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.

57 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Gareth
    Gareth says:

    Why even argue with you on this? I’m an atheist and I find the whole argument irrelevent. Atheists, if you read this and feel like argue for some external sense of morals: Harden up:

    There’s no external standard of right, wrong, good bad etc. Its all meaningless.

    I *personally* think hittler was scum, but so what?

    As usual, you find one guy who’ll argue with you and make it the ‘official’ opinion. Wake up, life is meaningless. If you want true opinion check out Cammus, Sarte etc.

    best wishs
    Gareth

  2. The Whyman
    The Whyman says:

    In short, anyone who claims to be an ‘atheist’ is acting inconsistant with his beliefs when he follows any kind of moral or ethical code. A true atheist is -to be blunt- a sociopath. Aren’t we glad then that most who claim to be ‘athiests’ are moral parasites?

    David Robertson, in one of his letter to Richard Dawkins debunking his ‘God delusion’ put it well here:

    http://bethinking.org/science-christianity/the-dawkins-letters-8-the-roots-of-morality-.htm

  3. The Whyman
    The Whyman says:

    An afterthought: If there is no God then there is no basis for morals and ethics. That being the case having a screwdriver jabbed through your face is equally acceptable as being givena box of chocolates.

    There is no difference between the firefighter and the arsonist who started it. The police shouldn’t arrest anyone as ‘thieves’ should be able to steal, murderers should be able to kill, paedophiles should act on their perverted impulses.

    THAT is why it is very relevant and only those who haven’t given this any thought would say otherwise.

  4. gareth
    gareth says:

    Your argument is irrelevent, but morals aren’t. Morals exist, as a societal contruct, they’re not external to it.

    Thats it. Thats why Christians used to kill gay people, burn non believers, backed the south in the American civil war, all that ‘good’ stuff. But now you find these things ‘wrong’, because society has moved on. Not becuase god has changed but becuase society has changed.

    Its also why you’d find the behaviour of those great heros of the bible worthy of imprisonment today. Noah sleeping with his kids. Abraham planning to kill his son or Lot offering his virgin daughters like pieces of meat he owned.

    Even if god existed, all it would mean is that he decided what was good and bad according to his will. Something you deny is impossible to do, and yet as a society we’re doing it all the time.

    Unfortunatly you confirm for all of us, that without your belief, you would become a monster of some sort. There are terrible athiests and terrible theists, thats the sad thing, religious belief doesn’t seem to change morals much at all, if it did people wouldn’t assosiate priests and religous leaders with the very thing you mentioned.

    I don’t wish something bad to happen to you, quite the opposite, I’d like to see you face your worst fear and move on from it. So its relevent for me to say:

    Best wishes

    Gareth

  5. UppruniTegundanna
    UppruniTegundanna says:

    “In short, anyone who claims to be an ‘atheist’ is acting inconsistant with his beliefs when he follows any kind of moral or ethical code. A true atheist is -to be blunt- a sociopath. Aren’t we glad then that most who claim to be ‘athiests’ are moral parasites?”

    Wow, what a horrible thing to say! I understand that you consider your religious belief to be the underpinning of all your ethical intuitions, but to bolster that opinion by claiming that atheists are not only amoral, but afflicted by a mental condition that is actually diagnosable by psychiatrists is “to be blunt” repugnant. Not only to me, but to yourself – you are claiming that you yourself would be unable to see the difference between “having a screwdriver jabbed through your face” compared to “being given a box of chocolates” but for the grace of God. I submit that it is you who is the sociopath, who can’t even make the value judgement necessary to differentiate the two, rather than the atheist who can.

    I do not begrudge people their belief: there are 6.5 billion people on this planet, all of whom have their own independent minds and beliefs – it would be absurd to expect everyone to share a single belief, for example your own, so the best thing to do is allow people their beliefs, and concentrate on their actions when making ethical judgements against them.

    I have never hurt anyone in my life, and never will. It simply isn’t in my nature. Am I a parasite on Christian morality? Or am I simply a human who understands that, for the perpetuation of an orderly society, it requires me to act in an orderly and ethical way myself?

  6. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    He said a “true atheist” is a sociopath. That’s not calling you a sociopath. That’s calling you inconsistent with true atheism. Thank God!

    But if you can make a distinction between a screwdriver in the face and box of chocolates, tell us how (without question begging, being ad hoc or contrived, arbitrary, or succumbing to unjustified specieism) on atheism you make it? I don’t think it can be done, for on atheism there is no right and there is no wrong which stands above and beyond human life to judge. At most you can say “I don’t like it,” and I think that is severely insufficient.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Gareth,

    I appreciate that we can agree that your feelings towards me are positive. But the point it think you are failing to grasp is this – on the atheistic view, there really is no way you can answer the question ‘What is good (or positive)?’ beyond your personal feelings on the matter. And without an explanation of why there can be a “best” for me, you may as well have just uttered nothing. On consistent atheism “Best wishes,” signifies “Thwatz sphang,” – mere gibberish.

    I can agree that morals reflect largely the beliefs of society and are constructs of our culture. But that is not the issue. The issue is do objective morals exist. Are there any universals, such that something (anything) is wrong, always has been wrong, and always will be. And atheism constantly applied will answer “No.” Moral value judgements reduce to the subjective, and that I contend does not represent an adequate understanding. Where you run into real trouble is when you try and condemn or praise certain practices. To illustrate…

    Hitler: “I feel I am doing the right thing.”
    You: “I feel you are doing the wrong thing.”
    Hitler: “Well, if that’s all you you can say concerning my excellent ‘final-solution’ I’ll just get on with it.”

    Your getting your bible stories confused a bit. The most egregious error is thinking that because the Bible records a thing as happening it recommends and/or condones those actions.

    Your second error is thinking that because someone believe in God that that always acts consistently with it. There is room on the Christian view for people (even religious people) to act horribly to each other, for all have fallen short of God’s perfect standard. Where the Christian view is superior to atheism is we can affirm with real meaning that there are somethings, like needless surgery on live babies, that are really wrong, and anyone who feels that it isn’t is simply mistaken.

  8. UppruniTegundanna
    UppruniTegundanna says:

    One of the things that makes debates of this nature (or any nature) difficult, is that one or other side might, at some point, feel that they have the right to define certain words any way they wish to make their position impossible to argue against. Since you have decided that a “true atheist” is a sociopath, then I have no possible retort – you have settled the matter in your own mind.

