John Lennox interviewed by CPX

The Centre for Public Christianity has some interviews with Professor John Lennox, a distinguished Christian thinker and author. Lennox has recently debated both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He is a professor in Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, at the University of Oxford (HT: Justin Taylor).


Other videos worth watching:

The evils of Christendom.

The evidence for God and the explanatory scope of science.

Science and faith, and the credibility of the Bible.

Hitler and the Atheistic detractor of Hell

BarryLeder 

How unfortunate that such nonsense has already made its way as far as New Zealand. America is losing its edge in Christian zealotry.

apologeticsnz 

Attack the man; ignore the issue. Great debating tactic!

BarryLeder (3 months ago) Show Hide

Rob, I was not debating. By your own admission, there would be nothing restraining you from taking my life were I to succeed in convincing you that the Christian ‘worldview’ is an epic failure on the logic and morality front. My post was merely an observation.

apologeticsnz 

Your “observation” however is loaded with morality. “Unfortunate” according to whom? “Nonsense” according to whose viewpoint? “Zealotry”? I think you are confusing me with Richard Dawkins and his mates. 

I am just stating what seems to me to be obvious: “In a world without God, all things are permissible”. If this is not true, then show me why it isn’t.

BarryLeder 

It was ABSOLUTELY loaded with morality. But lets not start with the assumption that God as a given is moral. While I don’t believe there is sin, transgression against God; I do believe there are moral wrongs.

Those moral wrongs arise out of the nature of our existence where life is fragile and resources are scarce. While there may not be a supreme emforcer, that lack of an enforcer is not what establishes or prevents a moral right or wrong.

Now my question back to you is why is your concept of God more moral than Hitler? Unless you are Jehovah Witness or Mormon, your conceptual God probably would send Anne Frank to hell for eternity. Hitler only did it once. Seems the Christian worldview is in a very weak position to criticize the actions of Hitler.

 

MY RESPONSE:

These are really good questions BarryLeder. Also really emotionally charged ones. Because I think good questions deserve good answers, let us deal with your question with clear logic.  

If I were to argue minimally for theism (not the internal consistency of the Christian world-view, not the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy, not the doctrine of hell) then you would still have the problem of dealing with apologeticsNZ’s original question. How do you get morality on atheism? 

So based on the premises that – (1) if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist, and (2) objective morals do exist, the logically inescapable and necessary conclusion is that God exists. 

Since you take pains to ABSOLUTELY agree that moral values do exist, then it must be the first premise you disagree with. But you have given no reason why you think that objective moral values can exist apart from God. If your reason is they arise from the nature of existence then your ethics must be rather flowery. What is it about the nature of our existence that makes things right or wrong? I can’t think of any moral value fertiliser can teach me? Without a transcendent ground to pin your assertions of the existence of right and wrong, you end up with moral values being amoral. Ethics is reduced to subjectivism, which is unliveable.

Now if I were to argue for more than just theism, then your question comes into play. That makes it clear that your really not arguing against the existence of God, and not even the morality of God (since if the above moral argument is successful then it gives us good grounds to believe in a personal and morally perfect being), but only the doctrine of hell. 

In effect your argument is that God’s omni-benevolence and all-compassionate love is incompatible with his sending people to hell. As I said before, this is an emotionally charged question, and I think not so very difficult an intellectual objection to dismiss. This is evident when you consider that as a purely intellectual problem it is just as problematic that a just and holy God can send people to heaven, but who rejects Christ for that difficulty?

You rightly discern that one could adopt the doctrine of annihilationism as a strategy. I could also adopt the idea that hell is not eternal but a type of temporary pergatory. This would take all the power out of your objection to your belief in a moral God. But in fact I do not accept the particular doctrines, and consider the Bible to be faithfully reporting the truth when it says there is a literal hell. I also think that most descriptions given are figuratively describing a place of eternal conscious torment from being separated from God. What a horrible belief! How is one to make sense of these two seemingly contradictory tenets of Christian belief, namely God’s love and that he sends people to hell? 

Well look closely at the objection. These aren’t explicitly contradictory. Therefore there must be some implicit assumptions smuggled in to make it contradictory. What are these assumptions? I’ll be generous and supply what I think they are. (A) That God is able to create a world in which all people will be freely saved. (B) That God is willing that all people be freely saved. 

But because you want to say that it is impossible that a loving God can send people to hell, you must prove assumptions (A) and (B) necessarily. I’m really glad I don’t have to bare that burden of proof!

As for (A) It is at least possible that a world in which all people are freely saved is unfeasible for God. As for (B) It is impossible for God to make people freely choose him. Just because God is omnipotent doesn’t mean he can do the logically impossible. Also it is possible that the only possible world in which all people are freely saved, is a world in which only one person exists, and I don’t see why those who reject God’s salvation should have a sort of veto power over God and his plan to create a world in which, on balance, more people are saved than lost. What if one man’s atheism was the cause of one man’s salvation? That world would be balanced. So its clear that it is far beyond the detractor of hell’s scope of knowledge to declare with any certainty that there exists a contradiction between God’s love and his sending people to hell. 

