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Portrait of an Intellectually Honest Atheist

Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About Christianity, has written an interesting article in Christianity Today about bioethicist Peter Singer and particularly Singer’s honest embrace of the ethical implications of atheism. Here are the final paragraphs:

Singer resolutely takes up a Nietzschean call for a “transvaluation of values,” with a full awareness of the radical implications. He argues that we are not creations of God but rather mere Darwinian primates. We exist on an unbroken continuum with animals. Christianity, he says, arbitrarily separated man and animal, placing human life on a pedestal and consigning the animals to the status of tools for human well-being. Now, Singer says, we must remove Homo sapiens from this privileged position and restore the natural order. This translates into more rights for animals and less special treatment for human beings. There is a grim consistency in Singer’s call to extend rights to the apes while removing traditional protections for unwanted children, people with mental disabilities, and the noncontributing elderly.

Some of Singer’s critics have called him a Nazi and compared his proposals to Hitler’s schemes for eliminating those perceived as unwanted and unfit. A careful reading of his work, however, shows that Singer is no Hitler. He doesn’t want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by private individuals like you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.

Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven’t considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist.

Source: JT

Russell's Teapot

The following is taken from a friendly email discussing the evidence for the existence of God. The atheist here writes:

Christian belief has been marked by a series of retreats over supposed “truth”. The Earth is the centre of the universe? The world was created in seven days? What starts out as “fact” retreats in the face of overwhelming evidence . . . Modern Christian dogma has retreated to a position where it can’t easily be disproven. This is where the “magic invisible teapot” argument from Bertrand Russell comes in:

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”1

My slightly revised response is as as follows.

Finally I come to Russell’s teapot. By the quotation I take it the point is to show the difficulty in refuting avowals of belief in phenomena outside human perception. But my case for the existence of God and the existence of the teapot is not synonymous. 

Firstly, I build a case from deductive arguments. For instance, if the cosmological argument I gave bears out,2 then that gives good ground for believing in the existence of a beginningless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal creator of the universe. This has always been the conception of the God of Christianity. Unlike the teapot this argument does not rely upon the authority of a religious book or indoctrination. In the case of the teapot there was and could be no corroborative evidence for its existence, but in the case of God we have the evidence of the beginning of the universea religiously-neutral premise, and reinforced with both philosophy and scienceand the principle that nothing comes from nothing. Here in this particular argument, unlike the teapot many of God’s traditional attributes are recovered, including the ability to create the universe from nothing, which only a personal creator God can achieve.

Secondly, we come back to the presumption of atheism—that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism thus becomes a default position. Not being able to falsify the existence of Russell’s teapot was expected when came the clarification that the most powerful telescopes were unable to detect it in orbit. Take the statement; “there is an elephant in the quad.” The failure to observe it there would constitute good evidence that there is not an elephant there. If someone were to assert however, there is a flea on the quad, the failure to observe it there would not constitute good evidence that it was not there. The difference is the expectation of the evidence, were such-and-such the case. I’ll let Moreland and Craig explain.

Thus the absence of evidence is evidence of absence only in cases in which, were the postulated entity to exist, we should expect to have some evidence of its existence. Moreover, the justification conferred in such cases will be proportional to the ratio between the amount of evidence that we do have and the amount of evidence that we should expect to have if the entity existed. If the ratio is small, then little justification is conferred on the belief that the entity does not exist.

Again the advocates of the presumption of atheism recognized this. Michael Scriven, for example, maintained that in the absence of evidence rendering the existence of some entity probable, we are justified in believing that it does not exist, provided that (1) it is not something that might leave no traces and (2) we have comprehensively surveyed the area where the evidence would be found if the entity existed. But if this is correct, then our justification for atheism depends on (1) the probability that God would leave more evidence of his existence than what we have and (2) the probability that we have comprehensively surveyed the field for evidence of his existence. That puts a different face on the matter! Suddenly the presumer of atheism, who sought to shirk his share of the burden of proof, finds himself saddled with the very considerable burden of proving (1) and (2) to be the case.3

The implications are clear for Russell’s teapot. We have little justification for believing in the existence of the teapot given (1) and (2). In the case of God however the ratio will depend on your view of natural theology (the evidence of God’s existence in nature), and the expectation that he would leave more evidence of His existence than He already has. Scriven therefore advocated agnosticism rather than to be disbelieving in such entities as God, as the burden of (1) and (2) are far too heavy load to bear. But I think that God has left good evidence of his existence in nature and that is the enterprise we are engaged in as apologists. 

