February 06, 2006

Worldview Contradictions

The hallmark of truth (I would contend) in one's values and worldview should be consistency. Here are some examples of ideas I've encountered in recent months that are not a good fit.

Being for euthanasia but against the death penalty. Euthanasia is founded upon the idea that there are lives that are not worth living, or it would be cruel to allow or prolong the suffering of some persons. Those who are candidates for the death penalty are the most heinous of criminals destined for a very miserable life of incarceration, at minimum. Using the moral litmus test that some applied to Terry Schiavo — "Would you want to live like that?" — I'm not sure on what grounds they would then be opposed to the death penalty.

Believing that there is no fundamental difference between the sexes yet belittling the opposite sex. Feminism (of the extreme variety) holds to the idea that gender distinctions are meaningless and the differences between the sexes are merely a product of the culture. Consequently, there is nothing that men or women are more intrinsically suited for or oriented toward. On the other hand, feminists make a habit of belittling men and pointing out their historical crimes and barbaric attributes. It seems to me that devaluing someone, if nothing else, is identifying them as different from yourself.

Being pro-choice for women but against the life choices that many women make. Feminists preach that women should be free to make their own destinies and pursue any careers they desire. But watch the sneers when a woman says that her dream is to be a nurse rather than a surgeon, or a teacher rather than an administrator, or, horror of horrors, a homemaker rather than anything else.

Being a moral relativist and a champion of moral causes Moral relativists believe that there are no "right" answers to ethical questions. There is nothing that is "good" or "evil" for all people in all places and times. The ironic thing is that some of those people most passionately engaged in protest and advocacy happen to be moral relativists. Some of the most common causes they will be found championing are animal rights, anti-war, abortion rights, homosexual rights, and freedom of "speech"; and they can regularly be heard arguing for the moral high ground and calling their opposition "evil."

Being a naturalist yet complaining about the abusive treatment of nature by humans. Metaphysical naturalists believe that we are merely the product of nature. Evolution is our creation story and we are simply another member of the animal kingdom. So, it is meaningless to say that something is "unnatural" since all is nature by definition. When lions kill their prey or spiders eat their mates it is not "wrong," it is just another instance of nature in action. However, in the minds of environmentalists and animal rights activists, when humans use other animals for their own benefit or avail themselves of certain natural resources, they have somehow managed to transcend nature and enter the realm of metaphysical categories — they are "wrong," "exploiters," and "selfish" — rather than human animals simply doing what humans naturally do.

Being an advocate of political correctness yet opposing Christianity. PC advocates regard tolerance as the ultimate (perhaps the only real) virtue. They reason that opposition to, and disapproval of, other beliefs and lifestyles is "hate speech," which leads to discrimination and persecution. It is ironic, then, that the leaders of the PC movement are some of the most verbally abusive critics of Christianity and openly support the discrimination of Christian ideas and values from the political, academic, and scientific arena.

Being a moral relativist and claiming that biblical morality is nothing new. Moral relativists often make their case by claiming that morality differs from culture to culture. You would then think that they would argue that the 10 commandments or the Golden Rule are no better than the diverse moral views of the rest of the world. It is interesting enough to see a relativist favoring these things, but it is self-defeating to hear them claim that they are nothing new and can be found in many religions and cultures around the world.

Being sexually liberal but being an over-protective parent. We are now into our second generation of those raised in the wake of the free love movement. The only principled constraint placed upon sex, if any, is that one should "love" the other person, and even that word is increasingly conflated with sex itself. It is a pitiful thing, then, when two children of the sexual liberation find themselves as parents of an attractive teenage daughter. Once they have educated her on the health risks involved in sex and trained her in the proper use of a condom, what reason will they give for their suspicion and anxiety over her gentlemen callers?

Being a Taoist and being in favor of homosexuality. The eastern religion of Taoism teaches that nature is expressed in a duality of forms. The Yin and Yang represent opposite, though equal, properties of the impersonal force that is the Tao, such as light/dark, north/south, soft/hard, and water/fire. One seeking to be attuned to the Tao would be in the habit of keeping these things in their proper "balance." As it turns out, female is also an example of Yin, while male is an instance of Yang. It then seems reasonable to conclude that homosexuality would bring (in the words of Yoda) an imbalance to the force.

Being a moral relativist but complaining about the problem of evil. Moral relativists believe that there is no objective standard of good and evil, it is a matter of personal preference or what society has deemed as beneficial or unacceptable. So, when a moral relativist launches his critique of the benevolent God of Christianity by pointing out all the "evil" in the world, he has either left his worldview or has refuted it himself.

Being a religious pluralist but rejecting Christianity. Religious pluralists believe that all religions are either the same at heart or are merely equally valid paths to the same God. However, they are almost unanimous in their rejection of the deity of Christ, His bodily resurrection, and the atonement for sin. So, when a pluralist complains about the essential doctrines of Christianity he is either suggesting that his pluralism merely includes the list of religions that he prefers or he is revealing something of his own religious dogma within which he is attempting to pigeonhole all other religions.

Being a nihilist but belittling Christianity. Nihilists believe that there is no purpose or meaning to life, which seems to be a natural conclusion for atheism. In virtue of this lack of objective meaning we are then freed for (or burdened with) the task of making our own. Now, from the perspective of atheism, Christianity might be thought of as a historical community of persons seeking to find meaning and comfort in life. How arrogant, then, for the nihilist to suggest Christianity as an invalid place for one to find his meaning!

And how about this hypothetical one:

Being pro-choice but against selective abortion. The foundational tenet of the "pro-choice" position is that the fetus is not a qualifying "person," and even if she were, the rights of the mother trump the rights of the unborn child. Under this reasoning, they have justified the abortion of babies on any grounds. What would a pro-choice lesbian have to say to a woman who chooses to abort her perfectly healthy child because it is not a boy or because it was discovered to have the (hypothetical) gay gene?

Labels: ,

23 Comments:

At 2/07/2006 1:16 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Good post. I've noticed a lot of these over the years and kind of wish I had them all written down. I've always thought it would be nice to have a whole list of them. I just have a few comments:

Being for euthanasia but against the death penalty

Euthanasia is usually for the willing whereas the death penalty is usually for the unwilling.

Being a moral relativist but complaining about the problem of evil

A moral relativist could raise the problem of evil by arguing that the Christian worldview is incoherent. The Christian worldview asserts both the existence of God and the existence of evil, and the moral relativist could argue that these two assertions are inconsistent with each other without personally subscribing to either one.

Being pro-choice but against selective abortion

This one reminds me of another inconsistency I’ve noticed, but it has nothing to do with religion.

 
At 2/07/2006 11:22 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Yeah, I had several more, but I got tired of writing. Things like:
* Being a materialist (which would suggest determinism) but assuming we have freewill.
* Being a moral relativist in a democracy (which would suggest that cultural mores are a matter of majority consensus) and thinking you should have any clout as a minority group.
* Thinking that morality is a product of evolution (it's in our genes in a deterministic way), yet thinking that we can or ought to rise above a primitive "survival of the fittest" mentality.
* Defending homosexuality as "natural" by appealing to the natural world ("10 percent of animals are gay, you know") while also advocating gay adoption (gays having children is not "natural").
* Desiring to uniquely express yourself, be a "freethinker," or rebel against convention, and then dressing, acting, and thinking like all the other rebels and liberals.
* Believing that Christianity is a psychological crutch and then ridiculing believers (it's not nice to make fun of the "handicapped," is it?)

I could add lots more relating to moral relativism especially. Might be fun to do another post like this after collecting some more good ones.

About your comments:
"Euthanasia is usually for the willing whereas the death penalty is usually for the unwilling."

Yeah, that's a technical detail that they could appeal to, but I'd say these things to that:
1) I only said "euthanasia" and not "voluntary euthanasia" for this very reason. Most in favor of euthanasia are pro-abortion and might also be willing to terminate the life of a handicapped child post-birth. In neither case is it "voluntary," and I'm pretty sure that if you asked a group of handicapped people if they would want to die now, or wish they'd never been born, the majority would caste their vote for life.
2) There are many who are against the death penalty even for those who desire it. Of course, I cannot say what the percentage would be of those who are also pro-euthanasia.
3) As I understand it, in the Netherlands, euthanasia practices have gone beyond consent in many cases. And their underlying philosophy of "Futile Care Theory" is spreading among the ranks of medical providers.
4) This defeats the "life not worth living" philosophy. If consent is the differentiator, then any life is technically worth living. Conversely, no life may be "worth living" if the person does not want it. Thus we separate the issue of euthanasia from the condition of the person and place it upon the will of the person. Then the question of legalized assisted suicide for bankruptcy and depression victims is on the table. But I think I'm digressing from my original point.

"A moral relativist could raise the problem of evil by arguing that the Christian worldview is incoherent. The Christian worldview asserts both the existence of God and the existence of evil, and the moral relativist could argue that these two assertions are inconsistent with each other without personally subscribing to either one."

