Home » Mind, Science » Why there is no “scientific” explanation for evil

Why there is no “scientific” explanation for evil

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American actor Edwin Booth as master villain Iago, c. 1870/Martin H.

Recently, there have been a number of attempts to use science to make evil intelligible. Canadian columnist David Warren reflects here, regarding a recent riot in Vancouver:

I am trying to draw attention to the very “zero” at the heart of that mob, and ultimately, any violent mob. The participants behave in ways that are finally unintelligible. To say they behave as animals would be unfair to animals, which are purposeful, and even merciful by comparison. (What they have no business with, they leave alone.)

It’s not that the books don’t explain anything. They tend to explain – either well or badly- how sociopaths or people with autism behave. And what they explain isn’t the evil and doesn’t finally shed much light on it.

The question isn’t whether science can do it. Nothing can. The project is like trying to come up with a rational value for pi, which is irrational by nature.

The best that can be done is to shed more light on the circumstances under which people are led to do evil.

See also: “Slacker sociopath” says “Science of Evil” empathy test flawed

Humans evolved to get revenge

Evolutionary psychology has a go at autism

Evil as “empathy deficit disorder”

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Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

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95 Responses to Why there is no “scientific” explanation for evil

  1. 1
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Well, you are right, of course. Scientists only try to explain why people behave the way they do. Whether we call what they are doing “evil” is a matter for ethics or moral philosophy, but fortunately there is fairly good consensus on that – most people agree that murder, for example, or cruelty, is evil.

    So deciding what acts are evil isn’t a huge problem. What seems to be bothering you is how we decide which people are evil.

    You say:

    The best that can be done is to shed more light on the circumstances under which people are led to do evil.

    Yes indeed.

    Is what is bothering you the fact that science cannot tell us whether people’s actions are “their fault”?

    What Dennett calls “creeping moral exculpability”?

  2. I’ve always liked this explanation for the existence of evil:

    Albert Einstein vs. professor – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxWXvh6OVB8

    Of course, atheists have no explanation for the existence of evil, and if they do try to defend the existence of objective morals, instead of just deny that they exist, their argument quickly falls apart due to the inability of materialism to maintain a ‘consistent identity’ towards objective morals.

    The Knock-Down Argument Against Atheist Sam Harris – William Lane Craig – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvDyLs_cReE

    Where the Theist in general, and the Christian Theist in particular, can easily maintain an objective moral basis that originates (and ends) in God;

    John 19:6
    ,,,”Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”

    Most Ancient New Testament Fragment – “Spooky” Gospel Account
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6517637/

    John 18:37-38
    ,,,that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.”

    further note:

    What is the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism? (‘inconsistent identity’ of cause leads to failure of absolute truth claims for materialists) (Alvin Plantinga) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yNg4MJgTFw

    Can atheists trust their own minds? – William Lane Craig On Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byN38dyZb-k

    “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” – Charles Darwin – Letter To William Graham – July 3, 1881

  3. Defining “evil” as deliberately or carelessly doing something bad to someone else that is unnecessary, here’s another reason for evil:

    I hit you on your head and take your money. Being hit on the head and losing your money are both bad for you, I didn’t have to hit you or take your money, so it’s evil.

    But now I’m ahead by the amount of money I stole from you. I think this explains a lot of evil: it pays.

  4. Elizabeth Liddle, no use psychoanalyzing me; I said what I meant. Evil is not inherently explainable when examined by itself. To elaborate: Evil is one of those things that is known by its effects.

    Efforts to know it intrinsically are a waste of time.

    Which people are evil? That’s God’s business, not mine, along with what to do about it.

    Being evil is not illegal and not the same thing as crime, which is the business of humans.

    There’s currently a neurolaw issue around fault, but it’s not quite the same enterprise as attempts to explain evil.

  5. 5
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Oh, golly, I wasn’t psychoanalyzing you! Who, me?

    I’m just trying to figure out what you meant by “Why there is no “scientific” explanation for evil”.

    What kind of explanation could there be, in your view? And why should we need one?

  6. #6 Elizabeth is spot on as usual. Before you look for an “explanation” of evil you need to understand/decide what counts as an explanation in this context. What problem are you trying to solve? Science can quite properly address what causes some people to do evil things. The answer may lie in a number of scientific fields including psychology, sociology and cognitive neuroscience. That is not at all like trying to come up with a rational value for pi.

    But this article seems to be about making evil “intelligible” and it is hard to know that means.

  7. F/N: Of course, evolutionary materialism has in it no IS that can carry the weight of OUGHT.

    When “science” is redefined in terms of evo mat, therefore, it can only explain why certain effects happen to bodies including brains, it has no basis fro the evaluation good/evil apart form a conventional use of a word. So, Hitler’s holocaust was evil is just a convention, not a name for anything real beyond feelings of revulsion etc.

    So, the trick — as is being done with the ongoing attempt to legally redefine marriage as anything goes, and to demonise those who object as bigots — is to manipulate the feelings and views of the public. never mind that old ghost of Kant off there in a corner wagging a finger and warning on the Categorical Imperative, that evil is shown by its logical-moral incoherence, parasitism on the fact that most people most of the time do not behave like that and destructiveness if it spreads across a society. (If everyone routinely lied, communication, trust and functioning as a society would utterly break down.)

    The astute onlooker is right to be deeply concerned about the consequences of such nihilistic amorality being presented in the name of “science,” as Plato warned against 2350 years ago in The Laws, Bk X.

  8. F/N 2: in that context, let us now highlight some very worrying terms from Dr Liddle:

    Scientists only try to explain why people behave the way they do. Whether we call what they are doing “evil” is a matter for ethics or moral philosophy, but fortunately there is fairly good consensus on that – most people agree that murder, for example, or cruelty, is evil.

    So deciding what acts are evil isn’t a huge problem. What seems to be bothering you is how we decide which people are evil.

    Just what concept of good/evil is being assumed or alluded to by the highlighted terms?

    What are the consequences of such radical relativism, should it spread across our civilisation?

    Or, maybe we should be asking he ghosts of the probably hundreds of millions of aborted unborn babies in recent decades what hey have to say to us even as we finger-point at Hitler and co?

  9. 9
    Elizabeth Liddle

    You are reading far too much into my words, kf!

    I’m actually saying the opposite of what you seem to have inferred I am saying, namely:

    That deciding what acts are good or evil is actually pretty easy. Most people agree that doing harm to others for your own gain is an evil thing to do.

    The Golden Rule is a good one, and Jesus’ formulation is a particularly good one, IMO.

    At its coldest, but simplest, and I think it works, is the principle that an evil act is one that reduces someone else’s autonomy in order to increase your own.

    Essentially, that’s what the Golden Rule boils down to, and most people seem to agree what constitutes “reducing someone else’s autonomy in order to increase your own” in any given case.

    Murder for gain or pleasure, for instance.

    These seem fairly objectively evil IMO, or at least we can argue reasonably that if the ultimate good is “what an unbiased judge would decide” then evil is the introduction of selfish bias into that judgement.

    Murder.

    Theft.

    Lying.

    etc.

    What is much more difficult, I suggest, is assigning culpability.

  10. 10

    At its coldest, but simplest, and I think it works, is the principle
    that an evil act is one that reduces someone else’s autonomy in order to
    increase your own

    But what makes that evil?

    and most people seem to agree what constitutes “reducing someone
    else’s autonomy in order to increase your own” in any given case

    So it’s consensus, then.  And how is it that you accuse kf of reading too much into your words?

  11. Quite right, M Holcumbrink. And what happens if the consensus is wrong? Or even if, in your opinion, the consensus is either wrong or just something you don’t want to pay any attention to?

    Atheistic moral judgements are entirely subjective and therefore fail completely. Why delude yourself into believing in Good and Evil if life is meaningless and only oblivion awaits?

  12. 12
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Well, perhaps kf wasn’t reading too much into my words.

    tbh, I’m a bit dumbfounded here.

    Are you guys saying that human beings are not capable of figuring out that hurting other people for your own advantage is wrong?

    That they have to read it in a book?

    Isn’t it more objective to figure it out? Otherwise doesn’t it depend on which book (or which bit of which book) you decide has the right rules?

    That seems a lot more subjective to me.

  13. 13
    Elizabeth Liddle

    And Chris: why do you assume that being an atheist means that you think that life is meaningless?

    The thing that makes an atheist an atheist is not beliving in god or gods. Why would that make them think that life was meaningless?

    It just means they think it stops at the end. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth living up till that point.

  14. “I’m actually saying the opposite of what you seem to have inferred I am saying, namely that deciding what acts are good or evil is actually pretty easy. Most people agree that doing harm to others for your own gain is an evil thing to do.”

    Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. Do you think she actually doesn’t know? Because the only other possibility is…

  15. 15
    Elizabeth Liddle

    You are absolutely right allanius.

    I am completely lost here.

    Can someone put me in the picture? What is it that I don’t know?

  16. Clearly, many humans can’t figure out right and wrong by themselves. But then, without God and life after death, the only right in this situation is what serves number one. Free ride on a moral society and you really can have your cake and eat it.

    If the only grounds you have for disagreement Lizzie are subjective, then how do you know that you’re right?

  17. 17
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Chris:

    Clearly, many humans can’t figure out right and wrong by themselves. But then, without God and life after death, the only right in this situation is what serves number one.

    Why?

    Free ride on a moral society and you really can have your cake and eat it.

    I still don’t get it.

    If the only grounds you have for disagreement Lizzie are subjective, then how do you know that you’re right?

    But I’m saying they aren’t “subjective”. That’s the weird thing about this conversation. It was precisely myself. Independent observers, as it were, can come to the same conclusion, namely, that causing harm to others to further your own interests is bad.

    That’s far more objective, it seems to me (in the sense that it can be independently arrived at by many people) than the subjective choice of a particular moral text book.

    What am I not seeing?

    What would you say to someone who came up to you with an alternative holy book and said: “you are wrong, God says this is evil, not that”?

    On what grounds would you judge between the two books if not subjective?

    Whereas any group of people can agree that selfish behaviour is wrong.

  18. Most atheists disagree with you Lizzie, not just me.

    If human existence is the result of an unplanned series of events, accidental not designed and if death is FINAL, then meaning at best is illusory. Atheists who believe in morality AND meaning are living a double lie. No offence by the way, that’s just a fact.

    Think about any reason you might offer for morality and meaning and then ask yourself why that’s true. If life is enjoyable, then that is all the meaning you might need. For the majority, many enduring suffering and hardship on a regular basis, what meaning can an atheist offer them?

  19. Sorry Lizzie, but that’s not how it is in the real world. Perfect rational people can and do reach the opposite conclusion to you. If causing harm to others will further their interests and they believe they will escape detection (or do not fear the consequences of capture) then that is what they’re going to do. It beats working for the man and most people have it coming.

    If selfish behaviour is self-evidently wrong, then why are there so many selfish people?

  20. You know, I’m starting to like Lizzie’s schtick even better than Markf’s. All he did was bombard us with that faux earnestness of his and make us think he was “sincere.” She actually has us all in love with her. Smiley face, indeed!

  21. 21
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Chris:

    Most atheists disagree with you Lizzie, not just me.

    Well, not in my experience, and I know a lot of atheists. Most of them are highly ethical and compassionate human beings.

    If human existence is the result of an unplanned series of events, accidental not designed and if death is FINAL, then meaning at best is illusory.

    But why? You keep saying this as though it is self-evidently true but it’s certainly not evident to me. In fact it never has been, even when I was a theist. I’ve never found any difference between the ethical standards or compassion between theists and atheists of my acquaintance, and I’ve never seen any reason to think there should be.

    It is true (or was for me) that a belief in God can be hugely helpful in achieving one’s moral goals, but other people seem to have their own methods for doing that. Grace comes in many forms, it seems :)

    Atheists who believe in morality AND meaning are living a double lie. No offence by the way, that’s just a fact.

    No offence taken, but I don’t see that it’s a “fact” :) Why should they be “living a double lie”? I mean, they might be wrong about God I guess (which wouldn’t make it a lie, just a mistake) but why would thinking that ethics were important be rendered a lie just because you didn’t believe in God?

    If ethics matter, they matter. Don’t they?

    Think about any reason you might offer for morality and meaning and then ask yourself why that’s true. If life is enjoyable, then that is all the meaning you might need. For the majority, many enduring suffering and hardship on a regular basis, what meaning can an atheist offer them?

    Ah. OK, so you are saying that without a belief in God, suffering becomes pointless?

    But that’s a different issue, surely?

    Actually I realise we probably don’t even have the same understanding of the word “meaning” (ironically!) What do you mean by “meaning” in this context?

    I was talking about ethics – how we decide what is right and wrong. And I don’t think it’s very difficult in principle (applying it practice may bring up all kinds of thorny questions though) and as I said, I think any group of people can generally agree that selfishness sucks. They might want to be selfish, on occasion, but mostly they know they shouldn’t be (because it’s obvious!) Of course it’s easy to argue yourself out of that position (“I’m king/rich/beautiful, therefore other people don’t deserve what I deserve”) but again, simple logic will sort that out.

    On the other hand, if, instead, we turn to some kind of Scripture, we have to make a subjective judgement about what Scripture (and what part of Scripture) to use. I think the Gospels are fairly sound, but I certainly wouldn’t want to base too much on the OT, or Paul. That’s because objectively I can figure out which precepts are essentially about not being selfish, and which ones are sorta random.

    For me the poster child for “subjective” moral judgement (i.e. chosen because it happens to be in your subjectively chosen Scripture) as opposed to “natural” moral judgement (i.e. chosen because it comports with the fundamental principle: don’t be selfish) is homosexuality.

    Clearly, “natural” moral judgement says: if you are gay, and you love someone who is also gay, and your love is mutual, and will give you both joy and harm no-one, then your relationship is moral.

    However, some scripture-derived precepts say: if you are gay, you are either disordered, and must put up with celibacy, or you are deliberately turning away from holy law, and must be punished.

    To me, it is self-evident that the first is the more objective moral precept (and, indeed, the better!)

    **********

    Thinking this through before hitting Submit (because I have to say, this is a bit of an eye-opening thread!) I’m wondering if there is a muddle between two issues:

    1) What is good behaviour?
    2) Why should we be good at all? (i.e. given that we have answered the first question).

    I’d say (1) is easy, and available to all (though we might disagree over specific issues.

    On the other hand (2) may be where you think the problem lies. Theist know they should be good, but why should atheists think they should be good?

    Is that your question?

    I think there’s an answer, but I’d like to know if I am finally getting the point here :)

  22. 22

    Elizabeth, authority is the only source from which we can nail down a moral code, if you assume it to exist. The authority could be the self, or the crowd, or a book, but you must choose one. The question is, which one is infallible? I don’t think anyone would argue that the self is infallible, and to argue that the crowd is infallible is clearly foolishness as well. This leaves us with those pesky books. Perhaps one of those is the way to go? If not, then what? Surely not “nature”? But the bottom line is: if you say that a perfect moral code exists, you automatically posit a perfect moral code giver, which means you automatically posit a perfect punishment for any infraction against said code.

    And if you say that people in general can easily discern right from wrong, then you are saying that this moral code is in some way “written in our hearts”. So then WHO wrote it there? And I say “who” because laws are derived from authority. If blind, unguided processes wrote it there, then a moral code is no different than a natural law like gravity, and there is therefore no obligation to follow whatever promptings our “moral compass” might give us. But to imply a moral code also implies an obligation to follow it, and nature alone does not provide that impetus.

  23. David:

    I hit you on your head and take your money. Being hit on the head and losing your money are both bad for you, I didn’t have to hit you or take your money, so it’s evil.

    How do you know it’s bad for me? Perhaps I was going to spend my money on a gun to go kill someone. Perhaps I was on my way to buy drugs.

    How do you know you didn’t have to do it?

  24. 24

    Elizabeth, what caused you to go from theism to atheism?

  25. 25

    However, some scripture-derived precepts say: if you are gay, you are either disordered, and must put up with celibacy, or you are deliberately turning away from holy law, and must be punished

    If some man is only attracted to 4 year old girls (or boys), and has no interest in grown women (or men), is that disordered?  Should he put up with celibacy?

  26. 26

    What about the man who is no longer attracted to his wife, and only desires his secretary? Is that disordered? Should he be obligated to endure whatever longings he has for the latter?

