A humanist chaplain at Stanford University and his co-writer on “Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind” have crowd-sourced the 10 Commandments — for atheists. The result is a philosophically-convoluted mess.

CNN reported Dec. 20 that John Figdor and Lex Bayer gleaned the Atheist 10 Commandments from 2,800 submissions from 18 countries and 27 U.S. states.

The “commandments” are:

1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
4. Every person has the right to control of their body.
5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
9. There is no one right way to live.
10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

If “there is no one right way to live,” then why should anyone “be willing to alter” their beliefs? If there is “no one right way to live,” then why do we have “a responsibility to consider others”? If there is “no right way to live,” then why should a man consider the perspective of others? If there is “no right way to live,” then it can not be wrong if one man decides that his “right way to live” includes controlling the bodies of those around him.

This is the conundrum atheists face: if we are all just cosmic accidents and God does not exist, then no man has the moral authority to tell another man how to live. If we are all just sentient space dust with no soul, then there really are no objective truths — right and wrong are relative — and there is no valid argument against those whose sole existence is based on taking advantage of their fellow man.

Even the authors seem to realize this. They told CNN about the inspiration for writing their book:

“A lot of atheists’ books are about whether to believe in God or not,” he said. “We wanted to consider: OK, so you don’t believe in God, what’s next? And that’s actually a much harder question.”

“What’s next?” is a very hard question, indeed. Perhaps the reason why so many atheist books concentrate on “whether to believe in God or not” instead of “What’s next?” is because it leads to “There is no one right way to live.”

On another level, it is incredibly telling that with limited real estate, atheists would use one of their “ten commandments” to emphasize the importance of not believing in a non-existent god. Try as he might, the atheist can not escape God. Perhaps for their next book, Messrs. Figdor and Bayer could write “Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind: We Can’t Escape God No Matter How Hard We Try.”

Related: Atheists mock science-loving Catholics from afar because ego massages feel better than ego checks

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

211 comments

  1. #4 scares me since many neglect the life of an unborn child.
    The whole set of “commandments” they have is a little crazy, they might as well say do whatever you want if someone does not agree go back to #1.

    1. I don’t think I ignore it. I just recognize that it fails in being vague…I would say, provided you harm no one, there is no ‘right’ way to live. But that’s just me.

    2. But if we’re all just miraculous accidents with no souls — if we’re all just star dust with the ability to speak for a short amount of time — then it doesn’t really make any sense for you to make pronouncements about right and wrong, what we ought to do and ought not to do, etc. The person who walks up to “NotAScientist” and robs him on the street can’t be said to be any better or worse than the individual who gives you a helping hand up when you trip and fall.

    3. “for you to make pronouncements about right and wrong, what we ought to do and ought not to do, etc.”

      It does if I care about my own health and happiness, as well as those of the people I care about. And due to a quirk of evolution, I enjoy pleasure and health and happiness and empathy cause that in me.

      ” can’t be said to be any better or worse ”

      Who can’t say? I say it. The police in the society I choose to live say it. I don’t care if other people don’t say it.

    4. The police in the society I choose to live say it. I don’t care if other people don’t say it.

      Of course you don’t care — because you don’t live in, say, Mosul, for example. You live comfortably in the United States (a country undeniably shaped by Christian thought and Christian principles). But again, you ignore the broader philosophical implications of the things you say to narrowly focus on “NotAScientist’s” life. It’s not hard to see why.

    5. And a country undeniable shaped by Enlightenment thought and principles. But some choose to ignore that the Bible says slavery is fine, and certain people should be stoned to death.

      If I lived in Mosul, I would work as hard as I could to change it, or I would leave.

    6. Really? I mention that you ignore the broader philosophical implications of the thing things you say, and your response is to try and get into a tit-for-tat over scripture? Telling. Just as the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence and codified into law by the U.S. Constitution guaranteed that there would be a day of reckoning regarding slavery if the nation took its most revered words seriously, the same can be said about anyone who follows the teachings of Jesus.

      If I lived in Mosul, I would work as hard as I could to change it, or I would leave.

      That is incredibly easy for someone living in the United States to say. You seem to have really embraced the old hubris thing. Kudos.

    1. However flawed or incomplete, it attempts to encourage the reader to make the world a better place. The Decalogue doesn’t care about that, or people, only about following the dictates of the religion, good or bad.

    2. Douglas,
      We don’t need to prove that God exists or the value of the 10 commandments (but we do need to share them).
      If we could prove the existence of God to everyone, there would be no need for faith. We aren’t supposed to live by feelings, but by faith. We can’t allow what people don’t see to influence what we do see. It’s that simple. We prove it by walking it out.

      Debating with unbelievers only causes more division.
      I used to argue and debate with people all the time on social media. In the last year or so, I’ve come to understand that I was only doing those things to prove something. I would fight to be right. That’s crazy. My life is no longer mine. I was bought with a price. I don’t have rights anymore. It’s called denying myself and becoming love. Arguments and judgment don’t bring people to Christ. Love does.

    3. Douglas, we don’t need to prove that God exists or the value of the 10 commandments (but we do need to share them). […] Debating with unbelievers only causes more division.

      My debate with him, to the extent that it’s actually a debate, is to highlight how he willingly goes out of his way to ignore the philosophical implications of the non-faith he espouses. He conveniently doesn’t care about what a world steeped in moral relativism would mean for him because he lives a nice safe life here in the United States.

      If he chooses to deny God, then that’s on him. But to say that I shouldn’t debate with an atheist because it might cause said atheist to get rankled seems to be misguided. Besides, this exchange isn’t for him if he’s not open to what I’m saying — it’s for the people who read long after the exchange has transpired who are willing to consider what I have to say.

      There is nothing wrong with having a spirited debate. If having a civil discussion with a guy like NotAScientist causes someone else to feel angry or a sense of division, then perhaps the division is there for a reason. Can you think of a bigger divide than those who believe in God and those who deny Him? I can not.

    4. Fair point, a good discussion is always good as long as we remember to present ourselves in a proper manner (which you were).
      I did not intend to sensor you I just meant that there will always be people that can’t see it and it may take something else to help them see the way.

      To be fair he did go out of his way to engage a discussion.

      It does seem that some tend to forget that there is something called the New Testament.

  2. “The Decalogue doesn’t care about that, or people, only about following the dictates of the religion, good or bad.”
    That is very flawed. The whole concept goes down to love, making it the best place possible. If you do not understand how the 10 commandments make the world a better place you might want to study the Bible. I appreciate your response but it seems that you need to take more time before passing judgment.
    I suggest studying agape love. The very thought that Jesus died for us shows the mistake in your statement.
    In the same way, we are to love others sacrificially. Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us, or even hate us, as the Jews did the Samaritans. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling, but a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.
    How can that be viewed as not making the world a better place.

    1. I have studied it. I was a Catholic for 20 years. And rules against coveting, or worshiping other gods or idols, or just thoughts in general, are not good commandments. Murder and thievery are pointed out, but not abuse or rape. It’s not a good list.

    2. I am sorry but if you have studied it for that long I think you would have a better understanding. I think you had a bad experience and you are blaming God for it.

    3. The vast majority of people I meet who say “I was a Catholic for [insert years here]” usually admit when pushed that they were Catholics of the Chris Evans variety. They were in a religious education program in their youth, maybe went to Catholic school, went to church a couple times a year, and then stopped all together when they went to college. If you asked them to explain The Seven Sacraments, for instance, they wouldn’t be able to do it — but they would still have a chip on their shoulder about how versed they are in the Catholic faith.

    4. I was a New England Catholic. On average, very liberal, tolerant and not that religious in the grand scheme of things. My point of bringing it up (if I remember, it was several days ago now) was not to express that I was somehow an expert on all things Bible or Religious. Just to explain that I have some experience with the things you and other Christians claim to believe.

      I’m as well versed in Catholicism as anyone can be who stopped being a Catholic over a decade ago.

    5. I was a New England Catholic. On average, very liberal, tolerant and not that religious in the grand scheme of things.

      And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Even if you were essentially an incredibly lazy Catholic, you still get to play the “I was a Catholic” card. Even if you were sort of the equivalent of spiritual driftwood that just found yourself listening to a priest once-in-awhile, then you get to mock people who really take their faith seriously. Even if you never put your nose to the grindstone and studied the bible, then you can dismiss it as if it was nothing more than bedtime stories your parents told you about as a child.

      That’s an appealing thing about atheism, I guess — it’s impossible to be a “lazy” atheist. You just get to make “Santa Claus” and “East Bunny” jokes, and everyone in that community will treat you like a king.

    6. “then you get to mock people who really take their faith seriously.”

      First of all, I don’t use this ‘card’ except in response to people implying I know absolutely nothing about religion.

      Secondly…I mock the ridiculous, whether I used to believe it or not.

      “Even if you never put your nose to the grindstone and studied the bible, then you can dismiss it as if it was nothing more than bedtime stories your parents told you about as a child.”

      I was a Catholic. After I stopped being a Catholic, I put my nose to the grindstone and studied the Bible. And the Koran. And the Bhagavad Gita.

      I don’t dismiss any of them. I look at them as what they are: claims.

      I then looked for good evidence to back up those claims.

      Still haven’t found any.

      “and everyone in that community will treat you like a king.”

      Not, actually, part of any atheist community. And if anyone treated me like a kind I’d laugh them out of the room.

    7. I then looked for good evidence to back up those claims. Still haven’t found any.

      My guess is that even if you landed on Mars and a rock formation spelled out, “Hey, it’s me, God — and I was here!” you would come up with some explanation about why it didn’t mean anything.

    8. Show me any evidence that is that blatant and you’ll have my attention. At the very least I’d give it a long and sincere investigation.

      If God essentially slapped you in the face, then He would “have your attention” — to the extent you would be willing to conduct a “long and sincere investigation.” Haha! Thank you so much for this exchange. Seriously. I really do appreciate it.

    9. Why ‘haha’?

      If you found writing in your backyard, in the dirt, that said “Doug, this is Allah, you’re totally wrong about Christianity. Become a Muslim! Love, Allah!” You’d just believe it? You wouldn’t investigate it at all?

    10. If you found writing in your backyard, in the dirt, that said “Doug, this is Allah, you’re totally wrong about Christianity. Become a Muslim! Love, Allah!” You’d just believe it? You wouldn’t investigate it at all?

      Given that there are six billion people on earth and 1.6 billion Muslims, I’m pretty sure finding graffiti in my back yard could be attributable to one of them. Given that Mars is an uninhabited planet floating int he middle of space that no human has ever been to, I’m thinking that most people will understand why I laughed at your response.

    11. NotAScientist, I made a joke based around the idea that if God essentially slapped you in the face, then you still wouldn’t believe in him. Your response was to prove to everyone reading that that is very much the case. Now you’re trying to find a way to pick apart the joke so you can save face. There’s not much more to say on the matter.

    12. No. You made a joke based around the idea if english was written in the dirt on another planet.

      If ‘god’ slapped me in the face, how would I recognize him as god?

      These are not trivial things. These are things you sincerely need to ask to learn what is true about the world around you. If you care about learning what is true.

      Will I accept any evidence immediately and without inspection and investigation? No, I most certainly will not. But that goes for everything, not just your particular supernatural claims.

    13. Yes, but Thomas’ relationship with Jesus was quite a bit different than yours. But hey, like I said, do your thing and go through life demanding Jesus stick his wounds in your face before you’ll believe. It’s your choice.

    14. It’s safe to say that Jesus’ relationship with Thomas — one of His twelve disciples — was very different than his relationship with you — an atheist. I’m sorry if that bothers you to such an extent that now you’re whining about “favorites.”

    15. It doesn’t bother me. It just interests me that, if you believe it all literally happened, then you have to believe that Jesus only gives good evidence to some people and not others.

      Particularly since, if you’re a god, giving good evidence (on par with what Thomas supposedly got) should be the easiest thing in the world. (As being a god, EVERYTHING is the easiest thing in the world, isn’t it?)

      I could see believing that difference in how some people are treated to be true, but I don’t see how you could believe it and be happy with it, let alone believe it and think it’s somehow good that it is that way. Comes off as weirdly classist if nothing else.

    16. It doesn’t bother me. It just interests me that, if you believe it all literally happened, then you have to believe that Jesus only gives good evidence to some people and not others.

      Yes, God does reveal Himself to each person in different ways. If someone has decided with their free will that they want to deny Him (like you), then He seems incredibly consistent with honoring that decision. When they seek Him out, He answers. Maybe one day I’ll share my own stories about how God’s presence in my life was revealed to me. Who knows. That would be a difficult (and very personal) blog post to write.

      Like I said before, God’s purpose in eternity and our purpose in time are two different things, so it seems a little strange to me to start complaining about how He reveals Himself to specific individuals. Instead of worrying about God’s relationship with Thomas I tend to worry about my relationship with God.

    17. It’s a problem. But not mine, as there will be no repercussions.

      You’re mighty sure of that. Again, your choice.

      And yes, I had a Merry Christmas and hope you did as well.

    18. Say what you want but the facts are not on your side. For a person that spent that much time on a subject you should know better.

    19. For a change after 20 years a change agent would be needed to say otherwise is clearly not accurate. The agent could be “evidence” that altered your view or an event but something had to lead to change. For a person that uses science as an argument that should be evident.

  3. How is not worshiping other idols that lead to trouble not a good commandment. The number one substitute is money and worshiping that leads to problems. Rape and abuse should not have to be stated word for word, it should not even need to be stated. Under that logic look at how many things you can do that would be wrong due to moral relativism.
    I am not a Catholic, but I share the main concept with them with the love of God and others. How can following love of others be a bad thing.
    Overall the 10 commandments do encourage the world to be a better place.

    1. “How is not worshiping other idols that lead to trouble not a good commandment. ”

      It assumes all worship of idols would lead to trouble and that somehow the god that it tells you to worship won’t lead to trouble.

      I don’t accept either assumption.

      “How can following love of others be a bad thing.”

      Never said it did. I do not accept, however, that that is what the 10 Commandments preaches.

    2. Not looking for anything in particular I was just curious. I see my son and I watch him and I swear that he can see things that we cannot. I tend to wonder if we see more when we are innocent.

  4. FYI rape and abuse is stealing if you really think about it you are taking something away from a person. Perhaps you should study a little more with a focus as I said on love. God also gave you free will to make your decision.

  5. I don’t mean to spam you but I also want to say that I have no ill will against you for having a different belief system. I wish you the best.

    1. I see, I am sorry to hear that. Maybe one day you will change your mind, with that said I wish you a merry holiday.

  6. I don’t ignore the philosophical implications. I believe I live in a world of moral relativism but strive to make my morals based on solid things like preventing harm and benefiting humanity. Is it perfect? Hell no. But it’s reality, and I will deal with reality on its own terms.

    What would you do different, I’m curious, if you lived in Mosul?

    1. I don’t ignore the philosophical implications. I believe I live in a world of moral relativism but strive to make my morals based on solid things like preventing harm and benefiting humanity.

      You just did it again. You can’t say why your worldview is any more legitimate than, say, the Islamic State group, given that you believe humans do not have a soul. You can’t answer that question — you can only discuss what you believe and state that it is right because there are a lot of people who agree with you. Might makes right in a world without God.

      What would you do different, I’m curious, if you lived in Mosul?

      If I was raised in Iraq, then I have no idea how I would react. If you magically transported me to Mosul right now, then I would probably try and figure out a way to get in contact with American military personnel. If you told me that I couldn’t leave Iraq, then it’s a good bet that I’d reacquaint myself with my old friend, the M-16, and help train Iraqi security forces to the best of my ability. My marksmanship skills are probably a little rusty, but that could easily be taken care of with a little practice.

    2. Legitimate to whom? Based on what?

      Might makes right in the Christian world. If tomorrow God said rape was moral, then rape is moral, because he’s in charge…the mightiest. You don’t have a moral system. You have moral pronouncement a from a supposed dictator. No different than North Korea.

    3. Legitimate to whom? Based on what?

      Exactly. In a world without God, no one has any legitimate claim on what is right and what is wrong.

      Might makes right in the Christian world. If tomorrow God said rape was moral, then rape is moral, because he’s in charge…the mightiest. You don’t have a moral system. You have moral pronouncement a from a supposed dictator. No different than North Korea.

      It’s rather cute that you would liken God to Kim Jong-un. Yawn. I’m just surprised you haven’t busted out with “Easter Bunny” or “Santa Claus” yet.

      But yes, the one who is responsible for creating space and time is, in fact, the one who sets the rules — even if you don’t like them. Luckily, the rules were made crystal clear by a guy named Jesus. You may have heard of Him. He’s nothing like a North Korean dictator.

      Also, you might want to consider that under normal circumstances it would be impossible for you to ever comprehend the differences between your purpose in time and God’s purpose in eternity. Whittaker Chambers speaks more eloquently on that than I do. He once denied God, but his time as a Russian spy under godless Communism changed his perspective. “Witness” is a great book. I highly recommend it.

    4. ” no one has any legitimate”

      Again, legitimate to whom?

      Your god, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist. Therefore the only legitimacy that will happen is between humans. Your phrasing implies some sort of ‘overseer’ that you haven’t shown is actually there overseeing anything, making your point pretty worthless in this context.