 

Footnotes

1. Bertrand Russell, Magic Invisible Teapot 

2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument; See also The Cosmological Argument from Sufficient Reason and The Cosmological Argument from Existential Causality

3. J P Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Intervarsity Press, 2003), p. 157.

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)

Atheists "doing good for goodness' sake"

William Lane Craig nicely refutes humanism in this short “Atheist Bus Campaign” MP3 podcast.

Theistic Critiques Of Atheism

William Lane Craig

Abridged version in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, pp. 69-85. Ed. M. Martin. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2007 (more info here)

Introduction

The last half-century has witnessed a veritable revolution in Anglo-American philosophy. In a recent retrospective, the eminent Princeton philosopher Paul Benacerraf recalls what it was like doing philosophy at Princeton during the 1950s and ’60s. The overwhelmingly dominant mode of thinking was scientific naturalism. Metaphysics had been vanquished, expelled from philosophy like an unclean leper. Any problem that could not be addressed by science was simply dismissed as a pseudo-problem. Verificationism reigned triumphantly over the emerging science of philosophy. “This new enlightenment would put the old metaphysical views and attitudes to rest and replace them with the new mode of doing philosophy.”

The collapse of the Verificationism was undoubtedly the most important philosophical event of the twentieth century. Its demise meant a resurgence of metaphysics, along with other traditional problems of philosophy which Verificationism had suppressed. Accompanying this resurgence has come something new and altogether unanticipated: a renaissance in Christian philosophy.

The face of Anglo-American philosophy has been transformed as a result. Theism is on the rise; atheism is on the decline. Atheism, though perhaps still the dominant viewpoint at the American university, is a philosophy in retreat. In a recent article in the secularist journal Philo Quentin Smith laments what he calls “the desecularization of academia that evolved in philosophy departments since the late 1960s.” He complains,

Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism. . . began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians . . . . in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, ‘academically respectable’ to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today.

Smith concludes, “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”

As vanguards of a new philosophical paradigm, theistic philosophers have freely issued various critiques of atheism. In so short a space as this entry it is impossible to do little more than sketch some of them and to provide direction for further reading. These critiques could be grouped under two basic heads: (1) There are no cogent arguments on behalf of atheism, and (2) There are cogent arguments on behalf of theism.

Much more here.

Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler

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

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

Atheists should not criticize Hitler

Rob says:

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

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

Rob is “apologeticsNZ”

Atheist objector “UppruniTegundanna”

I enter the conversation as “ThinkingMatters”

 

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apologeticsnz (16 hours ago)

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

UppruniTegundanna (1 week ago) Show Hide

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

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

apologeticsnz (16 hours ago) 

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

UppruniTegundanna (14 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

apologeticsnz (13 hours ago) 

Hey, finally an intelligent answer!

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

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

Make sense?

UppruniTegundanna (13 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

UppruniTegundanna (1 week ago) Show Hide

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

apologeticsnz (13 hours ago)

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

UppruniTegundanna (12 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

ThinkingMatters (12 hours ago) Show Hide

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

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

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

ThinkingMatters (11 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

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

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

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

UppruniTegundanna (10 hours ago) Show Hide

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

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

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

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

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

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

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

I think it will be of great interest to people. 

Sorry I’m turning in. :-(

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

 

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

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apologeticsnz (13 hours ago) 

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

Why?

UppruniTegundanna (13 hours ago) Show Hide

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

ThinkingMatters (11 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

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

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

UppruniTegundanna (10 hours ago) Show Hide

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

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

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

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

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

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

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

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

ThinkingMatters (8 hours ago) Show Hide

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

:-) Thanks for the conversation.