This is a good counter, which I would press if I were a non-theist. The problem is that they don't tend to come at it like this. They usually start by making a visceral objection to evil, not this hypothetical response. Also, I would ask them if it was a "bad" thing for Christianity to be "inconsistent" on this matter, and I'd probably also challenge them to give an objective grounding for the logic they are employing to judge Christianity irrational. I am tempted to answer the charge of "inconsistency" here, but that is for another post (which I intend to get to at some point).

 
At 2/07/2006 11:47 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Interesting post, Paul. It would appear that proponents of various positions have not communicated the basis for their claims; otherwise we would not have these multiple misunderstandings of what those views are. Just to touch on a few:

Death Penalty vs. Euthanasia What is the single biggest argument against the Death Penalty? The fact that a justice system made up of humans can (and has) made errors which can (and has) resulted in the death of innocent convicted persons. While nothing can re-pay the injustice of undeserved prison time, an executed person is impossible to revive.

Euthanasia (as aptly pointed out by ephphatha) is the voluntary self-cessation of life. The issue that commonly arises is whether the person would intentionally desire to end their life. I don’t see how the two positions are even related (other than involving death) let alone mutually exclusive.

Moral relativists vs. Problem of Evil This shows a remarkable lack of understanding on the Problem of Evil. You do understand, of course, that moral relativists and many, many theists do NOT have a Problem of Evil, as their belief systems accounts for its creation and existence? It is most certainly not “self-refuting” as we can explain it. The reason it is titled “problem” is because it is an enigma for an all-moral, benevolent concept of God.

When I first started seriously researching many of these arguments, I would read, “Christianity has a problem with……” The first place I would look is to Christian responses. If Christian theologians and philosophers have repeatedly considered something a problem (they have) and have proposed a variety of conflicting resolutions to the problem (they have) I considered that safe confirmation that the person was right that Christianity certainly has such a problem. If Christians treat it as a concern to be addressed, why can’t I?

I don’t have a “Problem of Evil,” as I do not rely upon a solely moral, benevolent, all-powerful creator. It is a conflict for those that do, not those that don’t.

Moral relativism vs. Biblical morality being nothing new I could not see how these two are remotely related. If “Do not steal” or “Love others” is demonstrated to be in cultural mores before incorporated or written in Biblical morals, all that means is that “Do not steal” or “Love others” pre-dates Biblical morals. It is indicative of where the Jewish and Christian society derived these concepts.

It is interesting enough to see a relativist favoring these things, but it is self-defeating to hear them claim that they are nothing new and can be found in many religions and cultures around the world. I’m stumped. Completely baffled. A moral relativist recognizes that numerous cultures from various times (including, but not exclusively in the Tanakh and New Testament) have used moral and ethical precepts such as “Do not steal” and “Love others” that better societies, individuals and others, and therefore cannot favor them? Why ever not?

Nihilist and belittling Christianity Not being a nihilist, I really can’t address this. I did see some concerns. Nihilism is not a natural conclusion of atheism. Arguably, one could state that a lack of ultimate purpose of life is a natural conclusion of atheism, but ulitmate purpose and “any purpose” are two vastly differing items. Besides, a lack of utlimate purpose of life could also be argued as a natural conclusion for deists, agnostics, and universalists. Further, even having an “ultimate purpose in life” is not necessarily beneficial. Most people would not be thrilled to find out that their “ultimate purpose in life” (according to some Christian philosophies) is to burn in a lack of fire and torture for trillions of years, just to make God, and a bunch of His worshippers happy. Not exaclty a great “ultimate purpose.”

How arrogant, then, for the nihilist to suggest Christianity as an invalid place for one to find his meaning! Err. Why? I thought nihilist say there is no meaning. They would claim Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, and a whole busload of other beliefs would also have no meaning, (perhaps including my own) because all beliefs holding the term “meaning” are invalid.

I guess I saw a great many borderline strawmen and confusion of positions in this post. If I hold to the premise that only authors named “Bob” can write inspired scripture, it is entirely consistent, within that hypothesis, to argue that anyone claiming “Bill” wrote inspired scriptures is incorrect. The inconsistency is if I claim others cannot have scriptures when authored by “Bob” as being inspired, but I can.

Further, it seemed to be a constent dichotomy. Either one holds to all of the precepts of the Bible, or one can’t hold to any of them. Either one allows death in all circumstances, or never. Either one holds absolute morals, or one cannot hold to any morals at all. Life is not such a dichotomy.

An example was the sexually liberal vs protective parent. If I teach my child, to the best of my ability how to play hockey, and place them in the proper saftey equipment, is it inconsistent to be anxious and worried when they play? Just because a parent recognizes that teenagers are likely to have sex, and attempts to minimize the harmful consequences does not equate to the “only” consistent position is to allow them to have sex whenever and wherever without concern.

You have some good ideas here, it just seems that the opposing positions are presented (at best) only in the most extremist position and (at worst) incompletely.

 
At 2/07/2006 7:37 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

I think you may have misunderstood Paul's point on the problem of evil and relativism. If a person raises the problem of evil by saying, "God cannot exist because evil does exist," then their argument against God depends on evil existing. But it's inconsistent to be a moral relativist while at the same time claiming that there's such a thing as real evil.

 
At 2/07/2006 9:06 PM, Blogger JELyon said...

How about being pro-life *and* pro death penalty. We've got those people in the Texas GOP.

 
At 2/07/2006 10:53 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dag,
I was afraid this post would be opening too many cans of worms at once, and the brevity of each point only compounded the problem for thoughtful persons like you. You are right that there is wiggle room on some of these, but I think you may also be missing the subtleties of some of my points.

Death penalty:
I'll concede your point as to the grounds on which one might object to the death penalty (though I wonder where using the possibility of innocence as a primary driver for crime and punishment might logically lead). My connection is in the fact that someone convicted of a crime that would warrant the death penalty would naturally be in for a world of suffering, and if death is a reasonable escape for suffering in other venues then it might be applicable here as well, especially so if the prisoner was game. As to the issue of "voluntary euthanasia," see my comments to ephphatha.

The problem of evil
I understand that "evil" is not a "problem" for the relativist. What I was implying was that in raising evil as some kind of objective thing to be accounted for, they are admitting that "evil" is more than a mere personal distaste. Otherwise, it would be like saying, "If God was good, then why'd he make lima beans? I hate lima beans!"

It is very true that this is an issue for Christianity, which affirms that good and evil are profoundly real characteristics of the world. It does so and deals with it for many reasons. One is because so many people raise this as an objection that we must necessarily give our responses. I have never dialoged with an atheist yet who has not raised this in some form or another, and the many ways in which the question is framed means that there must be many responses. Another reason is because it is spoken of in the Bible as a real problem, but gives an incomplete account of why the creation is to play out in this way, which leaves room for some speculation.

It seems to me that it cannot be a logical defeater for Christianity if the affirmation of it is built into Christianity itself. Christianity is the first to say, "you betcha there's evil, and it's a big deal too." The problem, as Plantinga demonstrated, is with the assumptions people have about what a good God is constrained to do in working out His good purposes.

Moral relativism vs. Biblical morality being nothing new
First, the issue of the alleged source of the biblical injunctions is an aside. The point is that relativists do not affirm objective and universal moral precepts, and they often go to great lengths to point out the profound differences in cultural behaviors (and thus morality) in order to make their case. Here is an example of just such an attempt. The claim, then, that biblical morality is not novel and is merely a reflection of common moral principles seems to nullify this point.

You may propose certain pragmatic rationales as to why the various cultures would hold to common ethical principles, but that, even if explained via a non-theistic grounding, would be denying the spirit of the cultural observation.

Nihilist and belittling Christianity
"Nihilism is not a natural conclusion of atheism." Perhaps not nihilism in the existential sense (think depression and despair), but it would seem so in the logical sense. I will grant that atheists can construct their own purpose and can lead lives that they find (or at least perceive as) fulfilling. The question is whether or not their "purpose" lines up with a cosmic game, so to speak. You may question the truth or "goodness" of the theist's meaning, but atheism doesn't even have a horse in this race.

I said: "How arrogant, then, for the nihilist to suggest Christianity as an invalid place for one to find his meaning!"
You said: "Err. Why? I thought nihilist say there is no meaning. They would claim Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, and a whole busload of other beliefs would also have no meaning, (perhaps including my own) because all beliefs holding the term 'meaning' are invalid."

That's right, there would be no objective meaning to any of these by their reckoning. But what I said was that by their definition we are freed to make our own meaning. This should mean that it is appropriate to pursue any path to personal "meaning" that we see fit, since they are all equally meaningless, even if more or less subjectively fulfilling. It seems to me that their reply to this might be that they don't like Christianity, which is hubris, or that Christianity is all well and good so long as you don't think it is actually "true." But that also is hubris and would additionally propose to burst the very bubble that makes Christianity (hypothetically) the existentially fulfilling system that it is.