    Nevertheless, your argument that the Christian worldview is superior to the non-Christian worldview, because with it we can make absolute assertions about right or wrong, is an argument for the utility of a belief, rather than for its veracity. I could potentially agree with you that the Christian worldview is superior to the non-Christian one for this reason and still remain a non-believer. However, I do not agree with that assertion.

    Take the example of the screwdriver versus chocolates. You claim that it is impossible to place a value judgment on those two situations without reference to the Christian God as it would simply be an ad hoc rationalisation. I specify Christian God, rather than the God of any other religion, because I am assuming that you agree with me that the morals of other religions have a human, rather than divine, origin, and are thus similarly ad hoc.

    A screwdriver to the face would cause severe blood loss, lasting disfigurement, immediate pain and suffering, and possibly death, not to mention causing resentment towards the perpetrator, while the box of chocolates would be a gesture of kindness, foster mutual trust and happiness.

    While the box of chocolates is rather obviously the preferable act, you will most likely defend the integrity of your belief that a valid value judgment can’t be placed on such a thing by claiming that it is just an ad hoc rationalisation. However, as living beings, we possess (or are possessed by if you don’t mind the rather sinister choice of words!) the biological imperative to survive and procreate. This is true whether or not a god exists, and is as observable a phenomenon as gravity is. Life survives in whatever way it can. As social creatures, humans benefit from a robust social network for survival. This network is compromised if mutual trust is violated, and of course the capacity for survival of an individual is also compromised if they are subjected to a screwdriver to the face. Thus the biological imperative for survival is helped by the chocolates and hindered by the screwdriver. If this is also ad hoc, then I suppose you think that I have no rational justification, as an atheist, for eating food to survive. I just had a rationally unjustifiable fry-up this morning – and it was great!

    If you have ever seen an ad for a children’s charity, where images of starving infants are shown on the screen, you will have experienced a similar thing that all mentally healthy people feel: a deep sense of empathy and sorrow that one of your fellow humans has to endure such hardship and suffering. Neuroscientists have tested empathy in the laboratory by monitoring people’s neurological behaviour while they are shown images of people in pain – even minor pain such as receiving an electric shock. What they have found is that the testee exhibits brain activity in the precise areas associated with pain sensation – we, quite literally, feel the pain of our fellow humans. If you doubt this, watch one of those skateboarding blooper videos and tell me that every man watching it doesn’t wince when they see the guy misjudge a jump and crash their groin into a bannister. That mutual understanding of the guy’s discomfort is empathy in action! This is a useful property for social creatures to have, so it should be no surprise that we have it.

    It sounds very good for you if you can claim that non-Christians cannot place a value judgment on things, so I can see that you are quite keen to perpetuate that belief. But I feel it is incorrect, and in sticking to that belief, you are denying your own capacity to make such judgments, preferring instead to defer them upwards. In this way, I feel you are diminishing your own humanity and absolving yourself of moral responsibility. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to say, but I am genuinely concerned that some religious folk are anaesthetising their natural moral intuitions as a way of strengthening the integrity of a belief system, for whose veracity adequate evidence has not yet been brought to bear.

  9. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I specify Christian God, rather than the God of any other religion, because I am assuming that you agree with me that the morals of other religions have a human, rather than divine, origin, and are thus similarly ad hoc.

    I don’t think Judaism and Islam do. The Moral argument is compatible with at least the three great monotheistic religions.

    It sounds very good for you if you can claim that non-Christians cannot place a value judgment on things, so I can see that you are quite keen to perpetuate that belief.

    I don’t perpetrate that belief. I think non-Christians can. I think atheists can. As I have said many times before, I don’t think a person being consistent with their atheism can. That just means you, if you want to call things moral, you are being inconsistent with atheism. In order to deny you are being inconsistent with atheism, you will have to show how, on atheism, there arises a good or wrong.

    you are denying your own capacity to make such judgments, preferring instead to defer them upwards.

    No I am not. You are confusing a metaphysical question with an epistemological one. How we know morals is not the issue. The issue is are morals objective. You are falling in the trap of the genetic fallacy – invalidating a belief (namely that objective morals exist) based on the origin of said belief (namely they arise from evolutionary social, cultural, and biological pressures).

    You are begging the question again. Why is societal cohesion good? Why is survival good? At most you are only saying society at large feels that these are good things. That is still subjective amorality, as it only adds quantitative value and not qualitative value.

    But as you seem like a reasonable person I think you really do want to affirm that a screwdriver to the face instead of a box of chocolates is really wrong, and not just because your feelings say so. Similarly, I think that you want to affirm that the life of baby is worth more than the life of a lab rat, but on consistently applied atheism (naturalism) there is no justification for asserting that anything has worth beyond what you personally ascribe to that child. “Worth” is a qualitative term.

    The relevant argument for God’s existence is here:

    (1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
    (2) Objective morals do exist,
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    Its clear by now you disagree with (2) and are content to live with the contradiction that comes from not consistently applying your atheism. You live like there are objective morals, but have yet to give a reason why your morals don’t reduce to your subjective point of view. As such (2) is more likely that its contradictory, therefore the argument is sound, and you have good reason to believe that God exists.

  10. Gareth
    Gareth says:

    Its all about Pain vs. Pleasure. Morality is an averages game. By following it more of us are likely to find pleasure and avoid pain.

    I don’t need god to tell me that thats a good thing. So last post:

    May you be happy. May you be free from emnity hatred and greed. May you value life for what it is instead of making it second best to an imaginary afterlife! May you be at peace

    That’s what I wish!

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    What Gareth fails to understand is that we have not been talking about how we know what particular moral values are right and wrong. Rather we have been discussing whether there is such a thing as right and wrong. In short – not ethics but meta-ethics.

    I agree that he doesn’t need God to discern what particular thing is good or causes pleasure, etc. He can arrive at those conclusions all on his own, or with the help of society. But by failing to provide a platform to pin his moral assertions he has succumb ultimately to subjectivism. As atheism provides no rational foundation for why things are really right and wrong – beyond person preference, his best wishes (though much appreciated) and the moral statements he utters are nothing more profound than the statement “I prefer the taste of chocolate.”

    I contend that a better explanation of our shared moral experience is available. Experience that tell us that there are real right and wrongs. That what we call good efforts and evil deeds are not amoral. And that moral statements such as “I think Hitler’s final solution was appalling,” and “I dislike the flavour of stew,” are not equivalent.

    And if you agree, you have good reason to reject atheism and accept theism.

