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.

15 replies
  1. BarryLeder
    BarryLeder says:

    Yes, I am that Barry Leder.

    I don’t believe you have intended to, but you have misstated my position.

    I don’t believe that hell is real- so I am not really that worked up about the consequence of hell. Still hell brings into stark contrast the problematic ethics that one must embrace in most forms of Christianity. You find yourself defending the idea that whatever God does is good ‘as it flows from His nature’. So what can be condemned for man is allowed for God. That is a clear violation of the definition of objectivity. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is an objective moral standard, ‘Thou shalt not kill – unless you are God’ is not.

    Since non-theists (I am comfortable being described as an atheist) are often accused of only attacking and never presenting, allow me to state my beliefs about morality here now. I believe multiple moral codes can be defined/described and within competing ‘subjective’ moral views – there are better moral views. While I find the description of their evaluation as being the differences in goal preference being inadequate, I am not certain that I can propose a better selection methodology at least in the timeframe I can put into this response.

    So while at worst I am stuck with subjective morality, I don’t accept that subjective = no morality or an inability to evaluate a moral code. Christian apologists confuse the enforcement of morality with the definition of morality. While Hitler had the political power to enforce his moral code, it does not follow that his moral code was correct in his or any moral framework. (God has a similar problem, His possible omnipotence makes Him final enforcer, but does not mean He is necessarily moral).

    Does that mean we, non believers, end up with a suboptimal-to-perfection moral code – probably. But it seems to be the best we or you have. With the exception of the moral code provided in scripture – which providence cannot be asserted – I don’t believe the believers are in a much better position. God has not given to you a definitive moral guide, written or otherwise. You too must wrestle with the gray areas of moral definition.

    So it is not that I don’t believe there is possibly an objective moral code – I assert that the validation of it’s existence cannot be determined and that if it exists its content cannot be determined. For our existence an objective moral code is irrelevant – both from a knowledge stand point and for practical application.

    How then do I resolve the trap of the seeming objectivity of not torturing children for fun or the crimes of Hitler? Our existence is grounded in the fragility of life and that we exist in a world of scarce resources. If like when we played war as kid, we did come back to life after counting to 10, there would be no moral precept thou shalt not kill. From this it follows that there will be generous overlap between rational moral codes. And I believe that power more often arises out of rationality than from the irrational.

    Still there are difficult questions that we must wrestle with. For example, my more humanistic associates assert that we have not only a negative duty to our fellow man(not to take another’s life) but that we have a positive duty as well (feed all mankind before looking to supply one’s creature comforts). I am less certain on these positive duties, though I do think these duties do rise as the economic resources of the world increase – thus it follows I do believe in a subjective moral code across time.

    Now to return to the question of the Christian moral code, I think it suffers from four highly contentious issues of its own:

    To assert there is an objective moral code is to assert that there is an objective moral standard on ALL moral questions. No sliding by on demonstrating the appearance of an objective moral standard in a few cases (hitler, torture of children). Everything from contraception to war to whether breaking your mother’s back by stepping on a crack would have to have – known or unknown – moral certainty.

    To assert that God is effectively the definition of (an objective) morality – is to assert that on no matters has God made that morality a matter of His taste. Every moral precept must have a consequence beyond God (which sounds awfully close to the goal fulfillment non-theists are often tagged with). The starkest contemporary example of this is God’s apparent insistence that homosexuality is wrong. But is this merely a matter of God’s taste or are there truly logical, sociological reasons here. And where does this end, If God likes fusion jazz, does that make fusion jazz the moral choice? After all God has a perfect ear.

    You don’t believe in a definitive moral code, you believe in a definitive moral code with an escape clause. All rules can be broken if at the end of days you chose to worship God. Christians will go on-on about how the person will be truly changed – but if boiled down this is the morality that Christianity finally embraces. In discussion I am often challenged that God is necessary to punish the child rapist who is not caught on Earth. But that is not what Christianity promises – the child rapist who repents before dieing is admitted to Heaven. Further, ‘sins’ of thought or speech are the equivalent of actual commission of ‘sin’.