If there is no real meaning, then it is meaningless to insist that one's system of meaning must be erected on some meaningful grounds. You can't say that it is more "noble" or "honest" to just accept the fact that there is no meaning and build your values and worldview upon that foundation.

sexually liberal vs protective parent.
"If I teach my child, to the best of my ability how to play hockey, and place them in the proper saftey equipment, is it inconsistent to be anxious and worried when they play? Just because a parent recognizes that teenagers are likely to have sex, and attempts to minimize the harmful consequences does not equate to the “only” consistent position is to allow them to have sex whenever and wherever without concern."

I understand what you're saying, and I would throw in the analogy of being anxious whenever my daughter has to drive her car, which I've prepared her for and which I do not believe is intrinsically bad to drive at will. However, I do not begrudge her the job, school, or friends that give her cause to use the car.

It is a common observation I have made that with even the most promiscuous parents and on the most pagan TV shows you will find a certain animosity and suspicion toward the boy-at-the-door. It is not just a mundane concern for the health of the girl; it is a visceral distaste for what "that boy wants to do to my daughter." Now, I've known some parents who are indeed consistent with their liberal views — giving out condoms and hosting sexual liaisons — but these are not my target audience.

 
At 2/07/2006 11:07 PM, Blogger Paul said...

How about being pro-life *and* pro death penalty. We've got those people in the Texas GOP.

That's a common one thrown at Christians (usually), but doesn't play. That's because it's founded on the concept of life in relation to guilt and innocence, not being against the taking of life in a blanket sense. The unborn are innocent, whereas the criminal has forfeited his life by virtue of his crime. The pro-choice and anti-capitol punishment types could be said to be in favor of taking the innocent life but preserving the guilty, although Dagoods might argue that some want to preserve the life of a possibly innocent convict. But that is only the difference between death for innocence and life for guilty vs. death for innocence and life for possible innocence.

I suppose the confusion is in the fact that the term "pro-life" is only slightly more specific than the term "pro-choice."

 
At 2/08/2006 11:27 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...

God cannot exist because evil does exist ephphatha, I would agree that if that was the Problem of Evil, it is easily and completely defeated and should be immediately discarded, never to be heard from again.

But that is not the Problem of Evil, is it? The argument is designed to show the logical contradiction in the concept of God proffered by a specific theist. It most certainly is NOT designed to eliminate all gods, or every god! To point out inconsistencies in other worldviews does not render one’s own worldview inconsistent. The Problem of Evil is designed for a theist that says two very specific statements:

“1. That immorality and suffering exist in creation; and
“2. That the creator is solely moral.

How is it inconsistent, regardless of whether I am a deist, an agnostic, a metaphysical naturalist, nihilist, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. for me to question the apparent contradiction in that statement? You seem to be indicating that it is inconsistent for a person who holds there is no such thing as real immorality to question someone with the Problem of Evil due to the first premise. Why? You hold to an objective morality, is it therefore equally inconsistent for you to question someone that does not?

I’ll do you one better. The evidence is compelling to me that there is no creator. Since you believe in a creator, is it inconsistent to question the basis of my conclusion?

Someday we will wrestle with the various nuances of the Problem of Evil. But to stay on-point (for once for me!) I don’t see how my questioning what others hold to be true, even if I do not, makes my worldview inconsistent.

 
At 2/08/2006 11:30 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Paul, thank you for the thoughtful and considerate response. Yes, you DID open a number of cans of worms (“plowed up more snakes than he could handle” if you are from the southern states) but still and all, it seems to be manageable.

though I wonder where using the possibility of innocence as a primary driver for crime and punishment might logically lead

:) We hoped the American Judicial System. May not have gotten it completely right, and there are some significant kinks, but we do the best we can with what we have.

Problem of Evil Seem to keep slipping back to this, eh? As you say, it does come up in discussion with Christians. Affirming it as existing does NOT disqualify it from being a logical defeater. Simply acknowledging the problem, without providing a proof of the defense of it, is more troubling than not being aware of the problem in the first place. (And Christianity was not even close to being the first in the running for recognizing evil as a problem. Shoot, Judaism beat it by a country mile. Always will. That’s the problem of snarfing another religion’s holy writings. They always beat you to the punch.) It was not a defeater to me, personally, but other ex-Christians do claim it was a sore spot. It remains an interesting discussion.

Why is only an objective moralist entitled to recognize the concept of evil? Think what “evil” actually is—a four letter English word, developed over time, by humans, to encompass certain concepts. Just as saying “lima bean” has significant and distinct meaning (I didn’t think of a banana when you said it) so does “evil.”

Again, this insistent dichotomy. That we have to either recognize an objective standard of evil (even though that standard is unknown) or we are barred from ever using the word, ever having the concept, or ever discussing the idea of evil. All or nothing. Is there no middle ground? No continuum?

Let me turn the tables on you. I assume you believe that God is sovereign. What if I said, “a-HA. You believe God controls events. That means God is in complete control of every action, every word, every step, every atom, every particle, every thought, every idea. God either controls absolutely positively everything or nothing at all.” Do you see the dichotomy I presented? All or nothing. I am sure you would not agree with this. Why impose the same methodology on others?

I can recognize that the enslaving of one human to perform the work of another is evil. The Bible condones slavery—can you? I recognize that the elimination of other humans based on their race is evil. The Bible condones such action—is it evil? I recognize that a person, not their family, not their son, not their citizenry, is held responsible for their own actions. To punish others for a person’s sin is evil. The Bible over and over and over reiterates this is not evil, but perfectly correct.

It seems you are saying I cannot even use the word “evil” since I cannot say genocide is evil without resorting to an objective (albeit unknown) standard of evil, and am therefore inconsistent to ever, EVER ask someone else about their worldview regarding the necessity of evil. Why? Why can’t I recognize, using the English language, my observation, and applying it to an English word and say, “Yep. That fits nicely.”?

Nihilism vs belittling Christianity You may question the truth or "goodness" of the theist's meaning, but atheism doesn't even have a horse in this race.

True. But this isn’t a game. We don’t determine “cosmic purpose” by picking the horse with the snazziest colors and sticking with it, regardless of where it places. Even you hold to that, I would suspect. Muslims have Christians beat, because they will allow those with faith (even some Christians and Jews) into heaven. I assume you want more people in heaven than not, so the Muslim horse is beating yours. The pluralists allow many roads to Heaven, including all Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Christians. Their horse is beating both of you. The universalist allows everybody (even the atheists!) into heaven. Their horse is beating ALL of you.

I would suspect you would say, “Wait. Hold on. We don’t pick ‘ultimate purpose’ by simply choosing the best of all after-life worlds. We pick it on what is reality.” Exactly. A naturalist is questioning whether there even is a race. Christianity may have a horse, even a good horse, in the race. But if the race is non-existent, it means nothing.

Hey, I would like an afterlife too, you know. It would be great to live longer than 70 years or so, live in a world of joy and bliss, socializing and entertaining for eternity. I would also like to live in a world of peace, no cancer, and no crime. But I shake my head from a momentary dream, and face the world as it exists—not as I want it.

The fact that we desire an afterlife should place us on heightened notice to apply greater scrutiny to prevent us from tainting the results. If we want something, we tend to only look at that data that supports our position, and overlook or avoid the data that does not. There ONLY evidence for an after-life is extremely questionable testimonial evidence from NDErs. That’s it.

But that also is hubris and would additionally propose to burst the very bubble that makes Christianity (hypothetically) the existentially fulfilling system that it is.

I didn’t quote all of what you said prior to this, but only to save space. I agree that you make a point it is inconsistent to say there is no ultimate purpose in life, and then criticize those that find an ultimate purpose in Christianity (or any other theism), since the purpose is inherently wrong, but what does it matter?

On a personal note, I struggle with this. There are moments I would dearly love to leave Christianity alone, and merely walk on my way, allowing Christians to believe as they desire. The problem that is constantly pervading is the “us vs. them” mentality. In order for the Christian to have meaning, it requires a “them.” (I except universalists.) In order for Heaven to have meaning, it requires a hell. Now, if they would focus on heaven-goers, this might be acceptable, but no—the focus often shifts to hell-goers, and how wonderful the Christian will someday get their comeuppance, and the Christian will get their just due.

You say in every conversation with atheists, the Problem of evil comes up? In most conversations with Christians (this being a pleasant exception) the “Someday you will know (when your bits are frying off)” always seems to come up.

Why does the “meaning” of Christianity have to be so mean? I know why—but still. Must I fry for you to have meaning?

