Atheism and Immorality: An Interview with Jim Spiegel

The Evangelical Philosophical Society has posted an interview with Taylor University Philosopher, Jim Spiegel, about his new book The Making of An Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief:

How did this book come about for you?

Like any philosopher of religion, I’ve followed the new atheist movement with interest.  But after reading numerous responses from Christian apologists, I noticed a conspicuous lack of attention to the moral-psychological roots of atheism.  Given that the biblical writers emphasize this dimension of unbelief, I thought someone needed to address it.

How does this book uniquely contribute to critiques of atheism and the “new atheism”?

Most Christian apologists’ responses to the new atheists challenge their arguments and reveal the many fallacies in their objections to religious faith.  This is helpful, of course, and I applaud the work of Ravi Zacharias, Alister McGrath, Dinesh D’Souza, Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, and others for their superb contributions to the debate.  What they so well demonstrate is that atheism is not the consequence of any lack of evidence for God.  So the question naturally arises, What is the cause of atheism?  That is the question I address in my book.

The “noetic effects of sin” (as it’s sometimes called) plays an important conceptual and explanatory role in your book. In general, can you briefly explain your view on this matter?

I take my cue from Scripture, specifically such passages as Romans 1:18-32, where the Apostle Paul asserts that no one has any excuse not to believe in God. Rather, he says, some “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18).  In my book I develop a model for how this happens, tracing the suppression of truth to a willful rejection of God, prompted by immorality and self-deception.  Thus, I argue, sinful behaviors cloud and distort cognition.  The notion that volitional factors impact belief-formation has been forcefully argued by thinkers as various as John Calvin, Soren Kierkegaard, William James, Michael Polanyi, Thomas Kuhn, and Alvin Plantinga.  In terms of a specifically Christian application of this dynamic, I’ve been especially inspired by Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.

Read the rest on the EPS blog.

Check out Jim Spiegel’s website and blog for more information about his book. You can also find a lengthy article by him on the causes of atheism at Apologetics.com. Reviews of The Making of the Atheist have also been posted on Cloud of Witnesses and the blog Exo Tays Parembolays.

38 replies
  1. Simon
    Simon says:

    …atheists’ broken father relationships prompt their refusal to recognize the reality of God.

    Whoa hehe…really scraping the bottom of the argument barrel now!

    This book seems super fun. I guess the whole idea that morality has little to do with religion will put a damper on what seems to be its central premise…

  2. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    “Any notion of evil or, for that matter, how things ought to be, whether morally or in terms of natural events, must rely on some standard or ideal that transcends the physical world. Only some form of supernaturalism, such as theism, can supply this.”

    Let’s suppose this is true (which it is not). This doesn’t impact the soundness of the problem of evil one bit. The argument is meant to show the internal incoherency of theism. It doesn’t matter whether the atheist has moral standards or not, only that the theist does.

    The vast majority of atheists don’t sin any more than the vast majority of Christians (unless you define ‘sin’ to mean ‘having premarital sex’). There are many immoral people who are not atheists, and many atheists who are not immoral. So any explanation of atheism which says that it is the outcome of immorality is just ludicrous.

    When I saw the title of this blog post on the home page I was expecting that Jim Spiegel would be some loony preacher. I was amazed to find out that he is actually a philosopher. The quality of argument in this interview is completely beneath a philosopher. But looking at his publications it looks like he is a lightweight, so it’s not entirely unexpected.

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Ayo,

    Your commentary on the quote you provided does not address the point its making. The issue there is not the immorality of atheists, but the very notion of evil. A notion that atheism is unable to make sense of, but nonetheless takes advantage of.

    You say the vast majority of atheists don’t sin any more than the vast majority of Christians – but grant an exception in pre-marital sex where standards vary. The exception shows you are at least partially aware of the importance of applying a consistent definition or standard to both the Christian and Atheist. According to the atheistic standard of what she or he calls sin there may be parity between the Christian and the Atheist (perhaps a general shared moral code). But the Christian understands that the vilest, most despicable sin is unbelief. For unbelief entails failing to accept the provision that God has lovingly given to cover the multitude of sins we have each already amassed. This is figuratively spitting in the face of a sacrifice that cost so much to give.

    So one is fully justified in suggesting there is a direct and immediately apparent correlation between Atheism and immorality.

    Now “sin” simply put, is breaking God’s law. Jesus’ summation of all the Law and the Prophets is this; Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strenth, and love your neighbour as yourself. So properly belongs to the Christian worldview – not the atheistic worldview. So though all can sin, only one borrowing from the Christian worldview can call it such.

    So the consistent Atheist is not justified at all in claiming that Atheists and Christians in general sin the same amount as the other. The Atheist who has consistently applied his worldview will recognise there is no such thing as sin and no such thing as evil.

  4. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    Hi Stuart,

    “Your commentary on the quote you provided does not address the point its making. The issue there is not the immorality of atheists, but the very notion of evil.”

    That’s exactly what I meant by “moral standards.” The PoE is meant to show that theistic belief is internally inconsistent i.e. one aspect of theism (the belief in the existence of moral standards) casts doubt on another aspect of theism (the belief in God). It doesn’t matter whether the atheist can have moral standards based on his worldview. It only matters that theism holds that it can.

    ” But the Christian understands that the vilest, most despicable sin is unbelief. For unbelief entails failing to accept the provision that God has lovingly given to cover the multitude of sins we have each already amassed. This is figuratively spitting in the face of a sacrifice that cost so much to give.”

    By ‘sin’ I think Spiegel meant the ordinary sins like lying, stealing, killing. If by ‘sin’ he means ‘unbelief’ then that makes the statement “how immorality leads to unbelief” trivially true. It would mean “How unbelief leads to unbelief.” I think he was trying to say something more informative than that, so I think my interpretation is more accurate.

    “The Atheist who has consistently applied his worldview will recognise there is no such thing as sin and no such thing as evil.”