  12. Gareth
    Gareth says:

    grrr, I can’t help it I have to post again. It is true my morals are subjective. But what you don’t understand is that morals are, even if god existed still subjective. In the thiests case they are “misplaced subjectivity”.

    Also you state experience tell us there are absolute rights and wrongs. You haven’t proven this beyond your own personal feelings which are also subjective. Many of us don’t feel this way.

    Subjective Best Wishes! :-)

  13. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    …even if god existed still subjective

    I’m not quite sure what you getting at here. Most people think that if God exists objective moral values exist. If you are saying our comprehension of what those morals are still subjective, even if God exists – I have already dealt with that in the above comment from me (see November 24th, 2008 10:24 am), it the difference between ethics and meta-ethics your confused on: not moral epistemology but moral ontology. If you are talking about God’s subjective feelings then I have already answered that in my response to the Euthyphro Dilemma (see: http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/response-to-the-savioroflogic/)

    …you state experience tell us there are absolute rights and wrongs. You haven’t proven this beyond your own personal feelings which are also subjective.

    I don’t need to prove it with beyond my own personal feelings. I only need to appeal to the common moral experience of others to show that it is more likely than its contradictory (subjectivism). If it is more likely, the argument I stated above is sound and you have good reason to believe God exists.

    And I think it is more likely that objective moral values exists. After all, we live like it. Every time we say should, or shouldn’t or that something is right and wrong. Every time we cry out for justice, or get angry at someone for wronging you. We can see and experience that there really is a difference between stabbing someone and hugging them. And if you think that moral statements like “Hitler’s final solution was abominable” and “I like the taste of chocolate” is qualitatively different then you’d agree with me that there are objective moral values.

  14. Rob
    Rob says:

    Gareth’s 2nd-to-last comment is loaded with morality. What if I were to punch Gareth in the nose or steal his wallet, would he believe that is wrong? What may be HIS pain could be MY pleasure. As an “averages game”, it would seem that gain + loss averages out to us being all even :-)

    As Ravi Zacharias has said: “In some cultures they love their enemies; in other cultures they eat their enemies”.

    The pain Hitler inflicted was presumably outweighed by the benefits, at least in his subjective perception, else why would Hitler have done what he did?

    Moreover, Gareth treats us as if we are just a bunch of chemicals that can be stimulated to behave in certain ways, regulated by subjective pleasure/pain impulses.

    But this is the problem with the atheist — he lives a lie, believing morality is something that exists out there, when all along it is just chemicals reacting in his head.

    The caveat is that consistent atheists are not like this — they are as mentioned above — sociopaths. I’m glad Gareth and other atheists live inconsistent lives. The world would be a much worse place if they lived consistently.

  15. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ken Perrott has not sufficiently engaged with my writing or argument.

    http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2008/11/28/atheists-not-allowed-to-criticise-hitler/

    I think this is very evident from the above post. He accurately states my article claimed that atheists have no basis for morality. Then, instead of giving a basis for morality, only calls the argument silly because people do have morality.

    If Ken is to give himself any intellectual credibility, he will have to give a reason why, on atheism, he can with any authority call moral atrocities, such as what Hitler did to the Jews, wrong. And if atheism is to be a better explanation than theism, his reason must not be ad hoc or contrived, arbitrary or succumb to unjustified specieism.

  16. Rob
    Rob says:

    I read the first link Ken gave above. I think he is very confused on this subject, and misses the point completely. Ken: almost everything you wrote seems to be around backwards.

    We are not arguing that atheists have no morality — we are glad they DO have morality. Rather, we are arguing that atheists cannot account for their morality. They have no basis for it other than pragmatism. Their feet are firmly planted in mid-air.

    Thus if the world is deemed better off without 6 million European Jews, and it benefits those in control, then what is wrong with ethnic cleansing?

    “If there is no God … ALL things are permitted”.

  17. The Whyman
    The Whyman says:

    Though well written, your article Ken, doesn’t address the issues. It attempts to deal with the ‘how’ yet avoids the ‘why’ and the logical conclusions that the rational, thinking mind must come to.

  18. Ken
    Ken says:

    “then what is wrong with ethnic cleansing? ” I suggest history shows that religion is very often a mobilising tool in ethnic cleansing – so much for “If there is no God … ALL things are permitted”. It seem that a god can be used to justify almost any inhuman action – including Hitler.

    The fact is that I have no problem accounting for my morality. I feel there is a firm basis for it. And my feet are firmly planted on the ground. To suggest otherwise is really only an expression of your own bias – and an unwarranted attempt to discredit people with ideas different to your own.

    So, an evidence-based analysis of sources of morality must take this into account – it can’t just ignore this reality.

  19. Heraclides
    Heraclides says:

    “UppruniTegundanna on November 23rd, 2008 11:42 am

    One of the things that makes debates of this nature (or any nature) difficult, is that one or other side might, at some point, feel that they have the right to define certain words any way they wish to make their position impossible to argue against.”

    The whole point of Stuart’s arguments are so that he can place potted views of opinions on others to justify his religious positions, hence what you’re pointing out. He will tell others “who they are” and “what they are”, or, more accurately, frame them into his religious context. What he won’t do is allow them to present themselves from their own perspective. And so it will continue in perfectly circular fashion ad infinitum basically because he won’t let other people represent themselves, but plant on them what comes from his religion: something they don’t hold to.

    By way of example:

    Stuart: “if you want to call things moral, you are being inconsistent with atheism”

    This isn’t a statement of fact, but framing someone else using his own religious context. This, of course, makes no sense at all for those that don’t hold his religious persuasion. His religion says that only followers of G-d can have morals: by “defining” others as not having any, as his religions tells him to, he self-justifies himself by fait. All the psuedo-philosophical clap-trap is just a smoke-screen (as the Pythons nicely illustrated).

    Rob: Stuart actually did say that atheist can’t have morals, he just wrote it in inverted fashion. Read the quote of his words I gave above: inverted this says “atheists can’t have morals”. (“The point is that an atheist cannot be consistent with their view if they want to affirm the existence of objective morals.” is only a sneaker way of saying the same thing: it intended to lead into an assertion that only G-d provides objective morals then travel around the circular argument that follows. This is precisely why he introduces next “The ethic you have created for yourself is like a web suspended on nothing.” in his next sentence — he’s trying to set up the answer he already wants to be true. From the onset, its not a real argument, just a self-justification exercise. Its also why I generally can’t be bothered with him. Self-justification is about as pointless as it gets.)

