of its worst chapters?

    Yet again, I must be direct: the above attempt to again imply a moral equivalency can only be seen as atmosphere poisoning by trying to create a perceived amoral equivalency.

    Now, specifically, MF — despite his bland denials — has directly implied questions on slavery by what he injected [and indeed the injection of slavery is now plainly the first step of the trifecta of red herrings, strawmen and ad hominems that so often poisons the atmosphere], and he also implied that there was a question of a serious dispute between sides that were of comparable warrant on the issue of slavery.

    By refusing to acknowledge the foundational and authoritative significance of the scriptures for Christians [and, on the Tanakh, for Jews also], he has dodged the highly material point that while there have been Christians in leadership position that were in the wrong concerning slavery, on foundational Christian teaching and principles, they were demonstrably just that.

    In the wrong.

    That fact, for instance, was crucial in the strategy adopted by the early antislavery activists as the first step in reformation.

    Since the slave trade was in a position of being directly opposed to simple, direct scriptural statements [rather than the more subtle import of principles . . . which is prone to manipulative, deliberately confusing exploitation by rhetors bent on an opposed agenda], that root issue was made target no 1 by the early antislavery society from the 1780′s on.

    Then, after enough evidence from indisputable witnesses — men such as William Knibb, who swore to walk the length and breadth of England to let he Christian people of England know what their BRETHREN the slaves were suffering in Jamaica — on the abuses involved could be amassed, multiplied by the impacts of the uprising in defence of their liberty [and vengeance against their oppressors], especially in Haiti and Jamaica, the institution itself was broken in the early 1830′s.

    But that took 50 years, as a whole generation had to be educated, and hearts softened by the impact of the Evangelical awakening had to become a critical mass in the electorate. (This also paved the way for the wave of reformation that marked the early Victorian era. It is no accident that Wilberforce was a leader or sponsor of 70 or so reformation or amelioration initiatives.)

    By sharpest contrast, the evolutionary materialistic scheme — as was pointed out yesterday at 30 above — undermines the foundations of moral principle through its inherent amorality and radical relativism.

    As Plato pointed out, this leads to factions vying for power to force the rules of society to their advantage, and ends in conflicts, chaos and tyranny.

    Evolutionary materialism, let loose on our civilisation, will eventually destroy the social consensus of justice and equality that undergirds democracy and the unprecedented degree of liberty we enjoy. Already, we see how in the UK, agendas tied to the impacts of such amorality and relativism, are already “boxing bread out of the mouths” of people of principle who do not wish to support amorality in their businesses.

    So, the issues raised by Will Hawthorne about the inherent amorality of evolutionary materialism, as cited at 33 above, will have to be faced and seriously addressed.

    Especially, since evolutionary materialism has cultural power because — as Lewontin so directly acknowledged — it is a question-begging, a priori imposition on science, which is seen as the gold standard and arbiter of knowledge in our day.

    GEM of TKI

  47. Ouch on a bit of mangling . . .

  48. Let me fix the most important case:

    >>as Dr Torley has already highlighted, the question of the right to life must take precedence over any other moral issue, as without your life you have no rights to exercise. >>

    I think the time I spent on composing the ID foundations 3 post overnight has me fatigued, so, sorry.

  49. Mark, VJ, and KF, if you don’t mind, I would like to do a bit of fine tuning on your comments about the Catholic Church and slavery. First, keep in mind that the Church has always understood that slavery is wrong unless it is allowed as a punishment for crime. However, in many cases, it had to make the best of that which could not be avoided or eliminated at the time. That was, by the way, the case with St. Paul in the New Testament. In those days, the entire Mediterranean economy was built on slavery. Further, if St. Paul had tried to end political slavery, two things would have happened: First, the Church would have been crushed in its infancy. Second, his efforts to dramatize the “slavery of sin” would have been misunderstood and conflated with the idea of political slavery.

    Even so, the Catholic Church has always believed that slavery is wrong. Its members, of course, have not always practiced what they taught, just as they have not always practiced what they taught with respect to fornication or adultery. Still, Church Doctrine does not change. Official teachings do go through a developmental process and get more sophisticated over time, but their substance never changes. Thus, in earlier times, less is said about slavery, and more is said about it later. However, at no time did the Catholic Church ever advocate slavery.

    As early as 873, Pope John VIII said this to the princes of Sardinia:

    “There is one thing about which we should give you a paternal admonition, and unless you emend, you incur a great sin, and for this reason, you will not increase gain, as you hope, but guilt. . . . many in your area, being taken captive by pagans, are sold and are bought by your people and held under the yoke of slavery. It is evident that it is religious duty and holy, as becomes Christians, that when your people have bought them from the Greeks themselves, for the love of Christ they set them free, and receive gain not from men, but from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Hence we exhort you and in fatherly love command that when you redeem some captives from them, for the salvation of your soul, you let them go free.”

    In May 1537, Pope Paul III wrote this to the Archbishop of Toledo: “It has come to our ears. . . that Charles [V] the [Holy] Roman Emperor. . . to repress those who, eager for gain have an inhuman attitude to the human race, has prohibited by public edict that anyone should presume to reduce to slavery the Western or Southern Indians. . . . we give orders that. . . to all and each one of any dignity whatsoever. . . . you give strict orders under penalty of automatic excommunication . . . that they must not in any way presume to reduce the Indians we mentioned into slavery . . . .

    So, what about Pope Nicholas in 1454? Keep in mind that this Bull was Muslims written at a time of severe Muslim persecution of Christendom. Muslims had been looting, pillaging, and slaughtering Christians without mercy. Nicholas V was directing his Bull ONLY to the Spanish and only for one special problem. It was an authorization to engage conquering Muslims and make war with them to stop their aggression. The papal bull in question was written in the spirit of giving something of a life sentence to criminals with hard labor, much like today’s prison chain gang.

    All subsequent Church documents on this matter have been consistent and explicit. The Catholic Church never has, does not now, nor ever will, endorse slavery.

  50. SB:

    Thanks.

    G

  51. StephenB I am genuinely grateful to you for your explanation of your position on the Catholic Church on slavery. I have no doubt you are aware there is a detailed article on Wikipedia about the Catholic Church and slavery backed up with extensive references. It supports the general position that the Catholic Church has been overall an opponent of slavery and done a lot of good in this respect. Nevertheless the picture is rather more complicated than you describe. Here is one quote:

    In 1456, Pope Calixtus III confirmed these grants to the Kings of Portugal and they were renewed by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481; and finally in 1514 Pope Leo repeated verbatim all these documents and approved, renewed and confirmed them.[79]
    These papal bulls came to serve as a justification for the subsequent era of slave trade and European colonialism.[80]
    The papal pronouncements against slavery in the 15th and 16th centuries sought to regulate particular abuses, but they did not deny Spain and Portugal the right to engage in the trade itself. Thus, although the Church mitigated the effects of slavery in Latin America, it also legitimized it both at the beginning and for hundreds of years afterwards

    Having said that – I repeat yet again that I do not dispute that the Christian Church in general, as well as the Catholic church in particular, has an excellent record on slavery (as did Darwin). My soul point is that Christian leaders have from time to time condoned slavery – which deprives people directly of liberty and indirectly life and the pursuit of happiness.

  52. mf “If atheist leaders disagree about moral principles you take it as a reason to doubt their morality. This argument applies equally to Christians.”

    Hi Mark,

    I would be surprised if VJ doubts atheists “morality” because they disagree on what is an “ought” What I think vj is touching on is for the atheist there is no grounding for an “ought”

    Yes Christians, and I certainly would not consider Joseph Smith in that class,have taken different stances on slavery however they are united that there is an objective “ought”. The ‘ought” is adjudicated through the Scriptures. So I dont think what is good for the goose etc,applies.