    Christian defenses aside, you do seem on the horns of defending the unconscionable acts of your God and Christianity’s apparent embrace of different moral codes across both time and culture. Watching the blackflips to explain how slavery under God is different would be downright funny were it not that slavery is not funny.

    Finally, since you have brought the question of hell around to the question of morality, I will too. I believe that the acceptance or rejection of Christianity and its beliefs IS at least at some level a moral question. Belief/acceptance of the grace/eternal life is to put yourself into the camp of God – accepting His moral perfection. I suspect rising within you right now is the argument ‘that we are not to judge God’. But I would argue that, if your assertions about God, man, and salvation are true, that is EXACTLY what God has asked us to do. In our belief/acceptance we are rendering a moral judgment.

    In some senses my/our rejection of the existence of God is a charitable act on the part of non-believers. It is not that I believe there is no evidence of God, it is that there is insufficient evidence and when we look to philosophy we find indefensible concepts of god. For me the question is not how do we not believe, but how do you square your God with the goodness and the logic that is within you.

  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Barry Leder,

    Thank you for this thought provoking post. I try to make titles provocative and attractive as possible so people will read them. But the argument is in the text (obviously) not the title. I’m sorry if I misstated your position. I just used you comments as a spring board to develop an answer to a question that I thought needed answering, though it may not have been a question of yours.

    To your last post:

    You find yourself defending the idea that whatever God does is good ‘as it flows from His nature’. So what can be condemned for man is allowed for God. That is a clear violation of the definition of objectivity. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is an objective moral standard, ‘Thou shalt not kill – unless you are God’ is not.

    The definition of objective I am using is the one I have taken directly from the dictionary. That is objective means completely apart from personal feelings or opinions. Its clear then that the moral standard that originates in the very nature of God Himself, is objective as it is outside all human feeling and opinion, and even outside God’s feeling and opinion. God’s nature is what Plato called “the good.” The standard of morality is not rooted in His feelings or opinions, but the feelings and opinions of God do perfectly align with His very nature, and from his nature flow divine commands that constitute out moral duties.

    To use “Thou shalt not kill” as an example of an objective moral duty, it is a command given to all men by God. As this command flowed out from his good nature it is objective. God, who is the giver and sustainer of life, is under no obligation from his own commands. If he wants to strike me dead or fail to rescue me from immanent threat of death, it is totally within his rights to do so. It is also totally within His rights to judge the people and nations. If that judgement is death then that is a righteous judgement for God is impeccable (incapable of wrongdoing). Because of his perfectly moral nature, we can be assured that for instance his slaying someone or the amount of present evil in the world that he allows for a time, will actually work out to good. As the only omniscient being, He is the only one capable of knowing what action will result in a better world on balance. Also, he guarantees eternal life to all those who accept him and so the trials of this life, diminish as time passes in eternity. Thus Paul could say, ‘this light and temporary affliction,’ in the midst of tremendous hardship and persecution.

    So while at worst I am stuck with subjective morality, I don’t accept that subjective = no morality or an inability to evaluate a moral code.

    Of course a subjectivist can evaluate a moral code different to that of his own and behave and act reasonably, but only according to his own moral code. The failure of the subjectivist ethic is it provides no authority for moral judgements, such as condemnation and commendation. Hence ensues an amorality. Statements like “Hitler was wrong,” come to actually mean “I feel like Hitler was wrong.” And that moral imperative is no stronger than Hitler himself saying “I feel like you are wrong, and that I am right.” That’s why I think that subjectivism in inadequate, for we all make moral judgements and expect them to mean something more than our own or our societies personal preferences.

    Christian apologists confuse the enforcement of morality with the definition of morality.

    I don’t think that’s the case. The Christian view does not adopt a “might is right” type morality. What is right is what God says is right, but not because he is in the position of ultimate enforcement but because he is a morally perfect being who cannot err or fail to achieve perfect behaviour.

