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Freeing inconsistency

Do we have free choice?

According to philosopher, Douglas Groothuis, one of the foundational aspects of a worldview is coherency. A worldview needs to internally make sense before it can hope to stand up to external scrutiny and be considered worthy of adherence.

In an article in The Atlantic, a philosopher called Stephen Cave revealed a glaring inconsistency in the naturalistic worldview that dominates Western civilisation. In There’s No Such Thing as Free Will (But we’re better off believing in it anyway), Cave describes a logical conclusion of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Executive summary – your brain is hardwired in a certain way which you inherited from your ancestors. Your thoughts, desires, dreams, and the actions they precede, are all the creations of firing neurons dictated by your inherited genetic structure. This, combined with the impact your surroundings have, determines you. Nature and nurture shape you and you have no more control over the inner workings of your brain (and therefore, your actions) than you can will your heart to beat. Therefore, there really is no such thing as free will.

This form of scientific determinism is gaining popularity among scientists and skeptics alike, where human responsibility is significantly reduced, even removed. When caught red-handed, they can simply point to their skull and say, “My brain made me do it”. According to Cave, “when people stop believing they are free agents, they stop seeing themselves as blameworthy for their actions”. No wonder, when all my bad habits and predispositions have been programmed by my ancestors and environment. But this isn’t even the shocking part of the article from a worldview perspective.

Doubletake

Despite appealing to science and reason to conclude that free will is indeed an illusion, Cave then turns around to defend the very thing he has tried to bring down. Through various experiments, it became clear to Cave that denying free will may not be a good idea:

“…Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.”

If denying in thought and deed that free will exists can have such a negative impact on society, should we perhaps think harder about this? Saul Smilanksy, a philosophy professor at the University of Haifa, in Israel, apparently has:

“Smilansky advocates a view he calls illusionism—the belief that free will is indeed an illusion, but one that society must defend. The idea of determinism, and the facts supporting it, must be kept confined within the ivory tower. Only the initiated, behind those walls, should dare to, as he put it to me, “look the dark truth in the face.” Smilansky says he realizes that there is something drastic, even terrible, about this idea—but if the choice is between the true and the good, then for the sake of society, the true must go.”

Whoa.

Freeing inconsistency

I admire Cave’s integrity in acknowledging the logical conclusion of Darwinist materialism. At the same time, I am dumbfounded that he then holds back and clings to free will. He knows that abandoning free will would lead to societal chaos but he can’t bring himself to declare this. Instead, he whispers and recommends these facts, too truthy for the masses, remain in the brave world of academia.

Perhaps there is a better way. Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God, may have found it. If we believe we all make choices we are responsible for then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If we insist on a secular view of the world and yet we continue to live as though free will is a reality, then we begin to see the disharmony between the world our intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that our heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion that we know isn’t true (“I don’t have free will”) then why not change the premise?

Who knows – perhaps in the near future, people will click that they are living on borrowed capital and acknowledge the God who makes them responsible. Or maybe history will turn once again into a dark corridor where any semblance of guilt and culpability are forsaken.

For now, thank God for this inconsistency.

Jesus the Game Changer 6 of 10: CARE

Jesus The Game Changer

This is the sixth post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


The influential and the marginalised. The wealthy and the poor – all are offered the same fatherly care that Jesus offers.

Sure – modern society cares for the less fortunate. But is there a moral foundation which holds these convictions up? If naturalism is true (and most people assume it is), then there is no reason to put others’ interests ahead of your own. Any altruistic action is done to get you some action. Everything is for you, through you and to you. Amen.

There is a better way

Let’s take a step back into the New Testament’s ancient context. People were viewed from a utilitarian perspective, receiving worth in keeping with how they contribute. The weak and needy – women, children, and the disabled – could not contribute meaningfully and were ostracised, sometimes killed.