    There is more to life than carnal desire, is there not?

  27. 27
    Elizabeth Liddle

    M.Holcumbrink:

    If some man is only attracted to 4 year old girls (or boys), and has no interest in grown women (or men), is that disordered? Should he put up with celibacy?

    Yes, he has to put up with celibacy, according to the criterion I gave, because he cannot (becauses of the young age of those he desires) exercise his own autonomy without curtailing theirs. And so, I would say, he is, by definition, disordered, because he is burdened with desires that he cannot, under any circumstances, ethically fulfill.

    It may not be treatable, but it is nonetheless a disorder – a dis-ease, if you will (the origin of that word).

  28. 28
    Elizabeth Liddle

    M.Holcumbrink:

    What about the man who is no longer attracted to his wife, and only desires his secretary? Is that disordered? Should he be obligated to endure whatever longings he has for the latter?

    There is more to life than carnal desire, is there not?

    There is indeed. And again, I apply my criterion:

    Does his wife still love him? What are her needs in this? And his children? What of his secretary’s family? Is he so distressed within his marriage that if he stays he will cause more unhappiness than if he leaves? Or, if he is just considering an affair with his secretary, how will that impact her? And his wife?

    If the answer to all those questions is that exercise of his own autonomy is bought at the cost of the autonomy of others, then, no, he shouldn’t have an affair with his secretary.

    And yes, there is disorder there. Perhaps it can be fixed.

  29. 29

    And the problem with “it will not harm anybody” is that people tend to be very short-sighted and myopic. And I would also say that certain divine precepts are issued for the main purpose of allegory (like with marriage), but should be followed perfectly anyhow.

  30. 30
    Elizabeth Liddle

    M. Holcumbrink

    And the problem with “it will not harm anybody” is that people tend to be very short-sighted and myopic.

    Yes, they are. It is often difficult to discern the right thing to do, even if we are clear on the principle.

    I don’t think that’s a reason for not attempting it, though, and blindly following rules is, IMO, is at least as likely to lead to unethical conduct as trying to apply a good principle to a range of circumstances.

    And I would also say that certain divine precepts are issued for the main purpose of allegory (like with marriage), but should be followed perfectly anyhow.

    Well, I disagree, I’m afraid :) For a start, I know of no objective way of determining which precepts are divine; and secondly, even if I did, I’d occasionally want to question them, if the end result of following them seemed more harmful than disobedience (as it sometimes does).

    The one allegedly divine precept I try to follow is: love your neighbour as yourself. It’s not unique to divinity though, and is adopted, in various guises, by atheists and members of non-Christian religions. It’s not called the Golden Rule for nothing.

  31. 31
    Elizabeth Liddle

    M Holcumbrink:

    Elizabeth, what caused you to go from theism to atheism?

    The discovery that consciousness could be accounted for by material processes without compromising moral responsibility.

  32. 32
    Elizabeth Liddle

    allanius @#20:

    *blushes*

  33. Reductio ad absurdum . . .

  34. 34

    liz: There is indeed. And again, I apply my criterion

    The point is who why does your [or anyone's] criterion matter more or less, than anyone’s arbitrary criterion:

    Random someone: Do whatever makes you happy.

    Or the homeless guy’s criterion that plays the air guitar on the corner of las vegas blv: Rape the man anytime you can?

    Explain by what authority your criterion should be followed or enforced?

    [Beside the fact your criterion is a rip off repackaging of Jesus incorporated as a parable of scientism. The more big words you use, the less it will sound like Jesus and the more it will sound like the prophets of science came up with it, is the idea?]

    And based on your criterion, (of which an authority you have yet to establish), what if the man (mentioned earlier) who wants to sleep with his secretary, knows his wife would never find out? In fact she would go about her life perfectly happily. Where is her loss of autonomy? And if she experiences no loss of autonomy, then there is nothing wrong with the man hitting the secretary, by your criterion.

  35. 35
    Elizabeth Liddle

    M Holcumbrink – sorry I hadn’t noticed quite how many posts had accrued since my last login! Sorry to be addressing these in reverse order:

    Elizabeth, authority is the only source from which we can nail down a moral code, if you assume it to exist. The authority could be the self, or the crowd, or a book, but you must choose one. The question is, which one is infallible? I don’t think anyone would argue that the self is infallible, and to argue that the crowd is infallible is clearly foolishness as well. This leaves us with those pesky books. Perhaps one of those is the way to go? If not, then what? Surely not “nature”? But the bottom line is: if you say that a perfect moral code exists, you automatically posit a perfect moral code giver, which means you automatically posit a perfect punishment for any infraction against said code.

    Well, I have to say, but to me that looks like a lot of non sequiturs! First of all, I don’t think authority is “the only source from which we can nail down a moral code”. I think that’s a very bad way of looking for a moral code, because it begs the question of who you regard as the “authority”. All kinds of authorities present themselves – how does one start to decide which one is the “authoritative one” without evaluating the actual code itself? Yes, the question would be “which one is infallible?” and I see no objective way of telling. So I think we have to look for an alternative method. Then you say it “leaves us with those pesky books”. Well, no, it leaves us with moral philosophy and logic as well, which at least gives us tools with which to evaluate “those pesky books”. But then the books are not the authority. So how do you know which book to choose? And whether or not you posit that “a perfect moral code exists” (I’m not sure that I do), it doesn’t follow that there is a perfect moral code giver (why could teh code not be sui generis?), and even if you did, why posit a “perfect punishment for any infraction”. That doesn’t seem very moral to me. Do you think morality is a matter of punishment? I don’t.

    And if you say that people in general can easily discern right from wrong, then you are saying that this moral code is in some way “written in our hearts”.

    Yes, I think it is. Brains, actually.

    So then WHO wrote it there? And I say “who” because laws are derived from authority.

    But that is a circular argument. I don’t think those “laws” are derived from authority. I think our moral principles are derived from our (probably unique) capacity as human beings to see the world from another’s point of view.

    If blind, unguided processes wrote it there, then a moral code is no different than a natural law like gravity,

    Well, I think it’s natural, but I also think it is very different from gravity.

    and there is therefore no obligation to follow whatever promptings our “moral compass” might give us.

    Well, that is the question I wondered might be tripping us up further up. I think it’s a false distinction. It sounds superficially reasonable to say that on the one hand we have a “law” and on the other hand we have a disposition to obey it or not. And certainly our legal system reflects that separation. But I think that’s ultimately a social convenience. The reason we have a moral code at all is because we not only have a natural inclination to empathy, although it is often opposed to an equally natural inclination to hostility, but we also have the capacity, because of our capacity for language, to reify the qualities of compassion, as well as the qualities of hostility and selfishness. And so we can simply, abstractly, define as “good”, those things that tend to promote the welfare of everyone, and as “bad” those things that tend to promote the welfare of the individual at everyone else’s expense. We could, I guess, give them other names, let’s for now call them Unbiased and Biased (i.e. biased towards the self). Now “Unbiased” being the thing that benefits all, becomes the community “should”, and “Biased” becomes the community “shouldn’t”. And so we have what we call a shared “moral code”. And yes, there are practical (not terribly “moral”) reasons for obeying the code (avoiding ostracism, for instance), but there is also joy to be had in sharing in the pleasures of others. I tend to call that “grace”, perhaps out of habit :)

    And that Grace is, I suggest, a better kind of good than the grudging conformity of someone who would like to be more selfish than she is, but toes the line for fear of rebuke or social punishment. And I also suggest it is a better kind of good than the conformity of ditto, who toes the line for fear of everlasting torment in an afterlife.

    Good is good, because ultimately it is what brings joy. And the ultimate incentive to be good is the joy it brings.

    But to imply a moral code also implies an obligation to follow it, and nature alone does not provide that impetus.

    I disagree :)

    And I certainly disagree (if you were implying it, I don’t know) that only a theist has the impetus to be good. It seems abundantly clear to me that this is not the case.

  36. 36
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Lots of posts addressed to me, and I’ll try to get to them, but in the mean time, can someone answer me this:

    If we are to regard our moral code as being given by written authority, by what criteria do we decide which written authority to use?

    And, if not written authority, how do we discern the code?

  37. 37

    liz: “I don’t think authority is the only source from which we can nail down a moral code”

    No, it is the only way to enforce it.

    Stopping for red lights makes logical sense, most people can come to that conclusion on their own. But unless their is a law in place, with some sort of consequence, how many will stop?

  38. 38

    Pardon the example but, What if a parent decides to molest his 4 year old while the 4 year old sleeps, in a way that the child will not be physically or emotionally changed in way? The molested 4 year old experiences no loss of autonomy. By your proposed criterion, again, this wouldn’t be an issue. These loopholes found in moral subjectivity, loss of autonomy or whatever you want to label it, are rampant.
    This is the problem theists see. This is a problem that if your criterion is left to marinate in society, (possibly two or three generations minimum), it will significantly erode the moral landscape.

    Some starting points on the subject for considering someone for the establishment of authority:
    Someone would need to live a perfectly flawless moral life. Leave behind a perfectly flawless set of moral principles. Be willing to die for those principles. Under duress of torture, stick by those principles. Do something remarkably confounding. Leave behind something extraordinary. And change the world. Do you know of anyone that fits the bill?

  39. 39
    Elizabeth Liddle

    junkdnaforlife:

    liz:

    There is indeed. And again, I apply my criterion

    The point is who why does your [or anyone's] criterion matter more or less, than anyone’s arbitrary criterion:

    Because it isn’t arbitrary.

    Random someone: Do whatever makes you happy.

    Or the homeless guy’s criterion that plays the air guitar on the corner of las vegas blv: Rape the man anytime you can?

    Explain by what authority your criterion should be followed or enforced?

    No authority except the authority vested in the community.

    [Beside the fact your criterion is a rip off repackaging of Jesus incorporated as a parable of scientism. The more big words you use, the less it will sound like Jesus and the more it will sound like the prophets of science came up with it, is the idea?]

    Oh, indeed it’s a rip-off – but I acknowledged my source, and indeed, it was not original to Jesus :) It’s found around the world in vastly varied cultures. It’s what human communities tend to produce, which makes sense because it’s the embodiement of what makes a human community. And, in a sense, human communities are what make us human. It is no coincidence that we have the word “humane” :)

    I just gave it the more coldly precise formulation, because “love” can be misunderstood. Sadly.

    And based on your criterion, (of which an authority you have yet to establish), what if the man (mentioned earlier) who wants to sleep with his secretary, knows his wife would never find out? In fact she would go about her life perfectly happily. Where is her loss of autonomy? And if she experiences no loss of autonomy, then there is nothing wrong with the man hitting the secretary, by your criterion.

    hitting on the secretary, I assume you mean :)

    Well, no, that would be a very shallow ethical analysis. Nobody can “know” their spouse will “never find out”. And lying tends to be corrosive to any relationship. So the risk of injury to the wife (not to mention the secretary) is considerable.

    But my point is that the best way if figuring out the ethics of this is to actually analyse the specifics, not to apply some blanket rule. I’ve known people in non-standard relationships who were very happy. I do think honesty is often a bigger moral issue than monogamy. But again, my rule (well, not mine, I freely give credit to many authors!) takes care of that. It’s the Golden Rule – you hold up any ethical dilemma to it, and read off the answer :)

    Well, sometimes it takes a fair bit of reading :)

  40. 40

    apologize for my grammar, im on the fly multitasking

  41. 41

    liz: Hitting is slang for sex. As in, “I would hit that.” Sorry for the confusion.

  42. 42

    It’s not an issue of, “the golden rule makes sense”, it’s… why follow it at all?

    The good of the community is not clear. Who determines what is good? By what authority? If authority comes from community consensus, then we are in trouble.

  43. 43
    Elizabeth Liddle

    No problem junkdnaforlife: I’m just revealing my age and my origins :)

    Re your last post (42), see mine at 35 – I do attempt to address that.

    Also, I’m still waiting for someone to tell me how we are supposed to decide which, of several candidate divine moral codes, we are supposed to take as authoritative?

  44. 44

    Liz: How are we supposed to decide which, of several candidate divine moral codes, of several candidate divine moral codes, we are supposed to take as authoritative?

    If there is an objective moral code, than there is an objective code maker. And i assume you agree, since you listed things you believe are objectively wrong. From there, we can ask, has anyone claimed to source the objective code maker? Has anyone lived flawlessly by this code? Can we source this? Why believe these claims? To make an epic argument short, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As to the answers to the aforementioned questions: The new testament makes these extraordinary claims, and the Shroud of Turin is the extraordinary evidence.

    There is no other moral source on earth that can boast such evidence.

    As you said in another post:

    “I don’t see why. As I said, often we observe effects of unobservables, not the thing itself.
    If multiverses leave observable traces within our universe, then we can study them.” [my emph]

    Yes indeed, we should look for traces. Traces for design, traces for multiverses, and traces for the sourcing of objective moral truth. This I suggest, is the Shroud of Turin. “Trace” evidence that Jesus Christ was exactly what He said He was. That very Truth.

  45. Liz & Chris at 21:

    Chris: “If human existence is the result of an unplanned series of events, accidental not designed and if death is FINAL, then meaning at best is illusory.”

    Liz: “But why? You keep saying this as though it is self-evidently true but it’s certainly not evident to me.”

    Liz, the concepts of purpose in life and meaning in life are subtle. Permit me to try to explain them.

    Take a cow standing in a field. It has a reason for being in that field: a farmer put it there.

    It also has a purpose in life: To eat grass so it can produce milk and offspring and then, when it can make no more milk and offspring, to be killed, have it’s skin stripped off its body and it’s body cut up for meat and other byproducts.

    Unlike the cow, you were not put here by any conscious entity, so you have no reason for being.

    Unlike the cow, you have no purpose in life.

    You will have to make your own purpose in life.

    Lucky you.

  46. Chris Doyle at 11: “Atheistic moral judgements are entirely subjective and therefore fail completely.”

    Chris, do I understand then that your are in possession of an objective morality? If so, that is wonderful for you. They did not hand those out at atheist school, so I don’t have one.

    Could you please write out your objective morality here so that those who don’t have one can share?

    Thank you in advance.

  47. junkdnaforlife at 44: You too seem to be in possession of an absolute moral code. Please share it here with all of us. If it is really objective, I would expect it to be substantially identical to Chris’s.

    In fact, that would be an excellent test of an objective moral code. Everybody who has one should have the same one.

    I invite everybody to write down their objective moral codes here.

  48. 48

    Raping children is one, and this would be on chris’s list, i’m certain that it would be on everyone’s list that posts here. Now the problem with moral subjectivity, is there exists child rapists that will view this behavior as perfectly natural. And there is no way, without an objective moral truth, to say the child rapist’s perspective is any less valid than mine and chris’s.

    dmull: “You will have to make your own purpose in life.”

    My neighbors purpose is to steal cars. The Nambla organization’s is to sleep with underage boys. MLK’s was equal rights. And without moral objectivity, there is no way to determine which is more valid than the other. If community consensus (as liz proposes) is the go to guy for moral issues, simply take a random walk through the pages of history and see how well that has worked out.

  49. 49
    Elizabeth Liddle

    OK, junkdnaforlife, that is a clear and honest answer: you opt for the New Testament, and your reason for doing so is because the Turin Shroud offers extraordinary evidence that it was written about a man who really was God.

    And if the Turin Shroud was shown to be a 14th century artefact, then would you turn to some other written moral code, one that had more convincing miracles to authenticate it?

    And what should people do who are even now unconvinced by the authenticity of the Shroud? What objective criteria should they use? After all, the Shroud was carbon dated to the 14th century, and while many people have legitimate reasons to doubt that dating, surely the question of which moral code to adopt shouldn’t rest on an argument about radiocarbon?

  50. 50
    CannuckianYankee

    DM,

    “You too seem to be in possession of an absolute moral code. Please share it here with all of us. If it is really objective, I would expect it to be substantially identical to Chris’s.”

    And you seem to assume that under theism there should be some written code as the source that tells us what is right and what is wrong.

    Here’s my thoughts on the matter, for what it’s worth:

    The written code you seek does not exist, because it’s impossible for you or anyone else to entirely keep any such code.