    Vivid

  53. Mark, @51, I don’t have time to go through all the Wikipedia errors.

    Aquinas taught that slavery was a sin [not servitude, which is a different thing]. From 1435 to 1890 Several Popes wrote encyclicals for the universal church condemning slavery and the slave trade. I can provide the evidence if called upon to do so.

    On the other hand, here is Wikipedia, writing about 3 later popes:

    —”These papal bulls came to serve as a justification for the subsequent era of slave trade and European colonialism.[80]”

    Those are mere claims for which no evidence is offered, for the simple reason that it isn’t true. Except as a means for punishing criminals and keeping predatory Muslims at bay, the Church has never endorsed slavery. If Mark or Wikipedia would care to support their claims, we can all be witnesses to that fact. I will be happy to provide support for my claims.

    The Catholic Church has never condoned slavery. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to make their case. General quotes from an anti-Catholic, anti -Design website called Wikipedia will not suffice.

  54. #52 Vividbleau

    I would be surprised if VJ doubts atheists “morality” because they disagree on what is an “ought” What I think vj is touching on is for the atheist there is no grounding for an “ought”

    This is what vj wrote:

    if the world’s top atheists cannot even agree on this issue, how much confidence can we have in their repeated assertion that “naturalistic ethics” can deliver “goodness without God”?

    It is unclear what it means to “deliver goodness” but he seems to be saying that because atheist disagree on difficult moral issue there is something wrong with atheist morality in general.  All I am saying in this little dispute is that this particular argument is fallacious.  I could go into the detail – but the easiest way for me to demonstrate it is to point out that theists in general and Christians in particular also disagree about fundamental moral issues and I am sure he would not want to take that as a evidence that there is something wrong with Christian morality.  No one had denied that Christians do disagree about fundamental moral issues – so I think my point stands unrefuted.

    I am sure that vj does think it is a problem with atheism that it has no grounding for how we ought to behave (In fact many atheists do have such a grounding – most obviously those that hold to some form of utilitarianism. Others don’t find it a problem that there is no such ground).  But disagreement among atheists does not provide evidence for such a lack of grounding (if indeed it is a problem).

    Yes Christians, and I certainly would not consider Joseph Smith in that class,have taken different stances on slavery however they are united that there is an objective “ought”. The ‘ought” is adjudicated through the Scriptures. So I dont think what is good for the goose etc,applies.

    Christians are no doubt united about the fact that there is an objective moral grounding. My whole point is despite that Christian leaders frequently disagree about moral fundamentals, as do atheists.

  55. Stephenb #53

     

    I am no expert on Catholicism and slavery and it is irrelevant to main point I want to make here.  I would point out that the Wikipedia article is backed up by extensive references, is extremely detailed, and quotes from a number of serious academic sources. It does make it clear that the Catholic church has a good record on slavery. 

    Aquinas taught that slavery was a sin [not servitude, which is a different thing]. From 1435 to 1890 Several Popes wrote encyclicals for the universal church condemning slavery and the slave trade. I can provide the evidence if called upon to do so.

    And the wikipedia article explains this.

    On the other hand, here is Wikipedia, writing about 3 later popes:

    —”These papal bulls came to serve as a justification for the subsequent era of slave trade and European colonialism.[80]”

    Those are mere claims for which no evidence is offered, for the simple reason that it isn’t true. Except as a means for punishing criminals and keeping predatory Muslims at bay, the Church has never endorsed slavery. If Mark or Wikipedia would care to support their claims, we can all be witnesses to that fact. I will be happy to provide support for my claims.

    I don’t think the article is saying that the Catholic church used the papal bulls to serve as a justification – rather that other people did and the Catholic church did not explicitly forbid the slave trade until the 17th century.

    The Catholic Church has never condoned slavery. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to make their case. General quotes from an anti-Catholic, anti -Design website called Wikipedia will not suffice.

    While you provide some justification for the Papal bulls such as Dum Diversas. it is a fairly clear condoning of a particular instance of slavery.

    “We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery”

    You wrote  in #49

    All subsequent Church documents on this matter have been consistent and explicit. The Catholic Church never has, does not now, nor ever will, endorse slavery

    Yet Dum Diversas was confirmed by a series of other papal bulls such as Romanus Pontifex and in 1514 “Pope Leo repeated verbatim all these documents and approved, renewed and confirmed them”.

    I repeat that both the Wikipedia article and I recognise the  the Catholic Church’s contribution to anti-slavery.  But it isn’t just a case of a single forgivable slip-up Nicholas V in 1452.

  56. MF:

    VJT’s material point (which echoes many thinkers of serious weight all the way back to Plato as I have repeatedly cited) is that the IS-OUGHT gap of evolutionary materialism leads to a want of grounding, and so leaves amorality rampant. In turn this radical relativisation of morality triggers a breakdown of the moral fabric at personal, social and policy levels at key points, such as the value of life.

    Indeed, we can find no end of Christians, including church leaders, who have done or said wrong things on slavery and many other matters — in a world of struggling sinners, who at best painfully progress towards virtue, what else do we expect — but the fact that the good, wise and powerful Creator-God who makes a cosmos that is in relevant part morally governed is pivotal. For, we here have an IS who grounds OUGHT.

    And, we thus see why we all have an innate moral compass that keeps pointing and pricking towards the right and the good, even when we batter away at and try to blunt it.

    Hence too we see why the principle of the Golden Rule taught by Moshe and underscored by Yeshua d’ Nzaret, and again set in the context of citizenship by a certain tent-making rabbi from Tarsus echoes so resonantly within.

    It is time to step out of the cave of shadow-shows and step into the sunshine!

    GEM of TKI

  57. markf

    Thank you for your posts. I’d like to be clear about one thing up-front: I don’t for a moment doubt that atheists are capable of behaving morally, and that they often do. There are members of my own family whom I love dearly, and who are atheists or agnostics. I consider them to be in many ways better human beings than I am, and I’d rate their chances of getting through the Pearly Gates as better than my own. But if you were to ask me whether modern atheism can provide us with a sensible code of ethics, I’d still say no. Here’s why.

    Moral atheists need an ethical code to live by (don’t we all?), and the Golden Rule sounds like a pretty good place to start. But “Do unto others” makes no sense unless you know who the “others” are. To figure out that, you need metaphysics. This is modern atheism’s Achilles’ heel. You need metaphysics to tell you why it is wrong to kill someone in a coma, or for that matter, someone who’s sleeping. You need metaphysics to tell you why baby killing is murder. You need metaphysics to tell you why a killer should still be punished, even if he is arrested 20 years after his murderous act. Notions like “capacity,” “entity” (or “substance”) and “personal identity” are unavoidable in these contexts.

    The problem with these metaphysical notions for a modern atheist is that from a materialistic standpoint, they lack justification. These notions are not supplied to us by the senses, and they cannot be scientifically validated. If the scientific method is your ultimate way of deciding what’s true, then you will have to discard most of the language we commonly use when talking about human beings (especially in an ethical context) as so much metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. But doing that leaves you with a paper-thin concept of what it means to be human. In everyday situations, a modern atheist will probably manage fine, but outside the realm of the normal, his/her ethics will go astray very quickly.

    Babies are hardly abnormal – most of us see them every day. It is astonishing, then, that the world’s most influential atheists cannot even agree on the question of whether babies matter as much as the rest of us do – something which is blindingly obvious to the community at large. The inability of modern atheists to agree on such a simple question should tell us that their ethics is, at best, a work-in-progress.

    Let’s assume for argument’s sake that atheists are eventually able to agree on a metaphysical system, and that they finally come up with a naturalistic ethic along the lines of Philippa Foot’s, for instance. Even this ethic cannot tell us whether and to what degree we are morally obliged to take living things’ natures as a “given.” For instance, is it right for me to re-engineer my psyche in a way that enhances my intellectual capacities but also weakens my capacity to empathize? What about mutilating my body, simply because I want to?