      “Luckily, the rules were made crystal clear by a guy named Jesus.”

      Totally clear. Slaves, obey your masters.

    5. Again, legitimate to whom?

      At this point if you don’t get what I’m saying, then you’re either trolling or it’s not worth repeating again and again.

      Your god, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist. Therefore the only legitimacy that will happen is between humans. Your phrasing implies some sort of ‘overseer’ that you haven’t shown is actually there overseeing anything, making your point pretty worthless in this context.

      Yay. Congratulations. You get it. Now, take that a step further and you will realize that using your very own philosophy, then what is going on with the Islamic State, what went on with Stalin or what went on with Mao, etc. can not be called “good” or “bad.” It just…happened.

      Totally clear. Slaves, obey your masters.

      You seem to think that just because you say something that it makes it true or an accurate reflection of reality. If you’ve read everything Jesus has ever said and your conclusion is that He is no different than a North Korean dictator, then that is your choice. As TruthWillWin1 said, God gave you free will. You choose to deny His existence. God wants you to be yourself so much that He’s even willing to allow you to deny Him. At the end of the day you and I will both die, and one of us will be correct. If I am wrong, then it means nothing. If you are wrong, then that is a completely different ball game. But again, every choice you made along the way has been the result of your own free will.

      Have a good day, NotAScientist.

    6. ” can not be called “good” or “bad.” It just…happened.”

      Sure it can. I can call it that. Just because there’s no god doesn’t mean I can’t call things bad based on my own understanding of ethics and morality. That is the point.

      “At the end of the day you and I will both die, and one of us will be correct. ”

      Or both of us will be wrong and we’ll be neighbors in Islamic hell.

      Do love how these conversations tend to end in veiled, or not so veiled, threats, though.

    7. Sure it can. I can call it that. Just because there’s no god doesn’t mean I can’t call things bad based on my own understanding of ethics and morality. That is the point.

      You again miss the point or you’re just trolling. Your philosophy only holds that something is “good” to the extent that you think it’s good and enough people who agree with you have their hands on the levers of power. There are no universal truths. But again, thank you for highlighting your beliefs for objective readers.

      Do love how these conversations tend to end in veiled, or not so veiled, threats, though.

      Have you ever heard of Pascal’s Wager? I guess not. How ironic is it that NotAScientist is whining about the “threatening” arguments of a physicist?

      Side note: You may want to do a little more research on Islam. I know you thought your “Islamic hell” comment was substantive, but it’s a specious argument at best.

    8. “There are no universal truths.”

      No, but there are situational truths based on desired outcomes. Which you seem to dislike.

      “How ironic is it that NotAScientist is whining about the “threatening” arguments of a physicist?”

      Not whining. Just remarking. It is surprising how many conversations about god end with “if you don’t believe in god you’re going to be punished for it!” How is that not a threat?

      It’s a threat with no teeth, in the same way threatening me with a thunderbolt from Zeus would be, but it’s still a threat.

      “I know you thought your “Islamic hell” comment was substantive”

      It was meant to show your false dichotomy. The possibilities aren’t limited to your brand of Christianity and atheism. There are thousands, if not millions, of religions, and I see no reason to think that yours is any more likely than the others. And if any of the others are right, and have a similar concept of Hell, then both you and I are going there together.

    9. No, but there are situational truths based on desired outcomes. Which you seem to dislike.

      I suppose I would put more stock in “situational truths” if I was Communist…or if I let my basest instincts define me as a person.

      Not whining. Just remarking. It is surprising how many conversations about god end with “if you don’t believe in god you’re going to be punished for it!” How is that not a threat?

      God isn’t going to punish you — you have free will. If you deny God with the free will you have at your disposal, then that is a choice you and only you have made. God will be giving to you exactly what you asked for — eternal separation from Him.

      Speaking of free will, I see you didn’t answer my question about whether or not you actually believe in free will. Was that a “yes” or a “no”?

      I find it bizarre that you would engage this long in a discussion that boils down to “Was Jesus really who he claimed to be?” and then get cranky when you’re forced to address the implications for your soul if the answer is “Yes.”

      I also find it bizarre how an atheist can look at his own child and think something along the lines of, “He doesn’t have a soul” before going on with the day like that isn’t the least bit creepy. Again, you have chosen to use your free will to deny God. So be it.

    10. “I also find it bizarre how atheists can look at their own child and think something along the lines of, “He doesn’t have a soul” before going on with their day like that isn’t the least bit creepy.”

      Replace ‘soul’ with ‘magic wackadoo’ and it becomes much easier to understand.

    11. Replace ‘soul’ with ‘magic wackadoo’ and it becomes much easier to understand.

      So do humans have free will or not? You really don’t want to answer that question, do you? Telling.

    12. Maybe? We think we do and we act like we do. Depends, also, on how you define ‘free will’.

      Not sure why it’s an important question to you. Clearly, if you created something and know everything that will ever happen to that thing you created, that thing can’t by definition have a free will. So under many religious systems, if true, free will is impossible.

      As for reality? I’m a pragmatist. I think I have free will, but I could be wrong. But if I was wrong I wouldn’t know it, and couldn’t change it, so, so what? The pragmatic thing is to act as if we all have free will unless given evidence to the contrary. (Example: someone committing a crime with a gun to their head.)

    13. Maybe? We think we do and we act like we do. Depends, also, on how you define ‘free will’.

      Haha! Nice cop out.

      Not sure why it’s an important question to you.

      Oh, I think you are acutely aware of the implications of either a “yes” or “no” answer, which is why you bent over backwards to not answer the question. I’ll take “I think” as a yes. Is there any particular reason why you think humans should actually have free will in a universe devoid of God, universal truths regarding right and wrong, etc.?

      Clearly, if you created something and know everything that will ever happen to that thing you created, that thing can’t by definition have a free will. So under many religious systems, if true, free will is impossible.

      Wrong.

      It’s interesting to watch you try to fully wrap your brain around a being that exists outside time and space.

    14. “Haha! Nice cop out.”

      Not a cop out. A genuine attempt to be honest. Not trying to win points against you or convert you or ‘win’. Being honest.

      ” Is there any particular reason why you think humans should actually have free will in a universe devoid of God, universal truths regarding right and wrong, etc.?”

      As I pointed out before, I don’t think the existence of a god, particularly the type you seem to believe in, allows for free will, so that doesn’t matter. Also…’should?’ There is no ‘should’.

      Either the universe works one way or it works another way. There is no ‘should’, when it comes to things like humans having free will or not.

      I’d certainly like it if my free will is not an illusion. But if it is an illusion, I have no way of knowing it, so what?

      “It’s interesting to watch you try to fully wrap your brain around a being that exists outside time and space.”

      It’s not that hard. A being that exists outside of time and space is indistinguishable from a being that doesn’t exist at all.

      It just sounds more impressive.

    15. Either the universe works one way or it works another way. There is no ‘should’, when it comes to things like humans having free will or not.

      Another attempt to troll, or are you actually oblivious to what I was getting at: What is the point of having free will in a universe with no God, no universal truths, etc.?

    16. What is the point to whom? Seriously, you keep asking these questions as if there is some sort of ethereal goal keeper, and I do not accept that to be the case.

      And I’m disagreeing with you. Disagreeing is not, necessarily, trolling. But whatever.

      There doesn’t have to be a ‘point’ to having free will. We either have it or we don’t. If we have it, it’s because we evolved to have it and probably it’s more likely to be better for survival than otherwise.

      But that’s me speaking off the top of my head. Your questions are coming off as nonsensical, and I’m not intending to insult you by saying that. I sincerely mean they are reading like “what flavor is the color green?”

    17. There doesn’t have to be a ‘point’ to having free will. We either have it or we don’t. If we have it, it’s because we evolved to have it and probably it’s more likely to be better for survival than otherwise.

      And this is why so many people are turned off by atheism… You can say how something works, but you refuse to answer the most important “Why?”.

      Your questions are coming off as nonsensical, and I’m not intending to insult you by saying that. I sincerely mean they are reading like “what flavor is the color green?”

      Not really. Truthwillwin1, Eduardo, Zarius, and rawlenyanzi all seem to get exactly what I’m saying. You, however, are so wrapped up in yourself and your “situational truths” that you can not see beyond your own thoughts and desires.

    18. “You can’t how something works, but you refuse to answer the most important “Why?”

      Sometimes ‘why’ isn’t a valid question to ask. That’s emotionally unsatisfying, which is probably a reason why religion has such appeal.

      And that’s fine if people are ‘turned off’ by atheism. I’m not trying to convert anyone. But even if I was, I would want people to become atheists because it’s almost certainly the truth, not because it makes you happy. (Not that it makes me happy or sad. Actually quite a happy person.)

      “Not really. Truthwillwin1, Eduardo, Zarius, and rawlenyanzi all seem to get exactly what I’m saying.”

      Because you all happen to be members of a religion that think the flavor of green is Jesus. So of course you all get each other. But that doesn’t mean the question actually makes sense objectively.

    19. Because you all happen to be members of a religion that think the flavor of green is Jesus. So of course you all get each other. But that doesn’t mean the question actually makes sense objectively.

      I really like exchanges like this. You say I’m not making any sense, and I point to multiple individuals in this very conversation who get what I’m saying (including a reader who appears to be turning away from atheism), and your response is to get snarky with “the flavor of Jesus is green” and imply that we’re all completely detached from reality. It’s a good thing you’re not trying to “convert” anyone, because the way you represent the atheist “brand” needs some serious work.

    20. The citizens of North Korea have free will. If they exercise it in a way the dictator doesn’t like, the dictator has them killed. According to Christianity, humans have free will. If they exercise it in a way the dictator doesn’t like, he either orders other Christians to have them killed (OT) or sends them to Hell (NT) or both.

    21. NotAScientist, your analogy is puerile. Regardless, do you even believe there is such a thing as free will? From a scientific perspective, shouldn’t you be asserting that there is no free will and that we are all just saying and doing what the atoms and molecules bouncing around in our head are making us say and do? If everything can be traced back to the big bang, then, theoretically, on a long enough time line, a NotAScientist like yourself should be able to measure all the movements of the universe. The logical stance for a NotAScientist like yourself is to assert that free will is an illusion.

    22. That statement is also very flawed, I think you need to study more before making statements like that.

  7. I always have felt pulled in one way to another with this issue, I’ve always been spiritual, but often tended to think it was out of commitment to every little weird thing but God. Whenever I ever said something in that past that outright denied God or instilled the denial of God in others, I always felt it was, in my heart, the wrong thing to say and do, almost instinctively you could say, so I watch my step more. I don’t know where it is I’ll end up for past instances of denial or otherwise, but I no longer feel disconnected because I am mindful of good strong people in my life and I like to think there is something bigger and better awaiting them past this life, and that someone will take care of them. Happy holidays everyone, please don’t spend it fighting

    1. I like to think there is something bigger and better awaiting them past this life, and that someone will take care of them. Happy holidays everyone, please don’t spend it fighting

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, zariusii. As always, I appreciate it. I truly believe that something “bigger and better” is out there, and in time it will be revealed to each and every one of us. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you as well! 🙂

      NotAScientist seems to think he is the “home team” around here when, in fact, he is on my turf. The atheist blogger doesn’t get to come onto the Catholic guy’s website this close to Christmas, liken God to a North Korean dictator, and then get the last word. When I come to his blog, I will gladly give him the last word.

  8. Hoo boy. I’ve got a lot to say here.

    Atheism cannot determine what is “right” or “wrong” or what we “ought” to do. It can only tell me what is. All talk of ethics or morality defined by what is rational or evolved is nonsense, since it is ultimately arbitrary.

    The atheist only has two methods of enforcing obedience to his arbitrary ethical code: rewards and punishments. If the subject or subjects aren’t dependent on the rewards and can avoid the punishments, the atheist’s “moral code” has no force at all (this perhaps explains why the Communists expanded state power and forbade anyone from leaving.) On top of that, what is “right” can change according to the fancies of the ruler or ruling class.

    Also, if you’re an atheist, what’s wrong with, say, believing that the nuclear family, with the traditional division of labor between man and woman, is positively good? It’s not like you’ll go to Atheist Hell (a.k.a. Utah) if you’re an outright reactionary. Sure, the dominant progressive culture will punish you, but that’s hardly the same as something being “good” or “moral.” It shows that atheism, not religion, is based on the principle of might-makes-right — because it is the only way it can make right.

    That sky fairy is looking more and more appealing each day.

    1. The atheist only has two methods of enforcing obedience to his arbitrary ethical code: rewards and punishments. If the subject or subjects aren’t dependent on the rewards and can avoid the punishments, the atheist’s “moral code” has no force at all (this perhaps explains why the Communists expanded state power and forbade anyone from leaving.) On top of that, what is “right” can change according to the fancies of the ruler or ruling class.

      Bingo! Like I said before, I’m not sure if NotAScientist was trolling or if he really didn’t get it. You nicely describe exactly what I was trying to get him to acknowledge.

    2. Who said anything about enforcing obedience? Is that what you’re focused on…enforcing obedience to your particular code? Because I don’t think that way at all. Kinda comes off as creepy, to be honest.

    3. I mentioned it in passing, but Whittaker Chambers’ “Witness” really is quite a profound book. I reference a few passages in my post “Counter Spy’s message: America was no different than the Soviet Union during the Cold War,” but I can’t overstate how eloquently Chambers articulates what you and I have tried to convey here.

      This is where “situational truths” lead:

      “The human horror of the Purge was too close for me to grasp clearly its historical meaning. I could not have said then, what I knew shortly afterwards, that, as Communists, Stalin and the Stalinists were absolutely justified in making the Purge. From the Communist viewpoint, Stalin could have taken no other course, so long as he believed he was right. The Purge, like the Communist-Nazi pact later on, was the true measure of Stalin as a revolutionary statesman. That was the horror of the Purge — that acting as a Communist, Stalin had acted rightly. In that fact lay the evidence that Communism is absolutely evil.”

      Human beings are all fallible and capable of unspeakable atrocities, but I shudder to think what the world would look like if even 30 percent of its inhabitants subscribed to the philosophy of “situational truths.”

    4. Human beings are all fallible and capable of unspeakable atrocities, but I shudder to think what the world would look like if even 30 percent of its inhabitants subscribed to the philosophy of “situational truths.”

      Indeed, they tell us how we must live and what is right or wrong…up until they change their mind. Then the new thing is absolute moral truth. It’s as if they want to be God micromanaging humanity to create some twisted vision of utopia that not everyone shares.

    5. @ NotAScientist

      Who said anything about enforcing obedience? Is that what you’re focused on…enforcing obedience to your particular code? Because I don’t think that way at all. Kinda comes off as creepy, to be honest.

      Because a moral code with no one to enforce it is easily ignored, and even if someone was enforcing it, the only thing giving them that right would be the ability to provide goodies and the ability to apply force, all of which can be applied according to a ruler’s mood each day. Hardly anything to base concepts of “right” and “wrong” on.

      Any atheist “code” requires force and goodies, or it is ignored.

    6. “Because a moral code with no one to enforce it is easily ignored”

      Sure it is. Unless it’s in your best interest to follow it. By being nice and kind and helping people, I encourage others to do the same. No force really required.

      “Any atheist “code” requires force and goodies, or it is ignored.”

      Like heaven and hell?

    7. Sure it is. Unless it’s in your best interest to follow it. By being nice and kind and helping people, I encourage others to do the same. No force really required.

      And if you value something other than popularity, there’s nothing stopping you from not being “nice and kind” at all, or only being “nice and kind” to specific types of people (however defined), or utterly ruthless. Crowds can use reward and punishment as a way of enforcing a moral code as well — it’s in your best interests to follow because you’ll be punished if you don’t. Also, these best interests will change according to passing fancy.

    8. And if you value something other than popularity, there’s nothing stopping you from not being “nice and kind” at all, or only being “nice and kind” to specific types of people (however defined), or utterly ruthless.

      You’re on fire, man. Whenever I have extended conversations with atheists and they mock the teachings of Jesus, they never seem to stop and think about what guys like me would be like in the absence faith. I promise this: I would be a very, very different person if I believed there was no God — and not for the better. I know myself and I know that I am a very flawed man. I am selfish. I am greedy. I struggle with a whole host of thoughts and desires that are clearly not in my higher self’s best interest. However, it is through my faith that I have been able to “embrace my better angels” more often than not. Deep down, I know when I have fallen short of the behavior God expects of me, and I rightly feel shame. I then pick myself up and attempt to become a better person.

      It’s a good bet that he will not do it, but NotAScientist should thank God that I believe in God. 😉

    9. Let me know if you ever are looking for some good reading. One of my issues with online atheists is that they’re really good at making jokes about “Flying Spaghetti Monsters” and things of that nature, but they rarely make fun of guys like C.S. Lewis (a former atheist who became a staunch defender of Christianity).

      I recently read The Screwtape Letters for the first time a few months ago. Good stuff.