Before you get on your moral high horse about how far we have progressed – women are treated as equals with men, children are nurtured and the disabled are loved and cared for – consider these:

  • Women remain oppressed in a misogynistic culture that treats them as sexual objects
  • Children are still beaten, bruised and forgotten by parents. If not physical trauma, then emotional – trophy children strive to meet the unfulfilled goals of their aging parents. But the bar keeps moving.
  • The disabled are becoming endangered. Our aversion to mental or physical disability has grown so strong that parents-to-be can screen for certain conditions and decide whether to take a life or not. Everyone is a eugenicist.

If you were paying attention, you will have noticed that we haven’t changed at all. The symptoms may have changed, but the cause still rots within our bones. Who will save us from this body of death?

Jesus, the Care Giver

Jesus comes and creates a counter-culture where all are truly equal and equally valued. This equality is not due to vague sentimentality or political ideology, but because of our desperate sin problem. We have broken God’s infinite Law and therefore, deserve infinite punishment. As Martin Luther famously said on his deathbed – “We are beggars; this is true.”

But God…

A fountain of everlasting water pours forth from a cross and heavenly bread rises from a tomb. Those who drink and eat will never hunger nor thirst.

Christians can genuinely care for all because they know, deep within their bones, that they are beggars telling other beggars where to be fed.

Dig in.

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Five Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead Pt. 6: Why It Matters – Adam4d.com

Five reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead

Over the last 5 days we have been examining 5 reasons for the resurrection as presented by Adam Ford of adam4d.com.

If you have missed any of the last 5 posts, don’t worry, take a look at Adam’s original piece.

To summarize, Adam pointed out that there are 5 good reasons to think Jesus rose from the dead namely:

  1. The Empty Tomb
  2. The Post-Mortem Appearances of Jesus
  3. The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
  4. The Boldness of the Disciples
  5. The Explosion of Christianity

Taken in isolation, any one of these events can be explained without having to revert to non-naturalistic explanations. For example, the empty tomb could be explained by the disciples stealing the body; or the Boldness of the Disciples could be attributed to an “experience/vision” of the risen Christ.

However, taken in concert, it is hard to see how any naturalistic explanation accounts for all of these facts. Such an explanation, is a veritable “Frankenstein’s Monster” of an explanation, being neither simple, nor plausible, but rather a monstrous and freakish mishmash of doubtful and tenuous theories. In fact, such an attempt to explain the previously mentioned facts seems to betray the strongly biased presuppositions of the proposer; namely an unwillingness to entertain the thought of a non-naturalistic explanation. Without justification, such a presupposition seems arbitrary and even irrational, why not be open to the possibility of a supernatural intervention?

However, that is not the question for today. Rather, in light of the evidence we have examined together, what are the implications for us today in the 21st century. What if Jesus rose from the dead? What if he didn’t? Let us turn again to Adam, and see what He says.

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The Atheist Morality Bait-and-Switch

I’m reposting a reply to a non-theist friend on Facebook, where he tried to defend a view of morality without God:

What grounds my morality is the human condition, and that is all that is required to ground it.

But that’s just an assertion that flies in the face of what we know morality is. If moral values have no ontological status [ie no independent existence outside of us], if they are just expressions of our preferences, then to say that it is WRONG to torture children for fun is really just to say that we evolved to have a NEGATIVE REACTION to torturing babies for fun. But that is not morality. A biological impulse is not a moral moral impulse.

Put another way, if that IS what morality actually is, then terms like right and wrong, good and evil don’t have the meanings we ascribe to them. They have no force whatsoever. To say that X is wrong is merely to describe how we feel about it—not to prescribe an obligation regarding it. So you emasculate morality, replacing prescriptive moral terms with descriptive scientific ones, but pretending nothing has happened because you’re still using the same terms. It’s a bait and switch.

Because the human condition is one way, and not another, morals constructed in light of it are not arbitrary.

That only holds if the human condition is not arbitrary. But clearly it is. We can imagine a species evolving to have a positive reaction to torturing babies for fun. In that world, morality is the opposite to ours. So your morality is COMPLETELY arbitrary.

In fact, one of the DEFINING things about morality is that it is teleological. X is wrong because it deviates from the way things are MEANT to be, the way things were DESIGNED to be. But in your view, there is no design. There is no plan. Our evolution was a chance affair, guided by non-rational forces, in a universe where those forces just happen to be the way they are. That’s the very definition of arbitrariness!