    The only way out of this ethical quagmire is to recognize at the outset that this is not our universe to meddle with; rather, it belongs to the Creator, who is, as kairosfocus pointed out above, an IS who grounds OUGHT. If we recognize this fact, we may wander, but we will never wander far off the right path.

    Finally, I think you were quite right to highlight injustices condoned by past Popes in connection with slavery, even if many other Popes attempted to combat the slave trade. But when you read here (warning: the passages in the attached link make for very unpleasant reading) of how the Enlightenment philosophers regarded the people of Africa, I think you’ll agree that the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity played a major role in finally putting a stop to racism, which would probably still be with us if the Enlightenment had destroyed the Church in the 18th century.

  58. —markf: “While you provide some justification for the Papal bulls such as Dum Diversas. it is a fairly clear condoning of a particular instance of slavery.”

    It’s called POW (prisoner of war) slavery, which is not the same thing as institutional or cultural slavery, which seems to have been an invention of Islam. Also, those being confined were guilty of what we would refer to today as war crimes. At the time, it was considered more merciful than killing.

    —”Yet Dum Diversas was confirmed by a series of other papal bulls such as Romanus Pontifex and in 1514 “Pope Leo repeated verbatim all these documents and approved, renewed and confirmed them”.

    Same problem, same rationale.

    There seems to be a problem here of which “expert” to believe. I am drawing on the work of [a] The Popes and Slavery, by Fr. Joel S. Panzer, [b] Holy Warriors, by James Brewer Stewart, [c] Ethnic America, by Thomas Sowell, and [d] How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery by Rodney Stark.

    The Wikipedia article depends largely on the work of John Francis Maxwell, whose seems to have a bit of a grudge against the Catholic Church. In my judgment, his understanding of what was written, why it was written, and for whom, is problematic. As I say, Wikipedia is not impartial on this matter.

  59. mf “No one had denied that Christians do disagree about fundamental moral issues – so I think my point stands unrefuted.”

    With all due respect it seems to me that your point stands unrefuted because you are missing the point.

    VJ confirms what I suspected in 58. It is not about whether atheists act morally. I agree wholeheartedly with the following

    “I don’t for a moment doubt that atheists are capable of behaving morally, and that they often do. There are members of my own family whom I love dearly, and who are atheists or agnostics. I consider them to be in many ways better human beings than I am, and I’d rate their chances of getting through the Pearly Gates as better than my own.”

    The point you seem to be missing which does not stand unrefuted is

    “But if you were to ask me whether modern atheism can provide us with a sensible code of ethics, I’d still say no”

    Vivid

  60. Vivid & VJT:

    I would add, that evolutionary materialistic atheism has in it no IS that can solidly ground OUGHT.

    While indeed, many atheists and agnostics [up to the point that we all struggle to be consistently good] are generally decent people, that does not erase that fundamental point.

    And, historically, when this view becomes a significant view in society, that lack of grounding for oughtness, becomes a serious concern. Indeed, the IS-OUGHT gap issue extends to things like: why should we value other people, despite differences such as sex, age, class, race, nationality, etc. or treat them decently?

    (Indeed the focus of this and the previous thread — the newborn child — is a social case of the question of treating people on their age since conception.)

    If people are made in God’s image and so by nature are endowed with a certain sacred worth that renders us fundamentally equal, we have a ground for ought in that isness rooted in the Good God and Creator.

    But, if, in the end, we are jumped up pond slime, by whatever accidents along the way, we have no fundamental value beyond the anticipated cost of violation. That is, “can I get away with it . . . ” or, more directly: might makes right.

    Yes, nice, decent folks may well feel they should not treat people disrespectfully etc, or may have been raised to be decent, or may even be “naturally” honourable [that points to the Author of the law written on our hearts] but that feeling is very different from warrant.

    To see the depth of the problem for systems that have in them no is that can ground ought, let us hear Hume’s slick formulation:

    In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

    Hume of course — by clever use of “surpriz’d” — slips swiftly by the issue that ought can be properly grounded in the character and goodness of the Creator-God, the root of being; who has given us conscience and reason as candles within to prompt us to the wise, the good and the true; i.e. we are morally governed creatures, not ruled by force of chance or necessity or instinct or pain.

    But, he has rightly highlighted that unless we can bridge IS and OUGHT in our worldview’s foundations, we have no ground for ought on that view.

    That is materialism’s inescapable challenge. One that for at least 2,300 years, it seems to have had no answer.

    GEM of TKI

  61. mf “I am sure that vj does think it is a problem with atheism that it has no grounding for how we ought to behave (In fact many atheists do have such a grounding – most obviously those that hold to some form of utilitarianism”

    This is like saying that our feet are firmly grounded in thin air.

    Vivid

  62. vj #57

    Your comment is as always polite and well written.  My problem is I disagree with so much of it I don’t know where to start!  This is a horrendously long reply – but I don’t have time to shorten it.

    I don’t think we all need an ethical code to live by.  But I have argued this many times before and there is little point in arguing it again.  My main point was not to have a debate about metaethics.  It was simply to debate the much more humble item of the argument in this paragraph.

     

    Babies are hardly abnormal – most of us see them every day. It is astonishing, then, that the world’s most influential atheists cannot even agree on the question of whether babies matter as much as the rest of us do – something which is blindingly obvious to the community at large. The inability of modern atheists to agree on such a simple question should tell us that their ethics is, at best, a work-in-progress.

     

    Even here I disagree on at least three things.

    1) The question on which atheists were undecided was: Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? (This not the same as the rather vague question: Do you believe babies have the same moral worth as adults? and it is not the same as are you more upset about the death of a baby or the death of an adult? which you answered in an earlier comment)  I don’t find the answer blindingly obvious. Nor do I find it particularly important or revealing.  As I said in an earlier comment it is a question that almost never arises in practice as far as I know.  The closest we come to it is the dilemma occasionally faced in childbirth where the doctor has to choose between the death of the baby or the death of the mother.  I would wager the majority of people would say “save the mother” (look here for a small unrandom sample).  It is certainly not blindingly obvious.

     

    2) Even if this were an important ethical question to which the answer is blindingly obvious it does not follow that because leading atheists disagree they are following a deficient ethical code. Among other things there is no reason to assume they all have the same ethical code. All they have in common is they don’t believe in God. Some may have a very consistent, strong, ethical code; while others have a different one or no code at all.  Their disagreement on a specific outcome no more demonstrates a problem with all their individual codes than the disagreement between Muslim and Catholic codes shows that both of these codes are at fault.

     

    3) And to reiterate my initial point.  Christian leaders have disagreed about equal rights to liberty for all men, and because of that equal rights to life.  If you don’t count this as showing the Christian code as deficient why do you count a similar disagreement as showing an atheist ethical code as deficient?  (Reiterating your concerns about atheist ethical codes does not answer this question).

     

    Finally, I think you were quite right to highlight injustices condoned by past Popes in connection with slavery, even if many other Popes attempted to combat the slave trade. But when you read here(warning: the passages in the attached link make forvery unpleasant reading) of how the Enlightenment philosophers regarded the people of Africa, I think you’ll agree that the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity played a major role in finally putting a stop to racism, which would probably still be with us if the Enlightenment had destroyed the Church in the 18th century.

    I agree and have said nothing to suggest I don’t agree throughout this discussion.  I don’t know why people keep on telling me what a good job Christians have done on racism and slavery when I keep on agreeing!  I would point out that Darwin was very closely associated with the Christian anti-slavery movement.

  63. #58 StephenB – I think you are right. We have different authorities. Why don’t you correct the Wikipedia article if it is wrong?

    #59 Vivid – I think my response to vj may answer your comment.

  64. –mark: “#58 StephenB – I think you are right. We have different authorities. Why don’t you correct the Wikipedia article if it is wrong?”

    Among other things, they simply do not make the necessary intellectual distinctions.

    Let me try to outline the issue in the simplest way I know how.