But does God send people to hell? A better understanding of what the Bible teaches is that God does not send people to hell, but it is we who send ourselves to hell for not accepting the provision made for us through Jesus Christ. God’s mercy and justice are reconciled at the cross. There we see how Christ’s blood was poured out for us as an atoning sacrifice, allowing sinful man to have relationship with a holy and just God. There we see the wrath of God for our sin, poured out on Jesus, who willing gave his life showing his love, and the extreme lengths he will go to rescue you. 

In a very real sense, God is not to blame for the free actions of those who choose not accept his Son. He had made every effort to show himself to man, and it is now up to man to see how he will respond. 

Given the universality of sin, and the uniquness of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, it stands to reason that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. It is this exclusivity that is so repugnant to our modern sensibilities. Nevertheless, it is the clear testimony of scripture. 

The first thing to remember that this view was just as controversial in first century polytheistic Rome, if not more so, than it is today. The second thing is we must distinguish between truth and taste. What is repugnant to our ears is not a measure to test what is true. The third thing to remember is that it is not only Christianity that makes exclusive claims, but every religion, from Muslim to Hindu to Taoist to Mormon – everyone – even the inclusivist excludes the exclusivist. Truth presupposes exclusivity.

This exclusive claim of the Christian uncovers another problem. For if Christ’s death is the only way for salvation of everyone who believes, then the multitudes that have not heard the gospel are not even given the opportunity to respond. They cannot believe in faith and be saved for no one told them they must. The inhabitants of heaven are people who were saved as a result of historical and geographical accident of birth. How can we make sense of this? 

There are two solutions that spring to mind. 

The first is that God has a way of spreading the gospel and the good news of his Son that is not dependant on people. This idea, in fact carries scriptural data to back it up. 

According to Romans 2 people who never hear the gospel are not judged according to the same standard as those who did hear the gospel. Rather they are judged on the basis of their response to the revelation they are given, in nature and in conscience. It is clear that Job and Methuselah were saved even though they were without the gospel, were not a part of Israel and were without the law. 

There are also plentiful stories, particularly coming from Islamic nations, of people seeing dreams and visions of Jesus preaching to them the Christian gospel though they have never heard had any contact with it before. Sometimes whole villages have the same dream simultaneously and as a community convert before any missionary arrives.

Paul, while on his way to persecute and kill more Christians, became a convert of Jesus himself. One doesn’t need a missionary to receive the gospel, but God is powerful enough to send a missionary to you if he knows you will respond to the message. If there are no missionaries that will go, he is capable of stepping off the throne himself as he did with Paul.

The second solution is that God knew before the foundation of the world, who would accept and would reject him and his marvellous message. Thus he providentially arranged the world so that the gospel would reach all who would freely accept it, if it was heard, and place those who in every possible set of circumstances would reject his salvation in a time and place where hey would not hear the gospel. If God has middle-knowledge this a very plausible explanation, especially given Paul’s message to the people of Athens in the Areopagus (see Acts 17:26). But this solution doesn’t have to be true or even probable – it just needs to be possible and it breaks the force of the objection completely.

Response to the SaviorOfLogic

SaviorOfLogic has replied to a comment on YouTube video Atheists should not criticize Hitler:

If whatever God commanded be good, then murder (assuming an Abrahamic belief system) is always evil, and should be punishde by death, but what if I went back in time and killed Hitler, is that good or evil? What if God forbid’s murder, but then commands you to kill (such as in the promised land), is killing or not killing them the moral action?

My reasoning is that almost every single action can be both good and evil, depending on the circumstances, and we don’t need a deity to tell us that.

ThinkingMatters  (that’s me) says

Hello, SaviorOfLogic. You have some good questions here which I am interested in answering them. But the format here on YouTube is not so good for questions such as these, and I do not think I can do them justice in the short time I have available now. Please check talk.thinkingmatter.org.nz where I’ll blog on this topic, hopefully in the next week.

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My promised response follows…

I think you might want to be talking about the Mosaic Law (not the “Abrahamic belief system”), which states “Thou shalt not murder.” 

You start with the word “If,” and as I already mentioned in my response UppruniTegundanna (though you may have missed it due the lengthy comment section), that the “if…” is something I am not willing to grant. 

Here is what I had to say concerning the Euthyphro Dilemma. 

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ThinkingMatters  (that’s me) says

The ethics developed on the theism finds a transcendent ground in God. The Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma, that is to say those are not the only options. The third option that splits the arguments horns is that God is the standard. Rather than the good being good because God said so – thus arbitrary, or the good being above God – thus God is not the ultimate, the good flows from his nature – the good is good because God is good.

UppruniTegundanna responds

If I accept the third option, can I say that it is in fact a false trilemma, and that there is an additional option that we are being deceived into our beliefs about what is good or not by an evil force? 

ThinkingMatters  (that’s me) responds

As for the third option – you could say that it is a false trilemma because there are more than three options – but all I need to do is split the horns of the dilemma. I don’t even need to argue that the third option is true, it just needs to be an option. But I do think that the third option is plausibly true – we have for instance biblical grounds for declaring it true, and we have good philosophical grounds as well, as God is defined as the ultimate being and morality is a perfection.

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What if God forbid’s murder, but then commands you to kill…

I don’t equate murder with killing. Killing is any action performed that results in the loss of a life. Murder is killing with that added moral component that makes the action wrong.