    If you want a moral law that transcends all possible moral codes, and is the basis for all human moral codes (no matter how flawed), I start (but don’t end) with the Sh’ma Yisrael:

    “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. ” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV)

    Jesus echoed this in:

    “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

    Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV).

    Atheists might object to the first, but they certainly could not object to the 2nd. Loving your neighbor comes close to the objective “code” that you seek if you’re an atheist, but it’s still not the source. What loving your neighbor means for you is an entirely other issue.

    However, you could reasonably find instances whereby a person has not loved his/her neighbor (fellow human beings) and objectively warrant why not. Otherwise, all talk about morality is really meaningless.

    Ultimately for theists the objective truths concerning morality are found not in a code or law, but in the character of God. This is why no moral code can be followed perfectly because one would have to be God to do so.

    Even if you are not a theist, this “code” (the character of God) could be understood as objective. We sense that if God exists, He would be a perfectly loving God. Even atheists seem to recognize this when they find fault with the God of scripture; and when they are able to articulate what is evil in examples they give, they are in effect articulating characteristics that would be anathema to a loving God.

    You will notice however, that in the view of theists, an objective moral “code” or anything like it could not be possible without the existence of a loving God.

    Atheistic societies are very peculiar in this regard. Look at the Soviet Union; particularly in the time of Lenin (also China during Mau). It is reasonable to suggest that Lenin became the “god” of society; exemplifying all that is good. So apparently when God is not believed in, He is replaced by a human figure, who closely resembles (according to the people) what a god would be like. Lenin became the source for morality in an atheistic society.

    All societies have sources for morality that are apart from a mere consensus. That certain consensus’ echo the source for morality is besides the point. They don’t originate it.

    In Islamic societies, the Quran (and particularly Sharia law) is the source for morality. In Atheistic societies, the ruler (or rulers) is the source for morality. In secular Democratic societies, some sort of constitution is the source for morality. In monarchies, a King, or holy scripture could be the source for morality.

    But none of these sources (except perhaps scripture) require that you love your neighbor. They mostly only require that you do no harm to your neighbor; which I don’t think anyone could argue is the same.

    So human laws are insufficient as a source for morality. They only demonstrate that humans are imperfect, and cannot exemplify the character of a loving God.

    Interesting that in another thread, Dr. Liddle, who is not a theist stated:

    “Or rather, I am awed by a universe that brought forth Mind, and, even more, Love, but I don’t ascribe to it a mind or love independently of that bringing-forth.”

    This belief in the power of love even among atheists has always intrigued me.

    Now when Junkdna says that child rape would be a part of an objective moral code, one can objectify this by pointing out that rape is an opposite of a loving character. Anything that is an opposite of perfect love (for theists exemplified in the character of a perfectly loving God) could therefore be said to be objective. You don’t have to believe in such a God to accept it as objective. The only thing you have to accept is that a loving characteristic in others is that which is desired and valued by people, and that you can objectively differentiate between what is loving and what is not.

    It is no surprise to me that atheists are able to do this as well as any other. What atheists lack is a belief in a source for this other than the individual. Therein is why for you (an atheist, I assume) it couldn’t be objective. But to state so would only be to beg the question.

    So we are left with this:

    Evil exists.

    What we describe as evil has a characteristic that is common to all examples:

    Lack of perfect love.

    That we are able to recognize this suggests that there is a source for objective moral truth; which exemplifies perfect love.

    Individual humans cannot be that source, since humans disagree with one another on basic principles of moral truth.

    The desire for love seems to be common to all human individuals. I.e., humans do not desire evil to be done to them. They desire that which is not evil to be done to them (namely love).

    Therefore, there must be a source for this elusive perfect love, which allows us to objectify the existence of evil.

    That’s as far as I will go with it. My belief is obviously that you have no source without belief in God. This does not mean that you can’t be moral and understand morality to be objective and not relative, because you are as human as anyone else, and the desire for love is common to everyone no matter what their metaphysical beliefs are. The Golden Rule seems to exemplify all of this quite well, as I implied from the beginning, but it’s only an echo that originates from the source.

  51. 51

    Morning Lizzie,

    Some brutal stuff being discussed on this thread. And some clarification is needed on two points.

    First of all, the meaning of “meaning”. This could be as simple as the answer to “Why bother?”. If that question can be answered rationally and compellingly then there is your meaning. If not, then what you’re left with is meaninglessness. If life is comfortable and filled with Joy then you might offer that as meaning. On the other hand, you can have meaningless Joy too. So maybe we’re grasping for something more meaningful that overcomes the sheer futility of a brief existence that ends in oblivion. The problems for atheism become overwhelming if life is not comfortable: if it is a daily struggle with plenty of suffering and absolutely no Joy whatsoever. Ask an atheist who leads such a miserable existence, “Why bother?” and he’ll struggle to convince himself never mind anyone else. Why should such a miserable atheist bother with life at all, Lizzie?

    Secondly, any atheist would be well within his rights and reason to state that rules are there to be broken: especially Lizzie’s Golden Rule! Given that we live in a moral society, any given atheist can look at that situation logically and decide that as long as he maintains a public appearance of moral steadfastness, he can commit immoral acts whenever he desires as long as he avoids detection. Naturally, the meaning of terms like “moral steadfastness” and “immoral acts” would be very different for this free-riding atheist. After all, he realises that Moral Law is something that only comes from God. By rejecting God, he has rejected Moral Law and any Divine reward or punishment. That means there is no moral wrong or right. There is only enjoying life while it lasts and going out in a blaze of glory. Right is self-interest, wrong is anything that is detrimental to that. Woe betide anyone who stands in his way!

    Please remember, I acknowledge that there are plenty of good and moral atheists out there (though not ones who can offer any meaning to existence: contrary to your claims, the vast majority of atheists admit that life is utterly meaningless). But when atheists are moral, it is purely a product of their upbringing: by religious parents and other authoritative figures and institutions in a religious society. Even if an atheist’s parents are atheists then it is highly unlikely that their parents’ parents were atheists and so their grandparents religious values are still shining through. But the danger is, atheists would be well within their rights and reason to question everything about their upbringing and then reject all religious influences in it: including morality. How do you dissuade an atheist from free-riding, Lizzie?

  52. 52
    CannuckianYankee

    Lizzie,

    “Also, I’m still waiting for someone to tell me how we are supposed to decide which, of several candidate divine moral codes, we are supposed to take as authoritative?”

    In light of what I discussed in my last post at 50, can you see how this question could be irrelevant?

    If perfect love is the source for what we call morality, there’s probably some lesser examples of love found in any divine candidate, or in someone who is admittedly not divine. However, none of these could exemplify perfect love save the source. Your question ought to be rather than which divine candidate is the source of morality; what is the source of perfect love?

    That you can’t find an answer anywhere in atheism should be rather telling.

  53. 53
    Elizabeth Liddle

    As always, CY, your posts are interesting and thought-provoking, and I find much to agree with.

    Gotta do some work right now, but will try to do your posts some justice later :)

    Thanks

    Lizzie

  54. 54
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Ditto @ Chris :)

    BRB

  55. Junkdnaforlife at 48: We need a moral code so we can successfully choose/make the right purposes for our lives. Your neighbor who steals cars has bad morals, ditto with Nambla. MLK did right. Now you say that we need moral objectivity and I say, “Fine, where is it? Show us this moral objectivity, please.”

    Community consensus works to some degree because evolution has hard wired enough morality into our brains to enable us to live together as social animals and thus reap the utterly astonishing benefits of living in groups. (Examples: the internet and shoelaces.) But it has also hardwired some serious nastiness to those outside our groups (Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live) and has lots of other problems, so it’s not enough.

    CY at 50: An absolute moral code doesn’t have to be kept to be absolute. A murderer doesn’t invalidate laws against murder. The AMC does have to be definite and accessible so we can at least know what it is or we can’t even try to live up to it.

    You’re right, the Sh’ma Yisrael doesn’t strike me as being anything like an AMC, nor does Jesus’ first commandment. Both have obvious difficulties if there’s no Lord out there. Jesus’ second commandment is a version of the good old Golden Rule and is thus highly useful, but still not an AMC.

    There are lots of problems with an alleged AMC that exists only in the character of God. For instance, there are a LOT of religions and their opinions of the characters of God vary extremely widely. We’re talking St. Francis to Osama here – BIG differences. Unless you have an absolute way of reading the character of God, you really don’t have an AMC.

    In fact, the character of God is somewhat problematic. Remember that according to Michael Behe, He Designed the malaria parasite and set it loose on the world. If a human did that, we’d rank his morals WAY below Osama bin Laden’s. Bin Laden’s body count is a few tens of thousands. God’s little malaria parasites kill a million people every year. Mostly children. Makes those communists look like pikers, doesn’t it?

    Frankly, loving your neighbor isn’t going to work either. I remember one of the heavy hitters of Catholic Theology (back in the days when all Christians were Catholic) saying, essentially, that burning a heretic at the stake was a loving thing to do to him for reasons which I no longer remember. We need something a little more objective than that. Every time I talk morality with a theist, they always seem to talk as if they had that something, but when I ask to see it, nobody ever wants to show it to me.

    Chris at 51: “Given that we live in a moral society, any given atheist can look at that situation logically and decide that as long as he maintains a public appearance of moral steadfastness, he can commit immoral acts whenever he desires as long as he avoids detection.”

    Well, yes, but so can any theist. Having a moral code, even an absolute one, doesn’t guarantee that everybody will follow it. Just read the Old Testament. Even when they’ve heard the direct orders of God himself, given through no less an authority than Moses, some evil person is always going to put out a hand to keep the Ark from tipping. Human nature, I guess.

    Everybody: Please drop the word “relative” when you’re talking about morality. It does not mean what you think it means.

  56. 56

    Hello Dmullenix,

    Even if it were true that any theist can choose logically and rationally to free-ride on a moral society, this does not in any way redeem atheistic morality. What you’re basically saying here is, yes, atheistic morality does fail, it cannot handle free-riders but then neither can theistic morality so that’s alright then. You’re getting ahead of yourself.

    Do we agree that “Given that we live in a moral society, any given atheist can look at that situation logically and decide that as long as he maintains a public appearance of moral steadfastness, he can commit immoral acts whenever he desires as long as he avoids detection”?

  57. 57
    CannuckianYankee

    DM,

    Warning: Very long post.

    I’m going to respond to the parts in your post addressed to me, but I also wanted to address some of what you addressed to Chris. So here it is:

    DM: “CY at 50: An absolute moral code doesn’t have to be kept to be absolute. A murderer doesn’t invalidate laws against murder.”

    Agreed. In fact that we recognize a murderer as a murderer (and as doing evil) rather than simply as a person who is fulfilling his/her desire to end the lives of others; is indicative that we understand something about evil and morality.

    DM: “The AMC does have to be definite and accessible so we can at least know what it is or we can’t even try to live up to it.”

    I think perfect love IS something that is definite and accessible to all. None of us desires evil to be done to us. As such, it makes sense that what we really desire is love to be done (shown) to us. What is your reason for insisting that it must be some sort of code?

    Again, I don’t believe there is a moral code as you define it. I believe there is one guideline for morality that is found in the perfect loving character of God. That is the source on which all morality is based; whether you believe in God or not. Evil is the negation of perfect love.

    I speak of love as an ideal who’s perfection is foreign to humans. That’s an important point. That we recognize what evil is is one issue; that we all do evil is another, which would seem to negate our recognition of it. Except in the case where the ability to recognize evil does not come only from us; but something outside ourselves. I don’t think it’s only conscience. Conscience seems to only tell us when we are sometimes right, but mostly wrong about something. I don’t think when we feel guilty we immediately think: “I haven’t been loving,” although a person could perhaps train him/herself to think in that way; which I think would be quite useful and valid.

    When we feel guilty we have an inherent sense of shame about either ourselves as persons, or about our actions; which immediately compares the act we have done to some sort of ideal we haven’t met. It is a feeling that none of us really desires. It’s not surprising then that some modern psychologists attempt to negate the value of a sense of shame. However, consider this: Psychopaths and sociopaths are not an exception to this, because part of their makeup is that they don’t seem to have a sense of shame that guides their actions. This is perfectly in accord with scripture; which says that some people can have their conscience “seared.”

    DM: “You’re right, the Sh’ma Yisrael doesn’t strike me as being anything like an AMC, nor does Jesus’ first commandment. Both have obvious difficulties if there’s no Lord out there.”

    But Jesus seems to echo what I’m saying. Obviously not my original idea then. He says that the law and the prophets: i.e., legal moral code as well as the fulfillment of a promise are summed up in something simple: love God and love others. If those two are one’s concern, there is no need to be concerned with following a code. If one is loving, one is following the codes laid out in scripture (Ten commandments, etc.). The only question then is: what exemplifies loving action?

    Jesus stated: “Greater love has no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

    So in Jesus’ view, the sacrificing of one’s own interests for the interests of another; which would ultimately be exemplified by a human in giving up his/her life for another is about as close to perfect love that a human can get. I don’t think that view is controversial. Most people would agree that that would be the greatest expression of human love.

    DM: “Jesus’ second commandment is a version of the good old Golden Rule and is thus highly useful, but still not an AMC.”

    True, but Jesus did not seem to believe that any moral code could be perfectly followed by humans. He believed that he could do so, because he believed that he was (is) God. That issue is best left to another discussion.

    DM: “There are lots of problems with an alleged AMC that exists only in the character of God.”

    I think you’re misunderstanding me here. I don’t think God’s character is any kind of moral code. My belief is that God exemplifies perfect morality; which transcends any kind of code, because rather than being a set of rules, it is one characteristic: that of perfect love. If God followed some kind of code, He wouldn’t be perfect; because codes are indicative of a need for instruction in righteousness. God does not need to be instructed in righteousness. God is perfect unity, such that you can’t separate one part of Him from another. It would be absurd to think that you could. Thus to say that God’s character is a code of perfection is to attempt a separation of God’s character.

    DM: “For instance, there are a LOT of religions and their opinions of the characters of God vary extremely widely.”

    Well I think that is rather irrelevant. If God exists, do you think he’s really concerned with what various religions believe about Him? I would think that if God exists (which I do), He could communicate what we should believe about morality despite what some other rather religious humans think about it. It is my belief that He has done so; and my two examples from scripture beginning with “Hear o Israel” are a summation of how so.

    If you read New Testament scripture it becomes clear that Jesus was not impressed with outwardly religious people. He clearly condemned them because He perceived that they were attempting to justify themselves before a perfect God by following some sort of code; while it could be clearly seen that their actions were evil. I.e, they may have attained perfection as far as a code is concerned, but they did not exemplify perfect love; even though they believed that they did. These were not religious people who had no awareness of the Sh’ma Yisrael. It was a major part of their daily ritual.

    Dm: “We’re talking St. Francis to Osama here – BIG differences. Unless you have an absolute way of reading the character of God, you really don’t have an AMC.”

    Again, what Osama or St. Francis believe about morality is irrelevant if God exists. One or the other or both could be wrong. Do you think Osama exemplified anything close to perfect love? I would say that St. Francis was closer to the mark than Osama; and that’s quite an understatement. The point of Christianity concerning both of these men is that neither of them hit the mark. I believe St. Francis would agree with this; I’m not certain about Osama.

    Osama’s views can be said to be wrong objectively because not only did he do harm to others in mass quantities; which doing so to just one is the breaking of law, he did so in a decidedly unloving manner; and he reaped the consequences.

    I don’t think he’s in any kind of heaven enjoying the benefits of his obedience to God. Obedience to God is to love God and your neighbor as yourself. The closer you are to that ideal, the more loving you are. Osama was not even close. He ran in the opposite direction. I don’t think God was at all impressed. Again, I don’t think God is seeking lip service. He seeks the heart. If the heart ain’t in it, it ain’t happening. This applies for those who claim to be Christian as much as it applies to anyone else. In that, the example of perfect love works.

    DM: “In fact, the character of God is somewhat problematic.”

    I don’t believe the character of God is problematic at all. Your interpretation of the character of God is certainly problematic, but I don’t believe it’s at all warranted. You seem to focus on issues that have been endlessly answered by theologians throughout history, and can be answered even without their input from a clear understanding of what’s going on in scripture; yet you persist.