    INTRINSIC EVIL = actions that are wrong for all people, at all times, in all contexts, and in all places.

    Example: Abortion, Unjust Slavery (Chattel Slavery), Usury (Unjustified and unduly high interest rates).

    Relevant Point: Both Christianity and The United States Constitution forbid Chattel Slavery.

    CONDITIONAL EVIL = actions that are often or usually wrong, but can, nevertheless, be justified under certain conditions.

    Example: Capital Punishment, Just Title Servitude, POW servitude, high interest rates.

    Relevant Point: Both Christianity and The United States Constitution frown on, but have sometimes allowed for, Just Title Servitude.

    DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE = a change in the conditions that may influence the way we look at a conditional evil.

    Example: While the Catholic Church still recognizes that Capital Punishment is not, like abortion, inherently evil, the conditions which once justified the practice no longer seem to exist, thought they may become relevant at a future time. This teaching is changeable or reformable.

    Similarly, whether or not interest rates are too high depend on a number of circumstances, but unduly high interest rates are never justified.

    Now let’s look at the relevant timelines and apply the appropriate terms:

    1435: Pope Eugene IV condemns INHERENT EVIL in the form of unjust slavery.

    Relevant Point: His condemnation applies to everyone, even those who may have no involvement in with the Canary Islands. We know this by virtue of his qualifying words, “other various illicit and evil deeds. So he is speaking to the universal church, not just a few Catholics.

    Because, he is ruling on the INTRINSIC EVIL of Chattel slavery as the final word, his teaching is unchangeable and irreformable. It has nothing at all to do with conditions.

    1452: Pope Nicholas V issues a Papal Bull allowing for just slavery (POW slavery).

    Relevant Point: Because this writing occurs after that of Eugene IV, it must be understood in that context and must also reflect the already established teaching that Chattel slavery is always wrong. The former teaching is binding. Therefore, Pope Nicholas is not, nor can he, “undo” Pope Eugene’s teaching.

    What, then, is he doing? He is ruling on, or allowing for, a different kind of servitude– a CONDITIONAL EVIL, which means that under any other circumstances, it could not be allowed. This teaching is reformable and changeable. Like Capital Punishment, the conditions that could justify it can exist at certain times and not exist at other times.

    Other Papal Bulls followed his lead for as long as necessary.

    In 1537, Pope Paul III issued another Bull against slavery, entitled Sublimis Deus, to the universal Church. In this, he was, once again ruling on the INTRINSIC EVIL of unjust slavery. He was not “undoing” the Papal Bulls which allowed for POW servitude, which referred to another species.

    Like previous Popes, he understood the difference between intrinsic evil and conditional evil. Pope Paul not only condemned the slavery of Indians but also “all other peoples.” In his phrase “unheard of before now”, he acknowledges the difference between this new form of slavery (i.e. racial slavery) and the ancient forms of just-title slavery.

    DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE: The Church seems to have taken a stronger stand against “just slavery” in recent centuries, but it has not, nor will it ever declare it to be an intrinsic evil.

    Final Point: The Catholic Church has not ever, nor will it ever, change its teachings on the intrinsic evil of unjust slavery.

  65. markf

    Hi. Just time for a quick reply now. You write:

    …it does not follow that because leading atheists disagree they are following a deficient ethical code. Among other things there is no reason to assume they all have the same ethical code.

    Quite so; but I’d like to see just one well thought-out code produced by one of these leading atheists. The Judeo-Christian ethic is a pretty coherent one, which has led to a fairly well-defined body of work on the natural law.

    One thing on which all Jews and Christians agree is that the value of each and every human life is equal and infinite (in the sense that it cannot be measured in monetary or quantitative terms). That’s a basic point of agreement.

    Regarding your dilemma about saving the baby: this post is about newborn babies, not unborn babies. (I’ll discuss them in my next post.) If there were a fire in a house, and a mother and her newborn baby were trapped inside, and there were only time to save one of them, I believe nearly everyone would say: save the baby first.

  66. Onlookers:

    SB has made some highly significant moral distinctions that point to situations where an evil can be seen as excusable [lesser than the alternatives], under particular circumstances.

    Wikipedia’s moderators, however, on many ideologically charged subjects, will not allow the sort of corrective above to stand for any length of time. (E.g. At least one conservative journalist had to threaten lawsuit in order to get utterly unfounded accusations from being continually restored to his Wiki biography, and even so, they stand in the “history” tabs of the article. The same holds for design thoery topics and biographies.)

    Sadly, Wikipedia — despite its declarations about a neutral point of view — is too often untrustworthy on ideologically loaded topics.

    The best that can be said for it on such, is that it sets the 101-level threshold of evolutionary materialistic, somewhat trendy leftish [and too often sophomoric] conventional wisdom that one must be aware of and surpass.

    A pity, really.

    GEM of TKI

  67. #64 Stephenb

    A few years ago in the UK the rail services equipped themselves for snow fall but were still chaotic when snow fell. Their excuse was that it was the wrong kind of snow and this has become a standing joke. I can’t help having similar feelings about the wrong kind of slavery.

  68. #65 vj

    You have moved your objection from “Atheists disagree over a fundamental matter therefore their moral code is faulty” to “Atheists have not described a moral code adequately”. I am not sure what moral codes these various atheists use but they have a lot of respectable options which do not require a God including various forms of utilitarianism, the golden rule, Kantian categorical imperative and Aristotelian eudaimonia. Or they may follow Hume (as I do) and believe that moral codes are descriptive of our passions rather than prescriptive. Each of these might lead to a different conclusion about whether to save the baby or the mother. In addition each of these might be interpreted differently in making this particularly difficult decision – just as it is possible to interpret Judeo-Christian ethics differently in difficult situations.

    I am surprised that you give babies just about to be born a different status from babies who have just been born. Presumably that means you think that abortion of a baby close to birth is a lesser sin than killing a new born baby?

    In the fire situation 99 times out of 100 there would be a decisive factor – which one was most likely to survive – the mother insisting the baby be saved first etc. If there were literally nothing to choose other than the age of the two humans then I am not at all sure which way people would vote – it doesn’t seem at all obvious. Have you any evidence?

  69. The point I wished to make was simply that the right to life is surely the most fundamental right of all, and that no Christian leader has ever asserted that some people have more of a right to life than others, on account of their race or station in life.

    Really? How about the pope’s position on abortion? It gives the unborn baby (which the Catholic Church views as a person) more of a right to live than the mother.

  70. markf

    In response to your query: no, I do not regard the abortion of a baby close to birth as a lesser sin than killing a new born baby. However, I do not regard the dilemma you propose as a helpful one. You ask us to consider the case of a childbirth in which the doctor has to choose between the death of the baby or the death of the mother. You then wager (correctly, I think) that the majority of people would say: “Save the mother.” I’d like to make four comments here.

    First, saving the mother is quite a different thing, conceptually, from killing the baby. The fact that most people, in this situation, think that the doctor should save the mother first does not necessarily imply that they think the doctor should kill the child in order to do so (e.g. by crushing its skull, as in craniotomy). People tend to balk when you put it to them like that – as they should. Sometimes, however, a life-saving action can have indirect, unintended side-effects; hence, saving the mother may unintentionally result in the death of the unborn child. That’s not killing.

    Second, there are all sorts of reasons why people might feel inclined to save the mother’s life first, in the case you propose, even if they think that an unborn baby’s life is just as valuable as its mother’s. To begin with, people commonly envisage the unborn child as a little guest in its mother’s womb, and they then reason that a guest’s right to assistance in an emergency cannot take precedence over the host’s prior right to receive assistance. They would therefore argue: “Save the mother first.” (I’m just describing here what many people think.) On top of that, people commonly argue that the mother will almost certainly have a husband and maybe one or more children as well, all of whom will be sadly bereaved if she dies. Applying the host-guest analogy again, they reason that the mother has obligations to existing family members to put her life first, if an unavoidable conflict of interests arises.

