Jesse Kilgore commits suicide after reading Dawkins

Jesse Kilgore

Jesse Kilgore

The Story of Jesse Kilgore and the Consequences of Teaching One Side of Evolution

This episode of ID the Future (MP3 here) tells the story of Jesse Kilgore, a college student whose loss of faith and subsequent suicide has been linked to his biology class and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. After his professor challenged him to read the anti-theistic book and rule out the possibility of God’s existence in light of the evidence for evolution, Jesse experienced a crisis of faith. Now his father is arguing for academic freedom for intelligent design and critiques of Darwin’s theory. Listen in as he and others explain how Jesse was affected by reading this book.

The tragedy of Jesse Kilgore’s death affects all of us. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who knew and loved him.

Source: http://www.idthefuture.com/2008/12/the_latest_news_views_on_intel.html

Rob’s Comment: As I have argued numerous times, suicide does not necessarily follow from accepting the beliefs of people like Richard Dawkins. However, suicide becomes a sensible option for even intelligent people to take, given Dawkins’ beliefs. Of course, this does not prove Dawkins is wrong — but if the universe, as Dawkins has said, ultimately has no purpose, then why not kill yourself? All you are really doing is hastening your trip into nothingness.

More links:
Dad links son’s suicide to ‘The God Delusion’ (Worldnet Daily)

37 replies
  1. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Much as I support academic freedom, and intelligent design as a thesis, I do wonder if this is rather an illicit move. What is the logical connection between the fact that nihilism is the logical conclusion of thoroughgoing naturalism, and the requirement to teach alternatives? Nihilism is a horrible philosophy—but if it’s consistent with the truth of naturalism (assuming that naturalism is true), then why should falsehood be allowed to supplant or even “supplement” it in the teaching arena? It sounds very much too much like shrill, “Won’t somebody think of the children” political mongering.

    Not that I don’t support the goal here—I just think that naturalism ought to be challenged on rigorous, academic grounds; not emotional ones.

  2. Mike
    Mike says:

    I think that a more obvious (possible) cause of his suicide would be the fact that he served with the army in iraq for a number of years. The second obvious would be the heartbreak he felt after the girl he’d be pining after for months told him that she’d never date him, the day before he killed himself.

    Rob said: “Of course, this does not prove Dawkins is wrong — but if the universe, as Dawkins has said, ultimately has no purpose, then why not kill yourself? All you are really doing is hastening your trip into nothingness.”

    I don’t quite understand this. Even if there is no reason for us being here it doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless in the same sense. I think you’re confusing two different uses of the word “meaningless”. Our lives may be “meaningless” in the sense that we were created by an undirected process, but it doesn’t follow that our lives would then be “meaningless” as no matter how we came about the fact is that we are here.

    If it turns out that there is no afterlife then this would mean that our lives hold a greater significance as this is our only chance at life.

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I just think that naturalism ought to be challenged on rigorous, academic grounds; not emotional ones.

    I’m an advocate of both. Emotional grounds are valid, but in no way would I exclude academic grounds, or solely offer emotional reasons in my apologetic method.

    Here is what Ravi Zacharias says (not a direct quote):

    Every view needs to pass three tests: logical consistency, empirical adequacy and experiential relevance. These three tests have to be put to the questions of origin, morality, meaning and destiny. Each area must individually correspond to reality as we can know it. If each do correspond then a view has coherence. Once the view has achieved coherence through this philosophical test for truth, then it can be put to existentially relevant arguments.

    Thus I think Jesse Kilgore’s story, as an existential argument is a valid point, but I wouldn’t present it without applying the more academic arguments. As a case study it also highlights the need for a strong apologetic voice in the church.

  4. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Rob, it is illicit to challenge the teaching of naturalism on emotional grounds.

    Stuart, I don’t see what undesirable conclusions have to do with whether something should be taught. No doubt pointing out the existential angst of naturalism in an apologetic encounter can be useful for highlighting an inconsistency between what an atheist says he believes, and the the way he acts; but in terms of determining what ought to be taught in schools, it hardly seems relevant.

  5. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Mike said,

    I don’t quite understand this. Even if there is no reason for us being here it doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless in the same sense. I think you’re confusing two different uses of the word “meaningless”. Our lives may be “meaningless” in the sense that we were created by an undirected process, but it doesn’t follow that our lives would then be “meaningless” as no matter how we came about the fact is that we are here.

    You’re rather understating the case, Mike. Naturalism entails not merely that there is no meaning for our being here, but that the very notion of meaning itself is incoherent. In the final analysis, meaning does not exist at all. However, even if I grant that a non-theist can reasonably talk about meaning itself without contradicting himself (and I don’t), it remains that this notion of subjective meaning is an incoherent concept given the denial of objective meaning. As Bill Vallicella puts it,

    What is my life’s point and purpose? How silly to say, as many do, that it is wholly up to the individual to give it sense and purpose! If I must give my life meaning, then it has no meaning prior to and independent of my giving it meaning, which is to say that it has no meaning, full stop. Am I my own source? Can I ‘recuperate’ every aspect of my facticity by acts of goal-positing? If my life depends on me for its meaning, then it has no meaning. To suppose that an otherwise meaningless existence can be made meaningful by subjective acts of meaning-bestowal is like supposing that one can pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps.

    If, for whatever reason, one denies that human life possesses objective meaning, then one ought to have the intellectual honesty to maintain that it has no meaning, and not seek refuge in the shabby evasion of subjective meaning.

    You then say,

    If it turns out that there is no afterlife then this would mean that our lives hold a greater significance as this is our only chance at life.

    You might have to explain your inference. What is the logical connection between there being no afterlife, and life holding greater significance?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  6. Rob
    Rob says:

    Mike,

    If our lives are ULTIMATELY meaningless, then any “meaning” we “find” now would have to be meaning invented by us. I think this is what really happens. People in general have no idea of life’s meaning, but continue to live as if there really IS meaning.

    Why do people do this? One reason, in 2008, is that life is largely about pleasure which inhibits thinking about what we are here for. Who cares about ultimate meaning when we can live on pleasure day after day? When times get tough however, and pleasure is no longer easily found, people will be forced to re-evaluate.

    Another reason is (I think) that people psychologically suppress thinking and discussion about meaning (in Bible-speak, Satan has blinded their eyes to the truth). I have sat in tea rooms with many Kiwi pagans for many years and this subject is rarely touched. Yet this is insane — for the most important questions are the very ones people don’t want to talk about, yet they will talk about the drivel on the latest TV trash show, day after day.

    Thus, my conclusion is that most people are quite irrational, for they fail to talk about or think about issues of great importance that lead on to questions of ultimate meaning, yet live “meaningful” lives thinking and talking about meaningless things live TV drivel.

    When push comes to shove (lost girlfriend or whatever), it is far easier to commit suicide if you believe as Richard Dawkins does.

  7. Rob
    Rob says:

    Mike wrote:

    “If it turns out that there is no afterlife then this would mean that our lives hold a greater significance as this is our only chance at life.”