The distinction between the two is very interesting I think, but for now let us not get distracted by it.

is killing or not killing them the moral action?

Because I think that our moral duties come from God’s commands and flow directly from his nature, not killing them would be immoral. Whereas killing them in the absence of God’s command would be immoral. I know at this point my answer seems incredible to you, so before I go on, its worth pointing out that the consistent atheist has to adopt a far more radical position. 

He or she must deny there is such as thing as evil, good, and objective right and wrong. Should and shouldn’t should be wiped from their dictionary. Morals become the equivalent of personal preference akin to which way I choose to part my hair in the morning – totally subjective and amoral. On atheism ethics is as philosopher Dr. Michael Ruse says is “illusory.”

In the absence of a deity, in order to discourse with meaning on ethics, you need to give a basis for how we determine what is right and wrong, good and evil. 

I hold to Divine Command Theory. This is the theory that says our moral duties are given by the decrees of God.

(such as in the promised land)

The questions I think you are really asking are; (1) How can you consider the conquest of Caanan moral? (2) Is the God who commanded them to kill Himself moral?

C.S.Lewis said when critiquing a worldview you have to do your best to step inside that worldview and assess it from the inside, or run the risk of arguing against a straw man. So step inside…

First observation is that both these questions assume the Bible is factually accurate. So its not really a critique from the outside, but an internal matter of consistency. Therefore, at most what is at stake is the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy – not the existence of God, and not even the moral perfection of God.

As I’ve distinguished between the act of murder and killing, mush of the force of (2) is already gone. Question (1) remains.

The conquest of Caanan comes set against the backdrop of Sodom and Gomorra. Abraham has a discussion where God tells him that he is going to destroy these two cities. Like a middle-eastern bargain hunter, Abraham says “will you still destroy the city if a hundred righteous people live there?” God says “No, I will not.” Abraham comes back again and again, getting lower and lower, and always receives the same answer – “No, I will not.” Eventually Abraham dare not go any lower. 

The LORD does indeed rescue Lot, Abraham’s nephew, from Sodom before it is destroyed. The implication is that God would not judge a whole city if there was one righteous person who lived there. So we see the great holiness of God, the great length he will go to deliver those who seek to obey him, and judgement of a wicked and perverse people. 

The fire and brimstone that reigned down on those two cities represented God’s judgement on them. As the supreme, infinitely holy being who first gave them life, God has every right to take their lives, and is under no obligation to prolong their life. Also as an omniscient being he is also capable of knowing the amount of evil that would have resulted had he not judged them in this way. It is also possible that God could have known there were no circumstances in which they would have repented if given the opportunity. 

It is around this time that Abraham receives a promise that the land will be his inheritance for descendants. But does God send them in immediately. The answer is no. He stalls over four hundred years to wait for “their iniquity is not yet full.”

Fast forward to Israel exiting Egypt and the desert wandering: promised the land but unable to take possession of it, waiting for God’s command to come. When it does the command says kill every person you find there. You and I in modern times thinks that’s pretty harsh, but remember we are talking about God giving the command. Our moral duties come from his command and perfectly reflect his nature, which is pure and holy, perfect in morals and in judgement. So the command represents God’s judgement upon that nation, and this time instead of fire and brimstone, the instruments of His judgement are the Israelites. 

Because God is not accountable to anyone or any over arching principle called “good” he literally cannot sin, as his own commands that flow from his perfect nature are not binding on him. We however, as his creations, are recipients of those commands and we are to be held responsible for breaking them and, if he wishes it, rewarded for obeying them. 

It must be remembered that the Canaanites were not innocent victims. With the background context of Sodom and Gomorra fresh in our mind, there was probably not one righteous person among them, accept Rahab and her family who were rescued much like Lot. The people who lived in Caanan were reprobates and full of all types of wickedness and debauchery. Temple prostitution was one of things that were common practice, as well as child sacrifice. 

One reason God may have given this command was He knew that if these tribes and nations had been allowed to continue to live there would have greater evil as a result. An omniscient being is in the perfect position to decide that the lives of a few thousand now is better than the lives of untold millions later. 

Also, on the Christian view, the children who were killed in the conquest of Canaan would go to heaven, whereas had they been allowed to live and grow up they might have been placed in circumstances where he knew they would have rejected him. So actually when God decreed that even the children should be killed, He was doing them a favour. And when it comes to the salvation of the adults, it is at least possible that God knew that there was not any possible set of circumstances that would elicit from those people true repentance and salvation. 

One reason the Bible gives for God giving this command is so the Israelites would understand the importance of being set apart from the nations that surrounded them. God knew that if these people were not exterminated then Israel would latter fall into apostasy. And if you follow through in the history of Israel, that is exactly what did happen. The very people that Israel spared were the people that latter led them into idolatry and sin. Later God used those same people to discipline Israel in turn to keep them a separate and holy nation. 

The conquest of Caanan helped to shape Israel’s national identity. It is entirely plausible that God understood that an immeasurable good would result from their separated and unique identity. And in the gospels we see that God was right, for from Israel there came a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who built a bridge between sinful man and a holy God, that the whole world can be reconciled Him. A good that would not have been possible had Israel been just another heathen culture. 