    Remember I said that according to Jesus, perfect love is exemplified by giving one’s life up for others. Jesus as God did just that. That is the action of God among humans, which I believe most exemplifies His character.

    That you are even able to accuse the God of scripture of evil: even if you believe that He is a human construct; you are recognizing something about evil; which would also indicate that you understand something about perfect love. You would not be able to recognize this in any meaningful way if such recognition is not objective, and objective morality can mean nothing save the existence of a perfectly loving God.

    You could say that the God of scripture is not that loving God (which I don’t believe you have any well-founded reason for), but you couldn’t be consistent by denying that such a God exists. I think this may be one of the reasons why atheists are hesitant to say that there CERTAINLY is no God. Very telling. Ultimately atheism IS an issue of morality, but I don’t think atheists have a corner on what morality is. I say this understanding that they are capable of morality; sometimes more so than some Christians.

    DM: “Frankly, loving your neighbor isn’t going to work either. I remember one of the heavy hitters of Catholic Theology (back in the days when all Christians were Catholic) saying, essentially, that burning a heretic at the stake was a loving thing to do to him for reasons which I no longer remember.”

    This would be true under only one condition, and that condition is that humans do not have the capacity to do evil; that’s the very issue we’re concerned with here. The fact that humans do things that do not exemplify perfect love indicates that humans have the capacity to do evil. I know that’s quite an understatement.

    I believe humans relish in doing evil. None of us can escape this charge. We value humility (for example) because it exemplifies a recognition of one’s propensity for doing evil, which is an indication that such a person is interested in the discipline of not doing so. The proud person does not recognize this. I think most of us understand this; although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that one could objectively identify the humble person from the proud. I think we could safely say though that the person who believes him/herself humble is not so; which has been an issue of some amusement: “Humility and how I attained it.”

    DM: “We need something a little more objective than that.”

    I think you should be applying your objections and objectivity to your own thinking on this matter. If humans need a moral code, this means that humans are evil. That which is not evil but perfect does not need some sort of code to tell him/her what is right or wrong. Goodness would come naturally without instruction. A code is some sort of instruction in righteousness. Therefore it is imperfect, and thus incapable of attaining true righteousness.

    OK, I’ve said that. However there are other reasons why according to Christian scripture there is no such code. I say “Christian” because Christianity is rather unique among world religions in that there is not a code, but a concept of grace. I won’t go into the details about that because it’s not directly relevant to the discussion; but grace for the christian replaces his/her inability to exemplify perfect love. In other words it replaces any kind of code with God’s favor, despite an inability to be perfect like God. I think it’s pretty well summed up in an oft recited passage of scripture: John 3:16 – but it’s more than just that.

    DM: “Every time I talk morality with a theist, they always seem to talk as if they had that something, but when I ask to see it, nobody ever wants to show it to me.”

    Maybe that’s because you’re common experience with theists comes from Christians? I think Islamic people would have no problem showing you some sort of moral code. It’s in Sharia law. That Christians won’t show you one is because most Christians, don’t believe that one can be explicitly expressed such that if you follow such a code, you are righteous.

    Chris at 51: “Given that we live in a moral society, any given atheist can look at that situation logically and decide that as long as he maintains a public appearance of moral steadfastness, he can commit immoral acts whenever he desires as long as he avoids detection.”

    Dm: “Well, yes, but so can any theist. Having a moral code, even an absolute one, doesn’t guarantee that everybody will follow it. Just read the Old Testament. Even when they’ve heard the direct orders of God himself, given through no less an authority than Moses, some evil person is always going to put out a hand to keep the Ark from tipping. Human nature, I guess.”

    Yes. Human nature. I think you’re getting this. Now apply that to why there can’t be any kind of code, which would make us righteous.

    DM: “Everybody: Please drop the word “relative” when you’re talking about morality. It does not mean what you think it means.”

    I think it’s quite relevant to the discussion, but I have to end this somewhere, and this seems the perfect place to do so. :)

  58. 58
    CannuckianYankee

    DM,

    In my last two posts, I don’t mean to imply that there isn’t some sort of human code that if we follow, keeps us on a path towards righteousness. We need laws and moral codes simply because we need that sense of direction. But the direction itself is ultimately not attained by following such rules, and what we seem to be in need of doing without is the idea that keeping such laws and codes makes us righteous. This is one point I failed to make, and I think it needs to be stressed.

    There are certain dos and don’ts in scripture, which warrant our attention. The point of all of this is the fact that our requirement for instruction in right and wrong is indicative of what scripture describes as our fallen nature; our imperfection.

    I still think that the direction of all codes of morality is towards an ideal, and that ideal is God’s perfect love.

    We are able then to determine which of such codes take us towards that ideal, and which do not.

    For example: there are certain codes for cleanliness in scripture. It could perhaps be argued that cleanliness is not a virtue such that it takes us closer to the loving character of God. However, for some, the keeping of cleanliness codes could be seen as an act of obedience to God; which would be an act of love towards God.

    It could also be argued that God includes such codes because of His concern for our own well-being; as in our health.

    Not all codes are human directed: some are directed towards God: the Sh’ma Yisrael makes that clear.

    So such codes don’t appear to be at all profitable to a non-theist as far as bringing one closer to the ideal of perfect love; however, I believe they were intended to be sensible to one who believes in the God of scripture.

    This might open up a whole other issue as to which of those codes are to be trusted, but I think that issue can be easily answered by an understanding of scripture.

    You really can’t escape this understanding if you want to know the source; even though you could objectively come up with your own set of rules, which if followed could bring you closer to the ideal. I believe that part of the blinding nature of some religion is the idea that if I do this or that I will find favor with God. This does not appear to be the case, and it has some merit in logic when you consider what God would be like if He exists. If He’s perfect, what I do or don’t do does not bring me closer to that perfection; since the very fact that I need the instruction to do or not do is indicative of my imperfection.

  59. 59
    Elizabeth Liddle

    This is a fascinating conversation! Just listening on the sidelines here for a moment, but can I ask a quick question of the non-atheists?

    Do you think that, on balance, atheists tend to be less moral (in the simple sense – less well-behaved, less altruistic, more selfish etc) than theists?

  60. 60
    CannuckianYankee

    Oh boy; it’s very easy to misspeak on this:

    “If He’s perfect, what I do or don’t do does not bring me closer to that perfection; since the very fact that I need the instruction to do or not do is indicative of my imperfection.

    This should read “does not bring me to the ideal.” It does bring me closer to the perfection, but I ultimately don’t reach the ideal due to my imperfection.

    Scripture also states that only God is able to make us perfect as He is perfect. So it’s not like the goal is useless because I can never attain it: the important point is that I require God to attain it; which is in line with the issue of requiring a righteous and perfectly loving God in order for morality to exist.

  61. dmullenix

    I hit you on your head and take your money. Being hit on the head and losing your money are both bad for you, I didn’t have to hit you or take your money, so it’s evil.

    How do you know you didn’t have to do what you did?

    How do you know it was bad for me?

    How do you know whether, even if it was bad for me, that it was not as a result better for others?

    I invite everybody to write down their objective moral codes here.

    I invite you to give us a reason to accept your moral code.

  62. 62
    CannuckianYankee

    Lizzie,

    “Do you think that, on balance, atheists tend to be less moral (in the simple sense – less well-behaved, less altruistic, more selfish etc) than theists?”

    I think it could be reasonably argued that atheists have more of a reason to be less moral due to the implications of atheism as having no real basis for morality outside of relative human understanding.

    But we live in a world where moral behavior seems to be beneficial to us.

    So ultimately I would have to say no. To say “yes” would be to imply that atheists are ignorant of the benefits of moral behavior. I’m not saying this to appease you. I truly believe that atheists are capable of being as moral in the 2nd sense as loving their neighbors as themselves. Obviously since they don’t believe in a personal loving God; the 1st sense is a separate issue.

    I think scripture makes it clear that any sense of moral uprightness in humans is irrelevant. Just one instance of moral imperfection makes us guilty before God. This is the thrust of why we speak of the gospel as “good news.” Well, that’s literally what it means, any way.

    The important point is that a Christian should not be like the pharisee that Jesus condemned; attempting to justify him/herself before God by his/her good behavior (perhaps by attempting to compare their own righteousness to that of some atheist they don’t happen to like); rather the Christian should depend on grace. Again; another issue that should actually be discussed elsewhere in order to stick to the rules (a code I must follow) of this blog.

    Also, I should clarify that not all theists agree that following moral codes does not bring one to favor with God. This seems to be a unique belief to Christianity; and it is not even universal among people who claim Christianity as their faith, but seems to be true of most.

  63. 63

    Hi Lizzie,

    Quick answer to your quick question: yes, I do think atheists tend to be less moral.

    Quick qualification: I base that on my observations of the young (and sometimes, not-so-young) thugs that I’ve seen around the country (particularly Glasgow, Manchester and London) over the last couple of decades. When I see these people, I have no doubt that all thoughts of God are very far from their minds.

  64. 64
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Ah, but that’s not quite what I asked, Chris!

    I didn’t ask whether people were less moral when “all thoughts of God are very far from their minds” – I asked whether atheists are less moral :)

    In my day, the young thugs from Glasgow turned up to mass on Sundays :)

    They weren’t atheists. In fact, so far from being atheists they couldn’t play for Rangers because they were Catholics!

  65. 65

    I had to put it that way Lizzie because I don’t ask every thug I meet whether or not he’s an atheist!

    But, I put it to you, that many of the Glaswegian neds – in this day and age – may even identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics but are actually atheists. The identification is a political statement to do with Northern Ireland, not a religious one to do with God. That much I do know through conversation [not just with thugs either!]

  66. 66
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Well, I think that sort of makes my point, Chris.

    Atheists – people who have made a conscious decision that they do not believe in God are not the same of people who nominally believe in God but don’t pay any attention to the implications of their beliefs.

    I put it to you that atheists are no different from conscientious Christians in that regard – they know what they believe, or do not believe, and figure out how to behave on that basis.

    I would agree with you that people who don’t care about behaving well don’t care about behaving well – but it seems circular to say: therefore they must be atheists!

    I’d say: therefore they must not have thought seriously about what constitutes ethical behaviour.

    A very different matter!

  67. I’d be the first to agree that there are those with religious beliefs who behave appalling and they should know better.

    But, on balance (which was how you framed the original question), there is no doubt that when you ask the more immoral members of our society if they believe in God they would answer “I don’t believe in any of that religious nonsense” (and that includes many of the Old Firm fans that you were referring to).

    So, they’re not atheists like you, Lizzie. But, they are atheists nonetheless. They actively don’t believe that God is watching so think they can get away with murder. And most of the time, they do. Very sad, but that’s what happens when morality becomes watered down by Golden Rules and Subjectivity.

    Lizzie, I know that the number of demands placed on you here exceed anybody else by a long way (and I admire you for it!), but I’d be very grateful if you could answer my questions in Post 51 on this thread. I think we’ll make more progress there.

  68. 68
    Elizabeth Liddle

    @ Chris, #51

    Evening, Chris! Sorry to keep you waiting!

    Morning Lizzie,

    Some brutal stuff being discussed on this thread. And some clarification is needed on two points.

    First of all, the meaning of “meaning”. This could be as simple as the answer to “Why bother?”. If that question can be answered rationally and compellingly then there is your meaning. If not, then what you’re left with is meaninglessness. If life is comfortable and filled with Joy then you might offer that as meaning. On the other hand, you can have meaningless Joy too. So maybe we’re grasping for something more meaningful that overcomes the sheer futility of a brief existence that ends in oblivion. The problems for atheism become overwhelming if life is not comfortable: if it is a daily struggle with plenty of suffering and absolutely no Joy whatsoever. Ask an atheist who leads such a miserable existence, “Why bother?” and he’ll struggle to convince himself never mind anyone else. Why should such a miserable atheist bother with life at all, Lizzie?

    I’d ask why any miserable person should bother with life :) That’s not to evade, actually, although it might seem so. I would certainly agree that people need “meaning” if life, in the sense you give (which is the sense I hope you meant it) – a reason to “bother”. People who have no reason to “bother” often become deeply ill. So why should we “bother”? One clue is to look at animals – why do they bother to enjoy life (as they often do). Look at otters, for intance, or dolphins – animals that clearly “play”. Or a cat, sunning herself in the window, lying on her back for a tummy rub when she hears you coming (mine does, anyway, daft thing that she is). Whether or not you think that we are related to cats and otters, it seems clear that as animals, one of our drives is to be, simply, happy.

    Now human beings are more complicated than cats and otters, in many ways, and one of those ways is that we are able to see things from a different (literally) point of view – we have what is termed “Theory of Mind” capacity (ToM – means that in childhood we develop the “theory” that other people have “minds” like ours). We are able therefore, literally in some senses, to “feel another’s pain” – to wince when someone else is injured, to weep when someone else is in distress. We are, unlike (probably) other animals, therefore able to transcend ourselves. And, it seems, that is a source of joy to most of us (and was what I used to call, as a well-brought up Quaker girl :)) “that of God in every one” (George Fox). However, there are plenty of other drives that are less sublime. Fortunately, however, what comes with the ToM package is our social nature and habits. And while one person might say – well, what the heck, I might be able to feel your pain, but it doesn’t hurt half as much as my own does, and in any case, I really fancy your stuff, so I’ll have it”, collectively, we can see that if everyone thought that, we’d all be worse off. So, collectively, we figure out structures that supplement the reward that comes from empathy, and impose penalties if people help themselves to the rewards that come from selfishness. And partly those structures are our legal systems and social mores, but they are also reflected in our culture (including our religions) and traditions. And atheists are perfectly capable of doing this as well as religious people – of figuring out what laws and ethical principles will benefit us all, and discourage both ourselves and others from defaulting to selfishness when the result is to the detriment of someone else’s wellbeing.

    Sorry, long answer, but I hope that helps!

    Secondly, any atheist would be well within his rights and reason to state that rules are there to be broken: especially Lizzie’s Golden Rule! Given that we live in a moral society, any given atheist can look at that situation logically and decide that as long as he maintains a public appearance of moral steadfastness, he can commit immoral acts whenever he desires as long as he avoids detection.

    Well, sure, but so can a theist. And if the only reason a theist doesn’t is because he believes in a celestial CCTV camera at St Peter’s gate, then that belief isn’t what I would call imparting morality any more than a CCTV camera anywhere makes people more moral – it just discourages them from behaving badly, which actually isn’t the same thing.

    Which is more moral – to care for your neighbour out of love, or care for her out of fear that if you don’t, something bad will happen to you?

    Naturally, the meaning of terms like “moral steadfastness” and “immoral acts” would be very different for this free-riding atheist. After all, he realises that Moral Law is something that only comes from God. By rejecting God, he has rejected Moral Law and any Divine reward or punishment. That means there is no moral wrong or right. There is only enjoying life while it lasts and going out in a blaze of glory. Right is self-interest, wrong is anything that is detrimental to that. Woe betide anyone who stands in his way!

    Well, no, it doesn’t. For a start, atheists don’t “reject” God (though they may “reject” religion, often for ethical reasons – the way the church treats gays, for instance). They simply don’t believe there is one (or that there is no evidence for one). And they don’t believe that “Moral Law is something that only comes from God”. Most atheists think that moral law is something that as human beings we have devised, by virtue of our capacity to understand how other people feel, and to reify abstractions using our language capacity, in order to ensure that our communities function – after all, if everyone behaves well, we are all better off in the not-so-long run. So an atheist is as indignant as any theist about people who “free-load”. And (just hope Ms O’Leary isn’t listening….) there is even evidence that we have inbuilt “cheater detector” mechanisms!

    Please remember, I acknowledge that there are plenty of good and moral atheists out there (though not ones who can offer any meaning to existence: contrary to your claims, the vast majority of atheists admit that life is utterly meaningless).

    Well, Chris, I know a large number of atheists, and none of them think that! And they include some of the kindest, most generous (seriously generous – as many of them, particularly Americans, find themselves ostracised from their Christian communities, and don’t readily have the support network that churches can provide, I’ve seen them dig deep to help each other in all kinds of ways, practically, financially, and well, spiritually if that isn’t an oxymoron, which it sort of is, but also sort of isn’t!), most open-hearted people I’ve ever met :)

    But when atheists are moral, it is purely a product of their upbringing: by religious parents and other authoritative figures and institutions in a religious society. Even if an atheist’s parents are atheists then it is highly unlikely that their parents’ parents were atheists and so their grandparents religious values are still shining through. But the danger is, atheists would be well within their rights and reason to question everything about their upbringing and then reject all religious influences in it: including morality. How do you dissuade an atheist from free-riding, Lizzie?