They gain their force from the way people are.

Since the way people are is as arbitrary as the way the universe is under a non-theistic view, your morality has no force whatsoever.

The Limits of Science

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”none” text_align=”left”]But science is never the end of the story, because science cannot teach humans what they most need to know: the meaning of life and how to value it. The sciences are as practical as theoretical; science has evident survival value, teaching us how to gain benefits that we desire. But what ought we to desire? Our enlightened self-interest? Our genetic self-interest? More children? More science? The conservation of biodiversity? Sustainable development? A sustainable biosphere? The love of neighbor? The love of God? Justice? Equity? Charity? … After science, we still need help deciding what to value; what is right and wrong, good and evil, how to behave as we cope. The end of life still lies in its meaning, the domain of religion and ethics.[/pk_box]

—Holmes Rolston (Genes, Genesis, and God, 1999).

The Nature of Nature

With some big names and weighing in at over a thousand pages in length, The Nature of Nature looks to be a new landmark title in the discussion of science and naturalism. Based on a conference held at Baylor University back in 2000, editors Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski have collected some great essays on topics such as scientific methodology, biological complexity, consciousness, scientific realism, and the multiverse.

Although published last month, the book is only now becoming more widely available (Amazon seems to have stock at the moment but you can also get it from the publisher, ISI Books, for $23.20 USD).

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Dawkins, Determinism, and Truth

Philosopher Paul Copan describes his recent experience at a lecture given by Richard Dawkins at Nova Southeastern University:

There I was—the first one in line during the Q&A. I asked Dawkins how he could claim that the naturalist [is] rationally superior to the theist since, according to his book River Out of Eden, all of us are dancing to the music of our DNA. Our beliefs are the product of non-rational, deterministic physical forces beyond our control—whether we’re theists or naturalists. In fact, if the naturalist is right, it’s only by accident—not because he’s more intellectually virtuous than the theist. That is, the naturalist has accidental true belief (which is not knowledge) rather than warranted true belief (which is knowledge).

Dawkins gave the odd reply that it’s kind of like Republicans and Democrats—with each group thinking they’re right and the other group wrong. But on what grounds could either side think they are more rational than the other? Dawkins then added that he supposed that whatever view “works” the correct one to hold. But here’s the problem: what “works” is logically distinct from “true” or “matching up with reality”—since we may hold to a lot of false beliefs that help us survive and reproduce, even if they are false. Indeed, naturalistic evolution is interested in survival and reproduction—the “four F’s” (fighting, feeding, fleeing, and reproducing). Truth, the naturalist philosopher Patricia Churchland argues, is secondary to these pursuits According to another such naturalist, the late Richard Rorty, truth is “utterly unDarwinian.”

To top off his answer to me (without addressing how to ground rationality), Dawkins dismissively quipped that science flies rockets to the moon while religion flies planes into buildings.

Read the rest of the post and see what Professor Copan made of Dawkins’ response.

A seamless garment with no holes: human persons and the failure of naturalism

Last year, the release of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology saw a lot of attention. And quite rightly. The Companion marshalled some of most cutting-edge work in the field of the philosophy of religion and showed why natural theology is fast becoming an exciting scholarly domain again. But in the shadow of the Companion‘s release, another of Moreland’s works was published: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. Although it might not have got the same amount of attention, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei also represented an important entry in the contest of ideas and a powerful defense of theism. In it, Moreland argues for the theistic position by way of a stinging attack on naturalism and its failure to answer the problem of consciousness and account for the basic facts of human experience, such as free will, rationality, and intrinsic value.

The problem of consciousness is a deep mystery for philosophers and neuroscientists. This problem is the dilemma of how conscious states (thoughts, feelings, perceptions) arise from physical brain states. Ned Block, the American philosopher at NYU, has said that “researchers are stumped” and that we have “no conception” that enables us to explain subjective experience or conscious life. Colin McGinn, a professor at the University of Miami in the philosophy of mind, says that the emergence of consciousness “strikes us as miraculous, eerie, even faintly comic”. Even if we are sure that they arise from brains, we do not know the sorts of connections that conscious states (such as “seeing a tree”) have with brain states (such as “there are neurons firing at point A in the brain”). Hard materialists like Daniel Dennett have argued that conscious states are nothing more than brain states and brain behaviour, but Moreland argues that in both science and philosophy, a strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self has been breaking down since the mid-1980s.