    10. I’ve got Screwtape Letters myself, though I didn’t finish it. I definitely enjoyed what I read, though.

    11. I think C.S. Lewis is a very good ambassador for Christianity. My big beef with the atheist vs. Christianity debates online has always been that atheists will generally put up someone like Christopher Hitchens (clearly a very intelligent man) against, say, an intellectual lightweight or the rantings and ravings of Westboro Baptist-types. Then a guy like me will come along and say, “Yes, it is true — there are dumb Christians in a world of six billion people. Shocker. I will concede that point. Now let’s discuss C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton for a bit,” and the debate comes to a halt. How convenient…

    12. Side note, Rawlenyanzi: You hit a nerve over at FSTDT. Instead of coming over here and having a civil discussion with the guy who is turning away from atheism, the ridicule artillery has been turned in your direction. Also, you apparently don’t know anything about Communism. My guess is that they would say the same thing about Whittaker Chambers. 😉

    13. I just finished reading the responses. I don’t see how insults are supposed to make me atheistic again.

    14. I can pseudo-understand when a site like that does that to me, but it makes no sense to do that to someone who is on the fence or open to another point of view. I can’t imagine doing that to a Catholic who was like, “Doug, my faith has been shaken lately by [x], and I’m sort of confused right now. Can you help me?” because it is natural to have one’s faith tested during the course of a lifetime.

      Likewise, if I were an atheist on FSTDT and I saw someone over here who was on the fence, I’d take the time to come over and say, “Hey, listen. I know what you’re going through. These are difficult questions. All I ask is that you consider [insert argument here].”

      It’s a strange move on the part of the FSTDT community.

    15. Have you read Mere Christianity Douglas? Its been awhile since I’ve read it, but it seems like he begins his argument with Natural Law which is what Atheists claim to follow. I think I’ll read it again.

    16. I did read Mere Christianity, Eduardo. It’s also another impressive piece of work. I’m at my parents for the holidays or I would bust out a few of my favorite passages.

      I recently wrote a review of “The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics” that might be of interest to you.

      Long story short: C.S. Lewis kept coming up again and again in my life … and finally I just said, “Okay, I need to really need to get up to speed.” I’m glad I did.

    17. I just saw that you did comment on my C.S. Lewis when I first wrote it, Eduardo. Thanks again. 🙂 You’ll be happy to know that I asked for Unspoken Sermons, Volume I, II, and III by George MacDonald for Christmas! I’ll have to wait a few hours before I find out if I got what I asked for, but I’ll let you know. And if I do get it, just know that you helped prompt me to ask in the first place.

    18. Unspoken Sermons is a tough read but well worth the effort! I started with “Hope of the Gospel” which is a bit easier and an excellent book. You can download all of his works free from amazon. They are also on the web as PDFs. But nothing like having a hard copy. Did you get it for Christmas? If you read his works I’ll have to bug you about it since I can’t get anyone else to read them. 🙂

    19. Well, I didn’t get MacDonald for Christmas, but that just means that I’m going to order it for myself as soon as I fly home in January. 🙂 I like having a hard copy of all my books because I use a highlighter to mark my favorite parts.

      I did get John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The West and the Rest.” I’ll have a lot of reading to do, but MacDonald is a high priority. I’ll make sure to do a blog post on my reading as soon as its completed.

    20. II guess that makes sense why they keep trying to say they will be punished if they do not believe when in fact they are just getting what they wanted in the first place. Overall it is twisted logic.

  9. Merry Christmas everybody! I love these theological discussions you have on your blog from time to time Douglas. I want to comment on just one of the so called Humanistic Ten Commandments. Number 2 reads; “Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.”

    I do agree with this command…somewhat anyway. But it seems to me that Atheists typically don’t. Which is most likely true?

    A. Once upon a time there was nothing. No light, no darkness, no matter, no universe, no life, no music, no one, nothing. And then, like magic, there was light, matter, life, music, love, laughter and reason. All of this was unintended for there was no one to intend. Each one of us was unintended. We are all accidents. The bastard children of Mommy Nothing.

    B. There is God, who has always existed, who has no beginning and no end, who brought the universe and us into existence through his infinite power. We can trust our reason, because God is reasonable. We were intended. This place was prepared for us as a cosmic nursery.

    It seems to me that B is “most likely to be true”, so I do strive to understand it, as do most people who believe B to be the truth. Now consider this quote by Atheist Thomas Nagel.

    “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

    I appreciate this man’s honesty and I believe he isn’t alone among atheists in feeling this way. So I do follow the Humanistic second commandment, “Thou shalt strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you want to be true.” But I’m not sure Nagel does.

    “But belief in God requires faith!” cries the atheist. “And faith is opposed to reason!” is the standard atheist’s reply. But I disagree with this nonsense. I believe it is the atheist that has the greater faith. For he believes in the most unlikely story…no, actually, he believes in an unbelievable story. As Voltaire wrote, “What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason.”

    Merry Christmas and as the angels said, “Peace on Earth and good will towards Men.”

    1. I love these theological discussions you have on your blog from time to time Douglas.

      Thanks for the feedback, Eduardo. I really appreciate it. We make a good team because I love having readers like you who stop in regularly to see what I’m saying. 😉 In all seriousness, though, it means a lot to me that you would say that.

      As you point out, even scientists will acknowledge that something can not come from nothing. That is why “The Big Bang” gives many of them a headache. “So basically there was nothing…and then everything that exists in the universe just exploded outward in a giant ball of light…sort of like something out of the Book of Genesis…but not because of, ummm, God, because He doesn’t exist or something.”

      “But belief in God requires faith!” cries the atheist. “And faith is opposed to reason!” is the standard atheist’s reply.

      Faith is what all humans use when there is a gap between what they know and what they do not know — or can never know. The atheist assumes that through his five senses he can ascertain an accurate reading of reality, but what if his five sense are not capable of picking up aspects of reality that are very much there, but not perceivable to the human mind? As I’ve said before, in a world of sentient AM radios there would be plenty of AM radios mocking the idea that the FM band or light waves exist. The AM radios would just not have the proper wiring to understand reality: that the FM band and light waves do exist.

      Likewise, the human body is a machine — a very elegant machine — but to suggest it was built with the kind of wiring necessary to put together an accurate reading of reality is absurd.

    2. Not to George MacDonald you to death…but the idea that there could be a whole other reality all around us reminds me of his fictional book Lilith. There is so much we don’t know, I just don’t understand people who are convinced there is nothing but what they can smell, see, hear, taste or touch.

  10. The best is reading stuff from Satanist Atheist(don’t ask). They seem to be everywhere on YouTube. They all support and are for pissing off Christians because they are so “oppressed” plus starting fights and pissing people off really gets people to be open minded about your beliefs. What a bunch of ass hats.

    1. My general opinion is that no group, God-fearing men or atheists, has the market cornered on jerks. With that said, I’m not sure why some atheists think they come across well when they go out of their way to annoy Christians around Christmas. That isn’t cool or edgy; it just makes them mean.

      I suppose if I held the belief that the universe was all some pointless cosmic accident, then I would be depressed or angry, so I try to cut atheists some slack.

    2. I don’t hate atheist, a really good friend of mine is an atheist. I just can’t stand those that believe pissing off or picking a fight with Christians will help their cause or creating different branches to atheism like “Satanist Atheism”, which I find to be funny since “Satanist Atheism” has nothing to do with the Biblical Satan or worship of him and I thought atheist don’t believe in God or Satan so why call themselves that other then to piss off Christians and pick a fight with them? These hateful morons and “Satanist Atheist” are everywhere on YouTube. Makes going there almost unbearable. Its become an anti-Christian cesspool there and not just on Christmas.

    3. I agree with you that there are some pretty scurvy corners of YouTube. Definitely.

      The atheists you reference do seem to get some sick pleasure in the thought of making Christians angry, but really … I just feel bad for anyone who goes to such lengths to try and feed off the anger of others. They puff out their chests and feel all proud of themselves and I can’t help but wince. I don’t get upset; I pity them.

      Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, rangerboo. I appreciate it.

    4. I agree when I stray I can be a real jerk, I look back at my past and I am thankful to be forgiven.

    5. It is good that you do not hate them because it is told that we should love everyone eve those who go out of their way to disagree. I appreciate Notascientist and others like him I hope that one day they will have their own unique experience that enables him to see the light. Remember we were all in that place once and we could be again.

  11. I had a good Christmas, but I started out the week with the stomach flu and that wasn’t fun. It was the first time I’d had it since 2011, and it was even worse this time.

    1. Your call, Doug.

      You’re right, Anon-e-moose. It is my call. Like I said, we all have free will. Ultimately, the only person who knows what’s going on inside my head and your head is God, which is why you don’t see me talking about fire and brimstone to guys like you. I take to the words of Saint Augustine much more than I do Mike Huckabee.

      In regards to your link:

      Furthermore, in the interview with The Times he also stated “When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.” In the same interview he also said “I feel internally happier than at any time of my life.”

      I’m not sure why so many atheists seem to think that they’re the only ones who are able to think rationally. It’s incredibly smug. I’ll be putting up a blog post sometimes today on how science actually strengthens the case for God.

      Regardless, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  12. There’s a difference between saying that there’s no one right way to live, and saying that there’s no wrong way to live.

    For example, there’s not just one profession which is right to follow, it’s fine to be a dentist or a chef or a schoolteacher. But having said that, we can still say that it’s wrong to be a hitman. Agreed? So someone who says that there’s no one right way to live can still consistently say “thou shalt not be a hitman”. Agreed?

    You could have figured that out for yourself if you’d thought about it.

    1. You could have figured that out for yourself if you’d thought about it.

      This is a strange statement to make, considering that this entire thread shows that I have thought about it. Here’s one example:

      Your philosophy only holds that something is “good” to the extent that you think it’s good and enough people who agree with you have their hands on the levers of power. There are no universal truths.

      It also turns out that a reader who is turning away from atheism has thought about it as well. Rawlenyanzi says:

      Atheism cannot determine what is “right” or “wrong” or what we “ought” to do. It can only tell me what is. All talk of ethics or morality defined by what is rational or evolved is nonsense, since it is ultimately arbitrary.

      Your statement — “There’s a difference between saying that there’s no one right way to live, and saying that there’s no wrong way to live” — might work for an atheist bumper sticker, but it falls apart upon the least bit of scrutiny. No, we can not both agree that it is “wrong” to be a hitman in a world where God does not exist and we’re all just sentient space dust. I say again: Your moral authority to declare what is “right” and what is “wrong” only exists to the extent that you believe it and you have enough people with their hands on the levers of power who agree with you.

      As I have said already, Whittaker Chambers does an excellent job describing what a world governed by your philosophy would look like in his classic autobiography, “Witness.”

    2. I was commenting on the form of your error. It’s as though you were to say “John says that there is no one healthy diet, and yet he says that one shouldn’t eat arsenic or live entirely on lard! This is a ‘philosophically convoluted mess’, John is contradicting himself.” You cannot defend this formal error by making other statements, true or false, about atheism; they are irrelevant to the mistake that I pointed out. In the same way, it would not support *that particular* criticism of John to point out that he didn’t know much about nutrition, was himself grossly obese, suffered from anosmia, or whatever, even if these claims were true.

      You do not explain why you can’t agree that it is wrong to be a hitman in a world in which God doesn’t exist. As all the atheists I know *can* agree on that, this looks more like a problem in your thinking than theirs: but as you do not expound on your reasoning, it’s hard to see where you’ve gone wrong. It would make for a more interesting discussion if you would state your reasoning instead of just declaring your conclusions.

      As Whittaker Chambers has never met me, and indeed died before I was born, he can hardly have been aware of my philosophical views; still less can he have described a world governed by them in an autobiographical work, since the world has never in fact been governed by my philosophical views.

    3. As all the atheists I know *can* agree on that, this looks more like a problem in your thinking than theirs: but as you do not expound on your reasoning, it’s hard to see where you’ve gone wrong.

      So because Mr. Anonymous has a circle of friends who agree with him, then I must be wrong. Gotcha. Brilliant.

      Your analogy is a nice attempt at comparing apples to oranges while trying to convince others that you’re really comparing apples to apples. In one case the discussion is about biological processes, and in the other we’re talking about where a man derives his moral authority. If you can’t see how the two discussions are entirely different, then that’s your problem.

      Just for the heck of it, I’ll quote C.S. Lewis to make it a bit clearer for you:

      “Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula or the remotest part obeys the thought laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory — in other words ,unless Reason is an absolute — all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe in [the atheist] world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one; and the fact that when you put it to many scientists, far from having an answer, they seem not even to understand what the difficulty is, assures me that I have not found a mare’s nest but detected a radical disease in their whole mode of thought from the very beginning. …

      If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees,” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

    4. I’m not sure if this reply will end up in the right order within the posts … still, we’ll figure it out.

      * The fact that people *have* reconciled two things does indeed suggest that they are reconcilable. If you personally can’t reconcile atheism with morality, maybe you haven’t been trying all that hard.

      * A criticism of the *form* of your argument — of *any* argument — is independent of its content. Yes, biological processes and the derivation of moral authority are different. But the mistakes are formally the same.

      (So “All cakes are fattening. Bacon is fattening. Therefore bacon is a cake.” is formally the same mistake as “All adulterers are human. You are a human. Therefore you are an adulterer.” One mistake is about nutrition, the other about morality. But they are still fundamentally the same mistake.)

      * I am familiar with Lewis’s error (an unusually obtuse blunder from a man whose mistakes are usually much subtler and more interesting) but he was actually being wrong about something else: his difficulties were with epistemology, not morality.

      Perhaps you could try to expound on your thinking about morality. Let’s take an example. An atheist and a theist would both tell a third party: “Just ‘cos Fred makes you angry by playing loud mariachi music after midnight, that’s still not a justification for killing him.” Is it your view that the theist would be *more correct* in saying so? Or what distinction are you trying to draw between them?

    5. Sorry Mr. Anonymous, but just because you say that I’ve made a mistake in terms of the form of my argument, it doesn’t make it true. When an atheist says “There is no right way to live,” then he has no moral authority to say that his way is better than the Islamic State group, North Korean dictators, Iranian mullahs, African warlords, etc. All he can do is point to his circle of friends — as you have — and say that no one he knows disagrees with him. Starting slow clap now…

      Your morality can change on a daily, hourly, or even a second-by-second basis, and it would mean nothing because, after all, you see yourself as a bunch of temporarily-sentient space dust and nothing more. My morality is tethered to the will of my Creator and will not change; I assert that I have a soul (or, rather, that I am a soul temporarily housed in a human body) and will one day be held accountable for my behavior.

      There is a reason why the Soviet Union was hell bent on destroying churches…

    6. But I have *demonstrated* the formal error. To say that “There is not just one right way to do X” is manifestly not the same as saying “All ways of doing X are equally good, none are bad”. This applies to morality, eating healthy, driving from L.A. to San Francisco, baking a chocolate cake …

      You have misunderstood the purport of my reference to my friends. Please try not to misstate my arguments.

      Theists do change their minds about what’s moral. It’s just that *simultaneously* they change their minds about what God’s thinking. They go (for example) from “Gay marriage is wrong and God thinks it’s wrong” to “Gay marriage is OK and God thinks it’s OK”. What remains constant is their belief that God agrees with them.

      We can also observe the differences between theists. Since they have widely divergent opinions about morality, it would be presumptuous for any one of them to claim that *he* is one of the lucky ones whose “morality is tethered to the will of his Creator”. He may of course *hope* that that’s the case …

      I am still waiting for you to explain or even state your argument. What in your opinion is the difference between an atheist and a theist saying “You shouldn’t kill Fred”? Is the theist somehow more correct in saying it?

    7. But I have *demonstrated* the formal error. To say that “There is not just one right way to do X” is manifestly not the same as saying “All ways of doing X are equally good, none are bad”.

      If your argument boils down to all humans being cosmic accidents that will return to space dust within due time, then yes, that is exactly what you’re saying. — whether you want to admit it or not.

      I am still waiting for you to explain or even state your argument. What in your opinion is the difference between an atheist and a theist saying “You shouldn’t kill Fred”? Is the theist somehow more correct in saying it?

      I have answered this question multiple times. You just choose not to acknowledge it. The problem doesn’t come in when some random anonymous guy from, say, Nevada, happens to agree with his Christian neighbor that getting murdered would be a bad experience and that he wouldn’t like to have it happen to him. The problem comes in when you have, say, someone like Stalin in power.

      I talked about this earlier with atheist NotAScientist, who was a really big fan of “situational truths.” The Soviet Union was really big into “situational truths” as well. I’m not saying that NotAScientist is a bad guy or an apologist for The Purge. What I am saying is that atheist Americans who think, “I’m a good guy” because they keep to themselves and play their XBox with their friends really don’t like to think about the implications of their world view.

    8. No, that is not exactly what I am saying. You can tell that by the way I’m not saying that, and by the way that I obviously believe the exact opposite. If your disdain for atheists is founded on inventing opinions and statements for them which they do not hold and have not expressed, then I don’t think it’s terribly rational — or honest.

      Your vague references to Stalin do not in fact constitute an answer to my question. Yes, there have been bad atheists. Their have also been really atrocious theists. Let me quote one at random: “With the same, in fact with even greater indifference do I regard torturing you than I do bending this reed out of my path with my stick, for by doing so I earn nothing. But when I have you tortured, and by the severe means afforded by the law I bring you to confession, then I perform a work pleasing in God’s sight; and it profiteth me.”