    I am confident in saying that theism has no advantage over atheism in giving objective morality a foundation. If you have some argument showing otherwise I would be happy to hear it.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I am confident in saying that theism has no advantage over atheism in giving objective morality a foundation. If you have some argument showing otherwise I would be happy to hear it.

    The point of giving objective moral values and duties a foundation is to show how they really exist, as opposed to having no foundation and therefore being mere illusions. That is the advantage of theism over atheism. Theism can explain objective moral values and duties, whereas on Atheism they are a complete enigma.

    The PoE is meant to show that theistic belief is internally inconsistent i.e. one aspect of theism (the belief in the existence of moral standards) casts doubt on another aspect of theism (the belief in God).

    I’m not internet lingo savvy, so I don’t know what “PoE” stands for. A little help?

    Also I don’t see the alleged internal inconsistency. Can you show what exactly about the moral standards given by Christian theism are contradicted by God’s existence? (or is it belief in God’s existence?).

    By ‘sin’ I think Spiegel meant the ordinary sins like lying, stealing, killing. If by ’sin’ he means ‘unbelief’ then that makes the statement “how immorality leads to unbelief” trivially true. It would mean “How unbelief leads to unbelief.” I think he was trying to say something more informative than that, so I think my interpretation is more accurate.

    I take your point there. But the main point I made I think still remains; that it all depends on what one means by ‘sin.’ Its true that the Christian understands lying, stealing, and killing all to be sin, but defining sin as just that or things like it is very narrow.

    Pride for instance, is considered to be the root of sin, for from pride comes a drive for autonomy which puts ourselves in God’s place (breaking the first commandment), which results in self-worship (breaking the second commandment). From pride come arrogance and boastfulness, and from there it is a short trip to envy, strife, deceit and malice. The rock-slide continues to sexual impurity, which seems to be an expression of that same drive for autonomy.

    Then there is ‘sin’ (sometimes with a capital S) which is a universal, system-wide distortion or corruption of what God made. This can account for the “noetic effects” spoken of above.

  6. Simon
    Simon says:

    Stuart,

    As a little aside, a simple yes/no question: would you expect non-believers to respond differently from Christians in any way in tests of moral situations/questions?

    This would seem to get to the matter of whether or not there is any practical difference in thoughts/practices/behaviour to do with morality, no?

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon

    . . . a simple yes/no question: would you expect non-believers to respond differently from Christians in any way in tests of moral situations/questions?

    That is a loaded question, so a simple yes/no answer is not appropriate. When it comes to applying the moral standards Atheists and Christians share in common, I expect no great difference. But like I said, Christians understand sin to be a whole lot more than the actions Atheists and Christians both think wrong. For instance, the Christian would understand as sinful things like; not honouring God or worshipping him appropriately (with the whole of ones being), not having faith (or putting trust in) Jesus, refusing to submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading, harbouring an unclean thought life (such as lust and hate), being unforgiving, dishonouring parents, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, abortion, euthanasia, etc. In most of these moral situations/questions, Yes I do expect there to be varying differences between committed Christians and Atheists.

    This would seem to get to the matter of whether or not there is any practical difference in thoughts/practices/behaviour to do with morality, no?

    If there is a practical difference in the moral behaviour between Christians and Atheists, I don’t see what you think that proves exactly.

  8. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    And I would expect Stuart – and most christians – to try to dodge any objective measure of Christianity. Faith? What faith!

  9. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other SImon,

    I don’t know what your comment there is trying to say. Was there a matter I failed to address? Or did I avoid answering a specific question that, had I done so, would have proved something?

  10. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    The point of giving objective moral values and duties a foundation is to show how they really exist, as opposed to having no foundation and therefore being mere illusions. That is the advantage of theism over atheism. Theism can explain objective moral values and duties, whereas on Atheism they are a complete enigma.

    I got that. But why must atheism make objective morality illusory or enigmatic and how does theism differ from it in this respect? I would like an explanation of that.

    I’m not internet lingo savvy, so I don’t know what “PoE” stands for. A little help?

    Also I don’t see the alleged internal inconsistency. Can you show what exactly about the moral standards given by Christian theism are contradicted by God’s existence? (or is it belief in God’s existence).

    PoE= Problem of Evil

    I meant that theistic belief in moral standards (that certain things are evil) in conjunction with the fact that certain evils exist in the world, contradicts belief in a good God. This is just a standard statement of the problem of evil. The point I was making is that the problem of evil is an argument which is meant to show that theism is false by its own premises, not by atheism’s premises. So Spiegel’s response is inadequate.

    I take your point there. But the main point I made I think still remains; that it all depends on what one means by ’sin.’ Its true that the Christian understands lying, stealing, and killing all to be sin, but defining sin as just that or things like it is very narrow.

    Pride for instance, is considered to be the root of sin, for from pride comes a drive for autonomy which puts ourselves in God’s place (breaking the first commandment), which results in self-worship (breaking the second commandment). From pride come arrogance and boastfulness, and from there it is a short trip to envy, strife, deceit and malice. The rock-slide continues to sexual impurity, which seems to be an expression of that same drive for autonomy.

    I guess until someone reads the book we won’t be able to know what was meant by ‘sin’ or ‘immorality.’

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ayo,

    I got that. But why must atheism make objective morality illusory or enigmatic and how does theism differ from it in this respect? I would like an explanation of that.

    Theism provides a foundation for objective moral values and duties. Atheism does not. You’ve got that, right? That’s the difference. Objective moral values and duties are what you would expect to find in the universe if God exists. But objective moral values and duties make for very strange furniture if God does not exist. The moral theory consistent with Atheism would be nihilism or subjectivism, as opposed to objectivism.

    I meant that theistic belief in moral standards (that certain things are evil) in conjunction with the fact that certain evils exist in the world, contradicts belief in a good God. This is just a standard statement of the problem of evil. The point I was making is that the problem of evil is an argument which is meant to show that theism is false by its own premises, not by atheism’s premises. So Spiegel’s response is inadequate.