    No, this isn’t true, Chris. Or, at least, again, going on my own experience, I’ve met every single combination you can imagine – some, indeed had religious parents, and managed to escape a great deal of cruelty and abuse dealt at the hands of those parents (especially gays) and also of people in religious authority. And yet they’ve found their own, better, morality. I’m not saying all religious parents are like this (I was a religious parent myself!) but some are. And conversely, I’ve met atheists brought up by atheists, again, deeply ethical people, their ethics deeply rooted in their worldview – not for nothing is the major atheist organisation in the UK called the British Humanist Association, and not for nothing do we have the word “humane”. And, indeed “humanity”.

    Yes, of course, atheists inherit a large theistic tradition of moral structures, and we should not underestimate that. But with the best comes also the worst – crusades, religious wars, inquisitions, the burning of heretics, massacres, all directly in the name of religion. Atheists, in some ways, I would argue, strip ethics of all that baggage and boil it down to, ironically, the Golden Rule that Jesus taught as one of the two “Greatest Commandments” (or even the One – he also told us simply to “love one another”, as well, of course, as saying that “whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do for me”.)

    Out with the gay bashing, the intrusive sexual hygiene rules, the arbitrary arguments about angels and heads and pins, the tribalism, the doctrinal dogfights, and Back to Basics: Do as you would be done by.

    It works :)

  69. 69
    CannuckianYankee

    Lizzie,

    I have a longer response that I’m saving up; not sure if it’s appropriate, so I’ll hold out on it for now.

    “Which is more moral – to care for your neighbour out of love, or care for her out of fear that if you don’t, something bad will happen to you?”

    I think this would be a valid point if the reality was that God struck down or punished a Christian every time he/she did something bad, or didn’t do something good.

    However, such are not the motivations for Christians in general.

    Christians are just as capable of behavior they don’t believe they will get caught doing; or because they believe that grace excuses them. Such is a faulty belief, but it is a reality among many Christians.

    The person who takes on the discipline of working towards righteousness does not do so because they believe that God will reward them, but because they believe that this is what God designed or purposed them to do. In Christian theism the purpose of life is to know God; not to appease Him with outwardly good behavior, while inwardly despising such a task. There’s a difference.

    So to answer the question; to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them. It becomes more of a celebration of life and truth rather than a task of obligation. The desire to reflect the love of God is a result of the discipline towards righteousness and knowing God.

    This does not mean that if one is not so motivated that they shouldn’t help their neighbor; but that in doing good, one fulfills the true desires of the heart as God intended. Think about this; because I think you’re missing one key aspect here on how Christians think. We believe that God exists and that He has a purpose for our lives. This understanding leads us to also consider our fellow human beings as also having great value and purpose; such that to do good to them we are fulfilling and exemplifying the character of God’s perfect love (though in an imperfect way).

    Secondly, the Christian theist does not believe that such behavior comes natural to human beings; rendering what you say about motivation as invalid. Nobody does acts of pure and perfect love apart from God. There is always another factor involved; such as human self interest in doing good. The task of the Christian is to grow from one who does good because of human self-interest to one who does good out of the pure joy of knowing the perfect loving God.

    There’s an interesting little movie – it’s not really well done IMHO, but it has a great message. It stars that kid (an adult now) from the popular thriller “The Sixth Sense,” Haley Joel Osment. You know the movie I’m talking about? “Pay it Forward?”

    It was a secular movie, but it reflected a motivation in the thinking of this kid to do good things for others, and to watch such acts spread throughout his community.

    The point is not that this kid did these acts out of religious motivations, but he did it out of the pure joy of doing so.

    You seem to think that because Christians believe in some sort of old guy with a beard in a rocking chair who’s ever present in their living rooms and dare I say bedrooms, observing every little thing they do; that this is what motivates them to do charitable acts towards others; and as such, this renders such acts as disingenuous.

    Such is not the case, and quite frankly, it is a gross mischaracterization of Christian motivations. Nobody is perfect in this to be sure; but you simply can’t assume that Christians don’t do good things for the joy of it because God’s constantly watching.

    That’s not the sort of God we believe in. God is gracious towards us and forgives us for our sinfulness, and we gain in knowledge and experience of this grace when we reach out to those in need. We are reflecting towards them God’s own attitude towards us as well as them. It is an act of pure joy and celebration that God cares for them and cares for us to the degree of inviting us to be a part of that expression.

    I say this with caution because doing something out of joy does not mean that we don’t feel the tragic nature of what has befallen those in need. We are humanized by seeing the needs of others and realizing that we have something to give. It’s human nature to resist this behavior; I know this full well from my own nature. Christian discipleship motivates us to resist our human nature in order to be truly human.

    When we come to the realization that it isn’t a task so much as activity that we were meant to do, which has further meaning towards the purposes of the very Creator of the universe, quite often we are met with an epiphany (not simply a feeling); a confirmation in the form of conviction that what is being done is right, and that it didn’t originate from us. Have you ever had one of those? Naturalism can’t explain why we experience them in such situations. I know it tries, but there are things in life that have no explanation outside of that perfect ideal that becomes a reality when God moves us to action.

  70. 70
    Elizabeth Liddle

    oops:

    wrote: “managed to escape a great deal of cruelty and abuse dealt at the hands of those parents (especially gays) and also of people in religious authority.”

    meant: “managed (especially gays) to escape a great deal of cruelty and abuse dealt at the hands of those parents and also of people in religious authority.”

  71. 71
    Elizabeth Liddle

    CY: Oddly enough, I understand the view of Christianity you present very well, I think, as it was very close to my own. Indeed it’s still there in atheistic form now!

    You wrote this:

    So to answer the question; to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them. It becomes more of a celebration of life and truth rather than a task of obligation. The desire to reflect the love of God is a result of the discipline towards righteousness and knowing God.

    Yes indeed. But it’s relatively easy to translate that into atheistic terms (as, for example, Buddhists do): “to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them like you.”

    You rightly (IMO) lampooned this God:

    You seem to think that because Christians believe in some sort of old guy with a beard in a rocking chair who’s ever present in their living rooms and dare I say bedrooms, observing every little thing they do; that this is what motivates them to do charitable acts towards others; and as such, this renders such acts as disingenuous.

    That was never my conception of God and I’m glad it is not yours. But Chris Doyle wrote:

    So, they’re not atheists like you, Lizzie. But, they are atheists nonetheless. They actively don’t believe that God is watching so think they can get away with murder. And most of the time, they do. Very sad, but that’s what happens when morality becomes watered down by Golden Rules and Subjectivity.

    And it seems to me (unless I’ve misunderstood Chris, which I hope I have) that his conception of God is much closer your guy in the rocking chair than yours (or mine) is. And given that conception, I guess I can see why a Christian might think: hey, there’s no God so nobody’s watching, I can do what I like!

    But that argument, I suggest, doesn’t work in your case. Perhaps you might imagine that without that conception of “the face of Jesus in everyone” there would be no motivation to love our neighbours, but there is. We just cut out the middle man :)

  72. 72
    CannuckianYankee

    Lizzie,

    My posts get longer by the minute. Must learn to condense.

    Thanks for the response. It is not my view that since God is watching we should be careful about doing good. It is; however, my view that one cannot excuse him/herself in doing evil because God IS watching.

    God is an overseer against evil as much as a motivator towards good. I simply don’t see him in the same light from one situation to the other. It’s not that God changes his character; both are one essence of His perfect character.

    I think it’s a valid point that the evildoer should not think that he/she will ultimately get off scott free. Why? because in God’s perfect love is perfect justice. He would not be loving us perfectly if he turned a blind eye to evil. Justice is part of perfect love in a world where evil exists.

    That we don’t always see justice done is in my view indicative of God’s patience and mercy towards us in this time; Ultimately the end of the world may be God’s final judgment; but that’s not (to quote one of Dr. Dembski’s titles) “The End of Christianity.” That end is the Kingdom of God. Not some earthly Kingdom, but a place and time whereby all of the perfections God intended for His creation are realized.

    It’s hard to describe my conception of God in this respect, simply because there are many aspects of His likeness that are indescribable, and there are many things that we simply don’t know about what such a Kingdom will be like.

    If God is perfectly loving, then any idea that such a “realm” will be lacking in anything that presently interests us or excites us is in my view misplaced; since God knows perfectly the workings and desires of the human heart.

    So you can see that God as our overseer is not a hindrance to our freedom; rather an assurance of our destiny with Him. That’s basically how I view God’s knowledge of us. He’s in us, about us, intimately acquainted with us; knows what motivates us, our strengths and weaknesses. He loves us more than we understand that He does even given our knowledge of Jesus’ death for us. In his nature He couldn’t not be ever present with us.

    So I believe that the purpose for God’s presence among us is not so that he can pick out every flaw and judge us, but because He loves us and “desires” (probably not the best term) to be present with us (not that He needs us in any way – and it may be even more than that, but that’s as much as I currently understand). However, the evildoer (and we all are such at one time or another) fails to understand first of all that God is present, and 2nd of all the purpose for His presence.

    So I can’t really fault Chris in pointing this out. I don’t have a tendency to say that evildoers are necessarily atheist; I simply could not know that. Perhaps Chris’s understanding of this may be peculiar to certain situations and experiences of his that are not my own. But Chris’s conception of God’s presence and my own are not necessarily incompatible; the two examples are two entirely different situations involving the same loving God.

    Furthermore, I think the most significant point that can be drawn here is that in atheism there is really no justice. Evildoers do get off scott free apart from the consequence of death, which is no different than anyone else. Where’s the justice in that? Where’s the love?

    You talked about love in a post on another thread, and I mentioned it in an earlier post here. I can’t really conceive how one can believe in love (maybe warm fuzzies?) and not believe that justice is concurrent with it. So atheism is missing the very essence of perfect love, which lends it power; to do justly. Without justice, love is just a warm fuzzy.

    “Yes indeed. But it’s relatively easy to translate that into atheistic terms (as, for example, Buddhists do): “to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them like you.””

    I’ll make this brief. One could indeed translate Christian understandings into other idioms. This does not make such translations justified, but I don’t have a problem in doing so.

  73. 73

    Liz: “And what should people do who are even now unconvinced by the authenticity of the Shroud?”

    What do you do when people are unconvinced by neo-darwinism? Develop your argument. I submitted a source for an objective moral code, and I have presented evidence to validate the source. Exactly what you asked me to do.

    Apply the same scientific method to the Shroud as you would do for the best abiogenesis hypothesis you can dig up, and see how the two stack up. Which pieces of evidence will trigger astronomical amounts of fantastic conjecture, and which evidences will trigger epic hyperskepticism?

    And then argue that ideology does not drive science.

  74. 74

    Liz: “Yes, of course, atheists inherit a large theistic tradition of moral structures, and we should not underestimate that. But with the best comes also the worst – crusades, religious wars, inquisitions, the burning of heretics, massacres, all directly in the name of religion.

    Atheists have killed more people in a single century than the entire 2000 year history of Christianity.

    I would think given that such a small percentage of the worlds population [ideologically speaking] is accountable for the some of the greatest massacres in earthling history is enough data to reasonably refute any philosophical argument about human morality an atheist can lawyer up. Especially when it includes otters.

    Moreover, the fact that the brightest atheists thinkers along with their spit shined collective arguments are repeatedly stuffed by a single Christian apologetic is also telling. Either WLC is legions more intelligent than all the leading atheists combined, or more likely, the Christian argument is simply better.

  75. 75
    CannuckianYankee

    Junkdna, Lizzie, Dm, others

    JDNA: “Moreover, the fact that the brightest atheists thinkers along with their spit shined collective arguments are repeatedly stuffed by a single Christian apologetic is also telling. Either WLC is legions more intelligent than all the leading atheists combined, or more likely, the Christian argument is simply better.”

    Allow me to shed a little perspective on this issue.

    At posts 46 and 47 DM challenged theists to share what they believe to be the objective moral code, which if followed would make us moral.

    DM: “junkdnaforlife at 44: You too seem to be in possession of an absolute moral code. Please share it here with all of us. If it is really objective, I would expect it to be substantially identical to Chris’s.”

    I responded at 50 and again at 57 and 58, rounding out my thoughts on the matter. My conclusion is that moral codes are imperfect, but the source for morality is perfect; a perfectly loving God. Also, that one could have objective morality practicing a discipline which moves one closer to the ideal of perfect love; which has as it’s ultimate expression among humans when a person lays down her/his life for another. This in contrast to acts of evil, when one places his/her own self interest above the needs of others. Evil is thus; the negation of perfect love.

    Lizzie then asked the question at 59 with:

    “Do you think that, on balance, atheists tend to be less moral (in the simple sense – less well-behaved, less altruistic, more selfish etc) than theists?”

    I don’t think that question can be answered objectively, because we don’t have data on the moral behavior of every atheist compared with every theist. I also believe that whatever answer we could find to such a question would be irrelevant to the issue of who’s morality is more correct.

    I was thinking a much better question might be: be which societies have been more moral in history; Christian or theistic societies or non-theistic societies?

    But even that assumes that there are no non-theistic influences, which would cause such a theistic society to adopt a more secularist moral construct. It also assumes that there are no theistic influences in a non-theistic society; which could also alter it’s moral construct.

    I give you two examples at one particular time in history: The United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The United States as predominantly a Christian nation (while secular in political structure), and The Soviet Union (A completely secular and atheistic political structure), but with remnants of theism present from it’s Christian past. Any argument you give would have to consider these elements.

    I don’t like to speculate, but given what I discussed in those three posts mentioned above, let’s imagine two societies: One that is completely secular with no religious influences. It is for all intents and purposes; a completely atheistic society. The other is a completely Christian theistic society. It has a secular government for reasons I’ll explain, but every citizen is a follower of Christian theism. Out of which of those two societies would you find the most moral behavior; assuming that you had some sort of measure for morality.

    OK, such a question does not present one without it’s own difficulties, and I think I covered this in my 3 posts. One of those difficulties stems from DM’s suggestion that there could be some sort of measure for objective morality defined in a moral code. My posts offered up that such is not the case; since morality is not the keeping of such codes, but working towards an ideal of perfection; a perfection that is not defined in terms of codes, but in terms of perfect love.

    However, I personally believe that one society would have a focus on moral codes, while the other society would be focused on exemplifying the ideal of perfect love. Guess which one wins out in the end?

    Well I think the atheistic society would be the law keepers. I actually think they would do quite well individually, but collectively it would be an absolute mess. No moral consensus could be reached because everybody has a different picture of what represents the moral ideal.

    Such is not the case in the Christian society; while they too would have their problems, and different factions would arise as to what interpretations of scripture are correct, etc; but ultimately, the understanding of the goal towards a righteousness exemplified in love, would be a common theme. It is already a common theme among a majority of Christian churches in a largely secular world. So while the Christians are not concerned with law keeping; they would actually fare better than the atheists, since they have a sense of the direction morality must take (however imperfect their expression of that morality).

    The world is full of laws and law-keepers. Our whole lives are structured around rules, which we believe if kept will lead us somewhere we are currently not. The rules differ in different societies, in different cultures, nations, states, and even from town to town, and family to family. Yet we insist that by following the correct rules, we sill succeed in life. To an extent there is some truth in that. But ultimately morality is not the following of rules. Jesus condemned some of the best rule keepers in history – the pharisees. They were justly condemned because the truth, which they ignored was a part of their daily ritual: that God is one, and we should love God above all, and love our neighbors as ourselves. The pharisies followed the letter of the law, but they did not direct themselves towards the ideal in following such rules: namely the perfect love of God. So they did not follow the “spirit” of the law. In Jesus’ view they were highly immoral men. Thus rule following is not what makes one moral.