      But this is scarcely to the point. Let me ask you again. If a theist and an atheist both say “You shouldn’t kill Fred”, where’s the difference? You seem to think, correct me if I’m wrong, that the theist would be on firmer ground.

      If your point is merely that Stalin was a bad man, then so was the devout Heinrich von Schultheis, whom I quoted. Where does this get us?

    9. No, that is not exactly what I am saying. You can tell that by the way I’m not saying that, and by the way that I obviously believe the exact opposite. If your disdain for atheists is founded on inventing opinions and statements for them which they do not hold and have not expressed, then I don’t think it’s terribly rational — or honest.

      Mr. Anonymous, our statements are right next to one another. It is quite easy for readers to see the conundrum you are in, and that you refuse to acknowledge it. Absent God, the only one who determines what is right for Mr. Anonymous on a day-by-day basis, is you. In a meaningless universe, moral relativism is king. Objective readers can see the implications of this, given that all humans are fallible and prone to a whole host of undesirable behaviors.

      My response to your “Fred” question is quite clear. It’s not my problem that you didn’t get the answer you wanted.

      I’m happy to know that you acknowledge that humans have a conscience. God’s fingerprints are all over your soul. You can thank Him. Or not. It’s your choice, but there are great implications for society, in the aggregate, depending on which side of the divide man falls.

    10. People who believe in God are also left with the task of figuring out the difference between good and evil — everyone is obliged to think with his own brain. And they come, and have always come, to different conclusions: one will say “God wants me to burn you alive ‘cos you’re a Protestant”, and the other will be all “Nuh-uh, God wants *me* to burn *you* alive, ‘cos you’re a Catholic”. They can’t both be right. They might, in fact, both be wrong. I don’t see how they’re better off by invoking the supposed wishes of a third party, but if they are, I could do the same — I could say: “Neither of you should burn anyone, and my wife agrees with me.” I don’t see, then, where they have an advantage over me. In fact, I think I have an advantage over them — I’m nicer, and also get to make a saving in firewood.

      Your “response” to my Fred question is not quite clear, nor indeed does it appear to be a response to my question so much as an evasion of it. Please meet the question head on. This will require an answer that begins: “When an atheist and a theist both say ‘You shouldn’t kill Fred’, the difference between them is …”

      If you can’t do that, then it seems to me that you’re on pretty shaky ground here.

    11. Your “response” to my Fred question is not quite clear, nor indeed does it appear to be a response to my question so much as an evasion of it. Please meet the question head on. This will require an answer that begins: “When an atheist and a theist both say ‘You shouldn’t kill Fred’, the difference between them is…” If you can’t do that, then it seems to me that you’re on pretty shaky ground here.

      Heh. Okay. Whatever you say, Mr. Anonymous internet guy who doesn’t believe in God — yet still appears to believe that universal truths regarding good and evil still exist. I’ll let the readers decide.

      Imagine if atheists were the Founding Fathers: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by Nothing with certain unalienable Rights.”

    12. Well, if you really can’t answer my question, I suggest that you think about it. It can be like a little koan for you.

      “When an atheist and a theist both say ‘You shouldn’t kill Fred’, the difference between them is …”

      Fill in the blank. Or, if you can’t think of a difference, maybe there isn’t one.

      Have a happy new year.

    13. I answered your question. Again, you just don’t like the answer. And no matter how many times you repeat yourself it doesn’t change the fact that your morality is tethered to “The Big Nothing.” Again, that is why atheist “NotAScientist” — in this very conversation — was so big on “situational truths.” I am confident readers can extrapolate exactly what this means in terms of your hypothetical situation involving two neighbors and “Fred.”

      But yes, Happy New Year to you as well.

    14. I’m not unhappy with your “answer”: your shifty evasion speaks volumes. BY now it may even be worrying you a little.

      Let’s ask it again: “When an atheist and a theist both say ‘You shouldn’t kill Fred’, the difference between them is …”

      Fill in the blank.

    15. At this point you’re just coming across as a troll who thinks he’s going to get the last word on my blog. Like I said, readers are capable of seeing that a.) I sufficiently answered your question (just not to your liking), and b.) that the you are the one who can not answer where you derive any sort of moral authority in a meaningless universe.

      I suggest moving on. The readers will decide.

    16. Well, if you feel it’s unfair to keep asking you the question, it was not my intention to upset you. If you want to leave that question to one side for a bit, that’s fine by me.

      I shall of course be glad to answer any questions *you* wish to put to *me*. In particular, in your latest post you raise a new question, viz “where you [i.e. I] derive any sort of moral authority in a meaningless universe”.

      I don’t: “authority” doesn’t come into it. It is not by my *authority* that murder is wrong any more than it’s by my authority that zebras are stripy. I didn’t do it.

      What you mean by “meaningless universe” is unclear to me. I am aware that theists often use the term to mean a universe not containing the deity of their choice, but I don’t know why that would justify the word “meaningless”, or why the existence of your favorite deity would justify the term “meaningful”.

    17. Well, if you feel it’s unfair to keep asking you the question, it was not my intention to upset you. If you want to leave that question to one side for a bit, that’s fine by me.

      Again, readers can view my responses and decide if it was “left to one side” or not. I think myself (and Eduardo at this point) have adequately addressed the situation.

      I shall of course be glad to answer any questions *you* wish to put to *me*. In particular, in your latest post you raise a new question, viz “where you [i.e. I] derive any sort of moral authority in a meaningless universe”.

      I don’t: “authority” doesn’t come into it. It is not by my *authority* that murder is wrong any more than it’s by my authority that zebras are stripy. I didn’t do it.

      There you go again confusing biological processes (i.e., a zebra’s DNA) with whether or not murder, crime, dishonesty, etc. is right or wrong. If we were going to go on pure biology, the animal kingdom suggests that might makes right is (e.g., the lion who devours the zebra because he wants to eat) is no “better” or “worse” than the yellow-billed oxpecker that picks insects off the backs of mammals.

      What you mean by “meaningless universe” is unclear to me.

      I think that you’re a smart guy and that you’re acutely aware by what I mean by “meaningless.”

      Eduardo discussed this earlier:

      Lewis wrote: “If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees,” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

      He was saying that Reason itself is suspect. He wasn’t saying that our Reason was perfect. He was saying that if the atheists are correct, then the thoughts of the greatest minds are nothing greater than the moaning of wind in the trees.

      C.S. Lewis also said that guys like you tend to not acknowledge this, so that further conversation was basically useless. It seems nothing much has changed since his death in 1963.

    18. I am not in the least “confusing biological processes (i.e., a zebra’s DNA) with whether or not murder, crime, dishonesty, etc. is right or wrong”. I was merely using it as another example of a fact. I do not *cause* facts to be true by my “authority”, I *perceive* them to be true. It is not by my biological authority that zebras are stripy, it is not by my moral authority that murder is wrong, it is not by my geographical authority that Las Vegas is in Nevada, etc. I didn’t do it. Does that answer your question?

      I am not, in fact, acutely aware of what you mean by “meaningless” in the context in which you employ it.

      Yes, people have tended to find Lewis’s argument worthless, something that he should have spent more time thinking about.

    19. I am not in the least “confusing biological processes (i.e., a zebra’s DNA) with whether or not murder, crime, dishonesty, etc. is right or wrong”. I was merely using it as another example of a fact.

      And once again you demonstrate quite nicely the gap between the atheist and the Christian man. You state that it is a “fact” that murder is wrong based on The Big Nothing or, at best, your perceptions at this very moment in time.

      We appear to be at an impasse. I don’t particularly care for behaving like a dog chasing its tail, but my policy as the moderator has been that if someone takes the time to read and comment on my blog, even pseudo-tactfully, I will respond.

    20. I have never referred to this “Big Nothing” you keep talking about.

      As to the role our perceptions play, the same is true of everyone. You only say that zebras are stripy because you perceive them as stripy. But that doesn’t mean that their stripyness is caused by or dependent on your perceptions, or by this “Big Nothing” of which you speak.

    21. I have never referred to this “Big Nothing” you keep talking about.

      I suppose with you it’s “The Big Question Mark.” I thought you were one of the atheists in the last two posts that put forth that something can come from nothing. I’m trying to juggle atheists this week. But if you’re of the “I don’t know — but I know it’s not God” variety, then we’ll just call it “The Big Question Mark.”

    22. From context and my experience of theists, you’re trying to refer to the presently unknown cause of the universe. As this does not enter in any way into my conception of morality, you may call it what you like, but it would in fact be superfluous to refer to it.

    23. From context and my experience of theists, you’re trying to refer to the presently unknown cause of the universe. As this does not enter in any way into my conception of morality, you may call it what you like, but it would in fact be superfluous to refer to it.

      Haha. Okay. Again, thanks for clearing that up for future readers. I’m so glad you consider the origin of the universe “superfluous” to a conversation on morality. Classic.

    24. But why should there be any relevance?

      Now you think that as a matter of fact there is: that “because God” is the answer to both the question “why is there a universe?” and “why are good things better than bad things?” — and probably to a whole bunch of other questions too. But there is no reason a priori why the two questions should have the same answer — or if there is, you’ve been too busy being contemptuous and sarcastic to actually point it out.

      Why would it make a difference, after all? What conceivable facts about the origin of the universe would make you change your mind about whether it’s OK to kill Fred? Here, let’s pick a proposed cosmology at random. According to Norse mythology, Odin, Vili, and Vé made the Earth out of the body of the ice giant Ymir. If we found out that this was true, should we kill Fred? Try another one. The physicists Turok and Steinhardt have proposed what they call an ekpyrotic universe, whatever that means, in which “the universe did not start in a singularity, but came about from the collision of two branes. This collision avoids the primordial singularity while preserving nearly scale-free density fluctuations and other features of the observed universe. The ekpyrotic model is cyclic, though collisions between branes are rare on the time scale of the expansion of the universe to a nearly featureless flat expanse”. If cosmological data elevates their hypothesis to the status of a theory, shall we kill Fred?

      Why would these remote, abstruse, perhaps insoluble issues have anything to do with Fred? We would not, after all, think it right or wrong to kill him according to who his grandparents were, so why would we consider as relevant questions still more remote from Fred in time and in the causal chain?

    25. …or if there is, you’ve been too busy being contemptuous and sarcastic to actually point it out.

      No. You haven’t been contemptuous or sarcastic in the least. Gotcha.

      Like I said, you’ve made your positions quite clear. Thanks for the discussion, Mr. Anonymous.

    26. I may occasionally have been sarcastic, but if so then I would like to think that *I* have accompanied my sarcasm with actual argument. Are you going to try and answer my question? Is there some reason, a priori, why questions about the origin of the universe must be related to questions about what’s right and what’s wrong? — why the precise cause of an event that happened 13.7 billion years before Fred was born has some bearing on whether it would be OK to kill him? If you can’t think of such a reason, well, neither can I, so I shall continue to think about the two questions separately, and you can stop deriding me for doing so.

    27. I may occasionally have been sarcastic, but if so then I would like to think that *I* have accompanied my sarcasm with actual argument.

      Totally. You’re the only one who has put forth “actual arguments.” Gotcha.

      Again, this may be the most telling moment of the discussion:

      “From context and my experience of theists, you’re trying to refer to the presently unknown cause of the universe. As this does not enter in any way into my conception of morality, you may call it what you like, but it would in fact be superfluous to refer to it.”

      This says it all. But if you want to keep repeating yourself, go ahead. I just think it’s mighty strange that you would help propel this post to 170+ comments over the course of days, and then assert that I haven’t put forth any “actual arguments.” You’ll notice that I didn’t post on FSTDT because I don’t like wasting my time. That you have engaged this long with a person who you now claim hasn’t put forth “actual arguments” seems disingenuous. My bet is that you know that I make plenty of sense and that I do in fact have compelling arguments — otherwise, all your effort here is a clear indicator that you don’t think your time is worth very much.

    28. You are misunderstanding me, and taking offense where none was intended. I did not say that you haven’t *ever* put forward any arguments. Obviously you have. But in the specific post where you wrote “Haha. Okay. Again, thanks for clearing that up for future readers. I’m so glad you consider the origin of the universe “superfluous” to a conversation on morality. Classic.” — there’s no argument there. That’s derision without actual discussion, ridicule without reasoning: you’re laughing at my supposed mistake without actually pointing it out. I don’t mind the ridicule, but I do think you should also try to make out a case that I’m wrong, rather than just behaving *as though* you’ve done this and made me look very foolish into the bargain.

      So, why do you think I’m wrong on this point? If you can’t say, if your most penetrating argument on this point is “Haha”, then an impartial observer might almost think that I’m right.

    29. So, why do you think I’m wrong on this point? If you can’t say, if your most penetrating argument on this point is “Haha”, then an impartial observer might almost think that I’m right.

      I really don’t know how many ways I can say this to you: I believe readers will a.) see the importance that the origin of the universe has to any discussions about good and evil, right and wrong, etc. b.) see that it’s been covered adequately by myself and Eduardo, and c.) that you have a gigantic pair of philosophical blinders on right now.

      Future readers will see all of this and understand why I eventually just laughed and wished you well on your travels.

      Here’s a suggestion: Why don’t you just say, “Okay,” and let those future readers decide?

    30. And I think that people will see, what I plainly see, that you have ducked a very reasonable and pertinent question. (Not for the first time in this discussion.) And I don’t think that your declaration that *I* have “a gigantic pair of philosophical blinders on” will distract them from the fact that *you* have failed to answer my questions or counter my arguments on this point. If I am wrong, I have asked you civilly enough to enlighten me. If, despite my asking, you won’t try to explain your opinions or rebut mine, then even if I am wrong it is not by *my* will that I remain in the dark.

      It seems to me that you’re just so used to a system that entangles matters of theology and cosmology and morality that you’ve forgotten to ask yourself why this should be so: you seem to suppose that everyone else, even if they have a totally different worldview, should nonetheless have a worldview that entangles these things into one big system, and should at least like be you in *that* respect. When people question this assumption, you deride them, refuse to even try to answer the question, and sulk. But really you should try to find an answer to the question, an argument for the assumption, if only so that you’re better equipped to hold up your end of a discussion with an atheist. I was enjoying myself, but it seems that we’ve reached the limits of what you can or will argue for. I confess to a certain feeling of disappointment. But if this is really as far as you are willing to go, I hope we shall part as friends.

    31. The question was posed: “Why don’t you just say, ‘Okay,’ and let those future readers decide?”

      We have officially confirmed that such a response is not an option. Heh.

      Now I’m “sulking” in addition to not answering your questions. And I have “reached the limits” of what I “can or will argue for.” Classic. Again, the readers will decide.

      I tip my hat to you, Mr. Anonymous. Have a good day.

    32. Shew lord fellas! I was really hoping to join this conversation, but what a difference a day makes. I didn’t have access to your blog today Doug so I couldn’t comment, but I would discuss this with Anon further. I guess I would start by asking you Anon, why do you believe killing Fred is wrong and why do you think everyone else should agree with your reason? And if I don’t agree with any of your reasons, will you say my way of thinking is “wrong”?

    33. Well, I hadn’t looked at this since Douglas himself gave up, but if Eduardo wants to pursue it, I’m game. You shouldn’t kill Fred because Fred is human and doesn’t want you to kill him. If you still want to kill him, I’d certainly say you were wrong. If you find these reasons insufficient, please explain to me what a better reason would look like.

    34. Well, I hadn’t looked at this since Douglas himself gave up, but if Eduardo wants to pursue it, I’m game.

      I find it interesting that you would frame a discussion in terms of “giving up” — as if it’s some sort of bizarre battle between us. As I said before: I’m content to let the readers decide. My view is that there is no need to continue that specific discussion given that you’ve painted yourself into a corner. Before I suggested that you drop it. Now, I’m telling you to drop it.

      Enjoy your discussion with Eduardo, but if you want to continue to address me in troll-like fashion regarding our past conversation, then those posts will be deleted.

      Update: Mr Anonymous doesn’t seem to get it — when the moderator tells someone to move on, then it’s time to move on.

      If you address Eduardo, Mr. Anonymous, then your comments will show up. You are not in charge on this blog, Mr. Anonymous. I am.

  13. Hope its okay if I butt in. Wouldn’t Lewis’ argument that Douglas quoted above regarding the unreliability of the Materialist’s epistemology still be relevant in a discussion about Morality? I mean, if you can’t trust your Reason, how can you trust your reasoning regarding morality?

    It’s true that we can both agree that Fred shouldn’t be killed. But it seems to me that an Atheist has no firm ground to say that this sentiment is a universal law that must be obeyed. A Christian can say, “We shouldn’t kill Fred because he is God’s child. God doesn’t want us to kill Fred.” Now they may argue that point and decide maybe God is okay with us killing Fred since Fred killed Wilma for no good reason at all. But an Atheist can’t even make that argument. He just “feels” like its not right and all his atheist buddy’s do to. So its like a democracy. You could take a vote I suppose.

    1. Wouldn’t Lewis’ argument that Douglas quoted above regarding the unreliability of the Materialist’s epistemology still be relevant in a discussion about Morality? I mean, if you can’t trust your Reason, how can you trust your reasoning regarding morality?