  20. James
    James says:

    So, an evidence-based analysis of sources of morality must take this into account – it can’t just ignore this reality.

    And what does this evidence tell us Ken? That men war, murder, rape, steal, are selfish, etc…? How to you get what we “ought” to do from what the evidence tells us “is.”

  21. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Heraclides, if you think I am characterising atheism then perhaps you think that Kai Neilson is also characterising it.

    There can be no complete non-personal, objective justification for acting morally rather than nonmorally.
    Kai Neilson

    I’m not imposing my religious view on other views. I’m arriving at the logical conclusion of atheism, the same logical conclusion given by other atheist thinkers.

    “If you want to call things moral, you are being inconsistent with atheism” and
    “atheists can’t have morals” is not logically equivalent.

    “His religion says that only followers of G-d can have morals” – that ridiculous. Actually Romans 2 explicitly says that “Gentiles” ie. the secular man, do have morals. And I have never implied something like this.

    Still you haven’t answered the question how do you get objective moral values.

  22. Heraclides
    Heraclides says:

    “I’m not imposing my religious view on other views. I’m arriving at the logical conclusion of atheism, the same logical conclusion given by other atheist thinkers.”

    Moot: I didn’t write that, I wrote that you frame others with your religious context.

    And your logic is shocking.

    The question in the last sentence was never asked of me, so writing “still you haven’t” is stupid and just an feeble attempt at baiting. You don’t need to take up James’ idiotic tactic of ending every post with a “question” as a defence.

    Since you just want to deny what you’ve done, I’m going to waste my time taking it further.

  23. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    The whole point of Stuart’s arguments are so that he can place potted views of opinions on others to justify his religious positions

    That’s an ironic statement if ever there was one, since it manifestly places a potted view onto Stuart, apparently in an attempt to justify your own ideological position. So not only are you invidiously imputing to Stuart insincere motives which you plainly are not in a position to know, but you yourself are engaging in the very insincere strategy which is supposed to cast doubt on his argument. Thus you are both a liar and a hypocrite.

    He will tell others “who they are” and “what they are”, or, more accurately, frame them into his religious context.

    Of course, a necessary part of debate is representing the views of others, and framing that view as relevant to one’s own. So this is hardly an indictment.

    What he won’t do is allow them to present themselves from their own perspective.

    Another plainly untrue statement.

    1. Any atheist is free to comment here, as demonstrated by the several which have. Stuart has not prevented any atheists from presenting their own perspective; and has interacted with such perspectives when they have been presented.

    2. Despite that he has allowed atheists to present their own perspectives (contra your false claim), since he is dismantling atheism in the form of metaphysical naturalism, it is certainly not incumbent on him to provide such a forum before launching his critique. In fact, the point of Stuart’s argument is to demonstrate how, regardless of what atheists may say (ie, how they would present their own views), their metaphysical beliefs commit them to an amoral view of reality. This is inconsistent with their own moral claims. That is the gist of his argument. You seem to want to try to avoid the argument altogether by claiming that it’s illicit of him to even try to represent the atheist view—or by saying that the argument would be defused if the atheist were allowed to present his views. This, of course, isn’t the case at all, and merely begs the question in favor of the atheist’s inconsistent presentation—as Ken has very adequately demonstrated by trying to present the atheist position. That presentation, which Stuart has already commented on, tends to simply take the form of saying that atheists do believe in morality. But that’s our point: the argument being presented by Stuart is not that atheists don’t believe in morality, but that they are inconsistent with the metaphysical commitments to do so.

    And so it will continue in perfectly circular fashion ad infinitum basically because he won’t let other people represent themselves, but plant on them what comes from his religion: something they don’t hold to. By way of example:

    Stuart: “if you want to call things moral, you are being inconsistent with atheism”

    Again, manifestly untrue: Stuart has quoted atheist philosophers to substantiate his representation of the atheist position. Intelligent and considered atheists (and by “atheists” I really mean metaphysical naturalists) are quite aware that their metaphysical beliefs commit them to a denial of moral realism. In the final analysis, the metaphysical naturalist by definition holds to a view of reality which is totally amoral. Hence the inconsistency in making moral claims. Now, you can try to interact with that and demonstrate how the inconsistency can be alleviated; but you haven’t. You’ve just complained that theists refuse to accept the typical atheist’s lazy affirmation of moral realities despite their tension with his underlying metaphysical commitments. As if an atheist merely presenting an illogical view is enough to immunize it from criticism, and anyone demonstrating an internal contradiction is somehow misrepresenting it. That’s the most remarkable kind of question-begging I’ve ever seen: the atheist view is so unassailable that anyone appearing to assail it is misrepresenting it.

    This isn’t a statement of fact, but framing someone else using his own religious context. This, of course, makes no sense at all for those that don’t hold his religious persuasion. His religion says that only followers of G-d can have morals: by “defining” others as not having any, as his religions tells him to, he self-justifies himself by fait. All the psuedo-philosophical clap-trap is just a smoke-screen (as the Pythons nicely illustrated).

    Another utterly ironic statement. Here you are vastly misrepresenting Christianity, framing it in your own secular context. Once again you demonstrate your complete mental incompetence and hypocrisy. You take a smug, condescending attitude in the debate, as if you know all our motives and intentions and are in a position of both moral and intellectual superiority; yet your understanding of Christianity as you present it in your own words is staggeringly, completely wrong. Evidently you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. No surprise there.

    (”The point is that an atheist cannot be consistent with their view if they want to affirm the existence of objective morals.” is only a sneaker way of saying the same thing: it intended to lead into an assertion that only G-d provides objective morals then travel around the circular argument that follows. This is precisely why he introduces next “The ethic you have created for yourself is like a web suspended on nothing.” in his next sentence — he’s trying to set up the answer he already wants to be true. From the onset, its not a real argument, just a self-justification exercise. Its also why I generally can’t be bothered with him. Self-justification is about as pointless as it gets.)

    You seem to have an intimate familiarity with Stuart’s motives. How could you possibly know all this? And, even if true, what does his motivation have to do with the cogency of his arguments? Of course, we can simply turn your comical accusations back on you: you yourself are clearly married to your own philosophical position, so any argument you make is obviously just trying to set up the answer you already want to be true. From the beginning, it’s not a real argument, just a self-justification exercise. Indeed, the Bible does indeed claim that this is what you are doing: unbelievers attempt to justify their own ludicrous beliefs so as to have some excuse for suppressing their knowledge of God. Yet they are without excuse. And by the way, it’s “God”, not “G-d”. I don’t know this “G-d” you keep talking about. In future, since you of course want to accurately represent the Christian view (not the Jewish view), you should probably make an effort to actually refer to the Christian deity, rather than something else with a similar name.