For Christianity, the existence of such features basic to human experience are not metaphysically strange or inexplicable. For if in the beginning existed a supremely self-aware Being, then it is not difficult to see how consciousness could emerge. And if Christianity were true, Moreland also suggests one would predict that alternative worldviews whose basic entity or entities are not spiritual would find these things we take for granted recalcitrant – that is, hard to explain or explain away. In his book, Moreland shows that this is exactly the case with philosophical naturalism. Because naturalism posits particles at the beginning, one cannot adequately account for consciousness without mounting other reductive or eliminative strategies to explain their emergence. In The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, Moreland looks at these strategies and shows why they fail. Moreland therefore concludes that consciousness, freedom, rationality, a unified/simple self, equal and intrinsic value, and moral action of a certain sort, are all rebutting defeaters for naturalism and evidence for Judeo-Christian monotheism.

Bill Vallicella has written an excellent and thorough review of Moreland’s book, giving a summary of Moreland’s discussion of naturalism and his argument from consciousness for the existence of God.

Formally set out, Moreland’s argument looks like this:

1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.

2. There is an explanation for the existence of mental states.

3. Personal explanation is different from natural scientific explanation.

4. The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a personal or natural scientific explanation.

5. The explanation is not a natural scientific one.

Therefore

6. The explanation is a personal one.

7. If the explanation is personal, then it is theistic.

Therefore

8. The explanation [for the existence of mental states] is theistic.

In his review, Vallicella examines each of the premises, cataloguing additional reasons that Moreland offers in support for them. He writes:

Moreland makes a very powerful case, to my mind a crushingly powerful case, that [mental states] do not have a natural-scientific explanation. I would go further and claim that they cannot have such an explanation. (If a naturalist pins his hopes on future science, a science that can do what contemporary science manifestly cannot do, then I say our naturalist does not know what he is talking about when he bandies about the phrase ‘future science.’ He is merely gesturing in the direction of he knows not what. He is simply asseverating that somehow science will someday have all the answers. That’s as ‘theological’ as the assurance that, though now we see through a glass darkly, later we will see face to face. What do faith and hope have to do with science? Furthermore, why should anyone hope to have it proven to him that he is nothing more than a complex physical system?)

While Vallicella acknowledges that there are possible objections to Moreland’s argument (he raises some potential ones himself), he concludes that it renders belief in the Judeo-Christian God reasonable, and when combined with the rest of Moreland’s arguments, demonstrates why theism is more reasonable than naturalism.

It is worth reading his whole review (it can also be found on his own blog here). Also worth looking at is Moreland’s interview about the book on the Evangelical Philosophical Blog from last year (part 1 and 2) and Moreland’s post about the topic on his Amazon blog.

The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, can of course, be picked up on Amazon.

Notes:

“God, Naturalism and the Foundations of Morality” by Paul Copan in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, ed. Robert Stewart. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Darwinism, Morality and Violence

Is mass murder the corollary of belief in materialistic evolution? Dennis Sewell thinks it is. In a controversial article at the Times Online, the former broadcaster at the BBC and contributing editor of The Spectator argues that there is a demonstrable link between Darwin’s theory and the recent spate of high-school killings by teenagers in the US and Europe. While many celebrate the life and impact of Charles Darwin this year, Sewell contends that a darker edge to the man and his theory must be reconsidered:

In America, where Darwin’s writings on morality and race have come under particularly intense critical scrutiny because of the enduring creationist debate, he has been accused of fostering moral nihilism and scientific racism, and even of promoting an ethic that found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust. Most startling of all, a connection has now been drawn between Darwin’s theories and a rash of school shootings.