So we have see that given God’s moral greatness and superlative attributes that Christian monotheism is internally consistent and logically on sound ground. Whereas atheism is not logically sound if one wishes to discourse on ethics with real meaning, and is internally inconsistent as it is completely unliveable. Based on all the above, God is not only in the very centre of how we determine what is moral, but He gives us the only logical ground to affirm that both good and evil exist. 

I put it to you, who is the more reasonable? The one who sees the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazi regime and says “I don’t like it, but I can’t say it’s wrong because my atheism won’t allow me to,” or the one who says “This was really evil.” 

Thank God that He is the true “Saviour of logic.” :-)

Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler

The following is a conversation taken from http://www.youtube.com/comment_servlet?all_comments&v=YDLoxbegKGo 

It was in part a response to Rob’s excellent video entitled; 

Atheists should not criticize Hitler

Rob says:

“My video above was a reply to another video that had about 1,000,000 hits, thus has gathered many hits on the back of that one… Stats: almost 2000 views to date and almost 250 comments :-)”

That was as of 20 November, 2008. You can expect the conversation to continue. As the conversation was conducted on YouTube it may seem a little non-linear, but I have corrected the order of a few comments so reflects more accurately the dialogue we did have.

Rob is “apologeticsNZ”

Atheist objector “UppruniTegundanna”

I enter the conversation as “ThinkingMatters”

 

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apologeticsnz (16 hours ago)

It seems most people on this comment thread do not think at all! That aside, please tell me HOW you KNOW what right and wrong are?

UppruniTegundanna (1 week ago) Show Hide

Surely you recognise how self-serving your analysis of human morality is: i.e. you have constructed the argument specifically to bolster the moral rectitude of your faith, and undermine that of atheists. The thing is, there is no atheist morality – instead there is human morality. The problem I see in your argument is a denial of one of our more noble attributes: that is the capacity to engage in moral reasoning.

I would describe my morality as a combination of utilitarian principles (i.e. the promotion of happiness, health and prosperity of humans), a faithful adherence to a social contract (the Golden Rule) and an understanding of cause an effect. I don’t have one book, rather I have the entirety of human literature, philosophy, music and art to inspire me to be a good human being.

apologeticsnz (16 hours ago) 

You are question begging. How do you KNOW what a “good” book is? Mein Kampf is a book. Is it good? How do you know? How do you KNOW the golden rule is a good thing?

UppruniTegundanna (14 hours ago) Show Hide

My criterion is as follows: if a principle is a positive force for social cohesion, then I consider it good. How presumptuous of me! Please, don’t allow yourself to fall into abject nihilism in your attempt to label non-believers as incapable of positive morality. The promotion of health, happiness and prosperity is a good thing, whatever your beliefs. This may involve following teachings from a holy book, or devising new principles to deal with new situations.

As for Mein Kampf, I haven’t read the book, and I doubt I ever will – it just isn’t on my reading list! But even if I did read it, I imagine it would tell me more about what can happen to a disordered mind than anything about positive morality. It shouldn’t upset your faith to accept that non-believers can see the good and bad in things by applying their rational minds – after all, don’t you think that the “moral law is written in the hearts of all men” (paraphrase from Romans 2:14-15)?

apologeticsnz (13 hours ago) 

Hey, finally an intelligent answer!

Yes indeed, the moral law is on ALL our hearts. But in that case, why is there any evil in the world?

Biblically, the heart and mind are ‘fallen’. That is, they are perpetually driving toward sin. It is like a lust within us, thus the Apostle Paul writes of knowing what is right but desiring to do what is wrong!!! He referred to this as a war in his members e.g. a conflict between his fallen heart & mind, & the “new man”, born again “in Christ”.

Make sense?

UppruniTegundanna (13 hours ago) Show Hide

Firstly I want to say that I am enjoying this dialogue with you, despite our differences in belief system, it is important to pick one another’s brains, so to speak. While I wouldn’t use the word “fallen”, I agree with you that humans have a capacity for destructive behaviour. Why does this happen? My explanation is that humans have positive and negative impulses in almost equal measure, especially when it comes to coexisting in a society that is at odds with our “natural” existence.

By “natural” I am referring the fact that we originally existed in bands of 200 or so people, and our loyalty was primarily directed towards that kin group. As societies have grown and become more complex, we have had to adjust our interactions to become more inclusive of others in order to establish social cohesion – it is a difficult balance to maintain, but it is not impossible as long as people can differentiate between behaviour that promotes social cohesion versus behaviour that upsets it.

UppruniTegundanna (1 week ago) Show Hide

Knowing that we have gone from creatures who got by with no more than sticks, stones and fire to the current state of affairs, in which we have colonised every corner of the globe, made preliminary reconnaissance of all the major orbs in our solar system, broken matter down to its infintessimally small component parts and built machines that would, to our brave ancestors, seem like pure magic, is enough to make me wish and act in a way that is for the best for our noble species.

apologeticsnz (13 hours ago)

Noble species? According to darwinism, we are just a complex arrangement of atoms and molecules. We’re born, we die. And that is it. No ultimate meaning. Just a long heat death in an ever expanding universe.

