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9 comments | Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Apparently, there is a double standard when it comes to justifying ones own assumptions on presuppositional matters. The Christian must give an account of all affirmations of the Christian worldview, or such assertions are deemed unfounded and are rejected as unsupported beliefs or non-rational lines of reasoning. Conversely, some atheists have excluded themselves from the burden they impose. This special pleading effect is evident in the area of foundational beliefs—such as morality, logic, reason and so on. However, when those foundational beliefs are represented as deductive premises in an argument, they should not be surprised when they are challenged on it. In fact, their case hinges on many unspoken assumptions for which they often offer no supporting argument.

I have found that some unbelievers may even become infuriated when one points out that secularism has no principled basis for morality. This is often pointed out when a non-believer, such as a secularist, uses morality (e.g. problems of ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’ etc…) to argue against Christianity. Nevertheless, rather than supporting their premise of “evil”; they assume the challenge as a type of personal affront. Responses vary from statements such as “I m a moral person” and “I don’t need a book or a ‘god’ to be moral.” Thus, rather than address the question, they regress on to an erroneous trail of personal and observational testimony. However, when I challenge an unbeliever about their moral premises, I am not judging their character, or calling into question their moral behavior; rather, I am questioning the referent they use that governs their moral system. In other words, I am questioning their own yardstick they use to determine what is-or-is-not moral.

For instance, when an atheist uses the existence of evil as an argument against Christianity, the Christian has every right to challenge the premise of their argument. Recently, I have heard an atheist state that the challenge of moral substantiation is a dishonest tactic to trap the atheist, because the theist already deduces that the atheist cannot provide a basis for morality; thus, Christianity is true by default. Yet, this is untrue—at least in my own challenges. Though I do think that secularism cannot provide a sufficient basis to support their premises and always will fall short of grounding morality in something other than oneself; the position leads to moral relativism or nihilism. However, I don’t think that qualifies the secular position as *necessarily* false. So the intent of the challenge is not to entrap per se, but to entice one to examine and substantiate their position. Thus, such arguments should be challenged until demonstrated otherwise, or is recognized to be flawed.

Though I think their argument to be flawed, I do not think it to be meaningless. Interestingly, the meaning within their argument is not recognized by the very person making the argument. In fact, the very argument counters their polemic against Christianity. From the words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. ... Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

So the moral argument against God and Christianity has meaning, but not with an atheistic worldview (at least not one than I have seen). The atheist must borrow the Christian worldview of morality in order to argue against the Christian worldview. Ironic.

Case In Point

The Reluctant Thinker (A.K.A. the Reluctant Atheist) has become aggravated and eager to avoid grappling with the theistic challenge of a moral framework. I want to look at his post on the subject of morality to demonstrate my point. Before I start though, the Reluctant Atheist is not a reluctant thinker because he does not think, or that he is unintelligent; he is a reluctant thinker because he is reluctant to think about where his position leads and doesn’t lead. I am sure he is an intelligent man, and many intelligent people hold the same position of morality he does—so this not to an affront on him, but an affront on his position and response to the moral challenge. Nevertheless, there are some very intelligent unbelievers who go to desperate lengths to deny the obvious or silence the opposition with backbiting refusal to engage in order to justify their unbelief.

In the beginning of his post, he states:

[S]omewhere, somewhen, there’s some unwritten rule that we atheists are required to explain how it is that we’re moral creatures, without the benefit of having transcendent guidance.

I hate this crap.



I know why this is hated, because every time this challenge is brought up—they cannot substantiate their claims of theodicy. This is basically saying “talk to the hand.” It gets old defending the indefensible I suppose. I have had this discussion with the author before. When pushed against the wall hard enough, he stated, “Truthfully, my position is ad hoc.” Yet, if a position is ad hoc, it loses its deductive power and thus does not provide adequate premises to argue in favor of theodicy.

Secondly, why is it okay for the atheist to avoid justification for their beliefs, while the theist must be substantiate their beliefs?

Continuing…

At some juncture, I just lose interest. Besides which, I think it’s a trap, a pitfall we fall into as a rule. I mean, really, why on earth do I HAVE to explain it? I don’t. I feel that I (and my fellow atheists) best exemplify by example. To wit: the large percentile of crimes committed in this (or for the most part, any other) society is committed by religious folk.

This is a reluctant thinker’s way of plugging his ears to any critique of his position on morality. He says, “why do I HAVE to explain it”; the answer is—you have to explain it when it’s a premises in your argument. If you’re going to go on the offensive, and give Christianity the finger, don’t expect a free pass. Those who state one doesn’t have to answer on this issue are usually indicating that they cannot answer it.


It would be one thing to corner someone to justify morality when they have not given an opinion on the matter; however, the rub comes in when someone uses a moral deduction to argue against Christianity. Thus, one is required (if they want to preserve the argument) to support the premises of the deduction.