    Now here’s the important point as it relates to debates between Christians and atheists. William Lane Craig is a very careful thinker. He truly believes in what he presents in his debates, and he isn’t a law-keeper. He has a higher goal in mind: to present to the world the love of God by arguing largely for His existence. Many Christians believe that presenting theism is a way of doing pre-evangelism; because there are people who’s worldview has not prepared them to consider Christianity as an option. So Craig feels that his mission in life is this sort of pre-evangelism; preparing secularists, skeptics, atheists and agnostics to accept the rationality of a theistic worldview; with the highest goal that they become believing Christians. Craig believes that this is an act of exemplifying the perfect love of God towards those who don’t believe.

    Now if God does not exist, it could hardly be seen how Craig would have much success in such an endeavor. His success does not prove God’s existence, but it does lend some credibility to Craig as a forceful debater.

    I think the reason why atheists don’t fare well in debates with Craig (in addition to perhaps their poor preparation and their poor substantive argumentation) is ultimately because they lack a motivation outside of atheism. After all in atheism, why should it matter that others agree with me? What benefit is there in actually believing in atheism? Atheism lacks a certain conviction that it is true. It’s promoters’ only concern is that certain rules; certain codes are followed, and ultimately since it doesn’t really have a source outside of naturalism for such a set of rules and codes, they mean nothing.

    They are not able to exorcise their own demons, and they are not able to conjure the sense of conviction that theists sense when based on the ideal of God’s perfect love, they are doing something right; which has eternal benefits involving the very creator of the universe.

    This does not make theism true; but it does lend some insight into why theism is attractive and even intellectually persuasive. Following rules is great if such rules have some sort of goal in mind. Atheism is not able to articulate any kind of goal for its rule following. It ends up sounding rather mundane.

    Ultimately Craig offers a direction towards eternity; while his opponents offer a direction towards confusion and eventually death and decay.

  76. 76

    good stuff Cannuck

  77. 77
    CannuckianYankee

    Junkdnaforlife,

    Thanks. I should also ad; given those two choices I mentioned at the end of my last post: eternity or death and decay; which would be the most logically desirable for someone who carefully considers such arguments? It really baffles me that atheist believe what they do. It baffles me further when they are presented with logical arguments, which refute their claims on warrant, and yet they still desire the outcome of atheism.

    When I ask why this is so, the only conclusion I can understand is because atheism is an issue of morality and has nothing to do with rational thought. The atheist does not have to answer to a righteous and just God. That seems to be the motivation; not “rationalism;” which they claim as their own.

    I would go further in stating that the atheist does not understand the perfect love of God. If they did; they would not seek to find fault with God by picking out parts of scripture they find objectionable. I think relative morality is what is meant in scripture as “a form of godliness.” A morality that is simply the keeping of rules is the form of godliness, which denies the power of God; because it is God who is able to make us righteous, not the following of rules.

    Rules can be bent and twisted to such an extend as to reverse any direction towards the ideal of perfect love. So if you’re a rule keeper, you can’t really objectively decide which rules you should keep and which you should discard. You need the source for the direction you must go. Atheism is lacking a belief in the source. Therefore, atheistic morality can and does go in the opposite direction. Not always, but it has that potential; which is why we find such evils perpetrated in the name of atheism.

    Theism can also go in such directions, and has done so; however, theism – particularly Christian theism does not lend any warrant for such bending of the rules.

    It is also my belief that atheism borrows the most significant moral laws and codes; which drive one in the direction of perfect love, from theism. They don’t originate in atheism. They couldn’t.

  78. Chris at 56: What do you mean atheistic morality can’t handle free riders? A free rider would be someone who follows atheistic morality without being an atheist. Christianity and other religions are all free riders. Religions typically start out with idiosyncratic moral codes (Mormon polygamy, early Christian communism as examples) and then adopt more common morals as they attain power and respectability. (Modern Mormons and Christians, as examples) We atheists handle that pretty well. It’s the religious morals they retain that upset us. (Thou must not allow a witch to live, kill all those who worship a different god as examples.)

    CY at 57:
    “Perfect love” is hopelessly vague and meaningless. I’m looking for something absolute.

    My reason for asking for an absolute moral code is because I’m often told by Christians that they have one and I’d like to see it.

    As I said yesterday, God’s perfect loving character is very much in dispute. Remember that if evolution didn’t do it, then God made the malaria parasite.

    I think you’re unduly mystifying evil. Why people sometimes do evil things isn’t really a mystery. Remember, doing evil frequently pays. If I steal your purse, I’m better off by one purse.

    Ditto with the conscience. Remember, we’re social animals. Living and working with other people pays off amazingly well and has throughout human and pre-human history. Generally, when our conscience bothers us, it’s because we’ve done something that hurts group unity such as theft or murder.

    My point about different religions having different conceptions of God’s character is that it obscures God’s character which prevents us from using it to form our morals. You’re right that both Osama bin Laden and St. Francis Assisi could be wrong and my human judgment agrees with your human judgment that St. Francis was a better man than Osama. But when Christians say they have an objective moral code, they are saying they have something that transcends human judgment. I’d like to see it so I wouldn’t have to rely on my fallible human morality.

    Again, when you talk about difficulty in recognizing evil, you’re unduly mystifying evil.

    Speaking as an atheist, I say that I don’t think there is a God. I see no good evidence of His existence and plenty of evidence that He’s not there. But what I see is also consistent with a God that exists but just doesn’t want to be seen, so I can’t say that His non-existence is proven. An intelligent God is just very unlikely.

    “You could say that the God of scripture is not that loving God (which I don’t believe you have any well-founded reason for)”

    Well, there was that little incident where he allegedly killed everybody in the world except Noah and his family “because they were evil.” Sorry to go Godwin on you, but that really is a Nazi-quality justification. Hitler killed the Jews because he thought they were irredeemably evil.

    “This [burning at the stake is good for you] would be true under only one condition, and that condition is that humans do not have the capacity to do evil;”

    Huh?? I think the actual justification was that it would keep the heretic from doing even worse evil.

    “…but you couldn’t be consistent by denying that such a God exists.

    My view is that IF the God of scripture (or even the God who made this world and malaria parasites) existed, He would be evil.

    On grace: I think that doctrine was great marketing by Paul. Judaism came up with The Fall – a rather poor explanation for how an omnipotent, omniscient God could make a world as noticeably nasty as the one we live in: He made it Good, then Eve and Adam screwed things up. That doctrine had a lot of problems, like an omniscient being should have known this would happen and taken steps to prevent it and punishing Eve and Adam’s descendents for something their parents did before they were even born, but it was about as good as they could do and still keep an omnipotent and omniscient God.

    Paul came up with the idea that Jesus’ death on the cross somehow made it possible for God to give us grace – a pardon from our great great great great great etc ancestor’s sins. Better yet, from a marketing viewpoint, this grace came not in this world, which remained very obviously full of malaria and other horrors, but in Heaven which would conveniently happen after you were dead, thus making it impossible to show the promise was false. I don’t think The Fall or Grace were very good theology, but market-wise grace was a best seller, especially after the Romans adopted Christianity.

    “That Christians won’t show you one [an absolute code] is because most Christians, don’t believe that one can be explicitly expressed such that if you follow such a code, you are righteous.”

    They sure do like to talk about their absolute morality though. You’d almost think they could show it to you.

    Mung at 61: “How do you know that you didn’t have to [hit someone and take their money].

    I’m a conscious being.

    “How do you know it was bad for me?”

    I don’t. You may be the one out of a thousand people who enjoys being hit on the head and having his money stolen. But from experience and history, I know that the vast majority of people don’t like it.

    “How do you know whether, even if it was bad for me, that it was not as a result better for others?”

    I KNOW it would be better for me – I’d have your money.

    Me: “I invite everybody to write down their objective moral codes here.”

    “I invite you to give us a reason to accept your moral code.”

    You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.

    Chris at 65: That’s the purest example of the “No true Scotsman” fallacy that I’ve seen in a long time. You even got the country right. No true Christian would be a hooligan, so those hooligans can’t be Christians.

    Junkdnaforlife at 73: “I submitted a source for an objective moral code, and I have presented evidence to validate the source. Exactly what you asked me to do.”

    Are you referring to reply 44 where you list the New Testament as the source and the Shroud of Turin as evidence to validate that claim?

    The New Testament is a lot of things, but it’s not an Objective Moral Code. If it contains an OMC, please tell us where it is in the text and the rules you use to distinguish the text containing the OMC from the rest of the NT.

    The Shroud certainly is “extraordinary” all right, but I think Bishop Pierre d’Arcis’ evidence was more extraordinary when he wrote to the Pope in 1390 stating that the shroud was a forgery and that the forger had confessed. To quote Ken Ham, “Were you there?” The Bishop was.

    CY at 69: “The person who takes on the discipline of working towards righteousness does not do so because they believe that God will reward them, but because they believe that this is what God designed or purposed them to do.”

    The atheist who works towards righteousness doesn’t do it expecting reward, but because they believe that is the best way to live their lives.

    “So to answer the question; to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them. It becomes more of a celebration of life and truth rather than a task of obligation.”

    Atheists just do it because they are human beings. It’s our way of celebrating life and truth rather than a task of obligation.

  79. Onlookers,

    For record.

    Re:

    [DM:] “So to answer the question; to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them. It becomes more of a celebration of life and truth rather than a task of obligation.”

    Atheists just do it because they are human beings. It’s our way of celebrating life and truth rather than a task of obligation.

    This is little more than a clever way to dress up the admission that evolutionary materialist atheism has in it no IS that is capable of bearing the weight of OUGHT.

    That is, in the teeth of abundant and objective evidence that we are in fact morally obligated, such evolutionary materialist atheism is blatantly and insistently amoral.

    Let us therefore also listen very carefully indeed to the moans of the ghosts of over 100 million victims of such atheistical regimes over the past 100 years, when we hear the self-justifying rhetoric of atheists who wish to paper over the significance of that amorality and its implied moral absurdities.

    As I keep pointing out, and as such atheistical advocates keep on pointedly ignoring [Wilson's evil advice in the notorious Arte of Rhetorique is to ignore what is inconvenient if you can get away with it . . . ], we were long since warned by Plato in the Laws, Bk X, in 360 BC, on the consequences of being naive in the face of such rhetoric:

    ___________

    >> [[The avant garde philosophers, teachers and artists c. 400 BC] say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of nature and of chance, the lesser of art [[ i.e. techne], which, receiving from nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all those lesser works which are generally termed artificial . . . .

    [[T]hese people would say that the 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; cf. dramatisation here], 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; here, too, Plato hints at the career of Alcibiades], and not in legal subjection to them . . . >>
    ____________

    We can hardly say that we were not warned in good time.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: And, BTW, how does an evolutionary materialist atheist who is amoral, define truth, and does he see himself as bound by a duty of care to be fair and accurate? A duty, of course, is . . . an ought.

    PPS: And, how does one who sees himself as having no duty of care, so no duty of care to truth or fairness, define “good”? Or, in absence of a serious grappling with the issues of the IS-OUGHT gap of evo mat atheism, are these little more than perfumed words to take in the unwary? (Notice, DM has already indulged in slander, scripture twisting and racist rhetoric, as I know from having had to personally deal with him in recent days here at UD.]

  80. Darwinists have nothing of value to say about the origin or meaning of evil because Darwinism negates the value of life.

    According the Bible, God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life. This makes life the highest value known to man. “In him was life, and this life was the light of men.” By this light, it is possible to make absolute, objective value judgments. Anything that builds up and nourishes life is good, while anything that detracts from life is evil.

    The holiness of life is reflected in “all of the law and all of the prophets,” which depend on just two commands—love God first, and love your neighbor as yourself. The first and greatest commandment preserves one’s own life, since to put God before all other loves is to follow the path of life and well-being. And of course the “other” commandment preserves the lives and well-being of others.

    What is the origin of evil? According to the Bible, it came into the world when Adam and Eve literally chose death over life. They were motivated by vanity. They wanted to be “like God.” They wanted to worship themselves, and so their sin was against the greatest commandment. And the next major sin was against the “other commandment,” when Cain killed his brother out of envy.

    In the Biblical view, then, evil comes from vanity, or excessive self-love. The evil effects of vanity are magnified by the fact that we live in “bondage to the grave.” We are made in God’s image and know the value of life, but we ourselves are mortal. We despise our mortality, our nothingness, and this bondage causes us to want to glorify ourselves and our desires at God’s expense and aggrandize ourselves at the expense of others.

    This account of the origin and meaning of evil is highly precise because it is based on an absolute standard of value—the holiness of life. It is worth noting that the philosophers were also aware of this value, as reflected in their deferential use of the word “being.” In fact Aristotle, after fumbling around for several pages in an attempt to clearly articulate his notion of the good, finally gave in and equated Supreme Being with life itself.

    Darwinism, however, devalues life, and therefore it cannot produce any precise or objective account of evil. While in the Bible life comes directly from God, and is therefore a sacred value, in Darwinism it is claimed to have come from nothing more than a chemical reaction in warm pond, making it seem rather trifling and small.

    This was done to glorify men. In the middle of the gloomy century, there were many who were willing to make a clean break from God and Transcendentalism and seek to create “new gods and new ideals” through human values. The “blond beast” was emphatic about what must be done in order for the superman to come into being through the will to power. The value of life must be negated.

    But if life loses its holiness, then any objective discussion of good and evil becomes impossible. Life is unique in the sense that it is something men know and yet it is also absolutely different from them and their limitations. Mortals are alive and know the value of life; but they are also mortal, and therefore life is their “light.”Life is not divided, like intellect, between immanence and transcendence. Life is both an immanent and a transcendent value.

    Life is the only transcendent value known to man in his own being, and therefore it is the only purely objective value he knows. The description of evil found in the Bible is objective because it does not depend upon any one man or group of men or their ability to judge. It depends upon the holiness of life. This objectivity enables the Bible to be both definitive and precise.

    No such precision is possible once we negate the value of life. Through Nihilism, which is the negation of life and “being,” every man becomes his own standard of value. There can be many opinions about evil; there may even be a consensus in one area or another and in a given time and place. But there can be no definitive answers.

    The highest possible value in Darwinism is Natural Selection. That which survives is good, or worthy to survive. This tautology produces self-contradictory views of evil. It leads to narratives about unsavory behaviors being bred into men by Natural Selection, but by the light of Natural Selection these behaviors are actually good. They lead to survival.

    Hence among the children of Darwin there are two strains of thought about evil. There are the Sensitive Plants who exhort us to make a conscious decision to overturn the evolutionary heritage they describe and take up the Golden Rule. And then there are the Nihilists who claim that the path to salvation lies in embracing those same rapacious impulses and dominating others through the will to power.

    Those who advocate the Golden Rule have no rule—no objective value—to support them because they have negated the value of life. Those how advocate Nihilism would have us “go beyond good an evil,” in which case they can offer no insight into evil itself.

  81. 81
    CannuckianYankee

    DM,

    Another long thread I’m afraid. :)

    CY at 57:
    “Perfect love” is hopelessly vague and meaningless. I’m looking for something absolute.

    If you think perfect love as objectively exemplified in a person giving up his/her life for another as opposed to putting his/her self-interest above another is hopelessly vague and meaningless, then I’m afraid that there is no hope for you in understanding morality, and it then becomes your pronouncements on morality that are vague and meaningless.

    Sorry to say it so harshly, but it’s a reality that perhaps even some of your atheist supporters on here could agree with. There’s no sense in talking about evil and then morality without some ideal purpose behind it. otherwise, as I’ve pointed out in several posts now, it becomes simply self-serving rule following – rules that can be twisted and bent to serve whatever purpose you desire them to serve. There’s no real morality in that whatsoever.

    DM: “My reason for asking for an absolute moral code is because I’m often told by Christians that they have one and I’d like to see it.”

    This is duly noted: however, you haven’t established that Christianity is simply a set of absolute moral codes. I established in my arguments that it is not. In fact the whole message of Christianity is that humans are incapable of following rules perfectly, and require intervention from the source; namely God. What do you think the gospel if about? Do you think it is merely pithy moral sayings from the lips of Jesus? Some people believe that; but they ignore the larger part of the scriptures – that God planned, pronounced and fulfilled a prophesied event intended to redeem human beings from the consequences of their sins.

    It is that you have to contend with. What some Christians practice regarding that is irrelevant. Christians can be wrong.

    DM:”As I said yesterday, God’s perfect loving character is very much in dispute. Remember that if evolution didn’t do it, then God made the malaria parasite.”