UppruniTegundanna (12 hours ago) Show Hide

You are insisting that I cannot place a value judgement on anything because I accept evolution. This is wrong. We are an arrangement of atoms; this is true whether or not a god exists – but what an arrangement! Are you inspired by the achievements of man? Can I be too? Of course I can! I want the best for humanity but, sadly for you, I do not believe that this will be achieved merely by following the decrees of a holy text. If we want to coexist peacefully, we need to think for ourselves…

… and make judgements on the best way to behave based on the practical outcome of the behaviour. Do lying, stealing, murdering and raping help us coexist peacefully? No. By the way, doesn’t it seem odd that “Thou shalt not rape” is not part of the decalogue? I consider rape worse than coveting my neighbour’s goods! In fact, desiring what others have seems to be a great accelerant for invention and hard work!

ThinkingMatters (12 hours ago) Show Hide

I think you’re confused on one of the finer points of the argument. The point is not that atheists cannot discern or know what is right and wrong. The point is that an atheist cannot be consistent with their view if they want to affirm the existence of objective morals. The ethic you have created for yourself is like a web suspended on nothing. In the end you cannot affirm why and if your own view is good or wrong. You end up with subjectivism which is insufficient if you want to condemn Hitler.

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

Point taken, although I would say that the difference between us is that you are looking for a moral framework that, once established, can be adhered to at all times, in all situations, whereas I think that morality should be goal-oriented, i.e. that we should behave in a way that facilitates a desired outcome – in my case, and the case of most people I would assume, greater and more peaceful coexistence between humans.

ThinkingMatters (11 hours ago) Show Hide

The problem you have just confirmed is that you cannot condemn Hitler for his atrocious actions. He too created an ethic that was goal-oriented, namely extermination of the Jews. He too presumably was acting to better the lot of humanity and future coexistence with people. His views on what constituted human was different, and how to achieve his ends were different than ours would be, but how do you affirm that he was really wrong?

Without a transcendent ground to morality ethics becomes discourse without meaning.

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

Well, when you consider the enormous contribution to science, art and culture that the Jews have made in the 20th century, I think you can in fact say that Hitler was objectively wrong in thinking that his actions were for the greater good (which he DID think) – incidentally, I might not be here if he had succeeded, as my grandmother was a Ukrainian Jew. The fact that different people can have different goals, does not mean that all those goals are equal…

… It is up to people of good conscience, who do not allow their worldviews to be tainted by hatred and prejudice, to stand up to people who do promote vicious regimes, whether they are religious or not. It is not just the people who commit evils acts who are dangerous, but also the people who do nothing that are dangerous. I think you and I can stand together and agree on that point.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I certainly can agree with you there. But it seems you are content to live inconsistently with your view. How is it you can say such and such is evil? It seems you do, when it comes down to it, agree that objective morals do exist.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

That is just knocking the question back one step. Why is the Jewish contribution to science, art and culture worthwhile on atheism?

UppruniTegundanna (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I don’t quite understand the question? Are you asking why I, as an atheist, would care about the Jewish contribution to culture? It is I, as a human, who cares about that. I am moved by literature and art, filled with admiration for people who have contributed to science, thus improving the quality of our lives, and disgusted by those who want to destroy both, not as an atheist, but as a human.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

Thus there is a disconnect. Your human desires, moral and aesthetic intuitions do not conform with your philosophical atheism. For on atheism, these things are not anything worthwhile. Why should science that improves human life be regarded as a worthy endeavour? After all a human on atheism is only a sack of chemicals. Why should art that improves the quality of life be of any significance in an atheistic universe?…

… On atheism we live in a universe indifferent to our survival and comfort. Again its the web suspended on nothing.

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

The mistake you are making is thinking that atheism informs my worldview to the same extent that Christianity informs the worldview of a Christian. It is simply an answer to the question of the existence of a god. All value judgements have to be derived from a different source, which I have rather glibly described as “human”. What I mean is that things have a value based on their positive impact on humanity. You seem determined to accuse me of nihilism, and that simply isn’t the case!

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

You comment here is interesting. You make “positive impact on humanity” the standard for morals. Thus you provide a transcendent ground to base your ethics but fail to show how it is not ad hoc. You fail to define “positive” without arguing in a circle and fail to answer “why” on atheism we can declare with real meaning something as right or wrong. You also admit you do not integrate your atheism with your moral intuitions – that last is a good thing indeed! …

You say: “I treat morality as something that can be discussed and evaluated, can be subject to improvement and modification …, and first and foremost, as something that is of utmost importance for human wellbeing. How is that inconsistent?”

It is inconsistent because you have not integrated your atheism with your moral intuitions. On atheism morality is not objective, yet you consistently refer above and beyond yourself, on this blog and in life with objective moral statements

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

This has been a great discussion and I am about to turn in. It’s late here in NZ. With your permission I’d like to copy and paste this to a blog at talk.thinkingmatters 

I think it will be of great interest to people. 

Sorry I’m turning in. :-(

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I have no trouble admitting that I do not integrate my atheism into my moral intuitions – I don’t see any need to. To go back to the old argument that atheists make about other metaphysical beliefs, I don’t incorporate my disagreement with astrology into my moral intuitions either! Anyway, don’t want to ramble too much while you are trying to turn in. Speak again another time perhaps!