Looking at the Columbine High School Massacre, where two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and 1 teacher in 1999, Sewell suggests that little attention has been paid to their motivation behind the act. Enamoured by Charles Darwin’s ideas, both Harris and Klebold saw their actions as the implementation of natural selection, the British journalist argues. He quotes one of the attorney’s for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, Barry Arrington:

“I read through every single page of Eric Harris’s journals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes… It became evident to me that Harris consciously saw his actions as logically arising from what he had learnt about evolution. Darwinism served as his personal intellectual rationale for what he did. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshipper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.”

Neither Harris and Klebold were alone in seeing their violence as the outcome and implementation of Darwinism. Sewell discusses other school killings or planned killings and suggests an emerging pattern that cannot be easily dismissed. In describing the social culture that sustains and accumulates around these groups, Sewell refers to one visitor of a Natural Selection Army website who also went on a rampage:

On November 7, 2007, in Tuusula, Finland, Auvinen forced his head teacher to kneel down in front of him before he shot her with his pistol. He slaughtered a further seven victims before turning the gun on himself. Some of the Jokela high school students afterwards described the way Auvinen prowled through the building pointing his gun at people’s heads. Sometimes he would squeeze the trigger and kill them; sometimes, after looking long and hard through the sights, he would suddenly turn away and let his terrified target go free. One witness said he seemed to be choosing his victims at random, but in fact he was making a very deliberate selection. He was trying to weed out the “unfit”.

. . .Auvinen left a special plea for his motivation to be taken seriously and for the world not merely to write him off as a psychopath, or to blame cult movies, computer games, television or heavy metal music, before concluding: “No mercy for the scum of the Earth! Humanity is overrated. It’s time to put natural selection and survival of the fittest back on track.

Even if psychotic teenagers saw their murderous acts of violence as the direct and necessary consequence of materialistic evolution, is it fair to saddle the theory itself with these horrible consequences? Sewell acknowledges that many homicidial groups have identified with philosophers and their writings but yet argues that there are two distinct reasons why Darwinism appeals to the disturbed adolescent mind and justifies these acts:

1.The loss of objective meaning: Sewell suggests that within materialistic evolution is embedded the notion “that human existence has no ultimate purpose or special significance.”

2. The eradication of an objective moral order: “Darwin also taught that morality has no essential authority, but is something that itself evolved — a set of sentiments or intuitions that developed from adaptive responses to environmental pressures tens of thousands of years ago. This does not merely explain the origin of morals, it totally explains them away. Whether an individual opts to obey a particular ethical precept, or to regard it as a redundant evolutionary carry-over, thus becomes a matter of personal choice. Cheerleaders celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday in colleges across America last February sang “Randomness is good enough for me, If there’s no design it means I’m free” — lines from a song by the band Scientific Gospel. Clearly they see evolution as something that emancipates them from the strict sexual morality insisted upon by their parents. But wackos such as Harris and Auvinen can just as readily interpret it as a licence to kill.”

Sewell says that evolutionary scientists today “describe ethics as merely an illusion produced by genes. From a Darwinian perspective, there is nothing objectively wrong with shooting your classmates; it’s just that most of us have an inherited tendency to kid ourselves that it’s wrong — and that’s something that helps our species in the longer run by keeping playground massacres to an acceptable minimum.”

But materialistic evolution not only justifies these acts of violence by destroying any objective purpose or norm in which to live our life by – Darwinism also encourages both the “toxic doctrine of racial superiority” and eugenics (the practice of improving the quality of the human race by deliberate selection of parents and their offspring). Both with Darwin himself (who wrote in the Descent of Man, if we “do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has too often occurred in the history of the world.”) and in history, Sewell catalogues this embarrassing relationship. He concludes finally:

“The debate between Darwin’s bulldogs and religious fundamentalists over the truth of evolution and the existence of God has become a sterile one. There are, however, many interesting questions about how Darwin’s views chime with our values of liberal democracy and human rights, or the simple lessons of right and wrong that most of us teach our children. But our society cannot begin to address these issues while we are fed only a bowdlerised account of Darwin’s work. The more sinister implications of the world-view that has come to be called “Darwinism” — and the interpretation the teenage nihilists put on it — are as much part of the Darwin story as the theory of evolutions.”