    Its true that problem of evil cuts both ways. Christians have to explain the apparent contradiction between a loving God and the existence of evil. I do not think there is one. Atheists have to explain the implicit contradiction in the existence of evil and there being no God. I do think there is one.

    I guess until someone reads the book we won’t be able to know what was meant by ’sin’ or ‘immorality.’

    I accept that.

  12. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    Theism provides a foundation for objective moral values and duties. Atheism does not. You’ve got that, right? That’s the difference. Objective moral values and duties are what you would expect to find in the universe if God exists. But objective moral values and duties make for very strange furniture if God does not exist. The moral theory consistent with Atheism would be nihilism or subjectivism, as opposed to objectivism.

    I’m asking for an explanation of what specific property of theism makes the existence of objective moral values more probable than on atheism. All I see is an assertion that “theism means there is objective morality, and atheism means there isn’t objective morality” without any argument as to why. Is it because you think God has the ability to create moral laws or what exactly?

  13. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I’m asking for an explanation of what specific property of theism makes the existence of objective moral values more probable than on atheism. All I see is an assertion that “theism means there is objective morality, and atheism means there isn’t objective morality” without any argument as to why. Is it because you think God has the ability to create moral laws or what exactly?

    You ask, “What specific property of theism makes the existence of objective moral values more probable than on atheism?” The answer is God.

    You ask, “Is it because you think God has the ability to create moral laws or what exactly?” On the Divine Command Theory which I think most plausible, God’s commands constitute our moral values and duties. Only a personal being can explain the prescriptive nature of a moral duty. Only a transcendent being explains the prescriptive quality of moral values and duties. A perfect being explains the goodness or moral values and duties. The existence of a commander explains the objectivity of the command.

    So if we find in the universe an objective moral value or duty, theism has the resources to explain it. While atheism does not.

  14. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    There are many problems with the divine command theory:

    -There is, of course, the Euthyphro Problem. Is something good because it is commanded by God, or does God command something because it is (independently) good? If the former, then if God commanded killing, lying and rape, would they be good? If you say that God can’t command those things because they are bad, then that assumes that there is an independent moral standard that is constraining God’s choice. Because if goodness just is what God commands then anything God commands is good because God commanded it. If you say the latter then that again means there are moral standards independent of God. The Euthyphro dilemma doesn’t just expose the problems with basing moral standards on the commands of God. It exposes the problem with basing any normative standards on any authority.

    Now, you could say “the reason why God can’t command killing, lying, and rape isn’t because there are moral standards independent of God, but because God’s nature would not allow Him to command those things.” So on this proposal it is God’s nature that determines what is good, not God’s commands. But this just moves the Euthyphro problem one step back. We could ask “Is God’s nature good because it is God’s, or because it has independently good properties?” If you say the former, then why can’t God’s nature be unjust, and malicious? It can’t be because injustice and maliciousness are bad. But if you say that God’s nature is good because it is just and loving, then that means justice and love is what is good, not God’s nature per se.

    -Something is objective if it is mind-independent, i.e. if it is made true by something other than some subjective mental state. God creating morality doesn’t make morality any more objective than if humanity created it. God is a mind, and thus, any of his commands are subjective. You could say “God’s commands aren’t subjective because God has perfect knowledge.” But this implies that God knows something which is independent of God. The only reason why one would think that God’s commands are objective is because God is omnipotent, and is supposed to have authority. But power, and authority don’t magically transform something that is ordinarily subjective into something that is objective.

    -The Divine command theory makes morality completely distant from humanity. It gives the wrong explanations for why things are bad. For example, it would say that torture is wrong because God commanded against it. But that doesn’t make any sense. The reason why torture is bad is because of the pain and harm it causes a person. Or at least torture’s wrongness has to have something to do with that. You coud reply, “God commands against torture because of the pain and harm that it causes people.” But that implies that it is the pain and harm that make torture wrong, not God’s command.

    – You say that only a personal and transcendent being can explain the prescriptive nature of a moral duty. I take this to mean that it is only God’s commands that can place obligations on us. But to say that we can infer “I ought not to kill” from “God commands against killing” is to run afoul of the is-ought distnction. One cannot infer a duty not to kill from the fact that God has commanded against killing. The only way that we can do so is if there is a further moral principle which says “one ought to follow God’s commands.” But if there can be one prescriptive principle that is independent of God, then why just one and not more? It opens the floodgates for a complete system of prescriptions which is independent of God.

  15. Simon
    Simon says:

    Stuart,

    Sorry to make you follow multiple streams hehe, I’m just replying to my bit earlier on…

    So, generally studies of moral decision making don’t find any significant difference between religious and non-religious. Obviously that is excluding questions which, inherently, only could apply to certain religious groups – e.g. saying the deity’s name as a curse. It also includes novel moral situations that have little or no relation to “more conventional” moral problems – e.g. maybe a question to do with use of the Internet in certain situations.

    What do you make of these results – the no difference bit?

    One conclusion is that it would seem that we can remove religiosity as a factor when determining the “morality” of someone. So if I had to predict what action a stranger would take in a moral dilemma there’d be no point asking them if they’re religious or not.

  16. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    What do you make of these results – the no difference bit?

    I could accept it. Though I have heard of studies which reveal there is a difference. But that aside. I just don’t see what this fact (indeed, if it is a fact) proves or disproves. What Christian (as I am a Christian) religious claim does this negate?

    One conclusion is that it would seem that we can remove religiosity as a factor when determining the “morality” of someone.