Sorry, I didn’t see that you had asked permission to copy and paste the discussion. Of course you may! I hope it comes out sounding coherent, as we were jumping all over the place answering one another’s questions, so it may have lost it’s linear narrative a bit.

 

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The following is a conversation with the same person conducted simultaneously with the one above on the same topics. 

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apologeticsnz (13 hours ago) 

“The promotion of health, happiness and prosperity is a good thing, whatever your beliefs.”

Why?

UppruniTegundanna (13 hours ago) Show Hide

You could potentially ask “why” to any explanation I give ad infinitum, but rather than show that I have no grounds for my moral principles, it shows that you are willing to embrace nihilism as a tactic for undermining my assertions. I prefer food that tastes nice to food that tastes bad – similarly, I prefer a happy life for myself and others to an unhappy one. It is possible to behave in a way that promotes that. I am having trouble understanding how you can’t accept that as a valid worldview.

ThinkingMatters (11 hours ago) Show Hide

You’re actually mostly correct – we could ask “why?” ad infinitum. Morals on atheism are comparable to the preference of taste. They are subjective and ultimately arbitrary. Where the trouble lies is in understanding your worldview as valid is it does not conform to our moral intuitions – is extermination of the Jews just personal preference or is it really objectively wrong. How about surgical experimentation on live Jewish babies? Is that morally equivalent to the taste of vanilla over chocolate?

And if you think that those things are wrong and want to be consistent with your view, and if you want your answer to have real meaning, you have to find an answer to the question “why?” that isn’t arbitrary or ad hoc, and isn’t unjustified specieism.

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

Well, I could ask “why” to the answer “because of God’s word”, since that raises the slightly different question commonly referred to as the Euthyphro Dilemma – is something good because God says so, or is God affirming something that is true anyway? I do in fact think that a certain amount of subjectivity exists in people’s conception of morality, but rather than absolve us of responsibility for our actions and those of others, as you seem to think…

… I think that this intensifies the responsibility that we all have to consider our actions and moral beliefs carefully, strip them of fallacious thinking and prejudice, to ensure the best possible outcome. This is difficult, and made all the more difficult since we, as humans, have negative impulses that we have to overcome.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I could ask “why” to the answer “because of God’s word”

The ethics developed on the theism finds a transcendent ground in God. The Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma, that is to say those are not the only options. The third option that splits the arguments horns is that God is the standard. Rather than the good being good because God said so – thus arbitrary, or the good being above God – thus God is not the ultimate, the good flows from his nature – the good is good because God is good.

I don’t think we are absolved from our actions because we perceive morals subjectively. I think if someone were to randomly punch me on the nose without provocation that would be wrong, not just subjectively but objectively as well. I do think we have to think carefully about our moral beliefs and strip them of fallacious thinking. Which is why I come back to you, how can you say that the dude that conks you on the nose without provocation is wrong?

After all, you are yet to answer “why” on atheism you can declare with real meaning that something is right or wrong, without giving an answer that isn’t arbitrary, ad hoc, and succumbing to unjustified specieism.

UppruniTegundanna (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I think it is going to be hard, maybe impossible, for me to provide you with an answer to the moral question that you find satisfactory if I do not incorporate God into it, just as I am dissatisfied with answers to scientific questions that do incorporate God. We may lose the notion that morality is (in some cases literally) carved in stone, but we gain the opportunity to discuss, evaluate and modify, if necessary, our moral beliefs as we encounter new situations, which I take as a good thing.

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I think it will be impossible. You either have to be content living inconsistently with your view and know your ethics is ad hoc, or accept that morals are objective.

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I have always liked the quote by Aristotle: “it is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it”. In the spirit of that quote, let’s imagine that I am correct in my disbelief: am I acting inconsistently? I treat morality as something that can be discussed and evaluated, can be subject to improvement and modification to deal with new situations, and first and foremost, as something that is of utmost importance for human wellbeing. How is that inconsistent?

If I accept the third option [to the Euthyphro dilemma], can I say that it is in fact a false trilemma, and that there is an additional option that we are being deceived into our beliefs about what is good or not by an evil force? As for being conked on the nose, many people would automatically react by retaliating and a fight would ensue – we benefit from maintaining an orderly society and creating disorder does us a disservice. Hopefully you aren’t going to ask me why an orderly society is better than a disorderly one!

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

That’s exactly what I was going to ask :-) You see how you end up with subjective morality if you fail to give a transcendent ground for your moral intuitions? When an injustice, like a bloody nose, or more seriously a genocide like Hitler’s, is done to you everything within you screams this was wrong, it was Wrong, it was WRONG. Then you’re confronted with the reality that morals are objective.

As for the third option [in the Euthyphro dilemma] – you could say that it is a false trilemma because there are more than three options – but all I need to do is split the horns of the dilemma. I don’t even need to argue that the third option is true, it just needs to be an option. But I do think that the third option is plausibly true – we have for instance biblical grounds for declaring it true, and we have good philosophical grounds as well, as God is defined as the ultimate being and morality is a perfection.

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I have a touch of the flu at the moment, which feels quite nasty at times (bloody British weather!) Do you think I have no rational basis for wanting to feel better than I do now? Because your line of questioning suggests that I couldn’t differentiate between being struck down by a nasty disease and feeling fit as a fiddle. Same goes with societal order: order improves people’s quality of life, disorder decreases it.