    That assumes, of course, that you come back with something remotely resembling a real argument, interacting with the real arguments which have already been given. If you simply post more passive-aggressive psycho-analysis and self-serving rhetoric, you’re wasting all of our time, and your blather will be deleted as the spam that it is.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  24. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    As Ken asked a semi-intelligent question I’ll attempt give an answer. Here is what he asked.

    To my question – “upon what basis does the theist determine what is good?” … Can you or Stuart give a brief exposition replying to that question?

    As I said, I have no problem finding a basis for my moral decisions – which obviously makes your claims about my position wrong. However, I really want to have clear understanding of the model you propose regarding the basis theists use for moral decisions. I am open minded but until I have one there is no choice for me but to go with my current thinking which appears to be supported by the empirical evidence.

    My Answer:

    Metaethically when I say “x is right/wrong” I mean to ascribe to x the property of rightness or wrongness. This objectivalist position makes two ontological commitments – that there is an x and that there exists a property of rightness/wrongness. In short I am a ethical nonnaturalist.

    I do not think you can put morals in a test tube. Or that rightness or wrongness could be tested scientifically. Worth and value are qualitative terms prescribed by prescribers, and not descriptive terms that can be quantified by science.

    (On an ethical naturalist’s perspective you can test morality scientifically, but there one has to reduce moral properties to non-moral properties by giving the word “right” in the statement “x is right” an operational definition such as “x is what is approved by most people,” “x is what creates a tranquil society,” “x is what maximises happiness,” or “x is what produces survivability,” etc. But this moral reductionism confuses an “is with an “ought.” Moral properties are normative properties unlike natural properties. Also there are cases when it is clear that some things are wrong and some things are right, even when the statement is reduced to non-moral natural definition. For example, when “x is right” comes to mean “x is what is approved of by most people,” if Hitler won the war and succeeded in brainwashing or killing everyone who disagreed with him, would his ‘final solution’ be wrong?)

    The source, basis and foundation of these properties must find a transcendent ground, and that resting place must be the greatest conceivable being. Whoever this being (as I’ve mentioned before, the axiological argument I put forward is consistent with Christian, Jewish and Muslim belief) can rightly be called God, who would not only be the perfect arbiter of all that is good, but whose very nature is good. (I contend in my argument that as no ground can be found in the natural world it must transcend the natural world.) This speaks to the moral ontology, of which I have chiefly been concerned.

    But what you ask is concerning moral epistemology. That is how we know what is right and wrong. This is a finer point on the argument which a great number of comments in this tread seem to have not discerned. I am quite open to different theories there. Some of our understanding of what is right and wrong may come from our social and cultural surroundings, some from psychology or biology. I think it likely (especially as I do believe in the God of the Bible), that God has placed the moral law in all our hearts so even our thoughts at one moment condemn us, at another moment praise our actions. You also have authority figures as arbiters of how we come to know morality, that includes parents, civil law, religious law (for myself I would say the principles extracted from the Bible because it is an authority on what God’s perfect will is). There could be many ways one determines what is right and wrong. In forming the moral views of course we all have our intuitions, and consider them prima facie – that is not to say they don’t have supporting reasons as well. We use reason and logic, empathy and compassion.

    But of course, one can know what is right and wrong, good and evil, their moral duties and responsibilities, and not have a reason why they are really good or right, etc. Also, as an absolutist (as opposed to relativist), I think one’s moral view can be mistaken (ie. one thinks they know what is right, but what they know is right, is objectively wrong, ie. Hitler). So its on the ontological question one needs a foundation – a foundation I contend that naturalism cannot supply. So in sum, moral epistemology is not the issue that I’m dealing with, but moral ontology.

    _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

    I am now replying to your post Where do our morals come from? I’m posting it here and back at the thinking matters page entitled Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler
    For clarity, first let me draw the discussion back to the syllogism.

    (1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.?
    (2) Objective morals do exist,?
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    Now Ken agrees with (2) that objective morals do exist. He therefore denies (1) by asserting a ‘moral logic’ exists wholly apart from God.

    In essence Ken’s response here “Where do our morals come from?” is an attempt to draw a line between the belief that God does not exist and the existence of objective moral values. How is this line a more rational, more scientific understanding?

    I don’t know

    Determined to live in an atheistic universe, yet having to deal with the furniture that belongs in a theistic universe, Ken requires a faith commitment to prop-up his system of thought. He freely admits he cannot explain the existence of objective moral values (apart from God), but somehow, science will win the day and eventually offer an explanation.

    What does Ken mean by objective morality? There we are left to speculate. He has left us one clue however. He likens moral propositions to arithmetic, so to say “murder is wrong” is similar to say that 1+1 = 2.

    The implications of Ken’s ‘moral logic’ are significant. (i) The proposition 1+1 = 2 is true by definition. (ii) Arithmetic represents propositional truths that necessarily exist. (iii) Simple math is completely abstract such that if it exists it exist in a mind-independant universe.

    In Ken’s thought it seems, morals are propositions that are true by definition, and exist necessarily. This ‘moral logic’ represents a ontological commitment, and its clear (at least to me) from the lack of an explanation for this property that it is contrived. It is also difficult to square with on a naturalistic worldview. If the above implications to Ken’s ‘moral logic’ follow and are what he intended, the foundation for morality will have to be found outside the scope of the scientific method and the realm of testability.

    Let’s assume now that this was not what he intended, and he is not stepping outside the naturalistic worldview. How can you measure worth in a test tube?

    C.S. Lewis’ insight was that morals are not descriptive, but prescriptive. Rather than describing what the world is like, they prescribe what the world should be like. His objection to Hume’s problem of miracles was that the laws of nature are descriptive of what usually happens, not prescriptive of what must happen. There’s nothing I can see about the moral law that is purely descriptive. The statement “x is wrong” is I contend not like 1+1=2. Arithmetic speaks of an “is,” while morality speaks of an “ought.” Wrong is a qualitative term – prescriptive and not descriptive – and so the answer to what the basis of morality is must be metaphysical.

    Prescribed rules must have a prescribers. Moreover, a universal moral law needs a moral lawgiver that is above all people at all times and all places. The theist naturally has an answer ready.