For a fuller discussion of the impact of Darwin on politics and culture, Sewell’s book comes out this month:

Darwin

The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics (Picador, 2009) by Dennis Sewell

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.

Gary Habermas vs. Infidel Guy

Gary Habermas is considered by many to be the foremost expert on the historicity of Jesus and the events surrounding His resurrection. On September 11th he has a friendly discussion with radio host Reggie Finley, recorded and broadcast on the net for The Infidel Guy, the worlds largest atheist online community. 

You can download just the audio here at:

http://www.garyhabermas.com/audio/audio.htm

PART I (5MB) :|: PART II (6MB) :|: PART III (6MB) :|: PART IV (5MB) :|: PART V (5MB)

 

On The Resurrection with Gary Habermas – The Infidel Guy Show

Humanist Amsterdam Declaration refuted point-by-point

Joel posted this at the end of his response to my “Argument from Evolution” article.

There it was slightly off topic and I thought that this warranted a full response in a separate space.

Here is what he said;

Now that we ARE here on this planet, let’s focus on making the best of it. I hope we’d all agree that using outdated textbooks (ie the old testament – full of stories about an omniscient, jealous, irritable, racist & sexist intelligent designer who is proud to promote ethnic cleansing and child sacrificing) are not good stories to teach morality. Let’s put our faith in some good, relevant, modern discussion. Let’s agree on some guiding principles that seek to expand and fulfill lives and explain our universe without the need for outdated myths and “morality for all time” predictions. I like the 7 principles of Humanism, myself:
http://www.iheu.org/amsterdamdeclaration

First, nobody (sensible) teaches morality from the ritual law of the Old Testament. You cannot impugn the moral law by citing examples of the ritual law about what is ceremonially clean or unclean, and that has no moral dimension to it. Second, nobody teaches morality from the false characterisation of God you give. God is an omni-benevolent, morally perfect being according to scripture and you’d do well to discard the false picture of the Christian view of God you have.

Here is my response, point-by-point, to the Humanist ethic communicated in the Amsterdam Declaration 2002. There is much here that the Christian can find in common with the humanist, but I think the question is which ethic (Christian or Humanist) provides a better account for our shared understanding of moral duties, values and accountabilities? Also, insofar as Humanism implies naturalism, humanism is deeply incoherent as I shall show.

The Amsterdam Declaration 2002

Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself. [italics mine]

The ‘long tradition’ that stretches all the way back to 1952, the first World Humanist Congress. Facts are however, the ‘many great thinkers and artists’ that humanism can legitimately claim drown in the influence made by Christianity. In thought and art it is undeniably how Christianity far out-weighs any paltry offering humanism makes. If humanism can sustain the practice of science is a discussion for another time, but the thought that Humanism gave rise to science itself is laughable. Only Christianity provides an epistemological foundation for scientists seeking to make sense of the universe, and almost every major field of science was founded by a Christian, working specifically from a Christian worldview.

Just consider these few scientists who were Christians; Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics; William Turner, the father of English botany; Johannes Kepler, the planetary laws of motion; Galileo Galilei, the father of modern astronomy; Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician; Blaise Pascal, physicist and mathematician who defended the scientific method; Robert Boyle, the first modern chemist; Louis Pasteur, inventor of the pasteurization method; Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics; Lord Kelvin, important in Thermodynamics; Max Planck, the founder of Quantum mechanics, and the list goes on.

The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:

1. Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.

Humanism provides no metaethical foundation for it’s ethical system. Why is a metaethical foundation necessary? One is apt to ask why the human has worth, dignity and autonomy. To finally come to rest the foundations of a morality on the worth of a human is ad hoc. Especially after the humanist’s naturalistic view of evolution makes men into mere animals. Evolution is the great leveller. What’s so special about humans on naturalism? We’re just fortunate sacks of molecules in motion that have survived against the odds by tooth and claw.