ThinkingMatters (8 hours ago) Show Hide

On the contrary, I do think you can differentiate between what is a social good and what is a social evil, just like you can differentiate between a biological evil [the flu] and a biological good [being healthy]. The thing your not grasping is this: we know the flu is bad because we know what it’s like when the body is running right – we have a rational basis. When it comes to morals though, we know what’s bad because we know what’s right – but you’ve no rational basis for that.

:-) Thanks for the conversation.

The Inherent Value of Human Life

 

Following are portions from a personal email debate/discussion where I presented an argument for God’s existence from the inherent value of human life. It is an argument I am honing, constructive comments appreciated. :-)

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I wrote on 15/5/2008:

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Quote from you:

As for an Atheist’s view on “human life (being) no more significant than a cockroaches”, I would very much like to hear why the non-belief in god must tag along such a woefully-worded philosophy? Indeed, does atheism necessary have a philosophy? [sic]

Now with the correct definitions in place this a shocking pronouncement. Every view needs a philosophy! In fact, atheism is one among the chief philosophical world-views today. And on the atheistic view thats what humans are – nothing more than chemicals, atoms in motion, accidents of natural processes, no inherent value and no ultimate worth. You are right in saying the paragraph is melancholy. Thats what is the logical conclusion of atheism results in – woeful depression. We are all lowly worms, on an insignificant spec in a cold universe, destined to die and be forgotten, all evidence of our existence and accomplishments to be extinguished when the universe dies. 

 But if you do think that human life has inherent value, (and it seems you do) it begs the question as to why? Why is it that human life has value or significance? Why do we act in such a way that reveals this deep seated belief? Why is genocide wrong? Why is murder morally reprehensible? Why do we protest the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Why does what people believe really matter? On the atheistic view I just can’t find any reasonable answer.

You could phrase the argument like this: 

1) If God does not exist, then human life does not have any inherent value.

2) Human life does have inherent value.

3) Therefore, God exists.

This argument does not succeed in giving us the full picture of the Christian God, but it does succeed in giving you a God that had endowed human beings life with value. This is at least consistent with Christianity. Still, if you can agree with this argument then that would give you good philosophical grounds for theistic belief and sufficient reason to consider atheism totally bankrupt. If a world-view cannot consistently be lived with or make sense of all the available information, then it should be regarded false and other explanations should be preferred. 

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I wrote on 1/8/2008:

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…What I mean by inherent is an essential, permanent, or characteristic attribute. This inherent value, as an essential attribute, presides in every human life as a right or privilege such that, if it could be taken away, that life would no longer be human. The premise is 1) If God does not exist, then there is no inherent value to human life. I give reasons below.

You say that the human brain has developed the ability to empathise. But this is to confuse the ontological question I am advancing with the epistemological question. I am not trying to get at how we come to know human life has value, but rather am asking does human life have value intrinsically. On atheistic evolution there just is nothing special about humans, we are mere molecules in motion. Ethics and morality are socio-cultural-biological conventions, akin to driving on the right or left side of the road, or to the preference of the taste of chocolate over vanilla. Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science from the University of Guelph says, 

The position of the modern evolutionist… is that humans have an awareness of morality… because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth… Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves… Nevertheless,… such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction,… and any deeper meaning is illusory… 1

Richard Taylor, an eminent ethicist, writes,

The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that, in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well.

Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare that such things as war, or abortion, or the violation of certain human rights, are ‘morally wrong,’ and they imagine that they have said something true and significant.

Educated people do not need to be told, however, that questions such as these have never been answered outside of religion.2

He concludes,

Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning. 3

And so we find a meta-ethical foundation for ethics and morals is indispensable. If atheism cannot provide this meta-ethical foundation then it follows that, if God does not exist human life has no inherent value. This is certainly more likely than its contradictory and many atheists agree. Consider the following diagram fig-1.jpg

 

fig-1.jpg

fig-1.jpg

 

 

If God exists then it is at least possible for human life to have either, no value, contingent value or inherent value. But if God does not exist then human life has either no value or contingent value. If human life has inherent value, then that requires a meta-ethical foundation which atheism cannot supply. Value ascribed to human life by other human life cannot be inherent (an essential attribute) for anything that is given by a human can be taken away by a human. So why can’t human life have contingent value?

If the value of human life is a contingent and subjective quality (non-essential and dispensable) a consequence of that is value could be lifted from human life and actions we would like to universally condemn would become permissible. For instance, it would no longer be wrong to practise self-mutilation or to snort cocaine to the one who no longer cares to live. All that needed to happen for the British Empire to justify the cruelty of slavery was to lift the value off of the black African human life. Black men were reduced in white men’s eyes to animals, but when they were called men again (in the social justice movement led by Christians) suddenly it was wrong to enforce such treatment upon them. For Nazi Germany to justify the genocide of the Jews all they needed to do was remove the value of their lives, thus making it not wrong to kill Jews but instead a virtue. Without inherent value in human life, at most these acts would be socially impolite or culturally distasteful but never objectively wrong. On non-theistic views morals and ethics are precisely socio-cultural-biological conventions and there is no qualitative standard above humankind to condemn of commend these actions. The humanist will attempt to call things like genocide and slavery objectively wrong by making the value of human life the standard. One is apt to wonder why, given atheism, we think that human beings are anything special? Surely this is speciesism – showing unmerited favour towards ones own species. As a stopping place for our moral intuitions the value of human life is simply ad hoc. Without a standard qualitatively above human-kind morality becomes subjective.