    We all believe in objective moral values (theists and atheists alike), and live like they do everyday (that is Premise 2). So the atheist must deal with these objective morals. The questions that arise are (i) how these objective moral values exist, (ii) how they hold humanity accountable, (iii) what is their source, and (iv) why they establish a basis for what we both call right and wrong. Until the answers can be provided, the far better explanation is the one provided by theism.

    As these explanations cannot be given by atheism, naturalism or Ken, understandably the argument then moves on to how the Bible cannot be the standard of morality. But the Bible is not the question before us at the moment. The argument entails that a god exists, not that the doctrine of inerrancy or infallibility is true. The moral argument doesn’t give us the Christian God. It does however give a transcendent, morally perfect and personal being, – and that is consistent with the Christian concept of God.

  25. Heraclides
    Heraclides says:

    Bnonn:

    You write as if my post was “for the debate”: it was addressed to and intended for UppruniTegundanna.

    They were observations, not “potted views”. In any event, even if they were potted views, I’m entitled to those too: it wouldn’t make them wrong in itself (potted views are just condensed accounts, after all).

    I wrote about Stuart’s actions, his approach to arguing, not about him personally. You, on the other hand, threw quite a few ad hominems at me. Speaks for itself, perhaps?

    It seems that you are so busy trying to shoot me down, overcooking and overcomplicating a long, overripe answer that you missed what I was writing, seeking to refute it, rather than understand it first.

    But given the rudeness of your reply, you’re going to have little luck with me explaining that to you now.

    Regards “seeing his motivations”: I wrote about a line of argument, not “motivations”. (You’re imposing things on me, as you often do: its very ironic in this context.) It happens that I find it trivial to see how most religious arguments are constructed as they follow patterns that are repeated again and again.

    You demand of me “you should probably make an effort to actually refer to the Christian deity”. Well actually I am (you’re assuming I’m not without asking first…) and no I won’t write it differently. I’m not going to explain why here, but its my choice, respect it. (I presume you respect the Jewish for doing likewise, for their own reasons.) You want me to write how it suits you. I will write how it suits me. Look at this “argument”: in it people have repeatedly asserted all sorts of things of atheists, then you have the nerve to ask me to write how you want… hypocritical doesn’t half say it.

  26. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Heraclides: However nasty Bnonn’s reply may have been, and even if there was a few ad hominems thrown in, it wasn’t all ad hominem, and I think his points still stand. Addressing it to someone else doesn’t make the logic any less faulty.

    In any case, you do have a way of avoiding the argument. Perhaps you would do better to choose a premise and give reasons why you disagree with it. If you want to avoid the conclusion that God exists, as the argument is deductive and follows the logical rule modus ponems the conclusion follows necessarily and inescapably. A simple denial or assertion will not do be successful either – you need to show why so that your view’s rationality can be assessed.

  27. Heraclides
    Heraclides says:

    Stuart, I’m not interested in taking Bnonn’s (non-)answer further: he wrote seeking to refute rather than understand. I think I made it clear why I see that there is no point. I am not “avoiding the argument”: I am avoiding what, in my experience is a thorough waste of anyone’s time. (With all the personal attacks, there is little to avoid anyway.)

    Your third sentence tries to force any argument presented to come to the conclusion you want. This was the general point that UppruniTegundanna was making and that I replied to, so its curious that you’ve illustrated it again. Its also why I said there is no real point in arguing with you. Perhaps you are simply completely unaware the extent that you do it, as you’ve been doing it for far too long. With that in mind, there is no point in “discussing” with you, either, for reasons that have already been mentioned.

  28. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Again, you’re avoiding the argument. That’s you’re prerogative. But in the end you come off, to my mind at least, second best. What an argument does is focus the thinker, and force the conclusion. Your right when you say;

    Your third sentence tries to force any argument presented to come to the conclusion you want.

    But not just the last sentence, the whole last paragraph. That’s the purpose of deductive proofs. If you want to avoid the conclusion, you have to deny a premise.

    The whole point of Stuart’s arguments are so that he can place potted views of opinions on others to justify his religious positions… What he won’t do is allow them to present themselves from their own perspective.

    Why don’t you present then how on your view, you can affirm the existence of objective moral values and duties?

  29. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Stuart

    Give me an example of a moral. Then give me an example of an objective moral. they seem the same to me. Even higher priests usually only refer to just morals and not two different sets of morals.

    If god is a thing that sets the ground for morals then anyone that believes in the same morals as the bible can be god. I am god. I set the ground for my morals and my children’s morals. I tell them what is right and what is wrong based on my morals. I don’t use the bible as an example I just use the same morals.

    I don’t believe in god but don’t consider myself an athiest. What does that even make me?

  30. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Jim, I debated whether to approve your comment because it so totally fails to interact with Stuart’s argument, and seems to so drastically misrepresent the situation. However, perhaps you are sincere, and perhaps other people might have similar questions.

    Give me an example of a moral. Then give me an example of an objective moral. they seem the same to me.

    Stuart has never couched the discussion in the way that you have here. It’s hard to even know what you’re asking. When you ask for a “moral”, do you mean a moral law; do you mean a specific application of a moral law; do you mean something else? Stuart’s argument is that moral laws are objective, meaning that they are real things which are not contingent for their existence on any human person or persons, but to which all human persons are bound. He is primarily concerned with the ontological ramifications of this—that is, he is concerned with the nature or essential being of moral laws, and what must be true in order for them to exist. He isn’t arguing from matters of knowledge—he isn’t concerned with how we know moral laws, which would include the question of the Bible as a revelation of them. He is concerned with the actual nature of moral laws, and what grounds them.

    If god is a thing that sets the ground for morals then anyone that believes in the same morals as the bible can be god.

    You’re going to have to explain your reasoning here. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of logical connection between the first clause of your sentence, and the second (the bits separated by “then”). Are you implying that God is God only by merit of his believing the particular moral laws he does? That would seem to contradict the very notion of God being a ground for moral laws; on the contrary, moral laws would be a ground for God. I really don’t follow you.

    I set the ground for my morals and my children’s morals. I tell them what is right and what is wrong based on my morals.

    Firstly, by your own logic, that would seem to imply that if your children believe the same morals as you, then your children are you. I gather you don’t agree with that conclusion.

    Secondly, and more importantly, you are confusing epistemological grounds with ontological grounds. You are not the ontological ground of your children’s morality. You may be one epistemological ground, however. What I mean is, moral laws don’t exist because you exist. But your children may know about them because you tell them about them. So you’re confusing the kinds of grounds under discussion. Stuart is concerned with ontological, not epistemological grounds.