    I’m glad Bnonn picked up on this as I forgot to during the morning rush.

    I would love to see Mike (or anyone else) expound on this claim. It seems to me to be completely backwards, for if there is no afterlife, then there is no meaning AT ALL except that which we have constructed for ourselves. How can there be? Rather than “greater significance” as Mike claims, life would actually have ZERO significance.

    But let’s make a couple of other points here.

    1. Why does Mike feel the need to believe there really is meaning? As Christians, this is easy. We believe there is meaning because there actually really is — it is built into the very nature of the reality that God has made, and ultimately in God Himself. And because we are made in the image of God — the Imago Dei — we have the same desire for meaning and relationship and love as is found in the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit), and that meaning is rooted in God Himself.

    2. IF meaning WAS increased as a result of our “only chance”, surely it follows then that the life of the unborn, being much shorter than Mike’s life for instance, is much more meaningful. And as you get older, because you have had more of a chance at life, your life would become less meaningful. Thus Mike’s argument would appear to turn naturally into be an anti-abortion argument.

    It would also lead to the absurd conclusion that IF there was an afterlife, this would be LESS meaningful than a single earthly life. Again, I would love to have Mike or other expound upon this.

  8. Mike
    Mike says:

    I should probably mention that I am an atheist, if it wasn’t clear already, so I hope I’m not unwelcome here. Sorry about the long reply too..

    Bnonn: I sort of agree with what Bill Vallicella was saying about subjective meaning but I feel that he too confuses the idea of objective and subjective meaning.

    If I must give my life meaning, then it has no meaning prior to and independent of my giving it meaning, which is to say that it has no meaning, full stop.

    He starts out by explaining subjective meaning, then criticises it for not having an objective existence, in my opinion. In fairness, this could be due to my lack of philosophical knowledge.. I should point out though that even if you take the very narrow definition of atheist (as opposed to the broader sense of an atheist being anyone who denies any single one of the many concepts of God) it does not necessarily follow that one has to be a naturalist, let alone be a nihilist.

    Bnonn says: “You might have to explain your inference. What is the logical connection between there being no afterlife, and life holding greater significance?”

    I suppose it’s a matter of perspective but the way I see it, there is more of a motivation to live a good life if your time is short and not eternal. Obviously from your perspective this life is important because you need to live a good life to be closer to God etc, so I think it’s a bit of a stalemate comment that I shouldn’t have bothered bringing up.

    I am interested in trying to find out why atheists are supposed to view suicide as valid course of action though. Even if we suppose that subjective meaning is nonsensical, and we suppose that a life without meaning is as good as being dead, I still don’t think it follows that killing yourself is a solution. I don’t know what happens when we die but I like my life, even if I’m just a mess of meat and chemicals, certain things make me happy and I enjoy life so if life and death are equivalent I may as well choose life as I know I’m happy here, no?

    Rob says: “Why do people do this? One reason, in 2008, is that life is largely about pleasure which inhibits thinking about what we are here for. Who cares about ultimate meaning when we can live on pleasure day after day? When times get tough however, and pleasure is no longer easily found, people will be forced to re-evaluate.”

    I understand what you’re saying, but with all respect, that’s assuming that your perspective is the correct one. I don’t know how I feel about someone living a life by simply jumping from pleasure to pleasure but if I’m honest with myself I could never be so sure as to accuse that way of life as being the “wrong way”.

    Rob says: “It seems to me to be completely backwards, for if there is no afterlife, then there is no meaning AT ALL except that which we have constructed for ourselves. How can there be? Rather than “greater significance” as Mike claims, life would actually have ZERO significance.”

    Subjective meaning to me is all there is, I don’t assume that I know what the greater meaning of life is or whether there is one at all, so all I can be sure of presently is that there are things in my life that give it meaning to me. I accept that the meaning I attribute to my life is irrelevant to everyone else and I also accept that 100 years after my death no one will remember my name or anything that I did but I don’t see that as a problem.

    The way I see it though, is that this time on earth is, give or take, 70 years long. The afterlife is eternal. So if we take our years on earth and divide that by infinity, then our time on earth infinitely approaches zero and so with it any meaning it may have had. I appreciate though, that from the christian perspective, this time on earth is critical in deciding whether one spends an eternity with God or without, so I admit that my use of the qualifier “more” may have been in err.

    To answer Rob’s questions:
    1. I don’t feel the need to believe there is meaning at all. My use of the word meaning is just used as a description of things that I do which make my life worthwhile to myself.

    2. I can understand the extended analogy but I don’t feel that it expresses my argument accurately (which was probably mostly my fault as my argument isn’t clearly formulated). I suppose an analogy would be two people throwing hoops onto goldfish bowls at one of those fairground stalls: suppose one has 1 shot, whereas the other has 10. The first guy’s single shot is more significant than the second guy’s first shot as if he misses he can’t try again. I feel the same goes for life, the atheist has only one shot at living a good life and if he fails then that was his only chance but for the theist if he doesn’t live life as well as he’d have liked to (but still assuming it was good enough to get into heaven) then he has another chance in the afterlife to live it as well as he’d like.

    (sorry again about the long post, should I have broken it into two separate comments?)

  9. Rob
    Rob says:

    Hi Mike. Thanks for the nice reply, and yes, you are most welcome to post here, and ask any questions you please.

    I hear a lot from atheists the “live and let live” ideology, and many of them have a really cool outlook on life, yourself included. However, I would like to make a few comments about the “good life”, fundamentalist militant atheism, and arbitrariness.

    1. The “good life” you appear to be seeking is commendable, and I would encourage you to live up to it. Yet I would point out that the “good life” makes little sense unless there really is a good. Ultimately the “good life” reduces to chemical reactions on the one hand or loving God and neighbor as a fulfillment of moral rightness that flows from God to us thru Christ (sorry if the theology is a bit heavy). Thus it seems to me, given your worldview, that the “good life” is purely arbitrary.

    2. Like almost everything believed by humans, there is not a single belief but rather a spectrum of beliefs. This goes for Christians and atheists. Thus while you may be happy at your point on the curve, Dawkins et al. are happy telling me I am worse that a pedophile because I raise my kids in a religious household.

    Of course, the same goes for Christians — some are godly people while others are not.

    My question here then is: which type of Christian is the right one, and why? And which type of atheist is the right one, and why?

    To test these things, let’s use the Lions club as an example. If you want to be a member of that club, you need to sign the form to say you will abide by the rules and behaviors of the club. Likewise for Christians, if they want to be called “Christian”, they should be followers of Jesus of Nazareth. For the atheist, I cannot see any standard of behavior that they OUGHT to adhere to at all.

    Thus if a Christian was to blow up a bus as the suicide murderers in Israel have tended to do, we would judge them according to the Bible which they claim to believe in. Likewise for the Lions club, we would judge the member by their rules. But what if an atheist like Stalin murders people? To what standard should he be held accountable? To which book or doctrine? Again, I fail to see any objective standard upon which to make this call.