    Third, if you want to get a sense of how people view the status of the unborn child, it would be better to ask what they think is the appropriate punishment for a murderer who shoots an eight-months-pregnant woman in the abdomen, with the aim of killing her unborn child, and then ask them what they think is the appropriate penalty for a murderer who kills a newborn baby. I can’t think of any good reason why the penalty should be different in the two cases. I think this is a much fairer kind of question, as it avoids messy mother-versus-child medical dilemmas and focuses on the relevant issue, which is the relative value of an unborn child’s life and a newborn baby’s life.

    Fourth, I don’t for a moment pretend that people’s moral intuitions regarding the unborn child are fully thought-out or totally consistent. Often it’s a case of “Out of sight, out of mind,” and additionally, many people’s knowledge of fetal development is poor. Newborn babies, on the other hand, are highly visible and quite familiar to us; hence I’d expect people’s moral intuitions to be sharper and much more consistent.

    Regarding my point against atheism: the point I wish to make is that Jews and Christians have an organized corpus of writings on ethical matters, in which the underlying moral principles have been spelled out in some detail and applied in a fairly rigorous fashion to a wide variety of practical situations.

    Atheists, by comparison, are all at sea. I doubt whether even one of them has enunciated his/her moral principles with the same rigor and in-depth analysis as, say, Professor John Finnis or Professor Germain Grisez, to name a couple of moral thinkers whose work I am fairly familiar with. Few of these atheist thinkers have even come up with a simple list of basic moral principles.

    You mention utilitarianism as an alternative school of thought, which could adjudicate cases like the question I posed in my post. But by far the most well-thought-out work by any modern-day utilitarian philosophers is that of Professor Peter Singer, whose writings have reached millions. Singer is quite rigorous in his ethical reasoning, and I respect him for that, despite my profound disagreement with his opinions. It is in his metaphysics that he comes undone, as I will attempt to show in my next post, where I address his faulty arguments against the humanity of the unborn child. Here, Singer’s lack of rigor is apparent.

    Even worse, while Singer’s code of ethics answers the questions I posed in my post, it gives answers that are completely different to what ordinary people think. According to Singer, newborn babies are not persons at all. The overwhelming majority of people would regard such a view as morally odious.

    You then argue that the following three questions are non-equivalent:

    1. Do you believe babies have the same moral worth as adults?

    2. Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult?

    3. Are you more upset about the death of a baby or the death of an adult?

    I never asked question 3, so I shall put it to one side and focus on 1 and 2. In Judeo-Christian moral thinking, each human life is regarded as having an equal and infinite value. Hence babies matter just as much as adults do. That’s not vague. And if that’s the case, killing a baby is just as bad as killing an adult. Thus question 1 answers question 2.

    Regarding disagreements among Christian moral philosophers: I think StephenB has done an admirable job of explaining how these have arisen, historically speaking. These differences seldom relate to intrinsic evils, or actions that are wrong for all people, at all times, in all contexts, and in all places. Instead, they typically relate to situations where an evil might be seen as excusable [a lesser evil than the alternatives], under particular circumstances. Ethical disagreements between Christians may also relate to how an abstract universal moral principle applies to these particular circumstances. But disagreements about fundamental principles themselves are inconceivable, within the Christian tradition.

    I hope this answers most of your questions.

  71. vj

    As usual too many things to dispute. I will have to leave some out. I will start with a less important but interesting point:

    In Judeo-Christian moral thinking, each human life is regarded as having an equal and infinite value. Hence babies matter just as much as adults do. That’s not vague. And if that’s the case, killing a baby is just as bad as killing an adult.

    It seems to follow fairly directly from this thinking that if confronted with the choice of saving one life or the other there is nothing to choose between them (the surgeon’s dilemma). So it is curious that most people’s intuition is different.  It is far from obvious that it makes killing one or the other equally wrong (although Christian doctrine may say this in addition). The wrongness of a deed is not typically measured just in terms of the value of what is lost (or are Christians closet utilitarians?).  It depends on the motivation of the sinner, any mitigating circumstances, what it tells us about the killers mentality, all sorts of things.  Just think of Foot’s trolley examples.

    Now to something more substantial.

    Ethical disagreements between Christians may also relate to how an abstract universal moral principle applies to these particular circumstances. But disagreements about fundamental principles themselves are inconceivable, within the Christian tradition.

    This is an extraordinary claim.  You say that not only do such disagreements not happen – they are inconceivable! Is it inconceivable that the opposing sides of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre disagreed on fundamental principles?   Do you not a have fundamental disagreement with the principles outlined in Rev. Richard Furman’s COMMUNICATION To the Governor of South-Carolina :

    “for the right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

    Or are you going to claim that he was talking about a sort of slavery that is OK under certain circumstances?

    Now to the main argument.  You are concerned that atheists have not formulated a detailed code of morals in the way that Christians have.  This may be true. Out of the 25 I would think very few of them would even think it their responsibility to develop such a code. On the other hand, religions tend to spawn moral codes – often contradictory and sometimes enforced violently. Having a detailed moral code does not seem to have prevented large and important disagreements among the religious generally and Christians in particular – whether it be pacifism, homosexuality, abortion, contraception or slavery.  In my opinion Singer’s problem is that he has got obsessed with extending his moral feelings into principles and this has lead to absurd conclusions – as such codes tend to do.  On the whole I see little benefit to such codes and a lot of danger.  If the only problem that arises is that people cannot decide which is the worse sin – killing a new born baby or an adult – then I don’t think we have much to worry about.  If the conclusion was that it is not wrong to kill a new born baby that would be different.

  72. vjt:

    “1. Do you believe babies have the same moral worth as adults?”

    “In Judeo-Christian moral thinking, each human life is regarded as having an equal and infinite value. Hence babies matter just as much as adults do. That’s not vague.”

    …except that you DO NOT hold the worth of a newborn baby to be equal to the worth of a human adult – there is a glaringly obvious gradient in value in your declared default strategy of invariably saving the baby and letting the adult die when faced with being able to save only one of them;

  73. —markf: “A few years ago in the UK the rail services equipped themselves for snow fall but were still chaotic when snow fell. Their excuse was that it was the wrong kind of snow and this has become a standing joke. I can’t help having similar feelings about the wrong kind of slavery.”

    I think most people would acknowledge the significant difference between chattel slavery and POW slavery if someone would take the time to make the distinction for them [and provide parallel examples of the difference between extrinsic evil and conditional evil] as I tried to do for you. However, it is not my intention to persuade you to accept that distinction, since I know that you will not. To accept the distinction is to concede the argument.

    I am speaking primarily to those in my audience who may have been mislead by the Wikipedia link, which advances the false argument that the Catholic Church once officially endorsed slavery and later changed its position. That some high-ranking churchmen violated the moral teaching of their own church is a fact of history, but their scandalous behavior has nothing at all to do with the validity and repeated proclamations of the teachings themselves.

  74. markf (#70)

    I’d like to address up-front the substantive point you make about moral disagreements between Christians. I note that neither of the examples you cite has to do with natural moral law, as the killing of a baby does.

    With regard to the killing of heretics, many Christians in the Middle Ages came to accept this barbarous practice on the basis of their interpretation of certain Scriptural passages in the Old Testament, which they mistakenly believed had relevance to their present situation. They did not, however, base their arguments on natural law. So we can see here that it was their misinterpretation of a Divine command that generated the disagreement.

    Ditto for slavery in the letter by the Rev. Furman, which you cited. Towards the end of his letter, Rev. Furman acknowledged that a master had an obligation not to treat his slaves in a way which he could not consistently wish to be treated himself, were he in their position. What led him astray here was not natural law but his misinterpretation of Scripture:

    “for the right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

    He interpreted those precepts fairly liberally, to justify not only the owning of slaves, but also keeping their descendants in slavery. It was not natural law reasoning that led him to this erroneous conclusion, however.