Secondly, the author goes to state that “the large percentile of crimes committed in this (or for the most part, any other) society is committed by religious folk.” So what is being said is that atheists have exemplified superior morality than ‘religious folk.’ However, (1) this is an assertion not an argument (2) only gives a descriptive measure of morality (3) begs the question (4) fails to note the center of moral substantiation—that is to substantiate the prescriptive basis of such actions (5) what of the crimes committed by ‘non-religious folks’. The statement means nothing, and solves nothing without giving prescriptive justification for atheists. For if there is no prescriptive justification, then there is no condemnation of not being moral.

Natural Ethics

Continuing, we now explore the paradox of natural ethics:

Thus far, it seems I’m a moral naturalist.

“Moral naturalism is a form of cognitivism derived from applying evolutionary game-theory to ethics. Rather than interpreting morality as the result of negotiations between members of a large group of free moral agents, moral naturalism sees morality as an emergent phenomenon arising as an unintended side-effect of the interaction of those agents in smaller groups. In other words, morality is not to solve a single problem but a number of recurring problems, in the same manner that natural selection adjusts populations of organisms for changing environmental conditions. This puts moral facts in a class with natural facts about the world, which contradicts the assertion of divine command theory that morality is defined by the arbitrary revelation of God.”


I think that covers it very nicely, thanks.

It’s hard to see how giving a definition of moral naturalism provides a substantiation of morality. At best, this is just inches improved over moral relativism as it provided a more cognitive relation to reality than a reconstruction of reality. Ambiguity does not substitute well for rationality. Moral naturalism seems to affirm that moral values are (1) real, (2) an objective property of the natural (or physical) world. Thus (I presume), a moral decision is either “true” or “false”, depending on the facts of the world as it exists. The problem with this view is that the morals are not mere description of human behavior but a prescription for human behavior.

However, moral naturalism is just another way to adopt Christian values without God. With moral naturalism there is a strong emphasis to base morality on ‘facts’. However, moral naturalist still smuggle in a moral premise, namely the principle that it is wrong to do X as a fact without a priori knowledge. To exclusively base morality on descriptive facts is to enter into a never ending circular abyss. To state that X as a fact is wrong and that X is wrong as a fact is a tautology. Having done this, to then say that “pleasure is valuable” would be to affirm a mere vacuous statement, as would “pleasure is good”

Only with moral knowledge already in place does it make sense to say that you can derive a moral conclusion from a set of facts. Hence, you have to have some standard to evaluate the facts themselves. So, moral naturalism does not answer the question of were morals come from in the first place, which is central to supporting their position.

The problem I see with naturalistic principled morality is that it makes morality arbitrary. One wonders, “Why is rape wrong?” The moral naturalist would have to say, “This tendency proved useful in the processes of natural selection.” So, it seems that rape is not *necessarily* morally wrong. I think most people find this entirely odd. Moreover, naturalistic ethics seems to fall prey to a type of genetic fallacy, in that it doesn't give a reason to believe that certain actions or things are right and wrong; rather, it purely tries to elucidate to why we have certain inclinations of morality as we understand it.


Continuing…


I personally believe that morality is an individual choice, and that one’s environment is a huge factor in that choice.

It’s difficult to put your finger on what certain people actually believe, it’s like their trying to derive some theory to explain away their a priori moral knowledge, but end up going all over the map with ‘naturalistic morals’ to ‘personal choices.’ Nevertheless, regarding morality as an individual choice, I presume without any ultimate accountability--that’s true. Considering evolutionary involvement and moral choices, Jeffery has a question for the atheist:

“If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…’”

~ Jeffrey Dahmer

Continuing…

This isn’t to say I was ‘saintly’: most young boys engage in behavior that would be considered Sociopathic in an adult – it’s a matter of whether it’s a touch, or a wholesale wallowing that makes the distinction. I found the flavor wholly repulsive, and turned my face away from that innate darkness that humans have built into their nature. With no help from religion, I might add.

These statements sound an awful lot like the doctrine of original sin. Yet, while recognizing the “innate darkness” humans have, they venomously deny original sin. Secondly, if humans have “darkness built into their nature”, what makes that darkness wrong? Isn’t that what evolutions has brought? If we have evolved to be natural rapists what does it matter? Moreover, how does one turn their face away from something said to be “innate in humans?”

At least Richard Dawkins is honest about his worldview when he says:

There is at the bottom of it all no good, no evil, no purpose, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.

So if were honest about atheism, aren’t human beings just what natural selection made us to be? Aren’t we just a higher form of animal; perhaps we are some form of killer apes manufactured by evolution?