      Bingo. I figured that if I just waited long enough, then someone like you would come along and kindly demonstrate that this is not a very hard point to grasp. Thank you. So please, by all means, join any discussion. 🙂

    2. An afterthought … You seem to reject the idea that might makes right. On this, at least, we are in agreement. But then you make out that it’s a fault with atheist morality that atheists can’t guarantee the existence of some sort of Cosmic Enforcer who will use his might to punish what is not right. Well, if might doesn’t make right, then the absence of might doesn’t make a moral vacuum. Someone who thought that might made right could find a contradiction between “John did wrong” and “John wasn’t punished for what he did”, but as you admit that might doesn’t make right, it’s hardly an issue — the atheist can consistently assert the existence of moral values which are not certain to be enforced by anyone.

      Anyway, I expect you’ve gone to bed, and so shall I.

    3. The atheist can consistently assert the existence of moral values which are not certain to be enforced by anyone.

      But can he? See Eduardo’s response:

      He was saying that if the atheists are correct, then the thoughts of the greatest minds are nothing greater than the moaning of wind in the trees. And the fact that we think otherwise is nothing more than some sort of strange illusion due to some trick of evolution and the fact that our thoughts seem to produce results nothing more than luck. For the atheist must believe that we are here by luck. Chance and necessity produced everything right? So your thoughts are due to nothing more than chance.

    4. You’re welcome to butt in as far as I’m concerned.

      First, the Lewis thing. His error is really rather obvious, if you think about it. He’s arguing: if atheists are right, we can’t trust our reason, and if we can’t trust our reason, we can’t trust our conclusions. Well, we *can’t* trust our reason. People do make mistakes. And they come to false conclusions. This is not just something that *would* be true if atheists were right, it’s something that is, unarguably, true. Theism would not put us in a different position unless you can prove that if there was a God, we would never make any mistakes, in which case you would not so much be justifying our reason as proving the non-existence of God, since it is manifest that sometimes we make mistakes.

      Re your second paragraph: an atheist of course cannot make the specific argument you quote. (Just as, for that matter, a Christian can’t say “You shouldn’t kill Fred because Allah would disapprove”.) That doesn’t mean that the atheist can’t make an argument. For example, instead of saying “You shouldn’t kill Fred because God doesn’t want you to”, he could say “You couldn’t kill Fred because Fred doesn’t want you to”. What’s more, the atheist would be on much firmer ground, since the opinions of Fred on this subject are easily verified, whereas the will of God is a matter of speculation, conjecture, and interminable dispute. The advantage is therefore with the atheist.

    5. This entire response is the intellectual equivalent of holding up a shiny ball while saying, “Look over here!” while ignoring the real issue at hand — in a universe of accidental sentient beings, right and wrong are all relative. On top of that, you’re using the same sort rhetoric that politicians use when they say, “If this law can save just one life, we have a responsibility to pass it.” You’re saying that in a world of six billion people, those who make the argument that universal truths exist and can be known to man might as well be atheists because not everyone has the intellectual capacity to use logic and reason to come to sound conclusions. Ironically, the only people who will believe that are individuals who can’t trust themselves to use logic and reason to come to sound conclusions.

      The reason why you must obsess over a hypothetical “kill Fred” situation — devoid of all context — is because the moment someone begins a conversation on what ought or ought not be done about Fred, we are once again reminded that the atheist world view is one where killing an innocent man and taking his property and belongings will ultimately have no consequences for the guilty parties in question.

      In an atheist world, the unscrupulous bastard who goes through life successfully accumulating power by lying, cheating, stealing — or worse — with zero regrets, suffers no consequences upon death. With one life to live in an atheist world, the incentive to use “situational truths” would be enormous. Might makes right in a world where the atheist snaps his fingers and no one believes in God. Imagine the entire globe under the control of the old Soviet Union for an idea of what that might look like.

    6. That would seem to be more in the way of rhetoric than substance. Comparing my posts to shiny balls may pass the time, but it’s not really the same as pointing out an actual error of reasoning. And your analogy with a politician saying “If this law can save just one life …” is simply incomprehensible. Try finding some mistake I’ve made and saying what it is.

      Re your paragraphs 2 and 3, it is perfectly true that atheists can’t threaten people with eternal punishment. But if it comes to that, *you* can’t threaten them with being flogged by Batman. This doesn’t leave us *devoid* of arguments for why they shouldn’t kill Fred, it just means that there are a couple of arguments from self-interest we can’t use. (And really in such arguments “shouldn’t” isn’t even a moral term, in such contexts “you shouldn’t” translates as “it would be imprudent to”.)

      (I might add that according to all the theists I know, one’s fate in eternity is not in fact determined by how many sins one commits or how severe they are. Any killer on death row can “find Jesus” and suffer a merely transient secular penalty which is a prelude to an eternity of infinite bliss.)

    7. Any killer on death row can “find Jesus” and suffer a merely transient secular penalty which is a prelude to an eternity of infinite bliss.

      You don’t know what will happen to the killer because you don’t know what is in his heart. Only God knows that. But yes, God forgives us for our sins if we forgive others and we are truly repentant. There is a difference between asking for forgiveness and asking to be excused for your sins. Once again, you show that being an alter boy for a few years as a kid and maybe attending Mass once-in-awhile does not automatically make a man capable of credibly discussing the Catholic faith.

    8. Douglas, I never mentioned the Catholic faith. Nonetheless, since you bring it up, even in Catholicism it is not supposed to be certain that a murderer will be punished in the afterlife, is it?

    9. Douglas, I never mentioned the Catholic faith. Nonetheless, since you bring it up, even in Catholicism it is not supposed to be certain that a murderer will be punished in the afterlife, is it?

      Remember the story about the thief on the cross? There are lessons to be learned there. My point was that you seem to have not learned them.

      Everything you say is laced with cocksure attitude that Jesus wasn’t who he claimed to be. It’s strange to me, but perhaps that’s because I know that any future conversations I have with Hindus, for example, will not include random digs using Final Fantasy VII characters in the same vein that you make jokes about Santa Claus.

      Note: I got you mixed up with Twisted Inspiration regarding the Catholic past. My fault. I apologize.

  14. Anonymous wrote: “First, the Lewis thing. His error is really rather obvious, if you think about it. He’s arguing: if atheists are right, we can’t trust our reason, and if we can’t trust our reason, we can’t trust our conclusions. Well, we *can’t* trust our reason. People do make mistakes. And they come to false conclusions.”

    If Lewis made a mistake, it certainly isn’t the one you suggest. Do you really believe this brilliant man was suggesting that our reason was perfect? Perfect in that every thought and theory that every man thinks is correct? Of course he wasn’t saying that. Do you really believe that (as you stated) “we can’t trust our reason” just because people make mistakes? When I attempt to solve a word problem in mathematics, and I make a mistake, I don’t throw out the whole science of mathematics! I just throw away a single piece of paper and begin again. I believe that there is a solution to the problem and I believe that I can find a solution through my ability to reason.

    Lewis wrote: “If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees,” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

    He was saying that Reason itself is suspect. He wasn’t saying that our Reason was perfect. He was saying that if the atheists are correct, then the thoughts of the greatest minds are nothing greater than the moaning of wind in the trees. And the fact that we think otherwise is nothing more than some sort of strange illusion due to some trick of evolution and the fact that our thoughts seem to produce results nothing more than luck. For the atheist must believe that we are here by luck. Chance and necessity produced everything right? So your thoughts are due to nothing more than chance. And your thoughts about killing Fred are due to chance.

    But, as Lewis said, most atheist don’t seem to understand this argument. Most won’t abide by it. They use their reason as if it were given by a reasonable god and they trust in its ability with the faith of a saint.

    But reason is only trustworthy if the the assumptions on which it builds are true. Therefore, if there is a God, and you reason as if there is not, many of your conclusions must necessarily be false, especially with regard to morality.

    1. No, of course I don’t think he was suggesting that our reason is perfect. That’s why I didn’t say so.

      You write “Chance and necessity produced everything right? So your thoughts are due to nothing more than chance.” Er … how about necessity? There is obviously a *reason* why my ideas resemble the external world, which is that I wouldn’t last very long if they didn’t.

      There is no necessity for an atheist to “abide by” an argument that any atheist can see through in seconds.

  15. Anonymous wrote, “Er … how about necessity? There is obviously a *reason* why my ideas resemble the external world, which is that I wouldn’t last very long if they didn’t.”

    I don’t know what you mean by “there is a reason why my ideas resemble the external world.” I don’t think the ideas of a cockroach “resemble the external world” and they seem to be doing alright.

    1. Well, I thought I’d explained the reason, but let me elaborate on it. Suppose, for example, that I am crossing the road. If my ideas of whether a car is coming bear no relationship to whether a car is coming, then I would die. The same applies to my ancestors, and the relationship between their ideas of whether there’s a saber-toothed tiger over there, and whether there is, in fact, a saber-toothed tigers over there.

      The same applies to cockroaches. If a cockroach had a brain-state equivalent to “there is a potential predator to my left” at times when there was in fact a potential predator to its right, that cockroach would not last very long.

      In general, we may say that it is adaptive for the things happening in an organism’s brain to correctly represent reality, so far as they represent anything at all. If this was not so, then not only would I die next time I tried to cross the road, but in the meantime I’d be expending a quarter of my calories on an organ (my brain) which was no earthly use to me.

      There are caveats to this, but they are not particularly interesting unless you’re particularly interested in them.

      As far as Peter Singer goes, I am only required, I think, to justify my own opinions. I do not ask you, as a theist, to justify flying planes into buildings. I do not even ask you to justify such statements as “Thus saith the LORD of hosts … go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15). As a theist per se, you are not obliged to stick up for all the particular things that every other theist has said, even if it’s the God of the Bible ordering a massacre of babies.

    2. I’m glad you replied Anonymous. I really want to understand these things better and arguing about them certainly helps. So much has been said that I think I need to restate the heart of the argument. You were arguing with Doug about his seeming implication that the statement made by the humanists in their 10 commandments, “There is no one right way to live” means “there is no wrong way to live”. You were trying to get him to say that the statement, “there is no one right way to live” doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wrong way to live.

      So I brought up Peter Singer in an attempt to see if you would say that he is wrong. I wanted to see if you would say his way to live is wrong. I assumed you would believe his ideas on morality are wrong. If he is wrong, why is he wrong? What is wrong with his reasoning? If I understand correctly, he believes that an infant doesn’t have the capacity to reason or even understand that he exists. He believes that since an infant doesn’t understand that he is a “self”, he is lower than a pig as far as his right to life is concerned. If you can kill a pig, why shouldn’t one be allowed to kill an infant? If you say, “because an infant is a human and therefore has rights”, he would call you a bigot of sorts, since you think your species has more rights than another species. To him, its like saying white people should have more rights than black people, or, men should have more rights than women. Rights, according to Singer, should be based on who experiences the most pain and pleasure. If you can worry about the future, you should have more rights than an organism that cannot worry about the future, no matter the species, because the one who worries more suffers more. So why is he wrong? And if his beliefs become popular, so that the laws of the land are changed to support these beliefs, would you fight against them, or would you decide he must be right because everyone else in the country seems to agree with him?

      Now I agree with you when you say, “Fred shouldn’t be killed because he is a human being.” But I can say this because I do believe humans are exceptional, not just because we can experience pain, pleasure, fear, anticipation in greater degrees than other organisms, but because Man, unlike all other life forms, was created by God in the image of God. Man has a spirit that is eternal just like God. I believe Fred will continue to exist in another form after he has been released from his mortal body. Fred is God’s creation and God is not pleased with us when we take a life, especially for no good reason. I believe that we should live our lives in an attempt to please God because he is good and he loves us. I believe we owe it to God since he has given us life.

      But when you say “Fred shouldn’t be killed because he is human”, it seems to me like you really are being bigoted, because you have no reason to believe that humans are exceptional. You can point to all of the exceptional things that humans can do that other animals can’t, but so what? Monkey’s can do many things that humans can’t, like swing through trees and eat bananas with their feet. Whales can stay under water for hours at a time. Human’s can’t do that. So it seems to me your morality is arbitrary. You just “know” that it’s wrong to kill Fred and you assume that everyone else should feel the same way. Well, there have been many men throughout history that didn’t feel that way.

      You wrote: “As far as Peter Singer goes, I am only required, I think, to justify my own opinions. I do not ask you, as a theist, to justify flying planes into buildings. I do not even ask you to justify such statements as “Thus saith the LORD of hosts … go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15). As a theist per se, you are not obliged to stick up for all the particular things that every other theist has said, even if it’s the God of the Bible ordering a massacre of babies.”

      The point wasn’t to try to make you stick up for him. It was to get you to say he is wrong. I wanted you to say he is crazy. And if you say he is wrong, then why is he wrong? I believe that there is a definite right and wrong, just like I believe there is a definite answer to a math problem, even if it’s too hard for me to figure out. You say, “I believe killing Fred is wrong.” Well, then I’m assuming you believe it’s wrong for anyone to kill Fred. So too, I believe the things you mentioned above are either right or wrong. Some of them are hard to understand, like the command to slaughter the Amaleks, but I do believe that there is a justification if it was right. It makes me think of Harry Truman who may as well have said, “go and smite the Japanese that live in Nagasaki and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” I don’t think Truman was wrong in commanding that. It was a horrible command, but I understand why he did it and I’m not going to judge him for it. Therefore, I’m not going to say God was wrong if he commanded something similar. It’s not the same as saying, “if you are unhappy with your infant, you may kill it if it pleases you.” And, “You may have sex with animals if they consent to it.” Not the same at all.

    3. Well, there are a number of replies to this. And the first and most obvious is that Peter Singer is a vegetarian, and an active and campaigning vegetarian. He’s not saying that it’s OK to kill babies, he’s saying that it’s wrong to kill pigs. Over the past few months, I’ve been coming to the conclusion that he’s right. So your choice of example is unfortunate for you — it seems that where Singer’s godless morality leads us is not to justifying infanticide, but to reprehending being mean to animals. Shocking. Tsk tsk.

      Second, it seems that your own beliefs are actually subject to the same criticism. When you say that humans are made in the image of God, you are not, I take it, an Anthropomorphite. You don’t mean that God has five toes rather than having hooves, you don’t mean that he has bare skin instead of fur, etc. You are, surely, referring to his mental qualities. Well, if you believe Singer’s statement about the mentality of babies (and I don’t know why we should) then shouldn’t you consequently think that an adult chimpanzee is closer to the image of God than a human baby? This is a side issue, though, it’s my third point that really interests me.

      So, third. Moral systems are, in fact, all subject to the same attack. You may say if you like that I have an arbitrary preference for humans over animals, for vertebrates over invertebrates, for animals over plants. But someone else might say that you have an arbitrary preference for things in the image of God. I like things that are in the image of me; you like things that are in the image of God. I like humans because they have certain intrinsic properties such as — well, you suggest “we can experience pain, pleasure, fear, anticipation”; whereas you like humans because they have the extrinsic property of being in the image of God in some way. I say we shouldn’t kill Fred because I know that Fred doesn’t want us to kill him; you say that we shouldn’t kill Fred because you conjecture that God doesn’t want us to kill him. We both have reasons. But there is this assumption, barely even stated, and completely unexplained, that my reasons are arbitrary and yours aren’t, that if you give a reason which has the word “God” in it then you’ve gotten down to a reason which everyone must acknowledge as correct, whereas my arguments, lacking the word “God” are *more* questionable.

      All arguments are questionable, but I don’t see how mine are *more* questionable. Suppose we’re trying to convince a psychopath not to kill Fred. I say “But Fred is human, like you, and like you, he doesn’t want to die.” He can say “Yeah, so what?” Then you come in, and say “Also, Fred is in the image of God.” He can still say “Yeah, so what?” And he might add that “You might as well tell me not to break a teacup because it’s in the image of a penguin.” He can acknowledge that we’re both correct as to matters of fact, and then ignore our conclusions about morality.

    4. Anonymous, you wrote: “Well, there are a number of replies to this. And the first and most obvious is that Peter Singer is a vegetarian, and an active and campaigning vegetarian. He’s not saying that it’s OK to kill babies, he’s saying that it’s wrong to kill pigs. Over the past few months, I’ve been coming to the conclusion that he’s right. So your choice of example is unfortunate for you — it seems that where Singer’s godless morality leads us is not to justifying infanticide, but to reprehending being mean to animals. Shocking. Tsk tsk.”

      Peter Singer wrote in his book Rethinking Life and Death, “[The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognize that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being’s life.”[26] wikipedia

      Now that’s shocking! Tsk Tsk indeed. Also, Peter Singer has suggested that infants should not have a right to life for the first 18 weeks of their lives. So I believe you are wrong about what he is suggesting, and I am not surprised that you find yourself in agreement with him. Perhaps soon you will come to accept his belief that just because Fred is human doesn’t mean he has a right to life. And later perhaps you can justify killing Fred even though he wants to live. Perhaps Fred has to die in order to ensure the survival of the human species. This belief of his basically says that those with the greatest power have the most rights. He believes that a chimp should have more rights than an infant, but he will never say that a chimp should have more rights than himself.

      Christianity teaches that those with power are to be the servants of those that are powerless. In God’s kingdom, the most powerful will be the servants of all. I’m all for being kind to animals, but a Christian would never say a pig has more value than a human being, no matter what the age or physical condition of the human being.