    What all this tells us is that Scripture can be a deadly book in the hands of people (even Christians) whose hearts are not pure, for they are apt to misinterpret it in a way that justifies social vices that they might want to maintain.

    You also remark that “(h)aving a detailed moral code does not seem to have prevented large and important disagreements among the religious generally and Christians in particular – whether it be pacifism, homosexuality, abortion, contraception or slavery.”

    No Christian writers of any stripe defended homosexuality before 1970, and those that do now cannot be called Christian, as they (i) reject Scriptural inerrancy, and (ii) base their evaluations of right and wrong not on the principles of natural law, but on the empirical findings of science (e.g. “Homosexuality is found in most species of animals, therefore it’s OK.”)

    The unanimous condemnation of abortion among Christian bishops, teachers and theologians during the past 2,000 years speaks for itself. This was equally true even during times when some Christians expressed doubts as to whether the fetus possessed a rational soul.

    Slavery is a matter which StephenB has fully addressed above, so I won’t add to his comments here.

    Pacifism is probably the best example you have. But again, Christian pacifists based their opposition to war not on natural law, but on their interpretation of the New Testament (“Turn the other cheek.”)

    In short, regarding natural law, the degree of agreement among Christians over the past 2,000 years is striking – especially when compared with the vehement disagreements that are found between atheists living in the same country, at the same point in history.

    Finally, your remarks about the surgeon’s dilemma don’t establish that people think the life of a baby is less worth saving than that of the mother. My counter-example of the house-fire shows otherwise: most people would save the baby first and the mother second, in that case. All the surgeon’s dilemma shows is simply that people’s intuitions about the rights and obligations of hosts and guests tend to over-ride their judgments about the relative worth of the two lives.

  75. vj
    You are using the most extraordinary contortions to get round the fact that Christians have fundamental moral disagreements:

    (1) Christians may disagree to the extent of killing each other and implementing slavery , but this is just how they interpet the natual moral law not their understanding of the law. So it doesn’t really count.

    (2) Those that condone homosexuality and whose evaluations therefore conflict with natural law are therefore not Christians (although some of them are fully qualified ministers).

    (3) However, those that are pacificists are Christians even though they based their ethical judgement on the New Testament and not the natural law.

    I challenge you to find a leading atheist who does not agree that:

    * killing people is wrong (including killing those that have different beliefs and killing new born babies)

    * slavery of any form is wrong

    * practicing homosexuality is not wrong

    Like Christians they will probably disagree over pacificism.

    Meanwhile you make a big deal of

    * they disagree over an issue which comes up once in blue moon and where normal reaction seems to vary according to the context (surgeon versus burning house).

    * Christians agree over the natural moral law (which does not prevent them disagreeing on what they actually do) and if someone believes in Christ but doesn’t agree on the natural law they are no longer Christian by definition!

    Come on!

  76. markf

    The question of whom to save in a house fire or in a surgical operation does indeed come up “once in a blue moon,” but the moral issue of whether killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult is a substantive one, with important legal ramifications, and it is not a once-in-a-blue-moon issue. Sadly, babies are killed all too frequently. And the underlying issue of whether a newborn baby’s life has the same moral worth as an adult’s life is also a substantive one. If I were writing a book on ethics, it would be one of the first questions I’d want to address.

    Questions relating to the value (or importance) of an entity’s life take precedence over all others, as they relate to the beings which populate our moral universe. Questions regarding slavery are substantial, but less important than issues relating to life.

    I am surprised that you belittle the issue which you yourself raised in your blog, when you wrote that the last question in my five-part quiz was the only interesting one.

  77. vj

    I said it was interesting – not that it was important. It was interesting because it is not easy to decide what is the right answer whereas the others are straightforward (but important).

    You say “the moral issue of whether killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult is a substantive one, with important legal ramifications” – can you provide some examples? Be careful to distinguish it from the issue of whether killing babies is wrong.

    Babies are killed all too frequently (although hardly ever in Western countries). And everyone of those 25 atheists would agree that was very wrong.

    Here is another way of looking at this. Atheists do not have a natural moral law. Theists do. An interesting question might be does having a natural moral law provide more consistency in actual practical ethical decisions. The answer to me seems to be a resounding no!

  78. markf

    You wrote:

    I challenge you to find a leading atheist who does not agree that:

    * killing people is wrong (including killing those that have different beliefs and killing new born babies)

    Happy to oblige. How about Michael Tooley, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado-Boulder?

    Philosophers on Abortion and Infanticide by Frank Bouchier-Hayes.

    In Defense of Abortion and Infanticide by Professor Michael Tooley. In Moral Issues, edited by Jan Narveson, Oxford University Press, Toronto and New York, 1983, 215-33.

    You also asked:

    I challenge you to find a leading atheist who does not agree that:

    * slavery of any form is wrong

    Slavery of any form? You do realize that the United States Constitution still permits slavery, don’t you?

    1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    Finally, you wrote:

    I challenge you to find a leading atheist who does not agree that:

    * practicing homosexuality is not wrong

    OK. How about Ayn Rand? (Not dead very long; still influential.)

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O.....osexuality . In a 1968 lecture, she said, “I do not approve of such practices or regard them as necessarily moral, but it is improper for the law to interfere with a relationship between consenting adults.” (Ayn Rand Answers, p. 18.)

  79. #78 vj

    Thanks for these examples. Almost as soon as I wrote it I realised it would be quite easy for you to meet the challenge. Atheists in general have a wide range of opinions about moral issues just as theists do. But as far as real ethical decisions are concerned they are certainly no more disparate than theists as a whole and I don’t see any evidence they are more disparate then Christians as a whole.

    The Tooley example is interesting. Here is an atheist who has worked through a moral code of sorts in detail and come to a conclusion that emotionally most people find unacceptable. It is a prime example of the danger of “top down” morals. As Hume said:
    “reason should be a slave to passion”.

  80. Heinrich (#69)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    How about the pope’s position on abortion? It gives the unborn baby (which the Catholic Church views as a person) more of a right to live than the mother.

    The teaching of the Catholic Church is that the direct killing of an innocent human life – whether it be killing the mother in order to save the baby, or killing the baby to save the mother – is always wrong. Sometimes, however, a life-saving action may have the unintentional, indirect effect of ending another life. The removal of a cancerous uterus may unintentionally result in the death of the unborn child; but the Church does not consider this to be murder. Surgery intended to terminate the life of an innocent human being, however, is considered by the Catholic Church to be intrinsically wrong.

    The unborn child does not have any more of a right to live than its mother. It simply has the right not to be intentionally killed.

  81. markf (#77)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    You say “the moral issue of whether killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult is a substantive one, with important legal ramifications” – can you provide some examples?

    First, there’s the case that Steve Pinker brought up in 1997: what should the legal penalty be in Western countries, for mothers who kill their newborn babies? Should it be as severe as the penalty for mothers who kill young children? I would say yes. (Regarding the commonly heard claim that mothers who kill their newborn babies are not fully responsible for their actions: in 1970, a groundbreaking study by Dr. Phillip Resnick of Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University found that mothers who kill their newborns usually aren’t psychotic, depressed or suicidal, but that mothers who kill their older children often are. In 2006, Resnick and other Case Western researchers released a study that summarized data from dozens of previous research papers on infanticide. It confirmed that mothers who killed their newborn babies are more likely to be rational than mothers who kill older children.)

    Second, there’s the question of whether the legal penalty for a murderer killing a newborn baby should be the same as that for a murderer killing a young child, or a murderer an adult. I would argue that they should be the same in all cases.