So, in short, I’m a morally upright individual – I don’t steal, I rarely lie, I’m excruciatingly honest (to my own detriment, I might add), I understand what the word no means (I feel that rape – the ultimate conscious violation – is perhaps the most disgusting crime one being can commit on another), children absolutely adore me, domestic pets as a rule gravitate to me, I’m about as friendly as another human being can be in person, and I won’t strike another person without due provocation. I also haven’t seen the inside of a cell in approximately thirty years (one time was enough: in some things, I’m a fast learner).

Another thing we see here is the “I am a good person defense”; as if that answers the question of moral foundations. Due to natural revelation, the Image of God imprinted on people, and common grace by God, unbelievers retain a remnant of common decency. This classic response gets old, because the question is not, in the first instance, whether an unbeliever can exhibit common decency, but whether moral absolutes are consistent with, or inherent in, an atheist worldview. Saying you’re a moral person doesn’t cut the cheese.

In fact, this quote explains my sentiments well:

In America, however, most of our atheists are actually thinly disguised Christians, or sometimes thinly disguised Jews, who want to retain the humanism taught by the Creator, without believing in the Creator. They believe in the image of God, without believing in God. They want the Kingdom of God; --- compassion, justice, peace, love, integrity, honesty, and commitment; without God, the King.
-- Michael Novak


Following to the end of this post, we see that evolution is now the source of morality:

Which begs the question (for the theists): from whence came morality?

So I’ll paraphrase myself (I’m entitled to), and add to an earlier quotation of mine:

‘From the womb of evolution sprang religion. From that womb also came morality.’

Because, let’s face facts, folks: any individual of a species that behaves in a manner contrary to the well being of the herd, is cast out. I won’t trot out any scholarship in this regard: I leave it to my readers to investigate for themselves.


So morals evolve, but how would one know whether action X is more evolved than action Y? This is just another lonely assertion in search of a warm-bodied supporting argument. Here, the author is pontificating morality. He says that morals evolve, but if rape is a result of evolving genes of survival how can it be immoral? How many ways can ‘evolving morality’ be reduced to absurdity before one stops using the excuse? I am still waiting to see the secular foundation for morality…

If humans are merely complex material, molecules without purpose, if no one piece of matter is any more valuable than any other piece of matter, if we are self-governing (without God), if the circumstances warrants it, and if we can advance our own selfish interests by doing so, could we not lie, steal, maim, or murder at will? If not, why not?

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10 comments | Wednesday, June 14, 2006

We often get side tracked when discussing issues with someone that holds a view contrary to our own. At the center of confusion is the lack of understanding toward the other person’s position and the failure to define our terms. More frustrating; however, is when the opposing viewpoint completely refuses to acknowledge ANY validly of your position because they either disagree or are “not convinced” by the case. In fact, they may even equate your position to believing in santa clause or fairies (a definite intellectual slap in the face).

In one of the more insulting factions of atheism, Brian Fleming, from Beyond Belief Media has come up with a ‘Statement of Belief’ that Christians must sign before they would even consider having a discussion with a believer. [Thanks to BK at Christian CADRE for bringing this to my attention.] Allegedly, Beyond Belief Media has provided the statement, in hopes that skeptics would require the signature of ‘Christians’ before a rational discussion can occur. Their “Statement of Belief” reduces the Christian worldview to mere irrationalism and blind, unsupported belief.

This statement is entirely insulting and idiotic. The Christian looses all ground before one can even start. Basically, one has to concede the falsity of Christianity, before discussing it. The ‘Statement of Belief’ is as follows:

STATEMENT OF BELIEF
By agreeing to the following statements, you are not agreeing that they settle any additional questions. You are only acknowledging that you understand the difference between evidence and faith. If you cannot sign this statement, you do not deserve to be taken seriously.

I acknowledge that the Bible is not infallible. It was created entirely by humans and may contain significant flaws.

I acknowledge that a claim can be part of Christian tradition and also be false.

I acknowledge that there is no known evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ that dates to the period of his alleged life.

I acknowledge that the names of the Gospels were most likely added well after their composition, and there is insufficient evidence to believe that these names correspond to the original writers.

I acknowledge that there is insufficient evidence to believe that any of the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus Christ.

I acknowledge that it is common for religious cults to make things up.

I acknowledge that it is common for religions to influence each other, and for young religions to be derived from older religions.

I acknowledge that no figures such as "God" or "The Holy Spirit" or "Satan" performed any supernatural actions that had any effect upon the formation of early Christianity.

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct.

A Christian should never even consider signing this document (though I doubt any level headed Christian would). If a skeptic requires the statement to be signed—the “privilege” of there discussion is not worth it. However, I doubt that they really expect anyone sign it. Rather, it just a backhand and mockery toward believers.

Though, the idea of agreement on certain matters before engagement is not entirely absurd. In fact, on a more serious note, discussions could be much more fruitful if there were a common agreement bearing on the discussion. I know atheists can get frustrated with the fallacious methodology of some Christians and vise versa.