    The point here is that while I may even like you as a person, and accept your version of atheism, how does the atheist, drawing upon ONLY the resources provided by an atheist worldview, praise you while condemning Dawkins? As you yourself said above:

    I don’t know how I feel about someone living a life by simply jumping from pleasure to pleasure but if I’m honest with myself I could never be so sure as to accuse that way of life as being the “wrong way”.

    You have said it yourself Mike — morality is arbitrary. Can you now apply this to Hitler and Stalin and other atheistic mass-murderers?

    3. Arbitrariness. Ultimately Mike, this is what atheism leads to. Yet while you may be a nice guy, the next person may behave like an animal. Yet both behaviors are equally neither right nor wrong. If he beats up on you or rapes your wife, it seems the best you can say is “I don’t like that behavior”, but you certainly can NOT say it is wrong.

    Anyway Mike, Have a good Christmas. Take an hour and read the Gospel of John (or “Gospel according to John”). Such a simple read could profoundly change your life as it did mine :-)

  10. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the kind words scattered throughout your reply, I’m glad I managed to come across as genuinely curious rather than offensively questioning, and so thank you for your pleasant replies.

    1. The good life: I understand what you’re driving at (I don’t mind you using your theology to explain your beliefs, it is your site afterall) and I think you’re correct except for the use of arbitrary – I’d replace it with ‘relative’. I do think that morals or ethics are relative depending on the context. I think at the foundation of human society is the golden rule, the idea to treat others as you’d like to be treated. Without this basic rule humans could never be able to band together and stay together so I think this is where our more complex ethics come from – obviously the origin of this golden rule is debatable, perhaps humans evolved this specific trait as it helps us as a whole, or maybe God did in fact give it to us, I’m not sure. The important part is I think that most, if not all, humans understand this inherently. And so using our collectively agreed upon ethics we can determine what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, concepts which (from this perspective) are not absolute ideals.

    I think it can be shown quite easily how ethics have changed over time such as even in our lifetimes we have seen the idea of smacking your child as going from standard upbringing to child abuse. I suppose you could argue that there is still an absolute ideal of Good and Bad but we are just imperfect at implementing these ideals, for now though I’m under the impression they are relative.

    2. I think the “contract” atheists (or anyone really) has to sign to join the Human Club, is just implicitly agreeing to the rules of human society and its laws or if you decide to disagree you must either live in isolation or be punished by those laws. So I guess I’m advocating something similar to Social Contract Theory (but I don’t know enough about that particular theory to be entirely sure it’s applicable here).

    As for the Dawkins comment I think you may just be slightly misunderstanding him (or perhaps you’ve read something I haven’t). Correct me if I’m mistaken, but your pedophile comment would appear to stem from Dawkins assertion that labeling children as a specific religious denomination is tantamount to child abuse. If this is the statement where your comment comes from then I think I should clarify that his campaign of pointing out the labeling of children as a negative thing was intended as consciousness-raising, suggesting that by pigeon holing children and limiting their possible options in life is a form of abuse. The important point here is that Dawkins sees labeling a child as stifling a child’s inquisitive nature, and it is the stifling of the child’s inquisitive side that he sees as child abuse, not specifically the religious part. (Also to be noted that he wasn’t seriously suggesting that raising your child as religious should be seen as an illegal act and passionately argues that it shouldn’t be as it would be a violation of free speech).

    The point I feel that most theists fail to recognise about atheism is that for us it’s just a description of one part of our lives – the one relating to the possible existence of God/s. And so it doesn’t have anything to do with how we live our lives, and what ethics we choose to follow etc., and so you’re correct in saying that it’s possible for there to be nice atheists and nasty atheists. However, we all have our own philosophies and any choice of these philosophies is fine as long as they don’t violate our societal laws. I know it may sound a little scary, trusting people to be nice for the sake of niceness itself but I believe we all can, even if our ultimate reason for being nice is not spending a life in jail.

    3. Hmm.. I’m not sure whether arbitrary is an accurate descriptor, rather I’d say pragmatic. Even if we take an entirely detached view of society as a whole and think of humans as just being a part of the progress of civilisation as a whole, you have to be aware that the happiness of the individual is vital to the success of the society. And so I feel that people behave in a way that maximises their happiness as much as possible without limiting the happiness of another (as that carries with it penalties imposed by the society).

    I understand where you’re coming from though, and if I was in the position of the universe watching some tiny speck being removed from existence by another tiny speck I might think something along the lines of “I don’t like that behavior”. But we are ultimately controlled by our biology and I would be terribly upset if something like that happened and I’d be outraged that the criminal couldn’t follow society’s very simple rules.

    As a final note I should point out that the majority of atheists are opposed to militant atheism (assuming you mean the ‘religion should be banned’, ‘there is no God’ kind). I’m not sure how much you know about atheism but there are two main kinds: strong and weak. The strong atheist believes that there is no God, whereas the weak atheists has no belief in God. Similar but quite different. The majority of atheists will fall into the latter category, currently without a belief in God as they see no evidence to suggest that they should believe in that god or another but ultimately concede that it is impossible to say there definitely is no God, as that in itself would be a belief without evidence. So most (weak) atheists are opposed to strong atheists as they are making unfounded assertions. (At least that’s the impression I’ve always had).

    Sorry again for the long reply, I really need to learn how to be more concise. I hope you also have a good Christmas and although I’ve read the Gospel of John before (raised as a christian) I’ll read it again so that at the very least you’ll have the good feeling of doing your best to save someone. In return, perhaps if you ever get the chance you could have a read through Richard Dawkins’ “Unweaving the Rainbow”? (assuming you haven’t already).

  11. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hello everyone,

    Some remarks on a few issues raised in this thread:

    Regarding Bill Valicella’s assertion (via Brionn) that we cannot give meaning to our own lives:

    1a. Meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so of course we can give meaning to our lives.

    1b. If Valicella were correct, then where does God’s life get its meaning? If God can give meaning to his own life, then why, specifically, can’t we?

    On the idea that life is meaningless unless there is an afterlife:

    2a. Again, meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so if we think our lives have meaning, they do have meaning.

    2b. Mike’s point is well-taken: if this life is all we’ve got, then it arguably has more meaning than it would if there were an infinite afterlife. After all, any finite lifespan is essentially zero compared to eternity.

    Concerning the idea that morality comes from God:

    3a. Sincere believers disagree on issues of morality. So at most their morality derives from their beliefs concerning God, not from God himself.

    3b. What is it about God that makes his view of morality authoritative? If you argue that it is because God is perfectly good, then you are admitting that there is a standard of good that is separate from God, by which he can be judged.

    3c. If you instead assert that whatever God wills is good by definition, then what would you do if you became certain, beyond any doubt, that God wanted us to torture our children mercilessly? If you’re like me, you would consider that an evil command, which shows that morality is, after all, external to God. (This reminds me of the Marcionites, who concluded that the God of the Old Testament — Yahweh — was evil, and therefore could not be the one true God).