    Third, there’s the question of whether newborn babies are entitled to the same level of medical assistance as young children, teenagers and adults. This is a pressing problem, and President Obama’s Health Policy Advisor, Ezekiel Emanuel, has some very creepy views on this subject. See the following article (which he co-authored): Principles for allocation of scarce medical interventions by Govind Persad, Alan Wertheimer and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, in The Lancet, 31 January 2009, vol. 373, pp. 423-431. And now read what the man says:

    The death of a 20-year-old young woman is intuitively worse than that of a 2-month-old girl, even though the baby has had less life. The 20-year-old has a much more developed personality than the infant, and has drawn upon the investment of others to begin as-yet-unfulfilled projects.

    Adolescents have received substantial education and parental care, investments that will be wasted without a complete life. Infants, by contrast, have not yet received these investments. Similarly, adolescence brings with it a developed personality capable of forming and valuing long-term plans whose fulfilment requires a complete life. As the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin argues, “It is terrible when an infant dies, but worse, most people think, when a three-year-old child dies and worse still when an adolescent does”; this argument is supported by empirical surveys…

    When implemented, the complete lives system produces a priority curve on which individuals aged between roughly 15 and 40 years get the most substantial chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get chances that are attenuated (figure). (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    So according to Emanuel, babies should have a lower priority to receive medical assistance than adults, because adults have more developed personalities. All I can say is: “How vile!”

    As I wrote in a comment on this article two years ago (see http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-330331 ):

    Evidently, my intuitions and Emanuel’s are poles apart. For me and, I suspect, for most people, the crime of killing a newborn infant is, if anything, more evil than killing an adult. We might pardon a man who murdered another man; but the crime of murdering a child is unpardonable. This tells us that intuitively, people regard babies as being every bit as important as adolescents and adults, if not more so.

    If newborn babies are denied medical assistance because adults take priority, then that has important legal ramifications. Consider a hospital attempting to implement Emanuel’s recommendations. Citing neglect of newborn human life, a concerned resident then sues the hospital, which then appeals to a higher court. How should the court rule?

    Those are just a few examples, off the top of my head.

  82. Dr. Torley and markf, today’s Unbelievable Radio Broadcast is relevant to this topic:

    Off-duty policemen in Bogota, Columbia shoot street children because they consider them to be “disposables”. Using stories such as this Mark Roques asks whether value in human life can be found anywhere other than our being made “In the image of God”. Atheist Paul Thompson argues that we don’t need a supernatural explanation for the value we place on human beings. They discuss the issue of where human value comes from and Mark’s “Subversive Questions and storytelling” method of apologetics.
    http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable

  83. markf

    For what it’s worth, I’m prepared to acknowledge that there has been a great diversity of views countenanced by Christians on certain ethical matters, and that at times some Christians have endorsed behavior we would rightly judge as barbarous today.

    My point would be that in order to formulate ethical judgments on a systematic basis, we need a positive account of human flourishing – i.e. of what is good for people. We also need to know what we are, as human beings. “Know thyself,” as an inscription on the temple of Apollo in Delphi put it.

    I don’t doubt that atheists are every bit as empathetic as Christians. Empathy alone should have been enough to put a stop to the slave trade before it even got started, and it is a great shame that many Christians were prepared to turn a blind eye to it while it happened, though some courageously condemned it.

    However, in today’s world of cyborgs, AI, xenotransplantation, IVF, cloning, the Great Ape project, PVS patients, cryogenics, near-death experiences and various proposed definitions for brain death, we really need to think through the ethical issues carefully, and in depth.

    One of the great benefits of “natural law ethics” is that it comes equipped with a toolkit of concepts, as well as a metaphysical framework, which are able to encompass all these tricky issues.

    More to the point, though, “natural law ethics” sets bounds as to what we can do and what we can’t. For 2,000 years, these bounds have imposed constraints on Jews and Christians, preventing them from sanctioning behavior permitted in other cultures: female infanticide and suicide, in particular. To let go of this body of thought would be a terrible mistake, and a gigantic backward step for humanity.

    Atheism per se doesn’t necessarily prevent someone from reasoning about natural law, but atheism coupled with materialism does. Singer’s reasoning is flawed precisely for this reason, as I’ll argue in my next post: his materialism prevents him from making the relevant metaphysical distinctions.

    Anyway, I shall stop here and get to work on my next post, which should be up in a day or two. It’ll contain an interesting story, which I think readers will like.

  84. #81 vj

    Thank you for digging up those examples.  I have to say that the  penalty for killing new born children (whether by the mother or someone else) does not strike me as an important legal ramification.  Whether it be less than the penalty for killing an adult or not – everyone agrees that there should be a penalty and I am sure they agree it should be severe unless there are mitigating circumstances (as for adult murder).  How many murders of new born children are there in Western countries? I would be surprised if it exceeds single digits per year in the USA and I am willing to bet they are almost all by someone closely related.  In such horrific situations the legal issue of the penalty relative to killing an adult seems a minor consideration.

    The health care issue is much more relevant,  although it is no longer addressing the question of whether it is more wrong to kill a new born baby than an adult. Thank you for the excellent Persad, Wertheimer, Emanuel paper.  Here is an issue where value of new born baby’s life is indeed weighed against the value of a young adult.  I don’t think it is anywhere close to slavery or abortion in terms of the number of lives affected – but I would guess there are thousands of people affected every year.  The thing that really struck me was not only did the paper suggest that a baby’s life should weigh less than an adults – but this argument is supported by empirical surveys. I had a quick look at the first of the references (Tsuchiya et al) and conveniently this includes a summary of other such surveys – all of which support this conclusion.  (In some surveys the age at which life was most valued was as high as 35 or 40 – which really surprised me!). So we have some solid evidence as to how people intuitively value a new born life as compared to an adult.   You may think the paper’s conclusion to be vile but you appear to be out of line with the majority.

  85. vj #83

    My point would be that in order to formulate ethical judgments on a systematic basis, we need a positive account of human flourishing – i.e. of what is good for people. We also need to know what we are, as human beings. “Know thyself,” as an inscription on the temple of Apollo in Delphi put it.

    I don’t think this is true.  For example, the different types of utilitarianism are systematic and don’t require any particular account of what a human is.

    However, in today’s world of cyborgs, AI, xenotransplantation, IVF, cloning, the Great Ape project, PVS patients, cryogenics, near-death experiences and various proposed definitions for brain death, we really need to think through the ethical issues carefully, and in depth.

    One of the great benefits of “natural law ethics” is that it comes equipped with a toolkit of concepts, as well as a metaphysical framework, which are able to encompass all these tricky issues.

    So does Islam, so does utilitarianism.  You can’t justify a moral system on the basis of having a useful toolkit of concepts.  The moral system has to lead to acceptable consequences. This brushes on my MSc dissertation.  I looked at how politicians in the US and the UK argued the case for and against funding stem cell research and the use of hybrid cells respectively.  The interesting thing was that even in the US they hardly ever referred to any principles or invoked religion.  The arguments were almost entirely round utility and emotion.  This is how these difficult issues will get resolved.

    More to the point, though, “natural law ethics” sets bounds as to what we can do and what we can’t. For 2,000 years, these bounds have imposed constraints on Jews and Christians, preventing them from sanctioning behavior permitted in other cultures: female infanticide and suicide, in particular. To let go of this body of thought would be a terrible mistake, and a gigantic backward step for humanity.

    As we have seen it has not prevented some Christians from sanctioning a lot of things that most people find unacceptable.  I accept that Christian teaching on infanticide has done a lot to prevent Christians practicing and sanctioning infanticide (Islam and Hinduism also believe suicide to be great sin and there are very few religions that condone it).  However, I am not convinced rigid ideological constraints are a good approach to difficult issues.  (Incidentally I see that I was wrong in my previous comment – infanticide in the USA is in the hundreds not the single digits – but still a relatively minor issue compared to the millions subjected to slavery).