    God of course makes sense of moral accountability. On atheism where there is no immortality or reward or punishment after death, there is no moral accountability. On atheism, Hilter and Mother Theresa’s destiny is the same – dust. So atheistic ethics do suffer an embarrassing problem. It cannot answer why if you were sufficiently powerful and could get away with it, you should live a moral life? If you were a Donald Trump for instance, what on atheism is there to pursued you away from total self-indulgence?

    Does that mean we, non believers, end up with a suboptimal-to-perfection moral code – probably. But it seems to be the best we or you have. With the exception of the moral code provided in scripture – which providence cannot be asserted – I don’t believe the believers are in a much better position. God has not given to you a definitive moral guide, written or otherwise. You too must wrestle with the gray areas of moral definition.

    I can agree with most of this. The theist and Christian like any other person have to struggle with areas that are clouded, where things are seem neither right or wrong. Where the Christian has a benefit that others do not is a source of moral strength, a promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us, and a scripture to help work out what one should do when confronted by moral dilemmas. There are many times in the Bible where people are forced to choose the lesser of two evils. But this all counts to how we know, or come to determine what to do in certain situations. But the application of morality is not the real issue. The real issue is if objective moral values exist at all.

    So it is not that I don’t believe there is possibly an objective moral code – I assert that the validation of it’s existence cannot be determined and that if it exists its content cannot be determined. For our existence an objective moral code is irrelevant – both from a knowledge stand point and for practical application.

    In determining if there is an objective moral standard, ones only recourse is to reflect on ones own moral experience. Try asking yourself, could it ever be right to torture a child? Or, could it ever be wrong to rescue a child out of a muddy well? Are these really right and wrong for all people at all times, irrespective of cultural mores and societal opinion, or are they just right and wrong in a lesser relativistic sense?

    I think these questions are a good guide to determining if there exists an objective moral standard. And far from being irrelevant, it can be used as a source for moral authority to condemn actions, to praise virtues, to provide a foundation for civil and international law, and could be used in an argument for God’s existence.

    Determining the content of the objective moral law is outside our purposes here, but I shall say, if the argument for God’s existence is successful, the obvious next question is has he specially revealed himself? Judaism would claim that indeed God has, and he has given us the ten commandments. Christianity can agree with the Jew on that score and also give Jesus and his teachings on morality, which many agree are the highest standard of ethics proclaimed. Even Islam could agree with the Christian and the Jew on that score, because they accept both old and new testament into their own holy scriptures.

    How then do I resolve the trap of the seeming objectivity of not torturing children for fun or the crimes of Hitler? Our existence is grounded in the fragility of life and that we exist in a world of scarce resources.

    Do you mean the seeming existence of the objective moral law is grounded in the fragility of life and that we exist in a world of scarce resources?

    If yes, what then makes genocide wrong? If it is freeing up resources for others, then is it right to imitate Hitler’s final solution? What is it about life’s fragility that imposes upon us a moral duty to preserve it? I don’t see how these moral properties of rightness and wrongness, good and evil can possibly arise from any natural properties.

    Its even worse than that, because on atheism I just don’t see the difference between one sack of chemicals (my body) and another sack of chemicals (a sack of fertiliser) according to logical consistency and empirical adequacy. But obviously according to experiential relevance there is a big difference. Plunging a knife into one and spilling its contents on the ground is not wrong at all, but doing the same to a person is a violation and carries with it a moral property, namely wrongness.

    From this it follows that there will be generous overlap between rational moral codes. And I believe that power more often arises out of rationality than from the irrational.

    Irrationality and rationality are determined on either quantitative norms (majority rules) or on an objective standard of normal function. The question is how you arrived at the conclusion that what you and the majority determined are rational and the ethics that are generally accepted or overlap are actually right and wrong? The whole world has been mistaken before. It could be again. If Hitler had won the war, would he have been right to slaughter Jews wholesale? Would he be the rational person and you the irrational one?