    3d. If you (shudder) do believe that whatever God wills is by definition good, then how do you justify this? Is it because he created us? I don’t think so. If a god created a universe in order to enjoy the suffering of its inhabitants, would his edicts be good, by definition, within that universe?

    3e. Is it because of his power? Again, I don’t think so. We don’t believe that might makes right.

    3f. Why, then, is God entitled to dictate our morality?

  12. Rob
    Rob says:

    Keith,

    Thanks for the questions and the nice structure of your case!

    Regards section 3 — this argument keep coming up over and over again. Why is this? Is there a common source people are drawing this argument from?

    To answer it (Euthyphro’s Dilemma), I will simply point you to a few pieces readily available on the web:

    From Google Books (this written by some of Christianity’s best contemporary apologists):

    http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=geiXYY-B_RYC&pg=PA120&lpg=PA120&dq=Euthyphro%27s+Dilemma+william+lane+craig&source=bl&ots=HuswolbiXn&sig=iTPyUGK93XwysV8scnBedQLyrUI&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

    The chapter linked above is on Google books and well worth reading if you seriously want to engage over this topic. Here are a couple of quotes from the book:

    “Indeed, the final solution to the Euthyphro dilemma is that God’s good character/nature sufficiently grounds objective morality”

    “The ultimate solution to the Euthyphro dilemma shifts the grounding of morality from the commands of God to something more basic — that is, the nature or character of God”

    Note what is being said here — objective morality is rooted in the NATURE or CHARACTER of God. From the Bible, we know that God is perfect and holy, and it is from this source that moral values flow.

    Here are a couple of links to other scholarly responses:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6063

    http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5236

  13. Rob
    Rob says:

    Hi again Keith,

    A comment then a question re your second section (2) from above…

    First, it is important to argue from within a worldview Keith. Let me assume that (like Mike) you are an atheist. Then you probably believe the universe is somehow either eternal or self-created. You probably also believe that we evolved on this speck of dust within a giant cosmos.

    Now, GIVEN these simple assumptions, can you please explain (2a): “…so if we think our lives have meaning, they do have meaning.”

    Please tell me what this meaning is? Is it just atoms and molecules and memories in your head? If not, why not?

    Regarding your point (2b), I’m afraid this just makes no sense to me whatsoever. “2b. …if this life is all we’ve got, then it arguably has more meaning than it would if there were an infinite afterlife. After all, any finite lifespan is essentially zero compared to eternity.”

    Again, given the worldview I assumed on your behalf above, how can life have ANY MEANING AT ALL?

    For Christians, our meaning is tied beautifully into the eternality of a perfect, holy, and loving God who we will spend eternity with. In that place there will be no sickness, death, suffering, killing, war, or global warming btw.

    I’m quite open to be convinced that atheism is true, but even then what has it to offer me? 70 years, then death? Is that it? If there is meaning, then why have I missed it?

  14. Rob
    Rob says:

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

  15. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the Euthyphro links.

    I sensed in reading those articles that Koukl and Craig are uncomfortable with the Euthyphro dilemma, and with good reason. It’s a tough nut for a theist to crack.

    Their arguments differ somewhat, so I’ll address them separately.

    Koukl wants to avoid the two horns of the Euthyphro dilemma, so he stipulates that (a) God’s commands do not determine morality and (b) that there is no external standard of morality to which God’s behavior conforms. Instead he offers a third option: God’s nature is good, and because it is good, the commands he issues are inevitably good as well. Objective morality derives not from the commands themselves but from the underlying good nature of God.

    This of course raises the question of how we can know that God’s nature is good.

    Koukl addresses this question in two ways. First, he admits that we can’t simply define it that way:

    If the word “good” means “in accord with the nature and character of God,” we have a problem. When the Bible says “God is good,” it simply means “God has the nature and character that God has.”

    He sees that this is tautological, and so he does something that strikes me as verging on dishonest: he changes the problem in the very next sentence:

    If God and goodness are the very same thing, then the statement “God is good” means nothing more than “God is God,” a useless tautology.

    That is still tautological, but it is not the same tautology. His previous sentence did not say that God and goodness are the very same thing. To repeat:

    If the word “good” means “in accord with the nature and character of God,” we have a problem. When the Bible says “God is good,” it simply means “God has the nature and character that God has.”

    Koukl has pulled a bait-and-switch, substituting a different tautology that he knows will be easier to dismiss. He proceeds to do so:

    According to Christian teaching, God is not good in the same way that a bachelor is an unmarried male. When we say God is good, we are giving additional information, namely that God has a certain quality. God is not the very same thing as goodness (identical to it). It’s an essential characteristic of God, so there is no tautology.

    Having disposed of the strawman tautology, Koukl tries to sneak a standard of goodness into the picture. He proposes that we can judge the goodness of God’s nature via our moral intuition, without the need for an external standard:

    Further, no outside definition of piety is necessary because morality is known directly through the faculty of moral intuition. God’s laws express His character and–if our moral intuitions are intact–we immediately recognize those Laws as good.

    This fails for at least three reasons:

    1. We can’t know that “our moral intuitions are intact”, as Koukl puts it, which leaves us with no firm basis for judging God’s morality.

    2. Even if we assume that our moral intuitions are intact, we still have a problem. Many of the laws of the Bible don’t satisfy our moral intuition. For example, look at Deuteronomy 25:11-12:

    If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

    Most people find that immoral and sexist. What should we conclude? That our moral intuitions aren’t intact? That the Bible is not God’s perfect word? That God is evil? What other choices are there?

    3. Koukl’s argument is circular: God is good, so he provides us with moral intution, which agrees with his Laws, which tells us that God is good.

    4. Furthermore, suppose God were not good. In that case he could create us with faulty moral intuition so that we thought, for example, that it was moral to torture our children without mercy. Using Koukl’s logic, we would reason thus: God commands me to torture; my moral intuition tells me that this is the right thing to do; therefore I can conclude that God is good, and that I should torture my children.

    Craig’s argument starts out like Koukl’s, but he justifies the goodness of God’s nature by an appeal to the standard ontological argument: The very concept of a supreme God implies perfection, and perfection implies perfect goodness. Something that exists is more perfect than something that doesn’t exist. Therefore God, being perfect, necessarily exists and is necessarily perfectly good.

    First of all, the ontological argument itself is highly suspect. One can use it to argue that the perfect can opener necessarily exists. One can even use it argue that the perfect ontological argument necessarily exists — one that could convince anybody, even me, of God’s existence. :-)

    Even if we set that aside, a problem remains. Craig, like Koukl, is trying to sneak a standard of goodness into the picture without acknowledging it. In claiming that perfection implies existence, Craig is appealing to a standard of perfection outside of God. If he weren’t, the logic would be circular: perfection would derive from God’s nature, which would depend on his existence, which in turn would depend on his perfection, completing the circle. You could just as easily start with the assumption that God doesn’t exist and reason thus: God doesn’t exist, God’s nature is perfect, perfection therefore implies non-existence, and so we conclude that God does not exist.