    I’m glad you placed morality in inverted commas, because it shows that you recognize there is a difference on what is the moral point of view between different peoples (namely here, religious and non-religious). But I wonder at this conclusion you do draw, if it suffers from bad data – for instance, I know when surveys are done it not always clear that said Christian is actually a committed, church-attending, believer, or just someone with nominal affiliation. The title Christian covers a diverse rank of peoples, such as Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Evangelicals, and even thoroughly secularized citizens of America. I also wonder if it suffers from a cultural and historical tunnel vision. If the moral value “One should be honest” has been shared by both religious and non-religious in the west for two thousand years, I wonder if you would draw that conclusion looking at the data from the first three centuries where Christians where being eaten by lions for being honest. Would the non-religious be so honest if they were being persecuted for disbelieving in Jesus Christ as Lord. The persecuted church still exists today. Were they a part of the survey to collect the data?

    Still, even if religiosity (or more specifically Christian belief) does not influence the shared moral behavior in general, I don’t see what it would prove or disprove with respect to Christian theology.

  17. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    I’m going to take Stuart’s silence as a concession that my arguments are sound, because there is no way that he just missed reading a comment that huge.

  18. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Dear Ayo.

    No such luck! I’ve just been occupied with other things. And I’ve been pondering what the best way to respond would be. Your last comment was quite lengthy, and not directly in-line with the topic. As the Euthyphro objection hasn’t been addressed at Thinking Matters in a while, and even then not specifically, I’ll organize a dedicated post.

    But let me just say the Euthyphro dilemma is a hopeless objection. Its a false dilemma, and the meta-Euthyphro dilemma you stabbed at is tacit admission it is one.

  19. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    Okay, I’m looking forward to that post. Hopefully, you will address some of the other arguments I made too.

  20. Simon
    Simon says:

    Stuart,

    I’m not always out to directly negate religious claims hehe! Here I’m just trying to get some common ground to and reveal some potential facts about human nature. This may lead to negations of Christian belief later.

    Your response to the studies I’m referring to seems dangerously close to the No True Scotsman problem, no? I think for our purposes here we can assume that a representative sample of a large enough size of Christians was used – i.e. religious people living today. Even if we limit it to one country like the US it could still be a representative sample, albeit with obvious cultural caveats you’d want to investigate before generalising further.

    I think the conclusion that religiosity is not a reliable predictor of moral behaviour is an important one. It can imply a lot don’t you think?

    At face value it certainly implies that religiosity doesn’t significantly modify moral decision making. And with other evidence it could be used to argue that moral decision making has no causal basis in religion.

    Also, looking at it another way, if religion had any significant relationship to moral decision making, one would expect there to be a difference between religious and non-religious people. If not, how does religion exert it’s power on morality?

  21. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Reading the info on the book here it just seems to drip with pre-conclusion and bias. The author is an unknown, as far as I can see, from an unknown and very biased/religious ‘university’.
    Concluding that unbelievers are actively wicked from Romans is…..just plain scary. Especially when you contrast it with the actual reality of the moral landscape as Simon is illustrating.

  22. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    Stop skimming around the edges of an argument you might make and plough right in. I think your tentative conclusion (assuming there is data and the data has drawn correct conclusions) that religiosity is not a reliable predictor of moral behaviour and does not significantly modify moral decision making is interesting but I just don’t see how that’s relevant.

    if religion had any significant relationship to moral decision making, one would expect there to be a difference between religious and non-religious people. If not, how does religion exert it’s power on morality?

    I don’t understand why you would expect there to be a difference in the way a religious (I think of Christians here, as I expect you think being a Christian makes you religious, but I don’t consider myself religious) and non-religious (I think of atheists here, as I expect you think being an atheist makes you non-religious) person. In answer to your question, I would say that religion prescribes rules and regulations which inform what constitutes the moral point of view, but does not change how moral decision making is conducted.

  23. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    Like you I haven’t read the book. Unlike you, I tend to reserve judgement on the argument until such time as I am familiar with the book’s content. Let me just chastise you for a few things.

    The author is an unknown, as far as I can see

    Relevance? None. Genetic Fallacy? Perhaps.

    from an unknown and very biased/religious ‘university’.

    Genetic Fallacy and Ad Hominem.

    Concluding that unbelievers are actively wicked from Romans is…..just plain scary.

    According to Romans 1 unbelievers are wicked because they chose to reject the knowledge of God they see clearly, and so they suppressed the truth of God (even deceiving themselves) in their wickedness. By choosing to reject God you are a wicked person. If you find being a wicked person is a scary thought, then all the better. Note the following….

    Especially when you contrast it with the actual reality of the moral landscape as Simon is illustrating.

    You’d notice that earlier in this comment thread we decided that the author (Speigel) should be the one who defines what sin is in order to determine what the moral landscape looks like. This is his argument, and so he should define his terms.

  24. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    From what I have read in the post (and yes, I admit, that is all I have read) the views seem rather extreme. I don’t think you’d find a more respected academic like McGrath or Craig being this brash. In other words I think there is a reason I havn’t heard of him!

    The idea of a religious university is……well, rather a joke, no? In fact it’s almost an oxymoron. There is good reason why the most respected universities in the states (for religious universities are only rife in the states) are a-religious.

    It is scary that you, too, believe that the likes of myself are wicked. I have stated before that I would warmly welcome a benevolent god who has a plan for me! Using the best of my faculties, I just honestly don’t see one.

  25. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    If religous people (christians) really were in communication with a god who was the author of our morality I would expect them to be measurably more moral than non-religious people. Certainly, the first three commandments are not common, but I would still expect a religious person to be more moral in the common areas of morality. Especially given that those religious people are quite vociferous about linking atheism with the holocausts (and morality) in recent history.

  26. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    From what I have read in the post (and yes, I admit, that is all I have read) the views seem rather extreme. I don’t think you’d find a more respected academic like McGrath or Craig being this brash. In other words I think there is a reason I havn’t heard of him!

    I haven’t heard of him either, but surely you wouldn’t dismiss his argument on the basis you haven’t heard of him? If you did that would be the genetic fallacy – so why mention it? And his argument seems in-line with Alvin Plantinga’s thought (he expressed an appreciation of Warranted Christian Belief above in the interview), and the credentials of Plantinga’s scholarship far exceed folks like McGrath and Craig.