Sexually liberal vs. Protective parent Ah. But you have now changed the situation. In the original post you said: Once they have educated her on the health risks involved in sex and trained her in the proper use of a condom, what reason will they give for their suspicion and anxiety over her gentlemen callers? But now you state: It is a common observation I have made that with even the most promiscuous parents and on the most pagan TV shows you will find a certain animosity and suspicion toward the boy-at-the-door.
We went from sexual education to sitcoms! If you are saying that Hollywood writers compose inconsistent scripts by writing parents to be permissive, and then incorporating anxiety into the script, I would agree. I just didn’t know “scripts” were worldviews!

 
At 2/08/2006 2:38 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

The argument is designed to show the logical contradiction in the concept of God proffered by a specific theist. It most certainly is NOT designed to eliminate all gods, or every god!

I appreciate that clarification, Dagoods, but I thought it was understood already that we were talking about a specific God.

“1. That immorality and suffering exist in creation; and
“2. That the creator is solely moral.

How is it inconsistent, regardless of whether I am a deist, an agnostic, a metaphysical naturalist, nihilist, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. for me to question the apparent contradiction in that statement?


It's inconsistent for anybody who does not believe in morality to say, "Immorality exists" and to use that as a premise in any argument they think is sound.

You hold to an objective morality, is it therefore equally inconsistent for you to question someone that does not?

That depends on what I'm questioning them about. If I make an argument with premises that I myself don't think are true, then yes, that would be inconsistent of me. The only exception is an ad-absurdum argument where I'm taking somebody else's premises to their logical conclusion with the intention of arriving at a conclusion we can both agree is absurd.

The evidence is compelling to me that there is no creator. Since you believe in a creator, is it inconsistent to question the basis of my conclusion?

If I think your premises are true and I say they are false, then I'm inconsistent. Or if I think they are false and I say they are true, then I'm also inconsistent. This is exactly the point Paul has made, and I don't know why you're having such a hard time seeing it. It's very simple. If a person does not believe there's any such thing as right and wrong, good or evil, but then he says, "Immorality exists," or "Evil exists," then he's being inconsistent. He thinks one thing but says another.

Now as I said before, there is a different approach that is not inconsistent for a moral non-realist. Rather than asserting that evil definitely exists and that it makes the existence of God logically impossible, he could simply say that the Christian worldview, consisting of the belief in both evil and God, contains a contradiction, and both claims can't be true. Either there is a God and no evil, or there is evil and no God, but not both.

 
At 2/09/2006 7:00 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Rather than asserting that evil definitely exists and that it makes the existence of God logically impossible, he could simply say that the Christian worldview, consisting of the belief in both evil and God, contains a contradiction, and both claims can't be true.

Maybe we are on the same page; I thought this was (somewhat) what I was saying.

ephphatha, I truly, truly wish there was such a thing as a “specific” God. Even in Christendom, you fellas can’t get together and agree on the specifics of your individual God. Perhaps that is why I am more careful with my definitions.

It's very simple. If a person does not believe there's any such thing as right and wrong, good or evil, but then he says, "Immorality exists," or "Evil exists," then he's being inconsistent.

I most certainly agree. Do you know of such people that argue there is no such thing as immorality or morality? Certainly is not my position, nor the position of any person I have met, with either a subjective or objective moral base.

Perhaps this will clarify, though, even if the discussion WAS with a person that held there was no immorality. What is the difference between these two statements?

1. There is immorality.
2. The theist says “there is immorality.”

See the difference? In the first, the person that believed in no immorality is being inconsistent. In the second, they are merely stating a fact. A fact they do not even disagree with! You quoted me, but left off that all-important sentence that starts off with, “The Problem of Evil is designed for a theist that says …”

Another example. A person may claim the earth is only 10,000 years old, and hold to the theory of evolution. As evolution requires more time, even though I do not believe the earth is only 10,000 years old, can’t I question them as to this apparent contradiction? The difference would be between:

1. The earth is 10,000 years old…
2. You claim the earth is 10,000 years old…

The first would be inconsistent of me, as I do not hold to that age of the earth. The second is not, and is intended to probe further the complication.

I guess I see no problem with someone that doesn’t agree with the premises I hold, questioning me as to contradictions in hypothesis I propose. I don’t see how that makes their worldview inconsistent. Could be just me.

 
At 2/09/2006 10:18 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

It looks like we agree for the most part.

Do you know of such people that argue there is no such thing as immorality or morality? Certainly is not my position, nor the position of any person I have met, with either a subjective or objective moral base.

Anybody who thinks that morality is strictly subjective doesn't believe in any right or wrong in the objective sense. I refer to all such people as moral non-realists because they don't believe morality exists anywhere but in our heads.

 
At 2/10/2006 11:56 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dag,

Since this is my blog I feel compelled to press a little harder than Sam did. There are millions of moral relativists out there, and it continues to be taught in our schools. I think your definition may simply be different from ours in that you seem to consider someone a non-relativist so long as they use the language of "good" and "bad," which everybody does by habit and intuition. It is the static or dynamic nature of those pronouncements and the source of their grounding which makes the difference.

Affirming [evil] as existing does NOT disqualify it from being a logical defeater.

I am saying that the Bible affirms it as part of its theological system, practically the centerpiece. Its existence would seem to be more directly a defeater for something like Christian Science, which insists that it is merely an illusion. With Christianity you are required to make various arguable assumptions about the purposes of God and the point of existence and the nature and role of evil in order to make your case.

Simply acknowledging the problem, without providing a proof of the defense of it, is more troubling than not being aware of the problem in the first place.

As I understand it, the logical problem of evil has been surrendered by most atheistic philosophers. Are you suggesting this issue needs to be revisited or are you arguing one of the more esoteric variants, e.g., the probabilistic argument?

And Christianity was not even close to being the first in the running for recognizing evil as a problem. Shoot, Judaism beat it by a country mile.

This one is beneath you. You know that Christianity is founded upon the claim that Jesus is the consummation of the Jewish religion. This means that it is the benefactor of all the truths and history contained therein. You may well dispute that point, but if you expect us to argue for consistency within our own system then you must permit us our entire system, even if only for the sake of the argument.

Why is only an objective moralist entitled to recognize the concept of evil? Think what “evil” actually is—a four letter English word, developed over time, by humans, to encompass certain concepts. Just as saying “lima bean” has significant and distinct meaning (I didn’t think of a banana when you said it) so does “evil.”

How dispassionately you describe it, like identifying a species of insects. So, what do you think about these things that qualify as part of this "concept" of evil? Do you think they are really "worse" than their opposite or just "different"? Do you think you could arbitrarily have placed things into this group, or do you think there are things that really and always belong there? What about people who disagree with your categorizations? Nietzsche found many of the virtues you might put in there to be weak and contemptible. Did he have his classifications wrong? Did he fail to align his conception with some actual, dare I say, objective category?

What moral realists say is that there is something already in place which our ethical systems are merely trying to identify and mirror. Moral relativism implies the idea that "good" and "evil" are just categories (words, as you say) that you are free to assign any meaning or instances to that you like. And those things which qualify as evil one day may be disqualified on another day (or in another place, or for another person). So, for the relativist, "lima bean" means those things we find yucky. Today it might be those kidney shaped green things, but tomorrow it may be that stuff that Popeye eats.

The fact that you intuitively recognize certain examples of evil is either supportive of my own position or is merely a case of you mistaking your own tastes for something more comprehensive; but in any case, it does not strengthen your philosophical position.

Again, this insistent dichotomy. That we have to either recognize an objective standard of evil (even though that standard is unknown) or we are barred from ever using the word, ever having the concept, or ever discussing the idea of evil. All or nothing. Is there no middle ground? No continuum?

First of all, relativists are themselves rejecting the term "evil," since it is loaded with objectivist connotations. However, they find that they cannot operate without some language of good and bad to navigate in the world. I don't begrudge them that; they have to live in the real world too. What I do take issue with is when a relativist champions some cause as "good" and their opponents as "bad," and they believe that they are referring to more than just their personal interests. Who says what they find "good" is what's really right for me too?

The dichotomy here is whether or not all morality is relative. Either it's all relative, or it's not. Either there are no mice in the house, or there are some. If there is even one objectively true virtue, like "tolerance," then relativism is defeated. Doesn't mean that all things in the world fall into moral categories (like, whether lima beans or Brussels sprouts are "better"), and there may be a hierarchy of evil (like, murder is worse than lying), but it would open up a whole new world of metaphysical possibilities if even one thing is grounded in a fixed way.

[The Bible condones slavery, racial genocide, and punishing people for other's sins] can you?

Hmm... I don't recall seeing those blanket, indiscriminate prescriptions to enslave people and punish children for something a parent did. Without getting into an exegetical battle with you, I'd have to say that the objective moral principle is to be obedient to God, even if He happened to have some temporal purpose for doing something that seemed to my own myopic eyes to be distasteful.

It seems you are saying I cannot even use the word “evil” since I cannot say genocide is evil without resorting to an objective (albeit unknown) standard of evil, and am therefore inconsistent to ever, EVER ask someone else about their worldview regarding the necessity of evil. Why? Why can’t I recognize, using the English language, my observation, and applying it to an English word and say, “Yep. That fits nicely.”?