    What is it with these guys and circular logic?

    You wrote:

    Now, GIVEN these simple assumptions, can you please explain (2a): “…so if we think our lives have meaning, they do have meaning.”

    Think of it by analogy to pain. When something thinks she’s in severe pain, she’s in severe pain. She doesn’t say to herself, “I think I’m in severe pain, but I’m not sure.”

    Likewise, meaning is in the eye of the beholder. If something means something to me, it necessarily has meaning. How can you dispute that, any more than you can dispute the reality of my own felt pain?

    I’m quite open to be convinced that atheism is true, but even then what has it to offer me? 70 years, then death? Is that it?

    Surely it isn’t a question of what a belief system has to offer. If it were, we’d probably both be Oprah-esque New Agers by now (you get Oprah in Godzone, right?). I’d like to think that we’re both looking for the truth, even if it ends up disappointing us to some extent.

    But the atheist worldview is much brighter than you think. Imagine that you became convinced tomorrow that Christianity was false and that God didn’t exist. You’d certainly experience a deep sense of loss (I know because I used to be a Christian). After a while, though, you’d realize that your life was still full of meaning. Atheists take pleasure in their children’s laughter, care for their aging parents, relish the beauty of sunsets and Mozart concerti, commemorate births, marriages and deaths, teach and learn with gusto, and find meaning in their work. Those things are all meaningful — and moving — even if they don’t last forever, and even if there is no God presiding over all of it.

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

    I was actually planning to reread all four. Is it okay if I look for contradictions? :-)

    I hope you’re having a good summer. It’s cold and rainy in my part of the world (northern California).

    Merry Christmas!

    Keith S.

  16. BarryLeder
    BarryLeder says:

    Wow, I know what I want for Christmas now – to be as thoughtful and well written as Keith is above. Good job Keith S. (Now I don’t know what I will say in my answer to Stuart that won’t sound like copying).

    Barry

  17. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Think of it by analogy to pain. When something thinks she’s in severe pain, she’s in severe pain. She doesn’t say to herself, “I think I’m in severe pain, but I’m not sure.”

    It seems rather self-defeating to try to explain one phenomenon which a naturalistic worldview can’t account for by analogy to another phenomenon which it can’t account for either. First person experience is as much a difficulty for you as meaning. Neither can exist in a naturalistic scheme; yet both do exist. I’ve already made an argument from meaning further up.

    As regards the Euthyphro Dilemma, you seem to be trying to reduce it to an epistemic problem. But that’s illicit, since the question is ontological. Ontologically, goodness is a quality of God; that’s why and how it exists. Now, epistemically, the Christian has good grounds for believing that God is good: he knows from Scripture that he was made in God’s image.

  18. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hi Brionn,

    My reason for introducing the pain analogy is not so I can argue that naturalism gives rise to pain, and therefore that it can also give rise to meaning. I’m saying instead that we do experience pain, and that it would be nonsensical to argue that we only think we experience pain. Likewise, we do find meaning in things, and it makes no sense to claim that we only think we do. Thus, I cannot understand Rob’s contention that the meaning we find in our own lives is somehow a sham.

    Now, it may be that Rob is hankering for some sort of objective meaning, but I think this is a forlorn hope even if God exists. Our lives might have meaning to God, but that doesn’t make it objective meaning. It remains as subjective as ours.

    And as I asked in my first comment:

    1b. If Valicella were correct, then where does God’s life get its meaning? If God can give meaning to his own life, then why, specifically, can’t we?

    Moving on:

    Subjective experience is a mystery for the naturalist, as you point out, but it is also a mystery for the dualist. How could an immaterial soul, spirit or mind give rise to subjective experience? It won’t do to simply assert that it does, because the naturalist could assert with equal justification that matter gives rise to subjective experience when organized in the form of a human brain. Consciousness may be a mystery for the naturalist, but the dualist must pay the same explanatory debt.

    But the dualist owes even more: How do we even know that there is a soul or spirit? Does it fit with the observations of modern neuroscience? Assuming it exists, how is it, an immaterial, ethereal entity, able to interact with the physical world, and vice-versa? How does a hammer striking a thumb cause a subjective sensation of pain in this ghostly stuff? How do we explain the bizarre behaviors of split-brain patients?

    You wrote:

    As regards the Euthyphro Dilemma, you seem to be trying to reduce it to an epistemic problem. But that’s illicit, since the question is ontological.

    It’s both. We obviously care about whether objective morality exists and what grounds it, but we also want epistemic access to it. If we don’t know what objective morality says, then it might as well not even exist.

    I mention moral intuition in my analysis not because I am making an epistemic argument, but because Koukl himself brings it up in an attempt to establish the goodness of God’s nature without appealing to an external standard.

    Ontologically, goodness is a quality of God; that’s why and how it exists.

    That’s what you need to demonstrate. Koukl and Craig fail to do so, as I explained in my previous comment. Do you see a flaw in my reasoning, or can you supply an argument that avoids Koukl’s and Craig’s mistakes?

    Now, epistemically, the Christian has good grounds for believing that God is good: he knows from Scripture that he was made in God’s image.

    Except that humans aren’t perfectly good. Shall we conclude therefore that God is not perfectly good?

    And if you instead suggest that our darker side is a consequence of the Fall, you have a problem, because that explanation — that what’s good in us comes from God, while the rest comes from the Fall — could be used to explain any combination of good and evil in humans. It explains everything, and therefore it explains nothing.

  19. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hi Keith, I think you’re disregarding that this is an ontological question here; not an epistemic one. Meaning is coherent under a theistic view because it has actual, real (ie ontological) being. It has actual, real being because it is a quality of the mind, and mind itself has actual, real being in God. Similarly goodness; similarly qualia. It looks to me like we’re arguing at cross purposes.

  20. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    Sorry for misspelling your name in my earlier comments. My brain saw the ‘Bn’ as ‘Bri’ — an interesting example of how perception is partially shaped by expectation.

    I’m not sure why you think I’m ignoring the ontological questions here. Craig and Koukl make ontological arguments regarding God’s goodness, and I address those arguments, exposing what I think are their weaknesses. Rob makes an ontological argument regarding the existence of meaning absent God, and I respond to that argument.

    Meaning is coherent under a theistic view because it has actual, real (ie ontological) being. It has actual, real being because it is a quality of the mind, and mind itself has actual, real being in God.

    That strikes me as an assertion, not an argument.

    Consider two worlds, one with God and one without. Why is mind real in the former but not the latter? It would seem that you (and Rob) regard the conscious mind as being (or at least requiring) an immaterial component. But I already addressed that possibility when I wrote:

    Subjective experience is a mystery for the naturalist, as you point out, but it is also a mystery for the dualist. How could an immaterial soul, spirit or mind give rise to subjective experience? It won’t do to simply assert that it does, because the naturalist could assert with equal justification that matter gives rise to subjective experience when organized in the form of a human brain. Consciousness may be a mystery for the naturalist, but the dualist must pay the same explanatory debt.