    The idea of a religious university is……well, rather a joke, no? In fact it’s almost an oxymoron. There is good reason why the most respected universities in the states (for religious universities are only rife in the states) are a-religious.

    As I attend a religious university of sorts, no, the idea does not strike me as humorous. Would you find attendees of Notre Dame amusing as well? Up until the twentieth century Princeton and Harvard were both religious universities – were these oxymoronic? Now they have expelled their Christian emphasis and embraced secularism and pluralism, do you think these universities are a-religious? Everyone has their doctrines, Other Simon. Even you.

    It is scary that you, too, believe that the likes of myself are wicked. I have stated before that I would warmly welcome a benevolent god who has a plan for me! Using the best of my faculties, I just honestly don’t see one.

    I’m glad you would welcome a benevolent god who has a plan for you. For I know there is one, though you are unable to see at the moment. I want to ask you two follow up questions. First, Is the expectation you have of what it would take to convince you that God exists, reasonable? Second, How do you know your faculties are functioning properly and not subject to the noetic effects of sin?

    If religious people (christians) really were in communication with a god who was the author of our morality I would expect them to be measurably more moral than non-religious people.

    Well, I’m not convinced yet that they’re not. But why the expectation? According to Christian theology; we are all sinners, we all have been given a conscience, we are all made in the image of God (capable of good), we are all naturally inclined to rebellion against God (to sin). The Christian’s only advantage in moral decision making is the Holy Spirit, who will gradually transform sinful desires and guide the faithful and obedient on the path of righteousness. How would all of the above considerations manifest on a survey?

    Besides, the benefits of the Holy Spirit in moral decision making can hardly be construed as religious anyway. Religion is the dead letter of the law. By it we come to know our deficiencies, and find out that we cannot obtain God or heaven or bliss or perfection. It cannot bring us closer to God. Religion is man’s attempt to bridge the gap of separation between man and God. Religion prescribes morality but does not transform the heart of man to be moral. The Holy Spirit is anti-religion. He gives grace to the humble to cover a multitude of sins. Through him our deficiencies are covered, and we can have relationship with God. He bridges the separation between man and God. He gives grace to transform the heart of man. He is a personal agent to help as a guide in moral decision making. What the Holy Spirit does to religion, is what I hope I do with my arguments.

    Especially given that those religious people are quite vociferous about linking atheism with the holocausts (and morality) in recent history.

    Atheism when applied to morality logically results in moral nihilism. As moral nihilism is practically unlivable subjectivism and cultural relativism result and these logically allow for beliefs such as Nazism. Christian Theism when applied to morality logically results in a form of objectivism and can logically allow for immoral exceptions. This says absolutely nothing about the morality or immorality of particular atheists or atheists as a group, as the moral argument is so often construed by atheistic objectors.

  27. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Everyone has their doctrines, Other Simon. Even you.

    A university which attracts only one flavour of doctrines is less interested in impartiality than one that ignores people’s doctrines and focuses on the academics only.

    Princeton and Harvard did not actively expell their christian emphasis. The very pursuit of truth itself expelled a one-eyed christian emphasis.

    Of course I think that my expectation of a god is reasonable; I wouldn’t hold it otherwise. I could not in good conscience go down the route that you have, letting my wish for a god in the reality of no evidence at all lead me down the path of sad excuses as to why god is completely unobservable (objectively).

    Religion is man’s attempt to bridge the gap of separation between man and God

    Amen.

    It is a trivial claim that a religious person should be more moral than a non-religious. As obvious as claiming that people who get exercise are faster runners.
    It is also trivial that an atheist should be less moral than a religious person because, as you say, Nazism etc. can result, while they cannot – or should be far less likely – in a religious person.
    The data doesn’t show this difference in morality. Religion is good for one less thing.

  28. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    A university which attracts only one flavour of doctrines is less interested in impartiality than one that ignores people’s doctrines and focuses on the academics only.

    Ad hominem. Also you suppose that “academics only” can be absent doctrines. And do you really think that Christian university’s ignore other peoples doctrines? With a Christian worldview emphasis, other peoples doctrines would be dissected and evaluated more rigorously than the secular university. Your tongue drips falsehood like a pork-chop does fat on a BBQ.

    Princeton and Harvard did not actively expell their christian emphasis. The very pursuit of truth itself expelled a one-eyed christian emphasis.

    A difference without a difference. And “one-eyed” is another insult. Your loosing your grip on your manners.

    Of course I think that my expectation of a god is reasonable; I wouldn’t hold it otherwise. I could not in good conscience go down the route that you have, letting my wish for a god in the reality of no evidence at all lead me down the path of sad excuses as to why god is completely unobservable (objectively).

    The question is, Is the expectation you have of what it would take to convince you that God exists, reasonable? Not your expectation of a god existing. You keep saying there is no evidence, (is it reasonable to conclude then the God does not exist?) and I keep disagreeing (is it reasonable to wave away the manifold arguments for God’s existence? Or do your reasons for disagreeing with each argument for God’s existence hold water?).

    It is also trivial that an atheist should be less moral than a religious person because, as you say, Nazism etc. can result, while they cannot – or should be far less likely – in a religious person.
    The data doesn’t show this difference in morality. Religion is good for one less thing.

    What data, Mr Empiricism? And by your own admission religion serves to make ideologies such as Nazism less likely than atheism.

  29. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    Ad hominem….

    Not ad hominem at all.
    I believe that academia has made a lot of epistemological progress in the past hundred years and this has involved ignoring personal beliefs and focusing simply on the subject at hand. This act of ignoring irrelevant biases has led to a much more ‘speckled’ cross-section of academics; christian, jews, atheists, agnostics etc.
    A religious university is going the other way. Which is to say, away from progress. Of course, religious universities could prove me wrong. If they really are better then they will lead the way. This does not appear to be so. The religious universities are the ones to be suspicious of and the a-religious ones are at the top.