    Rationality isn’t ultimately going to solve anything. Obviously its an aid for everyone to help us determine what is right and wrong, but for the atheist rationality is just another product of the natural environment that carries with it no moral properties. Moreover, there are situations where there is an obvious right even though it may by irrational.

    To help explain. A young boy is drowning in a raging river and being swept downstream by the fast current. You are the only one around and not the greatest swimmer. There is a voice inside your head shouting You should rescue him. At the same time there is another voice complaining, the water looks cold, I probably won’t make it, I could run and get help and though that probably won’t work I can at least say I did something, if I die as well in the rescue attempt the world would be worse off if only one dies. While the second voice is making up more excuses, a third voice enters the fray saying, You should listen to the first voice. Now all things considered the second voice is the rational one. But where does the third voice come from, and how did it arrive at the word should if it was not referring above itself to an objective standard of right and wrong.

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    To the first so-called major problem.

    (1)

    To assert there is an objective moral code is to assert that there is an objective moral standard on ALL moral questions. No sliding by on demonstrating the appearance of an objective moral standard in a few cases (hitler, torture of children). Everything from contraception to war to whether breaking your mother’s back by stepping on a crack would have to have – known or unknown – moral certainty.

    That there is an objective moral standard on all moral questions is indeed possible if not probable given theism, but our perceptions of and uncertainty towards some issues in no way undermines the existence of the objective values of right and wrong. All that is needed is one objective moral value and a standard above all (and which did not arise from) humans is established.

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    To the second so-called major problem.

    (2)

    To assert that God is effectively the definition of (an objective) morality – is to assert that on no matters has God made that morality a matter of His taste.

    Not at all. We have a subjective experience of moral values, and there is no reason why God cannot have his own subjective experience of the objective moral law that flows from his nature. Of course, his subjective experience will, unlike ours, align perfectly with what is objectively right and wrong. The point is the law is not subjective or arbitrary because it did not originate with His feelings or opinions, but instead originated in His own nature, which is the ultimate.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    To the third so-called major problem.

    (3)

    You don’t believe in a definitive moral code, you believe in a definitive moral code with an escape clause. All rules can be broken if at the end of days you chose to worship God. Christians will go on-on about how the person will be truly changed – but if boiled down this is the morality that Christianity finally embraces. In discussion I am often challenged that God is necessary to punish the child rapist who is not caught on Earth. But that is not what Christianity promises – the child rapist who repents before dieing is admitted to Heaven. Further, ’sins’ of thought or speech are the equivalent of actual commission of ’sin’.

    Two issues here. The first is on the necessity of God for moral accountability. The second is on thought crime.

    To the first, The breaking of an objective moral code does nothing to undermine the actual existence of the moral code.
    If there were no God, it is difficult to see why we shouldn’t pursue our own selfish ends if we can get away with it, for our destiny is dust. Like Satre said, “Without immortality, everything is permissible.”
    Thank God for the “escape clause,” for it means that you to can escape. Though God may forgive the rapist that does not mean he escapes the consequences of his actions here on earth. It’s not really an escape clause, because the penalty for the sin is carried out – Christ took upon himself the penalty he requires and imputes his righteousness onto the truly repentant rapist. True repentance will reveal itself in a changed life. As Christians we pursue God, and the result is a godly life.

    To the second, my punishing someone for thought crime is unconscionable for I have no way of knowing what another is thinking, and am myself guilty of sinful thoughts. But for a perfect being, who has both perfect moral excellence and is all-knowing, he can rightly judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. There is no difference in the punishment for sins of thought (which are sins of commission) and sins like raping a child, for any sin and all sin makes a person fall short of the perfect standard that is required to share in the glory of God. (see Rom 3:23)

  6. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    To the fourth so-called major problem.

    (4)

    Finally, since you have brought the question of hell around to the question of morality, I will too. I believe that the acceptance or rejection of Christianity and its beliefs IS at least at some level a moral question. Belief/acceptance of the grace/eternal life is to put yourself into the camp of God – accepting His moral perfection. I suspect rising within you right now is the argument ‘that we are not to judge God’. But I would argue that, if your assertions about God, man, and salvation are true, that is EXACTLY what God has asked us to do. In our belief/acceptance we are rendering a moral judgment.