    But the dualist owes even more: How do we even know that there is a soul or spirit? Does it fit with the observations of modern neuroscience? Assuming it exists, how is it, an immaterial, ethereal entity, able to interact with the physical world, and vice-versa? How does a hammer striking a thumb cause a subjective sensation of pain in this ghostly stuff? How do we explain the bizarre behaviors of split-brain patients?

    You haven’t responded to my argument, except to simply reassert that “the mind has actual, real being in God.” How do you know that the mind doesn’t have actual, real being in matter?

  21. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hi Keith; I’m not sure that you’re really grasping the actual argument the theist is making. He is not merely saying that qualia, meaning, truth etc are mysterious under a naturalistic worldview; he is saying that they are incoherent. Moreover, he does not grant that they are in any way mysterious under a theistic worldview, because his whole argument is that these things must be properly basic to reality, having real ontological grounding in God. Thus, they are non reducible, and do not need to be, and in fact cannot be “explained” any further.

    I’d direct you to my recent article ‘Whence Cometh Value?’ where I make this exact argument.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  22. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    In your article, you write:

    The problem for the non-theist is that, under his own view, the act of value conference itself is as intrinsically valueless as the action which it’s supposed to confer value upon. In that case, the question reasonably arises, how can a valueless act of conference nonetheless confer value?

    You regard this as “self-evidently absurd”, but why? Polishing confers shininess on a surface, but that doesn’t mean that the act of polishing is itself shiny.

    Also from the article:

    If the action of value conference is, in the final analysis, a physical system, then value is not an intrinsic part of that process. What, then, about the process confers value? Whence cometh value?

    Physical systems can have intentionality (or “aboutness”). A physical book can be about the Grand Canyon. A physical memory location in your computer can be about your bank account balance. Why should it be impossible for a brain state to be about something?

    And subjective experience itself is a mystery for both the theist and the atheist, despite your contrary argument. See below.

    Moreover, he [the theist] does not grant that they [values, consciousness, meaning, truth] are in any way mysterious under a theistic worldview, because his whole argument is that these things must be properly basic to reality, having real ontological grounding in God. Thus, they are non reducible, and do not need to be, and in fact cannot be “explained” any further.

    You need to explain the existence of values, consciousness, etc., so you simply define a being that underwrites these things and then assert the existence of this being. That’s oddly reminiscent of the “appeal to magic” you deride in your article.

    To make this a legitimate argument, you would need to (a) independently demonstrate God’s existence and (b) independentlyshow that these things (value, etc.) flow from him either necessarily or contingently. William Lane Craig tries to do both by invoking the ontological argument, but this fails for reasons I pointed out earlier:

    First of all, the ontological argument itself is highly suspect. One can use it to argue that the perfect can opener necessarily exists. One can even use it argue that the perfect ontological argument necessarily exists — one that could convince anybody, even me, of God’s existence. :-)

  23. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hi Keith. Now that I have a little more time, let me address your points at greater length:

    The problem for the non-theist is that, under his own view, the act of value conference itself is as intrinsically valueless as the action which it’s supposed to confer value upon. In that case, the question reasonably arises, how can a valueless act of conference nonetheless confer value?

    You regard this as “self-evidently absurd”, but why? Polishing confers shininess on a surface, but that doesn’t mean that the act of polishing is itself shiny.

    Indeed; polishing is an action which brings out a quality already intrinsically (if potentially) present in the object being polished. In the case of value, that has been excluded by the naturalist’s presuppositions.

    The analogy is also specious in other ways, though. You’re trying to “explain” how value conference can be cogent in a naturalistic worldview by appealing to a similarity between it and the conference of a quality which is cogent. But that doesn’t, in itself, make your argument for you. If anything, it begs the question as to what exactly it is to which you’re appealing to show that value is cogent under naturalism. Where is the point of similarity which demonstrates a sufficient parity between value and shininess that value is redeemed from incogency?

    Physical systems can have intentionality (or “aboutness”). A physical book can be about the Grand Canyon. A physical memory location in your computer can be about your bank account balance. Why should it be impossible for a brain state to be about something?

    This doesn’t solve your problem since it is a derived intentionality. The book being about the Grand Canyon does not entail intentionality in the book itself except by relation to mental agents who can read it. The intentionality does not exist in the physical object; rather, the physical object is able to be used by intentional agents such as ourselves to represent the intentionality which exists in our minds. As Victor Reppert puts it,

    It is important to draw a further distinction, a distinction between original intentionality, which is intrinsic to the person possessing the intentional state, and derived or borrowed intentionality, which is found in maps, words, or computers. Maps, for example, have the meaning that they have, not in themselves, but in relation to other things that possess original intentionality, such as human persons. There can be no question that physical systems possess derived intentionality. But if they possess derived intentionality in virtue of other things that may or may not be physical systems, this does not really solve the materialist’s problem.

    Refer also to Victor’s quote of John Searle in the abovelinked article:

    Any attempt to reduce intentionality to something nonmental will always fail because it leaves out intentionality. Suppose for example that you had a perfect causal account of the belief that water is wet. This account is given by stating the set of causal relations in which a system stands to water and to wetness and these relations are entirely specified without any mental component. The problem is obvious: a system could have all those relations and still not believe that water is wet. This is just an extension of the Chinese Room argument, but the moral it points to is general: You cannot reduce intentional content (or pains, or “qualia”) to something else, because if you did they would be something else, and it is not something else. (Searle, Rediscovery p. 51).

    I’d recommend you take a moment to read through the rest of what Reppert says in that article, as it may help to clarify your thinking and avoid confusion like this in the future.

    You need to explain the existence of values, consciousness, etc., so you simply define a being that underwrites these things and then assert the existence of this being. That’s oddly reminiscent of the “appeal to magic” you deride in your article.

    Several points:

    1. This is manifestly not what the theist does (at least, not the Christian). Christianity is a revealed religion; it is not a religion which is invented in an effort to explain certain phenomena which can’t be explained naturalistically. One of the evidences of the truth of Christianity and the falsehood of naturalism, however, is that it can and does explain phenomena which can’t be explained naturalistically.

    2. Even if you’re right that Christianity is in the same position as naturalism in appealing to magic, that doesn’t change the fact that naturalism itself is still necessarily false by merit of precluding necessarily true abstracta like value, meaning, purpose, etc.