On Christian theism humans are created by God in His image. This gives us inalienable rights, guarantees the right of personal freedom of choice, as well as deep significance and meaning to life. Moreover, God expresses our worth in His eyes when he showed his love by giving His only son as a sacrifice to pay our sin-debt and conquer death on our behalf. He spared not his only son for us.

You see how Christianity gives a substantiated reason for its assertions of worth and dignity, but how humanism cannot?

2. Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.

This self-affirmation is astonishingly presumptuous. There is no argument here: only assertions and declarations of belief, more akin to blind faith than science and reason.

Still the Christian can agree that human thought and action are for solving the worlds problems and that the application of science and free inquiry should promote human welfare. We can agree to use science creatively and not destructively, but we’re not likely to condemn the scientist who researches dynamite to pull down an old building safely, or to minimise collateral damage during justified warfare.

On the Christian view God gave humans a mind to think and engage with the world as it is. On naturalism the mind is a physiological response to stimuli, socio-cultuarl pressures and evolutionary development. It is therefore tuned for survival and not for the apprehension of truth or rationality. It is hard to see why humanism is rational given naturalism.

There are few questions that must be asked, like who determines the ‘human values’ that temper the application of science and technology? Is it Hitler, Hefner, the Humanist or the Holy Spirit? Is it science itself, and if so doesn’t it work out that science proposes the means and the ends? If so, was Hitler rational at the time to propose and carry out his ‘Final Solution?’ After all, that was in accord by the evolutionary science being propounded in his day; was supposedly for the betterment of human welfare; and was then the human value system in vogue. At Nuremberg it was quickly realised to condemn these Nazi war criminals there needed to be a standard that stood above human and societal values, and the only values they could find to do that were rooted in God.

The need for such a transcendent absolute, or law above the law, can be illustrated by what happened at the Nuremberg Trials of World War II criminals.  Those accused appealed to the fact that they were only obeying the laws of their own culture, and that they were not legally responsible to any other.  Faced with this argument, Robert H. Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States, appealed to permanent values and moral standards that transcended life-styles, particular societies, and individual nations. While he was not necessarily appealing to biblical norms in this trial, the situation illustrates the need for a transcendent basis for moral values. For example, God’s commandment against murder was not just for the Jew.  It transcends culture, and it transcends generations.  Murder is as wrong today as it was in the Old Testament.

Christian ethics escape this problem of cultural relativity because it is based upon the nature of God.  Good is what God wills in accordance with His nature (see Mark 10:18).  God provides the moral patterns which apply to all human behavior.

Because this standard is based upon God’s holy nature, it is binding on all people.  There is no standard beyond Him that can define moral conduct. Christian ethics applies to everyone and is not merely a parochial discipline for Jews and Christians.  God’s moral revelation extends to all generations.  God is the ultimate standard for human behavior.1

Also, who is it that diagnoses the ‘world’s problems?’ Is it the humanist? The smartest? The most popular? the strongest? The bible says that the major problem with this world is sin, and there is little hope for man’s efforts to rectify that problem. Sin (defined often as failure to meet God’s perfect standard, or imperfection, or breaking God’s law) is symptomatic system-wide, and the evidence for that is clear. Only a divine solution and intervention can save us from that ultimate problem.

On Christianity the solutions to the worlds problems lie in human thought and action as well as divine intervention. God also determines to use mostly use people as his agents on earth. Woe to the humanist if God exists and he/she rejects divine intervention.

3. Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.

Human rights are declared to be universal rights. That is they stand above all nation’s laws for all times and all places for all people. This statement is like eating white-froth if you consider the next fundamental’s (4) claim to be undogmatic and imposing no creed upon its adherents. Christianity however provides something substantive for the table. Universal human rights were developed by the founding fathers of America from their understanding of the scriptures. In Christopher Hitchen’s words Thomas Jefferson was a deist with atheistic tendencies. However, when it came to finding a ground for unalienable Rights, he pointed to the sky and said “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”2 The abolition of slavery was a practical out-working of this same understanding from scripture: that all men are created equal.) The Bible even gives justification for democracy also, but at the moment I’m not prepared to support that contention.) Both groups of people were smart enough to recognise that if human rights are given to a human by another human, they can be taken away again. If human rights are given by God, then no man can take them away. They become inalienable and truly universal.