    It is a moral good to worship and serve Him, and to reject Him is a moral failure of ours, but I don’t see how accepting God and his salvation is a meritorious achievement of ours. Accepting Christ as Lord and saviour by trusting in Him entails an act of repentance. It is right in the sense that it is a correct judgement, but carries no property of moral rightness or wrongness. It is not a meritorious moral good, but an act of admission that one has committed wrong, and in response Christ, of his own free will, can be trusted to provide salvation, for he is good.

    It is not that I believe there is no evidence of God, it is that there is insufficient evidence and when we look to philosophy we find indefensible concepts of god.

    There’s an atheistic argument lucking in the background here, but at the moment it is just a bare assertion. On the contrary, I have found the arguments of God’s existence to be robust and helpful, find the concept of God to be coherent, and the arguments against His existence poor in comparison.

  7. BarryLeder
    BarryLeder says:

    Stuart, thank you for your answer. To be honest I found it not very informative and containing many verbal and logical evasions. Possibly you found my original answer to be the same. Maybe like our trying to find a common point in the night sky, we start too far apart philosophically. Still, like Rob wrote in a recent message, I prefer serious discussion to talking over the latest tv shows in the local coffee bar. I hope you will reply to this message but understand if you must move on. And in view of things like the suicide discussed in another string on your site, these things matter.

    I took no offense to the title; my comment on misstatement was directed at how you folded an incomplete answer into your three part logical proof.

    To selfishly follow the line of inquiry that interests me, I have two questions:

    1. You have stated that we know there is an objective moral code. The best I am able to understand from you, Rob, and other Reformed information sites is this is based on the objective appearance of morality on a few points. The common apologetic being the listeners certainty that Hitler was wrong, torturing infants for fun is immoral, or a similar point.

    However, this would seem to be nothing more than a rhetorical trick – ‘you don’t defend the actions of Hitler do you – what is wrong with your morality’. By rhetorical trick I mean you are asking the listener to base the evaluation of Hitler on a basis for morality that you would disallow – personal preference. Another way to ask the question is what is the bright line that separates a universally held subjective moral concept from an objective moral concept – how can we tell the difference? Remember my position isn’t that an objective morality doesn’t exist, rather that we cannot prove it exists.

    So, my question to you is have I misunderstood how you in fact justify the objectivity of morality? And to be true to the proof you are attempting to establish, the answer would need to be without reference to the existence of God, as that is what you set out to ultimately prove, or to scripture which would have its source from God.

    2. Your defense of God and His perfection not being in conflict with a human understanding of an objective morality reminded me of a scene from the Disney movie ‘Mary Poppins’. Near the start of the movie as Nanny Poppins met her new wards she whipped out a tape measure and sized them up. The kids results where ‘mischief maker’ and ‘tattle tale’ or some such; while Mary Poppins was ‘perfect in every way’. Mary Poppins is perfect according to her own tape measure; God is moral by His own moral code.

    I agree that the word objective has a basically fixed meaning. By extension, I would also argue that ‘good’, ‘just’ and ‘moral’ also have a basically fixed meaning and a meaning independent of God too. This is true even if He was the source of good or the model of good. So I find puzzling your inability to directly engage on the question of whether God’s behavior as recorded in the Bible fits the definition of good or moral behavior.

    If we define God as the definition of Good – then yes! He meets the test for moral goodness. But in the process, if God does something that is not moral by the philosophical definition of moral; we have undermined the definition of moral. If for example, Hitler’s racial genocide was wrong, why was it not immoral for God to assist in the destruction of Jericho which sounds an awful lot like racial genocide? Do you have a sounder explanation that gets your position out of this circularity?

    I have a third question, which is more a curiosity than a philosophical query. I notice that you and your fellow writers generally don’t capitalize pronouns and possessives when they refer to God. Is this not a custom in your country or particular Christian sect?

    I wish you well.