    3. It is not actually illicit to posit the existence of something given sufficient evidence for that thing. Arguments from abstracta, like the argument from reason, or the thesis of Theistic Conceptual Realism (see Greg Welty, ‘An Examination of Theistic Conceptual
    Realism as an Alternative to Theistic Activism’
    , 2000) demonstrate that naturalism precludes, by definition, such things as abstracta, mental states, propositional attitudes etc; and that these things must be properly basic to reality if they are to exist at all. Attempting to reduce them to physical states is to deny their existence qua existence, which ultimately is self-refuting. Thus, there must be some non-physical ground for these things; and, since they are necessarily mental in nature, that ground must itself be a mind. Given the nature of many abstracta as ontologically necessary, and given the epistemic problems inherent in knowing them if they are causally inert, we can additionally conclude that they are grounded in a necessary, omnipotent, omniscient mind. So the theistic explanation is not arbitrary in the least; and neither does it incur the same explanatory penalties which naturalism does, despite your claim. If I may say, you should familiarize yourself with the theistic position here before your make naive claims like that.

    To make this a legitimate argument, you would need to (a) independently demonstrate God’s existence and (b) independentlyshow that these things (value, etc.) flow from him either necessarily or contingently. William Lane Craig tries to do both by invoking the ontological argument, but this fails for reasons I pointed out earlier

    Well, for one thing I think that the arguments from abstracta do offer a kind of independent proof that some kind of god must exist with characteristics similar to the Christian God. But I deny your claim that we must independently demonstrate God’s existence. I deny that Craig’s approach here is valid. In fact, I think Craig is a very weak Christian philosopher in many respects. I would take an approach more like Alvin Plantinga (who argues that theistic belief is properly basic and requires no proof), but incorporating a strictly revelational epistemology wherein everything which is known is known on the basis of God’s testimony (though not necessarily directly, of course). In other words, I would hold to a kind of epistemological foundationalism, where my first principle is “the Bible is the word of God”—since there is nothing more sure or certain, nor anything else which can ensure real knowledge (ie, rationally justified and objectively true belief; see Hebrews 6:13). And then I would point out that you are in a position of total epistemic impotence, and thus are not in any position to critique my position at all. In fact, since it is the only viable position, it appears that any attempt by you to refute it actually presupposes at least much of its truth.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  24. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    You asked:

    …how can a valueless act of conference nonetheless confer value?

    I responded:

    Polishing confers shininess on a surface, but that doesn’t mean that the act of polishing is itself shiny.

    You replied:

    Indeed; polishing is an action which brings out a quality already intrinsically (if potentially) present in the object being polished.

    You’re confusing ‘intrinsically’ with ‘potentially’. By your usage, a boulder is both intrinsically rough and intrinsically shiny. That doesn’t make sense. A boulder is potentially shiny, and things potentially have value. Polishing confers shininess and valuing confers value.

    You’re trying to “explain” how value conference can be cogent in a naturalistic worldview by appealing to a similarity between it and the conference of a quality which is cogent.

    No, I mentioned the shininess example only to demonstrate that a process need not have a particular characteristic in order to confer that characteristic on its object.

    Regarding derived vs. original intentionality: In the end, the only possible difference I see between the two is if you define original intentionality to be conscious intentionality. But as I’ve already pointed out, consciousness (or subjective experience) is as much of a mystery for the theist as it is for the naturalist.

    I wrote:

    You need to explain the existence of values, consciousness, etc., so you simply define a being that underwrites these things and then assert the existence of this being. That’s oddly reminiscent of the “appeal to magic” you deride in your article.

    Your reply:

    This is manifestly not what the theist does (at least, not the Christian). Christianity is a revealed religion; it is not a religion which is invented in an effort to explain certain phenomena which can’t be explained naturalistically.

    I’m not saying that Christianity (or theism in general) was invented simply to explain these things. Religions are motivated by many factors beyond the intellectual. However, your argument does invoke God as an explanation for these things without supplying independent justification of his existence or of his purported nature.

    Even if you’re right that Christianity is in the same position as naturalism in appealing to magic, that doesn’t change the fact that naturalism itself is still necessarily false by merit of precluding necessarily true abstracta like value, meaning, purpose, etc.

    You’re asserting that these things cannot have a physical basis without explaining why. You then offer an immaterial basis for these things as if that solves the problem. But you haven’t explained how they can have an immaterial basis, either, except to argue that they are “properly basic” and “ontologically necessary”.

    I deny that Craig’s approach here is valid. In fact, I think Craig is a very weak Christian philosopher in many respects.

    I’m glad that we agree on something. :-)

    … I would hold to a kind of epistemological foundationalism, where my first principle is “the Bible is the word of God”—since there is nothing more sure or certain, nor anything else which can ensure real knowledge (ie, rationally justified and objectively true belief; see Hebrews 6:13). And then I would point out that you are in a position of total epistemic impotence, and thus are not in any position to critique my position at all.

    That same argument could be made by followers of any of a number of mutually contradictory religions regarding their own holy books. Why should someone believe you and not them?

    In any case, I’m sure you can see why that is a non-starter as an apologetic technique. Nonbelievers need to be shown, not told, that the Bible is the truthful word of God.

  25. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    You’re confusing ‘intrinsically’ with ‘potentially’. By your usage, a boulder is both intrinsically rough and intrinsically shiny. That doesn’t make sense. A boulder is potentially shiny, and things potentially have value. Polishing confers shininess and valuing confers value.

    That doesn’t change my point, which was that shininess is a quality the boulder can have by merit of its physical nature, while value is not.

    No, I mentioned the shininess example only to demonstrate that a process need not have a particular characteristic in order to confer that characteristic on its object.

    Fair enough, but that doesn’t gain you any traction in terms of explaining value conference. You haven’t actually answered the question: whence cometh value? And it remains that value is not a possible property of anything in a strictly materialistic worldview.

    But as I’ve already pointed out, consciousness (or subjective experience) is as much of a mystery for the theist as it is for the naturalist.

    I’m at a loss as to why you still think this. Consciousness is entirely unmysterious in a theistic worldview, since it is ontologically basic.

    However, your argument does invoke God as an explanation for these things without supplying independent justification of his existence or of his purported nature.

    Again, I’m bemused. The argument doesn’t invoke God; that would be question-begging. The arguments from reason seek to prove that God is necessary in order to ontologically underwrite these things (qualia etc); they don’t just invoke him. I can only assume that you haven’t really understood the arguments, which is fair enough since they’re a bit tricky when you start out, as I know from experience. If you are able, I’d recommend Victor Reppert’s book, C S Lewis’ Dangerous Idea; you can probably get it very cheaply on Amazon. That offers a good, quite comprehensible introduction to the theistic arguments from reason. I don’t think anyone can seriously suggest that these don’t constitute independent justification for the claim of God’s existence, even if such justification is necessary.

    In any case, I’m sure you can see why that is a non-starter as an apologetic technique. Nonbelievers need to be shown, not told, that the Bible is the truthful word of God.

    That depends on what you mean. If you’re suggesting that I need to adopt some other epistemological foundation, some other standard of proof, than the word of God, in order to show that the Bible is the word of God, then that notion is simply incoherent to me. But if you mean that I ought to do more than merely assert that the Bible is the word of God, then sure—that’s what this site is all about. You’ve come to the right place (especially since Stuart and Rob are not remotely presuppositional as I am).