    That the ones disputing it are largely the new atheists doesn’t make it so. Please try to be more objective. It isn’t “very much in dispute.” It is in dispute among a small group of atheists who reject it not on rational ground, but on moral grounds; and it isn’t the moral grounds that you think it is.

    Others who reject it and who aren’t militant atheists simply aren’t interested in it enough to care. That seems to be where a majority stand. So they aren’t “very much disputing it” as much as they are ignoring it.

    Atheism is motivated out of a need to avoid a consequence for evil acts. I’m not in this stating that atheists are any more evil than anyone else.

    Human nature is evil. That should be something that causes you to question the motives behind those who leave no recourse or rational basis for a process of justice. As I stated and as others have stated, if theism is not true; there’s no justice. The evildoer gets off scott free if he/she is not caught. Furthermore, any talk about evil and morality are meaningless.

    Dm: “I think you’re unduly mystifying evil.”

    How so? I’m not a mystic, so how am I mystifying evil?

    Can you justify the charge in any meaningful way?

    I said straightforwardly that evil is the negation of perfect love as objectified in human terms as a person laying down his/her life for another as opposed to asserting his/her own self-interest above another. If that is mystifying evil, I think you need to go back and study what mysticism really is; if that’s what you meant by it. Frankly I don’t really know what you mean by the charge. It sounds like you’re simply throwing words out in order to make an argument; because the word you used has no relation to the argument I made whatsoever. My argument may be wrong, but it certainly isn’t mystical.

    Dm: “Why people sometimes do evil things isn’t really a mystery. Remember, doing evil frequently pays. If I steal your purse, I’m better off by one purse.”

    And that’s an objective example of serving your own self-interest above another. I.e., not loving them as you should.

    Dm: Re: “Ditto with the conscience. Remember, we’re social animals. Living and working with other people pays off amazingly well and has throughout human and pre-human history. Generally, when our conscience bothers us, it’s because we’ve done something that hurts group unity such as theft or murder.”

    Let me ask you this: when you feel guilty about something you have done, do you immediately think: “Whoops, I’ve disturbed the unity of the group?”

    I think that is quite preposterous. No the reason why a person feels guilty is because they are aware that they have deviated from an accepted ethical code. It has nothing to do with group unity. The group you’re in could be in complete disunity, and you would still feel guilty. That has the smack of a typical Darwinian just-so story, which even some Darwinists reject.

    DM: “My point about different religions having different conceptions of God’s character is that it obscures God’s character which prevents us from using it to form our morals.”

    Which do you think is more objectively moral? Assume that you really do believe there’s a danger in donating a kidney:

    “If I donate a kidney to my friend, my friend will live. However, this might endanger my life. I’ll do it anyway, because I want my friend to live.”

    “If I donate a kidney to my friend, my friend will live. However, this might endanger my life, so I won’t do it.”

    The first example is what Christianity would say is the moral thing to do, given just that information. Of course there may be other factors for which one could justify the 2nd choice, but on the face of it, the 1st one is the moral choice. It is objective because it follows the ideal of perfect love. The other choice follows self-interest.

    Not all situations are that cut and dried, but I think you can see that it then becomes irrelevant what varying religions teach.

    DM: “You’re right that both Osama bin Laden and St. Francis Assisi could be wrong and my human judgment agrees with your human judgment that St. Francis was a better man than Osama. But when Christians say they have an objective moral code, they are saying they have something that transcends human judgment. I’d like to see it so I wouldn’t have to rely on my fallible human morality.”

    That you are able to distinguish the morality of Osama from that of St. Francis demonstrates that you already have the ability to judge what is moral. What do you think is the distinction here? What did St. Francis do that Osama bin Laden did not do, which makes him more moral than Osama? I think you will find that my “meter” between perfect love and self-interest is very helpful. I also think you will find that St. Francis falls on one end of such a “meter and Osama probably falls at a polar opposite. If that is not a good system for judging morality, then I don’t know what is.

    Such “meters” are a basis for human laws in many societies. If you kill someone but did not intend to, then such an act was not necessarily out of self-interest. It could have been out of self-defense, and you would rightly be acquitted. If you murdered them because they harbored some damaging secret about you that they threatened to expose, then your murder of them could be objectively shown in a court of law to be self-interest; which is what makes it murder as opposed to self-defense.

    DM: “Again, when you talk about difficulty in recognizing evil, you’re unduly mystifying evil.”

    Saying this again does not strengthen your charge.

    “Speaking as an atheist, I say that I don’t think there is a God. I see no good evidence of His existence and plenty of evidence that He’s not there. But what I see is also consistent with a God that exists but just doesn’t want to be seen, so I can’t say that His non-existence is proven. An intelligent God is just very unlikely.”

    I believe you’re making a category error when you say that you see no evidence. I’m guessing that your belief is that since you can’t see God, He must not exist. It’s a category error because if the God we speak of does exist, He can’t be seen. He’s not a part of the physical universe, but the creator of the physical universe. Therefore, He is something other than matter.

    Furthermore, not all evidence can be seen in such a way as you imply. You can’t see evidence for a lot of things, yet you accept that they exist. There are other ways of detecting that they exist other than seeing them.

    I personally believe that there is evidence for God that you can see. Not every piece of evidence can be looked at in such a way as you consider the one bit of evidence and conclude that God exists. However, if you consider the whole collective of arguments and evidence for God’s existence, in my view theism is a whole lot more rational than atheism.

    CY: “You could say that the God of scripture is not that loving God (which I don’t believe you have any well-founded reason for)”

    Dm: “Well, there was that little incident where he allegedly killed everybody in the world except Noah and his family “because they were evil.” Sorry to go Godwin on you, but that really is a Nazi-quality justification. Hitler killed the Jews because he thought they were irredeemably evil.”

    The first thing you have to consider is that God is not a human being; he is the creator of the universe and the designer of life. He is also the moral overseer of evil. As I stated earlier, He could not be a God of love without being a God of justice. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to evil. The only way your argument could be sound is for you to go back in history and demonstrate that the people God killed in the flood were not evil.

    As moral overseer of justice and all that is Good, God is the only one who is justified in such a judgment. He could not do otherwise or He would not be loving. Without judgment the Nazis you mentioned would also get off scott free. However, scripture indicates that they will not.

    So it’s not exactly a Nazi-quality justification as you say. The Nazi’s killed people because of prejudice and bigotry. God killed people because they did evil, and He did so out of His perfect character as judge and ruler over His creation. Your argument is lacking in any relevancy.

    CY: “This [burning at the stake is good for you] would be true under only one condition, and that condition is that humans do not have the capacity to do evil;”

    DM: Huh?? I think the actual justification was that it would keep the heretic from doing even worse evil.

    I think you misread me. I’m not justifying burning people at a stake. I’m actually condemning the act based on my criteria for the measurement of morality; pointing out that humans have a capacity to do evil. Please do try to pay attention to my argument without assuming that I disagree with your moral ability to recognize witch burning as evil.

    “…but you couldn’t be consistent by denying that such a God exists.

    DM: “My view is that IF the God of scripture (or even the God who made this world and malaria parasites) existed, He would be evil.”

    Where you would be wrong is that if God does exist, and He is evil as you say, you wouldn’t be able to find examples of goodness in the world. The idea of good and evil would be meaningless; so such an argument simply doesn’t ring true. Goodness comes from that which is good if God exists. That there is evil in the world is no argument for the non-existence of God. In fact, it is supportive of the existence of God. All of my arguments in other posts make this quite clear that since evil exists and we are able to identify it as evil, then there is an objective means to determine what is evil and what is not. You couldn’t have such an objective means without the existence of God; because without God morality and evil in fact are meaningless. You can’t derive an “ought” from an “is.”

    Without God the world just is, and there is nothing that cares whether you live or die, there is not even a value for survival as Darwinists insist there is. What would be the point of biological organisms surviving if there wasn’t some kind of law that they should or must survive?

    On grace: I think that doctrine was great marketing by Paul.

    Well at least we know what books you’ve been reading. Might I suggest that you also look into other sources? The idea that Paul invented Christianity has been quite sufficiently refuted. There’s no rational basis for the charge. Even some atheists agree.

    I would suggest you start with the writings of NT Wright. His particular expertise is Paul. He’s written several books on him, as well as several scholarly books on the beginning of Christianity: “The New Testament and the People of God,” “Jesus and the Victory of God” and “The Resurrection of the Son of God.” I think you will find these three books rather enlightening judging by the material I believe you’ve been reading.

    So I think I can safely leave out much of what you’ve stated below until you can substantiate such claims. You don’t seem to rely on references for any of the assertions you make; which leaves me to assume that they are either nonexistent or few. To be fair, I have given few references, but I’m giving you reasonable argumentation rather than assertions. If you’d like, I could provide you with reading material, which will take you reasonably in another direction than what you seem to be so certain of here. I think it would be beneficial. For you there’s no stakes involved in going in other directions, since atheism is utterly devoid of meaning anyway; you will die and decay. That’s the only meaning it provides.

    CY: “That Christians won’t show you one [an absolute code] is because most Christians, don’t believe that one can be explicitly expressed such that if you follow such a code, you are righteous.”

    DM: “They sure do like to talk about their absolute morality though. You’d almost think they could show it to you.”

    There are an estimated 1 Billion Christians in the world. Have you talked to all of them?

    Chris at 65: That’s the purest example of the “No true Scotsman” fallacy that I’ve seen in a long time. You even got the country right. No true Christian would be a hooligan, so those hooligans can’t be Christians.

    CY at 69: “The person who takes on the discipline of working towards righteousness does not do so because they believe that God will reward them, but because they believe that this is what God designed or purposed them to do.”

    DM: “The atheist who works towards righteousness doesn’t do it expecting reward, but because they believe that is the best way to live their lives.”

    That’s great. What is the source of such a belief? What drives an atheist who works towards righteousness? Does he/she derive such righteousness from atheism alone?

    CY: “So to answer the question; to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them. It becomes more of a celebration of life and truth rather than a task of obligation.”

    DM: “Atheists just do it because they are human beings. It’s our way of celebrating life and truth rather than a task of obligation.”

    I agree, and it’s quite admirable; but in my view such a virtue is learned. It doesn’t derive from a worldview that offers no basis for it.

  82. 82

    Good Afternoon Lizzie,

    Please, no apologies are necessary, I positively welcome a slightly slower pace to debate than occurs here sometimes and you are central to most of the threads anyway (most of us love top quality opposition here)! Again, some quite strong stuff will follow and I apologise in advance if you find it hard to stomach. Remember, I’m attacking the atheistic position. I’m absolutely NOT attacking you, Lizzie!

    Now then, your response to my post (51). You expressed many thoughts, but alas, I don’t believe you actually answered my questions. They were:

    1. Why should such a miserable atheist bother with life at all?

    2. How do you dissuade an atheist from free-riding?

    Looking at the first question, it seems that you think a miserable atheist simply needs to recall that “one of our drives is to be, simply, happy.” But I don’t think a miserable atheist needs reminding of this fact, do you? He is all too aware that happiness is what he wants but he is struggling and suffering on a regular basis. Even if a miserable atheist does experience glimpses of happiness, they are all too brief and soon disappear to be replaced by the norm: drudgery and hopelessness. You then point out that “We are… therefore able to transcend ourselves.” Again, I don’t see how this provides a reason for the miserable atheist to bother with life at all. If he can feel another’s pain, then that is only adding to the pain he is already experiencing on a daily basis! So again, I’d be grateful if you could tell me what you, an actual atheist, would say to a fellow miserable atheist who no longer knows why to bother with life at all. Stick to atheists, don’t worry about believers. If you want to know why a miserable believer should bother with life at all, then let actual believers answer that question.

    Looking at the second question, you first of all appeal to the “collective” over the individual. If we had all been assimilated by the Borg, then resistance to that argument would indeed be futile! But, we’re not. And an intelligent, rational, logical but selfish atheist knows just how to exploit that. He knows that the moral society we live in isn’t about to break down just because he is free-riding on it. He “can look at that situation logically and decide that as long as he maintains a public appearance of moral steadfastness, he can commit immoral acts whenever he desires as long as he avoids detection.” And, your very interesting response to this was:

    “Well, sure, but so can a theist.”

    Woah! Blink and you miss it! Let’s rewind and slow that down before getting ahead of ourselves. A rational atheist can logically free-ride: maintaining a public appearance of moral steadfastness while committing immoral acts whenever he desires (as long as he avoids detection) and your response is “Well, sure…”

    I think we should pause there for a moment, Lizzie, to let that important fact sink in rather than trying to gloss over it by changing the subject to theism.

    If you agree that a rational atheist can logically choose immorality then atheistic morality fails. The whole point of morality is that it should take precedence over all other considerations. Morality is easy when the right thing to do is the thing we want to do. But, as soon as the wrong thing to do is the thing we want to do then, providing we can get away with it (or can live with the consequences) then atheistic morality is over-ruled by logic and reason. Taking that further, we can now argue that it would be irrational and illogical for an atheist to choose morality when there are literally no drawbacks to the immoral choice. Free-riding is undoubtedly the best course of action available to intelligent, rational and logical atheists (especially ones who are more selfish than selfless). And, if the more selfless atheists ever truly realise that they are needlessly denying themselves on many occasions, then what is to stop them saying “well, if you can’t beat them, join them!” Based on your responses so far, Lizzie, absolutely nothing.

    Let me close with some thoughts about the way theism crops up, inappropriately, in these discussions. I find that when I’m discussing the evidence for evolution with people there is often a pattern to the discussion. It goes like this:

    Me: Why do you believe in evolution?
    Them: Because of all the overwhelming evidence?
    Me: Such as?
    Them: Peppered moths.
    Me: (to cut a long story, short) No, try again.
    Them: Embryos.
    Me: (to cut another long story, short) No, try again.
    Them: Dinosaurs.
    Me: How do you date dinosaur fossils?
    Them: Carbon Dating.
    Me: (to cut yet another long story, short) No, try again.
    Them: So, what are you saying then: it was all Created? No way!

    And so, despite the weakness of their arguments, they draw huge comfort from their conviction that the argument for Creation is a lot worse than theirs. I think this is *missing the point completely*. We already know that atheists reject the Creator. This is supposed to be because the evidence in favour of the atheistic worldview is so overwhelming. But if it turns out that the only thing really supporting that worldview is in fact the rejection of the Creator then that worldview is in a whole lot of trouble. It turns out that most people believe in evolution not because of the evidence (because the evidence they present cannot withstand scrutiny) but because they do NOT believe in the Creator.

    A very similar pattern can be observed when it comes to discussions about atheistic morality.

    Me: Why should an atheist be moral?
    Them: Because we must all be compassionate.
    Me: Why?
    Them: Because its human nature.
    Me: (to cut a long story short) No, try again.
    Them: Because of the Golden Rule. Subjective is the new objective!
    Me: Rules are for fools (at least, any rational atheist can successfully argue that), try again.
    Them: Because if we were all immoral then where would we be?
    Me: That’s the beauty of free-riding on a religiously-based society. So you agree that quite often the rational, logical thing for an atheist to do is free-ride: commit immoral acts whenever he wants and can get away with it?
    Them: Well, sure, but so can a theist.

    Once again, despite this fatal weakness in atheistic morality, atheists draw huge comfort from their conviction that theistic morality fails too. Once again, this *misses the point completely.* We already know that atheists reject religious morality. This is supposed to be because we don’t need it any more, there are other compelling reasons to be moral, reasons that will over-ride all other considerations. But it turns out that perfectly rational and logical considerations and desires can over-ride atheistic morality with ease. Yet, even when faced with this uncompromising truth, atheists think it is okay to shrug it off with comparisons to theistic morality. Well, it’s not okay. If atheistic morality fails then let’s be honest and admit that openly rather than try to change the subject to religion or pointing out that some atheists don’t need a good reason to be really nice people.

  83. 83
    CannuckianYankee

    Correction: “He is also the moral overseer of evil.”

    should read “against evil.”

    KF, I’m glad you decided to chime in. I mentioned the problem with atheism’s ability to derive an “ought” form an “is” in my last reply to DM. I hope he reads your more in-depth handling of the issue.

  84. 84
    CannuckianYankee

    Chris at 82.

    Your post is definitely a keeper. Thanks for the insight.