    A difference without a difference. And “one-eyed” is another insult. Your loosing your grip on your manners.

    I honestly did not mean this as an insult, I would just as readily call an atheist-only university one-eyed. In fact, allow me to retract that statement and replace it:
    Princeton and Harvard did not actively expell their christian emphasis. The very pursuit of truth itself refused to be distracted by religous persuasion and in doing so personal beliefs became irrelevant leading to a less monogomously religious set of academics.

    This is a very real phenomenon.

    The question is, Is the expectation you have of what it would take to convince you that God exists, reasonable?

    I think so, yes. I hear of miracles (including from you) and yet I have never seen any. I hear of personal experiences of god and yet I have never seen any.

    is it reasonable to wave away the manifold arguments for God’s existence?

    I think yes, again. Because there are just as many arguments against a god. And it is obvious to me that you are biased even before you have heard an argument against and I am biased even before I have heard an argument for a god. Our assigning merit to an argument is all at sea because there simply is no objective way to weigh them up. For these two reasons I think arguments are stupid, and evidence is the key.

    What data, Mr Empiricism? And by your own admission religion serves to make ideologies such as Nazism less likely than atheism.

    The data that simon refers to.
    I do not admit this. Please observe the words as you say in my last post. I am not claiming that atheism leads to evil more than christianity. I’m saying that you claim this! And that therefore the data should show it!

  30. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon

    Stuart: The question is, Is the expectation you have of what it would take to convince you that God exists, reasonable?

    Other Simon: I think so, yes. I hear of miracles (including from you) and yet I have never seen any. I hear of personal experiences of god and yet I have never seen any.

    This is familiar ground that has been well tread. So we are clear, do you believe it is reasonable to expect God – if he exists – to preform a miracle or give you some sort of personal experience, to convince you that he exist?

    I disagree with an affirmative answer. There is no valid reason why you should expect God to cater for such a standard of proof as you propose. But let me invite you to my church where I can personally introduce you to people who have had personal experiences with God and witnessed first-hand supernatural miracles. If that truly is your standard, then I think I can make a convincing case if you would simply start to look with an open heart and mind.

    For clarification again, Do you think that your lack of witnessing a miracle, and without personal experience of God you are justified in concluding that God does not exist?

    The data that simon refers to.

    Missed it. What data?

    I am not claiming that atheism leads to evil more than christianity. I’m saying that you claim this!

    My claim is slightly more nuanced that you make it out to be! Atheism allows for beliefs such as Nazism and similar butchery, but Christian Theism does not. While Nietzsche’s influence was not a sufficient condition for Nazism, a logical extension of Atheism like his was certainly was a necessary condition.

  31. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    Re: empirical evidence. Simon said:

    So, generally studies of moral decision making don’t find any significant difference between religious and non-religious…….What do you make of these results – the no difference bit?

  32. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    Re: reasonable evidence for god.

    I do think it reasonable to expect god to give me objective or undeniable evidence for his existence. I do so because I know – and you know – that unobjective evidence hides false beliefs all over the place. Fortune-telling, communicating with the dead, star signs, alien conspiracy nuts, moon landing deniers, religious beliefs…..

    The moment that I were to accept non-objective evidence would be the moment that I wanted to believe; emotionally. Actually, the wanting to believe would come first, and then upon taking a leap of faith I would be convinced by the non-objective evidence/arguments.
    This is the way it works, and this is why I believe that you will not have convinced anyone using logical arguments. Religion – christianity – is about emotion not logic. The reason you like arguments for god is not because they are more sound than arguments against god* and the reason I like arguments against god is not because they are more sound than arguments for god.
    Arguments are a waste of time because it is not possible to weigh them up without bias. Empirical evidence on the other hand is very potent.

    You speak of people you know who claim miracles. I have several friends who claim the same. But it gets worse. I have experienced a miracle! In the form of (I would now term it) emotional healing. It later turned out to be the pre-teen pre-cursor to depression. And so even at this very personal level religion has evaporated and has been shown to be folly, in exactly the same way that it has been shown up in the study of any other area of the world around us, where evidence-based knowledge is everything. And so it is evidence – objective evidence – that I require.

    * They SEEM more sound in that the arguments fit with our pre-conclusions. But it is impossible to get rid of bias. On the other hand it is virtually impossible to argue with empirical evidence.

  33. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    So, generally studies of moral decision making don’t find any significant difference between religious and non-religious…

    I don’t consider referring to second-or-third-hand accounts of generalized studies as actual data. Is this what you were referring to as the data? I’m not denying the data doesn’t say what ya’ll suppose it says. I’m just curious if you speak of phantoms as though they’re flesh.

    I do think it reasonable to expect god to give me objective or undeniable evidence for his existence. I do so because I know – and you know – that unobjective evidence hides false beliefs all over the place. Fortune-telling, communicating with the dead, star signs, alien conspiracy nuts, moon landing deniers, religious beliefs…

    What do you mean by objective and unobjective evidence? Is that supposed to be undeniable and deniable evidence? How do you differentiate between the two? Do you propose that philosophical evidence for certain propositions is not to be taken seriously because certain false beliefs have in the past been derived from poor philosophy?

    The moment that I were to accept non-objective evidence would be the moment that I wanted to believe; emotionally. Actually, the wanting to believe would come first, and then upon taking a leap of faith I would be convinced by the non-objective evidence/arguments.

    What is non-objective evidence/arguments? How can you tell when you see one, what one is? Is the above a non-objective argument?

    Religion – christianity – is about emotion not logic.

    Christianity is an all-encompassing worldview, which will engage both the heart and the head. Are you saying there is something about Christianity that is illogical? What?

    The reason you like arguments for god is not because they are more sound than arguments against god* and the reason I like arguments against god is not because they are more sound than arguments for god.

    I’m always surprised when you say you know my reasons for something.

    Arguments with conflicting conclusions cannot be both be “more sound.”