I'll happily let you borrow capital from my worldview. Indeed, I wish everyone would, though it is getting rarer with each passing decade. Problem is, not everyone agrees with your standards of "evil." A group of Germans wanted to apply the evolutionary standard to produce the "master race," which they found to be "good." And many despots have been driven by their own personal lusts to make "good" of the world for their own purposes. Are folks (and countries) like these "evil?" Are they just "sick" or "mistaken?" When they say "Screw your idea of morality," to what entity will you point your finger in order to show them the objective standard that they have violated, other than your own person or culture?

"Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says 'Love they neighbor as thyself,' they think they are referring above and beyond themselves . . . . such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory" — Michael Ruse (atheist)

"We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons should not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn't decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality." — Kai Nielsen (atheist)

Many atheistic philosophers understand the problem quite well. In an infamous passage, Richard Rorty says that “when the secret police come, when the torturers violate the innocent, there is nothing to be said to them of the form ‘there is something within you which you are betraying . . . something beyond those practices which condemns you.’ ” This is because there “is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves.” Interestingly though, in spite of the fact that he denies objective moral and spiritual truth he chooses to embrace the “Jewish and Christian element in our tradition,” and calls himself a “freeloading atheist.” Like most atheists and postmoderns Rorty prefers to live off of borrowed moral capital, and fight for his pet causes using moral language, rather than fully surrender to the moral relativism that his philosophy demands. I can at least respect him for admitting as much.

A naturalist is questioning whether there even is a race [a grounding for meaning]. Christianity may have a horse, even a good horse, in the race. But if the race is non-existent, it means nothing.

You have affirmed my point. Theism's system is invested with meaning and atheism's is not — there is no "race" at all. The only thing left to dispute here is whether or not theists are right.

The fact that we desire an afterlife should place us on heightened notice to apply greater scrutiny to prevent us from tainting the results. If we want something, we tend to only look at that data that supports our position, and overlook or avoid the data that does not.

Ah yes, the argument from "need": I only believe all this malarkey because I want an afterlife, or fear death, or need a crutch, etc. Contrary to this theory, my pre-Christian beliefs filled that "need" very nicely, and in them I got to indulge my epicurean appetites and I got to be "god" to boot. Let's not psychologize here or I will be happy to throw out a dozen good reasons why someone would find an existential need to deny a meddlesome God.

There ONLY evidence for an after-life is extremely questionable testimonial evidence from NDErs. That’s it.

Or the word of a guy whose been there and back, and just happens to be God. Again, it all comes down to whether or not this is true. Even so, there are some very compelling modern arguments for substance dualism (see J.P. Moreland's, "Body and Soul"), which is suggestive of an afterlife — certainly a defeater for materialism anyway.

On a personal note, I struggle with this. There are moments I would dearly love to leave Christianity alone, and merely walk on my way, allowing Christians to believe as they desire.

I've often wondered why many atheists spend such an obscene amount of time battling against Christianity. I would imagine that there are far more enjoyable ways to be spending one's life given the precious little time that is available to the atheist. I suppose a legitimate response would be to say that Christians are in the business of putting up roadblocks to the freedoms atheists seek to enjoy their lives. But I'd say, "why bother?" Liberal Christians are busy doing that work for you. Let folks like Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong have at us to defang orthodox theology. It is much more effective for the work to be done from within the Church.

The problem that is constantly pervading is the “us vs. them” mentality. In order for the Christian to have meaning, it requires a “them.” (I except universalists.) In order for Heaven to have meaning, it requires a hell. Now, if they would focus on heaven-goers, this might be acceptable, but no—the focus often shifts to hell-goers, and how wonderful the Christian will someday get their comeuppance, and the Christian will get their just due.

It seems odd that our personal belief in hell should get people so bent out of shape. Other religions and beliefs don't bother most people nearly so much. Certainly Christians aren't insulted by them. If someone says, "Gaia will be angry if you don't save the rainforests," or "You'll attract bad chi if you don't use Feng Shui," or "Follow Muhammad or Allah will condemn you and you won't get your virgins," I can just laugh that off; I don't get any sort of an existential shudder or feel condemned by these fictions. If Christianity is false, who cares what we say about hell? Now, if we said, "believe or we will throw you into a lake of fire," then I could understand the concern.

It seems to me that atheists also harbor an us/them mentality: us smart freethinkers and them deluded weak-minded sheep. And obviously, for them to have "meaning" in their atheism they must insist on a divisive judgment against the "them," i.e., that the theists are all wrong. You may be able to tolerantly coexist with the universalists, but they are still not one of the "brights."

In most conversations with Christians (this being a pleasant exception) the “Someday you will know (when your bits are frying off)” always seems to come up. Why does the “meaning” of Christianity have to be so mean? . . . Must I fry for you to have meaning?

It feels like a personal condemnation from the Christian, doesn't it? It's as though the Christian where saying that they hope you go to hell. Let me use the analogy of teaching a child about traffic. You can tell them that they must look both ways or else they will get hit, and you should. But if they argue with you about it, and you tell them they'll be sorry when they're splattered, you're not implying that you hope they get hit. I think you understand that it is just a part of the Christian system. They wouldn't be trying so hard to save people if they didn't think there was anything from which to be saved.

It's an unsavory doctrine, but one I'm stuck with if I am to take Jesus seriously. It seems to do some philosophical work, and if the universalists were right then I'd be able to say, "Screw all the chanting and tithing, I'll just have fun now and deal with the next life as it comes. No worries mate."

Ah. But you have now changed the situation. In the original post you said: "Once they have educated her on the health risks involved in sex and trained her in the proper use of a condom, what reason will they give for their suspicion and anxiety over her gentlemen callers?" But now you state: "It is a common observation I have made that with even the most promiscuous parents and on the most pagan TV shows you will find a certain animosity and suspicion toward the boy-at-the-door."
We went from sexual education to sitcoms! If you are saying that Hollywood writers compose inconsistent scripts by writing parents to be permissive, and then incorporating anxiety into the script, I would agree. I just didn’t know “scripts” were worldviews!


No, I don't think I've shifted gears. My point all along was on the anxiety over the daughter. I just threw in the protection stuff to cover that base as a pragmatic cause for their concern. As I said in the last comment: "It is not just a mundane concern for the health of the girl; it is a visceral distaste for what 'that boy wants to do to my daughter'." I then pointed out that I have observed this anxiety in promiscuous parent AND on the most pagan TV shows. Just trying to add in a cultural anecdote, but I will admit it is not a proof. Otherwise I'd have to admit that religious people are all fruitcakes and privately wicked, since that is their common portrayal in TV and the movies. However, it is the case that writers and directors of entertainment invest their work with something of themselves (i.e., their own beliefs and agendas). For this reason, it seems legitimate to use entertainment sources as a barometer of the culture, and you will see various themes (intentional or unconscious) reflected within it.

Well, now I've gone and over-inflated this dialog. Hopefully you'll either feel free to step out without fear of losing face or you'll be better than I am at distilling things down to the core differences.

-Paul

 
At 2/11/2006 9:10 PM, Blogger Vman said...

I don't think girls have "callers" these days and I'm pretty sure most of them can't be labeled gentlemen.

 
At 2/11/2006 9:19 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Yeah, that was a little old fashion of me, but I couldn't quite come up with a modern equivalent (not that I am from that era).

 
At 2/12/2006 9:46 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Thank you, Paul. I appreciate the time and effort placed in your response.

I am uncertain as to how I could “lose face” in this discussion. I am enjoying the banter. It allows me to re-think, re-assess, and solidify my own thinking. Oh, I will confess I hope that others would also take this opportunity to re-assess their own thinking, and honestly confront the possible complications of their worldview, but I can’t make people do that. All I can do is raise questions, and hope they think on the issues raised.

My biggest problem is my dogged tenacity, in that I always seem to respond one too many times, and I smack myself in the head, thinking, “Doh. I should have stopped one post ago. We are just talking past each other.” Not there yet. Perhaps this is the one.

Where to start? Where to start? How about the middle. Safe enough.

Christianity was the first to say “you betcha there was evil.” The history here:

Paul: Christianity is the first to say, "you betcha there's evil, and it's a big deal too."
Me: Judaism beat it by a country mile.
Paul: You know that Christianity is founded upon the claim that Jesus is the consummation of the Jewish religion. This means that it is the benefactor of all the truths and history contained therein. You may well dispute that point, but if you expect us to argue for consistency within our own system then you must permit us our entire system, even if only for the sake of the argument.

Fair enough. All I ask for is consistency in this methodology. If Christianity gets to claim “first in time” by its use of the Tanakh as a basis for its beliefs, then every other religion that uses the Tanakh as a basis for its belief, can equally say it was “first in time.” You, too, must permit other systems their “entire system,” in order to be consistent.