Accordingly, in light of Beyond Belief Media’s “Statement of Belief” contract, I have come up with ProTheism’s parody of the contract called “Preconditions of Engagement”(though some statements are tongue in cheek, this not the condescending material they have offered):

PRECONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT:

By agreeing to the following statements, you are not agreeing that they settle any additional questions. You are only acknowledging that you understand the difference between stating there is no evidence for God’s existence and not being convinced by the evidence for God’s existence. If you cannot sign this statement, you do not deserve to be taken seriously.

I acknowledge that Atheism isn’t a “lack of belief,” but the belief that God or gods do not exist. Moreover, I am not excluded from a burden of proof for “non-belief” since there is a basis for my position.

I acknowledge that science has not and cannot disprove the existence of God. Moreover, science has not proven atheism.

I acknowledge that theism is not the same as believing in fairies, santa clause, and pink unicorns.

I acknowledge that religion is not the major cause of war. I know that when it comes to the causes of war, religion comes after politics, economics, territory, natural resources and greed.

I acknowledge that because some alleged Christians committed heinous acts in the past that it doesn’t follow that it is what Christianity teaches, or that it invalidates Christianity.

I acknowledge that atheism itself can become fanatical and destructive. I know the Soviet Union was run by Brights. Stalin was an atheist, as were Mao Zedong and the Red Guards in China, and Pol Pot in Cambodia.

I acknowledge that atheistic regimes have killed more people in the past century than religion has killed in its entire history. So bringing up the crusades and witch hunts are counter productive to my case.

I acknowledge that the existence of evil is not proof that an all-good and all-powerful God does not exist.

I acknowledge that dogmatically asserting “there is no God” is a philosophically naïve statement that affirms a universal negative.

I acknowledge that micro-evolution is not proof of macro-evolution and that macro evolution is not a fact but a theory. Also, I know that the theory of evolution does not disprove the existence of God.

I acknowledge that God cannot create a rock that is too heavy for Him to move.

I acknowledge that I have no answer to the origin of life, or how the universe came into existence.

I acknowledge that saying “were just here”, or “it just is,” is not an argument.

I acknowledge that the statement that “it’s irrational to believe in things that can’t be tested scientifically with the five senses,” can’t be tested scientifically with the five senses and is a self refuting.

I acknowledge that Benny Hinn or other affiliates of the tele-evangelizing industry is not a representative of all Christianity.

I acknowledge that just because God has not appeared before my eyes, and justified His existence to my empirical satisfaction; it doesn’t mean He does not exist.

I acknowledge that if I can’t acquire God residue for my test tube, it doesn’t follow that God does not exist.

I acknowledge that skepticism does not equate to intellectualism. I know that it is not necessarily more rational to doubt something than it is to believe in something.

I acknowledge that geographic probability of a certain religion tells you nothing of the truth claims of the religion.

I acknowledge that just because most Christians I have spoke with cannot defend their faith and answer my questions, or that you cannot answer my questions, it doesn’t follow that my questions cannot be answered, or that my questions refute Christianity.

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct.

I suppose the list could go on and I would be interested in anyone’s additions. However, these are the general rubs that encumber many dialogues that I have had. Though I am only half serious, there is an element of sincerity in the “Preconditions of Engagement.” Likewise, I am sure many atheists can list their own frustrations with Christian slogans and flawed reasoning. It’s more likely that their experience in exchanges with Christians have been predominately wearisome. One can only point out logical fallacies so many times before credence crumbles and tensions overflow. I suspect this is why mockery, ridicule and hostility thrive in atheist literature. For the most part, the ridicule and backhanded mockery like Flemings “Statement of Beliefs” have troubled me; however, in retrospect, the following passage gives me ease:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake

Matthew 5:10-11



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0 comments | Monday, June 12, 2006

Some things you just have to share…

The Designer Speaks!

Real Christian ™

Baby Got Book

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3 comments | Monday, June 05, 2006

I recently downloaded G.K. Chesterton’s, Orthodoxy. The second section (II) is amusingly called “The Maniac.” While I was freshly beginning to read it, this piece jumped out at me:


[I]f the great reasoners are often maniacal, it is equally true that maniacs are commonly great reasoners….Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity in this respect is a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.



I can’t help but be of the same opinion with Chesterton. It’s no wonder that some of the most brilliant people are reclusive and can’t tie their shoes. It seems today that reason is put on such a high pedestal (sometimes even to idolatry) that all else is secondary and diminished by it. What Chesterton sees quite clearly is that reason cannot be virtuous in it of itself and those who operate by it and no other become exasperating to communicate with.

As Chesterton stated, “if you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it”; because the madman does not take notice to the complementing features of humor, charity, experience etc…

I have just recently started to read this work, and I can already tell that it is going to be an excellent book. For those who are interested, you can actually download the book for free in pdf format here: G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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