      You wrote, “Second, it seems that your own beliefs are actually subject to the same criticism. When you say that humans are made in the image of God, you are not, I take it, an Anthropomorphite. You don’t mean that God has five toes rather than having hooves, you don’t mean that he has bare skin instead of fur, etc. You are, surely, referring to his mental qualities.”

      As a Christian I believe God became a man for mankind’s sake. So yes, I do believe God possesses fingers and toes and teeth. Of course, we believe he is much, much more than a human, but He is a human. So man was created in the image of God and then God became a man.

      You wrote, “Well, if you believe Singer’s statement about the mentality of babies (and I don’t know why we should) then shouldn’t you consequently think that an adult chimpanzee is closer to the image of God than a human baby?”

      No I don’t think a chimp is closer to the image of God than a human baby because I myself was a human baby and I’m glad my parents believed I had a right to life. I believe God was also a human baby. Just because a human baby must pass through a helpless stage to reach adulthood doesn’t mean that the baby is less than an adult human. Every adult human must pass through this stage. It’s madness to think the infant has no right to life. I guess when someone is asleep they are of less value than an alert pig?

      You wrote, “I say we shouldn’t kill Fred because I know that Fred doesn’t want us to kill him; you say that we shouldn’t kill Fred because you conjecture that God doesn’t want us to kill him. We both have reasons. But there is this assumption, barely even stated, and completely unexplained, that my reasons are arbitrary and yours aren’t, that if you give a reason which has the word “God” in it then you’ve gotten down to a reason which everyone must acknowledge as correct, whereas my arguments, lacking the word “God” are *more* questionable.”

      I’m not saying that you are wrong in saying “we shouldn’t kill Fred because we know that Fred doesn’t want us to kill him.” I try to follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You are also following this rule. The rule is built into us. It is a law we find in ourselves, compelling us. God is the explanation of this law we find in ourselves. We are to obey this inner voice because it is the voice of God in us. However, all of us have disobeyed this voice at times. Christians call this sin. But if you are right and there is no God, then this inner voice is just some fluke of evolution. And as a rational creature, I can decide to disobey this voice since the voice isn’t a voice at all, but some strange quirk due to chance. If I disobey this voice, I have not disobeyed anyone really, not even myself since I am the one that chooses to obey the voice, not the one speaking. If the voice isn’t from God, and it isn’t myself, what is it? I observe the cockroach and notice he doesn’t seem to suffer from this nagging inner voice. The chimp kills other chimps and doesn’t seem to suffer guilt. So the voice is nothing more than some sort left over from some sort of survival mechanism from some earlier stage of human evolution. But perhaps my offspring will survive better if I don’t obey this voice. Perhaps it is smarter to make everyone believe I obey the voice, but not to really obey it. If I’m smart enough, I can kill Fred and pin it on some other person all the while benefiting from the illusion that I am moral. That’s the trick, to make everyone think I’m trying to obey the voice, just like them, all the while taking what I please without them knowing. If I believe there is no God, then I haven’t done anything wrong because there is no one to truly wrong. I see the powerful kill the weak all the time. I see the parents killing their children. Who are we kidding here right? It’s all a game. As an atheist, you can be moral…or not. If you are moral, you may do alright. If you are not moral, you should be smart about it. As a Christian, I must obey Christ. And he commanded me to love my neighbor as myself and to love God with all my strength.

    5. As a Christian, I must obey Christ. And he commanded me to love my neighbor as myself and to love God with all my strength.

      Eduardo, you have the patience of a saint. 🙂

      Seriously though, I do have a question for you. I find these conversations difficult because at some point in time we must bring in our Christianity. The existence of Jesus changes the whole ball game, but yet we’re encouraged to talk about God as if Jesus never walked the earth. To me it comes down to this: Was Jesus who he claimed to be? I say yes. Once someone looks at the evidence and makes the decision that Jesus was telling the truth, everything falls into place. But if someone doesn’t accept that, then at some point there’s nothing left to say.

      I guess my question is this: Should Christians first try to introduce the possibility of “a” God, or should they focus on convincing atheists that Jesus was who he claimed to be?

    6. Well if you want to argue with Peter Singer, you can probably find his email address on the internet. As you do not give references to what you say you think he thinks, and as I know that you have already misrepresented him, this question, already academic, becomes almost intractable. If you can find and reference a quotation from him saying that he thinks it’s OK to kill babies, then you can move on to justifying your bizarre claim that I “find [myself] in agreement with him” on a point which I have not asserted and obviously disagree with. By the way, I find such methods of argument distasteful and dishonest. You don’t get to decide which things I agree with. I do. I can read my mind. You cannot.

      Let’s get on to the meat of the argument.

      You write “I’m not saying that you are wrong in saying “we shouldn’t kill Fred because we know that Fred doesn’t want us to kill him.”

      At this point, I almost want to break open the champagne and welcome you to my side. You agree … but wait, you don’t. You say it, then you take it back. It is only true, you say, if God exists.

      This is on the face of it perplexing. Suppose I put forward the syllogism: “If Harry is a pirate, and if all pirates have wooden legs, then Harry has a wooden leg.” Suppose you then say to me “I agree, but the correctness of your argument is dependent on the existence of unicorns.” No it isn’t. My reasoning didn’t involve unicorns. How did they get in?

      You continue: “God is the explanation of this law we find in ourselves. We are to obey this inner voice because it is the voice of God in us. However, all of us have disobeyed this voice at times. Christians call this sin. But if you are right and there is no God, then this inner voice is just some fluke of evolution.”

      But don’t you see, you still haven’t answered my question.

      Suppose we were talking to my hypothetical psychopath again. I say “We have an inner voice that tells us not to kill.” He says “No, I don’t, I’m a psychopath.” Then *you* tell him “We have an inner voice that tells us not to kill.” He says “No, I don’t, I’m a psychopath.” Then I say “This ‘voice’ is caused by evolution”. He says “Pfft, I don’t care what causes the voices I don’t hear.” Then you say “This voice is the voice of God.” He says “Pfft, I don’t care what causes the voices I don’t hear.”

      How do we argue with him? How would you argue with him that a difference in the cause of the ‘voice’ makes it more or less worth listening to? How, indeed, do you argue with *me* that a difference in the cause of the ‘voice’ makes it more or less worth listening to?

      This is pretty much the question I was asking you in my point three in my previous post. You didn’t answer it, you’ve just presented another argument which demands the same question. As I said then, and will say again now: “There is this assumption, barely even stated, and completely unexplained, that my reasons are arbitrary and yours aren’t, that if you give a reason which has the word “God” in it then you’ve gotten down to a reason which everyone must acknowledge as correct, whereas my arguments, lacking the word “God” are *more* questionable.”

      Well, why? This is the point you don’t seem able to explain, a point you take so for granted when you argue that you don’t even seem to be able to understand the question. You just seem to assume that a statement like “because God”, “because God wants it”, “because God says so”, etc, will answer the question, conclusively, in a way that you suppose I can’t. But you need to explain why that *is* a conclusive answer. Otherwise you’re just like a Marxist saying “because Marx said it in Das Kapital” to someone who is not a devout Marxist who believes in the infallibility of Marx.

      Why is the conjecture that Fred is in God’s image important, whereas the certain fact that Fred is in my image unimportant? Why is the conjecture that God doesn’t want me to kill Fred important, whereas the certain fact that Fred doesn’t want me to kill Fred is unimportant? Why is the conjecture that God prompts me not to kill Fred important, whereas the certain fact that my brain prompts me not to kill Fred is unimportant? Why do indicative sentences including the word “God” provide final unquestionable answers to ethical questions whereas all other indicative questions don’t?

      If you can try to answer this, then we can go further. If you produce another post which basically says “because God”, then I am going to ask you the same question again — why is “because God” a better answer than mine?

    7. You wrote: “You write “I’m not saying that you are wrong in saying “we shouldn’t kill Fred because we know that Fred doesn’t want us to kill him.”
      At this point, I almost want to break open the champagne and welcome you to my side. You agree … but wait, you don’t. You say it, then you take it back. It is only true, you say, if God exists.
      This is on the face of it perplexing. Suppose I put forward the syllogism: “If Harry is a pirate, and if all pirates have wooden legs, then Harry has a wooden leg.” Suppose you then say to me “I agree, but the correctness of your argument is dependent on the existence of unicorns.” No it isn’t. My reasoning didn’t involve unicorns. How did they get in?”

      No, its more like you say, “If Harry is a pirate, and if all pirates have wooden legs, then Harry has a wooden leg.” Suppose then I say to you, “I agree, but the correctness of your argument is dependent on the dependability of your reason.” That is what this whole debate has been about. That’s where God comes into it. I realize it is fruitless to try to make you understand what I am thinking, but I’m going to keep trying for my own sake because even though you will continue to pretend to not understand this argument, I am learning.

      Here’s how Alvin Plantinga, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame put it in an article by the New York Times. He is working under the supposition that materialism is true. So, if materialism is true, then…

      “Evolution will have resulted in our having beliefs that are adaptive; that is, beliefs that cause adaptive actions. But as we’ve seen, if materialism is true, the belief does not cause the adaptive action by way of its content: It causes that action by way of its neurophysiological properties. Hence it doesn’t matter what the content of the belief is, and it doesn’t matter whether that content is true or false. All that’s required is that the belief have the right neurophysiological properties. If it’s also true, that’s fine; but if false, that’s equally fine. Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.”

      You can read the full article here.
      http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/is-atheism-irrational/?_r=0

      You wrote, “Suppose we were talking to my hypothetical psychopath again. I say “We have an inner voice that tells us not to kill.” He says “No, I don’t, I’m a psychopath.” Then *you* tell him “We have an inner voice that tells us not to kill.” He says “No, I don’t, I’m a psychopath.” Then I say “This ‘voice’ is caused by evolution”. He says “Pfft, I don’t care what causes the voices I don’t hear.” Then you say “This voice is the voice of God.” He says “Pfft, I don’t care what causes the voices I don’t hear.” How do we argue with him?”

      I don’t argue with psychopaths. Its a waste of time. Are you a psychopath?

      You wrote, “How, indeed, do you argue with *me* that a difference in the cause of the ‘voice’ makes it more or less worth listening to?”

      LOL…its like you didn’t even read what I wrote. I can’t believe you think that the cause of the voice doesn’t make any difference in whether or not we should listen to it. What if you found out the voice that prompted you to not kill Fred was actually coming from some alien space ship that had planted a chip in your brain. Perhaps Fred is an alien and is controlling your mind. Perhaps they want us to be docile so we will reproduce and fatten up so they can consume us. Wouldn’t you then doubt the truth about this inner prompting that you experience? Wouldn’t it then be possible that the psychopath you mentioned earlier was the sane one and we the robots? The source of the voice matters. If the voice is a product of random processes, it may or may not be related to truth. Evolution doesn’t require truth, only survival. And evolution and materialism certainly don’t give birth to “Ought”.

      For example, you wrote, “If my ideas of whether a car is coming bear no relationship to whether a car is coming, then I would die. The same applies to my ancestors, and the relationship between their ideas of whether there’s a saber-toothed tiger over there, and whether there is, in fact, a saber-toothed tigers over there.”

      I’ll let Alvin reply to this. Referring to beliefs and how they relate to our survival and evolution he writes,

      “Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief. (Of course we must postulate other changes in Paul’s ways of reasoning, including how he changes belief in response to experience, to maintain coherence.) Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it. Or perhaps he confuses running toward it with running away from it, believing of the action that is really running away from it, that it is running toward it; or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a regularly occurring illusion, and, hoping to keep his weight down, has formed the resolution to run a mile at top speed whenever confronted with such an illusion; or perhaps he thinks he is about to take part in a sixteen-hundred-meter race, wants to win, and thinks the appearance of the tiger is the starting signal; or perhaps. . . . Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behavior.”
      The idea is that your belief that it is wrong to kill Fred because Fred doesn’t want to be killed may or may not be a Truth since your belief was created by random processes and evolution only. I’m not saying you are wrong in this belief, but you have no solid ground to insist that your belief must be followed by everyone. If we are both atheists and disagree about whether or not it is right to kill Fred, we have no common ground to argue about the absolute truth of our positions. It comes down to who has the most power. You can only recite your mantra, “But Fred doesn’t want to die. But Fred doesn’t want to die.”

      If we are both Christians and we disagree about killing Fred, we have Christ’s words support us since we both must agree that his words are truth. We have the whole bible to stand on. We have common ground and we can argue that there is a Truth because we believe in a Truth giver. This doesn’t mean that we agree on everything by all means. It just means that we know that there is an answer…there is a truth that is true for all of us.

      When you ask, “Why is the conjecture that Fred is in God’s image important, whereas the certain fact that Fred is in my image unimportant? Why is the conjecture that God doesn’t want me to kill Fred important, whereas the certain fact that Fred doesn’t want me to kill Fred is unimportant? Why is the conjecture that God prompts me not to kill Fred important, whereas the certain fact that my brain prompts me not to kill Fred is unimportant?”

      I never said your feelings were not important. But they are simply feelings. The existence of God explains why you have those feelings and explains why you can trust them to be true. That’s it in a nutshell. If there is no God, then they are just feelings and I understand why they are precious to you. They are precious to you because they are your connection to God whether you acknowledge it or not. If you didn’t have those…

    8. Douglas. That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer. I know that I most likely won’t convince an atheist by arguing with him, but I feel compelled to argue nonetheless. In this post, you were claiming that if there is no God, then there is no such thing as right and wrong. There is no “ought” and no such thing as evil. As such, there is no wrong way to live. So, there was no need to get into Christianity. So in this case I think it makes more sense to go no further than “there must be a God”. I only brought up Christianity because Anonymous asked me about my belief concerning whether or not God was human and mentioned flying planes into buildings. I do not argue for Islam. But I have to say, I would rather live under islamic law than under an atheistic regime like North Korea has. Islam would be the lesser of the two evils.
      Arguing with atheists really helps me understand what I believe and why I believe it. I suppose it may do the same for them, who knows. This argument in particular has given me an appreciation for the law of God. It is truly a Rock. The 10 commandments and the rest of the laws given to Moses by God were such a comfort to men like King David, and I think I understand that better now. I never really understood the whole, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” thing. I do now. The idea that God carved his commandments by his own finger into stone makes more sense to me now. Stone is solid and heavy and not easily moved, so unlike the morality of atheists that shifts and changes from age to age, like sand at the beach. Their 10 commandments are just children’s names scratched in the sand at the edge of the ocean at low tide. No one will remember them in even 10 years.

    9. I am not “pretending not to understand” any argument. Do try to be civil.

      We are in fact arguing about morality, the epistemology thing is a bit of a sideshow. However, since you wish to send in the clowns in the form of Alvin Plantinga, let’s look at his mistakes. He writes “Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs”. A bit of a false dichotomy, don’t you think? Because I have shown that in fact it will be true beliefs that are adaptive. And if you don’t think so, try acting on some false beliefs and see how you get on.

      So Plantinga has recourse to his tiger argument. The trouble with this, if you think about it, is that the guy in his example needs to have delusions that are very precisely balanced — like a pin balanced on its end. They must exactly cancel out, so that he ends up doing just the right thing. How does he get into such a situation? From the point of view of acquiring such beliefs, how would he know which mutually cancellative delusions to acquire? We and Plantinga can see what would be the “right” delusions, because we do in fact grasp reality. But can you conceive of any system which would generate the right delusions without going through the truth en route, as we have? And how does such a system evolve, when any perturbation of the system leads to death? We can see how a system for being *right* evolves — a small change towards greater correctness is favored, a small change towards greater incorrectness, disfavored. It’s an attractive equilibrium. Whereas Plantinga’s alternative of finely-balanced madness might be conserved by natural selection once such a state was attained, but there’s no way to get there.

      Philosophers really shouldn’t be allowed to play with evolution until they understand it.

      Now, shall we get back to the God-and-morality thing? Re your alien hypothesis, yes, I can see that certain propositions about the causes of my ideas might lead me to doubt them. But that wasn’t what I asked, I asked why the God hypothesis would give me confidence in them. “Because it’s God” would not so much be an answer as the very thing I’m asking you to explain. You write “evolution and materialism certainly don’t give birth to “Ought”.” But most philosophers will tell you that no descriptive statement can give birth to a prescriptive one. This is the point of my talking about a psychopath — what he stands for is the man who presently admits no prescriptive statements. So, how are your descriptive conjectures about theology to get us to something prescriptive?

      You still don’t seem to be getting any further on. You say I can only recite my (descriptive) mantra “But Fred doesn’t want to die. But Fred doesn’t want to die.” Well, the theist mantra “But God doesn’t want Fred to die. But God doesn’t want Fred to die” is also descriptive of (what you think is) a state of affairs. Again, there’s this assumption that this mantra is special because it has the word “God” in it. But as that’s exactly what I’m not assuming, that’s just what you need to argue for.

    10. Re Eduardo’s message to Douglas, I wouldn’t be so sure about what’s permanent and what will shift like the sand. I am fairly sure that 10 years from now people will in fact still be saying stuff like “Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence” and “The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.” They have, after all, been saying stuff like that for quite a long time now, and I don’t see why they should stop. On the other hand, it’s a long time since anyone was stoned to death for working on a Saturday. But wait, what’s this in the Ten Commandments? “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.” And God, you say, wrote it with his finger in stone. Maybe he should have used a bigger stone.