If Judaism uses the Tanakh as a basis for its belief, it, too, was the first to say there was evil. If Islam uses the Tanakh as a basis for its belief, it, too, was the first to say there was evil. If Mormonism uses the Tanakh as a basis for its belief, it, too, was the first to say there was evil. If Christian Science uses the Tanakh as a basis for its belief, it, too, was the first to say there was evil. If Christianity uses the Tanakh as a basis for its belief, it, too, was the first to say there was evil.

To be honest, I deliberately used Judaism, as this is a common problem for Christianity. How can it say that other religions cannot add to their scripture, when they, themselves added to another religion? Ever debate with a Jew? One gets a whole different appreciation for the Tanakh, almost as if it was a completely different book than what Christianity says. Opened my eyes, I can tell you.

I knew at the time I could have used Hinduism, which pre-dates even Judaism, or the Egyptian religious system, which also pre-dates Judaism, or even Hammurabi’s civil code, which had nothing to do with religion, but in a civil sense recognized the existence of evil, and the necessity to address it.

Christianity first? No, and if you want to claim the Tanakh gives it justification for being first, than at best it is tied with numerous other religions.

Logical Problem of Evil You say: As I understand it, the logical problem of evil has been surrendered by most atheistic philosophers.

It has? I wonder why, when even the Christian philosophers argue and debate over whether God has the capability to do an immoral act and how that capability got into humans, and the responsibility of humans with it, and these Christian philosophers provide conflicting, mutually exclusive proofs. If you guys can’t seem to agree, why would they?

In fact, you have said previously:
Another reason is because it is spoken of in the Bible as a real problem, but gives an incomplete account of why the creation is to play out in this way, which leaves room for some speculation.

….

With Christianity you are required to make various arguable assumptions about the purposes of God and the point of existence and the nature and role of evil in order to make your case.
Are you saying that Christians are unable to provide a response to their own problem of evil, but atheists can?

Unless, of course, atheists see that there ARE legitimate responses to the Logical Problem of Evil (not the Evidentiary Problem of Evil, or Problem of Suffering as it is sometimes called) but is the theist willing to rely upon those proofs? Or will they later attempt to present a claim that is inconsistent with the proof?

For example, one of the responses to LPoE, is that immorality serves a greater moral purpose. While that is an acceptable logical response, it comes at a price—that all acts, moral, immoral or otherwise are ultimately moral. It eliminates immorality.

Moral relativism (I couldn’t think of a better heading.) I explained that “evil” is a defined word, to which you responded: How dispassionately you describe it, like identifying a species of insects. Yes, I did. Because previously, you stated, about the problem of evil, This is a good counter, which I would press if I were a non-theist. The problem is that they don't tend to come at it like this. They usually start by making a visceral objection to evil, not this hypothetical response. How ironic in comments on a blog entry about consistency, we are accused of being visceral about evil and dispassionate about evil. I was trying to state away from the more emotional arguments about evil, at your request. Is that not what you want?

Paul: The dichotomy here is whether or not all morality is relative. Either it's all relative, or it's not. Either there are no mice in the house, or there are some. If there is even one objectively true virtue, like "tolerance," then relativism is defeated. O.K. I can agree with this. The problem comes in verification of the absolute standard. (In investigating this, I have come to realize that all standards have elements of subjectivity and objectivity, the question lies more in the absolute vs. relative, I think.)

Even if there is some absolute standard out there, whether written on a black star at the center of the universe, and therefore unattainable, or unprovided by a god, we are left in the same pragmatic position—attempting to determine morals as best we can with what we have. It is like a theoretical absolute moralist, but a pragmatic relative moralist.

Using the mice example, as a moral relativist, I would say, “Based upon what we know, there are no mice in the house. Later, we may learn new information that would cause us to re-evaluate this position.” It would appear that a moral realist would say is, “There are no mice in the house. We do not have the ability to verify that, but we will absolutely hold to that position, regardless of evidence, reason or observation.” (I get this from taking the position everything God does is moral, regardless of how immoral it appears.)

You make a fascinating statement: What moral realists say is that there is something already in place which our ethical systems are merely trying to identify and mirror. How? What is the methodology in place by which a moral realist is “identifying” the absolutes? More importantly, how is that methodology any different than what a relativist uses?

In fact, you avoid saying that God committed an immoral act, and designated it (at least for you) as “distasteful.” What is the difference between a distasteful moral act and a tasteful moral act? Shouldn’t all moral acts be tasteful to a moral realist?

If what you say is true, that we are trying to identify and mirror the absolute morality set in place by God, and if everything God does is moral, shouldn’t we be identifying what God does, determine it moral, and emulate that?

You say the objective moral principle is to “obey God.” That does not further our identification process for two reasons:

1) It is impossible for God to disobey God, so saying “obey God” does not provide any further useful information; and
2) God does not speak directly to us. What you have is “obey what a human says God says.”

In your “identify and mirror” process, you see that other religious systems use the claim that God says to do or not do something is immoral. You believe that it is not God Himself speaking, but point out that it is humans making the claim that God is speaking. By what methodology do we use to determine that the humans YOU use to say God said something were correct, and the humans THEY use to say God said something were incorrect?

Ever read 1 Kings 13? There was a guy that I always felt sorry for. He, too, was trying to figure out what God was saying, and got killed for it.

A man of God is instructed to tell King Jeroboam bad news. God tells the man to not eat or drink on this journey. When the King hears it, he attempts to harm the man of God, and God shrivels the king’s arm. The man of God intercedes with God; God changes His mind, and heals Jeroboam.

On the way home, a prophet asks the Man of God to come eat with him. The man of God explains God said not to, and the prophet explains that God changed His mind, and told the man of god to come with the prophet. This man of God had just seen God do that very thing, so why would this be a surprise?

Now, using the criteria of “obey God” what was the man of God to do? He has conflicting instructions! Turns out, of course, the prophet was lying. Does God punish the prophet? Nope, God confirms the prophet is genuine by using the lying prophet to prophesy the man of God will die for not obeying God!

You want consistency? You are left in the unenviable position of stating that genocide is moral.

1. Everything God does is moral.
2. God ordered genocide.
3. Therefore genocide is moral.

Paul: I think your definition may simply be different from ours in that you seem to consider someone a non-relativist so long as they use the language of "good" and "bad," which everybody does by habit and intuition. It is the static or dynamic nature of those pronouncements and the source of their grounding which makes the difference. Right. What methodology do you use to provide support that “grounding” in humans that claim God ordered them to kill all the men, woman, and baby boys, but keep the virgin females, gold and silver for themselves is the better system? Something you find distasteful, but must support as absolutely moral.

Oh, I liked the quotes from other atheists. To be consistent, can I quote other Christians (Old Fred Phelps comes to mind) and hold you to their position? I tried to look up Ruse and Nielsen. The articles from which they were derived do not appear to be on-line. Do you have a source in which they are?

In fact, the only place I found them was on Christian sites, specifically William Craig. And, interestingly enough, although I did not hit every site, the few I hit had the exact same quotes. Right down to the “…” in them. I am sorry, Paul, but my study of evolution/creationism has made me EXTREMELY leery of quotes by Christians which include “…” and that I cannot read the context with the quote. This may be exactly what they intended, I don’t know. I like to do my research, first.

Look back on your own posts. If I started cutting a sentence or two here or there, and gratuitously take out a few words, inserting “…” I could easily make you say something quite different, even totally opposite, from what you are really saying. I do not find that fair. I like to confirm.

Few last points.

Nihilism and Christianity You state: You have affirmed my point. Theism's system is invested with meaning and atheism's is not — there is no "race" at all. The only thing left to dispute here is whether or not theists are right.

But I thought by virtue of disputing it at all, I am being inconsistent? Initially, you indicated my belief system is “arrogant” for questioning the reality of Christianity’s “meaning.” Now you are saying we need to make the determination whether the Christian is correct about their meaning. That was what I was trying to say in the first place.

You claim that Jesus is the only way. I could state that is “arrogant.” But your reply (rightly) would be it is not arrogance, simply reality. Truth is arrogant. I am asking for the same consistency here. Before one starts arguing which “meaning” or “ultimate purpose” is correct, one needs to determine there is one at all. I haven’t read J.P. Moreland. I have read some dualism. What I see are people that already believe it, try to mystically prove it. People that empirically attempt to determine it come up empty-handed.

Paul: I only believe all this malarkey because I want an afterlife, or fear death, or need a crutch, etc….. I am sorry if I gave that impression. That is not what I meant AT ALL. What I was saying is that, upon recognizing a bias, we must strive to be more careful in our observations, and be more honest with ourselves that we have the bias. It is like Stephen Hawking having bias singularities would never be observable in a black hole but recognizing that data proved him incorrect. He was able to set aside his bias, and acknowledged it was possible. (A Brief History in Time pg. 91)

Paul, I am truly of the impression that you believe in an afterlife because you believe Christianity is correct, not that you believe Christianity is correct, because you desire an afterlife.