  31. Jim
    Jim says:

    Yes, sorry. I’m not of that high of education which is probably pretty obvious. I’m not sure if most of my questions will have anything to do with this argument but I would love to have someone answer them if you would.

    My next question is simply, what if there is no god? If there is no god, what does set the standard for our morals? Is a mystical being the only thing that stops humanity from tearing itself apart by giving it morals to stand by? We can’t come up with those morals on our own? And if he does set the ground for our morals why is their still many bad events that happen that go against those morals? Some even happen on “god’s” behalf. Like wars, stealing, rape, murder, ect.. If god’s morals are what we should base our morals on then what about the gods that these terrorists worship? Are they also morally correct because their gods say it is okay?

  32. Ken
    Ken says:

    Stuart – I have respond to0 your lengthy comment December 2, 2008 at 11:53 am. Basically I am still looking for a clear answer to my question: “upon what basis does the theist determine what is good?”

    However, I do suggest that your comments actually provide quite a bit of agreement with my hypothesis that we all derive out morality in the same secular way – although we might justify it using ideology and religion. In other words we are both able to criticise Hitler – for the same secular reasons, although we might justify this criticism differently.

  33. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hi Jim, thanks for your reply. Let me try to explain a bit further:

    f there is no god, what does set the standard for our morals? Is a mystical being the only thing that stops humanity from tearing itself apart by giving it morals to stand by? We can’t come up with those morals on our own?

    I think you’re still confusing how we know moral laws with what is required for moral laws to exist in the first place. The argument which Stuart is making is that our having morals at all indicates that there is an objective, perfect being. This is because, if there weren’t such a being, if the universe was the sort that people like Ken and Heraclides believe in, then the only things which exist are physical in nature. Everything which exists in the universe, under a non-theistic view, can be explained with physical laws. But clearly, morals are not physical. So, if people like Ken are right, then morals don’t really exist at all. Certainly not in the way we think they do. (This argument can be applied to a lot of things, of course, including logic and numbers and other abstract things.)

    So, the Christian argues that if God didn’t exist, not only would we not know about morality, but in fact morality would not exist in any sense. It would literally be an impossible or incoherent concept, because it is not physical, and under the non-theistic view everything reduces down to the physical universe.

    And if he does set the ground for our morals why is their still many bad events that happen that go against those morals? Some even happen on “god’s” behalf. Like wars, stealing, rape, murder, ect.. If god’s morals are what we should base our morals on then what about the gods that these terrorists worship? Are they also morally correct because their gods say it is okay?

    Again, we’re talking about the reality which allows morals to exist at all; not about how people know about morality, and whether or not they get it wrong sometimes (often). The fact that you can acknowledge that bad events happen demonstrates that morality itself must exist, which in turn demonstrates that God must exist. This doesn’t, of course, mean that people will do what is good; that they will act as they should, and as he would have them act.

    There is only one God who can be a ground for morality. Stuart has said earlier that at least the three major monotheistic religions come out as contenders at the conclusion of the argument from morality: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. In a basic sense this is true, because the argument is very simple. However, we can refine it significantly to show that, in fact, the Jewish and the Muslim gods do not have the attributes which would be necessary in order for morality to exist. So when Muslims commit atrocious acts in the name of Allah, their morality still exists because the Christian God exists—Allah is merely a false god; an idol, who they believe has given them instructions on how to act morally. Unfortunately, because Allah is a false god, those instructions are wrong.

    Hope this helps;
    Regards,
    Bnonn

  34. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I have responded to Ken on his blog December 2, 2008 at 8:53 pm Comment 118. http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2008/11/28/atheists-not-allowed-to-criticise-hitler/#comment-8121

    In other words we are both able to criticise Hitler – for the same secular reasons, although we might justify this criticism differently.

    If the atheist cannot justify the existence of objective moral values, then the atheist cannot condemn Hitler’s actions beyond his/her personal preferences. Through all the blabber on his sight I have not yet seen a coherent answer from the atheistic crowd as to how one affirms ontologically if there even is a right and wrong on atheism.

  35. Heraclides
    Heraclides says:

    Reply to: Stuart on December 1st, 2008 5:46 pm

    I have to admit I find your reply a laugh. I am not avoiding the argument: I never joined it in the first place! As I already have pointed out to you, my post was to UppruniTegundanna, following up on a remark that poster made, which was not about the “argument” itself.

    Either you do not understand this, or you are trying foist on me this “avoiding the argument” that I haven’t done so that you might “paint me black”. You certainly go on to do the later in your post. But its a lark, either way.

    “Your third sentence tries to force any argument presented to come to the conclusion you want.”

    Erm, comprehension?! You seem to either not understand what this means, or are misconstruing it (aka quote-mining). Certainly if you include it in its context (the following sentences the proper meaning should be rather obvious, so I’d have to opt for the latter. I’m flattered to be quote-mined. It means you think I’m a thread. Wow. But let me repeat my earlier explanation of this in the vein hope you might “get it” and not plant this on me again. My sentence was not saying your argument is right or undeniable. It is making the same general point as UppruniTegundanna did (“to define certain words any way they wish to make their position impossible to argue against”), which was the point I was replying to of UppruniTegundanna’s in the first place, which in turn was the reason I pointed this out to you.

    Like Gareth, but for my own reasons, I am not interested in your “argument”. Never was.

    Not that I hope much hope of you behaving, could you now please stop trying to make my posts say things they aren’t?

  36. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    Heraclides, since by your own admission you are not interested in the argument Stuart is making, and since you are not in any way contributing constructively to this thread, do not post again.

  37. Ken
    Ken says:

    Actually, I aren’t interested in most of the rubbish arguments presented here either, Domonic. So go ahead and ban me too!.

    However, Stuart did respond to my question “upon what basis does the theist determine what is good?” His answer –“For the theist in particular – I can agree it is much the same as any other person.” On other words he basically agreed with me.

    So this raises a basic question of honesty – how can you then say “Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler” implying that theists can? A pretty fundamental contradiction, I would think, for any human wishing to live in a pluralist society.

    Are you prepared to revise this title or acknowledge that it is wrong?

    A simple one sentence answer would be appreciated. Life is too short to waste time reading a lengthy comment like the last ones so don’t waste your time either.

  38. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    I haven’t banned anyone, Ken. Heraclides is welcome to post on other articles if he actually advances their discussion. I’d also suggest that your labeling the arguments here as rubbish is more a reflection on you than on them, given that they are taken seriously by the best minds on earth.