  85. 85

    Very kind words, especially coming from someone as capable and as knowledgeable as your good self, CannuckianYankee.

    Thank you, sir.

  86. 86

    Epic irony.

    dmullenix: but I think Bishop Pierre d’Arcis’ evidence was more extraordinary when he wrote to the Pope in 1390 stating that the shroud was a forgery and that the forger had confessed.

    The problem with what the Bishop said, is that is in empirically refuted by modern science:

    “In 1978, a group of scientist [STURP] conducted a round-the-clock examination of the Shroud for 120 hours.”

    And what did they conclude after 120 hours of intense scientific scrutiny…

    “We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist.

    http://www.shroudstory.com/topic-sturp.htm

    The STURP team finally concludes:

    “We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.

    Are you really taking the word of a Bishop over the scientific method? You can’t invent better irony. This illuminates with striking clarity how quick the ideological atheist will flush science down the toilet and quickly quote a bible thumper if it will somehow advance their dogma. The problem is, once this is exposed, how then do you go back and sell neo-darwinism with any credibility?

    Some vids on the Shroud carbon dating:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....&NR=1

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

  87. 87
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Sorry, guys, had a horrendous day today, won’t be out of the woods till late tomorrow if then!

    Haven’t forgotten you (nor Upright BiPed) it’s just that RL sometimes intervenes….

    Will try to address some of the posts that have been addressed to me.

    Cheers

    Lizzie

  88. Of related interest:

    “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” – podcast
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....9_40-07_00

  89. It is not the product of an artist.

    Wow. So they can rule out intelligent design?

  90. 90

    Mung,

    Wow. So they can rule out intelligent design?

    Would it be possible to use the Explanatory Filter on the shroud?

    How would you go about ruling out divine action?

  91. 91
    Elizabeth Liddle

    OK, I see I have some homework waiting for me :)

    CY @ 72:

    Lizzie,

    My posts get longer by the minute. Must learn to condense.

    Thanks for the response. It is not my view that since God is watching we should be careful about doing good. It is; however, my view that one cannot excuse him/herself in doing evil because God IS watching.

    God is an overseer against evil as much as a motivator towards good. I simply don’t see him in the same light from one situation to the other. It’s not that God changes his character; both are one essence of His perfect character.

    I think it’s a valid point that the evildoer should not think that he/she will ultimately get off scott free. Why? because in God’s perfect love is perfect justice. He would not be loving us perfectly if he turned a blind eye to evil. Justice is part of perfect love in a world where evil exists.

    That we don’t always see justice done is in my view indicative of God’s patience and mercy towards us in this time; Ultimately the end of the world may be God’s final judgment; but that’s not (to quote one of Dr. Dembski’s titles) “The End of Christianity.” That end is the Kingdom of God. Not some earthly Kingdom, but a place and time whereby all of the perfections God intended for His creation are realized.

    It’s hard to describe my conception of God in this respect, simply because there are many aspects of His likeness that are indescribable, and there are many things that we simply don’t know about what such a Kingdom will be like.

    If God is perfectly loving, then any idea that such a “realm” will be lacking in anything that presently interests us or excites us is in my view misplaced; since God knows perfectly the workings and desires of the human heart.

    So you can see that God as our overseer is not a hindrance to our freedom; rather an assurance of our destiny with Him. That’s basically how I view God’s knowledge of us. He’s in us, about us, intimately acquainted with us; knows what motivates us, our strengths and weaknesses. He loves us more than we understand that He does even given our knowledge of Jesus’ death for us. In his nature He couldn’t not be ever present with us.

    So I believe that the purpose for God’s presence among us is not so that he can pick out every flaw and judge us, but because He loves us and “desires” (probably not the best term) to be present with us (not that He needs us in any way – and it may be even more than that, but that’s as much as I currently understand). However, the evildoer (and we all are such at one time or another) fails to understand first of all that God is present, and 2nd of all the purpose for His presence.

    OK. I can sort of buy that. In the sense that it’s the sort of thing I might have written myself (sort of – I have a little bit of unease at some of it, and I think that’s because of where I see it heading…

    So I can’t really fault Chris in pointing this out. I don’t have a tendency to say that evildoers are necessarily atheist; I simply could not know that. Perhaps Chris’s understanding of this may be peculiar to certain situations and experiences of his that are not my own. But Chris’s conception of God’s presence and my own are not necessarily incompatible; the two examples are two entirely different situations involving the same loving God.

    Furthermore, I think the most significant point that can be drawn here is that in atheism there is really no justice.

    …and we are getting closer…

    Evildoers do get off scott free apart from the consequence of death, which is no different than anyone else. Where’s the justice in that? Where’s the love?

    And we are there!

    That’s the problem, IMO, right there.

    Actually several.

    Let me take this in bits:

    1. “in atheism there is really no justice”

    Well, first of all, it depends what you mean by “justice”. On the one hand (as I see it) “justice” means that people treat each other fairly – that people don’t starve while others feast. There’s plenty of that kind of justice “in atheism” – or rather, atheists are just as capable of figuring out that a just society is worth having, and worth working for.

    Secondly, there is “justice” in the sense of people getting what they “deserve” – if they behave badly, then, in the name of “justice” they should be punished. And the two concepts are related – in order to ensure a just society, it is important to institute penalties for those who behave in a manner that promotes in-justice (in the first sense) – those who steal from others; those who exploit others for there own gain; those who deny others the right to live for their own benefit, or even pleasure. And so, again, atheists are as capable as anyone else of instituting fair legal systems in which, in furtherance of a fair society, those whose actions undermine that society are penalised, to discourage them (by showing them that rendering injustice is to their own detriment), to discourage others (deterrence), to physically prevent further unjust actions (incarceration); to teach them how to choose their actions more wisely (rehabilitation). Yes, retribution is not on that list.

    2. “Evildoers do get off scott free apart from the consequence of death, which is no different than anyone else”

    No, they don’t. We institute penalties, as I said. And while I am deeply opposed to the death penalty, untimely death is certainly different from being allowed to live out your span – it, literally, deprives you of the benefits of living.

    3. “Where’s the justice in that?”

    I assume you mean – where is the justice in both good and evil doers going into benign oblivion?

    That is a use of the word “justice” I just do not accept. That’s why I left off “retribution”. Justice, to me, is a fair society, and to ensure a fair society, it we need to penalise those who would undermine it. After someone is dead, what use is there in further penalty? The only answer is “retribution”. I do not understand the concept of retributive justice. And that is no only why I oppose the death penalty, it is also why I find the idea of a retributive God incompatible with:

    4. “Where’s the love?”

    Where is the love, in a God who demands eternal penalty?

    Now the answer given, often, is: “aha – but God doesn’t actually penalise, as long as we accept the gift of his only son Jesus, who suffered the penalty on our behalf”.

    And now is my turn to ask: where is the justice in that? You posit a retributive God (where retribution to me is not even a Good), but who lets people off the retribution, not because they behave well, but because some other person, some innocent, gets it instead.

    That makes no sense to me, and never has. It posits a vengeful God who compounds vengefulness with capriciousness at the expense of his innocent son.

    Now, I am sure people are going to come on me like a ton of bricks for this description, but my challenge is:

    In what sense is that characterisation incorrect? And what is retributive justice even supposed to be for?

    You talked about love in a post on another thread, and I mentioned it in an earlier post here. I can’t really conceive how one can believe in love (maybe warm fuzzies?) and not believe that justice is concurrent with it.

    I do believe that, as long as “justice” does not include the element of “retribution”. I love my son, and was always very mindful of the fact that to love him well, I sometimes had to thwart him. I also had to demonstrate to him the consequences of unjust actions (not often, I have to say – he’s sweetie, but sometimes not all that considerate, re shall we say, domestic stuff). But I would never thwart him in “retribution” (I would consider that a failing in me a parent, and I would certainly consider it absolutely appalling to inflict “retribution” on his (non-existent) sister even if she begged me to let the punishment fall on her.

    Yet that seems to be what your posited God is supposed to be like!

    So atheism is missing the very essence of perfect love, which lends it power; to do justly. Without justice, love is just a warm fuzzy.

    Without courage sometimes to constrain, yes. But that is not what we are talking about here.

    And atheists are just as capable of love-with-firm-constraint as anyone else.

    “Yes indeed. But it’s relatively easy to translate that into atheistic terms (as, for example, Buddhists do): “to love your neighbor is to do good to them because one recognizes that they are human beings created by a God who cares for them like you.””

    I’ll make this brief. One could indeed translate Christian understandings into other idioms. This does not make such translations justified, but I don’t have a problem in doing so.

    Cool :)

    As always, I appreciate your posts, even though we may profoundly disagree on some things. You always make me think :)

    Cheers

    Lizzie

  92. 92

    Mung: “Wow. So they can rule out intelligent design?”

    I would say Mung, just the opposite. The information on the Shroud is so highly specific and functional while lacking any known mechanism to produce such information, that it resembles in many ways the origin of life CSI.

  93. 93

    …any known way to produce it [by means of chance and necessity]

  94. 94
    CannuckianYankee

    Lizzie,

    CY: “I’ll make this brief. One could indeed translate Christian understandings into other idioms. This does not make such translations justified, but I don’t have a problem in doing so.”

    EL: “Cool”

    Given your last post I think it’s now time to elaborate on this.

    I do not believe one can derive morality from atheism. I can see no logical way that one could, and if atheism was the only belief system among humans, humans would be amoral. Therefore, atheists derive their sense of morality out of the larger community of non-atheists: be they Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. However, the deception of this all is that while Christians, Jews, Hindus (not all, to be sure) ground their morality in some sort of higher power, atheists borrow from the ethics of others, believing that they are not derived from some higher power.

    Now let’s look at some of your answers, and see how this is so:

    EL: “Well, first of all, it depends what you mean by “justice”. On the one hand (as I see it) “justice” means that people treat each other fairly – that people don’t starve while others feast.”

    Yes, we both agree on that, which indicates that both you and I have a sense of what justice means. I derive my sense of justice from scripture, and you derive yours from the community. Not all atheists do this though. There are atheists who are amoral. They don’t do what the community demands. There are Christians who are also amoral, who don’t do what the community demands, but they also disobey what the scriptures demand.

    Now the problem here is that if the larger community did not exist; if there were only atheists, your view of justice could not have any basis. The amoral atheist would be just as “moral” as you. You would have no basis other than the community of atheists from which to derive your morality, and there exists no higher power from which anyone derives it. So the amoral atheist’s amorality should be just as acceptable as your morality.
    Well first of all, if you lived in such a system, I don’t believe that you could be moral yourself, which is why the amoral person would be the norm. It’s a live and let live sort of system that has no other foundation. You could not derive any laws, which prevent the amoral atheist from doing the extreme thing if he/she so chooses.

    See how far your disinclination towards retribution gets you in a system like that. You would have no disinclination towards anything, because you would be amoral.

    “Secondly, there is “justice” in the sense of people getting what they “deserve” – if they behave badly, then, in the name of “justice” they should be punished.”

    This is true. However, people don’t always get caught. That seems to be the motivation for a lot of people who do evil things. They believe they will not get caught. That belief would be totally illogical if it were not a fact that some people do not get caught or punished for evil doing.

    In an atheist system then, there are people who do not get caught nor punished. They die, like the rest.

    Now of course in the Christian “system” there is the issue that none are really just. All humans do evil.

    However, Miss Lizzie Liddle, who may have told a lie when she was 9 and since then has lived a pretty upright life, writing good books for children, and helping people to understand science – she’s certainly at a polar opposite on the moral meter than an Osama Bin Laden or a Hitler.

    But it’s the Hitlers and the Osama Bin Ladens that an atheist system has no recourse or logical basis for justice to deal with other than ending their lives. And if you think that in an atheist system there would be no OBLs or Hitlers, you’re mistaken. OBL used religion for the convenience of justifying his evil. If he lived in an atheist system he would find some other means for justifying his evil, and it would actually be much easier for him.

    So given all of that, here’s where I believe you’re wrong:

    CY: “Evildoers do get off scott free apart from the consequence of death, which is no different than anyone else”

    EL: “No, they don’t. We institute penalties, as I said. And while I am deeply opposed to the death penalty, untimely death is certainly different from being allowed to live out your span – it, literally, deprives you of the benefits of living.”

    Well, yes they do. The ones who don’t get caught or punished die just like the rest. That’s it. There’s no justice.

    In the Christian “system” (I put that in quotes because it’s not exactly a system but for the sake of the argument) Hitler and OBL, though they have passed from this life, still face judgment for their crimes. They have not got off scott free.

    And since none of us is completely innocent, we all face the same judgment. It’s this that I think atheists object to the most, but their objection I believe is misplaced. they tend to completely dismiss the gospel, while focusing on how unjust God is, and while having absolutely no moral compass for judging God in the first place.

    But let’s go back to the issue of Hitler and OBL. They killed people. God loves the people they killed. God also loves them. A choice must be made here. Do I simply forgive them, and allow them to enjoy the benefits of the afterlife?

    Well If God did that, then any other Hitler or OBL would be justified in killing millions of people, because there is no reason not to. There’s no punishment in the end.

    Without a consequence for wrongdoing, there can be no wrongdoing. Without a benefit for doing good, there is no good. So love is not simply a warm fuzzie, love is just.

    Atheists like to borrow the parts of theistic morality they like, and discard those parts they dislike, and then they turn it around and criticize those who hold onto the parts they have chosen to dislike. That’s what’s really going on. Atheists then insist that they can be as moral if not more moral than others, since they have chosen the “correct” parts of Christian or other theistic morality, while rejecting the “incorrect” parts; completely ignoring or denying the fact that their morality derives from Christian or other theistic morality. They think it comes from within them, when the fact is that morality is learned. It is not something that comes from within the individual. If a person has not been taught to be good, such a person will not be good. If you were to ignore your son’s misdeeds, he would continue doing them and believe that it was ok. You corrected him, and he learned to behave himself. Morality is learned, and it is not some internal thing that an atheist society could possess and be moral. The atheist society thus has no foundation from which to derive any morality.

  95. 95
    CannuckianYankee

    Lizzie and others,

    I want to draw your attention to Dr. Robert Sheldon’s Remarks on how atheists depend on arguments against the morality of the Christian God in order to form their own sense of morality. This can be found in the new post: The Multiverse Gods, final part.

    and in the more detailed linked essay found here:

    http://procrustes.blogtownhall.....part.thtml

    Dr. Sheldon states: “The Anthropocentric Fallacy -
    Many times one will come across an atheist argument intended to attack a personal Creator, where the atheist will say something like “only an insane god would create mosquitos” and then argue that atheism is far better than madness. The examples are too easy to find and too easy to create to make it worthwhile listing them, but Darwin made these sorts of arguments, and I’ve seen them applied to sloths, to the recurrent larygeal nerve in giraffes, human tailbones-appendix-tonsils etc. One can find this sort of argument expressed in morals too, as in “only an evil god would allow child-molesters” etc. As CS Lewis observed, the implication is that we are smarter, more moral, more rational, more whatever, than God. Such a view is already atheist even before it concludes that God doesn’t exist, because it assumes that the Creation can judge the Creator, using some standard that evidently is clear to us but not to God. In other words, it already assumes man is God, and that the god who apparently had previously ruled is no match for our newly enlightened intellect (= god is dead), so the conclusions are all contained in the assumptions.”

    Yes, the conclusions are all contained in the assumptions, and this is an important point. Arguments from morality to support atheism fail because they start with the assumption of atheism. They don’t start with the possibility of theism. If they did, they could find a god outside of Christian theism, which would be more to their moral liking. Some have done so, and usually end up rather than theists, deists.

    The atheist could then ask, “well yes, but what would be the point of believing in such a god if I see no evidence?” And this rather than supporting atheism emphasizes the whole point of moral arguments being insufficient (for atheism, but not for theism). That the new atheists resort to such moralizing should lead to some healthy skepticism. Why? Because they don’t reach the logical conclusion that such a moral god does not exist; only that they find such a moral god as quite unlike the god they could imagine if such a god exists. This is hardly an argument when you take into consideration that human thinking is often quite wrong. What we imagine a god to be like is then irrelevant. One must refer to arguments that all could see as reasonable rather than simply as something someone doesn’t particularly like.

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