    11. Anonymous. You wrote, “I am not “pretending not to understand” any argument. Do try to be civil. We are in fact arguing about morality, the epistemology thing is a bit of a sideshow. However, since you wish to send in the clowns in the form of Alvin Plantinga, let’s look at his mistakes.”

      You tell me to be civil and then call Plantinga a clown. That’s not very nice. I really like Alvin Plantinga. Why call him a clown?
      The “epistemology thing” isn’t a sideshow. It’s the heart of this debate. Perhaps that’s why you don’t understand?

      You wrote, “He writes “Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs”. A bit of a false dichotomy, don’t you think? Because I have shown that in fact it will be true beliefs that are adaptive. And if you don’t think so, try acting on some false beliefs and see how you get on.”

      Where did you show that “in fact it will be true beliefs that are adaptive”? According to you my belief in God is a false belief, and yet I’m doing very well. In fact, I’m doing much better now that I am living in a manner that I believe will please this God. There are numerous studies that give strong evidence that people who are believers in the God of Judaism are much healthier than those that don’t believe in God. I did a quick search and found this for you.

      “Now we compare religious people in the same country – typically the U.S. where a lot of health research is conducted – with their less religious compatriots. In this case, the answer is very different. Some researchers are so confident in the health benefits of religion that they argue it should be dispensed as a medicine”
      http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201212/are-religious-people-healthier

      So if you are correct in saying that true beliefs will be the most adaptive, shouldn’t you believe what the healthiest people in this country believe?

      How about Alexander the Great. He believed that he was the son of his god Zeus and then went on to conquer most of the known world. You obviously believe that his belief concerning his ancestry to be false, correct? So his false belief didn’t seem to get in his way. As a matter of fact, it is what gave him the confidence to do what he did. So, if you are correct, then the evidence seems to go against your disbelief in God.

      You wrote, “The trouble with this, if you think about it, is that the guy in his example needs to have delusions that are very precisely balanced — like a pin balanced on its end. They must exactly cancel out, so that he ends up doing just the right thing. How does he get into such a situation? From the point of view of acquiring such beliefs, how would he know which mutually cancellative delusions to acquire?”

      He wouldn’t know which mutually canceling delusions to acquire. If materialist are correct, then beliefs are nothing more than inherited genetic traits that evolve. Remember, from the perspective of a materialist, everything is matter…even beliefs. So, whatever beliefs work survive, whether it is true or not. He was being a bit silly with the Paul example of course, but the idea seems sound to me. If I were a primitive man, and because of some genetic mutation began to believe that every time it thundered it was a god telling me to go back in my cave, and I chose to obey, my offspring would be more likely to survive (since I am less likely to die in a storm) and I would pass this belief down to my children via my genes. That’s an example of what he is saying I think. Of course, most Christians don’t believe this. We believe as you do. But we don’t have to worry about explaining how we can be sure our beliefs are true if they arose by randomness and evolution. We believe our reason is a gift from God.

      You wrote, “Philosophers really shouldn’t be allowed to play with evolution until they understand it.”

      Well let me quote the father of evolution theory. Charles Darwin wrote in a letter:

      “Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

      Perhaps you will say evolutionists shouldn’t be allowed to play with philosophy until they understand it?

      See, Darwin gets it. He comes to the opposite conclusion as you. He doubts from time to time the reliability of man’s mind if it arose from randomness. Or is Darwin just another clown?

      You wrote, “ Re your alien hypothesis, yes, I can see that certain propositions about the causes of my ideas might lead me to doubt them. But that wasn’t what I asked”.

      Hurray!

      You wrote, “I asked why the God hypothesis would give me confidence in them.”

      It wouldn’t. If you don’t believe in God, my telling you that God doesn’t want you to kill Fred will not convince you, just as telling the psychopath that doesn’t hear the voice that it is wrong to kill Fred because Fred doesn’t want to die will do nothing to convince him.

      This idea is difficult to articulate but it is starting to come into some sort of solid form for me. I will try to articulate it. Christianity provides a bottom in an otherwise bottomless moral sea. If a man claims to be a Christian, you can pin him down. You can quote scripture to him which he must believe. You can refer to the words of Christ, whom he must obey, concerning loving your enemies and loving your neighbor as yourself. At some point, if he goes too far, you can claim he isn’t a true Christian, even if he continues to claim he is. Because we believe that there is a God, and he has made his will known through Moses, the prophets, and Christ, we have a rock to stand on. And we have a creed.

      Atheists on the other hand do not have a creed. You can’t pin an atheist down. If they go against their beliefs by being immoral, they simply change their belief system. There is no bottom. You can sink till you drown. The flavor of this idea is captured by this quote from another lovable clown, G.K. Chesterton. I think he would agree with being called a clown.

      “I swear to you, then,” said MacIan, after a pause. “I swear to you that nothing shall come between us. I swear to you that nothing shall be in my heart or in my head till our swords clash together. I swear it by the God you have denied, by the Blessed Lady you have blasphemed; I swear it by the seven swords in her heart. I swear it by the Holy Island where my fathers are, by the honour of my mother, by the secret of my people, and by the chalice of the Blood of God.”
      The atheist drew up his head. “And I,” he said, “give my word.”

      You still haven’t said whether Peter Singer’s way to live is wrong. Is his view on infant rights wrong?

    12. Well, false beliefs will in general be maladaptive. When I am crossing the road, it is important to be right about whether a car is coming; when I am deciding what to drink, it’s good to be right about whether bleach is potable, and so forth. It’s good if the mental model in my head corresponds to the world outside my head.

      Yes, Plantinga’s example is silly. But yours is, if I may say so, not much better. You say what if a man thinks that the thunder is the voice of a god telling him to hide in a cave. Yeah, sure, but what if he thinks it’s the voice of a god telling him to come out of his cave and stand under a tall tree? What mechanism can guarantee someone the right sort of madness, and how would it evolve? Whereas the mechanism of constructing a mental world to correspond to the real one does work — we can observe the connection between thunder and lightning, and between lightning strikes and fire. And we can see broadly how such a state of affairs would evolve, because being a little better at constructing a good mental model is a little more adaptive.

      The fact that *occasionally* false beliefs work out is of no evolutionary significance, there would have to be a statistical tendency for false beliefs to work out better than true ones.

      I don’t say that the results of the evolutionary process will be perfect, and in fact our brains are not perfect — it’s not as though they were designed by a perfect and infallible being. But evolution couldn’t produce anything as crazy as Plantinga suggests.

      That answers Darwin as well. It’s strange that people quote Darwin being perplexed about things as though that proved something. He was the *first* person to think of evolution, at the *beginning* of evolutionary biology. Clearly he knew *less* about it than all the evolutionary biologists who came after him, he had *more* unanswered questions than anyone else. So get got the first word, he doesn’t get the last.

      OK, back to the morality. Does the Christian actually “bottom out” philosophically, or does he just choose a place to stop? I think the latter. He decides to make his stand on certain selected parts of the Bible. Whereas a utilitarian (for example) decides to make his stand on something else. If you ask each of them to derive their premises as conclusions from something else, they might both have trouble. If you ask them to escape Hume’s guillotine, where should they turn?

      Also, you write: “At some point, if he goes too far, you can claim he isn’t a true Christian, even if he continues to claim he is.” You can claim that all you like, but what good does it do *him* as a moral guide, if *you* say he isn’t a true Christian, so long as he still thinks he is. He can just say: “Nuh-uh, *you’re* not a true Christian”, and then burn you at the stake. Sure, *you* will think he’s gone too far, but *he* won’t. What use is his theism? Wouldn’t you rather he was a nice atheist instead?

      I have a friend who was married to a pastor. He would beat her up. If, after he’d calmed down, she would reproach him in any way, he’d say:”Jesus has forgiven me, why can’t you?” Theism, if anything, made him worse. What he needed was not a belief in Jesus but a moral code more like … well, mine wouldn’t be a bad start.

      I really don’t know much about Singer, except that it turned out that he was not, as you implied, justifying infanticide, but rather arguing for animal rights. But I haven’t read his books, and unless I do, and I bet they’re not in my local library, it would be premature for me to pass judgment on him. You may do as you please. I *have* read Chesterton (I’m a big fan) and “The Ball and the Cross” in particular. I don’t think you’re drawing from the passage you quote quite the moral intended in the book — in the novel, after all, the atheist *is* trustworthy, his word *is* sufficient.

    13. All right! Let’s see if we can get the number of comments up to 200!

      You wrote, “Yes, Plantinga’s example is silly. But yours is, if I may say so, not much better. You say what if a man thinks that the thunder is the voice of a god telling him to hide in a cave. Yeah, sure, but what if he thinks it’s the voice of a god telling him to come out of his cave and stand under a tall tree?”

      Well obviously that creatures DNA won’t last long. We can only understand the beliefs of humans. Does a cockroach have beliefs? Does a dog have beliefs? It seems like a dog might. We assume they are rational like we believe our beliefs are rational. But who knows what a dog’s beliefs are truly like? I find it queer how you blow off Plantinga’s arguments so casually. Thomas Nagel wrote about Plantinga’s work on this topic. I include a quote from him in an attempt to get you to take it more seriously since he is an atheist. I am not a philosopher, but Nagel is. He writes:

      “We all have to recognize that we have not created our own minds, and must rely on the way they work. Theists and naturalists differ radically over what justifies such reliance. Plantinga is certainly right that if one believes it, the theistic conception explains beautifully why science is possible: the fit between the natural order and our minds is produced intentionally by God. He is also right to maintain that naturalism has a much harder time accounting for that fit. Once the question is raised, atheists have to consider whether their view of how we got here makes it at all probable that our cognitive faculties should enable us to discover the laws of nature.”

      Why would natural selection produce a thinking machine capable of understanding the laws of the universe? Seems a bit over the top to me. I failed on my Chesterton quote. Lesson learned. I am glad that you like him. That was unexpected. I haven’t read any of his fiction except A Man Called Thursday, but I have read some of his nonfiction. So let me try again. He wrote in Everlasting Man:

      “Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The higher animals did not draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was not an Impressionist and the race horse a Post-Impressionist. All we can say of this notion of reproducing things in shadow or representative shape is that it exists nowhere in nature except in man; and that we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature. In other words every sane sort of history must begin with man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone.”

      I smile the whole time I read him. We are all freaks of nature aren’t we? As Nagel wrote:

      “Most naturalists would hold that there is an intimate connection between the content of a belief and its role in controlling an organism’s behavioral interaction with the world. To oversimplify: they might hold, for example, that a state of someone’s brain constitutes the belief that there is a dangerous animal in front of him if it is a state generally caused by encounters with bears, rattlesnakes, etc., and that generally causes flight or other defensive behavior. This is the basis for the widespread conviction that evolutionary naturalism makes it probable that our perceptual beliefs, and those formed by basic deductive and inductive inference, are in general reliable. Still, when our faculties lead us to beliefs vastly removed from those our distant ancestors needed to survive—as in the recent production and assessment of evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson—Plantinga’s skeptical argument remains powerful.”

      Okay, I think I’m worn out on that argument. You wrote:

      “OK, back to the morality. Does the Christian actually “bottom out” philosophically, or does he just choose a place to stop? I think the latter. He decides to make his stand on certain selected parts of the Bible. Whereas a utilitarian (for example) decides to make his stand on something else. If you ask each of them to derive their premises as conclusions from something else, they might both have trouble. If you ask them to escape Hume’s guillotine, where should they turn?”

      I’m sorry, your going to have to bring this down a level for me. Hume’s guillotine? Can’t get “ought” from “is”? Not following. But Christians have commands. We can get “ought” from our commandments. Does that answer your question? Probably not.

      You wrote, “ I have a friend who was married to a pastor. He would beat her up. If, after he’d calmed down, she would reproach him in any way, he’d say:”Jesus has forgiven me, why can’t you?” Theism, if anything, made him worse. What he needed was not a belief in Jesus but a moral code more like … well, mine wouldn’t be a bad start.”

      Theism made him worse? Now how can you know that? You’re just saying stuff. Theism certainly hasn’t made him perfectly good, but you have no idea if it made him worse than he would have been had he not been a theist. So what is your moral code?

      You wrote, “Also, you write: “At some point, if he goes too far, you can claim he isn’t a true Christian, even if he continues to claim he is.” You can claim that all you like, but what good does it do *him* as a moral guide, if *you* say he isn’t a true Christian, so long as he still thinks he is. He can just say: “Nuh-uh, *you’re* not a true Christian”, and then burn you at the stake. Sure, *you* will think he’s gone too far, but *he* won’t. What use is his theism? Wouldn’t you rather he was a nice atheist instead?”

      Well sure, I would much rather live next door to a nice atheist than a nasty theist. But nice atheist are so hard to find. That was a joke. Good questions though. I’ll think harder. This discussion probably hasn’t convinced you of anything, but it has helped me I believe. I really don’t think many people reason their way in or out of belief. I believe most people change their beliefs for more mysterious reasons. As GK said,

      “Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching’ a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.”

      We should support everything we say with a GK quote, don’t you think?

    14. Eduardo, have you read Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis? His transformation from atheist to believer is an incredible story.

      “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

    15. Yes! 200 replies. Yes I have read that book Douglas. He’s one of the few people I know that reasoned his way from atheism to deism. If I remember right, he went from deism to Christianity by simply deciding to believe? I’ll have to read it again. It seem like he wrote that he just realized one day that he believed in Christ. Great book. What are you reading right now? I know you got a bunch of books for Christmas.

    16. If I remember right, he went from deism to Christianity by simply deciding to believe?

      It was more of a long process where his mind was changed over time by debating with the right friends and reading the right books. He also almost died during World War I and had, to put it mildly, a spiritual experience.

      What are you reading right now? I know you got a bunch of books for Christmas.

      I just finished (minutes ago) “George MacDonald: An Anthology 365 Readings,” by C.S. Lewis.

      I’ll be starting Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The West and the Rest” in about ten minutes. 🙂

    17. My point about my anecdote with the pastor is that he manages to use his theism to make him feel good about beating his wife — indeed, that she’s in the wrong to complain about it. I could have come up with another example, like Muslim theists thinking that God wants them to fly planes into buildings. The point is that theists can use God to justify any darn thing they like, and to blame their victims into the bargain.

      Can I really say that it made the pastor in my anecdote worse? Well, if he was an atheist then he couldn’t have said “Jesus has forgiven me, why can’t you?”

      About “Hume’s guillotine” and “is” and “ought”. Hume’s point is that you can never *logically* derive a proposition with the word “ought” in it from factual propositions.

      If an atheist says “Fred doesn’t want to die”, then we can’t derive “You ought not to kill Fred”, unless we add another proposition “You ought not to kill people if they don’t want to die.”

      Similarly, if a theist says “God doesn’t want you to kill Fred”, then we can’t derive “You ought not to kill Fred”, unless we add another proposition “You ought to do what God wants”.

      And in general, we need at least one premise with the word “ought” in it to derive a conclusion with the word “ought” in it. If we just have statements without it: “Fred doesn’t want to die”, “I have a green hat”, “God is against murder”, “Paris is the capital of France” — then we cannot logically derive “We shouldn’t kill Fred”.

      So this is Hume’s guillotine. It seems that we can’t get an “ought” from an “is”, we must take some statement about what we ought to do as a premise, because we can’t derive it from mere facts.

      You ask how I can blow off Plantinga’s arguments so easily. I don’t say it’s easy, I say that it’s right.

      Let’s try the epistemological question again. I can think of a way that we might get the right ideas: we look at the world, and think that the world is like what we see. That’s obviously adaptive.

      But you can’t actually think of an alternative. What you and Plantinga can say is along the lines of “If there *was* a way to be mad that was equally adaptive, then that would be equally favored by evolution”.

      But you can’t think of such a way to be mad. You can only say that *if there was* such a way, then evolution would be indifferent between that and sanity.

      But you and Plantinga can’t think of such a form of madness, you can’t explain to me how to be mad in just the right way. Does it even exist? It’s as though Plantinga said “You say that it’s plausible that legs evolved from fins. But why didn’t early tetrapods take the easier route of evolving levitation?”

      Well, in that case I’d answer: “You tell me how it’s even possible to levitate, Sonny Jim, and then I’ll tell you whether it would be easier to evolve legs or levitation”. He can’t maintain that it’s easier to evolve levitation if he can’t explain how it’s even possible to levitate. And you can’t argue that evolution could just as well favor this adaptive form of madness if you can’t even describe what form of madness that would be.

      I once met a creationist who said that if evolution was right then some organism would have evolved that was able to eat snow. OK, explain to me how it is biochemically possible to “eat snow”. Where does the energy come from? Unless he can come up with a biochemically plausible way to get energy out of snow, then why would we think that such a thing could evolve?

      On the subject of morality, let me try to set out my thinking. If you have questions, please ask me, it’ll help us both.

      (I) First, let’s suppose (which is not true) that we know that there is a God, that we know exactly what he thinks, and that we decide that in questions of morality we shall follow him.