But if human life has inherent value, then it really is wrong to enslave someone or kill them indiscriminately. And if it really is wrong to to enslave someone or kill them indiscriminately then this inherent value must be prescribed, for rights and privileges are the dictates of a personal agents. And in the case of the inherent value of human life, this personal agent must be qualitatively above all humankind, and that personal agent can only be the creator.

So the question is not Premise 1 but Premise 2, namely, does human life have inherent value? And I think it does. Moreover, I think you think so as well. This is a properly basic, deeply human, metaphysical intuition. I take it you think that human life is not as a worm or an insect – insignificant, worthless and purposeless, due to be forgotten in the death of the universe. But if you are an atheist, this is exactly what you must believe to remain consistent with your view, at least on the correct definition. It is the logical conclusion of naturalism, as Richard Dawkins says, “There is no good, no evil, no purpose – just pointless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA. It is every objects sole reason for being.” But can Dawkins live consistently with his view? I think not. His books are full of moralizing like the humanist. It seems he agrees, like me, that there are some things that really are objectively wrong, such as genocide and slavery, and if you wish to condemn these practices with meaning, that entails that there is a qualitative standard above humankind that gives human life inherent value and not just contingent value, from which it follows that God exists. 

 

Footnotes:

1. Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268-9.

2. Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), pp. 2-3, 7.

3. Ibid.

Gary Habermas vs. Infidel Guy

Gary Habermas is considered by many to be the foremost expert on the historicity of Jesus and the events surrounding His resurrection. On September 11th he has a friendly discussion with radio host Reggie Finley, recorded and broadcast on the net for The Infidel Guy, the worlds largest atheist online community. 

You can download just the audio here at:

http://www.garyhabermas.com/audio/audio.htm

PART I (5MB) :|: PART II (6MB) :|: PART III (6MB) :|: PART IV (5MB) :|: PART V (5MB)

 

On The Resurrection with Gary Habermas – The Infidel Guy Show

Hitchens & Wilson Debate

Apologetics in Action: Aesthetics and the Existence of God – Atheism vs. Christianity

It has happened! MP3 here. Right-click, save-as…

This debate interests me especially as I hope to see a presuppositinal approach in action. That is not because I am explicitly presuppositional in my apologetics, but because I am intrigued by this methodology.

Atheists and objective morality

Casey Luskin from ID The Future recently interviewed (podcast here) Professor Bradley Monton. For me this was an especially interesting interview for a number of reasons:

  1. Bradley (like me) has done work on understanding quantum physics.
  2. Bradley (like me) started studying physics, then discovered philosophy and got hooked on it!
  3. Bradley has written a book manuscript on Intelligent Design
  4. Bradley is going to do a debate on “Intelligent Design and the Existence of God” and is speaking for the pro-ID side (against Lawrence Krauss and another)
  5. Bradley (unlike me) is an atheist!

Unlike many atheists, Bradley sounds like he is interested in looking at the evidence, and is not interested in pursuing fundamentalist-Dawkins-style-nastiness.

Anyway, that interesting stuff aside, Bradley also believes in objective morality. In fact, he offered Casey Luskin the opportunity to hear it, but the podcast was short and it was off topic. Perhaps it will be picked up on a later podcast — well, I hope so anyway.

Here is a short article from Bradley, justifying his “objective morality” claim. What do you think? Is it convincing? Here is the relevant text:

This gets at a standard Philosophy 101 topic, the Euthyphro Dilemma. Is killing an innocent person wrong because God says that it’s wrong, or does God say that killing an innocent person is wrong because it really is objectively wrong? Some people, like Joseph A., believe that God determines what is objectively morally wrong or right. If God says that it’s morally permissible to rape children, then it’s morally permissible. In contrast, I say that, even if God exists, the objective moral standards aren’t set by God. If God were to say that raping children is morally permissible, that wouldn’t make it morally permissible; it would just mean that God is incorrect.

Most theists think that it’s impossible for God to be incorrect, so in practice God would always prescribe the correct moral view. But it doesn’t follow from the fact that God always prescribes the correct moral view that God is the source of morality.

I’m not an expert in this argument, but I suspect Bradley has misunderstood Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Here are a couple of my thoughts.

  1. This dilemma is simply solved by understanding that morality comes neither from God’s arbitrary willing of it, not from His subservience to any cosmic objective morality, but rather morality comes directly from His character. Thus, God cannot do anything less than perfect and holy, because He is perfect and holy.
  2. If “objective moral standards aren’t set by God”, then where do they come from? If the universe is only material, how did objective morals arise from a material-only universe?
  3. From (2), I would argue that without God, objective moral values cannot exist, thus the atheist is left with a worldview where he cannot even comment coherently on rights and wrongs as these categories cannot be objective — only subjective. They are non-existent categories.
  4. Finally, unless “God is the source of morality”, I cannot see how right and wrong can be anything more than preferences.

Where am I going wrong in my thinking about this? Comments appreciated.