  86. —markf: “ For 2,000 years, these bounds have imposed constraints on Jews and Christians, preventing them from sanctioning behavior permitted in other cultures: female infanticide and suicide, in particular. To let go of this body of thought would be a terrible mistake, and a gigantic backward step for humanity.”
    When natural law principles are accepted and acted upon, good things happen.

    —“As we have seen it has not prevented some Christians from sanctioning a lot of things that most people find unacceptable.”

    Typically, when “Christians” sanction something that most people would find unacceptable, it is because they don’t understand or are not following their own Christian ethics. Or, it may be that they know what is right, but do not have the courage to act on what they know. [At one time, all Christian Churches knew that artificial contraception is wrong, but most of them sold out by 1930 when it became apparent that Christian morality sometimes requires sacrifices. [“Christianity has not been found tried and wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried”—G.K. Chesterton]. Can you think of any examples that would show how the natural moral law, properly understood and faithfully practiced, produced bad results?

    —“However, I am not convinced rigid ideological constraints are a good approach to difficult issues.”

    Christian Ethics and The natural moral law are not limited to the prohibition of bad behavior. They also encourage good behavior. Morality consists not only in acknowledging the vices but also in celebrating the virtues. Neither can each be understood except in the context of the other. Thou Shalt Not Kill is the counterpoise to Thou Shalt Value Life as an Objective Good. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Goods can be understood as other side of Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself. The Sermon on the Mount is the counterpoise to the Beatitudes. [The meek will not inherit the earth [The Beatitudes on Virtue] unless they first control their anger [The Sermon On The Mount on Vice].

    Utilitarianism, on the other hand, cannot deal with the issue of good habits or bad habits, much less can it measure growth in virtue or regression in vice. Indeed, it cannot even measure what is says that we SHOULD measure [greatest good for the greatest number]. It cannot possibly forecast or even guess about all future consequences of any proposed set of actions, and cannot, therefore, provide any insight into which actions would be good on those accounts.

  87. Of course, The Sermon On The Mount includes both the Beatitudes and the Warnings, [and a number of other things] but I was simply trying to provide the moral balance implied by weighing the import of the virtues in the context of weighing the import of the vices.

  88. StephenB #86

    Typically, when “Christians” sanction something that most people would find unacceptable, it is because they don’t understand or are not following their own Christian ethics.

    Of course the problem is that they would almost certainly say that they did understand and were following Christian ethics. How are you to prove they are wrong?  The important point is that the invocation of a natural moral law has not in fact prevented Christians from behaving in ways that we would consider unethical and sometimes justifying this behaviour by reference to Christian doctrine (whether it be misinterpreted or not).

    Christian Ethics and The natural moral law are not limited to the prohibition of bad behavior. They also encourage good behavior. Morality consists not only in acknowledging the vices but also in celebrating the virtues. ……

     

    I understand that moral codes are not just constraints.  It was just that vj was emphasising that aspect as the major advantage of moral natural law.  More generally I am not convinced that a set of prescriptive rules for good and bad behaviour will provide a solution to the fundamental problems he rightly identifies. Your moral code may convince you about what is right, but this will not help you very much if you cannot convince the rest of the world.  And the rest of the world does not on the whole use moral codes to develop their views on these problems.

    Utilitarianism, on the other hand, cannot deal with the issue of good habits or bad habits, much less can it measure growth in virtue or regression in vice.

    I only offer utilitarianism as one example of an alternative systematic approach to ethics – although I think it can deal with virtue and vice – particular in the form of rule utilitarianism. Other codes which allow a systematic approach to ethical problems a include the Kantian categorical imperative (which does not require a deity), and alternative religious doctrines including Islam.  As someone once said about IT standards, the good thing about moral codes is there are so many to choose from.

  89. F/N:

    With all due respect, the basic problem of ethical failure is a HUMAN problem, not a specifically Christian one, as has repeatedly been pointed out, including above.

    The Christian faith and the testimony of literally millions points to how a penitent commitment to God and a living relationship with him, has had positive, life transforming effects.

    Going beyond that — and despite Kant’s own dismissive remarks — the CI is plainly directly related to the Golden Rule, the foundation stone of Christian ethics. Looking at the (less commonly highlighted) discussion in the Epistle to the Romans:

    Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them . . . .

    Rom 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

    We see here a clear statement that conscience serves as an in-built inner candle for all men who are sufficiently aware to be responsible, being informed by the principle summed up in the golden rule: to love the other as one loves oneself.

    This is why there is such a common core resonance of basic moral principles, once the artificial distinctions and dehumanisations of the other that lend themselves to trying to excuse what is known or should be known to be wrong, are put out of the way.

    Also, we can see that here can be no justification in the Christian frame, for that which harms neighbour, one living in the circle of the civil peace of justice. (Rom 13:1 – 7 just preceding, is the key text that grounds civil government as a servant of God responsible for the use of the sword in defence of the civil peace of justice in the face of the threat posed by evildoers. Implicit in that, too, is that such authorities are accountable over justice and if they fail sufficiently badly, are subject to replacement. Thank God, the ballot box and rule by law anchored in sound constitutions, are peaceful means for that in our day.)

    And, in this context, the basic problem still stands un-addressed: evolutionary materialism — though its adherents themselves find themselves under the obligation of that candle within — has in it no IS that can ground OUGHT. So, it ends up in relativism and in the end amorality, which the history of he past 2,300 years has repeatedly told us, and moreso the past century, that that should give us pause.

    GEM of TKI

  90. —mark: “Of course the problem is that they [Christians who fail the test of virtue because they are ignorant about or refuse to follow Christian ethics and the natural moral law] would almost certainly say that they did understand and were following Christian ethics. How are you to prove they are wrong?”

    Give me an example, and I will show you how they were wrong.

    —“The important point is that the invocation of a natural moral law has not in fact prevented Christians from behaving in ways that we would consider unethical and sometimes justifying this behaviour by reference to Christian doctrine (whether it be misinterpreted or not).”

    You have just changed the subject from the validity of Christian ethics, which is under discussion, to the efficacy of Christian preaching. Why do you do that?

    —**mark: “However, I am not convinced rigid ideological constraints are a good approach to difficult issues.”

    My Response: Christian Ethics and The natural moral law are not limited to the prohibition of bad behavior. They also encourage good behavior. Morality consists not only in acknowledging the vices but also in celebrating the virtues. ……

    —“I understand that moral codes are not just constraints.”

    Well, then, why did you just argue in the previous comment [**] that “rigid ideological constraints” are not a good approach to difficult issues,” as, if they had nothing else going for them? Each time I refute an argument, you make a new one as if the refuted argument was not really the one you meant to make at all.

  91. Stephenb

    Give me an example, and I will show you how they were wrong.

    I am no expert on the moral law or the details of how particular Christians have interpreted it.  I am just deeply sure that it will be possible to interpret any such code in all sorts of ways.  To demonstrate this give me a link to a clear and complete account of the natural moral law.  Then I will construct a case based on that with a result that you find unacceptable.

    You have just changed the subject from the validity of Christian ethics, which is under discussion, to the efficacy of Christian preaching. Why do you do that?

    Because, the root of this discussion was whether a code such as the natural moral law provides an effective way of moving forward with difficult moral issues. Given this, it is extremely relevant that in practice it does not result in Christians agreeing on major ethical judgements. This may be down to the fact that the natural moral law is open to interpretation or it may be down to poor explanations or whatever. Whatever, it is not solving the problem.

    Well, then, why did you just argue in the previous comment  that “rigid ideological constraints” are not a good approach to difficult issues,” as, if they had nothing else going for them?

    Because vj had just emphasised how important it was that the natural moral law was the constraints it places on our behaviour:

    More to the point, though, “natural law ethics” sets bounds as to what we can do and what we can’t. For 2,000 years, these bounds have imposed constraints on Jews and Christians, preventing them from sanctioning behavior permitted in other cultures: female infanticide and suicide, in particular. To let go of this body of thought would be a terrible mistake, and a gigantic backward step for humanity.

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