      Our reasons for doing so can be:

      * ARBITRARY. You just decide, for no reason, to make God your standard of morality. Or for no *good* reason — that is, for no moral reason. Perhaps, for example, you admire him for creating the universe, with all its sunshine and rainbows and tapeworms and leprosy. But that wouldn’t mean that you *should* adopt his opinions, any more than you *should* adopt the haircut of a pop musician you admire. You *may*, but there is no *reason* why you should be a fanboy.

      * CIRCULAR. You may say: “God is right because God, who is right, says that God is right”. I think you can see the problem there. Apart from anything else, the same reasoning would allow you to base your morality on anyone else’s moral opinions — *everyone* thinks they’re right. It is only in fiction that the bad guys go about calling themselves the Dark Side.

      * EXTERNAL. There is some yardstick by which you can judge God to be right. But if there is such a yardstick, then if you can use it, so can I.

      (Parenthetically, you suppose that God hardwired us to agree with his moral code. But wouldn’t that make us deeply suspicious? After all, Hitler, if he could, would have made everyone a devout Nazi. Stalin would have made everyone a Stalinist. If we find that God has hardwired us to worship and obey him, then is that a reason to trust our moral instincts — or to distrust them? It would explain why you’re so quick to defend genocide when the Bible attributes it to God. But it wouldn’t show that you were right to do so.)

      (II) Now we need to ask where this God person gets his ideas from. These moral rules that he lays down, are they arbitrary choices? One might think so, looking at the book of Leviticus. But if they are arbitrary, we have no good *reason* to follow them, even if we feel a hardwired compulsion to do so.

      On the other hand, if he’s just *right* — if he knows murder is wrong the same way he knows that zebras are stripy — then I can know that too, and could know that if there wasn’t a God. If there’s a yardstick, there’s a yardstick.

      (You will perhaps recognize this as the Euthyphro dilemma.)

      (III)(a) We do not in fact have this hypothetical access to the thoughts of God. Even if there is such a being, the theist’s assertions about his opinions are ungrounded and subjective conjectures. This is why theists disagree wildly as to what it is he thinks. Even if they’re all Christians looking at the same one of the Ten Commandments, let’s say “Thou shalt not kill”, they differ on whether that applies to, for example, war, and capital punishment, and self-defense, and abortion, and burning heretics.

      In fact, our relationship to God (if he exists) is the exact opposite of what we would wish. We would like to know what he thinks, add the premise that he is good, and then find out what we should think. But theists do the opposite. They reason for themselves what is good, then they add the premise that God is good, then they conclude that that’s what he thinks. So, for example, if a Christian changes his mind about capital punishment, he will simultaneously change his mind about what God thinks about capital punishment.

      There’s been some interesting work done on this. We can look at the activity in people’s brains. When they’re asked, for example “What would Sarah Palin think about such-and-such”, or “What would the average American think about such-and-such” or “What would your wife think about such-and-such”, they use one part of their brains. When they’re asked “What would YOU think about such-and-such”, they use a different part of their brains. There’s an obvious reason for this: when you’re asked what someone else thinks, you have to model what they would think, whereas if you’re asked what you’d think you don’t have to construct a model, you just have to think.

      Now, the interesting thing is that when you ask people what God would think about a particular topic, they use the part of their brains that they use to think what they themselves would think. Mentally, people don’t model God as a separate person, instead their brains process “What does God think is right?” as “What do you think is right?” and indeed as “What is right?”

      All this makes it hard to take any particular theist as a spokesman for God and the One True Morality. It should make it hard for them to take themselves seriously.

      (III)(b) And this diversity of opinion makes it hard to think that morality was hardwired by God. Look at the differences between people. A psychopath is all out for himself. If we get our moral opinions from God, then how did we get the psychopath — did an angel drop a wrench on the construction line?

      I have the impression that you are a Catholic. I like Catholics, but your church has permitted burning people alive and forbidden contraception. This system of values seems to many people to be wicked and absurd. So the Catholic Church and its critics can’t *both* be getting their opinions from God. Maybe some people may be getting their opinions from God, but most people aren’t, and none of them has a really good reason to think that they are the lucky ones.

      Of course, we might look at what all theistic moral systems have in common — and lo and behold, we’d find that their point of intersection are the moral beliefs of the typical atheist. Once you’ve got rid of the outlying ideas like burning people alive or abjuring mixed fabrics, you’re left with the atheists crying “Why can’t people just be nice to each other!”

      (IV) There is no God. I’m not going to argue for that, it would take us too far afield. But if the atheist is right about that, then he would actually be in a slightly better position to think about morality than you are, in that his moral system wouldn’t take into account the feelings of a third person who doesn’t exist.

      With God as a conjecture, Harry can say to George “I should burn you alive”, and George can say to Harry “I should burn you alive”, and *both* of them can appeal to God as the casting vote. An atheist can’t do that. But even if a theist could do that, which he can’t really (see point (III)) we might look at points (I) and (II) and ask, even if God agrees with George, is it right to burn Harry?

      To summarize.

      If the theist’s morality is based on circular reasoning, then I guess the atheist can reason just as circularly.

      If the theist’s morality is arbitrary, then I guess the atheist can be equally arbitrary.

      If the theist’s morality is dependent on subjective opinions, then the atheist also has subjective opinions, and often they’re a whole lot better.

      If the theist’s morality is objective, then the atheist can be equally objective. If an atheist can correctly say “Zebras are stripy”, then he can correctly say “Murder is wrong”.

      The one extra card the theist has in his hand is that when asked “Why is this right?” he can say “God thinks it’s right, and God is right”. But this only opens up more questions of a similar nature. Such as — how do you know that God is right? How do you know what God thinks? How do you know that his idea of “right” is a real thing rather than an arbitrary decision on his part?

      I therefore hold that the atheist has at least as much intellectual underpinning to make moral statements as the theist: that an atheist has as much right to say “You shouldn’t burn people alive” as the theist has to say EITHER “Oh yes we should” OR “I agree with the atheist”.

      I take it that you agree with the atheist.

      You are surprised that I like GKC. But he would like me! He recognized the essential moral dignity of atheism, he just thought that atheists are wrong. I replied to this blog because it seems as though the author thinks that atheists have no standpoint to talk about morality at all. I think I’ve shown that we stand on at least as firm a footing as theists, that what can be argued against atheist morality can be argued just as well, and sometimes better, against theist morality, and that I have as much of a right as you to say that we shouldn’t kill Fred.

    18. You wrote: “My point about my anecdote with the pastor is that he manages to use his theism to make him feel good about beating his wife — indeed, that she’s in the wrong to complain about it. I could have come up with another example, like Muslim theists thinking that God wants them to fly planes into buildings. The point is that theists can use God to justify any darn thing they like, and to blame their victims into the bargain.”

      I have no doubt that there are people that use their beliefs for selfish reasons. But as a christian he is commanded to love his wife as Christ loves him. The verse I refer to is, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…in the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” If his church found out he was beating his wife, they should rebuke him for it. If he doesn’t change, he should be expelled from the church. So even though someone can use their religion selfishly, it is obvious that he is going against his church’s teachings.

      However, when an atheist uses his atheism as a justification for being selfish, he isn’t breaking any sort of commandments that he has sworn to uphold. When Stalin decided to cull tens of millions of his own countrymen in order to get his economy rolling, he didn’t break any commandments. He didn’t contradict any belief system. He could rationalize it and his atheism accommodated him. I don’t say his atheism caused him to do what he did, but it certainly didn’t stand in his way. It didn’t offer any resistance to what he planned to do. Even a fear of facing a dreadful, wrathful God would have been better for him to believe in than in nothing. Perhaps if he had believed he would burn forever in hell he wouldn’t have killed all of those innocent people. A belief in a good God can keep a bully in check. Atheism cannot. Just one more reason to believe that there is a God in my opinion.

      You wrote, “Can I really say that it made the pastor in my anecdote worse? Well, if he was an atheist then he couldn’t have said ‘Jesus has forgiven me, why can’t you?’”

      That’s true, he couldn’t have manipulated her like that unless he was an atheist pretending to be a Christian…which wouldn’t have broken any atheistic rules. There are people who will profess to believe in anything if it is advantageous to do so. I have no doubt that there have been priests, perhaps even popes, that didn’t believe in God.

      You wrote, “But you and Plantinga can’t think of such a form of madness, you can’t explain to me how to be mad in just the right way. Does it even exist? It’s as though Plantinga said “You say that it’s plausible that legs evolved from fins. But why didn’t early tetrapods take the easier route of evolving levitation? Well, in that case I’d answer: “You tell me how it’s even possible to levitate, Sonny Jim, and then I’ll tell you whether it would be easier to evolve legs or levitation”

      Is this what they call a “straw man”? Have you read his paper? I’ve read some of what he has written on this subject. The idea is that beliefs alone do not cause action. Believing I should dive into icy water to save a drowning child doesn’t mean I will do it. Desire must aid me and there will be conflicting desires. Believing I have a beer in my fridge doesn’t mean I’ll get up and drink it if I don’t want a beer. If beliefs and desires are nothing more than some chemical structure in my body that are subject to genetic mutation, then I can imagine how an organism can have false beliefs (if we can even say that word with lower organisms) combined with strange desires in such a way that the organism survives. But even if this is false, even if there is no way that an organism could evolve in this way, there is no reason to assume that our beliefs concerning philosophy, astrophysics, and the like, should be dependable since they have nothing to do with our survival. I think its safe to say that cockroaches have no theory on epistemology, and they have done well on this planet. I’ll bet chickens don’t believe in evolution and they seem to be thriving. Isn’t it possible that we have to much faith in our reason? It’s like a man discovering a really good hammer. This hammer has really improved his life so he thinks he can use it to predict the future. But, if we can trust our reason because it was given to us by a God who is the source of all reason, then we can trust it to guide us into things that have nothing to do with our survival.

      You wrote, “And you can’t argue that evolution could just as well favor this adaptive form of madness if you can’t even describe what form of madness that would be.”

      An organism desires to be eaten. It for some reason believes that if it runs away a predator will catch him and eat him. The organism runs and survives and therefore the desire, belief combination survive. Perhaps many animals want to be eaten. How do you know they don’t? Because they run away? You don’t know what they are thinking, you just assume they think like you because you can’t imagine anything different.

      You wrote, “It would explain why you’re so quick to defend genocide when the Bible attributes it to God. But it wouldn’t show that you were right to do so.”

      If I were unfair by saying that you support infanticide since you defend Peter Singer, you are certainly no better saying that I defend genocide. The story you referred to is certainly disturbing and troubles me. But this is the God who created me, who became a man and died for me. This is the God that commands me to love my neighbor as myself, even if my neighbor is my enemy. The same God who modeled how to obey these commands by forgiving the men that hammered the nails into his hands and feet. If he were guilty of any crime, we already crucified him, so I guess you could say he paid his debt to mankind. However, I believe he paid mankind’s debt to God. Is there ever a justification for killing a large population of people? Was Harry Truman justified when he commanded that Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be destroyed along with every living thing in them? Most people that lived in the U.S. during that time say yes he was justified. If a man can do such a thing and be just, then so can God. Sam Harris seems to think it may be necessary to drop a bomb on Iran before they drop one on us! Here’s a passage from one of his books.

      “What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.”

      Will you defend Sam Harris as you do Peter Singer? Then will it be you defending genocide in order to defend another offensive atheist?

      You wrote, “We do not in fact have this hypothetical access to the thoughts of God.”

      But we do. God became a man and lived with us. He showed us how to live and how to die. Many of his words were written down. So we do have access, you just choose not to believe.

      I’m not going to comment on your system of morality. It is too tedious and the arguments are never ending and silly. As G.K. Chesterton said, “I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification.”

      I give you the last word. Nice corresponding with you.

    19. Well, it would be hard to use atheism to *justify* selfishness as such. I can’t go around telling myself it’s OK to do bad things because Ath is on my side.

      You write: “If I were unfair by saying that you support infanticide since you defend Peter Singer, you are certainly no better saying that I defend genocide.” I have declined to defend or condemn Singer on, the grounds that I haven’t read his books; Singer did not advocate infanticide, but animal rights; and you did in fact stick up for God’s command to kill all the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. That would be a different between us.

      About Plantinga, you seem to have missed my point. Perhaps I didn’t express it clearly enough. It is true that you and Plantinga can think of *mad opinions* which would be adaptive. When I said that you couldn’t think of a *form of madness* which would be adaptive, I mean a method, a mechanism, of producing what we might call the right mad opinions.

      It’s easy enough to see how to get sane opinions — we look at the world and decide that it is how it looks. But by what mechanism can we look at the world and come up with mad opinions, but mad opinions which are guaranteed to be equally adaptive as the sane ones. What conceivable form of data processing in our brains could in our sensory input, and produces a view of the world which, while completely wrong, are equally useful as sanity? If you and Plantinga can’t think of one, then his argument does have a big hole in it like the analogous argument about levitation.

      Patronizing me and calling my arguments re morality “silly” doesn’t answer a single one of those arguments, many of which have been taken seriously by philosophers for hundreds of years — the Euthyphro dilemma, for example, is older than Christianity. So if you want me to have the last word, I’ll take it; and I shall form my own opinions as to why you produce no rebuttal.

    20. Anonymous.
      I was wrong to call your arguments silly. I should always wait a day before I post a reply. I would be willing to discuss them more if you want to, but it may take me weeks to reply to your arguments if they are to be well thought out. As I said, I did not major in philosophy. Replying here on Douglas’ blog isn’t the best format for this. If you trust me and want to correspond via email, perhaps Douglas would be willing to give me your email or give you mine. If you want to keep replying to this post, I’ll do that too. Your arguments are not silly.

    21. Well, that was nice. I’d be willing to continue our conversation by email if you wish — we should probably stop corresponding via Douglas, as it evidently costs him a little trouble every time we want to post something.

    22. Nope. No trouble at all, really. For some reason I do have to approve your comments each time you post them, Anonymous. I’m not sure why because usually that ends after I approve one comment.

      Regardless, if you guys want me to share your email information, then just make it crystal clear in your next post (e.g., “Doug, please give my email information to Anonymous,”) and I will facilitate that request. Or, like I said, you’re more than welcome to continue here.

    23. Thanks Douglas. Anonymous, we could keep replying to this post. Since we are the only two people posting to it, we could just post a new reply instead of replying to this particular post of mine. Does that make sense? Replying to this particular post is a pain in the ass since it is so long. I have to scroll up and find it and I get annoyed. But if each post is a new post, then it would be easy peasy. But email would be nice since it isn’t public. Your call Anonymous. Say the word and I’ll tell Douglas to give you my email.

    24. Oh, right. Douglas, my previous post and this one contain my email address. Feel free to give it to Eduardo.

      I thought you were doing a little work on the posts by improving the punctuation. Maybe that’s done automatically though. Anyway, thanks for facilitating the conversation.

    25. Thanks. I do wish you yourself had gone a little further with your arguments, and if you want to be dealt in, just say the word.

  16. So have you guys ever heard of Peter Singer?

    “He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specializes in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, utilitarian perspective.” wikipedia

    Peter is an avowed atheist. He is also very intelligent and has used his reason to lead him to a new understanding of morality. Here are a few conclusions he has come to.

    “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

    So, should we kill Fred? Well, according to this atheist, as long as Fred is a baby, go ahead if it makes you happy. Hell, baby Fred has less value than a pig according to this atheist. Peter has proposed a 30 day money back guarantee for babies. You can take baby Fred home, and if you don’t like him you can kill him…as long as you do it before he reaches a month old. After that, the warrantee expires I guess.

    Atheist “philosopher Michael Tooley bluntly declared that a human being ‘possess[es] a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity.’”

    So is Fred in a coma? “Take him out!” says this Atheist.

    Is Fred a horse? Well…it may not be okay to kill Fred if he’s a horse. But you can have sex with him! Peter wrote, “sex with animals does not always involve cruelty” and that “mutually satisfying activities” of a sexual nature may sometimes occur between humans and animals” . As long as you’re gentle I guess.

    So, is Peter wrong Anonymous? Peter has done a good job following his reasoning in order to understand morality. I think his reasoning is pretty sound. So if he is wrong what is the problem? I would say the problem with his reasoning lies in the fact that he is assuming there is no God and we are all here due to chance. Reason is like a hound dog. If you give Reason the true scent of the Truth you are tracking, Reason will do a good job tracking him down. But if you give him no scent at all, as in “we all came from nothing”, then that ole hound dog will usually just lead you to some stinking dead carcass and invite you to roll in it with him.

  17. What atheists don’t realize is that atheism is just another religion. Thus this attempt in establishing commandments.

    Soon we’ll be seeing the atheist bible, etc..

    The human spirit exists and is undeniable, it will be the human spirit that will conquer the universe. Spiritual embodiments are what they are, demons, angels, gods, prophets, saints, buddha, and whatever the atheists are cooking up at any given time.

    1. What atheists don’t realize is that atheism is just another religion.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Anderson. Indeed, atheists who congregate together to discuss their non-belief do in fact have their own religion — even if they will bend over backwards to call it something else.

    2. It has always fascinated me that the more religious a person is, the more they tend to use the word “religion” as a term of abuse. For example, creationists are fond of shouting that “evolution is a religion”. You will note that scientists don’t riposte “Oh yeah? — well, creationism is a science!”

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