    Barry

  8. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Thank you Barry for your insightful critique and probing questions.

    To your questions.

    (1)

    Another way to ask the question is what is the bright line that separates a universally held subjective moral concept from an objective moral concept – how can we tell the difference? Remember my position isn’t that an objective morality doesn’t exist, rather that we cannot prove it exists.

    If only a universally held subjective moral value system existed then I can agree that it would be virtually indistinguishable to an objective morality. (Of course, if one did exist, that would not negate the possible existence of an objective morality, just render its existence unnecessary to explain our moral intuitions. Thus the argument I proposed would still be logically valid and sound, only much of its persuasive power taken from it.)

    But I think if you think about it, a universally held subjective moral code is far more improbable than an objective moral code. An objective moral code can accommodate people who disagree and act in a manner totally opposite to the prescribed moral values. A universally held subjective code of ethics would entail that there would exist at least one moral axiom that everyone deep-down agreed with, if not followed accordingly. But such an example is hard, if not impossible to find. You’ll always find someone who whole-heartedly disagrees with your suggested axiom. I learnt at a young age there are exceptions to every rule. If that rule truly applies to the universally held subjective moral code then it wouldn’t be universal and you’d be stuck with the same question again – how do you condemn Hitler when his retort will likely be that’s only according to you and your unenlightened cronies?

    We use Hitler as an example because people are generally appalled at his actions, and on reflection they can see clearly that what he did was really objectively wrong – that there can be no time and no place that he could possibly be right or only wrong in a lesser, relativistic sense. Whereas on the universal subjective moral law ethic, all the atrocities that Hitler committed would all have to be excluded from the set of commonly held moral axioms. After this is done, and repeated for all the other tyrants, regimes, religions and cultures, what do you have left?

    I was watching a featurette today on an upcoming movie called The Reader. One comment that was made was that there were a few monsters in the Nazi regime that ruled Germany, but most people were quite normal people, who allowed and performed abominable things thinking it was right and good. Did these people believe in an objective moral law? Yes! It’s just they were wrong on what it prescribed. Were these people’s actions at all consistent with the universally held subjective moral code? Obviously not!

    For the 22 minute featurette on The Reader goto http://www.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/thereader/

  9. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    (2)

    I would also argue that ‘good’, ‘just’ and ‘moral’ also have a basically fixed meaning and a meaning independent of God too. This is true even if He was the source of good or the model of good. So I find puzzling your inability to directly engage on the question of whether God’s behavior as recorded in the Bible fits the definition of good or moral behavior.

    This is to confuse moral ontology with moral semantics. I agree we can define ‘good’ and ‘just’ and ‘moral’ independent of God, and dialogue with meaning on moral issues without reference to Him. In fact, if we hadn’t been assuming moral semantics, then we wouldn’t have been able to understand, “God is good.” I however have been concerned chiefly with moral ontology, that is the foundation in reality of moral values.

    If we define God as the definition of Good – then yes! He meets the test for moral goodness. But in the process, if God does something that is not moral by the philosophical definition of moral; we have undermined the definition of moral.

    What is the philosophical definition of moral you are thinking of?

    If for example, Hitler’s racial genocide was wrong, why was it not immoral for God to assist in the destruction of Jericho which sounds an awful lot like racial genocide?

    It was wrong for Hitler to commit racial genocide because he did so in the absence of God’s command, from whence comes our moral duties. As I have already stated above, if God wants to slay an entire race, it is His prerogative. Such an act would constitute his righteous judgement on that people group. Righteous judgement is itself an immeasurable good, so such an action would not be inconsistent with a morally perfect beings existence. Plus, since moral duties are bestowed upon us by God (who is the standard of goodness), it would only be inconsistent behaviour on the part of God had he first given Himself a command and therefore imposed upon Himself a moral duty.

    If such treatment appears to us inconsistent with the actions of a perfectly moral being, one need only remind oneself that we are neither omniscient nor a maximally moral being. God must have known that the destruction of Jericho’s walls and the killing of people inside the city would ultimately result in a better world on balance had He not acted as He did. It is also immoral for me to take a persons life, because I never gave that person life nor could I give them back their life. In the case of God however, he did gave that person life, and moreover has the power to give that person life again.