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  26. Keith
    Keith says:

    Bnonn,

    Our discussion seems to have degenerated to this: you insist that X cannot be accounted for under a naturalistic worldview; when I ask how the theist accounts for X, you say that X is ‘ontologically basic’ and therefore requires no explanation.

    That’s a nice little double standard, and the perfect barrier to rational discussion.

  27. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Keith, I’m sorry but I can only reiterate that you don’t appear to understand the actual argument being forwarded. There is no double standard, and the only barrier to rational discussion is that you don’t seem to realize what the theist is actually saying, and the difference between his position and the naturalist’s.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  28. Keith
    Keith says:

    Bnonn wrote:

    Keith, I’m sorry but I can only reiterate that you don’t appear to understand the actual argument being forwarded.

    Bnonn,

    That’s an odd thing to say when the evidence of the thread is right in front of us.

    You wrote:

    First person experience is as much a difficulty for you as meaning. Neither can exist in a naturalistic scheme; yet both do exist.

    I responded:

    Subjective experience is a mystery for the naturalist, as you point out, but it is also a mystery for the dualist. How could an immaterial soul, spirit or mind give rise to subjective experience? It won’t do to simply assert that it does, because the naturalist could assert with equal justification that matter gives rise to subjective experience when organized in the form of a human brain. Consciousness may be a mystery for the naturalist, but the dualist must pay the same explanatory debt.

    Bnonn:

    Hi Keith; I’m not sure that you’re really grasping the actual argument the theist is making. He is not merely saying that qualia, meaning, truth etc are mysterious under a naturalistic worldview; he is saying that they are incoherent. Moreover, he does not grant that they are in any way mysterious under a theistic worldview, because his whole argument is that these things must be properly basic to reality, having real ontological grounding in God. Thus, they are non reducible, and do not need to be, and in fact cannot be “explained” any further.

    Keith:

    You’re asserting that these things cannot have a physical basis without explaining why. You then offer an immaterial basis for these things as if that solves the problem. But you haven’t explained how they can have an immaterial basis, either, except to argue that they are “properly basic” and “ontologically necessary”.

    Bnonn:

    Consciousness is entirely unmysterious in a theistic worldview, since it is ontologically basic.

    I characterized our discussion thus:

    …you insist that X cannot be accounted for under a naturalistic worldview; when I ask how the theist accounts for X, you say that X is ‘ontologically basic’ and therefore requires no explanation.

    How can you then say:

    Keith, I’m sorry but I can only reiterate that you don’t appear to understand the actual argument being forwarded.

    It appears I understand it all too well.

  29. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Keith,

    You’re asserting that these things cannot have a physical basis without explaining why.

    I have explained why—that’s why I linked you to ‘Whence Cometh Value?’ Mental events are by definition not physical events. Mental events have properties which do not belong to physical substance. They have subjectivity, where physical substance has only objectivity. They have intentionality, where physical substance does not and cannot, and can only be used to represent intentionality in the event that mental agents so arrange it. They have truth or falsehood; again not properties of physical substance at any level. They have value and meaning, etc etc.

    If you attempt to explain mental events as physical events—that is, if you try to describe how mental events are, in the final analysis, either physical events themselves, or epiphenomena of physical events, then you are actually denying that these mental properties exist as mental properties. If you say, for example, that propositional attitudes are actually brain states, then you are just as equally saying that propositional attitudes qua propositional attitudes do not exist, because in the final analysis a brain state does not have subjectivity, intentionality, truth or falsehood, or any of the other properties associated with and necessary to propositional attitudes. So a simple argument can be constructed:

    1. Mental states/events are, in the final analysis, physical states/events (assumed).
    2. Physical states/events obtain solely in physical substance.
    3. By extension, then, mental states/events obtain solely in physical substance.
    4. Mental states/events have properties, like intentionality, which do not obtain in physical substance.
    5. Therefore, mental properties do not obtain.
    6. But mental properties do obtain (from immediate process of introspection, rational necessity, etc).
    7. Therefore, by (4), (3), (2), and (1) must be false.
    8. Therefore, mental events must obtain in a non-physical (ie mental) substance in which mental properties do obtain, and are not physical events in the final analysis.

    You then offer an immaterial basis for these things as if that solves the problem. But you haven’t explained how they can have an immaterial basis, either, except to argue that they are “properly basic” and “ontologically necessary”.

    Perhaps if you could phrase your question/objection in a way which describes the actual problem as you see it, I could answer better. As it stands, it just seems as if you don’t understand what ontologically basic things are.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  30. Keith
    Keith says:

    Bnonn,

    Here’s my objection in a nutshell:

    1. You define mental events as being out of the reach of physical processes. Then you conclude, tautologically, that mental events are out of the reach of physical processes.

    2. You say that consciousness, meaning, etc., require no explanation under a theistic scheme because they are “ontologically basic.” You therefore provide no explanation for them; nor do you justify the label.

    So we have two bare assertions and no supporting argument. And you wonder why I object?

  31. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Keith, you’re welcome to interact with the argument I gave above; or to read the literature I linked you to. But I won’t respond to any more comments like the above. The fact that you consider the argument from reason to comprise “two bare assertions” really just reiterates that you don’t understand it. It is one of the leading theistic arguments in the philosophy of mind, and is taken quite seriously by both theistic and non-theistic scholars.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  32. Keith
    Keith says:

    Bnonn,

    How have I misrepresented your position?

    I wrote:

    1. You define mental events as being out of the reach of physical processes. Then you conclude, tautologically, that mental events are out of the reach of physical processes.

    Is my characterization accurate? See for yourself. You wrote:

    Mental events are by definition not physical events.

    And:

    8. Therefore, mental events must obtain in a non-physical (ie mental) substance in which mental properties do obtain, and are not physical events in the final analysis.

    The latter is just a restatement of the former. It is a tautology.

    Moving on, I wrote:

    2. You say that consciousness, meaning, etc., require no explanation under a theistic scheme because they are “ontologically basic.” You therefore provide no explanation for them; nor do you justify the label.

    Am I being fair here? Let’s take a look.

    You wrote:

    Moreover, he [the theist] does not grant that they [qualia, meaning, etc.] are in any way mysterious under a theistic worldview, because his whole argument is that these things must be properly basic to reality, having real ontological grounding in God. Thus, they are non reducible, and do not need to be, and in fact cannot be “explained” any further.

    Like I said, you provide no explanation for them, and nowhere in this thread (or in your article “Whence Cometh Value?”) do you justify their status as “properly basic.”

    My summary was accurate:

    So we have two bare assertions and no supporting argument.

    If you decide not to defend your position, that’s fine — but don’t pretend that I haven’t understood it.

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  1. […] recently discussion has been ongoing between Mike, Keith, Rob and myself in the comment thread of ‘Jesse Kilgore commits suicide after reading Dawkins’. The discussion has shifted subtly from the initial thesis that objective morality is unjustified […]

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