    Whether I hold something for emotional reasons is (1) no reason to dispose of logical arguments, (2) no reason to think that one cannot be dissuaded by logical reasons, and (3) no reason to think that there are not also good logical reasons as well. In fact, you would expect if Christianity were true that strong emotional reasons would accompany it.

    One has to do ones best not to be persuaded on the basis of emotions, or use hidden assumptions in their reasoning. Now, you know my list of arguments for God’s existence. What arguments against God’s existence do you advocate? I’ve seen precious few from you, and none that are clearly logical or cogent.

    Arguments are a waste of time because it is not possible to weigh them up without bias.

    If you believe this, why do you argue?

    You speak of people you know who claim miracles. I have several friends who claim the same. But it gets worse. I have experienced a miracle! In the form of (I would now term it) emotional healing.

    First you say that a miracle would convince you, and now you say that a miracle has not convinced you. Which is it? In any case, I speak not of ‘miracles’ that could possibly be attributed to natural causes alone, but of miracles that could not plausibly be attributed to natural causes alone. I hear of miracles all the time, and the latter group I speak of is more rare but not infrequent.

    See http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/miracles-in-apologetics-part-2/

  34. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    What do you mean by objective and unobjective evidence? Is that supposed to be undeniable and deniable evidence? How do you differentiate between the two? Do you propose that philosophical evidence for certain propositions is not to be taken seriously because certain false beliefs have in the past been derived from poor philosophy?

    Yeap I’m thinking mainly of objective evidence a-la scientifically objective because even with extremely compelling personal experience one can be mistaken – as I was with my experience I related. But I think I would still accept personal experience; but because I’ve been burned before it would have to be much more convincing than ’emotional healing’. A limb growing back for instance. But definitely not cancer disappearing.

    I propose that philosophical evidence not be taken seriously at all. I don’t consider it evidence. eg….

    What is non-objective evidence/arguments? How can you tell when you see one, what one is? Is the above a non-objective argument?

    I do not of course think that this is a black and white matter; it is a continuum. But, for example, I consider the cosmological argument to be very non-objective just as I do arguments against god’s existence. These arguments’ non-objectivity manifests itself in the fact that (i) there are many arguments on both sides of these issues and (ii) there are many people on both sides of these arguments.

    An objective argument(I’d sooner just call it evidence rather than argument) is evidence which almost all can agree on. Like the evidence for gravity or atoms or germs, or aliens or water divining or the holocaust.

    ‘Evidence’ for god usually belongs in the non-objective argument. When it is evaluated in the objective category it always fails. Terribly.

    What arguments against God’s existence do you advocate? I’ve seen precious few from you, and none that are clearly logical or cogent.

    Hehehe. And you think that your evaluation of ‘clearly logical’ or ‘cogent’ is so objective? There are people who conclude exactly the opposite to you and also claim to be logical and cogent.
    Remember I don’t care much for philosophical arguments because I know that I am biased towards ones that ‘disprove’ god. I don’t advocate them for this reason. I don’t advocate philosophical arguments at all. (If I do it is only to try to illustrate that there is also merit to other positions.)
    But there’s no point discussing this unless you can become a little more self-critical. Evidence in point: very intelligent people on both sides of the argument about god hold that their arguments alone are sound, whereas their opponents’ arguments are completely fallacious. You are one of these people, and I think you are as blind as you think are blind those that claim that all anti-god aruments are valid and all pro-god arguments are fallacious.

    In fact, you would expect if Christianity were true that strong emotional reasons would accompany it.

    Unfortunately you would also expect strong emotional reasons to be present if it were not true. Like fortune-tellers, astrology, nazism, gangs….. an emotional component is what [scientifically-objectively] fallacious positions have in common.

    If you believe this, why do you argue?

    To point [you] in the direction of actual evidence and away from the realm where it is very, very easy to convince ones self that one is being objective while doing the opposite. To advocate the more objective position of empathising with others. No, not weighing up others’ positions using ones own framework, but to begin with the humility of empathy and survey the landscape.

    I hear of miracles all the time, and the latter group I speak of is more rare but not infrequent.

    Can I ask you?……..why is it, do you think, that these non-naturally caused miracles always evade proof? Why are growing-back-limbs never caught on camera? Why do prayer studies never reach definite and undisputable conclusions that prayer actually works?

  35. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Yeap I’m thinking mainly of objective evidence a-la scientifically objective because even with extremely compelling personal experience one can be mistaken – as I was with my experience I related.

    I agree that ones personal experience can be mistaken. The following is not meant to denigrate your experience. If personal experience can’t be used as evidence, how is then you can use your personable experience to know your previous experience was mistaken? I presume of course that it was your personal experience that informed your belief that the conclusion of your previous personal experience was defeated. By the way, if its not too personal, what was the defeater?

    An objective argument(I’d sooner just call it evidence rather than argument) is evidence which almost all can agree on.

    Agrument ad populum.

    Hehehe. And you think that your evaluation of ‘clearly logical’ or ‘cogent’ is so objective? There are people who conclude exactly the opposite to you and also claim to be logical and cogent.
    Remember I don’t care much for philosophical arguments because I know that I am biased towards ones that ‘disprove’ god. I don’t advocate them for this reason. I don’t advocate philosophical arguments at all. (If I do it is only to try to illustrate that there is also merit to other positions.)

    I remember my mentor saying that theres one way the atheist can guarantee he always wins an argument, and thats never sit down at the table. Failing to make an argument is failing to reason. How do you know your beliefs aren’t totally irrational?

    Plus the rules of logic are immune to the influence of bias. Your mistake seems to be impugning the whole method because some practitioners get confused, misapply principles, etc. You have in logic a system to help effectively eradicate the influence of bias. Moreover, you use philosophical argumentation all the time. Everyone does, and often without realizing it. The above quotation is an example. Here is another; 1) The library is not open on Sunday, 2) It is Sunday, therefore 3) The library is not open. Now most people don’t think syllogistically like that, but almost in everything you say or do, there is some conclusion being drawn from premises.