Atheists on-line Actually, I assume most atheists do not bother to debate and discuss with Christians. You happen to have a blog that focuses on Christianity, which draws a certain crowd. Including atheists. Start a blog on the benefits of Honda motorcycles over Yamahas, and it would draw a different crowd.

I do it for a variety of reasons, but mostly (I hope, on occasion, this comes through) I do it because I enjoy it. I am enjoying what little time I have left. By discussing with you.

Paul: …and if the universalists were right then I'd be able to say, "Screw all the chanting and tithing, I'll just have fun now and deal with the next life as it comes. No worries mate." Funny. I have discussed with a number of universalists, and I have never heard a one of them say that. Is that what they believe? Consistency, my friend. If you are going to chide me to “permit [Christianity] its entire system” then certainly you should do the same for Universalists, true?

 
At 2/12/2006 9:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being pro-capital punishment and anti-abortion.

 
At 2/12/2006 9:58 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Anon, already mentioned and answered earlier in the comments.

 
At 2/14/2006 3:21 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dag,

By "save face" I only meant to say that not responding at all can look like either apathy toward real dialog or a surrender to the last volley. To be honest, it's one reason why I don't even bother posting comments on your blog anymore: I know I can't keep up in time and energy.

I said: "Christianity was the first to say..."

Glad you requoted that. I had forgotten I'd phrased it in that particular way. It was imprecise and an invitation to challenge.

To be honest, I deliberately used Judaism, as this is a common problem for Christianity. How can it say that other religions cannot add to their scripture, when they, themselves added to another religion? Ever debate with a Jew? One gets a whole different appreciation for the Tanakh, almost as if it was a completely different book than what Christianity says. Opened my eyes, I can tell you.

I wouldn't concede, "added to other religions." And when you claim that other religions like Islam and Mormonism have equal claim to being built upon Judaism, I would point out that they do so largely by reworking their scriptures and insisting that the originals have been corrupted. Christianity is good with the same text as the Jews accept.

And I am perfectly aware of the differences between the Christian and Jewish understanding of these texts. It is the reason that so many rejected Jesus as the Messiah. They did not understand the point of it all or see their Messiah behind the minutia of the law and prophecy. The Gospels, Paul, and the author of Hebrews may be wrong in their explanation of this, but they at least offer our explanation. On the other hand, I would challenge a Jew on their own understanding even without Jesus in the picture. There are very few fully orthodox Jews left it would seem, most reinterpret their scriptures in a very loose way of necessity. Otherwise, they've got to give an accounting of why they are not doing their sacrifices and temple rituals or exercising the Levitical laws without admitting that they are on the outs with God for not having national liberty to do so. And as I understand it, very few of them any longer think in terms of a "Messiah" who is to come and can be found in specific prophecy. Have you ever talked to a Messianic Jew? Very eye opening.

I wonder why, when even the Christian philosophers argue and debate over whether God has the capability to do an immoral act and how that capability got into humans, and the responsibility of humans with it, and these Christian philosophers provide conflicting, mutually exclusive proofs. If you guys can’t seem to agree, why would they?

May I humbly submit the following, which are an example of what I had in mind when saying that most philosophers concede the logical (deductive) problem of evil.

"Since [Plantiga's defense] is formally [i.e., logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another. But whether this offers a real solution of the problem is another question." — J.L. Mackie (one of the most highly regarded atheist philosopher of the twentieth century) 1982. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. P. 154.

"Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted incompatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God." — William Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979) footnote 1, p. 335.

"It used to be widely held that evil was incompatible with the existence of God: that no possible world contained both God and evil. So far as I am able tell, this thesis is no longer defended" Peter van Inwagen, "The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence," Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 5: Philosophy of Religion, ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Publishing, 1991), p. 135.

William P. Alston claims that "it is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that the logical argument is bankrupt, but the inductive argument is still very much alive and kicking" — William Alston, "The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition," in The Evidential Argument From Evil. Edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Now, these quotes may be of no credibility or use to you, but they will at least give you some perspective as to why I might think (rightly or wrongly) the debate lies elsewhere. And it is only confirmed when I hear atheists in their own words move the debate onto more subjective grounds, such as did Douglas M. Jesseph in this debate when pressed on this issue. He doesn't go after evil, in general, as a logical defeater, only the kind and amount of evil he observes:

"The question is to the following: Is the existence of evil as we know it consistent with the existence of an all-powerful, all omniscient deity? Notice that the question here is not whether the existence of some evil or other is consistent with the existence of God, but whether the question of the existence of as much evil as we see about us is consistent with the existence of an all-knowing, benevolent God. . . . The question remains then, why would a God who knew what was going to happen permit such horrific evils to happen? And the answer is there is some mysterious good about free will which intrinsically compensates for any amount of evil done by it. I find that absurdly implausible."

I am sympathetic to the issue of whether or not a "real solution" has been provided. Simply offering a plausible answer serves to defeat the argument on logical ground, but it does not necessarily succeed in providing a complete (or true) answer, or guarantee an emotionally satisfying one. This dialog can never be "settled" without being fully equipped with knowledge of metaphysics and purposes that are as transcendent as the one against which this objection is leveled.

One of the responses to [Logical Problem of Evil], is that immorality serves a greater moral purpose. While that is an acceptable logical response, it comes at a price—that all acts, moral, immoral or otherwise are ultimately moral. It eliminates immorality.

Now we're getting somewhere: you are engaging Plantinga's answer to the problem, and have even called it a logically acceptable response. However, you seem to be saying that an immoral act done by humans (say, killing Jesus) cannot rationally be used by God to serve a greater purpose. And we do know that this is what Scripture claims ("the Son of Man is to go, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed). This is like saying that a surgeon cannot use an incision to do his work, since cutting people is bad. Not the best analogy, but here is one more equivalent: Say a would-be murderer slashes his victim. She is found by a doctor who then notices through the wound that she's got a tumor and takes it out. The effect is good even though we may still charge the assailant with a crime. Now, of course, your follow-up objection may relate to why God would choose to make a world to serve His purposes with things like tumors and murderers, and that's where I think the real objection to evil ultimately lies.

How ironic in comments on a blog entry about consistency, we are accused of being visceral about evil and dispassionate about evil.

Very nice catch; I didn't see that one. But in my defense, I was trying to point out the idea that you are not simply observing categories of behaviors, you are added a layer of judgment on top of your observations. Like saying, "Over here on the left are the fruits, and over on the right we have the vegetables. I like the fruits much better than the vegetables." You are not just labeling and classifying bad things; you are judging them to be something "worse" than any other category. This is grounded either in your personal tastes or on an objective standard. And it seems to me that you are beginning to concede the problem and turning your attention (as I've seen you do elsewhere) to the problem of "verification of the absolute standard." I think, though, that I am warranted in considering you a moral relativist and you continue to be saddled with the various problems that accompany that position, even if you find reason to wag your finger at me.

Even if there is some absolute standard out there, whether written on a black star at the center of the universe, and therefore unattainable, or unprovided by a god, we are left in the same pragmatic position—attempting to determine morals as best we can with what we have. It is like a theoretical absolute moralist, but a pragmatic relative moralist. . . . [1 Kings 13, genocide]

I understand the problem you are trying to paint. I think it only holds if it is true that God has not given us anything to go by. But you understand that fact and proceed to pitch out examples of where the alleged Judeo/Christian God has done things that do not line up with some established standard of morality. You haven't the grounds to say that there is anything objectively wrong with anything at all in Scripture, but I think you are covering that weakness by attempting to make me reconcile my view of morality with those "immoral" things that God has done. This means the problem is simply one of exegesis. If this God is real, then whatever morality my faulty reason derives is surely trumped by any clear decrees of God. Let me continue my point by answering this:

What is the difference between a distasteful moral act and a tasteful moral act? Shouldn’t all moral acts be tasteful to a moral realist? If what you say is true, that we are trying to identify and mirror the absolute morality set in place by God, and if everything God does is moral, shouldn’t we be identifying what God does, determine it moral, and emulate that?

Ever heard the phrase, "this is going to hurt me more than you"? I don't like exercising tough love with my kids, but I can grasp the higher moral purpose in doing certain distasteful things. When I punish my kids it is not to say that spanking or withholding pleasures from children are intrinsically good things that all parents ought to do a will. It is also not to say that my children should go around "punishing" their peers. What God does for His own infinitely greater, overarching purposes does not necessarily relate to what we ought to do on a daily basis or in a morally neutral setting. For instance, if God tells the Hebrews to take some property and subdue some people (for reasons that Scripture itself gives), this does not mean that all persons are free to take any lands that they choose for their own personal reasons. The only things of concern to us are those things which are commanded as normative, and for the post-Messianic era the NT is the primary lens for determining such things.

By what methodology do we use to determine that the humans YOU use to say God said something were correct, and the humans THEY use to say God said something were incorrect?