Humanism lacks a model of what it means to be the fullest development of a human being. On Christianity it is clear the model is Jesus. On Humanism it can only be subjective and relative. What if the fullest possible development of the human being is Hitler? You might say that he did not support democracy, but then you’d be forgetting that Hitler was the legitimate democratically elected official of that nation. You might say that Hitler was wrong because the humanist ethic is based upon understanding and support for others, but then you’d be forgetting that Hitler deeply cared for Germany and to carry out his atrocious acts all that he needed to do was create a culture that dehumanised Jews, Blacks, Homosexuals, the handy-capped, etc.

How do you decry the wicked man who says he is only becoming ‘the fullest possible development of what it means to be human,’ if he has radically changed what it means to be human. Humanism lacks a definition of what it means to be human, but Christianity has a ready anthropological definition grounded in its own basic theology.

4. Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.

If a person is responsible to society, then what happens when society tells you to do something that is objectively wrong, like slaughter Jews wholesale (Nazi Germany), or force husbands to watch as their pregnant wives are split open by sabres so their unborn children fall to the ground to be crushed underfoot (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq), or taking unwanted new-borns and dashing them on rocks (ancient Greeks). The list of examples is appalling in its length and brutality, but it is already clear that responsibility to society is an insufficient ethic to build a world on. There needs to be some transcendent standard above society and humanity. Christianity provides that by revealing a morally perfect transcendent God as the standard.

“Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherants.” This is self-referentially incoherant. It is dogmatic in being undogmatic. It is thus really rich when it concludes that humanism is committed to education free from indoctrination. Even if it is possible to educate people free from indoctrination from operating within a worldview, this statement is as double-handed as it gets. Humanists are experts at indoctrination. You need only look at our current education system here in NZ. An example follows in the next section.

5. Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.

Humanism of course excludes itself from the dogmatic religious crowd, and seeks to fulfil the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. It will do this by supplying people with another dogmatic religion (if not religion then ethical framework) and imposing it on others.

For example, take the belief that ‘morality is an intrinsic part of human nature.’ This means that humans are essentially and basically good. This is taught all throughout the education system and is one tenant of humanist indoctrination. Is it true? I leave it for you, but I think the Bible gives a far more realistic account to the state of the human heart; see Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:9-19.

Christianity recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises also through revelation from God. If reliable knowledge arises from observation, evaluation and revision then its not really reliable is it?

6. Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.

On the surface this affirmation is fine. A deeper look at it though and you quickly realise how shallow it really is. What is creativity and imagination supposed to transform us into? What is it about literature, music and the other arts that provide us ‘human development and fulfillment.’ Humanism fails to answer the deep existential needs of human beings; ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘Where am I going?’

The purpose underlying most (if not all) creative expressions is communication. Art is a vehicle for a message. When you start to value the form, and not the message that lies behind the form, then art becomes mere mindless entertainment; a distraction to personal development rather than an aid. Is fulfilment reduced on humanism to amusement? Take from art its purpose and society will transform into a mindless mass that is far too easily manipulated.

Christianity affirms the value of art and artistic expression by imbuing the artist with purpose, answering the deep existential questions of life; by affirming the artist is created in the image of God and is therefore a creative agent; by supplying the artist with a message, inspiration and talent; and by infusing the world waiting to be captured and mirrored by great works of art, with a sense of the sublime. Naturalism on the other-hand finds beauty an awkward notion. It is difficult to see why an apes brain would appreciate the aesthetic pleasure from a morning sunrise, the star-filled sky and or the frozen waterfall.

7. Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.

If human existence transcends the death of the body, then obviously humanism is not for everyone everywhere. Humanism become bankrupt if this life is not all there is or if there is a God. Besides this, based upon the refutation of points 1 through 6 it is not obvious humanism does supply an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times.

Footnotes:

1. Author unknown, A Christian View of Ethics, (Received 15 October 2008, http://www.fni.com/cim/technicals/ethics_t.html)

2. In Congress, JULY 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America