    These arguments’ non-objectivity manifests itself in the fact that (i) there are many arguments on both sides of these issues and (ii) there are many people on both sides of these arguments.

    The presence of disagreement does not equal the absence of objectivity or truth.

    But there’s no point discussing this unless you can become a little more self-critical. Evidence in point: very intelligent people on both sides of the argument about god hold that their arguments alone are sound, whereas their opponents’ arguments are completely fallacious. You are one of these people, and I think you are as blind as you think are blind those that claim that all anti-god arguments are valid and all pro-god arguments are fallacious.

    Just talk. What arguments for atheism do you find convincing? Lets evaluate them and see if they are fallacious or not. I can be self-critical, but not without something on the table to criticize myself with.

    Unfortunately you would also expect strong emotional reasons to be present if it were not true.

    Actually, I wouldn’t expect that. I would expect an apathetic attitude: “Live and let be.” I’d be interested in your reasons why you would expect strong emotional reasons to be present if Atheism were true.

    Other Simon: Arguments are a waste of time because it is not possible to weigh them up without bias.

    Stuart: If you believe this, why do you argue?

    Other Simon: To point [you] in the direction of actual evidence and away from the realm where it is very, very easy to convince ones self that one is being objective while doing the opposite. To advocate the more objective position of empathising with others. No, not weighing up others’ positions using ones own framework, but to begin with the humility of empathy and survey the landscape.

    Meaningless waffle considering that arguments are a waste of time. I’m interested in truth, not emotions.

    that these non-naturally caused miracles always evade proof?

    Obviously, I’m not convinced they do. In the examples of growing-back-limbs being caught on camera and statistical analysis that prayer works there could be very good reasons why these do not manifest themselves in an evidential sense,* but in each case I have heard (though unfortunately do not recall where to access) of the evidence being documented. Most significantly stunning miracles, before they are proclaimed to people by some of the bigger churches that I am aware of have their facts verified by top medical professionals.

    * Such as occurrences like growing back limbs are rare, and hospital where the studies preformed are not environments where healing is necessary. Perhaps God knows that documentation of evidence of healing would be counter-productive to his scheme of revealing only enough information about himself so as not to forcefully compel someone believe, but rather make any/all/some people’s decision to follow Jesus an act of faith. Perhaps God doesn’t want Church or Christianity to become a roadshow.

  36. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    quoting myself;

    Stuart: I agree that ones personal experience can be mistaken. The following is not meant to denigrate your experience. If personal experience can’t be used as evidence, how is then you can use your personable experience to know your previous experience was mistaken? I presume of course that it was your personal experience that informed your belief that the conclusion of your previous personal experience was defeated. By the way, if its not too personal, what was the defeater?

    In addition, why is that defeater for your own personal experience a reason to reject all personal experience? If one mistakenly-called miracle is shown to have natural causes, that is no reason to call every miracle a purely natural occurrence. It seems to me you may be committing the fallacy of making the exception the rule.

  37. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    If personal experience can’t be used as evidence, how is then you can use your personable experience to know your previous experience was mistaken?

    Well, no, personal experience would convince the person. But it’s not very acceptable second, third or more hand.

    By the way, if its not too personal, what was the defeater?

    Well I later learned that all I had experienced was an emotional release. And as always naturalism is vindicated: I have now experienced the same phenomenon and experiences using psychopharmacology and psychology.

    An objective argument(I’d sooner just call it evidence rather than argument) is evidence which almost all can agree on.

    Agrument ad populum.

    If Modern History, to take one example, is merely ad populum then why believe in the second world war?
    Besides, if you would argue for a non-ad populum objectivity, to what would you appeal? “Logic and right reasoning” would probably be close to your answer. But how do you know what right reasoning is without appeal to common knowledge(sense)?

    Failing to make an argument is failing to reason.

    I’m not failing to make an argument, I’m refusing to make a philosophical one.
    One argument of mine is that I just don’t see god. This is an evidenciary argument.

    Plus the rules of logic are immune to the influence of bias. Your mistake seems to be impugning the whole method because some practitioners get confused, misapply principles, etc.

    Haha. I’ve got to admire your zealous naivete, both in the claim that logic is immune to bias and that it is your enemies, of course, that are confused. Lol.
    No doubt the rules of logic are fixed, but no philosopher worth the name ‘philosopher’ would demand that the logic surrounding a topic such as the existence of god are immune to bias. Not the actual logical rules themselves, but the entities we accept, the premises we accept and the weight which we attach to any given argument.
    I still find it hard to believe that a person your age can actually stand there and totally believe that things are black and white, and that you are applying logic correctly while your adversaries are confused and misapplying. Unbelieveable….. Still, what else do you have, I guess!

    What arguments for atheism do you find convincing?

    I see no evidence for god.

    Meaningless waffle considering that arguments are a waste of time. I’m interested in truth, not emotions.

    No. I’m merely saying that I advocate objective, repeatable, scientific evidence. Of which you have none whatsoever. It is you that is in waffle-world with the witchdoctors and water-diviners and astrologers – none of you have any objective evidence

    Obviously, I’m not convinced they do. In the examples of growing-back-limbs being caught on camera and statistical analysis that prayer works there could be very good reasons why these do not manifest themselves in an evidential sense

    Yes, Stuart, there IS a very good reason!

    but in each case I have heard (though unfortunately do not recall where to access….

    Ohhh, gee, I didn’t see this coming, Stuart! what’s the emoticon for rolling-around-the-floor-laughing.

    Most significantly stunning miracles, before they are proclaimed to people by some of the bigger churches that I am aware of have their facts verified by top medical professionals.

    I just cannot believe that a modern person is actually saying this. It is still a case of put up or shut up Stuart. Go and find these proofs. I will stand here NOW, ON RECORD, as saying YOU WILL NOT TURN UP WITH ANY.

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