    However, Stuart did respond to my question “upon what basis does the theist determine what is good?” His answer -“For the theist in particular – I can agree it is much the same as any other person.” On other words he basically agreed with me.

    Like most atheists who’ve posted here, you’re quick to misconstrue or redirect Stuart’s argument toward epistemological concerns. You have yet to interact with the actual ontological issues he raises.

    So this raises a basic question of honesty – how can you then say “Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler” implying that theists can? A pretty fundamental contradiction, I would think, for any human wishing to live in a pluralist society.

    It’s hard to even believe you read Stuart’s argument. He is not commenting on atheists’ epistemological grounds for criticizing Hitler. He is arguing that their criticizing Hitler is inconsistent—that is, logically contradictory—with their metaphysical commitments. Therefore, if they genuinely do believe that there is no God, they should not criticize Hitler. Let me lay this out for you and all the other atheists here who apparently still don’t get it:

    1. Since a naturalistic worldview excludes ontological grounds for objective moral values,
    2. and objective moral values are required to meaningfully criticize Hitler,
    3. and people should be consistent with their beliefs,
    4. it follows that atheists should not criticize Hitler.

    Are you prepared to revise this title or acknowledge that it is wrong?

    Are you prepared to learn basic reading comprehension before you ask these sorts of questions in future?

    A simple one sentence answer would be appreciated. Life is too short to waste time reading a lengthy comment like the last ones so don’t waste your time either.

    I’ll try to be briefer, but brevity tends to inversely correlate to the complexity of a topic and the comprehension of the reader. Life is indeed short—and if Stuart’s argument is sound, then after death comes judgment. Given this, you have every reason to consider it carefully.

  39. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    To Ken; a one sentence reply would go like this:

    “You are confusing should not with a cannot.”

    Although I notice Bnonn’s very apt reply is also one sentence.

    To Heraclides; at the risk of sounding school-yard – put up or shut up.

    To all; to my mind, not interacting with the argument, or even attempting to find a fault in the logic or one of the premises, is pure intellectual laziness. If one then turns around and calls theistic belief ‘silly’ or ‘unreasonable’ that is hypocrisy of the highest order. To win intellectual respectability atheist objectors needs to learn how to carefully delineate premises, present structured arguments of their own, be specific in their criticisms, simple reading and comprehension skills including how to use a dictionary, and basic manners accompanied by a humble attitude.

    As this is an argument for God’s existence, this is of course the most crucial and critical issue one can ever face. Death is preeminent problem for all humanity, and how one can answers “Does God exists?” is of upmost importance. The benefit / consequence ratio is far too steep to ignore.

  40. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Thank you, you make a very clear point and have answered many of my questions. It was also pretty easy to understand too. If I ever had any other questions you guys wouldn’t mind answering them would you?

  41. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Jim, I’m glad I could help. I’d be very happy to answer any questions in future; that’s why we set up this website.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  42. James
    James says:

    Since a naturalistic worldview excludes ontological grounds for objective moral values,
    and objective moral values are required to meaningfully criticize Hitler,
    and people should be consistent with their beliefs,
    it follows that atheists should not criticize Hitler.

    Hey Bnonn, let’s say there is no God, I don’t think it would be emotionally wrong for the atheist find the actions of Hitler revolting. It’s good that he finds those acts morally objectionable – even though he can’t make an objective, rational case for his position.

  43. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hey Bnonn, let’s say there is no God, I don’t think it would be emotionally wrong for the atheist find the actions of Hitler revolting. It’s good that he finds those acts morally objectionable – even though he can’t make an objective, rational case for his position.

    Hi James. No one has argued that it’s “emotionally wrong” for an atheist to find Hitler’s actions revolting. We aren’t discussing emotion—we are discussing morality. To say that something is emotionally upsetting or revolting is not the same as to say that it’s morally wrong. Atheists are welcome to admit their negative emotional reaction to Hitler’s actions. But what we are criticizing is when they say that what Hitler did was wrong. Not emotionally wrong, but morally wrong. To say this presupposes some kind of moral framework which their own worldview, by merit of its ontological commitments, precludes. That is what we are highlighting in this argument: that atheists are inconsistent with what they should believe about morality if they really do believe there is no God.

    As for when you say that “it’s good” that the atheist finds Hitler’s actions wrong, what do you mean by this? If you have, by your own admission, excluded objective moral values from the discussion, then the word “good” here must mean something different to what you intended it to mean.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  44. Ken
    Ken says:

    I have responded with some specific questions here.

    “There is a lot of confusion about the term “objective moral values.” It gets bandied around without any attempt to clarify it. That’s why I ask (in part):

    What does he mean by objective moral values? To me, objective means existing independently of the observer. It implies an “outside existence”. Something existing “out there” that we can observe, look at, interact with, learn about – describe the location of.

    So, Stuart, where are these objective values, how can I locate them, how can I learn about them, describe them. (Apparently I need them to be able to judge someone like Hitler!).”

    As I point out – I don’t claim such a thing as “objective moral values” – (to do so I would have to provide an answer to the above questions).

    What I have talked about is an objective basis for our moral logic and values. This is why we all (almost all) come to similar decisions about Hitler. If people arrived at that decision just on the basis of “opinion” there would not be the extremely broad consensus (covering theist and non-theist) that there is. That is the empirical evidence one must deal with.

  45. Rob
    Rob says:

    I find Ken’s comments totally confusing.

    This issue seems to me to be rather simple. If there is no God, if the material world is all that exists, then morality MUST be only the creative enterprise of highly ordered chemicals.

    In a materialist world (that Ken seems to want to believe in) there is no mind — only matter. Just complex arrangements of neurons behaving according to physical laws, the end result of random mutations acted upon by natural selection.

    Ken’s problem seems to be that he WANTS to be moral so desperately that he is willing to make all sorts of erroneously claims (well, I cannot understand them) to show he IS moral.

    What Ken seems to be fighting is atheistic schizophrenia, where he desperately wants to live as a moral creature but is forced by his atheism to deny the Imago Dei, the Image of God that is an intrinsic part of his very being.

    Ken, please put us out of our misery and simply explain WHERE and HOW you believe you derive your morality. If it is just a feeling, or an opinion, then say so.

    Until you explain, I will continue to believe that “Atheists should not criticize Hitler”.

    As for the “broad consensus” Ken mentions, this is simply because ALL people have the Imago Dei because they are the common creation of one God.

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