  10. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    (3)

    I notice that you and your fellow writers generally don’t capitalize pronouns and possessives when they refer to God. Is this not a custom in your country or particular Christian sect?

    I’m sure we’ve never discussed it. :-)

    For myself, I try to write with the best grammar I know. And as far as I know, it is correct to capitalise personal pronouns attributed to God (eg. God, Him, He, Himself, His…). I can’t speak for the others, but I think the grammatical rule is either unknown to them or been omitted by accident – if it is a grammatical rule. In either case, I don’t think God minds at all if a letter is not a capital.

    In New Zealand we follow British standards of grammar and language. Thinking Matters is your average, mainstream, evangelical, inter-denominational, non-representive Christian association of like-minded apologetic enthusiasts – I don’t think sect is appropriate there. :-)

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    For the people following this discussion its good to remember that we are dealing with two separate issues here. The first is concerning the second premise, objective moral values exist and how we can establish this. The second is the validity of the reply to the counter argument – the Euthyphro dilemma.

    If for example, Hitler’s racial genocide was wrong, why was it not immoral for God to assist in the destruction of Jericho which sounds an awful lot like racial genocide?

    I have already replied to this and shown that God’s actions concerning Jericho were not immoral, but I would also like to point out that if this objection passes through, it would at most only prove that the Bible is capable of error. It would in no way disprove God’s existence or mar His moral perfection.

  12. BarryLeder
    BarryLeder says:

    Good evening Stuart.

    For as unclear as I felt our discussion was proceeding after your reply two major posts ago, I found your last major reply highly clarifying.

    I am going to take a few days (and frankly it may be beyond Christmas) to consider and compose my response.

    As a clarification – do I read into your answer that the knowledge of a fixed right and wrong is implanted within us? Similar to what I understand of the soul as, among other roles, the vessel of moral consciousness.

    While the Euthyphro dilemma is interesting in its own right, I still believe the moral behavior of God is germane to our central discussion, the existence of an objective moral code. I do not concede, yet, that a moral code which exempts God meets the test of objectivity.

    Live well,

    B

  13. Rob
    Rob says:

    Merry Christmas Barry and others! Feast well, and consider taking a couple of hours to read a gospel (e.g. “The Gospel of John”).

  14. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hi there Barry,

    As a clarification – do I read into your answer that the knowledge of a fixed right and wrong is implanted within us? Similar to what I understand of the soul as, among other roles, the vessel of moral consciousness.

    Glad to provide clarification for you. I thought you were asking the epistemological question of how we know certain moral values. Reading carefully you are asking the epistemological question of how we come to recognise there is an objective moral standard. In short, how is we establish that second premise, objective moral values exist. (I hope I have read you right Barry)

    For others reading in – just to make clear – I have not been concerned with how we know what is right and wrong. I don’t think it matters what moral epistemological view you hold to because it doesn’t effects or touch the argument I am advancing in any way.

    To answer your actual question (or request for clarification) we can establish the existence of the objective moral standard in two ways. The first is by intuition. This is how we asses all ethical theories so that isn’t unusual. What is unusual is that many people hold to ethical theories that do not align with their basic moral experience – they live inconsistently with their beliefs.

    The second is to asses and show that all other ethical theories are either morally unacceptable or are logically flawed in some way.

    Thus I contend both that an objective moral standard exists and that the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma (the common objection to this argument) are split.

    Finally, I do think the moral law is written on our hearts.

    Romans 2:14-15
    Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

    The word soul is used so commonly it has lost its clarity of meaning. By the soul I mean (and I think the Bible means) the mind, the will and the emotions. By the heart I mean, (and I think the Bible means) is the very centre of the self.
    In Christian thought God has placed within us the capacity to know and experience the world and that includes the objective moral standard, and you can call that capacity conscience or intuition.

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