The Inherent Value of Human Life

 

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

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I wrote on 15/5/2008:

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Quote from you:

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

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

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

You could phrase the argument like this: 

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

2) Human life does have inherent value.

3) Therefore, God exists.

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

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I wrote on 1/8/2008:

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

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

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

Richard Taylor, an eminent ethicist, writes,

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

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

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

He concludes,

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

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

 

fig-1.jpg

fig-1.jpg

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Footnotes:

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

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

3. Ibid.

William Lane Craig & Madness in England

Dr. William Lane Craig talks briefly for a few minutes of the madness going on in England regarding the Church of England the the Royal Society.

Here it the MP3, but another way to listen is via the cute player built into this page.

Michigan Invasion, Hitchens Debate Video, Help for UNC

I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Detroit last Monday. A colleague there scheduled me for nine “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” events in seven days all over the state: Four at secular universities, two at a Christian high school, and three at churches up north. It was like an invasion, and God made it an amazing success. Here are the highlights:

  • Each of the first four nights I presented I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist at a different university. We started at Eastern Michigan University on Monday night, and then hit Central Michigan University, Oakland University and Michigan State on successive evenings. Michigan is, of course, nowhere near the Bible belt, but we had 150 to more than 300 students each of the first three nights.
  • A number of atheists put me on the hot seat each night with questions and counter arguments even long after the session was to end. Most of the arguments they brought up were either weak or based on such fundamental philosophical mistakes, that they make me even more confident that Christianity is true. I kept thinking, “This is the best you’ve got?” Several Christians were greatly encouraged and, at a couple of events, even stood up and said that they loved the scientific arguments for God.
  • The event on Thursday night at Michigan State had about 80 people (publicity was lacking on that campus), but it actually turned out for the good. I had more time to address the half of the audience that was from an atheist club! After hearing my arguments for absolute truth and the existence of God for 90 minutes, these atheists (and several Christians) stayed for another 90 minutes asking questions and debating certain points! While some atheists were adamant about their position, several were visibly shaken in light of the evidence for God. At least one student, who had left the faith, is now on his way back. God may have planted other seeds as well.
  • The Church and High School events Friday through Sunday were also well attended (even some atheists showed up there!). We had more than 300 on Friday night in Traverse City and 400-500 on Sunday night in Alpena. One young lady who attended works for Michael Moore (yes, that Michael Moore). She told me that she is now coming back to the faith! (I don’t know how that will affect her employment.)
  • We are now planning another visit up there to conduct part 2 of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, and possibly to train a group of apologists to minister on campuses across the state.

One sad observation: As I handed out fliers on one of the campuses, so many of the students I greeted had the look of emptiness on their faces. They were like walking zombies. They reminded me of how people looked on the streets of Moscow during the height of the Soviet Union. Why? Because there is no hope in atheistic materialism which is the dominant view on campus. Thankfully, due to your donations and those of some Christian groups on campus, the events were free to everyone! Because of you we were able to share the hope of Christ with compelling evidence to back it up. Thanks for making a difference in the lives of the students and adults who attended and those they will now influence for Christ.

In other news, we had a very successful event at UNC Charlotte on September 23 with about 150 in attendance. We have already scheduled part 2 for February 12, 2009. Over the next month, I’ll present at colleges in Tennessee and Texas, and then UNC Wilmington on November 10 and UNC Chapel Hill on November 11. (Click here for the calendar.)

While we are scheduled, we do not have our costs covered for the upcoming UNC events. Can you help us bring truth to those students and others? If so, please click here. (Campus events cost several thousand dollars to put on, but the payback is eternal!)

Finally, click here (our blog) to see my debate from September 9th with Christopher Hitchens. It’s over two hours, so get comfortable. I’d like to hear your opinion, so please drop me an e-mail or put a comment on the blog.

Blessings,

Frank

Dr. Frank Turek
Founder & President of CrossExamined.org
Speaker and co-author of:
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Legislating Morality