I think you mean to make me assess them based on the mere contents of the text, but I will concede that if Allah is God, then I need to go out and subdue all infidels in his name. I don't mean to spawn another thread, but I think it depends more on things like fulfilled prophecy, manuscript support, and the nature of those who are authenticating such claims. This is why it is, in my mind, an epistemological necessity for a transcendent claim to be accompanied by supernatural authentication, e.g., prophecy, miracles, a resurrection from the dead. This is one reason that I have difficulty, on the face of it, taking Muhammad seriously when he himself claims that Jesus did miracles and lived a perfect life, but Muhammad did not.

Oh, I liked the quotes from other atheists. To be consistent, can I quote other Christians (Old Fred Phelps comes to mind) and hold you to their position? I tried to look up Ruse and Nielsen. The articles from which they were derived do not appear to be on-line. Do you have a source in which they are? In fact, the only place I found them was on Christian sites, specifically William Craig.

Sure, you can quote Phelps if you think he's actually making a good argument that I ought to consider. It was not my intention to offer an argument from authority, or to ascribe guilt by association. I merely think that fellows like Ruse, Nielsen, and Rorty are respectable sources that offer good conclusions from their atheistic perspective.

You're right, I'm having difficulty finding a source that you might accept for these quotes (and the ones above). I do have a starting point for confirming these:
Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics," in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269.
Kai Nielsen, "Why Should I Be Moral?" American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984): 90.

I even went to the Nashville Library looking for these and they do not carry the sources. However, something I did note while Googling the usage of these quotes: there were no sites that seemed to be disputing their application, which I would expect if they were fraudulent, since Craig's use of them is so prevalent in his debates. I appreciate your concern for accuracy, though, and if you happen to discover that the quotes I used were misapplications I'd appreciate the correction.

I stated: You have affirmed my point. Theism's system is invested with meaning and atheism's is not — there is no "race" at all. The only thing left to dispute here is whether or not theists are right.

You stated: But I thought by virtue of disputing it at all, I am being inconsistent? Initially, you indicated my belief system is “arrogant” for questioning the reality of Christianity’s “meaning.” Now you are saying we need to make the determination whether the Christian is correct about their meaning. That was what I was trying to say in the first place.


I think the problem may be that we're (I'm?) mixing debates here. One is whether atheism implies nihilism and the other (which I've nearly lost sight of) is whether Christianity is worth belittling even if false. For the atheist, it would have a great deal of importance if Christianity turned out to be true. But if atheism is true, then it wouldn't matter a bit what a person believed or found their value in. So we come back to the question of what value there is in an atheist attempting to burst the bubble of a Christian (unless maybe he believes he's got a more pleasant life path to offer). The matter of truth is a one-way street for the atheist. If he's right, there's no "race" or belief systems better or worse than any other, except where they may impede his own self-interests. If he's wrong, then this is a moot point, since the race is on.

I guess your response could then be, "you'd better make sure you've got the right brand of theism, then, since that could make a serious difference." But that would seem like a meaningless hypothetical jab coming from an atheist. Kind of like me asking a superstitious person on their way to the casino if they've taken the correct lucky charm with them.

Truth is arrogant.

I like that you understand this.

I haven’t read J.P. Moreland.

I'd recommend any of his works. I think you'll at least be challenged to go a level deeper.

What I was saying is that, upon recognizing a bias, we must strive to be more careful in our observations, and be more honest with ourselves that we have the bias.

Both my experience and theology lead me to say amen to this. And I know that it's possible to push past bias because I have succeeded in doing so on many occasions. In fact, sometimes the things that I argue against the most passionately are the very things that I once held to.

Actually, I assume most atheists do not bother to debate and discuss with Christians. You happen to have a blog that focuses on Christianity, which draws a certain crowd. Including atheists.

Maybe you're right, but I does seem to be the case that there's a load of them on every Christian board I've been to, not to mention their own numerous religious discussion venues. And writing books on religion and metaphysical issues seems to be standard practice, especially among atheistic philosophers. I can't help thinking you'd all miss us theists if we were gone.

I do it for a variety of reasons, but mostly (I hope, on occasion, this comes through) I do it because I enjoy it. I am enjoying what little time I have left. By discussing with you.

The question of why it is so enjoyable is the one I'm interested in.

I said: if the universalists were right then I'd be able to say, "Screw all the chanting and tithing, I'll just have fun now and deal with the next life as it comes. No worries mate."

You said: Funny. I have discussed with a number of universalists, and I have never heard a one of them say that. Is that what they believe?


I didn't say that's what they believe. Obviously those particular ones don't believe it or they wouldn't belong to a Universalist church. However, there are many such radical liberals NOT in membership to a particular church, or not in meaningful attendance. Also, it was really more about what "I'd be able to say" that I was referring, and it seems logical that I could indeed say it.

Dag, this has been a great conversation that has really grown me in some areas. Hope we can wrap this one up soon though.

-Paul

 
At 2/15/2006 3:17 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

paul, there are a number of points I am dying to address. Specifically the objective determination of the morality of the God of the Bible. We can hit this later.

Yet all good conversations must come to a close. I could easily go on forever. Consider this wrapped (at least from my end.)

Out of politeness, though, I will answer your question as to the “why” I enjoy this. I’ve always enjoyed discussing Christian topics. I liked looking at things “sideways.” I liked trying to see both sides of the picture. But it was always with the large framework in mind that Christianity at its base (Nicene Creed) was foundationally correct. We can debate the question of whether homosexual marriages should be illegal, or how the church should treat homosexuals, but foundationally we agreed that homosexuality is a sin.

With this open-mindedness, I began to discuss with atheists and agnostics Christian topics. To my complete surprise and disenchantment, they knew more about the creation of the Bible, the early church fathers, and Biblical implications than I did. (Those that are fluent in Greek, Hebrew and/or Aramaic still do know more than I.) How could they know the Bible better than I, yet reject Christianity? Shoot, they knew theism better than I did!

With that in tow, I engaged in an intense one-year study of Christianity and theism that, eventually lessened in intensity, but I continue to this day.

I came to the shockingly inescapable conclusion that Christianity is wrong. Not just “wrong” but blazingly, blastingly, blissfully WRONG. Wrong on so many levels, it shook me to my core. How could I have believed so long in something so wrong? (I do not mean to be offensive, please take this as my story. Not incrimination.)

Therefore, I now refuse to commit to the idea that I have “found truth” and hope that I continue on a path searching. (Do NOT get your hopes up. :) It would take some pretty big evidence to move me off atheism. Evidence I can’t even conceive. But I am always open to the possibility!)

So I enjoy discussing theism with other theists. Despite my dogmatic manner, I take their positions, consider them, and re-evaluate my own in light of their statements. Just in our discussion, I have modified my stance on moral basis. Gave me a chance to solidify some precepts in my position. I may not show it, but these conversations do cause modification. I like talking with Christians because that is the brand of theism that I am most familiar with.

And I do have a sense of duty toward countless atheists/agnostics/liberal Christians/Jews and other beliefs that were patient with me, and my questions, yet faithfully addressed them, to likewise return the favor.

 
At 2/20/2006 10:14 PM, Blogger patho-coasta said...

I would also add "Being inteligent, but not created" and "Being wise, but rejecting Christ"
http://christianpathologist.blogspot.com/

 
At 2/22/2006 7:57 PM, Anonymous Greg said...

Regarding faith in God, one advantage of having trusted God for several years is the variety of things God has done to strengthen my faith. My son and only child died in a bicycle accident five years ago. Unknown to me at the time, three weeks before he died a girl had dreamed that he would die, and in the same dream, she had seen a car full of people who were traveling to Vanderbilt Hospital and who were singing "It is Well With My Soul." On the night of my son's accident, after he was carried by helicopter to Vanderbilt hospital, in not one but two cars that were headed to the hospital, people were singing "It is Well With My Soul." I was in one of the cars.

Now what are the chances of that?

Stories like this one won't make believers out of unbelievers, but they do strengthen the faith of those who already trust God. They reassure us that God was in control and that God was not surprised.

Meanwhile, I convey my regards to Scott Pruett, Jeff Yeager, and other campions of defending the faith. And I also send regards to everyone who vists here, regardless of their beliefs, for their seriousness in seeking the truth.

Sincerely,
Greg

 
At 2/23/2006 2:55 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Thank you Greg, that was an encouraging comment. Stories like these are not uncommon within the Christian community. In fact, the second half of this radio show broadcast that I just heard focuses on worldwide miracles leading to conversions among Chinese, Indians, and Muslims. Of course, this will mean nothing to those who have never experienced such a thing and who are not inclined to believe in miracles in general, but for those who are the subject of such experiences they are undeniable affirmations of faith that traditional apologetics cannot compete with. Thanks for visiting, Greg.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home

Westminster Presbyterian Church Columbia, TN